Seven o’clock found me jittering around the edge
of the rainbow pool. I tried to pull my hat lower than the hole for my horn
would allow, and found myself reciting a minor charm to make my golden coat
appear less noticeable. I was rather spooked, in fact.
Admittedly, telling Kallisari about what
I was doing tonight hadn’t helped. She didn’t really say a whole lot, but the
look she gave me told me that if I wanted to stay in her good graces I’d better
talk about it in a lot more detail afterwards. It wasn’t that she didn’t
trust me, but…
Anyway, this whole assignment, playing bodyguard
to a deaf belly dancer who had already had one knife thrown at her wasn’t exactly
relaxing stuff. For a minute my paranoia wondered if I’d been set up. After
all, Sadiyah had been muffled up in robes and veils. How did I know she was
even a she? She hadn’t said a single word to me- just made motions at her petpet
and let it do the talking.
It took me about three seconds to reject
that idea. For one thing, it would be virtually impossible for a male to duplicate
the way she had walked and moved. And for another thing, any male seeking to
trick me would find it hard to do so while belly dancing.
A paw tapped me on the shoulder and I jumped.
I turned around to find myself staring into the amused blue eyes of a rather
slender Kyrii. A very feminine one, in fact. My jaw dropped a bit. The heavy
robes and veils were gone, replaced by a costume of almost sheer fabric that
just barely met the minimum requirements of maiden modesty. The veil was a designer
thing that was more suggestion than concealment.
Sadiyah grinned as she made signs at me.
Mu’awin hovered above her as he translated. "I’m so glad to see you, MonoKeras.
Are you ready for this evening. I know I am."
"Oh! Sure, sure. Um… lead on, milady…"
I bowed and motioned her to proceed. She nodded and took the lead before her
Faerie Cadro had even translated for us.
We made it to the bar without incident. My
nervous gaze found nothing that was threatening, and if I’d had any doubts about
Sadiyah’s femininity, they were totally shattered by watching her walk. Definitely
I followed Sadiyah into the Ankh-bar tavern
and nonchalantly strolled behind her until she went into a back room. She never
turned or acknowledged me, and I didn’t try it with her, either. I was there
to watch, and she was content to let me without hassling me about how I should
do it. I like that in a woman.
I took a seat at the end of the bar closest
to the small stage and ordered a fruit drink. Tchea isn’t exactly a favorite
of mine, but I’ve had far worse while on duty. I sipped and waited. Eventually,
a Skeith stepped out from behind the curtain. "And now," he said in
profound bass tones, " the moment you have all been waiting for. Sadiyah,
and the dance of the hundred ribbons."
Wild applause, cheering, and whistling broke
out as the announcer stepped aside along with the curtain. Three or four musicians
began that type of Lost Desert wailing thing that they use for music, but there
was no Sadiyah. Then she swayed onto the stage. My eyebrows went up. Her costume
was still basically the same, but now her hair had been done up in a mass of
purple and blue ribbons, along with some more that floated from her arms and
wrists. The drummer pounded out his beat and she perambulated up the ramp that
led from the stage to the long table that ran through the room. I noted that
ramp and table were fastened firmly together, and that the drummer had been
placed on the head of the ramp. I had to admit that they were good- no way would
she miss feeling that beat.
The brass (or string or whatever) section
that had momentarily fallen silent while Sadiyah assumed her place on the table
began again. All eyes (including mine) were riveted to her as she swayed to
the music, ribbons flowing from her, dangling under the patrons’ noses.
Before too long, they began grabbing as the
ribbons went by. I held my breath, expecting Sadiyah to either stumble or lose
her temper. She did neither. Although she managed to avoid many of the grabbing
paws, a successful one was handled by simply pulling free and leaving the patron
with a ribbon. After this happened a few times, I realized that she was playing
with them, and that they were supposed to try for a prize. I snickered to myself
and quit worrying about her.
Now that the novelty had worn off, I remembered
my job to be on the lookout for trouble. I eased away from the bar and around
Sadiyah’s dancing table, gaze casually traveling over the crowd, looking for
anyone that might be showing the type of interest that they shouldn’t.
The wrong type of interest… it’s easy to
say, but hard to really describe- and not much easier to spot. I finally wound
up sitting next to a Lost Desert Kyrii that might have been Sadiyah’s mate in
olden times- or perhaps a brother. As it was, his glare towards her seemed almost
I was wondering how I might strike up a conversation
when he looked over at me and gave a rasping chuckle. "Purty, ain’t she."
"Oh… yeah, of course." Okay, so
it wasn’t an eloquent reply.
"Look at her. She’s dragging this audience
into her own world. Lots of kartrah, that one."
The oldster shot me a withering look. "Go
look it up, foal. It’s only the most important thing in the universe."
He looked at me and snickered a bit. "Not bad for it yourself, if you weren’t
so easily moved."
"Mmmm…" I had shifted from wanting
to start the conversation to trying to end it. This guy was a little nuts, but
I didn’t quite place him as sinister.
He chuckled and leaned forward to wink at
me. "Think you can try your luck? I can get you in any time you want, but
you play for keeps."
The other nodded with a look of profound
wisdom. "Oh yes. Only for keeps. And it’s the corner of 18th
and Buzz Avenue."
"Generous of you," I murmured.
He barked in laughter. "So you say!
I’m warning you, boy, as much as anything."
