Authors: Emily Thompson
By the end of the first dance, Twist began to realize what had happened. All it had taken to disarm him completely was one finger on that spot at the base of his neck. As Myra spun him in time to the quick music, and drew him on through the tight crowd with infinite grace, Twist caught sight of Jonas also in the dance now, on the arm of a lady with very dark but glittering skin, and a dress—a very short dress—made of long grass and large green leaves. Arabel spun past them as well, dancing with what appeared to be a dark-haired musketeer, complete with a large feathered hat and a long mustache.
Myra's delight continued to obscure Twist's own feelings, and he just didn't have the heart to fight it. He let her lead him on, and let his body follow her movements as they poured though his Sight. He tried not to think about how close the other dancers were. He tried not to be angry with Jonas for tricking him so easily. Instead, he let Myra fill his whole attention with sunshine as they danced in the snow.
All of the dancers came to a stop at the end of the second song, and clapped for the band. Myra took Twist's hand and led him off the floor to a row of empty white couches at the far end of the room. Twist hadn't realized that he was tired until he sat heavily on a couch and found it difficult to catch his breath.
“That was lovely!” Myra said brightly, sitting close and draping her arms around him. “You're a wonderful dancer, Twist.”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, I'm not. You dance well enough that all I have to do is follow.”
“Well then, you follow divinely,” Myra said on the edge of her own laugh. “Thank you for joining me.” Twist smiled and took her hand, raising it to his lips.
“It was my pleasure,” he said before placing a small kiss on her cool copper fingers.
To his surprise, her shock and a much deeper joy rushed through his Sight at the motion. When he looked up to Myra's face, she giggled nervously and turned away from him to look back at the dance floor. Twist watched her curiously, wondering what he'd just missed. It had seemed like the proper thing to do. His eyes wandered to the small space below her ear, where the gentle line of her jaw met her slender throat. For the briefest instant, he wondered what it might be like to kiss her there. Twist's propriety caught up with him and he snapped his gaze away, shocked at himself for even having such a thought.
“Well, are you having fun?” Myra asked, looking back to him.
“Naturally,” Twist said, nodding. “I'm with you.”
“Oh, you insufferable flatterer!” She swatted at him playfully.
Twist hadn't meant it as a compliment—her joy simply affected his Sight very strongly—and he began to explain, but Myra giggled again and sent another sparkling wave of delight splashing through his mind. He shut his mouth and decided not to correct her after all.
Myra was on her feet again the moment the next song started. Twist was helpless to fight her as she dragged him back onto the floor. The rhythm of this song was just as lively as the last, and Twist was quite out of breath by the end of it. The flashes of fright that stung him every time the other dancers got close enough to nearly colliding with him and Myra were also taking their toll. As everyone stopped to clap again, Twist took hold of Myra's hand and led her out of the icy ballroom entirely.
“Come, let's explore a few more of the rooms,” he said to her, hoping to distract her from the dance. Myra seemed somewhat surprised, but followed him anyway.
They hadn't seen anything on the second floor, so they climbed up one wing of the emerald staircase and entered the first door they saw. This room was painted ruby-red, and filled with furniture and decorative pieces, all of black lacquer and gold. There were also long sticks of smoking, strong-smelling incense in a black pot on the table in the center of the room. The space reminded Twist instantly of Hong Kong. There was an Egyptian queen and a man in a simple suit, with a donkey’s head instead of his own, both speaking softly in one corner. The room was otherwise empty.
“Oh, how lovely,” Myra said, catching sight of a bright yellow bird in a golden cage that hung in one corner. The bird gave a tiny chirp and looked back at her just as curiously.
“You like birds, don't you?” Twist said, moving to stand beside her. “There were a lot of cages like this one in your palace in Nepal.”
“People used to bring me pet birds from all over the world,” she said, smiling at the little yellow one before her. “They all had such pretty little songs.” She gave a sigh and Twist felt her mood grow heavy.
“Do you miss the life you had?” Twist asked gently. She turned to him and put a smile on her face with some apparent effort.
“I did,” she said, nodding. “I was all alone for so long...” She took a deep breath and her smile grew warmer as she looked back at him. “But I don't miss anything now. I used to dream of having a real adventure, instead of just playing with all my toys at home. But now, I'm on an adventure every day!”
“I'm very glad you see it that way.”
“And I used to have suitors, too,” she added, frowning.
