Now, I was on my own. At least Andrew would be around somewhere. The greeter announced my presence, and I walked into the room. It was a massively decorated hall, complete with chandeliers, an orchestra playing strange ethereal music, and large groups of colorful guests.
Colorful was exactly the word to describe them. No two aliens had the same skin color. Although some of them looked a lot like the host Prince, their species seemed to have different skin color like humans had a different eye or hair color. I was able to see aliens with blue skin, green skin, and even yellow; all seemingly belonging to the same species.
Prince Skyf was surrounded by a group of people. He had a platter of some kind of food. I decided I’d stay away from the alien foods. Some of the food on the plates looked like they were still moving. The Prince looked over and noticed me entering the room. He excused himself from his companions, making his way in my direction.
“Hello,” he offered a hand. “Princess Nefriti, I see the rumors are true. You are as beautiful as the rumors suggest.”
“Is that what they say?” I offered flippantly, trying not to blush.
The Prince leaned closer to me, speaking in an almost whisper. “Are the other rumors true as well?”
I frowned behind the veil. Something about the Prince’s leering eye and tone of voice made me uneasy with what he was asking.
“I suppose that depends on the rumors.”
Prince Skyf laughed as if I had made some kind of joke. “They say that the people of Magratea … are very progressive.”
“I’m not sure I follow what you mean.”
“I’ve heard rumors of this thing you do called the Pon farr.”
“I’ve … yes, of course.” I had no clue what he was talking about.
“And is it really like how they describe it?”
“It’s exactly like they describe it.”
Prince Skyf’s eyes brightened. “You’ve given me something to think about. Say, would you be interested in-”
“May I have this dance?”
The voice broke in, causing Prince Skyf to turn an annoyed gaze on the interrupting party. A man dressed in elaborate red robes extended his hand towards me. His face was completely obscured by a mask. My first instinct was to tell him no, but the familiarity of the voice slammed home. That was right; Andrew was in disguise too. I took his offered hand and gave Prince Skyf an apologetic smile, and he led me away.
A song began. It wasn’t something I recognized, but it sounded orchestral and quite pretty. I took Andrew’s other hand and suddenly found us moving out onto the dance floor. His feet were quick and sure. I didn’t realize Andrew could dance like this. He spun me in a tight arc, then pulled me close to him.
“I’m sorry, but he was all over you and I thought you could use the bailing out,” Andrew whispered.
I smiled. “Thanks. He was giving me a kind of creepy vibe, but we’re supposed to be keeping his attention.”
“Oh, you have his attention. He hasn’t stopped looking at us.” Andrew chuckled.
I glanced back to see Prince Skyf watching us move with a distinct frown on his face. He seemed very unhappy for some reason. I accidentally slipped, stepping on Andrew’s toe. I fought back a blush as my lips quivered, but he cupped my cheek and gave a smile that I could see through the mask.
“It’s okay; you’re doing great.”
“Where did you learn to dance like that?” I asked as he pulled me into a dip.
“You didn’t know that angels are incredible dancers?”
I let out a laugh. “No, I didn’t.”
Another robed person suddenly approached us and tapped on Andrew’s shoulder. He looked to his side at the newcomer.
“Rune? Why aren’t you helping Ryan?” Andrew asked.
“There’s a problem.”
The two of us dropped our hands and parted, turning to Rune.
“What’s going on?”
“We made it to the Prince’s room, but the doors are locked tight. My powers have been insufficient to bust my way in. I was thinking a certain… holy sword might be able to cut through.”
“You know… Gemini is not a lightsaber …”
“I know that!” Rune responded in annoyance. “
I looked over at the Prince. He had previously been giving Andrew and me dirty looks from across the room. Now he was talking to one of his soldiers, his face steadily growing angrier.
“We need to go now,” I told the boys, picking up my dress.
“No, wait.” Andrew put up his hand. “Jane, we still need someone to keep Prince Skyf’s attention. If you go, we might as well be announcing our intentions. Stay here for a bit longer.”
I gave a look of disgust and stuck my tongue out. “I don’t want to talk to that slimy bastard any longer. I feel like he’s licking me with his eyes.”
“That’s a graphic description.” Rune winced.