For some reason, he nettled me. I gave him
a smirk that was supposed to be knowing, and then edged to another part of the
room. I looked back at Sadiyah, and had to admit that she definitely drew the
eye. Her pace had picked up considerably. Her ribbons flung out wildly now,
and her finger cymbals snapped in perfect beat. Through all this, she still
maintained absolute silence, along with an expression of remoteness that was
alluring, tempting, and aloof. I blinked and grinned. Of course she was ignoring
the calls of the crowd. Wrapped in her own deafness, she was playing for the
beat, the feel from her feet. The rapt gaze on her face was not pretence, it
was an actual absorption between her and the music she could hear only in her
I heard the clanging before I realized it
was a pirate Eyrie seated at the table. He was banging his mug wildly on the
"Arrrh! Dance, girl, dance yer heart
out! C’mon Lassy, ye’ve got me own heart in yer paws! C’mere me busty and give
Sadiyah’s dance trembled only slightly as
the banging continued. I realize that her beat was being interrupted by it,
and briefly worried that she would lose it. Then she slowly began to sway towards
the inebriated Eyrie, making every move seem a natural part of the music. He
stopped and stared up at her, tongue lolling out of his beak. For a couple of
seconds her soft golden paws lightly tapped the table in front of him and then
splish! It happened so fast that no one could have anticipated it, much
less its victim. Sadiyah’s foot had plunked itself into his mug, splashing the
drink onto his beak. By the time his head had jerked down towards the source
of his unexpected wetness, her foot was long gone and she was dancing away,
leaving only a few wet spots that were quickly absorbed into the table’s wood.
The crowd roared its approval while the Eyrie
simply sat there, befuddled wits still trying to figure out what had just happened
to him. It was obvious that he knew he’d been had, but he didn’t know how. Everyone
else did, though, and began grabbing for Sadiyah’s remaining ribbons with renewed
enthusiasm. They were soon gone, and Sadiyah reached back into her mane of hair.
The next thing I knew, she had thrown a loop of cloth through the air. As it
sailed into a cloud of clutching paws, I realized it had been a ‘ponytail holder’.
Her mane, now completely unbound, flew wildly around as the beat grew even faster.
Up, to the sides, over her head, back around…
Just when you became lost in those now blurred
movements, sure that nothing more could happen, the music came to a halt in
mid-beat. So did Sadiyah, in a perfect pose- head thrown back and slightly to
one side, arms flung out, only slightly crooked, and one foot held a few inches
off the table.
After a second of silence, the place totally
erupted. I found myself cheering and clapping my hooves, and I knew she couldn’t
even hear it. But she was smiling, bowing, and even blowing kisses as she made
her way offstage. With one last coy twist of her hair, she slid behind its curtains
I made my way through the happily chattering
throng and parked myself near the stage door again. Half a drink later, Sadiyah
appeared. The beautifully sheer costume was gone, replaced by a very modestly
cut dress of blue and purple. I fell in beside her as she left the tavern. For
a minute, I wondered if she’d cast some sort of unglamour spell on herself,
but then I realized it was a case of costume and makeup (or lack thereof). She
was still breathing heavily, and I picked up the scent of her perspiration.
She grinned at me over her shoulder and Mu’awin suddenly piped up.
"It was a great evening, MonoKeras.
Thank you so much for being here." I realized that she’d motioned her words
to her petpet while looking at me.
"I wouldn’t have missed it for all Neopia."
She couldn’t hear my fervent tone, but the sparkle in her eyes told me she knew
the compliment was coming before Mu’awin forwarded it to her.
"Flatterer" was the single word
reply. Sadiyah looked to one side and her paws suddenly began waving wildly.
I looked as well, alarmed that there might be danger. A robot Kougra had just
stepped out of the shadows in front of the tavern. I stared at it suspiciously.
The eye panels were broken and dimmed, but the head still swung towards us as
the mouth gaped open. A Christmas buzzer sat on top of it, and it promptly began
living up to its name by emitting a series of varied buzzes.
I relaxed when I saw the petpet. Truly dangerous
characters usually don’t bother with them. I wondered, though, at the apparent
blindness. This looked like it might be an early model robot, one that had developed
unrepairable problems. I’d heard of them, but not seen any before.
Mu’awin’s voice suddenly broke me from my
mental analysis. "Sadiyah bids you fervent good greetings, MichiruKaioh,
and hopes you are as well as possible."
The Kougra began to cough out a reply. I
couldn’t make out anything it said- was there something wrong with the vocal
mechanisms? I never did find out for sure. The next thing I knew, Sadiyah had
flung herself down on top of the Kougra, and the two were rolling on the ground.
I opened my mouth to object (I think), but stopped as Sadiyah’s own voice joined
the Kougra’s spitting growls.
I blinked. It was high-pitched, breathy,
and more than a little slurred, but I still understood it. I suddenly realized
that Sadiyah really could talk if she tried- but being deaf, she couldn’t be
sure what it sounded like, so she never took the chance… unless she was with
good friends? The way she and the Kougra gladly abandoned themselves to their
play tussle, it was obvious that they were very close. It ended with Sadiyah
on top, legs braced to each side as she thumped her hands into the Kougra's
paws. At first I thought that they were just play hits, but then I realized
she was balling her fist into different shapes as she did so- she must actually
be communicating in sign language for the blind!
As amazing as that sort of revelation was,
the fear that had begun in the back of my mind suddenly came to the fore. I
realized that there had been a purplish flash around Sadiyah’s ankle as she
dove to the ground. I knew what that flash meant. The only question remaining
in my mind was this: was Sadiyah an unwilling pawn or an arrogant overlord?
To be continued...