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As my mind reeled about what Marlene said to me back in the room with the many dresses, I pondered. When she finally settled on a way to style my hair; curly tendrils wrapped in an ornate bun with golden pearl bobby pins scattered through the gorgeous mess she'd made; a masterpiece I had no idea she had created in such a short time. When she'd laid out what seemed like hundreds of small pots filled with rich pigments for your eyes lips and face, I got excited. I offered to apply it myself, but this make-up didn't look like ordinary make-up to me. So, I sat back and let Marlene go to work again.
Now, we walked down one of the many long arched stone hallways. The shoes I wore had satin thin laces up my calves. They weren't high, thank god. and remarkably they were comfortable. They clicked on the floor and the sound echoed up and down the hallways as the two of us walked. The sun was setting quickly, quicker than anything I'd ever seen. I stopped and watched on in wonder as the sun traveled TOO quickly down into what was called the Heavens Mountains here and turned my head as the largest full moon, following right behind the setting sun graced us with its presence.
"Wonderful, isn't she?"
I turned and set my eyes on Marlene. From the look on her face she was just as taken for breath as I was. I nodded a response to her question. "How is that possible?"
"How is what possible?" she asked in return.
"How does the sun travel so fast across the sky in such a short time?"
She smiled and nodded below us. Thick strips of wood wound together into beautiful pieces of artwork were lit aflame along each wall, giving the darkness of this place some warm light. It all felt so homey here. Marlene's calloused hand touched my shoulder. "I'll explain while we walk."
I fell into step beside her as we traveled further down. I could faintly see groups of people, just as elegantly dressed as I was. Marlene slowed a pace.
"Incala has longer nights than days. That's why we call the moon a she. We celebrate her beauty. Incala is known for its drunken fun nights filled with parties, women, and the best army in the four kingdoms."
"The guys in all red?"
She gestured to the front of her face with a smile. "With the mask thing, right?"
I laughed. "You know, when they brought me inside, I didn't even notice those."
Now that I thought about it, they did wear ash gray shiny masks that looked as if they dripped onto the right side of their faces like paint. "What's up with that?"
"No idea," she replied.
We stopped walking and I glanced to the door that we stopped in front of. Those guards who we were just speaking of stood at each door, ready to pull them open to let me in. Their faces were stoic and featureless.
"Do you come in with me?"
Sadly, for me she shook her head. "I have so many things to attend to. And the servants don't attend royal parties."
"Royal? So, what the heck am I doing here?"
She shrugged and walked on down the hallway. She smiled as she passed and whispered for me to have fun for her. As my heart slammed into my chest repeatedly I took a deep breath and tried to calm it. I watched as the guards grabbed a hold of the door handles and pulled them back and open.
I walked into a huge grand ballroom, decorated in gold and shimmering teal. There was a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. One to rival the Phantom of the Opera's. there were dozens upon dozens of people in here. Some were crowded around the long ornate table that harbored tarts and sweets of different colors and shapes. Round ones with what looked like sugared raspberries on top of them. Different colored liquids sprouted from gold statues set up around the room. I watched as people just tipped their glasses underneath the everlasting fountain and then put the cup to their lips. I walked idly, self-conscious because these people were so beautiful and finely dressed. A few heads turned my way as I navigated, until a guard appeared in front of me.
"Excuse me, my lady would like to speak with you. Please follow me." I followed the creepy guard across the room to a section of the wall I watched him sneakily crack open and push me through. He followed close behind. The wall fell back into place and we walked briskly down one of the plain stone hallways. It was colder down this way.
We came upon a door and the guard opened that one as well, making way for me to pass. As I entered the room, there was a raging fire going in the ornately carved hearth and velvet lined couches decorating the room. A woman, covered from head to toe in some sort of glitter, and only glitter, stood up to meet me. The glitter pooled in all the important places. She didn't seem to mind that she was naked in front of an entire group of strangers. Her face was wispy and long. Her eyes were bright with green moss and She resembled a young woman, but you could tell that time still had taken its affect. A girl, no more than my age stood beside her. She shared the same bright eyes, but her face was fresh, new. It glowed like mine. She wore a long navy-blue gown, flat sandals, almost like the ones I wore, a gold head piece that wove its chains through her two braids that met as one just a bit past her back, loose strands framing her olive face. The upper part of her arm decorated in markings. She had the same expression on her face as the guards I'd been encountering.
"Hello. I'm Lyla. Queen to the Incala palace. This is my daughter, Peyton. The best warrior to grace these lands, and my heir to the throne."
Her daughter made eye contact with me for a fraction of a second before looking away. No wonder she looked like the guards. I now suspected she worked with them.
"It's nice to be here. Thank you for the dress- and your palace is beautiful."
Lyla smiled flatly at my praise and nodded as I spoke. "I've brought you here to inform you on what will be going on this evening so that you do not stick out like a sheep in a wolfs den. Incala is celebrating the new alliance just made by yours truly, where we can now trade goods with Mazlanda. This will be the first time our ships cross this far across the Betwah sea. And after the festivities end, you will be brought back here for questioning. For now, sweet girl, enjoy the wine and treats. Peyton will accompany you throughout the castle until it is time for us to meet again."