“I’m sorry, Jane. We need you.” Andrew lifted his hand, barely tracing his hand across my cheek. “Please. You don’t need to talk to him. Just pick a group of men and start chatting. I think his jealousy will keep him distracted.”
“Jealousy? Of what!” I demanded as the guys turned away, not meeting my eyes.
“Please, Jane, for us?” Andrew gave a rich smile that made my heart throb.
I looked down, trying to hide my blush.
“It’s not like I said I wouldn’t do it.” I murmured.
“Good.” Andrew smiled happily and turned while grabbing Rune and headed out the door. “Let’s go, Rune.”
Rune was a little flustered, looking back at me and Andrew. “Do you think that maybe Jane is a little too willing to do anything as long as the request comes from a pretty face?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Rune.” Andrew played dumb as the pair of them left the room.
“I heard that…” I muttered under my breath, shooting Rune a hateful glare.
It wasn’t that I did whatever a hot boy told me to do. I mean, Earth was in jeopardy and they just happened to have good reasons. I wasn’t easily influenced by a pretty face, right? I was a lot of things, but I wasn’t shallow.
Oh, those guys are cute. I’ll go talk to them.
I picked a group of three guys. One of them had a brown skin color that wouldn’t be weird on men I’d be interested in from Earth. He had slightly long ears, but not pointy like an elf. One of the guys was just a tad too blue, but still sexy for a white walker. His face had oval-shaped eyes but otherwise looked human. The third one had red skin and resembled a demon, complete with two ram’s horns. His demon vibe far surpassed the vibe Rune’s pretty face ever could. It left me wondering if demons were some kind of extraterrestrial. I walked up to the men, and they all bowed towards me.
It was the white walker who spoke first. “Princess Nefriti. We’ve never had the chance to meet. It seems like the rumors of your beauty were not in the least bit exaggerated.”
Double-score! They wouldn’t recognize me and I got compliments; not that my fragile sense of self-worth needed a boost at the moment. I didn’t just blindly agree to do anything for a guy with a pretty face!
“After dinner, would you like to come visit me in my room?” It was the dark-skinned man who spoke.
“Absolutely!” I froze, realizing I said something without listening to the question first. “Um… That is, to say… we’ll see how the night goes, yes?”
The three men all let out chuckles and I hid my grimace behind the veil.
Relax, Jane. Distract, don’t instigate.
My eyes quickly shot to where Prince Skyf was standing. It appeared like he didn’t want to lower himself into joining our group. Instead, he sat glowering in an easily displeased manner. Why was he so focused on me, anyway? I mean, I probably shouldn’t complain because it made my job easier, but it still worried me a bit.
When they realized I didn’t have anything else to say, the demon-like man spoke. “We were just betting on whether the Riptari would succeed in their invasion.”
“What bet?” The white walker snorted. “This planet is a technologically primitive civilization. They have almost no means of fighting back.”
“True… but they share two realms. One with the angels, one with the demons. If those realms act out, they could likely stop this invasion.”
“Working together? Angels and demons?” The demon-looking guy scoffed.” We’d rather die than work with their kind.”
As he said this, he nodded toward someone hidden in the back that I hadn’t seen before. He actually had a halo and wings, unlike Andrew. Just as this man looked like the definition of a demon, that guy was clearly an angel. Angels and demons were here too? This was deeply confusing.
“You’re a demon?” I asked, trying to tease out more information.
“Of course!” the demon straightened his back. “Not from this planet, mind you. The demon realm connects with many different worlds. While I admit, it’s odd to find a planet this far along that has both a doorway to heaven and hell.”
“What do you mean?”
The demon gave a toothy grin. “Demons and angels are like water and oil. Most worlds where the two can touch are obliterated long before any dominant species comes to be; often in a bloody war. But somehow, they’ve managed to keep a truce on this planet. A half-century ago they signed some kind of peace accord. They were strong-armed by some kind of supernatural being called the necromancer, so I’m told. Attempts to induce fighting to gain supremacy over Earth have failed… and of course, there is that cult always working in the background…”
“That’s right.” The blue guy snapped his fingers. “It was stopped by that time-traveler, Jane. She might stop this invasion too!”
My ears perked at hearing my own name.
The demon opened his mouth in surprise. “The Jane? This is her planet? Oh-ho… this might get interesting.”
