The Yule Ball was usually something that Orion looked forward to all year long. It was a time of gift giving and celebration, he even gave the entirety of the Night Court the entire day of the Winter Solstice off. Though he had no blood relatives to celebrate with, he did have the little family he'd made in the Night Court to celebrate with. Usually around this time, Rae had already dragged him from his office to pop open a bottle of wine and exchange presents by the fireplace with Mina.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this year. Tensions had been running high throughout all of Temarona since the discussion of the wall began, the 499th year was almost up, and the magic holding the wall up was weakening since it had only been meant as a temporary solution. It had been Orion's idea to host the Yule Ball at the Night Court, but now that it was time he was regretting the decision. Rae had worked her tail off planning the event, and he was thankful he hadn't needed to bother with any of the preparation besides the diplomacy with the other courts. Some of the other courts had been hesitant to come to the Night Court with tensions so high, but it seemed as if all four courts would be present tonight. He'd even invited the human realm's royalty to be apart of the discussion, but hadn't heard back.
"Ri! Stop your brooding and get out here. We have guests." Ravenna's voice followed a harsh knocking on the door, and Orion straightened his suit one last time before heading out the door. If he kept his second waiting any longer she was liable to kick down the door.
"Any last minute correspondence?" It wouldn't surprise him if his father had backed out at the last minute, refusing to send anyone from the Wind Court to his traitorous son's land.
"None. Guests just started arriving, no sign of trouble yet but we've got patrols out." Rae spoke in a hushed voice as they walked through the marble halls, now covered in garland and lights for the season's festivities.
"Good, let's hope it stays that way." Orion knew that Rae must be as nervous as he was, with both of their fathers in attendance it was sure to be a spectacle. Hopefully, not one that ended in bloodshed.
"Try to have fun and not kill anyone." Rae winked, and before he could roll his eyes she threw open the ballroom doors. Members of the Night Court were already mingling about inside, some already indulging in the overflowing cases of wine or dancing across the floor. There would be more Night Court members in attendance tonight than any other court, which made Orion more at ease. He'd dispersed his guards mostly to the edges of the territory, to keep them out of sight from the other courts and hopefully ease their own nerves. He didn't need his potential enemies to know his courts true strength, but if he needed them they were already on call.
The ball room was decorated quite extravagantly, he knew without asking that Rae had used every penny in her budget on this event. Twinkling lights cascaded from the ceiling like starlights and garland mixed with red flowers hung along the walls. There was plenty of food and drink for members of every court and the band would surely play into the early hours of the morning to entertain them.
Rae looked pleased with her work, but he could sense the tension beneath her shoulders as she spotted members of the other courts entering through the door behind them. It was sure to be a tense evening, but hopefully they could get through dinner without any arguments.
The arguing came after dinner, when the heads of each court met in his office to discuss the wall. That would certainly be the most interesting part of the night.
For now, he would enjoy what would probably be the last festivities between courts before war broke out. With a sweeping glance around the room, he took head of every face he recognized and didn't yet know, filing the information away for later.
Orion ascended the dais at the back of the room, raising a glass towards the people now quickly filling the dining hall, a flurry of fine silken suits and glittering ballgowns. "Let the feast begin!" His voice boomed throughout the hall, met with the sound of glasses clinking. And so began a diplomatic game of chess.
The night was brisk, sweeping up the last of Alden's doubts about the Yule ball. He had been in and out of the Night Court's gossip and overheard the many grunts of planning for the event. He'd be amiss if he didn't attend knowing the handiwork that went it - also free wine was a good attraction to solidify his participation. He had already stepped over the ornate threshold of the dining room before he had given the thought to turn around to go drink alone. The strange faces of people chattering about all dressed in their finest silks and woven patterns made Alden internally squirm with anxiety. He had dawned himself in a scarlet doublet complete with silver embroidery that veined it's way along his frame. He had twisted his long hair into a bun pinned together with silver spider lily hairpins. While he was decently proud of how well he had cleaned himself up the dark bags under his eyes could not be hidden well enough; a true sign of the many sleepless nights he endured.
Alden decided he would rather disappear than converse with anyone present and so he made his way to a far table that was sparsely attended. It was dressed neatly in various wine bottles of many different courts' favorites and many lesser known wines as well. Alden wasn't picky; anything to wet his lips and keep him busy while he watched the party goers was good enough for him. He found that when he was drinking he didn't have to pretend to be present for anything that was required of him. He didn't have to be present for conversations, favors, or comfort. He didn't have to entertain useless niceties while under the guise of a grumpy drunk.
A bottle of honey wine practically called Alden's name and he wasted no time grabbing it by the neck. He held the bottle to his lips and took a long swig of the fermented sweetness. Above him his eyes caught the sparkle of the artificial stars that decorated the ceiling. The lights that dangled overhead coupled with flowery arrangements were a nice touch to the ball's ensemble.
Alden leaned against the table of wine, the honey wine still held dearly in his hand as he studied the room. He heard an applause as someone stood before the crowd of attendees and turned to see Orion toasting their dinner feast. He was the only friendly face above a sea of unfamiliar ones but it didn't breed much warmth in Alden. While he was mostly indifferent to courtly affairs it was still his job to clean up the mess when tensions ran too high. Death didn't discriminate between who someone was allied too. It came for Night Court, Wind Court, River Court, any court. Knowing the court leaders could make hours of work for him in the matter of minutes or with the wave of a hand didn't put him at ease but in this situation Alden convinced himself there was nothing to be concerned about. Surely there was no reason for violence at the Night Court's Yule Ball.
Kipp wandered into the Night Court's Yule Ball excited for the festivities. She was taken aback when she stepped into the dining hall full of bright lights, marble floors and the savory aroma of newly cooked pig and sweet butter bread. There were so many beautiful garments and glistening trinkets all about that made Kipp's hands fidget. So many pieces of treasure around unsuspecting necks and on the fingers of nobles. Kipp was made for a life of luxury, the shine and sparkle nearly making her hands lunge out for anything in reach. She restrained herself, a smile stretching across her face so wide her cheeks ached with elation.
