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In Fields of Flowers

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Nijah looked at herself in the mirror in her bedroom one last time. She brushed the pleats of the a-line black dress her parents had surprised her with, soothing the wrinkles in the soft silk. She absolutely loved it, especially the halter neckline with a deep v-cut through her chest. It was simple, yet elegant, and perfect for the occasion. It was even better than her violin recital dress from a few years ago, which was very near and dear to her heart.

Tonight was the night of the Masquerade, and the final night she would be living in the city of Vesuvia.

Now that she was twenty years old, she was to go off for her first job in her career. She had been studying medicine for a few years, and her first placement will be at the island of Lazaret with Dr. Devorak, who was working to help cure the plague. It was an exciting time, but it was also a stressful one. She was grateful she would be helping the greater good, but…she was distraught at the thought of leaving her family and friends behind.

Speaking of, her best friend Selene appeared in the mirror behind her, dressed in a tight pink gown with lace sleeves and open shoulders. She looked absolutely divine, and Nijah felt a sense of pride in having a friend like her.

“Nijah, you seem glum. What’s wrong?” Selene hugged her from behind, giving her a tight squeeze to the stomach. The two of them had been friends ever since they were children, staying close all throughout school, various side jobs, boy drama…they’ve seen it all.

“I’m…” she gulped. “…I’m just worried I’ll never see you again.”

Her dear friend smiled, the apples of her cheeks flushing a light pink. “Don’t worry, of course we will! That’s what best friends do. Besides, I’ll be writing to you every week. That’s a promise!”

Nijah smiled, watching as Selene fluffed her own dark, curly shoulder-length hair in the mirror. “We look ah-mazing, we’re headed to the most elite birthday party of the year, and we will always have each other! What’s there to lose?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” She was so blessed to have such a wonderful person in her life. “What am I going to do without you?”

“Great things, Nijah, great things.”

“Well, if you say so…”

“Speaking of things that are great, I wouldn’t be surprised if you snagged a man tonight.” She continued, walking to your desk to pick up your masks. “Ugh, it would be sooo romantic! A tall, dark, handsome man, a doctor’s apprentice, miles apart but held together by love. Please make sure I am there for the wedding!” Selene passed the black panther mask to Nijah, waiting to see how it would look on.

Nijah flushed, completely embarrassed. Sure, her blonde hair was curled and her makeup was done, but there was no way any man would find her attractive. She tied on the panther mask, grinning as she saw her complete outfit come together, sealed with a classy red lip.

“My goodness,” Selene gushed as she tied her flamingo mask, “you will be the most beautiful woman at this party. I guarantee it. Even the Countess would be jealous!!!”

Nijah playfully swatted at her dear friend. “Don’t be ridiculous, now. I definitely don’t have time for that in my life at all.” Besides, if any men were to go after either of them, it would definitely be Selene. She had the voluptuous curves, the pouty lips, the sweet laugh and seductive smile. All Nijah had was…plain. Her body was nothing special, and she was more awkward and clumsy than anything. She tried to not compare herself so often, but she couldn’t help it.

She gazed out her window at the sunset, watching the castle light up with festivities. She could feel the aura from miles away, elegant yet mysterious. What events will happen tonight in the castle walls? What adventures will she and Selene get into? Could her life possibly change…forever?

Selene taps her on the shoulder, snapping Nijah out of her daydream. “Are we ready?”

Nijah gulped. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

 

 

 

The Masquerade was absolutely magnificent, quite the sight to behold.

When Nijah and Selene entered through the castle gates, shops upon shops were bustled next to each other, serving the citizens who were looking for last-minute costumes. Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered, rummaging through the clothes in a frenzy to look their best. The two girls can’t help but laugh, silently relieved that they had picked out their outfits months in advance.

They left that scene behind them, and came across the grand entrance of the palace. The guard at the doors bowed to them as they opened the doors. As the ladies took their first steps inside, they were left enchanted by the main ballroom. The lavish decorations made the palace seem even more extravagant, nearly making Nijah dizzy with all the bright, beautiful colors. Many more people were eating, conversing, and dancing to the band in the corner. The two of them walked in further, observing everyone’s costumes. You really could hide your face from the world here, hmm? Nijah thought, unable to recognize a single person in the ballroom.

She wondered who she all knew here, and if anyone could recognize her. Many other citizens were dressed in cat-like masks, so at least she blended in somewhat. Selene, however, stuck out like a sore thumb (in a good way, of course) with her pink mask and dress. In truth, it seemed like she fit right in with the crowd.

Selene plucked a champagne flute off of a waiter’s tray. “Isn’t this grand? I feel just like a queen here!” She smiled as she tipped the glass back, sipping the light liquid with her pinky sticking up.

“Ah, yeah…” Nijah agreed, also picking up a glass. She was never a drinker, but she didn’t mind a glass or two here and there…

“You know, I was reading a book about the royal families in Vesuvia and found out that…”

Nijah tried to listen as she sipped, she really did, but the amount of people moving in between them was far too much for her to handle. The hustle and bustle got to her, and she froze in place, allowing other citizens to pass right through her and Selene. Soon the crowd caught up with her, and she was all alone.

Shit, she thought, what do I do? She shook her head, trying not to seem suspicious. Act natural, I guess…

As she was about to take another drink of champagne, a random figure had backed right into her, causing the champagne to go falling on the floor. Nijah took a wrong step, and found herself instantly falling into the puddle on the marble floor. Oh, great…she thought, realizing that she was humiliating herself in front of the whole city.

