Chapter 16:

1.4: Dinner With The Alston Family

Train in the Clouds

Chapter 1.4Bookmark here

Evening had come to the big mansion. Bookmark here

I could never forget the spectacular sunset I saw through the windows of my luxurious bedroom, after my afternoon nap, which had restored me completely.Bookmark here

It felt like the best sleep ever: the pillows were so soft that it seemed to me that all the fluffiness of those feathers came from some miraculous power of the angels, while the mattress was very comfortable.Bookmark here

I would have slept all day, if it hadn't been for Cleya waking me up. And what an awakening, seeing her in her evening gown! Bookmark here

She tiptoed into my room, silently, and shrugged my shoulders slightly. Initially, I turned away and covered my sleepy eyes, but as soon as I heard her voice, I blushed.Bookmark here

"C-Cleya-san, what are you doing here?" I asked shyly. Then I noticed what she was wearing, which partially uncovered her cleavage, and her long hair left loose, which gently fell down her back.Bookmark here

"Sorry to wake you up, Heiji, but I would need the measurements for your tuxedo." She explained, with a small smile.Bookmark here

"Tuxedo?"Bookmark here

"Yes, for the masquerade ball. I've decided you'll be my date." She said quietly, stepping closer. Bookmark here

I recoiled, a little intimidated by her behavior. "But I really don't think..."Bookmark here

"Come on, it'll be fun! Don't you know it's going to be at Count Arnaud Floshery's Villa? We really have to go see it."Bookmark here

"Floshery?" I asked, as I settled on the bed with a confused face.Bookmark here

"Yes, it's one of the villas located east of Valendella. One of the ones with those big gates, you know." He said, "Anyway, wait for me and I'll go get some helpers." Bookmark here

She left quickly, her embroidered-hemmed robe fluttering with her every movement. I sighed, somewhat embarrassed, and lazily got out of bed. It was at that moment that I saw the sunset and was stunned by such a spectacle of lights.Bookmark here

The moment didn't last long because, a short time later, Jena and two other maids, accompanied by their mistress, burst into the room. Bookmark here

Cleya began to give orders left and right, without interruption.Bookmark here

"Jena, measure under his armpits! Lower!"Bookmark here

"Ah, stop! That tickles!" I squirmed. Bookmark here

"Excuse me, sir, try to resist!"Bookmark here

"And you, Marianne, measure in the trouser area!" Cleya ordered, pointing her index at my private place.Bookmark here

"Wait, what? Is that how you measure?" I asked, embarrassed. "Ah, Marianne-san!"Bookmark here

"Luka, the shoulders. Jena, the collar."Bookmark here

And things continued that way for a good twenty minutes, between me retreating, Marianne feeling out private parts for who knows what reason and Jena admonishing me for my sudden movements.Bookmark here

Once they were done, I let out a sigh of relief as the girls retreated to get me a nightgown to wear, under orders from Miss Cleya. Bookmark here

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" Said the girl, one hand resting on her hip. "Though you get embarassed so easily."Bookmark here

"I'm not used to this!" I protested, "I've never even worn a tuxedo in my life."Bookmark here

"Rather," Cleya ignored my complaints and continued, "it will soon be dinner time, so be ready."Bookmark here

Afterwards, she left, with a serious expression that made my hair stand on end. 'Actually, she can be a bit cold.' I thought.Bookmark here

When Marianne returned and gave me the garment to wear, I thanked her warmly and waited for her to leave again to remove the clothes.Bookmark here

Once it was on, I enjoyed the feeling of pleasure the garment gave me: it was fresh and the silky material it was made of made it soft to the touch. Bookmark here

I looked at myself in the mirror carefully at that moment: my dark eyes sparkled and my face had taken on some color. Bookmark here

"Young Master, dinner is ready." Benedith knocked on the door, bringing me back to the real world. I promptly opened it and let her lead me to the great Banquet Hall, as they called it.Bookmark here

