The next days passed in a flurry of activity. Morning came, and when it did, my wardrobe somehow presented me with a new set of green clothing for the day’s adventures. I asked Rob about it once and he laughingly told me that all the wardrobes in the city were magical. My days fell into a sort of easy routine. I’d wake up to the chiming bells that rang throughout the city. If I refused to get up, Madge or Rob would come in and drag me out of bed, and we’d all blearily go off to breakfast. I slowly warmed up to the others, taking every chance I could to know them. As it turned out, Azak’Kam who never talked was actually a fantastic artist. Her mother had been the village scribe, and Azak had learned the gift too. Not only could she do the most fantastic calligraphy of anyone I’d ever seen, she could capture the exact lines of a person’s face through just a few strokes of charcoal. Zelene would talk my ear off about weapons whenever I dared to ask. It had been her dearest dream to become the best smith in the dwarven world of Georlum, before she had found her dragon egg and her world had changed.
When I finally dared to ask Rob if he really was the boy whose post I had seen on the questions website, he burst out laughing. “I had completely forgotten, stupid me. That was two years ago, wasn’t it? Time passes so much slower now that we’re here!”
Madge had the most interesting perspective of anyone I’d ever seen. He’d been in the same situation as me, a nearly-graduate of New York University. When he’d found the dragon egg, it took two weeks before someone from Mirael had come and taken him to the city. He didn’t seem discouraged at all by the fact that his entire life had just been stolen from him, in fact he took it lightheartedly and with good graces. As he put it: “I had no idea what I was going to do with my life anyway, at least this gave me a purpose!”
Rob laughed loudly. “That’s what Madge says too,” he told me. When I glanced at Madge, he nodded sheepishly, grinning.
Afterwards, it was Storm and I alone together. He had forgiven me for the head wound, but he still took every chance he could to assert dominance over me. He called me his “little lover,” his “darling,” his “sweetest.” I gritted my teeth and bore it because finally, I was learning something, getting somewhere,
Mornings were history and magic. In five days, I had gotten the barest overview of Skydancer history, and I yearned to learn more. The Skydancers had been formed before the human race was past a primitive state. Some of the earliest human Skydancers were Babylonians, but they had since died of old age.
Skydancers, Storm told me, didn’t age at a normal rate. We weren’t immortal, per se, but upon finding a dragon, our life force became linked to theirs, and dragons usually lived to about five hundred years of age. We didn’t mature at the same rate, either, as dragons spent over three hundred years in middle adulthood and only about fifty in old age.
There was magic as well. I pored through books of it, the ones that Storm had given me and others I sought out on my own, after asking directions to Mirael’s library. Magic was an entire language in the Skydancer world, one only had to speak the words, or, in powerful cases, think them. It was a mark of a novice Skydancer, whether you could lift a stone just by thinking, or whether you had to exert effort into making it rise. Storm taught me the words to make fire and the words to make water. The first time I tried to create fire, over a small pile of wood, I said the words and nothing happened. Once more, louder. Still, nothing. Finally, on the fifth try, I thrust my hands towards the wood and screamed the words. A neat arc of fire raced down my arms, into my palms and rolling off of my fingertips like water to land upon the wood. I felt drained afterward, like I had just relived all the stress of my junior year in high school all over again, and nearly fell over. When I looked over at Storm, his mouth was open. “That’s not supposed to happen,” he told me in shock. “Magic doesn’t work that way.”
It seemed that all of my magic was that sort of odd. When I lifted small rocks, gusts of wind rose from the ground and moved them, when I changed water to Coca Cola, all the water in the glass slowly changed color until it began to fizz. Storm drug me to the Masters to talk about it, and they told me they’d never seen anything like it. One of them, a very old man by the name of Feathersworth, told me he’d consult the library.
In the afternoons was weapons training. Here, at least, was Storm slightly more respectful to me. After the fiasco of the first day, he resorted to actually training me, drilling me on different cuts to make with my blades and how to swing my staff correctly. As it turned out, I was rubbish at archery and nearly shot a clueless young Blue in the neck with one of my arrows, well out of the range of the target.
