Daisy felt herself being grabbed from behind, and the scream caught in her throat. She was lifted off the ground and spun around. She choked out a loud shriek.
“Harry!” Daisy smacked him and he put her back on the floor, laughing. “Not funny, not funny!”
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself.” Harry shrugged, still grinning.
“Hmph!” Daisy marched to the other side of the room.
It was soon time for the three to leave for the masquerade. They bundled into their coats and made their way over to the Grayson’s mansion. When they reached the front door, they each put their masks on, some more timidly than the others. A wave of anticipation washed over Tom – what if he got to see that girl again? Daisy prayed she would see nothing but what she was meant to see, and as for Harry, well, he was thinking about ducks; who knows why, but I’m sure he had his reasons.
Inside, everyone was done up in grand costumes, flaunting and showing off their outfits to whoever passed. Harry headed straight for a waiter holding a plate of food. Daisy pulled Tom into a waltz.
As the evening wore on, all remaining anxieties and questions were squished to the back of minds as feet grew sore from gliding across the ballroom’s floor and drinks were consumed with vigour. Harry was surrounded by giggling girls the moment he walked in. He looked from girl to girl, glanced at Tom and Daisy, winked, then strutted off, parading around with a girl on each arm while the rest of the giggling flock trailed behind. Tom shook his head, grinning, and Daisy sighed; they exchanged a look as if to say “Whatever will we do with him?”
There comes a time at every party when you find yourself thinking over your life thus far. Some come away from these thoughts feeling great, while others begin to seriously question their life choices. Harry was never one for serious thinking, and so he usually avoided situations like these. Yet all the same, while at this masquerade, surrounded by his flock, he found himself reflecting.
For a while he stood, watching the couples dancing, and he felt very contemplative. He found it did not suit him, so he hummed instead. He felt something bump up against him.
“Mm, hello Daisy. Enjoying yourself?”
Daisy giggled. “Very much! Tom is such a good dancer! Did you know that?” Her curls bounced excitedly along with her.
“Of course. Taught him everything I know.”
Daisy threw her head back and laughed, grabbing his arm. “Oh, what would I do without you?”
“Die, I suppose.” She raised her eyebrow and nudged him.
“So what do you think? I think I knocked this one right out – my outfit is far more pretty than all the rest, hmm?” She posed.
Harry gave a small smile and lowered his eyes. “Daisy, you know I’ll always say you’re the most beautiful girl in the room.”
“I know; that’s why I always ask you!” She laughed again, but grew silent at his glance. They stared at one another. “Harry.” She bit her lip.
“Daisy, I…” He raised his hand as if to touch her.
Harry sighed. “Tom’s my best friend. He always will be.”
Daisy looked down. “Yes. Of course.”
Harry grinned. “So, if he’s such a good dancer, why don’t you go find him then?”
They nodded a silent agreement and Daisy turned and found herself soon back in the arms of Tom, who guided her across the floor. Harry did not wait to see if she looked back.
“Emma, hey, there you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” The blonde giggled and scurried over to Harry, who wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Where have you been all my life?” The other girls pouted, and followed after them.
Daisy did look back. She looked back with her big sorrowful eyes, her rosebud lips forming a hopeful circle. Once, her searching eyes met his, but he turned away from her, and it gave her a horrible feeling.
Tom needed a break and so left Daisy to fan herself and gossip with the other ladies. With each frantic swish of the fan, Daisy felt more and more dizzy. Hurriedly she excused herself and went looking for a bit of fresh air. She took her mask off and put it in her purse for safekeeping.
Tom went in search of Harry, who had managed to escape the grasps of the fawning girls and find a moment of much needed solitude by one of the large potted plants in the hallway leading from the ballroom. He was leaning idly against a marble pillar when Tom finally found him. They nodded to one another.
“You’re popular tonight,” Tom said, when he had reached Harry’s side.
“Aren’t I always?”
“And so humble too.”
They each took a sip of their drinks.
“Do you think ducks would look good in sweaters?” Harry mused.
