Music caught her ears. Not that there was anything unusual about music – every corner of Limsa Lominsa seemed to conceal a bard or minstrel or buckster. It would have been far more noteworthy not to hear music of some sort while walking through the city.


But this music…it struck a half-forgotten responsive chord deep within Shae’s friable soul. It had a foreign (though not unpleasant) tang, an unusual lilt to the melody. But despite its exotic sound, it was familiar, somehow – she was certain she had heard it before, and for some reason it held meaning. Her feet adjusted their path just enough to edge toward the sound while still heading more or less in the direction of the market. Alfrond had said to hurry, so she couldn’t watch for very long, but a slight detour wouldn’t hurt. As long as he never knew. Or suspected. Or imagined, though that one could happen with equal likelihood no matter what she did.


All thought stopped along with her feet when she saw the source of the music and her half-memory bloomed.


Lithe dancers moved through intricate, sensual patterns, moving in time to the music while rings of steel and fire spun from their hands, arced sparkling patterns through the air, returned, only to be thrown again. It was a mesmerizing display, and Shae was caught up in it just as much as the last time, those twelve years ago, when the woman had…


The shaking loose of that memory brought her back to reality and she realized with a shock of fear that she was late – somehow, nearly a full bell had passed. Alfrond was going to be livid. She began to edge away from the crowd but froze when she saw the woman who had spoken to her all those years ago.


She was looking right at Shae. Or was she? Surely not – it was just a trick of the mind. Though the woman’s eyes did not waver. After a moment, the woman gave the briefest of gestures, a twitch of the head. It was nearly imperceptible, yet it screamed “come here” to Shae. Her body strained to heed, but…but…


Her hesitance must have conveyed itself because the woman’s expression shifted, the most subtle of changes. I understand, it seemed to say. Do not fear – you will be safe.


Or so Shae imagined. Or imagined she imagined. It defied all odds and comprehension that this hidden conversation had actually taken place and had not been just something her desperate mind had invented.


Still. It was worth the risk. In fact, there was no risk – if she went to the woman and found she had imagined the entire thing, she would have only added a little time to her already-late return. The punishment would be the same. But if it hadn’t been her imagination…or even if it had but the woman’s offer from twelve years ago was somehow still valid…


Shae folded her ears against her back and lifted her hood over her head, then stooped a little, trying to seem shorter, less conspicuous. She shifted through the crowd as if trying to find a better vantage, but always moving toward thicker groups of people, and always toward the side where the woman stood. She felt a little silly with the precautions – it wasn’t like Alfrond was there watching her. Probably. Maybe. It was impossible to tell with him, frankly, and Shae wanted to leave as little to chance as possible.


She reached the edge of the crowd just as the finale hit its peak – all the dancers formed a circle around the giant Roegadyn male, who threw his rings straight up, so high they seemed to top the spires of the towering city, while the rings of the others spun a dizzying array of patterns at six separate levels below. Shae only noticed this spectacle out of the corner of her eye because she found the woman waiting for her. The woman took Shae’s arm and gently guided her away from the crowd and, to Shae’s surprise, some of the crowd seemed to move with them – the people surrounding them drifted along their path, so it looked as if part of the audience had simply shifted to get a better view. Shae and the woman reached a large colorful tent and the woman slipped inside and Shae followed. The flap closed behind them just as the dancers caught their rings as one and the music ended to uproarious applause.

Author Sunscryer
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