For anyone who’d rather sit and read one block of unrelieved text, here is my Thread of Eclectic Masque 2014 in its entirety.
“You can’t go without me!”
Zig crashed into my thoughts before I was even properly awake. I thought about rolling over and ignoring him, but he was right- this was as good a place to open as any.
Encouraged, Zig cranked up the theatrics –this one goes to 11, after all- and pounced on the bed like a five-year-old, madly waving a paper invitation we’d never actually gotten. I politely ignored that fact for the sake of the narrative and let him continue.
“Halloween is like, my favorite thing EVER! You can’t go to Ali’s Masked Ball without me!”
He thrust the paper into my face, as if I didn’t know what event he was referring to. I blinked repeatedly, wondering how he’d managed to stick a website onto a piece of paper. Not a print out- I could see the mouse moving across the page as someone else was perusing the site. When the page scrolled down, I pushed it away and sat up, shaking my head to clear it.
“Zig, it is way too early for this shit. Can we like, segue to coffee or something?”
He grinned as I felt the edges of the room start to dissolve.
“Sure- but you might wanna get dressed pretty quickly. Your closet is melting.”
The warm cup in my hands did little to improve my mood. I scowled at Zig as he lounged back in one of the booths at Early Bird, looking way too cat with the canary.
“Damn it, Zig- I’m never that abrupt with you. What gives?”
He gave me a pointed look, which I chose to ignore. I’m the author, damnit, I’m just doing my job. But I wasn’t gonna start that argument. Not without some off screen caffeine. I took a sip of my fictional brew and hoped it did something to perk me up.
I wasn’t sure if they were there before or not, but Rain and October were chatting with Zig when I deigned to look up from my coffee.
“Huh, Halloween party? I’m game.”
While the lanky boy did much to help ground me in the fiction timeline, I knew the sudden appearance of Rain’s boyfriend would do nothing for the readers.
“October, you can’t go. No one even knows you yet.”
He flashed me a grin, clearly pleased that I’d gone ahead and included his two cents. He’d made this announcement almost immediately on the tail of Zig waking me up, but I had to keep this narrative in some semblance of order. But still, I’d conceded- there really wasn’t any reason October couldn’t come, and maybe this little cameo would be enough to satiate the new character lust I was fighting. I needed to get back into Rain for NaNo, but I needed to be in the proper timeline for it- October wouldn’t be until after modern day Asylum, let alone Magic and the three D’s.
“Ok, stop that you,” I said, leveling a finger at October. “You’re derailing the plot, and being entirely too meta.” There, I’d even set him up for his second line. Surely that would be enough to satisfy him.
“Death is very meta. It’s the great equalizer.”
“Yes, yes, it’s a good line, we’re all very pleased with you. Now go away so Zig and I can finish talking.”
Zig brushed away the crumbs of a muffin I know he didn’t have before and sat up.
“Nah, we’re pretty good here. We just needed to establish we were all going to the party, get the link in there, get you some coffee and let October have his badass line about Death- very nice, btw, dude. Super cool and mysterious, and you know the audience is gonna be all ‘OMG who is this October guy?’.”
The reaper burst into a huge grin. “I know, right? Hopefully it’s seed enough to keep people asking about me so I actually get written.”
Rain swatted his arm, deeply scandalized. “That was rude- you know she does the best she can!”
October flushed and ducked away, turning to me with a small bow.
“Gomen, my lady. I did not mean to be rude. I just know how you feel about writing our particular part of the story, and it is a point of concern. But still, I should not have spoken out. If Rain has faith in you, that’s good enough for me.”
I gave him a flat look, the fictional caffeine was not working. “So you apologize by reminding me you speak yet another language I have to learn?”
He grinned as he righted himself, knowing that I liked him too much to let his story go untold. October Gold Woodhouse was a good match for my poor little Rainy- but damnit guys, this isn’t the time! We have a story to write, and I need proper coffee!
Without a word, the scene melted away from the coffee shop to Liza’s. Oh goodie. Dress shopping. My favorite.
I remembered at the last minute that I was the author, and I could bypass whatever scenes I wanted to. Zig was pouty, but when I reminded him of the last time he went to Liza’s, he suddenly stopped complaining. Mhmm.
Luckily, Liza’s gift for reading people and situations worked just as well for the author as it did for proper characters, and while she did make me try on a handful of outfits for her enjoyment, the final dress was perfect, as she knew it would be.
I cheated, and stole a photo from the internet, because I’m just not that into clothes. Into it enough that googling pretty dresses was fun- for about five minutes- but writing about them was right out. For the sake of those that were into it, I took a moment to consider hair and shoes, but I was pretty sure this scene was gonna get cut anyways, so I didn’t bother with too much detail. An elegant coif that showcased my natural curls, studded with random sparklies, because everyone loved sparklies. Black suede boots that laced all the way up my considerably long legs – what is about fiction that makes long legs need to be “considerably long”? Is that a rule somewhere? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I was gonna encase every last inch of those three feet in suede, because there was no way I could afford boots like this in real life. Ok, so maybe I spared more than a few details for shoes, but anyone that knows me isn’t surprised, and anyone that doesn’t- I have a thing for shoes. Ask anyone. When you wear a size 12 AND A HALF, you take what you can find, but oh! do I dream of being able to walk into any story and just BUY SHOES.
The boots would serve the double purpose of being stylish and comfortable. No way did I need heels with my height, and it’s not like I could dance in them anyways. I’d rather go barefoot for dancing, but I knew I’d be grateful for something on my legs out in the cold October night. And, ya know, the yummy factor. This was my fantasy, I could wear whatever shoes I wanted, and I wanted thigh-high suede boots.
Dress and shoes went lovingly into a garment bag, with a smaller bag for sparklies hung over the hanger neck. My hair would do whatever glorious mess it wanted to, and no amount of styling would stop it, so I just hoped that it was in a good mood tomorrow night.
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? At least Liza was sensible enough to put me in flat suede boots- no way did this amazon need heels.
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, 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 into the grand circle drive in front of the house 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. 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 we 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 hold 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.
I’ll admit, I was hardly listening when Raev began telling me about Ali’s masked ball, let alone when she told me I could attend. I nodded and smiled, and firmly intended on not bothering. I was glad she had something new to be so excited over, but it sounded like work to me. I have quite enough to do on my own without having to figure out a costume and details like whether I would go alone… I still have 80 hours worth of video to watch for my thesis, there’s hardly time for all that.
Of course, I should have seen the interference coming.
It started with dreams, like it always does with him.
There was one in which I was chasing someone down a corridor, past rooms of laughter, finery and the faint sheen of glitter. The heaviness of my skirts kept me from ever catching my target. Everything seemed heavier, slower than it should have been. No matter how I lifted my skirts, they caught on everything and I could barely breathe to run.
Another where I was trapped in a waltz with a masked man – even his eyes were a mystery to me. Held tightly to his chest, he gave me barely enough room to move, let alone a chance to get away. All that was left to me was to try to unravel his identity. He seemed familiar enough and his height gave me an idea, but as soon as that thought crossed my mind…
I was standing on a dressing room dais. Like another dream, I could hardly breathe, even though I was doing nothing more strenuous than standing. In the mirror, my figure cut a strong hourglass, aided by a corset that seemed to be laced as tight as it would allow. The corset boning cut strong curves into where I was sure I should have a ribcage. The white lace showed more skin than it hid, but at least the cups were solid satin. Trying to breathe over the top of them seemed indecent enough. The caging of the corset kept me from turning or even looking down. Fortunately, the mirrors gave me a good enough view of both myself and the room behind me.
My dark hair was twisted up and out of the way, leaving my neck and shoulders bare. My pale skin was flushed, which made me wonder if whoever had tightened this corset had ever read about a thing called circulation. The rosy glow did set off all the white lace and satin though. The bottoms were also white, simple drawers that ended about my knees with a soft gather. I was barefoot.
The mirrors in front of me were angled, reflecting back a riot of color. Behind me were clothing racks as far as I could see, haphazardly set against one another to create a dizzying maze. I had the feeling I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t quite make out anyone other than flashes of movement among the racks…
With a jolt, my eyes opened to darkness. For a moment, the dissonance from the previous scene made me wonder if I’d actually blacked out from the tightness of the corset. Then the faint scent of lavender filtered in and I knew I was in my own bed. I sighed. Dreams.
There was a sudden heaviness behind me, over me, and a wash of warmth. Where I had previously been comfortable, now I felt as if I were sunbathing on concrete.
I wiggled against the suffocating feeling and the weight on top of me lessened, allowing me to create a small opening in the cocoon of blanket. The cooler air pooling in was a relief.
A short lived relief. An arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me back against that solid wall of warmth. Trading one kind of trap for another…
“Mhmm…” The answer was more of a rumble against my back than a proper sound.
