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Sat Aug 25, 2018 2:25pm

A young woman spun in a circle, arms flung out to her sides, head tipped back to feel the rain on her face, long braid trailing in her wake. She laughed; the drops weren’t cold, stinging water, but pleasantly warm oil smelling of all sorts of lovely things - she thought she could pick out lavender, vanilla, rosemary, thyme… perhaps a hint of cinnamon, too? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; yes, something dark and rich and smooth, even if it made her nose itch terribly. But a bit too metallic to be cinnamon. So what…?

She slipped on the slick grass; a plume of stained-glass butterflies lifted her back to her feet. The tiny woman smiled and laughed again, reaching out to touch one in pink and purple; it dissolved into wisps of smoke that danced up her arm, leaving a pleasant tingle in its wake. She eagerly reached out to the other butterflies now swirling around her; reds, blues, greens, yellows, even one or two in black or white - all dissolved at a touch, leaving her wreathed in that pleasant, varicolored smoke, clinging to her like a familiar gown. Something long, with a train to be seen for miles - perhaps a bridal gown! She smiled and raised her hands again; some of the smoke around her fingers wove itself into a thin veil, obscuring her vision only slightly with its ever-shifting colors, but covering her face and neck and shoulders, completing the image.

Something tickled at the nape of her neck, she noticed; the young woman reached back to try brushing away stray, oil-slicked hairs, and found herself touching one last butterfly. This one did not break at her touch; it rode her finger, sitting obligingly still when she raised it to the sky in a vain attempt to catch it in the light, then spread its wings to reveal that even in the storm its red-and-purple wings glittered and gleamed impossibly brightly. She had to close her eyes at the sudden pinpoints of light.

When she opened them again, she found herself in a large, loud room, filled with people laughing and conversating over glasses of what she thought was wine. It seemed a little bright to be wine, a bit thick, perhaps, but none of them seemed to care - they raised the glasses to their lips, drank as easily as if it were clear water, and raised the glasses higher in a compliment to the establishment serving it. The young woman smiled and stepped over to a table with only one woman sitting at it, a tall, pale woman dressed in a grey gown that accented her figure wonderfully - the younger woman thought jealously of her own more-than-modest bust - and a beautiful mask, pink with golden vinework and a few inches of a lacy veil sewn into the bottom, drawing attention to her cheekbones and button nose. Hair so deeply black as to almost look blue hung loose around her shoulders; she tilted her head at her newfound company. The veiled woman raised a glass with a welcoming smile, extending it to the oil-soaked girl; she took it with a smile of her own, raising it to the light to admire the way the light caught on the tiny, glittering specks suspended in the deep red liquid.

The back of her neck tickled again at that. Glittering specks in red liquid. Had she seen such a thing before? Surely not; but some part of her shied away from the thought of having anything to do with the wine in that glass, particularly from the thought of getting it onto her skin, much less willingly drinking it. She looked at the veiled woman; she was watching her calmly, but the same part of her brain shying from the drink told her that she was waiting for something. But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? She had offered a drink to a soaked stranger, that was all.

The young woman swirled the glass experimentally, and was delighted by the way the candle-light winked off the specks. The yellowy-orange light diffused through the drink, lending it a soft glow that left her feeling giddy, lighter than air. She blinked; the smoke of her veil wove itself into a hundred butterflies no larger than the nail on her little finger, and they fluttered their tiny ways to the veiled woman, settling into her hair, one particularly brave butterfly in green and orange perching directly onto her mask. The woman’s smile shrunk slightly, and she raised one hand to brush a bit of stray hair behind her ear; the oil-soaked girl noticed that something seemed off about the image that presented. A moment later, it hit her.

The mask had no eye-holes.

That was impossible, though. How could the woman be looking at her without eye-holes in her mask? She blinked; oh, yes, the eye-holes were there. They simply had tiny veils covering them from the inside, colored to match the mask. The young woman relaxed marginally and looked at the glass again. The specks no longer seemed to be quite so evenly diffused among the thick liquid; rather, her swirling of the drink had brought them into the center of the glass. She was suddenly absolutely sure that whatever this drink was, she wanted none of it.

The veil-bound woman tilted her head slightly when her guest lowered the glass. “Would you prefer something to eat first, then?” she asked, voice floating into the young woman’s ears like a bit of the most beautiful music. She could almost see its passage, she noticed; like a trail of smoke, winding its way towards her like a ribbon rolling off its spool.

The young woman nodded and set her free hand on the back of what looked like the most comfortable chair in the room, upholstered in varying shades of pink and traced with golden vines, just like the woman’s mask. She blinked; a plate of roasted walnuts coated in thick golden honey sat in the center of the table, sending up plumes of scents so sweet they made the oil still clinging to her smell sour and rank.

She paused as she moved to set the glass on the table. She could feel something against her skin, beneath her dress of smoke. Something that scratched at her, chafing against her skin, all across her arms and back and chest and legs. The young woman took a step back; she heard not the muffled step of a smoke-booted foot, but the quiet slap of skin on stone, and beneath that the rattle of metal meeting metal. She closed her eyes, kept them closed, and breathed in--

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