I had to give it to Laurel, she definitely could work with what I gave her. She had pulled and tugged at my hair, pinning it in places and running her fingers through others, making sounds of appreciation to herself with each action. Unlike when my sister did my hair, Laurel was gentle and asked for input about what I found comfortable.
I shimmied my hips slowly, enjoying the way the skirt of the velvet purple dress swayed with my every movement. The beading that covered the top of the dress sparkled in the dim yellowish lighting of the hall.
As the doors to the ballroom opened, I was surprised by the applause that thundered below me. The experience overall was all new to me and honestly, a little horrifying. As I stepped carefully down the steps, I smiled at the wide eyes and mirrored smiles in the room. I would have to have my new friend teach me a thing or two about fashion.
My eyes fell on Paeris, his eyes considerably larger than the others in the room. As I reached the ground floor, I smirked and extended my hand to him. As the moment of shock slipped away, he took my hand gently and gave me one of his ground shattering smiles. This reaction was a totally different one from the look I had received just weeks before from Cage.
"I'm not wearing any shoes." I whispered as he guided me across the room.
"I'm not wearing socks." He replied, a devilish smile in his face.
"I'm also not wearing any underwear."
He shot me a look of disbelief, though something else danced across his face as an older woman in a loose green dress walked over to us with a glass of clear bubbling liquid.
"Alaray. It is so wonderful to meet you!" She gushed, smiling at me in a warm way. "I'm so glad you are here."
"I am as well. I don't think we've-"
"My name is Keya of Spiris." She supplied for me. "I am Laurel's mother."
I nodded slowly, trying to understand how this sweet woman was the mother of the wild woman who had helped me get ready for this party.
"It is wonderful to meet you, Keya of Spiris." I smiled.
"I will make it brief, I know you must be exhausted, Princess, but I look forward to our future trainings."
She wished us both a good night in a friendly way that reminded me of my mother and patted Paeris on the arm in a way that made my eyebrows shoot up before walking away from us.
"You shouldn't have told me you aren't wearing underwear." He chided, placing his hand on my waist and steering us toward the next person who was walking our way to introduce themselves.
"I thought you should know." I mused, shooting him a knowing look.
"Hello again, Alaray." Merith said cooly, causing me to offer him a tight lipped smile. I couldn't help but shiver the same way I had when I had first met him in my kitchen. I knew now that he was on my side, but it didn't stop me from going back to what had been engraved in my mind since a pup: with fire brings punishment. While I was still angry with him for his behavior when we first met, I had to admit it was nice to know he was on my side now. At least, for the moment. "This is Faelyn, my wife." He offered, directing my attention to the woman beside him wearing a glittering ruby dress.
I wondered in the back of my mind if each house was intentionally wearing their elemental colors. I made a mental note to ask Paeris later on if this was a dress code in the High Wall.
"You look so beautiful, your majesty." She gushed, patting her husband's arm softly. "Merith didn't tell me you were so beautiful. I figured you would look like your sister, but I love your complexion! So exotic!"
I fought off my urge to give her a piece of mind on racial equality I had never experienced and forced a small smile in greeting.
As she chartered on about the latest fashions and how wonderful she thought I would do as the Queen.
The only thing I could think of was Paeris. The way he smelled beside of me, the warmth of his hand on my hip. I shot him a look, knowing exactly what he was doing. His mother was a love elf and something told me he had a talent for making people think of him.
"Alaray?" Faelyn asked softly.
"Faelyn, I am so sorry. I'm feeling a little... off." I said with a small smile. "I think I just need some air! I'll be back in, I swear." I said, digging my fingertips into Paeris' hand that was on my hip.
"Faelyn, Merith." Paeris said, patting Merith on the shoulder fondly before directing me to the balcony just off the main floor.
"What was that?" I snapped as soon as we were out of earshot of the party, whipping around to face him.
"What was what?" Paeris asked with fake innocence, bringing his hand to his chest.
"That... I don't know what it was! I'm supposed to be meeting all these people and showing off how well put together I am..." I put my hand to my head, shaking it slightly. "You're in my head."
"And? How is that my fault?"
"And I can't be focused on this meet and greet party thing if you're all I can focus on!" I exclaimed, covering the hand on his chest with my own.
"Maybe you shouldn't have told me your secrets."
I opened my mouth to say something smart, though closed it again as I noticed Paeris' eyes narrow in the distance. His body grew rigid and defensive, pulling me closer to him. The air around us changed and the hair stood up on the back of my neck as his eyes changed a shade of yellow to scan the night.
"What? What do you see?" I asked, shifting my eyes across the grounds behind us, seeing nothing but darkness.
"I don't see anything. Never mind." He said, shaking his head as Paeris slowly ran his thumb along my lower lip, studying me.
"Don't get all cheesy on me."
I heard it then, a sound of footsteps on rocks, as if someone was walking just below the balcony area out of our sight. My body instinctively turned defensive. I whirled, somehow knowing that if I told Paeris where I was going, that he would stop me. To 'keep me safe' he would say.
As he opened his mouth to speak, I took off through the party, dodging trays of wine and champagne, avoiding tipsy party guests, and running through the doors that lead to the ground floor. My bare feet slapped on the polished marble floors as I ran.
The others seemed too stunned to have followed me yet, giving me a head start.
As I busted through the doors, a growl ripped through my throat and my skin rippled as the wolf inside of me threatened to break free.
A woman in a long party dress with pale skin and long white hair stood with her back toward me, almost as if she expected me to find her there. She held a flower in her hands. Her attention wasn't on me, though I could tell by her actions that she knew I was there.
"Who are you?" I demanded, stepping closer to her as flames tickled my fingertips. At any other moment , I would have been thrilled and excited to see the fire dancing painlessly across my skin. Now though, I was out for destruction. Only someone evil could send this response through me and this force of evil was watching me.
The woman turned to me, a sinister smile in her lips and her eyes dark as death itself. I gasped, shocked at the sight.
I had seen her before, many times.
This was the woman from my nightmares.
"I've come to collect you, Princess."
I felt as if the air had been sucked from my lungs as the woman came for me with rapid speed, taking me over with force that even I couldn't match. In the time I had to distinguish a way to defend myself, she had taken over my senses with darkness.
The smell that crawled into my nose was pungent - like the smell of death, only darkness in my vision, and the sound of static in my ears.