After the Ball

After the Pledge Ball, the first player event in which Vitória made her debut.

Just. Ask.

My dress lies across my lap, surprisingly clean and fuss free, save for a bit of blood trimming the skirt. I can’t remember whose.

Every one has retreated to the College for medical ministrations. Compared to the others I must look relatively unharmed, save for a graze on my knuckle which stings a little, and I know there is a scratch across my cheek. Just dodged the punch, but the ring on the Mestran’s hand was another thing entirely.

Gabrielle tends to the others one at a time; she is diligent, and very good at what she does, and the injuries I sustained — the real injuries– aren’t ones to be mended here. Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, I beg, hoping she’ll pass me over. When it becomes my turn, the mask is up instantly, though it hurts to wear.

“Check over the others, I’m in no rush.” I force my face into an amused smile, hoping it looks cheeky. “I think Bo might fall asleep on you at any moment.” Gabrielle acquiesces and moves on; I cannot tell how good the performance is.

I force my hands into action, dabbing and dotting out the blood on my dress. It buys me time to think, though I can’t keep my fingers, cold as ice, from shaking. The adrenaline of the fight isn’t fading, and I wish I could just make excuses and run.

It takes an age before Rodrigo’s friends, bandaged and bruised, head off to their residences. I offer to escort Felice home; I can’t tell whether she leans on me, or I on her. If I am going to do it, I’d best do it now.

“Gabrielle, won’t you come round to lunch tomorrow?” My voice rings quiet in the nearly empty room. “It would be nice to have a chat.” I need someone to keep my thoughts and secrets inside my head. I hope its you.

After-Dance

Felice seemed to have forgotten how to resume her civil mask, leaving the college. The terracotta was torn open over the shoulder, her shirt bloodstained, and the velvet under-dress had been swung over one shoulder and held there by the hand gripping her rapier. Silly butterfly hadn’t thought to bring a sword belt with her Ball clothes, nor her acting ones, and there was no telling how much of the blood had ended up wiped onto the velvet.

She had slipped an arm around Vitória’s waist, clinging and sleepy, synchronising her step so that the noticeable limp would not impede them. A hummed strain of “If the bravo were brave…” slips from her, right by her cousin’s ear.

“It’s stuck in your head, too?”

A flashed grin – the fangs are starting to extend a little again. “Sooo much. I think Virtue did that more for us than for the audience. We’re never going to be able to forget it or her!”

“I reserve my judgement, still. Gabriel certainly didn’t let her get very far from his side.” She chuckles softly, pausing to tighten her arm around Felice’s waist. The naga gratefully leaned a little more weight on her.

“She certainly seemed to approve.” A smug little laugh from lips with no trace of their evenings paint but at least a half decent puffiness from catching a punch. “I wonder, does he intend to do anything about that? Maybe Serena can get him to talk about it…”

“I imagine he’ll remain tight-lipped about it. Unless he gets a head wound.” She pauses, and grins, “I am not in ANY way suggesting we give him a head wound in order to talk about his love life.”

The cousins grins match briefly. “Spoilsport.” She sighs. “Gabrielle’s told me not to pry into it too much. Mother never stops going on about it, and I’m to invite Virtue over for tea sometime…”

“Speaking of, come over to mine one night. There’s too much–” She pauses, stumbles, then straightens her back. “There’s much I need to be brought up to speed on. I’ll open up the GOOD alcohol, and we can gossip and preen and you can tell me about who you want to… duel, with.”

Felice lends more of her own strength as she straightens, then leans her own head against her cousins golden one. “I’d love that. It’s…been interesting, being back here. Let’s catch up soon, please.” The last word has the weight to it, no more flitting with childlike joy or irritation or any of her pretences, just an honest feeling of family.

Vitória turns her head against Felice’s, her eyes meeting and mirroring the sentiments. “Have we been away too long?”

A hitch of a smile shows the truth of her question. “You know, I think we might have.” An adult gaze from under a youngster’s fringe, a bravo’s blood on the actor’s face as a real smile steals onto it. “Tassato is going to get quite a shock, dontcha think?”

