A tug on his arm halted Eugene’s ascent. Turning to look behind, Mr. Jade had reached out to stop him from going further. “Forgive me, I forget that not everyone is familiar with Wilde Hall. The party, so to speak, is coming to us.” He says. “Ah, is that so?”
Eugene replies with a smile, waiting for the hand to leave his arm before going back down. The sound of large doors being thrown open caught his attention. A sharply dressed figure, presumably one of the butlers, had opened up a pathway before leaving. Gradually, the muted talking from above started to get louder, signifying that people were headed their way.
Mister Jade was still at Eugene’s shoulder, but he had to raise his voice to be heard. “Come. Let us make sure we can find our seats!”
Giving Mr. Jade a smile, he responded. “It’s clear you know more than me regarding Wilde Hall. Lead the way my friend.”
Mister Jade shook his head dismissively, returning Eugene’s smile with a lopsided one of his own. “Think nothing of it. The place can be a maze for all of us, I assure you, and…” Mister Jade trailed off mid-sentence, looking past Eugene, and back up the stairs beyond him. Following his gaze, the journalist turned to look up the stairs and he was met with striking yet haunting beauty. The blood red dress and dark hair contrasted with the smooth pale skin. It was no question as to who this person was. After all, he had seen her very portrait in the hallway on the way to the main room. Avery Wilde.
The matriarch of the Wilde family was clearly in her element, the guests following in her wake enraptured by her, hanging on her every word. In that moment, Eugene could not blame them. As the group reached the foot of the stairs, Avery seemed to notice Eugene and Mister Jade for the first time, and she smiled warmly. Her voice was soft, but it somehow resonated above the bustle of movement and conversation. “Mister Jade, and…” Eugene was suddenly aware that those dark eyes had settled on him, one eyebrow raised in curiosity.
Her voice was soft but even above the murmurs and whispers of the people behind her, every word could clearly be heard. It was then that Eugene realized, that he was holding his breath. “I am Genie, Lady Wilde.”
He answered, dipping his head slightly in a polite bow. At this point he didn’t know whether he was fortunate or not to have met Avery Wilde this up close and personal.
A smile danced across the defined features of Avery Wildes face, and she nodded her head slightly as she spoke. “Then it is good to meet you, Mister Genie.” Whether it is the movement of her nod, a shift in the light, or something else altogether, but it is suddenly as if Eugene is shaken from a dream, and sees clearly for the first time.
As Eugene raised his head from the bow, something catches his eyes. His gaze drifts slightly towards her chest and the object resting upon it. The sound of water flowing begins to hush the crowd, turning their murmurs and whispers into nothing more than a passing breeze. He starts to feel cold. Eugene looks down and sees water. Pitch. Black. Water. An endless expanse of water just like the numerous painting that he had seen. Water that was slowly rising. It was cold and he needed to get away but every form of movement seemed to be for naught as he could barely lift a finger. The only thing he had control over was his eyes and his breathing. His breathing that started to get ragged the moment he noticed another ripple. He wasn’t alone here. There was something el…
Warmth and feeling begins to rush back, filling his body with intense sensation. Looking up he could see Avery Wilde and the crowd of people staring back at him with a quizzical expression as a gentle tug from his sleeve was brought about by a concerned Mister Jade.
“Are you quite well, Mister Genie?” His newfound companion asked.“Oh… yes of course. I was simply taken aback my Lady Wilde’s presence that’s all.”
Eugene replied to him, trying to sound as confident as possible. Turning back to Avery he once again dipped his head this time in apology. “My apologies for holding up the crowd.” There’s time for me to think about what the fuck happened later. I’ve already made a fool of myself. Gotta lay low for a bit.
Despite his thoughts, a cold sweat formed then dripped down the back of his neck.
The dark eyes of Avery Wilde lingered on Eugene for a moment longer, before the sharp edges seemed to soften, and the thin lips held the ghost of a smile. “Not at all, Mister Genie.”
Though it was only for a second or so at most, the silence in the air was thick as Avery Wilde stared at Eugene’s bowed figure. All of the pressure disappeared as her soft voice announced that there was no harm done, the host walking away and bringing the crowd with her. Eugene glanced up slightly as all the people walked around his figure, his eyes catching a few familiar faces. It was only when everyone else had left that Eugene realized he was holding his breath.
