Freebie Mondays: Art in Motion (Story 14 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Art in Motion (Story 14 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). (I broke this rule again cuz cool idea!)

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “a calm settled over the crowd.”

I introduced a brand new story for this prompt, one that I haven’t written about before. It’s basically a figure skating competition set in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the story, the world has achieved an uneasy peace. But the Domerin in this world comes from a war-torn country and cannot ignore his past. When his home country once again starts recruiting children for war, he cannot turn his back on those suffering the same abuse. But he also cannot ignore the fame he has earned during the peaceful interim. He decides to use his platform, limited though it is, to raise awareness of the situation of his kin.
. . .

Noise filled the stadium. Not the usual cheers of the crowd; confusion had long since set in, causing a dull murmur among the watchers as they tried to determine what might be happening.

No, most of the sound flowed from the area where the competition was managed as agents and organizers argued over how the situation should be handled. Voices rose in a steady crescendo until they seemed to bounce off the distant rafters.

The echoes filled Sesha’s skull with a pounding drumbeat that drowned the spoken words into a distant but insistent cacophony.

A month it had been since Domerin disappeared into the ether. A month since they heard any word of his wellbeing. A month of bad news choking every newspaper and website about the bloodshed and warfare that had consumed a distant corner of the world.

And for all he knew, Domerin was in the center of it. He could be fighting even now. Or he could already have been shot. Was he laying in some cold puddle of mud somewhere, breathing his last as blood oozed from his chest?

The winged elf shook his head to dispel the image.

He could not allow those nightmares to plague him. Not here. Not now. If Domerin didn’t arrive in time to skate his routine, he would be up soon. And if he could not find a state of absolute focus, he would spend more time eating ice than skating.

“Time is up.” The finality with which this statement was spoken startled Sesha back to the moment and sent a shiver up his spine.

He had already known, somewhere deep down, that it would end this way. There was no reason for Domerin to come back, not if he really had left to participate in the war. What did a pointless competition mean in the face of all the bloodshed and death that waited for him back home? Just because he would be disqualified from the entire competition if he didn’t skate today… Why should that matter?

But it did matter to him, on some level. He was proud of the work he put into this competition. He might not be willing to admit as much out loud, but Sesha had seen it on his face every time he stepped off the ice. Mathematical and precise his style may have been, but he felt a sense of accomplishment every time he made it through a routine without faltering.

No one had said anything since the pronouncement. Sesha almost lost himself in his sea of swirling thoughts again, but Crescent’s ever-tightening grip on his shoulder kept him grounded in the moment.

Something slammed in the background. At first he thought it was some kind of alarm – proof that Domerin’s opportunity to return to his life had evaporated. But it was clear from the way that all heads turned in the direction of the sound that it was something far less dire.

A door. The door to the back stage area, if Sesha wasn’t mistaken.

His breath leapt into his throat. He could barely feel his limbs for the nervous tingle that had taken up residence in them, and the mad rush of his pulse drowned the nearby voices as they once again rose in a mad crescendo.

The management had formed a tunnel through which a singular figure passed. Sesha’s eyes could not penetrate the crowd, despite his considerable height. He hesitated only a moment before he decided that he could not be left in the dark any more. He seized Crescent’s hand and charged, choosing a position at the end of the tunnel, near the exit where the next skater would step onto the ice.

It took several long moments for the singular figure to clear the crowd enough for him to see, and then he almost drowned in a sea of darkness.

It was Domerin.

It could not possibly be him. But, somehow, it was.

He wore a long coat, which fell from his shoulders as he swept forward, surrendered to some grasping arms in the midst of the crowd.

People were arguing about time limits again, half insisting that Domerin could not be allowed on the ice when his opportunity had already expired, others insisting that no official decision had yet been made and, therefore, no upheaval need happen.

Domerin ignored them all and made his way straight to the ice. Sesha had only bare seconds to intercept him there, and no idea what he would say. Words crowded his head, a thousand questions that demanded answers.

