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Encore

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There was scattered applause. Faint and undecided, as if people only clapped to banish the deafening silence that weighed down on their own shoulders. 

The lights did not blind her. She could see the empty spaces among the audience - even count them, if she felt like suffering in particular. Silence would be more merciful, she thought. But silence and faint applause alike echoed in her chest to the sound of her breaking heart. 

Stay still, she reminded herself. Look them in the eye. Even if defeated, she would still show them fire and ice, until at least the curtains fell. The fire of her passion long gone, and the ice of her composed, graceful frame only showed what it meant to lose with dignity.

The moment the curtains would close and no voices called for the encore she lost her poise. Elizaveta turned on her heel and ran off stage, a prey chased by carnivorous thoughts, the weight of knowing that this was the end. The very, very end.  

As if the stage itself could sense despair, it shook all those who were unworthy off its back. Elizaveta felt the ground slipping away from her feet and although she was reaching out with both arms for something to hold into, she ended up rolling down the few steps between the stage and the ground. 

Everything went dark for a moment. She closed her eyes and stayed down until someone scrambled her up from the floor. The sounds back here were louder than the sounds at the front of the stage.

“Madame!” She heard Raffaela’s scratchy, anxious voice from above. “Are you alright?”

Elizaveta opened her eyes. She was held up by Raffaela from the waist above, laying in her arms. 

“My ankle…” she said, responding rather to the throbbing pain she felt than the question itself. 

“Call for a doctor!” Raffaela exclaimed, urging the people around them to do something.

Finally, Witt began to move. 

“It’s fine, Raffaela,” Elizaveta soothed her, trying to emerge from her arms. 

Raffaela held her back with a force stronger than she ever knew she had. Something might have been lurking within her all this time, Elizaveta thought. 

“Stay still. You might be injured.” 

She grabbed into Raffaela’s hand, squeezing it. At the same time, a tear was squeezed to the corner of her eye too.

“No. Time has run out for me to be injured, Raffaela. I wish I were injured years ago. Forced to retire at the height of glory. How beautiful would that have been!”

A powerless whisper. 

“Madame…”

Then, she felt a warm tear fall onto her cheek. Raffaela hastily apologized and wiped the tear away with her thumb. 

“No glory is lost,” she assured Elizaveta, who only laughed. 

“Then, I can still afford to injure myself.”

After attempting one more time to stand up, she was once again welcomed back into Raffaela’s arms. Defeated, again. 

“Stay still,” Raffaela whispered. “Rest for a while. The doctor will be here soon.”