CASeries #4: WARSONG
Chapter Six ⚜ Partner Up
“Oh my lords.”
The girls were in utter awe as they received the dresses they would wear for the day. Even so, Myra looked utterly tired and sleep-deprived as she presented them. Their dedication was moving that even Courtney looked reverent.
“Because of this, I swear to only wear your dresses,” Elfre muttered. “I never thought these dresses would be so . . . pretty and out of this world.”
“Yes, absolutely,” Genevieve squealed. “Arland, I am soooo excited to wear this!” she exclaimed.
In her arms was a royal blue paired with paper white. As she held out the dress before her, the cloth fluttered beautifully. For the under skirt was a daring dress that had two slits on each side. To make it more conservative, they layered it on top with lengthy ruffles that fanned out like butterfly wings. The royal blue bodice was lined with golden embroideries and sleeves hang open from the shoulders, adhering itself around the upper arm elegantly.
The girls gazed at her dress in appreciation.
The designs they used weren’t the usual floor-length gowns. In fact, it had a sense of modernity that was common in Earth. However, the traces and hints of Valemnian touches was evident.
“The designs were uncommon, but we had to take the risk.” Myra bowed her head.
“It’s beautiful. No need for you to worry.” Aneeka smiled. She was fairly satisfied with the design of hers.
Ever since she started attending balls with Rowe, she had the constant problem of tripping at the front of the skirt. To ease her of this burden, Myra had cut away a triangle at the front of the gown and made way for beautiful layers of baby pink and white. It ruffled all the way to the train that would touch the floor, overlapping in elegant but huge waves. With a sweetheart chest line, the sleeves hang off the portion beneath the arms and loosely settled around the elbows, much like Genevieve’s. It was elegant in its own right.
Needless to say, this was the type of dress she would forever prefer. After all, she did not wish to adjust to lengthy dresses and risk faceplanting the entire night.
“I must say that you have exceeded yourself this time,” Courtney told her.
“Thank you, Your Excellency.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
Courtney’s dress had the effect of winter. Looking at it made the other girls feel cold. The dress had three colors; navy blue for the majority of the skirt, a line of icy blue in the middle that fluttered at the front while accentuated by a white cloth beneath. Although she had a similar sweetheart-shaped bodice, a thin layer of a similarly-shaded lace climbed up to her throat to form a high-collar look and further extended down to her shoulders. The similar navy blue cloth had taken over from the top of her arms down to her wrist. Aside from that, she had velvety fur lining one shoulder and trailing down her back. They looked so soft that they would seem like clouds floating while she walked.
“What about yours, Tamara?”
Tamara looked so shy as she held the dress in her arms. However, to the other girls’ shock, her dress was on the verge of not being called one at all. Since she was uncomfortable having to wear skirts in the first place, she had it in two parts: top and bottom. What made the difference was that although there were pants, the top extended directly to the floor while opening at the front, very much like Aneeka’s—like a modified trenchcoat. The bodice firmed around the waist and emphasized the bust.
There were three layers of skirts that trailed the back, the longest being the darkest as well as the topmost. It sported the color of dark blue. The next layer beneath it was a lighter shade while the innermost had a soft shade of pink. The layers overlapped in huge waves, complimenting the pants had ballooned around the ankles a bit and were white in color.
Mature, very unique, and very . . . Tamara.
“Oh my gosh, I never thought dresses can be like that,” Valeriana gawked. “But it’s so pretty and the idea is awesome! That is sooo beautiful, it’s criminal.”
“I guess I won’t be complaining, then.” The third-ranker smiled to herself. “This is better than what I imagined. I thought the idea would be ridiculous, but hey look.” She nodded her head with a hint of satisfaction and gave Elfre a look. “How about you?”
“I didn’t want anything heavy and this seems perfect,” Elfre gushed. “I dislike wearing heavy dresses since they made it so hard to move but this one should make up for that.”