I resisted the urge to sigh again. Any signs of annoyance would either be ignored or taken as encouragement. I settled for poking at his arm through the blanket. “Why are you here?”
“I’m here to pick up my date.”
I froze, then poked him harder. “Date? What date?” Nothing quite like a rush of adrenaline to wake me.
He squeezed me tighter in response, rubbing his face against my hair as he did so. I could feel his smothered laughter shaking the bed.
“You didn’t think I’d let you miss out on the ball, did you?”
“ Lark – I am deliberately not go-“
Before I could finish my protest, I was blinded. Everything was suddenly too bright after the dark bedroom. I held a hand up to block the worst of it as my vision tried to adjust. At least the music was in another room, it eased the potential disorientation.
There was a click and blessed darkness again. While I still couldn’t see, at least I wasn’t in blinding pain. That gave me time to try to figure out what going on. I was standing and… Dressed in a corset? At least I could breathe easier in this one. I ran my hands down my body, feeling the rough and silky contrast of fabrics. The bodice was some sort of lace and a heavier silk, but the skirts… They felt like they were just layered organza or something equally light and fluffy. My hands went up, feeling the elegant twist and curl to my hair. There were ribbons laced in. Some of the ribbons came around to my face and I realized there was a lightweight mask over my eyes.
“Well, while I would have enjoyed it, I didn’t think you’d appreciate going naked.” I didn’t have to see the smart ass smirk, I could hear it.
I swatted blindly, and was pleased when I struck a solid wall of warmth and fabric. He chuckled and took my arm to tuck it tightly against his body. I didn’t know if he was doing it to avoid further violence or so we’d be closer, but knowing him, the answer was likely both.
“Now then, shall we?” A door opened ahead, a rectangle of light that wasn’t nearly as garish as before. The hallway beyond was lit with ornate lanterns along the walls.
I glanced back out of habit and had to bite back my own disbelieving laugh. “Seriously, Lark? A broom closet?”
“Nevermind.” I shook my head. “Just… Let’s get on with this, alright?”
“I’m so glad you’re being so enthusiastic about being my date…” He started to move us down the hallway, but had to stop when he realized I wasn’t following.
Now that we were in the light, I had a chance to get a better look at my escort. Lark looked good in the finely tailored black tux he’d chosen. It was carefully draped open to reveal a green vest, which bore intricate embroidery in gold. The white collared shirt gaped open at the top to reveal tanned skin and a golden medallion at the base of his throat. His eye mask was black, but trimmed in a twisted green and gold cord that really made his green and gold eyes stand out. His tawny hair was combed back from his face haphazardly, matching the roguish grin I suddenly realized he was turning on me.
I rolled my eyes, trying to cover my mistake by quickly examining… The walls. Not that interesting, they weren’t even wallpapered, just painted a light beige.
Damn it, his ego was big enough without me accidentally inflating it.
But his outfit did remind me that I could look at my own… My theme was apparently black and dark purple, though there were flecks of gold trim hidden within the seaming and trailing down in fine ribbons that vanished in the dark clouds of my skirts.
“We match.” My tone was still flat with annoyance at being caught staring.
“But not in a matchy-matchy way.” Apparently my grim statement bore no effect on his pride. “Hey, it could have been worse – if I could have convinced our wolf to come along, I was thinking of a Little Red Riding Hood theme.”
“And now I know why Frost skipped out.”
He tugged on my arm, restarting our journey down the infinitely long hallway. Lark sighed dramatically, squeezing my hand for sympathy. “Betrayed by my best friend…”
“Not attending a party is hardly a betrayal.” Despite myself, I could feel the beginning of a smile coming on.
“To you maybe. He doesn’t know what trouble might occur, I might need him to back me up. He left me high and dry.” He genuinely did sound a little upset. Which definitely meant he was putting on airs. Or that he was actually upset that his primary drinking buddy was sitting this party out.
“I can’t fathom you ever being completely dry. Nice suit though, I can’t even guess where your flask might be hiding.” I managed to keep my voice droll. I wasn’t going to encourage the whining. If I indulged him once I’d never hear the end of it all night.
He gave me a sour look, but the playful glint in his eyes ruined its sincerity. “And that’s another thing – we’re on the cusp of his season of all work and no play. After this, it will be all cold, all the time, and every night it’ll be the same.” His voice took on a higher note. “ ‘I can’t participate in drunken debauchery, I have to work tonight. And tomorrow morning. And tomorrow night. And every second until the seasons change again. Because I’m always working and no fun.’ “
I hid my laughter behind my free hand. “He’s going to kill you.”
“Bah, he’d have to find me first and he’s too afraid of fun to risk that.”
He grinned down at me, steering me into one of the rooms I hadn’t realized we’d been bypassing as we spoke. “Speaking of…”
I barely had time to take in the floating bubbles and dizzying wall of mirrors before I was swept along into a waltz. Despite the fact that I didn’t know how to dance it, Lark’s hand on my hand and his hand about my waist kept me moving in the right direction at least.
It wasn’t until I looked past him and saw the goblinesque masks that I realized what this room was mimicking. The out of place music had kept me from recognizing it at first. My gaze shot up to find he wore a similar mask now as well. And his tux had changed to something much darker and glitterier. “Seriously, Lark?”
“As serious as a fic can be.” I wished I could say his grin ruined the mystique, but that would be a horrible lie.
I shook my head, but kept looking around now that my curiosity was piqued. Not to mention it kept me from staring up at him – that felt a little too much like fawning in this place. “So is this all you or is there actually a room like this at the ball?”
“Well, this is a ball, is it not?”
“You know what I mean. You’re a DreamWeaver – could you not resist throwing one of my dreams in here or are you just taking advantage of something already in place?”
I glanced back in time to watch his grin turn to something darker and I felt my own smile slip away. I both hated and enjoyed when he reminded me that he wasn’t all bawdy jokes, light hearted teasing, and drinking games. It was disconcerting, which was precisely why he did it. Even knowing this, knowing that he held this side, somehow having known him all my life, I still forgot that he wasn’t human. That he wasn’t harmless.
“Lark…” I didn’t know who I was warning.
He pulled me closer and the music began to fade, the first strains of a more familiar tune beginning to drift over it.
I gritted my teeth. I wasn’t going to buy into it. I wasn’t. And my heart wasn’t beginning to pound contrary to the new slower tune.
“Lark, my name isn’t Sarah, and I’m not into OC fics. You know better.” That would have seemed a better chastisement if it hadn’t come out so breathy.
He bent down, bringing his height closer to my own so his mouth was by my ear. “No fics, but the games are just beginning…”
Abruptly, he pushed me away and I fell into a dizzying twirl. That wasn’t a dance move I’d been expecting. When had Lark begun to support so much of my weight? I was spinning, the room was spinning, then I was tripping over my own feet, unable to reorient myself – when had he put me in heels?
There were too many people pressing in, my arms brushed them as I tried desperately to catch my balance. Before I could find my feet, I felt arms wrap around me as someone caught me. Breathless, I glanced up, expecting to find Lark again.
He wasn’t nearly tall enough, and narrower in the shoulders. His hair was too blonde, too wild… And that jacket and mask were now identical to the movie… What the hell kind of game was he playing? “Damn it, Lark, this isn’t funny, shift back or –“
“Who’s Lark?” The voice was definitely wrong. If it was really Lark, he would have taken on that dark purr he was so fond of. This was a touch too high in timbre and the rhythm was off.
The wash of recognition was followed closely by relief and I exhaled, trying to regain my senses. Even before the mask came off, I knew who I would really find beneath it.
His quizzical look earned a weak smile from me. “Zig.”
That easy going, lopsided grin confirmed it. “Your line’s supposed to be ‘You’re him, aren’t you? You’re the goblin king.’ And more swooning. You’re not nearly swoony enough.”
I gave a half laugh, pushing away to stand on my own still heeled feet. Lark and I were going to have words about randomly switching out a girl’s footwear while dancing. “Yeah, that’s so not happening.”
end of hallway of this floor is red death spiral – lark is chasing raev into the spiral… so when did he get frost? Or did he just mentally mention to him he needed backup? I assume there’s some sort of bat signal to throw up when one of us girls are in trouble. Because I can’t see that Lark would risk leaving if raev were in danger. Frost shows up somewhere in the red death rooms… so while they’re running the spiral, I’m likely to leave the laby room to find Lark since he dragged me here – only way home. Zig will follow… So I may have a potential scene with Zig and myself going through the red death rooms? Then when we show up in the final room… What do we find? Raev and who? Frost and Lark or Zig and Tripp – if the latter, then the game will be up when Zig shows up with me.
Lark follows into blue room – raev moves cautiously around the first right turn, so lark has a chance to catch up, but now he needs to move more carefully, don’t want to tip his hand too quickly, he has no idea what’s after raev. She stares, finds her red figure and she runs on through the hallway
ZIG IS IN THE HALLWAY AT THE END SCENE, SO HE’S PROBABLY JUST IN THE HALLWAYS (who is zig?)
