Ascension

**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.

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4. Aliana- 2

Music played all around me. I stood awkwardly at the end of the dance floor, my heart racing with excitement. A ball with some of the most important nobles in the whole country!! The crown princes were here! I might actually get to meet them!

Everything had been so crazy since I’d entered the hall of elements. Since I’d felt the spirits.

It was still disconcerting to imagine the power I had at my disposal now. I could feel the air around me- every little shift as a person walked by, every little change caused by the swells in music. It made me want to move, to act, to try and change the air flow around me.

I had been warned that being chosen would have a few side effects. I’d also been told that I would get used to it. So far, it wasn’t going so well. The wind spirits that had become part of me made me restless. I wanted to move. To do something. Even my racing thoughts couldn’t help.

I couldn’t believe I’d been chosen! The chances had been so small… It had to have been that girl. She must have awakened the spirits. I knew she was an idea candidate for ascension!

Technically, I wasn’t supposed to think about the commoners I had chosen, but I murmured a soft prayer of thanks to the little girl anyways. I was sure she was the reason I’d been chosen. I wondered if her sister- the redhead- would have been proud, or just jealous.

“Lady Aliana?”

I turned, to see a boy my age standing in front of me. My first impression of him was that he was small. Skinny. I could tell that someone had made an effort of smoothing out his black hair, but had given up. It was all over the place, and too long for a proper noble. I would have mistaken him for a lesser noble, or even a servant if he hadn’t been wearing the crest of the Ardian family- the rulers of the entire country.

“Yes?” I asked, trying not to act flustered. I was speaking to one of the crown princes.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said softly. He offered his hand, and I took it, allowing him to lightly kiss my fingertips. He straightened, studying me with red eyes. “Congratulations on your choosing.”

“Thank you… your majesty,” I added hurriedly, dropping into a curtsy. Why was it so hard to think of this boy as a prince? Was it because he was the same age as me? Or because he looked like a commoner in a fancy outfit?

“Raphael?”

The boy turned. I looked up, and caught my breath. Approaching us was another noble. I could tell instantly he was also one of the crown princes. He had dark hair, like Raphael, but his eyes were deep brown instead of red. And while Raphael’s seemed awkward in his fancy outfit, he was completely relaxed. He was tall too- well built, and handsome. My heart started beating faster, and I completely forgot about being restless.

“Aaron,” Raphael said quietly. “This is lady Aliana. She was chosen recently as an aspect of wind.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He kissed my hand lightly, as I desperately tried not to blush.

“The pleasure is all mine, your majesty.” I curtsied again, even deeper. Was I doing something wrong? I needed to stop acting so flustered. He’d notice. He probably could tell- this was so embarrassing!

“Lady Aliana,” Raphael said with a bored voice. “My brother, Aaron.”

“It would hardly be proper for me to refer to you by your first name, your  majesty. Not with the difference in our ranks,” I said softly, dropping my head in a little nod. Men always outranked women. And the princes outranked everyone- except for the queen and king.

“You are an aspect, which increases your rank significantly,” he replied smoothly. His voice was so deep… so rich… what was he an aspect of again? Water? No, earth. I couldn’t think straight.  “Please, call me Aaron.”

“Yes sir- Aaron,” I corrected myself, blushing furiously. I could feel heat rising to my face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Raphael roll his eyes. Why did he seem so irritated? He didn’t seem to have the poise and bearing of a noble- it was kind of disappointing.

“Kezan sends his regards,” Aaron added, snapping my thoughts away from Raphael. “He could not attend, due to the ongoing war. You have a brother that serves under him, am I correct?”

“Yes. Eron.”

“Kezan has spoken of him. He’s a brave fighter.”

“Thank you,” I dipped my head again. Before I could stop myself, I added, “Is he well?”

Aaron nodded with a small smile. “He is very well. Kezan will inform him of your choosing.”

“Thank you,” I smiled. Inside, I let myself dance with relief. It had been a few months since I had heard from my brother- I had begun to worry that something had happened to him.

“Would you like to dance?” Aaron offered, holding out his hand.

My heart nearly exploded with shock. I was being asked to dance by the crown prince- not just any of the three, but the one who would be the future king of this country. And he was asking me to dance.

“I would love to!”

He took my hand, and I felt the wind spirits settle as we began to dance. It was a slow melody, and soon the spirits began to grow restless again. Aaron seemed to notice, and he lifted his hand in a signal to the band. Quickly, the music picked up, and he guided me through the dance at a faster pace.

“Thank you,” I whispered breathlessly. I couldn’t believe I was dancing with the crown prince. He had asked me to dance with him! He’d asked me to call him by his first name. This was incredible.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Raphael slip away through a side door. I turned to look, and Aaron followed my gaze, letting out a soft sigh.

“I apologize for my brother’s… strangeness,” he said, his voice full of disappointment. I wondered what word he had been thinking- because it definitely hadn’t been strangeness.

“I didn’t find him strange,” I said hurriedly.

“You didn’t?” There was an odd tone to Aaron’s voice- one I couldn’t identify. Had I said something wrong?

“No, not at all.” He raised his eyebrows slightly, and I flushed. “A little, I suppose. Why?”

“You’re much more polite than other nobles have been,” he laughed, the sound making me flush even deeper. “They have said plenty of unpleasant things about him. Most speak behind his back, but the more daring ones speak it to his face. I am pleased to know you would do neither.”

“Of course not! He is a member of the royal family. To speak ill of him would be commit treason!”

“So one would think…” Aaron murmured with a sigh. “Not all nobles see things the same way you do.”

“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure why I needed to apologize, but it seemed fitting.

HIs eyes flickered to the door, and he sighed softly. “Forgive me, lady Aliana, but I must go check on my brother. I’d hate for him to get into trouble behind my back.”

“Of course, your majesty.” He guided me back to the side of the dance floor. I curtsied, and then watched him sweep away towards the side door.

“My lady?”

I turned to see Tarria standing by my side.

“What did you make of the prince, my lady?”

“He’s wonderful,” I whispered, feeling a blush rising in my face. “He was so polite, and kind… and I danced with him!” I realized I was talking too much- chattering like a little bird. I quieted myself rapidly. It was impolite for a lady to talk too much. I thought Tarria was going to scold me for it, but she was smiling.

“Many get that impression of the prince.”

“But he was so genuine!” I insisted. “He asked me to call him Aaron instead of ‘your majesty’ or ‘sir’ or anything! And he asked me to dance-”

“My lady. You’re rambling.”

I blushed, quickly silencing myself.

“I just… I’m sorry. I got going. I’m still getting used to the spirits,” I explained hurriedly. I was talking way too fast. How could wind aspects tolerate this?

“It’s alright, my lady,” Tarria comforted me. “You’ll grow accustomed the spirits eventually.” She turned to look in the direction Aaron had gone. “Your parents have begun to arrange a betrothal.”

“They have?!” My first thought was of Aaron, with his deep brown eyes, and gentle words.

“A noble of the Marron family. He’s an aspect of water. Recently ascended, like yourself. Close to your age.”

“Oh.” I tried to sound enthusiastic, but I found myself thinking longingly of Aaron. But of course, that was ridiculous. He was the crown prince. I couldn’t be betrothed to him. But still… “Is he here at this ball?”

She shook her head. “He’s currently away. You will meet him soon.”

I nodded, and looked away. If I am to be married off... Then why had the crown prince talked to me?

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