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Cirque du Volés

Cirque du Volés

3 INK

A ship flying high above the clouds that totes around a merry band that call themselves a circus.

2,265 readers have visited Cirque du Volés since The_Queen created it.

Introduction

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COME ONE,


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Filling the air with a loud ballyhoo,
The masses arrive for the big top debut.
No tale they tell could be too tall;
For it would be the greatest show of all.

YOU WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES | YOU WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES | YOU WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES
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ImageImageStolen away from all corners of the globe, the Cirque du Volés counts among its members those deemed unfit for the living outside of shadows: the rejects and the strange. Their crafts honed, they present a grand circus the likes of which none have ever seen. However, when the lights go out and the troupe departs, some find more missing than the price of admission.

As the years ticked on, there have been tall-tales of legendary men and women whose abilities surpassed those of any other. Of those who are secretly monsters lurking in the wilds with unnatural powers. Could it be that the impossible feats of the Cirque du Volés are more than just smoke and mirrors, talent and trickery?

The absconded valuables have largely been ruled as attempts at insurance fraud or clerical errors. The crimes are too perfect; no humans could pull them off. Detective Faulkner, unhinged in his pursuit of an enemy none but him believe to exist, suspects the sticky-fingered voles are no ordinary humans. Discredited and desperate, the Detective believes it is his duty to put the pieces together. With each heist, a crumb of evidence is left to crack the case, to redeem himself, and put the voles behind bars.

But with dreams unfulfilled and no homes to return to, the show must go on.


THE SECRETS THAT AWAIT INSIDE | THE SECRETS THAT AWAIT INSIDE | THE SECRETS THAT AWAIT INSIDE


COME ALL



Toggle Rules


1. Please be polite to your fellow role players.
2. this should go without saying but hate of any kind has no place here. If you are caught being discriminatory or derogatory towards anyone for any reason, you will be kicked out without warning.
3. Fake FC's only please, no real people.
4. To reserve a character, please go to the OOC and paste your FC, your character's ability, and their role in the circus. Their power and role do not have to align, but if you would like them to, that's fine.
5. Join the Discord chat to keep up with the news.
6. This Roleplay is set in a steampunk world, with a circus that travels by airship. It is purely mechanical, except for the superpowers. There are no demons, ghosts, supernatural items, or magic.

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 6 authors

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Etoile
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The wind howled with all of the ferocity of a wolf, speeding down the cobblestone streets and leaping up the sides of the alleyways of the sleepy village of Batignolles. Tucked into an overturned crate like a discarded kitten sat an oddly dressed child. She wore a fluffy red wig and a green striped dress that was far too thin for the chill of winter.

”Excuse me, are you alright?” A woman knelt down with concern written across her features.

”No, go away!” The child yelled in panic, her tears freezing to her cheeks. The woman stiffened, her eyes glazing over and in a mechanical state, turned away to leave. The child brought her fingers close to her mouth, breathing on them for warmth.

A police officer came next. He draped his cloak over the young girl’s body, his mustached lip turned down in a frown. ”Where is your Mother? Are you alright?” He asked, but the child would not meet his eyes.

”Leave me alone,” she whispered and so he did. As did the next three people that tried to help her, unwitting subjects to her terrible power.

”Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone.” The little girl clawed at the red wig, pulling it off and pushing it away from her. She hugged her arms, her dress still stained with blood.

But it was not her own.

She must have been struck with a terrible curse, like the villain in a fairytale. Every word she spoke, they listened to, like puppets dancing on strings. They all left her, one by one, unable to resist her commands.

A face stood out among the sea of dolls. One such passant who had set up his act across that very street, peddling cheap magic and fanciful folly-took note of the cries. The weeping waif was not good for business and so he slowly rose from his seat, his worn-out shoes crunching on snow and ice.

He loomed over her like a shadow, a tower of a man, with a well worn coat and hand-me-down clothing that were ill fitting of his broad chest and barrel-like chest. He crouched down to face the crying child, whose eyes were red and puffy from her tears. ”Why is no one helping you?”

He had watched several stop and immediately leave, including the officer that had always been kind to him as a child. It was unusual, to say the least.

”Leave me alone!” The child responded, her voice hiccupping as she tried to cry out. She buried her face in her legs, shivering and sobbing, waiting for him to go, just like the others.

At first he flinched, as though stricken by the weight of her words. Then, he blew a slow sigh through his nose and swiveled on his feet, grunting as he sat in the alleyway, against one of the old stone walls.

”Oh come now, your parents must be worried sick,” he replied, ”Where might they be?”

He wasn’t leaving, why was he not leaving?

The child stiffened, glancing up at the bear-like man. ”Go away,” Etoile tried again, gritting her jaw. If there was one thing she had learned in her few short years on earth, it was that people who showed you kindness often wanted something from you.

The stranger rolled his shoulders in response and raised his brow. It was affecting him, just not in the way she had intended. Her words, to him, were not unlike anyone else’s. Whatever newfound ability the child had, it would serve her no use here.

”There is something special about you, I can tell.” He smiled, his kindness making the corners of his eyes wrinkle ever so slightly. ”Fret not, you're not the only one.”

With a few short motions and a lot of flair, he produced a pack of cards from his coat pocket and made cards disappear and reappear in his palms.

The child watched him, guarded, but curious. Why was he still here? She leaned forward to watch his trick, then jumped back when she realized what he was doing. Still, this man seemed to be the only one that would not leave her.

”I-I don’t know where my Mother is,” she admitted with a sniffle, swiping at her eyes with the cloak the police officer had draped over her earlier. ”I don’t know who my Father is.”

Etoile was not sure, but she believed that it had been a very long time since she had seen her Mother.

The stranger tilted his head and pondered her words, ”You haven’t been sitting out here in the cold for very long, not in a fancy dress like that.” He surmised, crossing his legs. ”Who adorns a young girl like a princess then abandons her in the streets?”

She wrapped the cloak tighter around herself and looked at her lap, ”I-I don’t know how I ended up here” Etoile admitted, ”They took me from my Mother… they said they would give me sweets.” Her voice came out in a whisper.

A stranger stopped to see what the matter was, noticing a strange man with a girl dressed like nobility. ”Everything alright there?” He asked wearily, his hands in his coat pockets. The stranger opened his mouth to answer, but found he had no need to. Right before he could get a word out, the child spoke and the newcomer stiffened.

”Leave us,” Etoile did not turn to face him, the newcomer moved like a toy soldier whose coil had just been wound up, marching away from them.

”See? I told you, you were special. When you speak, people listen.” The stranger nudged her in the shoulder, his smile never leaving his face.

”Please don’t say that,” her words were lined with distress. Her memories surrounded by the word special were laced with men in fanciful suits that stroked her face to get a better look at her gemstone eyes.

They all called her special, for her hair, for her small, doll-like body.

The stranger sat up a bit straighter and cleared his throat, tipping his top hat to the young lady. ”Tybalt the remarkable.” At least, if this stranger was tricking her, his tricks were quite transparent. He was a terrible liar, but an excellent con.

”And you?”

”Etoile,” Etoile responded simply. At the very least, there was no harm in giving her name.

”Etoile,” Tybalt repeated. ”Etoile, are you not cold?” He had been able to see her shivering from across the way. ”Yes,” Etoile admitted, her voice soft.

Tybalt rose slowly from the snow, dusting his pants off. He offered her a leather-clad hand to help her up, his brown gloves at least twice the size of her own. Despite his size, he bore no more a threat than a cuddly stuffed bear. ”As the hour grows later, it will get colder. Let’s get you someplace warm and maybe some food?”

”I am a little bit hungry,” Etoile admitted, watching him warily. The last time she had taken an outstretched hand, she had ended up in a cage and sold to the highest bidder.

However, like her Mother always said, when you are at the bottom of a hole, the only direction to go is up.

Etoile was already wallowing at the bottom. So she outstretched her hand, reaching upwards.

Her stomach growled, she clutched it quickly, trying to silence it. If he hears it, he will get upset- panic filled her for a brief moment before she was reminded that that man was dead.

Tybalt could lift her without much effort, even with his strength. He was a man accustomed to hard labor, the street magic must have been a new attempt to find work that was less back-breaking. ”What are you hungry for?” He asked, his warmth rolling off of him like a furnace.

Tybalt sensed her sudden unease, but did not pry. ”If you are in trouble, ask. I may not need to listen, but others certainly will.”

Etoile nodded, trailing a bit behind him since her steps were much smaller. She had not let go of his hand. ”Meat,” Etoile’s stomach growled again at the idea of eating something other than table scraps and soup.

He laughed at that, ”Alright, but what kind? You will probably need to ‘ask’ nicely, mind. Since I am not a monied man.”

”Poulette,” Etoile’s head snapped up. ”And cake with strawberries.” The idea of strawberries made her mouth water. They passed the open door of a patisserie, the smell of freshly baked cake wafting down the road.

”Rôtisserie et pâtisserie, non?” He laughed again. Tybalt stopped when they reached the market district, where the hustle and bustle of the crowd kept it warm, even in winter. Together, they emerged right in front of a street vendor, whose cart had a large steam engine, which slowly toasted a number of juicy, crisp chickens over a charcoal fire, stoked by the auto-bellows below. Now and again, the lanky man standing over it would brush sauce on top of the chickens, filling the air with a tantalizing aroma. ”This is what you want, yes?”

Etoile nodded, watching the chickens, mesmerized for but a moment. She shook her head, gathering up her courage and releasing Tybalt’s hand. Etoile marched up to the man, swallowing hard. ”Three-no-four chickens please!” Her voice warbled, uncertain if it would work. The lanky chicken vendor glanced down at her from above the tops of his glasses, his eyes glazing over quickly.

Etoile hurried back to Tybalt, a wide grin on her face. ”You were right! He listened! Look at all this food…” Etoile reached to give him one. ”Here, you should have some too.”

”Felicitations,” Tybalt grinned widely, his cheeks wrinkling. ”Et merci,” he reached down to take the offered drumstick. ”Let us find a place to eat,” they walked a bit away, spotting overturned crates that had been piled into one corner of the market.

”Up you go,” Tybalt lifted Etoile, placing the child on one of the piles. He settled down on the crate next, digging into the food.

Etoile too, eagerly dug into the chicken, but to her dismay, felt a wave of nausea overcoming her after the first bite. Her body was not used to such rich foods after spending so long eating scraps and soup. ”I don’t feel good,” immediately, tears had begun to well up again.

The man glanced up at her and frowned. ”I’m no physician, but I know one. Do you need me to bring you to him?” He asked, tossing his finished drumstick over his shoulder for a stray animal to find, his concern elsewhere.

Etoile shook her head, stiff with fear. ”No, no doctor.” She leaned over the crate, attempting to heave, but nothing came out. The girl could not help but sob. As it turned out, even if you are at the bottom of a hole, you could always dig lower.

He shut his eyes and cursed beneath his breath so that she could not hear. In a world of strangers and swindlers, children, so naive and innocent, were easily exploited. He could not just leave her here, Etoile would not last long on her own. ”There, there, no more tears. It will be alright. We will get you better. Bed, soup, water, remedies. We will find them… somehow. Got it?”

Etoile nodded, it was clear that the child was miserable in her current state. Something about this strange magic man and his funny words led her to believe them. Cold and hungry, Etoile looked around, pointing over the wall. ”There,” a hotel. ”All of the roofs in Marseille had blue roofs.” In her dazed and weak state, Etoile did not even realize that she had been allowed to let slip where she was from.

”Yes, you are correct. It is a hotel. It was the nicest hotel in all of Batignolles. Never mind that, Tybalt shook his head. ”Can you walk?”

Etoile nodded, reaching forward for him to place her back down on the floor. ”Then we walk,” he lifted her, carrying the child as easily as a doll towards the hotel.

The interior was warm and well lit. Unlike some parts of the city, there was no smell of burning oil from kerosene lamps and the tiles were veined with streaks of gold. The doorman greeted them with a tip of his hat, opening up the door without question with three words from Etoile.

”Let us in,” he did not give them so much as a second glance. Inside, Etoile shimmied out of Tybalt’s arms, aware of the eyes watching her. The little girl with short hair, a summer dress, and no shoes, stood out among the patrons who wore their wealth in their woolen coats and silk socks.

”Can I help you?” The receptionist asked, looking down his nose at the child.

”I need a room for two.” Etoile held up two fingers. The man stiffened and without question, handed her a key. ”Door 206, second floor, on the right.” He responded robotically. Etoile stood on tiptoe, grasping the key and quickly shuffling back to Tybalt, tripping over the cloak that was too long on her almost as soon as she reached him.

Tybalt reached forward quickly to steady her. Tybalt did his best to carry himself upright, posturing himself as an upperclassman, or at least someone of greater repute than a busker. Again, to Etoile, he seemed perfectly transparent, but at a glance or far enough away, his clothes and attitude did more than naught to sell the façade. Once inside, he stood tall with his hands behind his back like a butler until Etoile returned with the key.

"This way, young miss," he teased on her return. Then, he offered his arm, ensuring she would have some stability should she fall. "The conveyance is this way."

Etoile took his offered arm, following him. ”Don’t look at us,” she spoke to the lobby, every head that had been watching them turning to mind their own.

To Etoile, the elevator was like magic. A fancy box with red carpet and a wrought iron gate that closed to seal them inside. It moved with a crank, the floor beneath them shifting when it rose. Etoile clung to Tybalt before gaining the courage to peek through the gate to watch. ”Do fancy people get to ride these everyday?” Etoile inquired, the elevator coming to a sudden halt.

They could hear clicking as it crept over sets of metal teeth, a safety precaution meant to eliminate - or at least minimize - the risk of falls.

"Better than that," Tybalt replied, crossing his arms and waiting for the gates before him to open on the second floor. "The really fancy people get their own private dirigibles. Soaring in the sky above the rest of us like nothing else matters."

”Private… durgables?” Etoile repeated, ”What is a durgable?”

”Dirigibles,” Tybalt corrected. ”More commonly known as an airship,” he used the key to open the door, a brightly lit interior greeting them. The room had two beds and a large window that looked over the sleepy village. Lining the walls along the baseboards like gold fringes of an art frame were plated pipes that delivered steam pressure to hookups at which various appliances of convenience could be attached. Some of them were already in use to deliver things like an automatic kettle, a self-lighting stove, and, most remarkably, a graphophone which required no winding but only that a music cylinder be installed and a toggle flipped. The amenities of the rich were all around them, and though they were homeless saps, for the night they would live in the lap of luxury. There was a sitting area with a fire already lit, which Etoile hurried towards, holding her little hands out to steal its warmth. ”Chaude,” Etoile murmured, feeling sleepy.

Tybalt laughed, patting her head. She recoiled at his touch, attempting to make herself smaller. Well, some things would need to be worked on. ”Do you intend to sleep on the floor? We have beds, you know?” At his beckoning, Etoile rose, scuttling towards the mattresses and choosing the one closest to the door.

She flopped down, pulling the blanket up over her head, her fingers and toes still burning as they acclimated to the warm room. Tomorrow, Etoile could worry, tonight, she would savor this small reprieve.

Though his palm dwarfed her petite head, he was gentle as a kitten. Still, years of learning that hands were threats would not be unlearned in an evening.

Etoile retired to her bed, but Tybalt remained upright for some time longer, quietly poking away at the furnishings and pausing to gaze out the window. His mind was preoccupied by grand visions far above even his tall stature. He peered down upon the streets below; even a mere fifteen feet up, he felt as though he were of another league as those roaming the sidewalks he slept upon. From a man so oft looked down upon, it was a curious feeling.

Tybalt glanced back towards Etoile. Just who was helping whom?

—--------

Tybalt drew a sharp breath, then out flung his arms, stretching as he leveraged his body to get himself to sit upright. He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, then rubbed his eyes clean of sleep. Strange, he was used to feeling a lot worse when he woke. He opened his eyes and turned his head this way and that as the memories of the previous day caught up to him. With a nod of understanding, he at last rolled onto his feet, looking around for Etoile. When he found her curled up at the end of his bed, he only smiled and draped his blanket over her before slinking into the kitchen.

Borrowing a pot from the pantry and the spoils of the night, Tybalt lit the stove and, with some water from the tap, began heating up the chicken. He poured in the poulette; the water diluted it enough to make it drinkable but remained rich in flavor. Soon their room had a new scent about it: yesterday's chicken made new again, turned instead into a hearty soup to cure what ailed Etoile.

At the foot of the bed, the child wrinkled her nose and blinked open her eyes, the noise from the kitchen disturbing her sleep. She rose slowly, taking the blanket with her as she shuffled into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Que faites-vous Monsieur?" Etoile asked him, wondering what he was up to.

"Je cuisine," he stated, though what he was doing was decidedly less complex than 'cooking'. All he had really done was pour the chicken and sauce into a pot and cut the meat into smaller bites. Still, he took a bowl and ladle and a serving tray, filling it with a few scoops of soup and beginning to hunt for a spoon. "Back to bed - breakfast will be served momentarily."

Etoile listened, scurrying back to bed and pulling the blankets up over her, waiting patiently for him to return.

Bearing a silver platter, served with a silver spoon, came the promised meal. Tybalt carried it over with a gentle smile, his chest back and shoulders as straight as any butler in any noble house. He set the tray down carefully on her lap once she was settled. ”Your food, Madame, he teased, lifting the lid. ”Eat up, once you are well, we will see about finding your parents.”

Etoile took a bite, delighted to find that it was rich and flavorful, but not overwhelming. ”It’s good,” she murmured, blowing on the spoon before taking another bite. ”I don’t think anyone is looking for me,” Etoile admitted. ”I think… It has been a very long time since I have seen my Mother.”

Out of view, Tybalt frowned. What had meant to be a kind gesture was turning into quite the task he did not feel suited for, but could he really loose this child upon the world? Who could raise her if she could rewrite the rules of her caretaker with a single word? Or worse? What if her abilities were twisted with impure guidance?

… What if there were others like her?

Tybalt sat on the bed opposite, crossing his legs and clasping his hands together to say grace. He was not the most exemplary of folk, but in front of the child, he would try. ”Do you remember aught that may identify her?”

Etoile scrunched up her face in thought. ”My Mother… had blonde hair, like mine.” She pointed to her own head, with her short blonde pixie style, cut by the nanny that had lorded over her. ”And… and a smile, like this,” she grinned, pointing to her teeth.

Tybalt laughed, returning her smile. Her smile faded slowly, ”I can’t remember much else,” she admitted.

”Hmm, blonde? There are not too many of those in Marseille. If she still lives there, we will find her. What about her name? Or where she worked?”

Etoile was excited again, ”Her name was Vera. She was the caretaker over the Langston house before she was fired. Then we lived at Lady Medea’s home until she could find work again.” This much, Etoile could remember. During the day, her Mother would leave in search of work and at night, she would help cook or clean to earn her keep.

”We will journey there once you are well. Do you have a family name?”

”I-I don’t remember,” Etoile frowned. ”I can go now!” She stumbled off of the bed, almost taking the bowl with her. Etoile popped up by his bedside. ”I can go, I am ready.”

Tybalt laughed at her eagerness, quickly donning his hat. He gave his vest to Etoile to wear for warmth until they could get something a bit more permanent. It was like a blanket or a poncho, nearly dwarfing her, and it carried the scent of tobacco and coal fire. Still, it was better at insulating her than the frilly summer dress she wore.

With that, they set off in search of Marseille, the entire world their oyster.

The train was an impressive beast to the little girl. At first, she feared it, but after some coaxing, Etoile asked very nicely for entry, just as Mr. Tybalt told her to.

The train car was lined with plush velvet seats and if Etoile pressed her face against the glass, she could see the steam from the engine.

Marseille was just how she remembered it, a sleepy seaside town, where the air stung of salt and the wind was bitterly cold. "This is it," Etoile bounced eagerly in her seat when the train rolled to a stop.

They were really going to see her Mother again.


Tybalt, with a warm unease masked by elegance beyond his means, maintained a smile though his worries multiplied behind his eyes.

"Good to be back, is it?" he asked, rising from his seat and accompanying her off the train. They had no baggage, all of Tybalt's worldly possessions being kept on his person or too worthless to lug about. The both of them had changed clothes, Tybalt, into a fresh set of winter formals that would keep him warm and last a while, a generous parting gift from his small travel companion.

"Now, where is Lady Medea’s residence?"


"It's this way," Etoile pointed, grabbing onto his sleeve. There was no need to fear the wind in her powder blue woolen coat. There was no need to fear anything, not even a train, with the tall man beside her.

She led Mr. Tybalt by memory, to the boarding house where she and her Mother lived after her Mother lost her job. It took a few wrong turns to get it right, a new building had popped up where Etoile had expected there to still be a road.

At last, they reached the boarding house. It was a sad looking stone building, with gray stones that made up the walls. The roof was sagged in at odd places, as if the wind overtime, had been pushing it over. On the front was a dilapidated sign made of metal, that read the name of the boarding house. Lady Medea’s Boarding for Women and Children. "This is it."

Tybalt was not one to judge; any roof was better than no roof. Still, even he knew it was no great place to raise a child. Fortunately, it looked like Etoile was turning out okay so far anyway.

Tybalt approached the residence with Etoile's hand clutched in one of his, rapping on the entrance with gloved knuckles that clattered the wooden board more than he intended. It wasn't really possible to knock quietly on doors like these. "Afternoon!" he called out pleasantly to anyone in earshot, hoping a kind tone of voice might soften the disturbance and inspire them to open up.

A mop of black hair poked out of the door, looking them up and down once with an upturned nose. "We only allow women to board monsieur, I am afraid you will not find a bed here-" She began to close the door, but not before Etoile could cry "Wait!"

The woman froze, the door stopping mid-swing. Etoile looked up at Mr. Tybalt, it would be better for him to ask.

Tybalt scratched the back of his head, then gestured to the little girl beside him. "Etoile here is the daughter of one Madame Viera, who once worked here. We would be grateful to know her whereabouts; she is surely worried sick for her return."

The woman narrowed her eyes to scrutinize him. She then looked down at Etoile, her eyes widening just a little bit in memory. The woman's face changed, becoming sadder. "The Madame had an... accident. After Etoile disappeared, she fell down very suddenly and could not get back up."

Etoile looked up at Mr. Tybalt, wondering what the lady meant.

She reached out to grab Etoile, pulling her away from Tybalt as though to protect her. "Are you with those hooligans who took her? If you've come for more children then leave! We have nothing here for you."

"No! Let me go!" Etoile cried, the woman releasing her immediately. Etoile ran back to Tybalt, clinging to his leg.


Tybalt sighed and adjusted his top hat, bowing graciously. "You've been most helpful," he responded simply, using an arm to help gather Etoile back to his side and hold her protectively. "Might I trouble you for the way to the nearest patisserie? I believe the young lady is owed a visit."

"Down the road, to the right." Had Etoile perhaps used too much of her power on the woman? She seemed to still be in a daze.

Etoile followed Mr. Tybalt, wondering where her Mother was. "When do I get to see my Mother?" Etoile asked him, confused why they were leaving.

He squeezed Etoile closer to himself, then walked further on, heading down the road as instructed. "She isn't here," he answered plainly. He couldn't possibly come up with the appropriate thing to say on the spot, so he chose to tell the truth, but sparingly. "Let us have some cake first, yes?"

Etoile frowned, her Mother wasn't here? Was it because of the accident the lady had mentioned? "Where is she then?" Etoile asked cautiously.

The windows of the patisserie were alight with pastries and breads. They could smell the scent of cake, wafting outside the open door. "Cake," her mouth watered at the sight.

Tybalt didn't seem mad, just troubled. He gently patted and brushed through Etoile's short hair, shaking his head no for the time being - they would talk about this after sweets.

"Indeed," he said in answer after she noticed the cake, pulling the ornate door open to let Etoile in before him. "Entrez-vous?" he lightheartedly asked, gesturing inside.

Etoile eagerly entered, pulling on Mr. Tybalt's sleeve to bring him with her. She glanced back at him, a sparkle in her gemstone-like eyes. "Can we get two?" Etoile begged him, wondering if he would allow her two sweets.

Her innocence cut through the grief, and Tybalt gently smiled. Joining her inside, he answered, "Today, you may have two. Choose wisely." After, he accompanied her to the counter, serving as fine emotional support should Etoile have needed confidence to ask the baker for sweets.

"Excusez-moi," Etoile stood on tiptoe to speak to the baker, who turned automatically. "May we have one snowman cookie and one strawberry cake, s'il te plaît?" The baker nodded and without reply, began to pack up their treats. The box was handed to Tybalt and the baker turned without a word to return to the kitchen.

Etoile received another pat on the head; eventually, Tybalt was going to break those painful associations, trying to pave over her trauma with comfort and happiness. Still, she flinched. "So very polite. You were raised well," he commented.

Tybalt carried the box out, propping the door open with his foot to aid Etoile's exit. She clung to one of his sleeves when they walked out, following him. "We should find another place to spend a few nights. We may be here awhile," Tybalt suggested. "See any blue roofs?"

She stood on her tiptoes, attempting to scope out a blue roof. "There!" She pointed, finding a blue roof that stood out amongst the gray.

Together, they made their way to the new hotel, this one far less luxurious than the last. It was a small bed and breakfast meant for weary passengers by sea wanting to sleep on solid ground and eat a home-cooked meal. Tybalt might have felt some guilt depending on the host family's unwilling future generosity, but he had little choice, and he bore far worse unease for the words he would soon have to deliver.

They met the family and were soon settled into a cozy room with two beds and a balcony. He set the cakes down on the bed along with forks and knives he retrieved from the kitchen, then, with Etoile securely inside, he shut the door.

Tybalt bowed his head, closed his eyes, took a sharp inhale, then a slow exhale. He walked over to the balcony and began fiddling with the double-door latch, seeking fresh air despite the cold.

As soon as they entered their new room, Etoile kicked off her snow covered shoes and pulled off her jacket before she began exploring.

She claimed the bed closest to the wall and bounced up and down on the mattress once to test it. "Monsieur Tybalt?" Etoile asked, watching him open up the balcony door. "Will we be seeing my Mother soon? Is she going to come here?"

He opened the doors and stepped through, then leant upon the balcony wall, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette and lighter. He scratched the flint enough to get a spark to light the end, then brought it up to his lips with a shaky hand and took a long, slow drag. Even in times of poverty, tobacco was one of the few vices he simply could not give up.

With his other hand, he gestured openly, inviting Etoile into a single-armed embrace, to join him in looking out over the balcony, out towards the sea and the overcast sky, to watch the buildings and the seabirds through the fog.

Etoile hesitated. She grabbed her coat before joining him, wondering why he was so quiet. The smell of tobacco lingered, Etoile wrinkled her nose. She looked out, to the sea, where a boat was coming in to moor at the dock. Slowly, on that cold gray day, realization dawned on her. "She isn't coming, is she?" Etoile asked quietly. Her eyes wide, begging him to tell her that she was wrong, that at any moment, her Mother would walk through that door and greet her with the biggest hug and the same smile she always wore.

But he did not. Instead, Tybalt slowly gathered her close, squeezing her tight to his side with one arm. His breath caught in his throat, and he knelt down beside her, this time wrapping both arms around her in a secure embrace. He said nothing, but there were tears in his eyes.

And his cigarette had fallen to the floor.

Etoile's shoulders shook with realization. Tybalt did not have to say anything for her to understand.

Her Mother was not here, she wasn't going to come.

Her eyes became wet with tears and once again, Etoile began to sob. It was different this time, however. The child did not attempt to disguise or muffle her cries. She clung to Mr. Tybalt, holding onto him with her small hands while her wails echoed across the balcony, her sorrow bouncing off of the walls and rolling down the streets.

For the first time since meeting him, Etoile did not shy away from Tybalt's touch but leaned into it, afraid that he too would leave her.

He held her closer, muffling her cries in his coat. "Je suis désolé," was all he could manage before his throat closed like a trap and he sobbed with her, stroking through her hair. He had never met her mother, but deep in his heart he knew that neither of them deserved this misfortune. And, capable or not, it fell to him to right it.

Etoile looked up at Mr. Tybalt's face, realizing that he was crying too. Was he feeling the effect of it too? Quickly, Etoile wiggled out of his grasp, stepping back. There was no longer sadness in her eyes, but fear.

She looked down at her hands, then back at the man.

This was her fault.

Etoile hugged herself, she had hurt Mr. Tybalt. She had unintentionally hurt the man that had helped her.

Tybalt's nature took over, and he struggled to make sense of what was happening to Etoile. He wept still, but through the tears he surveyed the situation, seeing Etoile retreat into the room.

He joined her, shutting the doors behind them.

Etoile panicked, she scurried to grab one of the hand towels, pushing it into Mr. Tybalt's hands quickly to dry his tears, to try and make him stop crying. "I made you feel my sadness," She whispered, terror making her voice tremble.

"I don't know how to fix it, how to stop using this vile tongue of mine." Etoile hurt everyone she touched. Her Mother was, she had killed the strange man, and now she had struck Mr. Tybalt with her emotions.

Tybalt shook his head no, wiping his tears from his face. "Etoile...I do not hurt because you made me hurt," he tried to reassure her. "It is normal...to weep with those who weep."

He opened his arms to her again, seeking to reassure her. He held her tight, gently rocking to and fro. "Pauvre Etoile, none have shed tears with you before...?" He bowed his head and shut his eyes, as though having realized something even graver than the passing of her mother.

Ultimately, Etoile gave in, running to him again. She flung her arms around him, as much as she could at the very least, and began to sob again into his coat. Etoile shook her head, "Non," she sniffled, wondering if she should tell Tybalt the full story of how she had become separated from her Mother in the first place. "I was not allowed to cry in front of anyone," she whispered.

He let out a forlorn sigh and continued stroking through her hair. Outside, the cigarette lay alone on the floor, fizzling out in the cold before being whisked away by the wind.

Tybalt scooped her up, carrying her over to the bed where the sweets awaited. He sat down beside her, doing his best to show her he wasn't going anywhere. "You can cry whenever you need to," he assured her, adding, "only...crying is better with cake. Eat?"

Etoile yelped when he lifted her without warning. She sniffled, looking at the dessert box that had been abandoned.

Cake would make it better, yes? So Etoile opened the lid of the pastry box, breaking off a piece of snowman cookie to eat while she cried.

When the tears subsided at last and the sun had gone down, Etoile felt emotionally spent, but there was still something she needed to do.

"Monsieur Tybalt, if I tell you a secret, do you promise not to tell a soul?" Etoile asked. Tybalt had taken only a bite of the strawberry cake, having mostly lost his appetite. When asked, he nodded and brushed through her hair. "Je le promets."

Etoile hesitated, she took another bite of cookie, building up her courage.

"I killed someone."

Etoile then launched into her story, how she had been taken by the men who promised her food, how she had lived in a cage at a black market auction before being sold to a strange man that treated her like a doll. How that man had always made her only eat soup with medicine in it to make her drowsy and that it made her head feel funny.

And finally, how her power had awoken and when she had wanted to die, she had told the strange man that Etoile wished he would kill himself and he did.

Through none of it did Tybalt make any effort to leave. The worse her admissions became, the greater his urge to embrace her grew, until, with the final revelation, he pulled her into another close hug.

"It isn't your fault, you know."

Etoile leaned into his embrace once again, he was warm and she felt a perpetual cold.

"But if I hadn't said that-" She hiccupped, her voice lowering to a whisper. "He would still be alive." She was a killer. Maybe she deserved all of this tragedy

He kept holding her, as though letting her go would rob his words of their strength and meaning. "You could not have known that would happen. You are no murderer. Not in my eyes."

Etoile remained quiet for a moment, it was clear that even with his words of reassurance, she was uncertain.

"Are you going to leave me too?" Etoile whispered, her grasp around his coat growing tighter.

He shook his head no. "I am no bastion of stability, but you may accompany me as long as you like." With both arms he clutched her protectively. "I will not leave you."

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Character Portrait: Etoile
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Three months later, on the streets of Paris

The air was thick with the warmth of spring. The sound of buzzards chirped in their ears, making their way out of their winter thaw and hanging out in the trees. Jardin des Plantes was already beginning to show its true colors, with magnificent blossoms of every kind basking in the sunlight.

Across from La Seine, in the center of a small crowd stood a man who was bound to stand out in his dapper, powder blue, three piece suit and brand new top hat. Standing a bit behind him, keeping a safe, but close distance, was a little girl who watched the large man with sparkling eyes, who occasionally whispered to the people closest to her to toss their coins and bills into the open suitcase on the ground.

For the finale, the larger than life magician removed his hat, twirled his wand, and tapped its brim three times, holding it near his side with a mischievous smirk. Then, in one smooth motion, he thrust it forward, releasing an infernal blast into the sky that lit the crowd's eyes fiery red, like a sunset at midday. When the flames died down, he replaced his hat upon his head, gave a wink, and took a bow at the waist.

In the middle of the crowd's awed applause, though, the fire unexpectedly reignited - briefly, but for long enough to set the man's eyebrows and hair ablaze. The audience largely took it all as part of the show, laughing and cheering all the same, but Etoile, who had seen this act many times before, knew it was unplanned. After making their donations to the suitcase's coffers, the crowd began dispersing, but one concerned individual in the crowd might have taken note as Tybalt put out the fires...

As soon as the audience moved on, Etoile rushed forward, grabbing onto Tybalt's pant leg. She looked up at him, her sparkling eyes filled with concern. "Are you alright?" She whispered, keeping her voice low so that only he could hear. Etoile had seen this act enough times to know when something went wrong and this time, it was the most dangerous act that had gone awry. Tybalt was playing with fire, quite literally, which could be temperamental.

Unbeknownst to them, while most everyone had left, one remained. She wore a yellow, floor length dress with white lace trim and carried a cream colored parasol to protect herself from the sun. Her hair was a dazzling blonde, not unlike someone else's, but her most striking feature were her eyes, which were the color of rubies. The woman stepped forward, folding her parasol, her lips tilted downwards in concern. "Est-ce que ça va, Monsieur? Are you alright?" She asked, her heels clacking on the cobbles to follow them.

