The lights caught her eye in a whizzing blur of gold, red, and green. “Look, Darvis!” she exclaimed to her appointed chaperone for the day. “Isn’t it amazing?” “Yes, Princess,” Darvis replied with a yawn. Clearly, he wasn’t nearly as interested in sightseeing around Voliar, the capital city of Kri. Pouting, Iliya took a deep breath, then said, “You’re such a downer, Darvy. Why couldn’t Jin take me shopping today? I mean, you don’t even want to be here, I can tell. At least he likes being with me… I think.” Darvis shook his head and crossed his legs, shifting his weight in the black plasma-vehicle taking them to Neenan Square, the biggest and busiest shopping center in the capital. “I already told you, my dear, Jin is training in the Lirhan Academy, and he doesn’t have time to take you to the Square.” Annoyed, she folded her arms and looked out the car’s window. It was nighttime, and she saw people walking by on the city streets with the bright lights of stores and other cars beaming back at her. “I love this time of year. Don’t you, Darvis?” she asked, ignoring his previous answer about her dream man, Jin. “Yes,” he replied, despondent. “Oh, my Gods! Could Minister Baran have assigned me a more boring escort?!” Darvis laughed under his breath, bypassing offended feelings in favor of amusement. “Sorry, Your Highness, but I really don’t see the point of this trip. You certainly have enough clothing and tech-toys.” “Darvis! It’s the holidays! May I remind you this is my first time in Kri while celebrating Verlo Nemus?! It’s more than shopping! I want to see the lighting ceremony tonight at the city temple! Then, I want to visit the poor people at the Charity House on, um… where was it again? I think it’s on Amnis Street. I have plans, Darvis, dear!” The young Councilman shook his head and smirked. Iliya was only fourteen, and yet, she practically ruled the palace with her demanding, yet adorable countenance, and through her adoptive mother, General Reese, she almost ruled the royal army, The Lirhan, as well. He knew Minister Baran would do most anything to please General Reese, and so Iliya was constantly appeased, no matter what. “Don’t you like Verlo Nemus season?” asked Iliya with earnest, bright blue eyes. “I don’t dislike it,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t believe you,” she playfully jabbed. “Why don’t you like the most wonderful time of the year on your planet? Cough it up! I know you’re not telling me the truth. What, did your puppy die on Verlo Nemus day?” Darvis sighed. He really didn’t want to get into his personal life with his ever-bratty charge. “No, Iliya, I never had a puppy.” “Aww, see, that’s why you’re sad. You clearly never had a proper childhood… which is why you need to go around town with me! We’ll shop, look at the street decorations and lights, eat exotic chocolate imported from Xen, and then end the whole thing with a kiss. Oh wait, you’re not Jin. Never mind. No kiss for you!” Darvis couldn't help but laugh. What a silly, flirtatious young woman she was. He could understand Baran’s affection for her though. With her cascading curls of golden hair, which hung to her mid-back, and her infectious grin, she was a delight, despite her exhausting demands. “You’re too young for me anyway, Princess,” he replied with a wink. Iliya was impressed. “So you DO have a sense of humor, Mr. Grumpy Pants.” “Sometimes, yes, it seems I do.” She liked his dark green eyes and fine dark hair. He was like a mysterious magi from one of the old Deiusian fairy tales. “Darvis…” “Yes?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” The Councilman coughed for a moment, then recovered and said, “No, Iliya, I do not. Besides, why does that matter? Aren’t you in love with Jin?” “Oh, yes, I am… that goes without saying, but… you’re handsome enough, and you are second in charge after Baran. You have a wonderful career ahead of you. Why aren’t you with anyone? Hmm?” She then jumped over to sit by him on his side of their large car. “I… well, I…” Flustered, Darvis looked out the window and said, “Ah, look! We’re here. Time to shop to your heart’s desire!” Quickly, he opened the vehicle’s door and stood outside, extending his hand to Iliya. She shook her head, squinting her eyes. She hated when people squirmed out of answering her questions. Nonetheless, she took his hand and stepped out