Kipp had arrived at the heavenly ball in the best attire she could steal from the local seamstress though it was not nearly as glamorous as those around her. There were diamonds and gems she had never seen before and she was in awe of their beauty; how they caught the light like tiny stars. Kipp was wearing a chemise with various shades of olive green and viridian; all strapped together at her front with a belt. A sack hung off of it's side ready to hold all the precious treasures Kipp would get her hands on. She also wasn't opposed to tucking away some priceless pieces in the hems of her tall caliage sandals.
Kipp hadn't noticed how different she was compared to the others. Her contrastingly dark, tribal make up and braided hair made her stick out but it didn't deter her from getting close to other ball attendants. She was eager with a bright, disarming smile.
"Feasgar math! (Good Evening!)" The tiny fae announced in a welcoming tone as she approached a noblewoman. Shaking the woman's hand the fae brought attention to the fine detail of the woman's ensemble, "My, what a lovely brooch you have. Is that a butterfly? Cho breagha! (So beautiful!)" Kipp had gone to work quickly inching off two of the woman's rings. With one swift movement she gasped and feigned disbelief, grasping the rings in her clutches against her chest, "Is it genuine sapphire?! Such a rare find airson boireannach cho breagha (for such a beautiful woman)."
And just like that Kipp had her first heist of the night. As the woman began to chit chat dramatically about her brooch Kipp pocketed the rings. She pulled a gentleman aside, looping the random bystander into the woman's rant about the insufferable battle it was to find sapphires in Temarona.
"Have you seen her brooch? You simply have to see it, it's magnificent. Genuine sapphire, gold plated, traveled over a thousand miles and absolutely priceless," Kipp gestured toward the woman. The man was easily entranced in the conversation with the woman as she turned her attention to him, allowing Kipp to duck out without being noticed. But Kipp wasn't done for the night. No, she had just gotten started. Eagerly she searched the crowd for her next victim.
She was honed in another woman with intricate gold bracelets with which hung deep rubies. Kipp was about to dance her way through to crowd to the ruby woman when suddenly the crowd stood still. An eruption of applause and music filled the ball room. Now was the perfect opportunity to steal so she abandoned her target for a few better offers. Slipping her sneaky fingers into pockets of those whose backs were turned, Kipp quickly filled her leather sack full of goodies in no time at all.
The Yule ball, a festivity without equal. Bad blood and threats of war, weakening spells and social troubes, it all seemed forgotten for this beautiful spectacle. Representatives and guests from all courts were present. Surely, this was held in high regard by many and was a chance of extraordinary celebration between those that usually had very little to celebrate.
But the view that Mara had seemed to differ ever so slightly. Viewing it more as a mandatory chore, hours of being stared at, hours of being forced into meaningless conversations with people she could barely care less about. The worst side of her political influence as council member of the river court. Not only that, but she was usually left the only high council member to attend. There was no way to avoid this festivity, lest for a diplomatic incident of stellar dimensions.
Her arrival alone was a duality. A beautiful carriage of white and black, decorated greatly. It indicated the importance of its passenger quite clearly. Though that wonderful view was contradicted by the fact that its driver was but flesh and bones, a decaying corpse kept animated by the unique magic of the deathwitch. Even the horses were of similar fashion, skeletal monstrositie, barely recognizable as what they were, if not for the fact that they were mounted to the front of the carriage.
The servants and those attendants that were present during her arrival would surely have something to talk about due to this. But it would be just as much a unique view when Mara entered the room. The infamy of the witch surpassed the borders of courts with ease, bringing many conversations to a halt for a few moments. Not only her presence alone, however, but her appearance did part. The petite woman wore a long, dark dress. It was adorned with what seemed to be black lilies in wonderful craftsmanship. Her shoulder-length black hair was braided into a braid-crown. Almost contradicting this beautiful appearance was the white and black of her face. Few knew that this was truly her skin, as it looked akin to a face-paint.
Ignoring the staring, the muttering and mumbling, Mara picked a table that was empty, taking a seat and waiting for the festivities to begin. She did not have to wait long, as soon all eyes shifted once more. This time, it was towards Orion, the high lord of the night court. He formally toasted toward the dinner and the yule ball itself. Mara politely raised her glass, then applauded. No matter how much she hated the fact she had to be here, she still appreciated the effort made by the host and their people.
The Yule Ball was supposed to to be joyous event--filled with smiles and laughter. It was a time to be spent with family and friends-alike. Though the vampire-witch hybrid had spent most of her life alone on this very day, she had grown quite fond of the celebration since her arrival at the Night Court a few years ago. But this year would not be like any of previous years. This year, the courts would gather within the bounds of the Night Court for the Yule Ball. With the 499th year since the implementation of the wall drawing to an end, discussion and diplomacy was crucial amongst the courts.
The unfamiliarity of anxiety and dread curled in the dark-haired woman's stomach as she stood in from of her vanity mirror in her designated chambers. The fiery lady was not usually intimidated by much. In fact, she was quite the go-getter to a point that she often got herself into trouble. But today was different. The anticipated arrival of the River Court at the Yule Ball had rattled her once-solid cage. After all, she was supposed to be a dead woman or at least a missing woman in the eyes of her former court. Despite the fact that she had been in hiding for two centuries and was fighting the urge to flee from her current situation, she knew that she could not hide nor run forever.
The gown she had selected for tonight was bright in contrast to her mood. It was made up of sheer white and blue fabrics that were decorated with intricate goldish lace details. Though it was certainly stunning and was definitely a statement piece that was typical of her usual fashion, Minerva almost regretted putting it on in favor of something that would blend better with the crowd. Nonetheless, before she could change her mind, she swept out of her room and headed towards the ballroom.