Tybalt and Etoile had ducked into a small park to seat him on a bench, tending to his new scars and freshly burnt-off eyebrows. Even with scorched facial hair, he was charming, but he looked to be in pain. Not only his eyebrows, but eyelashes had been singed, causing him great irritation, and his hair was a goner. "Ah, not to worry, mademoiselle, all is well," he replied, turning to her with a pained smile and eyes clenched shut. If Tybalt was one thing, it was a terrible liar.

In his blind state, it was Etoile who rose to stand protectively in front of Tybalt. Even if she was small, there was something she could do. She glanced at the bear-like man, all he had to do was give her a nod and she could send this woman on her way.

And though he could not see, he could hear the shuffle of tiny steps as his favorite little assistant maneuvered to block the path of the newcomer. He was as proud of her as any father, but he did need medical attention.

The woman could tell all was not well, she was not a fool. "I can help, I am a nurse," she glanced around them, but the park was all but empty. "If you will allow me to?" For a nurse, she certainly did not dress like one. Nurses did not make enough to afford the fur stole she wore around her shoulders.

"You sound trustworthy," he answered. "Please." He shuffled nearer to the edge of the bench, leaning forward to yield himself to her care.

Etoile looked between Tybalt and the newcomer. She clambered onto the bench, putting her hand on top of one of Tybalt's so that he would know she was there, even if he could not see. "I simply would not be able to live with myself, if I allowed a face like this to be scarred." The stranger leaned forward and removed her lace gloves, placing them into the pocket of her yellow dress. With one hand, she gently tilted Tybalt's face upwards towards her own. With the other, she carefully ran one thumb across the burns, her touch like a gentle brush with a butterfly's wings. It took all but an instant for Tybalt's wounds to heal.

Tybalt held Etoile's hand, more for her comfort than for his, reminding her of his appreciation for her presence. Etoile gave one of his fingers a squeeze, her hand small enough to just wrap around his massive index finger.

At first the healing seemed not to work, and Tybalt gave pause, his smile briefly disappearing before returning even brighter. Then, at her touch, the burns receded, the hairs on his brows and eyes regrew, and his eyes opened to gaze upon her. That irresistibly corny smile that he wore during the performance like a boutonnière returned in full force, but though his interest in her was far from romantic in nature, his reply was unintentionally top-notch. "You are someone special, aren't you?"

The woman stepped back, her cheeks slowly burning into a hue that matched the roses growing beside the bench. She tucked a stray blonde hair behind her ear and coyly looked at the ground. "You should be more careful in the future, Monsieur," the stranger emphasized. "Both with your fire and with your words. It would not do to carelessly call a woman special."

But Tybalt shook his head no, then removed his hat and bowed, a gesture that was nothing short of adorable as there still remained a patch of singed hair in the center of his head, which made the stranger stifle a laugh. Etoile, however, did not hold back a giggle. "I would not say it if it were not true. You have a gift, I am sure, and I am pleased to make the acquaintance of someone with the initiative to show kindness. What is your name?"

She replaced her lace gloves and curtsied. "Maria Osho and you are?" She glanced at Etoile as though noticing her for the first time,smiled warmly, and waggled her fingers before looking back at the mysterious magical man. "Is this your daughter?"

Etoile carefully slid off of the bench, hiding behind Tybalt, careful not to say a word.

"Une petite Étoile est tombée du ciel," he answered, giving his adoptive daughter's golden hair a ruffle. Etoile leaned away from him when he did that. It had been three months and yet, the child was still wary to be touched unexpectedly. "My name is Tybalt Benjamin Jean-Pierre LeGrand de la Fontaine, but you may call me Tybalt."

Maria watched them curiously. "You are not from Paris, are you Monsieur Tybalt?" Maria asked, noticing a slight lilt in the way he spoke. "Have you been enjoying your stay here? Spring is an especially nice time in the city."

Maria was not originally from Paris either, but from Manosque. After discovering her power at 15, she had been chased out of her home by her parents.

Maria who was normally hesitant to use her ability had revealed herself to others not unlike her.

Tybalt tilted his head and smirked. Without responding to the first question, he answered, "It's been a lovely visit. I have indeed heard good things about the springs." Ever the direct man, he added, "So what brings a woman of your exceptional talents to my humble show?"

"I have always been something of a fan of magic, since I was a small girl." Maria admitted, "So when I saw your performance, I could not help but stop to watch. I found myself taken in by your performance, it was very passionate "

"It is easy to be passionate about a talent that brings smiles to others,"[/b he answered easily. [b]"I am sure you can relate; you are no mere nurse, mademoiselle." Tybalt signed something to Etoile, to whom he had begun teaching French Sign Language, holding out a finger and tapping its tip with a rising hand.

«Spécial.»

Etoile nodded in agreement, she had seen the healing, it was almost like Tybalt's magic. Etoile touched her thumb and index finger together, tipping her fingers forward to sign, «Oui.»

It was the first time she had encountered another like herself and Etoile was curious, but afraid. Would her power work on the woman? Or would she be resistant to it, like Tybalt? Etoile looked up at the man, a question in her eyes. She would be happy to be able to speak to others.

Maria's cheeks were tinged pink again. "We are all born with different talents, it would be a waste if we did not use them to help others. Vous n'êtes pas d'accord? Don't you agree?

Tybalt scratched at his beard in thought, as though puzzle pieces were coming together in his head. "Chère Maria, I believe you may have just given me the answers to some very important questions. For this I must thank you. Would you care to join Etoile and I for coffee and lunch?"



Tybalt placed his top hat back on his head, then gently took Etoile's hand, walking closely along with her. In his mind he was weighing so many possibilities, choices, fears, and futures, but outside he was the ever-charming magician she had known for months now. It was precisely those months which allowed her to see past his face, to know the concerns he grappled with each day to protect and care for both of their needs. Tybalt must have seen something, known something, or reasoned something; he was no foolhardy man.

And so, following beside this stranger, they took a brisk stroll through the park, arriving at their destination before they even knew it. Maria was not kidding when she said it was very close.

Maria took them to a quaint café, whose storefront was covered in crawling ivy, which almost consumed the storefront. The smell of coffee wafted just outside the shop, which made Etoile wrinkle her nose. She never liked the smell, but she would tolerate it. At the very front of the shop, behind the window glass, were two large pans, both of which were being used to make crepes and galettes. Etoile released Tybalt's hand, running over to the window immediately to stand on her tiptoes and watch. With the suitcase of money from the show, they could easily pay for lunch.

Tybalt preferred to use money instead of words when possible, both out of fairness and a desire not to let Etoile's secret be revealed. To his credit, he had yet to allow anyone to be made aware of it, at least to his knowledge, but perhaps this stranger could be trusted.

Tybalt grinned on seeing Etoile brighten at the sight of the sweets. He reached forward and pulled the door open, letting his two companions enter before him.

"Thank you," Maria entered, Etoile rushed inside in front of both of them. "C'est gentil, how sweet." She remarked, watching little Etoile's excitement at watching the artisans up close. "She is a very quiet one, your Etoile. Does she not speak?" Maria asked, picking a table for them in a quiet corner.

The inside of the cafe had maps in gold frames all over the walls and chestnut tables with gold filigree. As soon as they were seated, a waiter came over to bring them the menu.

"She speaks with her hands," came his cleverly worded reply, signing «See?» to Maria. "And she has a special affection for pastries." He pulled out Maria and Etoile's chairs before seating himself, taking a look at his menu. "What will you be having, Etoile?" he asked. He did not have much of a sweet tooth, so he intended to order whatever she did.

Etoile bound over to them when called, clambering onto her seat before picking up a menu. She narrowed her eyes, her reading getting better everyday. «Strawberry crepe», Etoile signed, then added a quick «please.»

Maria watched, fascinated. "How interesting," She had never seen anyone speak with their hands before. "You are an excellent Father to have so much patience." She complimented.

Remembering to remove his hat, Tybalt set it down upon his lap, nodding to Etoile's request with a smile. "It is easy to be patient with an angel. And what would you like, our favored guest?"

Maria gave the menu a cursory look-over, having been here many times before. "Probably the spinach and cheese galette." She removed her lace gloves and folded her hands in her lap. Tybalt relayed their order to the waiter, who arrived quickly and left after jotting down their decision with a feathered pen.

[/b]"I do have a favor to ask, Monsieur Tybalt. What I have shown you today... you must not tell anyone about."[/b]

"I have no intention of repaying evil for kindness. But I mean to ask...have you met anyone like yourself before?" Maria was able to breathe a bit easier with the reassurance that he would not tell anyone. "No, I have never met another with a... talent like this. Although, I would say that your magic must come close." It was Maria's way of asking if he too, had an ability.

Without giving too many specifics, he answered her query, "Today that has changed. I suspected there were more, and while I do not know for certain what has brought us about...I fear for the world that forces those like us into hiding."

Their drinks arrived discreetly, a glass of water and a cup of freshly brewed coffee placed in front of each patron at the table. Tybalt remained quiet long enough for the waiter to leave again.

"Perhaps it is fate that our paths crossed. I have always hoped that there were others like us," Maria placed two sugar cubes into her coffee. "And I hope to meet many more."

Etoile reached for the glass full of sugar cubes, popping one into her mouth and biting down with a satisfying crunch! Etoile too, was excited, but for different reasons. It was her first time inside of a cafe like this, where they made the food right in front of you.

"My dilemma has been just how to find such-like ones," Tybalt spoke, "but I imagined that like would seek out like. It proved true in your case, did it not?"

Afterwards, they received their meals. Tybalt sipped at his coffee, glancing at Etoile, always eager to see her reaction to a new treat.

"And your daughter is she... like us?" Maria asked cautiously after the waiter had left. Yes, it had been true in her case, but it was more of a happy accident than anything.

Etoile was hardly paying attention to their conversation. She had been watching them make crepes this entire time, eagerly waiting to see what it looked like up close. Her eyes glittered when the food was placed down in front of her and her feet did a little kick with glee. She looked up at Tybalt, signing to him first. «Can I eat?»

Tybalt bowed his head to say grace, then gave Etoile a warm nod of approval. He started to cut his meal into pieces, buying himself enough time to formulate a guarded, cryptic, but accurate response. "I expect the extent of her talents to be revealed in time, but she is nothing if not extraordinary."

Maria watched him, she had grown up in a staunchly religious household, but had stopped following the practices once she had left home. Etoile, too, bowed her head, although she did not know why Tybalt did this before every meal, she never failed in mimicking him, just in case it was something important.

His words had piqued Maria's interest, however cryptic they may be. "I see," she replied thoughtfully. "Well, how much longer will you be in Paris? I would love to see this extraordinary talent in person." Maria would also like to see Tybalt again, but she was too shy to be so forward.

"The intent was to have one more show before moving on, but...making your acquaintance, I think it may be the correct time to accelerate my plans," he replied. Heavy matters for them to be discussing over crepes and coffee, but such was the nature of this unusual encounter. "Like seeks like," he repeated somewhat wistfully. "Where might one find extraordinary people if one were to look for them?"

Maria cut into her crepe, taking a thoughtful bite. It was a curious question. Tybalt was a man of many mysteries and Maria somehow found herself drawn in, wanting to know more. She was normally cautious and guarded, especially to someone she had revealed her abilities to, but something in her made Maria instantly trust this man.

It likely did not hurt that Etoile was so innocent and peaceful; her health, countenance, and behavior probably went far to establish him as a man of fine reputation. That he had the added benefit of being well-built and well-dressed was...

"I should think that if like-seek-like, then you do not need to search very far. They will come to you, oui?"

"They already have," he spoke with a knowing smirk, "but if we hope to find more, we will need to think bigger." Including her in the adventure of discovering a solution, he twirled a piece of crepe around on a fork and asked, "What sort of group travels, shelters and showcases the strange, and garners fame in the process?"

"The only thing that comes to mind are traveling performers. An opera, or a circus, perhaps?" But why was he asking her this? Was he proposing that she go with them?

Etoile looked outside the large window, tugging on Tybalt's sleeve. She pointed to the sky, there was an airship passing by. It was the first time that Etoile had seen one. «Can I look?» She signed, wanting to go to the window. Tybalt ruffled her hair in answer and nodded with permission, watching her slip away. «Be careful,» he signed.

”It is not a bad idea,” Maria admitted, watching Etoile run to get a closer look at the passing ship. The child pressed her hands against the glass, looking up to catch sight of the airship that was lazily making its way across the sky. ”With your magic and charisma, it would be easy to draw others in.”

”Etoile and I cannot do it alone, however, we will need help.” Tybalt said as a caveat. He took a sip of his coffee, delivering a most unfortunately worded petition for aid: "Mademoiselle, are you otherwise engaged? I have to imagine someone like you is in high demand."

Maria's cheeks turned bright red at this, misinterpreting the question at first. She hid her blush behind a sip of coffee and wiped her mouth quickly with a cloth napkin before realizing what he had meant. "I try not to make a habit of revealing my talent." She admitted, "Everyone else that has ever seen it has shooed me away." Her family included. "I work as a nursemaid for a family near La Seine." Maria had not lied about being a nurse, she had simply never specified what kind of nurse she was.

"I can promise you at least that Etoile and I would never shoo you away." His sweet words were like an assault on her heart, but he was as oblivious to his effects as a blind mouse. "Might I employ your services to help me find others like us?"

Maria hesitated. His words were as sweet as honeysuckles, they were easy to believe, laden with promises of finding others, just like them. Maria closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. She did not have much to lose. Once the children were old enough, which was only going to be another year, she would lose her job anyhow. "Alright," Maria decided, reopening her eyes. "I will join you both on your adventure."

Tybalt's eyes lit up like the fire of his show. "Really?!" he replied, unable to contain his excitement. "Goodness, this is the start of something amazing - I can feel it! We will work wonders together, the three of us; no, we will need more than just us three...oh, it boggles the mind just to think of it! Performers, staff, a proper vehicle...this is just the beginning." Tybalt scarfed down the rest of his crepes expediently, his grin contagious.

Etoile rushed over, having heard him yell. Had something happened? Etoile knew they shouldn't have trusted this stranger. Much to her surprise, however, Tybalt was excited. «What happened?» Etoile signed, looking between them.

"Where will we find a vehicle big enough?" Maria questioned, finishing her crepe too. She looked down at Etoile, who was clinging to Tybalt's free arm, then towards the window where she had come from, an idea dawning on her. "Monsieur, what would you think about a flying troupe?" She asked, indicating to the airship that it was still within view.

Tybalt apologized and explained matters briefly to Etoile, concluding with, "Little star, we may soon be bound for the skies."

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The small band of workers labored early morn to midday, setting up the grand big top tent and preparing for their night-time epic. It was an event that would last only a few hours, but one that would leave an impact for years to come. Spotlights roamed the clouds from evening to night, attracting patrons far and wide.

The residents of the Queen City of North Carolina, Charlotte, were totally unprepared for what they would witness that night.

Crowds hustled and bustled in the stands, gathering their popcorn, their peanuts, their refreshments, and holding fast to their anticipation. Then, at seven o'clock, the lights went dark. A lone man in the center of the room, with a top hat and crystalline cane, tapped the butt of his staff upon the dirt floor, sending sparking firecrackers flying out into the air, each one soaring high above the crowds before fizzling out into a crackling pop.

"Most esteemed ladies and gentlemen," declared the man, with a voice that boomed above the wondrous cries of the audience, "Tonight your eyes will play tricks on you." He overturned his staff, scraping its tip against the ground like a giant matchstick, and fire erupted from it as though it were a torch. It flickered like a candleflame, but glimmered with the brilliance of moonlight.

"You will see things you'll scarcely believe," he warned, "Europe's most dazzling circus, the finest talents taken from all over the world, such as to defy understanding, all gathered in one place - " A single glimmering firecracker shot into the air above them, bursting and sprinkling a shower of glittering embers down over the Ringmaster in the center. "For your bewilderment I present: the Impossible Cirque du Volés!"

There was a great explosion and flash of light. In an instant, the Ringmaster was now standing atop an enormous elephant, larger than life, grinning widely with a glint in his eyes as acrobats began dancing overhead between trapezes lit from below.

As they danced, so did the low murmurs of the audience drift to the air; imperceptibly, undistractedly, a bunch of varying sentiments expressing mixed degrees of amazement. The flying performers! The elephant! The light show! Far in the back, a short teenage girl could perceive it all... Or at least the sentiments, for she could scarcely see the performance past the sea of bodies.

"There's an elephant?" The girl asked, as she could not see past the sea of bodies. There was no seat for her, for she didn't have a ticket for the show. She was content nonetheless—she was going to settle for a seat outside of tent, out of sight entirely.

"Oh yeah there is! Look, Camille!" A boy many years her junior whispered, beckoning her to see. It was this friend of about three hours, Zachary, whose idea it was to sneak her in there. They may have been strangers who might have been forbidden from interacting before, but her desire to spend time with others at the circus happened to overlap with his—among few couple other—parents' desire for an impromptu supervisor.

Deciding to risk it to satisfy her overwhelming curiosity to find the source of that trumpeting noise, Camille slowly peered over and around the heads of those ahead of her—and the ordinarily jaded girl was awed by what she witnessed.

The trapeze artists dove to some unseen perch, no longer illuminated by spotlight, and from somewhere hidden away a band began to play cheerful, lighthearted music. Two clowns dressed in ostentatious oversized suspenders with bright white and red makeup to exaggerate their facial expressions marched towards the center, all the while bickering and jostling each other back and forth.

"Cirque du Volés, huh? Doesn't seem all that unbelievable to me," one of the clowns balked, placing his gloved fists at his hips and staggering like a drunkard. "This Ringmaster must be some kind of Charlottean."

The crowd instinctively began to boo, and a small team of other clowns began wheeling out a star-spangled cannon, one of them gleefully carrying a massive birthday cake in one hand. "Don't you mean 'charlatan'?" the other clown cried.

"What's the difference?" he declared, to great hissing and jeering from the audience. At that, the other clowns loaded the birthday cake into the cannon and fired, spraying batter and cream all over the instigator and whipping up the crowd into a wild cheer.

Camille didn't believe that a clown of all things could make her feel anything. They were just there to be showy and spout nonsense—and be kind of grating to listen to. And she figured she was a big enough girl to have outgrown such burlesque balderdash. Yet somehow, the dissenting clown had managed to make her giggle, and immediately won her over. It was funny because it was true!

These people truly were charlatans, praying on the vulnerable runaway teen at every turn. She spent all that time cleaning and hauling boxes at the General Store and barely saw a cent for her labor, with nobody sympathetic to her plight; a stranger who they called a beggar. To see these folk get called out on their bull, it got her to break out into a snorting fit... Although seeing the fool get disproportionate retribution in such an elaborate fashion, that was also pretty funny.

The show continued with more shenanigans, seamlessly mixing observational humor with raw slapstick comedy. Some time later, after the following acts wrapped up, a man in a mask fired glittering pixie dust blasts at the acrobats, appearing to enable them to fly in midair and soar above the audience without the aid of trapezes.

Eventually they came in for a landing in the center of the ring, where they formed a circle. Then, another explosive flash erupted from the middle of them, leaving nothing of them behind but their leotards, which drifted down to the ground...and the Ringmaster, who seemed to have teleported centerstage.

Above the applause, the man grinned and took a bow, then adjusted his top hat and held out his staff. The crowds went silent as he concluded the show.

"What you have seen is just the beginning. Our impossible circus is still incomplete. Could you be what we're missing?"

With its crystalline tip he wrote out letters in fire, T-Y-B-A-L-T. Then he swept the cane through them, dispersing the flames. "My name is Tybalt LeGrand. We hope you've enjoyed your stay..." he announced, before tapping his cane twice against the ground, triggering a ring of fire ten feet high. When it dissipated, the entire rest of the circus crew - including the elephant! - had all inexplicably appeared in order to take their bow. "...with the Cirque du Volés!"

Seeing people applaud all around her, Camille nodded and joined in. She had been absolutely entranced, almost forgetting where she was for a time. But, alas, the show was over, and she had to re-emerge from the tent to the world beyond. Unconsciously, she made to slip out on her own, following the crowd, when Zachary caught up with her.

"Hey Camille, didja like that show or what?" Zachary interrogated expectantly. Camille mouthed an agreement, nodding, somewhat tuned out as she listened to the conversations around her. The boy seemed pleased with the response despite the lack of enthusiasm, telling her, "Yeah, I betch'ya you're real glad I helped you get in, huh? I think that deserves a kiss, don't you think?" He gave a mischievous smirk as Camille snapped back to attention, balking at the boy's cheeky request.

'This again?' She thought to herself, as it hadn't been the first time the kid had asked, to which she had turned him down. Perhaps it was innocent enough for her to have waved it off the first time, but somehow she couldn't help but sense a degree of entitlement behind the request that put her off—an attitude she wasn't a stranger to. Camille was about to rebuke the snot-nosed brat, but found herself interrupted.

"Zachary Tobias Granger," the boy's mother called him as she approached; "You get over here this instant!" He could scarcely give a goodbye before he was forcefully grabbed by the wrist and pulled away. Once his mother pulled him out of what she assumed to be earshot, she gave her child a hearty slap, rebuking him with point of her finger, "You know not to talk that kind of girl like that—not in public! It makes more than you look bad, understand?" Cringing as she heard to the kid start to tear up, she didn't care to eavesdrop into whatever horrible things his mother was probably saying about her. Camille wandered aimlessly, dejected, her reverie broken.

The audience began to pour out of all sides of the tent, spilling with laughter, their eyes still full of the sparkling glee that came with having seen something fantastical. They remained there in a circle, waving until a good portion had left, then, it was time to clean up.

The clowns grabbed the brooms, sweeping up sparkles, which still glittered with the memory of their flight. The air was still buzzing from another successful show, having sold every ticket and filled every seat.

Behind the curtains, sitting in the wings, were a group of performers plotting their next big show. Not inside of a tent, where the sky was covered, but outside with only the stars as their witness. "We will need to leave early tomorrow, if we are to pull this off tonight. Oui?" A blonde haired woman asked, braiding the hair of the child sitting on the floor in front of her.

They were waiting, preparing for their next big event.

And yet, despite clearly speaking in a private conversation where the words couldn't have left the tent, what was said couldn't be taken back. Their words danced around in auditory space, interfered with by the distance chatter of the guests, absorbed partly by nearby fabrics, and many of the vibrations escaped skywards to be consumed by the air... The stars were the only witness, but Soundspace listened.

Laughter, sobbing, and the song of crickets all mixed together in Soundspace, and no matter if Camille shut her eyes and held her hands against her ears to try and block out her own presence in the world, Soundspace still broke through reminded her of her existence. Acknowledging the futility of the act, she dropped her hands. And that was when, once again, she heard something she wasn't supposed to.

"Your hunch was right," a young man said under his breath, "They left it unguarded. The diamond's onboard."

Tutting in reply, a voice answered that was unmistakably the Ringmaster of the circus. "Good news, but you know better than to address such matters outside. There are birds about."

He was right, of course. All the more reason for the little straggler to remain behind even as they collapsed the tent and began the process of folding it up and stowing it in their airship. Could it be that the circus was striking back at the rich and well-to-do in this corrupt town? And he said they were looking for new members?

Just about everyone had gone home by now, and the only signs of life left on the field were movers carrying the last of their set back into the cargo area of their airship and the Ringmaster himself remaining behind to oversee the last of it. If she was going to speak up, now was the time.

"Hey, excuse me, sir!" The teenager called out, rapidly approaching as she clutched her ratty skirt, "I implore yuh, I need to have a word with yinz." She gasped as she stopped in front of the Ringmaster, giving him an awkward curtsy as she corrected herself, "With youse. Sorry to speak up outta line, um... If you'll allow me, I won't take none of your time."

The Ringmaster removed his hat and bowed in greeting, replacing it upon his head and smiling warmly. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. How might I help this most polite mademoiselle?" he asked. Up close and personal, the sharp-goateed Frenchman looked even taller than he did in the show, his shoulders wide and legs long. His showman's cane was certainly at least as tall as she was.

he short African-American girl returned the gesture with another curtsey, finding it difficult to look him in the eye. "You are the Boss, sir? The one they call 'Tybalt', the Ringleader?" She steeled herself, realizing that she was in no place to be timid, and resolutely demanded, "I wanna go with you—with your ship. Youse lookin' for more workers, right? I'mma hard worker." The teenager screwed her foot into the ground anxiously.

Tybalt raised his hand to his chin and scratched his beard. "I am the Ringmaster, indeed, and we are looking for new additions to our roster. Have you any talents in particular you might wish to showcase?" he inquired. As the leader of a diverse troupe of society's downtrodden, the man had little reason to look down upon her. In fact, he seemed positively cordial towards the potential new member.

"Talents? Umm..." The girl seemed a little hesitant. She absolutely didn't have any of the talent that all those showy performers had, nor any desire to even be seen in front of a crowd. Camille just wished to be anywhere but stuck here for the rest of her life. "I can clean," She began listing off workable skills she may or may not have had, "And cook, and help you get your tent set up... And I can blow real hard—y'know, in case you need more air to fill your big balloon." She puffed her cheeks and chest up and, as if to back up her claim. Then, with a tilt of the head, she added; "And maybe I know a thing or two about diamonds..."

Somehow, this ringleader seemed neither offended nor surprised by Camille's mention of the circus' more private affairs. In fact, he sprouted a wide grin. "So you are the 'little birdie!' But is it only for menial labor you are searching? You are most humble to do so, I will admit; yet with the upper hand, you would still seek naught but to cook and clean?" He pressed his cane into the dirt before him, leaning forward and propping himself up upon it to get a closer look at Camille.

"If I am to have you aboard the Rédempteur, I would be pleased to be able to address you by name," he said. Did that mean he had accepted?!

"Camille Woodrow Jackson, sir," She answered eagerly, pleading, "I'll do anything to go on your ship with you! Ain't nuthin' for me here." She wanted to see Paris and China and Constantinople, and all these other places she had heard of—and if she could do so with these performers who looked straight out of a dream, she could scarcely imagine being miserable again, or at least no less miserable than she already was. "M'not a bird, though," She added, a little perplexed by his statement, "Birds are over that way, and there." She pointed off into the treeline to where she could hear nightingales that were out of sight—and then she readjusted her finger to point at one of the Rédempteur's windows, where she noticed the magician's doves were occupying.

Tybalt chuckled at her response, supposing that it was intentional. "Clever, Miss Jackson! We may yet have use for you as part of the show, if you are so inclined. But if your true passions are spices and lye, I cannot object," he replied. Then he backed up off of his crystal-capped cane, giving it a showy twirl before tucking it beneath an arm. "We must embark to make our way to Atlanta on time. En route we will discuss the matter further with my advisors to see where best you might fit in. Should it not be what you expected, we can arrange for a later return to Charlotte. Though, by the sound of it, your mind is already made up."

"Naw, I don't live here," Camille shook her head, explaining, "I don't live nowhere. If you're gunna drop me off, it's fine if you drop me out of the balloon.... But I won't let you down, sir!"

The Ringmaster's smirk grew. "You have a talent for wordplay," he remarked. "If you will follow me, I have some dear friends in mind I would like you to meet." He gestured to the ramp of the airship, upon which the last few pieces of equipment were being loaded in. They were just about ready to leave.

"Yessir," The runaway complied, "I've heard a few jokes. Said a few, too." Camille was already ready to bring all her belongings—namely, herself and the clothes on her back—with her up the ramp to parts unknown. It was terrifying, it was insanity, it was simply unwise to put her fate in the hands of strangers—ones she suspected were not entirely legitimate. Yet, being Camille Jackson, her fate was uncertain anyway. Camille was of the conviction that if misfortune was to fall on her, it was far better for it to be of her own making.

Compared to a life of misery, suffering, roadblocks, and a slow spiral from cradle to grave, those acrobats looked so alive, flying in the air and risking it all. Camille would have liked to meet them.

With long, confident strides that matched two or three of hers in length, Tybalt led the way, ascending the ramp and entering the cargo area.

It was like stepping into another world. They were in the belly of the ship, staring down a pathway that stretched on for what must have seemed like a full mile, flanked by tentpoles, supplies, equipment, even that patriotic cannon that Camille had heard going off earlier. The staff that had yet to return to their cabins were each tending to their own moving parts, strapping things down to prevent shifting in transit.

From here, Tybalt joined her in an elevator that would take them to the upper levels. It did not have a door, only a thin gate for safety purposes. Nevertheless, as they ascended together, each of the decks they passed looked substantially more luxurious than Camille could have expected. For a bunch of misfits, they certainly didn't seem to be lacking anything they truly wanted.

"Do you need anything? Water, food, rest? We must conduct a brief interview, but it would serve the both of us well that you are readied," he asked, before hearing a ding and opening the gate of the elevator and stepping off on a cabin deck. A long hallway proceeded before them, with long rows of numbered doors to their sides. This was ostensibly where most of the crew slept and performed other day-to-day activities; it was practically like a hotel with its many rooms.

Waiting for him expectantly on the cabin deck was someone out of place. She looked to small to be working among the performers, too delicate to be performing stunts on a high wire suspended above the ground.

Still in her performance costume, Etoile had made it a habit of waiting for Tybalt on the cabin deck after every show, knowing he liked to linger on the ground.

Even if she knew by now that he would not up and disappear into thin air like his card deck or scarves, part of her worried. So she waited there by the elevator until the telltale ding sounded that let her know he had returned.

With all of the energy of an exuberant puppy, she ran to greet him, taking pause when she noticed the stranger with him. Etoile looked her up and down, then to Tybalt, signed 《Who is this?》

"I'm a ghost," Camille muttered to herself under her breath, positively gobsmacked by the sights she had witnessed. She couldn't possibly have belonged in a place so high-class as this. The proportions of the rooms struck her as subtly off, only reinforcing the fact that this wasn't a structure built solely for the ground. Listening to crew move around all over, she felt a stranger in her own body. So often, Camille was used to the feeling that she was never where she was supposed to be, but now she truly was in denial that she was even present at all. 'I am a ghost, haunting everywhere I go.'

Tybalt stopped beside Etoile, ruffling her hair and drawing her to his side for a quick hug. "Etoile, this is Camille Jackson, our esteemed ghost - ah, guest." Then he held his finger out, tapping it with a finger swept upwards, beaming proudly as though he had accomplished something of note. "Lord willing, we will conduct an interview and she may wish to join our ranks and find a home here. Miss Jackson, this is Etoile, one of our performers. You two appear to be fellows of age and size. May you become fast friends." It seemed he treated traits such as skin color or nationality as trivia; Tybalt apparently did not even feel the need to mention it. Of far greater importance were the currencies of reverence and manners, which by the looks of things had already taken Camille far here.

"Pleased to meet'chya," Camille curtsied to the girl, breaking from her reverie to give an awkward smile. Her cotton dress looked so muted and plain compared to those around her, and not particularly clean to boot. 'At least Ma gave me my manners,' she thought.

Etoile clung to one of his legs, peeking out from behind him to look up at the stranger.

So, he had found another one? First Maria, now this Jackson. Etoile had none of her writing utensils with her, she had not been expecting him to recruit another.

《Hello》 She signed shyly. Etoile waved too, more than likely the stranger did not understand. There was a language barrier between them.

Camille wondered if maybe this girl didn't like her that much, given she hadn't yet said a word. Seeing her wave, however, somewhat assuaged that feeling. 'Maybe she's a quiet gal,' she thought, rather empathetic to that habit herself—a habit she intended to break if she was going to start making a better impression on people.

"It's alright to be stunned into silence," Camille joked to break the ice, "I get that a lot. I am a runaway princess after all." She flashed a grin.

"She says hello," Tybalt explained to Camille. "She talks with her hands. She understands both French and English perfectly well; if you two become better-acquainted, I'm sure you will pick up on what her signals mean."

He gently squeezed Etoile to his side, this time addressing her: "Miss Jackson, on the other hand, is a wordsmith. It will not always be easy to discern when she is telling the truth."

《Princess?》 Etoile signed excitedly, touching her thumb and index finger with her right hand and moving it on a diagnal across her chest.

Was she telling the truth? Etoile looked up at Tybalt. He said that it would be difficult to know, but some part made Etoile believe. Why else would she be here, seeking refuge on their airship?

Etoile tugged on Tybalt's pant leg. Wanting him to translate. 《Did she run away because she is like us?》 It would make sense. From what Maria had said, people did not generally accept those who were different. That was why they had to keep it secret.

"Unfortunately, while she may have the manners of a noble, I have my doubts she is royalty. Nevertheless, it may be wise to have a chat in private. If you'll continue along with me, Etoile et Camille, we shall convene in my office."

At that, Tybalt began to walk once more, one step after another, down the long hallway to one of the rooms.

Though the soundproofing on this deck was of high quality, Camille's ears could still pick up the chatter from the rooms collecting in the air. The conversations happening inside were primarily in French; at least, that's what it sounded like at first. A number of people were practicing their English, to...varied success. Just because Camille could hear it didn't mean that it was exactly intelligible.

Nonetheless, the soundscape was novel to her. Clearly, there was a lot she was going to have to learn if she was going to carve out a place here, and she was concerned about this interview. Camille didn't think of herself as particularly remarkable—but she couldn't say that. "I didn't know you all spoke French," She offhandedly mentioned as she followed close. "I thought people only used it to pardon their swearing!"

Camille decided, if she could keep people smiling at her like that—maybe she might overcome the barriers, and finally be accepted.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Etoile Character Portrait: Rien
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On a sunny corner of Rye, Sussex, there was a home tucked into the nook of a hill, an infamous mansion said to be haunted by the shadow of a Duchess who rarely ever left the grounds, which were protected by a large, intimidating wrought iron gate which guarded the property. The home was impressive, with three stories and housed a garden that could rival only the Queen’s.

The Lady of the house was oft painted in monochrome shades, with her hair the color of a raven’s wings and a mysterious smile that painted her pale lips. There was a thick cloud of rumors that surrounded the Duchess who was nothing short of willing to rid herself of her dead husband’s excess of money. The widow had no desire to remarry, but even still, gentleman callers would come with bundles of flowers, trying to see over the gate, only to be turned away by a brisque maid.

