The Howling Ceremonial Ball
“Asenna!” I heard a little voice yelling.
I looked across the courtyard of the city to see Larken running my way from the other side of an ornate fountain. I smiled at him, happy to see the familiar pudgy face.
“What’s up, brat?” I teased as he bounded up to me, huffing with the exertion of running with his overstuffed backpack.
“I just got out of school.” He panted. I took in his khakis, white button down and navy sweater vest with the Moon Goddess crest over the left breast- a full moon cradled by a crescent moon. Did this pack hate their children? These uniforms were almost begging for kids to be bullied. “Sorry I haven’t gotten to come see you; Mom says I shouldn’t hang around you. She says you’re a bad influence.” He prattled on.
Well that was rather rude. I save the kid and I’m a bad influence, while they leave him in the woods and maintain their perfect parent status. I rolled my eyes and ruffled the hair on his head.
“A little bad influence is good for us every now and then.” I said nonchalantly. “What did you do in school?” I asked him.
“Nothing fun.” Larken grumbled. “Mrs. Trepanier wouldn’t stop talking about practicing our partial phasing. We spent all class trying to get just one claw to come out. Then Mr. Magee wouldn’t shut up about some stupid treaty that happened a bajillion years ago.”
“That sounds fun.” I mused; the sarcasm thick in my voice.
We walked past a boutique with several mannequins clothed in gorgeous gowns and accessories. My eyes lingered on the different fabrics, wondering how they might feel against my skin.
“Ry said you’re going to the ball.” Larken noted. “I think you’d look really pretty in one of those.”
His words warmed me, and I found myself grateful that I had run into him in the woods- or the other way around, I guess. “Thanks, brat. But I’m not sure I’ll even get to go.”
“Why not?” His voice sounded confused and frustrated. “It’s the biggest party of the year! Everyone goes! There’s so much food and the grown ups never pay attention to us so we can do whatever we want! Please, Asenna you have to come!” His eyes were droopy, his lips pouting in an exaggerated puppy dog expression.
“I don’t have a dress.” I explained with a shrug. “I can’t go dressed like this.” I gestured to the hoodie and jeans I was wearing. “I’d be a laughingstock.”
He looked at me with deep thought for a moment, before his face settled in a content smirk.
“What?” I asked, but he just turned and started heading off. “What, Larken?” I called after him.
“Nothing!” He giggled as he ran towards his home. “See you, Asenna!”
He was up to something and I was sure I wasn’t going to like it.
I had kept to myself the last couple days, trying to avoid Bryce for fear he would ask me about tonight. The Howling Ceremonial Ball was in a few hours and I was dreading the knock on my door, the shocked look I would get from Bryce when he saw me in my casual, hand me down clothes. As I paced through the manor I wondered if I should just run away now. I could phase as soon as I got to the city limits and take off.
I sighed and groaned to myself, about ready to slam my head into a wall in frustration. I ran my hand through my knotted hair as I opened the door to my room. As I closed the door behind me, I noticed a large box sitting on my bed. I went over and slid the lid off and gasped.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a silver and white dress so perfectly detailed and crafted that I was almost afraid to touch it. I picked it up, feeling the different materials and textures when a soft knock echoed from my door. I dropped the exquisite piece of clothing into the box and quickly opened the door.
There was a small, delicately built girl in my doorway with curly, fiery red hair. Her sage colored eyes looked at me with nothing bat kindness and she had a splattering of freckles across her smiling face.
“You must be Asenna.” She said in her singsong pixie voice. “I’m Samantha, Soren’s sister. He said you might need some help getting ready for tonight.”
“Oh, um…” I looked around awkwardly. All I had was the mysterious box on my bed and an old rucksack of my very limited belongings- definitely nothing that could tame my hair or make my face as polished and perfect as the girls I had seen in the city. “You could say that.”
“Don’t worry.” She said as she shut the door behind her, moving toward the vanity to set down a caddy full of intimidating equipment. “I’m going to make you look fabulous. Now, what are you wearing?”
“I guess this.” I gestured to the box and held up the gown.
Her eyes lit up and her face broke out into an enormous grin. “That’s perfect! Come on, we have a lot of work to do.”
I stared at myself in complete disbelief. Samantha had done something no less than a miracle. She made me gorgeous. My face looked flawless and airbrushed, with long fluttery lashes, full pink lips and rosy cheeks. My hair was soft and sleek with half of it pulled into a loose French braid framed by two smaller ones in the lower section of my hair. She had lent me a pair of dangly earrings encrusted with white gems that caught the light perfectly. But my dress… My dress was what was making me speechless.
The neckline was high, wrapping around my neck and falling elegantly to cover my torso. The material was accented with pieces of shining plated metal that were covered in ornate and filigree. It wasn’t silver- I could tell from the lack of warmth- but whatever it was gave the appearance of armor and made me feel strong and confident. The back was open and dipped down to my lower back with only two strips of fabric looping around my arms to connect with the halter neck piece. The skirt was form fitting down to the knees where it flared out into delicate layers of fabric. Layers of silver and white danced together perfectly. Beneath the dress in the box had been two sleeve cuffs that were plated with the same light metal as the bodice of the dress that I secured around my biceps. I looked like a warrior queen.