By the time she reached the tall doors, the festivities were already underway. Mina might have spent more time admiring Rae's decorations if she was not distracted by her own chaotic thoughts. Would someone recognize her? What if one of her parents were there? What if he was there? You cannot think about that right now. She reminded herself. She really needed to get her shit together.
As she entered the ballroom, she was careful to avoid making eye contact with Orion and Rae. She knew it would only take one look and they would know there was something off about her. It wasn't like she was any good at keeping her emotions in check either.
Impulsively, the vampire-witch snatched the closest wine glass to her and drained it in a single go. She was definitely going to need some more of that.
If there was one thing Jax knew how to do, it was party. The Forest Court's nobles didn't need much effort to entice him with drinking, dancing, and mingling with fine women to tag along as added security. How could he refuse an invitation to the Yule Ball, and potentially miss a chance at adding another tally to his score of women, even if it was held in the heart of the notorious Night Court? The Forest Court posse arrived together, and spaced rather tightly to one another, as a pack should. They carried a rather heavy ambiance about them, entering the room full of light hearts with a presence that demanded respect. The regal couple, which consisted of the Forest Court leader and his wife, led the small troupe into the great hall, looking well-dressed, dignified and prepared more for business than revelry. Then followed two men closely behind, Jax being one of them, and lastly a white-haired witch, trailing behind at a distance. Beside him was the current captain of the Forest Court guard, a serious expression plastered on his tanned face. After Jax had stepped down and renounced the position of "Captain, Head of the Guard" he was replaced by this gentleman. Jax grew up knowing him, training with him, and always came close to beating Jax in every spar and training exercise...but never quite achieved doing so. His name was Lucius, also known as "Second Best" if you asked Jax. The two shared a close bond, close friends but even closer rivals. Even though Jax left the guard their relationship remained the same.
"Wipe that stupid smug look off your face, we're here for business, not pleasure." Lucius whispered to Jax.
Jax's smile grew wider as he side-eyed his brother in arms, "Since when did you become so serious," he scoffed.
"Since I actually took this position seriously, unlike someone I know," the Captain, dressed in a rather classy white-suited ensemble, embellished with gold shoulder armor, teased with a small smirk.
Jax just shrugged. There was no hard feelings or soreness between the two after Lucius took his job. In fact, Jax feels he deserved it, after taking into account that he was terrible at taking orders and willingly gave up the job. There was no doubt of skill or fierceness in Jax's ability to fight, though. He felt being something along the lines of a mercenary was a better lifestyle choice. Occasionally the diplomats of the Forest Court will still call upon his services, in return for payment, of course. Thats how Jax ended up here tonight, and part of the deal was to clean up and not look like...well, a mongrel. Just cause he was a werewolf doesn't mean he had to come looking like a dog...or smelling like one at that. Jax was forced to clean up in order to take the job, they cut his hair (which he physically fought against, but realized it'll grow back quickly) and stuffed him into a stiff suit, that was much too itchy for his liking and strongly detested. It was a mauve, purpley color that, as much as he hated to admit, complimented his amber-brown eyes. He just didn't feel natural, out of his element, and absolutely despised it, he was accustomed to wearing stretchy leathers and warm furs, something more equipped for action, should the occasion arise.
After giving their greetings and acknowledgments, the Forest Court's officials chose their table and sat. Lucius stood against a wall not far behind them, he waved Jax away, "Go enjoy yourself, I've been watching you eye the drinks on that table for last twenty minutes."
"Are you sure?" The devious wolf raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. Before I change my mind. Just make sure you behave yourself, you don't have the luxury of immunity here."
Jax lowered his head and gave a curt bow in thanks. Trying not to seem too excited, he walked briskly to the wine table and carefully considered his options. His eyes bounced back from one decision to another, unable to settle on one as his first of many. There was an uproar of applause and cheer after a voice announced for the feasting to begin, but Jax was too preoccupied to even turn. Any of the drinks available was better than the barley piss water he's used to from the local pubs and taverns. The rich blood red of the ambrosia cradled in their twinkling crystal glasses was enough to arouse his salivary glands. His canine nose was entranced by its irresistible, luxurious scent, he could basically taste it caressing, teasing his palate. Gently, Jackson slipped the shaft of a glass between the middle and ring finger of his right hand, the glass clinking against the gold rings on each of his fingers. He brought the gold plated rim of the glass to his lips and allowed the nectar to pour into his mouth naturally. Jax would compare the taste to the taste of a woman's lips, sweet at first with a sultry aftertaste, leaving an unforgettable experience. Jax lowed the glass with an involuntary, "Ahhh," audible to others around the table. He turned to face the rest of the party taking place behind him and had barely noticed the woman closest to him, just downing a glass, with no shame, or appreciation for the wine for that matter. Her hair was strikingly dark against her fair skin, and the blue and white dress truly wore her. Not knowing whether to be impressed at how quickly she was able to chug that drink or be mortified at the fact that she didn't even give the taste another thought, Jax found himself grabbing an untouched glass from the table, "Whats the matter, don't like parties?" Jax smiled at her, flashing his enlarged incisors with his charming boyish grin, "No one drinks like that unless they're experiencing some sort of internal turmoil," he raised the glass, offering it to her, "Or you're simply an alcoholic," he shrugged, "In which case, I'd be happy to know I'm not the only one."
Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
That was the purpose for Cladius’ Court of Ice. Acts started war, intelligence prevented it, and ballrooms were the perfect battleground for both. Elvieterra was, if nothing else, a secret soldier. It was far from the respect she’d once wished to wield. Yet, when her boss rose to High Lord, she would never want for power again, and that was enough for her. Nevertheless, events like this were always enough to turn her stomach, to make her skin flush and breakfast churn. They served for one thing more than any other, to remind her of her place, to reminder that she was not like the rest of them, not as strong, not as swift, not as beautiful. And they were all so, very beautiful.
