"Come on, My Lady!" Lucy grunted, arms wound tightly around Kel's waist.
"No!" Kel called back, clinging desperately to one of the thick poles surrounding her bed.
"We'll be late at this rate!" the maid argued, continuing to tug.
"Then find me something else to wear!!" Kel shot back obstinately.
"Phew," Lucy stepped back to wipe the beads of sweat off her brow as she shook her head at Kel. "Why didn't you just choose a different dress in the first place?"
"I-I…" Kel thought back to the evening at Madame Mae's. Both Mae and the emperor seemed to think this dress was perfect; although, she suspected the emperor was just in a hurry to leave. Before she even knew what was happening, Mae had put her in the dress and was avidly pinning.
"Were you forced into picking this one?" Lucy grilled, raising an eyebrow..
"Not really.." Kel muttered.
"Were you bribed then?"
"I don't know!" Kel finally shouted, tightening her grip on the pole.
"Haaa," the maid sighed impatiently, attempting to peel Kel's fingers out of their interlocked position.
"What is this?" Thane's amused voice trickled into the room, causing both girls to momentarily freeze.
"Thank goodness!" Lucy cried, waving the knight over. "Come help me with this."
Thane didn't ask any questions about why the two women were having a face-off. He simply joined Lucy in encircling Kel's waist and heaving her away from the bed.
"Nice work," Lucy panted as the three of them toppled to the floor.
"Hmmph. Traitor," Kel pouted, crossing her arms against her rather exposed chest.
"Well then," Thane smiled, "now that you've had your fun, can we head out?"
Kel and Lucy yelled at the same time.
The knight glanced back and forth between the two as they got to their feet. Rather than confusion, there was a suspiciously joyful glint in his eyes. Fortunately, neither woman was paying enough attention to notice, as they'd turned to each other once more.
"Again," Lucy huffed, pressing her palm into her forehead. "Tell me again what's wrong with this dress."
"I don't like showing this much skin," Kel replied instantly, grimacing at the deep v-neck, plunging down almost to the bottom of her ribs.
Lucy clenched her trembling fist and forced the corners of her mouth upward. "Do you realize how much skin you show every day?" she hissed.
"Well, yeah!" Kel answered defensively. However, those dresses only showed off her arms and legs, bits of her stomach at most. "This is uncomfortably revealing in certain areas compared to my usual attire."
Thane and Lucy turned to stare at each other with dumbfounded looks on their faces as Kel gestured toward her chest. An unspoken conversation passed between them before Thane flinched and turned back to Kel.
"Well, you see, Princess," he muttered, scratching his neck, "I mean this in the most.. appropriate way possible.."
"What are you talking about?" Kel demanded irritatedly.
"... you really don't have much.. in that particular area.. to reveal in the first place?"
After a slap, several yells, and much coercing, Kel found herself walking along the halls of the main palace, arm in arm with Thane.
"So," Kel sighed, disturbing the steady rhythm of the clicks her heels made against the marble floor, "when the emperor said 'come with me', he meant to come with his guard?"
"You were quite late, Princess," Thane smiled.
"So all eyes will be on you when you enter."
"Ok, I'm going back."
Despite her best efforts to retreat, Kel was overpowered by Thane's insanely strong grip. With an innocent smile still plastered across his face, he dragged her to the ballroom's massive double doors.
Faint music floated from behind the doors out into the hall, accompanied by the roar of chattering voices.
As the pair came to a halt in front of the entrance, Kel's pounding heart became the loudest sound of all. She'd been to a myriad of balls as a princess but never as a war hostage--wearing such an exposing dress on top of it. She silently cursed her past self for complaining about the scratchy high neck gowns the maids in Mevani used to choose for her.
"Ready?" Thane leaned over to whisper as the doormen each grabbed a large golden door ring.
The most Kel could do in her petrified state was shake her head and tighten her grip on the knight's sturdy arm. He offered her a slightly more sympathetic smile as the light and sounds from the ballroom came flooding over them.
The crowd hushed as Kel's Egyptian-blue dress fluttered into the room. The various amber gemstones and golden embroidery circling the bottom of the ruffled skirt and matching bell sleeves danced splendidly in the bright lights.
The same pattern of embellishments lined the edges of the plunging neckline as well, drawing even more attention to her chest.
Her hair, which she would have been able to use as a sort of cover, had been pinned out of the way by Lucy into an intricate bun. Tiny amber jewels, similar to the ones on her dress, were added throughout the hairdo as a final touch.
If things were considered based on Kel's personal taste in fashion, anything comfortable and flowy, the dress would score a whopping zero. However, Mae and Lucy would have both shed tears of pride in their handiwork at the sight of Kel's gorgeous glowing figure. Even the head maid would not have been able to find a single fault with the dazzling dress.
The guests in the room seemed to hold the same opinions, as they all gazed captivatedly at Mevani's Princess.
After a few seconds that felt more like hours, Thane gently led Kel down onto the floor. The crowd quickly resumed their previous demeanor, chattering and laughing happily. Though, a few whispers still rippled through various groups as Kel passed.
"We must go greet the emperor first," Thane mumbled into Kel's ear as they crossed the massive room. "You can stay near him for the rest of the night."
Kel looked forward properly for the first time since entering and saw the emperor standing at the head of the room. He wore all black, save for the blood red sash across his upper body, but still had a sort of glow around him. Even in the midst of so many flashy outfits, the man's fiery aura could not be dimmed.
As Kel gawked at the emperor, she suddenly realized that his eyes were on her as well. When their gazes met, his mouth twitched into a sideways smile, and Kel's cheeks began to burn.
What was this feeling?
Was it because of the dress?
Despite her inner voices screaming to hide her face, she couldn't break the trance the emperor's eyes had locked her in.
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