The Rake and the Red

The pendant smashed in the in the field. Then the grass died a perfect circle in front of them, the colour went from green, to dry yellow and finally to a scorched black. After this, the blackened ground fell away and left in its place only an endless gaping hole, a Hell Pit. A young man and his valet stared down into the infinite blackness. Then it appeared.

It shot out of the hole faster than a bullet landing on the opposite side of the gaping maw. Its skin had been flayed and exposed muscles flexed crimson and angry. Two black bulbous eyes sat in a horned skull. A snake made of flame twisted around its forearm. The young master turned to his valet, as the monster’s breath threw his sleek black ponytail to and fro, and said in a mildly surprised manner.

‘I daresay. That something may have gone wrong.’ The ever faithful valet deigned to comment. The monstrosity roared with deafening ferocity and the snake of fire sprang out at them. The valet expertly and effortlessly leapt out of the way and the young master rolled pulling out his rapier in the same movement. He dashed towards the monster and leapt between its legs. The snake swept around and launched for the young man, an expert lunge however pierced the monsters hamstring and sent him to his knees. The snake smashed into the demon’s chest leaving it burnt out and hollow.

The valet moved to his master and spoke in a business like unamused tone.

‘While I certainly don’t mean to criticise…’ The valet said, opening the case he held and displaying two duelling flintlock pistols. ‘…I do feel that this could have been avoided if you had only married Miss LIguori.’ He dutifully continued to hold open the case when his master had picked one. Firing a shot into now teeming mass of monsters, similarly skinned and scratching their way up the sides of the hole, the master rolled his eyes.

‘Must we always go back to that same point?’ The young lord put down his now empty pistol on the case and picked up the other. ‘Lady Pugh may not have a family as old or well respected as the Linguori’s she, however, is much finer a vintage’ The valet put the case down, reloaded it quickly and handed it back to his master in the time it took him to line up another shot.

‘Be that as it may, it was a wonderful evening before having to deal with these rotters.’ The valet said with an almost inaudible sigh. The young lord shot another who was just reaching the mouth of the pit right between its eyes.
‘While I don’t disagree with your assessment.’ He said piercing another clambering monstrosity with lightning speed. ‘I would certainly debate your timing.’ He said as he danced back from the hole, now over spilling with the demons. The valet stepped back in line with his master.

‘I shall shelve the issue for you to return to, at your convenience.’ The valet said, preparing to reload, the hole was now like the top of an anthill and the entire colony was coming at them.

While not the most fashionable ball in all of Brusdon all the major players in the city could be found at the Floyd family mansion. It was a less prestigious ball than the Grand Council’s ball in the White Palace but this was where innovation took place. From musicians to artists and dresses to food every new trend adopted by the Grand Council was birthed right here. It was why Lord Anthony LeHunt was so attracted to it.

It was a source of constant irritation to the Floyd family that this ponytailed Rake of a man always procured an invitation. They couldn’t simply refuse him entry, such rudeness was barbaric. It was not always so, indeed in past months they enjoyed having him nearby, when the scandal of him refusing to marry the much more respected Emma Linguori generated more hype about their ball. However the man was becoming a nuisance.

He strode up their path with his ever Loyal Valet Dean Sifford in tow, that valet was lusted after by the entirety of polite society but no matter the price or prospects he would never leave his current master. He presented his invitation to the doorman with a flourish, it was a +1 from a recent conquest of his, the invitation was still valid without his conquest. The doorman frowned but he opened the door for Anthony and so his hunt began.

The room was topped with a magnificent glass dome displaying the stars shining down on the lacquered wooden dancefloor and the couples spinning atop it. Lord Anthony took very little time to find his prize standing at the side of the floor looking radiant in her black dress. Her auburn curls fell down her back and pale skin was lightly dusted with freckles. The dress may not have been as fashionable or as eye catching as the other ladies, but the woman herself was peerless. He moved towards her, interrupted every step of the way.

‘Lord Anthony I heard of your exploits perhaps we could discuss them more privately?’ A lady said suggestively. Anthony didn’t even glance in her direction he knew her type instantly, tall, blonde typically pretty and utterly boring. He had used her type before but now he hungered for something different.

‘Perhaps later, madam.’ No need to burn that bridge entirely. The next lady that came up to him was a heavily painted vessel, personality as repulsive as her appearance.

‘Our saviour, you defended us from the Hell Pit. You must let me come and thank you sometime.’ She made it more of a demand than a question.

