My breaths are coming out in short pants, and my legs won't stop pacing. I haven't been this scared in two weeks.
I twist the beautiful white fabric of my skirt even harder in my hand as I force myself to meet her worried eyes.
"Meeting the females will be stressful, but do not forget you have four other women who will be standing beside you...including Zuri. She will protect you," Jali says, and I nod as a sliver of calm slips down my spine.
She is right. My friends will be with me. They will be nervous too. We will be a team...Like mom and I were.
"I don't like thinking about how outnumbered we are," I whisper, and Jali nods as she approaches me with a bottle of liquid.
"This is a nice fragrance spray," Jali says, and I nod as she mists the front of my dress.
"Think of each group as its own. Technically you all are equal. It will be planet vs. Planet in that room. Not everyone against the females from Earth," Jali says, and my lips slightly curve.
I like that idea. Each group is its own. It isn't all of them against us. We are equal.
"Okay," I whisper, and Jali offers me her hand.
"Do not worry. Kea officials and correspondents will be throughout the room the entire time. I would never let anything happen to you. Lean on your friends, sweet one. They are people you can depend on," Jali says gently, and my heart swells with warm emotion.
I have friends and protection. I am free. Now is not the time to frighten myself. Now is the time to show the stronger me.
***The room will be set up in tables. You are pretty early, but I believe Zuri is already here. Stay close to her if you get scared. Remember, you are a beautiful woman, and you deserve happiness. You deserve to be here more than the other females do. Never forget that," Jali says before she hugs me.
I nod, but butterflies have settled in my stomach, and I feel like I need to puke. I hope my face doesn't look as sickly as I think that would insult the Kea who did my makeup.
Jali presses the button on the door, and before I am ready, my eyes land on a semi-full room.
"Ladies, this is the lovely Fiadha O'Clery. She is a 21-year-old wallflower with sky-blue eyes. Please take your seat next to your kinsmen," a male Kea says with a magnified voice from the front of the massive room, and I blush while trying not to trip.
I frantically scan the room for half a second before my eyes find Zuri's chocolate hand in the air. A sigh of relief blasts past my lips, and I rush toward her.
Zuri looks like an absolute goddess in a high-collared cream and rose gold dress. Her calming smile, paired with her beautiful appearance, put me at ease instantly.
I sit down next to her, and she immediately takes my hand.
"Are you okay," She whispers, and I nod.
"The others aren't giving us the friendliest of looks, so stay close, okay," she whispers, and my muscles tense as I nod.
The announcer says something else, but I am too focused on glancing around secretly to hear him.
Zuri is right. The other women in this room seem to be looking at us as if we stink. Their noses are so far up in the air that if this room floods, none of them risk the chance of drowning.
Suddenly Jia and Xiu sit down, and Zuri beams at them.
"You both look beautiful," Zuri tells them, and Jia smiles before returning the compliment.
Xiu does a little head now, but her focus is on the heated gazes instead of Zuri.
"Fiadh, you look like an innocent rabbit," Jia says, and I smile while glancing down at my dress.
It faintly resembles traditional dresses from Ireland, and I am proud to represent my heritage.
"Thank you. That shade of yellow on you is stunning," I mumble, and she smiles triumphantly as she smooths out her form-fitting gown.
She goes to say something else, but the announcer cuts her off
"Ahh, another human. This is Krystal Dunn of Earth. She is nineteen years old. She has brown hair and blue eyes. Her correspondent describes her as lively and outgoing. Please have a seat, Ms. Dunn," he says, and we all look at the door to see Krystal blushing while looking radiant in a pale green princess dress.
She finds us rather quickly when she looks across the room and begins to walk toward us like she has been wearing gowns her entire life. When she sits down she gives us all a big smile before whispering, "wow."Jia nods in understanding and my head tilts. The door she just walked through suddenly opens again, and we all look to see who was arriving this time.
"Our last group has finally arrived. Please welcome the beautiful females from the planet Makskin," the male Kea says, and I look over the group quickly.
The one in the middle screams arrogant and makes my stomach tight. Her dress is black, sexy, and tight. There is a gold band around her neck connected to the dress, and her makeup is heavy. Her straight black hair reaches her waist and is super shiny. Her comrades are all dressed in white dresses that resemble each other. She is the one that they want the attention on and it shows.
"Jali warned me about her," Jia whispers, and Zuri shushes her instantly.
"I found out they hear better than us. Be careful," Zuri whispers, and Jia nods quickly.
We fall silent, and I glance around discreetly at the room's perimeter. When I spot Jali, she gives me a small encouraging smile.
"Now comes the fun part. Please stand," the kea with the amped voice says, and we all stand.
Male Keas, from the sidelines, immediately move forward and start grabbing the tables we were just sitting at. As they leave with our seats, the doors open, and more Keas enter, carrying different tables. The process takes maybe a minute. They seem well organized and rehearsed which is surprising. Just how important is this tournament?