Lark will follow quickly to purple room – raev doesn’t slow around this corner, and is nearly in reach of the skeletal masked figure… Would lark be in the rooms proper or hallway? Maybe he’s in the rooms with raev and frost shows up to dog him in the hallway(reverse this)? Phantom runs off before contact is made, raev follows at running pace around another turn
Lark follows into green room – soon as raev enters, torch pops by her head, flicks on and off and she comes to a standstill, so does lark, but he’ll be more wary if the area is having odd effects like this, creeps closer? Raev backs up, bringing her closer to lark without realizing it… light flashes again and goes out completely. She jumps back and slams into a green window, breaking it. Someone grabs her – phantom? Lark? Frost? Could be from either side of the hallway/room. She sees red garb, but it could be from any of the three, honestly. I don’t know what disguises the boys will use. She also sees skeletal mask… she recognizes something about his eyes and then he’s gone again – maybe he was too close and one of the boys chased him off? Maybe this is the point that Frost has bait and switched? It’s possible that just before this, Frost took the disguise to look like the phantom so raev would chase him while lark dealt with the other cloaked phantom. In either case, phantom runs, and the crowd presses in through the broken window.
Orange room – Raev pushes into this room, still very crowded, pushing against one another, swarming the door. Here she only sees glimpses of the phantom through the crowd – great time for frost and phantom to both be wearing the same disguise. She follows his red hat to the next room
White room – suddenly empty and only raev is here (need to mention people in rooms before green?), we see a blazing hearth, a mirror over the mantel, a red cloak tossed over a highbacked chair, she takes off her own cloak – so here, we know is must be frost she’s about to find and dance with – a frost who is still high from the hunting in the orange room, where he was hoping to either corner the phantom or drive him into lark’s grasp, so that at least one of the boys can deal with him or assess him.
Indigo room – Raev enters more carefully here, letting her eyes adjust, phantom is in the doorway of the next room, waiting for her follow (again, most likely frost here, making sure nothing has happened to her)
Final room – he holds out a hand, she reaches for it and the clock begins to chime, she has a death monologue… red light is shining in from the hallway beyond; as they dance, she catches a glimpse of a figure in a mirror somewhere? The figure is behind them – undoubtedly lark as he catches up to the pair of them (lost the phantom?), chimes and dancing end, lark reaches for frost and they both begin to laugh – raev calls them zig and tripp… when did they change disguises? Last second shifting to avoid explaining the scenario to raev? Lark could take Zig’s jareth costume from earlier when he saw him, he could easily give frost a believable concept of who to imitate from lark’s glimpse of zig’s brain earlier, raev asks who decided to impersonate red death – frost claims it’s hers? He’d know her love of Poe, raev asks lark how long he knew it was tripp…
After this, Zig and I will come in, having followed the only possible conclusion to the hallway as I’m looking for Lark.
“So why are we trying so hard to get to where all these people are desperately trying to get away from? Seems 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.
The third story is much quieter, the music from below filtering up like a distant dream. The lighting, too, is subdued, as if perhaps this part of the house was not meant to be open to the public. For the first time, I think to wonder about the potential owner, but I let it go. I have a phantom to chase.
I realize suddenly that he is nowhere to be seen. Nor is there anyone else about. The hallway stretches out impossibly long before me, the end of it lost somewhere beyond in shadows. Just like the floor below, doors and hallways line the walls to either side, but as I move down the hall, I see that some of them are simply painted on. I try a door, just to be sure, but indeed, it is nothing but a doorknob stuck to the wall, surrounded by detailed molding but ultimately leading nowhere.
I think about searching for a trick lever or something, but a flicker of movement catches my eye and whirl on the empty hallway, heart climbing its way up to my throat. For the first time, it occurs to me to be afraid. This is a Halloween Ball, after all, full of fiction and fantasy. For some, that includes horror, and there’s no guaranteeing that I won’t run into someone else’s party guests…
I suddenly wish I’d had the sense to go as something practical and badass, like Rachel Morgan, or Anita Blake. Too late now. I smirk, congratulating myself on at least not choosing down. That’s something, right?
As I make my way through the house, I walk past a halfway full of …bubbles? Perfect crystals, almost, seeming to hang in the air, drifting slowly out into the rest of the house. The faint sound of a distant saxophone draws me into the hallway, and despite the niggling feeling the back of my head, I take a few steps down the hall.
The saxophone is joined by the distinct sound of 80’s synthesizer, though different from the one playing on the underground water way. Still, it is unmistakable, and I have to smile as the mournful saxophone gives way to a music box waltz. I stop and watch the crystalline bubbles float by, toying with the idea of losing myself to one of the images within.
A loud crash breaks my reverie, followed by high pitched yips and growls. Eyes wide in surprise, I step closer to the door at the end of the hallway. The light that pours through the slightly open door glitters and twinkles like stars. I can see now that the hallway is covered in glitter, and I scowl, knowing my velvet cape is undoubtedly covered in sparkles by now. Ah well.
Another crash, and the door swings a little wider, but I turn and beat a hasty retreat before peering inside. Shouts of defending milady’s honor and proud declarations of cowardice follow me down the hall, but I don’t look back. I knew better than to follow the bubbles in the first place, and I know I’ll never make it past this first room if I stay long enough to hear the first strains of crooning.
Back in the main hallway, I’m rewarded with another flash of red. I feel a little guilty, chasing this fan candy instead of giving in and following the bubbles, but he did take all the trouble to separate my from my group, I can’t abandon him now.
The last fluttering tatters of cape guide me down to the next alcove, and I gather my skirts as I rush to catch him.
For a moment, I wonder if I didn’t somehow bring the Underground with me and am back in the hallway I started in downstairs. The same sconces line the left wall that had lit the underground lake, though up here, it’s not as damp. But down there, the torches weren’t as few and far between. I hug the left wall, moving from one pool of light to the next, trying to convince myself the movement I’m seeing in the shadows is just a trick of the flickering light. I keep my gaze fixed on the next torch ahead of me, hoping for another flash of red cape.
As I move further down the hall, I come to an end of the sconces. Three more, two more… I step beyond the final torch, straining to see into the darkness beyond. I think there’s another glow ahead… but there’s no way to be sure. The torch behind me burns too brightly to tell. With a deep breath, I close my eyes. They’re not doing me any good anyways, and maybe when I’m brave enough to open them again, they’ll be better adjusted to the dim light. I press on, left hand against the wall for guidance, right hand at the level of my eye. Just in case.
After what feels like an eternity, my left hand encounters…another wall? I reach out with my right, and yes, there’s a wall ahead of me. I reach all around me, but there’s nothing else in reach. A turn, or a dead end? Only one way to actually be sure…
I open my eyes, and yes! Another torch ahead! I hurry towards it, eyes drinking in the light greedily. I’ve kept the childish fear of the dark I had as a little girl– adulthood has only matured the monsters I imagine in it. I wish Zig were here with me, or anyone really. Maybe… maybe I should turn back… But the thought of passing through that blind corner again isn’t one I relish, and I’m almost to the first torch in this hallway anyways.
As I near the light, I realize it’s different than the hall before. These flames are… blue? No, it’s a… reflection? The right-hand wall is now broken up by elegant panels of stained glass across from every wall sconce. Wall to floor, blue glass figures dance in the fire light- no, that’s not quite right. Though the light bounces off the glass to trick my eyes, I step closer and see that there are actual dancers in a room parallel to this hall- and so is my red cloaked figure! Unmistakable, even through the blue tints his costume. He grins at me from beneath his feathered cap before dashing through a doorway to another room.
I race down the hallway that runs alongside the rooms, hardly slowing as I come up on another dead end to the right. This corner is dimmer than the hallway, but not as dark as the first turn I passed through. The torches in the next hall are closer together, nearly twice as many as the in the two halls before. When I come to the first window, the red figure is right there, dead center, and I feel as if I could reach right through the purple glass and touch that perfect, skeletal mask. Slowly, I raise my hand to the glass…
And then he is off again, and I follow, racing towards yet another right turn. A spiral…?
As I turn the corner, I’m hit by an icy blast of wind. The torch beside me sputters, making me yelp as I whip my head around in surprise. It blows out completely, but only for an instant, and then it is somehow aflame again. I back away, not daring to take my eyes from it, but wanting something solid at my back–
Another gust and the hall is plunged into darkness. I stumble backward, crashing into the window. Green glass shatters around me as I fall, glittering as the torches flare back to life. Strong hands catch me, and in the ghastly green glow through the remaining windows, his red garb seems sickly black. The green light pools in the grooves of his skeletal mask, and washes his eyes with an eerie shade that seems to glow from within. My breath catches as a part of my brain reels with recognition, but he is gone again before I can make sense of it all.
