“Wait here. They’ll announce you in a few minutes, at which time, you will make your appearance and descend the staircase. When you reach the bottom, people are going to want to meet you. I know it’ll be a bit overwhelming, just do your best. Myself, Dristan, Warrick and Torryn will all be there if you need us. These people have been waiting a long time to see you. They have a great amount of love and admiration for you, so try to keep that in mind, okay?”
I nodded numbly at Andromeda as she adjusted the low shoulders of my tight, red dress. She gave me a beaming smile as she stepped back.
“You look perfect.” She said.
“Thank you, Andromeda...” I whispered, butterflies swarming around inside of my gut.
“Please, call me Andi.” She said. I smiled at her.
“See you down there.” She winked at me and turned, disappearing around the corner of the hallway which led into the main entrance and grand staircase of the ballroom.
I heard a loud voice, echoing through the large room, as she made her way down the staircase.
“Announcing the arrival of Lady Andromeda Price, third in command and intended wife of Lord Dristan Draconian.”
An eruption of applause sounded, drowning out the strange music filling the hallway. I’d never heard music like this before. It sounded futuristic, and sensual. The beat pounded through the floor and resonated through my heels, and up my legs. I felt the booming bass thundering inside of my chest, filling me with it’s enticing rhythm. This was not a traditional ball, like the ones I’d heard stories of that were held in the human king’s castle.
I grimaced at the sound of Andromeda’s title, but pushed it away. I would not dwell on things I could not control. Not anymore... I was ready to embrace my future and the responsibilities I had to my crown. And I would do it with as much positivity as I could manage. That’s what my parents would’ve wanted.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment we have all been awaiting! May I have the pleasure of introducing for the first time, High Lady Brenya Avery Alemaund, The last of the elemental bloodline, Princess, and heir to the Fae throne!”
Silence fell, aside from the music, and I took a deep breath as I walked toward the stairs. Time seemed to slow down and the music faded away from my senses as I stopped at the top of the staircase and gazed down at the scene below.
The ballroom was a massive, square shaped space, large enough to fit thousands of people, which it currently did. The floors were solid, white marble, with matching pillars lining the walls on either side of the room.
The ceiling of the room was curved upward into an inverted dome, and painted with countless, colorful, intricate dragons, flying among a brilliant night sky. The far back wall was lined with several windows, which stretched from floor to ceiling, and allowed for a breathtaking view of the snow capped mountain ranges and forest in the distance. The high ceiling seemed to be made of the dark rock of the volcano and numerous, silver colored, candle lit chandeliers hung from it, casting a dim glow among the room.
There was a stage in the center of the room, where a band was playing the music. Three Fae males played strange looking instruments that I’d never seen before, which was the source of the strange, futuristic music I’d been hearing. A Fae female sang and danced across the stage, but her eyes were on me like everyone else’s.
After a moment of gazing around the impressive room, I looked down the stairs at the crowd of people staring at me with open mouths. Winged males and females off all different colors and sizes, along with countless Fae, with long, pointed ears and elongated canines stared up at me in awe. No one made a single sound as I swept my eyes across the expansive crowd of magical beings, my face a mask of calm indifference.
Then I remembered I was supposed to descend the stairs. I pulled back my shoulders and lifted my chin, trying not to let the crowd of magical beings intimidate me, as I began to slowly walk down the stairs. The long train of my red dress followed behind me, and the slit in the side of my dress allowed my right leg to peek out of the fabric with each step I took.
The long train of my red dress followed behind me, and the slit in the side of my dress allowed my right leg to peek out of the fabric with each step I took
Every male face that my eyes fell upon had their jaws hanging open. They stared at me with wide eyes, which trailed up and down my figure as I moved. Females stared too, some scowling, some looking as if they’d gladly eat me up. I let a smile grace my lips as I felt a surge of confidence come over me. I knew I looked fantastic, and it helped a great deal with the nerves that were still roiling in my gut.
Halfway down the stairs, I scanned the silent crowd again, and briefly locked eyes with Dristan. He was standing to the far left of the room, near the front of the crowd. His back was facing me, but was looking at me over his shoulder and wide, black wings.