Every afternoon, as promised, Calic would meet me by the Green Quarters and I would learn even more. He explained to me everything it was to be a Skydancer, the responsibilities, the jobs and the hardships. When I asked him one of my burning questions, why everyone in the diverse city spoke English, he began to laugh. “You see, Ivy, it is not English at all. The Council, the rulers of the Skydancers and the most powerful in all the dimensions, have put their powers together to create… What do you call it? A filter, I believe. A powerful magic filter surrounds every Skydancer, so that you only hear and see the language you are accustomed to speaking. For me, you are speaking accented Elvish. For an angel, you’d be speaking Admein. There are, of course, certain words that the filter misses, certain curses and regional slangs, but the meaning is there nonetheless.”
On one of our afternoons together, Calic took me to a dwarvish-run tavern in the Blue district, by the name of The Lusty Elvish Maid. The wooden sign hanging outside depicted a pointy-haired girl wearing a very revealing dress. “This is the best ale in all of Kelnor,” Calic told me.
Inside, the atmosphere was loud and boisterous. Old tables filled with Skydancers laughing surrounded a great roaring hearth. Calic sat us down at one and ordered two meads. When I tried it, I had to agree with him. I’d done my fair share of keg stands in college, had wine and beer and cotton-candy flavored vodka on one memorable occasion, but nothing compared to the thick mead in that tavern.
Every night, I dreamed. They were unremarkable, there were no appearances from the dream me or from Storm. One night, the night before the ball, I dreamed of a wedding. It was a small celebration, taking place in a dark forest clearing. The couple getting married were both wearing grey cloaks with the hoods up, and looked wary as they stood before a small assembled crowd. Everyone’s clothes were tattered, torn, and they all looked haggard. I, at the back of the group, recognized no one. The atmosphere was one of fear, but also of celebration, and the air stunk of smoke.
“I will stand by him, for better or for worse,” said the girl in grey. Her short dark hair poked out from under the wide hood. Someone hooted in the audience. “It’ll probably be for worse,” laughed someone else with an English accent.
The girl in grey smiled, teeth white in the cloak’s shadows. “I know that,” she said, and her voice was sad. “I knew that the day I met him.”
She turned towards the group then, with the other figure by her side. Their fingers were tightly interlocked and as the couple stared at the ragtag bunch, all I could see was the green in the girl’s eyes before I awoke.
The day of the ball arrived at last. The city, which had been in such anticipation beforehand, was at a standstill. Everything had been canceled- patrols had a day off, no guards walked the streets. Bakeries and taverns closed their doors, no one wandered the streets. As Madge told me, there’d never been such a celebration, or so he’d been informed.
I could feel the energy that morning. As we entered the mess hall, groups of trainees chattered excitedly about this and that. An older angel girl gossiped about the handsome young graduate she’d been asked by, a dwarven Yellow gruffly asked about the food they would be serving. Everyone was in high spirits. Madge and Rob chattered to me about who they’d asked, a pair of Reds they’d known since the very first day of training. Zelene told me that someone had found a dress to fit her stocky frame, though she felt more comfortable in pants. Azak said nothing, as always, but she grinned at me, showing her pointed fangs, and I felt honored.
There was no hurry, and we lingered in the mess hall for hours, laughing with one another. Servers in grey continued to refill our plates until we could hold no more, until we came to an unspoken truce and they simply brought us hot drinks instead.
Back at the Green quarters in late morning, I found Nyssrin waiting for me, a sly smile on her face and a bag in her hands. “What are you doing here?” I asked her, once everyone else had gone inside.
“I came to see you, to see how you were doing! I heard you knocked Storm unconscious the other day, he must be very proud.”
I grimaced. “He’s horrible,” I told her honestly. “And I can tell you all about him, if you’d like, but I get the feeling you didn’t come here just to gossip.”
She gave me a knowing grin, folding her huge grey wings neatly against her cloak and opening the door for me. “No, Ivy, I came here to help you get ready for the ball, of course! Cal told me he’s taking you. He’s very charmed with you.”
I could feel my face growing red at that, but pretended not to care. “How do you know him?” I asked, ducking through the door. She followed behind me, shutting it behind her and following me through the groups of Chosen Greens who shot me dirty looks. Nyssrin fluffed her wings behind her proudly and nearly hit one of the Greens in the face, which seemed to quell their staring.
