Chapter 3: Open The Door

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Chapter 3: Open The Door

Sooner or later, what I had just done would catch up with me. I was going to make a mistake, and then the whole world would know that I was wearing not one, but two masks, and neither were mine.

I never carried myself with so much self awareness. I kept trying to picture how a girl born to everything the world had to offer would walk. The stiffness of her dress that hugged my body as perfectly as if it were made for me helped me keep my back erect. Her shoes fit my feet as if they were mine.

I passed the group of nobles with long, steady steps. The purse of coins was clutched in my hand. I hoped that none of them noticed me, but my hope was in vain. "Lady Dylana, where are you going?" asked the laughing voice of a young man behind me.

He didn't sound suspicious, so at least from behind, I resembled the noblewoman. I wasn't far enough to pretend I hadn't heard him without risking that he'd come after me, but if I turned, my face would give me away.

My heart hammered against my ribs. I took two more steps, and looked over my shoulder, giving him only my profile. "I must have a word with the steward, my Lord," I said in my best imitation of the Desmelasian accent. "I'll be back shortly."

He wore a mask of the Phasiani Lords. The mask covered his hair in a type of golden helmet from which a thick plume of peacock feathers sprouted. He gaped in confusion at my response, but when I turned and continued on my way, he didn't follow me.

I just needed to do this one thing for my parents. After that, I would discard this mask and the dress. I would go into hiding and carefully plot my next move. I had to get to West Genalia. I could enter a Fel household as a servant—they would be hiring now with the Masquerade season approaching—and slowly and meticulously find Marin from the inside.

The steward stood by the dais, surrounded by guards in green Cervi livery. He was obligated to wait thirty minutes after an execution before giving the instruction for the bodies to be hung from the pillars. But he was already packing his papers when I approached him.

"Lord steward," I said, and he looked up. It was the first time I experienced it. A noble looking at me as an equal. If I were there in my stolen merchant mask, or worse, my common cotton mask, he would have judged me even before I spoke. The real me was nothing to this man who was, even among the Lords, a lesser man.

"My lady, how can I be of assistance?" he said with the graciousness of a kind neighbour.

"I..." I hesitated. The...bodies were both lying in a wheelbarrow a hand's reach away. My father's booted legs still twitched and I could see her braid, mamma's silver braid, hanging over the edge like a piece of rope.

My heart gave a fierce jolt as bile stung my throat. I couldn't do this. I couldn't go through with it.

I clasped my hand over my mouth as I gagged.

"Ah, I apologise, my lady, the sight disturbs you..."

I sucked in a sharp breath. Now was not the time to fall apart. I met the steward's eye. "No... I mean, of course." I had to concentrate on keeping my Desmelasian accent. I pulled out the purse. "I would like to pay for their burial, Lord steward, and I would appreciate discretion on the matter of my involvement. I don't want the others to know that I'm. . .sentimental about such things."

The steward's eyes widened at the sight of the purse. He looked at it, and then my face. I worried that he noticed my hands were shaking, or that my skin didn't quite have the glow of a noblewoman's.

"My lady has a soft heart. Such a commendable quality," he said, touching his palm to his chest. "But I'm afraid you're too late."

Too late? How could I be too late? If it had been me—the real me—looking at him through my cotton mask, I would've accepted his words with quiet disdain. I would've stayed trapped in the endless cycle of white-hot rage and forced silence.

But I wasn't me. I was her, a lady, wearing a beautiful hawk mask of gold and silver. I was a woman born to privilege and power. I would not accept no for an answer. "My Lord steward," I said with a sharp prickle to my tone. "The bodies have not yet been hung on the pillars and even if they were, you would take them down at my behest and give them a suitable burial. Is that clear?"

The steward threw back his head and laughed. My already hot cheeks began to burn. "You misunderstand, dear lady," he drawled. "Their burials have already been paid for in the full, by a young lord with a golden tiger mask."

A golden tiger mask.

A golden tiger mask.

The Somaer family, the leading branch of the Fel in West Genalia and the richest in Vynam.

The family who abducted my sister, Marin.

They all wore tiger masks.

"Oh, dear me." I managed a small chuckle even while my heart was reeling. I murdered an innocent woman, I endangered myself and the hope of Marin's rescue—and it was all for nothing thanks to another Somaer cat. "I meant no offence, Lord steward."

His smile was full of obvious meanings. "None taken, lady. . ." His voice trailed away, allowing me space to fill in the blank. He wanted my name.

Who was I? What did the peacock Phasiani Lord call me?

In the steward's eyes I saw a door, one that would let me into the sparkling houses of the nobles. Marin was there, somewhere, in an entire realm I needed access to.

"Dylana," I said, growing comfortable with my fake Desmelasian accent, allowing my body to edge forward. "Lady Dylana Tvereman."

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