Saturday, April 1, 2006
Busy week. *is braindead* Must try and get some writing done today... I hope it'll be coherent XD
New chapter time! Thank you, Red and Shanny, for reading last week ^__^
DISCLAIMER: This is the eighth chapter of my novel, In Descending Order, which I've been posting in parts every Saturday morning. All past chapters can be found here:
Chapter Two: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/687577
Chapter Three: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/693902
Chapter Four: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/700653
Chapter Five: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/708712
Chapter Six: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/715459
Chapter Seven: http://www.myotaku.com/users/nightbeck/posts/723021
So if you're new, and you want to join in... start with chapter one, please? XD If you start with this chapter, I promise you that it won't make an ounce of sense.
Characters and plot are my intellectual property, and are guarded by a group of rabid gnomes. So please, don't steal.
Tobias sauntered into the sunroom with a catlike stretch, yawning. The brusque autumn air, undiluted by the sun's warmth, sharpened his senses better than any cup of coffee, and he pulled off his suit jacket to let the breeze cool off his burning skin.
Despite the villa's size, Bateman always insisted on cramming the group into as few bedrooms as possible, and Tobias usually ended up sharing a double bed with Silas. Both men grumbled that it was hot, claustrophobic, and cramped, but, of course, neither of them was willing to sleep on the floor.
Tobias leaned against the window, seemingly staring off into Bellerophon's lush suburbs, but after a moment, a smile twitched at his lips. "Are you just going to stand there, or did you need something, Miss Lily?"
Lily tiptoed down the steps, avoiding Tobias' amused glance. Her hair fell around her shoulders, the high pigtails let down, and she picked uncomfortably at the outfit of Liv's Kate insisted she borrow. "I didn't know you were here."
"Well, now that you are, you can come keep me company!" Tobias gestured for her to come to the window with him. "Is your brother still asleep?" Lily nodded. "And what about you? Just can't sleep?"
"I don't need much sleep." Lily shrugged.
"Ahh," Tobias said with a nod. "I'm the same! I always have so much energy before a job. You're not nervous, are you?"
Lily shook her head. "It's a waste of energy."
"Good philosophy, that," Tobias laughed. "Especially considering who you're working with!" Lily made a small noise of affirmation. "Rest assured, Miss Lily, if anything comes up, you'll be perfectly safe."
"I don't need any special treatment, Mr. Locke." Lily offered a small smile. "There's only one thing I want from you."
"Name it, my dear."
Lily hesitated, fiddling with the buttons on her blouse. "…can you promise me that my brother will be safe?"
Tobias raised an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't he be?"
"You can promise to protect me, why is Aidan any different?"
"Now, I didn't say that," Tobias assured. "Simply curious as to why you're so concerned."
"Does it matter?"
"Well… no, I suppose it doesn't." Tobias smiled. "Very well. I promise you, Miss Lily, that as long as Aidan works for me, nothing will happen to him."
"…and you're not going to go back on that, right?" she asked.
"My, you're a skeptical one, aren’t you…" Tobias looked around. "Don't see anything I can sign… will it be good enough if we shake on it?" He extended a hand towards Lily, the quick motion making her jump.
Lily eyed Tobias as if searching for some sort of catch, folding her hands behind her back. Then slowly, she withdrew one hand, closed it around Tobias’, and shook his hand. “Deal.”
“I hoped I’d never end up wearing one of these again,” Theo grumbled as she looked into the hall mirror, pulling up the straps of the red silk gown she’d borrowed from Bateman’s mother. "How am I supposed to carry a weapon dressed like this?"
"That, my dear, is why they invented garter belts," Tobias laughed.
“It’s only for a few hours,” Silas assured. “We just don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”
“No offense, Si.” Loki was drowning in his borrowed tuxedo, flushed with embarrassment. “But d’you really think we’re gonna blend in with them?”
Loki gestured into the burgundy sitting room, where a crowd of mostly middle-aged socialites sat on the velvet couches, nodding politely as Bateman showed off his painting. The rest of the canvases were blank, marked with price tags and titles like “Violet Lilies.” Bateman had explained earlier that he planned to auction off his unfinished ideas.
“You gotta wonder why they still look so nice,” Theo whispered. “I thought they were supposed to be… y’know… refugees?”
“Oh no, those people are from Bellerophon!” Tobias explained. “The ones from the city look slightly less presentable.”
The migrants stood in a tight circle in Bateman’s ballroom, talking in low voices. They still wore formalwear, but most of it was obviously borrowed, fitting some of them too loose and some far too tight. Most of them frowned, fidgeted, bit their lips, and self-consciously smoothed their hair back; they seemed as if they’d forgotten all the confidence and decorum of the crowd in the sitting room.
“…I can blend with them,” Loki conceded.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” Theo sighed, fixing one of the hairpins in her long, black curls. “This bun’s cutting off the circulation to my brain.”
"What do I do?" Aidan asked. He'd been hanging back, fiddling with his tie and trying unsuccessfully to break into the conversation. Lily trailed behind him, frowning disdainfully at her petticoats.
"You'll be coming with us, of course!" Tobias leaned over and tugged on his sleeve. "You and Lily already know those people, right? You can help us blend!"