Warrick was standing in front of him, his eyes also glued to me. They’d obviously been engaged in conversation when I’d been announced. Torryn, who looked as stone faced as the last time I’d seen him, stood to Dristan’s right, beside Andi, who was smiling hugely at me.
Dristan and I only glanced at each other for a breif moment before he hesitantly turned his head back toward Warrick. But in that small moment, I’d seen awe and pain on his face. His eyes had been wide, his nostrils slightly flared and his lips parted as he’d gazed at me.
A small sense of arrogance licked at my consciousness as I’d watched his response. I gave Andi a small smile before turning my head forward again. As I neared the bottom of the stairs, the music flooded into my ears once more, and I was immediately surrounded by adorning party goers.
“Princess, what an honor to meet you-”
“Please, may I show you around?”
“I cannot believe how beautiful you are, just like your mother.”
“Amazing, that you’re here after all this time!”
“Where did you get this amazing dress?”
“How are you liking the Aviary so far?”
I whipped my head around as everyone around me began blabbering at me, each of them striving to get my attentions. I gaped at them, feeling the paralyzing dread of nervousness that I thought I’d left at the top of the stairs, creep up my spine again.
“Back up, friends. Give the Princess some space.” A smooth, male voice suddenly said from my right. I felt his hand gently touch the back of my arm, just below my elbow, and he began to turn me away from the murmuring crowd. “At least allow her the chance to get a drink so she can better tend to answering all of your incessant questions.” He added. He began to steer me away, and though I was wary of a stranger touching me, I was grateful that he had.
I turned to look at him and my jaw nearly hit the floor. He was the most attractive Fae I’d seen so far, which was saying a lot because they were all so breathtakingly beautiful. He looked down at me and I felt my heart begin to race.
He was tall. He wore a black, perfectly fitted suit, with the collar loosely opened, and no tie. His towering build and muscular body filled the suit out nicely. He had light brown hair, which had been parted to the side and gracefully combed backward. His eyes were the brightest shade of blue I’d ever seen, much lighter than the deep blue of Dristan’s. His full lips, when curled into a breathtaking smile, cause dimples to appear in both of his cheeks. He had kind eyes, which made me feel softened somehow when I looked into them.
We stopped near the far back wall of the room, near the large windows. Many long tables were lined against them, littered with desserts and drinks, and I nearly drooled on the floor as I swept my eyes over all of it.
“Here, try this one. It’s quite good.” The man said, picking up a martini glass with a translucent, purple liquid inside of it. It was garnished with a white flower on the rim and smelled like candy. I took it from him and gave him a shy smile.
“Thank you.” I said, taking a small sip. I closed my eyes and let out a satisfied moan as the liquid hit my tongue. It tasted like sugar plums and candied grapes.
“Do you like it?” He asked, grinning down at me.
“Its delicious.” I said, taking another sip.
“Just don’t drink them too fast. Fae liquor is much stronger than human liquor.” He said, picking up a glass of amber colored liquid from the table. He took a small sip.
“Good to know.” I said taking a long drink. I fully intended on drinking too much tonight, so I ignored his warnings.
He grinned down at me and slightly furrowed his brows. “Are you a closet lush or something?” He asked, sipping his own drink.
I smirked. “No. Just nervous.”
“Why is that, aside from the obvious?” He asked, gesturing toward the crowded room, full of people who were still staring at me.
The music grew louder and people began to dance. Some moved away, toward the outskirt of the ballroom, to give the dancers more space. The strange, booming music filled my senses and I found myself swaying a bit with the sound.
The Fae and Dragons, all dressed in varying gowns and suits, began to dance more erotically as the song grew in intensity and I felt my cheeks heating as I watched.
Females bent forward, wiggling their backsides in the air, while males grinded on them from behind. The males and females gyrated against each other relentlessly, some kissing passionately, as the music thundered on. They didn’t seem to care that people were watching them.
Now I knew what Andromeda meant earlier when she said I’d fit right in with my provocative looking dress.
I giggled at his question as I watched the dancing intensify. “Well... aside from the obvious... I was told that there would be a High Lord here, who has apparently been wanting to meet me.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Why would that make you nervous?”