carefully. Her perfectly white heels and matching white dress would be damaged if she rushed, and she would not have that. Once outside, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The bustling Square had endless stores and restaurants, and decorations galore! There were sweet and minted hard candies being sold on the street, as well as hot caramel tea. But the best sight was the giant statue of Verlo in the middle of the square. She was naked, of course, with only a red sash painted across her waist. She was spectacular and looked every bit the Goddess she was supposed to be in the Krian myths. “Oh, my!” she exclaimed happily. “It’s like a dream!” The night soon became a whirlwind to Darvis as he escorted the young princess from store to store, eatery to eatery, all the while stopping at every decoration. His head began to pound when they came upon a quartet of singers. They sang about the love Goddess and how glorious love itself was, and how it could save your very soul. Darvis couldn’t help but think of Leif, and soon, tears formed in his green eyes. Will I never forget him? he silently asked as the singers sang about holy love. Iliya, in a world of her own, felt her heart throbbing with their song. She wished so hard that she too would know love, and with Jin, her beautiful, golden-haired, priest-turned-soldier. She smiled wistfully, then looked over at her escort. Her happy smile quickly turned to a sad frown. “Oh, Darvis. What’s wrong?” He turned to Iliya and gave a sad smile. “Nothing, Princess. It’s just… love isn’t always enough to save your soul, that’s all.” She easily sensed the pain in his eyes. “Sweet Councilman…” she said, touching his arm. “Tell me what’s wrong.” Darvis wiped his eyes, then took a few steps away from the crowded area that were watching the singers. “It’s nothing. What shall we see next? Did you want to see the temple or visit that charity house?” She wanted to tell him she was studying to be a healer and that she’d understand and listen to whatever hurt his soul, but she remembered she was only fourteen, and he’d probably not believe she could help. Defeated, she took his hand and said, “Lead on, my noble guide.” He smiled and walked with her as the air became cool and crisp. “Iliya, it’s going to get cold tonight. You better put on that coat you bought at that ridiculously giant store.” “No, I’m fine. Besides, I had all that sent to the palace. I just need some of that caramel tea Kri is famous for!” They drank tea and watched the lighting of the enormous Verlo statue in the center of the square. The naked Goddess became aglow with a vibrant rainbow of colors that slowly changed from blue to green to gold to red, and back again. It was beautiful. “Oh, Darvis. What is real love anyway?” she asked winsomely “I’m not an expert, my dear, but… I think it’s when you care for someone else more than yourself.” She thought about Jin and wondered if that was what she felt. She usually just felt attraction and lust. But she did care about his well-being. “Anything else?” “I don’t know,” he replied after sipping his tea. “Maybe it’s when your love is tested that you really know… or when you lose them forever. That’s when you truly feel it. It’s as if this other side of you has died.” Iliya stared at Darvis, caught in his words of longing. “You lost someone, didn’t you?” she asked sympathetically. “Yes,” he replied quietly. “Then, you were blessed by the Goddess!” “No,” he said with gritted teeth. “He didn’t love me in return.” Iliya’s eyes widened with illumination. “Oh, Darvis! You poor man!” she squealed as she gave him a warm hug. Sitting on the bench in front of the lighted statue, they held each other and smiled. Iliya suddenly knew the true meaning of the holiday. “Darvis, maybe love is everywhere… even after you’ve experienced such loss. It’s in friendship and in the feeling of gratitude from strangers when you give them help from your heart. I have watched how people are in this square, and everyone is being helpful and loving. If you look closely, Verlo is everywhere, don’t you think?” As he fought back tears, Darvis realized the girl in front of him wasn’t just a spoiled princess. She was the Goddess incarnate. He laughed a little, then wondered if Iliya knew her own power. She probably didn’t, but he couldn’t wait to see the Goddess fully blossom when it was her time.