Gabriel entered the room warily, his hand on the sword at his side and his eyes flitting about behind the glittering mask. The room of elaborately costumed men and women, each hiding behind their own mask, appeared to be nothing more than yet another societal ball. Yet Gabriel knew that some of the most dangerous and powerful creatures of the world lurked behind those smiling visages.
The band, in the corner, was happily strumming along on a wandering, soothing melody. The music was peaceful, but Gabriel’s nerves remained taut. As a sanctioned Palace diplomat, he had been granted an invitation, but he was still unsure of whether his decision to attend was wise. He made his way through the crowd, the clinking of his armor muffled by the formal tabard.
Passing near one of the burdened refreshment tables, Gabriel spotted a woman leaning against the back corner of the ballroom who looked to be wrapped in a cloak of iridescent purple-tinged rainbows. He recognized her immediately, despite the mask of purple feathers around her eyes. He immediately made his way towards her.
“My queen,” Gabriel spoke to her quietly, sinking to one knee in front of the lady. The slightly tilted eyes behind the mask showed no sign of surprise, but the lady quickly gave him the signal to rise. He did so smoothly, with only the slightest clinking of his armor. “My sword is yours,” he said formally.
Lady Tiamat nodded to him in return. “Lord Gabriel,” she said stately. “It is always pleasant to see one of my followers.”
“It is rare to see you in your human form,” Gabriel returned, his lips quirking up into a smile. “Usually, you are much more . . . dominating.”
The dragon queen accepted the compliment wordlessly, but her eyes slid past him to a man on the far side of the room. “Do you see that man? The one with the red eyes?” she asked in an undertone.
Gabriel turned slightly so he could watch the man from his peripheral vision. The gentleman in question was exceedingly tall, with a slightly gaunt face the color of ash. His mask, stretching around his eyes, was painted in red hues that grew brighter towards the center, giving his eyes the appearance of a red glow. His mouth, visible below the mask, looked sour.
“I do not, my lady,” Gabriel replied. “He looks quite intimidating.”
Lady Tiamat smiled slightly. “More than you know, child. I have come here to try to stop him, but I must warn you that things are about to get quite interesting.”
For a moment, Gabriel felt a rush of nervousness run through him. When a thousand-year-old dragon queen, one of the world’s most powerful enchantresses, mentions danger, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Shaking off the fear, he flexed his legs slightly and loosened his sword in its sheath at his side. Ready, he kept one eye on his queen and waited.
“His name is Valtha,” said Lady Tiamat softly. “He is a vampire, and an ancient one. His mask is simply bragging. There are several very high profile targets here, which I’m certain he intends to turn tonight-“
There was no warning. “Everyone attack!” screamed Valtha, in a curiously melodic tenor, and chaos ensued. Vampires, their skin a dusky grey, burst from behind doors, around corners, and inside costumes with hisses. Their fangs were fully extended, and dirty talons sprouted from their fingers.
With the ease of years of training, Gabriel’s sword slid from its sheath, slicing one of the vampires in half. He spun around, blocking strikes and returning them in kind. Next to him, Tiamat threw fireballs from her palms, blasting attackers to ash before they had a chance to scream. The heat was intense.
Gabriel danced through the forms with his sword. The room was filled with the screams of the nobles, and the blitz of vampires continued as if there was no end, but he was fighting alongside his queen, fulfilling his duty as a Palace diplomat. He felt completely alive.