“Isn’t this party great?” Touma shouted as he saw Emi walking by. He had a glass of Doros Prime in his hand, so he was most likely far past the point of sobriety. If her brother was no longer of a sound mind, that gave Emi legal recourse to ignore anything he said and grumble about having to wear this annoying dress.
The corset was so tight she felt like she was going to burst.
This party, being held at Emi’s house, was one of the biggest and most prolific of the year. Even though they had a large house, the sheer number of people here made it a relentlessly crowded experience. She finally understood why the L’Hime Family home was so spacious– it was all for this precise kind of event, for the occasions when occupancy went from fifteen to fifteen hundred.
To say that Emi hated crowds was to say that crows were black. And to say that Emi hated this party was to say that the sun rose in the morning, and the moons rose in the evening. To say that this was one of the worst events Emi had ever attended would only barely qualify as an exaggeration.
The colors alone gave her a headache; every rich person here wore their own loud-colored dress, creating a clash of rainbows against the shiny gold-and-white decorations of the party itself placed around the foyer. It was so bright that the blind would grumble about it.
With such a massive number of people smushed into the foyer, the rich person smell was particularly pungent tonight. The odor of cheap perfumes, of white wine against bad breath, of wig powder and sweaty breeches. No matter how much money these people had, they somehow couldn’t prevent themselves from smelling like a rotten salmon bind.
Because the Empress-Consort was here to take part in the festivities, having already mingled into the crowd of colorful smelly dancers, so too were her contingent of Dannark guardsmen, two posted at every corner of the foyer and several more wandering in and out. Surely nothing would happen to her at a party like this, but the very threat of it was constantly reminded by the presence of all these gray-armored guards.
And to cap it all off, a small orchestral ensemble was playing traditional tunes, making the scene almost literally deafening at times. So, the perfect way to torture a young girl who didn’t even want to be here.
Emi hated crowds. She hated rich old people standing around laughing while they talked about bureaucratic drivel. She hated all of this! The stress was making her sweat her armpits off. Soon, she’d be just as smelly as everyone else.
Tia Knoll passed by, dressed up in a silk gown and wearing a jet black wig with hair going down to his waist. Many guests at the party were ogling him even as they ignored Emi and her expensive, hours-long-fitted dress. He was outstaging Emi and wasn’t even a girl. She really hated when he showed off his crossdressing skills at every single party and got the same rousing reactions each time.
“I have already received marriage propositions from ten suitors, including a noble from Dannark. Shall we compare numbers?” Very modest of him.
“Seeing as I’m currently engaged, I wasn’t keeping count,” Emi said.
“Well, I have a boyfriend, but that does not keep me. It’s all in good spirits.”
“You’re a fiend.”
“Oh, Emi, you need to have some fun. Your brother certainly is.” He pointed to Touma, who had exchanged his glass of Doros Prime for the whole bottle. His arm was wrapped around the shoulder a woman who looked about as far gone as he did. They laughed so loudly Emi could hear them from here.
“If I don’t save him, he’s going to be knocked out and arrested for harassing the Empress-Consort, isn’t he?” Emi mumbled.
Tia kept playing with his wig. “You know, I wonder how long it would take me to grow out my hair as long as my wig. Though I would venture to guess it would be too frizzy to actually grow down like yours.” He reached over to start playing with Emi’s hair, but she swatted away his wrist.
“Don’t you dare.”
Emi’s mind, as stupid as it ever was, conjured up an image of her time with Beatrice, standing on a bridge and looking at the girl’s hair glistening in the moonlight, and she imagined herself reaching out and putting her hands through the curls.
No, please don’t do this, Emi, she thought to herself. She couldn’t bear to see Beatrice again, even in her mind. The way she felt when they held their hands together, the whole swirl of mushy feelings and soft warmth came back to her and sent her heart into a pitter-patter. A pitter-patter of the worst kind.
A partygoer bumped into her shoulder and made her jump. She clutched at her chest.
“Emi?” Tia seemed concerned for Emi’s welfare. “Corset on too tight?”
“Uh, no, it’s nothing.”
Sooner or later, she was going to be married to Lady Khara from Zahn, and she was going to continue her life as an international diplomat, travelling constantly, going to parties constantly, and having none of the life that she actually wanted. It would be like tonight, but for the rest of her life.
The thought of all of that just made her want to rebel, so, so much. To do something crazy. But it was a bit hard when she was being strangled by her own dress.
“Tia, what’s your plan for the future?” she asked. “You remember what we were talking about on the gondola the other day? I was just thinking about that, and… oh.”
He hadn’t heard her. Tia was turned around, caught up in a lively discussion with an older couple confused about his recreational crossdressing inclinations.
Emi sighed. She looked over across the foyer to Touma, who was tap-dancing and treading dangerously close to the fireplace. She decided she would simply go back to her bedroom, lock her door, and hope the party wasn’t so loud it prevented her from sleeping.
She felt something–
A tap on her shoulder–
And right there, amidst the crowd of partygoers, were those same deep blue eyes, that same face full of freckles that always grabbed her attention so quickly. It was Beatrice Ragnell, dressed up in a dark outfit with a sash across her chest, and a short cape at her back.
She extended her hand towards Emi.