The crowd presses around me, pouring out through the window I fell through. I push against them, forcing my way towards the next room. I almost had him! I can’t let him get away now.
The next room is like a fire. The urgency of the crowd blends with the harsh orange light from the colored windows, building into a frenzy that pushes against me like a real heat. The walls seem to push in- no, this room really is smaller than the others. The dancers swarm around the door, desperate to be through and one step closer to freedom. I realize now that I’ve only seen doorways from one room to the next, none connecting to the hallways outside. Is the window I’ve broken the only way out? But, why not smash a window themselves, if they’re so desperate to leave?
Here, the red of my phantom is brought into sharp focus, popping up now and again as the crowd parts around him, as if avoiding his touch. But as soon as he is past, they close again in their rush to get to the green room. Is it him that they so desperate to escape? Again, recognition pulls at my brain, but my focus is all on the red hat as he ducks through the doorway. I can’t lose him! I push and shove against the crowd, finally making it to the door as the crowd starts to thin.
The next room is completely empty, and the stark white light of it brings me up short. The red of my dress is harsh and too bright in this empty space. Despite this room being small enough to merit only one window, it is brilliantly lit. The light from the hall sconce is crystalline clear through the colorless glass. And a fire is blazing on the hearth—unlike the others, this room is lit from within and without. But what should be a cheery warmth only hurts my eyes, and leaves me sweltering in my velvet cloak. Double mirrors hang across from each other, above the fireplace and on the opposite wall. They echo my reflection infinitely, my crimson dress a harsh stain in this pristine room, almost an accusation. I turn away from the violence of the red against all the white, but red still fills my vision- the red cloak! I rush towards him, but grab empty air. The cloak has been tossed carelessly over a high-backed chair, nothing more. I stagger, confused and still a little disoriented from the sudden lack of this empty space and the mirrors. Feeling light-headed, I take off my own cloak and drape it beside his. The black mingles with red, but does nothing to relieve the painful emptiness of the room, so I move quickly on to the next.
Purple again? No, not quite, this room is darker somehow. I welcome it, however, after the sharp brightness of the last room. I pause as my eyes relax again into the dimmer light, and once they adjust, I see that my phantom is leaning against the next doorway, waiting for me. I freeze. Now that I have him, my mind is blank. We are mere feet apart, this room even smaller than the last. My eyes trace the lines of his mask, the only bright thing in this dimly lit space. The mask, and his eyes. They shine through the darkness, glinting with cold promise.
He holds a hand out to me, bridging the scant space between us. As I reach out to place my hand in his, the clock sounds behind him.
With that sound, I suddenly understand, but it’s too late. He’s already caught my hand and is drawing me into the final room of black velvet, wicked red light shining through the crimson glass from the hallway beyond. No Phantom- I should have known! I have chased the Red Death through these six colored rooms, into the final room that waits for us all.
I scream, but the chiming of the clock overpowers all other sound. Each chime echoes into the other, blending into one long sound as the clock sounds out three measures, four…
Death catches me about the waist, drawing me into a waltz to the chiming of that dreaded clock. Five, six… I know that even down below, the music has stopped, and all dancing and revelry has ceased as the eerie sound of that dreaded clock filters down, reminding us all that we are mortal, and destined to dance the same steps as I do now.
Seven, eight… Chilled hands pull me closer, cold even through all the layers of my gown, but again, it is his eyes that captivate me… Icy pale and haunting, those eyes seem to stare straight through my mortal flesh and into the soul beyond. Into Eternity. Nine, ten… He whirls me around, dipping me low as we waltz past the window. I see our reflections caught in the red glass, and …a figure beyond? Eleven, and he swirls me away, dancing me across the room to the far wall. My back slams up against it as he pushes in close… Twelve, and the glass behind us shatters, and over Death’s shoulder I see a hand, reaching out, but the clock has already struck its final chime, it’s too late. I brace for the pain of my impending demise as my phantom lowers his face toward mine and blue eyes fill my vision…
Everything stops as the clock chimes its final, impossible chime. I feel as if the world should be crumbling beneath me, but the walls stay firmly in place. My rescuer’s hand closes around my phantom’s shoulder, spinning him away from me, and– they’re both laughing? As I slide down the wall, knees giving way, they both reach for me, matching blue eyes flashing from mirth to concern–
“Zig? Tripp?! DAMN YOU BOTH TO HELL!!!”
The brothers dissolve back into a fit of laughter as I continue to swear at them from the floor, mostly mad at myself for not putting the pieces together sooner. Of course they would try to prank me tonight- how could they resist? It wasn’t often I was at their mercy, instead of the other way around. And with Zig reusing his Jareth costume, I really should have seen this Roommates revisit coming, even if this was a different phantom costume for Tripp. But I had completely fallen for it, chasing Tripp all the way through this house that seemed to hold every and any story ever written on the silly hope that it might actually be The Phantom himself…
“So who’s idea was it to do Red Death?” I ask, after pushing myself back to my feet. I glare down at the pair of them, wishing Tripp would take off that stupid mask, but unwilling to admit to how badly they’d scared me.
Tripp leans back on his elbows, content to lounge about on the floor. “That was yours, actually. As far as I can tell,” and here he tapped the corner of his eye in a most Zig-like fashion, “the authors have most of the control in this house. Not all that surprising, really, given the normal status quo.”
I purse my lips at that, not liking what he was implying. We’d had the fate vs. free will argument before, and I was never satisfied with Tripp’s answers, and he knew it. Talking to the Fate Seer brothers was always a headache at best. Speaking of…
I whirl on Zig, who was laughing so hard his impeccable makeup was starting to smear with tears.
“And you! I know you’re not that good of an actor! How long did you know?”
“Who me?” he asks, eyes going wide. “I had no idea- I lost our phantom as soon as we hit the ballroom. When I got upstairs, I thought for sure you’d go for the Laby room, and I was waiting for you there.”
“Bullshit– you ditched me, ‘cause you knew you’d give it away.” He was lying, I knew he was. His grin was too smooth, not pulled to the side in his usual smile, and there was something around the eyes…
Tripp rises to his feet, drawing my attention away from his brother. He is stunning in this costume, now that he’d stopping running long enough for me to get a good look at him. Liza had done expertly as always – this costume is exactly as I’d always pictured The Phantom in my mind. I stop when I realize I’ve been reaching out to him, hand moving of its own. I am drawn to the costume, nothing more. Liza’s costumes always had spellwork added, to entice the mind and ensnare the senses– kinda made me wanna pet Zig’s pants, to see if they were really as magical as he always made them out to be.
A low growl from Tripp brings me back to myself – I had been actually reaching for Zig this time. Damn, Liza’s work was good. Zig smirks at me, and I stick my tongue out and roll my eyes in answer.
“Dream on, Dreamboat.”
Zig’s eyes bug, and he falls to a fit of laughter so strong, it brings him to his knees. Tripp scoffs as he moves past the pair of us to the broken window.
“C’mon, Dreamboat. Let’s get you back to your precious party.”
I frown at Tripp’s tone—it’s too harsh, too agitated. It’s not like my mellow, absentminded tattoo artist at all. And his eyes… There’s a flintiness too them that’s just all wrong. It’s not like Tripp to be this emotional—maybe he disagreed with Zig’s prank? But, Tripp would never go along with it if he didn’t want to…
But Zig has gotten up off the floor and is holding his arm out to me, clearly ready to escort me back downstairs.
“Hold on a sec, we left our cloaks a few rooms back.”
I move toward the door to the violet room, but Tripp is suddenly there, blocking me. I jump back, thoroughly spooked. Tripp never did anything in a hurry, unless there was danger…
I swear he is growling. Barely loud enough to hear, but it raises the hair on my arms. This is a sound to back away slowly from– never run. This is not Tripp.
I fall into a ready stance, feet wide and knees bent. Zig is suddenly between us, to break up the fight, but that only sends my suspicions into overdrive.
“Who are you?”
“That is damned fine question—and even better, who the hell is this other me?”
My head whips back and forth between the Zig holding me back, and the Zig that’s standing in the doorway behind Tripp-not-Tripp.
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…
I am ready to punch something. I don’t even care what. The tension from moments before is still humming along my skin, and none of this slapstick crap is helping.
When Cait peeks in behind the new Zig, I simply stand there and stare. My brain refuses to process until she calls that idiot griffin by name.
Before I can punch him, Frost has already decked Lark and is dragging toward the window.
“We’re all going downstairs now,” he snarls, and I for one am not inclined to argue. To be sure, Lark’s still gonna get his dues from me, but I am more than happy to leave this room behind first.
“Wait, what?” I’m not really unhappy with the declaration and am not surprised when it’s Frost’s voice from behind the phantom mask, but I am a little thrown that we’re leaving so abruptly. I mean, it’s not uncommon for Frost to be that upset with Lark, especially if he didn’t want to come to this party in the first place. Did Lark drag him here anyway? Did Lark leave because he felt Frost show up?
