For Cassandra, there was once a great deal of excitement that came with flying in an airplane.
Just the mere idea of carousing through the clouds had once been a fantastical and dream-like notion that had captured Cassandra Steel’s imagination countless times.
But those days of childhood innocence, unfortunately, were long gone. With a glum and tired expression, the black-haired girl leaned up against her seat and closed her heavy eyes.
Music thrummed through the single black headphone in her ear, as the ambiance of the plane only made her even more exhausted than she already was.
“You doing okay over there, Cass?”
She turned, messy black hair falling down to further obscure her eye. “I’m bored. And tired. So no, not really.”
A loud sigh emanated from Cassandra’s lungs. “Why do I even have to go on this stupid trip in the first place?”
Seated next to her, just another passenger in the berth of Obsinight’s private jet, sat a veritable stonewall of a man.
Built like a linebacker, his broad shoulders, heavy black beard, and rippling forearm muscles were betrayed by the surprisingly gentle candor of his voice.
“You know why. The least you can do is try and be a little accommodating.”
Cassandra narrowed her eyes in annoyance. Thankfully, she had somewhat free reign here, considering her mother was up sitting with the pilot.
“I didn’t want to be dragged along like this, Ozzie. They could have just left me home and made their peace with these PureBeats people without me.”
With a deep, rumbling breath, Ozzie sighed. Slowly, he put a giant, ring-studded hand on Cassandra’s small, thin shoulder.
“I’m sorry if you ever feel overwhelmed. I’m sure it was the same for your mother when she was your age.”
Despite the warm gesture, Cassandra still tried to weasel away. Of course, stuck in her seat, there wasn’t really anywhere to go.
“If you’re so sorry, then why didn’t you tell her how much I didn’t want to go? Why didn’t you do anything about it?” she asked, quite accusingly.
His dark brown eyes drifted towards the window past Cassandra. They admired the wisps of cloud as Ozzie spoke.
“Nexa was insistent you come with us. You’re her only daughter; Harvey’s only granddaughter, rest his soul. And even if I wanted to argue with her, I’m just her cousin. Not much I can say that’ll change her mind.”
Cassandra crossed her arms, unconvinced. “But she brought you along. It’s just me, you and her; nobody else. Not even my father was invited. Yet for just a cousin, she wanted you for some reason.”
Ozzie smiled through big teeth, tipping his head towards the window nearby. “Well, I can go if you want me to. Might be hard for me to fit through the window though…”
Cassandra smiled, then burst into a small bout of giggling. Much to Ozzie’s delight, he had gotten the good mood he was searching for.
“Pffft, shut up.”
Cassandra then turned back towards the window, before going to her music player and scrolling through various songs.
“…I guess it would suck even more if you weren’t here.”
Up above, an electronic click signified the loudspeaker coming on from the pilot’s cabin.
A moment later, the female voice belonging to Cassandra’s mother pushed through.
“Cassandra dear, Oswald; we’ll be landing at JFK within the half hour. Cassandra: please be on your best behavior at the Everclade.”
The voice fizzled away as the loudspeaker was turned off.
Cassandra stuck her tongue out as she leaned up against the window again.
“Yes, mother. God, she still treats me like a baby. It’s so lame.”
Ozzie put his hands on his lap, fastening his seat belt as Cassandra soon did the same.
“Well, you turn fourteen in just a month. Maybe I can put in a good word for you.”
The plane rumbled over minor turbulence. All Cassandra could think about was the coming days of politics and expectations.
That had been her life for almost a decade and half: expectations. As the sole true heir to Obsinight, and the granddaughter of Harvey Steel, she was eventually expected to take his place when her mother decided the time was right.
At first, it seemed cool. Cassandra remembered the early days of thinking her grandfather was some sort of righteous warrior, not unlike the icons of the heavy metal bands she listened to on a constant basis.
Only that lofty thought proved to be so much farther from the truth. Her grandfather was no Alice Cooper or Ronnie James Dio. He was but a murdering monster who had killed more people than she could possibly count.
As the plane descended, and the tiny dots of buildings and strips of road became more visible, Cassandra thought long and hard on Ozzie’s offer.
“You’d put in a good word for me?”” She finally asked, truly curious now.
