Four

The Sorcerer's Ball

We had been hanging around at Rawnie's house for two days when Kioni came to us. It was breakfast time when she knocked on the door, holding the invitation, which Rawnie accepted and brought to us.

"She says I can brings friends if I like," she smiled, opening the envelope gently, "She just didn't mention what it was…" After the envelope was opened, Rawnie reached her hand in and slipped the little card out. It looked like this:

Congratulations, you've been invited to

The High Sorcerer Shwanee Nikahh's 170th birthday ball!

When: July Twenty-Eighth, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Six at Dusk

Where: The High Sorcerer's house (if you're the receiver of this letter you very well know where that is)

Hope to see you there!

The High Sorcerer's Secretary,

Enorian Jashutra

"A ball?" I grinned, "Oh, how lovely! I've never been to one, you know."

"He's one-hundred and seventy?" Tintin asked, "How is that possible?"

"You forget, he's a sorcerer," Rawnie rolled her eyes, "Sorcerers and sorceresses can live to be however old they please. Sorcerer Nikahh is going for three-hundred."

"Three-hundred years old," his eyes sparkled with the thought, "Could you imagine all the things I could see? And write about?"

"It's not that easy, Tintin—" the sorceress-in-training explained, "Living forever means watching the ones you love die."

"Did Sorcerer Nikahh know that when he decided to live to three-hundred?"

"Oh, yes, of course he did. Poor old man, he's been through so much, and he's seen so much…" I glanced at Tintin, who was staring at his shoes sadly.

"I couldn't imagine loosing my loved ones," he murmured, and, even though I had focused my gaze on something else, I could feel his gentle eyes on me. Everything went silent.

"Anyway, I suppose you two foreigners want to come?" Rawnie asked, breaking the quiet.

"Do we? Of course we do!" Tintin answered for me, his excitement reflected in his tone.

"Well, then, I ought to get you something to wear. Come on, Nollie." I followed Rawnie upstairs, to my bedroom. She opened the bureau in the corner of my room and pulled out a short, colorful dress. "How about this?" She asked, holding it out to me. I widened my eyes.

"You wear that to Egyptian balls?"

"Well, only if you're a girl between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two…"

"I think I'll pass, really."

"What, and wear that? Don't be silly, Nollie, you'll look amazing in this," Rawnie insisted.

"But it's just so short…!"

"And what do you Brits wear? Dresses that go down to your ankles?"

"Not anymore…"

"Just try it on, will you?"

"Goodness, I didn't know girls were so fussy over what to wear," Tintin said from the doorway, startling Rawnie and I.

"Try it on," Rawnie instructed, placing the dress on the bed beside me before pushing herself and Tintin outside and shutting the door. I rolled my eyes and did as I was told.

Seven minutes later, I stood in front of the mirror, dressed in the little dress that's hem reached my knees, examining myself when there was a knock on the door.

"Are you finished, Nollie?" She called.

"I am," I replied, and the door opened.

"Oh, you look beautiful! Does it fit all right?"

"It fits perfectly."

"Do you want to wear it?" I made faces at myself, trying to see if I could pull off such a short dress, when I finally nodded.

"I think I can."

"Oh, good! You change back into your other dress now. Thank you, dear."

Two nights later, it was Thursday, and we were getting ready for the ball. After I squeezed into my dress, Rawnie had dragged me into her room, and she was brushing my long, brown hair out gently. I stared at my reflection in the mirror for a bit before I looked away, thinking.

"You look beautiful," Rawnie murmured, and I looked up, putting on a small, forced smile, "And I believe he'll think the same." I raised my eyebrow at this one. Did she know something I didn't?

Once she was finished brushing out my hair, she picked up a little black brush and palette of some sort.

"What's that?"

"Mascara. It goes on your eyelashes like so—" I held my eyes open as she painted the black substance that had been in the palette on my eyelashes carefully. When she was done, I relaxed and looked at myself in the mirror, stunned at how different I looked. "There, you're all ready for the ball," she grinned. I grinned back, shyly.

"Thanks," I said quietly, "You look really pretty." That's when I noticed what she was wearing. She was dressed in a silky green dress with only one shoulder. It sort of reminded me of something an Egyptian princess would wear, her dress, and I liked it.

"Oh, thanks, dear. Come on, let's go show Kioni and Tintin, they're downstairs." I stopped, nervously, in the doorway, and Rawnie sensed it, turning back to me. "You okay?"

"Yeah—just nervous."

"Of what? Kioni and Tintin are our friends, there's nothing to be afraid of. You're just dressed up nicely, it's not like you're wearing nothing." I furrowed my brow at the thought, and I nodded.

"Right, I'm not." I followed her downstairs, and when I walked into the room, Tintin stood up, blue eyes wide. He was wearing an ordinary black suit. Kioni, on the other hand, was wearing a blue-green dress, the bottom hem falling to mid-calf. Instantly I was jealous of her long-dress privileges.

"Well, shall we go?" Rawnie asked, breaking the uneven silence.

"We shall," Tintin nodded.

The walk to the High Sorcerer's ball was quiet. Tintin and I walked side by side behind Kioni and Rawnie. Finally, Tintin broke the silence.

"Where's Niara?" He asked Kioni awkwardly, and I saw her tense.

