The combination of music, laughter, scents of rich foods, and bright lights make me realize how much I’ve really missed Aquebonica. There’s an old saying that you won’t see the real Aquebonica unless you see it at night, and watching the dancers in their brightly colored clothes makes me realize how true that statement really is.
“What do you want to do first?” Derek asks with a smile.
I shrug. “I haven’t been to a party in four years, what all have I missed in those years?”
Derek’s smile gets even wider. “I’ve got a few ideas in mind.”
“Now the point of this game is to try and be the last one still standing,” Derek explains as we watch another round of Chariot, a game where five or more people are standing on poles and have to stay balanced while other players try to make everyone else fall.
I nod as a man falls off his pole. “It seems only men are playing this, why aren’t any women?”
Derek smiles. “That’s because most men think that a woman can’t unseat them.”
I nod again, an idea starting to form. “And are there any rules that say you can’t use your gift?”
Derek’s smile widens as he gets my meaning. “Alyessia, you do that and win, and no one will ever be able to beat you.”
A loud cheer erupts as the last man falls, leaving one of the guardsmen standing.
“Who’s next to challenge me? Who can stand longer than I?” asks Ryan loudly as he struts around the circle of poles.
I stand up. “I will,” I say calmly.
Every man turns and laughs.
“Begging your pardon, Princess, but this here’s a game for men folks,” says one man who’s been too long at the ale.
“That’s alright, if Princess Alyessia wants to try it, she can,” Ryan says with a smirk.
I refuse his help and leap to the top of my pole, getting my balance while the other contestants mount their poles. Since Ryan won the last game, he goes first. All he does is turn and glare at the man, but as his brown eyes flash silver when his opponent falls, I see how he plays this game. Ryan only has to look at the next man before he falls off, not from Ryan’s gift, but because he’s so drunk. The next two men keep their footing. Ryan turns his gaze to me, and I use my gift to suddenly morph into him. My eyes flash silver when his do and Ryan gasps and falls backwards off his pole into a vat of strawberry wine. The remaining two contestants laugh so hard they lost their footing.
Derek leads the new cheer as he runs up to my pole and grabs me by the waist to pull me off. He holds me close and twirls me around in a circle. The lights and sounds fade as his midnight blue eyes bore into mine. He hesitates for a second, and then kisses me. The men around us cheer him on. Embarrassed, I pull back and he sets me back on the ground.
He’s about to say something when Boss runs into the tent. “Crown Princess Alyessia, it’s your mother. Something’s happened, she needs you with her.”
My heart turns to lead and sinks to my feet as I run ahead of Boss to the palace.