You're at a masquerade and unknowingly dance with your nemesis
Hundreds of flickering lights cast shadows throughout the ballroom, their movements a silent, but worthy companion to the dancing couples crushed within. The orchestra's violinist allowed her body to flow to the music and the rapid motions of her arm fueled the already frenzied heat of the room. The tones rose in shrieking highs only to plummet to dark, heavy lows.
Passerbys would believe mayhem occurring inside and they would not have been wrong in their assumptions.
The lone woman, creeping along the edges from column to column, went by unnoticed by almost everyone. Her black and burgundy dress, shimmering from the jewels encrusted on almost every inch, created an eerie but mesmerizing visual, but in the darkness...she could have passed for the night sky.
Her eyes, a brown that could burn red in the daylight, darted to and fro, seeking someone…is that?...but no...not him. Where could he be? She slipped between stiff coats and voluminous skirts, gently moving, but not pushing, looking up...there at the balcony, but no...then over there by those doors...but no, not there either.
But then, the one who did notice, brushed her hand, her arm, and then gripped it in a surprisingly firm clasp. Her momentum, so steadily in beat with the waltz, was captured like a butterfly in a net. She gasped from the sudden stop, glanced back, and nearly fell neatly under to the shining floor.
Cold, silver eyes caught her, locking her in place, from behind a plain white mask. He released her arm, bowed, and extended a hand. "My lady," he intoned, "may I have this dance?"
She felt...a rush?...a something...deep within her. She should have said no, she should have turned, letting the cut direct be enough, but that...something...insisted that she pause. There was nothing about him that was extraordinary, really. He was tall, but many men were tall. He had broad shoulders, but many others had broad shoulders. His hair was hidden by a top hat, as many others were. She had a pressing matter - someone she so desperately needed to find, but in that moment, the not extraordinary man looked at her with eyes so knowing that she found herself placing her hand in his and whispering, "Yes."
There was no ease of transition, he turned and pulled her and where before she was flowing like a drop in the river, she was now being rushed through the crowd like a king before his subjects.
Suddenly, a strong hand wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer to a firm chest and the other was gently pulling hers upward and then she was flying.
The orchestra's pounding beat was nothing to the pulse of her own heart which she felt so acutely in the palms of her hands, where she touched him.
They gazed upon each other, two seas, one dark, one light, so captivated by each other that it seemed nothing could come between them.
Then he spoke.
"Who were you looking for?"
That brought her out of her trance and she straightened, broke the eye contact and whispered back, "No one." The lie, which so easily slipped from her lips, was also so easily caught. She could see nothing of his face, only his eyes, but it seemed to her that he became both amused and colder.
"You were rushing about the room, for nothing?"
The fact that he'd obviously been watching her put her on edge. "I was making rounds. Rest assured that there is no one in this room that I would have wanted to run into." That much was true at least. Her target had been someone she did not wish to pursue, and only did it out of obligation and, most importantly, hers and her family's safety.
"Present company excluded, I hope?"
"Though it'd be polite to say so - I don't think we've had the fortune of meeting each other before now," she volleyed back, her tone steadily becoming harder. That pull of something was still in her, but now there was something else, something creeping in that was getting harder to ignore the longer they danced.
He bent lower, the impassive face of the mask so close that she could smell the stranger's hair - a dark, earthy scent. He whispered, "do you know everyone behind their mask then? For I would hate to call you a liar to your face."
That tension within her was growing, slowly, but steadily. She pulled back, just a little, to glance again at his eyes. Could this be…? In the middle of the dance floor, she wouldn't be able to do anything, but she needed to see. He pulled her in close, felt him inhale at her neck, and then she knew. Her pulse raced, her hands tightened, and she knew. It was him.
That tension pulled and pulled until it grew and her rage boiled at having been caught first. They danced, no longer gentle swirls around the floor, but now their bodies, where they touched, were squeezing, pulling, and bruising. His hand at her back was punishing, forcing her to follow him as he moved them across the floor to dark doors. Her nails sank into his hand and she squeezed with all her might, but in return he grasped her so tightly that she knew she'd be purple in the morning...if she made it to the morning. The thought had her throat starting to close up, the panic rushing in. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. She was supposed to find him first.
The dark doors swallowed them up and then there was silence. A silence so heavy she wondered if anyone could hear them at all. He released her and she shot her hand out immediately, the blade from her sleeve sliding out easily. She had the knife at his neck in an instant, but he was no novice. He grabbed her arm and twisted her so that her back was to his chest. He put an arm around her throat.
"I didn't think it'd be like this," he stated, almost regretfully, but she didn't have time to ponder that over. She was also no novice and had expected this. She did three things right after the other. A hard stomp on his instep, a quick elbow jab to his stomach, and when he folded over, a straight-finger jab to his throat so hard she'd be surprised if he didn't choke. He stumbled back, silver eyes wide, and gasped in huge, raspy breaths.
"I knew it'd be like this," she growled, pulling out a second blade and lifted it over her shoulder to fling it into his heart. But then….he lifted his mask, and that something she'd felt earlier came rushing back. But that single moment of hesitation was all he needed. He rushed her, grabbed her knife-yielding arm and slammed it into the stone at her back. She cried out, the blade falling to the floor and then he did something unexpected.
Then he slammed her head into the stone as well and she heard his steps running away from her, into the deep, dark, silent hallway, before she succumbed to the darkness herself, thinking Why didn't he kill me? For there was no doubt in her mind that if they were to meet again, her blade would no longer hesitate to hit its mark.