But, just as she was about to hit the ground, she found herself hooked by a strong arm curled around her shoulder blades, bringing her body close to theirs. Nijah’s vision was filled with the black fabric of their coat, only inches from her face. Taking deep breaths to settle her heart rate, her eyes trailed up to see who had caught her.

She was surprised to see a man with thick, curly, auburn hair, wearing the mask of…a crow? A black eagle? She couldn’t tell. But she could feel his bright gray eyes fall right on hers, bewitching her enough where she couldn’t pull away.

“Do be careful here, darling. Don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

He spoke to her in a voice so sweet and low, like a baritone singing an aria. The way his lips brushed against her ear made her knees weak, to which he pulled her a little tighter to his side.

“Ah…thank you,” she whispered back, realizing their faces were much closer than she thought they were, the noses of their masks almost brushing. Thank goodness he can’t see this blush…

“Nijah!” Selene called out, grabbing Nijah’s arm and yanking her out of the mystery man’s grip. “There you are. I was worried where you went!”

Selene may have been dragging her away from the scene, but Nijah was still transfixed by the man who rescued her from sure embarrassment in the nick of time. There was just something about him that she couldn’t get over…

His silver gaze caught her own, winking at her from afar, then turned back into the crowd.

“Nijah! What the hell happened back there?” Selene snapped her fingers in front of her face, bringing her back down to Earth. “I turn my back and you got that..that guy all over you!”

She shrugged, looking over her shoulder one more time to see him exit the ballroom. “I tripped over some champagne, and he caught me right before I fell.” She turned back to her friend, a slight scowl on her face.

“Okay, but he seemed like a creep!” Selene explained as she saw Nijah’s sour expression. I thought I was saving you!”

“No, you weren’t. There was…something about him. That makes me want to get to know him more.”

Selene grabbed Nijah’s shoulders, her gaze intensifying. “If you can’t get your mind off of him, then we need to make a game plan. He’s going to be here for the rest of the night, isn’t he?”

Nijah nodded, assumingly.

A delightful grin crosses Selene’s lips. “Somehow, we need to make it a night that neither of you will ever forget.”

 

 

 

Step 1 of Selene’s Plan: Hunt Him Down

Nijah and Selene walked through the spacious halls of the palace, exploring the different rooms decorated and themed for their viewing pleasure. Selene knew that if he just so ‘happened’ to spot Nijah once more, he couldn’t help but come up and speak to her. Once that was set, everything else would fall into place.

The only problem was that there was so many rooms, and so little time before the clock struck midnight and they would have to go home.

Nijah and Selene discovered so many different rooms: the bubble room, the circus room, the topiary room, even a room with food organized by their vibrant color. So many different places they seemed to visit, yet no mystery man in sight.

“Selene, don’t you think we’re trying a bit too hard for this?” Nijah asked. They had been touring the halls of the palace for quite some time now, and her heels were beginning to make her feet ache.

“Relax, I got a real good feeling about this room.” Selene replied. She turned the knob, cracking open the door to reveal a magnificent library.

“Wow…” Nijah muttered under her breath, taking a step in the room and smelling the familiar aroma of parchment and wooden structures. The shelves were stocked up to the ceiling, thousands of titles that she may never read featured along the walls. The fireplace on the far wall was roaring underneath the stain glass window, giving the library a warm, comfortable aura. A few people were reclining on the couches, lying back and chatting with their friends.

There was one figure, however, that was standing off to the side, focusing on the various spines of the books along the shelves in front of him.

There he is! Nijah thought, nearly aloud. She turned to tell Selene, but it seemed that she already knew. Her dear friend was no longer beside her, forcing Nijah to confront him all on her own.

With a deep breath, and some false self-confidence, she made her way to where he was standing, still studying the books. He hears your footsteps and looks at you once more, a smile spreading over his lips as his gloved finger trailed over the fine detailed print of a red book with gold lettering.

“Hello again. Can’t stay away?”

“Erm…kind of.” Nijah said. “I wanted to properly thank you for breaking my fall in the ballroom.” She gave him a small curtsy, bowing her head so she could get a better look at his ensemble. He was essentially dressed in all black, with a bright red scarf tucked in to a white undershirt beneath his coat. Glossy black feathers decorated the bottom of his top, as well as around his collar and the top of his mask. He was definitely a sight to behold, unique, like no other she had seen tonight.

The masked man bowed back, reaching for her hand. “The pleasure is all mine, darling.” His lips touch the back of her fingers reverently, as if he was charming her with his mouth alone.

Once he rose from his bow, Nijah pulled her hand back, still feeling his touch lingering on her skin. Was this man…a magician? Did he just put a spell on her?

“Where did your dear friend go? She seemed so eager to pull us away the last time we spoke, I’m surprised she hasn’t made an appearance.” He curiously raised an eyebrow at her.

“Oh! Um…” Nijah turned around once more, just to see if she was truly gone. “It seems she left me here alone. Maybe I should go find her…”

“Hold on,” the man reached out to grab her wrist, causing Nijah to turn around and face him once more. “Let me go with you. A woman should definitely not be walking around the Masquerade unaccompanied.” He extended his elbow and forearm to her, waiting for her to take it.

Well, what do I have to lose? Nijah thought, accepting his gesture with a smile.

 

 

 

Step 2 of Selene’s Plan: Share A Dance

Nijah and the mysterious man walked through the halls in search of Selene. She had only wished her friend could have told her where she could have been before she left.

