Time Ticker Tales #4 En Magnifique infini circus.
Irae was the first to react when the members of the party appeared more than five feet above the ground in the centre of gigantic red and white striped tent.
With the practice he'd had recently it was child's-play to roll and spring to his feet as he landed. Unfortunately, he'd also been the first to warp in and ended up being bowled over as Maya fell on top of him. She looked round at the others who'd all landed on their feet.
"I'm okay, something soft broke my fall." She told Anya, a little dazed.
"Yes, Maya, I'm sure Irae's happy about you being al-right, but you might want to get off him now."
Anya's word's caused Maya to almost levitate into the air, jumping off the boy with all the speed of a frightened jackrabbit.
"Ow. My poor face. It didn't deserve that."
Irae pushed himself up and shook his head vigorously.
Tak raised an eyebrow "I thought it was the back of your head that hit the floor?"
Irae got up and looked round, eye's half closed "Exactly. May we never speak of this again."
Maya turned a quite vibrant shade of red, while Irae stalked around the wide space they'd been dumped in, looking for something, anything to indicate why they'd been brought here.
"Where's Jess? The Harliquen?" he asked, looking back at his party.
Tak scanned the area. "Obviously, the transfer was different for her... which cannot bode well for us. I suggest we begin a tactical withdrawal to reassess the situation!"
Bethany cocked her head sideways to look at Tak, obviously confused "Since when do you talk like the female automaton version of Irae?"
Irae Drew his Hexigun and checked that it was loaded. "Found her. Eye's up."
Everyone looked up to see harliquen standing next-to large, almost rotund man, in an impressive three foot tall Top-Hat on a platform mounted from the central pole of the tent.
"I Want That Hat." Irae murmured, echoed in kind by the rest of his group- except for Ibis who cupped her hands around her mouth to yell "Sweet hat man! Where'd you get it?"
"The Mad Hatter made it for me. Now, why has a boy and his harem rolled up into my circus?"
Irae's eyes narrowed. Everyone around him backed away as an almost palpable aura of menace exuded from the boy.
"You have five second's to introduce myself, yourself to myself. Before I shoot you. In the face . With my gun. It Will Kill you." Irae's words shook with concentrated rage. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five."
Irae's arms blurred as he aimed and fired in a single movement sending a whirlwind of stone and ice towards the rotund top-hat wearing circus-man.
"Bad Idea." The man Held out his hand and the whirlwind stopped mid air and fell to the ground.
Irae looked quizzically at his gun and then at the man up on the platform.
The man smiled "I am the ringmaster. You've just disarmed yourself Professor. I guessed I could goad you into doing just that."
Irae looked at his gun and then at the man. Understanding dawned.
"Oh Johnny freakinouter! Ringmaster isn't just a title... is it?" the man nodded in response.
"Whirlwinds go in circles and every circle is a ring and eventually I am in control of every ring."
Irae moved to reload. The ringmaster casually chucked a brace of shuriken's at Irae, knocking the gun out of his hand, slicing his jacket and slashing his leg, causing him to fall to one knee.
"I used to be in control of this 'ere circus too, at least until that cheating busy-body Alabaster jilted me from my position as head of the circus, scheming toad."
He frowned as the platform slowly descended.
"I was sure you'd be tougher than this, I mean, I heard about how you aced every subject and breezed through two whole degrees. I guess you've just got one trick. Your gun there."
He continued to speak as Irae hung his head.
"What's wrong? Sad? Disheartened?" The ringmaster paused in his goading as the boy stood.
Jess grabbed the man's arm "I really don't think you should do this-"
Irae looked up grinning. "How can I be disheartened? I Have friends."
Tak Flipped upwards, leaping in an impossibly high ark to land a broad slash across the Ringmasters hat with one hand, bringing her other blade to rest underneath his chin.
The Ringmaster glanced down and grinned "You're wearing chainmail."
Tak tried to make the fatal slash, but suddenly, the chainmail around her torso had become totally inflexible. She wordlessly kicked him in the groin, overbalancing backwards as he doubled over in pain.