“I think I’ve outdone myself.” Samantha said with pride as she beamed at me, then her face grew more serious and sincere. “You really do look magical, Asenna. Bryce won’t know what hit him.”
A new wave of nerves washed over me. “Assuming I don’t trip down the stairs first.” The heels Samantha has lent me were slightly too big, making the precarious task of walking in heels even more daunting.
She waved off the comment and started to disrobe to put her own dress on. Seriously, what was with these people and public nudity? She was lovely in a forest green gown and her curls framed her sweet face delicately.
A new knock sounded on the door and my heart started hammering as I carefully tip toed to open it. Bryce stood there, looking extremely handsome in a suit that was fitted against his large muscles. I swear his jaw about hit the floor as he looked me over.
“Wow, you look amazing.” He said in his deep, rough voice.
“Doesn’t she though?” Samantha said as she stepped around us. “I’ll see you guys down there!” She called as she left.
“Well, shall we?” Bryce asked as he offered me his arm.
I took it gratefully, hoping it might help me keep from falling. “Let’s do this.” I said with a shaky breath.
I was standing by the bar with Skylar, listening to her go on about how wrong it was for Bryce to stand Marcy up. I nodded along to her words, only half paying attention as I nursed my whiskey. The truth was, my mind was still going over the talk that Asenna and I had in the woods. It made me wonder if she even knew who had attacked her pack- her family. And if she didn’t, I didn’t know how I would ever be able to tell her. She was so strong, yet still so fragile in so many ways.
The hum of the ballroom died down and I looked up to see what had caused so many to fall silent. I was taken aback myself. At the top of the grand staircase stood Asenna, shining like the Moon Goddess herself. My heart hammered in my chest as I took her presence in. She was beautiful, powerful, radiant- my mind couldn’t conjure words to describe her.
When Larken had come to me explaining that Asenna was worried about the ball- that she didn’t have a dress- I knew that I could fix that easily. After everything she had been through, with everything she still faces, I figured she deserved it more than anyone to have a night without worry or sadness. But I had no idea she would look this stunning in the dress Larken had helped me pick out. The armored design was perfect for a warrior such as herself.
I noticed the way she was clutching Bryce’s arm and was shocked to feel a stirring of jealousy in my stomach. Why? Bryce was on of my closest friends and a great guy, and I had Skylar- who was glaring at both of them in distaste.
“I can’t believe she had the balls to show up here tonight.” She seethed, her golden hair bouncing with her agitated movements.
I sighed heavily. Over the last few months Sky had been less than fun. She had started getting irrational, angry, entitled and just downright mean. My father loved her and pushed our relationship from the beginning, but now I was just feeling more and more aggravated.
“I’m going to go check in with Bryce.” I said to Sky. Her face grew red and she sputtered for a moment before storming off towards some of her friends.
A growl hummed in my throat as she left, and I made my way through the crowd to Bryce and Asenna.
“Ry, my man!” Bryce shouted as I approached. We clasped arms and hugged each other briefly. “The place looks great, I bet your dad pulled out all the stops.”
“Judging by the selection at the bar, I’d say you’re right.” I said lightly, trying not to let my eyes drift to Asenna too much.
“Oh, damn.” Bryce said, catching a whiff of the rich aroma coming from my glass. “I’m definitely grabbing a drink. Do you want anything?” He asked as he turned to his date.
“No, I’m fine.” Asenna said, her voice clearly nervous.
Bryce nodded and put a hand on my shoulder. “Do you mind standing guard, brother? I’d hate to lose my date to one of these desperate saps.” He joked.
I nodded with a small chuckle. “Yeah, man. No problem.”
As he made a beeline for the bar, I stood awkwardly with Asenna. She was fidgeting with her hands, picking at her nails. It was clear she was feeling out of place and uncomfortable.
“Would you like to dance?” I asked, offering her my hand.
She looked at the full ballroom, teeming with dancers as if to check if it was okay. “Um, sure.”
I guided her out to the floor, taking her hand in mine and placing my other on her waist as she placed hers on my shoulder. She was looking around warily, eyes scanning every movement around us.
“Its okay.” I told her. Her electric blue eyes shot to my face and her brows arched slightly in surprise. “Just follow my lead.”
We moved smoothly to the slow melody echoing through the room. She fell into step with my movements and let me guide her in twists and turns. It was a strange feeling to be able to move so effortlessly with someone.
“I’m glad you came tonight.” I said with sincerity. “And you look amazing.”
A slight flush crept over her cheeks and she looked away from me. “Yeah, um… Samantha got ahold of me so…”
“You’d look beautiful with or without anyone’s help.” The words were out before I realized what I was saying. Her eyes widened and looked up to mine. Her mouth fell open slightly and her full lips were frighteningly tempting. I wanted so bad to just lean in and-
“Hey, man, thanks for keeping her company for me.” Bryce interrupted, the faint smell of whiskey on his breath. “May I cut in?” He asked with a smile.
I forced a smile- always keeping up appearances- and nodded. I offered Asenna’s hand to Bryce like a gentleman and bowed my head to her respectfully.
“Thank you for the dance.” I said to her gently. “I’ll see you both later. Bryce, don’t get too sloshed before the Howling!” I called over my shoulder.
As I walked away from them, I could still feel the stare of those haunting blue eyes bearing into my back.