Idle chatter buzzed all throughout the courtyard, droning alongside the distant melody of a string quartet. Minfilia admired the entertainment from a distance, seated alongside the fountain at the centre of the courtyard. The piece was marvellous, a true testament of fine craftsmanship. Ivory marble came to life under the moonlight, creating a well-lit spectacle that drew the gaze as soon as one entered the courtyard. It was dressed in hand woven wreathes of white roses, yellow geraniums and lavender for the event. Minfilia, always one to appreciate the finer beauties in life, had chosen to sit and admire the floral arrangements.
Minfilia had also dressed up for the occasion. Adorned in a silver, strapless gown with a silken shawl draped elegantly around her bare shoulders. Matching gloves reached up to her elbows, a corsage of silver roses wrapped around her left wrist. Pinned to her shawl was a small brooch of a blue jay. A parting gift from her father. The young lady’s hair had been neatly braided and allowed to drape over her left shoulder and down to her waist. Adorned throughout the braids were the same roses as her corsage. Under the light of the night sky, her hair possessed a most wonderous gleam. She watched her own reflection in the water fountain, entranced by the ripples distorting her visage as rose petals gently fell to the surface.
The music had petered out to a stifling silence, the courtyard hushed with the arrival of Princess Ryner. Standing from her position, Minfilia gazed upon her magnificence. Power emanated from the princess. It was intoxicating to the young mage. They were from separate worlds, with too many years between them to count. And yet, Minfilia saw herself in the princess. Or rather, she saw who she desired to become. That was why she was here at Noila Academy. This place, and the vampire she would be groomed to serve, would be nothing but stepping stones to something much greater.
Speaking of her mysterious vampire partner, Minfilia gazed down to the envelope in her hand as the princess concluded her welcoming speech. Bodies began to shuffle around the courtyard as the partners became acquainted with each other. Some were far more accommodating to the arrangements than others. Minfilia was in no rush, so she took her preferred seat by the fountain and crossed one leg over the other. Her hands delicately unsealed the envelope, revealing a photo and name of her partner.
” Minfilia’s lips curled into a smile. A noble. Perfect. Amaris was, as expected, an absolutely stunning mistress. Minfilia couldn’t help but feel a little envious at the flawless complexion and gorgeous locks of black hair. As far as she was concerned, being paired with a noble from the Marivaldi bloodline was a stroke of pure luck. She had heard rumours of their more diplomatic nature, treating Mage’s with respect and as equals. Perhaps this Amaris lady would share such an open-minded disposition?
Minfilia’s smile faded. She shook her head. That was irrelevant. No matter how kind her partner might be – she wasn’t here to make friends. Besides, it would be naïve to assume someone’s personality based on their family name. Being the daughter of an esteemed and well-respected mage, Minfilia knew that all too well.
After a few minutes had passed and the partners began to set off, Minfilia decided it was time to search for Amaris. She stood up, making her way across the courtyard with the photo of her future companion in hand. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to pick her out among the dwindling crowd. The photo really did not do her justice. Minfilia found herself practically gawking at the undead beauty.
“P-pardon my intrusion.
” Minfilia stuttered, clearing her throat and regaining her composure with a deep breath.
“You are Amaris Marivaldi, are you not?
” This time her voice was clearer, though she could still feel her hand shaking a little. Delicately crossing one foot in front of the other, Minfilia held her arms out with the palms of her hands facing the ground. With a simple bow of her head, she knelt into a formal curtsey.
“My name is Minfilia von Reinhertz. From this night, I am at your service.
” Minfilia rose, her tone assured and regal. She believed that first impressions set the course of an entire relationship – especially so tonight, where the rest of her life would be decided.
The two guards at the foot of the stairs leading up to Noila Academy had only just began to relax their stoic postures with the realisation that the ceremony was well under way. The light from the lanterns created a warm glow at the top of the steps, the distant voice of Princess Ryner’s speech reaching even all the way down to them. So, when one final horse drawn carriage began making its way up the path, the guards were understandably confused. Late arrivals at such an event were unheard of – social suicide among the elite upper crust who had nothing better to do than bicker amongst themselves about such things. Whoever had the audacity to do such a thing would be off to a bad start at the academy.