I’m so confused.
And then Frost is heading towards the broken window… “Okay, wait, seriously now… Why not just go back through the doors? Less jagged edges that way.”
“Hey, I am all for dragging your bonder’s bitch ass through some broken glass right now.”
I turn to Cait and the real (I hope) Zig, hand on my hip. I’m posturing, but I’m also pissed and still pretty freaked out, so I don’t mind being a little bitchy.
I blinked. I mean, it’s not unlike Raev to be annoyed with Lark, but that seemed a little extreme for him annoying her. “Why? What did he do now? I mean, aside from a weird impersonation there…”
“Huh, you’ve got a point.”
Calm as day, I stride up to Frost and punch him in the arm.
“That’s for trying to scare me.” I hit him again. “And that’s for playing stupid games all night- seriously, did you not learn from the stupid trying-to-kill-me-when-we-first-met-thing?! I don’t.” Punch. “Do well.” Punch. “With threats and stupid posturing.” One last punch, and I finally back off, breathing hard. Corsetted underthings were not made for brawling in. Not that this was much of a brawl, for Frost and I standards.
Frost just blinked calmly. “Are you finished?”
I think about kicking him, but in these skirts I’d probably just hurt myself.
“C’mon, let’s just get back downstairs. I’ve had enough of this Red Death crap.”
I watched the spectacle, utterly confused the more Raev ranted. Not unusual for her, but normally I had a better sense of what was going on when she did so.
As she took her frustration out on Frost, Lark calmly slipped out of the distracted Frost’s grasp. He made a show of adjusting himself and dusting himself off before coming over to offer a hand to me. I just stared at him.
“Not that I don’t like Zig’s face, but can we go back to the first costume of the night?”
Something more serious flits across Lark’s expression before he smiled winsomely. “What? You don’t want to be escorted by twins?”
Before I could answer, Raev was declaring something about Red Death and I was back to being confused. “Wait – Red what?” My mind pulled back to the dread I’d been feeling… And that flicker of a red figure in the white room. “Like a red figure, Red Death?”
Now I had Lark’s full attention and he reached for me in earnest. He pulled me into the room with him, his gaze intent on the shadows behind me.
That more than anything else I’d seen in the rooms so far worried me.
Zig slips into the room after Cait, clearly not happy about the whole situation. As if his face weren’t enough, I can tell by how quickly he’s speaking that he’s seriously spooked.
“Yeah, red figure- like in Poe’s short story? You didn’t think this whole spiral/dungeon nightmare was just a bad case of matchy-matchy gone wrong, did you?” I don’t know if he realizes it, but Zig’s eyes keep flicking between his “twin” and our own “red death” as he lectures us about the setting. Yup. Seriously spooked. Poor guy. I wonder if he’s Seen something…
Zig’s nervous babble did nothing to soothe my nerves. In fact, as he spoke, goosebumps raised on my arms.
“So what you’re saying is that I didn’t imagine seeing a red figure in that mirror back there?” Alright, so there was a bit of a waver to my voice. Part of that was the sudden quickness with which Lark was suddenly moving me over towards Frost and Raev.
“Yes, yes, lovely discussion, great story – let’s continue these grand explanations elsewhere before something else is brought down on our heads.” His arm around my shoulders was tight, and hot, as if he had a fever. That alone would have given him away to me, even if I hadn’t felt his presence first. It’s a comfort though, and I stepped closer to it. It may have been my imagination, but the room suddenly felt much colder. Of course, it might also be Frost.
And now it’s my turn to be confused. I cross my arms and give Lark a pointed look.
“Something else? What else has already befallen uh, Larkie Boy? Surely you don’t mean our party-crasher Frost here?”
If I thought Frost was scary before, it’s nothing on him now. He’s pulled his ice around him, and is standing in the broken window in his full Destroyer glory. Nothing outwardly has changed, but man, he was not a force to be messed with right now.
“Everyone is going downstairs, now.”
While I usually live to give him crap, I’m in perfect agreement with my bonder.
“For real, guys. We can argue on the way- we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
As we maneuvered down the dimly lit hallways, I thought of asking several questions. What was happening? Where were we exactly? What had Lark been talking about? And what exactly happened in the Red Death? I loved Poe, but I don’t remember every one of his stories, let alone the details.
Every time I opened my mouth, Lark’s hand tightened. The grim set to his jaw kept me silent. I don’t know what’s going on, but clearly he had some idea, so I followed his silent suit while Zig and Raev followed us. I assumed Frost was bringing up the rear of our odd little parade, but I never glanced back to check.
It wasn’t until we hit the main hallway without incident that Lark’s grip began to loosen.
I had to admit, I felt a lot safer with the boys at our front and back. I didn’t mind filling the badass role when I had to, but those two were oh so much better at it than me.
When Zig reaches out for my hand, I want to draw it back, to keep myself ready for anything, but really, I’m out classed here. My hand is more useful as comfort for Zig than trying to battle a ghost that may or may not even be here. Or just around the corner. Or that corner. Or that- oh jeez, this was stupid.
Back in the main hallway, it’s much easier to trade fear for anger, and I spin on Frost as he exits the hallway on our heels.
“Alright, spill it.”
But he’s ignoring me in favor of the archway we just passed through. A blast of cold wind blows off of him, and I realize just how serious he is.
“Hey! Hey—Hey, Frost! We can’t just Destroy a part of this house- we’re guests damnit!”
I grab his shoulder to pull him around, wincing at the touch. He’s so cold, it burns my hand to touch him, but I’ll be damned if I let this idiot UnMake a part of someone else’s house.
“Lark! Help me, damnit.”
I spun at Raev’s yelling, but she’s right. Frost’s determined to end whatever threat we’d just left behind. Not that I blame him. He wouldn’t have come to the party unless Lark really needed the help.
I shifted my weight from foot to foot, partially to ease the ache that was building from unfamiliar heels, and partially to hide my discomfort. When Lark stepped in to help Raev, I shivered, wrapping my arms around myself. I don’t remember the hallway being so cold.
And lack of Lark.
He grabbed Raev’s hand and pulled her back from Frost, so he could grab Frost himself. It was a little weird to watch him do it still wearing Zig’s face though. Frost probably would have blasted the real Zig if he’d done the same thing.
“Come on, she’s right, Frost. It won’t leave its domain and we’re beyond that now.” His voice was a weird mix of his own and Zig’s. A little too low for Zig, not quite rich enough for Lark. The serious and jovial was all himself though.
When Frost showed no signs of listening, Lark pulled his shoulder hard enough that I saw Frost’s body rock with the motion. “We don’t know what our magic will do here, Frost. You don’t know what threads you’re risking if you unleash your power like this.”
Zig’s had to clear his throat twice before he could speak.
“Uh, are we sure it won’t leave here? Cause, uh, I chased something up from the ballroom, and it sure wasn’t as scary as the Big Guy here.”
When Lark gave Zig his own raised eyebrow I finally had to say something. With Lark and Frost firmly between me and the Red Death or whatever, I was beginning to relax. “Okay, seriously Lark, can we have another costume change? I’m getting a little weirded out seeing Zig make your faces.”
There’s the barest hint of a familiar smile before he shifted. Gaining several inches, he was simply suddenly himself again in his handsome black and green tux from before.
Whatever smile I thought I might have seen was gone as he glanced between Zig and Frost. “Perhaps, but outside of its domain it lacks the upper hand.”
“Come into my parlor much?” Zig was trying for glib, but doubtless he was ready to get back downstairs proper and find some punch of some sort- hopefully the adult sort. I was inclined to agree with him.
I tug at Frost’s arm, not satisfied that he won’t blast the archway out of pure spite. I know him, better than he’d care to admit, partially because he’s so much like. And it is exactly the sort of thing I would do. I would love nothing more than to tear that hallway down stone by stone, and I let Frost see that in my thoughts. It seem to soothe him in some way, and he moves away from the door and wraps his usual possessive arm around my waist. I sigh, but let it stand. I hate to admit it, but it makes me feel better too.
Lark eyed Frost as he moved away from the doorway, clearly unconvinced that he had given up on destroying it. When he’d taken several steps away with Raev, then Lark seemed to relax, rolling his shoulders in a way reminiscent of settling feathers.
He glanced back to Zig. “That’s exactly the concept. Everything holds more power within its own reality… Or web.”
I turn to shoot Lark a dirty look. “No, no more spooky business. We are going back downstairs, and we are finding the punch bowl.”
Lark brightened and I knew he was deliberately putting on a lighthearted façade. He didn’t drop things like this that easily. “Punch? Hey, I’m all set for a bit of spiking.”
I rolled my eyes, but took his hand when he offered it. Then I felt the warmth creeping up my arm and pinched his wrist under the suit. I glared when he gave me a quizzical glance.
“You’re not very subtle.” I muttered.
