“You sure you’re not feeling sick anymore?” Lilith asked worriedly.
“I’m sure so, don’t worry,” I said, fixing my hair.
Last night Devika came to check on me. They found so far nothing out of the ordinary. They concluded that maybe my fear of witches was making me stress out more than usual.
Last night I missed the welcome dinner. I felt terrible for all the preparations Lilith went through, but she said not to worry. Lorcan came back late and stayed over, taking care of me. According to Lilith, he left early in the morning for an important meeting.
Now it was the first day of the ball. Getting ready, I feel Lilith’s gaze on me.
“Something the matter?” I asked, frowning at her.
“I don’t know why, but I’m worried about you. You even look pale, Amari,” Lilith said, massaging her temple, “Why don’t you stay and rest and go out later?”
“No, I honestly feel good. So I will have breakfast with everyone,” I said, leaving no room for argument.
Sighing, Lilith started doing my hair.
By the time we finished, most of the guests have gathered. As planned, I wore a mask that covered half of my face—leaving one side visible.
Today I had worn a long-sleeve yellow dress with ruffles on the top. Some brown heels, and my hair was in a messy bun. I had some makeup on, and I wore the necklace and crown Lorcan gave me. I looked simple compared to every other guest present. But that’s how I felt comfortable.
Looking around the bustling hall, I try to find our table. Lilith held my arm as we walked and greeted several of the guests. I smiled and gave a simple nod in return as I felt eyes on me. Gripping Lilith’s dress, I felt uncomfortable. Why was everyone staring at me?
“Let them look,” Alastair said as he walked up to us.
“You read my mind?” I asked as he kissed my hand.
“Of course. Hate to see you scrunching the nose,” Alastair said, kissing Lilith’s cheek. “Follow me; our table is on the front.”
Nodding, we followed Alastair. Everyone was laughing and eating. I watched as every man turned and looked at me.
“It’s the mask. People must wonder who you are?” Lilith said, giggling, “it’s fun.”
Smiling wryly, I turn my attention to the front, stopping; I look at who is sitting at our table.
“Amari?” Lilith said, calling my name, but I ignored her completely.
Meeting my eyes, Maximus stands up. He looked at me with a shy smile.
“Amari?” Azriel said, leaning to my face.
“Oh hi,” I said, smiling back, “You scared me.”
“Are you alright?” Azriel asked, frowning hard.
Nodding, I smile at him. My eyes were on Maximus. Grabbing my hand, Azriel takes me to a seat. To my surprise, I was sitting right in front of Maximus. Greeting everyone, I took a seat.
Our table had all the seeker’s brothers. Two other guests I didn’t know of and Maximus.
“Who might this lady be?” one of the guests on our table asked.
“This?” Lorcan said, looking at me with a smile. “This is Queen Amari.”
“Queen?” the guest said, surprised. “May I ask from what empire?” as Lorcan was about to answer Maximus’ intervene.
“Mine,” Maximus said, staring at me, “She’s my fiance, my queen.”
I cringe at his words. Did he still think I was part of his empire?
“Yes,” Lorcan said sternly, “She’s King Maximus’ fiance.”
“But didn’t she flee the empire, King Maximus? I heard rumors she left with the king of the seekers…” the man said but stopped as eyes fell on him.
A menacing air started surrounding us as everyone in the entire hall went silent. I started feeling uncomfortable by the ominous aura coming from the three brothers, including Maximus. Reaching for Azriel’s hand and Lorcan’s, I squeeze it softly. Lorcan was the first to calm down, but Azriel was becoming angrier as every second pass by.
So overwhelmed, I called for his name. Azriel snapped out of his trance and looked at me. I smiled as he studied my face. He seemed bothered by the comment, but I didn’t.
“Calm down,” I whispered, but he only groaned. “Please, I beg you.”
Finally sighing, he stands up and pulls my hand. I look back to find Lorcan shaking his head.
Rushing down the hall, I feel a sudden grasp from my other arm. Jolting, I yelp and turn around. Maximus was holding my arm as he sternly looked at Azriel. What was he doing?
“Let go,” Azriel hissed.
