january 2nd, 2021
The word ‘grand’ seemed insufficient to describe the witch’s ballroom. The ornate stained glass windows were like nothing Chava had ever seen, depicting the Eight Goddesses in a spread across the room’s two largest walls. Red moonlight shone through and was filtered into a whole array of colors by the assorted panes of glass. At the back of the hall stood a towering old clock, which chimed with the nineteenth hour just as Chava and Mil entered the room. Masked figures twirled and swayed, their motion orchestrated by an unseen string-led band. Chava absentmindedly touched her own stolen mask. Even with the perfectly tailored dress, she felt like an intruder here. The air of elegance was foreign to her. Oppressive, even.
Mil, for her part, seemed perfectly in her element. Her own dress flowed around her with such grace. Did she have some unknown history with noble houses? Chava realized she didn't really know much about her traveling companion. She found herself all of a sudden thankful for the mask—she could hardly even imagine the face she must have been making. She shook off the wonder the best she could and set her sights on their goal. There, on a balcony atop two flights of stairs, overlooking the whole ordeal, was the witch herself.
The witch Silseif sat at a table near the terrace’s edge, deep in conversation with somebody Chava couldn’t quite make out at that distance. More tables extended beyond Silseif’s own, where many ball attendees were waited on by masked servants. The servants made their way throughout the dance as well, and Mil took the opportunity to look at them in better detail. Their masks were much plainer than those of the dancers, and all completely identical.
Chava was suddenly yanked out of her thoughts by Mil’s tight grip on her hand. She felt her face warm and prayed that the sensation didn’t make its way down to her hand as well.
“We should dance,” Mil said, pulling Chava closer and taking her other hand. “We’ll stand out if you keep gawking like that.”
“I wasn’t gawking,” Chava said, carefully matching Mil’s steps. She had never learned to dance, but she was perfectly happy to let Mil lead her. “I was just surveying the room. Getting my bearings.”
“Gawking,” Mil said. This close, Chava could all but see the smile in Mil’s eyes. “Besides, we so rarely get any time to relax. To let go.”
Chava couldn’t disagree. It seemed that they had been worn so ragged by the past weeks, fleeing from one enemy while running headlong into another.
“I suppose one dance can’t hurt,” Chava replied. The warmth in her face threatened to send sweat pouring down her entire body. Could Mil tell? Was it so obvious? She seemed so collected, totally in charge of the situation. Many of the nearby dancers wore gloves. What a blessing gloves would have been. Their tailor contact in the city hadn’t the time, though. Chava wondered for a moment if she could control her pores somehow. If blood and bone, why not sweat? She still had so much to learn. But when would there ever be time with Mil there, always on her mind whenever she had a free moment? Her stomach turned.
“Are you all right?” Mil slowed down but didn’t completely stop. They had to keep up appearances, after all. “You seem off-balance.”
“Fine,” Chava said, quicker than she would have liked. “Just… out of my element.”
Mil nodded with understanding. “When I’m out of my element,” she said, “I like to imagine that I’m the most competent person in the room.” She sped up, taking Chava in a circle around their small place on the floor. “If I seem odd or confused, it’s only because everybody else hasn’t quite caught up to me yet.” She shrugged lightly, let go of Chava’s hands, and spun gracefully around, then took her hands once more. “Its worked for me so far, anyway.” She let go of one of Chava’s hands, and bowed slightly to feign a kiss on the other. “Come. We really should see about that witch.”
Chava blushed hard. Masks, she thought. What a wonderful invention.