"But…" Aidan frowned. "Lily really shouldn't—"
"This is the safest place for your sister to be," Silas said. "We can all keep an eye on her this way."
"Besides," Tobias added, "the only target is the master artiste over there."
On cue, Bateman strode out of the sitting room, smiling smugly. "I hadn't anticipated so much interest in my painting," he boasted. "I expect that it'll be bought before the end of the evening. But I suppose I should give equal time to my other, less fortunate guests…" He offered Theo his arm.
"Good idea!" Theo wrapped her arm around Anton's instead. "Turn on some music, will you Bateman? It's way too depressing in here."
As the couple sauntered into the ballroom, Bateman turned to Lily expectantly, offering his arm to her in turn. Before Lily even had time to react, Loki took her arm and hurried her after Anton and Theo.
"Well, as long as we've all got a buddy!" Tobias grinned and threw an arm around Aidan. "Be my date, Aidan?"
"Mr. Locke…" Aidan ducked out from under his arm, flushed. Tobias contented himself with grabbing Aidan's sleeve and parading him into the ballroom.
Bateman stood staring after them, looking faintly disappointed. Silas sidled up next to him, stony-faced.
"Shall we?" he deadpanned.
"You have no idea how wonderful it is to see you, Aidan, and Lily, as well," a middle-aged woman gushed, touching Aidan's shoulder. "Bill and Muriel have just been frantic looking for you both, and I was starting to fear the worst… why haven't you called them?"
"It's been hard to reach them, Mrs. Goldthwaite," Aidan replied with a polite smile. "And besides, I'm sure they're both very busy with helping Mr. Wittenberg."
"Oh, absolutely," the woman shuddered. "There's plenty of work to be done there, cleaning up… not to mention dealing with those horrid people. But all the same, dear, you really should give them a call… they're worried sick about you both, especially with Lily being so ill lately."
"Lily's fine." Defensiveness crept into Aidan's voice as he put an arm around Lily. "She was just going to take a bit of time off work."
"Understandable, your job must be so stressful," Goldthwaite simpered, patting Lily's head. Lily only shrugged, and gave Aidan a small smile before slinking off towards the corner where Loki stood.
Aidan tuned out Goldthwaite's babble on the kind citizens of Bellerophon and glanced around to make sure neither Tobias nor his crew were offending anyone. On the contrary, they seemed to be doing rather well: the small group of older men Tobias was chatting up were looking at him a bit incredulously, but Silas had acquired a sizable group of middle-aged women around him, all of whom eyed him appraisingly. Theo was in the center of a rather large crowd, still holding onto Anton's arm as if trying to keep him from bolting.
"Enjoying the party, Aidan? Heh." Bateman slicked his oiled hair back as he pushed his way into the conversation.
"It's such a nice party," Goldthwaite cooed. "Dante, these friends of yours are just lovely! Who's the charming young lady over there?"
"Oh, Theodora?" Bateman smirked. "Yes, isn't she just a vision? We're going to get married, you know."
Aidan eased himself out of the circle, wandering around the ballroom. Even with the casual conversations around him, he could still feel the tension in their voices. He knew it wasn't the displacement making them so nervous; the people in the Back Wards would kill to evacuate to someplace like this. But he could understand it, to some extent. It was a bit unsettling, knowing that they might never be able to ignore it again.
"I've never been to a party like this," Loki babbled as he paced the floor. Lily leaned against the wall, watching him with a raised eyebrow. "I've never been to a party, period. I mean, I'm always on the road now and everything, and I wasn't exactly in a position to just go to parties before I met Tobias, and I don't really have the right clothes for it 'n all—"
"Is something wrong?" Lily asked.
"Huh?" Loki stopped. "Why would something be wrong?"
"…so what if I am?" he huffed. "In case you forgot, there's supposed to be a hit tonight."
"It's too early for that," Lily said, glancing at the clock. "Relax."
"Easy for you to say," Loki grumbled. "You've done this before."
"Been present before an assassination?"
"Been to fancy parties."
"Only for appearances." Lily smoothed down her skirts. "After a few minutes, it's quite easy to leave without much notice."
"Smart." Loki nodded. "I thought rich girls were supposed to… I dunno, socialize and waltz and all that?"
"The latter isn't too bad, with a good partner," Lily said absently, eyeing the clock again. "Do you know where the bathroom is?"
"Yeah, down that hallway." Loki gestured. "Want me to show you?"
"I'll find it myself, thank you." Lily smiled. "I'll be back in a minute."
She left the ballroom. She slid past the sitting room, where Bateman's guests were still sipping brandy, and with a quick look around, she turned and began to walk up the stairs.
After the first few steps, she stopped, pulling off her shoes so as not to make any sound. Reaching the top of the stairs, she turned to the door that led to the bedroom wing, which hung slightly ajar, and carefully, she pushed it open.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim light as she began to walk down the long hallway of bedrooms. As she passed each room, she slowed, straining to hear any sound of movement, but the only noises she heard were those of the party downstairs. Finally, as she reached the room that she had stayed in the previous night, she heard the faint creak of a floorboard, and everything seemed to fall silent again.
"Time to come out now," Lily said softly.
"Well… took you long enough, Princess."
Hope you enjoyed! I am a feedback-whore.