"So what's your favorite thing about practicing magic?"
She raises an eyebrow. "No one's ever asked me that before."
"Well, now I am."
She takes on an appraising look. "The connection, I suppose. When you seize that inner flame, when it's part of you and you're part of it, when you feel like you're one tiny spark burning with the entire conflagration of the cosmos…" She stops herself suddenly. "Well, there's nothing else like it."
You nod. "That sounds divine."
"Literally." Melusine regards you again, twining a strand of dark hair around her finger. "Are you sticking around the ball long, Rosalee?"
"I intend to."
"Good." For the briefest moment, her hand skims your cheek. "I hope to see you around."
Before you can respond, a fanfare at the hall's far end heralds the beginning of events.
Amid the crowds, you scramble to find a place. The hall is far fuller now. The heavy musk of oils, perfume, and rich food makes your head spin—and you haven't even had any wine yet.
At the far end of the hall, a dais rises above the stone floor. On it sits a long, ornately decorated table and tall wooden chairs, the arms carved into the shape of Tyrannosaurus skulls. Behind, a tapestry falls from vaulted ceiling to floor. Age has faded its woven colors, but you can pick out familiar figures: brave knights on their dinosaurs, swords raised to defend the realm, the half-mythical King Merovec, and in the corner, scarcely visible under the dust…
You stare at the leathery-winged beasts for a moment. Wildest fantasy, a lost form of dinosaur, flesh-and-blood creatures long gone to the grave? Who knows? You shake yourself. You'd take Brutus over a dragon any day.
The bright music echoes off the Great Hall's high ceiling. A door to one side of the tapestry opens, and the royal procession files in. The highest of nobles first, including the queen's sister, Lady Ermessen. She barely glances at the assembly before her, raising one elegant hand with a bored yawn. Her pet Deinonychus, Pantoufle, trots along behind. The little dinosaur's jeweled collar and sharp teeth all gleam in the light. More royal relatives follow. Then Prince Bartas, the twinkle in his eyes only increased by flickering firelight. And then, at last…
Queen Isobel herself.
You've seen Her Majesty a few times since your arrival at Castle Mirabal. Usually from a distance, never for longer than a few minutes. You see where Prince Bartas gets his good looks. Queen Isobel's rich chestnut hair tumbles down her back, and you've never seen eyes so bright and dark at once.
"Welcome." She's got a wonderful speaking voice, strong and clear, with a musical edge. "Friends, guests, and new Rangers."
A polite smattering of applause. How does it feel?
1.I worked hard. This is wonderful!
2.I'm blushing. Too much attention!
3.I can't wait to start socializing!
4.I'm peeved. Those nobles have never lifted a finger.
You sure did. Enjoy the night!
Fortunately, Queen Isobel isn't much for long speeches. A few more warm words about the graduating Rangers' achievements and her hopes for them, and she dismisses you all with, "Good fellowship and cheer."
Sounds like a plan to you. Drink in hand, you scan the Great Hall. A few nobles, including Lady Ermessen, have installed themselves by the tapestry. A cluster of mages huddles by the far windows. And it looks like Prince Bartas has found some of your Ranger friends; they're laughing together by the wine casks.
Who do you approach?
3.Ermessen and the nobles.
You and your Ranger friends have been through a lot together. Early-morning kit inspections. Hill runs through pelting winter rains and blistering summer heat. Riding dinosaurs until you've numbed every muscle. So it's no surprise that your bond flows strong and deep. It's a warm feeling in your chest as you take your place near the wine cask.
Your fellow Rangers' eyes shine bright. This night is all for you and your achievements, a toast to the adventures now unfolding. Prince Bartas grins just as widely, making sure to catch your eye. You smile back, but your good cheer extinguishes as Orton strides over. Just like her; you swear she has magic. She knows exactly when you're enjoying yourself, and never fails to spoil it.
Naturally, Orton makes a beeline for Prince Bartas. Oh, but you were hoping to talk with the heir. What are you going to do?
1.Climb the ladder and wedge myself into their conversation.
2.Start up a song, to show how much fun I'm having.
3.Take more wine and valiantly ignore them both.