Peyton shot a look to her mother that was venomous before she sighed deeply and rounded the chair her mother sat cross legged in. She didn't say anything more, or even looked our way before Peyton grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the door and out.
We were back in the Ballroom where nothing stopped. If anything, it was livelier than when I left. Upbeat music played around the room and groups of people were dancing cheerfully.
"After a while, these parties begin to get too predictable. boring." Her voice was firm and strong, but soft and caressing all at the same time. I looked at her eyes following the crowd around the room. Her look was calculating and even. She was a fraction of an inch taller than me, huffing and puffing like a little baby.
"How long have you lived here?"
Her eyes wandered to me. The eyeliner she wore was dark and smudged around her equally moss green eyes. But they weren't just green. It was like lush fog coating that green.
Did everyone have to be so damn good looking?!
"All my life I would suppose."
I heard the clap back as she shook her head timidly. This awkward silence was making me thirsty. "Where can I get something to drink here?"
Without an answer she turned and walked toward the opposite end of the room. I guess that was my incentive to follow her. Peyton didn't have to push past people, or even ask them to move aside. They just moved! Eyes followed her as she walked. I watched her back muscles grow more and more rigid as the stares increased. A long table came into view. The same one I'd spotted with all the different candies and the fountain of drinks. Peyton grabbed one of the glasses and handed it to me. I walked over to the fountain and smiled when I put my glass beneath it and it filled with purple liquid. I glanced at her for confirmation that this purple drink wouldn't turn me into an Oompa-Loompa from drinking it.
"It won’t kill you."
Trusting her, I put the cool glass to my lips and took a long sip. The liquid was cold and sweet. It was almost airy, but not to where it left you thirsty still. This had to be the best dream right now. Everything glowed and sparkled here.
The dancing and gossiping continued. Peyton never left my side as we walked around the room, never really addressing anyone. A few people came up to me asking questions I had no idea how to even try to answer. I'd caught Peyton's suspicious glance as I'd tried desperately to make some sense to someone. It felt like hours passed before a bell chimed somewhere in the great hall and the dancing and music stopped. The sound of a large door opening echoed before Lyla in her glitter gown waltzed into the room. there were gasps and quiet praise as people drank her in.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming and celebrating this incredible milestone with us. Incala's trading is expanding to newer and broader horizons. This means new food, medicines, ma-, money. Especially more coin. We will all see profits from this. So please, let us raise our glasses, to the new alliance."
"Here, here!" everyone cheered as they toasted and raised their glasses to Lyla's speech.
Even though I knew nothing of the land my mind created, I was curious to see where all these people had come from. How large was the world I conjured up?
"Might I have this dance miss?" a man in an electric blue petticoat asked politely, Bending low with an outstretched hand. I looked quickly to Peyton. Was he speaking to her? But from the smirk on her face I figured he was addressing me. I rung my hands together. I didn't know any of these dances. I WAS a cheerleader, from what now feels like a long time ago.
"I'm sure she'd be honored, sir Deveron."
I could punch her! I could punch her if I wasn't sure that she had the strength to kill me if she wanted to. I sighed deeply and prepared myself for the shame I was about to bring myself. Hesitantly, I placed my hand in his large one. He smiled and stood straight as he led me out onto the almost clear dance floor.
"I'm sorry. I don't really dance."
I expected this man with his finery to frown at the letdown. But he didn't. His grip on my hand only tightened reassuringly. "That's a relief. I am a terrible dancer myself."
My eyebrows drew together, and I smiled sweetly. "So why did you ask me to dance?"
He shrugged and brushed his hands down his coat. "well you're beautiful and I'd rather sway with a beautiful woman than stand across the room stagnant."
He had a point there.
"Forgive me. But, you have the body of a dancer."
"I'm not sure what you mean." I suddenly became cautious.
"I mean no disrespect beauty. I only mean to say that your posture is phenomenal and even as we sway, you are elegant."
He saw all of that just from looking at me? Was it that obvious?
"I did ballet for eight years."
His smile widened. "Ahh. I knew it was something? Do you perform?"
I shook my head solemnly. In six to eight weeks I would never even see another ballet dancer, or cheer-leading again... I suddenly felt glum and this topic of conversation was growing stale on my tongue. I shied away from him a little. A hand came down on my shoulder. Squeezing slightly. I turned my head to face the person touching me, only to find Peyton grimacing at me.
"Let's go. I have something to show you."
I gladly welcomed her distraction of whatever it was she wanted to show me. I nodded to Sir Deveron before following Peyton through the throngs of people to two enormous gold trimmed French doors. They were beautiful and spectacular. I was stuck for a few moments just admiring them. The breeze from outside brushed my face and I followed it out to a rounded stone balcony. Peyton made no noise as she walked over to the edge and placed her hands on the flat top of the stone carved fence keeping us from tumbling down into the wild grass. The Aqua fields at night glowed and as the blades swayed, resembled a long stretch of unsettled sea water. The bright blue glow lit up the now dark sky. And just as the clouds were dark with the day, they were light with the night. The purest white I'd ever seen. The scattered masses passed slowly by over bright stars that seemed almost over populated if that were possible. Peyton's hard eyes never left the view. I couldn't blame her.