“She’s staying, Azriel,” Maximus said calmly. It surprised me to see him so calm. Wouldn’t he usually explode and give orders?
“Back away, king,” Azriel spat. His eyes were pitch black, and a small vein pulsed on his creased forehead.
“I won’t unless you let go. Don’t you see you’re hurting Amari?” Maximus said as he kept his eyes on Azriel.
“Hurt her?” Azriel laughed, “I wouldn’t dare lay a hand on her as you did.”
Shocked by his words, Maximus backs away.
“What did you say?” Maximus whispered. He was getting angry.
Flustered, I snapped.
“ENOUGH!” I said, looking at both of them. Yanking my arms, I groan and look at both sides. “You’re behaving like kids. I’m neither of your toys, and I won’t go with either of you!” Walking away in the opposite direction. I decide to leave the place.
I felt angry about their behavior, rushing down the stairs that led to the garden. I feel someone grasp my hand. I abruptly turned and looked at the person.
“Amari, wait!” Maximus said as he looked down at me. I was halfway down the stairs as I huff angrily at him.
“What do you want?” I said, annoyed.
“Could we talk?” Maximus said, almost begging me. “We could go for a walk,” he said, looking around and stopping right on my face.
Sighing, I nod, and he smiles. Pulling my hand, I walk down. Maximus followed until we reached the open garden.
I look in awe at the place. Gardens were something I was fond of. I love nature and plants, and walking around a garden always gave me a sense of tranquility.
Walking side to side, I look around. A lot of the guests were happily chatting under the blue sky. I smiled at some of them who greeted us.
“You look different,” Maximus said after some time.
“So do you,” I mumbled without looking at him. I could feel his gaze on me. As we kept walking around, I started feeling tired. The heels were bothering me.
“Could we take a seat?” I said, pointing at a small table with four chairs.
Maximus nodded and offered his hand.
I hesitated as I looked at it. Putting my hand softly, Maximus grasped it.
I gasped as I felt a tingling sensation around my hand. His body warmth spread all over my hand. Looking up, I find him staring at me with a smile. For some reason, I blush.
Once we reached the place. We took a seat. I sighed in relief as I started taking my shoes off. But as I went for the strap, Maximus kneeled and undid the belt. I started painting as I watched him. What was he even doing?
“I will do it,” I said, panicking.
“Allow me, please,” Maximus said, looking up. His red eyes met mine. Feeling my breath caught in my throat, I gulp. Shyly, I look away. What was wrong with me?
Feeling his hand grace my ankle, I accidentally yank my leg. Maximus stared at my feet with a frown.
“I’m sorry,” he suddenly whispered. Reaching for my leg, he carefully massages the place the shoe was hurting. I blush harder as his touch makes me shiver.
“T-That’s enough,” I said, reaching for his hands. I tried pushing him away, but instead, he grabbed them. He was making me stare into his eyes. Silent words passed by as he looked troubled. Why was he acting like that?
“W-What did you want to talk about?” I said, looking away. My face mask helped cover the blush that spread on it.
“Amari, I…” Maximus said but stopped. Looking sideways, I see him frown. What was he thinking?
“If it’s why I left you. You know what happened, right?” I said, sitting back up. According to Maximus, I lost my memories because of the incident. Lorcan told me we had to keep up the lie.
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Maximus whispered as he reached for my hands. Kissing them lightly, he looks up. “Amari, I… I’ve meant to tell you,” he said but stopped.
My heart started beating faster as I waited for his words. Nervously, I look away and close my eyes. Something in me wished for him to say what I expected to hear, but would that make me happy?
Some minutes went by, and he didn’t utter a single word. Flustered, I let go and stood up.
“I should go back before Lorcan or Azriel come looking for me,” I said with shoes in hand.
“Are you and Azriel,” Maximus said, lowering his head, “Are you guys? Are you both in a relationship?”
I look over my shoulders. A relationship? Did Maximus think we both had something?
Scoffing, I look at him.
“What kind of relationship do you think we have? Do you think I’m like you who goes and gets anyone to fuck and have?” I spat angrily, “I’m sorry, but what happens between Azriel and me is none of your business.”