Today, however, it was a bit different. The garden was windy, the alder trees occasionally ruffling with the bellowing gust that would ripple across the garden. The Duchess was seated beneath the shade of the largest alder, having just seated herself for tea when the head maid appeared at her side with some surprising news.

”There is a gentleman with an, erm, French accent at the door. He insists that he has an appointment with you, Duchess. Shall I turn him away?”

A gentleman with a French accent? Rien took pause. She could not recall scheduling such an appointment for today. Normally, Rien was on top of her schedule, but she was only human, these things did sometimes escape her. ”No, if he has an appointment, allow him in and please have another of the staff bring a fresh pot.”

Tybalt was a gentleman, sure, but he was a most unusual one. For one thing, most suitors did not turn up at the door with a child clinging to their hand and beggars rarely dressed so finely. So why was he here?

”This way, if you please,” a maid curtsied, opening up the gate to allow them entry.

”Ma cherie, I believe we are being allowed entry.” He said to Etoile with a playful wink, falling into step behind the maid. With his free hand, he signed the most important of signs.

Etoile held steadfast to Tybalt’s other hand with both of her hands, his one hand dwarfing her two. She had insisted on coming, even though she did not know where they were going. As soon as they crossed through the threshold, a chill crept up her spine, although Etoile was not certain as to why, but there was something about this place that she did not like.

Tybalt gave her hand a little squeeze, reassuring her that all would be well.

”Welcome Sir,” Rien rose to greet her guest, glancing downwards. The maid had said nothing about a child. ”And little Madame.” Rien’s smile was gentle. ”I am the Duchess of Sussex, Rien Corbeau.” Was she younger than what Tybalt had expected? Most did not expect a widow to be so youthful. ”Might I have the pleasure of your names?”

He bowed to Rien, removing his hat in her presence. "I am Tybalt Benjamin Jean-Pierre LeGrand de la Fontaine, but, please - call me 'Tybalt.' And this is my daughter, Etoile. We are grateful for the indulgence of your time."

If Rien had had an appointment with a man that carried such an impressive name, she surely would have remembered. It was considered rude to arrive at someone’s home unscheduled, but this was a Frenchman. He was more than likely ignorant to foolish English politics. ”It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please, come sit, we shall indulge in more than just time.” She gestured to the tea table, bespoke with little tea cakes, biscuits, and a fresh pot of orange rooibos.

”May I ask what brought you all the way from France?” Rien inquired, pouring them tea. Even though it was a maid’s job, Rien always thought it a personal touch to serve her guests herself.

Tybalt pulled out Etoile’s chair for her before sitting down himself. It seemed that age did not disqualify anyone from receiving his respect, a difference that stood as a stark contrast to the typical noblemen that Rien was familiar with.

Etoile followed her Papa’s lead, gathering one edge of her dress and dipping into a curtsy. She only released his hand at the table,

«Can I have one?» Etoile signed, her dessert stomach outweighing her fear.

Tybalt leaned back in his seat, answering calmly so as to incline the Duchess to hear. He was not bombastic or sensational-his appearance, demeanor, and content of his speech did all the work in stirring up the excitement for him. ”I am Ringmaster of the world’s first and only airship circus. We gather extraordinary people from all over the globe to give them a fresh start.” He began.

Ah yes, Rien had heard of this circus. She had seen their posters pasted in the paper and had heard whispers of them in the social circles. The Duchess had no interest in attending such a loud affair. She was loathe to travel so far from her estate in her condition.

”I have heard word of it, yes. I never expected that I would get a personal meeting with the circus leader.” Rien smiled coolly, taking a sip from her cup.


As he spoke he pulled a teacake closer to Etoile, attentive to her needs even while he and the Duchess verbally waltzed. ”But a bird with clipped wings is a tragic thing. Would you not agree?”

His words were not received well. Rien placed her cup down and folded her hands in her lap. ”Good sir, I do hope you are not inferring that I am not akin to a flightless bird.”

Tybalt shook his head, ”No, fairy Duchess; I refer to our own predicament. You see, our airship remains moored in Bordeaux, unable to embark on the next leg of our journey: a mission to here, in England. Regrettably, we lack the resources to leave France. I have come to invite you to one of our shows, so that you might see our work firsthand.”

Ah, he was here for an investment. It was not the first time that someone showed up on her doorstep for a proposition for funds. Rien took a slow, deliberate drink from her cup. ”Alright then,” she spoke after a tense moment. When was the last time she had attended the theater?

”I will most graciously accept your invitation.” Her cool smile had returned. She glanced down at the child, who was happily eating a teacake, not having spoken a single word. Was this what he meant by extraordinary? Did he mean incapacitated?

Tybalt returned her smile with interest. ”I look forward to entertaining you as my guest in turn; I hope to match your exquisite hospitality.” Goodness, was he well-spoken for a Frenchman. Where did he study? Why? And why hop all the way across the pond to England, of all places?

Tybalt was a man of many mysteries.

He sipped at his tea, but made no attempt to leave. Why was he not leaving? It was strange, his request had been granted. It was normal for a petitioner to dismiss themselves after the fact, but Tybalt lingered.

And then he asked something they never did. ”How are you faring Duchess?”

It was only six words, but it immediately made the Duchess stiffen. He had done his research, this Tybalt fellow, to have heard the rumors that circulated the Duchess like a pack of hungry vultures.

Rien was slow to reply. ”These days, I am faring rather well.” She spoke at last, her words weary, guarded. She wished to unearth his true intentions. ”How are you and your daughter faring? It must not have been easy to make that long journey in such small compartments.”

Tybalt nodded, finding it agreeable that she was well. He could sense her unease, but his question had been innocuous enough. ”That is good to hear,” He answered, his smile never leaving his lips. ”"That is good to hear," he answered. "It is said that those who show concern for others may give the impression they are immune to woe. I have a family of sorts - I understand just how untrue that is."

Tybalt grinned widely. "And I am rather well, too; my gratitude for asking," he said, mirroring her veiled answer.

There was something off about this man, something that made alarm bells toll in the back of Rien’s mind. ”I am glad to hear your journey was well. Oh, your cup is empty. Would you like me to refill it?”

An Englishman would understand that this was a polite way to ask if their business was finished, however, Rien was dealing with a man who was a bit trickier.

Etoile reached for another biscuit, wondering what sort of tricks her Papa had up his sleeves. From the sign he had given her at the gate, they were at this spooky home because this strange woman was like them. However, she gave no hints as to what her talents might be.

Of course, Etoile could just ask her nicely to show them.

”I would be delighted, however I fear becoming an imposition. After all, your appointment may arrive soon.” He answered, reaching for his hat and his cane. ”Any weekend evening in Bordeaux, mention our arrangement to the ticketer and you will have box seats to the best show in France. I hope very much to see you there. Shall I take my leave?”

He was-he was leaving? After all that song and dance? Had he risked a Duchess’s ire just to invite her to a show and ask after her well being?

Were all circus performers this strange? Dancing in circles to hide their true intentions?

But it was something of a relief that he turned down her offer. ”I will look forward to it. The maid will see you out.” Rien gestured to the woman who had been hovering off to the side like a specter.

Etoile rose to follow Tybalt’s lead, taking one more biscuit to stuff into her pocket for the journey home. After all that, they were just going to give up? Etoile looked up at Tybalt. No, he had planned for this, didn’t he?

«You have that look.» She signed, the look he gave when he was already two steps ahead. Etoile glanced back over her shoulder at the Duchess, who she could see whispering something to herself, but could not quite make out the words from halfway across the garden.

”Follow them to the gate,” Rien whispered. Her shadow peeled itself away, slithering across the ground like a snake before diving into the bushes. Rien did not trust strangers so easily. She wanted to make sure that they would not cause her any trouble.

«Now she will come to us.» Tybalt signed. A mere moment later, he spotted something watching them out of the corner of his eyes. He took pause in his step, looked directly at it-

And winked.

….

One week later, Rien had booked a train ticket for a first class compartment to Bordeaux. She packed a singular suitcase, only intending to stay for the weekend. ”Are you sure you are going to be alright with only one maid?” Elizabeth, the head maid asked.

”Yes, I think I should be quite alright, it is, after all, only a few days. I expect you will look after my affairs while I am absent?”

”Yes, Duchess.” Elizabeth bowed her head. With those words, Rien stepped onto the train, memories of her childhood flooding back to her. The last time she had been on the train was on her way to get married to the Duke. The time before that had been to Noe’s funeral, and before that, to return from the country estate in East Anglia.

”Why did you say yes to that carnie?” The maid with her, Phoebe, asked. She was young, but had proven herself more than worthy to work at the manor. ”He is a strange fellow,” Rien agreed. ”But something about him intrigued me.”

She thought back to the moment with her shadow. He was the first to have ever noticed it. For so long, her shadow had gone undetected. Could it be that he was stricken with the same illness? Did he, too, leak black ink from his lips when his fatigue overtook him? The thought of it was exciting. Rien had never met another that suffered with the same illness.

The train pulled into the station one day later at noon. They rested at an inn until evening came and then took a steam car taxi to the grounds the Circus was being held on. Towering above them was the biggest tent Rien had ever seen. Red and yellow striped, it almost seemed to touch the sky.

”Tickets?” A man in a wooden booth asked. He had the brightest red hair Rien had ever seen and a thick Scottish brogue. ”Yes, I am here on invitation of Sir Tybalt,” Rien stated.

”You must be the Duchess then, eh? Here you go, two tickets. Enjoy the show.”

Humorous, dazzling, and altogether charming, the Cirque du Volés was no less than what Tybalt described: the finest show in France. Further, it allowed its audience to see into a world where even seemingly ordinary people could accomplish the impossible on a grand stage. But Tybalt was no ordinary man. He was tall, refined, and mysterious. Fire was a toy to him, and he lit up the night with streams of color and sparks; he painted his name in the sky; he plucked a blaze from a hat before redonning it without a care. And as the final act concluded, he delivered a speech which he most surely gave after all of his shows. This time, however, he took care to look right at the Duchess in her high-top box seat as he delivered the words:

”What you have seen is only the beginning. Our impossible circus remains incomplete. Could your talent be what we are missing?”

It was every bit as dazzling as he had described. Rien had never seen such impossible feats performed on any stage. It was better than any theater, more romantic than any stage play. This was the performance of a new era. Rien was no fool, she knew a worthy investment when she saw one.

The ringmaster's words, however, were what intrigued her the most. The entirety of the show had been in French, so why was he suddenly speaking in English? And why was he looking directly at her? The Duchess made eye contact with him that moment, but she broke it quickly, drawing her fan over the bottom half of her face. Rien waited for the crowd to disperse before rising from her seat, her maid tailing behind her like a curious cat who too, had been drawn in by the whimsy of the performance.

"Bravo," Rien clapped, "you are every bit as magnanimous on stage as you are off." Rien dipped into a short courtesy in greeting. "The show was a pleasure to watch, Sir Tybalt."

Tybalt grew a full grin, removing his top hat and holding it to his chest, he took a polite bow. "Duchess, I am honored by your audience and pleased to know you appreciated our show." He spoke with the fluency of a man who, at least now, seemed to know exactly what to say and when. For how long had he known she was in attendance?

"You simply must stay and chat; I do so enjoy polite company," he added, replacing his hat upon his head. "Pardon me a moment and I shall escort you myself."

He waited for her assent before departing. There was no doubt he would do just as he said.

"Alright, I shall join you." She agreed, following him. Where was he taking her? Rien was curious. She did not fear this mysterious man, despite his large height and the shroud of secrets that surely lined his pockets like lint, Rien could defend herself.

But a minute or two later, the showman appeared, with his daughter at his side. She was already dressed for an evening out, even though Rien had spotted her aloft during the trapeze act. Again it made one ask: For how long had he known she would be in attendance?

"I hope you enjoy sweets," Tybalt said with a smile, "France is well-known for its pastries and treats."

The last thing Rien expected was the return of the child, who was all dressed up like a pretty little doll. She looked up at Rien, grasping the ringmaster's hand firmly before curtsying, her eyes sparkling like gemstones.

What a polite little thing, but Rien noticed, she still did not say a word.

"If I did not know any better, I would have thought you read my mind." Rien's smile was calm, but she was beginning to panic just slightly. "Please, lead the way." This could have just been a lucky guess, or maybe a local haunt he frequented after every show. It may not have been just because of her visit. Yes, this was mere coincidence, Rien convinced herself.

"Regrettably, that is not my talent," he answered with a mysterious smile. Then what was it?! His ability to drum up suspense was admirable - he was well-placed in the role of Ringmaster. "Right this way, madam," he said before leading the way as requested.

Their traveling together drew some attention and admiration; people took note when the head showman of the night's prime event hit the town with two well-dressed women. But crowds parted at his long, lumbering steps and the influence of his ruby-capped cane. With a few deft dips into alleyways and clever turns, they arrived at their destination in record time and without pesky observers.


Rien followed him down a puzzling path of twists and turns, but she could only wonder where he was taking her. The streets of Bordeaux were made with rough, hewn stone, and the lampposts above them flickered with torchlight, illuminating their path. "You must know these streets well," Rien remarked, thinking that this maze would never end until at last, they had come to a stop.

Small and intimate, the parlor's front was only large enough for a small window display of pastries which concealed a single plain table and chairs. The counter was glass, wherein a magnificent assortment of cakes, cookies, and other baked goods were shown. But the old woman behind the counter was probably a living recipe book, and could certainly accommodate almost any request.

On hearing Tybalt's "Rebonsoir," the woman smiled as brightly as her aged face could bear and launched into a torrent of sweet French as loving and concerned as his own grandmother. Tybalt's brows furrowed helplessly; he could not stop her, only answer with ouis et nons and wait for her to be finished. Eventually, the woman's curiosity moved her to motion the Duchess near, so that she could get a closer look at her. Tybalt tried, to no avail, to explain that the Duchess could not speak French, but the shopkeeper insisted.

Rien followed him down a puzzling path of twists and turns, but she could only wonder where he was taking her. The streets of Bordeaux were made with rough, hewn stone, and the lampposts above them flickered with torchlight, illuminating their path. "You must know these streets well," Rien remarked, thinking that this maze would never end until at last, they had come to a stop.

It was a quaint place, tucked in between two buildings with a warm light that illuminated the name of the shop, hand lettered in gold, in the window. "How quaint," she followed him inside, the smell of freshly baked, delectable pastry enough to make anyone take pause and inhale a deep breath to savor the scent. Immediately, a woman began to launch into a lengthy conversation with Tybalt in French. Seeming to notice her at last, the old woman gestured with rough, crinkling hands for Rien to come closer to get a better look at her.

"Bonsoir madame, je suis Rien. C'est un plaisir de faire votre connaissance." Rien reached across the counter to shake the old woman's hand. Rien had a bit too much time and plenty of books at her fingertips. She was nowhere near fluent, but could speak enough to have a passable conversation.

"Rien ? Quel nom cruel." The old woman frowned.

"Oui, mais c'est le seul que j'ai, donc je vais m'y tenir."

Tybalt cleared his throat in astonishment at the parlor owner's words, or perhaps he was concealing a chuckle. "I apologize," he said, "she is an undiluted spirit. What would you like?"

Rien contemplated the pastry case for a moment, which displayed glittering tarts with sugar glazes, crisp croissants, and chocolate eclairs. It was all so tempting.

"What would you recommend?" It was hard to choose, one pastry looked better than the next. She looked down at the child, who was so quiet it was easy to forget she was there, but she never let go of Tybalt's hand.

"How about you?" Rien asked her, since children sometimes had a knack for these things. There was something Rien wanted to confirm too.

Etoile pointed immediately to the Paris-Brest. A choux ring decorated with frangipane, cream, and almonds.

"Alright, one of those then."

Tybalt made a similar choice, however he chose one besotted with strawberries and chocolate, having grown fond of the flavors since his meal with Maria, but knowledge like that would be wasted on Rien.

It was not long before they received their food and tea, the trio taking up the only table in the street outside. For just a moment, all was quiet, but this evening was far from over.

"I assume you did not lead me here for merely dessert?" Rien questioned, taking a sip from her glass. She had made the correct choice, the Paris-Brest was delicious. "Surely there must be more you wish to discuss?"

"Just as I am sure you did not come here merely to see the show," he said with a grin. It was sometimes difficult to tell when his playfulness eclipsed his manners. He plucked a strawberry from his ringed cake and ate it bit by bit, savoring its flavor. "There is more to you and I than a glance can tell. I assure you, you are in like company."

She was right, then? Is that how he had seen her shadow? Rien glanced upwards at her maid, waving a hand at her. "Leave us," she did not want to discuss these things in front of her. The maid nodded, leaving quickly to give them some privacy. "So you have the same illness? Is that how you knew?" Rien's voice had taken on a hint of eagerness, but she was still guarded. She looked down at the child, wondering if she too, had the same ailment.
"My circus means to convince those with these abilities that they are a gift and not a curse," Tybalt explained, "but yes, that is how I knew. Though, the talents of my members are considerably different in nature."

Tybalt took Etoile's hand, running a thumb over it as he pondered something. Etoile looked up at her Papa, wondering what he was thinking.

Like many others, Rien had been convinced that there was something wrong with her. Otherwise, why else would she be so different from her friends and family? None of them could pull things out of their own shadow, much less make it dance independently of their own body. "Can I see?" She asked curiously, her voice low. While his sentences were painted with pretty words, they could be just that, words.

He was aware of the rumors that surrounded her, he could be saying all of this just to make a quick Euro.

"You may see," he answered, "but you will not remember." How could she forget something so apparent and magnificent as a display of unnatural power?

"If you agree to those terms, we will demonstrate."

Rien did not understand what he meant by this. Did his er-abilities have to do with memory?

Still, she was too curious to let this chance slip away. "Alright, I agree." After all, Rien did not have much to lose.

"You are a fine Duchess, accustomed to polite society. If I asked you nicely to wave hello, you might, but for just a short while," Tybalt explained.

"For a moment, steel your mind to awareness and refuse to do so. First I will ask politely, then shall Etoile. Understood?"

He waited for an affirmative from Rien, then asked, "If you would, please wave, Madame."

Rien was a bit confused, but nonetheless, she played along. "I understand," She nodded.

When he asked, she did as told and kept her hands folded in her lap, refusing to wave.
Now, Tybalt nodded to Etoile. It was her turn to speak, perhaps for the first time all day.

Etoile looked up at the Duchess, who gazed at her with curiosity. "Wave your hand," She prompted, her eyes wide and innocent despite her devious power.

Just like the others, Rien's eyes glazed over, unable to resist her words. She lifted her arm without much control or thought and waved it until she received a second command.

"Keep waving." Etoile looked back down, suddenly more interested in her pastry than the conversation.

It took a minute or so for Rien to recover from Etoile's words. When she returned to her senses, her hand was raised, still waving until she regained enough control to stop. "Incredible," Rien marveled, it was just as he said, she had no recollection, but her hand had been poised to wave.

"She is a convincing speaker," Tybalt explained, affectionately brushing Etoile's hair. "Had we the desire, we could have simply asked that you be convinced of our nature, but we are not so expeditious as to forgo politeness." Tybalt resumed eating with a sigh. "I am sure you wish to learn of my power, too, but after this conversation, Etoile will ask you to forget the details for the sake of our protection. Do you have any questions?"

This would probably be Rien's only opportunity to speak with others like herself. She had many more questions, but it would be rude to ask all of them.

"I would like to see yours, yes." Rien agreed, wondering why he had chosen the child to go first.

"Were you born with it? Or did it... activate at some point in your life?" Rien could remember the very day her illness had shown itself. Something had activated it within her and it reared its ugly head.

But why? "Do you know how it manifests?"

"Suffice it to say that you have already experienced it," he cryptically replied. Did that mean that it was difficult to see? Or was he referring to the fiery performance he gave at his show?

"I do not know why or how or what criterion forms the selection process for this sort of thing," he said, "but I do know this: we have thus far all been awakened to our abilities in a moment of great despair. That your talents are so potent must speak of profound despair indeed. My condolences, Duchess."

Rien had gone quiet. It was all she needed to confirm her suspicions. "Thank you for your gracious hospitality, Sir Tybalt." She bowed her head, something within her feeling a bit lighter.

After all of this time, she was not alone and for now, for Rien, this was enough. "I suppose you will erase my memory now?"

"Not entirely," he assured her. "Just the details of our discussion. You will still recall that we proved ourselves to you here. And that we desperately wish you to join us."

"I will have to think about that. I cannot just abandon my post. I am sure you understand."

Rien could not think of any talent she could contribute to a Circus, much less had the desire to give up the cozy safety of her gilded cage in Sussex.

"Might you demonstrate your abilities to Etoile before we part? I know she is gravely curious; she has been since we visited you that day."

Etoile was curious, it was true. She looked back between them, leaning forward ever so slightly in anticipation.

Rien was hesitant, but it was only fair. They had been courteous enough to show her theirs.

"I suppose. How could I say no to a face like that?" She laughed. Rien placed her hand on the table, a strange substance bubbling beneath her hand like ink. She lifted her palm, revealing a hole made of pure shadow. "One moment," She rose, reaching inside, going down to her shoulder. "Ah, there it is." Rien pulled out a business card. "I suppose it is not quite as flashy as your magic, Sir, but this is my own little trick." She smiled, passing the card along the table.

Tybalt applauded softly and smiled. "There was also the matter of that shadow," he noted. "I think you do not give yourself enough credit. Théatre d'ombres is quite popular here. I have in mind to create an entire act for you to showcase such a lovely feat. Please do consider it; bringing others joy is to feel it returned instantly upon oneself!"

"Ah, yes. My shadow almost seems to have a mind of its own." She smiled. It was best not to put all of your cards on the table at once.

"Perhaps, but as I said before, it would be difficult for me to abandon my station." Rien was not certain she was comfortable with the idea of showing it so blatantly to others.

While Tybalt thought these talents to be gifts, it was hard to erase the stigma that had been instilled in Rien since childhood. "Thank you, truly, for this evening. I do not think I will soon forget it."

"It has been as much a treat to share in your company," Tybalt flattered. Then, he signed for Etoile to proceed in doing as stated.

It was rare for Etoile to speak so frequently to strangers. "Please forget about our abilities." She requested, then tiredly leaned against her Papa, the hour having grown late.

Tybalt brushed through Etoile's hair further, and with the issuance of their respective mannerisms, the Ringmaster and Duchess parted ways. He then tucked his daughter into bed, went to sleep himself, and bided his time.

The seed had been planted. Now it was watered. It only needed time to grow.

Rien returned to Sussex. To her lovely manor, with its sprawling gardens, to the empty home with only the staff that kept it lively, and the shadow of a room that haunted her each time she passed it.

"Is something the matter, Duchess?" Elizabeth, the head maid, asked. It was unusual for Rien to not touch her tea. "Not at all, you may go now." The Duchess rose slowly from her desk, the window in the office open to let in the spring breeze. It was better, easier, for her to stay inside on sunny days.

But it was boring.

And not just that. She was tired of filling out paperwork, tired of her dead husband's family attempting to encroach on her land and title. Tired of this dull life with too much time, where she waited for the sun to set so that she might dream of something more exciting.

In the fourth week since their meeting, Rien had made up her mind. She packed her suitcase with whatever would fit and took any possessions that might become of use, including the family heirloom, a sword whose glory days had long since passed and now languished on the wall, unused.

Rien left a note to the maid, asking her to take care of the affairs in her stead, giving her only a vague few words of needing to leave urgently to visit her family in London.

With that singular goodbye, she purchased a ticket to the city, her heart racing when she saw the familiar big top perched in all its grandeur like a home she had been away from for too long.

"Tickets," The man with the red hair asked, looking her up and down once. "I remember you, come to see the show again eh?" He asked with a typical Scottish smirk.

"Yes, but I think I might stay a bit longer once it's over."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lawrence Character Portrait: Etoile Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
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......A shot through the heart and a shot through the head is all the same! Bear witness with bated breath..he cranes bullet and gaze alike as the tireur d'élite of the Cirque du Volés takes careful aim!

lawrence \\ sharpshooter \\ air current manipulation

dialogue: #CD7F32x thoughts: #C3C3C3





Even as he lay close to present commerce, the sounds of saunters and jeers were muted by an ever constant ringing with his battered body hidden comfortably in the alleyway dusk from potential seeker. Despite the hardness, the floor he bled upon was amongst one of the more comfortable harsh surfaces he had found to rest, cushioned by brown dust and blanketed by numbing pain. Bruises marred his body, populated particularly around his sides with gash and fresh cut serrating his chest and back.

He should've known better to fail, known better to let his friend die, known better to run. The fruits of his mistakes lay present in skin and clothes lacerations alike. Even if he somehow lived, the chance for rest had escaped the moment he did.

Even with the limpness of a corpse, the will to stave himself from a peaceful death lay beating. Eyes glowing like a cerulean sky, Lawrence's faltering hand trembled as he commanded the air around him. Feeding smoothened oxygen into his lungs at set intervals to keep the blood flow consistent but not too quick, how long he'd hold out was unclear.

He could feel his blinks prolong, his breaths dampen and the muffled notes of...clown shoes?

In garish clothing yet no make-up, a short girl wandered somewhat aimlessly as stared skywards, watching the beanbags she was tossing. She was intensely trying to practice her Mills' Mess, softly breathing to the tune of 'Stella Ella Ola'. But something broke her concentration, sending her beanbags tumbling to the ground—and next to the body there.

"Argh, dang—Oh, Sorry, sorry..." the girl apologized as she quickly went to snatch them up, but she seemed to immediately notice that something was amiss. Steadily returning to a crouch from a respectful distance, she examined the man's face, calling out, "Hey there! Are you alright, buddy?"

His still expression stirred as the seeded sack fell and flattened in front of his vision. Existing in his floor-leveled gaze, his attention was momentarily swept up by the cushion in question before a vibrant girl crouched respectfully to take his view.

It was yet another mistake to have been found, this time by sterile eyes who didn't deserve to witness something so unsightly. Perhaps it would be kinder for Lawrence to rise and find another alleyway to die in but his current strength didn't lend itself to even rolling over.

With what little he possessed, the man craned his stare to the girl blankly before fashioning his own eyes into a defined glare. He was in no state to make such a poor first impression but she deserved a moderate dosage of wordless chastising for asking a dying man if he was "alright".

"... Is that a no?" The teenager remarked with a deadpan tone as she paced around him, trying to determine things with her own eyes. Common wisdom indicated that she ignored the destitute, who clearly wanted to avoid the prying eyes of others—yet despite appearances, this girl was all too empathetic with the plight of those who could turn to no one, whom society was willing to shed like dead skin. And closer examination revealed that the not entirely responsive state of the man couldn't simply be ascribed to public drunkenness.

"Ooh, that's... That's not good," The girl observed aloud, shifting her tone from condescending to encouraging as she paced for lack of decisiveness, "I-I mean, not great, but let's not get too dramatic, eh? Deep breaths, s'all gunna be alright... Can you move?" Before he could even answer, she cut herself off with a hurried gesture, demanding, "Actually, no, don't move... Well, I ain't your doctor, do what you will, but I'll be right back. I'm gunna get somebody who is... Well, not strictly speaking; more like a tight-rope walker, bu~ut... Ehh!" Waving noncommittedly, the girl suddenly ran off, clown shoes bouncing off the stones.

Perhaps he had been too harsh on a potential savior. If he had the breath to speak, he could justify his actions by pleading that his face just morphs that way naturally..though by the time he had finished a brief reflection, that girl had already sprinted off. Her spiel was difficult to comprehend, especially since she spoke faster than he could most likely process normally.

Regardless, he could piece together select phrases. "Don't move" standing among the few. Not inclined to be collected by authorities or whoever the squeaky stepped girl reported to, Lawrence attempted to push himself into a stand, only to go limp and slump back onto the ground. With a long hiss and practiced sigh, Lawrence relented to the girl's advice unwillingly.

True to word—albeit, with enough delay as to inspire doubt—the garish girl eventually returned, albeit with company. "This way," she urged, "He might be on the tight-rope of life and death!"

As fate would have it, one request led to another, and then to another, and by the time Lawrence's request was heeded, 'somebody' turned into several somebodies. Foremost of the company was a top-hatted man who led the crew, a familiar face and one of the last men Lawrence probably wanted visiting him in this state: Tybalt LeGrand, the Ringmaster of the Cirque du Volés, his previous target.

But there was no aggression in the man's eyes, nor in that of his companions. Did he not recognize Lawrence? He signed something to a small blonde girl beside him, and sympathetically said to another, "Maria, is there aught you can do for this poor man?"

With a halo of blonde hair and a smile that could calm even the fiercest of hearts, Maria stepped forward from behind the Ringmaster. "Oui, Tybalt, I believe I have just the thing." She knelt in front of the stranger and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear, taking a close look at his words. "Excusez-moi," Maria frowned, touching the back of one warm hand gently to his cheek to see if he was responsive.

The cuts marring his skin were large and exposed, like a fly to honey, they were susceptible to infection. "This will not hurt, I promise Monsieur, but you may feel a bit tired afterwards." Like a butterfly's kiss, her fingers traced his skin and his wounds started to change, mending itself, the blood vessels repairing, the damage undoing its slashes and bruises; reverting to clean, healthy flesh.

His instincts screamed at him. The girl had not only succeeded in taking her time but she exceeded expectations by finding someone worse than the potential prospects he'd hoped not to witness his dying breath, a ringleader Frenchman with an oversized hat and oversized grin. He had simply referred to him as potential target, a conniving villain who had so shamelessly kidnapped Duchess Rien and even when evidence pointed otherwise, he still attempted to uphold his orders with weapon in hand. It was a cruel mercy to be saved by someone he had tried to murder previously, especially when he wore a warm gaze.

Still, the sight of the man alone caused his heart to beat quicker ever so slightly. Bleeding that had previously been kept quelled by rest began to flow and stain his ripped clothes. Coughing into his open palm, his eyes undertook their bluish glow. Causing the ever weightless air to somehow still further and easing his breathes, it was the same show of power that he had used that night of the attempted murder.

Fighting to stay conscious, the frenzied thoughts still lay prevalent even as his body couldn't manifest something worthy of caution. As the healer itched closer to quell his rivering wounds, his panicked stare refused to be swayed from the ringleader. A few moments passed as dainty fingers met calloused skin before Lawrence finally closed his eyes to sleep.




The room Lawrence was settled in was a small, windowless cabin that was sparsely furnished. Sitting across from the dangerous stranger was the woman from the night previous, wearing a white dress dotted with little red flowers.

She had spent the evening in the room with the stranger, checking to make sure that his wounds had closed fully and that he was still breathing. Currently, she was poised on the opposite side of the room, reading a book of poetry; waiting for him to regain consciousness.

Expecting to manifest a deeper hiss as he woke, he instead could only muster up a throaty groan courtesy of soreness and nothing more. Whatever they had done to him, it was certainly more impressive than any modern medicine could hope to match.

A single stray breath would reveal that the air had unmistakable knots of rigid pressure, and a wayward glance out the rounded window would aid in quenching the question that was preceded by the former. He lay comfortably in clean sheets close-by as to where he had attempted to spill blood a few days prior. The soaring airship that hosted... willingly the Duchess and helmed by that man.

Patting for the knife that was previously strapped to his knee, he would notice the weapon resting comfortably on the nightstand by his side before his eyes narrowed to meet the delicate woman who remained on the opposite end of the room. She carried herself like a noble, and her body language suggested that she had remained close for much longer than a passing moment.

Clearing his bruised throat, the man slumped to rest his agitated muscles and spoke. Perhaps they all didn't recognize him, or they did and they were plotting a long, slow revenge. Regardless, he'd live in ignorance if he didn't open his mouth now. "It would've been easier to have fed me to a hospital close by... and on the ground-floor."

His gaze regarded her cautiously, on the cusp of a daggerish stare despite Lawrence's attempts to appear amicable. "The soft bed is appreciated, Madam, but could you share why I'm here?"

Maria looked up from her book at the sound of shifting, watching the stranger with curious interest. Maria rose, attentive to his needs, and poured a glass of water from the pitcher beside the bed.

"Soif?" She asked instead, "Are you thirsty Monsieur?" If he agreed, she would help him sit up to drink.

"It would have been, however, our ringmaster could sense something in you that sets you apart from most others. You are like us, Monsieur."

Maria went to the door, knocking once for the person on the other side to alert the Ringmaster that their... guest had awoken.

"I am glad to hear you are comfortable." Maria smiled.

Lawrence imparted a soft nod at the women's hospitality. Though instead of welcoming the extra attentiveness, he attempted to drink from the glass all by his lonesome. Taking the cup in hand and spilling the contents into his waiting mouth with minimal trembling, he placed the container on the nightstand next to his knife before thanking the noblewoman with the slight tilt of a bow. "Thank you, Madam."

Lawrence's expression grew vexed for a moment, directed at no one in particular but seemingly ready to lash out at the slightest stimulus. The last man who had similarly rounded up wayward souls with nowhere to go was the same noble who instructed him to take the ringmaster's life. The fact that he was alive now made it clear that it wouldn't be more of the same, but the parallels irked him regardless.

"Your answer doesn't lend itself to much, I'm afraid." With a lengthy sigh, Lawrence slumped back into bed, falling limp with a muted thump. "Whatever connects me to you kind folk hopefully justifies collecting children like trinkets."

Still laid comfortably in bed, he flipped his head to angle his gaze towards the door that she had drummed upon.

Maria came forth, producing a kerchief from her pocket to wipe up the spilled water. "We are more alike than you think, mystérieux étranger." Maria smiled, she retook her perch on her little chair, folding her hands in her lap.

Maria was not a fighter and she was no noblewoman. If Lawrence attempted to take up his knife against the healer, she would be utterly defenseless, but something told her that she did not need to worry about him hurting her.

The man's head still plopped square in the middle of his cushion, parting the supple pillow, he pointed his gaze skyward as he seeped word. "With all due respect, you seem in a league of your own, Madam." His idle stare studied the rafters of the room, the same perches he had hidden upon when he first snuck onto the airship. "To whisk away wound without even being bothered to leave a scar, though I wonder where you must take from to heal so potently..."

