In our dreams we can escape reality. So let's dream forever.
It's 2018. On an ordinary day, in an ordinary place. Perhaps the activity is not so ordinary to those who do not participate in it. Dancesport is not a sport with the highest new participant, nor current participant, numbers. However, for those in it the sport is their joy in life. A far more demanding sport than the ordinary person realises.
Astrand and Rodahl (1977) classify any exercise being extremely heavy if it results in a heart rate above 150 beats min-1. An Australian Study conducted in 1988 determined the heart rate during Ballroom Dancing. The average heart rate for male dancers in International Style Standard was 170 beats min-1 and 168 beats min-1 in the International Style Latin. Females elicited 179 beats min-1 and 177 beats min-1 respectively. The results were replicated in two other similar experiments. The mean gross energy expenditure (in kJ min-1) of Ballroom Dancing is equally as demanding in comparison to other sporting activities such as basketball (35.83 kJ min-1) or cross-country running (44.37kJ min-1).
But this is not a book about studies done into the physical demand of Ballroom Dancing as a competitive sport. This is a book about a young woman named Elsa.
Elsa lives with her father, has done so since her parents separated when she was 6, and will continue to do so until one of them dies. She is attached to her father, not in an abnormal way, it is simply that he is all she has had since she was little and she gets very homesick. But that is not the only reason she won't leave home. Nearly 3 years ago Elsa was diagnosed with a chronic illness. It is incurable, and several doctors as well as specialists have struggled to find medication to ease the constant pain and fatigue caused by the illness.
Have you ever stayed up 24 hours straight? or even longer than that? The fatigue she feels is on par. Even after 9 hours sleep she will wake up absolutely exhausted, it is only sheer will power that gets her out of bed every day. It is her determination from before she fell ill, that keeps her moving, that keeps her pushing herself to be physically active. It nearly kills her to be in such a state. Remanents of her old physical self push her to continue dancing 5 days a week, despite the pain in her body, despite the fatigue.
But secretly, she has another reason for starting dancing. She needed to give herself a reason to exist. To keep pushing through.
Elsa was signed up for an unofficial dance competition. The principal of the studio had signed her up as they needed to fill up numbers in the instructor/invited pupil. She originally only thought she would be doing one dance, then she found out she had been signed up for two; Waltz and Jive. To top it off she found out there could be 4 or more rounds for each dance, spread across the day.
She became exhausted just thinking about it. It will be a long day. An exhausting day. Her illness has been affecting her badly lately, but really the past 5months have been the worst she has experienced. In her lessons she is so tired, and her body so sore, that she isn't even aware of how her body is moving; moving strangely and messing up simple figures. Honestly, she doesn't want to go to the competition anymore, but it is too late to pull out and she doesn't want to let her instructor down. She is just trying not to think about it.
Anxiety ramped up as she drove to the hall the competition was being held in. Not so much competition nerves, she was used to them. It was pain nerves. She knew she was going to get very tired, she knew she was going to be in enormous, unimaginable pain - possibly within just an hour.
Those nerves didn't translate into panic, as her instructor might be thinking while she shakes in his arms. Since getting her illness Elsa has gotten random uncontrollable tremors, to the point she has had two MRI's to rule any other condition out.
When you exercise and got over your muscles limit, they will start shaking. That is the shaking Elsa is experiencing right now. Set up in dancing hold with her instructor, ready to waltz in a second. She is desperately trying to stop the tremors rolling through her body. They only dull as they start dancing. Elsa desperately trying to move big enough with her instructor, not be heavy in his arms, and not let her legs do something strange because she can barely feel them.
Moments of awkward movement and she wills her body to move with him and become light again. Several rounds of this, several outfit and shoe changes between the styles. By the final dance of Jive she was delirious. The event was going later than she had ever planned, there had been constant jostling on the floor with so many couples, even with her instructor trying his best to lead her away from collisions they still occurred, so she hurt even more. But just her luck that the last dance was a high energy one requiring lots of body movement and high knee action.
She couldn't help it by that point, tears freely flowed from her eyes. Immediately noticed by her instructor.
"Don't stop," she whispered with a forced smile. Keep smiling, keep going.
The music faded out and they blissfully came to a stop. Her instructor wore a mask of worry, but it was blurred - by her tears, and the darkness falling over her eyes.
Elsa let her legs completely give way, her hand loosening grip on her instructors hand so she could fall. She knew full well she was falling, she wanted to fall. She wanted this to be enough. Her arm reached out as she fell, letting it cushion her head so it didn't hit the floor. Panic flurried around her as she fell. She knew her dad would be rushing over, everyone from the dance studio. Any sound blurred out from the rushing sound in her ears, and she had no energy to open her eyelids.
