The Face: 4. Visage

Chapter 4: Visage

            Loran walked through the gate of the Seafell estate awestruck. He had never seen a house as marvelous as the one he was approaching. Looking around the grounds, Loran could have believed that he had entered into another plane, the differences between Thebes and his surroundings were so stark. The grounds were a maze of pathways, shrubberies, and gardens. It was clear that Seafell was more than just a name, it was a motif for the entire estate. Fountains of every shape and size dotted the landscape, water falling from their sculpted frames. Natural green and blue hues mixed with the oranges and yellows from the setting sun creating a visual masterpiece.
            Alongside of Loran were Visage and Syre. They had taken the afternoon to go shopping for a dress for Syre. She had insisted on a dark, midnight blue dress that wasn’t as elegant as much as it was utilitarian. Loran was impressed with Syre’s pragmatism even if Visage was disappointed she hadn’t gone with something more flamboyant. She was still bitter from the preening and grooming Visage had instigated to make up for the flop of her outfit. She walked sullenly in the wake of Visage, his gold cloak sparkling in the twilight. Loran himself wore the best outfit he carried with him accentuated by a smart vest loaned to him by Visage.

            The three of them also had masks covering their faces. Syre’s mask was a raven’s face complete with feathers and a sharp beak over her nose. Loran’s own mask was simply designed and adorned with a few small jewels. They paled in comparison to Visage’s mask. His was a swirling mixture of gleaming copper and silver forming the regal countenance of a smiling man. Oddly enough, the features of the man matched some of Visage’s own features and the mask wasn’t purchased with the rest of their wardrobe earlier that day. These peculiar details just deepened the mystery Visage embodied.
            They were not the only ones walking the grounds. All around them walked the elite and wealthy of Thebes. Most of them were slowly making their way towards the manor for the night’s festivities but some seemed to be enjoying the beauty of the grounds more than the thought of the stuffy indoors awaiting them. Loran spotted Vera, Eldaran, and Jax meandering along a walkway across the grounds from his party. He knew any sort of contact was risky and foolish but he couldn’t help but wonder how they were faring. Vera made sure to remind the party he could bluff his way out of any situation while they were preparing for the night but Eldaran’s penchant for jumping into every situation and conversation worried Loran.
            “Names, please,” A member of the manor’s staff stood at the foot of the steps awaiting our response.
            Visage spoke for all of them. “I am Tascal Sorin and this is my sister Reena. Also with us is Lucas Zeller, our business partner.” Lucas was the name Visage had come up with for Loran to complete his disguise.
            The staff member checked a long document, presumably for their names. “Splendid, you shall be announced as soon as you enter. Enjoy the gala,” said the attendant.
            The three of them walked up the steps and through the large oak doors that led into the foyer of the manor.
            “Announcing Tascal and Reena Sorin, brother and sister, and their associate Lucas Zeller!” called another staff member as they stepped over the threshold. No one turned their way.
            They were greeted by the din of a busy entryway. People were walking to and fro, standing in groups talking boisterously, reaching for food on passing trays being carried by waiters moving swiftly through the gathered highborn crowd. It was all quite overwhelming. Visage wasn’t fazed by any of it. He confidently steered the three of them to the right into an adjoining dining room. Loran spotted plates and trays full of delicacies of every kind, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, pastries. He made his way toward a table full of intricately decorated truffles. Looking back towards Syre and Visage, he saw they were being accosted by a large woman who was speaking to Visage, standing much too closely.
            “Yes, my sister and I have recently taken control of the family shipping business. The details are quite a bore I’m afraid,” Visage was saying, looking uncomfortable for the first time.
            “Oh, what do you specialize in, exotic goods, spices, fine jewelry?” asked the lady who appeared to be smitten with Visage.
            “Ah, we don’t have much of a specialty as you would put it. We like to keep our options open, it’s good for business,” responded Visage.
            “Have you tried these spinach puffs? They’re simply wonderful,” said Syre butting into the conversation as she grabbed an aforementioned spinach puff off a passing tray. The woman was immediately distracted and started chasing the waiter through the dining room. Syre popped the pastry into her mouth looking pleased with herself and started to chew. At once, she started gagging and spit the half-chewed pastry into a napkin.
