Chapter 0:


The Perfect Place to Dance is Anywhere

For ninety consecutive minutes, Mina Seras sat perfectly still.

Five rows of seats ahead and nearly a hundred feet over her head, Flera Delacroix darted and wheeled, her flowing dress whirling around her as her broad, brown-feathered wings held her aloft in a complex flurry of movement.

Mina's gaze followed the Skydancer with rapt attention as the performance grew and swelled in time with the orchestra. Every high refrain from the strings or crescendo from the horns sent Flera ever higher, until she was nearly scraping the ceiling of the vast auditorium.

The dancer dove and spun, flaring her wings out to their full span before shooting herself upwards into a soaring backflip, kicking her bare feet over her head. She reached the ceiling of the auditorium, but instead of allowing herself to drift back down to a lower height, she held herself suspended upside down with perfectly controlled small flaps of her vast wings so that the ceiling became her new dance floor.

Mina's jaw dropped as the woman proceeded to dance effortlessly upside down, launching herself across the surface with all the practiced grace of a ballet dancer. She spun on one foot, pausing mid-spin to leap off the ceiling in a perfect ciseaux, her front- and rear-pointing legs both perfectly parallel to the ceiling. The move kept the same spinning momentum, giving the dancer the appearance of a spinning maple seed drifting on the breeze. She landed deftly, kicking one leg over her head before following through with the other in another flip. She landed on her hand, balancing on one arm, before sweeping her left wing around in a wide arc to send her spinning on it. She kicked her legs out, using their momentum to whirl herself around and around like a breakdancer.

For a long moment she spun, faster and faster, until she was barely more than a blur of brown feathers and red fabric and pale skin. As she spun, the music began to build, swelling and swelling until it began to reach a crescendo. Something was coming. Mina could feel it. She held her breath in tense excitement as Flera's movement and the orchestra both roared to a climax.

Suddenly, the orchestra fell silent, and Flera fell from the ceiling.

The room fell so quiet that Mina was certain she could hear the blood rushing in her ears as she watched the beautiful seraph fall towards the stage. It was only after a moment that the girl realized that Flera wasn't moving. The dancer had shifted her position to one facedown towards the stage. She held her arms folded across her chest, her wings were folded close around her, and she made no attempt to slow her fall as she accelerated towards the polished wood below.

Several gasps arose from the audience, and more still leaned forward in their seats, Mina included. The skydancer fell faster and faster to the earth, and Mina found herself gripping the arms of her chair hard enough to turn her knuckles pale. If Flera didn't stop herself, she'd crash into the stage! Why wasn't she stopping herself?

Then, Mina realized what Flera was doing.

Phoenix Dives were dangerous. Incredibly dangerous. The way her instructor put it, only a "gods-damned fool" ever attempted it.

The move was, comparatively, fairly simple in concept. The dancer fell headfirst towards the ground from a great height, all limbs pulled together to maximize speed, only to flare their wings and flip at the last possible moment so that their momentum ended the same instant their feet touched the ground. Not only was there a risk of dislocating or tearing something in your wings from the tremendous force of stopping, but get the distance even slightly wrong, and you'd shatter your legs on impact. Or, worse, land face-first. Mina shuddered at the thought.

But Flera was one of the best skydancers in the world. Possibly the best ever. The fact that Mina had half a dozen posters of her on her wall had no impact on this opinion. Obviously. But still, she was one of the best. She could land a Phoenix Dive with ease. There was no doubt in Mina's mind of that fact as Flera plummeted.

It all happened in an instant.

The skydancer flared her wings, the displaced air whipping through Mina's hair, and flipped feet-first towards the stage. But it was just a split-second too late. Something wet and horrible cracked as her feet slammed into the polished wood, and audible gasps shot from the crowd as Flera crumpled into a heap on stage, the majority of her body concealed by the vast feathered canvas of her wings. The orchestra fumbled to a stop, and for a brief moment all that could be heard was concerned murmuring from the crowd.

A stagehand in a red uniform rushed out onto the stage, but before he could reach her, Flera stirred. Her wings lifted and flapped downwards, helping lift her enough that she was able to get a foot under her.

Mina gasped and covered her mouth in horror. Even from this distance, the swelling and discoloration around the dancer's left ankle was impossible to miss. It was broken, and badly. The stagehand moved closer to help her move off stage, but Flera waved him away. The man stood there awkwardly for several seconds until she said something to him, and he bowed before shuffling back out of sight. She turned her attention towards the orchestra pit, and gave the conductor a nod.

What is she doing?

After a moment, the orchestra roused itself back to life, and the murmuring in the crowd grew louder. With a surge of motion, Flera's arms and wings spread wide.

Oh gods, she is going to keep dancing!

Flera rocketed back into the air, her wings pounding the air as she forced herself higher and higher. Within moments, she was nearly against the ceiling. And then, on cue, the orchestra built again to a familiar climax.

Mina's eyes flew wide. Flera was going to try again. Was she CRAZY?

The music came to a stop, and on cue Flera folded in on herself, her eyes fixated on the rapidly approaching ground. It took every bit of effort in Mina's body to keep herself from burying her face in her arm until this was all over. If she failed this second dive, Flera would probably never dance again. It all hinged on a single split second.

The skydancer fell closer. And faster. And closer. And faster. Every single person in the auditorium held their breath. Mina felt like she was going to be sick.

Flera flared her wings again, and this second gust made Mina's eyes water, and she nearly missed what happened next. As the years went on, she would forever be grateful that she didn’t.

The skydancer executed a flawless mid-air flip less than a meter from the ground, and placing her one good foot beneath her, alighted effortlessly and weightlessly on the polished stage floor. Her other leg she held aloft in a perfect arabesque, her face a serene mask.

For a brief but seemingly eternal moment, the entire auditorium gaped in stunned silence. And then, all at once, the cheers and applause burst into the air like a flood. Within moments, every single person in the theater was on their feet, Mina included.

The dancer lowered herself gingerly out of the position, being careful to not place any weight on her damaged leg. Mina, however, watched the dancer’s face. For the briefest of moments, the mask of graceful calm slipped. Flera was in pain. Intense, eye-watering pain. And yet, here she was, pretending like she was fine.

No, that wasn’t right. She wasn’t pretending. She was fine. Even with months of painful recovery ahead, the joy and satisfaction from this moment more than made up for it.

It was the expression of someone doing their absolute most favorite thing in the world, and being praised by crowds for doing it. The realization sent a thrill up Mina’s spine, and she felt all of the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand on end. She loved to skydance. She wasn’t even that bad at it, honestly. She would lay and daydream about what it would be like to be one of the great dancers like Flera Delacroix, much in the same way she imagined boys dreamed of being sports stars. But never had she actually considered the possibility of trying to do it as more than just a hobby.

Until now.

The entire time from the end of the performance to the moment she flopped into bed that night was a featureless blur, but for a single thing. That look. She didn’t know what that look meant. She didn’t know what she wanted so desperately when she saw it.

Only with the benefit of several years hindsight would Mina recognize that this is the moment where her journey began.

Kya Hon
Harmonica Writes
Taylor Victoria
Albion K. D. Kuki