Chapter 20: The Gala Pt. 3

Leta barely registered the banter of her two companions. Since she’d generated this plan, she could think of little else than how to do it — of how to talk to Casner the right away. She had to engage him, she had to find out about Ren, and she had to do so without revealing who she was. Fiearius hadn’t shown any other interest in the idea, except when he’d seen the three of them departed the Dionysian earlier that evening.

“Surely there must be some mistake, finding these shining beacons of beauty and class exiting my ship,” he’d said to Leta and Corra with a dramatic flourish of his hand, before adding, gesturing to his brother, “And with this.” He’d let out a loud bark of a laugh and strode past them carelessly.

But it didn’t matter what Fiearius thought about their appearance or anything else. Now, it was time to execute. With an inhale of breath, she shifted the bodice of her long purple gown — an item she’d picked up with Corra earlier in the afternoon — fixed the mask on her face, and stepped into the hall.

At once, Leta had to squint her eyes. The hall was larger than a cathedral and every painting and wine glass and woman’s gown glinted in the light. As she stepped down the ornate staircase, Leta drew her long gloves higher up over her forearms, effectively concealing the Society tattoo on her her skin. Though, if there were any place where that mark on her arm would be admired, it would be here. Resisting the urge to glower, Leta kept her lips in a smooth, thin line of indifference as her eyes shifted over the large oval room beneath the mask.

She scanned over the sea of gowns and suits, and suddenly, a problem struck her. By the looks of it, she was the only person unaccompanied, absent a partner to curve her arm around, and as such, she stuck out: she was going to draw attention as a single young woman. It wasn’t a terrible hindrance, but nonetheless, she felt a stab of annoyance at, of all people, Fiearius. He was supposed to be her goddamn date.

Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, Leta stood tall and still, just another wealthy guest at this party. For now. “I’m going to get a drink,” she told them. “Let me know if you see him.”

“We’ll keep an eye out,” Corra assured her, though her attention had wandered up to a glittering, tremendous chandelier on the ceiling. Still holding her arm, Cyrus provided Leta a weak smile and nodded quickly. Well, at least one of them would probably be paying attention.

Satisfied, Leta drifted toward the opulent, half-moon bar in the corner, its rows of liquor bottles glistening like jewels. She rested her elbow on the shining surface, her eyes behind her mask moving through the room for any signs of Casner. Was he the gracious type, she wondered, who would start greeting guests at the the door? Or was he going to be loud and raucous and command attention from a table?

Her thoughts were interrupted a moment later by a gray-haired gentleman in a fine suit (at least twice her age, Leta noted) who brushed her arm. He bent low to speak in her ear.

“You, my dear, are drawing every eye in this room.”

Sure fucking hope not, thought Leta at once, but she forced a smile all the same. She managed to exchange all the right pleasantries with this man, the traces of her Vescentian accent and demeanor surely helping her cause. At least her until he said, “May I buy you a drink?” and gestured toward the premium liquor.

And with that, Leta couldn’t help herself. “But it’s an open bar,” she said bluntly, snorting, and then regretted it immediately. That was a comment someone from the Dionysian would make, but not an affluent young woman with millions who just loved these sort of events. Luckily, after giving her a curious look, the man seemed to think Leta was being coy and chuckled appreciatively before having a flute of champagne delivered to her.

Leta picked up the glass, sipped it and smiled stiffly. As soon as her back was turned, the smile dropped off her face. If this was how the whole night was going to be, she needed to corner Casner soon.

But he wasn’t near the tables, Leta noted, nor was he on the dance floor — though it was hard to tell once the orchestra struck up a lively tune and more couples joined in. Leta tilted the rest of the champagne into her mouth, furrowing her brow as she regarded two security guards near the wall. She had the sudden sense that Casner was nearby — he must have been, this was his party —

And that was when it happened. Just as she reached to deposit her emptied glass on the bar, there was a strong grip on her upper arm and someone had tugged her away from the bar and steered her decisively toward the dance floor.

Leta was about to yell in protest, but it caught in her throat when she glimpsed the stranger who held her at his side. The man was tall, dressed in formal wear and his face was covered in the most obnoxious orange and red feather bird mask. No one else in the room was wearing an animal mask of that size. But it was his subtle smirk that gave it away.

“What’re you doing here?” she hissed to Fiearius as he pulled her into a dance.

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