Elfre’s dress had the shades of her eyes—green. Like the rest, she sported the huge waves of the ruffles in a more free-flowing way. In comparison to the others which had a large cut at the front, her longest skirt was five inches below the knee. It was also the lightest in color—soft green—and the innermost. The next layer that came at the top of soft green layer had a darker shade and was cut above the knee. It amped up the skirt and gave it more volume, causing it to look somewhat puffy. The topmost layer was dirty white and extended to her upper extremities in a complicated haze of wraps that nevertheless came out elegant.
“Ooh, I like that.” Aneeka eyed her dress with admiration. “That would suit you so well since they go with your eyes.”
“I know, and they’re really light.” Elfre giggled. “Val, how about you?”
“Um . . .”
Valeriana spread out the dress before her and gasped as the cloth fluttered softly. It looked so light, which indeed it was. Compared to the others, she was probably the only one with a full skirt. The difference was that the skirt came like a series of strips of cloth from waist down to the floor. These strips overlapped with one another in several layers until they formed a free-flowing body. The color was light, like the sky and sea combined under a fair day. It was further accentuated by gold sequins that trailed the upper body. It lacked sleeves, but wrapped around the neck to hold it in place.
To add in a misty effect that was reminiscent of the sky, it was covered with a layer of glitter-dusted lace. The effect was mystifying, indeed. It lacked the intricateness the other gowns had, but this simplicity was beautiful and came out rather sophisticated. To Valeriana, it was perfect.
“Oh, wow.” Aneeka muttered. “I like how it’s so . . . you.”
“Which reminds me, we need to prepare,” Courtney told them.
The ball would start in the afternoon and it would last until late night. The girls immediately got ready, doing one another’s make-up. They took a good few hours preparing, aiding each other in all ways they could. They took out accessories that matched the dresses—earrings, necklaces, and bracelets among others.
As they prepared, the guys were already downstairs waiting for them. Raziel looked impatient as he tapped his feet incessantly. As he pulled on the red and gold coat of his, he took out a mirror rushed back his slicked back hair. He patted the cravat and the golden chain that hung on the collars as well as the golden buttons to make sure they were tight and prim.
“Even I do not take this long preparing!” Raziel exclaimed.
“Raziel,” Charles began. “Even if you’re narcissistic, you are no girl.”
Corvan was calm as he read the book in his hands. The usual pokerface was present. Keelan was chattering away with Brindon, who replied with his one-word answers. Overall, Raziel was the only one acting bored out of his mind.
“I want to see the venue right away!” Raziel exclaimed.
“Which reminds me,” Charles slipped the pen back into his breastpocket as he looked over the drakon who was quiet on one side. The fourth-ranker sported the calm blue theme color of his continent which was further accentuated by a cloudy white. “Are you certain you do not wish to come?”
“I will not risk it,” Vallore told him. “This is a public ball. This appearance of mine will cause unnecessary ruckus.”
“I honestly think it’s the perfect place to reveal yourself.”
“I do not plan to. I am far from ready.”
“Suit yourself,” Charles said.
“Arland, what is taking those girls so long?” Raziel muttered to himself. “We were supposed to leave some ten minutes ago.”
Moments after, they heard the noisy chatter from upstairs. The boys heaved a sigh of relief as they stood in succession. They were itching to leave. It did not help that the girls took such a lengthy time preparing themselves.
“Did I hear someone complaining?” Elfre’s voice shook the walls as she walked out. “You of all people should know by now, you never rush when it comes to appearances.”
Raziel’s face paled a bit but he righted himself when she came to view. His complexion went from paper white to rosy red in just a few beats. The green skirt fluttered around her beautifully, her legs occasionally peeking from under. She brushed back the coffee-brown hair of hers, which she let cascade down on her shoulders naturally.
“What’s wrong, why are you so red? I haven’t even slapped you yet,” Elfre said.
Raziel examined her from head to toe. Deep in thought, he placed his finger on his chin. “Your choice of color goes well with your eyes and skin,” he began. “Like a warm jade complimented by emeralds. I have never thought that this would be possible at all.” His voice turned soft. “Very stunning indeed. Like nature bathed by the moonlight, a glittering lake and a calming breeze in the night.”
