“Mags let’s go!” Incandis shouts from the other side of my door.
“I’m coming, D!” I shout back, adding under my breath, “my Gods, keep your scales on.”
“I heard that,” Incandis opens the door to my bedroom, pausing to inspect me.
“What are you looking at me like that for? Is it too much?” I look down at my gown, a sleeveless floor length chiffon with a plunging neckline and a slit in the skirt so high that it would make even the most obliging of women blush. The top begins as a dark blue, giving way to lighter shades of blue and purple as it goes down my waist and legs, finally becoming purple-pink at the bottom. I suppose it is befitting for the future queen of Twilight Grove to wear a dress that looks like a twilight sky.
“No it’s fine, just wondering how it’s possible to be late to your own party which is being held at your house. Come on, mom and dad are going to expire if you keep them waiting any longer.”
I give myself a final once-over in my full length mirror. I wear my pearlescent blonde hair in a simple half up fashion, a braided crown keeping my locks out of my face but allowing the length to cascade in waves down to the middle of my back. I give my reflection a forced smile before following Incandis down to find our parents.
“You nervous?” Dis asks me sincerely. I grab hold of his offered arm
“Of course not, it’s a birthday party I think I’ll manage.” I reply sarcastically to hide the fact that yes, I am a little nervous. My mother has invited every dragon colony in the northern hemisphere for my centennial birthday celebration. She knows I hate crowds and I especially hate being made a spectacle, but I do love a good party so I have to pick my battles.
We make it down the stairs and quickly spot our parents pacing around outside the great hall.
“There she is!” my father bellows, “my little princess.” He wraps me up in a tight hug, lifting me off the floor.
“Dad, ugh, stop treating me like a fledgling.” I can hear the nearby guards chuckling at my reaction to his antics. I shoot them a warning glare.
“Yeah, Dad. This is her coming of age party, or didn’t you get mom’s invite?” Dis pokes fun at our dad.
“Bastian, leave the poor girl alone,” my mother scolds my father before turning to me. “Oh honey, you look - well, you look like a queen,” she coos, barely able to keep the emotion out of her voice.
“Okay, both of you seriously need to stop.” I turn towards Incandis, pouting at him before grabbing his arm again and walking into the great hall.
Mom has gone all out, everything looks truly enchanting. Within the great hall lives a massive tree, ten feet in diameter and a hundred feet tall. There’s a circular bar that curves around the tree’s base. Blue-green ivies and luminescent blue-purple flowers with black stems adorn the walls and edges of the room. In each corner of the hall sits an alcove with bramble benches, petal cushions, and oak tables ornamented with orbs lit by fireflies. At the far end, a lily pond rests in front of an arboreal double staircase leading up to a balcony. The rest of the floor in the middle of the hall is occupied by couples twirling and gliding around, waltzing in a lazy river of dancers.
Incandis leaves me to greet some friends of his from other colonies. I grab a bourbon from the bar and make my way out the balcony, determined to make it through this evening in peace, interacting with as few people as possible. Had I known that would not be my fate, I would have just taken the bottle.
I peer out at the mountains in the distance, I’ve always loved this view of the grove. It’s a large queendom but I’ve always felt safe here. For tonight’s party Mom ordered extra guardians around the summits despite the shield. The mountain range surrounding our grove is protection enough against most land dwellers. It’s a treacherous endeavor with a near vertical incline adorned with jagged rocks. The only real way in is by air. The range acts like a crater in which our grove is nestled. The shield keeps enemies out and hides us from human planes.
I’m still waiting for Incandis to rejoin me when the honey sweet voice of one of our best warriors, Xander, washes over me.
“Hey beautiful, wanna get out of here?”
I roll my eyes and sip my drink, “Does that line ever work for you?”
He flashes me an arrogant smile, “it only has to work once.”
I’ll never admit it to him, but he is quite attractive. Tall and muscular, sandy hair perpetually disheveled. He’s approachable, and warm, growing up he could always be trusted with a secret. I have no doubt that when the time comes he’ll accept an offer to be on my Queen’s guard. All the more reason not to give into his playful advances, I’ve been warned against mixing business with pleasure.
“You’re an idiot,” I say with a laugh.
Without missing a beat he clutches his right hand to his heart, feigning injury. Xander has always been mischievous, I think that’s why he and Incandis are best friends. Incandis could use some loosening up, he’s always so cautious with me.
“My lady, how you wound me.”
“Oh dear, how ever will I make it up to you?” I play along, unsuccessful at keeping the amusement out of my voice.
He pretends to think for a moment before a shit-eating grin splits his face. He leans down, his lips nearly grazing my ear, and purrs, “how about we get out of here?”
I gasp dramatically, and push him away. “You shameless flirt!” I punch him in the arm for good measure.
“Ow! Ha ha ok! Ok! It was a joke. How about a dance instead?” He bows, extending his hand as an invitation.
“Fine, but keep your hands to yourself.” I warn, jabbing my pointer finger into his chest. He throws his hands up, mouthing a silent ‘I promise’, before stunning me with a brilliant smile.
Out on the dance floor Xander proves to be a very competent dancer. We spin and weave besides the other couples with ease. After a few minutes we are politely interrupted by the first of many guests eager to dance with the guest of honor, aka me. Incandis’ and Xander’s eyes watch my every move while I suffer through dance partner after dance partner all evening long.
As the evening begins winding down, out of the corner of my eye I see Xander making his way over to rescue me at last. Before he could reach me, a tall, slender, unnaturally handsome man interjects.
“Excuse me, may I cut in?” asks the mysterious man.
I thank my current dance partner, grateful to be rid of his foul breath and two left feet. The mystery man wastes no time sweeping me away, leading me across the floor with ease and grace.
“Let me begin by offering my apologies, little flower.”
I stop myself from rolling my eyes at the nickname. Who the hell even is this man?
“Apologies for what, Mister …?”
“Ian, call me Ian,” he responds quickly. “And apologies for not rescuing you from these inadequate suitors sooner. I suppose you could say I was saving the best for last.”
“That’s awfully presumptive.” I give him a saccharine smile. I’m not sure whether to laugh or snap his neck. There’s something so unnerving about him. His charm seems forced, calculated.
He smiles down at me, his eyes fixated on mine. “Truthfully, my dear, I came to see if the rumors were true, if you really are as… incandescent as they say.”
“Well that’s kind of them to say, though with me what you see is what you get.” I say sincerely.
“I doubt that very much, little flower. I’m certain there’s more to you than meets the eye.” He stops abruptly and presses his icy lips to the back of my hand. As if cloaked in shadows he promptly disappears off into the crowd, leaving me alone and confused by our interaction.
Xander and Incandis are by my side in an instant. “Who was that?” Xander asks, wrapping a protective arm around my waist and leading us out to the balcony.
I shiver remembering how acidic the man’s touch was, “someone I hope to never meet again.”