The ballroom was a lustrous gold, the kind of radiance sunlight envied. It shrouded the room in a heavenly allure, every crevice glistening some kind of jewel or gem. From her vantage point atop the grand staircase, she could see everything: the bountiful banquet, the sumptuous goodies, the elaborate gowns. The music thrummed from the strings of the band, a stampede of feet ushering, gowns shimmering and swaying to the beat. It felt otherworldly, distant, from where she stood. It was almost as if, if she closed her eyes, she was not truly there at all, as though all conjured from the deepest delights of her mind. Inhaling long due breath, the dulcet scent of pastries and bitter tang of ale filled her lungs. It made her stomach grumble and her mouth water, but her lips pursed shut. Her brow drew tight beneath childlike contemplation.
Viri had taken to his silence, sworn to never speak to her again since the rumours of her affair began. He did not care if they were real or they were false. It was not love he held on the line and so the true damage had already been done. The bloody mess of his pride lay strewn on the sharp lines of his frowning face. Their friendship had been jilted by his cold shoulder. Naturally, Agnarr was displeased. He had no grounds to question the morals and motives of his High Lord’s son, nor to restrict his daughter from her place by his side. Yet, she knew deep down there was another name on the list he kept well in the bowels of his mind, scratched by the fingernails of fury.
“You’d do well not to get swept away by the festivities,” Agnarr grunted. There was no visible remark to be read from his face, permanently twisted as if this world constantly displeased him. She had no doubt it did, too. “There is a reason the Night Court hold’s its reputation,” a grim acknowledgment, to which she simply nodded. He had no idea of the bargain she’d made, of the sanctuary that it extended. She could not be charmed by any other. Her mind was void to any hungry fingers beyond those of their soon to be High Lord.
“You can link my arm, if it pleases you,” Contessina murmured, a noise almost lost within the honey hum of the music and clacking of feet carried by the rhythm. Contessina had always been much easier to love. With the sweetness and delicacy of summer berries, she was a rare taste to savour in the Wind Court. Elvie had spent many nights pondering the woman’s origins. What had led her to the side of a man like her father? Money or misfortune? Was it sanctuary she sought there? Did she believe it was better the devil she knew well than the one that she did not? Agnarr’s bride was a green witch, fond of potions and tonics, with a thumb that could nurture almost any plant, or being, into the summit of life. Perhaps, she’d managed to revive the scraps of a heart that were buried in the Vampire’s chest, or maybe she’d brewed him a love potion. Although, it was incredibly hard to imagine her wasting the time to bother for the man that she had chosen.
“It does, thank you,” she bid in turn, gingerly interweaving her hand. “Have you been here before?” She asked, if only to smooth their nerves and distract from Agnarr’s growing agitation. He disliked court almost as much as she, one battlefield that he could never quite triumph. Agnarr locked grace, skill and poise. Far from a politician, his tongue were more leaden than silver, a bullet modelled for friend or foe. “The locals in the village say the High Lord here is part demon. Am I to expect horns and a tail?”
Horror hit Tessa’s face like a striking hand. “Elvieterra,” she hushed, a seething scold flickering in her eyes like lightning. “You must mind your tongue,” she warned, though the corners of her mouth poised up. “You grow too much like your father each passing day”. Elle bit her lip. Gone were the days were she’d correct that bold mistake. Agnarr was not her father. This was not her family. To her knowledge, he’d murdered them both, and then possessed the audacity to act like he’d never dream of either. “I have been here before, a few times, but there was a different High Lord then, so I cannot answer you on either. It is very beautiful here, however, if one knows the right places to go. You would find yourself surprised”.
“Hmm. I am hardly ever. So, that would be nice,” she replied, but her words were vacant. Her attention had already drift elsewhere. So far the conversation had been dismal. Small talk was ever dull and draining, starving for a soul that hungered for strategy. Her gaze lingered ghostly on the mismatched duo to the side, two lands unified by the shared ocean of liquor. If conversation on alcoholism was the height of entertainment tonight then she really was in for a treat after all. So much struggle to stay alive and Elvie was officially to be bored to death.
“Try to act like you want to be here, Vie,” Agnarr had come to a stop before them. Contessina traitorously parted from her side.
“I do,” she only half-lied, because boring as they were ballrooms were always a breeding ground of betrayal. It was a job more than anything, a place of opportunity. As she fell into step beside Viri, she offered him an apologetic smile. If nothing else, they could at least pretend to be friends for the night. He only glowered in turn. “Do we know who will be attending tonight?” She asked, picking up a glass from a tray that swept beside, for appearance if not for anything else. Men hardly asked for a dance when they saw a woman occupied with food or drink
“Why? Looking for your lover?” Viridian snorted, taking one for himself. When he sneered like that, she could not help but note how much he looked like his father, and had inherited his woeful wiles.
“Which one?” She simply smiled, taking a sip to satisfy the provocation, relishing in how colour flushed to his pale white cheeks, a bluish inhuman hue. Her voice lowered in a humoured breath. “Maybe I’m looking for a new one. Maybe, I tire of High Lord’s sons. Maybe, next time, I’ll go for the crown”. It was all a lie, of course, but he didn’t need to know that. Let it damage his pride a little more. The Gods knew it could take a few blows.
With his toast over, his host duties were fulfilled and Orion could begin pursuing the real reason he'd called this meeting of all four courts. His gaze swept across the grand room once again, taking note of where each court leader was positioned. Silently, he weighed his options and the pros and cons of approaching each court first.
Wind Court would certainly be the most challenging, because it required him to speak with his father. While it might make sense to rip off the bandaid and deal with him first, Orion wasn't quite ready for that confrontation yet. With Wind Court coming in dead last, that left the Forest Court and River Court. He had no qualms with the Forest Court, except for the way Lord Baryn had treated his daughter and the other halfbreeds of his court. The Forest Court certainly had qualms with him, however, due to his vampire nature and his sheltering of Ravenna after she'd fled her family's court.