I sighed. “Because he is most likely under the assumption that I’ll be interested in him.” I took another sip of my drink.
“And you don’t think you will be interested?” He asked, leaning against the table.
I scoffed. “I have more important things to worry about right now. I have no interest in the inflamed ego of men.”
“Is that so?” He mused, his face breaking out in a perfect, white smile.
“What is this mysterious High Lord’s name?” He asked.
“Ronan...” I said, scanning the crowd.
“Well, then.” He said, setting down his drink and pushing away from the table. “If he see’s you dancing with me, perhaps he won’t approach you.”
I smirked at him. The alcohol was beginning to feel warm in my belly and my limbs began to feel loose and relaxed.
“Who said I wanted to dance with you?” I asked raising a brow.
He smirked and extended a large hand toward me. “You owe me. I saved you from that crowd of vultures. And you are a dancer. I can tell.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I can tell by the way you move...” He said, his eyes sweeping over me from head to toe, and back up again. “And you are full of suppressed energy. You shouldn’t keep that bottled up.”
I cocked my head. “Suppressed energy...?”
“Sexual energy, to be specific.” He lowered his head, looking at me from beneath his brows. “The moment you locked eyes with me I could sense it.”
My jaw fell open. “How dare you-”
He cut me off. “I’m only trying to help you un-cage that tiger that’s pacing inside of you. But if you are too afraid then there’s not much I can do for you.” He shrugged.
I felt my cheeks turning red as I glared, open mouthed at him. His smile widened as he watched me struggle to close my mouth. I narrowed my eyes, drained my glass, and set it down before finally taking his outstretched hand.
“I am not afraid of anything.” I hissed, stepping close to his chest.
His face lit up in a breathtaking, white toothed smile. I eyed his long, sharped canines as he did and I couldn’t help the tendril of fear that slipped past my emotional barrier. He must’ve caught the scent because he pulled me closer, bringing me flush against his chest. He wrapped an arm around me, and placed his hand on the small of my back.
He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Don’t lie. It’s not very princess like.” His other hand held mine tightly, and then we were moving.
He swept us onto the dance floor, gliding us gracefully between the dancing couples who were lost in their sensual movements, their auras bright red with passion and lust.
My mind and body buzzed with the sweet sensation of growing intoxication, both from the liquor and the energy of the music and dancing.
And I let go.
I let go of my frustrations, my sadness, my anger. I just... was.
I looked up into the stranger’s bright blue eyes and found him grinning down at me as he moved expertly in front of me. I felt my expression mirror his own, and I spun around, facing away from him. I looked at him over my shoulder as I pressed my back against him, swaying my hips from side to side in time with the beat.
I felt his hands brush the sides of my thighs. He slowly slid them up, running them over my swaying hips, up to my waist, and then back down again, as I moved on him.
I looked up and noticed Andromeda and Dristan dancing across the ballroom. I could only catch glimpses of them through breaks in the moving crowd, but I didn’t miss the fact that Dristan’s eyes were on me. He looked absolutely furious.
Andi was facing away from him, her hips swaying expertly against his front, completely oblivious to her intended’s eyes upon mine. I glared at Dristan for a moment longer, annoyed at his disapproving expression. He was doing the exact same thing that I was. How dare he give me that judging look.
I tore my eyes away from him and kept dancing, turning up the intensity of my fluid movements.
I raised my arms above my head and spread my legs further apart as I rolled my hips and leaned forward. I felt the stranger’s hips press into my ass as he ran his hand down my spine, and I wiggled against him playfully.
He suddenly pulled me back up and spun me around to face him, pulling me tightly against him again. He dipped me low, swinging me around in a slow circle, before lifting me back up to face him once more. I laughed as I wrapped my arms around his neck and he snaked his arms around my waist.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed.
His face lit up as he gazed down at me. “I knew you were a dancer.” He mused.
I smiled as I continued to swayed in his arms, bouncing slightly on my heels in time with the bass of the loud, intense music. And for the first time in weeks, perhaps the first time in my entire life, I felt....