But when Domerin’s dark blue eyes locked with his, language instantly evaporated, leaving him staring dumbstruck at the man he had spent the last month agonizing over.

Domerin dipped his head in a gesture of acknowledgement. But then he stepped into the exit that would carry him onto the ice, making any words that might spill from Sesha’s lips in the next moments meaningless.

It was only then that Sesha realized Domerin was already dressed. Not in his usual outfit; there was no sign of bright colors or flowing gauze. Instead, Domerin’s upper body was wrapped in medical bandages. Their pristine white glowed like the moon beneath the stadium’s bright lights.

Sesha wasn’t sure if he wore his usual outfit underneath; a pair of the usual skin-tight black slacks covered his legs, and the bandages ended where his belt might have been.

He was gone before Sesha could finish his survey. He must have been wearing his skates when he entered. The guards now lay next to Sesha’s feet and Domerin glided across the ice, picking up speed as he made his way toward the center of the arena.

The madness swirling behind him ceased. It seemed as though the manager had taken it into his head to protest, but Crescent stepped around Sesha, drawing him into Domerin’s wake so there was no possible way anyone could reach the elf before the powers that be cued the playing of his music.

As the crowd realized that a skater occupied the ice, their speculation died. A hush settled over the crowd. Where there had been chaos, there was now a sense of calm expectation.

Sesha swallowed hard to dislodge the lump in his throat, but he was not immune to the wave of calm that swept the stadium. Even the manager had ceased his rampage to watch with rapt attention as Domerin spread his arms.

Every skater struck a pose just before starting their routine. It was a signal to the crowd, an acknowledgement of their support and a welcome of the good will thrown their way. But it was also a sign that they had settled into performance mode.

How Domerin could wander from a war zone – if that was indeed where he had been – onto an ice rink and find focus, Sesha couldn’t guess. But as his music filled the stadium and washed over those gathered to witness his performance, he moved with the same grace as always.

The blade of one skate dug into the ice as he created forward momentum. Then his arms swung down and back up again. Each action was precise, requiring dozens of tiny mental calculations as he swooped and swirled. He had to be in the exact right position when he started one of his spins or jumps. He had to move into that position at the right speed, and he had to put just enough force and momentum into each attempt, or he would spill to the ice rather than land on his feet.

But as always, Domerin was in top form. He moved as if he had been born on the ice, his tightly braided black hair swaying behind him as he came out of his first spin. Sesha bit his lower lip as Domerin positioned for the first jump, but he need not have worried. Domerin’s body flowed through four perfect loops before he touched down and his leg spun wide, carrying him into his next set of movements.

Perhaps he hadn’t been behind enemy lines after all. Perhaps he merely needed to go somewhere and clear his head while he waited for all the madness and chaos to subside. He’d clearly gotten practice time into his schedule somehow. There was no hesitation in his performance, no hint of strain or fatigue.

But this was not the same routine Domerin had been practicing. At least not after the first set of jumps. For as Domerin pulled himself into a tight spin, his fingers went to work at his wrists, pulling free the edges of the bandages tucked there.

As he spun, those tiny pieces of fabric flew wide. He raised his hands above his head and, as he lowered them again, the bandages unraveled to his elbows. Further swooping moments dislodged more, until it became clear that this was intentional – Domerin was purposely unwinding the outer most layer of the bandages that shrouded is arms.

Like streamers trailing behind a dancer, the cloth at last came free and fluttered to the ice at his sides. It was perfectly timed so that Domerin posed for a moment between them and took off again in a new direction as soon as they settled to the ice.

He was at the far side of the rink, so it took several moments for Sesha to comprehend that the second set of bandages was not as pristine as that which he had just shed. Dark brown splotches marred the upper shoulder of his left arm and a bright pink swath lay along his right inner arm.

Sesha had little time to puzzle the splotches. The music picked up and Domerin performed a second set of flawless jumps, each of which drew a flurry of cheers from the crowd. But they settled back into stunned wonder as he reached for the folds of fabric at his neck and began again to peel away the bandages shrouding his torso.

