2. The Feast of the Princess.
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Packed tighter than an Eminem concert. Actually, that was one thing she would pay to see. All these yuppies in front of Slim Shady when he went wild. It would be entertaining, to say the least.

 

The guards at each set of extravagant doors stared past her, stiff and expressionless in their armor. Blue scalelike patterns ran along jagged ridges of metal, meant to emulate the look of a dragon. To her, it looked like everything else in the room, overdone and suffering from try-too-hard syndrome.

 

She brushed past, entering the cool air of the approaching nighttime to the just a little too hot atmosphere of the room. One sniff confirmed that no, they hadn't discovered deodorant since her last visit, and instead stuck with slathering on the perfume. Oh well. She was used to it.

 

Moving to the side, she leaned against the wall and examined the room.

 

Every sect in the city had its members here tonight. She knew them by face and reputation, not name. The second son of the Thunderous Flame patriarch was in the middle of the room, dressed to the nines in his attempt at dazzling armor and flowing robes. He was visible anywhere, with his dyed red hair, and clashing yellow-red robes.

 

Giggling at his flirtations was the seventh princess, Do-Lin-Ra. Rocking the mockingbird getup tonight, she noted as she watched the younger woman wave her fan in front of her face. Probably needed that thing to keep the makeup on in this heat.

 

So, two big names in the center of the room, each surrounded by their preening friends. With the princess stood her own little circle of women, all emulating her own dress to a lesser degree, while the kid had four other with him, all in the same color armor as him. Others from his sect, then.

 

 

Her eyes drifted over the crowd, noting big Hyun eating silently in the corner, his green uniform one of the few modest things in the room. Honestly, were it not for the fact that they had a violent argument a few months back, and ended with her whipping him soundly in a street fight, she might have gone over to talk. He was friendly enough, but still like the others.

 

Lao of the Darting Dolphin sect was having an animated conversation with a crowd of fans, the cause of much arm waving an adoring sighs from the girls watching him.

 

Likewise, the daughter of the Thousand Blossoms sect head was with her own crowd near the back, casually blocking the buffet tables as they loudly discussed whatever the juiciest piece of gossip the day provided.

 

There were many more names in the room, but she hadn't bothered remembering them, just the most important ones. Factions and individuals showed themselves, slowly milling in the open center of the floor. Slaves scurried after their masters, raising some bile in her throat. After two years here, she still couldn't get over how casually cruel these people could be. She hadn't gotten used to it, and never would. Oh, she could be a deliberate bitch, but never just so offhandedly cruel to other people every day.

 

With the center of the room cleared, did the princess have some sort of plan for a dance or something? Likely. That blue carpet would have more than a few rips tomorrow, slaves to mend it and prissy bitches to whip them along.

 

She shoved off the wall and began striding through the crowd, taking a circular route towards the buffet table. Many of the nobles here didn't even notice her, standing and laughing with each other in her path as she waded through the sea of people. Liberal use of her elbows seemed to cure that somewhat.

 

All too soon, she approached the group between her and the wine she wanted. They were chittering loudly, big, exaggerated fan waves and high pitched laughter seeming to be their only way of doing things. What bits of conversation she she could catch amounted to who fucked who, what technique they had mastered for seduction, mentions of the inferior sexual skills of other women, the latest makeup and how amazing their defacto leader was. In short, teenage girls.

 

She went around the group, shouldering people aside, but quickly found that she was in the open space between the table and gang.

 

As she walked towards the goblets of wine just out of her reach, a voice called from behind, directed at her.

 

"Why, Steffany, i am so pleased to see you here."

 

Good god, she did not need this shit right now.

Turning around, she painted a smile on her face and replied, in English.

 

"Bitch, i will rip your head off for a cup of coffee."

 

In the tongue of the Gold Dragon city, she continued.

 

"What do you want, Wilted Dandelion?"

 

Shock and outrage painted themselves on the faces of the groupies, typical overreaction. Well, she had just called their leader a wilted version of the lowest flower they recognized, a direct insult to their name.

 

But the woman just breezed on, facade uncracked.

 

"I have wished to ask something of you."

 

Dear lord, not again.

 

"Why do you not join us, Steffany? Surely a warrior of your strength would benefit from the combined knowledge of a thousand women. My messengers must have become lost carrying the message to you. I will have the worthless slaves whipped once i return. But, regardless, i wish to extend the hospitality of the Thousand Blossoms sect to you. Join, and you will experience prosperity unto-"

 

Steff cut her off, stepped forward, forcing the other woman to look at her. With pure venom dripping from her voice, she barked at her.

 

"No. I've said it your messengers, and i'll say it to your face. I'm not interested in your little tea party circle. I've made my opinion clear before and wont do it again. Keep your culty bullshit away from me. If i see another messenger, i will march into your sect and flatten your face, you stupid bitch. Are we clear?"

 

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and stride away, leaving the woman and her open-mouthed groupies behind her. Fuming, she snatched a goblet of wine from the table and stomped through the crowd to a table in the far corner.

 

Her mastery of two different elements meant she was the subject of dozens of offers pestering her about joining sect this or sect that. She just wanted to be left alone by assholes like that.

 

Gulping down her wine, she grimaced at the weak wine. Dragonflame, her ass. Budweiser had a better kick than this shit, even though she hated the taste.

 

Sitting back in her low chair, she resumed an old habit, sprawling one leg forward and swinging the other atop her knee, landing halfway between the ankle and knee.

 

Sitting back, she glared out at the crowd. There was no band or Song-mages on the stage, now that she had checked. So why was the center floor and stage cleared? A fight? No, even a princess would be that stupid. There were a few dozen pretty boys waltzing around, butting heads and just itching for an excuse to show off, but nobody would be so brainless as to try to arrange a defacto tournament the day before the real deal.

 

Narrowing her eyes, she kept a close watch on people at the edges of the crowd, noting two men sitting not far from her. Leaning towards them a little, she attempted to listen as they pored over scrolls. Their conversation, while obviously animated, only came to her in short bursts.

 

"For Hang-Soul, use the 'glorymonger' verse."

"Impudent buffoo-"

"Ing shame upon your school, Ja-"

 

Oh fuck. Battle poetry. That was what she wanted. If they couldn't fight with weapons, they'd do it with words. It was like battle rap. No holds barred, nothing leaves the ring, face be damned tearing into your opponent. And she hadn't been informed. Her gut told her she would be picked anyway.

 

Damnit.

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