25 - The She-Demon Who Once Was

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The whole world seemed muted as I stepped inside the building. I could hear the sound of my heels hitting the floor, and the swish of my dress, and the unignorable presence of Rian by my side. But the fundamentals—the colour, the spirit, the very life of the place—escaped me.

How many times had my family and I come here? The hallway was one I'd seen on many different occasions, usually while I was nestled between my mother and father as a young child. Rian and his family would often tag along. Those outings, with all of us together, were some of my most cherished memories.

Until now, that is. The tasteful decorations, the shimmering chandeliers, the dozens of rooms designed for every kind of enjoyment . . . it was all bizarrely familiar, but the absence of those fundamental people—my family—meant that this place could never be the same. At least not for me.

All of this, plus with the added weight of tomorrow, made my head spin with worry. The next day would be hard enough—it always was, every year—but throwing this place in too seemed too cruel.

"Hanna!" My pained silence was interrupted by Rokim, who jogged up to Rian and I. He brushed past Rian entirely, settling his hands on my shoulders with concern. 

"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly. 

I forced myself to get it together, smiling warmly at him. "Yeah, I am," I said, feeling a twinge of guilt for lying. 

Rokim sighed in relief, but still looked at me warily. "And . . . are we okay?"

My smile softened. "Definitely," I responded, more sincerely this time. "Tell Lis I said so too. Is she here yet?"

"She's on her way." He sighed again, then patted my arm. "I know this place isn't ideal," he said ruefully, "but Leo booked it a while back. By the time Prof found out it was too late."

I shook my head. "It's fine. I'm really okay." Rokim and Prof were the only ones who knew all the details of the incident—other than Rian, of course. I had to keep my head if I didn't want any pitying glances thrown my way. 

"Let's go," I said encouragingly, gesturing to the dance hall entrance.

Rian, who had been ignoring our exchange indifferently, stepped away when I attempted to walk in at his side. 

"This isn't the Victorian era. You don't need an escort," he said coldly. "But if you really want one, feel free to go in with him," he finished, with a nod in Rokim's direction.

Rokim scowled and opened his mouth to respond, but I simply shrugged. "You're right. I don't need an escort."

With that, I walked past both Rokim and Rian and entered the hall myself.

As soon as I came in, all gazes turned to me. There were only about a dozen people, but I assumed they were all parts of the ecomp in some way. A few eyed me enviously, and others disdainfully, but the rest sported the proper expression: awe.

I smirked, hiding my inner turmoil with false confidence. I strode over to Prof and Adrian, acutely aware of eyes following me all the way there. Rokim and Rian trailed in after me, scowls on both their faces.

Prof was was using crutches, and he looked a little strained. I frowned as I reached him, looking over at Adrian worriedly. "Is he alright?" I mouthed, but Prof scoffed.

"I can see you, Hanna," he muttered. "And yes, I'm fine. I just need to be here to supervise the rehearsal, but tomorrow I won't be here for the real thing. You'll be on your own." He looked at me meaningfully. "Which means you might want to get along with your date."

"He's not my date," I rebutted with a scowl. "He's barely even a colleague. Not to mention that neither of us even wants to be here right now."

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