The Concert (A Story)

This is the first in our series of short stories connected to our main novels. This story, by Greg Meyer, gives us a glimpse of Calea during her time as Guide of Section 4. Enjoy! And don’t forget to pick up The Select’s Bodyguard if you haven’t.

Jalseion- Section 4— Three Years Before the Cataclysm

The Aurelian Concert Hall buzzed with excited chatter. As the people moved down the aisles to find their seats, one concertgoer did not share the same fervor as the rest. Select Calea Lisan, Guide of Section 4, marched up the many flights of stairs to a private balcony like a child going to the dentist. Calea huffed as her elegant dress swished and bobbed with every step, glittering in the light of the fluorescent lights hung on the walls. If she hadn’t been accompanied by her two companions, Calea would’ve turned and made a daring escape back to her beloved laboratory.

“With the amount of money that’s spent on this place, is it so much to ask for an elevator?” said Calea as she reached another landing. Calea grabbed the railing and stomped up the last flight of stairs.

The grey-haired woman behind Calea chuckled as she followed. “At least you’re getting your exercise in for the day,” said Almetter, Calea’s public relations manager. Almetter was used to Calea’s tantrums, having been her mentor since the Select’s youth. After spending so many years mentoring the Guide as a child, Almetter was one of the few people bothered listening to for advice in matters Calea called “dealing with the needy people.” The concert program slipped from Almetter’s hand, but their third, silent companion swooped down and grabbed it for her.

“Thank you, Bron,” said Almetter to Calea’s bodyguard. Bron nodded and slipped to the back.

The three made their way into the balcony, and Bron helped Calea and Almetter through the balcony curtains before positioning himself at the entrance to stand guard. Calea tossed her hair back and leaned her head against her hand, checking her watch for when the performances would start.

“I need a drink,” said the annoyed Select before glancing back at Bron. “Do something useful and bring me a glass of wine.”

Bron shifted uncomfortably at the request and shook his head. “You’re not allowed to drink at public events. Not after the last time.”

Calea glared daggers at her bodyguard and leaned closer to him. “I don’t care what old Essendr and the others told you. I ordered you to get me a drink.”

“Calea, dear, they don’t serve drinks here,” corrected Almetter as the elderly woman settled herself in her seat. “Do try to have a good time. It’s a school performance, and we must support the youth of Section 4s musical endeavors.”

Calea grumbled as she sank into her seat, letting out an audible sigh for the others to hear. “Honestly, I don’t understand why you dragged me to this performance. Surely my talents for Section 4 are better spent working on my projects to improve the lives of the people. Not—” Calea sat straight in an elegant posture and spoke in an obnoxious tone, “Hearing the beautiful musical renditions of Section 4’s finest.”

Almetter smiled and waved at some of the crowd that were waving up at the balcony. “I told you earlier, by attending this little concert, you’re giving the youth program a much needed boost in attendance for potential donors. With enough donations, you’d be able to divert more of the Section’s budget towards your experiments. Now please behave, we must have our best faces on for the people.”

Calea looked down at the waving people and sat back, placing her chin on her hands as she stared at the stage. “Wake me up when it’s over.”

~~~

The lights dimmed, much to Calea’s relief, and the school music director took the stage. The director thanked all those in attendance, from parents to music lovers. The director made a special point to thank Guide Lisam and Liaison Ostrai for attending the concert, and a spotlight landed on Calea’s balcony. Almetter stood, grabbing Calea’s hand and helping the resistant Select up, and the two gave a wave—albeit a small one on Calea’s part—to the crowd below. The director introduced the first group of young musicians, made his way to the conductor podium, and began conducting a cello set.

“I hope they brought their wallets,” grumbled Calea. The elder Select hushed Calea and kept her focus on the concert below.

“Just relax and enjoy the music,” replied Almetter in a pleasant tone. Calea huffed and leaned back in her chair.

~~~

The next hour dragged on for Calea as performers cycled in and out, playing old classic pieces from Jalseion’s past. The frustrated Select found the concert a giant waste of her time. Calea was one of the rare breed of humans that found no pleasure in music, and believed the pursuit of music was for those who couldn’t find a practical place in society. Calea wished she had been able to sneak her notebook and pencil to continue her project, but Almetter discovered them in her purse and snatched them away like a teacher taking away a note passed amongst friends in class.