Is it okay?
You don't have to stay any longer.
I can leave?
"It's enough," Elsa whispered.
You can let go.
"I can let go..."
Elsa eventually opened her eyelids, she felt slightly more invigorated and had the energy to open her eyelids. Yet the scene she opened her eyes to was not one she had been expecting. The hospital was what she was expecting.
Millions of stars lighting up the clear night sky, and a full bright moon. The illuminating light lit up her surroundings. Fireflies fluttered amongst trees and shrubs. The ground was soft underneath Elsa - lush grass. A field of wild grass and flowers, surrounded by trees that encircled her and stretched out further than she could see behind and beside her. However, the trees did not block the view in front. Small twinkling lights out the front of buildings lightly lit up a town, not like the glow from cities, gentle lights scattered about vaguely showing the outline of the town.
Needless to say Elsa wasn't sure about what she was seeing. A dream is the most likely explanation. She tried pinching herself. It hurt. She bit her arm. It really hurt. She closed and opened her eyelids with her fingers repetitively, but still the scene around her didn't change. It wasn't like her dreams, in her dreams her body wouldn't respond like she wanted, but it was this time. She sat staring at the town for a while.
Elsa had always loved fairy tales and anything fantasy. She always wanted to believe that magical creatures do exist, but stay out of the eye of humans. Really, magically transporting to another realm is something she had been dreaming of for years.
Rustling sounds broke her thoughts. Potentially stuck in an unknown world, possibly with magical creatures, at night.. Elsa's mind immediately thought it could be a threat. Her heart beat picked up, pumping adrenaline throughout her body to prepare her to defend herself or run. A growl made her tense. She wanted to run, but she knew better than to turn her back on a wild animal. The growling continued and she saw the rustling of bushes as the animal approached, although she was still unable to clearly see it. Seconds slowly ticked by, and Elsa became increasingly worried that the animal was going to suddenly pounce on her and she was definitely going to find out if this was a dream or not.
A black form suddenly launched out from the tree cover and in that moment Elsa really thought that was it, that this was the moment she would die. A shadow darted out of the trees from the town side and hit into the animal mid-air, both tumbling out of sight into tree cover.
"No time to sit about," a male voice said behind her and whisked her up in his arms.
Not wanting to question her rescuer at that moment she held on tight as she was quickly whisked away from the forest and towards town. Although the sudden weightlessness of both their bodies had Elsa frowning, but not daring to shift her gaze from the neck of her rescuer. They were most definitely leaping. Elsa squeezed her eyes shut, and continued to keep them shut even after they were maintaining contact with the ground, because now she was worried about the new situation she was going to find herself in.
"Why anyone would be laying up in the forest at night is beyond me," A different male voice suddenly said nearby.
The man holding Elsa chuckled. "It is common knowledge for those in our realm." It sounded like he had a hidden meaning in his words.
Elsa quickly thought over her options. She wasn't sure if staying with these men will be safe, but how will she get free of them. Will they chase her if she runs away? If she runs away where will she even go?
She didn't have the time to make a decision as they seemingly arrived at a house, considering she heard the opening of a door.
"Master. Who is She?" A small voice asked once they were inside.
"She is what I found when we went to check out the disturbance," the man carrying Elsa replied. "She can sleep in the room beside yours."
"Are you hungry?"
Several moments passed and Elsa realised he might have been talking to her. "Me?" She mumbled.
The man chuckled. "Yes you. You are the only other one here."
Elsa looked up then and saw that they were the only two in the hall, she then turned to look at the face of her rescuer. Sharp features, but a kind look in his blood red eyes. Dark brown hair that falls over his eyes. She got an odd feeling from him that she couldn't place, sort of... intimidating.
"Anything can be cooked up for you."
The kitchen was larger than an ordinary house kitchen, with only a small table at the other end of the room.
"What would you like to eat Master?" Spoken by a young girl half Elsa's height. Bob cut black hair and purple eyes. Wearing what Elsa could only think of as Japanese style servant clothes..
"Bring out leftovers for her. I'll have a tea."
He gently set Elsa down on her feet beside the table and she was able to get a proper look at what he was wearing. A yukata. She frowned and looked around the room, she hadn't gotten a look at the outside of the house nor a good look at the town, which now made her wonder how they were designed. However, the kitchen was very modern. White and silver splashed with colour from paintings hung around the room.
"Where am I?" She asked skeptically.
"This is Masters' town, Coran," the child replied and placed a tea in front of the man.
Elsa stared at the man for a moment as he took a sip of his tea. "This isn't my world is it?"