That only left the River Court, who Orion was generally on good terms with. He knew that they shared the same opinion on the wall, but they had thrown him a curveball by sending Mara, the Death witch, as their ambassador for the event. There was very little known about her, though Orion had dealt with her on more than one occasion, she was always an enigma. Rae had dealt with her far more often, seeing as she was the Night Court's ambassador to the other courts, and she'd said that Mara was "intriguing", which hadn't really been much of an answer.
Perhaps it made him a coward or perhaps it made him a strategist, but Orion decided to take the easy route first.
The sight of the High Lord approaching the River Court's council member drew the curious gaze of many, especially considering who the River Court had sent. It wasn't that Orion feared Mara, but at least he knew what his father and Baryn were capable of. The devil you knew was better than the one you didn't, the saying went. Mara was an unknown, and it put the High Lord at a disadvantage, to not know where her allegiances lay.
Though, Orion had always loved a good mystery, and the River Court councilwoman was just a puzzle for him to decipher. Their eyes met as he approached her table, and the Night Court member was careful to keep his face calm, but not cold. He didn't want to appear weak, but he didn't want to seem like a threat either.
"Lady Mara, thank you for coming." He spoke, trying to keep his breathing even as the feeling of dread curled around him, swirling around him and enwrapping him within its confines like the shadows he controlled. This was exactly the reason Orion sent Rae in his place for diplomatic visits, the mere sight of the Death witch sent shivers down his spine.
Each breath felt more constricting than the last, and the High Lord knew it was in his best interest to make this a short conversation, but he couldn't turn and run just yet. Growing up in the Wind Court had taught Orion to stare death in the face and laugh, it was both the blessing and curse of being Jorin's son. The torment had made him strong, but even he felt weak in the Death witch's presence.
"I hope you're enjoying the wine, we selected some of the River Court's favorite." He smiled politely, pulling out a chair across the table from the witch and taking a cautious seat. Though he could charm the witch for hours with saccharin sweet words and praise, he was much more keen on getting to the point, and from what Rae had told him about Mara, so was she.
"The winter solstice is here, and in only a few weeks a new year will begin." Orion didn't need to remind Mara that the upcoming year would be the 500th year, she was most certainly already acutely aware of that. "I hope that the River Court knows we will stand by whatever decision they make about the wall." He continued, tracing a finger along the hem of his suit to keep himself tethered, to now be swallowed by the overwhelming presence of the witch.
"You know, the Night Court has a few witches of its own. We'd be more than willing to lend a hand in reinforcing the wall, if that's what you chose." Their witches weren't as practiced as the River Court's, but even the slightest bit more magic could help. Orion knew what would happen if people like his father were let over that wall. It would be a massacre, the humans wouldn't stand a chance. If the wall came down and the vampires were allowed to hunt across the whole continent, who was to say they wouldn't use their new found power to take over the Night Court? Or all of the other courts for that matter.
The River Court had always been their strongest ally, but the High Lord had heard some worry whispers, that perhaps there were members of the River Court who thought it was time for the wall to come down. Mostly, the witches were tired of the wall sapping out their strength, it had been 500 years since the witches had been at their full strength and power.
For now, Orion could only hope that the witches were still true to their word to protect the humans and keep the barrier between two worlds.
All the excitement and elation that had built in Ravenna's stomach dissipated the moment her father walked into the room. She barely listened to Orion's speech, heart thrumming loudly in her ears as she gazed upon the man that had cast his own daughter out of his court. It had been a long time since she'd seen him, it had been her and Orion's bargain that she would go in his place to the River Court and Wind Court as long as he made the visits to the Forest Court. In the last hundred years, there had only been a handful of times that Orion had been otherwise preoccupied and had no choice but to send her. Occasionally, she went of her own volition, just out of pure curiosity. She missed some of her brothers, after all.
As Orion's speech ended, she finally tore her gaze from her former family to meet her friend's eyes as he headed towards the River Court's ambassador. She smiled in Mara's direction, making a mental note to visit the witch later. For now, she'd find someone else to distract her from her father's presence.
After only a moment she'd locked her eyes on her first target, someone she particularly enjoyed bothering. There seemed to be something about figures of death that drew Ravenna in like a moth to a flame.
"Alden!" She greeted, the silk fabric of her dress swishing against the marble floors as she strode confidently towards him. She'd spent weeks shopping for dresses before deciding on the extravagant red gown that fell around her in plumes of scarlet, because there was nothing Rae enjoyed more than making a scene. It certainly made her stand out, and she tried to ignore the weight of her father's stare as she poured herself a glass of wine beside Alden.
"I wasn't expecting you to show up tonight. Did you miss me?" She grinned cheekily, taking a long sip from her glass and letting the warmth of the liquid settle in her stomach. While most people tended to keep their distance from the Reaper, Rae found him incredibly fascinating. Creatures like Alden were the reason the Eastern forest had remained unclaimed for centuries, not many dared to enter those parts of the woods.
With the forming of the Night Court, things had changed drastically in the Eastern territory. Orion had struck a deal with the creatures already inhabiting the territory, they were free to enter the court as they pleased, and those who wished not to be disturbed were left to their own devices in the northern most woods of the Eastern territory.
Unfortunately, that didn't extend to Alden where Ravenna was concerned. As curious as a playful child, Rae had explored most of the territory when she'd helped Orion found the Night Court, and poor Alden had happened across her path. Where others feared the unknown creatures, the were-witch was fascinated by them. Open-mindedness was Rae's strongest belief, and she welcomed any creature to the Night Court with open arms, even those associated with death.
Maybe it was naive of her to trust so blindly, but Rae had a keen ability to read people and their intentions. Besides, Alden was incredibly fun to pester.
