Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 109,226,905 Issue: 218 | 2nd day of Celebrating, Y7
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After the Dance: Part Two


by precious_katuch14

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Callista stared at him for a moment. The shadow Eyrie seemed friendly, not at all a threat or a spy. But still... she had to be careful. There was no predicting what could happen next in the chain of events transpiring after the incident at the castle.

     Perhaps if she found out more...

     "Allan is your name?" she repeated. "They call me Callie." The Darigan Aisha was careful to use the nickname to mask her true identity, just in case.

     "I see." He fingered his bracelet nervously. "What brings you here?"

     "I..." The dancer paused. "I got lost and decided to spend a few nights or more here while I figure out a way to get back from D - I mean, from where I came."

     "So... are you doing anything right now?" asked the Eyrie curiously. "I was supposed to go down for a little archery practice, unless you would want to sit here and talk about your lives and all that stuff we'd normally talk about."

     She shook her head. "I'd like to come down and see you practice."

     Allan nodded. "That's fine with me. Just be sure to keep quiet when I'm aiming." His earth-brown boots made slight scuffling noises as he descended down the steps. Callista lagged behind, lucky that he hadn't asked what she looked like or what had been happening in the rest of Meridell and Darigan Citadel... at least, not yet. She nearly tripped while going down, being so occupied in planning what to do when the only other boarder began to get a little inquisitive. Was she forever destined to live her life without a real identity?

     Callista was about to find out. The bottom of her cloak spread out at her feet as she followed her new acquaintance into a small door at the back of the inn.

     "Where are we going?" she couldn't help saying.

     "The backyard," said Allan with a straight face. "August has been kind enough to let me set up a target for me to practice with. I've tried shooting while blindfolded, hovering in the air, and flying upside down. Well, it's only the first and second one that I've done right so far."

     The shadow Eyrie didn't seem shy at all, much unlike the Aisha. "Would you like a go when I'm done?"

     "No thank you," she replied. "I was never good at that kind of stuff."

     Shrugging, Allan began to load his bow with an arrow from his quiver. The bow was whittled very simply, yet looked quite strong. Before Callista knew it, an arrow was sent hurtling through the cool afternoon air and straight into the middle of the target.

     She couldn't help but clap. "That was great," said the dancer, fiddling with a golden bracelet. "No, really, it was. Can you... "

     "Score another target? That's a piece of cake." He winked at the Darigan Aisha before getting his bow ready. "Oh... do me a favor and help me get my handkerchief from my bag."

     Callista obliged and undid the drawstring at his pouch hanging from his belt. Tugging at a large square piece of cloth with an embroidered, fancy 'D' at one corner, she waved it before him.

     Allan gave her the thumbs-up. "Okay then... Blindfold me, if you please."

     His companion stared at him. "Are you going to shoot that arrow blindfolded?"

     "Yes, I am." Both of his eyes were now completely obscured by his handkerchief. At first he didn't seem to be moving, but soon a third arrow whizzed past and embedded itself with amazing accuracy. The shadow Eyrie whipped off the cloth from his face and gazed at the three bullseyes he had made.

     At first he smiled. But as he started to speak, it faded. "I just hope you don't think I'm a... a braggart. It's just that I always go down to do a little bit of archery whenever I'm bored."

     "Of course not, Allan," said Callista. "You don't even have to boast that you are a great archer - you already are."

     "You think so?" he said incredulously.

     "Yeah," she answered.

     * * *

     Several days passed. Allan and Callista became thick as thieves, very good friends despite the relatively short time they had known each other in the inn. Even though the Eyrie got slightly curious every now and then about why his new friend often kept her hood up, he thought nothing more of it, wanting to be polite. However, one afternoon, his curiosity began to get the better of him as they took a walk through the village.

     The two friends sat down on the grassy field together. "August hasn't called us in for supper," said Allan slowly. "I guess we can't waste a great afternoon like this cooped up inside, right?"

     Twisting her fingers a bit, she agreed. "Yeah... so... are we going to watch the sunset or something?"

     His eyes widened. "That's a great idea!"

     But the sunset wasn't due till after a few minutes, so the shadow Eyrie took this time to get to know his new comrade better. "Callie... I don't know how to say this, but tell me a little bit about yourself. Since we're becoming friends and all that... maybe we could swap a few stories while waiting."