After the woodwinds finished their rendition of “The Roses in the Window” and exited the stage, two adults rolled a panorgan onto the stage. The panorgan had a large banner for the school in front of it, obscuring the top of the instrument behind the sign.

A young girl, no older than twelve, entered. The girl had flowing, shoulder-length amber hair, and wore a long, silver dress with a black feminine dress coat that went the length of her arms. The nervous girl ignored the crowd’s applause, focusing completely on the instrument in front of her. Almetter elbowed Calea and pointed out the girl as she waited for the applause to die down.

“If you only pay attention to one performance, make it this one,” said Almetter . Calea broke out of her sulking and glanced at the stage.

“A panorgan?” mused Calea. “If she’s playing that, then she must be in training to be a Select.”

Almetter nodded. Calea let out a huff. “What a waste of magic.”

“Her name is Hazellie,” explained Almetter, pointing at the girl’s name in the program. “Her teacher has been a close friend of mine for years. She asked me to bring you along as a favor.”

Calea leaned on her elbow and humored Almetter’s request, planning to use the act as leverage to get out of a later public event. The conductor raised his baton and set the tempo for the song.

After taking a deep breath, Hazellie extended her hands and began funneling the air around her into the pipes of the panorgan. A long, flutelike sound filled the concert hall as the girl held the opening note for a moment; the pitch shifting as Hazellie slowly curved her flat palms into cups. Hazellie moved her hands gracefully from one pipe to the next, creating a slow, sweeping vibrato that built note after note in a gradual motion.

As the sound grew lighter and airier, Hazellie suddenly switched the tempo of the song. As right left hand played deep and low notes, her left hand darted between the high notes. Though the audience couldn’t see Hazellie’s hands, the girl would place her hand over a pipe; wiggle her fingers for a moment before jumping to a higher pitch. The sound gave the impression of birds calling to one another on a bright spring morning. The lower notes acted as the melody of the song as the higher piping delighted the ears. Hazellie moved her hands back and forth constantly, never staying too long on one note before moving to the next.

Almetter clasped her hands together and watched with bated breath Even Bron glanced over at the performance and allowed himself to enjoy the song. Hazellie’s performance failed to break Calea’s stony exterior, but even she could appreciate the expertise of magic used to create the symphony of sounds.

Hazellie played faster and faster, building the song to its climax as both hands played rapid notes in a blur of movement. Finally, the girl played the final, long notes, ending the performance with two playful birdcalls to finish the piece.

The crowd erupted in thunderous applause, and Hazellie blushed as she stepped away from the panorgan and took a well-deserved bow. The conductor motioned Hazellie forward, took her hand, and they bowed together. As the two came up from their bow, the conductor raised her hand and made a sweeping motion towards Hazellie before stepping away and letting the girl take center stage. The conductor lifted his hands and hushed the crowd before nodding to Hazellie. Hazellie beamed and shifted in her spot as she prepared to speak.

“Thank you, your applause leaves me speechless,” began Hazellie, before the girl let out a laugh. “Well, not completely, since I’m obviously speaking now.” The audience, minus Calea, laughed.

“Most of you don’t know this, but about three years ago I was in a car accident. The doctors told me and my parents that I’d never play music again, because, well—I lost my left hand.”

Hazellie lifted her left hand and rolled the sleeve to her coat down, revealing a prosthetic hand that went down to her wrist. Some of the members of the audience gasped at the revelation of Hazellie’s injury. Up in the balcony, Calea pursed her lips and twisted her head towards Almetter.

“You—you brought me here for this,” spat Calea, digging her nails into the armrests. “How dare you trick me into this pity show.”

“Let her finish.”

The audience quieted again, and Hazellie continued her speech. “A few months later, I was fitted with this prosthetic hand and slowly regained the ability to play music again. I want to take this moment to thank the person who created the battery that allowed me to play that song for you.”