The pair cycled through as many rooms as they could, searching for any clues of the flamingo-masked woman. However, their search was running dry, with no trace of her to be found. Although utterly frustrating, Nijah found herself enjoying her time with the auburn haired man.

He shared a few tall tales of his days sailing through the Southern Sea on a spice ship, fending off pirates and discovering many rare treasures that he couldn’t even explain in words. Nijah shared a little bit about her past, growing up in the city and going to school with all different sorts of people. It was easy to talk to him, he was quite the charmer, and Nijah easily felt like she could fall for him quite easily. She silently thanked Selene that she hid herself so well, so she could spend even more time with him.

Finally, the pair ended up in the ballroom once more. Along the walls of the room, Nijah spotted Selene speaking to another man with white hair and an elaborately decorative costume.

“Found her!” Nijah called out, pulling the mystery man along with her.

As soon as the two were about to encounter the woman they had been searching for, the masked man stops at a halt. Nijah’s hand slipped away from him as she notices that the band has started playing a popular folk song, known all throughout Vesuvia. Now is not the best time for confrontations, she thought as she saw the crowd move into the dance floor, taking her friend with it.

The man turned to face her, extending his gloved hand out to her. “My dear, may I have this dance?” He bowed deeply, his mask nearly falling off of his head.

Nijah giggled, covering her mouth cheekily. “I’m not sure if I should accept a dance from a man who hasn’t even told me his name.”

“Oh! Uh, my apologies. You may call me Ilya.” He replied. “And who might you be?”

“You may call me Nijah,” she imitated his formal tone, accepting his hand. “Make sure to catch me if I fall again.”

“My dear, I fully intend to sweep you off your feet.” He winked again, leading her out to the dance floor.

As the band continues to play, Ilya faces Nijah towards him, holding one hand in hers and sliding his other hand down her waist. Her hand rests on his shoulder, challenging him with a single look of her bright green eyes.

He takes a single step backwards, she follows with one forward. When he side steps, she mirrors it perfectly. To his surprise, it seems that Nijah has her share of dancing lessons. He wouldn’t be able to tell with the way she was usually stumbling over herself, but he was rather surprised.

“Seems like you can take a few steps, Nijah.” He said under his breath, meant just for her to hear. It was as if the song was written just for them, with the way their bodies synchronized so well. There were definitely a few pairs of eyes on them as they weaved their way through the other participants.

“We learned how to dance in school,” Nijah answered, “so I’m actually quite good.”

“Oh really?” Ilya questioned. “What if I were to do…this?”

He stood his ground, pulling his arm out gracefully to the side. To his surprise, she followed, twirling on the balls of her heels to end in a dramatic pose.

“Impressive.” He admitted, pulling her close to him once more. The band’s music started to pick up in tempo, making their feet move faster than before. “Try to keep up now.”

His feet moved quicker, adding fancy hops and jigs that she copied in her own fashion. He was grabbing her a little tighter, holding her a little closer, their chests nearly touching as they nearly tangoed through the dance floor.

Nijah smiled. “Your steps are getting boring, Ilya. Give me something new.”

“I hope you don’t regret saying that.”

Abruptly, Nijah felt one arm hook around her waist as he reached for her leg, grabbing it as she extended it and lifting her up. Her hips pressed right over his, she bent her other leg gracefully and pointed her toes as he spun her around. It didn’t take her long to realize their faces were level with each other, studying as much of each other as they could with their masks on. Ilya seemed rather fair skinned, but his eyelids were much darker than his skin tone. When they were half-lidded, she felt something foreign tug at her core, making her crave him more.

Feeling rather frisky, she caressed his face with her hand as she focused on him, letting the rest of the world fade away as she fell deeper into those eyes - mysterious, enchanting, and calming all at once. Through the bottom of the cutouts for his eyes, Nijah could see he was flushed by her touch, as well as by his teeth grazing his bottom lip lusciously.

Ilya let her down on the floor gently, her heels clacking on the floor at the same time. Once she had found her bearings, they picked up the tempo once more, frolicking through the ballroom as he continued to lead her to the beat of the music.

“The song is almost over,” he whispered, “are you ready for the finale?”

“Try me.”

“Then hold on tight, kitten.”

Once the final chord of the song has been struck, Ilya’s hands caressed Nijah as he dipped her down low, her head rolling back to play along with the his fantasy. He leaned in with her, falling very closely to her thin neck. Nijah feels him press his warm lips to the juncture underneath her ear, and the tug in her lower stomach becomes stronger. What kind of witchcraft is this? She thinks, but although it was foreign to her, she didn’t want it to stop.

He pulled her back up, a playful twinkle in his eye. “Well done,” he compliments, “you should be my dancing partner more often.”

The band transitioned to a slower, more romantic song. Ilya’s hands trailed to the small of Nijah’s back, and he lead her off into a new dance. Nijah looked over her shoulder to see where Selene had gone off to, and spied her at the back doors with the man with the white hair. She gave her a big thumbs-up, and then she escaped through the doors with him. Ah, wonderful, Nijah thought, now it’s time for the final step.

 

 

 

Step 3 of Selene’s Plan: Get Him Alone

“Ilya,” Nijah caught his attention as they glided through the dance floor, “would you like to go somewhere a little more…private?” She raised a single eyebrow to further emphasize her question.

He grinned devilishly. “I thought you would never ask. I know the perfect place.”

Well, that was easy enough.

Taking her hand, Ilya led her out of the ballroom, through the grand halls of the palace, and out on to a veranda, looking over a glorious garden.