‘No.’ Anthony replied. Some bridges needed burned.
He moved to the Lady Pugh’s side grinning towards her. She turned to him making every impression of indifference but there was a sparkle in her eyes, matched by the hunger in Lord Anthony’s.

‘Lord LeHunt,’ She said, knowing full well how it irked him to be addressed as such. ‘I had no idea you were here.’ She said dismissively.

‘Surely you weren’t dressed so ravishingly for someone other than me?’ Lord Anthony asked with a devilish grin. She looked over her shoulder at him.

‘I look this way for me. Why would you be so important to me?’ She said playfully.

‘There was the small matter of the cursed pendent I took care of.’ Anthony jibbed.

‘In doing so however you did open the Hell Pit.’ She retorted with a little smile. He put his hand on her shoulder, leaving it to linger a little too long, but neither party complained.

‘In doing so I also defended you from a Hell Pit.’ He replied and she in turn relented this point. She turned to look at him properly this time. Her expression serious, grateful even.

‘In truth, I must thank you. I owe you a great debt.’ She said with a beautiful smile that made the whole matter worthwhile. He waved his hand to brush away the debt.

‘You owe me nothing, I did not do it to indebt you.’ He said, graciously and honestly. She looked up at him, almost trembling.

‘Why then?’ She squeaked. He opened his mouth to answer and was interrupted by Mr Sifford.

‘A thousand apolagies, sir. I must direct your attention to staircase.’ The valet whispered into his ear. Although outwardly calm, Anthony was so angry he was on the verge of drawing his rapier on his valet. However he did as the valet said and felt so grateful he could kiss the man’s feet.

Coming down the stairs making an overly grand entrance, as their position demanded, was Duke and Duchess Ligouri. There was a polite round of applause as they descended, but Miss Pugh went quiet and bashful seeing them, feeling responsible for Anthony spurning his Fiancé. He noticed this change.

‘What a boorish family. I would rather eat a flintlock than be related to them.’ He said, offhandedly. Miss Pugh looked grateful. However the Duke had spotted Anthony from across the room and he immediately went red under his great moustache. The Duchess, effortlessly beautiful, more so than her daughter, slipped a leg out from the spilt in her dress. With other women it would make them a harlot but somehow, Duchess Ligouri could manage it with grace. She whispered into her husband’s ear and he called out.

‘Blackguard! Vagabond! Oath Breaker!’ He shouted, moving towards Lord Anthony as his wife watched approving through brown eyes, eyes that somehow, in this light, seemed to glint red. ‘I challenge you to a duel.’ He declared causing a sharp intake of breath from the surrounding le bon ton and some excited murmuring. Just as Anthony was about to accept, he noticed that Mr Sifford was staring intently at both husband and wife in turn. He was right in Anthony’s view which was most unusual; the man was invisible when he wasn’t called. He had noticed something important.

The valet leaned over and whispered something into the furious duke’s ear that sent the man to collapse heavily. There was another scandalous intake of breath. Dean Sifford, the greatest of the valets, then did something unthinkable. He reached down and pried the man’s wedding ring off his finger, in plain view. There would have been another reaction except it was silenced by the wife’s scream as she contorted and lifted into the air. Her flesh peeled back and fell to the ground and from her skull sprouted two monstrous horns. There was screaming, there was panic but above all, for Anthony, there was fatigue mixed with mild annoyance.

‘Just once I would like to go into a gala without being attacked by a skinless demon woman whose husband is trying to kill me!’ He shouted, charging towards it with his rapier in his hand.

‘Gah’Ak’Gule will have your soul Anthony LeHunt! The Demon King will drown this world and you will-.’ The monster paused as Anthony had skewered it through the heart. It crumpled into a heap and with the greatest finesse Mr Sifford had arranged a group of servants to grab the body and move it out.

Within moments the panic had stopped, the music had resumed and the Ball was continuing.

‘Dreadful people.’ Anthony said brushing off his waistcoat.

‘Their recent behaviour, certainly.’ Miss Pugh said, looking at the still unconscious Duke, whom had been purposefully left unattended by Mr Sifford.

‘I quite agree, how dare they interrupt our conversation.’ He said looking down his nose at the Duke. ‘Where were we?’ He asked turning his attention back to her.

‘I believe I said I was indebted to you and you graciously told me you didn’t want me to feel indebted.’ Miss Pugh said with another blast of her smile.

‘Ah, indeed I did.’ He said, raising a single finger to pause himself. ‘I wonder however if you would do me a favour and join me in a carriage ride tomorrow night if you are not otherwise engaged?’ He asked rather charmingly.

‘It would be my singular pleasure.’ She answered rather charmed.


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