He grinned, in no way abashed at being caught out. “If I’d been trying to, you’d only be angrier later when you figured it out. You don’t need to worry about it, I’m watching.”
My look was disbelieving, but finally I rolled my eyes. I did feel better, even if I knew it had more to do with Lark’s projection. Besides, he was right, it was his job to keep an eye out and it was something he was good at.
“Alright! Time to get our drink on, am I right?” His cheerful announcement came with another wave of warmth and this time I knew I wasn’t the only one getting a dose of it.
Frost scowls beside me, and I can’t help but laugh. This was more like it. I hadn’t been expecting the boys to come, but it was definitely good to see them again. And it was nice to have backup. Nothing against Zig, but I’d take Frost into a fight any day.
Suddenly, I realize Zig has been entirely too quiet. I turn to see him still standing at the archway, staring. I know that look- he’s a million miles away, lost in some Sight. I waffle a moment about interrupting him, but I still really want to get back downstairs and get this creepy hallway behind us for the evening.
“Oi! Ziggo- ya still with us?”
He startles, blinking his way back to reality. I stop and hold my hand out to him, feeling Frost tense beside me. He’s just as anxious as I am to get us out this hallway. Overprotectiveness, or him playing his cards close to his chest, as always?
Zig takes my hand in both of his like a lifeline, and I give him a reassuring squeeze. “You alright?”
He nods, a little too rapidly. His eyes are still wide and shiny. “Just… it’s nothing.”
He’s quiet for a moment, before finally nodding. “I think so.”
I nod as well, feeling my face set into something too grim for a party. “Awesome. Tell me all about it, when we’re not in Death’s-“
Lark cleared his throat and I looked up at him. I had been watching the hushed conversation between Zig and Raev, but I hadn’t been able to hear anything they’d been saying. Lark clearly hadn’t had that problem.
“Drinking now, yes?”
This time, his pointed look was directed at Frost himself and I had a moment to wonder if there weren’t mental words to go with the look.
His nod is more mechanical this time, and I can tell I’m already losing him. He’s back to mulling over whatever he’s seen, and I’m more than happy to let him. And Frost is not-so-subtly pulling me forward, though I doubt he’s as eager to “get his drink on” as Lark is. He’s still in full-blown serious mode, and it’s doing nothing for my confidence. I breathe a sigh of relief when the stairs come back into view.\
That relief is short lived.
The instant we hit the landing, I’m accosted. Naj is going a million miles a minute about something, but I’ts too fast for me to follow. And October is… well, pale even for him. Kain is just behind Naj, pulling the serpent close and blanketing him with soothing energies. I give Kain a look, but he gestures to October first. I trust Kain to have things under control- at least as much as he always does- so I disengage from Zig and Frost to take October’s shaking hands.
I can feel him flinch- I know this is weird for him- but hopefully the touch is more comforting than odd.
“Someone’s taken Rain.”
“Wait – someone’s taken Rain? How?” The sight of Kain had unsettled me – after all, just because I had written him as being six foot seven, that didn’t prepare me for the physical reality. He was taller than Lark even. Granted, only by a few inches, but still…
I felt Lark’s arm wrap around my shoulder, drawing me into him as he and Kain watched each other. Most of Kain’s attention was focused on the trembling serpent in his arms, but he was wary. I couldn’t blame him.
Why Lark was acting so distrusting of one of my characters… Well, that was harder for me to understand. I knew Kain’s backstory, Lark was still much of a mystery to me.
Lark’s voice rumbled through my back, lower than normal. He wasn’t growling, but he was definitely more on edge now.
“I take it that Rain is not the only one taken?”
I echo Cait’s concern, but before October can explain, Lark is speaking. I forget just how alarming he can be, when the fun and games are put on hold. Frost going all cold and business, I’m used to. Lark… It’s never good when he gets serious.
Kain’s gaze flicked between Frost and Lark. Finally, he nodded.
“Seth is also missing.” At some movement from Naj, his arms tightened. “I suspect Nica ran after whatever took him. It wouldn’t occur to that hawk to try to get help first.”
Naj made a sound somewhere between a hiccup and a cough. “They were dancing, and then they were both so angry- and then Seth was just …gone.” I know from the way he said it that he meant his brother’s mental/emotional signature. I’m not surprised Naj had kept an eye on their emotions- doubtless, to make sure Seth was actually having fun, instead of just sulking. Naj turns back into Kain’s chest, and I turn back to October.
“The same with Rain?”
He nods, and Zig comes around my side to wrap an arm around October’s shoulder. It is clearly just as much for his own benefit as for October’s. Zig is still pretty shaken up from whatever he’s Seen. We could only be so lucky that the two might be related.
October’s voice was thin and too high when he spoke again. “There was some sort of old waltz going on, where you change partners every move. I let go of her one moment, and in the next… no one was there. Not Rain, not the man she was dancing with, nothing.” His gaze slides off into the middle distance, and I wonder if we’re losing him to shock. “I only turned my back for a second. Every other swap was fine. I don’t know…”
Zig wraps both arms around him now and guides him to sit on the steps. “We’ll find her buddy, don’t worry.”
“Of course we will.” I step over and put a hand on Naj’s back, ignoring how small Kain always makes me feel. “We’ll find them both- and almost undoubted in the same place.”
I couldn’t imagine what could take two… Or three of our characters. They aren’t exactly weak ones either.
Before I could speak though, Lark was talking again. “So we have two missing – what do they have in common? A type of magic, an interest?”
“They both dance- Rain stayed at the Asylum for a few months, even, before we met.”
October’s eyes are hopeful, but Kain is shaking his head.
“There are multiple dancers from Asylum here – myself and Naj included. None of us were targeted. Only these two.” He fell silent for a moment, gaze distant. Then he shook his head again. “No, everyone else is accounted for.”
I shudder as Kain does his creepy cat sense thing. I can’t feel it as directly as Seth or Naj might, but it still touches my mind, and the fact that it’s one layer removed just makes it feel that much stranger. But I’m glad to know everyone else is alright- I’m not even entirely sure still who all came, there’d be no one way for me to know who is and isn’t accounted for.
Zig’s voice is so soft, I almost miss that he’s spoken.
“Three targeted. You’re lucky we found you, Raev.”
I sighed as Kain shot down the one connection – it had been the first one I’d thought of too, but he’s right, we’d have many more missing if that was the case.
Then Zig’s thought distracted me and I stared at him a moment before glancing over at Raev.
“It would have been difficult for that thing to get back ahead of us. Unless it can be in multiple places at once… I’m not sure that this is the same thing, though. When did these two go missing? Five minutes ago, an hour?” Lark sounded unhappy, his voice distant.
October’s brow furrows, his eyes flicking rapidly to the side as he thinks back. “I… I don’t know. I thought it was just a moment ago but…” His gaze lifts, scanning the ballroom floor. I remember my own brief spin on the dance floor, and I can’t blame October for being so uncertain. “Things don’t seem to move right down there, ya know? I can’t put my finger on it, but…”
Zig nods and rubs Octobers arm in an unconscious comforting gesture. He just can’t help but play big brother to everyone. “It’s not just the dance floor. This whole house- there’s some kind of magic at work, but I’ve only Seen bits and pieces. The girl-”
He stops, but at my nod of encouragement, he continues. “I Saw someone upstairs,not our Man in Red. It was a girl, a woman, and…” The way he hesitates, I know he’s about to offer up pure conjecture. Zig hates trying infer anything from what he’s Seen, but we’ve got to do something to untangle this mess.
“Go on, Zig. We’ll all keep in mind that the Sight isn’t perfect. At least, we’ll try.”
“She was weaving some kind of magic at the door to the Death rooms. I couldn’t tell what, but the fact that she didn’t think anyone could see her… Sneaking around is rarely benevolent.”
I can’t decide who to shoot the meaningful look to, Kain or Lark. Both are meddlers to the extreme. But pointing fingers won’t get our people back. I ignore how awfully Janeway that sounds, that won’t help either.
Lark watched Zig unwaveringly during his and Raev’s conjecture and I almost wished that I could feel whatever Lark was feeling or thinking through whatever our connection was. Sometimes I thought it would be handy. Sometimes I knew it would be overwhelming.
He made a noncommittal sound, clearly sinking into some trail of thought.
Kain frowned. “Death rooms?” He quickly moved to soothe Naj’s sound of panic, giving Lark a serious look. “That hardly sounds like nothing.”
Lark waved a hand as if shooing the idea back to Kain. “I don’t think this is the same thing. The Seer is right, there was someone weaving outside the small labyrinth we were in. I suspect from the way that she handled the magic that that was a member of this household, however.”
He turned, and the way that he was holding me against him meant I had to turn too. “Where is Frost?”
“Off trying to decide if I regret the decision to let you fools stop me from fixing our little maze problem.”
