It always felt like there were too many choices, too many things to do when I attended a masquerade. This was no different, even after all these years. I could hear Dinlas getting ready somewhere else in the apartment while I flipped through my wardrobe, hoping something would speak to me. I heard the sharp clack of dress shoes walking across the floor, and I smiled to myself.
“No, I haven’t found anything yet. Yes, I have a multitude of things to wear.”
I heard him chuckle, the wardrobe door opening wider to make room for him. He wore his new three-piece suit from Christmas, the stark black dotted with a few shooting stars and fitting snugly over his torso. A black dress shirt and a white bowtie were tucked neatly beneath his jacket, a matching pocket square folded perfectly against his chest, his hair combed back. He was adjusting silver cufflinks, scanning my things, before nodding to a long, flowing black dress.
“Why not that one? It looks good on you. Add some silver, and you’re set.”
I glanced at him, all ready to go, then back to my wardrobe and laughed. “I suppose that will work. I don’t want to keep you and everyone else waiting.” I pulled the gown from its hanger and tossed it on the bed, before heading to the bathroom to work on my hair. “Give me…fifteen minutes?”
Dinlas stretched out in one of the chairs near the fireplace, lighting a cigarette and waving to me. “As long as you need, amorcito.”
Smiling to myself, I quickly planted myself in front of the bathroom sink and pulled my hair together into a large french braid. Waving a hand up the back of my neck, stars scattered themselves in between the braids, giving a sparkling effect when they moved. I slid my hand over my face next, and a delicate Phoenix Metallo mask melted into place over my eyes. Its thin design hugged my temples, the crystals in the middle giving it a comfortable weight. I gave myself a once over, nodded, and went to finish getting dressed. Ten minutes later, and a little help with the ties on the back of the dress, we were ready to go. I saw Dinlas look me over with a grin.
“You look stunning, Nyx.”
I straightened his bowtie, a soft smile on my face. “As do you, amata. Let’s not keep our adoring family waiting, hm?”
With a chuckle, we popped out of Tartarus and into Urania’s gallery, where the ball for the Silver Bow Foundation seemed to be getting underway proper. Silver and gold were aplenty in the decor, and the art Urania had gathered here stood out in a particularly beautiful way in the dim lighting. I was suddenly quite glad that it was a masquerade. It was nice to know it was an immortal event, but to have to guess for names meant most of us would truly be a different person tonight. It was both thrilling and relaxing, somehow.
I took Dinlas’ offered arm, and we started off into the crowd, an orchestra playing a catchy melody. Tables for two and four dotted the floor, long white tablecloths and golden candelabras in the middle. Bottles of wine sat beside crystal glasses waiting for thirsty patrons to come along. I peered at the faces that passed us by, trying to discern who was behind them, but gained no knowledge.
“Just relax,” Dinlas said, squeezing my arm slightly. I nodded, trying to keep my glances to a minimum. The only guests I could really sort out were Zeus and Hera – I would know them anywhere, no matter the disguise. It also didn’t help that Hera was wearing a mask decked out in peacock feathers. We moved towards the other end of the room, where the auction winners and charity donations were on display on placquards. The auction had gone well, earning the Silver Bow Foundation a pretty penny, and hopefully enough to carry it well into the next few years.
The previous event had worn us out mentally, so we strayed away from the larger groups of chatter, scooping a small table for ourselves and dining quietly while we people watched. As I went to take a bite of my salmon, a sharp pain shot through the back of my neck, and I winced horribly, nearly dropping my fork.
“Are you alright?” Dinlas frowned, his own fork suspended in the air and he looked me over. I nodded once gingerly, rubbing the back of my head.
“Yes, just an odd pain, not sure what that was.”
He nodded once, finishing his forkful of steak, eyes wandering around the room once more. We cleaned our plates shortly after that and, taking our glasses with us, wandered the gallery once more.
“Urania has done a stunning job here,” I murmured, admiring the sweeping painting of blues and golds stretched over the wall. “I wonder where she gets all this. I would love to be a part of her world.”
“It is quite something,” Dinlas replied, his gaze elsewhere. “Do you feel…off?”
“Off?” I raised an eyebrow and nodded towards the masses.
“Just observe for a moment.”
I followed his direction and settled myself against his shoulder casually, eyes scanning the crowd. Nothing jumped out at me, and I wondered for a moment if maybe it was just the wine talking. But the longer I watched, the more hairs on my neck were raised. The throngs of people, only minutes ago bustling and laughing, were now moving in slow motion. Chatter was drawn out, and you could almost hear the drawled syllables. Gestures appeared to be moving through gelatinous waters, and even my own heart felt like it was crawling. I looked up at Dinlas, his eyes narrowed, hand on his hip – he, too, moved slowly.
“I don’t like this,” he muttered, and I straightened up just as a second shot of pain rolled through me from my neck, nausea accompanying it this time. I know this feeling…
“Amata,” I whispered, hand on my neck as I flinched. “He’s… he’s here, somewhere….”
A rush of sound hit us, and everything resumed a normal pace once more – it felt like someone had cranked the volume up on all the noise in the vicinity after how drawling it had become. I rubbed the back of my neck, turning my back to Dinlas.
“Is there anything there that would be causing this pain?”
I felt his fingers brush my skin, moving aside the neckline of my dress for a moment. “No, not that I can see. If there is something there, it’s either from an outside source or under your skin. Preferably, neither.” His face drew tight. “Is he doing this to you?”
I had come to a similar conclusion but I didn’t want to say it. He had said at Christmas he was coming for us – they both had – but I had hoped we had more time than this.
“Let’s just… keep calm. No one seems to have noticed anything thus far.” I tried to heed my own words, but my heart felt like it was going a mile a minute. I hated this overwhelming urge to vomit whenever he…
“Do you want to go home, amorcito?” Dinlas murmured, brushing loose strands of hair from my face. His hands felt hotter than usual – or maybe I was just really cold. I nodded once, grateful we hadn’t spoken with anyone yet. I nodded again, and he wrapped an arm around my waist, steering me gently but firmly towards the front doors. The smell of alcohol and food once inviting, now gave me a headache. Chaos preserve me, I hated feeling like this. I hated it so much.