“I mean, if someone were to knit a duck a sweater, would it look good? Would the duck even want to wear it? Maybe it’s an ugly sweater… or an ugly duck. Can ducks be ugly? Maybe someone should just knit a sweater with a duck on it, cut out the middleman.”
Tom blinked at Harry. “Yeah… I’m just going to take Mr. Drink from you and put him right over here.”
Harry shrugged, indifferent. “Hey, where’s Daisy?”
“I think I saw her go out onto the balcony.”
“Well come on then, let’s get her and go.”
“Ducks wear you out?” Tom chuckled.
“Nah. I told Emma we could run away together; better get out of here before she takes me up on the offer.”
“When will you ever learn?” Tom clapped Harry on the shoulder, and they slowly made their way down the hall.
“When I decide true happiness is better than pretend.”
They had reached the balcony. They stepped out into the cold air. Harry pulled his mask off and fiddled with it. The lights on the balcony were dim and long shadows were cast against the walls.
“I don’t see her, she must have gone back –” Tom was cut off by a muffled shriek.
They turned to see a white-faced Daisy being pulled towards the edge of the balcony by a figure cloaked in black.
Tom and Harry ran after her. She was pulled to the bannister, where she hovered for a moment. She was clawing at the hand that was clamped around her mouth, but whoever it was held fast to her and she could not get free. The hooded figure turned to face them with a great hiss then leant backwards and hurled itself off the balcony, pulling Daisy down with it. Harry yelled out in anger; he had been so close to grabbing her.
“Come on!” Tom swung over the bannister like a madman and dropped into the bushes below, Harry following close behind and the two of them ran after the cloaked figure. Daisy cried out for help. She was thrown into an awaiting carriage which immediately set off. Harry pulled open the door of the nearest hackney and threw out the driver. Tom clambered in and they swung into the street. Their masks were thrown into the back. Tom stuck his head out the window to better see the runaway carriage and yelled directions at Harry.
They chased the carriage through crisscrossing streets, determined not to let it out of their sight. No matter how fast they raced, they could not seem to gain, and the gap between them seemed as great as when they had started. They had left London far behind and were now speeding through the countryside. Rain began to fall and soon the roads became muddied and the world around them was shrouded in fog. Off in the distance, they saw a speckle of light winking through the mist. They followed the carriage towards this light. The carriage turned suddenly and glided through a large gateway. The hackney spurted forward, but the gates were closed with a shattering bang, blocking their way. Harry swore loudly as they watched the carriage rattle away from them. They both jumped out; Tom shook the gates vehemently but they remained shut. The carriage disappeared into the darkness. Harry leaned his head against the metal bars, staring at the lights that still winked out at them, as if laughing at their defeat. He could see the faint outline of a towering manor house.
“Come on,” he said, “there’s got to be another way in!” They began to hunt for one.
Back in the carriage, Daisy sat huddled in a corner, trembling with fright. She felt the carriage come to a stop, and for a moment she sat alone in silence, blinking in the darkness. The doors were then opened and rough hands reached in and pulled her out. She tried to cry out for help but those hands were over her mouth in an instance. She was dragged to the house, her weary feet slipping in the mud.
She was pulled along a long corridor. It was dimly lit and smelt of mould. The passageway was lined with portraits, each one covered with a thin black veil, obscuring the paintings and distorting their shapes. Spider webs occupied the corners of the hall. They reached a staircase and here she hesitated, looking round with wide frightened eyes. She was pushed roughly from behind and she jilted forward. Her hand flew out and she caught herself on the bannister. Her fingers met with scores of dust. A gruff voice told her to keep going and she mounted up the staircase. The landing above was covered in torn carpet. She was whisked down another hallway and pulled into a room at the end.
This room was dark, except for the fire that burned in the fireplace. It was cluttered with furniture, all of which was draped in white sheets and covered with years of dust.
“Have you got it?” a voice growled from a corner of the room, making Daisy jump.
“I’ve got her,” said the man who had taken her.
