Rosalind’s clear singing voice echoed through the empty hall. Where the audience should have been, there were rows upon rows of chairs – rows that were still being constructed, for that matter. Even while she sang, several pairs of hired hands were bringing in countless stacks of chairs and arranging them. The defunct guild building had been chosen as the venue for this concert, due to both its location near the center of the city as well as its considerable size.
Rosalind reached a lull in the song, and began to dance as Elysium played a musical interlude on a violin. Rosalind’s movements were nothing too elaborate, but they were clearly very well-practiced: she matched the rhythm of the violin, swaying with its lilts and speeding up when it did. Her steps took her to the front of the stage, and as she moved, I made sure that the orb of light above her followed along, keeping her figure illuminated. At the same time, I created another orb above Elysium, illuminating the figure of her playing the violin, bearing a dignified poise, eyes closed as her hand deftly manipulated the bow. Of course, I kept the light on Elysium noticeably dimmer than the one I shone on Rosalind; Rosalind was the star of this show, after all.
Today’s rehearsal marked the seventh day since we had started rehearsals. My schedule had adjusted accordingly; Morning was still physical training with Elysium, but afternoons all the way to the evening were dedicated to rehearsals. We often ended late; returning to the inn after midnight had become a regular occurence. I quickly learned that while Rosalind was generally a gentle, quiet woman, she was just as harsh as Elysium when it came to matters of her performances – both on herself and on those who supported her. On the first day, she spent three hours practicing a single step, just because she didn’t perfectly match the beat. I suppose that as a self-taught dancer, that degree of discipline was to be expected, but that intensity took me off guard when I first saw it, since I had only known the quiet, smiling Rosalind.
That intensity extended to her rebukes of those who worked with her, as well. She had basically stared down Elysium until Elysium played the melody flawlessly thrice in a row – that took us nearly an entire day. And as for me, she raised her voice and scolded me once when I missed my cue to move my light… though that was largely the only criticism that had been directed at me.
I’d like to say it’s because of my natural talent leaving no room for critique, but in truth, it’s simply because my role in the performance didn’t have much to critique. I had been a little confused about what Elysium wanted me to do when I took the job, but as it turned out, my job was basically just creating orbs of light to illuminate Elysium and Rosalind. As long as I paid attention and created or dispelled the light when needed, my job was done. It was an exceedingly simple job, barely a drain on my magic and with very little opportunity for error.
It was also incredibly, unspeakably boring.
A full week of rehearsals had left me frustrated. Seven days in a row of doing nothing but producing orbs of light in the same locations over and over had left their mark on my patience. The boredom was one thing, though that was nothing too distressing; I had spent longer periods of time doing nothing while trailing potential marks, often with no payoff. So the boredom, I could deal with. What bothered me was my belief that I could do more. I felt like my magic was being underutilised.
Looking back, that was likely a sign of my immaturity, the foolishness of a child. Having heard Rosalind sing and Elysium accompany her, I was swept off my feet – the two of them were producing something special, some kind of magic beyond magic. Hearing the performance made my heart feel light, made a warmth spread within me. It was like listening and watching to them washed away all my anxieties and worries, so that I could focus only on their performance. There was a definite something inherent in their performance, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of that special performance, and as more than just a glorified lamp. I wanted to actively contribute.
So I did. On that day, during that seventh day of rehearsals, after the interlude, when Rosalind began singing the chorus, I did as I was supposed to and cut the light on Elysium, increasing the brightness of the orb illuminating Rosalind. But while I did, I also prepared the image for a second spell in the back of my mind, relying on my subconscious familiarity with the sequence to handle the timing for the lights.
The song Rosalind was practicing was a crowd favorite, “Bound Rose”. It was the song that she had sung at her first concert, one that had received an enormously positive reception. I tailored my mental image to fit the chorus.
“O beautiful vine, encroach then upon me.”
When Rosalind reached this line, I activated the spell, forming light into my mental image and projecting it. Immediately, a mass of light, shaped like a giant rose that was easily twice her size, materialised behind her. Her eyes opened wide in surprise, but impressively, she didn’t falter in her song or dance, continuing on as if nothing had happened.
“Bind me to you; a bond everlasting.”
A set of chains, comprised of slightly dimmer light, emerged from the ground and snaked around the rose, hovering above the surface of the illuminary flower. The radiance of the flower emanated through the chains, illuminating Rosalind from her back, granting her a soft glow as she continued to sing.
“Please don’t let me go, please keep by and chain me.”
The chains jerked and clamped down on the rose, constricting it. Even then, the rose continued to shine brilliantly through the gaps in its cage of chains.