"You look quite dashing! I've never seen you this dressed up. Are you trying to impress the ladies?" Personal space wasn't something Rae respected very well, grazing her hand across the fabric of his suit to inspect the material closer. In fact, it was a miracle that Ravenna hadn't thrown her arms around the man the moment she'd been in range, only due to the long lectures Alden had given her previously on 'not being a touchy person'.
"Is that wine any good?" The brunette asked, peering over to sniff the intoxicant in his cup.
Teo passed anxiously as he prepared for the Yule Ball. Not because of the crowds or conversions yet to come. His main worry rested only on his attire. How was he supposed to impress anyone with what he was comfortable in? His usual simple travelling cloak would not do to impress anyone, especially with court leaders milling about. Stopping once more in front of his black kefta he stared for a moment before grabbing a large leaf laying in a dish nearby. Screwing up his face Theodore touched the leaf to the coat and willed the color to seep into the currently inky black. A forest green would do much better he had decided " It'll go with my eyes or something right Arris?" he asked his familiar, who sat as a hare patiently next to him. In that small lack on concentration everything seemed to go wrong. By the time Teo turned back to examine his work, the coat had become a mixed mess of black and green "Well now it is just plain horrid." Teo sighed. Arris seemed to let out a chuckle and tossed her head towards the clock on the small shacks wall. Groaning Teo realized just how late he would be to the ball. "Well better late than never I suppose, what better way to stand out!" Giving up hope on his interesting black and green splattered suit coat he simply tossed on over his black trousers, gave his hair one last ruffle, and looked down to Arris "Ready?" Running out of his wooden shack in the woods, he lunged forward and twisted into the form of a prairie falcon. Racing low to the ground the falcon gave a joyful Cree Cree as it dodged and weaved throughout the terrain, Arris racing below him.
. . .
Dusting himself off and plucking a remaining feather from his kefta Teo sheepfully entered the ballroom. "You'd better stay close." he whispered down to the hare as he walked into the crowd of milling people. Teo flashed a smile and let his chin remained tilted upward though he became increasingly aware of how odd his attire must look, a mix of forest green and black. Unsure of where to go or who to really talk to, he fought his way through the crowd towards what smelled like an assortment of food.
Alden's gaze was on Orion as he nervously watched the man float towards a woman; the soul stealer. She was responsible for making his job harder at times and Alden was a profoundly lazy worker. Remembering how the woman kept him from completing his duties nearly made him want to leave the festivities early just to get a head start. It was a useless endeavor however; he couldn't very well sit and wait for hearts to stop beating like some sort of bad omen.
Alden rose the bottle of wine to his lips but choked mid swallow when he noticed a red plume fast approaching. He coughed and forced the wine to go down without making a scene but it burned the whole way. The woman looked like a painted phoenix come to life; the brush strokes of fabric that swayed in contrast to the dark gowns of others.
Alden braced for an unpleasant embrace that thankfully never came. Ravenna seemed to be in a chipper mood, or nervous - he couldn't tell.
"No," he groaned in response to her before taking another, much gentler, sip of the honey wine. If he had been more attentive to Ravenna then Alden wouldn't have noticed the curious gaze of Baryn from afar. A sight that wasn't quite as intimidating as it was awkward.
Taking a step to the side, the reaper was taken off guard but Ravenna's closing proximity. He was forced to give her the attention he had been giving Baryn's gaze. It was probably for the best; dreading the unknown problems before they even arose did no one any good.
However, the touch of her hand on his suit made his skin recoil. Goosebumps appeared on his hands like a feverish rash but he refrained from pulling himself away from her again. With so many eyes on her Alden found himself feeling guilty for his cold demeanor.
The suit she was so fond of him in belonged to the last Niko. In truth, he had inherited everything the last Niko had. Books, journals, notes, maps, half of which Alden couldn't understand. The last Niko was quite the hoarder and seemed to document a lot of his time in Temarona. Not all of it was useful but at least the previous reaper's wardrobe fit - mostly.
"Too sweet for me," He lied about the wine as he handed Ravenna the bottle. There was a slight scowl on his face but it didn't stay for long. He stuffed both of his hands into his pockets and slumped his shoulders, relaxing a bit despite the young woman's invasive presence.
Then Alden overtly nodded his chin in Baryn's direction, "looks like you already have disappointed father checked off the list for the night. Wish you would've waited for me before you started Ball Bingo."
Alden cracked a soft, quick smile. If one blinked at the wrong time they surely would've missed it.
"I had this brilliant plan of filling his bed chambers with pixie dust. Imagine being late to scowl at your daughter because you have to brush the sparkles out of your hair."
The shores of the night court were a hives of siren activity.
5 years had passed since the last birthing season and so many expectant mothers gathered in the waters waiting for their time to welcome their child into the world but there was a siren who'd come to the Night Court waters for a different reason. 6 months had passed since Eloria returned to the ocean and that meant it was time for her to head back to land, the birthing of new sirens was practically the perfect cover for Eloria, she wouldn't have to sneak up the shoreline before making a mad dash to a cave she had claimed as her own. The young siren wound her way around mothers gaining and as she grew closer to the shoreline her body began to transform. Her tail effortless split in two as the vibrant blue and green scales sank below and were replaced by a creamy white skin, her eyes pooled with colour as a brown iris and pupil centred in the middle of her normally pale white eyes. It wasn't until Eloria finally step foot onto the cool evening sand that her gills shut tightly and almost seemed to vanish, her first breaths on land were always awful, coughing, spluttering up the sea water that filled her lungs; the coughs so violent that the whites of her eyes burned a crimson red for a few seconds before returning to normal. After multiple violent coughs water spewed from her mouth and Eloria could finally breath like a land dweller.
She was unsteady on her feet, readjusting to walking rather than swimming always took her a day or two but finally the siren made her way up the beach and into the small cave which was decorated with many gifts of the ocean but the most common item in her home were pearls, she almost had every colour and was fond of sewing them into dresses she bought. Eloria stood in her cave brushing the dust off her prized possession quickly before turning to her wardrobe where she pulled on a simple white linen dress, she didn't like having to wear clothes but walking around naked was frowned upon by land dwellers which Eloria had found out during her first trip on land.