Nijah’s mouth dropped looking at the bright assortment of colors. Luscious greens grow from the ground and trees, vibrant pinks, blues and purples shine from the flowerbeds, and the hedges of the maze below were trimmed to perfection. She could easily get lost forever here, never wanting to leave.

“It’s so beautiful…”

“Really? I can name a few things more beautiful than this.”

“Oh, like what?”

He leans in to her ear, clutching her shoulders in his large hands and bringing her close. “I’ll tell you…but you have to catch me first.”

She felt him let go as soon as the words left his lips. “Wait a minute, hey!”

As Nijah called out to him, Ilya ran down the set of stairs that led to the garden, the top of his head disappearing as he entered the maze.

She cursed under her breath as she took off her heels, holding them in her hand as she tried to catch up with him, the cobblestone trail feeling rough on her feet.

Her heart was racing with the thrill of the chase. She wanted to catch him so bad, she was so curious as to what could be running through his mind. She entered the maze, allowing her gut to make her decisions for her. Right at the entrance, left at the first available entry, around the topiary…

She kept on running until she had hit a dead end.

Damn! She thought, her grip on her shoes tightening with her frustration.

All of a sudden, she heard the brush of a hedge nearby. She whipped her head at the sound, but only heard silence after.

Curiosity killing her, she silently stalked over on her bare feet, like the panther hunting down her prey. The source of the rustle didn’t dare to move, lest being discovered for what they really were. She stood next to the hedge that made a noise, trying to see through the thick brush. She swore something was there, but she couldn’t make out the shape. Standing on her tiptoes, she was able to find her answer.

The puff of hair sitting just above the hedge was a dead giveaway.

Without wasting another moment, she braced herself and pounced through the thick hedge, jumping right on top of Ilya’s back.

“Gotcha!” She cried triumphantly, her arms wrapping around his neck and her legs squeezing his hips.

“Aww, rats.” He pretended to feel defeated, but in all honesty, he was over the moon that Nijah had found him. He continued to carry her through the maze, until they reached a little clearing. A fountain and a large tree sat in front of them. Ilya gently put her down, giving her time to strap her heels back on.

“I won fair and square, Ilya.” Nijah jeered, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “I think you owe me something.”

“What, you really want to know that bad?” He looked over his shoulder, watching her stand there confidently, as if nothing could knock her down.

“Yes.” Her voice seemed to challenge him, waiting for a response.

“Well,” he grins, sauntering over to her, placing a hand on the small of her back and pulling her close, the other hand caressing her cheek, “the gardens at the palace are some of the most beautiful things in this world. But, I’ve traveled far and wide during my time here, and…”

“And what?”

“And nothing has ever been more beautiful than you, Nijah.”

Her eyes widened, surprised by his genuine compliment. She would have fallen backwards if he didn’t have such a good hold on her.

“Wait…” she shook her head with disbelief. “You haven’t even seen me without my mask. How do you know I’m beautiful?”

“Physical beauty is subjective, my dear.” He explains, releasing her from his grasp, walking over to the bubbling fountain. “While I do find what I’ve seen of you very attractive, it’s what counts in here,” he points to his heart, “that counts. You are the purest heart I have ever known, Nijah. I’m sure I will never forget you.” He sits at the edge of the fountain, patting the space next to him as an invitation.

“Wow…you really mean all that?” She asked, taking a seat at his side.

“Of course, I could never lie to you.” He takes her hand in his, resting his free one on top of the back of her own.

“Thank you…”

She looked down at where they were joined, his thumb now rubbing the top of her wrist. She couldn’t believe that he spoke such words of truth, so honest and raw…it was a switch from her normal life. People were never as authentic as he was.

It made her want to share, too.

“Can I tell you something, Ilya?”

“Anything, my dear.”

Nijah took a shaky breath before she continued. “Tonight is my last night in Vesuvia. Come tomorrow, I’m going away for work. I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to the city again.”

“Hmm,” Ilya pondered, hands now moving towards Nijah’s hair, which has lost its curl from before, to brush it out of her mask. “Tonight is my last night, too. For quite some time.”

She sighed, feeling herself open up to him more and more. “It’s a shame,” she said, staring at the bubbling water of the fountain right below her, “to have found someone like you, only to leave them for what could be forever.” Just my luck, she thought, dragging her fingers at the water’s surface. Her touched caused ripples in her reflection, small waves lapping at the side of the fountain. She wished she could be as free as a wave, wandering wherever she pleased. But, of course, that was not her destiny.

“Do you want to make the most out of this last night…together?”

When she looked up, she realized Ilya wasn’t focused on the water. He was focused on her.

“We can do whatever you’d like. We could stay here at the palace, explore Vesuvia under the moonlight, er…” He bit his lip as his voice trailed off, thinking of all the other things they could do, “…ah, I know of a few good places in town we could stop at…”

Nijah was listening to him, truly, but her eyes couldn’t leave his lips. She was curious as to how they tasted on her own, how soft they really were…

But she had never kissed anyone before, let alone had anyone kiss her.

“Um…there is one thing I would like to try.” She said, falsely exuding confidence.

Ilya’s eyebrows raised. “And what would that be?”

Nijah fiddled with her hair - a nervous trait, flipping it over her shoulders over and over again. “Well, uh, there are a lot of things I have yet to experience in my time here. Like…you’re the first man that has ever shown any interest in me.”

“Really?”

“Really. So I’ve never had a boyfriend, never been out on a date…”

“…never been kissed?”