"She decided not to come." There was another awkward silence before Tintin asked another question.

"Why not?"

"My, you ask a lot of questions," Kioni said, her tone edgy, "Nosy little one, aren't you?" He made a move to say something rude, but didn't.

"I'm a reporter," he explained, "Asking questions is my job."

"Well we don't have reporters in sorcery, so I guess you're off-duty." I could tell Kioni was annoyed, and I hoped Tintin saw it, too. He opened his mouth to make a remark to her observation, but I quickly hit his arm, distracting him.

"Hey!" He said under his breath, "What was that for?"

"Keep your mouth shut," I muttered, "We're trying to make friends, not enemies." He nodded.

"Sorry," he said, hanging his head, "I just had to stand up for myself, you know?"

When we reached the ball, Rawnie went to the guard standing at the door.

"Tyro Rawnie Mirr," the man nodded, "and Master Kioni Karaar. Welcome. Oh—who are these two?" He eyed Tintin and I suspiciously.

"This is Tintin and Nollie. They're our guests."

"The Tintin? The one who came here to—" Rawnie cut the man off before he could spill all the details.

"Yes, the Tintin. Now hush—we're trying to not make a scene." He nodded and opened the door for us, and we shuffled in.

The ballroom was ablaze with lights and people dancing. I stared at everyone, eyes aglow with awe.

"Wow," Tintin murmured, looking around.

"All right, you two, let's get out of the doorway." Rawnie pushed us to the wall, where several chairs appeared for us to sit on. It wasn't long after that a girl walked up, dressed in a short black dress, and asked Tintin to dance. I felt my heart sink, and I slouched back in my seat next to Rawnie. "Go dance with someone, Nollie." I shook my head.

"I'm fine, really, Rawnie."

"No you're not. Go find some cute boy and dance with him. Believe me, you'll enjoy it."

"I doubt anyone would want to dance with me."

"Oh, come on, Nollie! There are plenty of boys who would be honored to dance with you! Now go find one." I shook my head again. Right as she said that, she got up and went into the crowd, disappearing almost instantly.

It wasn't long after she left when a young, dark-haired boy walked up to me and asked me to dance. Taken away by his looks, I hesitated before declining. He left without question, and I was happy.

I sat, alone, for a few more minutes before I heard a familiar voice from above me. I looked up to see Tintin, and I smiled.

"May I have this dance?" I grinned and nodded.

"Of course you may." He took my hand and escorted me into the crowd. For some reason, I felt like Rawnie was watching us from the mob, smiling.

We danced for what felt like forever, in silence, before there was a scream from somewhere in the crowd. Tintin tensed, stopping our dance.

"What is it?" I asked, startled.

"We need to leave. Now." He grasped my arm firmly and began to walk through the frightened crowd for the door when someone walked in front of us.

"Nobody is to leave," he muttered.

"Let us out," Tintin said defiantly, but the man shook his head.

"Can't. The High Sorcerer is locking this place down until we find who the murderer is."

"Murderer?" I echoed, fear catching in my voice. "Who was murdered?"

"A young woman—I don't know her name." My heart nearly stopped. Rawnie!

"Oh, God. Come on, Nollie." Tintin yanked me back into the crowd, which was now circling around the body of the dead woman. I tried not to shake; worried it would make me look weak. I nearly screamed when someone grabbed my shoulder, twisting me around.

"Nollie! Tintin! Oh, Kioni, they're okay!" I relaxed when I saw Rawnie standing in front of us, and I ran to hug her.

"You scared me so much," I cried, "I thought you got murdered…"

"We thought it was one of you two," Kioni said from behind Rawnie, "And now we have to go."

"They won't let anyone leave until they've found the killer," Tintin explained, shrugging, "We're stuck here." Suddenly, there was another scream and a sickening sound as something hit the ground. I let out a shriek in fear and Rawnie grabbed Tintin and me, pulling us closer to her and Kioni.

"Rawnie, we need to go help Nikahh get out," Kioni instructed her Tyro, "This whole thing is worrying him too much, and he's so old he can't take it—" Rawnie looked from me to Tintin, then back again, like she would never see us again.

"Watch yourselves," she murmured. I blinked and she was gone and it was just Tintin and I, in the middle of a ballroom containing a murderer.

We stood there in silence for a while before someone I recognized came up to us. It was the dark-haired boy that had asked me to dance.

"Have any of you seen—" He looked at Tintin, eyes wide, before he turned to two large men behind him. "That's him, boys. Get 'em both." Tintin grabbed me, running towards the door. I noticed he had his revolver in his other hand.

Right before we reached the back wall, one of the big men grabbed me and pulled me towards him. I started screaming at this, and Tintin turned, saw me in the man's grasp, pointing his revolver at him angrily.

"Let her go," he said, teeth gritted. "It's me you want, not her."

"But she's an easier target," the man that was holding me growled, "Come any closer and I'll snap her neck." At this, I let out a little shriek and began to try and get him off of me.

"Nollie, stop," Tintin instructed, and I stopped immediately.

"Drop the gun, kid, and we'll let her go." Tintin dropped his gun right as he was told without any hesitation, hands in the air. I expected the man to let me go, but he didn't. Instead, he slung me over his shoulder like I was a bag of potatoes and ran, the other man and the handsome young boy behind him.