The siren didn't stay in her cave for long, she wanted to go into town to see if anyone of her old friends still remained and so she dashed from the cave heading up the coastal path until she finally reached the glittering town. "How I wish I could go to the Yule Ball." Eloria heard in passing as she headed towards the pub she frequented. "Ball?" Eloria thought to herself. She'd only read about those in story books and she'd always hoped to attend one. "Why not, it's a good way to start my land dwelling seasons." Eloria thought to herself as she continued to eavesdrop on the conversation next to her "The Night Court probably looks so grand." the two girls chattered and before Eloria could be noticed she was walking towards the Night Court ready to gatecrash her very first ball having no clue about the significance of it all.
Eloria walked up the path to the Night Court, her bare feet burning on the rough terrain but as she grew closer to the Night Court the noise of the party grew louder and a smile crept its way onto Eloria's face. "Oh this is going to be fun." She thought to herself as she entered the party through one of the many gateways. Everyone was dressed beautifully, it made her feel rather underdressed but being a siren she rarely had to worry about appearances, beauty was quite literally written into her DNA. The atmosphere was electric, this was what she missed about the land it was so full of life compared to the one she had in the ocean. Eloria's noise caught the scent of food "Land dweller food! How much I've missed you." She thought following her nose like some sort of dog to a large table with a variety of party food laid out and it all seemed free for the taking. It seemed that Eloria wasn't the only one who was using their nose to sniff out the food as a man appeared wearing the strangest suit of green and black, well she must of looked just as strange wearing nothing but a white dress stitched with pearls. Eloria didn't really mean to engage the man in conversation but when she looked down to the floor and spotted an animal she'd never seen before her curiosity was peaked. "What is that?" She asked pointing to the hare near the man. It was a strange thing but also quite cute, maybe even adorable but not as adorable as a clown fish. Eloria bent down to get a closer look at the strange animal covered in fur.
"Arris come on now we're nearly to the food." Theodore spotted the table through a split in the crowd. The table covered in linen was towering with practically everything imaginable, the Night court had outdone themselves. Pastries, sandwiches, fine cakes, and savory meats. teo stood on tippy toe attempted to snatched another glance at it all before feeling a small tug on his inside, Arris had stopped. "Well come on Arris we can not sit here and watch it all disappear. The Yule Ball is once a year and your stealing me of my right to eat!" Teo whined heartily. He turned back and looked down to search for where she had stopped. He turned to see a fair brown haired girl, or maybe it was a women, Theodore did not have the slightest experience with either despite his age. The girl was crouched down examine Arris with wide curious eyes. "What is she? Well she's Arris." Teo stooped down and lowered himself to her level. He stared at her for a moment before blinking and carrying on "To be specific I suppose she's my familiar. I could not do without her." He scooped up the hare and stood up, holding her out at arms length like a child presenting a puppy. "She does tricks too wanna see?!" The hare seemed to roll her eyes and twitched her nose as if to let out a laugh. Without waiting for a response the sandy haired boy completely let go of Arris and smiled down at the girl. He couldn't help but notice the many pearls sewn onto the simple white dress but quickly looked away, not wanting to stare. Theodore watched proudly as the hare twisted into a small brown finch. Arris rose above their heads and let out a small chirp. Folding her wings to her side the finch began to fall to the floor and landed in front of the girl once more as a hare and cocked her head. "She is just amazing isn't she!" Teo gushed as Arris landed between the two.
Eloria thought to herself, she didn't know the word or it meaning but she didn't want to bombard the stranger with questions so she just watched. "She's an Arris?" Eloria spoke glancing to look at the man who'd crouched down to her level as well. This man seemed kind and entertained her curiosity as he presented the Arris like a present to her and so Eloria carefully reached out her hand wondering the Arris felt like, maybe it felt like seaweed or the skin of a dolphin Eloria just needed to know. "Tricks?" She asked tilting her head but before she could ask what tricks were the man let go of the Arris and before Eloria's very eyes it transformed into a bird, Eloria was familiar with birds but not the specific species that the Arris had transformed into. Eloria's eyes shot up as the bird flew above their heads letting our a sweet chirp which caused Eloria to smile before the Arris landed down once again between them.
The man gushed over his Arris and Eloria nodded her head enthusiastically "She is." Eloria said watching the small bird before them. Eloria stood back up straight looking around the party wondering what it was all for and now that she'd met a friend she could finally ask "What is this party for? It's so grand and so beautiful." She asked him looking at all the gorgeously dressed people stood around sipping on different coloured liquids. While Eloria had been to many a party in small local pubs she'd never been to a party this luxurious before, it was worlds away from the drunken dancing and bar fights that she was used too. "And they serve such huge amounts of food for free?!" She exclaimed turning to the beautiful table laid out with all different delicacy's that Eloria hadn't a clue what a single one was but that didn't deter her from picking up a small sandwich and sniffing it closely before taking a large bite. "Wow! You must try this! It's delicious" Eloria spoke gesturing for him too.
As she stuffed her face with different foods she looked up at the man. If this were the ocean and he were a sailor Eloria wouldn't think twice about killing him to feed herself, well actually she may of thought twice because he had a tender heart. Eloria preferred killing men who'd done wrong and had caused nothing but pain and misery to woman but Eloria would have at least taken the mans arm as sustenance but here on the land she actually got to talk to him and he was kind. "Why do you wear such curious colours? Are they colours from your homeland?" She asked gently touching the cuff of his suit. "It looks like the colour of a leaf." She said even though her mouth was full of sandwich.
The dark-haired hybrid had not even noticed the man next to her until the sound of an unfamiliar voice sounded in her ears. With a dose of liquid courage settling in her stomach, she set her empty glass down on the nearest table to her and turned to face the mysterious stranger.