The white walker waved his hands. “You’re overestimating this girl. Besides, it was that necromancer who actually stopped that war criminal. I’ve heard her involvement in the peace treaty was minor at best.
“According to the angels, the necromancer himself offered her life.”
The men all stopped for a moment, staring in silence like something profound had just been said, and then the demon broke out into a loud guffaw. “According to an angel? Yeah, I’d believe that. I’d even doubt that she’s a time-traveler. A human time-traveler? What are the chances?”
“Is it really that rare?” I spoke before I could help myself.
The men all raised eyebrows like I had just said something strange, but it was the blue guy who responded. “Don’t you think everyone would go back in time and try to perfect their lives if the technology existed? Even if it’s outlawed, there would be no way to enforce something that already happened. The reason that time hasn’t been torn apart by greedy people is that time travel is nearly always fatal. Only a very, very small portion of people from any race can survive. Simply having traveled in time would make someone famous.”
“I can name every time-traveler in existence.” The demon gave a gloating smile.
“That’s not hard, there are only three.” The white walker rolled his eyes.
“Is one of them Daltom?” I burst out before I could help myself.
The demon wore a confused look and shook his head. “No… I’ve never heard of that one. Has there perhaps been another time traveler?”
“No…” I waved my hand, deflecting the question quickly. “I just… never mind. There is no current time traveler by that name.”
It wasn’t a lie. By all account, Daltom wasn’t even born yet. However, his time traveling ability was somehow special. I had never realized that his ability was so meaningful. Of course, I had time traveled too. I wanted to be angry that he had risked my life, but Daltom was from the future. He had already known I could time travel before I could. Doesn’t that create a paradox? I shook my head, deciding to ignore the time-traveling shenanigans for as long as I could. That event was still too fresh in my mind and I didn’t like dwelling on it.
My eyes snapped back to Prince Skyf. He was no longer looking at me. Rather, he had a group of men around him. They were security detail and, as they spoke to him, his eyes suddenly snapped to me. The face that originally held jealousy and desire started to grow angry and hateful.
Things weren’t going according to plan.
“Uh, sorry guys. I just realized I have to do… something. Good luck with your bet!” I turned and picked up my dress, scampering towards the exit with quick steps.
I slammed face-first into a large person and, as my hand reached out, I found myself grabbing something hard and feathered.
“Huh?” I looked up, realizing I was directly in front of the angel I’d seen earlier.
He reminded me of someone, but at the moment I was too flustered and rushed to think about it. He also seemed to be giving me a hard look.
“Do I know you, girl?”
“I’m sorry,” I said simply, lowering my face and immediately moving past him. “I don’t know you.”
I could feel his eyes on the back of my head as I speed-walked out of the room. I had expected to have guards pile on me the second I walked out the door. Perhaps the conversation was my imagination? Perhaps I was in the clear?
As soon as I made it out the door, I tested my luck and broke into the fastest sprint my dress would allow. I needed to check on Ryan and the rest as quickly as possible. I raced towards the Prince’s room. In the back of my head, I realized it was probably stupid. There was almost certainly nothing I could do.
I burst into the room to see that the furniture was destroyed. Various trash was scattered across the room like it had been ransacked. Ryan lay in the middle of the floor, his eyes closed. I knelt down and touched his skin. It was cold and hard. Oh no, he had no heartbeat. Ryan was dead! Tears began to fall down my face as I let out a sob.
Ryan’s eyes snapped open and I jumped. The boys seriously needed to stop doing things like that to me. That was right; he was a robot; no heartbeat. I blushed in embarrassment.
“Self-repair at 42% and rising.”
“You’re … going to be okay?”
“I apologize. The ambushers managed to acquire the codes and incapacitate me. I have failed you.” Ryan answered.
“It’s alright. I was worried you might be hurt. I’m just so happy you’re okay.”
“You … really care about me?”
“Of course, I do! You’re a friend.” I gave him a smile.
“I … thank you so much.”
“We weren’t the only ones here tonight after the codes,” Ryan responded.
“The cult!” I stood up, but a moment later the door burst open.
“What is this?” An incredulous voice snapped.
I glanced up to see the Prince standing at the entrance to the room with a large group of guards.
“You!” he shouted with an angry voice looking down at the pair of us. “Guards, arrest these traitors!”