Turning his head, his eyes softened to apologize for droning on. "Pardon my listings, I would've been long dead without your intervention."

Not long after Lawrence's awakening, the door to his cabin slid open to reveal Tybalt flanked by the small blonde girl from earlier. He removed his hat, setting it upon a chest of drawers. His movements were slow and lumbering, graceful and composed; he was a tall and imposing man, but it was by his say that Lawrence's life was spared, and so he could not have been totally bereft of gentleness.

"It is good to see you awake," the man said, donning that iconic smile like a warm coat.

Breaking the conversation was the entry of the man himself. The enigmatic ringleader... yet again tailed by a little lamb. Lawrence propped himself upright to face him, his eyes sharpening into careful regard as he relayed a glance at his dagger that lay sheathed on the table to his side.

Not wishing to beat around the bush, a dance that was certainly the ringmaster's forte, Lawrence spoke in a slow but cautious tone. "Either it's water under the bridge, or you haven't figured out what to do with me. What's the reason for such kindness, ringleader?" His words were much sharper than the inflections he had taken with Maria.

"Is altruism not motivation enough?" he asked, raising his brows. But his response was in jest; he clarified his position by adding, "You were on the brink of death, and I had little desire for the world to be robbed needlessly of another soul. Especially not one imbued with the arts you possess."

He took one step forward and was halfway across the room. One more, and he was beside the bed, where he crouched down to meet eyes with Lawrence. "But I am curious as to the motive for the attempt on my life."

Tybalt scratched at his beard. His focused gaze remained on Lawrence, but his smile never departed. "I would introduce myself, but to raise a blade against me, you must know who I am. You have me at a disadvantage, good sir."

The little lamb stuck to Tybalt's side, looking at the stranger with suspicion in her eyes. Even if he was like them, he had still tried to hurt the person most precious to her and to Etoile, that was unforgivable.

"I find the extents of altruism to fizzle out quicker than a more transactional kindness, but it's reason enough." Lawrence slumped into his sit, loosening the blanket that clung onto his legs. "Regardless, I can't really ask questions, I'm at your mercy and generosity."

Leveling his gaze with the wall parallel, he let loose a deep sigh before opening his mouth to speak. "The noblewoman, Duchess Rien of the Corbeau family. I was tasked with her recovery, from the hands of you, ringleader."

His idle hands drifted to the sheathed knife that rested on the surface of the table. Taking it in both hands, he pulled the weapon from the leather to reveal the metal marred with rusted ichor. Lamenting silently how he failed to save the blade, he narrowed his eyes to the floor before bringing them towards the ringleader with his signature slit stare. "And to kill you to ensure her safety was encouraged."

"They had not known that she had went willingly... and even then they would've not cared. As for me, I could not afford to fail even in light of this revelation."

With another cut breath, he scabbarded his weapon before mindfully placing it on the surface of the table. "It is well beyond pleading that it was a misunderstanding, so I can only offer my apologies. My body, that has been saved by you, you are free to do what you must to it. Though if you even feel the slightest ounce of rage, I assure you to trust it more than your compassion."

The moment he reached for his blade, Etoile stepped forward, fully prepared to make him stop.

Maria reached for her hand to stop her, giving a subtle shake of the head. It wasn't that Etoile didn't trust her Papa: it was that this man had already tried to pull something once.

She did not like strangers, not one bit.

Tybalt squinted his eyes, his smile crinkling to one side in thought. He restrained himself from responding hastily to Lawrence's obstinance of his knife; his leaving it in plain view had been a conscious decision, after all, though perhaps not the wisest one for the preservation of Etoile's calm. He brushed through her hair softly as he mulled over Lawrence's words in his head, pondering his answer.

Then, at last, he smirked. "Beaucoup de bruit pour Rien!" he announced, breaking into a hearty laugh that left him chuckling softly between words when he finally managed to recover his breath.

"I apologize; the Duchess will not soon live this one down," he explained. "I will have a meal in for you shortly. She may wish to see you as well. Will you stay awhile?"

Previously donning a sullen gaze, he had not felt the need to wield his caution until the Ringleader erupted into deafening laughter. Shortly after Lawrence described in detail his vivid instructions to end his life, and in riposte, this man was making a shameless ruckus. To think, that the healer girl had the audacity to compare someone like Lawrence to someone like her... and someone like him.

Wearing his disbelief famously, taking up much of the real-estate of his usual scowl pointed face. They had thought someone like him kidnapped a duchess. Anyone with ears could learn to follow this ringleader.

Similarly, Lawrence himself needed a breath to recover. Allowing himself to grow limp, his form fell back into rest pressed against the lulling mattress. The man oriented himself so he faced the windowed wall, scoff straying from his mouth.

"If you'll have me." His tone had found an uncharacteristic chipperness, and he couldn't stop his mouth from pursing into a soft smile.

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Character Portrait: Ines Character Portrait: Etoile Character Portrait: Armel
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A man with golden locks journeyed through the autumn forest, twigs and leaves crunched underneath his feet and the hooves of his trusty steed. High above them, perched inside the canopy of trees, echoed jays along with the bitter wind that carried a fragrance — a mulchy mix of the forest's perfume and the faint but raw scent of rust.

The man tugged on the horse's reins, halting their movements, and in the stillness, a series of heavy coughs echoed. He frowned. Turning around, the man walked over to a maiden, her body bundled in a thick winter gray coat, as she weakly leaned on the horse's back.

Her long tight curls stuck to her sweat-stained face, and she greeted the man's sullen gaze with smiling amber eyes. A snow-white handkerchief covered her mouth — coated with small blood patches.

"Ines..." His tone was apologetic, and heavy guilt lay on his soul. They escaped the previous town without proper preparations due to a mistake in his shifting ruse, and as a result, Ines' already deteriorated health has worsened.

"...Armel? Pourquoi avons-nous arrêté?" [Why did we stop?], her voice trembled.

Armel dabbed the sweat on her face with his sleeve, "You need a proper rest. So, we will continue our journey tomorrow morning."

"Non-" Ines coughed, "Non, je peux continuer!" [No, I can go on!] Her protest was riddled useless as the horse settled down on the forest floor, nestling in a patch of soft moss and dried grass. Armel felt grateful that at least the animal understood Ines's condition. However, Ines looked less than happy.

Armel chuckled sadly, bending down, "It seems Bisou believes otherwise."

He removed the patterned coat draped over his shoulders and folded it. Placing the fabric between Ines' head and the horse as a cushion, "Du Repos. [Rest.] I promise to return before sunset."

Before he could stand, Ines grabbed his sleeve, "Où allez-vous?"[Where are you going?]

Armel scooped Ines's hand in his and held it tight, "Our rations are low, so I will search for a way to replenish them." Ines chuckled, her dry cheery lips curled into a smile.

"Oh, is something funny?" Armel grinned, his shoulders relaxing at the sound of Ines's fairy-like laughter.

"Comment allez-vous trouver de la nourriture? Chasser?" [How are you going to find food? Hunt?] Ines teased Armel, eyeing his less than suitable attire for catching game.

He held his head confidently, "Do not doubt me. Hunting is but one of my many skills."

"Quoi que vous disiez, Monsieur Armel." [Whatever you say, Sir. Armel.] Ines coughed through a laugh. The cough persisted.

Armel's smile fell, "Before sunset...I promise." In an instant, a thin layer of smoke enveloped his body, and he shifted into a bird. Stretching his wings, Armel took to the sky, searching for food before the sun fell.


Armel's search, after a time, yielded giant prey: a massive airship drifting towards its goal, no doubt full of passengers and ample food stocks.

And they had left a window open.

Armel gained access with ease in the form of a common fly and quickly spotted the perfect target to mimic. A tall, charismatic fellow with a chuckle like a foghorn was the beau of the ball. He walked where he pleased, and those around him seemed to near-universally regard him favorably. As long as he didn't retrace his steps — unlikely since he had just left the kitchen — this "Tybalt" man would be the perfect façade to secure his needed rations.

Armel buzzes through a crack in the dining hall door and rests on the upper floor railings. He waited for the passengers to flood out of the hall, and once the final guest departed, Armel began his plan.

Armel zoomed under the closed kitchen door, weaving through empty chairs and tables. With no one inside, he shifted into "Tybalt." A tall man with broad shoulders, a short beard, and a classic suit. It did not fit Armel's taste but would suffice.

The large kitchen showed constant use, so he had a limited time window. It was oriented inwards, with several items of furniture scattered across the room and large workspaces lined neatly in the center. Armel grabbed a woolen sack, laid over a chair, and searched each cabinet for rations to steal.

After a few fruitless results, he finds the location of the items he needs. A large pantry with a vast collection of canned foods and dry ingredients. Next to it was an ice chest with meat, cheese, milk, and other perishables.

Armel worked quickly. Not wanting the bag to be too heavy, he only snatched a few items — two jars of canned peaches and beans, one bag of dried fruits and vegetables, a loaf of bread, a thin slab of meat, and half a block of cheese.

Armel tied it up and hoisted it over his shoulder with his sack light but full. Luckily the kitchen sported windows, so with a short shift, he could fly out with his sack and make it back to Ines before nightfall.

Armel turned to the closest window and opened it. The winter breeze combed through his auburn hair. He readies himself for a shift but pauses when he hears the door opening.

A small child with vibrant yellow hair and a warm, innocent gaze stood. She seemed to have sought refuge and perhaps an afternoon snack in the kitchen. Her sky blue eyes sparkled, obviously recognizing the form he was emulating.


Etoile, the child, bound over with a rabbit's eagerness, signing excitedly to him, "Tybalt." 《You will never guess what happened!》 her hands rapidly signed in the air, similar to how Ines used to communicate. Unfortunately, Armel did not take the time to learn the hand language. He gulped, wondering if she spoke French.

Armel copies "Tybalt's" charismatic smile, "Bonjour petit. Je suis désolé, mais je suis pressé et je n'ai pas le temps de parler." [Hello, Little one. I'm sorry, but I'm in a hurry and I don't have time to speak.]

Etoile stepped back, her posture signaling she knew something was off immediately. That he was not the man, she knew. When her amiable smile fell, Armel knew he misspoke. Not waiting around any longer, he shifts into an eagle, ignoring the girl's surprise as she jumps back further. He held the sack in his beak and spread his wings to take off.

"Stop!" Etoile cried, slapping both hands over her mouth. At that moment, the small voice echoed in his ear, and he froze in place.

She glanced around the kitchen nervously, but it was just the two. "Go to sleep, please, birdie," Etoile whispered.

Armel, now frozen, slumped to the floor, releasing the bag from his beak. A glass jar full of canned peaches rolled along the ground, stopping at her feet. Etoile tip-toed carefully, moving to close the window he had sought to escape through.

What to do now? She thought.


A disorienting but convenient series of events occurred during Armel's unconsciousness.

The door to the kitchen swung open.

Etoile turned, frozen when she saw the real Tybalt there. She looked down at the Armel, in his bird form, then suspiciously up at the man, breathing in relief when he signed to her.

《Little star, why is an eagle in the kitchen?》he asked shortly before scooping Armel's unconscious form into his large hands.

Etoile gestured to the bird, then signed. 《It looked like you! Then it turned into a bird and tried to fly away!》

《I think it must have been very hungry.》

Tybalt chuckled warmly, cradling Armel under one arm and brushing through her hair. "We'll find Maria and confine it until it awakens," he said aloud since his hands were occupied.

Etoile nodded. Even without the sign from Tybalt, she had realized that the mysterious intruder was like them. 《Special?》 Etoile followed him. Even if Armel had not meant to harm them, he tried to steal from their stores.

Tybalt nodded in confirmation. He bore no ill will towards Armel, the intruder, and it would have been him in his place not long ago, stealing from those more fortunate than himself.

The pair had made their way to a room accompanied by a woman named Maria. Tybalt knocked on Maria's door, calling softly to the woman within, "Excusez-moi, mademoiselle," he playfully asked after her, unintentionally flirtatious in tone.

Maria, who had just finished practice, was settled onto the powder puff in front of the vanity, taking out a fountain pen and a piece of paper to write a letter to someone off-ship. Upon hearing Tybalt's voice, Maria's cheeks flushed at his tone.

She quickly glanced at her reflection in the vanity mirror and rose quickly to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress before taking a seat once again, attempting to look casual.

"Entrez," Maria called in reply, hoping the blush in her cheeks had faded. She smiled, thinking he had come alone, but quickly realized something was amiss.

Tybalt stepped inside with a grin and showed off the sleeping eagle cradled in his arm. "I hope I am not disturbing you. We have stumbled across another individual with unusual talents..."

He presented the eagle, adding, "This bird was originally a man. Apparently, he can change shape. He assumed my form earlier, but Etoile saw through his disguise."

To say that Maria was confused by the bird would be an understatement. She rose slowly, almost fearful that the bird would awake and attack them. "How curious," a man that could turn into a bird. It was certainly something new.

"Ah, there is a bird cage in the pièce de stockage." Maria recalled.

Tybalt nodded but added, "I do not think it would set a proper first impression for this bird to awaken in a cage. There is yet an empty room to keep him...I would appreciate your presence to avoid further confusion and to assist in treating him should he have sustained injury."

He was right, of course. There was also the issue of if Armel changed back into a man, he would be squeezed into a bird-sized cage.

"Oui Monsieur, I will stay with him." Maria rose from her seat, picking up one of her books to take with her since she did not know how long it would be until their new friend woke. "I have never tried to heal a bird before."

《Can I come too?》 Etoile signed, looking between them. She wanted to be there when the bird-man woke up.

"Of course," Tybalt said, beaming at his daughter, before stepping back out of the room. Along the way to the empty quarters, Tybalt mentioned, "The bird is not bleeding, from what I can see, but the man himself may be. I must also assume he is hungry, considering his motive and desperation."

The two girls followed him to the empty room, which had naught but a bed and a chair. "I will wait for him to wake, then." Maria had no idea what implications there could be for using her power on an animal, so she waited for Armel to awake.

《I will bring him a snack!》 Etoile ran off to prepare something, soon to return with her arms filled with a bowl of canned peaches, muesli, and a pitcher of water. All of which she very carefully carried back to the room.


Armel awoke in a daze. His vision spun, and his head throbbed. What had happened? He did not move, collecting his scattered thoughts that seemed to be of no help in this situation. The young girl discovering him is the last memory he can recollect. Anything after that is pitch black.

He groaned but what emerged was a high-pitched whistling. It sounded weak, and Armel's eyes shot fully open when he realized he was still in his bird form. He struggled and flapped his wings, finally taking a moment to search his surroundings.

He was on a bed in a small room. With three strangers, two faces he recognized, "Tybalt" and the blonde child. Armel flapped his wings at them, then groaned as his head throbbed again. He tried to shift, but it wasn't easy. Was it the pain? He usually doesn't feel any pain in the first place. What was wrong with him?

He hopped into a corner and kept his sharp gaze on the three, creating distance between them. Only breaking contact to stare hopelessly at the orange sky. Dusk was coming, and he needed to return to Ines.

Armel cleared his throat. Bird sounds echoed in the room, slowly shifting into something legible, something human. Then he spoke, directed at Tybalt, "...Monsieur, if an apology or debt for stealing is what you require, I will oblige. My only request...allow me to leave. I must return before dusk."

Tybalt stood in a corner opposite Armel, scratching his head in thought — Etoile hid behind Tybalt, watching with child-like wonder. The man showed no surprise at a bird speaking and replied, "Thievery in the name of preserving a life is not a crime I have any right to punish."

But he also inquired, "Why dusk? I would be content to send you on your way with supplies, but since we are of like nature, I must at the very least insist we have a chat before we part more permanently."

Armel remained quiet, uncertain if continuing a conversation with a man unfrightened by him was the best course of action.

While Armel hesitated, summoning her courage, Etoile lifted the bowl of peaches and came out from her hiding spot behind Tybalt, walking cautiously towards Armel. She set the bowl down before him, then quickly ran back to hide behind the man.

Armel remained in the corner, unmoving and wary of the fresh fruit bowl. He scanned the crowd. Were they also the same as him? Different. If so, he didn't have much choice but to answer the man, especially when he had no idea what abilities these strangers possessed.

After a moment, he replied, "...Ma sœur..." his voice trembled faintly, "I must return to my sister before dusk. She is alone...and unwell." His gaze filled with guilt as he watched the slowly setting sun.

"Monsieur Oiseau," Maria started, shaking herself out of her stunned reverie that a bird had just spoken to them. "Are you injured? If you change back, I can heal you. If your friend is unwell too, bring me to her and I can help." She raised her hands, showing that she meant no harm.

He did not answer Maria when she spoke. He had no interest in being helped by her, not until she mentioned healing Ines. His eyes widened, "...You can heal?" He took a small step out of his corner, did not move an inch more, but focused on her.

He asked again in disbelief, "Can you heal her?" Armel had no interest in being treated. He has learned that his wounds and pains recover faster than the average person, although the quick process isn't pleasant. But if the madame could heal Ines, he'd give anything.

Maria nodded. They had made a small breakthrough, "If she is human, then yes." Maria looked to Tybalt, then at Armel. She stepped towards him, "Please, Monsieur, allow me to heal you first."

Armel's heart leaped in momentary excitement until he instinctively retreated to his corner when Maria tried to walk closer. He apologized but did not move, "Excusez-moi Madame. Although your insistence is appreciated, my wounds are minor and do not require such attention."

Unable to properly transform, Armel felt vulnerable. He did not want anyone close at the moment, "If you could...please remain there so I may shift back."

Armel waited for a moment, and when no one made signs of movement, he closed his eyes. He hasn't had to focus this hard since the Beast incident, so Armel was fearful. However, his worries dispelled as he felt his bones cracking and organs bend —unpleasant but welcoming.

Slower than usual Armel had returned to his former state, barely avoiding knocking down the bowl due to his length. He brushed aside his golden locks and examined his body for any abnormalities. So far, he saw none. Clothes, hands, legs, and everything else was in their place, "Parfait." He smiled.

Tybalt applauded softly and assured Armel with a twinge of sympathy, "You and your sibling may have this room, should you choose to join us. The cost of room and board is your loyalty and labor, but you will find our load light and our terms generous."

He adjusted his weight to favor his cane. "I will inform the Navigator we are to touch down nearby. You will have ample time to retrieve your sister and return, whereupon she will be in the skillful hands of our own Sainte Maria."

Tybalt stepped toward the door and opened it. "My name is Tybalt LeGrand. If you would supply your name, I am certain the lot of us would be delighted to make your acquaintance."

Armel did not believe in such generosity, not with terms like loyalty and labor. Armel was suspicious but tired of traveling at the risk of Ines' health. So he'd believe it, believed such a generous man exists, "...My name is Armel...and if I may know, what exactly is this place?"

He has wondered since sneaking in. With the exotic costumes and a large number of people, some with powers, his previous thought of this being just a simple ship must be wrong.

"The world's only traveling airship circus," Tybalt explained with a wide grin. "And for those with talents like ours, a home in the skies."

Then, he slipped through the doorway to tell the Navigator to set down.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ines Character Portrait: Armel
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Welcomed by the night sky Ines awoke in a startle. Rebellious against her feverish state, she shifted her body off her horse, sliding down to the ground with a soft thud.

Piles of fallen leaves and twigs caught on the bottom of her thick winter coat as it softened the blow. Her arms trembled, too weak to lift her body off the ground. After many failures, her trusty steed stuck his chestnut-colored snout under her arm, supporting Ines as she stood up.

"Merci-" Ines coughed. Her throat burned, and Bisou responded with a quiet snort tickling her fingers. She giggled, kissing his upturned snout, "Merci, Bisou."

Whipping his flaxen tail, Bisou nipped on the sleeve of her coat, jerking it towards the ground where he lay, "Je sais, Armel a dit de reposer Bisou... mais..." [I know, Armel said to rest Bisou... but] Ines frowned and turned toward the vast forest painted in darkness.

The time of Armel's return was long overdue. Questions floated in her mind, ones she feared to vocalize. Ines' long curls cascaded over her face, covering her teary eyes. She wished to search for him, but she had no energy. Her body riddled with sickness was but a burden.

Grabbing Armel's coat off Bisou's back, she held it to her chest and slowly lowered herself to the forest floor. She pushed against Bisou, curling her body closer.

A brutal tickling in her throat triggered another series of coughs, followed by another small blood patch, staining her already reddened handkerchief. She took deep breaths to help with the pain.

Closing her eyes, Ines decided to continue resting. The weight of Bisou's head pressed against her arm brought her comfort, and she tried to relax.

Suddenly, Bisou squealed and bobbed his head, frightening Ines out of her trance. She heard the hollering of wind but could not see any threat. Her heart quickened, and she hid her face in Bisou's body, "Armel." she sobbed.

"Ines!" the voice came from the sky. She lifted her head, and a pair of large black wings enveloped her vision. Attached to the wings was a man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

"Armel?" Ines shouted. The man landed, his wings molted, and revealed two long arms in its place.

He kneeled and carefully wrapped his arms around Ines, holding her tight, "Pardonnez-moi, Inès [Forgive me, Ines]. I broke my promise and returned late."

Ines sniffles, latching on to him, "Tout va bien puisque vous êtes revenu sain et sauf." [Everything is fine since you have returned safe and sound.]

She paused, her fingers traced over his face. Minor cuts decorated his cheeks and nose, a bump protruding from his forehead, "...Qu'est-il arrivé?" [What happened?]

Armel removed her hand, squeezing it in his, "Rien [Nothing]...Listen, Ines, I have incredible news-"

"Armel, les blessures. Qu'est-il arrivé?" [Armel, the wounds. What happened?] Her dried cherry lips thinned harshly.

Armel's smile fell, "...Rien, Inès. More importantly, I found a place for you-"

"Non!-" Ines coughed, stealing back her hand to cover her mouth. Catching her breath, she continued, "Armel, s'il te plait... toute la vérité." [Armel, please...the whole truth] Her eyes welled with tears. She knows he hates worrying her, but telling her nothing hurts more.

Armel's heart ached. He wiped her eyes and quietly told her the truth. About the ship, him stealing, everything he could remember, along with the offer Tybalt made. When he finished, Armel bowed his head and mumbled an apology.

Ines sighed. She should have known he would have tried stealing for her. She felt guilty hated how her health turned Armel into a criminal. She laid her hand on his cheek, "Viens ici." [Come here.]

Once Armel was close, Ines hummed a melody mixed with the wind and danced through the sky. Armel's wounds disappeared at that moment "Je te fais confiance." [I trust you.] Ines chuckled as his sullen face brightened.

"Merci, Ines." Helping her mount Bisou, Armel took the reins and guided them towards the airship.


In the distance, just as promised, the giant airship could be seen, having set down in a nearby clearing. Upon its brilliant hull were emblazoned the letters of its name: Rédempteur.

Their room had been prepared. Hot food and cold drinks were waiting to quench their dry throats and fill their empty stomachs.

A small welcoming party had gathered to greet them at the ship's ramp. Here were people of all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. Some with smiles, some with scowls, but all ready to receive the two.

It seemed that whatever offer extended to Ines and Armel had also been offered to — and accepted by — the other members of this ship.

They stepped aside to make way for Ines and Armel.

Ines' caramel eyes sparkled at the spectacular display, her innocent smile melted hearts, and in return, she received waves.

"Lie down, Ines." Armel sighed, uncomfortable with all the attention as they advanced up the bridge, lit with gas lamps to light the way into the warm belly of the ship.

"Armel. Armel." Ines whispered, poking his shoulder, "Que dit ce signe?" [What does this sign say?]

Armel focused on the path ahead, aware of the answer, "Rédempteur...meaning to free from what distresses or harms."

Ines awed, "Que c'est beau-" [How beautiful-] Her words were cut short by a muted dry cough. The faint scent of blood wafted in the air.

Armel's eyes trembled, "Rest, Ines. There is only a little left to walk." Ines felt Bisou pick up momentum. Tired, she laid her body flat and allowed Armel to lead.

Standing inside, waiting for their arrival, was Maria expected to receive her promised patient. "Est-ce votre soeur?" [Is this your sister?] She asked Armel. "What a lovely girl you are."

Maria reminded Ines of a beautifully sculpted painting with striking features and fierce eyes. When she spoke, it sounded like a clear summer's creek. She couldn't help smiling when complimented, her cheeks flushed.

"Oui, elle s'appelle Inès." [Yes, her name is Ines.] Armel dropped the reins, and Bisou bent onto his legs. Once seated on the floor, Armel scooped Ines in his arms.

"Bonjour, madame." Ines cleared her throat, preventing an upcoming cough. She didn't want to ruin the moment, even going so far as to hide her stained handkerchief inside her hands.

Even from where she was standing, Maria could tell that something was wrong. Just as Armel had said, the girl was ill. "Tu ne m'as pas dit à quel point elle est belle." [You did not tell me how lovely she is.] It was easy for her to keep smiling, despite her worry.

Maria turned her gaze to the pretty girl with hair like a crown and eyes like stars. "Bienvenue sur notre humble navire," [Welcome to our humble ship.] Maria reached to take her hand, to guide her to a place away from curious eyes where they could properly rest.

"This way, please."

Armel carefully set Ines down, "Can you stand?" his arms were still positioned around her waist, prepared to lift her again.

"Oui. Vous pouvez lâcher prise." [Yes. You can let go.] she hugged his side, then released him. Ines managed to find her balance and held Maria's hand — it was soft and warm.

"Merci." Ines smiled, following her lead.

Armel caught up to them after handing Bisou off to a crewmate. He watched silently, his expressions less than amiable. Ines peeked back and gave him a look, chucked as he pouted but fixed his face.


Maria slowly walked, noting how Ines' hands were like ice. Maria glanced back at Armel, silently expressing her dissatisfaction with leaving the poor girl in the cold for who knows how long. Armel felt her gaze and frowned.

Maria took them to the promised room, gesturing for Ines to lay down on the lower bunk.

Ines let out a gasp when her body touched the bed, and it was soft, and she couldn't help but sigh softly as she sank down.

"Je m'appelle Maria, ton frère me dit que tu ne te sens pas bien?" [My name is Maria, your brother tells me you aren't feeling well?] She questioned.

She tensed up, her previous excitement gone, and now she nervously glanced around. Cautious about discussing her aliment with Maria.

Armel leaned on the door frame, standing watch. He caught Ines's hesitation and assured her, "You can tell her. She is the same as us."

With that, Ines relaxed. She stared at Maria and explained, "Ça a commencé il y a un an. Mon corps est constamment fiévreux, et parfois je crache du sang." [It began a year ago. My body is constantly feverish, and sometimes I cough blood.] Ines shyly shows Maria her handkerchief. She kept quiet about the hallucinations, believing they were not an issue worthy of discussing.

"Her powers awoke a year ago. Since then, we've met many doctors seeking help, but none could offer Ines relief." Armel interjects, his voice low.

Maria's expression became grave at the sight of the handkerchief, and she tried to cover it quickly with a reassuring smile. "A lot of people like us experience sickness when we first discover our abilities." Maria explained.

However, she had never heard of it lasting this long. Unless Ines's sickness was tied directly to her ability? "Does it get better when you use your talent?" Maria asked, her choice of words purposeful.

Ines did her best to follow Maria's questions, "Oui, je me sens mieux... jusqu'à ce que j'arrête de les utiliser. Puis la douleur revient." [Yes, I feel better...until I stop using them. Then the pain returns.] Despite the pain returning Ines is still grateful for the small moments of relief.

Maria nodded, "Laisse moi voir ce que je peux faire." [Let me see what I can do.]

Maria lifted her hand, brushing it against Ines's forehead to feel for fever. She was burning up. "This might tickle, but it will not hurt." She promised, moving her other hand over Ines's stomach to be closer to her lungs.

Her hands filled Ines with warmth like basking in the sun. She did feel a little strange, but the sensation quickly disputed.

"When you cough blood like that, précieuse it is usually because of an internal wound. It sounds like this injury is not healing." Maria explained.

Ines could not hide her sadness from Maria's observation, "...Cela signifie-t-il aussi-" [Does this also mean-]

Ines could not finish her sentence before Armel blurted out, "If not an internal issue, why does she continue to cough? And what of her fevers, can those not be healed?" his tone was harsh as he could not hide his fear that Ines would never get better.

"Armel..." Ines called him, her voice soft but stern, a smile painted her lips, "N'élevez pas la voix sur Madame Maria. Ce n'est pas poli." [Don't raise your voice at Madame Maria. It's not polite.]

"...I apologize." Armel frowned. He unclenched his fist and calmed himself, settling down in a chair by the door.

"It is fine, I believe his bark may be worse than his bite." Maria laughed at Armel's bluntness, and he was not the first Frenchman she had met that did not dance around with his words.

Ines smiled apologetically, "Merci et... qu'en est-il de mes fièvres?" [Thank you and...what about my fevers?] If the cough could not be cured, she did not mind, but her fevers...she no longer wanted to be a burden to Armel.

"Appeler un chat un chat," [To call a cat, a cat. An idiom for "I will tell it like it is."] Maria spoke honestly. If the illness had appeared with the ability and Ines felt fine while singing, it likely was connected somehow. However, Maria had never heard of a condition presenting itself like this.

"I will do the best that I can, you may need to be seen regularly for a bit, but I think you will be okay." Maria flitted her fingertips over Ines's body, healing every bump, bruise, and sore she saw. A gentle warmth radiated from her palms, mending Ines's aches and pains.

Ines beamed, relaxing her body so Maria could continue healing. She moaned softly, wincing as her old wounds healed. It wasn't painful, but Ines did not realize how sore her body was. Soon the aching pain turned into a warm blanket, soothing her tired muscles. Ines struggled to stay awake, rubbing her eyes.

"Merci, Madame Maria." She glances towards Armel, sulking from Maria's comment, "Armel."

He immediately locked eyes with her and engaged in a silent conversation — they exchanged many facial expressions. Armel sighed after a few seconds, "Thank you, Madame Maria."

Ines giggled, but a yawn snuck in, "Excusez-moi. Je me sens soudainement si endormi." [Excuse me. I suddenly feel so sleepy.] her eyes fluttered. She's only been tired because of pain, but this serene sensation was new to her.

"It will do you well to rest, listen to your body. You have been running for a long time, oui?" Maria focused her hands over the lungs, where the blood was stemming.

"You do not have to run anymore, tu es rentré à la maison," [you have come home.] so long as they wished to remain. No one would force the two to stay, but they were free to take up residence on the ship as long as they needed.

Ines bobbed her head, too tired to perform an actual nod.

"I will come check on you again in a few hours to see how you are doing." She lifted her hands, returning them to her side. Maria rose, stopping just before Armel. "Si tu as besoin de moi, je suis là," [If you need me I am here] she said to him. "Do not hesitate to come find me."

Ines glanced at Armel. Her eyes struggled to stay open as the two conversed. Armel thanked Maria for her, "Merci, Madame Maria."

Armel smiled more gently than he has in years. He gazed at Ines' dozing figure. There were no loud groans or heavy breathing. Her complexion had stabilized, along with the color returning to her cheeks. To Armel, this was nothing short of a miracle.

He directed his attention to Maria and gave his most sincere bow, his head lower than it's ever been, "Thank you...so very much" he couldn't say anything else. And before Maria could respond, he quickly left to Ines' side.

Ines' eyes fluttered open, her lips curved into a smile when she felt Armel hold her hand, "Avez-vous dit merci?" [Did you say thank you?] she asked softly.

Armel chuckled, but Ines could hear a quiet sob beneath it, "Oui... comment te sens-tu?" [Yes...how are you feeling?]

Ines' words trailed off as fighting to stay awake became harder, "Bon...et mon corps... comme des nuages" [Good...and my body...like clouds] she yawned.

Armel turned his head to hide his tears, taking a few deep breaths, "Bon. Très bon." [Good. Very good.] his voice cracked and trembled.

Ines' vision blurred as sleep drew her in, "Armel...j'ai sommeil." [Armel... I'm sleepy]

"Bonne nuit, Inès." [Goodnight, Ines] He tapped his forehead against hers, and Ines glowed. She wanted to say goodnight but had drifted asleep before the words could come out. The last thing she heard was the sound of weeping.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ines Character Portrait: Rien Character Portrait: Armel Character Portrait: Karolin Baade
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Cold...It was so cold...Every night was the same for a young woman in the streets. For years she has lived like this, digging out of trash for scraps of food, and hunkering down with some pieces of cardboard that was worn out which provided as much warmth as the tattered rags on her body. However despite these conditions she did not die, no mere normal person could have lasted as long out in these conditions...Yes...She was a cursed child like her parents would say...

This fragile soul named Karolin, one out of millions lay down in some dark alleyway as snow began to gently fall on her body. Just like her hair and skin a pale white color...Her eyes closed, getting some measure of sleep as her body began to slowly blend in with the snow. Why?...What did she do wrong? Why was she hated? Why did her parents do the things they did? Why did it have to come to that?...

She...Rather not remember her past right now...It hurts the inside of her body yet she cannot understand why remembering hurts...No food hurts...No water hurts...The cold does not feel good...Then why does remembering hurt like those?

All these questions would race in her mind, yet she would never get those answers...She was a bit hungry, so she had to get up and look for food. Her eyes would open up once more as she would gently sit up, parting the small layer of snow that accumulated over her body before standing up. Her hot breath was visible in the cold night air...

Maybe...She could find some half eaten meals left behind by some fancy people coming by...

Tonight, the fancy folk of Saint Petersburg were all abuzz over an event happening that night, which was gathering the well-to-do and causing quite the stir. «Цирк дю Воле», this "Cirque du Volés, promised entertainment the likes of which the people had never seen. And large entertainment venues tended to conclude with quite a lot of food scraps tossed aside by its patrons. All Karolin would have to do is wait for the show to be over, and then she could sneak inside and have her fill of discarded popcorn and dough-wrapped sausages. Maybe, if she was lucky, there would even be some unsold pirozhkis in the bakeries nearby.

