Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 108,522,844 Issue: 217 | 18th day of Storing, Y7
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After the Dance: Part One


by precious_katuch14

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the sequel to my short story, "Before the Dance", featured in issue 211.

Callista fled, fast as her newly-transformed purple paws could carry her. The peach skirt was trailing behind her like a slithering mass. The amethyst strung on a chain around her neck jingled as she sprinted ahead. She was careful to make sure her tambourine didn't make too much noise to attract any more attention.

     Behind her, Meridell armies were stirring. King Skarl wasn't too far away either. His yelling voice floated across the kingdom's countryside and reached the two pairs of ears of the Court Dancer hiding in the glade. The knights passed by, thundering hooves of Uni steeds and a deafening stampede of foot soldiers in metal armor echoing in their wake. The Darigan Aisha didn't know what to do.

     They were headed for Darigan Citadel.

     That particular place hovering over Meridell had been Callista's home, way before she was commissioned to mesmerize the king with her magical dance and mystical power. She had taken the job reluctantly and disguised herself as an unknown brown Aisha to pull it all off.

     It had been working well. The Skeith ruler was under her spell for quite a while, along with all his courtiers and loyal subjects. But Lisha had seen through Callista and broke the enchantment, exposing the dancer for who she really was. Controversy and chaos seeped into the castle tenfold as the troops were finally called in to head for Darigan and its leader Lord Kass.

     That was the Battle for Meridell. For the disgraced Aisha, it was trouble. She could only blame her mother for pulling her into the swirling vortex of discord that was the scheme of their new leader. Morguss meant well and wanted her daughter to serve Kass during these difficult times, but Callista hated the Eyrie to begin with. The Court Dancer had despised him and his insane plots, but likewise loathed her mother's decision which she had only agreed to out of love for her parent.

     "Thanks to you," she muttered as she hid behind a large tree as though talking to Morguss, "I'm becoming one of Meridell's most wanted! If Father were still here today... he wouldn't be happy with his only daughter becoming a criminal!"

     But what was done was done. Callista breathed deeply and sat down at the foot of the tree. Where could she go? Her own house was going to be a place of peril, now that the Meridellians were probably about to take down the seats of power in the citadel first. She wasn't about to go back home to assist anyone, now that she was a disgrace and a humiliation.

     The Darigan Aisha whipped out a small folded cloak from a pocket of her dress. It was magical, something that she had inherited from her mother. Ignoring the sentimental pangs that came with pulling the mystic garment onto herself, she made sure that the midnight-colored hood was over her face. She had instantly donned the cloak and concealed her identity.

     Perhaps others would help me if I am in another disguise, thought Callista. The dancer strode deeper into the woods and hoped that there was some way to live away from her past. The stray thorns mercilessly tried to tear at her skirt but the cloak offered good protection. Her feet plodded on in muffled silence only broken by the simple wonders of nature. It seemed as though the forest was trying to cheer the wretched Aisha up.

     At last, she came to the end of the glade. The trees got fewer and farther between. The end was actually a small village quite a distance away from the castle. There was not a single sign that anyone from Darigan had invaded this area, but everyone was abuzz anyway with the news. A few conversations were enough for the hidden fugitive to know what they were excited about.

     "The Court Dancer's a fake gift from Kass! Why did Skarl have to believe it so easily?"

     "I say, Jeran's going to make that stupid Eyrie pay. And I don't mean by another game of Whack-a-Kass."

     "The whole citadel must pay!"

     "At least they can't reach us in here. None of those fools have enough backbone to get through this forest - especially not that dancer with her smooth magic and whatnot."

     "Living so far away from the center of all Meridell business does have its perks."

     "Aren't you worried that we could be next?"

     "There won't be a next time when Jeran's army is finished with them."

     Callista took a deep breath. If the cloak was truly magical it would shield her from any prying eyes or nosy ears. The hood already did a good job masking her face.

     She pranced out from the forest as though she had planned on visiting. Nobody seemed to notice, except to give a friendly wave or a simple greeting. Gathering up her strength to finally speak to the oblivious villagers, the Aisha grabbed a potato farmer passing by with a sack of spuds.

     "Sir," whispered Callista while praying that her voice wouldn't tip her off, "could you point me to someplace I can spend the night - or a week - or two? I'm quite lost."