“Of course.” Ozzie replied. “Anything.”
Cassandra turned, and put on a mischievous smile.
“Okay, I got one request then. Just one.”
Ozzie raised a bushy black eyebrow. “Alright. What is it?”
Cassandra’s smile vanished.
“Tell Mom to give Obsinight to someone else.”
She then turned her attention right back to the window, as Ozzie’s previous smile disappeared as well.
“That, honestly, would make me happier than anything else.”
“Kogeshi! Tell me you made absolutely sure that the conference room is spotless? I won’t see a speck of dust when Grandfather and I convene with the Steels?”
With a frightened, anxious bow, Kogeshi clasped his gloved hands together in surrender.
“Yes, Lady Altberg! I promise you everything is ready.”
Sirenia’s eyes moved back towards his clipboard, her tone changing as if nothing had happened.
“Good. See to it that it stays spotless for the duration of their stay.”
From a few feet away, Calvin watched with pity at Kogeshi’s plight.
Still recovering from an early start, Calvin was dressed in a more formal version of his usual blue suit and blazer combo, though the house tailor had once again made a point to make him look as presentable as humanly possible.
Beside him, Aeris had foregone all casual clothes at Iberius’s request, and she was now dressed in a long, crystal blue dress.
With Sirenia and Iberius similarly dolled up, the four of them had been waiting with Kogeshi for the last half hour for the arrival of Obsinight and their representatives.
As Kogeshi prepared for their arrival by the door intercom, the house itself had been in an uproar. Ambrose had relinquished her medical duties to head the charge of maids and lesser butlers in cleaning every solitary inch of the Everclade.
Even anyone normally off duty was brought in full force today, so that the cleanliness of the mansion was all but assured.
It was up to Iberius and Sirenia, with Calvin and Aeris in their stead, to be the welcoming party for the members of Obsinight that might be but a stone’s throw away.
For someone so used to being pleasant around others, Aeris couldn’t help but feel just a little bit nervous.
“How do I look?” she asked with innocence, as Calvin just smirked in response.
“Kind of ravishing. I don’t know if I can control myself.”
Smiling, Aeris took his hand in hers, turning her attention forward so as not to be too obvious.
“Oh, quiet you. I’ll have you know your grandfather picked this out for me. Told me I looked beautiful.”
Calvin laughed. “Maybe he’s trying to steal you away from me. Can’t have that.”
As Sirenia tapped a pen on her clipboard, and Iberius waited in place with bated breath, Aeris remained calm in Calvin’s company.
“Everything’s going to be okay, right? I know Obsinight isn’t affiliated with Zero Beat anymore, but…”
“Hey, what did I tell you? I straightened everything out. We’re just here for moral support, really. Relax, Aeris. Just look pretty and everything will be fine.” Calvin answered,
Aeris took a deep breath, her best attempt to relax herself. Calvin did always did have the amazing ability to reassure, even if he wasn’t always being completely honest.
“Okay.” she replied, as Kogeshi spoke on the intercom but a moment later and hurried towards the door like a frenzied hamster.
“Sounds like our guests have arrived.” Iberius announced, much to Sirenia’s pleasure next to him.
“Finally.” she said with a sigh, as the door opened forth and revealed the three entering members of the Steel family for all to see.
Cassandra was thoroughly unimpressed when the limo pulled up to the front of the aptly named Everclade.
In comparison to their home at Blackhand Estate, the Everclade paled in size, not to mention the building itself looked to be an old and brittle reminder of a bygone era of music and style.
With her mother Nexa and cousin Ozzie leading the group, Cassandra followed with hands in the pockets of her hoodie and that tired look still pasted on her face.
Greeting them was a thin Asian butler, who swung open the doors of the Everclade in an almost theatrical manner as he beckoned them forth.
“Esteemed Obsinight, welcome. Lady and Master Altberg to see you.”
It was the old man in a suit who spoke first, taking Nexa’s hand in his and kissing it with respect.
“Mrs. Steel. A pleasure to finally have you within our walls.”
Nexa Steel blinked through an almost uninterested expression, but thankfully did not pull away or show any sign of disgust.
