She's angry and frustrated and it roils within her. Maybe it's the buildup of a lot of things today—maybe it's just one that set her over the edge. It was the spat she and her mother had; the insensitive remark from a non-Darigan native in the market; the overcooked marrow at supper. It was the polished black armour she passed in the hall where she caught sight of her own grotesque face and remembered that years ago, for a few brief days in Meridell, she was beautiful. For one shining moment in her life, she was the Court Dancer.
She wants to scream and throw things and kick a door and curl into a ball with her earstalks tucked tight like if she wishes hard enough she'll disappear.
But she knows that won't help, it won't help anything. It won't free the anger from her soul.
But dancing will.
So by the dark of night she steals over the edge of the Citadel and ventures to the fallow fields below. Her violet paws move through the damp grass with silent skill, ushering her through dormant pastures and sending her leaping gracefully over hedgerows. All the flocks of Babaas and Zebies have been brought in for the night, leaving the moors empty as desolation until sunrise.
She pauses atop a high knoll that sits serene beneath the heavens. A castle once stood here, she notes as she wanders into a sprawling square of broken stone and crumbling arches. Long, long ago, before Skarl's time, back in the day when her own people were fair and prosperous. Perhaps even before then.
The Citadel floats high and away overhead, blotting out the moon and casting an irregular lake of shadow on the land. Above it, the stars shine bright, clear, and cold, but the air is moist and off to the east a bank of fog reaches its fingers inland from the sea. Dawn is a long way off.
She takes a breath and bounds atop a pile of rock with the grace of a Gallion. Twisting, whirling, her fire-orange hair swirling, she flits from stone to stone. Her skirts billow and fly after her and she feels like a Faerie as she alights on one rock with pinpoint precision and then effortlessly floats to the next, conveyed by her own momentum.
As she dances she can feel her anger leach out, flicked away into oblivion by each swing of her arms and sweep of her tail. Her bloated lips relax into a smile and her blood-red eyes sparkle with new vigour. The heavy burden on her spirit lifts. Her mother is forgiven; there is nothing wrong with being Darigan; the marrow was bad but she'd had Darkberry Cheese afterward.
She runs up the side of a vaulted archway and pirouettes on the point, lifting her arms to the sky and feeling the movement fill her with energy. Now she is not dancing away the anger—she dances to feed her starving soul again.
Her movements shift from sharp and angular to sinuous and flowing like liquid fire. Bursting with power, she flings herself from the arch and springs onto a thick chunk of rampart that stands like a tombstone, crumbled away on either side. Not slowing nor stopping, she races along the blocks and throws herself again. Wheeling her arms, she twines her magic, weaving it into the sleeping energy of memories left to lie in the dust.
Colour rises around her. The stones rebuild themselves and tapestries unfurl over them, elegant scenes of Unis poised near fountains and ladies with their Ukalies, frozen in time. Sumptuous rugs sprout from the grass as she spirals down into the center of what is now a great hall, a fire crackling heartily and an extravagant feast spread on the tables. The aroma of Roast Pork and raspberries at the peak of ripeness hangs heavy in the air.
Most difficult to summon are the people. She poses in front of the fire and takes another deep breath, filling herself with power. Like a puppet master with strings, she brings her paws above her head, and the court rises with them.
They bob up almost comically, like a Virtupets hologram turning on, but these Neopets talk and laugh and eat in full color, so potent is her illusion. Grizzled knights guffaw heartily and bump mugs with each other; children squeak and nibble at peas. A pair of hulking Ganuthors recline by the fire, rolling onto their bellies and stretching their wings, while an Albat tries to steal a slice of cheese from its owner's platter.
At the end of the table sits a white Meerca dressed in furs, a simple golden circlet resting on her head as she looks at the Darigan dancer expectantly.
The Aisha curtseys low, her orange hair draping over her shoulders. She knows right now they see her as a tawny brown in color, with smooth features and eyes of a mesmerizing green. She has crafted herself the perfect mask.
The rest of the table falls silent. A blue Moehog child claps in delight and her mother shushes her.
In their eyes the dancer can see a hidden longing, some sort of sad and hungry desperation for any sort of respite from their anxieties. She wonders what their story is. She wonders how it ended.
The Meerca nods.
With a flourish, the Aisha sweeps into another dance, conjuring every happy memory she ever had. She dances of sun-dappled streams in sleepy afternoon woods, of chasing Lightmites on warm summer nights, of racing Whinnies down dusty roads and young maids whistling folk tunes as they carry bundles of wheat off to market. She imprints every impression of those scenes onto the minds of her audience, leaving them with vague sensations like recollections of peaceful dreams.
She waltzes around the fire as the Ganuthors nod their heads to the rhythm, and delves into the cozy warmth of sitting at the hearth while rain patters on walls of everlasting stone, of falling asleep in your mother's arms, of storms that pass and at the end the sun's shining through again. The Neopets at the table have all relaxed, eyes half-lidded, their troubles forgotten for a time.
It is a dangerous gift she possesses, but not all dangerous gifts must be used for evil.
Finally, exhausted, she gives herself one last twirl and then spills into a kneel, bowing her head and splaying her arms. She is finished.
She lifts her weary head and looks past her earstalks to her audience. They meet her with no applause, but she expects none. Instead she sees soothed smiles. She has eased their long-forgotten burden.
The Moehog girl pushes herself off the bench and runs up to the drained dancer. The child reaches into the pocket of her skirts and pulls out a crown of woven daisies, still green and looking like she picked them that morning. She reaches out her hooves and places the crown gingerly on the Aisha's head, grinning through her tusks.
The dancer smiles back.
She can hold the magic no longer. Like smoke it all comes crashing down, dissipating back into the ground, the fire snuffed out by a chill night breeze. Her purple paws touch wet grass instead of stone. Somewhere nearby, a Moach chirps.
She cranes her neck to look at the Citadel hovering, waiting for its errant child to return. And return she shall. She pushes herself to her feet, her legs shaking with exertion, and touches the ruined rock one last time before departing.
An unfamiliar weight tickles her hair.
She reaches up and takes off a daisy crown, and holds it to her heart.
She will always be a Court Dancer.