“…right.” She hesitated, breaking eye contact with him out of humiliation. “And it’s pretty shameful of me to ask a man I only just met to take that away from me, but I can’t deny that I-”

Before she could continue, Nijah felt something warm pressed against her lips, giving her a buzz like a tall glass of wine. Her eyes widened as she realized that Ilya had stopped her mouth from moving with his own, his eye closed, lashes brushing the outer rim of the hole in his mask. She froze, unable to form coherent thoughts, as Ilya’s lips pulled away, his face still very close to her own. His gloved hand cupped her cheek, fingers trailing down her jawbone until he had a hold of her chin.

“Did you like that?”

Nijah didn’t hesitate with her answer. “Yes,”

“Do you want to do it again?”

“…yes.”

She saw a grin tug at the side of his mouth before he pulled her in once more.

Nijah closed her eyes this time, letting Ilya take the lead. His kisses started out soft, with feather-like brushes and light lip locks. One of his hands reached around to tangle at the nape of her neck, and she felt his kiss become more powerful, more dominating. She was left grabbing at the front of his coat, trying her best not to fall into the fountain from his kiss alone. The more he kissed her, the more lightheaded she felt, and as he panted in her mouth, she felt her legs nearly give out…

Finally, Ilya came up for air, eyes half-lidded and mouth swollen. He looked absolutely divine, and she felt love drunk as the pull in her stomach tugged once more.

“Nijah…” Ilya’s voiced strained with an underlying ache as he reached for her hand, “…I want you.”

She knew exactly what that meant.

“I…I want you too.” She replied, placing her hand on top of his.

“Are you sure?” He asked her, earnestly. “You don’t even know me, you may never see me again…wouldn’t you want your first time to be more special?”

“You are special, Ilya. No matter if I ever see you again, you’ll always be in my heart.”

Nijah couldn’t hide her giggle when she saw that he was blushing so profusely that it was spreading to his neck. Hells, he’s super cute, she thought, leaning in to press a kiss on the beak of his mask.

“I know of a place we can go. Follow me.” He guides her to stand, leading her out of the gardens and away from the palace.

 

 

 

Ilya takes her to the South Side of Vesuvia, traveling through narrow roads with the water system gently flowing through. There was a light fog in the air, clouding the alleys with mystery. Nijah held on tightly to Ilya’s hand, refusing to let go.

“Step lightly, dear.” He called behind him. “The road gets a bit rocky here.”

She tried her best to tiptoe through the rocks, but she was rather unlucky. As she thought she was safe, she stepped down with full force and the heel of her shoe snapped right off.

“Ack!”

She dropped Ilya’s hand, waving her own around to try and get herself balanced, but she found herself close to toppling in the canal right next to her. Thankfully, he was right by her side, sweeping her up in his arms like a groom carrying his bride through the threshold.

“Don’t worry, I got you.” He chuckled, “You’re pretty clumsy, huh?”

Nijah nuzzled her face into his broad chest. “Terribly so. Good thing I have you around.”

He placed a kiss on the forehead of her mask. “I guess so. Ah look, here we are!”

She peered at the sign above the door of the building. “The Rowdy Raven…”

“One of my all time favorite places. And, if we’re lucky, they might have some empty rooms available for us.”

She flushed as she realized exactly what he meant. Right. We’re still doing that.

He kicked the door in, carrying her through the frame gallantly. She held on tight to him, a bit more nervous than she was before. They had walked right into a tavern, and not just any old one. With the name like The Rowdy Raven, she definitely had her assumptions. A live band was playing folk songs slightly out of tune, the wooden floors seemed to creek under Ilya’s footsteps, and to her surprise, no one seemed interested that she was being carried by a man. They all seemed to be minding their own business, enjoying their own time. She could see herself and Selene having a good time in a place like this.

Her heart ached at the memory of her friend. Looks like I won’t see her for a while…she thought, looking up at Ilya to see his next move.

“Ah look who it is, I’d know your face anywhere.” The bartender laughed, his eyes resting on the man in the crow’s mask. “Who’s this woman you’ve got with you this time?”

“My woman, in fact.” Ilya retorted. Nijah’s heart rate jumped a bit. Did she hear him correctly?

“Alright, I see,” the bartender waved his hand, “so what will it be for you two?”

Ilya looked down at Nijah as he responded, “Your finest room in the inn upstairs. I’ll pay top dollar, as long as she gets the best.” He leaned in and gave her a quick peck on the lips, to which some of the patrons hollered and whistled. They must obviously know him around here, otherwise…that would be rather strange, wouldn’t it?

“Got it. And you’ll pay upfront, right?”

Cradling Nijah in one arm, Ilya reached into his back pocket, pulling out a bag of coins. He tossed them on the bar, returning his hand underneath Nijah’s rear end. The bartender loosened the string around the pouch, taking a peek inside. He nearly gasped when he saw the contents inside. Reaching into his chest pocket, he pulled out a key, holding it out for Nijah to take.

“Top floor, to your left. Have a good night, you two.”

“Oh, we will.” Ilya winked at him, turning around to walk up the stairs near the front of the bar. A few more hoots and hollers from various men, which he responded with a deep, searing kiss on Nijah’s lips. Leaving her dizzy, Ilya began his trek up the stairway.

 

 

 

Once he finished his two story climb and he was in front of the door to their room, he set Nijah down gently, holding her hands until she found her footing. She held out the key, studied it closely, then brought her gaze back up to him. He raises his thick eyebrows, waiting to see what she would do next.