Elfre reddened so she kicked him harshly. “What are you getting at?”
The current seventh-ranker had stood despite him being pushed down. In fact, he came back stronger and hooked his arm around hers. “Come, you’ll be my partner for today! I deem you suitable!”
“What? Who are you to say that? Let me go!” Elfre gawked at him, pulling back her arm. “I was aiming for this chance to be able to dance with some decent guys! Not some narcissistic pricks like you!”
She could no longer speak as she was dragged out of the door. “Raziel! In the name of Preluré!”
Genevieve bounded to sight right after Elfre had, her ruffles aflutter behind her. Zevlin was awestruck when he saw his sister and found a smile tugging on his lips. Her dress did not adhere to the standard design, but it pulled on his heartstrings.
The delicate hand of his sister grasped his with a huge smile and he chuckled.
“You’re looking more beautiful every second, dear sister,” Zevlin told her, leaning in to kiss her on the forehead. “Very beautiful, like mom.”
“Why, thank you, Zev. You’re looking more and more like a gentleman. I bet a lot of girls would be after you at the ball.” She wrapped her arm around his and pulled him to the door. “But they’d have to go through me, of course!”
“Don’t expect any guys coming over either, Gen,” Zevlin warned. “You’re dancing with me all night.”
“You’re the reason why I still don’t have that boyfriend!”
Courtney came next. As she paused, she looked over the guys and saw Keelan munching on a sandwich as he chatted away uncaringly with Brindon. The eleventh was careful with his sandwich so as to not accidentally spill some on his vert green coat.
“You two,” she said, coming over imposingly. “I have no one to escort me.”
“Huh?” Keelan looked up at her.
“I’m not going in that room alone.”
“I’ll do it.” Brindon stood and grabbed Courtney’s hand.
The sight was somehow comical since the twelfth-ranker was shorter than Courtney by a few inches. Silence reigned for a few moments before Brindon pushed himself to the tip of his toes, pulling on the dark brown suit he wore before throwing back his hair—all while looking soulless, as always.
Unexpectedly, they caught sight of manliness he never showed before. Brindon more or less resembled a boy in his early teens, with round cheeks and somewhat large eyes. However, this time, his gaze carried a bit of sharpness and maturity.
“Brindon, you looked so cool just now!” Keelan exclaimed, his eyes brightening as he fist pumped.
Brindon made a noise of approval and nodded once. “Cool.”
While Brindon partnered up with Courtney, Aneeka had appeared shortly afterwards. The mild redness of her hair popped with the small, white flowers that dotted the nest of curls at the back of her head. The baby pink dress emphasized her thin waist as it flared marvellously around the hips.
Rowe’s face was calm but his eyes were pinned on the girl. Aneeka looked up to meet his gaze and there was a hint of awkwardness. Even so, the tenth-ranker cleared her throat as she walked up to the lord.
“Do you already have someone you asked for the ball?”
The second-ranker blinked when he registered her voice. Later, he shook his head and smiled, holding out a hand for her to take. “I would not dare.”
Aneeka took his hand, mirroring his smile.
The other rankers who saw this exchange shook their heads. A vassal and her lord?
Tamara walked out after Aneeka. The sight of her was astounding that the boys’ jaws dropped to their feet. Even so, she was uncaring and got ready to leave right out when Charles grabbed her arm and stopped her.
“What?” she asked.
“Do you plan on going alone?” he asked.
“Father will scold me for letting you do so.”
“This woman is independent, I can take care of myself!” she exclaimed, but she looked a bit embarrassed being stared at.
His brow twitched as he fixed his glasses with a glare. “Give me some face. I have asked no one else.”
Tamara placed her toned arm on her firm and narrow waist as she gave Charles a once over. “With the way you look, I’m sure you won’t have a problem with that.”
She played with the tamed curls of her usually wild hair and smoothed down the dress that fluttered behind her.
“You even had to wear pants?”
“This is at least acceptable, right? I don’t like full skirts,” she said.