A quirk of a smile graces Vitória’s lips. “I won’t be happy unless we end up with a full page news article in the Pledge… or giving Uncle Gabriel a few more grey hairs.” She pulled her cheek away from Felice’s, feeling the sticky pull of blood now smeared into her hair. She giggles as she wipes her cheek. “I shall also settle for falling madly in love.”

“Oh nooo. Not you too,” Felice groans, doing a fair approximation of Uncle Mondragone. “Why is it always MADLY? Why never slowly, quietly, not-going-to-throw-furniture-in-the-river in love?” She huffs, sending her fringe up – where half of it catches on the blood on her forehead, sticking in a way she was going to be mortified to see. “Although that is probably a good way to have Gabriel grey – and get your full page! Hmm, maybe we should set something artistic up…see anyone you might like to play with last night?”

Her face tries to remain steady, secretive, but a moment later it breaks out into loud laughter, her eyes glittering. “If I tell you now, what will we have to gossip over later? No, I didn’t meet very many from the League cities, but there are some thoughts I’ll be glad to tell you of, later on, about some other citizens of the Empire. TALL citizens, too, which is always a bonus.”

An appreciate hum from her cousin, with a smile for the laughter. “I’ll be very glad to hear of them! I met a few interesting types in Sarvos myself. The ones Uncle Gabriel definitely wouldn’t approve of. Oh, we’re going to have to talk ourselves hoarse. Tomorrow night, maybe?”

“I’ll make sure we can get comfortable and pamper ourselves.” She nods, turning a corner to more familiar streets. “You’d best get changed and hurry off to Adelina’s. Won’t do to let her see you in such a state. She’ll deny you dress-up privileges and access to her closet. Even I’d best hurry off.” Her tone was distinctly disappointed, and her arm around Felice’s waist tightened, hugging her, lingering in the proximity.

The hug was returned with equal strength and Felice kissed her cousin’s cheek, reluctantly moving into the lane to Espelho’s place. “One time she tells me off with that, and I’m never going to be allowed to forget it!” she said with a laugh, but her eyes held something of the same disappointment. As though the mask for the day, for the streets and shops and the business of living back in Tassato wasn’t wanted, not quite yet. Only her cousin could see that though, before she breathed in to assume it again, turned with a cheery wave and strolled down to the first of her morning’s stops, carefully calculating her pace to avoid admitting to the limp.

She did turn back after a step or two, to stick her tongue out. “See you later, cousin.”

Before her own mask shifted back into place, Vitória whispered with a graceful curtsey, “Thank you for the dance.”

Following

You forget, brother, that this is not the first fight I’ve followed you to.

Your friends are a motley group of people, following you through the back end of Mestra; their reasons for being here as varied as their dress. Excitement, exploration, new experiences. The challenge, the Pride, the Loyalty.

My own reasons are too many, too erratic to pin down. I wish I could. It meant I had someone to talk to. But I follow. Always following.

The brawl commences. I take on who I need to, and I make them regret underestimating me. Then I pull back a moment to watch, I assist where a moment’s distraction means the difference between a bone-breaking blow and a stinging one. Whether it’s the dress, or that I’m not seen as a challenge, it would be difficult to say. You gave me my first lessons in brawling, dear brother, but I’ve had to learn much, much more since then. I’ve had to learn patience. I’ve had to learn all the things even you refused to teach me. I know where to aim, and I know when to fight, and I know how important it is to win.

And now, with the taste of liao still in the back of my throat, I know where to look. The others fight for the thrill of a brawl. I fight to never be captured again. You fight… In you, I can see the raw edge of savagery. Brutality. I see, and know, that when you aim a punch you’re not doing it to win the fight, you’re inflicting the maximum damage you possibly can. You want this to hurt. I look hard, and see beyond the mask, beyond you. In that moment I think I fully understand why you are fighting. Why you don’t want me here. In that moment, my decision is made, though it frightens me.

You forget, brother, that this is not the first fight I’ve followed you to.