Slowly, she slides the key into the lock, turning it until she heard the telltale click. She turned the knob, opening the door just enough for her to walk in. She turned over her shoulder, winking at Ilya. “Are you coming?”

She heard him audibly gulp, then nod his head. He followed right behind her, shutting the door and turning the lock.

The room was spacious, enough for more than two people to stay for an extended amount of time. A dresser was placed across from the bed, which was fitted with the finest looking sheets in all of Vesuvia. Intricate silks dangled from the ceiling, making the bed look even more ethereal in the sliver of crescent moonlight shining through the window. A single candle sat on the dresser, already lit, and a mirror stood in the back corner.

Ilya draped his arm around Nijah. “It’s not much, but…”

“It’s perfect.” Nijah interrupted, walking towards the window. She felt like she could see the entire city from here, even though the palace was a small dot of light in her vision. The sky was scattered with stars, shining bright in the deep blue sky. She turned to find him gazing at her, the shadows playing along her figure.

“Yeah, you are.” He smiled.

Nijah kicked off her heels and approached him, resting her hands on his chest. His own hands trailed down her waist over the curve of her hip, grabbing the fabric of her dress and pulling her right up against him. “Nijah, don’t get me wrong, I really would love this,” he says while squeezing her body tightly, “but if you get scared, or don’t want to do this anymore, please tell me so we can stop.”

His forehead leaned in to hers, to which she accepted, cupping his cheeks underneath the mask. “Ilya…I want to see you. All of you. I’m ready for you.”

Her hands slid down his neck as he leans over to the side, blowing the candle out. It trails a stream of smoke from its wick, leaving the room smelling a bit rustic. Ilya’s hands travel over Nijah’s panther mask, taking it off gently to reveal her face.

“Ah…” he nearly panted, enamored by her beauty. “You’re the most marvelous thing I’ve ever seen.” Gloved fingers caressed her face, the cool touch of leather contrasting against her heated blush.

“My turn,” Nijah grinned as she lifted off Ilya’s mask, stunned as she took a good look at his face. He looked like a Grecian God, the ones from hundreds of years ago. Is he real? She thought, desiring to see what else he was hiding from her.

Ilya leaned in close to her face, pressing a soft, sweet kiss against her lips. She returned the favor, standing on the tips of her toes so he could reach her better. Nijah buried her fingers in his hair and nibbled at his lip with her teeth, eliciting a soft moan from his mouth. The more their lips moved together, the more she could feel his hardness press against her. It was utterly tempting to the point where she was simply craving it, feeling things she had never even imagined before.

Ilya broke the kiss softly, turning Nijah around to face the mirror. “Let me help you with that.”

With quick fingers, he began to unbutton her black gown. She felt extremely nervous, realizing this is the first time anyone has seen her au naturale. But I trust him, she told herself, I know he will take care of me.

The further his hand moved down, the more her dress was ready to simply fall off, until he popped off the last button, placed right above the dimples at the base of her spine. With a shrug, she watched the gown fall to the floor, revealing her naked form. In the pale light of the slivered moon, her skin nearly glowed, but her arms cautiously raised up to cover her chest, watching Ilya undo the first few buttons of his coat in the reflection. She wasn’t proud of the average size of her mounds, wishing they were a little bit larger so men would want her more. However, Ilya didn’t seem to mind, as he gently pulled her arms away.

“My darling…” He stood behind her in just his billowy white shirt and black pants, looking at their reflection, “you’re absolutely stunning. Don’t hide yourself from me ever again.” He buried his face in her neck as he fondled one of her breasts with a glove-free hand, his fingertips swirling around the sensitive skin of her nipple. She bit her lip as she felt her breasts grow hard from his touch, holding back a light moan. She definitely didn’t mind this one bit.

His kisses on her neck turned into a tiny love bite, teeth nearly breaking her skin as he pinched her hard nipple. She couldn’t hold back now, letting out a strangled cry meant only for Ilya to hear. His lips pull away, and she sees that he has left a deep purple mark, one that she couldn’t only conceal with her hair.

“I wouldn’t mind if you gave me a few of those tonight,” he whispered in her ear.

His fingers trickled from her chest over the curve of her hips, lightly teasing the area between her legs. She begins to feel her lower stomach coil, begging for more. But, as soon as it seems like he was about to rub his hand on her sensitive nub, he pulls away, leaving Nijah to moan in the absence of his touch. Instead, he grabs her hand, leading her to the edge of the bed.

“Lie on your back, dear.” He cooed. “Don’t forget to spread those pretty legs for me.”

She does as he asks, opening herself to him ever so sweetly. The softness of her ass nearly spilling over the edge of the mattress, Nijah lies in waiting for him.

Ilya stood over her, blushing like a bastard in a brothel. His eyes trailed up her body, and back down to the place between her legs. She looked so delicious, so wet for him, he couldn’t hold back any longer.

He got down on his knees, pressing a kiss to the inside of her thighs. She sat up on her arms, her eyebrows twinged in confusion. “What are you doing down there?”

“Just lie back and relax, Nijah,” he whispered huskily, placing a kiss right on her mound. He slid his tongue across her slit, feeling her body shiver around him. He grins, grabbing her legs and pulling her cunt right up to his mouth. He parted her with his fingers, wasting no time diving in to her with his hungry mouth.

