A ballroom full of people, wearing dresses and suits long enough to conceal ankles, faces obscured by intricately carved masks. No one can afford to be recognised. Underneath the elegant air is a tremor of tension – because although they accepted the invitation, no one knows who else is here. A simple undisclosed guest list could cause many an issue for the crowd now gathered. But at the present, the mood is cordial, almost amiable.
Music plays lightly, easily overpowered by guarded small-talk. A call to food echoes, and the masses drift slowly over to the tables, where they are seated according to a very old, very secret method. There are six people to each carefully-crafted table; the speed of the passing of the next hour will depend solely on the still-masked individuals who have been forced together. The tables themselves are finely decorated: from the beautifully folded napkins to the ornate sugar bowls that draw so much attention.
Our focus goes now to one particular table; this one surrounded by a mere four. That in itself makes it stand out, but not so much as the awkward silence that emanates from it's centre. Two of it's occupants are veterans of countless occasions such as this, but the other two are much younger and much shyer. They are in attendance of perhaps their first Masquerade Ball, and neither are quite sure of the protocol. Though both are aware of the darker undercurrents that exist, they struggle to hide their excitement at the beauty surrounding them.
Conversation is initiated, and the discomfiture slowly disapparates. Much to the disapproval of their more paranoid elders, the two young girls begin to relax, letting down their walls of insincerity and forced smiles. Their laughter cuts through the still night, turning heads and bringing out unlikely smiles. It has been a long time since this room heard true, care-free laughter.
The time passes quickly for them, and all too soon they leave the tables behind them. They dance and mingle for a time, but eventually end up stood just outside the great hall, on a small balcony sparkling with frost in the dusk. The night takes their breath away – the time for laughter has passed.
'The world is quiet here.' A nod of agreement, but both are more absorbed by the stars. One seems to glow more brightly than the others – 'A Firestar.'
'Or a giant rememberall. Forgotten anything recently?' It takes an effort to smother their giggles.
'I don't know... Maybe something about a giant crack... and an explosion of some sort. Cracks in time and space.' They grow quiet, enchanted by the splendour. A chill wind picks up, but to their flushed cheeks it feels fresh and nice.
The wind, however, is not important. Important is what the wind brings with it: a scrap of paper, typewritten and unsigned. Meet me in the Tallest Tower, upon the stroke of Midnight. The world is quiet here. It lands on the stone railing in front of them, and rests there, just long enough to be read, before twirling off once more into the unknown. The blonde reaches after it, but it is too late. The note is gone, but curiosity is left in its wake. The girls' eyes meet.
'If this was a book, we'd go to the tower.'
'If this was a book, we'd be yelling at the characters to be careful of a trap.'
'But that wouldn't stop them.'
They stand for a while, lost in thought.
'But if we went now –'
'We'd be there for long enough to notice if anything was wrong –'
'And find somewhere to hide if anyone came –'
'And even if we were caught, we're too young and innocent to be doing anything wrong-'
And nothing more needs to be said. The decision has been made. Smiles of delight at their daring radiate from them as they split up, both travelling to the spiral staircase separately by mutual agreement. They do not rush; they have much time left yet. But as they spin through the throngs, both are in agreement: although not yet over, this is one of the best nights of their lives so far.