Hazellie turned towards the balcony where Calea and Almetter sat, and the spotlight once again fell on the two. Calea froze, shifting her body back towards the stage.

“Guide Calea Lisan, thank you for your contributions to the advancement of prosthetic limbs. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Hazellie smiled and motioned her arm up towards Calea. The crowed erupted in applause, as all eyes fell on the seething Select. Calea stared down at the annoying girl and the patronizing crowd before her. Calea felt Almetter nudge her again, and the Select resisted the urge to swipe away her mentor’s arm. All Calea could muster was a simple nod to Hazellie before sitting back in her seat and turning her head from the crowd. Hazellie stared up at the balcony in confusion before shifting back to the crowd and said a final thanks before walking to the backstage.

“I hate you,” said Calea, loud enough for Almetter to hear. “I hate all of this.”

“Isn’t it enough that you’ve forced me to come to this pity show?” growled Calea as she marched through the hallways in the back of the music hall, walking past old stage sets and props from concerts past. “I don’t want to meet her.”

Almetter led Calea through the hallways towards the dressing rooms in back. Bron tailed the two, both to protect them from danger, and to prevent Calea from making a daring escape.

“It would mean the world for her to meet you,” replied Almetter, taking a moment to smile politely at a stagehand. “It’s important for you to understand the ways your work has changed the lives of your fellow Jalseians.”

Calea brushed Almetter’s comment aside like an annoying fly buzzing in her face. “That’s what the reports are for. I’m satisfied with data, not sniffling little faces thanking me over and over. Besides—”

Before Almetter turned the corner at the end of the hallway, Calea grabbed her mentor’s arm with her prosthetic arm. Calea stared straight in Almetter’s face with a desperate look on her face.

“I don’t do children, Almetter. I just don’t. You’ve known that since I was a child. They annoy me.”

Almetter paused, pitying her protégé for a moment before placing her hand on Calea’s arm.

“I understand, this isn’t easy for you,” spoke Almetter with compassion. “But you two both have shared an experience that few understand. Talk to her, or just listen if you can’t speak, but show her that she’s not alone in her trials.”

Calea frowned at Almetter, staring straight in her mentor’s eyes for a moment before taking a deep breath and straightening herself.

“Three events, I want a pass on three public events of my choosing,” said Calea. Calea moved her arm away from Almetter and walked towards the dressing room with her head held high. “Starting with the Gala. I cannot stand that nonsense.”

“Not the Gala—” replied Almetter with a gasp, before letting her shoulders droop. “Very well, you can miss the Gala.”

Hazellie’s instructor stood outside the girl’s dressing room waiting patiently for Almetter and Calea to arrive. The woman noticed Calea and Almetter turn the corner, and the instructor smiled and waved at the two.

“Guide Lisan, thank you so much for coming to see—”

“Let’s get this over with,” spoke Calea as she brushed her hair out of her face. “She’s inside, I presume?”

“Yes, she’s very excited to meet you,” replied the instructor. The woman stepped aside and opened the door for Calea. Calea walked through, but stopped as Bron was about to follow.

“Please, I highly doubt a school girl is going to ambush me,” snarked Calea and brushed Bron back. Bron stepped back and positioned himself on the other side of the hallway.

Calea stood in the entrance as the door closed. Hazellie sat in a chair by a dressing mirror. The girl stood up and gave a friendly smile to Calea.

“Hello Guide Lisan, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” said Hazellie as she extended her right hand. “My name is Hazellie Avondale.”

“So the program said,” replied Calea, cautiously shaking Hazellie’s hand for a brief moment before letting go. “And just Calea is acceptable for this occasion.”

Calea sat on the couch in front of Hazellie’s chair. Hazellie smiled again before sitting down in her seat. Calea stared at Hazellie for a moment, slapping her hands on her knees.

“Well, Hazellie, what do you want to talk about?” said Calea. “And please, I don’t want to hear your endless accolades about my battery. You’ve said enough.”

Hazellie chuckled and placed her hand in front of her mouth. Calea looked confused for a moment and stared at the girl.

“Did I say something funny?” asked Calea.

