After the Dance: Part One
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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...