It seemed clear now that Domerin’s regular outfit did not lay beneath the layers of fabric. Unless he wore something red and black rather than the usual pastel blue and purple. This time Domerin trailed the bandages around him as he performed one of his spins. Then he cast it aside as he twirled in the opposite direction.

His movements were a precise match for the music he had chosen even though the technical portions did not align with what he originally practiced. This could not have been an off the cuff, freestyle change. Whatever he was doing, he planned it and practiced it. Even his mathematical mind could not have mastered the complexity on a first attempt.

Sesha wondered if the crowd’s reaction was part of his plan. Now that the outer layer of bandages was completely gone, it was obvious that there were marks along Domerin’s torso as well. The under layer of wrappings was splotched red and brown, and Sesha dreaded a glimpse of what might lay beneath.

Murmurs once again permeated the crowd. Sesha wondered if someone was trying to shut this whole thing down, and how Domerin might react if they did. But for the moment, he continued to dance across the ice as though nothing was amiss, as if the detritus of his performance didn’t litter his path and as if the wounds beneath his wrappings caused him not an ounce of pain.

Already the ends of the second set of wrappings had appeared. And where they peeled away, they revealed splashes of dark skin.

Sesha’s breath hitched as Domerin launched into another set of jumps in the middle of unbinding these wrappings. Again, streamers of gauze flowed around and behind him. And when his figure was easy to discern again, the truth hidden beneath the bandages was revealed.

On Domerin’s upper left shoulder was a half-closed wound, the skin still raw where it had begun to knit together. On his lower right arm was a deep slash that looked new. It had to have happened only a few hours before. Though Sesha couldn’t tell at a glance whether the bandages used for this performance had been fresh when Domerin made his way over here or if they had been saved from previous bandage changes.

It didn’t matter; they fluttered to the ice at Domerin’s feet and, once again, he steered past them without hesitation, spinning into the next set of maneuvers, his performance as flawless as it had been at the start.

He was panting now, showing the first signs of fatigue always caused by a long form performance. He had to be cold with nothing to protect him from the chill that permeated the ice rink, and yet he moved as though all was normal, as though no one’s eyes were about to roll out of their head after beholding the marks on his skin.

Sesha knew what to expect now and his stomach twisted in terrible knots. He had no idea what the rules about stripping half naked in this kind of competition would be. There were TV cameras pointed at every performer the moment they took the ice – though he supposed a network could always cut away if they didn’t wish their home audience to see something.

But there was surely no way they could cut away from this. Domerin’s performance was hypnotic, tragic and inspiring all at once. He might claim not to skate for the art or to employ any artistry in his preparations, but this was pure art in motion. This was a man who had clearly experienced war and suffering – the marks of it were still fresh on his skin. And yet he moved like a perfect sculpture come to life, a dancer by every definition.

Not once did he miss a mark despite the complexity of the routine, the demands of physical endurance and the bandages littering the ice in his wake.

As the music moved toward its final crescendo, he reached again for his neck. This last set of wrappings seemed to come free both more rapidly and more hesitantly than those previous, as if they had been wrapped to come free at once but were stuck fast by the wounds that stained them.

Sesha gasped with the rest of the audience when the deep wounds on Domerin’s chest and back were revealed. It looked like he had been mauled by some beast. But the worst wound of all was a jagged circle protruding from the back of his left shoulder that could only have been caused by a bullet.

A ragged cry tried to tear free of his throat, but Sesha swallowed it. He was torn for a moment between trying to dart onto the ice and the knowledge that such an action would ruin the near perfect performance his companion had just executed.

He wanted to enfold Domerin in his arms, wanted to ease his aches and banish his hurts. He must be in such pain! But none of those wounds were fake; Sesha knew in his heart that Domerin would be able to recount where each came from if prodded.

Domerin had executed most of the technical aspects of his program. He had to be coming to the final moment. And indeed, the music’s final swell seemed about to die.