He loved the taste of her, leaving his lips wet with her essence. He has performed this act on…a few other people, but no one has been as divine as Nijah. He slid his tongue up and down her soft, pink folds, lapping at her like a cat drinking their milk. He drew patterns in the flesh of her, listening to how she reacted. He paid special attention to the hood of her clit, nibbling and sucking in all the right places.

Ilya left her a moaning mess. He head dug back in the sheets, her cries filling up the entire room. She was sure that people passing by the building could definitely hear her, hell, they were probably listening to her in the bar. But she didn’t care, for the pleasure building up in her felt too good to hide.

Nijah’s fingers intertwined in Ilya’s locks, tugging at them profusely. He panted into her wet cunt, his warm breath on her sensitive nub driving her mad. If there’s one thing he’s skilled at, she thought, her eyes squeezed tight, it’s this. Her cries only egged him further, getting more aggressive with his mouth.

One of his hands left her thigh, allowing it to fall back on the mattress. To her surprise, she felt a lone finger teasing her entrance - long, thin, and hard. Slowly, he inserted his single digit in her, knuckle by knuckle. Her first reaction was to freeze up, realizing that this was the first thing to ever enter inside of her. Nijah’s whole body tensed up, her thighs locking his head with all her strength.

“Sweetheart…” he murmured, his finger still pressing inside of her, “…relax. Do you think I would ever do anything to hurt you?”

Her breath slows and deepens, realizing she was breathing much too fast for her own good. In her nose, out her mouth, and she feels her body melt in the sheets. She exhales a sigh as Ilya fills her up to his last knuckle.

“Feel good, dear?”

She nodded her head, relaxing the grip on his hair in the process.

“Good. Because it’s about to get a whole lot better.”

His finger curled inside of her as his mouth returns to her cunt, feasting on her physically and visually. She was a sight to behold - her spine curving so beautifully towards him, her cries a song that he’ll never be able to listen to again, the hasty rise and fall of her chest bouncing her breasts lusciously. He truly felt lucky to have such a wonderful woman, and the erection in his pants was nearly too much to bear any longer.

Nevertheless, he continued to finger fuck her, sliding in another finger, and another, until she was spent, her fingers clawing at the sheets as he pleasured her. Finally, as his three fingers curled inside of her and he sucked on her pretty little clit…

“Ily-ahhh!”

He felt her orgasm, hard, against his mouth, as he lapped up her excess juices. He hummed as her body twitched against him, and his eyes watched her face contort with the sweetest pleasure known to mankind. She looked absolutely divine, nearly glowing as she came down from her high. He bit his lip, the taste still faintly on his lips as he unbuttoned the rest of his shirt, throwing it off to the side.

“Ah…” Nijah moaned as his lean, muscular body was revealed to him. He was a sight to behold, as she predicted. She wanted to run her hands along his chest, get her fingers tangled in that trail of hair that lead from his navel down to underneath his trousers…

He hooked his thumbs into the band of his pants and pulled them down, watching her reaction as his cock was freed. She was slightly shocked, and a little bit terrified, at the sight of his hard erection. It was a little on the longer side, thick girth and a tip already coated in a layer of precum. The more she looked at it, the wider her mouth opened.

“There’s…no way that can fit.”

“It will, darling, don’t fret.” He stood over her now, casting a shadow on the wall next to them. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

He grabbed his cock, running the tip through her sensitive folds. He heard her moan so sweetly, it took everything in him not to completely ravish her. As he slowly lined up his tip to her entrance, resting her thighs to the side of his hips, he heard her tenderly call out his name.

“Ilya…”

“Yes?”

“Have you…done this before?”

He paused, eyes glancing over the worried look on her face. He couldn’t lie to her.

“No,” he honestly admitted, “I’ve done many other things, but this will…this will be my first time.”

Her face softened, warmed up with a smile. Her fingers reach out to touch his chest, brushing against the little hairs resting there. “I guess…this will be memorable, for the both of us.”

At the sight of her peaceful face, her fingertips lightly tickling his skin, he couldn’t hold back anymore. He reached to lock his hand in her own, lined himself up one last time, then slowly slid himself inside her.

He instantly saw her face go to one of relaxation to discomfort, eyes growing wide as she released a silent cry. Sinking further and further, her nails dug tight in his hand, leaving small red marks of crescents that would remain for him to look upon the next day. A bead of sweat dripped from Nijah’s brow, the coil wrapping itself tighter and tighter the further he pushed in.

Once he had filled her to the hilt, he bent over, kissing Nijah’s warm forehead. “Are you okay?”

“Yes…” she strained, the weird ache suddenly turning delightful, satisfying the craving she has been feeling all night. This was something she would be missing when she left Vesuvia. No one else would ever dare to make her feel this good.

“Do you want to keep going?” His eyes met hers, his red curls dangling over his eyes. Dammit, he was so hot, yet adorable all at the same time.

“Please,” she moaned, and he instantly pulled his hips back, only to snap right back inside.

She let out a strangled moan as Ilya pulled himself back up, grabbing her hips as he thrust himself back and forth in her sweet heat, feeling her walls tighten against him in the most beautiful way. She loved the way he bit his lip as his hips slammed against her own, the lewd sound of their skin slapping together one of the loudest thing in the room, besides their moans.

“Ah…it feels so, sooo good, Ilya…” she moaned, arching her back ever so slightly, allowing him to hit that spot inside her that drove her wild. Her eyes nearly rolled to the back of her head as he pounded her, over and over again.