A gentle smile came to his lips. "It is not. We have never had one of your kind come here. As I am the Master of this town it is my duty to care for you, so please be at ease, no harm will come to you here."
Various plates of food were placed on the table and Elsa couldn't help her hunger from making her sit down and start eating. She didn't know any of the dishes, but they tasted normal.
"What is your name?" Elsa asked.
"Master is Master," the child chimed.
He smiled over his cup of tea. "You may call me Kyoharu."
"A very pretty name."
Elsa couldn't help being embarrassed, and it left her eating in silence.
"Master." The voice was familiar as the man from before. His head popped around the door opening. Short white hair and sky blue eyes.
"Please excuse me. Eat as much as you like, the children will take care of you. I will see you in the morning." He smiled kindly and left the room.
Not like Elsa could eat much more after being left in silence with the child standing quietly in the corner waiting. When she stood up the child's attention suddenly turned to her. But the child silently packed up the food, while a duplicate walked in.
"If you will follow me, I will show you the house and where you will sleep."
Many doors exited off the hall and a large staircase sat proud in the middle.
"Master and his retainers are upstairs. Do not go up there unless allowed. Most rooms on this floor are allowed, any locked doors are locked for a reason."
The decor suddenly changed from modern to more traditional Japanese. Walls, doors and floor changed style and material in a rather abrupt way.
Looks like they ran out of money half way through renovations...
"Bathroom is there," a door two down on the right, "This is where you will sleep."
A traditional style room with a modern bed, still low to the floor. Fluffy towels and a folded yukata lay neatly on the bed - which looked newly made with fresh sheets.
"If you call for any of us we will come."
"Um. How old are you?"
It appeared to perplex the child, almost like it was a robot and she had caused it to freeze. "We spirits do not have ages. However, I have worked for Master for 100 years."
Elsa's eyes widened.
"Sleep well." The child bowed and shut the door behind her.
Elsa bowed automatically in response, staring at the door long after. She was sure now, that she was in a different realm, or a really elaborate dream..
After falling asleep in a different place, and waking up in the same place, for sure it is not a dream. Elsa contemplated her situation while staring at the ceiling. How she got there is not a pressing question for her. How to get back is slightly more important.
Do you want to go back?
Do I want to go back?
Elsa lay in bed testing the feelings in her body. The usual fatigue was gone, instead a rare feeling of energy. She got up and started her usual morning exercises and stretches, something she always had to do to ease even a little of the pain, despite the exercises being painful themselves. Yet they didn't. Even double the amount she usually did left her feeling invigorated instead.
Is it possible... that I'm not sick here?
Whispers drifted into the room, catching Elsa's attention. Two children stood outside the next door, identical but also easy to tell apart when they stood next to each other. They stopped talking when Elsa stepped out into the hall, staring at her with judgmental gazes.
"Would you like breakfast?" One asked.
"Yes," she replied quietly, wordlessly following them.
"Good morning." Kyoharu appeared like a ghost behind her. Everyone in this house gave the feeling of ghosts, all seemingly appearing and disappearing. The children were, atleast, spirits.
"I will take Elsa on my errand," he turned his gaze to Elsa, "I will take you to the market to eat." His gentle gaze never changed when set on her. He was dressed similar to last night, but a different coloured yukata and a warm woolen coat.
Another child walked up behind Elsa, holding a similar woolen coat draped over her arms.
"It is cold out this time of year." Kyoharu helped the coat on Elsa.
She hadn't noticed it last night. It was such a situation that her sense of temperature was the last thing she paid attention to.
Stepping out of the house, Elsa finally got a look at it and the town. From outside it was a traditional Japanese house. Most buildings down the street were similar styles, some with modern renovations. However, what caught her eye was streams. A metre wide stream ran along the front of buildings on both sides of the road, sometimes ducking along canals inbetween buildings.
"We are going to drop a package off, then I'll take you through the market." Kyoharu took Elsa's arm in his. "There are creatures here you will not have seen before. Do not worry, nothing in this town will hurt you." He smiled reassuringly.
"May I ask, what are you then?"
His smile did not waiver. "I have an affinity to water. As this is my town it has been built around streams that run down from the mountain. They interconnect throughout the town and provide energy and protection to the creatures that live here. Most are water types, any that are harmonious with water live here."
"So no fire creatures?"
Kyoharu chuckled lightly. "No fire."
They walked over a small bridge and water bubbled up from the stream below. It formed a small water fae, perfect size to fit in your hand. Water droplets slipped off its form and floated around before rejoining the body.
"Good day Master," it greeted him cheerfully, and he nodded his head in reply.
Elsa stopped on the bridge, pausing the water fae from disappearing. "You know what I am, and where I came from. Do you know how I can get back?"
