In her first life, Senga Bikrotsk considered the parties boring. Unnecessary chatting, names forgotten, fake smiles and continuous scratching of violins. In her second, the lively dances and happy cheers didn't seem as bad.
The ballroom of the royal palace was as grand as she expected. A large glittering chandelier covered by lit, golden candles, burned bright enough to blind. Two gilded tables rested against the walls laden with delicacies from wolf meat to chocolate, and whisky to light champagne. Everything was golden at the palace, a product of the mines Ravikar acquired during the war with Synosia.
Senga frowned as she inspected the black roses twirling around the golden railing of the marble stairs in the centre of the room.
The dancing began, and the noble women, wearing white dresses with pearls attached to their necks, stretched their hands forward, tempting the men to touch their soft skin. The men bowed, long hats resting on their heads, and tapped their feet to the rhythm of the music.
Senga watched as her friend, Nia Novrug was swept into the fast-paced dance by a young Lord. With a smile resting on her lips, Senga took another sip from her whiskey bottle.
"You should dance too," Senga said to her sister and pointed towards their friend, who was struggling to keep her heels away from the Lord's feet.
"Father told me to not dance on the first night," Keelin said. She sat, back straight and hands folded, on an armchair next to the sofa where Senga lounged.
"Our father is not here. I'm sure there are a few men out there who would love to dance with a beauty."
Keelin blushed and shook her head. "They can wait until tomorrow."
Senga sighed, stealing another glance at the dancing people, the smell of their sweat hitting her nose as their movements became faster and more chaotic.
"Why don't you go yourself?" Keelin said.
Holding back a scoff, Senga shook the bottle before placing it on her lap. "Nia might be sober enough to keep her heels away from that man's feet, but I'm not. Although, stabbing a man's feet with my sharp heels does not sound bad to me, even when sober."
Her sister shook her head and hugged her small body with her exposed arms. It was Keelin's coming of age, and her tender 16 years of life could easily be seen in the naive, brown eyes which gleamed at the sight of fancy clothes and golden decorations.
Nia stumbled over to them, her breath staggered and cheeks blushing. The tall woman fussed with her blonde hair and tried to swipe sweaty strands from her face. Senga gave her a smile, as Nia sat next to her on the sofa, almost falling over the glass table in front of her.
"You still have the moves, Lady Nia," Senga said.
"Does my hair look terrible? I think I heard Caisidei's daughter laughing at me! Do you think it looks bad...?"
Senga snorted and handed a bottle of wine to her frenetic friend.
"You look perfect, lady Nia!" Keelin said, smiling at the restless woman. "And that Lord over there seemed to like you a lot! Do I hear wedding carols?"
"Please! He danced with five other ladies at my coming of age... by the Father, he has probably danced with half of the capital by now." Nia said, taking a deep gulp of wine.
"Danced? Or danced?" Senga asked, a smirk curling the corner of her lips.
Keelin gasped, covering her mouth with a hand. Nia let her head fall back as she laughed, the sound bouncing back on the semi-open balcony.
"Both. That's what I've heard, at least."
"And would you like to dance with him too, Lady Nia?"
Nia blushed, taking a small sip from the wine bottle. Her reddened ears made Senga smile. She wished all their conversations could remain like this. Easygoing. Playful. However, the innocence in their eyes would soon dissipate when they were sold to the highest offer.
It was a noblewoman's purpose to become a wife, no matter how distasteful the husband was. Senga's hand tightened around the bottle. One more thing to add to her list of hateful things in Ravikar kingdom.
The air shifted, and the loud music of the violins decreased considerably. Hushed whispers circulated, and wide eyes glanced nervously around, expecting. Waiting.
Senga felt something in her gut. She could feel the winds whispering on the balcony, making the heavy curtains flutter in awkward angles. Senga placed the bottle of whisky on the glass table in front of her.
"It is not safe here. There is... something."