I jump as Frost appears from the same wing of the balconies as October had. When had he left? I shouldn’t be surprised- he’s always doing crap like that.
“Frost, you can’t just Destroy part of someone’s house without asking-”
October barrels past me, shoving Frost hard. “Rain might be in there! What the hell kind of protector are you?!”
“The kind that doesn’t appreciate being shoved, boy.”
“Oookay that enough Macho Bullshit- Zig, do you think you’d know this woman if you saw her again?” I step between the simmering fistfight, knowing the pair of them are just tense. October usually isn’t prone to violent, and Frost usually wouldn’t waste his time on a mortal.
Zig is on his feet, eyes going soft as he tries to let his Sight slip. “I think so, yeah.”
“Ok, alright then. That’s a goal. Maybe she’ll know how to get a hold of security or something. More eyes to help us search couldn’t hurt.”
Lark hummed and I gathered from his tone that he was already dismissing the general talk. When he spoke, it was directly to Frost.
“What did you find? Anything?”
“No trail of any sort- the boy is right, Rain simply vanished. I imagine it was much the same with the serpent. I was going to head back upstairs, if you’ve got everything under control here?”
He steps around me and October like we’re not even there- the boys are off in their own little world again. Whatever. It’s not like I can help Frost do whatever anyways, and I still think getting the hostess involved is a good idea.
“Fine- go have fun, but seriously, do not Destroy anything without regrouping. You’re more than a one trick pony, surely you can handle any trouble you encounter in a less permanent way.”
I don’t flinch when he turns to give me steely eyes, and his stern look gives way to a small smirk.
“Alright, little mother. With your permission?” He gestures to the stairs, and I scowl. “Yes, go- before I hit you again.”
Lark squeezed me in something like a hug. He seemed to be reassuring me, but honestly, at this point I was more confused than upset. I tilted my head up at him and he wasted a small smile. It was a surge of warmth pooling in the back of my skull that told me my calm was likely his doing. I rolled my eyes and he moved off to join Frost.
The pair of them vanished back upstairs without another word to the rest of us.
Without Lark’s warmth, I wrapped my arms around myself to ward off the coming cold. It wasn’t that cold on the dance floor, but Lark always exuded such warmth that anything less felt frigid.
Even as I thought it, I felt a warm weight fall around my shoulders. A short capelet – I adjusted it eve n as I thought a thank you to him.
Now that the pair of Kaleans were gone, Kain seemed to relax. “Are we supposed to search out the unseen woman while those two do whatever it is they’re going to do?”
“Seems as good a plan as any.”
I stifle my smile as I hear Frost bicker at Lark and turn back to business. Zig describes our mystery woman for everyone, and we make plans to split up. Zig cracks a half-hearted joke about the Scooby Gang, which gets a half-hearted smile out of October. The pair of them will search the right hand balconies, Kain and Naj will take the left, and I hold an arm out to Cait at the top of the ballroom stairs.
“Hey.” I took the offered arm, even though I felt as if our attempts to find this woman would be futile. If she was going to such lengths to be unseen, what were the chances any of us without the Sight would actually find her? But I don’t say any of those thoughts aloud. After all, this seems to be more about making everyone feel better.
“Alright then. Once more unto the breech, I guess.”
I blow out a breath, trying to will some of the tension from my shoulders before descending into the chaos below.
The ballroom floor is the same tangled mess I remembered from when I first arrived. I flash back to my first and only dance of the night as I lead Caitlin out onto the floor. At her curious look, I grin.
“Can you think of a better way to navigate this mess? It seemed to work well enough for Lark.”
I know now that it was he who swept me across the floor before I chased my phantom upstairs. With his love of theatrics and indulging fantasies, who else would set up an elaborate prank like that? Too bad it had gone awry on him. I suppose my nature as the “bad cop” of our author duo finally came back to bite me in the ass. I hope my Author’s influence leads us to Zig’s mystery woman quickly.
Cait gives me a funny look at the mention of Lark, but I shake my head. It’s not important right now, and honestly, we should be focusing on finding Zig’s mystery woman. I don’t know how, but my gut says dancing is the way to go, so I lead Caitlin further into the mass of dancers.
The crowd parts, revealing a woman dressed all in black and gold and crystal. She looks directly at me, and I know this is the woman we are looking for. I spin Caitlin outward, releasing her hand and stepping forward to greet the woman with a small bow of my head.
“Excuse me, are you… you’re weaving magic in the house? I- Our friends have gone missing. Is there any way you can help us?”
She never breaks eye contact as I speak, and I know she is sizing me up somehow. When she finally looks away, it’s to consider the ceiling, and I have horrible sinking moment where I wonder if we speak the same language. So far, I’ve not interacted with anyone outside of my own group. I have no idea just how varied the party and its guests may be.
Her eyes are wide when she looks back to my face, and I tense. At least she’s looking at me and not at something horrible over my shoulder.
“You’re the Author!”
I blink at her sudden declaration – because it was a statement, not a question. But her excitement quickly calms back into her original placid demeanor, though it’s now tinged with worry.
“Some of your friends have gone missing? That won’t do…yes… I can help.” Her gaze keeps drifting to the ceiling, her attention clearly split. “Welcome to the masque, by the way, I’m sorry it’s turning so poorly…. ”
Frost and Lark appear from the crowd. “It’s not for lack of your good hospitality, madam. This one,” Frost says, waving a hand at me, “simply loves being in trouble.”
“And -you- love working,” Lark shot back at him, “so you’re both having a marvelous time, I’m sure.”
Our hostess seems completely unfazed by the new additions to our conversation- perhaps that’s why she was looking up? Not at the ceiling, but at the balconies? “Well..glad to hear it…” She smiles in welcome, as a good hostess should, but then is right back to business. “As for your friends… I can show you their threads…probably, so that you can trace them.”
I’m not at all surprised when Lark steps forward. If we’re talking threads, who better to handle them than a DreamWeaver?
He inclines his head graciously, falling into his automatic charming persona. “If it wouldn’t interfere with your own casting, I would find that most useful.
“Oh not at all, here.” She reaches towards the sky, her hands moving around and then reaches out to hand basically an invisible ball to him. So that’s what’s up with the ceiling then. I can’t see the magic myself, but Lark seems to have a good handle on it.
Frost is much more interested in the spellwork than I would think from him. I wish I knew what he was seeing- to me, it looks like he’s just staring at Lark’s empty hands. Finally, Frost pulls a single strand, and it shimmers into visibility. The thread is a flat, dull black, that somehow seems gooey like tar. Frost ignores us all, speaking directly to Lark as he holds up the thread.
“I think these are the Shades we were chasing. We can probably follow them back to Rain and Seth, then …”cut” them, if you all are finally in agreement with what needs to be done?”
Shades, huh. Well, that explains the feelings of dread. And why Frost would be so keen to Destroy them, but still…
I turn back to our hostess, knowing someone should ask, and Frost certainly won’t. “What my friend here is referring to is a kind of …annihilation. Destroying breaks down the patterns that hold energy to the physical world. Shades are a half-manifestation of void energy and physical energy, so he’s simply be releasing them back to the void. But if you’d rather handle them in some other manner…?” I leave it open ending, not knowing what tricks might be up her sleeve.
Taliana looks thoughtful. “I can help, and protect the rest of the worlds… Let me see.” She reaches into the air and pulls at a few more threads. “These are pieces of your threads, and just through this door is my house. I can tether you here… or, lend some grounding at least. Then I can protect this entrance and block all the others… only you few will be able to come back here, ever.. unless something… ” shakes her head, “I can seal your world off, basically.”
I nod, trying to ignore the feeling of being in two places at once. “That’s probably for the best-Shades are nasty business. They feed on mortal energy, and while most are simply pesky… Any parasite can become deadly, under the right circumstances. And with the unique circumstances here… So many worlds, so much imagination and potential-”
Suddenly, the pieces click into place. “We’re all writers.”
Zig gives me a curious look, but October is quick to catch on. “Rain and her death stories.” I nod, knowing this must be it. “Seth writes too, a little. I’m sure, a capital Author like myself or Cait is yummier, but what Shade would turn down free food?”
“And so many other things that aren’t setting right…. Feeding on creators… on writers… I don’t like the sounds of that. Please do what you can to stop it. I would offer more aid but… there’s a lot that needs to be fixed here.” Taliana looks a bit overwhelmed.
Frost nods, and I place a hand on his arm. He looks like he’ll just take the whole house down right now, which sort of defeats the purpose of stopping the Shades.
“Just stop anything else from coming over, and we’ll clean up our own mess.” I offer her a weak smile. “I feel like I’ve broken a lamp at a teenager’s rowdy party or something. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry.. I can seal you up in there, and limit the rooms your world has access to… and… anything goes during this Masque, I’m sure worse things have happened. I will have to ask but, I am sure they have.” Smiles
I nod, and it is clear everyone is anxious to get back upstairs and rescue Rain and Seth. “I’ll find you again once we’ve taken care of everything?” I had to ask- we hadn’t been able to see her all evening, and I had a sneaking suspicious it would stay that way as long as she wished it.
