At the forefront of the ballroom and underneath blinding lights, a lone conductor dressed in all black waved his long, conducting stick around as the strings of the violins, violas, and cellos were rubbed by floating bows. The one-man symphony then waved his free hand towards the lonesome double bass and harp, and soon the plucking of strings accompanied the sweet fast pace melody, adding more bounce and rhythm to the strings before the grand piano at the conductor’s side began pressing down on its own ivory keys. And now that the music for the dance number was set, the nobles, politicians, celebrities, and key players of the Gaul Empire entered the once bare dance floor with light, quick feet and enticing tongues. On the dance floor, conversations revolving the future of the Empire were intimate as deals, bargains, and considerations were lobbied with policymakers and the enforcers of the law.
Standing in the lone corner of the ballroom was a somber, bored young lady of fifteen years dressed in a ruffled asymmetric silk-taffeta evening gown in a pink begonia hue. The petal-pink ruffled tiers of silk were lustrous, expensive, and the construction of the dress itself was masterful. The strapless bodice was boned for support, and at the waistline was an over-sized bow while the floor-sweeping hemline coyishly displayed delicate ankles wearing whimsical, strapped heels. A champagne glass filled with apple cider was cradled in her manicured hand as she took a small sip of the expensive apple juice. And while she was indeed underage, Yaya could have easily taken a flute of alcohol because the adults of high society did not care about what one little girl did. But alas, she did not for Yaya did not like the taste of fizzy, dirty-tasting water on her tongue. Perhaps she didn’t develop a taste for it yet, but in due time, maybe the girl would.
There were also foreign politicians in the dance hall – although if you asked Yaya if she knew who they were, she could not, would not be able to tell you. In the far left of the room was her father, a Mr. Changlong Tao who was very long-winded and roundabout in his speech. Next to him was her mother, a Mrs. Maihua Tao who was too frank in nature and felt that beauties were more accomplished than non-pretty people. Her oldest brother, a Mr. Chong Tao who known for his very serious, very stern demeanor and outlook on life. Her second oldest brother, a Mr. Jing Tao who often talked too much, leaving little room for other conversations, opinions or thoughts. They were engaged in conversation with Mr. Ramsauer, Governor from Hallstatt, and Mrs. Gallieni, the Chamberlain of Marne.
Sitting at one of the rounded tables surrounded by Germanian ministers and politicians was her oldest sister, Baobai Fortuyn a career woman who worked with surveys and polling measures. She was married to Dietrich Fortuyn, son of Emmerich Fortuyn, the head foreign minister from Burgumer, Germania. Off to the side were Mrs. Lei Tao who was married to her oldest brother, and Mrs. Anna Tao who was married to her second oldest brother.
Toasting with a Zhong Guo foreign official were her middle brothers, Xiong and Feng. While her father and Chong and Jing secured economic trade deals for their farm in the New World, Yaya had a feeling Xiong and Feng were working on expanding their tech-augment company into the territories of Zhong Guo and Ayuthaya. On the dancefloor, her middle sister, Gaojie Tao turned in circles, charming and turning heads wherever she went. Talkative, friendly, and the most beautiful of the three sisters, Gaojie went from arm to arm, swaying to the music while politicians and nobles lined up for the chance to potentially dance with her next. Her fiancé, a Knight of the Gaul Empire, was Sir Kenneth Lee – Captain of the 37th Warwick Squadron. Gaojie was adorned in the latest fashion, and always on top of the trends mostly since it was her job.
One of the twins, Sai, was dancing with a young lady from Goryeo while the other twin, Hai, was talking policies with the Duke of Saone, and the second prince of the Gaul Empire and spare to the Throne of Yore, His Royal Highness, Sigfroi d’Montpellier. As the youngest of the nine, Yaya had no real duties yet, but she knew that the second prince’s eyes always searched for her despite the fact that her siblings and parents did their best to deter his growing interest in the young magician. Even know, the weight of his royal stare weighed down her small shoulders, suffocating her despite the physical distance between the two. There was no doubt that Yaya’s future was set in becoming a magician of the court, but the question was, whose court?
Both a curse and a blessing, the Hall of Destiny and the Kingmaker had already set her place in the wheel of life. There was no doubt that the young Journeyman was bound for life as an Imperium Mage. After all, that was all the other Kingmakers did, and there was little choice in the matter. Under the direct tutelage of a Paragon who had no other Apprentice, Journeyman, or Acolyte, Yaya’s education was thoroughly supervised and determined.