As we walked, however, I took the time to ask her a few nagging questions.Bookmark here

"This place looks very old, it's really gorgeous here." I began the conversation this way.Bookmark here

"Definitely, sir. It was built hundreds of years ago by Baron Abel Alston." Bookmark here

"I'm a little sorry to leave this place; for I shouldn't be here too long, should I? I mean, after the party I think..."Bookmark here

"Don't worry, sir." Benedith gave me a warm smile, which calmed me down a bit, "It's just a visit, nothing more."Bookmark here

Then she turned away and never moved her face toward me again. Moreover, her explanations became even more limited.Bookmark here

"And these paintings are all ancestors? They have a different painting technique." I asked, referring to some paintings hanging on the wall next to us.Bookmark here

"Exactly, Master Heiji."Bookmark here

I then noticed a portrait larger than the others of a man with blond hair and golden eyes, with a slight beard contouring the lower part of his exhausted face. He wore an elegant suit in light colors and for some reason had a darker, more mysterious aura. There were small inscriptions underneath but I couldn't make out what was written there.Bookmark here

"Who's that over there?"Bookmark here

"That's Victori Alston." And she didn't say anything else for a while. Bookmark here

Our steps on the long carpet grew heavier as we moved forward, her posture upright and hands clasped in her lap and me uncertain in my every movement, staring at her figure.Bookmark here

Benedith looked a little different to me than what I had seen of her outside: she seemed much stiffer and her gaze seemed sharper, more intense.Bookmark here

'What's wrong with her?" I mentally asked myself, but I felt afraid to ask her verbally.Bookmark here

"We've reached our destination." Her voice broke into my thoughts. The woman threw open a door, which, outwardly, looked the same as all the others.Bookmark here

When we entered, all the magnificence of the room was shown to my eyes: a large chandelier, adorned with stones that moved and reflected their natural brightness on other refined furniture, ruled the room. A long table, positioned directly below, was already laid with cutlery and plates of various sizes.Bookmark here

In the middle of the table, there was a vase of flowers that emitted a pleasantly sweet aroma, but not only that: every now and then, one of those flowers would automatically detach itself from its stem and begin to float around, then slowly wither away. It would slowly die, all caught up in its sweet torture.Bookmark here

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I found myself staring at those bizarre plants with intensity; whereupon, Mrs. Alston opened her mouth.Bookmark here

"Attracted to the Swiings, I see." She affirmed with an interested face, "They're also called 'Suicide Flowers'. You must have figured out why by now."Bookmark here

"Mother, you don't want to talk about these things now." Heathcliff interjected, annoyed. "They're not exactly happy things, you know."Bookmark here

"I understand, my son." At those words, I saw Heathcliff make a strange face, but I didn't pay too much attention. "I was just explaining for our guest, the main character here."Bookmark here

I made a confused face after that statement. "Thanks for the explanation, I guess."Bookmark here

Benedith moved toward me and motioned for me to sit next to the hostess' children. I sat next to Heathcliff just because I felt I had more confidence in him. I noticed that Cleya looked at me from time to time and I blushed a little.Bookmark here

"What a gloomy atmosphere!" Mrs. Olga exclaimed. "Benedith, please play some of that melody you know so well. Tell Luka to come here with the flute."Bookmark here

"At your command, madam." Benedith nodded and ran outside, leaving me and the family in awkward silence for a few minutes.Bookmark here

"Ahem- did you sleep well, Heiji-kun? I didn't ask you first." Cleya said.Bookmark here

"Yes, the bed was so soft." I replied animatedly with a quiet smile.Bookmark here

"Ah! I'm glad you had a good sleep. Rather, I heard that you and my daughter are going to the party organized for the Festival of Lights together." The woman sketched a smirk.Bookmark here

"Yes, I guess that is the case. Rather, what is this Festival Of Lights?"Bookmark here