“Your thorns, though they pierce, so sweetly they hurt.”
The light of the chains slowly changed, becoming brighter and warmer, until they matched the glow of the rose. Then they melded into the rose, leaving Rosalind beautifully illuminated once more.
This was the last chorus for this song, so as Rosalind moved on to the verse, I allowed the flower and chains to disperse. Then I groaned as I thought about how Elysium would react to my improvisation. I could already see her glaring at me, even as she continued playing her violin.
The rest of the song went by without incident, ending with Rosalind in her final pose, with both hands clasped together and her eyes closed, as if in prayer. Then she gave a deep bow to her imaginary audience and gracefully strode off the stage to the applause of the many men who were helping move the chairs. In accordance to the performance directions, she walked toward the right wing of the stage, opposite the wing where I was stationed. Meanwhile, Elysium, also moving in accordance to the directions, moved past her, walking briskly toward the left wing. Once she crossed the line which marked the furthest point where the audience could still see her, she turned on me, a ferocity burning in her gaze.
“What was that? That wasn’t in the plan, what the fuck was that?!”
I hurriedly tried to make excuses for myself, but was quickly silenced by a stinging pain across my cheek. Her right hand was held across her body, its palm open and firm. She’d slapped me – at a speed that I hadn’t been able to catch, no less. She was angry. Very angry. She caught my chin with her hand and jerked my face up to meet hers. I kept eye contact with her, knowing that averting my gaze now would only make her angrier.
“Don’t fucking mess with the performance plan. What if you’d surprised Rosalind, and caused her to miss a step? What if she’d been distracted and sustained an injury? What the fuck were you intending to do if that happened, huh?!”
I said nothing. I had no excuse. There was no reason for me to do that improvisation, and it could have jeopardised the entire performance.
“There is one, and only one, reason that you should ever deviate from the plan: when something goes wrong. If the performance is going well with no problems, like just now, you do not introduce rogue elements like that. Am I clear?”
“Am. I. Clear.”
Her tone dropped dangerously low. I felt a chill in my veins. I was filled with the conviction that if I didn’t answer correctly, and quickly, my life would be forfeit. So I nodded vigorously, both out of self-preservation, and because I sincerely recognised that I had messed up. She let go of my chin, and the pressure of her gaze disappeared. Then, to my surprise, she ruffled my hair.
“Good. Now, I might have said all that, but that’s not to say I disapprove entirely. You messing with the plan was absolutely uncalled for, but the whole flower of light thing was actually a pretty good idea.”
“Yep. I’d been planning to have you do that for us eventually, but I didn’t realise that your ability was already at a level where you were able to create such images without a physical reference with such ease. You know, if you’d really felt like your abilities were under-utilised, you could have raised the issue with myself or Rosalind. We would have heard you out.”
I hung my head in shame: she’d accurately deduced the reason for my impulsiveness.
“Well, in any case, now that I know you’re actually capable of light tricks like that, we’ll just advance our schedule and work those into our performance. Just one song for now, though – we don’t have the time for more. You’ll need to come up with more images and handle the choreography, but I’m sure you’re capable of it.”
“Wait, so I can keep doing that?”
“Of course. I said I liked it, didn’t I? If you have any other ideas for how to make the performance better, make sure to let us know – but do it before or after the performance. So that everyone involved knows what’s going on. Most importantly, make sure you clear it with Rosalind – this is her show, so we can’t have your magic stealing the spotlight. And don’t ever pull a mid-song improv like that, unless you want to see what I’m like when I’m really angry.”
She said that last line with a smile, but I felt my blood run cold. A properly angry Elysium was something I couldn’t imagine – and I felt like that was a good thing.
At this moment, Rosalind came walking toward us, crossing from the right to the left wing via the backstage area. Then she flicked my forehead, hard. An explosion of pain erupted between my eyebrows, causing me to double back and clutch it in agony. As I writhed, she glared at me.
“That’s for messing with the plan.”
Then she placed a palm over my forehead and hummed a clear note, causing the pain to disperse. When I looked up, she was wearing that gentle smile she often wore while teaching me.
“Now let’s get to work on mixing those images into my dance. That flower of light thing was brilliant.”
After this, Elysium left to head to the Ezov, where she would be handling ticket sales for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, Rosalind and I sat down and discussed what kind of images I could generate to make her performance the spectacular finale it deserved to be.
It was not lost on me that Rosalind and Elysium had basically thought the exact same thing about my little stunt. It was a testament to how synchronised they were when it came to this performance, despite the many little differences they displayed on a daily basis. It was clear that Rosalind’s concert meant a lot to both of them. And now, I was a part of that performance. The thought brought me no small amount of pride.