Tamara, needless to say, was beautiful—a delicate, feminine beauty that carried the strength of a warrior. Her eyes were lined with kohl and were further accentuated with thick lashes. The red, untamed curls of hers decided to cooperate for ones. They flowed down her shoulders in unified waves and keenly reflected the light as she moved.
The fourth-ranker shook his head with a sigh but nevertheless took her arm and put it around his. “I guess I should’ve expected this from you.”
“Right?” She laughed.
“Anyhow, you unexpectedly look more like a woman.”
“Don’t insult me, four-eyes.”
He removed his glasses and gave Tamara a glare as he cleaned their lenses. He looked different without them by a long-shot. Usually, his eyes looked a bit bigger with them, but now that he had taken them off, his eyes had a strange sharpness. The strong contours of his face and his clear-cut brows made him look fierce.
“Hm.” Tamara snatched his glasses away and threw them away. They landed at the corner of the room with a click, taking the fourth-ranker aback. “Maybe you can go without glasses for a day.”
“Godsdammit, Tamara! How brash can you be?”
“You’re like another person without those glasses, you suddenly turned vulgar!”
“I cannot see properly without them, you insensitive—”
“They’re not that bad, right?” she asked. “Come on, even if you can’t see, you can rest assured I won’t let you fall.”
“I can’t trust you with that.”
She ignored him. “Shut up and just hold on. Otherwise, I can’t guarantee what will happen to you. So, drakon dude,” Tamara said. “Aren’t you coming?”
Vallore shook his head as he gave her a brief glance and quickly looked away. His ears twitched. Femeron looked very comfortable sleeping on his lap.
“That’s too bad,” she muttered. “Anyhow, enjoy your time alone! Maybe we’ll bring you back a memento or two.”
“Can we leave? We need to be there in ten minutes!” Charles exclaimed, pushing Tamara forward.
“Hey, hey. Don’t push me.”
“Is everyone here?” Rowe asked.
“I don’t think Valeriana’s come out yet,” Aneeka said.
“That girl.” Corvan narrowed his eyes. “How slow can she be?”
Tamara let out a huff of amusement when she caught onto the double meaning behind his words. Even so, although Lord Corvan was trying his best to stay calm and composed, he was fidgeting unknowingly.
“Valeriana!” Aneeka called.
“Wait! I forgot something!” she replied.
There was a shuffle upstairs and a brief thump.
“Oh right, is it ready?” Tamara inquired, looking at the others.
“Yes, preparations are set.” Charles nodded.
“Heh, she doesn’t know what’s coming.” Elfre grinned evilly.
“Well, she didn’t plan on telling us it was her birthday, so of course. She’ll get a good smack up the head.” Aneeka chuckled.
Later Valeriana came flying down the stairs—quite literally, in fact. She had tripped on her dress and slid like a skateboard down the ramp. She gave out a brief squeak as she hit her elbow at the corner of the bottom, causing her to grunt as instinctively she held it close. After a brief struggle, she stood and stumbled her way out. Thankfully, she didn’t ruin her looks very much and the dress was not ripped in anyway.
“Goodness, look at you! Tripping even though there was nothing to trip on!” Tamara exclaimed. “You almost ruined your hair.”
Valeriana reached up to pat her hairdo and sighed in relief when it stayed intact. She found the golden hairpin she had kept from their journey in Larkovia and used it accordingly. It was a shame to let it go to waste after all. Besides, it was more than appropriate and went well with the dress, twinkling beautifully under the shower of light.
Femeron squeaked in shock when she heard something fall. When she saw that it was Valeriana, she jumped off Vallore’s arms and ran over to her adoptive mother. She walked around her anxiously as though to ask if she was fine.
“Ooh, ooh . . .” Valeriana giggled as Femeron licked the spot beneath her arms. “That tickles. Femeron, baby, I’m fine.” She stood and took the baby dragon in her arms and let the skirts of her dress part as she walked forward. She purposely ignored Corvan as she approached Vallore and handed Femeron over.
After the conversation with Lord Aeron last night, she did not have the courage to look him in the eye. “Here, take care of my baby.”
Vallore nodded mutely.