     "Y'all don't look from around here," the Yurble drawled. "Where you be from?"

     The dancer tried to look for an excuse. In the end all she could say was, "From the other side of Meridell, kind sir."

     "I see." The orange Yurble looked up and yelled, "Hey! August! Ya got another customer over here! The inn's still got some free beds?"

     A sleepy-looking yellow Lupe burst out of a large house that took up quite a lot of space. He had a large cup of coffee in one paw and had crumpled clothes that made him look as though he had been asleep on the table for a while. "I see we've got a visitor, Nut. She seems to be those 'weary traveler' kinds I often get at these times. But the war's been cutting through my business. Anyway, here we go." He thrust his free paw towards Callista and dragged her into the inn. She had one last glance of Nut the Yurble farmer before he turned towards someone interested in buying a potato.

     Everything in this village was so peaceful. Callista only wished that she could be the same.

     But the Darigan Aisha had no time to think about it. She was forced to wait in a long wooden bench as August tugged a ring of keys at his worn belt.

     "Okay. Kitchen key, dining hall key, broom closet key, storage closet, bedroom one, bedroom two... ah, you can take bedroom two. Apparently there are only two of you rooming in for now. He's a kindly gentleman who could be quite the conversationalist. He's got some issues though."

     She nodded absently and was now fingering the folds of her cloak, thankful that the Lupe hadn't asked her to take it off.

     "So what are you waiting for, Christmas? Go on, go on... into your room. By the way, I haven't gotten your name. What is it?"

     Callista thought first before divulging her identity. No Meridellian knew her name. But if someone from Darigan were to come wandering through this side of the kingdom, they would instantly find her just by asking August. At last, she vaguely mumbled, "Callie."

     The yellow Lupe winked. "Callie, your room is just upstairs, first door to the right. You might want to meet the guy I was telling you about. He's just at the first door to the left. Eh, those things are numbered anyhow. Don't you have any things you might want me to bring up for you?"

     "No, no..." The Aisha was clearly itching to finally lie down, fall asleep and just briefly forget about the day's hullabaloo. She was in no mood to relive the run from Meridell Castle, or the humiliation she had endured in the paws of Lisha. The innkeeper followed her as she ascended up the spiral staircase, jingling the keys in such an annoying way that reminded her strongly of a tambourine. Her tambourine... the one she had also kept hidden in a pocket at her cloak. That was her cloak... a tool not just for disguise, but also for secrets.

     "Callie, your temporary domain awaits," August opened the door with a flourish. It revealed a clean yet plain room with an equally plain arrangement. There was a bed with red covers and a fresh white pillow, a carved wooden wardrobe with some drawers inside, a table with a cushioned chair, a full-length mirror, and one window for staring out at whatever was outside. "Supper calls in two hours, but if you are hungry right now..."

     The dancer waved him away impatiently, saying, "I'm fine... I can wait. Hang on... am I supposed to be paying or something?"

     He raised an eyebrow skeptically. "I'm afraid so... but seeing your sorry state, I may lower the price quite a bit. Well, these are difficult times... I'm looking to earn a bit."

     The Aisha shrugged and unclipped one of her golden hoop earrings. The Lupe accepted it gratefully, asking a thousand times if she really didn't have anything else with her and if she was willing to let go of it until she shooed him gently.

     At last, he was gone, trudging down the stairs to the melodic ringing of his keys. But before exhaustion and bitterness could engulf Callista once more, curiosity overwhelmed her.

     Who was that gentleman he was talking about? She could use someone to talk to, after pretty much avoiding the Meridellian crowds.

     Her feet kicked up a couple of small dust clouds as she crossed the corridor to the first door on the left side. Arranging herself hurriedly, she raised the door knocker and struck it three times. After a few seconds, it opened with a reluctant creak.

     "Hello," she said as cheerfully as she could. The two amber eyes staring at her from inside belonged to that of a tall, robust shadow Eyrie. He was wearing a brown jacket that complemented his gaze very nicely, a pair of deep forest green trousers and a purple tunic over them. His left wrist bore a silver bangle that had 'ALLAN' engraved upon it in large bold letters. A quiver of arrows rested upon his back, denoting that this character was an archer or an adventurer of some sort.

     "Pleased to meet you," he said in a deep voice. "I'm Allan Darkfire."

To be continued...

 
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