Keelin's face paled at Senga's grave tone and Nia looked around with her wide brown eyes. The dark woods behind the balcony were alive, intelligible voices scratched at Senga's sensitive ears. She turned her head towards the towering trees staring at her from above the railing, her breath hitching as the nobles' chatter faded into the background.
Senga heard the arrow before she saw it. Faint whispers tickled her ears, her stomach rumbling, agitated. It was coming straight at her head, so fast, like the Saintess of Winds herself blessed it.
Goddess, am I to begin again so soon?
Before the tip of the arrow scratched her nose, darkness enveloped her. Senga let out a breath and stumbled to her feet in the dark. Mournful thoughts planted roots in her head, reminding her of death's cold void.
Soon, the wall made of swirling shadows dissipated and Senga gasped, taking a step back.
A man made of smoke and shadows stood next to Senga's sister and their friend, his black swirling armour covering him from head to toe. Senga could only see a pair of bright red eyes, burning in the darkness of the night.
The man whispered something, and dozens of screams rose in the crisp, windy air. The nobles froze, like a God stopped the time. The woods were silent once again.
The armoured man turned towards the nobles and lifted his head, assessing the room. He brought his hands behind his back. His feet planted on the marble floor of the ballroom, the confident stance commanding the attention of the nobles.
The guards surrounding the ballroom drew their swords, their helmets pointing towards the semi-balcony. Golden armour shone under the strong light of the room's chandelier.
"At ease. The rebels are all dead now," the masked man's deep voice reverberated throughout the ballroom.
The guards hesitated for a few seconds, their heads moving around the room, looking for clues that might prove the rebels were hiding in the darkest corners. After they took the collective decision to trust the mysterious man's words, their swords went back to their hips. Senga frowned at the twirling shadows in front of her. Her saviour was an important person - important enough to give orders to the King's personal knights.
The nobles were still restless, but the music increased in volume, forcing the young men and fair women to dance. Dance their worries away, like the elderly would say.
Senga's heart was beating in her throat. She shook her head and flexed her fingers. Now wasn't the time to succumb to her fears. Determination crept inside her mind. With the help of the burning alcohol inside her veins, she smoothed the wrinkles of her tight dress and took a step forward. Nia tried to catch her arm, but Senga moved faster.
Given the spectacle the mysterious man had put on, magic was surely involved. Senga knew only one person who could use magic in the mortal land and looked relatively human: a sorcerer.
She had to get closer to him.
"Greetings. Many thanks for saving my life, my Lord."
She assumed he was a noble, given the confidence he was displaying. It was always better to flatter them than undermine them, even if he proved to be just another ordinary knight.
"No need, my Lady. Please enjoy the party," the man said, already eyeing the exit on the other side of the ballroom.
"May I know the name of our saviour?" She asked with a sweet voice, drawing closer to his tall frame.
His head turned in the direction of the whispering nobles. "You may not. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"I will not. Your name, please." She frowned at him. He must've been at least a Lord, as he didn't correct her. Nevertheless, it was still rude to ignore a simple request of a fellow noble.
He turned his mask slowly, staring at her. Even without seeing his face, Senga knew he was annoyed with her. She had a gift for annoying men in high positions.
"My lady, you will learn my name soon enough. Patience."
She arched an eyebrow. "Are you perhaps a sorcerer?"
The masked man didn't bother to answer. He tried to walk away, but she caught his arm before he did. Her fingers sank past his armour and touched a soft fabric, forcing Senga to recoil as though burned.
His unnatural red eyes glanced at Senga's arms before he walked away and left the three of them stunned on the balcony.
"Did you see that?" Keelin asked, her face so white she looked faint.
"What? The arrow stopped by an invisible wall, or my hand slipping through his weird armour?" Senga asked with clarity and a suddenly sober mind. Her goal could be closer to her than she thought.
"By the Father, to the wicked winds with that man! Are you alright, lady Senga? You... you almost died," Nia breathed, almost falling.
"I'm fine." Senga smiled.
Senga couldn't let the day nightmares come back to haunt her. She kept away the fear of death. A mysterious man who could control magic stepped inside the palace - Senga needed to focus on that. On her goal. On the curse.
