Rashidi stared at the door, and pondered, not for the first time, whether he was doing the right thing. Because there was a small difference, but an important one, between what needed to be done, and the right thing.
Rashidi turned to his side, where Sika stood, and wondered if maybe the difference was a bit bigger than he initially thought.
"Are you ready?" Retta asked from his other side.
Rashidi turned to her and nodded. She smiled, walked over to the doors, and pulled them open, letting the long line of guests finally walk in.
Rashidi ran his fingers along the stiff decorative stitching of his sleeves, preparing for the worst night of his life.\
"Young Lord Alabann? I am Lord Ellis Mirriem, eldest son of the late Lord Raketh Mirriem of Holomisa. It is a pleasure to be welcomed into your mother's home."
Rashidi smiled, or at least tried to smile, he wasn't sure. Sometimes he made the motion and a frown appeared on his face anyway, or maybe some other expression. It was impossible to tell when he wasn't looking at a mirror.
"It is a pleasure to have you here, Lord Ellis. Please join the others in the room below."
The man bowed, curly brown hair flopping slightly, and then he was gone, quickly replaced with another guest.
"Greetings, Young Rashidi Alabann," said a tanned man with hair that was just starting to go grey. "I am Prime Lord Harvik Markindale of Bluecentre. It is a wonder to have been invited to celebrate your delights and accomplishments."
Prime Lord Markindale then smiled, his eyes scrunching oddly. "When you can, do tell your father that my son, young Lord Wiff, is waiting where he was instructed to."
Rashidi wanted to frown, he really did. "Of course, sir."
Lord Markindale then turned to Sika. "Are you young Rashidi's date for tonight?"
Sika nodded. "Indeed, sir."
"And you are?" Lord Markindale didn't appear to know who she was. Rashidi was kinda glad about that.
Sika didn't react to the subtle jab. "I am young Lady Sika Zhao, daughter of Lord Qiang Zhao. I am also a member of the Mage's Guard here in Gattinton."
Lord Markindale's eyebrows rose considerably. "Are you now? How interesting."
Rashidi couldn't hold himself to this conversation any longer, just listening was boring and too carefully pleasant. "Sir," he said. "There are more guests waiting behind you."
Lord Markindale blinked. "Ah, of course. I shall join the others then."
Rashidi took a deep breath in as the man walked away, holding his hand out for Sika to take. He needed the grounding.
"I didn't like him. I didn't like any of them, but him especially," Rashidi said with a wavering voice. "He said things I didn't understand."
Sika gave his hand a pat. "There shouldn't be too many more, we've been here for about twenty kimlutil now. I doubt your parents would have invited more than 100 guests."
Rashidi heaved a sigh and turned to the next guest.
The music that played was reserved, slow. It was beautiful to the ear, but it had no personality, no substance that Rashidi could cling to. There was a lot of strings and woodwinds, but practically no brass or drums, no strong deep tones that Rashidi could feel in his bones.
What was worse was that Rashidi kept having to look down at his feet. Even though he knew the steps, knew how to waltz among many other dances, he was constantly afraid of tripping, of stepping wrong.
The women he danced with always appeared slighted when he wouldn't look them in the eyes. It was exhausting, watching their faces, interpreting what they were thinking, wondering just how they were judging him. Sika didn't do that, didn't judge him, but she did keep her distance from him usually. She was friendly but she wasn't Nikeese.
Nikeese knew how to hug him, tight and strong, lifting him in the air like a relative you haven't seen in years.
Sika would only gather the fabric of his shirt in her hands, squeezing it like something to remember. Rashidi appreciated it, the feeling of the slide of fabric, the rough scrub of the texture against his skin. But it wasn't enough.
"Young Lord Alabann, are you okay?" Asked the lady he was with. She was an older woman, already had young daughters she had to leave at home.
Rashidi gave her an attempt of a smile. "Just lost in thought, Lady Sorminex."
She smiled, full and wide, eyes crinkling genuinely at the edges. "Are you thinking of someone? Your date perhaps?" Her voice was amused, light and tall.