"Ah! It's a festival that is held every 3 years and it comes from a long and intricate tradition." Explained Cleya passionately, "You know, hundreds of years ago, our ancestors used to hold meetings called Fluotters, and to signify this event, they would set up various lanterns where the meeting would take place. The name 'Fluotter' means in our language 'Twinkle'."Bookmark here

"They must have been very important meetings." I said.Bookmark here

"Yes, prominent figures often attended. Usually, the day before, these individuals would warn of the meeting with certain little white flags."Bookmark here

"Oh! That's what those flags taped to store windows meant today." I reflected aloud, interested.Bookmark here

"There were flags?" Heathcliff asked, "Well, I don't remember."Bookmark here

"Big brother, you never look around you!" Bookmark here

"And why should I? I only look at my objective." He shrugged.Bookmark here

"That's enough, children." Mrs. Olga admonished them, her eyebrows arched. Then she clapped her hands quickly and Benedith, accompanied by Luka, entered the room. Luka moved more awkwardly and uncertainly, but still remained graceful, with her long blue hair and clear eyes.Bookmark here

They bowed quickly before positioning themselves near the table, the first with a violin and the second with a flute in hand. They began to play a quiet tune that went well with the atmosphere around us.Bookmark here

"The Devil-Winged Dancer by Sheverun." Affirmed the hostess, and then closed her eyes and enjoyed the music.Bookmark here

A few seconds later, several maids burst into the room, all settled in and wearing white aprons. They brought several dishes, with different flavors and colors. I felt my head spinning in front of the array of food.Bookmark here

I took samples of a little of everything, finding everything delicious. Mrs. Olga kindly explained to me what all the food was, while her children were just discussing about some animal among themselves and eating politely. Bookmark here

After the army of maids quietly left, I allowed myself to satisfy a few of my curiosities, which Benedith had not delved into before.Bookmark here

"Madam, may I ask you a question?" I asked shyly, after I had finished eating. She looked at me and politely intimated that I should continue.Bookmark here

"There is a portrait larger than the others in the hallway, and Benedith-san told me it was of one Victori Alston." Bookmark here

The music grew fainter at that name. Cleya and Heathcliff stopped arguing and fell into a mysterious silence, while their mother showed a somber expression.Bookmark here

"Victori was my husband. I say 'was' because he's been gone for quite some time. At my age, I've lost a lot of people and experienced a lot of sad things, son." Then she sighed heavily and continued, "But grief makes you stronger. That's why I like these flowers so much- look, look how they struggle against death! They continue in this spiral of pain until they lose their strength and stop rebelling. They remind me of many events in my long life."Bookmark here

'She talks like she's lived a long time but she looks like she's in her thirties.' I thought, a little confused by her deep monologue.Bookmark here

I looked at the others: Cleya was biting her lip nervously, while Heathcliff was showing an almost horrified face. Meanwhile, the maids stopped playing, tired.Bookmark here

'There's something strange here.' It was obvious that I could think something like that.Bookmark here

"Heiji-kun, how about we go to the terrace?" Cleya asked, suddenly getting up. "The air will be very pleasant." Bookmark here

"E-emh, all right. Thank you for dinner, ma'am!" I rose from my chair and bowed respectfully. "Everything was exquisite."Bookmark here

"Oh, don't be like that, dear. It was a pleasure to be in your company." Bookmark here

I blushed and brought a hand to the back of my head at those words.Bookmark here

"Come on, Heiji!" The girl took my hand and squeezed it tightly, making me flinch. Bookmark here

"Cleya-san, I can do it myself!" She giggled at my embarrassment in a childish way.Bookmark here

"Gosh, you should be less embarrassed seriously. Even though you look cute like this." Bookmark here

"C-cute?" I became a tomato and began to stutter.Bookmark here

"Come on, cute boy.~" Bookmark here

"D-don't call me that!"Bookmark here

Konoko Asada
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