(Will edit later with a text table)

I belong here, Caulder thought.

The laughter, the golden light shimmering over opulent wealth, oceans of meaning communicated over a glance, of a coy smile over a fan, of a slight gesture of one's hand. He moved from circle to circle, and a hundred eyes raked over his elegant attire that bore marks of honor of the many dragon hunts he'd led. They crooned and fawned over him, and their words and eyes felt physical, reaching and clamoring to claim. They touched his dark sleeve and rings with subtle smiles, roved their eyes over the golden Sunni sash across his chest, his dark mask embroidered with golden dragon scales, over his long hair that fell down his back like a silken river. They asked him if he had met the Human King himself, if he was close with him after all the dragons he'd presented to court. And though he returned those subtle smiles with gentleness, something in him roared, Soon I will be. He will be more than an idol on my altar ere long.

The music came to a crescendo, pulling his circles to the floor, and he gently removed himself from their clinging eyes and hungry, yawning pauses that begged him to ask for a dance. Once a flute of champagne from the buffet table met his hand, he watched the glorious upper echelon of his city dance as easily as breathing. He watched each turn, each sweep of skirts and turn of the hand, knowing that the rooms that pretended ease were merely another kind of battle, where weakness became blood in the air that could bring predators to tear you down.

And just as he thought so, he heard the tittering laughter that preyed on such weakness, and he searched for the source. Two girls in rose-pink curled their shoulders and joined youths to dance, murmuring false pity of a young lady in red who shyly clung to the wall, her hand tucked over her shoulder and into her hair.

He made his way over to her patiently and without hurry. Once he was a few paces from her, he said gently, "Are you alright, my lady?" This close, he saw how lovely she was. Soft eyes, a perfect heart-shaped face, and a deep red dress that matched her lips. How strange that she didn't have a clamoring of men asking for her company. He gave a small smile to her. "I thought I was the only one who wouldn't dance tonight. I've yet to perfect how Kastalians dance, and stars forbid if I'd join them with anything less than perfection."

Her hair moved, and he saw something peek through her hair.


It took him a moment, but that was definitely a rat that she had her hand on. For comfort, it looked like, (for there was no way she did not know it was there on her shoulder, surely).

When this processed properly, his smile became warmer. "But perhaps you merely don't want to leave your friend behind."