“Oh yes,” Twist said, remembering the old story. Her father never accepted any of them. One of the most jealous suitors tried to kill him, but Myra had jumped in the way of the arrow and saved her father's life, nearly at the cost of her own. Her soul had been saved just in time to be put into her clockwork puppet.
“They were all nasty people,” she said bitterly. “They pretended to be sweet, but they only wanted my daddy's riches. Or they'd promise to take me away and give me all sorts of things to distract me from the fact that I'd never leave
She shook her head, looking more and more angry with each word. Then her eyes fell on Twist and softened. She reached up to entwine her fingers behind his neck and smiled at him as his hands found the small of her back automatically. Twist noticed absently that their bodies were drifting very closely together, and his heart began to beat more quickly.
“You're so different from all of them,” she said gently. “I think my daddy would have liked you. He might have given me up if you had asked him for my hand.” Twist wondered if the warmth in her touch was making him slightly dizzy, or if it might be the incense.
“Well,” he said, suddenly, inexplicably nervous. “I'm not sure he'd approve of me dragging you around the world, always being chased by Cyphers and Rooks, and whatnot.” Myra shook her head as one of her hands wandered into the black curls above his neck. A shiver ran cold against the heat on Twist's skin.
“If my daddy didn't like you, then I would have run away with you, anyway.”
“You're very irresponsible, my dear,” Twist said gently, swallowing the reckless and heady delight that followed her comment.
Myra laughed lightly. She paused, as if considering something. The metal and clockwork seemed to melt away from her. For a moment, Twist didn't understand what was happening. Then he realized that she was reaching out to him with her spirit and taking over his Sight, the way she had the first time they had met. He had gotten so easily accustomed to seeing her in clockwork that he sometimes forgot what she really looked like.
Just as it did every time he saw it, the child-like beauty of her human face surprised him. Her form felt suddenly cold and soft in his hands, and her fingers chilled the skin at his neck, but his Sight was too busy now to show him any of her emotions. His own were so stunned that Twist could only stare back at her dark, sparkling eyes as she leaned in just a little closer to him. It wasn't until her lips met his that he realized what was happening. His eyes snapped shut and the rest of the world vanished into a luscious haze.
When she pulled back, it took him a moment to collect himself enough to open his eyes again. He saw her spirit smiling at him with a blush of pink on her pale cheeks before the image dissolved back into copper and clockwork. His confused Sight struggled to supply him with useful information, but all that managed to seep through the blinding haze of his own emotions was a deep, sweet, and quiet warmth.
Jonas, Arabel, and Jonas's dance partner caught up with Twist and Myra in a room that was upside down. All of the furniture, along with a Persian carpet, was nailed invisibly to the ceiling, and the gaslight stood up in the center of the room like a table instead of hanging down. The walls were painted to match the illusion, the curtains were tacked to the walls to make them look like they were hanging upward, and a few flower pots could be seen suspended upside down outside the dark windows.
Arabel laughed and continued a very fast-paced conversation she was having with the woman Jonas had been dancing with, when the two of them came into the room. Jonas walked with them, smiling lightly as if enjoying their conversation as well. When Arabel saw Myra gently pushing the gaslight to watch it swing—somehow, it always fell back to the center as if gravity really were pulling it upwards—she called to her. “Myra, come here, this is Helen, and she's a professional dancer.”
Myra looked quite intrigued and went to join them. Twist had been standing beside her, but didn't follow her. His mind still was in total disarray and he found it very tiring, trying not to let Myra see it. The thought of a moment to relax was even more attractive than Helen, the leaf-clad dancer. Jonas walked quietly closer to him and watched the women speak brightly together.
“Did something happen?” Jonas asked Twist.
“Humm?” Twist toned, feeling his emotions melt into numb puddles on the floor.
“A little while ago, I felt something weird,” Jonas said, reaching up to rub at his neck. “Not bad or anything, but new. You were so far away that I couldn't really tell what it was. I'm not even sure it wasn't just my imagination.”
Twist took a breath to buy himself a little more time to respond, but it didn't help very much. He shrugged. “Myra kissed me.”
“Like, on the cheek? Like she does whenever you do something she likes?” Jonas asked, looking to him slowly.
Twist shook his head. “She didn't use her puppet. She just reached into my Sight with her spirit and … kissed me.”