When the final table is placed, and the males disappear again, the announcer clears his voice.
"Now, I will pair you. Please pay attention. As you can see, the tables are different colors. Please listen for your planet and your color. Vaals, Shikaz, blue. Cok, Kea, red. Peulo, Hassins, yellow. Makskin, Glortinon, orange. Frole, Bronkark, Earth, green. As per the rules to accommodate the fact that Earth does not send soldiers, it was planet Giamo's turn to skip Harvest. Please take your seats. The first course will be Juna fruit," he says, and my head tilts down.
I focus on the floor as we walk so my breathing remains even. I don't want to go into a panic attack. I want to be normal for my friends and not an embarrassment.
"I didn't think about that," Krystal mumbles quietly and I glance at her.
"It isn't hard to figure out," Xiu replies sounding harsh, and I look up in shock to see Zuri as she sends her a displeased look.
Xiu can be unpleasant. She has been the hardest to befriend, but we have gotten used to her abrupt way of talking.
We sit down, and the ten other women we are supposed to be meeting also sit. I try to offer smiles all around, but the Froles frosty expressions make my stomach tighten even more.
"We will go first. My name is Yulna. I am from Bronkark for the ones who need to know. I hope to mate within the top ten," a beautiful orange woman says, and my mind begins to race.
I don't know what to say to that...They sound as if they have dreamed of this day. They have goals and plans. I'm just happy to be alive.
"My name is Reila. I prefer a mate from Bronkark or Hassin," the one on Yulna's right says, and Krystal nods while giving the orange being her full attention.
The other three Bronkarks provide only their name, and we shift our eyes to the Froles expectantly.
"Kilsa is my name. I will mate with a Frole....we all will. Two other females will have to be chosen to come back to our planet, and we all hope it isn't a human," the middle one growls, and I flinch.
Her aggression is clear. I will not go near a male Frole. I don't want aggression near me ever again.
Her companions nod at the end of her speech, and Krystal crosses my arms. She looks pissed.
"My name is Krystal. I am very thankful to be alive. I look forward to learning about the different cultures all around me, and I resent anyone who acts rudely towards us," she snaps, and Kilsa looks surprised for a second.
"Same here," Jia says, and the Bronkarks begin to laugh.
"You tell those cats, Krystal," Reila says, and she grins even though the Froles look as if they want to kill her.
"My name is Xiu. I come from China. I hope to be chosen by an honorable champion," Xiu says, and we look at her in surprise.
She has never spoken about her desires in regard to the tournament. I thought she was like me...aloof about the whole thing. But I mean, I guess we all want something. I know what I want...if I had to choose.
"I want to be loved by a kindhearted man," I say quietly, and Zuri puts her arm over my shoulders.
Comfort flows from her warm embrace, and I resist the urge to snuggle into her side.
"My name is Zuri. I am proud to be from Earth. These women beside me have survived more than you ever have," Zuri snaps at the Froles viciously, and I bite my lip to keep from smiling.
The Bronkarks laugh again, and our dishes are served before anything else can be said.
"Attention, after meeting with your next group, you may retire for thirty minutes. For the last switch, please listen up," the male Kea says, and the chatter around our table halts. The rest of the room falls silent also and I lift my eyes from my lap. I have been avoiding eye contact for the last two rounds. I am emotionally exhausted. Every group since the Froles has been pleasant, but I have never been exposed to this many people. I feel like my energy has been zapped away from me. I want to make friends. I really do, but I don't know how to interact yet and my anxiety makes me tired. The male Kea lists the names and colors just like he has this entire time and I breathe out a rather loud sigh of relief. This is the last group. Then I get to escape to my room and scrub my face. I get to curl up on my soft bed and read a beautiful book. I grin as my mind conjures up the image of my escape, but I quickly regain control. I don't want my friends thinking I dislike spending time
"We have to go back," I softly whine, and Jali nods while giggling. "Yes. If you had paid attention, you would have known that," Jali says, and I gaze at my bed longingly. I was hoping I could shower and jump into bed after meeting with the females. I completely forgot we were expected to eat dinner with the males. "I'm exhausted," I mumble as she fusses with my hair. She nods and dabs at my cheeks with something I can't see. "That's normal," she replies, matter-of-fact-like, and I groan. I am quickly realizing I can't get out of this. I am going to be stuck eating dinner with a whole bunch of guys. Males make me uncomfortable on a good day; then factor in my exhaustion, and this is a recipe for disaster. "But I'm not hungry. We had a bunch of finger foods while meeting the other women," I grumble, and she laughs. "While I am enjoying you showing more emotion, I can't excuse you from this. This is day one of the tournament, Fiadh. Everything must go according t