“Lord Ronan...” A gruff, male voice said from behind me. I turn my head, locking eyes with the man, who did not look dressed for a party. He had a serious, no nonsense expression on his face as he glared at my dance partner. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you are needed upstairs.” He said, giving me a swift glance, before settling his eyes on my partner again.
I turned around, confusion swarming inside of my mind, as I stared at the stranger I’d been dancing with. He gave me a sheepish smile.
It took a moment for everything to sink in, as I was a bit foggy from the alcohol I’d consumed, but as the realization of who he was hit me like a ton of bricks, I instantly let go of him and stepped away.
“You are Ronan Regulus?!” I hissed.
He shrugged, and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his slacks. “You never asked me for my name. And you never specified the surname of this Ronan person that you were so worried about.”
“You knew exactly who I was talking about.” I growled.
He smirked. “Perhaps I had some idea...”
The fleeting joy and freedom I’d felt melted as I glared at him. He lied to me. Just like Dristan had lied to me. Just like my parents had lied to me. Was there anyone in this damned world who wasn’t full of treachery?
I turned on my heel and started to storm away from him, but he caught me by the elbow and spun me back around to face him.
“Let go of me.” I hissed.
“Don’t be angry. You were having a nice time, Princess.” He said, his face serious.
“I don’t like liars.” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“I didn’t technically lie.” He said, his head cocking to the side.
“Let go.” I said, yanking my arm away.
He let go, and straightened himself. “I’ll find you again, later. I’d like to talk with you.”
“I think I’d rather be bound and gagged.” I spat sarcastically.
“That can be arranged.” He teased, lifting an eyebrow.
I scoffed at him, my jaw dropping, as my cheeks heated. Butterflies exploded in my lower gut as I glared at him. “You are disgusting.”
“I told you... Princesses ought not lie.” He said with a dangerous grin. “You are obviously attracted to me. I think disgust is far from what you were feeling just a few moments ago.”
I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. “Lord Ronan, it’s been a pleasure. Now please, excuse me while I go vomit.” I turned around and stomped away, my heels clicking against the marble floor.
“Until we meet again, Princess...” I heard him call from behind me.
I spent the rest of the night talking with various Fae and Dragon’s, who seemed to approach me in a never ending wave of enthusiasm. I stayed near the table of drinks, downing three more as the night went on. No one else asked me to dance, and I was glad. As much as I’d enjoyed it, I didn’t need anymore attention than I was already receiving.
I greeted countless people, all of whom shook or kissed my hand, told me how lovely I was, and how glad they were that I’d been found.
I felt like a broken record as I thanked each of them and exchanged small talk. Hours passed, and the line of people waiting to speak to me began to dwindle. I’d spoken to everyone here at least once, and I could barely stand straight on my heels as the liquor number my mind.
Andromeda suddenly appeared at my side, shooing away the small crowd of people that lingered around me. “Alright, let the Princess enjoy her party.” She scolded them. I smiled at them as they walked away and sighed when they were gone.
“Thank you.” I said, nibbling on a strawberry flavored pastry I’d picked up from the table behind me.
“You looked in need of rescuing. Oh, I saw you earlier, dancing with Ronan, by the way. You looked like you were having a very nice time.” She smirked, sipping her glass of wine.
“Yes, I was... Until I wasn’t.” I scowled.
“What do you mean?” She said, her eyes widening.
I explained to her all of what had happened. When I was done she was laughing, her head thrown back, and I was scowling at her.
“It’s not funny.” I grumbled.
“If you knew him, you’d understand why I disagree. That’s just how how Ronan is. He’s quite arrogant, but he’s a very kind man. Don’t hold it against him, he meant no harm, trust me.”
I didn’t answer, deciding instead to pick up another drink.
“How many of those have you had?” She asked, swirling her glass.
“I don’t know. Three or four. And before you say anything, I’ve already been thoroughly lectured. I fully intend on over doing it, It’s already helped my nerves a great deal.” I said, sipping my drink.
She raised her hands in surrender. “Do as you will. It’s your party, after all. Have an extra drink for me. I’m retiring for the evening. I have a long day tomorrow. I think you did very well tonight.”
“Thanks, Andi,” I said with a shy smile. “Have a good night.”