Neutral eyes would glance around the usually quiet city, there were a lot of words in the distance. And more brighter lights than usual...The skies were brighter than usual at night with all the lights...But her stomach would focus her mind on the prospects of food. She could smell it in the air as she would get closer to whatever this event was.

Her bare feet would walk across the stone streets and snow as she would soon hide behind a wall as her curious eyes would peer over...Despite wanting to wait...Her curiosity was nagging at her. What was this event? An 'entertainment' for people...She wanted to look inside of it and see everything inside. She wanted to experience what everyone else was experiencing...

Her eyes would gaze at the entrance, despite wanting to wait...She wanted to sneak into this event...She did not have anything to give to enter so she had to do it the sneaky way.

Following the crowds, Karolin caught sight of an enormous red tent and of the masses flowing inside.

The ticketers at the gates were too alert for Karolin to simply sneak in; she stuck out too much. However, the gates at the rear of the venue were unguarded - locked, but unguarded. Karolin rarely had an issue with locks for long, and if she so wished, she could gain entry to the big top's backstage to witness what the announcer within was boldly proclaiming "the finest show in France."

Seeing the front of the tent was watched over, it was clear even to her that trying to sneak in looking like she was would get her one thing at the very least, a ticket back to the nearest alley after being chased away.

So seeing at the back entrance was empty and clear of people, she would of course take a few more cautionary looks around her as she simply walks through the back entrance of the tents. However, hearing a loud booming voice in the distance...She would not know what the man was using to speak but for her she would assume it was a magic man's voice in the distance...

But she was very curious to witness what he meant by 'finest show in France' even if...Wait...What was France? Now this piqued her curiosity more.

Karolin found herself backstage, wherein the acts to follow were preparing. Trap doors and tunnels ran beneath the platform that the Ringmaster stood on, and everything from acrobats to an entire elephant stood by waiting for deployment. As tall and imposing as Karolin was, there was at least one person who was even greater of stature and more terrifying here: the Beast, a lion-like man, whose handler waited upon him without fear of his wild nature.

In a crowd of normal people, Karolin stood out. Among these people, Karolin looked no more out of place than anyone else.

A tall beauty stood with tight curls blanketing her back and starry caramel eyes. She dressed in an elegant light lavender dress with gold accents and small flower decorations that reached just above her tight-covered legs. She seemed ethereal as she smiled at the beast in front of her. The creature was a massive monster with a tall body, clawed hands, enormous wings, and thick feathers that coated its body. Only his face seemed human.

He shook himself, releasing a mighty roar. He seemed agitated. Yet the maiden lifted her hands and gently cupped his face, "Bête, look at me. No fear. I am here." Her voice sang, and the beast huffed, calming himself.

"Good-" she paused. In the corner of her eye, she caught sight of someone new — a tall and imposing maiden. Her costume choice was...unique. Ines tilted her head, curious when the circus had brought in another performer

Upon encountering the lion man and the pretty lady in dress. Her face remained neutral as she blinked at them. Although many would be scared off, this pale woman in rags looked over them without even a hint of emotion on her face. But...They were different. They looked different. And they were not chasing her way at the moment.

However words were lost to her, she did not know how to start a conversation. Nor what words to use. There were only a few things she could do in this situation...But with her curiosity and grumbling gut there was one easy answer for her. There was no answer...

Since no one was making a move, she would slowly keep moving like her presence here was normal. She read this in a book before, and must work.

Snacks and refreshments were available for the performers at one of the tables set up backstage. The selection was not the most varied, but it did have many of the local favorites: pirozhki, pigs in blankets, and pastila, along with large faceted barrels of water and wine and even a bottle of vodka. One could get used to this! What exactly was everyone doing here, anyway? Could Karolin join in?

With her 'perfect' blending in with the others here, Karolin would head over to the table with food and drink lining it. Since no one said anything, for her that meant she was more than free to freely help herself to a feast.

Her hands would grab a pirozhki and look it over. It looked nice and warm...A full meal...This might be her first full meal...Her mouth would soon open and close onto this rare delicacy for her. The taste was far more different than what she was used to...Cold, fatty and barley nourishing food scraps. For almost as long as she lived that was what he had tasted but this...This was so much different.

Bite after bite, she would devour the food in her hands as she would also grab a cup and fill it with water before washing the food down with some nice water. She felt...Better now.

Nobody moved to stop her. In fact, she blended in well enough that others came for their own treats, took what they wanted, and left without paying her any mind. What a rare place this was, that people could see someone like her and not think anything of it.

And she did not know half of it. As the show ran just outside, Karolin could hear the audience gasp agape in awe and wonder at the sights put on display for their entertainment. Never would they have suspected that the tricks they saw were not tricks indeed, but the genuine article. Yet while some acts were accomplished with devices plain as day to those behind the figurative curtain, others were more difficult to explain. Was la Bête a real person? He certainly looked alive. Some things had to be real, but the line between reality and fiction blurred ever so thin here.

Thunderous applause filled the stadium as the beauty and beast made their exit backstage, followed by an organized line of animals. She guided each one masterfully, needing neither a whip nor chains to tame them. She handed the animals off to the handlers, expressing her thanks for their assistance. The beast remained by her side, as there has yet to be a handler who he allowed near him other than the woman.

As she led the beast to his room, her gaze caught sight of the strange performer from earlier. She was indulging on the refreshment table with a vigorous hunger. The beauty pondered momentarily, then walked away with the beast.

Moments later, the woman returned, still in costume but with no beast by her side but a handsome man. He had golden locks, sky blue eyes, and a mysterious smile. His clothing was rather plain— a white shirt with black pants. The man paused, eyeing the stranger, "...Ines, she isn't a performer."

Ines gasped, her face filled with disbelief, "She is not? Are you certain, Armel?" she frowned, "...Then what of her odd attire?" Ines questioned in French, her voice filled with concern.

Armel sighed, regretting his next choice of words, "Shall we ask?" He smiled, hiding his hope she'd say no. He shouldn't have asked.

Ines's eyes lit up, "Oui!" Before Armel could say anything more, Ines was already making her way toward the strange visitor in rags.

She stood at the edge of the table, tilting her head with an elegant smile, "Bonjour, je m'appelle Ines." She did not respond.

Ines wondered if she wasn't French, "...Hello, my name is Ines. Do you speak English?" Armel stood behind Ines, watching the exchange

Such an array of fresh food, she could feel her stomach filling up for once in her life. It was such an odd feeling but a feeling she was comfortable with. However her eating focus soon drew to the strange words next to her...And directed at her. It was a pretty woman with an unusual skin color for her, but her dress was pretty like a fancy person's clothing.

However she did not understand the French...Then the English...She would hold a pig in a blanket as she stared back with an entirely neutral gaze, seemingly not understanding a single word she said. Those were strange words...It sounded so different to what she had heard or said.

She would point to herself...Then point to her then seemingly tilted her head a bit as she was pondering her words like a question. "Privet, krasotka, ya caroline. spasibo saa edu." She replied in Russian as she would munch her food in her hands.

What did she say? Ines pondered. The words spoken to her were in a foreign language she could only guess as Russian. She was unsure, as her knowledge was limited to French and English.

She began to fret, tapping her finger on her cheek as she scoured her mind for ideas. How could they converse? Perhaps she knows sign language?

Before Ines could test her hypothesis, a familiar voice spoke behind her, "Dobro pozhalovat', Kerolayn. My Armel' i Ines, chleny ekipazha etogo korablya. Kak vy okazalis' za kulisami?"

(Welcome, Caroline. We are Armel and Ines, crew members on this ship. How did you end up backstage?)

Ines spun around, her mouth slightly agape, as she stared wide-eyed at Armel, "Armel! Tu parles sa langue?"

(Armel! You speak her language?)

"Yes." Armel nodded, clearly not as impressed as Ines. However, that did not stop her from gazing at him in awe, waiting for a clear interpretation of their guest's words.

Armel sighed, "She introduced herself as Karolin and thanked you for the food."

Ines beamed, glancing between Karolin and Armel with glee, "She is very welcome!...How did she get in here, Armel?"

He shrugged, "We shall see. For now, can you locate Tybalt and bring him here? He should be available."

Ines frowned, wishing to stay and hear more of the language between the two, "Bien." She rushed away, searching the ship for Tybalt.

Another person, and he spoke words she understood. Of course to respond to his question she would give an honest reply. "Szady nikogo ne bylo ryadom, yi nicto nichego ne govori. razavi chto... nepravilne?"

(The back had no one near it, and no one said anything. Was that...Wrong?)

The woman asked, still munching on her food while awaiting a response, her curious eyes gazing at him and all around her. So many new and interesting things she was seeing and experiencing.

Fortunately for them, Tybalt was between acts. He wouldn't be needed again until the finale, where he would issue his famous closing line, this time in well-practiced Russian. It was just about the only thing he could say in that language, but it was better than nothing.

A tall, goateed man in a top hat made his way to the drink cart, supporting his steps with an unnecessary—but quite fancy—ruby-topped cane. He nodded to Ines and Armel, but tilted his head at the newcomer.

"I do believe we have yet to be acquainted," he said with a grand smile to the tall woman.

Karolin continued to satisfy her stomach, and Armel wondered if they should restock the table, "Eto bylo nepravil'no, no eto byla i oshibka. Popravimaya oshibka." His gaze fell on Tybalt.

(It was wrong, but it was also a mistake. A fixable mistake.)

Ines smiled, pleased that she did not have to search far for Tybalt. She stood beside Armel, poking his arm to continue the conversation.

"Tybalt, this is Karolin, a guest who wandered backstage by accident. She seems to have been traveling for quite a while." He guessed the last part, considering how she is dressed in rags and is filling her stomach continuously.

"Karolin, eto Tibalt. Nash nachalnik manezha i vladelets etogo korablya."

(Karolin, this is Tybalt. Our Ringmaster and owner of this ship.)

Wrong...Oh it was wrong...Karolin stopped eating the food in her hands as she would place it back on the table, like a child putting away a half eaten cookie after being caught eating from the cookie jar.

"Izvinite..."
(Sorry...)

Was all the woman said as her gaze fell upon the fancy man with a fuzzy face. Of course his words were lost on her as she blinked at him with a neutral gaze before turning to Armel. "Stalnye govoryat strange slova... neujeli ti bald nakhodit moiu oshibku plochoi?... ya ego ne ponimayu..."

(The others say strange words...Is Tybalt finding my mistake bad?...I don't understand him...)

She would look at the two, her gaze still neutral...However for her she could feel a bit...Uneasy...Like the air when she was back home...When she did bad things which was all the time she would be hit...This must be the case...

Armel caught the slight change in Karolin's demeanor. Noticing how she shyly pushed away from her food, he assured her, "My ne rasstoyanie, Karolin. Oshibki sluchaetsya."

(We are not upset, Karolin. Mistakes happen.)

Her mannerisms were similar to a child's, not childish, but pure honesty. An innocence identical to when he first met Ines — curious about the world around them yet fearful of people's reactions. He felt a vague sense of guilt for his choice of words, "Pozhaluysta, prodolzhat yest'. I Tibal't ne schitayet tebya plokhim. Na samom dele, on khochet bol'she uznat' o vas."

(Please, continue eating. And Tybalt does not find you bad. In fact, he wants to hear more about you.)

Noticing that Karolin seemed less than comfortable, he did his best to reassure her with an even brighter smile. He took hold of a cookie and placed it in Karolin's hands, hoping that the gesture would transcend verbal language. At the risk of repeating Armel's words, he assured her, "I will need to return to the stage in a few moments, but, please, continue eating and stay awhile. We would love to meet you."

With that, he nodded in affirmation and began walking towards the stage, preparing for his re-entry.

The words directed at her were not loud...But soft...With words saying it was alright to continue eating with even a cookie placed in her hands, she stared at his gesture and the cookie in her hands as she blinked a bit.

She...She was not sure what to feel...But she did know that she did not dislike this at all. "Bolshoe spasibo."

(Thank you very much)

She would say as he looked up at him and took a bite almost expecting something to happen, but seeing as nothing happened she would return to eating with renewed energy once more.

Ines smiled, twirling in place because she couldn't contain her joy — her show dress fluttering. Tybalt gave his blessing, which means she is free to learn more about their mysterious new friend, Karolin.

With light steps, Ines snatches Armel and drags him to a group of chairs. Aware of her request, Armel hoists the seats in his arms and sets them around the food table.

Once everyone was seated, Ines started a conversation with Armel as the translator. She wanted to become acquainted with Karolin but not dig too far into her personal life. So Ines asked her questions about the circus, is this her first time at the circus? How did she feel about the performances? Were there any acts she particularly enjoyed?

With the questions asked by a translator, there was one simple answer she could respond with to all of them.

"Ya nay znayu au spectacle ch. noh ya zdes vpervye."
(I don't know about the performances, but this is my first time here.)

She would simply reply. It was of course the truth, this was her first time seeing such a sight...Plus she was walking in the back of the tent so she did not see anything more than the people and munching on some food still after her response.

Ines frowned. If she could, she'd want Karolin to witness the wonders of the circus. She paused and glanced over at Armel with a sweet but crafty smile.

"Non," he said without a thought. Ines huffed gently, yanking on his shirt, "Ines, this is not debatable. We need to remain here until Tybalt returns." He sets his elbow on the table, propping his head up with his hand. He reaches for a cookie and passes it to the sullen Ines, who takes it and elegantly stuffs it into her mouth.

Ines swung her legs back and forth with a sigh as she chewed on the cookie. Not even the delectable sugar could fix her mood. She wanted Karolin to experience the wonders of the circus. Then, maybe if she enjoys it, she'd wish to stay. How marvelous of an outcome that would be.

Armel kept Ines out of sight, not allowing her mood to affect his decision. But it was hard to ignore her loud sighs, and once again, he lost, "If...If we do this, we must use a box seat. You and Karolin would attract too much attention if we sat amongst the-" Armel stopped, feeling manipulated by Ines.

"J'écoute~." she sang—her grin sparkling in the light. The cookie is still being munched on but slower.

(I am listening~)

Armel regrets this, "There are rules. Firstly, Ms. Karolin must agree, and if she does, we'd need at least a cloak for her to remain warm-"

"Facile, suivant~."

(Easy, next)

He sighed, "Ines..." Armel ran a hand through his golden hair, swiping it out of his face, "...Second, we must come back here. No wandering around the ship afterward, understood?"

Ines nodded, agreeing to the terms, "Oui. Oui. Maintenant, s'il vous plaît, demandez-lui!"

(Yes. Yes. Now, please ask her.)

Armel turns to Karolin, translating the conversation, "Ines khochet posmotret' s toboy tsirk-."

(Ines wants to watch the circus with you-)

Ines poked Armel's arm, motioning at the food, "Vy takzhe mozhete vzyat' s soboy neskol'ko zakusok vo vremya prosmotra."

(You are also welcome to bring a few snacks with you as you watch.)

Ines resumed munching on her cookie, satisfied, as she reached for another.

At first Karolin would watch the two speak and interact with each other with interest. Their strange words that sounded so different from what she normally spoke. And how they both were in a way 'playing' with one another like the kids she saw who would have their faces with their lips raised in an energy filled manner.

Watching those two...It was a gentle feeling...She liked this feeling just seeing them. It was so different. The yells...Replaced with this scene. She could watch them without getting tired.

However her thoughts were interrupted by the next set of words directed at her. A chance to watch this circus? And bring more snacks with her? Karolin wasted no time grabbing a small handful of well...Everything on the table as she was almost as eager as a dog about to go outside.

"Ya khotel by posmotret."
(I would like to watch)

She would say, however her face remained solid and neutral. No hint of emotion on her face yet her body which had scooped up the food was telling.

Ines needed no translation as Karolin's decision was obvious. Springing up in excitement, Ines claps her hands as she skips away to grab a cloak from one of the many emergency costume racks. She brought it back for Karolin to wear. But seeing as her arms were full, Ines helped drape the garment over her shoulders, glancing at Armel to explain.

"Ispol'zuyte yego, chtoby sogret'sya." He pushed the chairs closer to the table, so they do not block anyone's path as they are gone, "Alright, let's be on our way?" Armel walked a few steps ahead.

(Use it to keep yourself warm)

Ines beams. Turning to Karolin, she carefully sets her hand on her arm, "Let's go!" She knew Karolin could not understand, but she felt the need to say it anyway.

Armel leads the way, taking a few turns. They climb a flight of stairs to the balcony. Now out of the backstage area, one could hear the applause and cheers—guests sitting at the edge of their seats and gasping with awe.

Glancing around, Armel quietly finds an empty box seat. It was a separate room on the balcony with an open viewing area. It had about four seats inside, perfect for all of them, "Zakhodi." he spoke to Karolin, motioning towards the seats.

(Come in)

With her arms full of food, she seemed to be ready to go but as they draped the warm sheet over her shoulders her eyes would gaze at the fabric at her back. Was this a window curtain? It was on her but not on a curtain...But it felt warm...It was better than the cold...Taking his words to heart her head would lean against the cloak on her shoulder as she closed her eyes for a moment to take it all in before opening them once more once she felt gentle hands on her arm.

Unlike the rough grabbing she was used to, this set of hands seemed to also want her to go to a location. But without pulling her hard...She did not dislike this at all...And soon enough her ears would catch the loud energetic noises from many people in the distance as they got closer. And arriving at a room overlooking another room she would step inside when she was motioned to come in.

Ines enters the room leaving the center chair open for Karolin and her snacks. Once everyone is seated Armel follows, setting himself in the chair next to Karolin so he can translate. Ines bubbles with joy, poking Karolin on the arm she points toward the floor, "Regardez! Il y a Tybalt au centre." She says loud enough for Karolin to hear over the crowd, "He is about to introduce the next performer."

(Look. There is Tybalt in the center)

Armel translated, "Tibalt, chelovek iz proshlogo, predstavit sled yushchenko ispolnitelya."

(Tybalt, the man from before, will be introducing the next performer)

With a seat available, Karolin took a look over the cushioned seat and soon sat down on it. It had a pillow on it! It was soft under. This must have been how fancy people sat and slept...It was a great feeling compared to wood and a few rags on wood and the ground.

However her eyes would gaze upon the performance going on with curious eyes. What was going to happen? She was very much looking forward to seeing what was about to happen. Even if her face had no visible emotion on it.


Dramatically, the top-hatted showman tapped his cane repeatedly upon the ground. With each tap, a spotlight was lit, casting new shadows that stretched even to the roof of the big top. A white cloth ring began to ascend around him from the floor, slowly obscuring more and more of him from view while still allowing the lights to form his shadows. As he gestured, each of the silhouettes matched his movements. He removed his top hat, and each of the shadows removed theirs. Finally, he was concealed from head to toe in the ringed curtain.

New music began to play, whimsical, mysterious, wonderful in nature, serving to underscore the baffling sights the audience would soon witness. Tybalt's silhouette from within the curtained veil suddenly warped and shifted until it took on a girlish figure. For this, the other shadows followed suit, as expected. They all played along like tethered puppets until, at last, their puppeteer seized control.

The curtain slowly raised, the shadows continuing in their parade. They moved in time to the music, hopping along until the curtain revealed that the Ringmaster had disappeared, replaced by a girl in a white suit, gilded in gold. The shadows pointed their fingers at her in mock surprise.

The woman marched in a circle around the ring, her shadows following suit in a line much like a conga dance, waving to the audience before she stopped in the center of the ring and lifted her arms, the shadows folding and shifting, diving behind her until only one remained, her shadow.

Rien feigned a curtsy, pulling her first blade out of the shade right beneath her. She held up the short sword for all to see, striking the air with practiced ease to show that it was a real blade.

Rien leaned her head back, pointed the sword down, and swallowed the blade whole, hilt and all. She licked her thumb as though she had eaten something particularly tasty.

And while her audience still sat there, nullified, Rien reached her hand down, pulling the sword back out as if by magic.

The music, the sights, the clothing, the spectacles. It was unlike anything she has seen with her own eyes. It was as if the pages of her book just popped out and became alive just like her. But the real magic was just starting for her.

A woman with a fancy outfit on like one of those many fancy people took to the stage holding a sword. Oh it looked sharp like a knife! That was indeed something that could cut things. However to her awe the woman would begin placing the sword down her mouth and even though she could not believe it...The sword had vanished from sight in her mouth! And after showing that she ate it she pulled the sword back out. This was truly magic like her books!

Her eyes had a bit more life in them as she stared in awe. "Sympathichnyy volshebnik..."

(Pretty magician)

She spoke with a hint of wonder in her tone.

Ines knew the inner workings of Rien's act, yet that did not stop her from marveling at her friend’s grace and showmanship.

Ines was stunned, caught in the ambiance of Rien's performance. She broke free from her trance by the erupting applause that filled the tent. Following suit, Ines leaned toward the front edge of her seat and cheered, "Merveilleux, Rien!" Her long curls, blanket over her shoulder, danced as her arms moved.

(Marvelous, Rien!)

Amid her awe, Ines glances to the side. Her smile grows brighter as she detects the tiniest bit of light flashing in Karolin's gaze. Ines felt so proud.

She peeked over Karolin at Armel, signaling him to translate. Armel smiled, "She said, pretty magician." He answered almost mockingly.

Ines ignored his tone and nodded in agreement with the words, "Hush. Rien n'était incroyable."

(incredible)

Armel held his tongue, internally debating if he should compliment Rien or insult her. He chose neither and said, "If you say so."

Ines ignored Armel. Tilting close to Karolin, she asked, "Did you like her performance?"

Armel translated: "Vam ponravilos' vystuplenie simpatichniy volshebnitsa?"

(Did you like the pretty magician's performance)

Although marveling at the performance, Karolin's attention was easily shifted to the people near her when a question was asked to her before being translated. Did she like it? That was an easy answer.

"Mne ponravilos."
(I liked it)

She would say as she would give a small nod. However she had a question of her own. "Ethy tsirki napolneni magiei, kak vie knigach? vy toze vse volshebnye?"

(Are these circuses filled with magic like in the books? Are you all magical as well?)

She would ask as her eyes would look over the others in wonder as if she expected them to cast balls of fire, or fly in the air like she read.

Armel paused. Should he answer this question honestly? He knows if it were Ines, she'd say yes without hesitation, which is not necessarily a good thing.

"What did she say? Armel?" Ines' eyes twinkled. Karolin must have said something difficult for Armel to answer, which means it would be easy for her, "Armel~ Tell me please~" she hummed.

He tapped his leg, "She is wondering if the circus is magical, along with us. Similar to the magic in the storybooks, Etoile showed-"

"Oui!" Ines nodded her head vigorously, her hands resting gently on Karolin's arm.

He knew it. Armel swiped a hand over his face and sighed. He knew this would happen.

"Armel, tell Karolin she is right. Ask if she wishes to join in the magic!" Her voice was low enough that only they could hear. She understood secrecy was essential. However, she could not shake the feeling that Karolin would fit in perfectly with this bizarre yet magical circus.

"Je t'en prie, Armel. Je sais ce qui t'inquiète, mais Karolin a besoin d'un foyer. Et Tybalt serait d'accord!"

(Please, Armel. I know what you worry about, but Karolin needs a home. Also, Tybalt would agree)

Armel knew she added Tybalt because he was about to use him to disagree with her statement. Armel shook his head, wondering where Ines learned such craftiness from, "Da." He smiled, "Eto pohozhie na knigi. Mnogiye iz nas volshebnye, no ne vse."

(It is similar to the books. Many of us are magical, but not all.)

He hesitated but continued, "Ines sprashivayet, ne khochesh' li ty prisoyedinit'sya k nam."

(Ines wonders if you wish to join us.)

Upon hearing that this place was indeed magical, if her eyes could sparkle like the times in the books then her eyes would sparkle. However all she could do was stare back intently as indeed the magic of this place was the real deal.

And another part that drew her was that Ines wanted her to join?...Her?...She could join?...But...Was it alright? This was indeed a place of magic but she was...

"Ya diable..."
(I'm a devil...)

Karolin spoke as her eyes looked downwards.

"Magia obichno khorosha... noh ya diable... monster... sushchestvo... demonicheskaya vesch nay dolzna kasatsya khoroshikh veshchey, inache ona delaet magic plochoi..."[i/]

(Magic is usually good...But I'm a devil...A monster...A creature...A demonic thing should not touch good things or else it makes the magic bad...)

She would say as she looked to the few crumbs left in her hands as she stared at her hands. [i]"Oni skazali... ya byl nezhelannym... yi zi...ya ne khochu razrushat magiu zlom..."


(They said...I was unwanted...And evil...I don't want to ruin magic with evil...)

She spoke with a slight shiver as her hands held each other for comfort.

Small tears dripped down Ines' cheeks, smearing the powder covering her scar. She did not wait for Armel to translate. The word monster that left Karolin's lips, along with her shivering hands, was enough.

Pushing off her chair, Ines wrapped her arms around Karolin's neck. Her tights caught on the edge, but she ignored them. Leaning closer, she held Karolin tight, sniffling.

Armel frowned. A bitter taste sat in his mouth, "...Ty ne d'yavol, Karolin." he pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it in Ines's hand, "Tot, kto skazal eto, byl ne prav naschet tebya."

(You are not a devil, Karolin.)
(Whoever said this was wrong about you.)

He gave Karolin's head a light pat, "Yesli khochesh' prisoyedinit'sya, ya poproshu Tibalt. Tak chto eto normalno govorit' to, chto vy khotite. Delat' to, chto khochesh', bez strakha."

(If you wish to join, I will ask Tybalt. So, it is alright to say what you want. To do what you want, without fear.)

In a sudden moment, Karolin could feel a different warmth wrapped around her. Ines had wrapped her arms around her all of a sudden. Was she giving her some extra heat? But her face was a bit wet like when she would cry. Was she really sad all of a sudden?

However, the next words surprised her. Wrong about being a demon? What they said was...Wrong?...She did not understand...However soon she also felt something on her head as well as her gaze looked up and saw Armel's hand patting her head.

Karolin then looked at Ines as her hands unclasped themselves as she gently patted her hair. In books she saw it, when people had tears falling a lot of the books showed a hand rubbing a head. But why would someone pat her head? She was confused.

"Ya nay diable?... ya vie zameshatelstve...moi roditeli skazali, chto ya proklyatiy yi demon...Ya viglaju stranger... yi ya otlichie ot drugiq... neujeli ya nay odin?...ya...vie zameshatelstve..."

(I am not a devil?...I am confused...My parents said I was cursed and a demon...I look strange...And I am different from others...Am I really not one?...I'm...Confused...)

The confused woman said, face still devoid of emotions as she gently patted Ines's head.

Armel leaned back in his chair. Crossing his legs, he took a moment to think about Karolin's words. He felt many different emotions, none pleasant. Why do parents hurt their children the most?

There were so many things he could tell Karolin, though a few words from a stranger could never fix years of trauma.

However, Armel did know what Karolin needed to hear the most, "Karolin, prisoyedinyaysya k tsirku. Zdes' nikto ne schitayet vas zlym ili proklyatyh. Zdes' vse raznyye."

(Karolin, join the circus. Here, no one thinks of you as evil or cursed. Here, everyone is different.)

Ines sniffled. Karolin's hands patting her head were cozy and warm. She let her continue a little longer before loosening her grip on Karolin. She sat back with a sweet smile. Her powder washed away, revealing three defining scars over her cheek, but Ines did not mind. Brushing a few hair strands from her face, Ines dabbed her eyes with Armel's handkerchief, "Merci." she held Karolin's hand, "Karolin, please join the circus. Let this place be your new home."

Armel chuckled, "Ona skazala spasibo i nadeyetsya, chto tsirk stanet vashim novym domom."

(She said thank you and hopes the circus will become your new home.)


Karolin would listen as the two continued to ask her to join...The curse she suffered...Would it really just be ignored here in this place of magic? They would accept her?...Accepted...These people were gentle with her...They did not call her a demon...They even said she was not one...It was such a different feeling...

Looking at Ines Karolin saw it, the sight of what looked like a cut. It looked deep...The cuts she had never really did much to her body...But...That was what 'different' was.

Her eyes would look over to her hand as it was held with Ines's hand. Both her and him want her...To...Think of this as a home...She...Never had a home for lots of years...

"Ya mogu... u vas novy dome?"
(I can...Have a new home?)

She would say as her hands felt warm now. Not like the biting cold from outside. She could have a home? Maybe a bed? And more people to...Talk with?...

She...Would like that...

"Togda eto novyy dom. mne nravitsya volshebstvo yi khorosheye... mne toze nravyatsya vy dvoe... my nay semya... noh teper chuvstvuyu sebya semyey iz uvidennogo... mne eto nravitsya..."

(Then this is a new home. I like magic, and good things...I also like you two...We are not family...But now feels like family from what I saw...I like this...)

She would say as her eyes looked up at the two. However no expression would show on her face. She liked this moment...But she could not express it.

"Shall we find Tybalt?" Armel asked Ines

Ines nodded. She tried to contain her excitement but held Karolin's hands tighter, "Bienvenue dans la famille!"

(Welcome to the family)

Armel let her be, decided not to interject, how this was a decision for Tybalt. She wouldn't listen anyway, "Ines skazala, dobro pozhalovat' v sem'yu."

(Ines said, welcome to the family.)

He allowed Ines to relish the moment for a few more minutes before announcing they should head back to the table and wait for Tybalt.

So they quietly left the box, down the stairs, and past a crowd of performers mingling backstage. Soon they arrived where they had begun, the once emptied table now restocked with food. There they awaited Tybalt's arrival.

Filling the big top with his booming voice after an explosive finale of flashing and fire, Tybalt delivered his closing lines, this time in showy, flowing Russian. "Nashemu nevozmozhnogo tsirku vse yeshche chego-to ne hvataet. Mozhet byt, vy — to chego nam ne hvataet?"

«Our impossible circus is not yet complete. Could it be you are what we're missing?»

The big top erupted with thunderous applause, and Tybalt proudly approached the table, his eyes lighting up on seeing Karolin return. His expression was practically glowing. He repeated the words he just spoke to her.

Family…Her eyes seemed to have a flash of fear when they mentioned family. However she quickly calmed herself when she remembered…There's lots of families around…They won’t turn into her family…She…Turned into their family…

Of course it was soon time to head back which she would follow behind without issue, and soon enough the top hat person returned. Tybalt. And as he spoke to her she would ultimately nod in response to his question. She wanted to be part of this magic…

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Character Portrait: Lawrence Character Portrait: Memphis Character Portrait: Etoile
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A drink before a journey
Collaboration with Connected, The_Queen, Scra and phantasms


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Birmingham rough was not the most refined of drinks, but it served the poor just fine. Tybalt had been such a man at one time, and in the absence of fine wine, he would indulge in that bitter cider. Now he was well-enough-off to have a choice, but instead of drinking for poverty, he drank for nostalgia.

And he was not the only one drinking. Two of his fellows, a red-blooded Scot named Rory and a German mechanic named Niko, joined him on his outing. It was not often they stopped long in England, but it was cause for celebration; some of the crew originally hailed from there and still remembered it fondly as home.

Tybalt, flanked by his drinking buddies, sat at the bar of the Plump Pomme Pub slinging back a mug of that beloved unfiltered spirit. Were it not for his accent, one could hardly tell that this enormous git was once a Frenchman; he bantered and sang along as the rest without a care in the world.

The door to the pub scraped open. Dimitri tapped the back of his heel against the front of his other black oxfords before taking another step forward. His fingers traced the lining of his black woolen coat as he removed his top hat and adjusted his monocle. Dimitri's eyes roamed the fine establishment full of singing, dancing, and joy, bringing a faint smile to his lips. He also had cause to celebrate.

Taking the seat closest to the bartender, Dimitri swept his tailcoat under him. "I'll drink anything this can buy me," He said, then hummed with childlike enthusiasm as the coins rhythmically clinked onto the wooden counter. The bartender grunted, swept up the payment, and got to work.

Rory raised his glass, singing along to the English song, slurring his words ever so slightly with his Scottish lilt. The drunker he became, the harder it would be to understand his words, but for now, they were still intelligible. It was a marvel how he would be able to fly the ship the next day, as if he hadn't drunk half his weight in cheap liquor.

Rory was no nobleman and he was nothing like their Ringleader, with his tall stature and easy grin. No, the Captain of the Redempteur sat slightly hunched over, waving a finger to the drunken beat of the bar song that rippled in the air above his head. "Get a loada this fandan that jus' walked in 'er." He hiccuped, looking the newcomer up and down with his fancy tailcoat and monocle. What was a man like that doing in a auld bowfin like this?

Not a hint of red stained his cheeks as Niko gulped down his fifth mug. The cheap liquor was nothing but water in his belly. With his back pressed against the bar table — and scarred face visible to the world — he slammed the empty glass down with a satisfied grunt.

The music ringing in his ears, compared to the sweet hums of the Rédempteur's machinery, was like seadogs barking. He did not join the choir. However, a hearty grin was etched on his lips as his buddies drunkenly piped along.

Let him be, Rory. "Lass ihn in ruhe, Rory." Niko glanced over at the gent, his appearance standing out like a lass amongst dirty thieves, "Du, Rory. Yer drunk arse be brewin' trouble." he pushed his empty mug toward the passing bartender and motioned for another.

The bartender sat a fat mug of rough down before Dimitri; the house's specialty, apparently. Apples worn enough by the ravages of time to make them into liquid then strained to remove the solid bits. The sugary sweetness had long all turned into heady alcohol, and it would serve to get the nobleman very, very drunk if he gave it the chance.

Dimitri lowered to inspect the mug at eye level, tapping it as the bubbles rose to the frothy foam top. "And I was beginning to think you didn't like me," he teased, raising the drink with hearty approval. The bartender grunted again, moving away to attend to other customers.

Dimitri shrugged, took a swig, and slammed it back on the table as the liquid burned in the back of his throat, then trailed down into his chest. He coughed then licked his lips. "Well," He was startled by the strength of it, but it didn't serve to dissuade him, no. The taste was rather charming as he chugged down his money's worth.