"The rest of the evening is all about enjoying each other's company and getting to know one another on a more intimate level. Have fun," the male Kea says, and I watch as the males begin to approach the females rather eagerly. Xia and Zuri get asked to dance almost immediately and disappear into the thick crowd. Jia and Krystal get asked next, and I start to get nervous. I don't find the idea of attempting to dance appealing, but I don't want to be left standing here, either. As I begin to chew on my bottom lip, I see something rather large out of the corner of my eye. I turn to see what it is, and I find a massive orange man looking at me with brown eyes. The fact that he was able to approach me so stealthy is rather alarming, but I try to keep the fear from showing on my face. I told Jali I would try, and I intend to uphold that promise. "Evening Fiadh of Earth, would you care to join me for a dance," he says, and I give him a forced grin before nodding. He offers me his elbow,
FIADH POV A small smile tugs at my lips as I watch the crowd of new pairs gets set. Everyone appears to be having a good time. There is no tension and no yelling. Most of the women are smiling, and none of the males seem to be in bad moods. I could really get used to this. "Good Evening, Fiadh of Earth. I was wondering if you would care to dance with me," a gentle male voice asks, and I turn to see a male from Glortinon. His striking appearance freezes the yes in my throat, so I just nod before taking his warm hand. When he positions us amongst the other couples, he moves his hands to my waist, and I blush. He is the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I can't believe I didn't spot him during dinner earlier. With his luminous yellow skin and white hair, he definitely stands out. "Thank you for agreeing to dance with me. My name is Terrax. Captain Terrax, that is. I heard you decline the offer from that champion from Frole last round. It surprised me. I don't think a
TERRAX POV "You dance beautifully," I say, and the stunning orange Kea in my arms smiles. "Thank you, Captain. I have taken dance lessons in preparation for the Harvest," she says in a soft voice, and I nod. I expected as much. Every one of my partners has been graceful and poised, all except the human. Fiadh...she has a natural rhythm but was as untrained as they come. "So, Captain, what are you looking for in a mate," she asks, drawing my attention back to her red eyes. "Someone with a kind heart and happy personality. I like the outdoors, so I want someone who is willing to be out of the house most of the time," I say, and she stares at me with a forced smile on her face. She nods to show she heard me, but I can tell from the look in her eyes she doesn't think that sounds appealing."What made you choose me for the final dance," she asks, poking to see how serious I am about this choice. I look away from her, and my eyes somehow land directly on the angel in white. Sh
FIADH POVI lean against my door as my heart thumps wildly in my chest.I can't believe I just accepted a man wanting me. He is so beautiful, and he wants me. He is sweet, and I feel like he is someone I could actually fall in love with. At no time did he make me feel scared or insignificant."Wow," I breathe as I look at the hand he kissed.The memory of how soft his lips felt seems to be imprinted on my knuckle, and I can't help but yearn for more. Before I can question myself, I bring my hand toward my face. I kiss the exact spot he did, and giddiness instantly feels my stomach. I smile and cradle my hand to my chest as if it is a unique treasure. Tonight has been more special than I ever thought it could be. Something new has been unlocked within me, and I never want it imprisoned again.I walk to my bathroom and begin removing my beautiful white dress. I wash my face and brush out my hair with a smile the entire time. Terrax has given me something to be excited for, and I don't s
I twirl the dress's skirt a little and sigh. The powder blue color is beautiful, but the style of this dress just isn't me. Not like the white one was. I loved that one. This one has a flowy skirt, but the top is weird. It fits well, and it does make my chest look appealing, but it isn't something I would have chosen. "You don't like it," Jali states from behind me, and I shrug. "It isn't my favorite. But the first two dresses did boost my expectations," I reply with a smile, and she stomps her foot. "I want you to feel beautiful. Each dress is meant to make you shine. I feel terrible," Jali says dramatically, and I spin around to grab her hand. "Jali. It is a beautiful dress. It fits me perfectly, and my body looks good in it. It just isn't my style. I still feel pretty. I have felt prettier this week than I have in my entire life. There is no reason to get upset," I say as I stare into her large eyes. She grins, and we hug each other as if on instinct. Jali has bec
RATED R VIOLENCE The crowd's aggressive chants echo inside my head as we approach our seats. They seem to be in an excited trance. The fact that we are coming in late means nothing to them. They are ready for violence and possible death. "Zuri, trade me," Krystal whispers, and Zuri nods. She switches with Krystal, which places Zuri on the end next to the mean Maksin and Krystal next to me. As we sit down, I spot two Coks already positioned to fight in the middle of the field, and I realize we were pretty much moments from missing the start. I look over the two fighters, and my stomach drops. I bite my lip as fear and anxiety rip through me. They look ready to kill. Nothing about their stances says friendly competition. This will be bloody, and I am not prepared for blood. I am not ready for violence. "Do they look bigger today," Krystal whispers as she leans toward me and I nod without taking my bottom lip from between my teeth. They look massive! Like giants bred to d