            “Ugh, what was in that?” she said as she tried to get all of the taste out of her mouth.
            “Spinach I suspect,” said Visage a grin on his face, “You’re not used to this kind of food are you?”
            “No. Come on, we won’t find anything in here. Let’s try the ballroom.”
            Visage led them through the crowds out of the dining room and into the foyer again. Across the foyer from the main doorway were two large doors leading into a huge ballroom. Loran had never seen such an ornate room. Paintings and tapestries covered the walls and a large golden chandelier hung from the ceiling. In the middle of the room, pairs of partygoers danced in circles laughing and smiling at each other, careless to the outside world. As one got further and further away from the center of the room, people became less and less joyous and more and more serious. On the edges of the room, small groups of people huddled close together, scheming and gossiping in whispers.
            It was there Loran found himself being led by Visage. They ended their trek across the sea of people on the far end of the ball room underneath a massive tapestry and next to a door that led out of the ballroom and into a hallway. They stood there with their backs to the wall, watching and waiting. After a few minutes, Loran noticed a commotion across the room near the entrance to the ballroom. The people in the middle of the room stopped dancing mid step and turned to look. Suddenly, a geyser of water exploded upwards near the doorway. The geyser began to twist and turn in the air and began to shape itself into something vaguely humanoid.
            “Ah, it looks like Vera has done his job. Into the hallway,” said Visage as he moved to open the door.
            Looking back towards the Water Elemental, Loran could see a wave of panicked people surging away from the danger, directly towards him. He slipped through the doorway after Syre just before the exit was jammed full of escaping partygoers. It was like a raging flood had crashed upon a dam with only a tiny outlet allowing water through. Soon, the door had been torn off its hinges and people were streaming into the hallway, running and yelling.
            “Come on, we must be going.”
            Loran felt a hand grab his wrist and pull him away from the chaotic spectacle. Visage was leading him to a spiral staircase leading into the basement of the manor. Syre was already waiting at the top of the staircase. As Loran and Visage arrived, she slipped down the stairs, around the corner, out of sight. Loran went next, overcoming the urge to look back down the hall. Behind him came a loud clatter and a few grunts. Visage was lying in a heap at Loran’s feet.
            “Blasted animals!” Visage grunted as he got up.
            Loran looked around the small landing for Syre. She was crouching next to a door, examining the locking mechanism.
            “I can’t open this door. I think there’s some sort of magic keeping me from picking the lock,” she said
            Visage stepped in front of the door, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
            Nothing happened.
            “This door is beyond my skill,” he said with a sigh, “We seem to be at an impasse.”
            “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
            Loran turned around and saw Vera, Eldaran and Jax standing at the bottom of the stairs. Eldaran’s clothes were soaked through, presumably from dealing with the Water Elemental. Vera traded places with Visage, squeezing past the three of them that were already crowding the landing. He made a few motions with his hands and muttered a few incomprehensible words. When he was finished he turned towards Syre and nodded. She took out a simple lock pick and after a few moments a loud click resonated from the door and she turned the handle. The door slowly opened into dimly lit hallway.
            “You’re late.”
            A gruff voice emanated from the hallway. An elf, dressed in a tattered black cloak, stepped forward into the dim light.
            “Who in the hells are you?” Eldaran asked suspiciously.
            “My name is Procopex. The mages guild sent me to assist you, not that you need any assistance.”
            “If you’re from the mages guild, who sent you? What is his name?” asked Vera.
            “Aeral, you idiot. Anyone could answer that. And he is a she,” said Procopex, obviously annoyed.
            “But the beard. It was so long,” said Vera, perplexed.
            “She’s a dwarf, of course she has a long beard. Now if you don’t have any more stupid questions, can we get going?” said Procopex, growing even more annoyed.
            The rest of the group moved through the doorway into the hall, only Visage stayed on the stairs. Loran turned toward Visage, waiting for him to move.
            “It seems this is where I leave you all. Sneaking and skulking is far beyond my skills. It was a pleasure Loran,” said Visage with a nod of his head. He winked, turned and started up the stairs. With that, the man with the gold cloak was gone.

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