“It is!” Maximus said, fisting his hands, “It is because,”
“Because what?” I asked him, “Because you think you still control me? How wrong of you.”
Maximus looked surprised as I lash at him.
“You and I should never have anything to do with each other. You only saw me as your pawn, as a toy. Who do you think you are?” I spat angrily. This time I wouldn’t let him trample me.
“You’re my fiance,” Maximus said, looking at me madly, “you’re mine!”
“I’m not yours!” I said, yelling, “I will never be yours, you hear me? Never! I just don’t want to be close to you.”
Panting, I look at him. Maximus looked hurt by my words.
“If you’re still mad because of what happened. I’m sorry, Ok?” Maximus said, closing his eyes. “But I had to, at that time I… I still.”
“Still what? Can you stop fucking going in circles and just say the things?” I said, annoyed by his attitude, “You know what. Just forget it.” I mumble, turning around.
“Amari, wait!” Maximus yelled, but I walked away from him.
Closed eyes and deep breathing, I relax my body in the bathtub. It was time for one of the key events. And there we would meet the three witches. Just knowing what would happen made me uncomfortable. I still wasn’t used to Devika’s presence. Why would I feel comfortable with other witches?
According to Alastair’s teaching, the empire was led by three sisters who were witches. They were, according to his lecture, good witches or what they call white witches. They reigned one of the empires where humans and mages live the most. It was a wealthy empire and one of the most powerful ones after Lorcan’s and Maximus’ empire.
“Amari, what are you going to wear?” Lilith asked, walking up to me, “You will take part in the dancing, right?”
“Yes,” I nod. According to the ball rules, they required each guest to take part in at least two events. So far I would be in the dancing, which is one of the most expected. And the fighting one which is the second most important. At first, Lorcan was skeptical about letting me take part. He said he would vouch for me and say I was unable to participate. But I insisted. All my training wouldn’t be for anything. And I had learned so much with all of them that I wanted to put it to use. It still made me scared, especially after the fighting event. But Azriel said I could make it. So that motivated me more.
Grabbing a towel, I dried myself. The time for the dancing event was closing, and I wasn’t even ready.
“Here,” Lilith said, handing me a red dress.
“What’s this?” I asked as I looked at the dress. A red lace dress with a long cleavage on the front looks at me. This was too sexy for my taste. “Let’s use something else,” I said, putting it back in bed.
“No, you’re wearing that,” Lilith said, pushing it back.
“No, Lilith, this is too revealing,” I argued.
“No, it’s perfect,” Lilith said as she stands behind me and moves me towards the mirror, “You will look like a seductress. You could put those classes Azriel gave you to work.”
Groaning, I start dressing.
“Fix your breasts,” Lilith said as she groped my chest.
“Enough!” I said, slapping her hands away, “Stop touching.”
“Amari, please, girl!” Lilith said, annoyed.
Rolling my eyes, I turn and stare at myself. The red lace dress wrapped around my body in a perfect shape; all my curves and buttocks were visible, exposing my breast and covering the nipples. Feeling the corset too tight, I breathe.
“Lilith, this is too tight,” I said, undoing the knots., “I will faint with this.”
“FINE!” Lilith yelled while she cursed. “Done! Better now?”
“Yes, thank you!” I said, putting my mask on.
Reaching the hall where the dance would be, I looked around. There was a horde of people walking and speaking. I could barely even look to the front.
“We have to get to the dance floor,” Lilith said in my ear.
Nodding, we make way. People started moving as they all stared our way. Was it because of the incident in the morning?
Announcing the start of the dance, we all looked around.
“With whom are we dancing?” I asked over the loud voices.
“We have random partners. We might find my brothers there. So you will have to dance with anyone who comes next. You understand?” Lilith asked.
“Yes,” I said, looking around. I couldn’t find Lorcan or any of the others. Nervously, we walk and stand in line. I bite my lip as I wait for the person who will be my partner. Hearing the announcer say the music is about to begin, I step forward and raise my hand. Feeling the other person grab it softly, I turn and gasp. “Maximus?” I whispered as the music started. Pulling me towards his chest, I stare at him.