Nia got closer to Senga and grabbed her hand. With a little squeeze, she looked into her eyes.
"It must've been scary. You should go back to your room. All of us should," Nia said, glancing around the room as the people kept staring at the semi-open balcony.
Lifting her chin, Senga threw her a forced smile. "I'd rather stay and find out who that Lord is. Aren't you curious too?" Senga looked at the two women with raised eyebrows.
"I... I might know who he is." Nia said and her slender shoulders shuddered. "My father told me that the King is still young and easily impressed by the old legends. Even if the Gods don't talk to us anymore... some of them still walk on our land."
The nobles' chatter was deafening now, so Senga pricked her ears, taking a step towards Nia as her voice became hushed.
"He told me... about a man who escaped the Underworld."
Keelin gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. Senga narrowed her eyes further. The legend of The Dead Man Alive was familiar.
"Are you sure it's not just a legend? Or pure exaggeration?"
Nia shook her head.
"I heard my mother saying I should skip the King's birthday this year... because The Dead Man was coming ... My father said that there is nothing to fear because he stole from the Goddess of the Underworld and will be punished by the Gods for this."
"Stole what?" Senga said, touching her friend's shoulder.
Nia bit her lips. "Souls... the worst souls from the Underworld."
Keelin walked towards them, almost bumping into the glass table.
"S-souls? As in... human souls?"
"Only human souls go to the Underworld," Senga said, massaging her temples where a headache began to thump. "He killed dozens of rebels with just a few words. Magic is involved."
Senga sighed and glanced at the bottle of whisky. The Dead Man Alive was not what she was looking for - on the contrary, it could become an obstacle, especially if the masked man was on the side of the crown. A sorcerer was not permitted to enter the politics of the nobility, even if they were granted a title, and that is why she needed one. A man, dead or alive, who could control magic and had sworn alliance to the crown could be a huge step back for her plans.
The big double doors facing the marble stairway opened with a loud thump.
A slender man walked out, wearing a simple black suit — certainly not the king. Senga frowned.
"The king's secretary," Nia whispered. "The king must be busy even on his celebration day..."
Senga sighed in relief, her hand clutching on her chest. She wasn't ready to face the king, not after almost dying just minutes ago. With a thankful gaze toward the high ceiling, Senga waited for the secretary to recite his lines.
Among his grateful words toward the nobles, his hand stretched toward the masked man. "And, of course, the king would like to thank our northern Duke Idhail for taking care of the rebels who dare to sully the royal name."
The Damned's hands were clenched behind his back, his feet were restless, tapping impatiently in discordance with the violin's music. He clearly wanted to leave the awful party but was caught in the middle of it.
"Only mad people would approach a savage man who doesn't want to be disturbed," Senga said, taking another flaming sip.
"I wonder how long it will be before the marriage requests come in for him. Can you imagine being married to the savage of the North?"
Senga glanced at her sister, who was awfully quiet since the Damned had entered the ballroom.
"I assume our dear father has already caught word of his arrival, Keelin?"
Her sister raised her eyebrows at Senga and threw her a little knowing smile. "Sometimes I fear you might be reading our minds. Forgive me for not telling you. When our father spoke of him I thought him insane..."
"He is. An insanely greedy bastard, who would sell his favourite daughter to a dangerous man for money and glory." Senga said, eyeing The Damned who was surrounded by easily impressed nobles. Even with his mask on, she could tell he was uncomfortable with the attention.
Keelin glared at Senga, with her lips partly open. "No marriage request has been sent from our household."
Keelin pressed her lips together and her shoulders slouched forward. Although Senga could barely leave their household, she still had knowledge of the military strategies and political battles within kingdoms and empires. It didn't matter how many years passed - humans were still the same, keen to repeat their ancestors' mistakes.
Senga stole a glance towards The Damned. He was not the sorcerer she was looking for. The masked man was a wild beast who beat the death itself and returned to the side of the enemy.
Another variable complicated everything.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, shadoshadowWrite a Review