It was raining once more, but it didn’t even bother him now. He was already soaked, tired, and dirty. He was barely hiding in an alleyway; leaning on a trash can.
People walked past him at speed. He was just another boy living on the streets. It was as common as a griffin taxi.
Callum eventually brushed his hair back, stopping the water from dripping in front of his eyes.
When he did, he noticed a pair of shoes before him and slowly looked up to see who had stopped. An elf with dark blue skin that almost sparkled in the night stood over him, an umbrella in one hand to protect him from the rain while the other had a book in it. His eyes were narrow as he looked over the boy on the ground before he slowly knelt, looking closer at him. “Hmm,” he said to himself. “What fine eyes.”
Callum stared at him for a bit, but then looked away, remaining silent, but the elf took hold of his face and turned his head back to stare at him. “Fine features…and a very nice appearance. Yes, yes, you will do just fine.” He rose up and looked down at him. “Come with me boy. I have someone you might want to meet.”
He considered his options for a bit. Follow this stranger to an unknown location for an unknown reason, or stay here, cold, wet, and hungry.
It took some effort to push himself up off the ground, but he did, and followed the stranger.
They didn’t walk for long, heading down a few streets and around a park till they came to a building with a large neon sign outside which was currently turned off, but Callum made out the name ‘Dark Mage’ with a smaller sign reading ‘Where Anything Can Happen’.
They went in via the front door which opened into a wide, elegant room with dark furniture, tables, and chairs. They were set up facing several small stages around the place, while a much larger one was on the far wall. The bar in the middle was currently a mess, as it was being restocked.
The elf passed his umbrella to a waiting staff member, then beckoned the human to follow him, walking to a door that was marked ‘Staff Only’. From there, it was a far more industrial feel, no paintings or patterns, just racks of outfits, a table full of half empty drinks, and a few makeup tables.
The elf walked down to another door and knocked twice before entering. “Oh Viren,” he called in a smooth voice. “I have someone here to meet you.” He then beckoned the boy to follow him, closing the door behind.
Callum took in the room; it was brighter than the main room and more decorative than the hallway leading to it. The main feature was a large desk covered in papers, a computer, and a phone, with a big couch to the side. But the sparkling elf perched himself on the edge of the desk, looking at the man behind it.
Callum guessed this was Viren, who was currently in the middle of reading a large document and gave an exhausted sigh, not even looking up. “What have you brought back this time Aaravos?”
“Something with talent, I can feel it,” the elf chuckled, but then pouted when the other didn’t even look up. “Will you at least look at him?”
“We don’t need any more.”
“Are you forgetting that Skyla is going to be leaving us next week? We need a replacement ready for when she goes.”
Viren sighed, remembering the problem and finally looking up. His nose instantly wrinkling in disgust at the boy’s ratty clothes, muddy face, and general state. “Honesty Aaravos, just because we need someone, it doesn’t mean you should go out and pick up the first stray you find.”
Callum tried not to feel hurt by being called a ‘stray’. He did have a home. He just…never wanted to go back to it.
The elf was staring at him again. “You always judge by what you see, Viren. But look closer. He has a nice form; he’s tall, and thin, but he’s got some really nice defining features. His eyes are shocking, and his face is soooo expressive.” He shrugged. “Sure, he’s a little muddy, but that’s nothing a shower can’t fix.”
“Can he even dance?”
“Won’t know until we try it, but you know me. I know talent when I see it.”
Callum just kept as silent and as still as possible, trying to work out what was going on around him. Eventually, Viren stood from his desk and walked over, looking down at him for a bit and staring into his eyes as Aaravos had. Then, he blinked. “What’s your name boy?” He opened his mouth for the first time and a small squeak came out. This did not make the older man happy. “I asked your name!”
“Callum sir!” he almost shouted, taken aback by the outburst.
“Good. How old are you?”
“S-sixteen…and a half sir.”
Viren glared at the elf. “Sixteen...He’s too young.”
“Give him time. He can start as a performer, and maybe work his way up to an entertainer.”