The woman nods, “Yes. I try to stay out of the way when I visit the worlds… unless clearly invited but,” she grins, “Well, you’ve invited me and there will be a thread connecting you back to my world.”
“Excellent. Alright. Thank you.” I bow again as I back away- Cait and the boys are already moving away. Our hostess returns my nod, clearly encouraging me to make haste.
Threads in hand, Lark is able to guide us quickly through the tangle of people and back upstairs. I’m not sure if it’s Lark’s doing or coincidence, but by the time we hit the stairs to the third floor, Naj and Kain and Zig and October have rejoined us. No one says a word as we rush up the stairs.
The journey to the spiral hallway seems much shorter now, though perhaps it’s because we’re moving with more purpose than I was when I was exploring earlier. As I step into the hallway, Frost catches my arm.
“Oh don’t even- you know I am perfectly capable of handling myself, Frost.”
He sighs, and I steel myself to argue with him, but instead he releases my arm.
“I would be freer to work with fewer people to worry over. Though,” and here, to my surprise, he looks right past me to Kain. “I would feel better having someone who was familiar with both their energies to help ensure we’ve got who we want and no one else.”
Kain moves to step forward, but Naj pulls him back. “One of us should stay,” he says softly. “For the nest.” His words are so soft I’m not certain I haven’t imagined them as he adds, “Just in case.”
Oh. Two of the four nest leaders are in there. If Kain and Naj both go… But I can understand Naj’s need for physical comfort right now- it’s a trait he inherited from me. I step away from Frost and wrap an arm around Naj’s shoulder. His arm goes around my waist and he nestles into me without a thought. I’m not quite as tall as Kain, but still tall enough Naj can tuck himself under my shoulder, if he leans a little.
I understand now how selfish it would be for either Caitlin or I to enter those rooms again. If some harm befalls one of them, well, we have the power to undo it. If something happens to one of us… I know neither of us would ever have the heart to touch Asylum again, without the other.
Caitlin steps up to Naj’s other side, sandwiching him in a wall of comfort. Zig and October gather around us as well, and we stand in a little knot of anxiety as the three most powerful men I know disappear into the darkness.
It’s a good thing I have the task of comforting Naj. Otherwise, I would have gone in after them by now, I know I would have. I don’t do well with the sit around and wait sort, and it feels like they’ve been gone forever.
Caitlin is humming a gentle tune under her breath- through Naj, I recognize it as one Nica likes to sing. The melody is simple but beautiful, building on itself as it goes. Naj joins in, adding a layer of harmony, and I let myself focus on the sound, on the enjoyment. The sound grows, layer upon layer of complexity adding to itself until I’m forced to wonder how just two people can produce such a song.
Then suddenly, Nica and Seth appear from the depths of the hallway, and I understand where the impossible harmonies are coming from. Naj races to wrap himself around his loved ones, shifting so that he drape himself along both Nica and Seth’s shoulders. He launches himself off of the pair of them as Kain materializes from the darkness. The three of them look haggard, but no worse for wear, really. Nothing some rest and maybe a good drink won’t fix. Kain nods, and I know the cat has been in my thoughts as he ushers his little family back downstairs. I know the others can’t be far behind if Kain isn’t going back in after them.
Sure enough, and icy blast tears down the hallway, and a great shaggy white wolf gallops towards us. Rain looks so small and fragile on his back, and being draped in Zig and October’s affections does nothing to dispel that. She’s not really all that tiny- at least as tall as Cait- but with the scarecrows and the dire wolf to compare to… but she’s alright too, as far as I can tell. Well enough to babble just as rapid-fire as Zig and October are. I’m sure none of the three of them hear a word each other says as the words pour out of their mouths. I pull Zig aside, suggesting he might take the pair of them downstairs to the sitting room we came in through. Once the OMIGOD factor wears off, Rain will undoubtedly be exhausted.
And then there is nothing left to do but wait for Lark. I move back to Caitlin’s side, squeezing her hand reassuringly as we stare into the hallway. Frost has curled up at our backs, clearly unwilling to leave us unguarded, and obviously feeling confident in Lark’s abilities to wrap things up. I’m happy to know no Destroying is going to go on, but I can’t help but worry for Lark…
When he staggers out of the doorway, clothes haggard and torn, blood and dust smeared on his face, I know he is fine. If he’s well enough to put on that kind of show, then clearly it had cost him almost no energy to deal with the Shades. I shake my head and move back down the hallway without giving him so much as a “are you kidding?” look.
“Hey! Is that all the thanks I get?”
“C’mon, dorko. Looking that war-hero-ish, I’m sure you can find plenty of thanks downstairs.”
The rest of the night actually passes fairly smoothly. After finding our hostess and reassuring her that our friends our safe and the Shade is no more, we all breathe a sigh of relief and set about to enjoy the rest of the night.. Chris finds us as soon as we hit the main floor, manner easy and joking, though I can tell he’s been worried sick. I love how protective he is of everyone he loves, which is everyone that will let him. It’s sweet, and it’s why Chris will always be one of my favorites.
He insists on a dance, and chats me up about everything I missed, a clear attempt to help ease the tension between my brows. He tells me about all the interesting conversations he’s had- apparently, he helped mediate several arguments around time travel, a popular topic tonight, and all about how he ran around spreading cheer to various guests not quite in the masque spirit. One caught in a lover’s spat, willing to pour his heart out to anyone who would listen. Another trying to get the knack of introducing himself to strangers. He’d thought about pulling that fellow off to the side for a quick tumble to relieve his nerves, but it had been so hard to concentrate on sex when the rest of us were off risking our lives. I have to laugh at how inconsiderate he makes us sound. But, mission accomplished Chris. I’m smiling and having a great time.
Satisfied that I’ve been “emotionally fluffed”, he hands me back off to Cait, and I spend the rest of the night dancing with my sweetheart and various characters. Seth insists on a round of improve bellydance, which I fail dismally at, but I enjoy watching he and Nica dance til they drop. Competing with his hawk lover always brings a smile to Seth’s face, and I’m glad to see the shadows leaving his eyes.
As the night winds down, I find myself to that small sitting room, thoroughly exhausted. Rain and October are curled up asleep on a loveseat, though October cracks one amber eye open as I enter. I sigh- if his eyes are shifted, that means he’s still on high alert, but I can’t really blame him. As I take a seat near them, he sits up a bit, and his eyes have bled back to his usual brown.
“You guys ok in here?” I ask softly. Rain murmurs in her sleep as October shifts beneath her, but otherwise doesn’t stir.
“Yeah, we’re good. Lots of people have come and gone. It’s been fun to chat with people from other worlds.”
I nod, leaning back in my own chair and resting my eyes. “I thought Rain might get a kick out of such an event.”
A quiet moment passes, and I debate opening my eyes again so that October knows I’m open to more discussion. It’s just been such a night.
But he breaks the silence first, with a question I really wish he hadn’t asked.
Why indeed? That’s always the question, isn’t it? I don’t want to deal with this right now, but I feel like I owe it to October to at least try, so I sit up and turn to face him.
“Honestly? We’ll probably never know. But, I have my guesses…”
I don’t want to admit this, I really don’t. It’s a point of embarrassment for me, but again, I owe it to them.
“Personally, I think they took Rain and Seth because they’re the ones I should be working on. They have a fan base, ya know? A small one, but it’s there. And that makes those two particularly tasty to a Shade. Add to it that I’ve left the fans themselves hungry, and I’m hardly surprised something sprang up from Mother Darkness to fill that void. So yeah, I think it’s my fault, cause that’s just how I am. Now whether that’s true or not, I can’t know, so I won’t dwell on it.”
I try to be glib, to make nothing of it, like I always do. Never let em see you flinch and all that. But I just can’t shake the feeling that I owe October, and all of my characters, better than that. With a deep breath, I lean back against the wall. I can’t look him in the eye anymore.
“But I’ll always feel a little guilty.”
“Well, use it.”
I crack one eye open and give him a sideways look. The intensity of his gaze makes me want to look away, so of course, I must turn my face back to him and give him my full attention.
“I’m serious. You’re always telling people to use their negative emotions to make a positive change, so take your own advice. Remember the sick feeling of dread when you realized the danger you put us all in, and turn it into determination.”
I purse my lips at his deliberate meta-ness. He isn’t a mindreader, he couldn’t have known what I’d been thinking upstairs.
“Death is very meta. I’ve said that before.”
I grin and give him a playful punch to the shoulder. “Alright you, enough of that. Take your great equalizer and shove it.”
“How bout I take that great equalizer and remind you that you last left a dead body for Jon and Rook to deal with?”
With the Masque officially over, NaNo season can begin. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m more excited about it than ever.