“He was on my patrol last year, before I became a Courier. He’s one of my closest friends,” she told me, once we were well away from the others. We ducked through the common room doors and I showed her inside my room.
Someone had helpfully moved a metal bathtub inside the corner of my room a few days hence, and it was probably magical as well, seeing as every time I wished it to be filled with water, it was.
Actually, no, definitely magical.
Nyssrin opened the satchel she had bought and removed several vials. “Add these to your bathwater,” she told me. “I’m going to get my wardrobe to give me a dress. I’ll be back soon.”
“This is like prom all over again,” I muttered, laughing. Nyss looked at me, confused. “Never mind. Go get your dress.”
It was the first time I had bathed in a few days, and sinking into the water was almost heavenly. I was sore beyond end from combat training, and my legs and arms were covered in bruises. A part of me did miss showers, but there was something luxurious about soaking in a tub as long as you liked. The oils that Nyssrin had given me made the water feel almost like silk, and smell of some plant I didn’t recognize. Only when the water grew tepid did I climb out, wet skin cold already. My feet felt cold on the stone floor as I padded, naked, to the wardrobe to see if I could find a towel.
Nyssrin reappeared almost two hours later, after I had gotten dressed in a cozy grey tunic and dark pants. When I turned to see her, it was as if a Renaissance painting had come to life before me. She looked radiant. A shimmering gown of deep red hugged her waist while flaring out in layers of skirts. The color of it brought out the gold in her eyes and the pink in her cheeks. Her raven hair was no longer the unruly mess I had seen it as the last few times I had seen her. Instead, it hung in smooth waves down her back, held back by a slim silver circlet. The gown was cut daringly low, and at her throat hung a purple jewel, sparkling as it caught the light from my windows.
She smiled when she saw me looking. “I don’t look half as nice as you will, Ivy,” she told me. “Poor Calic’s going to fall over when he sees you.”
I had never thought of myself as beautiful, but when Nyssrin gave me a small handheld mirror, I had to admit that she had done her work well. I looked like an entirely different person. My usually tightly braided hair was falling around my face in lazy ringlets, bound together with a delicate silver tiara, sparkling with green stones. The eyes which I knew so well were accented in grey powder Nyssrin had boasted of getting from the elven capital. My lips were redder from another strange makeup she had given me. They weren’t like anything on Earth, that was perhaps why I liked them.
My wardrobe had supplied for me a pair of soft black slippers, somewhat akin to ballet flats, but one thousand times more comfortable. They hugged my feet as if they had been made for my feet, which, I suspected, they probably had been. Looking back on it now, I have no idea how someone could enchant a wardrobe to provide clothes of exactly the right fit, type, and color. It must have been a powerful spell, one I never quite understood. It had given me cloaks, towels, shirts and tunics and headpieces and earrings, and it gave me the dress.
The dress I wore that night was the most beautiful piece of clothing I had ever worn before, or since. It was glistening green and silver, more layers than I had ever seen in one piece of clothing. It fit my waist snugly before falling out into the skirt and pooling onto the floor and into a graceful train. It had a voluptuous hood to hide my head, and dagged sleeves so long they brushed the ground. It was gorgeous.
When I saw myself in the mirror, I had the strangest feeling, as if I belonged in that dress, as if I’d lived a different life before I was Ivy Whitehall of the Skydancers, before even I was Ivy Whitehall of Chester, Vermont or Ivy Whitehall of Berkeley, California. I had the feeling that I’d lived a life where I could wear that dress and get away with it, where I could wear that dress and live in it.
Nyssrin gave me an encouraging smile and a hug before teleporting away. “I’ve got some things to take care of,” she told me. “But I’ll see you tonight.”
The ball was being held in an enormous ballroom at the very top of the Great Peak. When the other Greens and I stepped inside, it was as if magic had come to life. Above us was the cave ceiling, and when I looked I could see the point that marked the tippy-top of the mountain. Three of the walls were actually huge windows, offering expansive views of the city, far below, and the surrounding country beyond the city wall. I could see the barest hint of blue at the edge of the horizon which suggested an ocean, and acres and acres of green fields, woods, little winding rives that appeared no more than azure lines from so far above.