“Come, my friend. A hearty meal will do you the world of good.” He inhaled deeply as a hand landed on his shoulder. Looking over to see Mr. Jade, Eugene smiled and straightened up.“After that encounter, I’m going need a couple glasses of wine as well.”
He joked with a smile on his face as the pair started to follow the crowd. “With the way she carries herself and jewellery she sports. Lady Wilde has… quite the presence.”
Mister Jade smiled at Eugene’s first remark, the concern fading from his face as the two men followed after the crowd. “Well then, you are lucky that the Wilde cellars run deep. Perhaps the two of us can try and reach the bottom!”
At Eugene’s second remark, the smile faltered. Only for a heartbeat, the blink of an eye, but Eugene had been watching for it, and Mister Jade did not disappoint. However, if the shorter man was thrown by the remark, his recovery was remarkable, the smile returning. “She is certainly quite something.”
The two men stepped through the doorway, leaving the games room and it’s haunting artwork behind as they arrived in a dining room. The room itself was suitably grand, almost as large again as the hall that they had left behind them. The space was dominated by a vast table, with space for more than a dozen guests. The table itself was all clean white tablecloth and silver cutlery that glinted in the light of the pair of grand chandeliers that hung from the ceiling above, although a quick glance at the chandeliers would show that the candles had been replaced by flickering electric lights. Lady Wilde had led the party into the room, and she had already made her way to one end of the table, other guests drifting towards other empty chairs. Whether there was an arranged seating plan or not, Eugene could see no sign of one, but Mister Jade was still at his shoulder, and the other man deftly guided him to a pair of unclaimed chairs, on the far table side.
By the time Mister Jade and Eugene had reached their seats, the table was already half filled. At the head of the table, to Eugene’s right, sat Avery Wilde herself. Beside her, and in the two seats beside Eugene himself, sat two figures that Eugene had not seen before. The seat beside Eugene was taken up by what looked to be little more than a boy, cheap seat hanging loosely on a lanky frame that looked to stand a few inches shorter than Eugene’s own. A simple black mask half concealed a face marked with blemishes, blonde hair looking to have been brushed back in a hurry. The boy was in hushed conversation with the figure in the seat directly beside Avery Wilde, but as Eugene shifted his attention to the young woman, dark eyes were suddenly watching him from behind a silver-wrought mask, and the hushed conversation halted.
Whatever the topic of the conversation had been, the two conversationalists could scarcely be more different. Where his clothes were ill-fitting and unremarkable, her dress was elaborate and undoubtedly expensive, all dark blue fabric and black stitching. Where his mask was simple, hers was complex, wrought silver and covering nearly all of her face, save for those dark eyes. Not wanting to come across as rude, Eugene finally managed to tear his gaze away. Five of the six seats across from Eugene still stood empty, but one was taken. While the two beside Eugene were young, the man across the table was old, thinning hair long turned white, thick moustache dominating what face was not covered by the white and gold masquerade mask, dark suit expertly tailored.
The man was in hushed conversation with the figure at the other head of the table, and here at least Eugene had some recognition, although perhaps he wished he did not. The man in black. The man that Eugene has glimpsed across the crowd what felt like a lifetime ago. The man that had struck such fear into the maids heart. Unease gripped Eugene’s throat, his breathing suddenly laboured, and it took all his willpower to tear his gaze away. Mister Jade was still at Eugene’s side, and that gave Eugene at least some little solace, and the seat beside his new companion was still untaken. However, sitting on the other side of the man in black was another stranger, all slicked back hair, expensive suit and unforced ease. Eight guests already in their seats, six more to come, if the laid places were anything to go by.
Eugene took in the scene before him, eyes landing on a couple figures around the table. “Good evening.”
He said to those around him, even the man in black before taking the seat next to Mr Jade. Although he did not wish to interact with him, there was simply no choice. It was a social event and they were all sharing one table, it would be rude to ignore one of them after greeting everyone else. Thankfully his greeting was met with nods and brief smiles of recognition. It had been a very eventful last couple of minutes so as soon as wine was poured, Eugene reached out to pick up his glass. He swirled it around for a few seconds, allowing the scent to fill his senses before taking a sip.
The journalist was still reeling from the effects of the vision or hallucination he had just witnessed but the taste of the alcohol helped calm down his nerves. Once he was more or less relaxed, he decided to continue where his conversation with Mr Jade left off. There would be more time to mingle with the others later especially since they all seemed to be busy with their own conversations. Turning to his new companion Eugene said. “Shall we continue where we left off? Those paintings, despite being images of still nature certainly evoked a feeling of life wouldn’t you agree?”
