Train in the Clouds
Evening had come to the big mansion.
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.
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.
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!
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.
"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.
"Sorry to wake you up, Heiji, but I would need the measurements for your tuxedo." She explained, with a small smile.
"Yes, for the masquerade ball. I've decided you'll be my date." She said quietly, stepping closer.
I recoiled, a little intimidated by her behavior. "But I really don't think..."
"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."
"Floshery?" I asked, as I settled on the bed with a confused face.
"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."
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.
The moment didn't last long because, a short time later, Jena and two other maids, accompanied by their mistress, burst into the room.
Cleya began to give orders left and right, without interruption.
"Jena, measure under his armpits! Lower!"
"Ah, stop! That tickles!" I squirmed.
"Excuse me, sir, try to resist!"
"And you, Marianne, measure in the trouser area!" Cleya ordered, pointing her index at my private place.
"Wait, what? Is that how you measure?" I asked, embarrassed. "Ah, Marianne-san!"
"Luka, the shoulders. Jena, the collar."
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.
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.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?" Said the girl, one hand resting on her hip. "Though you get embarassed so easily."
"I'm not used to this!" I protested, "I've never even worn a tuxedo in my life."
"Rather," Cleya ignored my complaints and continued, "it will soon be dinner time, so be ready."
Afterwards, she left, with a serious expression that made my hair stand on end. 'Actually, she can be a bit cold.' I thought.
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.
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.
I looked at myself in the mirror carefully at that moment: my dark eyes sparkled and my face had taken on some color.
"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.
As we walked, however, I took the time to ask her a few nagging questions.
"This place looks very old, it's really gorgeous here." I began the conversation this way.
"Definitely, sir. It was built hundreds of years ago by Baron Abel Alston."
"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..."
"Don't worry, sir." Benedith gave me a warm smile, which calmed me down a bit, "It's just a visit, nothing more."
Then she turned away and never moved her face toward me again. Moreover, her explanations became even more limited.
"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.
"Exactly, Master Heiji."
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.
"Who's that over there?"
"That's Victori Alston." And she didn't say anything else for a while.
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.
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.
'What's wrong with her?" I mentally asked myself, but I felt afraid to ask her verbally.
"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.
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.
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.
I found myself staring at those bizarre plants with intensity; whereupon, Mrs. Alston opened her mouth.
"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."
"Mother, you don't want to talk about these things now." Heathcliff interjected, annoyed. "They're not exactly happy things, you know."
"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."
I made a confused face after that statement. "Thanks for the explanation, I guess."
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.
"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."
"At your command, madam." Benedith nodded and ran outside, leaving me and the family in awkward silence for a few minutes.
"Ahem- did you sleep well, Heiji-kun? I didn't ask you first." Cleya said.
"Yes, the bed was so soft." I replied animatedly with a quiet smile.
"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.
"Yes, I guess that is the case. Rather, what is this Festival Of Lights?"
"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'."
"They must have been very important meetings." I said.
"Yes, prominent figures often attended. Usually, the day before, these individuals would warn of the meeting with certain little white flags."
"Oh! That's what those flags taped to store windows meant today." I reflected aloud, interested.
"There were flags?" Heathcliff asked, "Well, I don't remember."
"Big brother, you never look around you!"
"And why should I? I only look at my objective." He shrugged.
"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.
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.
"The Devil-Winged Dancer by Sheverun." Affirmed the hostess, and then closed her eyes and enjoyed the music.
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.
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.
After the army of maids quietly left, I allowed myself to satisfy a few of my curiosities, which Benedith had not delved into before.
"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.
"There is a portrait larger than the others in the hallway, and Benedith-san told me it was of one Victori Alston."
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.
"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."
'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.
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.
'There's something strange here.' It was obvious that I could think something like that.
"Heiji-kun, how about we go to the terrace?" Cleya asked, suddenly getting up. "The air will be very pleasant."
"E-emh, all right. Thank you for dinner, ma'am!" I rose from my chair and bowed respectfully. "Everything was exquisite."
"Oh, don't be like that, dear. It was a pleasure to be in your company."
I blushed and brought a hand to the back of my head at those words.
"Come on, Heiji!" The girl took my hand and squeezed it tightly, making me flinch.
"Cleya-san, I can do it myself!" She giggled at my embarrassment in a childish way.
"Gosh, you should be less embarrassed seriously. Even though you look cute like this."
"C-cute?" I became a tomato and began to stutter.
"Come on, cute boy.~"
"D-don't call me that!"