The room itself was filled with people, nearly a thousand of them, in suits and ties and waistcoats and lovely dresses, the murmur of conversation barely drowning out the sounds of instruments I’d never seen before played by a large ensemble in one of the corners.
Tables were set up along each wall, long trestle tables covered in rich drapings. A few people sat and chatted, but most of them milled about in the large area left bare of furniture in the center. At the very head of the room, I noticed, directly opposite the door, was a large table higher than the rest. Several high-backed chairs, nearly thrones, sat empty and vacant. “Who sits there?” I hissed to Madge still beside me. It did give me some comfort that all my friends looked as out of place as I felt.
“I’m not sure,” he replied after a moment of consideration. “What are we supposed to be doing right now?”
When I gave him the same answer he had given me, he didn’t look at all comforted. The five of us moved as a small pack further into the room and away from the door, where we had been standing, dazed and overwhelmed, for nearly ten minutes.
Luckily for me, Calic came and saved me from the confusion. He swept up grandly, dressed in a smart doublet of dark grey silk, covered in orange-red embroidery in a pattern which reminded me of curling vines.
He said a gracious round of hellos to the others before bowing and kissing my hand. When I recoiled in shock he looked crestfallen, until I reassured him. “It’s just not very common where I’m from,” I told him, giggling.
He smiled. “I’m sorry, Ivy. This is a common way to greet a fair and highborn lady in the elven culture, I assumed that Earth was the same.”
This made me laugh again, and I had a sudden mental image of my Berkeley girlfriends meeting Calic. The whole affair went somewhat horrendously in my mind, with my friends saying something along the lines of: “Yo, whattup?” and the gentleman elf looking as confused and ridiculous as I probably had.
Calic looked as if he was about to say something else, but the sound of the great wooden doors closing far louder then they should have turned everyone’s heads. Conversations slowly ground to a halt as everyone in the ballroom got a look at who had just entered. I only got a quick glance at the group who had just crashed the party, so to speak, before people began to drop to their knees. I quickly did the same, bowing my head as everyone around me was doing.
When the mysterious group had taken their seats, (in the thrones at the head of the ballroom, a fact I was not at all surprised about), an old angel man in dark crimson with a bald and freckled head told the crowd in a booming voice to please rise.
“Who are they?” I asked Calic quietly, when the conversation had resumed.
Calic glanced at me as if he couldn’t believe I didn’t know. “That’s the Council, Ivy. The most powerful Skydancers in all the realms. They only make appearances at very important social gatherings, or when someone’s commited a very heinous crime.”
I glanced at the Council. Now that Cal had mentioned it, I did remember hearing snippets about them in my few days as a Rider. The old man in red, the angel, caught my eye and glared me down until I looked away. “Who’s the red one?” I asked.
“That’s Os’Dan,” replied Calic. “He’s the leader of the Council, the oldest and most powerful Skydancer still alive today. A living legend, that one is.”
I glanced back up at him, when I was sure he wasn’t looking. He did have an aura of power about him, an aura of belonging and of ownership. I watched the way his tawny wings curved over his shoulders for a moment until Calic pulled me from my thoughts. “May I have the first dance, my lady?” When I glanced at him, his yellow eyes were earnest and cheerful.
We danced our way through three dances, until dinner came. Of course, I didn’t know any of the courtly dances that the Skydancers seemed to like, but Calic lead me through effortlessly. He was a wonderful dancer, guiding me through the steps with an expert grace. His hand on the small of my back leeched warmth through my entire being and as I laughed along with his jokes and smiled at Madge and Rob dancing with their Red girls across the room and even waved at Storm in the corner, I realized that I enjoyed being a Skydancer. Like I’d said to the Greens the other morning, my life had lacked purpose, and even if my new being had to be unwillingly thrust upon me, at least my life had direction. I realized that night for the first time that I didn’t want to be Ivy Whitehall of Chester, Vermont anymore, nor even Ivy Whitehall of Berkeley, California. I wanted to be exactly where I was, even if where I was now was a world where nothing made sense. I had felt the same urge when I first met Fern, when I first spun the bladed staff in my arms, when I first wore the lovely green dress, that this was where I belonged.
I smiled at Calic, and he smiled back at me, and I moved my feet along with his feet and hoped not to trip.
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