However instead of receiving an answer, Mr Jade asked a question. “You clearly have an appreciation of art, Mister Genie. Tell me, is that your profession, or simply a pastime?”“Not, not a profession.”
Eugene replied, setting down the glass of wine. “Just someone who appreciates it. Now let me return a question. You say you’re not the most religious person yet you seem to have a a verse memorized. Was religion a thing of your past or did you just happen to come across such a passage?”
Mister Jade watched Eugene’s face intently for a moment, before shrugging. “Blame it on an interest in…” Here, Mister Jade seemed to hesitate, as if he was searching for the right word, before finally settling on one with a slight smile.
Mister Jade took a drink from his own glass, before turning back to Eugene with seemingly renewed intent. “So, humour a hopeless gossip, the man who caused the unfortunate business outside, did you know him at all?”
Eugene would raise an eyebrow at Mr Jade’s statement but decided to look around to see if Mr. Red was anywhere in the dining area. However, he was nowhere to be found. “We traveled by the same carriage.”
He said, eyes still scanning the crowd. “It was clear from then that he had quite the short fuse despite our friendly attempts at conversation. An air of hostility if you will. Unfortunately, it seems like that troublemaker is nowhere to be found.”
His attention turned back to Mr. Jade with renewed interest. “Also… divinity? An interest in any specific deity? Christ? Allah? Buddha? Or perhaps one of the thousand Hindu gods?”
“You say unfortunately, Mister Genie, I say fortunately.” A smile danced across Mister Jades face as Eugene’s questioning continued. “Your interest flatters me, friend. But I am sure you did not come this evening simply to trade stories with a man who spends altogether too long with a book in his hands. Please, allow me to introduce you to some more interesting guests.”
Mister Jade glanced around the table, before settling on the pair that sat beside Eugene, the two that looked barely older than children. Leaning across Eugene slightly, Mister Jade raised his voice to be heard. “Madam Blue, it is a pleasure, as always.”
The young woman, her face almost entirely concealed by her wrought silver mask, turned, dark eyes flicking between Mister Jade and Eugene. “Mister Jade. It is good to see you.”
Mister Jade nodded his head in greeting, before continuing, gesturing towards Eugene as he did. “You do me a service, my lady. Please, allow me to introduce my new friend, Mister Genie.” The dark eyes settled on Eugene, expectantly.
Seeing Mr. Jade deflect the question and immediately change topics, Eugene simply reminded with a smile and a nod. He was an experienced talker that much was true but there would hopefully be more opportunities to continue this conversation in the future. Instead, he looked over at the person his companion spoke to. It was the well dressed lady who was accompanied by the young man, the pair that had been speaking in hushed tones when they arrived. Eugene met her gaze and smiled. “A pleasure to meet you Madam Blue, I am Mr. Genie.”
He said with a smooth voice
Whether Madam Blue returned the smile or not, Eugene could not tell from behind her mask, but the voice that replied was almost sing song, rising and falling. “The pleasure is mine as well, Mister Genie. I hope you have enjoyed…”
The dark eyes darted away, and the words died away in an instant. Eugene instinctively turned to follow Madam Blues gaze. In the doorway, dominating the space, stood a figure that Eugene recognised in an instant. Perhaps he had already suspected that the man would make an appearance, or perhaps he had managed to drive the memory of him from his mind, but all the same, Eugene couldn’t help but catch his breath.
Professor Green only has eyes for Avery Wilde. Crossing the gap between the door and the table surprisingly quickly for a man of his stature, Professor Green practically dropped to his knees beside Avery, taking the woman’s hand in his own and kissing it gently. He leant in close and whispered something into Avery’s ear, quietly enough that Eugene could not make it out, but it caused a smile to light up Avery Wildes face, and she visibly squeezed Professor Greens hand. Behind Professor Green came two more figures that Eugene recognised.
First Mister Violet, and then Corporal Khaki. Both men cast their glances over Eugene as they entered, Mister Violet managing a smile, Corporal Khaki’s face showing no flicker of recognition, before both were ushered to their seats. Behind the two men came another couple, an older woman whose attire was the twin of the older man sat alone, and a sharply dressed younger man holding her arm. Neither of them spared a look towards Eugene. But following them was a familiar blue outfit, their eyes meeting midway. Mrs Copper.