“See you later.” She smiled, before turning and walking away. I watched as she ascended the stairs and disappeared around the corner.
I turned and slowly walked along the back wall, gazing out the tall windows. After a few minutes, I came upon an open doorway and realized that it led to a large, rounded balcony.
I stepped through the door, the music fading behind me, and sighed as I breathed in the fresh air. My head, which was swimming with liquor, cleared a bit as I did.
I walked forward and leaned my arms against the thick, stone railing that surrounded the patio. Carefully, I leaned forward and gazed down into the black abyss below. I couldn’t even see the ground and I subconsciously wondered how long the fall would be.
“If you’re looking for a way out of this party, there are easier, much less lethal ways to escape.” A familiar voice droned from behind me.
I turned around slowly and met Dristan’s eyes.
He walked forward and leaned against the balcony railing beside me. He sighed and ran a hand through his tousled hair as he gazed at the mountains in the distance. I stared at the side of his face, momentarily mezmorized by the way the cool, night air ruffled his hair.
“What are you doing?” I finally said icily, facing forward and sipping my drink.
“I’m getting some fresh air.” He said casually, not looking at me.
“I told you to stay away from me.” I snapped.
“I didn’t know you were out here.” He said calmly.
“You should’ve turned around when you saw me standing here.” I mumbled.
He sighed. “Brenya, we are both members of the High Council now. We will not be able to avoid seeing each other. Can’t we be friends?”
I pursed my lips. The breeze swept over him and drifted over my face, filling my senses with his pine and ember scent. I closed my eyes.
“I don’t know if I can do that.” I whispered.
“Can’t you at least try?” He said, turning toward me.
I mirrored his motion, leaning to the side, and gazed up at him. He stared down at me with furrowed brows, pain evident on his face.
“I can’t stand seeing you with her.” I said bluntly, the liquor giving me the courage to speak freely. I watched as he studied my multi colored eyes.
“And you think it was easy for me, watching you grind all over Ronan Regulus tonight?” He said darkly, his eyes narrowing.
“Maybe you should avert your eyes next time, then.” I growled, taking another sip of my drink. I turned forward, breaking our eye contact.
“He’s not good for you.” He said after a few beats of silence. “He’s a master manipulator, a liar, and a well known womanizer. He’ll only take advantage of you.”
I scoffed. “Is he so different from you?” I glanced at him and found his eyes stormy, like a raging, ocean storm, as he glared at me.
He huffed angrily and turned away from me, making to walk toward the open balcony doors and return to the party. Regret boiled inside of me and I winced.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered to the empty air in front of me.
I watched in my peripheral vision as he paused. I turned to look at him and he glanced at me over his muscled shoulder, his eyes sad and distant.
“You look stunning tonight, by the way.” He said softly. “Goodnight, Brenya.”
And then he was gone.
I faced forward again and threw back the rest of my drink, feeling numb.
Just as I was about to turn around and leave, another male strolled onto the balcony. I turned around and locked eyes with Ronan, who was standing a few feet away from me, a glass of amber colored liquor in one hand, the other shoved casually in his pant pocket.
He raised a groomed brow at me. “Was that Dristan Draconian I saw leaving this balcony?”
I turned around and sighed. “Yes. He was congratulating me and bidding me goodnight.” I half lied. I listened to his footsteps until he stopped, very close to my side. He leaned on the balcony, his arm brushing against mine.
I moved away.
“Still angry with me, I see.” He mused, sipping his drink.
“I told you. I don’t like liars.” I said frostily.
“Tell me then, what must I do to gain back your affections?” He said, nudging me lightly.
“You can’t win back something that you never had.” I said smoothly, turning to face him.
He gazed down at me with his ice blue depths, his lopsided grin causing the dimple in his cheek to pop out. I felt my heart rate pick up at I stared at his handsome face.
“There you go again, lying to me. It’s very hypocritical, you know...” He said, still smiling.
I rolled my eyes and turned to leave, but he grabbed me by the elbow again.
“Wait... I need to talk to you.” He said, his tone laced with sudden seriousness.
“What is it?” I said impatiently, turning to face him.
“I was called away to speak with the doctor who saw you today.” He said, letting go of my arm.
