Masquerade Ball

by Jake

There I sat, swaying lazily upon the saddle as my horse Lenx plodded on in his pondering gait. It was a scorching summer day, the kind of day that makes all will to do anything rapidly disappear. As much as I objected, my duty was still needing fulfilled and thus it was being done. The King needed his lands patrolled, and most unfortunately I couldn't pin it upon the recruits. Clippedy clop, clippedy clop The sounds of Lenx's hooves continued on in monotonous rhythm, the beat always there, never wavering.

My patrols only took me a short distance from the kingdom, only to the Kend forests, a place I often stopped at before returning to the boring and repetitive duties of being the head of the Blackwing Guard. I planned on a simple day, same as the others. Ride forth to ease the king's uneasiness of invasion, then return and devour a soldier's meal in the barracks before going to the training grounds. A typical and easily executed day. However, the Kend forests had plans differing from those of my own.

After several more minutes of slow movement forward, the Kend forests shimmered into view, their leafy canopies rising up above the land to protect it's inhabitants from the harsh sunlight above. The shadows of the trees poured out into the sun's domain, challenging it to bring it's light against the darkness. The sun yielded and thus the shadows remained, granting a cool atmosphere and resting place for the weary traveler.

Knowing that cool water and crisp grass lay ahead, Lenx sped up his pace, eager to reach that haven of horses. Upon reaching the forest's edge, I clambered down from the saddle, stretching out the sore muscles of my legs. Undoing the saddle, I pulled it from Lenx's back and dropped it by a small tree trunk, leaving the blanket upon his back. As he lowered his head to the grass, I gently patted his broad shoulders and headed off into the forest in search of some food.

Fortunes smiling upon me, I found a small blackberry bush and greedily plucked handfuls of the dark, juicy berries. Sitting with my back against a rough tree trunk, I closed my eyes in delight and savored the taste of the wild's bounties. Peace seemed to last but a fleeting moment before ringing laughter echoed from deeper in the forest. Turning towards the sound, I considered what exactly could be happening.

Pushing myself up onto my feet, I brushed the dust from the back of my pants, blackberries forgotten for the mystery. Cautiously edging forward, I used the trees as cover so as to not be seen lest the laughter had issued from harm's advocate. Moving on step by step, I eventually spotted a clearing ahead, seemingly empty at the moment. I pushed on through the brush, now not willing to leave the forest until the myserious laughter was found.

So there I stood, stomach still grumbling in spite of the blackberries and my face a mask of pure confusion. Then, seemingly from right in front of me, the laughter issued forth again, this time several other voices accompanying it's eerie call throughout the forest. I jumped back in surprise, staring hard at the clearing, unable to see the persons from which this laughter came. Suddenly, the clearing flickered and there danced a gathering of oddly dressed people. Richly colored dresses and dress coats whirled about in disregard of the most informal surroundings.

Those wearing the bright clothes shared the same disregard, utterly oblivious to the place in which they danced. I stood utterly dumbfounded, for here in the Kend forest, I had stumbled upon a masquerade ball, one which seemed to keep flicking in and out of existence before my eyes. All I could do was stare, jaw hanging open without my notice. Shaking my head, I regained what couldn't truly be called composure, but something like it. I stepped forward and called out in as firm a voice as I could muster, "Hey, what are you all doing out here?"

The dance went on. Step left, step back, step right, step forward, spin and repeat. I almost strode forward more when the image before me flickered again. Looking about, I noticed the change almost instantly. Every dancer upon this forest floor was now wielding a knife, small and sharp, gleaming and dangerous. The dance changed as well, the steps becoming lunges, the spinning becoming whirling slashes. As the dance went on, the clothes became more and more ragged, the cuts upon the dancers' bodies deep and bloody. Despite the horrific wounds, the dance still went on. Blood spurted from neck wounds, fingers dripped scarlet to the hungry tree roots on the ground, yet the dance went on.

Before I was aware of my own actions, my feet had moved forward slowly, bringing me closer to the dancers. I tried to pull back, but forces beyond my control moved me ever forward, forward into the dance. I now stood but feet away from the nearest dancers, their masks shimmering brightly, inviting me to come and join them for eternity. Not myself, I accepted this invitation without a second thought. I now stood next to the dancers, I smelled the mingling perfumes and colognes, a scent that filled my mind with a sense of euphoria. I felt as if I now belonged, as if my whole life had been leading to this. With startling speed, the dancer's hand shot out and buried the knife deep in my neck yet I felt no pain, only the warmth of running blood.

Feeling serene and welcome, I collapsed onto the leafy ground as my lifeblood poured out. I looked up at the dancer who had wounded me thus and was welcome with a soft smile, one which I returned the best I could. As I looked into that promising smile, the world around me dimmed, the sun of my life finally setting and allowing darkness to have it's reign. Moments later I lay dead amongst a bright masquerade ball in the middle of the Kend forest. Bursting into dust, my old body scattered away upon the chill winds. I then reappeared, my garb matching that of my fellow dancers, a devil mask with small, curling horns upon my face. Grinning, I stood straight and looked around for but a moment, then......I danced.

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