II. The Ball

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The gentle, flattering wind brushed against her masked face as she leaned against the marble railings, resting her head upon her hands and gazing upon the smile of the moon, whose genteel light seeped through the shivering branches.

It all started a long time ago, on the year when the Thenazra Ball was hosted at Sir Mileach’s manor. The fashion of the time was for the lords and ladies to don masks in these festive dances, and Esther was among the faces of painted porcelain that night, dressed in a fine gown of hyacinth blue silk and a complimenting half mask painted with lapis lazuli and adorned with a single peacock feather. The vague anonymity gave her much excitement; she shared a dance or two without any introductions through her chaperone, wandered around the decorated halls, and found a flowery veranda where she could overlook the beautiful estate. The gentle, flattering wind brushed against her masked face as she leaned against the marble railings, resting her head upon her hands and gazing upon the smile of the moon, whose genteel light seeped through the shivering branches.

“Miss,” a voice called out to her with uninvited familiarity.

She turned to face the owner of said voice to find a man of medium built and an elaborate mask, raising her eyebrow and pursed her lips in dismay that someone dared to interrupt her daze.

“Miss, I believe you might have dropped this,” he said, gesturing ungracefully with a handkerchief that she never recalled ever seeing.

“That must have been a mistake: it does not belong to me,” she turned away coldly, crudely imitating her father’s usual apathetic indifference towards all whom he loathed.

“Is that so? My sincerest apologies for having bothered you then, Miss…?”

She knew that the man expected her to introduce herself, but she thought otherwise, “Good night to you, sir.” After a quick bow, she quickly made her way towards the indoors. The man gripped her by her forearm and pulled her back into the chill of the night — the cold did not seem clear to her until now — her heart leapt against her breast as she thought the worse.

“Well, I was simply asking for a name, if the dame would so grace me with such acquaintance?” She cursed herself for having chosen a veranda so faraway from the festivities as she met the intent stare from her aggressor.

She squeezed her eyes shut, “If you insist, the name is Gilabre, now would you please let go of me?”

A flicker of shock passed over the man’s face at the mention of the her father’s name, much to her satisfaction. But, the joy was short-lived as the stranger failed to comply and took a step towards her instead.

“You don’t mean the Mister Gilabre of Lunzeldine, now, miss? Why would he allow his dear daughter wander into such an occasion unaccompanied?” Well, his point was not baseless, but her chaperone was merely still frantically looking for her at the moment. She squirmed against his strong grip and the menace of his voice.

“Please let go of me.”

The man took another step, his body uncomfortable a breath that smelled of wine away from hers now, “Why, will your father sue me in court or what?”

So, this brute was a drunkard. “You are being improper, sir, please get your filthy hands off of me!” She swung her free hand at the bastard, but he caught her. A struggle ensued in which the ribbons holding her mask became undone, allowing the fine porcelain to fall and shatter against the floor. The revelation of her face affirmed her bold claim and encouraged the offender to pin her against the wall by the glass doors.

“I will sure love to see how Mister Gilabre would react if he knew of this encounter, and just how much he would give to buy my silence about his daughter’s…improper behavior.”

She tried to scream, but the man simply silenced her with his gloved hand. Tears of anguish and panic began to blur the  better of her judgement as the man pulled at her outfit, but that stopped when she heard a yelp of surprise from him along with a solid crunch. She opened her eyes, which she had no recollection of closing, finding the man sprawled upon the floor a good distance away from her. A figure stooped over him, holding the bastard by the collar and delivering another blow to his face, which was cut by the broken shards of his mask and steadily tainting the white marble floor with droplets of scarlet. Then, her “savior” of sorts — seeming a little too violent to be called such — turned to face her, his sharp features left unobstructed by any baroque masks.

“You are not hurt now, are you, Miss Gilabre?” He extended his clean hand to her, but she flinched away from it nonetheless and gathered herself up.

“I am fine, thank you for…saving me.”

She caught a moment of what she interpreted as hurt in his hazel eyes at her blatant distrust, and the still night air solidified between them for a split second as both struggled to find the most proper words under such bizarrely improper circumstance. His gaze broke from hers as he suddenly fixed his eyes upon the floor before him, taking off his overcoat and draping it over her shoulders.

“I suppose this will have to do in the meantime.”

Her confusion was soon killed by the searing red embarrassment when she suddenly noticed that the neckline of her gown was ripped downward in a scandalous display, “Oh…I….uh….I-I am s-sorry…I….”

“It’s quite okay, Miss Gilabre. I swear my secrecy unconditionally,” Thankfully, the man read her mind and excused her worries with his baritone voice.

At this, he escorted her back towards the main ballroom, her hand resting about the crook of his arm to steady her nerves.

“Hopefully you don’t mind me asking, but…”

“Sirius Crisiota,” he read her mind once again, but he seemed to have judged his cutting off of her sentence as a sign of over eagerness as his free hand, thankfully cleaned from the blood, shot into his hair and ran through it nervously.

Esther chuckled, “I don’t suppose you are in any way affiliated with the late Baron Crisiota?”

“Well…”

“Miss Esther!!!”

The anguished cry of her loyal servant, Corah, prompted Sirius to mutter his leave. Bowing curtly and his brushing his lips briefly against her hand, which she offered to him unconsciously, he said, “Good night to you, Miss…” darting a glance towards the direction from which the call of distress came, he dared, “…Esther.”

“Good night to you, too, Mister Crisiota.”

She watched as he headed back into the dark in graceful strides, peering back at her with an uncharacteristically boyish grin before the darkness of the night hid him. Meanwhile, Corah caught up with her and started accusing her for the death of her nerves even though all Esther could really hear or feel was the ready buzz in her head and the heat that rushed to the back of her hand.

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