Jonas was grinning now. “But if I felt a difference in the buzzing, then... This can't be the first time a nice young lady has kissed you, can it? I mean, seriously, how old are you?”
“I can't touch anyone.”
Jonas's face went blank with shock. “Wow.”
Twist looked away from him with a sigh.
“Good girl, Myra,” Jonas said softly, looking towards her with a smile now. “It took her a while, but she got there in the end.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” Twist snapped, finally figuring out how to be angry again.
“Well, it was obvious she liked you from the first day,” Jonas said easily. “But you two are both so prudish that nothing ever seems to happen.”
“You're paying far too much attention to our...” Twist paused, unsure of the right word.
“Love life?” Jonas offered.
“Stop saying things like that!” Twist snapped, feeling his face heat up.
Jonas laughed. “So, tell me. What's it like kissing a ghost?”
“If you don't behave yourself immediately, I will be forced to defend my honor,” Twist declared with all the dignity he could still find within himself, and a glare to match.
“Oh, come on,” Jonas whined. “I've never kissed a ghost.”
“You will have plenty of chances when I'm done with you,” Twist hissed. “You'll have your pick of the women in the afterlife.”
Jonas laughed again and held up his hands in surrender. “All right, all right, don't tell me. But you know I'm just going to wonder.”
Twist smoldered for a moment before he heard Arabel speaking very excitedly to Myra and Helen. “You're getting along with Ara, then?” Twist asked Jonas.
“I guess,” Jonas muttered with a shrug. “As long as we're not talking about me, and she's not sighing at me for anything, it's not actually torture to be around her.”
“Do you think you might get used to her if it stayed like this?” Twist asked lightly.
“I don't know,” Jonas said, his mood darkening a little more. “Why?”
“Well, it would be nice to think that you could repair your relationship.”
Jonas looked at him suspiciously. “Are you just trying to make sure we can't get back to the subject of you and Myra?”
Twist put on a wounded expression. “No, no, certainly not.” He realized after he'd said it that he'd forced his voice a little too high.
Jonas narrowed his eyes at him, and their color shifted towards purple.
“It was my voice, wasn't it?” Twist asked with a sigh. “Too high?”
“That glow on your skin turns green when you lie,” Jonas said with a smug smile.
“That's not fair!” Twist snapped. “I can't even control that...”
“And your voice was too high,” Jonas added.
“Twist, Twist!” Myra said suddenly, leading Helen closer to them by the hand. “I want you to meet Helen,” she said, smiling brightly. “She's a dancer in something called a 'ballet' that sounds marvelous.” Helen smiled at Myra, laughing softly behind her hand. “And this is Twist,” Myra said proudly. “He's an adventurer from London. And he can fix simply anything.”
“It's nice to meet you,” Helen said, giving him a curtsy. Twist noticed that her accent sounded just like Quay's had. Her dark skin looked even closer to a full, colorless black out of the gleaming light of the ballroom, but there was definitely fine glitter dusted all over it. He returned her curtsy with a bow.
“A pleasure,” he said. “But really, my dear, an adventurer?” he asked Myra softly.
“Of course,” she said innocently. “What else would you be?”
Twist frowned. What else
While the others talked with the charming ballerina dressed in leaves, Twist couldn't keep his attention on the conversation. Somehow, somewhere in all the madness of his life, he'd become the sort of person that he usually only read about in books. He'd done far too much, been to far too many exotic and dangerous places, to still be just a clockmaker. Nothing in his life had turned out the way he'd thought it would.
As Myra quietly took his hand, while they all meandered through the colorful rooms of the house, the sheer comfort and tranquility of her touch on his Sight pulled his thoughts to a sudden halt. He'd loved the story of the clockwork princess since he was young: the solitude of her palace at the top of the world, the magicians and puppeteers that flocked in to entertain her from the far corners of the globe, the simple idea of a person made entirely of clockwork who might not affect his Sight the way people did. He had often dreamed of appearing before her with a magnificent toy that he had built. She might like him then, and let him stay in her beautiful, fairytale world of sunlight and clear skies.
He'd been in love with the idea of her far longer than he'd known her. Now that he did know her, his heart was utterly helpless against her charms. He was fully aware of her gratitude towards him for repairing her puppet, and her open and joyful personality towards everyone. He knew that she gave him more attention than anyone else, but not once, not in all his childish dreams or sober considerations for her future, had he ever imagined that she might grow to love him in return.