Wanting to feel even closer to her, he bent over her, digging his elbows in the mattress. His lips were mere centimeters from her own, to which she took advantage of, kissing him sloppily as she wrapped her legs around his hips. Her nails now dug down his back, leaving angry scars he would be proud to bear. He gritted his teeth at the feeling, relishing in the pain.

“Mark me up, Nijah, claim me as your own.”

“Only if you’ll do the same for me.” She groaned before scraping her teeth along his collarbone, a trail of hot love bites surrounding his neck.

He dug his fingers into her blonde hair, gripping at the strands as if his life depended on it. “Oh darling, you have no idea what you do to me…” He grunted, just as he buried his face on the open side of her neck, biting and suckling at the skin, hoping to scare off any man that laid eyes on her. Hoping that they would know she is taken, no matter how far the distance, he wanted her to be his only.

“Ilya, I’m…ah, I’m about to…”

“Me too, Nijah. Come for me,” he moaned in her ear, running his tongue along the outer shell.

That was just enough to send her rolling over the edge, her walls spazzing against his cock, allowing him his own release, spilling himself deep inside her. Both of them were a sticky, panting mess, their sweat-covered bodies feeling heavy from their orgasms. Slowly, Ilya pulled out of Nijah, pulling himself on to the bed.

“Are you all right?” He asked for what felt like the hundredth time that night. Of course he would, because from the way her hickeys looked on her neck, her first time was on the rougher side.

She scooted up to him, resting her head on his shoulder. His body was like a fire, radiating so much warmth the thought she could be swallowed by it.“I’m doing just fine, how about you?”

“Wonderful.” He took her face in his hands and peppered it with kisses, ending with one final smooch on her lips. “Thank you, my darling. Thank you.”

“No, thank you, Ilya.” Her hand rested on his chest, aimlessly drawing circles around his pectorals. “I just wish…this wasn’t our last night.”

He smiled bittersweetly, pulling her closer with his arm wrapped around her. “We will meet again, I swear it. And it might be sooner than you think.”

Satisfied with his answer, Nijah closed her eyes as Ilya pulled the sheets over their bodies, ready to drift off for the night…

 

 

 

When Nijah woke up the next morning, she finds the side Ilya laid on had gone cold.

But, deep down in her heart, she had already accepted that he was gone forever.

She rubbed her eyes, looking out the window as the sun rose over the city. She knew she didn’t have much time before she was sent off to Lazaret. She threw off the covers, hoping to find some spare clothes in the drawers. To her surprise, she found a long tunic, a pair of flats, and pants on top of the dresser, along with a poorly written note.

Nijah,

Good luck with your travels. I didn’t want you to have to walk home in broken heels, so I made sure you had an outfit to wear home.

You were amazing last night. I will never forget you, my darling.

Until we meet again,

Ilya.

She held the note close to her heart, wishing she could feel him touch her inhale his scent, hear him say her name one last time. But, this was not the time to dwell in the past. Now was the time to take action and look towards the future.

Without wasting another moment, she began to dress in the new clothes, collecting her items from last night’s encounter in a bag laid out by the door, and began her long journey home.

 

 

 

The clock had struck noon by the time she had made it to Lazaret. She quickly had to finish packing her nurse’s clothes in a travel bag large enough to put on the tiny boat that brought her to this infested island, as well as her violin case. She was able to say one last goodbye to her parents before they took her away, thankfully.

(Funny how they had no idea their daughter lost her virginity to a stranger the night before.)

Now that she was here, she was very nervous about the potential dangers that lay about. For starters, she could get the plague - which definitely wasn’t a relaxing way to die, and never get the chance to go to Vesuvia again. She could hurt herself in the laboratory, whether it was with a scalpel, a needle, or another medical utensil, it was definitely risky to be working in the medical field. As she and her guide walked to the medical facility, she breathed in deeply through her plague mask. The dried rose petals did their best at concealing the foul smell that covered Lazaret, but it surely wasn’t the best method.

Her guide led her inside the main building where she would be working and living, pointing her to a small room filled with chairs and desks, one large one standing in front of all the others. A chalkboard was placed behind the main desk, as if this was a room used for teaching. A few other apprentices sat in the desks, waiting for their futures to begin.

Nijah took a seat in the front row, her travel bag and violin case placed next to her chair. No one looked at her. At least, as far as she could tell. Everyone still had their plague masks on.

At the other side of the room, a door opened. “Hello, apprentices.” A muffled voice came from another plague mask. This must be Dr. Devorak, she thought. Finally.

But as he came out from behind the door, Nijah found herself in quite a shock…

She knew that curly auburn hair from anywhere.

“I hope you all had enjoyed your time out in the real world,” he continued, “because a good portion of you might never leave.”

The other apprentices murmur amongst each other, but Nijah is still frozen. Seven hells, I hope he doesn’t notice me…

He pulls out a scroll from his doctor’s coat, studying it’s contents. “Before we begin with the tour of the facility, I want to make sure everyone who is supposed to be here is. When I call your name, please say ‘present,’ understood?”

“Yes, Dr. Devorak,” the apprentices said in unison.

Well, shit.

“Daria Alamar.”

“Present!” A female voice speaks, raising her hand high in the air.

Oh no, she thought, what’s going to happen when he realizes I’m here? I can’t run or hide now, or I’ll definitely be caught. Maybe I can slide under the radar…

“Ni-” He stopped. Clearing his voice, he continued, “Nijah…Horvat.”

She swore she felt a million eyes on her, all at once. She was thankful she still had her mask on, otherwise it would all be a dead giveaway. Giving one final gulp, she answers:

“Present, Dr. Devorak.”