Rashidi huffed a warm breath out as the music swelled in a way his ears wanted to protest against. "Perhaps," he said with a slight smile.
The woman's smile grew and she let go of his gloved hands. "Then I shan't keep you from her then."
Rashidi breathed out through his nose. "Thank you, Lady Sorminex." He then walked off to find Sika, already tearing his gloves off, the tightness of them bothering him where his sweat had gathered, making his skin itch like no tomorrow. He wished he could take off all his clothes, stand in the middle of the room with nothing on. His skin was so sensitive right now, it was maddening. It buzzed and warbled. He was sure that if he concentrated he would be able to feel the smallest movement of air, even if he stood still.
He couldn't do that though. Too many people, too improper, too strange.
Rashidi wanted to cry.
"Lord Alabann!" Sika called from behind him. Rashidi turned around, wanting to cry for a whole new reason.
"Lady Zhao," he responded. "I was just looking for you."
She looked him up and down, eyes catching on the gloves crushed in his grip. "I can see why. Let's get you to a hallway, hm? Get you a breath of fresh air for a moment?"
Rashidi nodded and began walking. "Will you entertain me with stories of our guests?" He asked, tone joking.
Sika rolled her eyes. "I'm sure the guests were much nicer to me than they were to you. They know who you are, they don't know a thing about me."
"Well, I-, uh, I assume there must have been at least one guest who stood out?"
Sika smiled. "Of course there was, it wouldn't be a party without at least one, would it?"
Rashidi snorted. "I guess so, but I haven't been to a party in so long that I wouldn't know for sure."
Sika patted him on the head, running delicate fingers along his horns. "Aw, poor baby, have you not been to enough parties?"
Rashidi glared at her, mostly in jest. "I hate you."
Sika smiled. "Good, that means you're too busy to hate the party."
Rashidi blinked. "Um, thank you."
Sika giggled. "You're very welcome."
Rashidi's feet itched. He wanted to take off his shoes, feel something other than the hardness of felt covered wood beneath his toes. He wanted to feel the smoothness of marble, the squish of earth, the resistance of full wooden flooring.
Rashidi sighed into the air between him and Sika, his hand holding hers as she spun to a swell in the music. "How aren't you tired yet?"
She just smiled at him. "It's a secret I like to call 'sneaking into the kitchens for tea'. All the servants are too busy serving food that no one is guarding the cupboards."
Rashidi snorted as he stepped to the left, following the rest of the dancers as they swayed and turned in time with the music. "Smart lady."
She nodded elegantly. "Quite."
The music swelled one final time and then stopped, the pairs of dancers parting.
The loud ringing of metal on glass caught everyone's attention. "Excuse me!" Shouted Masva over the crowd. "But it is now nearing the 29th Hazok. Those of you that are staying in guest rooms are welcome to those, however, the rest of you must begin to leave as the function is now over. It was a delight having you all here and I hope you all had a wonderful evening celebrating the achievements of my wonderful children!"
The crowd roared out a cheer, a large fuzzy pointed cheer that built up in Rashidi's ears like rough fur, sounding like the way drawing squiggles on paper felt.
And then it was over. The noise, the discordance, the party. It was all over.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. "Rashidi, dear, are you able to bid the guests farewell?"
Rashidi didn't reply. He couldn't anyway, he wasn't here to reply. Sure he was physically there, but his mind wasn't. He was far away, where no one could bother him anymore.
Masva sighed. "Sika, would you be a help and take Rashidi to his room? I need to say farewell to the guests."
Sika nodded. "Of course, ma'am."
A hand touched his shoulder, pushing him towards the stairs. He let it.
"You're a wonderful hassle, you know that?" Sika asked as she guided him. "Wouldn't give you up for anything, but you are definitely a handful."
She giggled. "I can't wait for you and Nikeese to get married, show the whole world nothing will get in your way."
Rashidi nodded vaguely, as if he understood, as if he heard. He wasn't entirely sure if he had.
Sika sighed. "I hate it when you shut off like this, it's like playing with a doll, there's no life to you."
Rashidi smiled. That's precisely why he did it, if he had no life, there was no life to ruin.