The carriage came to a halt in front of the guards. The servant who held the reigns made their way around to open the door and lower the steps. After a few moments, a tall man slick, oiled hair and a trimmed, grey beard exited the carriage. He looked to be about in his fifties, but built very well despite appearances. Though on closer inspection, one would find his face lacked any distinguishing wrinkles or blemishes that would be a tell-tale sign of middle age. Dressed in a finely tailored black suit with a single red rose pinned to his lapel, the beast of a man clearly had fine taste. The guards, recognising him as Bayard Astorio, quickly straightened up and resumed their post.
Bayard stepped forward, handing a slip of paper with his son’s hand-written admission to the event in hand. Signed personally by the princess herself; proof of its authenticity. The guards stepped aside, one preparing the envelope which had ‘Dominique Astorio’ elegantly printed on it. Bayard took it from his hand, turning back to the carriage with a scowl.
“You’ve tried my patience enough this evening, boy. To me, at once.
” He growled. His very presence was suffocating. Another figure slowly made their way from the carriage. Dominique possessed the same towering height as his father, but none of the brawn. In contrast, he was actually quite lanky and awkward looking. His hair had been haphazardly combed, clear signs of a struggle to get the lad to sit still. He wore a red, button up top with the first few buttons left open to reveal an amulet engraved with the Astorio insignia against his chest. He had matching cufflinks, and a chain bracelet on his right wrist. He wore black trousers, secured with a brown leather belt that sported a silver buckle. He held a matching jacket over his slouched shoulders. His lazy posture coupled with a permanent scowl made it quite clear he was not in the mood to be paraded around at some party.
Fearful of drawing more of his father’s ire, Dominique did as he was told and approached the guards. Bayard shoved his son’s envelope into his chest, jabbing his finger where the boy’s heart was.
“I’m warning you, boy. You do anything more to tarnish my name and I will personally present Lord Peiron with your head on a silver platter.
” Bayard Astorio did not make idle threats. Even through the cold stillness of undeath, Dominique was shaken to the core.
” He spoke through grit teeth, imagining how satisfying it would be to bite out his father’s jugular. He snatched the envelope away before making his way up the steps in large strides. He didn’t bother to look back, knowing not to expect some bittersweet farewell.
Upon reaching the top of the steps, the princess had only just concluded her speech. People began opening their envelopes. Vampires eagerly searched for their partners while the Mages prayed to whatever deity they believed in for a benevolent master. Dominique tore open the top of his envelope, staring at the picture of his Mage with a disgusted grimace.
Cassandra Roth. From the picture alone, Dominique felt disappointment. She didn’t look like much. He had hoped his pet would have a fiercer look about them. The idea of sicking his mage on people like a rabid mutt was most amusing. This Cassandra girl looked like she couldn’t hurt a fly. He groaned, tightening his fist around the picture until he’d screwed it up into a ball. Dropping it at his feet he began to look for some refreshments.
Dominique approached a waiter serving champagne flutes of a red, viscous blend. Before he could reach them however, he noticed a familiar looking young woman beginning to approach him. He stared at her for a moment, not having studied his picture well enough to recognise her as Cassandra Roth. Albeit dressed far differently from her photo.
“Oh, it’s you.
” He sighed. What a ridiculous get up. Dominique, barely paying attention to his mage, tapped the waiter on the shoulder and grabbed a glass from his tray. With his spare hand, he callously threw his jacket over Cassandra and began to walk away.
“I’m not in the mood for partying tonight.
” He swirled his drink a little in his hand, taking a hefty swig that nearly downed the entire contents. Tonight’s selection was especially well fortified. Princess Ryner really went all out.
“Hurry up and escort me to my quarters.
” He stared back at Cassandra expectantly, his voice growing more agitated. He’d hoped this one wasn’t as daft as she looked. Just his luck to be paired with a simpleton.