Her father always said in that clipped tone of his whenever his mind wondered off to the status of their citizenships, “Yaya, you must understand. They-” They as the Gaul Empire. “They may have given your mother and I refugee status and a place amongst their citizens, but your mother and I are visitors to them. We are not truly Gaul citizens despite what our papers might say. You see, we, our family, must work harder in order to prove our worth to the crown and power. That is why they shipped us to the New World so no Gaulish blood will be spilled if there is danger. That is why we will be never be the same as the Gaul Mainlanders.”
Her father would then say in perfect routine, “But here in the New World. This continent that arose from the oceans where the untamed wilds are more alive with magic than ever – this land will be our mark. We will change the world with our foods and knowledge. The Taos are the ones who conquered a land that refused to sprout a single green leaf. Our ancestors are watching us, our ancestors have guided us, our ancestors helped us turn dead land into fields of life. You were born in a land of endless possibilities.”
To finish his lectures, her father would conclude with the following, “We have no country, no true home to return. Our people are outcast, exiled. We, who more than others, must help our people. We are the foundation for the future. Never forget who you are. Before you are citizen of the Gaul, you have the blood of Pamong running in your veins. You are a member of the Pamong before you are a citizen of the Gaul.”
Although Yaya didn’t understand her parents’ refugee immigrant views fully, she didn’t discount them. Their history was true. Her parents were sent on an aeroplane to the Gaul established colony of the New World called Grian. The first group of settlers in Grian were unable to till the land. A decade later, before her oldest sibling was born, her parents arrived fresh from escaping a civil war in southern Zhong Guo and Northern Ayuthaya. And the rest, as Yaya knew it, was history.
Now her parents were Gaul citizens and farmers. Their Tao farms providing sixty percent of the food consumed in the Empire, and ten percent of the world. Her family was now very wealthy, but the paranoia of the past never left her father. He was becoming guarded and scared as he grew older and not as strong.
“Yaya,” the familiar voice with the low timbre that caused many schoolgirls to fall head over heels called out to her. The girl in the pink dress rolled her eyes before schooling her features neutral as she turned to face Chase Young. Chase was her schoolmate since she was a little girl of ten years old, and now that she was fifteen and he was sixteen, there was this barrier of distance that had grown between the two since the previous two years. Chase possessed a very masculine beauty compared to his older brother’s soulful, wide eye pouty look. His eyes were sharp and unrelenting while his nose was high and tall – the tip of his nose rounded. His lips were lush and full, and his cheekbones were so high and sharp, causing his face to seem His shoulders were growing broad and wider everyday they became older. In addition, his height was nearing six feet now compared to the lanky boy that was shorter than her when they first met. His usual fluffed, black hair was now tamed, cut, and styled in a short style where the strands were parted three-quarters.
Yaya didn’t reply to the boy approaching her; instead, she merely placed her glass of apple juice down on the very tall, standing table next to her and readied herself for a fight. Chase was dressed in a tailored navy suit with dress shoes on.
“Hey,” he said, grinning from ear to ear except his grin was more akin to a smirk.
She nodded in return – he was not worthy of her words or voice – her fingers curling into relaxed balls.
The Youngs lived in Kunlun, a Zhong Guo colony, in the most northern region of the New World where the snow was harsh and cutting, the cold was terrible and biting, but the amounts of jade was endless. In the harsh region, the mines produced all sorts of precious stones from diamond, emeralds, rubies, sapphires to various colors of jade. There was an endless amount of coal in the region as well as oil deep beneath the mines.
“Haven’t seen you in a minute,” he said, coming by to stand next to her, towering over her with his height. Yaya didn’t step away or look up at the now taller boy. She kept her gaze close and focused on the detailed leather lapels of his suit jacket. “What have you been up to?”
“Why are you doing this?” said Yaya quietly. Her voice very calm and very steady as if she was making a dull observation, her eyes now returning his gaze with an unflinching authority. The boy before her was there during that very same ceremony, that very same Hall of Destiny with her.
Her eyes burned bright, clucking her tongue as she snapped at the nicely dressed boy in front of her, “Acting as if we are friends?”
“Are we not?”
Her lips pursed and she took a step to the side, grabbing her flute of juice as she said, “You’ve made it clear we are not friends.”
Although her tone was neutral and even, her words lacked the warmth that was often associated with the young girl. Taken back by her sentiments, Chase opened his mouth, thought for a bit before closing his lips together once more. The former friends looked at one and another – one’s face was deep in contemplation while the other face was stony. The girl gingerly took a sip of her juice as she joined the dance floor, twirling her way through the crowd as she danced to the strings version of a popular pop song being played by the player-less instruments.