Soon as his mug touched the table, a shadow loomed over his shoulder and spit in what was left of his rough. Dimitri's face soured. "What a waste…" he lamented. A disgruntled group of the town's men surrounded him on all corners. Dimitri sighed, unfazed, then picked up his top hat to press it down on the stranger's head beside him. "Hold onto that, would you, please?" he asked before being yanked by the back of his coat and right off his stool.

Rory waved Niko off, shaking his head. "Aye," he was not going to start anything, not tonight. He had promised Tybalt that he would be good. At least, that's what sober Rory had promised. All bets were off on drunk Rory. "Tassie's empty," he stared into the bottom of the cup, realizing that he had polished off another.

Beside them, asruth was brewing. "Place's hoachin tonight." Things were about to busy for the trio who had come for a quiet night of drinking.

Niko rummaging through his coat, paused, A brawl? "Eine Schlägerei?" He glanced to the side. A couple of disgruntled barflies surrounded the fancy gent, dangling him in the air by his collar. He snorted, resuming his search for a cigarette, "Me bets on the pretty lass. No fancy critter looks that calm unless he be drunk or ready t' fight." Niko laughed as he found his cigarette, popping it in his mouth. Now, if only he could find his light.

Tybalt scratched at his head and groaned. He downed the rest of his mug, not because he wanted to, but because he supposed the rest of it would shortly wind up on the floor otherwise. This wasn't his first barfight; it wouldn't be his last.

Dimitri swayed back and forth in the burly man's grip like a coat on a clothesline. He craned his neck around a bit to offer an innocent grin to his captor. "I abhor being picked up in this manner. Actually, I abhor being picked up at all. Might I propose we skip to dinner?" Dimitri said before being swung around dizzily to face the angry mob gathered. Oh, he knew them, and they knew him.

One of 'em spat out, "If it ain't a good fer nothin' Dankworth."

The atmosphere was tense as even those unfit for fighting had a taste for it. Knuckles were cracked and sleeves were rolled. All had a bone to pick, yelling out their personal grievances to compete who had the right to land the first blow. Raised voice after another, listing the family Dankworth's crimes. Bribery, blackmail, theft, assault, mainly assault. The name stripped of its nobility status and wealth made Dimitri commonfolk, and they could do as they liked with commonfolk.

Dimitri raised a hand and interrupted. "Pardon me, I took part in no such activity."

He was kissing the unforgiving floor in a heartbeat, and his monocle cracked. Dimitri coughed and hiccuped. Quite accepting of his new position on the ground, he took out a handkerchief from his breast pocket to gently brush away the glass and blood from his right eye. Luckily, no shards went in.

That was all the prompting that Rory needed to get involved. He rose pushed back from his bar stool, the chair legs scraping with a squeal on the wooden floorboards. Rory cracked his knuckles in anticipation for a good battering. "Oy ye eejit!" Rory called, rolling up his sleeves. "That's gee-in me the boak!" The Scotsman bellowed, indicating that their behavior was making him sick.

Locating his lighter, Niko sparked the end of his cigarette. Ready to enjoy a smoke, his peace was interrupted by Rory. His barstool squealed, echoing in the bar. Now on his drunk feet, Niko knew a storm was brewing, "Verdammt. Du, Tybalt, do I stop 'im?"

Tybalt cracked his neck, giving the matter a few moments longer of patience. When it became apparent that the situation would not be improving, and that the man on the floor was likely not to be left alone there... He gave his say with a wave of his hand. Rory and Niko were free to partake in his defense.

Niko quietly stood, his bar stool pushed to the side. He turned to the bartender, who held his now full mug in his hand, "Keep that safe fer me."

He passed Rory, tapping his shoulder, then walked up to the group. Most intimidated by his presence, backed away. However, there is always one—a tall gent with a crooked eyes and nasty teeth stood in his path.

Niko, cigarette still in mouth, took a long drag and huffed the smoke in his face. Old crooked eye, now blinded, did not see but felt a fist pushed against his cheek. Tumbling back with a mighty force, his body rolled over a table.

Niko grunted, rolling his shoulders. He gave the rest of the men a wild grin when their attention entirely fixed on him. All a bit hesitant, "Bunch o' Schweinehunds. Du, Rory. Wants t' bet? Twenty 'n an ale says I can swing down more barflies than du." he asks as the group finally charges at him, their drunk roars ringing in the bar.

Tybalt's slight wave was all the approval that Rory needed to swing his fist. He tossed an uppercut to the mad wi'it beside him. "I'll gie ye a skelpit lug!" Rory guffawed. The Englishman slapped him in the chest with both arms, trying to push him back. Rory swung again. He needed no superpowered prowess to throw a good lug at the blethering bloke in front of him.

"Stay out of this!" The Englishman snapped, throwing a blind punch. Rory laughed off the blow, the alcohol having dampened his sense of pain some. "Ya rubbered bairn!" He taunted with a laugh. "Better to haud yer weesht and skedaddle off if ye don want another one to yer paunch!"

"Speak English ya drunk! This is England!" The Englishman taunted, "Or are you too knackered to understand me?"
"Blethering eejit!" Rory balled his fist, punching the man in the face so hard, the Englishman spun in a circle before hitting the bar, his nose squelching with a sickening crunch!

Dimitri pulled himself together in the momentary peace of fists swung every way but his way. He rolled onto his side- "Les Trois Mousquetaires has arrived," -then onto his back. He removed the broken monocle and pinched the bridge of his nose, checking it wasn't broken too. His head was throbbing, giving in to the beer's spell combined with the hit.

Arghh, well, he had time to 'make amends.' He gradually got up, dusted off his clothes, and fluttered open his eyes. The right one was stinging with cuts across it, but it could still work wonders. "I'll take that bet, gentlemen!" Dimitri shouted playfully before occupying another stool and swiping the drink off the bartender's hands, who had gone into hiding. With a large gulp, he exhaled, satisfied. After a few more swigs, he shook the mug upside down, then hiccuped.

A stool struck Niko's back — meant for his head, but the German was too tall. The clash shattered the board but Niko remained standing. He turned, catching the brave lout's neck between his arm and squeezed. While he flapped around like a fish out of water, Niko took a short break, having no plans to let a perfect cigarette go to waste. Amid his smoke, another man attacked, and Niko snatched him in his other arm. The two men floundered around, and he squeezed harder.

The burliest of gents had awoken during the mounting chaos. Dimitri smirked over as he shrunk the man's clothes, enough to constrict movements like a coiled snake. Startled and caught unaware, the big oaf toppled. Kissing the ground like Dimitri once was, was a good look for him. "Tuck away your twiddlediddles or else I'll shrink them~" A tipsy Dimitri warned with a song's tune riddled in his voice, a wagging finger, and another hiccup.

Niko ignored their gasps and focused on the fancy gent flooring old crooked eye, "Ja! Thar du go! Knew thar be more t' du than a weak lass." he laughed at Dimitri's boldness for taking his drink and last catch. "Bet, fancy scallywag. But, du be owing me Twenty 'n two ales instead. Now, try these two fer size." Niko tossed the two Flanders in his arms toward Dimitri. They gasped for air and stumbled, but seeing their first target in sight, their lost vigor renewed and charged like wild beasts.

Dimitri combed back his hair through his fingers as he was called a 'fancy scallywag' and smirked with the bet declared on. Niko's leftovers sent his way, Dimitri reeled them in with cocky smiles and waves until the very last moment. He shrunk out of their sights, and the two Flanders flew over the bar carried by sheer momentum. Dimitri returned to normal, crossed his legs, and leaned back to peer over. "Hanging in there, barkeep?" he cried out, hearing that ever familiar grunt. "Good enough for me,"

Dimitri stood up on his stool wobbly. He recited which foot to put his weight on before jumping literally into the fray. He shrunk midair to the size of a flea and landed on a bald man's head. Steadying himself enough to a stand, he returned to full form and, more noticeably, weight. The suddenness of it all and mocking tap of the shoe sent the poor chap falling. Dimitri swung his arms about, falling along with him, then shrinking again only to repeat the process over and over. Using his balance or lack thereof, he stumbled and fell everywhere.

One poor fellow was the exception and treated like a horse, Dimitri's feet on his shoulders while pulling the man's large ears like the reins. "Trot thatta way please!" Smack bang into a wall.

A cloud of smoke swirled around Niko as he leaned against the bar. No one wanted to fight him. Their rage entirely focused on Rory and the other gent. So he watched, only moving to hurl away any unlucky nitwit who stumbled too close to Tybalt or the cowering barkeeper.

Tapping some ashes from his cigarette into an empty mug, Niko whistled as Dimitri played the louts like a fiddle, "Alter! Wha' do we 'ave here? Du, Tybalt. That fancy scallywag be like us. Who'd 'ave thought?" Niko laughed, popping the cig back in his mouth. A second later, yet another victim of Dimitri's tricks came zooming over the counter, landing on the other side. Like the many others, Niko bent over the table and snagged him up by his trousers, "We nigh-on done, Barmann." He didn't wait for an answer and tossed the body back.

Before he could turn around, he felt a weight against his back. He wondered who wanted to pick a fight but smiled when he heard Dimitri's voice. "I think we have a winner, pay hic up..." 'Twas all Dimitri managed to say before a wave of exhaustion and the sedative effect of booze claimed him to sleep like a log. "Ja, a bet be a bet." Hearing a thud, Niko turned and stared. "...Out o' steam?" Niko lifted Dimitri like a doll and sat him on one of the few unbroken stools, "I leave 'im t' du, Tybalt." He walks toward the crowd of groaning men, many with missing teeth or a broken nose, among other things.

Niko lifts the two closest to the door and hoists their bodies over his shoulder, "Ach du lieber Himmel! Rory! Enough! Let the broken bastards be 'n start pattin' 'em down. Any loose coins du fine, give it t' the Barmann." After giving instructions to his drunken friend, he began moving the unconscious barflies outside, tossing them in the piles of trash against the wall—he pats down any bodies Rory hadn't checked for valuables.

Tybalt ensured the bartender was well-compensated and, with Dimitri yet incapacitated, simply lifted him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes to where he might find recovery. The remainder of their drinking that evening would more responsibly take place aboard their ship.




Awakening in a bedroom hasty to be kissed by morning, a slumbered eye would first notice a large prismed window, passaging the blurring particles of warm sunlight. Overhead lay the aged rosewood of the upper bunk, the sand-shaded blanket clinging tightly to the wayward drunk's form. Stripped to comfort, his folded clothes from the night prior were stacked neatly into a square, rested on a short stool.

A dawn sigh would reveal that the air felt overly purified, a mountain spring in aerated form. Devoid of dust, it flowed like drink, and was almost addicting to merely breath. The floor itself, a harsher pine reflected the sun like gloss, a step from one's cleanest soles would still find a way to birth stain.

And seated stiff at the singular desk close to the large window was a tanned skin man, dressed neatly and performing a routine combination of checking back at the resting Dimitri and fiddling with an ornate flintlock.

Memories weaved into dreams. Dimitri had tipped his hat in bittersweet goodbye to the dancing silhouettes in the window above. His parents sequestered in the drawing room were celebrating a scheme that would fail to come to fruition for the last time. The Dankworth estate grew distant and blurred. Like a thief in the night, miniature trinkets jangled inside coat pockets, and not a trace of who the Dankworth son was, was left behind.

The young nobleman stirred to the side, clutching his aching head as a curl of bangs temporarily hid his scarring eye. The other eye could be seen rolling about in a state of frenzy, trying to get one's bearings. The most conspicuous object of the room was the man, the next without debate the weapon. There, he would draw his answers.

Dimitri propped his head up in a hand, elbow buried in the bed's mattress. Albeit missing pieces of the night before, he donned a lopsided grin. "Did I keep you waiting?" Not once did he break line of sight, not even as the sheets cascaded to display skin.

Catching Lawrence on the ebb of his peering, his glare was scrutinized tightly on the pistol even as Dimitri's voice momentarily grasped his attention. Cleansing the powder blackened inner walls of the circular barrel with a combination of his ability and a snow furred swab, he spoke with a equal parts casualty and clear irritation. "Can't fault you for losing track of time in rest..though I will for sleeping in my bed."

Placing the weapon nicely in the left quadrant of the table and swiveling his mahogany seat, he finally turned to face his shameless grin. The azure flames in his eyes dissipated into drifting cottons, making way for a sharp ashen gaze bespectacled by crystalline glasses. Speaking with a glowered mumble, a half-fenced whisper escaped him, seemingly directed to no one in particular. It was hushed but the words "Peps" and "he's up" were somewhat discernable.

Reaffirming his focus, he turned to the nobleman, making evident an aversion to the present dialogue. "If you'd like to make it up to me, the door's that way." Lawrence motioned and shrugged to the south side of their room.

The less accommodating his new acquaintance was, the more Dimitri felt in his element. Spirits lifted from his melancholic dream, he sat up and stretched his muscles that were sore from exertion with a mixture of exaggerated sighs and groans. Appearing that he was not under 'immediate' threat, his mouth restrained no words.

”Fault me for neither.” he responded, seeing as he did not recollect coming here of his own accord so someone else must have been responsible. Lawrence faulting him for it, made it clear it was not his idea either. “There’s room for two. Have you not tried?” He alluded to the birds and bees, tongue-in-cheek, before knocking the rosewood overhead. ”Assuming that’s not just for show.”

He rose to his feet, stumbling a little as the drinks prior were still taking a toll. He picked up his folded clothes, pausing at the neat arrangement before ruining it to dress. Pulling his arms through the sleeves, he covered the bruises he had earned and talked freely more than he winced.

“Should we never meet again, I just have to say, perhaps you should ease up on the stress.“ Dimitri turned and with his own face to serve as an example, traced a picture of the supposed stress lines; across the forehead, between the brows, the corners of one’s mouth. “You already have silver threads.”

While Lawrence didn't exactly resemble a shining example of hospitality, whoever this man was ranked farther than an ideal guest. Folding his arm into a cross, a similarly exaggerated scoff escaped him before buckling down for the sharp conversation. "From context clues.." Lawrence brought an extended digit into the air, pointing and placing emphasis onto his gray-shaded glare and accompanying scowl. "I hope it's clear that I'm not privy to guests, despite the apparent room size."

Rising in tandem, the man carried himself into a stand, unfettering a creased rag and dipping it into a modest concave of soapy water. With deft practice, he focused his gaze to the spot Dimitri had just graced with his knuckle, pivoting past him and dabbing the spot in question.

"No offense, but I'd rather not heed advice from a wayward drunk." He spoke from behind Dimitri, protracted squeaks accompanying his voice before he folded the damp napkin and pocketed it.

Jutting his elbows out and up, Lawrence drifted his arms to Dimitri's neck to straighten his collar, the fabric unkempt courtesy of his fall. Lawrence's cleanliness habits didn't pass by unnoticed, especially not when he cared for the presentation of Dimitri's collar like his own mother. Dimitri sighed at the uncomfortable proximity but made no other move to reject the motion. With slightly harsh motions, the man eventually concluded his invasion of personal boundaries before nodding contently and squeezing past him the way he initially came.

Making his way back to his seat, Lawrence allowed his weight to settle before locking a softer scan with the now dressed noble. "If my intent was to drink myself unconscious, I'd normally bring some friends but they found you alone. You had some stress to ease up on yourself?"

Dimitri had been wary and testing, but perhaps he really was taken in by the good of people's hearts. As unlikely as it were. His provoking jabs weren't met with the usual outright hostility. "My friends' noses were turned up too high to join in the celebration." He countered while checking his belongings were all accounted for, except one top hat.

"Raised chins I'd imagine is not uncommon for you..noblefolk. Hopefully you didn't expose your back to them too often." The mention of Dimitri's kind was uttered with practiced venom, as if Lawrence strained to have the word seep from his mouth.

Dimitri stepped forth to leave a reasonable sum to pay for room and board on the desk. "From context clues... " He patted the coins down, his standing stance leaning over the seated Lawrence then engaged in a silent staring contest. Dimitri broke out a sudden smile. "My thanks for the accommodation."

Lawrence stood in conjecture with Dimitri, knowing woefully that a certain ringmaster had tasked him with keeping the guest comfortable and more importantly situated. Shutting his gaze in dreaded pause, he was on the precipice of begging the drunk to stay despite exiling him earlier before being rescued by the sounds of thunderous footsteps..tailed closely by tiny mouse-like paps. Saved by his leader, he spoke with an eased smile. "Not me you should be thanking."

The back-and-forth between Lawrence and his guest was briefly accompanied by a knock at the door. "Good morning, fellows; may I enter?" called a warm and polite voice that Lawrence would recognize and Dmitri very likely wouldn't.

The door slid open, sequestered by the tip of a ruby-topped cane, revealing a man whose stature demanded he duck his head just to enter the cabin. Ever at his side was a diminutive blonde girl with flowing locks whose enormous and sparkling eyes conveyed the words she could not speak.

One of his long, lanky legs jutted forward, and with a single step he had situated himself well-inside the room; not for its small size, but for his great strides. He was larger than life, and his little companion did no favors to make him seem like a person and not a giant. The showman wouldn't have had it any other way.

Having spent the evening prior waiting for her Papa to return, the last thing Etoile had expected was for him to come home bearing a new accessory. A strange man, passed out over his shoulder like a mink scarf. Immediately curious and wary, Etoile insisted on accompanying Tybalt this morning, both to satiate her own appetite for wonderment and to find out who the mysterious, new, special, man was.

"Gentlemen, I judge by your mutual exuberance that you are becoming well-acquainted!" he cheerily proclaimed in a warm baritone. "Heartening! The townsfolk here have... stories to tell about our dear guest - I do hope they are merely stories - but if you get off so rightly with our fastidious marksman, you must be a fine fellow, indeed."

Previously stood in riposte, the timely entry of the beloved ringmaster loosened even the likes of Lawrence. He regarded the new entries with relative silence, imparting a customary nod to both Tybalt and his little helper. Settling back into his seat, he swiveled away and turned his attention back to his weapon.

Dimitri rubbed his temples, the booming voice resurfacing a dull pressure on the sides of his head. "Well met," he greeted back politely to the pair, but the playfulness he afforded before dissipated at a sore spot—the stories. Dimitri fell silent but not for too long. With a dry chuckle, he spoke, "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Sir...?"

"Tybalt Benjamin Jean-Pierre LeGrand de la Fontaine," he amended with a bow, "but 'Tybalt' will suffice. You are aboard the airship Rédempteur, the conveyance of the world-famous Cirque du Volés, for a brief respite and, perhaps, a reevaluation of circumstances."

Small creaks drifted into the air, the marksman oiling the hammer dutifully. Timed to speak during a moment of clear air, he aimed his own concerns at the present conversation. "Whether respite or something else, I'd prefer y'all speak elsewhere. You know how much I value my privacy." With cold casualness, the man spoke with distracted eyes knowing fully that his concerns would fall to blissfully deaf ears.

"Cirque du Volés?" Dimitri repeated then unfurled a cheshire cat grin. "Ah, let me guess, you wish to dispense my magic tricks?" He hadn't been exactly subtle about his peculiar ability. He had expended it even at the pub with an inebriated mind.

"Unfortunately, it's not something I can teach but I do owe you my gratitude for the involvement of your boys- one who owes me twenty and another ale by the way." Dimitri's gaze curved behind Tybalt, as if Niko would appear at any moment. Alas, it didn't happen.

"I dislike debt over a good deed. So, you have my undivided attention." He folded his arms and leaned back into the edge of the desk, enough to hold him but not to disturb Lawrence's activity. Only Lawrence's space.

Conversation was something that typically did not interest Etoile, for obvious reasons. While her Papa spoke with the stranger, Etoile took it upon herself to investigate what Lawrence was doing. The child crept closer, still holding onto Tybalt's pants, just in case he needed her.

Dimitri shuffled aside to not hinder her view. "Unusual." he commented, referring to Etoile's presence in the room. Though he had no qualms about it, it was unusual in the sense children were rarely around during the conversations between adults. Or did that only apply to nobles? "You must trust her a great deal."

"Tut-tut, Lawrence; this man may yet be your future roommate," Tybalt explained. He idly brushed through Etoile's hair as he spoke, reminding her of his presence. Surely they were very close. Perhaps he was her father?

He turned back to Dimitri. "After all, I seek not your secrets but your talents. You are not the only one aboard this vessel with unteachable tricks."

Perhaps it was the cruel musings of fate that the reiterations that Lawrence would prefer to be alone were subsequently followed by not one, but two new additions into his personal space bubble. Regardless, he met the arrangements with relative stride, imparting softer eyes and angling himself so his routine took center stage to the mouse's fascinated gaze. After a moment, he manifested a pointed glare as his potential roommate joined the "Order of the Desk".

After oiling the interworking contraptions of the flint and lock, Lawrence fished his napkin from his pocket and wiped the surface of the barrel sparingly. After his weapon was cleaned and primed, he hovered it out for the child's curious hands if she so wished. A weapon unfit for dainty fingers sure, but while he would not mind for a misfire to render him roommate-less once more, the gun was wholly unloaded and harmless.

Craning his eyes to meet the nobleman, cerulean energies gathered in his glower the moment the circus-master spieled on about "not being the only one", the air quality of the room noticeably growing clearer. "'Talents' are to be determined, but if you're here, you must have nowhere else to go. I'd accept the gracious offer if I were you."

Naturally, when offering something to a curious mouse, the mouse was inclined to accept it. Etoile released her Papa's pants, taking the device from Lawrence with both hands. She was uncertain of what it was. Naive of the dangers that came with the tool in her hands, Etoile turned it over, looking up between the adults, then back down.

Was this what Lawrence used in his acts? 《Bang?》 She signed, recalling the loud sound that came from it.

While by no means an expert, his sharp eyes compensated for a rudimentary understanding of sign language. The girl gesturing to her ears followed by a frenzied motion was interpreted as Etoile's attempt at mirroring the noise of the weapon. With a lengthy nod, he reaffirmed her question.

Etoile handed the tool back to Lawrence, wondering how something so small made such a loud sound. With that taken care of, Etoile retook her post by Tybalt's leg, hiding behind him once again.

Dimitri's posture straightened up and like a different person altogether, his voice rang as cold as a touch of winter frost. "Show me." What Tybalt had revealed, rattled his world down to the core.

He whipped out his cane from his coat pocket like nothing but the stick lengthened to reach the ground. He poked the ground twice with it, the window's rays dancing off the silver pommel before being consumed by his hand. Both hands falling over it now, he leaned forward and his eyes glistened with a predatory sharpness. This new Dimitri was more aligned to the airs of a nobleman. Although the scent of beer clung to his clothes still, his demeanor had shifted so much so that it seemed out of place.

Innocent eyes stared up at Dimitri, watching him use his ability with a curious gaze. Her eyes widened when his cane grew in size. Even if she lived among specials; Etoile never failed to be impressed by their talents.

Tybalt, supposing that Lawrence was tiring of restraint, overturned his hand and gestured for a demonstration he deemed fitting. It was a rare moment that it became socially acceptable for Lawrence to wield his powers instead of his words to put someone in their place, but here was a golden opportunity from the Ringmaster himself.

Readying for the call to action, Lawrence took a modest breath and held out his palm, his eyes fully reigniting with azure flame. Straining his gaze, he focused on the neckerchief he had left on the table, a warm breeze swooping the napkin into the air before it swam into his open hand. Now raising his other arm in response, he hovered his opposite digits with small circular stirring, the cloth folding itself into an orderly square with light airy shifts.

Dropping his raised arm, Lawrence instead placed emphasis onto his holding paw, a diminutive whirlwind circulating at the center of his palm. The coursing air ferried the napkin back to its original position on the left side of his table.

With a small sigh, the energy in his eyes faded and resumed their ashen tones before he turned back to face Tybalt and Dimitri fully.

Etoile was lucky enough to get to see another up close. She watched Lawrence's little show, gripping Tybalt's pant leg a bit tighter, a bit more wary when it came to the silver marksman.

Dimitri dropped his cane, the thud followed by the removal of his coat tossed carelessly onto the bed he had slept on. He loosened his collar with a casual tug and sighed. "Taken the wind out of my sails. How can I journey anymore?" He muttered under his breath before extending his right hand out to the one they looked up to as their leader.

"From this day forth Sir Tybalt Benjamin Jean-Pierre LeGrand de la Fontaine-" he remembered, his tongue swirling inside his mouth to feel the pricks. "Memphis, at your service. Consider Lawrence's privacy adequately disturbed."

Tybalt took the hand and shook it firmly, but added, "On the condition that you do not stir up trouble here, I would be proud to make place for you. You realize, of course, that Lawrence has seniority...and will report any unsavory conduct."

Adequately not excessively. A joke's ruined when one must explain. The now 'Memphis' thought, opting for keeping his cards close to his vest. His face dropped as his hand did serving as the only hint of discontentedness.

Lawrence took a pause to softly rub the small smudges fogged by curious digits before settling the weapon on the right quadrant of the mahogany desk. Noticing a slight unkemptness, Lawrence rose to his feet, and while hunching faintly, begun to nudge the rested items with slight shifts. Flintlock and napkin on their respective sections but not nearing too close the cliff of the edge, lamp standing tall in the middle back (but slightly inched to the right). After a rare instance of frenzy, Lawrence finally settled before rejoining the dialogue.

The concept of seniority was a begrudgingly agreed upon fact for the marksman. He had been taught with word and fist that experience trumps all even if he normally trusted his own judgement too comfortably for his own good. Under the constructs of precedence..Memphis, who most likely was older, reported under him and Lawrence who towered over the little mouse reported under her.

"Does breathing my air count as an unsavory offense? Just askin' before I abuse my rank.." With a characteristic sigh, he trudged towards the bed and folded the thrown coat with quick deft motions before placing it in the middle of the mattress.

Memphis looked over his shoulder, catching Lawrence's remark as an invitation to settle in. "How stingy, Lawrence Sr. when you can just whip up some more." He quipped, resuming his more playful nature as he sat down at the desk where Lawrence once sat before the man was distracted by his little mess.

Tybalt covered his mouth to disguise a chuckle. "We can discuss matters further over breakfast," he concluded, gently shepherding Etoile out of the room with him to lead the way to the dining hall.

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Character Portrait: Memphis Character Portrait: Rien
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Sound poured in from every inch of the large tent, bespoke with lights that twinkled as though to mimic the stars. The magnanimous ringmaster stood at the very center of the circle, having dismounted an elephant after a burst of smoke. From the rafters, a gear turned, which made barrels of small, colorful pieces of paper rain down on their audience like hail. Outside, the rain pelted against the technicolor fabric in typical English fashion. England only had two modes of weather: rainy, or unbearably muggy. Tonight, it was the former.

Rien was waiting in the wings; having done this for four years now, she thought herself to be something of an expert. On a day like today, however, most of the performers were huddled in jackets to keep their muscles warm. Their trapeze artists had just dismounted, taking a final flourishing bow on the ground before walking back towards the waiting area.

Suddenly, Alistair swooped over to grab Etoile and throw her over his shoulder, laughing at his little joke. Etoile, however, was pounding her little fists against his back, trying to get him to put her down. The crowd ate it up, not realizing that Etoile’s distress at the sudden action was genuine.

It was only backstage that he released her. Etoile huffed, hurrying off to huddle beneath one of the blankets while waiting for the last few acts. This was not the end for them, every performer must return to take their final bows at the end of the show.

From outside, the booming voice of their Ringmaster could be heard echoing over the applause.

That was Rien's cue. She sashayed from the wings, holding the foil of her saber, grinning from ear to ear.

The adrenaline made the rest of the evening pass by in something of a blur. After taking her bows, Rien and a few of the other adults took the elevator up into the dazzling dining hall. What was once an observatory had become the gathering place for their meals. Pieces of its former use still remained, what with tall glass windows and elegant dining table, now slightly marred by knives and scratches, despite the plea from their resident healer to not bring weapons to the table.

Amongst the crowd was one who had blended in seamlessly. He watched the show with great interest, observing every act, oddity, and performer from beginning to end.

"What were the chances I'd cross paths with Duchess Corbeau again-" Memphis drawled, swirling his drink absentmindedly with the liquid time and time again, very close to spilling over. "-here and now?" He turned away briefly from his conversational partner to take a swig and rub the crease that formed between his brows with the empty bottle's rim. Rien, as the finale was fresh in his mind. Not so different from the Duchess he met once upon a time except happier, perhaps?

If he recalled correctly, all the performers had a unique talent of their own. What was Rien's? He had thought he would be the only noble to consider the circus as a livelihood. He whispered, voice barely audible. "You put me in a very delicate situation, milady."

She hadn’t wronged him, no. But she knew who he was, his real name. "That is if you remember me?" He queried, greeted by silence once more. The hung up circus poster, depicting Rien in all her showmanship glory had no answer or words of advice to bestow.

Memphis raised his drink to the poster, done with gathering his thoughts; strolled over to the real Rien. Along the way, he downed the beer left in his glass in much the same fashion he had witnessed Rien swallow her sword. Memphis sat next to her nonchalantly like time hadn't passed between them and popped open a new bottle. He poured and merrily whistled until all the cups at the table were filled to the brim. His breath smelled of the stuff, bitter and pungent, but he wasn't drunk, not yet.

Rien had not noticed him, not yet at least. She was taken by the current shenanigans right across the table, James Martella had gotten into yet another argument with Riftan, the two making a wager over whether or not they get away with sneaking into Tybalt’s corridors to steal his precious ruby-topped cane.

Beside her, Genya sighed. ”When will those boys learn?” She took a slow drink from her stemmed glass, much preferring wine over cheap beer. ”If I have to mend another pair of drawers-” her words made Rien laugh.

The empty seat on her opposite side had suddenly become filled, but Rien took little notice. It was common for performers and workers to come and go on nights like these.

"I wonder. Do you still practice alone?"

Rien nearly choked on her drink. ”You,” she turned quickly to face him. Like a ghost having returned to haunt her, the last person she had ever expected to see was suddenly seated beside her.

”What are you doing here?”

Memphis smiled as he captured her attention. “Looking for you,” he answered without missing a beat and took another swig. “I never left the garden, the winds must have-” he whirled a finger in the air, then pointed left and right, unable to tell which direction the wind was really coming from. “Carried me here.” Memphis poked the tip of her nose, his touch warm despite the cool beer bottles he had been cradling throughout the evening. “To you, milady.” He locked his gaze on her amber hues, sighed dramatically as if defeated by their chance encounter, and rested his cheek against his knuckles. Still staring, he said boldly, “Perchance it’s the hand of fate, shall we do as nobles do and get married?”

Some part of her felt guilty. She had fled her home in the middle of the night with only a suitcase, a sword, and an urge to leave everything behind. She had hardly given a second thought to the people she would never see again. Never mind that, Rien had not seen Memphis since before her marriage.

”I suppose luck was on your side then, if you are being truthful, to have brought you straight to my doorstep.” Then, in a most unlady-like manner, Rien downed the rest of her drink. On her other side, Genya stifled a laugh. The seamstress rose to give them a bit of space, thinking they might need it.

Memphis placed a hand over his heart as he picked apart her words. “You wound me, milady. Would you not count it lucky to have me here as well?” He shook his head with emphasis. “That simply won’t do, Rien.”

“My side,” He pointed at himself, “-your doorstep…” then eloquently gestured around the space, including her circus troupe in the picture. “-will soon be one and the same.” He confessed, pausing to let the knowledge that his stay had been arranged sink in.

Her easy smile had returned, the Duchess leaned forward, forgoing all manners, to clasp one of his hands in both of her own. ”That is wonderful Memphis,” Rien had lived in this world so long, where rank did not garner respect, that she was rusty when it came to the practices of nobles. Of course, the alcohol helped too.

He hadn’t expected such a positive reception. Memphis’s gaze strayed to their hands, then returned upwards to Rien in somewhat of a daze. "Is that how you truly feel?" he asked before his eyes darted away for a reprieve.

She released his hand after a moment, perhaps returning to her senses. ”I suppose we were both hiding something beneath one another’s noses.” Blaise reached across the table to refill their glasses.

Rien let out a laugh at his proposition. ”Maybe one day, when the winds have calmed, but for the time being, I am happily unmarried, thank you very much.”

With a carefree smirk, he swooped up his glass and raised it slightly towards her for a toast, “To luck, calm winds and for now, happily breaking my heart?”

"To calm winds," She raised her glass, clinking it against his in a toast.

Rien was silent for a moment, perhaps contemplative. "So, what is it then?" Rien never sought to hide her gifts from her crew mates, sometimes it was impossible to anyhow, what with the black ichor that would occasionally drip from her nose or mouth. If Memphis asked her to show him her talent, Rien would happily agree.

What she had once spent an eternity loathing as an illness, turned out to be a gift.

Another bottle through, Memphis was starting to feel woozy. He brushed the mess of bottles aside to make space, then let his head hit the table with a thump!
Hearing Rien's voice, he turned to face her and began to dig into his pockets and check around his waist. He had his personal effects with him, but he couldn't remember where he put this or that for the life of him. "How about you pick for me a-aah.... an item and I'll show you?" Memphis suggested, snapping his fingers when he successfully shared his idea. He then outstretched an arm with an open palm, waiting to receive it.

Rien laughed, he was showing her a side to him that she had never seen before. The Memphis that Rien knew was stiff and proper. It was nice to throw away their formalities. Not a Duchess nor an heir, just a boy and a girl roped into a man's circus. "Alright how about... this." Rien reached into her pocket, pulling out the knife she always kept on her person. She placed it into his outstretched hand, waiting eagerly to see what he would do.

Memphis shifted his weight onto his chin to inspect what he had gotten. Clutching the knife by the handle, he brought it closer to his face, and flipped it over. He whistled. "Just like you to pick something dangerous..." He commented before dangling it by his side. He looked at Rien once more before swinging his arm, and in the blink of an eye.... The knife became relatively long, like a sword by the time he had swung it full circle and dropped it on the table between them.

Rien watched with great interest, enthralled by his performance. He was a natural born showman.

The clang of metal against wood was enough to garner the attention of the others at the table. Some of which had their unique... constitution, while others were fairly normal, but used to the shenanigans of the ones with abilities. It only took a moment for the room to grow loud again, minding their own once more. Rien, however, clapped; she was laughing again.