She fanned herself out of habit, turning in place as she observed her surroundings. “So this is the Everclade? My, I imagined it to be somewhat larger.”
Iberius held his ground, thankfully, and his pleasant expression didn’t falter even at the slight insult. “Renovations to come, of course.”
He turned his gaze to Ozzie, who now at Nexa’s side, proved to tower over both him and Calvin by more than a foot in height and double that in width. “Ah, you must be Oswald. It’s wonderful to have you here as well.”
Ozzie looked back and forth, until his stomach growled loud enough to wake the dead. He smiled like a little kid.
“Good to hear. Now tell me you’ve got that kitchen running, because I am famished.”
Sirenia nodded as she jotted down unknown notes on her clipboard. “Dinner is being prepared as we speak. I hope the flight went well.”
Behind the two adults, Cassandra snorted. “Pffft. Couldn’t have been more lame.”
“Ah, Cassandra.” Iberius said, his voice almost booming. “I almost didn’t see you there.”
In response, Nexa and Ozzie moved aside like the Red Sea itself parting. Cassandra was revealed for all to see, black hair over one eye, a single headphone in her ear, muted wardrobe, tired expression and all.
“I want to introduce you to my grandson, Calvin.” Iberius continued, motioning to one side as Calvin put his hand out to shake Cassandra’s.
“Nice to finally meet you.” Calvin said, as Cassandra weakly returned his gesture with an even more disinterested tone.
“Yup. You too.”
She turned, ignoring the tall lady with the glasses completely as Iberius finished.
“And this is Aeris. She’ll be staying with us for the next few days. I know she and Calvin will make you feel welcome.”
“Hello.” Aeris said, polite and pleasant as always.
In any other situation, Cassandra would have rushed through her greeting and turned her attention elsewhere. She’d have ignored Aeris the same way she’d ignored so many lame and useless people introduced to her through Obsinight.
Only this time, she couldn’t bring herself to even shake the girl’s hand.
With perfect timing, a new song blasted into her ear. It was one of her many heavy metal numbers that proved to perfectly appropriate in this sudden situation.
Her normally tired eyes widened, locking on to Aeris and inadvertently scanning her from top to bottom. Nowhere near immune to the spark of her own hormones, Cassandra almost gulped as she realized that Aeris’s dress in fact did her figure so many favors.
It was at her face that the girl’s gaze stopped; the kind of face more fitting for an angel.
Cassandra’s Steel’s cheeks grew warm, and her heart beat back and forth in her chest like a drum.
She realized a few seconds too late that she’d been staring for far too long.
Without thinking, she grasped Aeris’s black gloved hand and shook it quickly, before turning tail as words simply spilled out of her lips.
“Yeah, great. Aeris, nice to meet you too.
Retreating back behind Ozzie, she pulled up her hoodie and did her best to hide her expression.
Ozzie, meanwhile, played damage control, as he often did.
“My apologies. She’s not the best with strangers.”
Sirenia propped her glasses up in response. “No problem. Once dinner is over and we begin, she’ll have all the time she needs to get to know my brother and Ms. Fairfield. They won’t be strangers for long.”
“Shall we make our way to the dining room?” Iberius asked, as Kogeshi went straight to open the double doors behind him.
Nexa fanned herself again, her own stomach rumbling at the mere thought of food. “Yes, that sounds agreeable. Oswald, Cassandra, come along.”
Ozzie followed, with Cassandra just behind him.
It took everything in her power to avoid directly looking at Aeris’s face. It was like each glance further revealed the overflowing feelings that now threatened to control her.
In thirteen years of life, the concept of love in an intimate sense had long since eluded her. It was something she liked about heavy metal, that seldom did she have to listen to songs where singers bemoaned of their romantic conquests.
But to make matters worse, that particular song still played in her left ear, and it was one of those unfortunate examples of a metal song which fawned over a woman.
Unlike heavy metal, pop music had uncountable numbers that sang about these feelings, celebrating them in all their glory.
Cassandra had always hated those kind of songs, and thankfully, never understood them.
And right now, she still very much hated them. That fact would probably never change.
But based on just how hard her heart still beat, her cheeks burned, and her legs shuddered, it appeared she finally understood what so many of those lovey dovey pop songs were blabbing about.