“No, that’s not it,” answered Hazellie apologetically as she shifted nervously in her seat. “My instructor, she warned me it might be, um, difficult to talk to you.”

Calea leaned her head back in surprise for a moment before resuming her posture. “Is that so? Well, she was wise to prepare you.”

Hazellie nodded, and the two sat for a moment in silence. Hazellie averted her eyes before looking back up at Calea.

“Did you enjoy my performance?” the girl asked. “I practiced that piece for months, trying my best to get it down just right.”

Calea forced a smile at the girl’s question. Calea let out a chuckle and put on an air of elegance. “It was the most beautiful song in the performance, absolutely marvelous.” Calea shed her faux pleasantries and tilted her head at Hazellie. “That is what you want to hear, right? That you were the most special performer in the entire show?”

Hazellie frowned and shook her head. “No, I know you’re just saying that. I want to know what you really thought of it.”

Calea sighed and leaned against the sofa, placing her arms on the back of the couch. “You don’t want to hear what I thought of it.”

“But I do!” replied Hazellie firmly. “You inspired me to go back and play music after my accident after seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish.”

Calea drummed her fingernails into the couch fabric, debating her options. After waiting a moment, Calea looked directly into Hazellie’s eyes.

“I’ve heard better,” admitted Calea with a shrug. “Your timing was off at points, because you tried too hard to impress everyone with what you could do. Work on the fundamentals before you try to dazzle the audience.”

Hazellie said nothing, only putting her hands up to her mouth. The Select kept her eyes locked on Hazellie, trying to read the girl’s reaction. Calea fully expected for the waterworks to come out. It happened all the time to Calea. Someone would try and impress her, and Calea would send them away in a ball of tears. To Calea’s surprise, Hazellie moved her hands from her mouth and revealed a small smile.

“Thank you,” replied Hazellie, clapping her hands together once. “Thank you for being honest with me.”

Calea cocked her head in surprise and arched her eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

Hazellie leaned closer to Calea from her chair. “Ever since I started playing music again after my accident, I’ve always been told how talented I am, or how wonderful my music is. Sure, I’ll be told to work on this or that, but the others, they always give me praise. I mean, it’s nice to hear praise, but I don’t want everyone fawning over me because of my hand. I want to be told I did well because it’s the truth.”

Calea stayed silent, but nodded slowly at Hazellie’s words. The Select remembered her own time as a child prodigy, and all the people that endlessly sung her praises.

Hazellie extended her prosthetic hand out and wiggled her fingers one at a time. “Do you know why I play the panorgan? When I put my hands over the pipes and scrunch them or arc my fingers, I change the pitch of the note. You use your magic to, for example, hold fire in the palm of your hand. I choose to use my magic to make an inanimate object sing and delight a captive audience.” Hazellie glanced back at Calea and smiled again. “And it’s because of your work that I can make that music.”

Calea smirked at Hazellie and nodded, before extending her own prosthetic arm out and formed a ball of fire in the palm of her hand. With one swift motion, Calea snapped her hand shut and waved her arm back to her side.

“I might not share your passion for music, but I’ll tell you this,” said Calea. “Be better than those who have both of their hands. Play so well that people don’t even notice you don’t have your original hand. Show the people the talent that’s inside of you, so they praise you for your skill, not because of what you’ve overcome.” Calea paused, before standing up from the couch. “If you do that, then you won’t have to worry about if others are telling you the truth, because you’ll know it for yourself.”

Hazellie gave a firm nod and stood up as well. The girl reached out and gave Calea a hug. “Thank you, Calea, I promise I will.”

Calea wrinkled her face, moving away from the girl. “That is—enough appreciation.”

Hazellie let go, and Calea brushed off her dress before walking towards the door and opening it. Calea grumbled and pushed Bron away as he stood guard with his back to the entrance.

“Move,” ordered Calea as she shouldered past the bodyguard. “Let’s go, I’ve had enough entertainment for the year.”

Hazellie sat back in her chair and watched Calea and her entourage head back towards the entrance.

“I’ll play well, Calea,” whispered Hazellie as she kicked off her dress shoes. “I’ll play better than any panorganist that has both of their hands.”

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