Memphis flicked away imaginary beads of sweat from his forehead. "Tough crowd." He quipped, seeing as his trick didn't earn as much attention as it usually did from ordinary folk. Well, at least Rien was impressed. Memphis sat upright, tilted his head back and closed his eyes for a few seconds trying to sober up enough for conversation.

"Don't take it too personally. When you work in a Circus, you see a lot of strange things." There was a boy here who never missed his target and a girl who could make others succumb to her whims with her song. There was even a clown in the very next room, who could hear a pin drop in France.

"But it really is something quite spectacular. Now I understand that story with those boys... oh what were they called," in her drunken haze, their names escaped her. "They cowered like scolded dogs anytime they met your eyes at a party. Now I know why."

Memphis folded his arms over the table, interest piqued. "Oh? You had eyes for me even back then?" He teased with a smug smirk before blowing his messy bangs away from his eyes.

"You stood out," Rien was a woman of honesty. "I wasn't the only one. Noe was a big fan of yours," it was easier to speak about her these days.

"Noe?" He repeated with a raised eyebrow in mild disbelief. They'd only exchanged pleasantries, but she was hard to forget as many of his peers were besotted by her beauty.

Rien nodded, "not in the romantic sense." No, as far as Rien knew, Noe had only loved a handful in her life. However, she found fascination in the way others lived. That was why Noe had been... captivated by him.

He slowly slid the grown knife towards her. "What about you, avaleur d'épée? Care to give this humble circus starter some pointers with a closer demonstration?" Memphis didn't know if her act was related to her gift, but the prop was ready should she require it.

It was her turn to show off, then? "Our performances and abilities aren't necessarily the same," Rien explained, lifting the sword up to examine it closer. It still had all of the details of the little knife, including the inscription that had been on the handle. Color her impressed.

Rien turned in front of her and placed her right palm on the wooden table, an inky, sticky substance beginning to pool beneath one hand. With the other, she lifted the sword, dropping it into the hole before closing it up. The Void was a power that took much out of her. She could have just made her shadow dance, but that would not have been anywhere near as impressive as his trick. "Tada," the hole on the table disappeared, not so much as a shadow remaining. "I can fetch that later, don't worry."

Rien's movements brought about a darkness to the likes of which he had never seen before. On the edge of his seat, he inched closer, trying to steal a glimpse of the inside. "Fascinating. May I?" He asked then swept his hand over the table surface where it once was. He brushed his index finger and thumb together. Nothing. Not a trace was left behind. Memphis clapped, thoroughly puzzled. "You'll need me to return it properly afterward, no?"

"Are you mad?" Rien laughed, "I will hang it above my bed as a memento." Unless his ability wore off? Otherwise, Rien full-well intended to keep it forever.

"If that is what the lady desires." He smiled solemnly, a stranger to the enthusiasm. 'Twas a strange feeling that washed over him. Chest light, head heavier. "I wonder about that darkness of yours... What is its name?" He tapped his cheek at a loss. "I wonder what awaits on the other side of it. Do you know?"

Someone had refilled their glasses again. Rien didn't glance around the table to see who. It was almost tradition at this point, to fill an empty cup if you saw one while they were drinking. "I call it The Void," it was an admittedly childish name that she had thought was particularly impressive at thirteen. Rien had yet to think of something better. "I am not sure, no. However, I would be loath to find out." Considering she had suffocated her deceased husband inside of it, there was one thing that Rien knew: The Void was a place that could not sustain life.

As much as Rien had taken Memphis off guard with her touch before, reaching out he found a lot easier. He placed his hand over hers reassuringly, unaware of all she had been through to loathe delving. Memphis had always embraced what made him peculiar, but he would be a fool to compare. "Thank you for showing me." The words rolled off his tongue sincerely this time.

She looked down at his hand, which was slightly larger than her own. It was warm, she thought; wondering what his intention was.

"Although," He pulled away, coming up with a diversion to lighten the mood. "Isn't it a little unfair that only one of us has a memento?" Memphis winked before more beer went down the hatch.

She laughed again at his words and took another sip from her glass. At this point, her head was spinning, but she was having fun. "What do you suggest we do to rectify that then?" She asked teasingly, "hmm?"

"Let's see now…” Memphis lowered his glass, and scratched his chin. "It doesn't have to be a belonging. Perhaps, something so memorable that the booze won't be enough to blot it out?" He hinted slyly.

It was easy to play his words off as a joke. They were both inebriated and past rational thinking. "Something memorable..." She trailed off. In her haze, his hint had flown right over her head.

Memphis shrugged his shoulders, feigning that he hadn’t the slightest clue. That was until, "For instance, I wouldn’t forget a kiss."

Rien’s demeanor shifted. She still wore her smile, but it was a bit more tense than before. "I am afraid that for today, luck is not on your side."

With that, the Duchess downed the rest of her drink and rose. "I've grown a bit tired. Tell me your wish for a memento again tomorrow, alright?" Rien winked, her easy demeanor having returned. Rien flashed one last smile before turning to leave, somehow managing not to stumble.

Mayhap he had just pushed his luck too much. "Alright, rest easy." Memphis relented with a wink in return before finishing off the remainder of his brew.

Even when time ticked away, some things would remain unchanged. Rien was, after all, still Rien. Somehow, she managed to trip over her own foot; perhaps a bit less graceful off stage, when there was no audience around to see.

Memphis slanted his head to look past the crowd and sighed before rising from his seat. He spoke her name softly before throwing her arm over his shoulder. Smiling ever so slightly, "Let's get you home." The word was foreign in his mouth, but he could think of no word more apt. Truthfully, he was happy for her. He just wasn't so sure for himself. "Helping you now is memento enough."

"Thank you," she sighed gratefully, allowing him to assist her. "It's this way,"
The cabin deck wasn't far from the dining room, only a short elevator ride down. "You are joining us, right?" She looked up at him, "Welcome home Memphis." The elevator was just big enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder, with only a metal gate across the front for safety. It took them down two levels, to a hallway full of doors, each of which had two or three names on them. Some of the doors were decorated with ribbons and flowers, one had a happy birthday banner made out of parchment and glitter pasted to the front.

Escorting Rien was the quietest Memphis had been since their reunion, contemplating if this piece of the world was home for him too or were Rien and him destined to part ways again? "It seems almost unfair. I get a new sword and you get to help, but regardless, I am thankful for your assistance." She stopped in front of her door, the room she shared with Maria, who was practically the ship's mother. "Have a goodnight Memphis."

He summoned a smile and masked his concerned musings. "Not at all. I told you my wish and you have granted it." He took a step back, giving a respectable distance, and lowered into a graceful bow. Well, as much as a drunk nobleman can pull off out of habit. "Goodnight, Rien."

Like a shadow in the sun, Rien disappeared behind her door, thinking the encounter to be nothing more than a dream she had, had in a drunken haze. When morning came, Rien's temples were both throbbing and the light coming in through the curtain did not help. Part of her wanted to sleep in, but she knew that if she started slipping into bad habits now, she would never get out of them. It took some coaxing, whispered in murmurs beneath her breath, to bring herself to rise.

"Bonjour," Maria greeted, sitting in front of their little vanity, brushing her golden hair. "You were out late last night. Midnight rendezvous with a lover, perhaps?" She asked with a teasing smile.

"No, nothing like that. Although, I did have the oddest dream. I dreamt of a friend I have not seen in a long, long time." Rien stretched her arms above her head with a yawn. "Sometimes, dreams are messages from our subconscious. You thought of that friend because you want to see them again, oui?" Was there a part of Rien that missed the boy from the garden? Probably, but while Maria was a romantic, Rien was a bit more practical. To her, dreams would always just be dreams. ”Come sit, you are in pain, I can tell.” Relenting to Maria's whim of braiding her hair, Rien quickly threw on a pair of trousers and a shirt and made her way to the dining room.

The dining room erupted into laughter and bellowing, loud and erratic as thunder and lightning so early in the morning. Memphis was ever so politely covering his mouth, snickers escaping the gaps. While on the other side, anger and embarrassment were written across James's features, steam coming out of his nostrils. James slammed his fist on the table, but it changed nothing as the room continued, roaring—the sound of others' amusement ringing in his ears and not the good kind, despite being a clown.

Memphis’s hand fell away once he regained a semblance of composure. "The face you're making right now leaves much to be desired for a poker face." He teased, poking out his tongue like a misbehaving child at Sunday school. James gritted his teeth and slammed his fist on the table once more. "You cheated!" The man shouted, every syllable laced with venom and disgust. "You cheated yourself." Memphis corrected, then folded his arms resolute. James stared down at his fan of cards, drew a sharp breath, and bit his bottom lip.

The elevator dinged and Rien shuffled out tiredly, wondering why there was so much noise coming from the dining room this early on. A roar like thunder from an unmistakable voice was bellowing throughout the hall, echoing off of the glass and metal walls. "What happened?" Rien queried Blaise, who was leaning against the wall, eating a piece of hardy bread.

"I'm not quite sure, but I think the newcomer has just kicked James's a$$ in a game of cards. It's about time too, someone ought to put that man in his place.”

Rien was curious, she could hardly see over the other crew members that had gathered to watch, all of them standing around the table. Rien moved closer, she could hear James's upset cries, his typical accusing the other of cheating. Ever the sore loser, she thought, wondering who it was that had bested him. She inched closer, managing to spot a head of black hair.

Memphis joined in on the rowdy fervor of his victory. He had been fairly warned in advance of the ‘card shark.’ When James came up to him and offered a friendly game to get to know one another, it reminded him of the hazing ceremonies in boarding school.

"Memphis?" Rien cam to realize she had spoken her flabbergasted words aloud. The dream from the evening prior popped into her tired mind, her head reeling with the memory. Surely this meant what she had experienced had not been fabricated by the longing of wanting to see someone again, like Maria had suggested? No, here he was, already making himself at home with the crew.

Memphis’s laughs came to an abrupt halt as he swiveled around to the familiar voice. He hung an arm over his chair with a smirk, caught red-handed in his finest hour but his attention on her was like she was the only one in the room. "Good morning, Rien."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lawrence Character Portrait: Memphis Character Portrait: Rien Character Portrait: Armel Character Portrait: Karolin Baade Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
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Manhattan was unmistakable. A blanket of coal-fueled haze mixed with the beam of gas lights to bathe the whole of the city in a warm glow. Glimmering street signs and marquees lurked in every street, the fog disguising the buildings behind to give the appearance that they were floating in an endless sky; and in that sky, the lamps were as plentiful as stars of the night.

Other stars lived here, too. The port of New York and its venerable successes attracted great minds, great talents, and great wallets alike. Here, opportunities for growth and prosperity seemed endless, and the dreams of its inhabitants were as tall as the city's modern-day towers of Babel stretching towards the heavens for selfsame glory.

However, not all dreams were to the benefit of humanity. Not all wealth was good-gotten and not all that glittered was gold. Behind the façade of altruism, tycoons wrestled amongst one another for dominance over the twin industries of steel, coal, and its myriad of children. One such blessed child was the business of tincture mogul Elliot Maycoff. He manufactured and sold a cure for all varieties of ailment at a low, low cost. Little did his customers know, that their relief was placebo and their bodies and minds were being slowly poisoned by his so-called miracle elixirs. Yet, at a poker game with like minded businessmen, he let his secret slip. In doing so, Maycoff placed a target upon his back by those who envied his position - a target that Tybalt and his band of talented individuals would not hesitate to strike.

The Fifth Avenue Hotel counted itself among one of the most exclusive in New York City. By the growing fame of the Cirque du Volés, it opened its doors to Tybalt LeGrand. With some effort, he was able to ascertain when Maycoff would be staying - and when they could strike.

Assembling key members of his circus around a grand table aboard the Redempteur, he laid out the plan.

"Lawrence. Study the locks. Copy his room key. Leave it in the potted plant by his door, then rendezvous with Rien."

As Lawrence sauntered from the speckless windows to the equally as unblemished front-faced mirrors, he shamelessly grasped the opportunity to orient the embroidered collar that clasped neatly around his limber neck. According to the reddish gold-buttoned overcoat, the snowy gloves and dark slacks, he was hotel staff. According to the name tag he adorned that belonged to some poor bloke, passed out drunk in the alley two blocks down, he was Joe.

Legs trudging as he jostled a creaky cart constructed from springy Ashwood, Lawrence mentally recited the words of the Ringmaster in constant intervals. Mold the key and meet with the noblewoman. A woefully light role when accounting his expertise, but the grand plan was also breathed by his own machinations, and this type of work was done most efficiently by his hand.

Reading the rooms as he passed, Lawerence’s steps stilled. He met the fringe of the door that recited 476. After a customary head glance at each precipice of his jacket's pauldrons, he sank to one knee and began the operation in earnest.

Of course, he had tried to fetch a direct key when he had begun his ascent in the lobby. But the particularly crooked always held unfortunate neurotic tendencies, whether it was always looking over one's own shoulder or insisting on a room that skated out of the reach of both master key and present duplicates. He didn't appreciate the shrinking of options, but the excessively prepared Lawrence was not so foolish as to not have multiple methods to accomplish a single task.

Eyes glowing with fickle bluish flame, he brought his lips close to the lock and puffed a single instance of hot breath directly into the keyhole. Like pricks on his skin, he read... or more accurately felt the air complete every metallic indent. Working his hands simultaneously as he rapt his thoughts to what he picked up, he brushed away the curtain that covered his carriage to reveal an ornate contraption. A favorite of his collection, it could effortlessly mold key blank in a matter of seconds.

As he settled, the numbers droned into his mind. Drifting his hand to his device, he flicked the keycode into the respective combination reader and with a light hiss, the box opened up to reveal the freshly stamped key.

Wasting no time, he took the metallic trinket and patted it into the soil of the nearby pot, then ambled off with a cart to link with the Prince of Shadow.

Satisfied that Lawrence knew his role to play, Tybalt moved to the next members of the heist team.

"Rien. You will lead the acquisition team. Pepper and Karolin will accompany you to the room dressed in fine garments; the man is well-known for his affinity for women, so it will surprise no one that you three were granted entry. Once Lawrence gives you the signal, proceed up to room 476 and use the key to enter the room."

Once a lady, always a lady. It was easy for Rien to slip back into a role of refinement. Oozing with confidence and armed with a demure smile, the Duchess hid half of her face behind a fan clasped in her left hand. She used the right to wave teasingly to the doorman, who pulled open the glass door to allow them entry. Men were far too easy.

With gloved fingers, Rien pushed the button for the lift to take them up, snapping her fan shut as soon as it was safe.

The lift came to an abrupt stop at the top floor; where red carpet cushioned their steps, their heels silent against the plush ground. As soon as they parted ways with the elevator, a shadow detached itself from her Rien’s feet, slithering across the red carpet and to the closest potted plant, excited to do something. Her shadow slithered to a second and a third, rustling the petals of potted dahlias, searching for the key, before returning to the Duchess. "Nearly there," Rien murmured, knowing that Pepper could hear her just fine.

The hallway was empty, save for the three ladies. In the daytime, however, the hallway served as a gateway to the bedrooms of celebrities and savvy businessmen who could afford to sleep in the lap of luxury.

Rien’s footsteps ceased in front of door 476. Her shadow swirled excitedly around the correct plant. Rien knelt down, relieving the ceramic pot of its treasure. Holding the copy-cat key made by their very own Lawrence, Rien turned towards their first real obstacle. The key slid easily into the lock and with a satisfying click! the door unlocked.

Rien ushered Pepper and Karolin inside, closing the door and locking it behind them. She tucked the key into the pocket of her gown.

"Alright ladies, let us get to work."

"The information we have suggests that the safe will be hidden behind an enormous painting of Roman nature. Karolin will assist you with the rearrangement of furnishings to the end of locating it, as well as the procurement of the heavy gold bullion said to be stored inside," Tybalt explained.

Karolin's gorgeous silk dress contrasted starkly with the sheer strength that it took to remove the described painting. Apparently, it weighed a few hundred pounds, given its solid gold frame and large size. It was less a painting than an entire framed mural, yet Karolin displaced it and set it aside as if it were little more than a child's drawing stuck to a wall.

Behind it was their next challenge.

"Pepper. Your target is the vault. It has a brand new Yale 6020 pin-tumbler cylinder lock. I will entrust it to your picks and capable ears."

Pepper’s belief was that everything had a song—it was just a matter of time, place, and occasion. Hence why she had been lightly humming a light tune to herself and her comrades, to pace their beating hearts. She repeated the same tune over and over, even if it was under her breath at points, and didn't stop—not until she began to sing in a whisper;

"Round and 'round the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun...
... Sing along if you know the lyrics!"


Regardless of her compatriots' responses to the attitude she was bringing to a serious task, she continued to sing softly as she fiddled with the lock with the lockpick she drew from her show. This was her mint-condition instrument—it could be manipulated in a countless number of ways, and each had their own notes. Yet, despite its boundless potential, this instrument was only built to play one song.

"A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle,
That's the way the money goes...
... Hel-looo?"


The girl waved her had around expectantly, although whether she was making a demand of her cohorts or looking for something else, she didn't exactly make clear. The pace of her nursery rhyming wavered as she adjusted her rhythm, tuning herself as she tuned the safe in turn. To an outside observer, it may not have looked like much, but within Pepper’s sound space; all that was mechanical was laid bare. One only needed to prod at all the keys to make the notes come out—and once she knew all the notes, the song came naturally to her.

"A half a pound of tuppenny rice,
A half a pound of treacle.
Mix it up and make it nice..."
A few clicks of the tongue finished her verse—followed by identical clicks of the lock, only audible to her.


The clown-incognito finally went quiet for a moment, and was nearly still. However, it was yet another moment before she took her ear off of the lock and stood to face her friends to finish her song, bouncing left and right with a big smile, she operated the lock behind her, the clicking of clockwork mechanisms backing her vocals like a drum set.

"I've no time to plead and pine,
I've no time to wheedle,
Kiss me quick and then I'm gone..."


The singer then stepped out of the way as she pulled the safe open with a showy pose, cheering; "Pop! Goes the Weasel!"

The lock opened with a resounding click, the door swinging open on its hinges; giving way to the goods inside. It was a wonder how Maycoff traveled with such a hefty load. The interior of the safe was lined with every kind of dazzling jewel, an overflowing bag of gold, and documents that surely proved all of the fraud Maycoff had been committing.

Karolin stepped forward, it was her turn next. She reached into the safe with ease, lifting the heavy bag of gold as easily as if she had picked up a kitten by the scruff of its neck.

Rien summoned her void, gesturing for Karolin to drop the goods inside. One by one, Karolin deposited the gold and jewels into the shadowy mass on the ground, until the safe had been licked-clean of its treasures. When the safe had been emptied, Karolin replaced the portrait in front of the empty container, as if they had never been there.

It was then that a voice urged in a whisper in their ears like a gentle tickle, "Maycoff is coming."

They needed to move.

Rien threw open the window and in her haste, made a grave mistake.

Karolin had moved the other way, leaving out the front door while they fled down the metal fire escape.

The escape plan, the most important detail of all, was something Tybalt did his best to hammer into their minds. "If all goes well, you three will leave the room by the front door, make your way to the lobby, and exit, taking this route to the train station which will bring you back to port," the Ringmaster said, tracing a red line he had drawn across a map of that portion of the city.

"Commit the route to memory. If you are at risk of discovery, leave instead through the window and down the fire escape, then proceed to the station. You will not outrun the police on foot, so I will give you each the money you need to charter a horse and buggy if necessary." What he did not account for, however, was that Karolin would forget to change plans. She left through the front door, shutting it behind her and began walking towards the elevators.

Maycoff, accompanied by two policemen on his payroll, caught sight of Karolin attempting to pass him in the hallway. A paranoid glance at his doorway made his heart sink. His door had not closed all the way. "Stop her," he ordered, blowing air through his nostrils and clenching his teeth. His feet could be heard stomping indignantly in the hallway as he approached his room.

Pepper would have been with Karolin, had she not noticed Rien had not followed. She ran back to the window to tug on her arm, chiding her in a whisper, "Rien, why are you deafening—uh, defense-is-straight—why are you jumpin' out the window?!" She jogged back to the door. "The Big Cheese said we run out the way we came—like civilized folk, not get caught like rats. See, Karolin remembered—" The girl sucked in air as something seemed to disturb her. Seemingly not so trusting about her means of egress, she carefully peeked out the door and gasped at what she saw, before scampering back to the window, squeaking, "Nevermind, skedaddle! What are ya’ waiting for, let's go!" She was practically shoving at Rien to escape.

This would not be the first time a part of their plan had gone wrong. A high profile target was bound to come with complications. This was, however, the first time any of them had gotten caught. It would do them no good to go back, having them all arrested would be a travesty that would become a detriment to the circus.

By the time Rien and Pepper had exited the window, it was too late to go back. Poor Karolin was apprehended by the police while the rest of them jumped through the window frame; careful to close it behind them. The fire escape swayed, from this high up, the metal creaked with the cold of the winter chill. "Come on," Rien urged, still not having noticed that one in their party was missing. Down they went, from the highest floor in the hotel, to the first. The last rung on the ladder hung five feet above the ground. They needed to make haste, someone on the opposite side of the building was yelling for the police.

"What about Karolin? She went ahead and I heard..." Pepper was hesitant to elaborate, a hint of worry in her voice. Once she found her feet on solid ground, she took a deep breath and reassured, ”... She'll be fine, she's a good girl. And tough. We'll do a little rendezvous soon... But we gotta be quick, or she'll beat us there—I can hear her running in her cute little dress shoes right now! Let's go!" Pepper gave Rien's hand a firm grip and tugged her along, urging her to move quickly. Pepper’s palms were sweaty.

Rien jumped, offering Pepper a hand down. "Karolin?" The shadow weaver blinked, looking up at the ladder as if she expected the tall girl to be standing there, awaiting instruction.

"Oh… oh no." Pepper grabbed her hand, pouring on the speed towards the train station, where they were supposed to meet should they get separated.

"Pepper-" Rien pressed her lips together. If Karolin tried to run from the police and lead them right to the train station, where they were waiting; there would be trouble. "I do not think Karolin will be there." Rien spoke softly. She slowed, forcing Pepper to slow down when they reached the main street. They needed to blend in. Rien turned towards Pepper, fixing her fur stole. "There are eyes everywhere Pepper, you must remain calm." Rien took her hand once again, warm even through her gloves, and resumed the walk to the train station. Even if she managed to school her features into a calm expression, her heart was fumbling inside of her chest. This was her fault, Rien thought. She should have been more careful to check that Karolin was with them.

"Of course," Pepper sighed, smiling and looking around as she maintained a pretty stroll alongside her friend. "She must have taken a carriage, then, with the money from Mister Tybalt." She suggested rather optimistically, "So she could get home faster. Maybe one of those new carriages with no horse? What a scam! That must be like selling a clock with no hands—or a coffee with no cup! Must be some kind of city-fad; getting nowhere fast. Guess we'll get there first, after all."

"Still," Pepper sang, with a playful tilt of her head, "We promised to rendezvous, so we'll rendezvous!" She seemed to take a liking to the word. "... Even if it takes a little while."

Manhattan's Grand Central Station was a welcoming sight, with its stony exterior and warm interior. Even at midnight, everyone scurried like rats with a destination in mind. Steam trains entered and departed the station with a purpose. Passengers lugged large suitcases or small children in their trail, offering plenty of protection from prying eyes. "This way," Rien pulled Pepper to the side, where they were supposed to meet with another from their team before returning to the ship. No one would notice two women standing near one of the marble pillars. "We will wait here." Rien's voice managed to remain gentle.

Pepper maintained a chipper disposition—they got the job done after all. She didn't say much else, however. Whether or not she was disturbed by the possibility that they had abandoned one of their own, she wasn't vocalizing it.

The time ticked on; first five minutes, then ten, twenty, and thirty. The longer they waited, the more trains passed them by, and the more certain it grew that Karolin would not be joining them at the station.

Perhaps Karolin forwent the station and took a carriage all the way to port. Certainly, Tybalt had given her enough money to charter a ride straight there, but it would have been less conspicuous to take the train. Nevertheless, they hoped that they would find Karolin at home aboard the Redempteur, for the last train of the day was pulling into the station.

"All aboard!" came the call of the conductor, sounding his bell through the station.

"Come Pepper, we mustn't keep them waiting," Rien lifted the hem of her dress, leading Pepper up the train steps and onto the carriage that would return them to their home. The train deposited them a few blocks away, at a stop with a flickering lamp on a quiet street, well past midnight. Once situated on the ground, Rien rid herself of her heels in a most un-lady-like manner and unfurled her hair from its intricate coif.

"We are nearly home," Rien murmured, her heart thumping loudly in her chest. Her nerves were coiled. Even if their gathering exploits had been successful, Rien could not help but blame herself for not keeping a closer eye on her compatriots.

The ship loomed at its spot in the port, its girth casting a welcoming shadow. One night had managed to stretch to feel like a century. At long last, they were back.

Boarding via the front ramp, the girls found the ship carrying on business as usual. There was always a bit of tension in the air when a heist was carried out, but only those who needed to know about it were ever made aware of it. The fewer loose ends, the better; and those with vulnerable consciences were protected.

The usual crew were kept at least somewhat in the loop when one was planned, in case one of them needed to be substituted on short notice. Memphis was one such crewmember made aware of the plan, though Tybalt had yet to make use of his talents on a heist. Why was Karolin chosen to participate before him? According to Tybalt, it was because his particular talents—and rambunctiousness—were ill-suited to a mission of stealth. And though Karolin was a bull in a china shop on the best of days, she could at least keep quiet when needed.

Still, it must have rubbed him the wrong way to be passed up.

The audacity. Memphis's most outstanding achievement as the family traitor was so clandestine that he could not even take credit for it. Mayhaps, Tybalt was saving the best for last.

Memphis blocked the returning duo's route with arms stretched wide for an embrace that was unlikely to happen and a discreet congratulatory grin. "Welcome home! I missed you, missed me?" He said, his eyes entertained by the fine garments they donned for their heist. As a duchess, the look fit Rien like a glove, but Pepper, he had to stare a little longer to be sure.

Arms dropped, along with his confidence of mind. "Hold on, Call me blind; I only see chuckles and the love of my life…" Memphis did not miss the opportunity to fill the remainder of the day, annoying Lawrence, the bellboy. Another person was missing from the count.

"Where's Karolin?"

There was one waiting in the wings upon their return. Memphis's familiar face was a welcome sight. "How could we not?" Rien teased in reply. If one looked closely, they could see the signs of fatigue wearing down her features.

Rien's complexion was pale and there were circles beneath her eyes that the pressed powder she wore had trouble covering. Fatigue went hand-in-hand with use of the Void.

Memphis’s next question made Rien's heart sink. Pepper too, must have been saddened to hear she had not made it back. Even if it was unrealistic, some part of Rien had still hoped that Karolin would find her way home.

"Karolin was caught." Rien's voice was soft and low. Pepper would have heard it because she was Pepper, but had anyone else been near, they would have missed her words. "Where is Sir Tybalt?"

"She'll be home soon," Pepper reassured in a whisper and a light smile, before she walked past Memphis without another word—looking to make herself scarce. She didn't have very many smiles left to give for the night.

Word spread quickly aboard the close-knit ship, but Violetta was waiting in the bay, ready to relay the message even quicker. She and Lawrence had arrived earlier; now she whispered for Tybalt to present himself.

It was only a minute before the Ringmaster presented himself, chin-up yet stoic. With Violetta's words to steal him; he stepped across the deck in his tall black boots, standing dignified before Rien, Pepper, and Memphis.

"Welcome home," he said, bowing his head and removing his hat in greeting.

Rien stepped forward. From his expression, he had already been briefed on the situation. ”Our evening exploits have been semi-successful," Rien admitted. She opened up the Void, depositing their winnings onto the ground. In gaining these riches, they had lost something far more important to them.

"It is my fault. I will shoulder the blame for the events that took place after."

A gentle hand clasped Pepper's shoulder. Memphis shook his head discouraging her retreat for a few reasons. Particularly, "You're saying it wrong." He twirled her to face him, releasing once he had her attention. "She'll be home soon," He declared like a fact with all the confidence in his being before tousling her hair done up for the disguise back down to Pepper-esque.

"And I am ready for a turn." Memphis added, eyes darting from Rien to Tybalt.

The short girl's lips curled up into an embarrassed smile as she cringed away from Memphis's petting. Seeing her positive outlook reflected back at her seemed to recharge some of her spirits. "Yeah. I mean, we got the job done. That is at least worth a golf-clap?"

Tybalt furrowed his brows. Few people on the ship knew for sure what was going through his head, but everyone knew that look meant trouble. In their years of asset repurposing, failures were few and small. Yet the time was going on two in the early morning, and she had not arrived.

"I am afraid your eagerness to commit crime must yield place to the more dire matter of our missing companion," he answered Memphis, "but should I have a need for a jail-buster, your services will not go unsolicited."

He reached forward and placed his hand on Rien's shoulder, looking into her eyes. "You played to the tune I composed. It is no more your fault than a violinist's for a broken string, but the conductor will face the crowd's ire. Blame me."

Then, he swiveled round, plucking his cane from beneath his arm and walking with it. Late as it was, this could not stand. With a look of determination, he set off to find the one person he knew aboard the ship that spoke Russian: Armel.

A long exasperated sigh escaped Memphis, underestimated and misunderstood as usual. He thought himself quite capable of stealing a woman, especially stealing a woman back.

Eavesdropping on Tybalt’s comforting words, he neared to pass by with words of his own. "If I may conductor, the longer you silence a violin, the harder it is for it to find its true voice again." Then bowed to take his leave, seeing as he was not needed... again.

"You can join me if you like, Peps." He offered company with a cheerful smile, whistling away the sulk as he strolled off in search of a bottle of whiskey.

The moon sat at its highest peak, offering some natural light to Armel's dimly lit atelier. Dried colors splattered on the floor and walls, and the dust of sculpted clay decorated the small room's floor and walls. It was messy and showed Armel's meticulous efforts — finely detailed sculptures, finished and unfinished paintings of different scenery, and people all laid around the room.

For tonight, his current painting was simply an excuse not to sleep. After helping Ines rest, Armel hauled himself inside to work, his hands and clothing bearing the evidence of the long hours he had been there — covered in small blotches of paint. A rare sight for the well-dressed Armel, but here he had no reason to keep appearances.

His focus lay on the canvas before him, slathered in shades of blue, black, white, yellow, red, and orange — strategically placed and mixed to depict a bright moon and starry sky. No real reason for the inspiration; it had merely popped into his head.

However, for the last hour, he had run into a stump. The painting was rather plain to his keen eyes, it needed something more, but Armel did not know what. Maybe this was a sign of stopping, along with the bristles of his brushes beginning to fray, "Well..." Armel sat down his equipment and stretched, "Perhaps it is time for some rest." as if to answer his question, there was a knock on the door.

Armel let his head fall forward dramatically and sighed, "Or not." he whispered.

"Un moment!" He stood up and walked to the window, opening it wide to air out the room. He did not want the smell of chemicals to violently attack the visitor's senses, especially if it was Ines.

After a moment, he walked to the door, wiping his hands on his dirty apron, "Oui-" Armel opened the door and froze at the sight before him. In front of him was the last person he expected to see tonight, "Tybalt? To what do I owe this visit?"

The normally-chipper Ringmaster had a somber expression, far unlike his usual demeanor. His head was held high, yet Armel knew instantly that something was wrong. On the eve of a heist, this could bode only poorly.

"Apologies for disturbing you," he said, gripping to the head of his cane, "but there has arisen a pressing need for your services." There was no need to be cryptic, as in a few minutes the whole of the ship would know something had gone wrong.

"Karolin is missing."

Armel blinked, "...Excusez-moi, missing?" His surprise turned into an urgent attitude as he processed the information.

Considering that the crew was carrying out a mission, Karolin could be walking around the city lost. However, the word missing could be a favorable conclusion rather than the correct answer. Karolin, when left alone, would stand out amongst a crowd. Therefore the worst and most likely answer is, "Did the police take her?" he mumbled, frustrated.

Armel tossed off his apron and switched it for a plain black coat. He had no time, so a coat would have to cover the paint on his white sleeves, and he'd have to do with his paint-covered hands — luckily, the rest of his attire was well-kept.

"Alright, shall we go find her?" he asked urgently with his lips curved in a calm smile — maintaining his composure is essential.

Tybalt nodded. His words were chosen carefully, and Armel reasoned the truth out in short order.

"She is, by all accounts, detained by local police. We must act with haste and surety if we are to recover her," he further explained. He stepped lively after Armel recomposed himself, taking long strides so as to make it quickly to the elevator. "She was apprehended exiting the apartment; I do not know if she was seen in the process or merely in the vicinity, and the authorities are not likely to reveal the truth to us."

Tybalt brought the elevator down to the main deck with Armel in tow, then marched his way forth from it towards the ramp which led to the city. "This is a proper fiasco, the first of its kind. Her freedom lies in our hands. Let us prevail."

-----

The sun rose upon Manhattan and still the men had not yet returned with Karolin. Hours passed, leaving the ship in mild disarray. Tybalt had not appeared for rehearsals, nor was he present at the galley's dining table for breakfast. His guiding hand had, for the briefest of moments, disappeared, for the first time in many years.

And then, finally, by midday, the two arrived back at the ship, not having slept through the eve, the morning, nor the afternoon.

Worse yet, they remained alone.

Tybalt, dragging his feet, re-entered with a gait like a shambler, clutching what looked like reams of paperwork and legal documentation under his arm. He did not say a word, but disappeared once more into the elevator, looking wholly drained of color.

The circus would find him missing from the table for lunch and supper as well.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Etoile Character Portrait: Rien Character Portrait: Alix Rayne
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  It seemed a foregone conclusion that the night on which a member of the family had been stolen away would prove to be a night which would also steal away the sleep of dear Tybalt. Yet, by some miracle, the man had managed to find enough peace to rest. That miracle's name was Etoile, who lay curled up at the foot of his bed like a kitten, ever reassuring, ever kind.