His arm circled my waist as he held my other securely. Moving to a soft tempo, I keep my eyes on him. He was wearing a black and red suit with a long red cloak. Maximus combed his hair neatly, and his face was clean shaved.
“You look beautiful,” Maximus whispered as his breath graced my lips.
“You don’t look bad either,” I mumble. Smiling softly, I avert my eyes. Concentrating on every step, we make a turn and change partners. Maximus’ eyes stayed on mine as he looked intensely back at me. I blush, feeling overwhelmed by his gaze.
Making several turns and change of partners, I finally landed in familiar arms.
“Dear,” Lorcan smiled.
“Lorcan!” I said, smiling brightly.
“You look lovely in that red dress,” Lorcan smirked as his eyes moved to my cleavage. I laughed at him. “Are you enjoying it?”
“Sort off,” I said dejectedly.
“Look,” Lorcan whispered as he leaned to my ear, “If you want to leave, tell me, and I shall oblige. But if you tell me to stay, we stay. I don’t want to force you to be here.”
I lean my forehead on his shoulder. I didn’t want to be here. But I couldn’t stay hidden forever, could I?
Shaking my head, I let him know it’s ok. Lorcan just nodded and kept dancing.
“Is Maximus bothering you?” Lorcan suddenly asked. Surprised, I looked up.
“What? Why do you ask?” I said, confused.
“Maximus came to talk to me,” Lorcan whispered, closing his eyes, “He asked about you. You know Maximus and I have been friends for some couple of years, right?”
I nodded quietly.
“And my relationship with him and the empire is important, right?” Lorcan said.
“Yes,” I mutter.
“But you are a separate case. I helped you because I know you’re special. And I am fond of you. But don’t think I will hand you to Maximus easily,” Lorcan suddenly said with a frown, “Unless you wish to go back, I shall let you leave. But otherwise, you stay with me.”
I knew Lorcan’s intentions were good, but sometimes I had my doubts.
“Amari, if you want to go back to him. Let me know that’s all I’m saying. I’m no one to force you, but I will protect you,” Lorcan said, making me smile.
“I know,” I said, chuckling, “Stop frowning; you will get wrinkles.”
“Oh, we don’t wrinkle that easily, dear,” Lorcan said, kissing my shoulder.
“He has something else that’s wrinkled,” Alastair suddenly said from behind. Biting a laugh down, I find Lorcan glaring towards Alastair. Alastair just shrugged his shoulders.
“Time for a change,” Lorcan said as he spun me and let’s go. Falling in Alastair’s arms, I look at him. He had a smirk plastered on his face.
“Did Lorcan tell you something?” Alastair asked.
“What do you mean?” I said, confused.
“Stop it,” Alastair said, flicking my forehead, “You look awful doing that.”
“What’s your problem?” I said, stomping his feet.
“Fuck Amari,” Alastair groaned.
“Shut up, asshole,” I said, annoyed by him. Alastair and I couldn’t stay together for long. We always argue and fight.
Finally changing partners, I land on the last person’s arms. Maximus.
“Welcome back,” Maximus smiled. I looked away as we made a turn. Something caught my attention. “Amari?” I heard him called, but I kept looking to the front.
Making a wrong move, I trip and fall. But as I was about to fall, Maximus reached for me and held me in his arms. The sudden movement made my mask drop to the floor. I gasped as several dancers looked at us. I even heard Lilith call my name from afar.
Panting, I get up with his help.
“Are you ok?” Maximus asked, but I looked to the front and froze. A woman with long curly black hair and hazel eyes met mine for a split second. She looked in shock as I did. Gasping loudly, I back away from Maximus. What was this feeling?
Everything around me started spinning as my breathing became erratic. A cold sweat broke on my forehead, and my body started trembling. Maximus called my name, but I just looked to the front again. The woman was gone. Feeling suddenly sick, I cover my mouth as everything spins. I hear Lorcan yell my name.
“AMARI!” Maximus said as he held me. Feeling like I was about to faint. My eyes roll back, and my body convulses.