All was quiet. The slow, cold creep of an early morning wind wound through the nearly empty streets, tugging at the cloaks of the huddled forms shivering in the shadows, rattling shop signs on their hinges, whirling about my feet as I walked. My own cloak snapped against the whistling tirade.
Calman had fallen since the Doom in the Sky. The once valiant city of craftsmen and artists now lay abandoned, few wanting to risk their skill becoming desirable in the eyes of the slavers. No more than silhouettes of ghosts danced where the forges once glowed, where the halls rang with the striking of hammers, the working songs of the weavers, the cries of the minstrels and poets, and the laughs of the graceful dancers. They that all but used to fly had fled, or else had their wings clipped, living far from home in a cage of a rich man.
I chased the shadows, following them through the beautiful wide streets, under archway after archway carved delicately with flowers growing in lush clumps, or painted boldly depicting animals kicking and tumbling for joy all the way around the frame. I walked to the very center, the Great Forum. No other place in all of Tolendria had enjoyed the kind of artistic repute that the Forum had boasted not weeks before, and few knew it as well as I.
It was a large circle of open market space, paved in white stones of rings within rings, each circuit lined with stalls and miniature platform stages sometimes as small as a crate turned on its top. When I first came to this city, I started on the outer ring, as any beginner would. I laughed to think of it: I had nothing to my name, no money, no decent gear, no weapons. I would have been fodder for slavers or worse, had they run rampant then. But I had myself, and I certainly thought that was enough. Because, or course, I could dance. There, on the outer ring, the savage circle of scrutiny eager to keep tight its society, to shut out any that may try to enter their solemn brotherhood of passion for the things beyond money, I won my first purse from a young man with smiling eyes and ruddy cheeks.
It was nearly morning. As great as the danger at night, the danger of the light was far worse. I glanced to the center of the rings: a great stage towering above the abandoned stalls, stout and unshakable, lavishly built and decorated by the greatest talents of the city. I saw there great crowds of young people, their eyes lit, faces dripping with perspiration from the heat, rammed against one another, burning with awe at the show: a girl, dancing on the winds, flame curling from her fingers, moving with her in powerful dips and glides and twirls.
I blinked, the image fading away, the flaring glory extinguishing as I held up my hand and clenched it into a fist. Fingers that once emitted sparks now clamped into my sweaty palm, dampened on my fear and fury: the innocence of this city was no more.