"Thanks," I finally spit out when I couldn't take the quiet much longer.
"For?" she questioned lightly.
I was pretty sure that this girl did not favor me. Her crude looks, and tone gave that away without any doubt. The air about her was strong and confident. But there was a detection of something in that expanse of air that I couldn't place my finger on. But before I could look too deep, I chuckled and rubbed the back of my neck. I nodded back towards the open doors. "For getting me out of there."
She shrugged and continued star gazing. See. She hated me. But who was I to fret over someone not liking me. Especially someone who was only a figment of my imagination. I really wondered how long this dream was going to go on for? That morphine really knocked me out good.
"I was getting tired of being looked at." She finally answered.
I took a tentative step forward. Coming to stand beside her. "But you're daughter to the queen. Aren't you always looked at-"
"Exactly!" She cut me off angrily.
As tight as I could pin my lips shut, I did. Something gave me the idea that I would never want to see this girl truly furious. She scared me enough as it was. She didn't say anything other than that before she turned and headed back inside. I didn't know if I should follow her or not. But my gut told me to give her a minute to herself.
The party fueled on throughout the night and I avoided dancing with anyone else for the rest of the celebration. When Peyton stepped out of nowhere nodding for me to follow her, I knew that we were headed back to Queen Lyla. The questioning she was talking about. I dreaded questions here. I had absolutely no answers to any of these people’s inquiries. Somewhere in the back of my mind as we walked back into the foyer with the unique fireplace and velvet chairs I thought. I don't know what I expected to walk into, I thought maybe we would have been in a different room, where there was a gold trimmed chair sitting high up above the ground where the queen would sit and issue her rule. But that is not where we were. We were in much too comfortable a space to be a throne room. From my experience with TV shows and Victorian era because that's what this looked like. Like a party straight out of Buckingham Palace but sped through time to meet the 21st Century. The throne room was always one that intimidated guests. As we approached I saw Lyla, lounging on a blood red love seat. Her hair was flowing and let down from her diamond studded clips. The gold that attached itself to her skin was no longer. Instead it was the same Tanned color as Peyton's. Her face was still painted exquisitely. My make-up felt caked on at this point. I was afraid to touch it to see.
"Well darling girl," Lyla cheered happily, and a little drunk. Probably from the chalice she was still clutching close to her chest. I heard a deep sigh and assumed it was Peyton. I didn't dare turn around. I grinned lightly and walked idly towards her. The warmth in her seeped into my bones and only now did I realize how cold it had been in that ballroom. "How did you enjoy the festivities?" She asked on.
I swallowed and smiled, nodding at her. "I liked it very much your highness. It was a wonderful party."
Remarkably, I didn't even halfway mean it. That party was distant and strange. But what else could I ask for in a very vivid dream?
"Excellent, excellent. Now, where pray-tell did you come from?"
Shit. More questions. "Chicago."
Her head cocked to the side and her eyebrows furrowed. "Chi-cago."
I nodded, trying not to laugh at her pronunciation. "Yea. It's a city, with really tall buildings, corner stores-even though they never have what I want so it's-"
I stopped myself. I was rambling. I shook my head. Queen Layla raised her hand as if in realization and her eyes grew a bit wider. "Heavens City?"
Heaven. Heavens mountains. I quickly replied, "Yes," before she could fight me or question me on it further.
"Ah... I see. And how did you end up in our Aqua fields? That's quiet far from Heavens mountains."
I swear, there had to be beads of sweat collecting on my forehead. My mind worked quickly. This was a strange world. One that was mine to rearrange and make to my liking. So, I just, winged it.
"I was out riding, I'd escaped my security detail sent with me and wandered to the edge of the fields. My old stubborn nag spooked, and I was thrown. Next thing I knew I woke up alone." smiling like I truly meant the story I'd just spun. She looked me up and down slowly, biting the inside of her cheek before smiling once again and replying to me.
"Well, you are welcome to stay as long as you like. I'd like to have breakfast with you in the morning."
As politely as she said it, she wasn't asking. "Yes, that will be fine."
"Excellent!" she almost hissed. It drove a chill down my spine. This woman was all glitter and fantasy, but somewhere in her makeup, she was twisted. Dark almost. She extended her hand out towards the doors leading out of the room.
A man in a plum suit and white shirt stepped forward into the queen’s line of view. He was one of the guard. His posture the same as Peyton’s and the rest of the men I saw standing post around here.
"Yes, my queen?"
"Please show Sarah to her rooms please."
He nodded and turned, stepping down the slim stairs to open the doors. I turned and followed him, passing Peyton sitting on the end table near the fireplace. She watched as I disappeared from the room.