- Crystal Kingdom
The difficulty of the choice was made easier by the fact that the aquamarine one was snug in the chest, squishing my breasts in a very unflattering and uncomfortable fashion. While the darker navy dress felt like heaven on my skin, the slit felt too high, and it also had a plunging neckline, a combination that felt slightly improper for this party.
The white one fit perfectly, almost like it had been made for me. The illusion neckline allowed a hint of cleavage, and it was open in the back, showing off a bit of skin. While the length was longer than I normally liked, it was light and flowed away from me, so I didn’t think it would be a problem to run or kick in if I needed to.
Once I’d finished with my hair and makeup, I went down the hall to admire myself in the full-length mirror of the bathroom.
Since I wasn’t doing anything other than looking at my reflection, I’d left the door open, which allowed Konstantin to pause and whistle at me.
“Well done, white rabbit.” He smiled crookedly at me, but his eyes were serious as they assessed me.
Something about the way he looked at me made my skin flush a little, and I turned to face him. “Thanks.”
“It’s kind of a shame I’m missing the party tonight,” he said.
“Why aren’t you going?” I asked in surprise.
Based on the way he was dressed, I assumed he planned to attend. He had on a simple black uniform, similar to the one that Ridley had worn as Kanin Överste, with epaulets on the shoulders, and a sword in a scabbard that hung from a belt around his waist.
While Ridley and Tilda had taken to wearing the shimmery blue uniforms of the Skojare, Konstantin had managed to dig up one that showed no allegiance. No color, no insignia, nothing to tie him to any kingdom.
“I’m walking the perimeter of Storvatten, along with some of the other guards,” Konstantin explained. “Since we don’t know when Mina and Viktor are going to strike, we’re keeping a lookout.”
“Damn.” I looked down at my gown, suddenly feeling very silly. “I should change and go with you.”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “We’ve got enough guys going out. You should go. You should be happy.”
I started to tell him that he should still come to the party if he got a chance, but he turned and walked away, leaving me standing there in my beautiful dress feeling flustered and alone.
Given the short amount of time Linnea had had to put it all together, the ballroom looked especially impressive.
Under the dark canopy of night displayed in the glass dome, twinkling lights had been strung around the room. Along the walls, tables had been adorned with shimmering linens, crystal centerpieces, and mood-enhancing candles. A buffet of savory and sweet ran along the wall at the end of the ballroom, with an ice sculpture of a fish.
In the far corner of the room, a small chamber orchestra had been set up. When I entered the room, they were just finishing an old Skojare song I remembered my mom singing, then they switched to an ethereal orchestral cover of “Bulletproof” by LaRoux.
I’d arrived late, so the dance floor was already crowded, all the guests wearing masks equally as beautiful as mine. It was a veritable rainbow in the ballroom, and not just because of all the beautiful dresses. All the highest royals were in attendance, along with the Skojare guards dressed in their frosty uniforms.
Most of the allies that had come to the party from the Trylle and the Vittra were men, dressed crisply in their dark uniforms of emerald and claret, but the Skojare women were more than happy to dance with them. After years of living in the rather isolated Storvatten, new faces were exotic and exciting, especially when they had come to save the kingdom.
I stood in the doorway for a moment, content enough to watch so many trolls coming together like this. Talking, laughing, twirling around on the dance floor together. Even at parties, like at King Evert and Queen Mina’s anniversary party, everyone was still so segregated. Trylle danced with Trylle, and so on.
This was the first time I’d ever seen the kingdoms so commingled before. It was kind of amazing, and I wondered if Linnea’s masquerade theme had helped this happen.
“I wasn’t sure if you were coming,” a voice said at my side, and I turned to see that Ridley had somehow snuck beside me.
He’d forgone the Skojare uniform, unlike many of the other attendees, and instead wore a simple, surprisingly well-tailored suit. It was pure white, with a satin and diamond finish, and he wore it with a black dress shirt. Based on the exquisiteness of it, I realized that Linnea had procured it for him the same way she had gotten my gown for me.
Since we’d been in Storvatten, Ridley hadn’t shaved, leaving him with a light beard along his jawline and above his lip. His hair was only slightly disheveled, like he’d styled it perfectly but couldn’t help himself and ran his hand through it.
His mask was black and thicker than mine, more masculine, but just as gorgeous.
“I wasn’t sure you were coming either,” I admitted. Since we’d just been focusing on training and hadn’t had a chance to talk since our late-night rendezvous, I had no idea where we stood.
“I’d never miss a chance to dance with you.” He stepped back and extended his hand to me. He said nothing, but he didn’t have to. The question was in his eyes.
Tentatively, I took his hand and let him lead me out onto the dance floor. I wasn’t sure if the crowed actually parted for us, or if it just felt that way. Whenever I was with Ridley like this—when he was touching me, and his eyes were focused on me, and my heart was pounding so fast I felt dizzy and drunk—the whole world always seemed to fall away. Like we had become the center of the universe, and everything spun around us.