I blinked at him. “Why would he be talking to you?”
“I wanted to tell you earlier, before I was dragged away. I am of the Rune bloodline, like you, but I am from another family, in no relation to yours.” He explained.
“What?” My eyes widened.
“The doctor told me about your... Birthmark. And seeing as I am the oldest, most experienced of the few Rune Fae among us, I have been assigned to see to your problem.”
I stepped toward him and my heel malfunctioned, or perhaps I was just drunk, but I tumbled forward nonetheless. He caught me with ease, lifting me up to face him. His face was mere inches from mine as I straightened myself in his arms. He held me there for a moment, staring intently into my eyes, before I felt my blush growing. He smelled of bourbon and sandalwood.
“Let me go.” I complained, pulling away from him.
He obliged, but made sure I was steady before fully removing his hands from my arms.
I was quiet a moment as I gathered my wits. “What are our next steps, then?” I asked warily.
“I will come to your quarters tomorrow to examine it. If I can’t identify what rune it is, I will need to do some research. From there, we will decide if it needs to be removed or not. Though, I’m guessing we will need to.” He said thoughtfully.
“Do you think it’s the reason I look human?” I asked.
“Possibly. We’ll just have to wait and find out.” He said, gazing at me.
“Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” I said, turning away.
“Princess?” He chimed from behind me.
I paused and sighed. “Yes?”
“I truly am sorry that I deceived you, earlier.” He said quietly.
I glanced at him over my shoulder. The faint hope in his eyes softened me and I couldn’t help but smile briefly at him. “It’s okay. Just don’t do it again.”
His face lit up and he nodded. “I won’t. I swear it.”
“Goodnight, then.” I said, smiling wider. He returned my expression and I turned around and left without another word to the handsome, High Lord.
Another hour passed, and I decided to retire to my rooms. I’d downed another two drinks and I could barely walk straight. I’d removed my heels and they hung loosely from my index finger as I clumsily climbed the stairs. Not many people were left in the grand ballroom, but the few who remained waved at me as I left, and I halfheartedly waved back before disappearing at the top of the stairs.
I wandered the vacant, expansive halls, wondering if I was going the right way. Had Andromeda turned right when she’d led me here earlier? Or was it left... ?
Twenty minutes passed.
I laughed to myself as I stumbled through the halls, completely lost.
“Well, this is just perfect.” I muttered under my breath.
I maneuvered around the never ending halls in a fog, not really caring where I ended up anymore. I opened a door and the end of a particularly long hall and found a set of stairs. We certainly hadn’t climbed any stairs on the way here.
I sighed and shut the door, turning to go back down the hallway, but I froze when I spotted someone standing a few feet away from me, in the middle of the space.
“D-Dristan?” I stuttered. “What in gods name are you doing here?”
He stood lazily, swaying slightly from side to side, as he stared at me. I squinted my eyes in order to see him better, as I was currently seeing two of him.
I stumbled forward, closing the distance between us, and stopped a foot away. He stared at me with furrowed brows.
“Dristan?” I said again.
“I wanted to dance with you, you know.” He said, slurring his words a bit. I could smell the liquor on his breath from where I was and I sighed.
“So’re you.” He said with a small smile.
“And quite lost...” I said, glancing around.
“I gathered that. I’ve been following you for awhile now.” He murmured.
“Stalking is frowned upon, you know.” I mumbled, stepping around him.
Just as I was about to pass him, he reached out and gently grabbed both of my wrists. I paused and gazed up at him. My heart began thundering in my chest
“Dristan... Don’t do this.” I said softly, gazing up into his sorrowful, sapphire eyes.
He grimaced down at me, his brows furrowing.
“I miss you.” He whispered brokenly.
I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I stared at him.
“Please....” I breathed. “Don’t.”
I pulled my wrists out of his grasp and turned, walking away as quickly as I could. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder as I turned the corner. As soon as I was out of his line of sight, I began running down the maze of hallways as fast as I could.
I ran from the beautiful, broken man behind me. I ran from the tears that threatened to break through the surface of my burning eyes. I ran from what I knew I could never have.
And I didn’t look back.