“Right, right. Your partner is definitely Corvan,” Tamara said, giving her a thumbs up as she came walking up to their group.
“Is that really necessary?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as she gazed at them.
“Well, if you don’t come in with anyone then you’ll be bothered for the whole night. Firstly, that’s a sign that you’re alone. And alone in balls is never good,” the third-ranker told her.
“What . . . did you two talk?” Aneeka asked.
Corvan sported the same celeste opaque blue—a sky-meets-ocean color. His coat was lined with silver and the buttons were of the similar color. His cravat rested tucked under his coat with fluttering ruffles and a chain hang from his collar to his front pocket. Regal and sophisticated—like a prince charming out of a Disney movie.
Considering Valeriana’s dress was made from an Arlandian flower, the odds were high that Corvan had the same. However, this was a heaven-defying coincidence. Out of all the possible fabrics how did they end up with the same thing?
“They didn’t need to,” Genevieve said in reply to Aneeka with a dreamy smile.
The twins leaned in to whisper.
“Look at that face, look at that face!” Genevieve exclaimed, pointing at Corvan’s eyes. He had them pinned on the girl as she walked forward, staring until his eyes watered. When he caught Genevieve’s voice, he looked away and coughed.
It was then did Valeriana really looked at Corvan—seeing as she had only been stealing small peeks and glances since she came down. Even if she avoided him for a whole hour, she would, one way or another, have to look at him at some point.
“Wow,” she whispered, examining him from head to toe—broad shoulders and long legs.
Unexpectedly, he was pulling off the short-haired look without any difficulty. He looked handsome beyond measure. That didn’t remove the fact that Valeriana missed his long hair. If ever they fought again, she would avoid the hair like a plague—considering whether or not he planned on growing them again.
Still, he was looking more and more handsome each passing day. She wanted to tell him he was cute, however, like hell she would.
“You look great! Um, you guys look good, too.” Valeriana looked away from him for a moment, since she felt a little bit blinded.
Valeriana mentally scolded herself for thinking that way and reminded herself that Rowe and Keelan looked as splendid.
“These two, really.” Tamara shook her head while crossing her arms.
“Cor—” Zevlin began with a fist pump.
“—val!” Genevieve finished.
“Forever!” they chorused, high-fiving.
Tamara shot a look at them in disdain. “You guys watched too much of those movies. Seriously. What business are you at?”
“A shipping business!”
The third-ranker nearly facepalmed. “Isn’t that what you said—never mind.”
“Why? It’s fun!” they chimed together.
Valeriana shook her head. Even though she tried playing deaf, she knew very well what they were going on about. “Can I take Keelan instead?” she asked meekly.
Genevieve and Zevlin stopped short at this and shouted, “NO!”
Corvan’s brow twitched. Keelan shook his head. “No, no, I think I’m good all alone,” he muttered, inching away as he shot Corvan a nervous stare.
“Alright, alright, we’re late. We should get going!”
They all rushed out of the doors with their partners. The other members of the Twelve trained out of the door as the first-ranker took a few steps to Valeriana.
He cleared his throat. “You . . .” he began.
She raised her brows. “What?”
“Nothing,” Corvan said. “I merely did not expect you to look . . .” he paused. “Decent.”
“Jerk, what? Can’t you come up with anything better?”
“Anyhow, it will be improper if I were to take someone else at the ball, considering what I’ve already told my parents.”
“Guh, are you still that adamant about promulgating that rumor? Didn’t they find out already that the ring is fake?” She held up the fake ring to his face.
He gave her a mixed look. “They will be there.”
“So it is a must that you come with me. Otherwise, I will never hear the end of it from my mother. Come.” He grabbed her hand and wrapped it around his arm.
Valeriana felt her heart jump at the contact and an unsettling feeling twisted in her stomach. Her cheeks warmed a bit as she looked away. She wouldn’t say it aloud, but she felt blessed to be escorted by him. She could already see countless eyes turning to look.
“Shut it, you stupid witch. Don’t open that trap for once.”
“Why you—idiot devil!” She harrumphed.