Kyoharu paused at the other side of the bridge, slightly turning his head back to gaze at her. The look in his eyes changed darker. "Do you want to go back?"
Elsa's eyes widened. His look had halted her thoughts. Shoes clacking on the pebblestone road gradually grew quieter as Kyoharu grew further away. Elsa trotted after him, not wanting to be left by herself in this unknown place. As she reached his side he took her arm in his again. It drew more attention than Kyoharu appeared to normally do. Not everyone obviously stood out as different. Eye colours, pointed ears, a flash of sharp shark like teeth from one passerby. There were less people out than Elsa had expected, and she couldn't help but wonder if it had anything to do with the inconsistent lights she had seen the night before. Although there were many buildings, not all felt like they were inhabited.
Except for the one Kyoharu turn to. Old ornate double wood doors, with intricate metal handles. Rotting wooden window frames, but light glinted out of one like a kaleidoscope. Despite the risen sun a flame flickered in the hanging lantern by the door. A sudden gust of wind blew the doors open, immediately dissipating after.
He didn't even need to knock.
"Welcome Master," an old male voice beckoned them in, although nothing was visible from the mist inside the doorway.
Elsa clutched onto Kyoharu's arm tightly as they walked in, jolting at the loud bang from the doors shutting behind them.
Light glimmered in the mist, eventually clearing to show a similar decor to an old magic shop. Similar smell too.
"Thank you for finding me those ingredients." A small man shuffled out from behind a disheveled work desk. Large round eyes with larger ratio dark pupil to colour. His bald head made his short pointed ears stand out more. Only several pointed teeth left, from old age. His fingers were short and heavily wrinkled, but the skin appeared hard. There was no shake in them as they took the packed from Kyoharu. His large eyes suddenly turned to Elsa, causing her to stiffen.
"What is this?" He said curiously.
Elsa shrunk back as he moved closer and smelled her - unable to move any further back due to Kyoharu keeping a grip on her arm.
"She arrived last night," Kyoharu mentioned.
"Indeed... many seasons have passed since I last met one of her kind." A look up and down, and he shuffled back to his desk.
"We came across a Balrock in the forest," Kyoharu said.
Even in the dim light it was clear the man frowned. "A Balrock?... many a strange thing has been happening lately. The balance is being tipped further out. But the culprit still eludes me. I fear I am not as helpful to you as I wish I could be, Master." His sat down with a sigh, the package thudding on the desk as he placed it down.
"Do not say that Batucada. You have been of immense help all these years, and I do hope you will continue."
"Of course," Batucada's eyes glowed in the dim light and growing mist, "but you must be careful Master. There is danger.."
Kyoharu bowed his head and lead Elsa out, completely unphased. Elsa was so shocked she followed him silently without noticing anything around her.
She looked up at him, frowned, looked back down at the ground again.
She held his gaze this time.
"Are you hungry?"
Spices wafted past Elsa. The clanging of utensils, and various chatter. Small stalls were set up under tents on the edge of town, lining the side of a river. However, there were less stalls and people than Elsa had been expecting.
"We mostly have food sources from the rivers surrounding this town, and crops grown in water fields. I try to get travelling merchants to attend. But the population has dwindled, and merchants do not travel this way much any more. I worry about the remaining creatures in this town," Kyoharu said sadly. He handed Elsa something fried on a stick. Her grumbling stomach let her know that anything edible would be fine.
"I noticed not all lights in town had been lit last night," she said softly.
"There has been a shift in power balance in this realm, so nature's balance is off, which occasionally causes problems.. Some residents left to seek safer places."
Light glittering caught Elsa's attention, the sun glinting off jewels at a stall. Beautiful precious gems of all colours and shapes.
"The powers in this world are very destructive?" Elsa questioned. She gently fondled a highly bejeweled choker necklace. Kyoharu picked it up and tried it on Elsa, the stall attendant happily holding up a mirror to show Elsa. Elsa became more fascinated by the attendant. Very long brown hair, clear blue cat-like eyes, long slender fingers with very long nails. A gentle breeze fluttered her white and sky blue yukata. Kyoharu paid her and left the necklace on Elsa as he held her along the stalls.
"There is a lot you have to learn about this world, but you don't need to learn it all at once. So long as you stay near me I will protect you from any harm."
"But I don't need to stay here. Do you know a way for me to return to my world?" Elsa pressed.
Kyoharu didn't shoot her a look this time. "I cannot. If you really want to return then I can find someone who can," he said with a hint of sadness.
It peeked Elsa's curiosity. Did I hear sadness in his voice? Why did he sound sad? Does he want me to stay here? Perhaps does he like me?