“Would you like to dance?” the man asked.
Alix took a step back. She pressed into the buffet table.
Fuck. She hadn’t planned for this. She’d thought no one would want to dance with her- she was on the ugly side, and even in her ridiculous getup and with the veil over her face, it showed.
The plan was to stay inconspicuous; if she made a scene, she’d get them all caught. She had to keep things quiet if she could keep them at all.
She stared at him without saying a word, hoping he’d get the hint. Maybe he’d think she didn’t speak Isseranic and leave her be.
“I said, did you want to dance?” He spoke louder and slower, and held out a piece of paper crossed with signatures. “My garden still has space for such a lovely flower.”
Ugh. If it had just been up to her, she would have told him where he could shove his dance card. But drawing attention to herself would only draw attention to the rest of her friends.
Nvara swept towards Alix and grabbed her forearm, fingers digging deep into her skin. She gabbled at her in a language Alix didn’t speak, and then turned to the man.
“I am most sorry, your grace,” Nvara said. “My friend, she does not speak Isseranic. Now if you’ll excuse us, the Ambassador–”
She tugged at Alix’s arm. Alix gratefully let Nvara drag her away.
“The fuck were you doing?” Nvara muttered.
“Got cornered,” Alix said. “Where’re –”
“Vashe gave the signal. You were too busy stuffing your vexin’ face to see it.”
Alix scowled, but said nothing.
The ballroom had a set of doors at the other end. They weren’t as big as anything else in the room- especially not the outside door- but they were made of dark wood lined with stained glass panels. Each one probably cost more than Miss Kalarak saw in a chain.
Nvara glanced from side to side. No one was looking their way- the partygoers were dancing with each other, talking, or wrapped in the music. The beat rattled Alix’s bones.
She cracked the door open. It moved whisper-silent. Together, Nvara and Alix slipped through. It closed behind them with a soft click.
The hallway was almost as deck as the ballroom, but strangely shabby. The carpet was plush but threadbare, with rough matting poking out in places. The wallpaper was covered in tangling vines, but they were faded- withered like dead ivy on a fence.
“Upstairs?” she muttered.
“Unless you want us gettin’ caught?”
Alix rolled her eyes and started up. She kept to the side of the staircase- it was the best way to keep away from a squeaky floorboard.
The hallway at the top of the stairs was so narrow you couldn’t spit down it without hitting the walls. There was one door just to the side of the stairs. Nvara jerked her head towards it.
“In here. Quick.”
Inside were two squat, white, boxy machines, with a motor attached to one’s side. Alix didn’t recognize their purpose. Vashe sat on top of one, studying his notebook; Svelen leaned against it, looking up at Vashe. He flinched when he saw the door open, but relaxed when he saw the girls enter.
“You made it!”
“Ay. And you scared the fuck out of me,” Vashe muttered. “Anyone see you?”
“Don’t think so,” Alix said.
“Good.” Vashe grunted. “Aight, we got here in one piece. So far, so far.”
He half-smiled, showing his sharp fangs.
“Now let’s see if we can get the goods.”