The human looked at him again. “Are you on anything?”
“He means drugs, my dear,” the elf explained.
“Oh. No sir. I’m not. Wouldn’t touch it.”
“Good. I run a clean place here. Now, have you ever danced?”
“A-a little sir.”
“Got any family?”
“N-not that I want to go back to sir.”
Viren rubbed his chin, looking him over again, then turned to his desk, pressing a button on the phone. “Soren, come to my office at once,” he ordered before releasing the button.
As he sat back down, the door was knocked on then opened, a young blond in a white shirt entering with a nod. “You sent for me?”
“Take this boy and get him cleaned up,” Viren ordered with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “Show him one of the easier routines, then come get me when he’s ready. We will see if he’s any good before writing up a contract.”
The blond nodded. “Alright,” he said curtly, then looked at Callum, nodding for the door. “Come on. Follow me.”
Still with no idea what was going on, Callum followed the other out of the office, but not before he heard Viren behind him say ‘If the boy is any good, I will buy you a bottle of scotch.’
Outside, they crossed the empty club towards another door at the very back, but as they crossed it, Callum looked around to take in more of what was around him. “E-Excuse me? S-sir?” He finally spoke up.
The other sighed briefly. “What is it?”
“W-would you mind…telling me what’s going on?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You’ve got a job interview.”
Callum blinked at the words. “Sorry…an…interview?”
“Yeah. The boss wants to see if you’d be any good. We got a dancer leaving in a week. Guess they want to replace her before she goes.”
“S-so they want to hire me?”
“Yep, but you’ve got to prove you’re worth it.”
“Yeah.” He nodded to the main stage. “I’ll show you a few moves, you then show them to the bosses, and if they like you, you’re in.”
Callum checked the room once more, noting the smaller stages, the poles, the lights, and the positioning of the chairs. “A-and what kind of club…is this?”
“Can’t you work it out?” the blond scoffed.
“A…dance club?” the teen guessed naively.
“Close,” he replied, turning around and looking the new boy right in the eyes. “It’s a strip club.”
“Strip club!” Callum gasped, although part of him had already worked it out.
Soren nodded. “Yup, best one in the west. We get some really big rollers in here. If you don’t like it, there's the door.” He pointed to it, dead serious. “Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”
Callum froze, looking back at the entrance.
After a moment, the man sighed. “Look, I’ll level with you. This place is good. I mean, really good. I’m head of security. I make sure no one touches or hurts the dancers. The last time a girl got touched was when I was out with a cold. And even then, when the bastard came back, I broke his hand. The pay is great, better than any other club out there, and you get your own place to sleep. You may have to share for a bit, but once you prove yourself, you get your own room. Food’s good too, but they do watch what you eat. Plus, we have an amazing doctor on call; you get hurt or feel ill, he'll fix you up with a snap of his fingers."
“B-but…a strip club?”
“It’s better than most jobs out there right now. And I can see why Double A brought you in. You got the looks for this job kid. Now time to decide; you wanna at least try this or you gonna walk?”
He looked back at the door once more, considering if he should take the opportunity or not. Eventually, he decided to give it a go and nodded. “What do I need to do?”
“We are really making a killing on these new Moonberry Vodkas,” Viren said casually as he checked the numbers. “We should perhaps increase the cost?”
“Why? The Moonberry juice is cheap as piss and the vodka is ten a penny,” Aaravos replied from the couch where he was laid out, his legs spread a little too wide to be gentlemanly.
Before Viren could counter, there was a knock at the door. “Enter.”
The head of security entered, his face a little red and flustered, and he walked with a slight limp. “Sir, he’s ready.”
“Are you alright there Sor-bear?” Aaravos teased with a massive smirk. “You look like you’re in pain.”
“I-it’s just this new guy Double A. He-he’s good.” He coughed. “I…I’m just gonna go and…deal with…something...” With that, he hurried away.
The elf and human looked at each other, Aaravos grinning. “See, talent.”
“Oh please, Soren could get turned on by a nun,” Viren huffed, standing and walking out of the room. “But let’s see what all the fuss is about.”