Daisy fell to her knees and clasped her hands together. “Please, let me go! My parents have money, they’ll give you whatever you want – just let me go!” The girl lay sobbing on the floor. A low growling laugh came from the corner, and Daisy shuddered. She was pulled to her feet again by the man behind her.
“Give me the mask,” hissed the voice from within the darkness.
“I-I don’t know what you mean.”
“Give me the mask!” the voice screamed, and Daisy shrunk back.
“Who are you? What do you want?” She tried to stop her voice from shaking. The laughter came again, more wild than before. It began to sputter and wheeze, choking on its own laugh. She saw a dark hunched figure stagger towards her. It crept into the light. Daisy gasped. Towering before her was the sniggering visage of Rathgowl. His face was pitted with scars and his body convulsed into a coughing fit, but his beady little eyes shone out with hunger and they feasted upon Daisy. He continued to laugh as he held out a steady hand and pointed a dagger at Daisy.
“Give me my mask,” he growled.
Daisy tried to flee but she was quickly grabbed by Rathgowl’s thug and thrust back towards him. Rathgowl grabbed her wrist; his grip was surprisingly strong. She writhed in his grasp, desperately wanting to stay away from the knife’s point. His grip tightened and she cried out in pain.
“It’s in my purse,” she whimpered. Rathgowl nodded to his man, who immediately turned and went to retrieve the purse from the carriage.
Rathgowl pulled Daisy closer to him. She could feel his hot breath on her face. He started sniggering again, drawing in deep raspy breaths, his entire body shaking with excitement.
The thug soon returned with the mask, and left the room as soon as he had handed it off to Rathgowl. Rathgowl pounced on it, flinging Daisy away and she stumbled to the floor. He held the mask up before him and broke out into a cackling laugh. He hugged the mask to him, hunching his shoulders, giggling and wheezing madly.
“It’s mine. It’s finally mine,” he hissed, muttering to himself. “All three would have been nice, but one is enough, heeheehee.” The old man’s body convulsed again, whether with laughter or coughing Daisy was unsure. “All I need now…” His voice trailed off. He turned to Daisy, and she felt her blood run cold as he smiled at her. In a flash, he had grabbed her again, pulling her in close. She squirmed in his grasp. He dragged her over to the fireplace, where the light gleamed against her pale skin, turning his grin even wider. “Do you know what makes these masks special?” he whispered, drawing her closer. She pulled away, repulsed, but he held tight. “Some say they bring bad luck to whoever wears them, in their own special way.”
“Then why would you want them?” Daisy gasped, squirming and trying to pry herself away.
“Because I know the truth. I know they carry a secret – a secret to the world’s greatest treasures, to powers beyond your wildest dreams, to immortality.” He coughed and his body gave a great shudder. “I never was a man to say no to any of that. Soon, I will know their secret, and then,” he laughed, “and then the world will be mine.” Rathgowl spat into the fire and stroked the mask. He glared at Daisy.
“But I’ve already worn it. I didn’t see anything; you’re wrong!”
Rathgowl grinned, his eyes gleaming. “The masks require an offering first, to show that you are worthy. I am…” He paused, sliding his finger across Daisy’s cheek. She shuddered as she felt his sharp nail glide across her skin. “I must rely on others to tell me what they see.”
“Offering?” she stammered. Rathgowl’s grin grew into a wicked smile. He drew the side of the dagger slowly across her neck, its metal piercingly cold against her skin.
“Of blood,” he whispered in her ear, still holding the knife to her throat. “Such a pretty girl.” He brushed his dirty fingers through her hair and nibbled on her ear. He grabbed her hand and with one quick prick to her palm, he drew blood.
“That’s it?” she cried, surprised.
“Wouldn’t want to waste you, now would I?” Rathgowl breathed in deeply, his nose in her hair. He took her pricked hand and squeezed it, letting the blood drip down onto the inside of the mask. He smeared it around the eyeholes, giving it a ghoulish look, as the red gleamed out brightly against the whiteness. “Now, look!” he hissed, pressing the mask to Daisy’s face and tightly tying the ribbons around her head. “Tell me what you see!”
Read part 4