Her reddish gaze flickered over the man before her. The strongly-built man was dressed in a mauve suit that drew out the colors that she suspected were hidden in his light brown eyes. By the looks of it, his dark hair had been freshly cut and his skin appeared as if it had been kissed by the sun often. While he was surely handsome by all means, that was not what Minerva was focused on.
Wolven. Ah, yes, she could tell by his energy what he was. Though she had not met many wolves, save for the ones within the ranks of the Night Court, their magic just kind of sang to her. Ever since she was a young girl, Mina had always been drawn to magical sources. Perhaps, it was her siphoning abilities that begged to be unleashed, or perhaps it had something to do with being a witch. Regardless, she just knew.
"If I am not considered to be an alcoholic now, then I will surely be by the end of the night," she replied, eyeing the glass that he had he held out for her. She knew she probably shouldn't take the glass from him. She had no idea who this man was nor did she know his intentions. Even so, she could not stop her fingers from lightly brushing his as she took the glass from him.
"Is there a particular reason why you are trying to indulge my bad habit, wolf?" she inquired boldly, raising an eyebrow at him as the corners of her softly painted lips tugged up into a playful grin. Even if he turned out to have bad intentions, what was one more problem on her plate?
Before he could answer, she tipped the glass to her lips and dared to drink from it. This time, however, she did not quite down it like she had the previous one. But, it was still definitely more than just a taste. "No matter, I am curious as to who my generous new supplier might be?"
Theodore chuckled to himself an Arris. The stranger clearly was a bit different, or perhaps the courts were so different her court did not know of familiars or druids. Theodore was still considered very young for his kind and figured he was simply oblivious. None the less he made a mental note to ask later.
"The party? Oh well. . . I suppose it is to simply show off each court. Everyone gets into their finest dress and just comes to meet everyone." Teo rubbed the back of his neck unsure what to say "I'm still quite young in my court so I've only been to a couple of them myself. But yeah everyone just meets to see how each court is fairing, not that any of us particularly care I guess but I dunno, we come. People get drunk, people dance, people make small talk and then we all go home to our own courts until next year." Theodore shrugged as the strange girl took notice of the glorious food behind them. "Oh the food, yes! It is wonderful isn't it. I love seeing the different things each court has to offer but the food is always to die for, it is fantastic!" Teo could not help but chuckle as he watched the brown haired stranger take a chunk out of one of the many offered sandwiches. Teo lunged forward and grabbed one of his own. Taking a rather large bite he puffed his cheeks like a squirrel and smiled down at the girl lightheartedly.
Gulping it down he about choked as she took ahold of his splattered coat's cuff. "Ah haha my homeland? Well I suppose in a why sort of. It was actually an accident, I hope it doesn't look horrid." Theodore rubbed a hand over his face and sighed "Okay, so before I came tonight I decided to try something new I've been working on, color transferring. As long as it is from natural I can usually transfer the colors into something small. Like dying the ends of someone's hair with a rose ooor once I was practicing doing it to larger living objects and turned Arris the shade of a maple leaf in fall for a week! It doesn't last forever of course though and it's harder the larger the object is. Anyway I'm getting of track, I went to turn my jacket into something more unique and tried to make it purely deep green, with yes a leaf but of course," he laughed, embarrassed for his mistake and continued, "I got distracted talking to Arris and ruined it. I think it looks a bit cool though I suppose." he tilted his chin up with a broad smile, regaining his confidence. Perhaps maybe it was unique and posh looking.
The wine tasted sweet. A rare kind of honey wine, specifically appreciated in the river court. Mara was certain it was no coincidence that it was served today. She knew that the witches were the Night courts closest ally. Their high lord was likely keen to keep the relationship close. And Mara would have to grant that it did put her in a bit of a less sour mood regarding her presence at this festivity. A smart move as a diplomatic preparation. Credit where credit was due.
After the conclusion of the speech, the deathwitch was aware that Orion now would have to formally greet each of the representatives. She pitied him somewhat. It was not an easy task for anybody with how tense things were, but the high lord of the night court would likely have even more of a hard time considering a few factors. She would not make his life harder today, she decided. It would be tough enough as is.
Just when those thoughts were done, she saw him approach through the parting crowd. He decided to come here first? An odd choice, though somewhat understandable. She was despite many things very likely the least repulsive conversation option the man had right now, so he might have wanted to ease himself into it. Orion soon entered the little bubble of free space, that had formed around Mara. It was a natural occurance, as people could not stand to get too close. The high lord of the night court however showed no reaction to the feeling she knew would soon constrict his heart. He was very skilled at hiding and muscling through such things, but that was something Mara had noticed in their previous meetings already.
When he sat, he commented on the wine. Mara nodded. He had the typical smile of a politician on her face, polite, yet not exactly genuine. Mara bothered with no such thing, her stone-cold features remaining as they had been when she replied. "Yes, I have noticed. And I thank you kindly for your thoughtfulness. It has most certainly made its impact on my mood." With how expressionless her features were and how ambigous her wording, that could mean a lot of things. But Orion would not stick on the topic for long, which Mara appreciated.
He soon adressed the elephant in the room. She listened to his words silently. When he was done, she thought for a moment. It was merely seconds of silence between them, though it likely felt like ages for the high lord. Then, she nodded her head. "I am relieved to hear that the Night Court will stand with any decision that we come to. The same can likely not be said for the other two." The womans eyes quickly shifted to the general direction, to which each of the other representatives sat. "We have not yet concluded, what our path shall be. The council will discuss the matter in the near future. I will make sure your offer is heard within our council and will be considered when coming to a decision. Until that decision is reached, the wall is certain to remain in place." Mara stopped once more, taking a sip from her wine. "I can further assure you that the decision will not be taken lightly. No matter if the wall is to remain or another solution is found, rest assured that the council never fails to consider the consequences of their actions." With that, she nodded her head politely, indicating that this was all she had to say about that matter. a z u l a