  It was not nearly enough to ward away the mental cataclysm which rose him from slumber in the middle of the night. He rolled out of bed, looking this way and that, grasping at his head to make sense of what was going on. He had never felt something like this before.

  Etoile, disturbed by his sudden awakening, pried open one of her heavy eyes to gaze up to her Papa.

  
"Qu'est-il arrivé?" she asked verbally, unafraid of accidental fallout from her abilities, since they were alone. She knew her Papa could sense things in people, but never had they been affected this strongly.

  Tybalt panted for breath, then gulped, looking this way and that, trying to locate the source. His eyes bored holes in the wall.


  "Did you find another?" Etoile asked.

  "Non, ma cherie, I believe they have found us."

  Just then, there was a knock at their door. Tybalt approached it with hesitant steps, his hands trembling. What awaited him on the other side? Sensing his fear, Etoile slipped clumsily from the blankets to scurry up to him and take his shaking hand. Taking a breath, he at last reached out and slid open the door.

  He saw, gazing back at him, a small, eerily thin boy in raggedy suspenders, his miniscule hands roughened from toiling on factory floors. Their noses were assaulted by the stench of coal, oil, steam, and street scraps.

  Before Tybalt could react, the boy spoke a name: one that Tybalt was sure he had shared with no soul aboard this ship. A name that predated the circus entirely.

  Flinching, Tybalt grabbed the boy's arm and yanked him inside, shutting the door behind him. He stared sternly into the child's eyes. And then the boy spoke again.


  "I will keep your secrets if you will keep mine."

  "Who told you that name?" Tybalt demanded.

  "I hold the annals of the future," the strange boy replied. "In them it is no secret."

  Tybalt's eye twitched with unease.

  "And what is your aim in coming here?"

  The boy held a blank, empty gaze at the much taller man before him. There was a pause before he replied.

  "You presume I had a choice. It was already decided for me. Tomorrow I will join your circus as the fortune teller La Voyantette, whether or not you and I desire it so."

  Tybalt stumbled back, confused. He looked to Etoile for her take on the matter. One thing stuck out in her mind.

  «La Voyantette is a girl's name, isn't it?» she signed.

  As though the strange child understood what Etoile had signed, the voice replied,
"As I said, I will keep your secrets, and you will keep mine. It is better for the circus to believe that Alix Rayne is only a cabin boy, and La Voyantette is the true star. You assign me to Etoile's room, as we are both ladies."

  "Why?" Tybalt hesitated to inquire.

  "It would be wiser to let time reveal that."

  Etoile, protective of her Papa, glared at the mysterious stranger. Boy? Girl? It did not matter. Only one man was immune to her words. With a single utterance she would send this bizarre child away from them.

  Tybalt thought deeply of what he should do. He set his hand atop Etoile's head, gently brushing through her hair. It was too late in the evening to be asking questions about fate.


  "I will have Maria confirm what you have said, and then we will see what is to be done. Her room is--"

  But the girl had already opened the door, walking in the right direction.

  "I know," she answered.

-----


  Rien answered the knock at the door with a tone of annoyance. As she slid it open, she declared, "Memphis, if you've come this late for something strange, I will--oh." She took note of the small creature before her, a ghostly pale child with no guardian in sight. Her voice softened, and she asked, "Hello there. Do you need some help?"

  This stray looked not far from dead - if not in body, then in soul, reflected in her weary eyes. Alix answered, "Tybalt requests Maria's assistance."

  "Oh. Alright, I will wake her, then." Though something was clearly off about the child, it was too deep in the night for her to concern herself. Maria was always better at this sort of thing, anyhow. And she would love to hear that Tybalt requested for her. So she went back in the room, to Maria's bedside, and gently shook her.

  Groaning, Maria turned over and asked, "Pourquoi me secoues-tu?"

  With an audible grin in her voice, Rien answered, "Monsieur LeGrande demande votre aide."

  At that, Maria tore off her sleeping mask and donned her robe, scrambling to ready herself. Quickly, she lit a lantern, fixed her hair in the mirror, and in her haste, nearly bowled over the child standing in the doorway.

  "Ah--" she vocalized, before exchanging glances with Rien, who nodded.

  "I hear Monsieur Tybalt is calling for me," she said finally to Alix. "I should have known it was to take in another cute lost kitten. Come along, we will go to him together." At that, she stretched out her hand for Alix to take.

  It was not an easy thing to accept such a gesture, however. An uncomfortably long time passed before the child at last placed a worn hand in Maria's. There was no grip to it; the whole of this stray's frame felt limp and on the brink of collapse. Maria could sense things, too, and she could tell that there was pain in this child. A warmth flowed from her hand in an attempt to soothe it.

  
"My name is Maria. What should I call you?" she asked, escorting her back to Tybalt's quarters.

  "Alix," she answered simply. That she was far from well was obvious to the naked eye, but what had transpired to steal the light from her eyes was as yet unclear.

  "What a lovely name," she commented, bringing the lantern closer to get a better look. Unkempt hair, gaunt skin, long lashes, and an expression with not a speck of joy. She was less a child than a phantom.

  "And such beautiful lashes," she added, but it washed off of her like water off a duck's back. Alix reacted to very little; Maria had seen unconscious patients more responsive than her.

  At last they reached Tybalt's door, which slid open by Etoile's little hands. Maria signed her greetings to Etoile, and they entered, Etoile shutting the door behind them.

  Immediately discerning Tybalt's distress from his pacing, Maria signed to Tybalt,
«Monsieur? Do you know this child? What is going on?»

  «No, but she knows me,» he signed in return.

  It would have been easy to assume things based on that response, but Etoile signed frantically to Maria to explain more clearly. When things had settled down, Tybalt elaborated.


  "She claims I will assign her to room with Etoile after you confirm a delicate matter. And she does not want others to know she is a lady; for what purpose, I do not know. But she...possesses knowledge I cannot explain. It is unreasonable of me to impose upon you at this late hour, chère Maria, but this was an urgent matter."

  His words were sweet and beautiful as honeysuckle, but they were drawn out by an anxiety that Maria had rarely seen in him. She resolved to help settle this matter. But surely Tybalt could just say no? She did not understand why it was being spoken of as an inevitability. Nevertheless, she resolved to help.

  "Ah, so the petite Monsieur is a Mademoiselle," she remarked. "Détourne le regard s'il te plait," she asked Tybalt, then said to Alix, "Pardon me for a moment."

  As Maria confirmed the matter, Etoile could not help but notice the girl's complete lack of response. Alix held as still and lifeless as a doll. Malnourished and unmoving, for the briefest of moments it was like looking into the past. In an instant, Etoile saw herself reflected back - the girl she had been before she met Tybalt. But this girl had no one.

  "She is telling the truth," Maria assured Tybalt. "But why would you assign her to Etoile's room?

  "I have not. But according to Alix, it has...already occurred? But it has yet to transpire... I do not understand it myself."

  Etoile leapt forth, taking Alix's hands in both of hers. Feeling the roughness of her palms, she raised them up and displayed her own, which still bore scars from ill treatment in childhood. She hoped it conveyed her message: We are the same.

  Then, Etoile turned back to Tybalt and Maria, signing with determination,
«She can stay with me.»

  Tybalt scratched at his head, unsure of what had just happened. But rarely could he change Etoile's mind when she was so intensely convinced of something. Though he did not see what she saw, he did trust her judgement.

  "Very well. It seems La Voyantette's assessment was correct. She and Etoile will be roommates. Do you have any other questions before I leave Alix in your care, Maria? I imagine Etoile and I have some matters to discuss."

  "Many, but in my years of following you, I have learned that some questions are better left unasked." Maria gestured for Alix to follow her, saying, "Come along, my nouveau petit ami, we will go find you something warm to eat."

  With that, Maria ushered Alix out of the room.

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The room had gone quiet. With the absence of Maria and their new friend, Alix; things began to calm. Etoile could sense her Papa’s unease, however, and went to her Papa's side. They were alone once more, the door having carefully been shut to make certain that a certain someone’s voice could not escape these walls. "Papa, something is bugging you?" Etoile asked him quietly, playing with the fingers on one of his hands. "You do not like Alix, do you?"

Tybalt brought Etoile close with one massive hand and brushed through her hair with the other, staring at the wall ahead of him. "It's not that I dislike her, but...she brings me great disquiet. You were afraid of her, too, and then you were not. What changed?"

"You were talking about secrets, you still have a lot of them, Papa. I want to know too." Etoile pouted, but her expression eased when he stroked her hair.

Etoile could not explain what it was she felt about Alix, "A feeling... a sense, like yours?" The child attempted to put it into words. "When she made that face, it reminded me of me... before you found me." Etoile admitted, "Sad... without any hope."

Tybalt pursed his lips in thought. "You already know the important ones," he assured her. "That I was different before the circus, or even before you, je ne suis pas un LeGrand ni de la Fontaine, and that my real family is here. What else matters?"

Tybalt looked down into Etoile’s eyes and frowned. "There is something different about that child," he cautioned. "The day I met you, you had tears. This girl...she has nothing. I cannot see within her. All I know is that her power is terrible, and that speaks to pain just as intense."

"Are you sure you will be safe?"

Etoile sighed, relenting. She yawned, blinking tiredly and laid her head in her Papa’s lap, blinking tiredly.

"Sometimes, you have no tears left, they just run until you have none inside of you anymore." She explained quietly, recalling the feeling. It was a distinct emptiness that she remembered, bleary from the drugged food that she had been force fed, hardly able to recall what it was like to feel at all until she had escaped that wretched place.

"I think it will be okay. If I tell her to stop, she will stop. There is only one who doesn't have to listen to me, but chooses too. Rappelles toi?" Etoile giggled, echoing his own words.

Tybalt continued running his hand through her hair, which had grown much longer with time. Gone was the petrified short-shorn orphan he first met, but he may have unwittingly taken on another very much like her. "Oui, rappelles, Etoile," he joked back, before scooping her up into his arms to carry her back to her room. "Un père s'inquiète, c'est tout ce que."



If Maria didn't have her eyes on Alix, it would have been easy to conclude that she wasn't even there. Her footsteps made hardly a sound as they walked to the kitchen, the child making less than a peep in the darkened hallway.

There were several scavengers passing through the kitchen when Maria peeked in through the doorway. None of the evening snack specters paid them much mind, but they knew Maria well enough to give her a nod of acknowledgment before each of them started shipping off to their respective rooms, food in hand.

Maria waved to the stragglers, releasing Alix's hand once they were gone. "What sorts of foods do you like Alix?" Having been a nurse maid before she met Tybalt, Maria was quite handy at taking care of children.

Before that, she had cared for her three younger siblings. Alix, however, was nothing like any child she had ever seen. Quiet, sullen, and far too thin.

Alix walked as far as one of the counters, then crossed her arms over it and slumped forward tiredly. It was clear that her lack of nourishment translated into a lack of energy. "Whatever stays down," she answered without much excitement. Lively conversation was undoubtedly going to be a weak point for Alix, but it was better than her remaining constantly silent. "What would you like me to make?"

"You sit," Maria pulled out a chair for her from the small table in the corner. "I will prepare something easy for your stomach," a light vegetable soup, Maria decided.

Soup was food for the soul, at least, that was what Maria believed. Slowly, methodically, the woman began to chop vegetables to make a broth, humming while she worked, since it was evident that Alix was far too tired for conversation.

Steam rose from the large broth pot on the stove. The kitchen began to fill with the aroma of simmering squash and zucchini. When it was ready, Maria ladled the soup into a ceramic bowl and set it down in front of Alix, hoping that she would enjoy it.

She made herself busy, cleaning up a bit before taking a seat across from the child, hoping that she had eaten.

Alix looked to Maria and stared in silence for a moment, then complied. Was this what confusion looked like for her? As she sat in the chair, she repeated the motion, forming a pillow with her arms and collapsing on top of it.

When Maria set the bowl in front of her, it looked as if Alix might have fallen asleep. However, the girl rose too smoothly and too quickly for that to be the case. "Merci," she said softly, before beginning to eat, sipping directly from the bowl, then stopping and clenching at her belly as the hot liquid spilled into her empty stomach.

"Ah, donc tu parles français ?" Maria laughed, watching her with interest. Her smile slowly faded when she watched Alix reach down to hold her stomach with pain.

Worry creased her brow, Maria rose, instinct kicking in that something was amiss. "Where does it hurt?" She asked, her voice gentle. Could it be that her body was not used to food from being malnourished for so long? Or was it something more serious?

Alix shook her head to both questions. "Stomach...it will pass," she said, but if it was a more serious condition, it was unlikely that Alix knew. Instead, she waited a few moments and began to drink from the bowl again, her body tensing from the pain but otherwise refusing to acknowledge it.

Maria's concern did not go away, but if Alix insisted it was normal, she would not bother her about it. "If it gets worse, please let me know." Maria insisted instead, knowing that it could take a bit for Alix to trust her with what was wrong. Watching someone writhe in pain and not helping them was against her very nature. For now, however, she would have to sit still unless Alix insisted.

"Did you work, Alix?" Maria asked, trying to make polite conversation.

This time, she nodded. "Made fasteners until I passed out. Then they threw me out. Then I came here. Wasn't even paid."

Alix could not even muster the strength to sound bitter about it. Instead, she returned to guzzling down the soup. Was this today? Yesterday? How recently? Where? It was not uncommon for such injustices to go unpunished as people at large put their hope in a future where no children would have to work, but their focus on the future came at the ignorance of the problems of the present.

"The world will often take advantage of the small. Here at least, you will find that you will not be asked to do things you never want to and will be able to rest and heal. I hope that soon, you can call this place a home, just like so many of us."

Maria had been here since the beginning. She had seen the kind of world Tybalt envisioned: where the starving all had a place at the table to come and eat. Where those who were running from their past could safely rest their weary legs.

Finishing her meal, Alix rose with all the liveliness and animation of a steam machine and walked to the sink, where she began rinsing and washing the bowl clean. "Merci," the child repeated softly. Evidently, though she did not know French, she could at least exchange pleasantries, albeit with monotonous delivery.

Maria was no mind-reader, but she could sense turmoil inside of Alix's tired head. The tomboy put away her bowl, then turned to Maria with an empty gaze, exhausted and directionless. What had been next on their list?

Maria rose, clapping her hands together. "How about a bath?" She suggested, "Come, I will show you where to go." She reached to take Alix's hand again. "We can find you some clothes afterwards, oui?" She smiled, always enjoying the opportunity to rifle through Genya's costume closet.

It was like holding onto a mannequin, one that walked and talked. Alix did not answer, but walked along with her through the corridors and hallways. They ascended to another deck, where the baths were located. Though a basic water closet was available to each of the quarters, the baths and showers were located on another deck across from the wardrobes and costuming rooms, making this area casually referred to as the beauty section.

"A bath after a meal is always the best," Maria smiled, running the water for Alix. She added scented soap and bubbles, preparing it the same way she would for Etoile in the hopes that it could bring a smile to Alix's face. "I will wait out here, so please, take your time." Maria would find Alix something she could wear in the meanwhile.

Alix stepped inside with a nod, waiting for Maria to leave before sliding the door closed and locking it.

She did not take her time, but neither did she rush. Were Maria in range, she would hear no splashing, no coos of delight, none of the playful sounds of youth. She was just...soaking.

When she emerged, Alix smelled much better, a hint of apricot cutting through the stench of her work clothes, which she had reworn without much thought.

Maria busily spent the time of the bath rummaging through the clothing. Alix preferred to disguise herself as a boy for reasons Maria did not fully understand, but she would not disrespect Alix's decision. Genya would be miffed that someone had gone through the clean piles of laundry, but ultimately, Maria did not think anyone would miss the things she had taken.

"I have found you clean clothes!" Maria sang, frowning when she saw that Alix had put her dirty clothes back on already. "Come, we will get you changed." Maria sent Alix back inside the bathroom with a clean pair of trousers and a button down shirt. They were more than likely too large, but they were clean and smelled like laundry soap.

Without much reaction other than a pause, Alix took the clothing and disappeared back behind the door. She disrobed and put on the new clothing. Though she swam in the shirt, the pants were at least the right size, and the suspenders fit her well. Moreover, she now smelled of both apricot and clean clothes.

The door slid open, revealing, not an orphan, but a heartbreaker, poised to devastate the hearts of women across France with a single gaze. It was small consolation for the girl, who preferred the image in the mirror, but at least Alix did not look like a street rat anymore.

Maria capped her hands together, glad that the clothing somewhat fit. "Magnifique," She complimented, realizing that she could not take Alix to her new room, not yet at least.

"Alix, I think it would be wise to pick out your costume now, otherwise people might question what business a boy has going in and out of a girl's room." Maria parted the heavy, purple curtain to reveal the closet where the costumes were kept.

Some had tags on them, indicating that they were designated for a certain performer. Others had yet to be claimed, all of them carefully crafted by the delicate hands of their in-house seamstress. "Does anything catch your eye?" Maria was most eager to supply help in picking something out.

Alix wandered in, her steps light as a mouse, drifting this way and that through the massive closet like a balloon in the wind. For some time, nothing seemed to catch her attention, until her eyes fell upon a large, wide-brimmed sun hat, which she swept up and placed upon her head. She tilted it to hide her face, then timidly peeked out from beneath it.

It was a start.

"Those are wonderful!" Maria admired Alix’s choice. It was the start of the perfect disguise. Maria assisted in going through the racks of clothing, pulling out a simple, but pretty dress and a necklace. "How about these?" She asked, holding up the items for Alix to see.

"I should think it will go well with your hair."

Alix followed Maria and looked upon the dress at length. If she disliked it, surely wouldn't she say something? Instead, she began unbuttoning her shirt, giving Maria her answer.

"Allow me to help you," Maria put the dress on over Alix's head, hoping this meant that she liked it. She zipped the dress up in the back and clasped the necklace around her neck, checking to make sure it wasn't too tight.

"Beautiful!" Maria smiled, "Come, look at yourself. Just like a princess." Maria stood behind Alix in the mirror on the wall, showing the child how pretty she was. "Do you like it?"

Redressed - pun intended - Alix replaced her sun hat on her head, then gazed upon the girl in the mirror. She looked to Maria once. Finally, she looked to the floor. "Just as described," she answered.

But that was not a 'no'!

It was probably the best answer Maria was going to get from her. "I will take you to your room now, oui?" She reached to take Alix's hand again. "You can rest and sleep there, no one will bother you." Except maybe her roommate, who might pester her to play.

Maria knocked lightly on the door, but there was no answer. She propped it open quietly, finding Etoile asleep in her bed in a pile of stuffed toys.

"Here, this one," Maria guided Alix quietly to the bed that had been freshly made for her, a stuffed bear having been set upon it. "Have a good rest. Please come find me if you need anything."

Alix stepped inside, removing her hat and necklace and setting them upon the dresser. She retrieved what looked like a small chocolate bar from the pockets of her male clothing, then folded up the suspenders and shirt and set them aside.

Hoping that Etoile was sleeping, she let out a quiet sigh, her brows twitching with pain she refused to let spill out. Then, still wearing the dress, she crawled into bed. It wasn't until she heard the thump of the stuffed animal falling to the floor that she even realized it was there; her presence of mind had been all but nullified.

She stared at it for a long while, then looked across the room to Etoile's bed.

Beneath a canopy that glittered with stars lay a child who looked more doll than human. What with her long blonde hair that fanned around her head and the elegant lashes that graced her porcelain-like features.

It was probably difficult for Alix to tell the difference between Etoile and the pile of stuffed toys she slept with.

In truth, Etoile had woken the moment Maria opened the door, but she did not want to disturb her new roommate. Etoile would need to be careful, there could be no more singing or humming in her room, not unless the child was absolutely sure she was alone.

Only after she was satisfied that Etoile was asleep did she lean forward and grab the teddy bear, dragging it beneath the blankets so as to be out of view. The chocolate bar she stuffed beneath her pillow, before resting her head upon it and letting her eyes drift to a close.

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Their evening gatherings were no less rowdy than any other time of day on the ship. The crew collected themselves in the galley, crowding around a table, which had been set with platters of food cooked by the expert hands of clowns and acrobats. Tonight were fat rolls with thick pats of butter, served alongside breaded chicken, and rice mixed with egg and cheese. Their culinary ventures were always spiced by seasonings collected from across the globe. Something new purchased from every city.

Even with the sound of laughter and the smiles passing around like helpings of cake, it was impossible to notice the large presence missing like a gaping tear in the wall.

A frown graced Maria's lips, coming to the realization that Tybalt would not be attending dinner with them that evening. A sigh escaped her, if he thought work was an excuse to skip a meal, Maria was going to make him think again. She lifted the plate that was set in his place; at the head of the table, where the patriarch of a family would sit, and piled it high with food. "Que dois-je faire de cet homme?" Maria murmured, wondering what she was ever going to do. Her heart often longed for the things her head dared not ask.

Cautiously Maria approached his door on the upper level, knocking gently with her elbow, since her hands were occupied. "Monsieur?" Maria asked, hoping he had not fallen asleep. "Do you intend to spend all day and all night holed up in this room like a stranger?"

In truth, Tybalt had collapsed upon his desk, slumped forward in his chair with his head sunken over upon a stack of parchment. He awoke with a start, rubbing at his eyes. ”Quoi?” he murmured, slowly stirring from his slumber. Etoile had curled up in her usual position at the end of his bed, but Tybalt was deep into paperwork: formal petitioning of the courts, appeals, documentation, and request forms. These tasks were meant for lawyers, but operating internationally brought with it a number of headaches that necessitated Tybalt’s direct attention. Needless to say, it had taken its toll. ”My apologies, I...what time is it?” he asked upon noticing his golden-haired daughter curled up happily at the foot of his empty bed.

Maria nudged the door open to look inside. Her lips pursed into a thin line when she spotted him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with a mountain of papers that were strewn across his desk. Maria picked her way across the room carefully, setting one of the plates down where it could not get anything dirty. "Déjà la nuit," she replied, gesturing to the window, where night had fallen. "Worrying in healthy amounts is fine, Tybalt, but this much will only make your heart fill with unease, which is not good for your sleep." She licked her thumb, using it to wipe off a smudge of ink from his forehead.

"I brought you something to fill your stomach. If you are going to work late into the night, you should at least have a clear head and a full belly."

He spun in his chair to face her, stretching out his leg to hook a chair with his foot. He pulled it closer, giving her a place to sit. ”Ma cherie, I think there is no malady which can not be made lighter by your care,” he remarked with a weary smile. ”I am in your debt. Thank you.”

Tybalt crossed a leg over his knee to form a makeshift table, nestling a plate in the space and picking up a roll which he began to munch on. ”Sit, please—I have missed your company. Etoile regales me of her extraordinary flips which I’ve yet the privilege of seeing.”

Maria hid her blush cleverly by looking down, acting as though she was adjusting her dress before seating herself on the chair had pulled out for her. This close, she could feel the warmth that rolled off of him like waves lapping gently against the sand. "If you so insist, then I will stay a bit longer. We have all missed your company, the room is not as bright when you are not around."

I have missed your company, Maria thought, but did not dare speak the words her tongue longed for.

She smiled again instead, glancing at the sleeping figure at the edge of the bed, curled up like a cat. "Yes, she is getting very good at those. Alistair has made it a game to see if she can flip faster than he can grab her." Maria laughed. Her smile faded a bit, "Alix came to me while we were cleaning. The poor child does not know her own heart."

As Tybalt mixed up his eggs and rice, his ears perked at the mention of Alix. Naturally, he was worried about Etoile’s new roommate and how they were getting along, but he did not expect her to begin reaching out so soon. Something must have happened.

”What do you mean?” he asked.

"She came to me to fix the pain she felt after she fought with Etoile. Alix did not realize that what she felt was not physical pain, but emotional." Maria's smile had become somewhat sad. "I do not know what sort of life Alix lived before coming here, but it must have been a very lonely one." Alix was only a child and it hurt Maria to see her neglected.

Tybalt sighed. He recalled, long ago, a certain teary-eyed waif, whose tears inspired his own, who struggled even to understand the notion of sympathy. ”I know not what to do with that one. I know nothing about her, and I suspect she prefers it that way.” He began eating, scooping the mixture of egg and rice up to his mouth and eating with her.

Maria scooped up a bit of rice, always having been a neat and careful eater. "She will open up when her heart is ready, but not a moment sooner." There was something else about Alix that weighed on her mind. "When I checked on her this morning, she was also in a lot of pain. I do not know why, she is a child who only says things when necessary and nothing of frivolity."

Tybalt frowned, his beard twitching ever so subtly as he thought. It was something people rarely noticed—but for Etoile and Maria, who had memorized his various eccentricities. ”Do you know what is causing her pain? Perhaps it is why she...evidently snapped at Etoile.“

Maria shook her head. She would recognize the tell-tale twitch anywhere, "I suspect it may be something with her stomach," Maria recalled the pain Alix had been in the day prior when trying to eat a bowl of soup.

"The girls did make up," Maria smiled at the memory of Etoile hiding behind Alix from Rien. "I think they will become fast friends." Maria looked at the sleeping Etoile again, her gaze full of fondness. It would not be incorrect to say that Maria felt something akin to the love a mother would have for her child towards Etoile.

She could not impose, however. Etoile had a real Mother, somewhere. It was not her place to try and be a substitute, as much as she wished for it.

Tybalt's worries subsided, his frown gave way to a warm smile. "I hope that proves true—for both of their sakes."

He bit into a chicken leg; it was amusing to watch him gnaw on it like a caveman. Little hints told Maria he did not have the most refined past, but Tybalt had gone to great lengths to become the gentleman he wished others to see. Not that it mattered to Maria, who had seen him this way from day one.

With a few moments longer, he had nearly finished his meal. Perhaps she might have feared he would dismiss her; perhaps that is why she had loaded it up with so much food, that he would be made to converse longer.

But even with the food gone, he did not want her to leave.

Wiping his mouth with a serviette, he said, "So selfless in your concern for those around you, Maria. Is there ought I may do for you?"

Maria ate slowly, wishing to savor this peace. It reminded her of their humble beginnings, staying at boarding houses or small inns. On occasion, Tybalt would disappear with Etoile for a half an hour or so and come back with a key to some of the nicest accommodations the city had to offer.

In the silence, Maria's head managed to drift. Her cheeks were quick to turn pink again, which she cleverly hid behind her napkin, feigning a swipe at her dainty lips.

"Non Tybalt." She leaned forward with her napkin, wiping a smear from his cheek that he had missed. Maria had seen this side of Tybalt dozens of times, the fretting man he often tried to hide behind grandeur and smiles.

But it was not a side of him that Maria minded either.

"Does one always need something to visit?" She asked softly, then; "Is this all for Karolin? You are worried about her. Oui?"

Tybalt brought his hand up to rub at his head, trying to restore some semblance of order to his hair and ease his growing headache. "Oui," he replied. "The authorities insist she is held until they can bring in a Russian-speaking officer to interrogate her. I am petitioning to have her released until such time as they procure one, but to no avail. It does not sit well with me to have a member of this family rotting away in a cell, regardless of how recently she has joined it. No, it is ever more the shame that I allowed this to happen under my supervision to a member so novel and innocent."

He gestured to the stack of parchment on his desk and rambled on for a while. As the Ringmaster, his words were of such import that he could rarely afford to waste them lest they be misinterpreted. As Tybalt, he could speak freely, safe in the knowledge that Maria could sort out what was simple venting and what needed to be acted immediately upon.

"And so I am bestowed a mountain of paperwork, the aim of which is to confound me, all that they might hold her for so long as they see fit. It will not do - it will not do - for someone in our care to be subjected to injustice without rectification, and it is my belief that the Detective in charge of her custody is simply stalling for time. They have nothing, and they know it." He leant back in his chair and sighed. "But if I can do something to ease her suffering and I do not, then am I not a party to it? Thus I carve at the mountain one pen-scratch at a time at the expense of...well, I did not intend to miss dinner, that is certain. Nor Etoile's rehearsal..."

Maria listened, leaning forward slightly. She could tell that Tybalt was worried, Maria could see that he was in pain. Maria always had been sensitive to the pain that others felt. Tybalt trusted her a great deal to lay his heart bare and leave it in her care. Even if she could not hold onto it forever, she would cradle it carefully in the moment.

"You are in a lot of pain," the Healer frowned, itching to relieve it in the only way she knew how. She wished to take his hand, to pour her warmth into his palm. "We all care a great deal for Karolin. You know how le police, are. They have stuck you with all of this to waste time." It would not be their first run-in with the law.

"I would not fear so much for Karolin, she is very sturdy. It would not do to work yourself sick. You cannot help anyone if you are ailing." Maria's smile was gentle, "Rehearsals can be made up, dinner can be eaten another night, but your sanity and rest cannot be recovered if you drive yourself up a wall inside of this room." Maria rose, offering her hand without realizing. "Voulez-vous me rejoindre monsieur?" She asked, feeling brave. "The stars are especially beautiful from this high up."

Tybalt took her hand in one, then clasped another over the top of it, enveloping hers with the warmth of his rough palms. "Malheureusement, la belle Étoile de ma chambre devra suffire pour ce soir," he answered, gazing tiredly into her eyes. "Another night, certainly, but...this eve my head and pillow long to reacquaint themselves."

Her heart quickened when he took her hand in his own. Butterflies fluttered in the pit of her stomach; Maria falsely believed that the chance to tell him had come at last.

But the next words that came from his lip made the butterflies disperse as quickly as they had come. "I understand," it was easy to disguise the disappointment with another smile. "Then please, indulge me for another moment." Maria applied her ability and poured warmth into her hand, hoping to ease his headache; if only to help him rest better.

Maria saw his eyes shut in relief when she took his pain away. His head sunk over once more, and a smile crept onto his face. Now it was his turn to be bold. He straightened up, shifted his chair closer, and gently pecked her forehead with his lips. It was not the first time he had done so - it was common enough for a Frenchman to kiss a woman in friendship - but it always raised the question in their hearts.

"Thank you for coming, Maria. I could not do this without you."

This time, Maria could do nothing to disguise the blush in her cheeks, the furious burn making her face warm. "I should be the one thanking you, Tybalt. You took an ordinary world and turned it into something magique."
Tybalt beamed widely, a smile that had been missing from him the past few days. Her effect on him was clear, and likewise he could see her reaction to his gratitude...and yet, it was not proof enough for either to take the leap.

"May your rest be sweet," he wished her, firmly gripping her hand to bring her up from her seat before releasing it. "I will see you tomorrow."

View All »Arcs

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View All » Add Character » 12 Characters to follow in this universe

Character Portrait: Etoile
Character Portrait: Lawrence
Character Portrait: Rien
Character Portrait: Ines
Character Portrait: Karolin Baade
Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
Character Portrait: Armel
Character Portrait: Alix Rayne
Character Portrait: Memphis
Character Portrait: Abilene

Newest

Character Portrait: Abilene
Abilene

WIP

Character Portrait: Memphis
Memphis

A boy who played the part of the fool. Now, a man to fool others with magic.

Character Portrait: Alix Rayne
Alix Rayne

Fatespeaker

Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
Pepper the Clown

"HIYA-CHOOOOO!"

Character Portrait: Karolin Baade
Karolin Baade

The Dancing Flame

Character Portrait: Rien
Rien

How painful it is to love someone who doesn't love you enough to stay in this world.

Character Portrait: Etoile
Etoile

Words fail

Trending

Character Portrait: Abilene
Abilene

WIP

Character Portrait: Alix Rayne
Alix Rayne

Fatespeaker

Character Portrait: Karolin Baade
Karolin Baade

The Dancing Flame

Character Portrait: Rien
Rien

How painful it is to love someone who doesn't love you enough to stay in this world.

Character Portrait: Etoile
Etoile

Words fail

Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
Pepper the Clown

"HIYA-CHOOOOO!"

Character Portrait: Memphis
Memphis

A boy who played the part of the fool. Now, a man to fool others with magic.

Most Followed

Character Portrait: Pepper the Clown
Pepper the Clown

"HIYA-CHOOOOO!"

Character Portrait: Memphis
Memphis

A boy who played the part of the fool. Now, a man to fool others with magic.

Character Portrait: Karolin Baade
Karolin Baade

The Dancing Flame

Character Portrait: Rien
Rien

How painful it is to love someone who doesn't love you enough to stay in this world.

Character Portrait: Etoile
Etoile

Words fail

Character Portrait: Alix Rayne
Alix Rayne

Fatespeaker

Character Portrait: Abilene
Abilene

WIP


Fullscreen Chat » Create Topic » Cirque du Volés: Out of Character

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Most recent OOC posts in Cirque du Volés

Re: Cirque du Volés

Seveneleven wrote:Hello there. If there so happens to be any space left, I would like to add my name for consideration.

FC: Mahito (Jujustu Kaisen)
Ability: Anatomical Automatism
Role: Calliope Player

I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Welcome aboard! Please come join us over in Discord, where we will eagerly await for your arrival!

Re: Cirque du Volés

Hello there. If there so happens to be any space left, I would like to add my name for consideration.

FC: Mahito (Jujustu Kaisen)
Ability: Anatomical Automatism
Role: Calliope Player

I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Re: Cirque du Volés

Valkyrieknight wrote:Hello, I would be interested in joining. The RP looks great. * v *

FC: Julius Fortner(Wand of Fortune)
Ability: Probability Manipulation
Role: Strongman

Thank you for considering me.


Welcome! Please join us on the Discord to meet everyone! You're accepted!

Re: Cirque du Volés

Hello, I would be interested in joining. The RP looks great. * v *

FC: Julius Fortner(Wand of Fortune)
Ability: Probability Manipulation
Role: Strongman

Thank you for considering me.

Re: Cirque du Volés

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[font=arial]If you're a human, your origin is The Garden. No exceptions. If you're a demon or an angel, you can choose somewhere else.

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A bit about your creation. If you need an example, please see the Discord.

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ⒸⓄⓅⓎⓇⒾⒼⒽⓉ: ⓉⒽⒺ_ⓆⓊⒺⒺⓃ

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Cirque du Volés

This is the auto-generated OOC topic for the roleplay "Cirque du Volés"

You may edit this first post as you see fit.