“Mister Kuznetsov, what a pleasure it is to finally meet you,” Margeaux said with a warm and proper tone. Cyril stood silent by her side, holding a soft smile.
“Ah!” Nikoli sputtered with surprise, spinning to greet them. “Lady De León, the pleasure is mine. And, of course, Mister Aumont,” he said, quickly stuffing the rest of his pastry into his mouth and wiping the crumbs from his hand before grasping Cyril’s hand with a firm grip.
“What a marvellous home you have here,” he continued. His accent was thick and foreign, not common among those within Roanoke City—even for those who resided in the outer rings.
“Please, it is but simple lodgings,” Cyril replied, holding an equally firm grip on the Nikoli’s hand, “I’m sure it pales in comparisons to one such as your own.”
“You’re too modest!” Nikoli retorted. “Tell me, were those genuine M’loche ceremonial statues I saw while entering the lobby?” He asked eagerly.
“You have a good eye, Mister Dostoevsky,” Cyril replied, matching his enthusiasm. “They are genuine, yes. Also plentiful and fairly worthless, I’m afraid—but fascinating regardless. You see, I was reading up on the mating rituals of indigenous cultures—specifically that of the M’loche tribe…did you know that, while children, the women of the tribe will carve a stone prediction of the appearance of their future husband? And, once they become of age, they will then marry the man that most closely resembles that carving? Fascinating…”
Nikoli was listening intently, hanging to Cyril’s every word.
“…Anyway, I found myself fatigued from my readings and decided to take a stroll through the city streets. After a short while, I just so happened to come upon an auction taking place within the market square. Now, dare I say, when I saw what I saw—I couldn’t believe it. There they were, on display! The very stone carvings I was just reading about. Of course, I had no choice but to bid for them, the coincidence was just too much to ignore—”
A soft, but clear “Ahem,” came from Margeaux and both men turned to see her nodding her head towards a man and women standing near, both with a subdued smile and waiting patiently for Cyril to finish rambling.
“Oh, but where are my manners?” Nikoli quickly ran to the man’s side, throwing one arm behind him acting as if they were long-time friends. The man’s expression indicated that they were most certainly not long-time friends.
“Please let me introduce you to Lord Béla Domatium and—allow me to say—his exquisite wife, Lady Arlette O’Domatium.”
To Cyril, both Béla and his wife looked to be the personification of aristocracy—and they stood out, even amongst the already eccentric crowd. Béla stood unnaturally straight, donned in a regal white outfit of slim trousers and a long tailcoat. Wherever there was not white, there was gold to accentuate; from his buttons to cufflinks, to his toecaps and to the metal brooch fastened at his shirt collar that pointed upwards in the shape of a cylindrical tube, covering the whole of his neck. A depiction of a twin-headed griffon was embossed on the brooch, and attached at its corner was a thin gold chain which led up to a monocle held fast under the brow of Béla’s stern squinting eyes. His complexion was pale and ghastly, his face was dour, his nose prominent and hooked and streaks of grey lined his well-combed, jet-black hair.
Lady Arlette, on the other hand, looked as youthful as ever—although, there was heavy assistance from make-up. Her orange hair frizzed outwards, held in place by a small silver tiara that glistened with obnoxious clear jewels. White long gloves lined her arms, which she wrapped tightly around Béla’s arm, squeezing herself close to him—causing the ruffles of her ball-room dress to crunch and depress.
“You flatter me, Nikoli,” Arlette smiled. It was a sly and thin smile, purely for appearance. “But surely I am no more exquisite than our lovely Mademoiselle.”
“You’re too kind, Lady Arlette,” Margeaux replied, matching her smile, “but you mustn’t speak such lies, they’re unbecoming of you.” She spoke with soft and kind words which were underlined with snide tones of antagonism.
Fearing the tension that was now building would soon implode and crush them all, Cyril quickly jumped in.
“Lord Béla, it is an honour to host the Magister of the Del’Mar family,” he said. “To have an esteemed alchemist such as yourself in attendance of my humble soirée, I feel embarrassed to have not provided you with something grander.”
“I’m sure you do,” Béla replied, “I felt it was necessary to attend to finally meet the one who’s name I’ve been hearing so much about.” As he talked, he did so over his nose and with his chin elevated. “You are the De León’s alchemist, is that correct?”
“Well—” Cyril began to say, but he was cut-off by Margeaux.
“Not currently, no,” she said. “You see, although I can attest to my love’s skill, he has not yet had any previous mentoring under a licenced alchemist and, as such, is unable to practice under any official capacity.”
“And are there no alchemists in the De León family who can mentor him?” As he asked this, Cyril noticed the ends of Béla’s lips curling upwards ever so slightly.
“Our family felt it was best to focus our efforts into…other aspects of research matters, of which that do not require the use of an alchemist,” Margeaux replied, fully knowing that Béla already knew the answer to the question.
A muted scoff came from Arlette, and she quickly brought her hand up to her mouth in a half-hearted attempt to pass it off as a cough.
There was a moment of silence. The melodies of the string quartet playing near softened and slowed and the chatter of hubbub from mingling groups filled the air, accented by the clinking of glasses and laughter. Nikoli, who up until now had been peering around the room for a server who might be near with more food, had now shifted his gaze to the two couples. He was nervously glancing between them fearing that their interest in him would wane, so he decided to curtail his search and speak up.
“Before you arrived,” he said, clearing his throat, “I was just informing Lord Béla about my newest research project—which I’ve been calling, The Levitus Theorem.”