The worst of Domerin’s wounds had only been visible for a few minutes, but they would quickly lose their power if the audience was exposed to their horror overlong.

Domerin turned and then launched into one last set of jumps – a group of three. A bold move for the end of such a long and rigorous program.

Sesha knew something was off as soon as Domerin’s skate landed between the second and third jump. This last was supposed to be small and slow, but Domerin’s momentum wasn’t as fast as it should have been.

He’d put his skate down too late on the tail end of the second jump, lingering one second too long in the air.

But if Sesha wasn’t mistaken, it was no accident fueled by fatigue.

It was deliberate.

Domerin flowed through the final portion of the jump and it was clear to anyone with technical knowledge of figure skating that he wasn’t going to land the way he should.

His skates came down and he wobbled. His momentum pulled him to the side, then gravity took over.

Sesha hadn’t known Domerin for long. But he had never seen Domerin fall on the ice. Not even during practice.

He fell now, but even this seemed beautiful and graceful – as calculated as all the rest.

His arms hit the ice hard, and Sesha winced. Domerin had to have felt the impact ripple through his healing wounds.

Yet as he fell, he shifted so that he rolled across the ice without losing any of his momentum. Then he twirled to his knees as part of a controlled spin and finally came to rest.

Proof in Sesha’s mind that the fall had been intentional and controlled – part of the performance.

Domerin lifted his arms and froze in place, a clear indication that his routine had come to an end. But as the last notes of his music died away, the crowd did not burst into the usual applause. Instead, they sat staring at the figure in the center of the ice.

The silence was so deafening, they could have heard a pin drop.

Then fabric rustled behind him, and Sesha turned to find Crescent shuffling up behind him bearing a massive fur-lined robe.

By the time his eyes returned to the ice, Domerin had swept to his feet. He bowed, completing his performance.

The movement seemed to shake the audience free of their stupor. Hands found hands creating lackluster applause.

Then one shrill cheer filled the air and dozens of voices echoed it.

Suddenly everyone was on their feet, screaming and clapping as Domerin bowed a second time. Once to one side of the arena and once to the other – that was how most skaters did it.

Domerin wasn’t the sort to linger. He clearly wasn’t here to bask in the praise of the audience, though he had clearly wowed them.

A hand clutched Sesha’s wrist, then half the coat was thrust into his grip. He stepped back in tandem with his companion and, together, they lifted the coat and threw it over Domerin’s shoulders as he careened off the ice.

All the grace and poise he commanded during his routine melted and he leaned into the waiting support, grasping the coat around him as he shivered.

All Sesha could think was that he had to hurt. He had to be in so much pain from that fall. It was a wonder he wasn’t bleeding.

Domerin panted three times in rapid succession, sucking deep breaths into his lungs. Then he shot upright and wriggled free of Sesha and Crescent’s collective grasp.

“I can’t stay,” he murmured, already moving toward the door from which he entered.

“What?” Sesha squealed. “You can’t go! What about your scores?”

Yes, he has to be worried about those so much right now, Sesha’s own voice chided sarcastically into the back of his brain.

Sesha’s face burned red from such a stupid comment. But Domerin shot him a quick, appreciative smile. “You can tell me later,” he replied, and leaned sideways to plant a light kiss on Sesha’s cheek. “Meet me at Treehurst after midnight. We can talk then.”

Again, a thousand questions burned on the tip of Sesha’s tongue. And even more than learning where his friend had been and how he came to be so injured, he wondered why Domerin wasn’t terrified they were going to disqualify him from the competition after he stormed in at the last moment and disappeared again before anyone could speak with him.

But before a single word could tumble free of his lips, they reached the door. Domerin shoved his arms into the coat sleeves and reached for the heavy metal portal.

With a single jerk, he disappeared, gone as quickly as he arrived, leaving all of Sesha’s questions unanswered save one.

He had been to the war zone – that much was clear. And he wanted people to know it.

He had left the bandages where they fell on the ice.

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