They went to the main room and over to the stage where the boy from before was stood, waiting. Viren had to admit, he looked a lot more appealing cleaned up; his hair was combed out and his skin was washed of mud, and he now wore a tight pair of dark red pants and white vest top. He looked slightly nervous as Viren and Double A sat at the front where Soren had been a few moments before.
Viren pointed to the side where Callum now knew a music player was, and snapped his fingers. Seconds later, the music began, loud, fast, and practically inaudible, but Callum had known it was coming. He’d spent the last half an hour listening to it with Soren as he learnt the dance.
So, he did as he’d practiced. He moved with purpose, he ground his hips, and flecked his body. He ran his hands over himself and he teased off his vest before throwing it aside.
Seven minutes later, as Callum felt fatigue set in and wondered if this would ever end, the music came to a sudden stop. He almost tripped over himself, and he turned to see the two behind him. Viren was glaring at him before sharply standing and turning his back on the boy. Instead, he turned to the elf. “I owe you a bottle of scotch,” he muttered, then stormed off.
Chuckling, Aaravos looked at the human on stage. “Well done.”
“Well done sir?” he asked, panting for breath.
Aaravos stood slowly from his chair, then climbed easily onto the stage. “You got the job.” He grinned, holding Callum by the chin and staring at him with a smile Callum was learning not to trust. “You are going to be a star my boy.” He looked away for a bit. “Now, where’s Soren to show you to your room? Ah, probably still dealing with his…problem. Never mind.” He turned and looked at the bar. “Claudia? Claudia sweetie, are you there?”
“Yeah, I am Double A!” a voice called from behind the bar before a young woman with black hair jumped over the counter. “What do you need?”
“Will you be a dear and come show our newest recruit down to the bunks? And fix him up with a meal. The poor thing looks starved, and we can’t have him passing out on us.”
“Sure thing Double A,” Claudia replied, wiping her hands on a cloth. “Come on new guy.”
Jumping off the stage to follow, Callum walked quickly after her.
“Oh and Callum~” came a sing-song voice from behind him.
He looked back at the elf. “Yes sir?”
“Rehearsals start tomorrow at 7am. You better work hard.” Aaravos smirked as he stood on stage. “I’d hate to have to punish you if you misbehave.”
Callum looked shocked, but the woman just rolled her eyes. “Yeah right Double A. Get back in your box before you scare him off. Come on, I’ll help get you set up downstairs.”
The Emerald Prince, which became his stage name, was an instant success. After a few days of working the early starts when the club had just opened and there weren’t too many punters, it soon became clear that he was getting a lot of attention. A month into his employment, Viren discovered that more and more people were lining up, waiting for opening, and leaving once Callum finished his set. So he moved Emerald to the central slots, and everything boomed.
Callum was shocked by how many people were willing to throw money at his feet, or stuff it in his pants or vest. He even found a diamond necklace one evening. Whenever he danced, he had all sorts rushing to watch; male, female, elf, human, even a dragon or two.
The human found himself loving the attention; showered with gifts and praise and promises of a good night. He turned them all down kindly, since he was still only sixteen, but he knew Viren was getting a lot of pressure. Luckily, the manager had a strict ‘no underage’ rule.
After six months of just dancing, Double A asked him to try stripping a bit more, moving him to an even later slot. He was hesitant about this; dancing and showing a bit of skin was fine, but removing his outfit completely made him feel slightly uncomfortable.
Soren, who appeared to have taken a real shine to him, suggested a compromise: A double team between Callum and Ibis, another male dancer. That way, they could protect each other and ensure nothing got too out of hand until Callum got the hang of it.
It was something Callum could cope with; Ibis was a good friend to him in the club, giving him tips and advice as well as who to watch out for, often whispering things like ‘watch out for Tom Boy there. He’ll grab your ass’ or ‘The guy with the silver hair? Big tipper.’
This arrangement went on for a few months until Callum built his confidence, and was finally ready for a solo.
The crowds loved it, and he loved it. Double A was right; he was born to be a star.