     "I love to dance." Callista blurted it out before she could stop herself. But there was nothing wrong with admitting a love for dancing, so long as she didn't admit that it got her into trouble with the guys down at Meridell Castle. "And I take it that you like archery?"

     "It's been in my family," said Allan proudly. "I have a twin brother and an elder brother who are just as interested. My younger sister isn't quite into the sport, but my parents are trying to get her to learn as well. Has dancing been a tradition?"

     The Darigan Aisha shrugged. "Not really. I just thought it was fun. Then I decided to teach myself."

     He grinned. "I'd like to see you dance sometime."

     Callista's identical smile instantly faded. She was not about to relive the moment of chaos at the castle. But she didn't want to raise the Eyrie's suspicions by refusing, so she stood up, her silhouette reflected amidst the crimson sunlight.

     She tapped her tambourine against her thigh, feeling its wondrous, jingling beat. At last, Callista felt the thrill of doing what she did best - without anyone nagging her to do it for anyone. Sure, Allan wanted to see her dance, but he wasn't exactly an evil overlord wanting to use her talent for bad. Her cloak swept the grass as though a warm summer breeze passed over the field. Even August peeked out from a window to watch the little show.

     When that was over, she fell to the ground gracefully. But her good mood was instantly shattered by the shadow Eyrie's next question.

     "Why don't you lower your hood?" he asked curiously. "Are you hiding something from me? If you think you're ugly - well, I've seen uglier. No offense."

     "It's not that," she said. "Please don't badger me with such questions..." Callista hastily changed the subject after realizing that she could barely create a good alibi. "Besides, isn't it a lovely sunset?"

     "It sure is."

     A new voice made both of them jump. The yellow Lupe innkeeper was standing there with a broom in one paw and an apron around his waist.

     "Supper's calling," he said. "The dining room window's got a nice view if you two insist on watching the sun."

     The Aisha and the Eyrie stood up and followed August back into the inn. Over a dinner of steamed peas, potatoes cooked in every conceivable manner, and green grapes, Allan kept on pondering the mystery of Callie's hood. Why was she so secretive about her looks? Was there anything about her she doesn't want me to know? Was she... some kind of wanted fugitive?

     To the archer, the last possibility seemed far-fetched. Still, he was itching to know what his new comrade was hiding. If she WERE a fugitive, she would have chosen to stay in the forest instead of mingling with the crowds. Or would she?

     None of this made any sense, even when he offered to help the Lupe clear and wash the dishes.

     He spied the hooded enigma also assisting August with the washing. "Callie... "

     But she interrupted him first. "Allan, do you read the Neopian Times?"

     "What?" A large pan nearly slipped from his soapy grasp. "Not all the time. Why? Are you some kind of celebrity in there or something?"

     "Not really," she mumbled. "Do you know the Court Dancer?"

     The shadow Eyrie stopped, drying up with a towel before scratching his head. "Do you mean that Aisha who ended up mesmerizing the castle? Yeah, I do. But why - "

     She plowed on. "Is she evil?"

     "Huh?" Allan shook his head. "To be honest... "

     "Heads up!" August chucked something large and hard towards him. Allan caught it nimbly. As he tilted it up to the light, Callista could see that it was round and golden as well, in addition to being large and hard, and strung upon a matching chain. It was a medallion, with a single letter 'D' engraved in fancy old script. There was an arrow at the bottom and a crescent moon at the upper left corner.

     Turning it over and over, the Eyrie called back to the innkeeper. "Thanks for polishing it! At least I know my parents are going to have a nice surprise when I give this back... "

     The Darigan Aisha leaned over to see whatever it was that her friend was holding. "What's the trinket for?"

     "This was my father's," he answered grimly. His voice suddenly became really serious. "To tell you what it has to do with me, I'm going to tell you what I am doing here for quite a long time. But of course, I want all this to be hush-hush. A guy like me wouldn't want so many guys swarming around him as if I'm a little lost Puppyblew. August knows, trusty old bloke that he is. Will you keep this all a secret?"

     Callista twisted her paws around. "Maybe I could help. Please do tell. I shall guard this secret with my life."

To be continued...

 
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» After the Dance: Part One



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