Irae having finished reloading his gun, paused to sheathe it and then caught the falling Tak.
"Someone make yourself useful and get rid of her shirt." Irae began ripping the buttons from his own clothes. "What, Irae you-!" Maya began before Anya shut her up with a cuff to the back of the head. "He meant the chainmail dipstick."
"Right then. Mister Ringmaster. Will you kindly give me a reason why I shouldn't shoot you in the face right now and be done with it? Be wary that this gun is loaded with lightning, meaning any attempt on your part to assault me, will result in forty thousand volts of electricity to blast out your brains, such as they are."
The platform reached the ground.
Harliquen stepped off and sighed. "He's my dad and part of the reason why I want to leave this stupid place. Alabaster may have taken over by underhanded methods, but dad's attitude at the time was totally asking for someone to take him down a peg."
There was a dry cough from the direction that no one was looking in.
Everybody turned to see Mister Alabaster, a painted frown on his thin face.
"It would seem that my enemies are legion, I must thank you though, I never would have thought my predecessor would have gotten the spine to actually go against my ownership of this dimension... Considering that he knows what the consequences will be."
Anya looked between the serious faced men "Hang on, what's so dire? He doesn't like the way you're running this place, it isn't like he tried to mount an armed revolution against you."
"Idiot girl." The ringmasters words were harsh. "The one who owns the circus, OWN'S this entire dimension. Everything here is ultimately under his control... Unless, you're afraid alabaster?" The man laughed and threw off his ruined top hat. "Ah-HAH! That's it, you don't know if when you call upon the god's of the circus, they will be displeased with you and force you to step down! Your one showstopper move and you can't use it!"
Alabaster growled. "I'm not out of the show yet. You're just the same as the last time, only able to attack with circles, Well I have none and if you think-"
"No, I'm not the same, for now I can do-" The ringmaster threw both his hands into the air "This!"
He yelled as in a reverse ripple, a series of concentric circles contracted on the floor to form a single thick band.
"SPIRIT OF THE POLKA, I Bid Thee, Hear me and come forth!" The Ringmaster intoned, causing the earth inside the circle to darken to an inky black until it seemed that the ground itself had dropped away.
A deep rolling growl came from within the pit as first one and then another yellow, polka-dotted paw sunk it's claws into the ground beyond the hole.
"I don't want to be in the zoo, I like the circus yes I do! AND... YOU... CAN'T... MAKE ME LEAVE!"
The Polka Gheist sailed up from the hole and landed on all four feet between alabaster and the ringmaster.
"Abomination." Alabaster spat, droplets of ink spraying forth from his painted lips. "Watch me end it."
"Polka, that person wants to keep you in the zoo!" The Ringmaster yelled, causing the beasts eyes to flash red.
Alabaster didn't respond, choosing instead to thrust his hand forward, a long bandage-like strip of parchment flying forth from his sleeve to wrap around the neck of the beast.
Grabbing his right arm with his left he yanked back on the tether, causing the monster to snarl and spit as the breath was chocked from its lungs.
It's tail flicked up, sending a single red spot whistling through the air to slice through the paper strip.
Alabaster stumbled back, steadied himself and then let loose a flurry of paper strips. The polka gheist reared up on its hind legs and took a green spot from its chest with its forepaws. Even as everyone watched, it stretched its spot like an elastic-band and with an audible snap, sent the spot flying in the direction of alabaster. The paper person dove sideways as the spot hit the floor and began to hiss and release white acrid smoke as it dissolved the topsoil. The polka-ghiest aimed its right arm at alabaster and began to swipe its left paw over the spotty fur, sending techni-colour dots whistling through the air like machine-gun rounds. Alabaster was surprisingly nimble and impossibly flexible, twisting and dodging every-which way and finally ending up just in front of the first acidic spot when the polka-gheisht ceased the unusual barrage. The creature grinned. The spot behind alabaster faded to black. Paper and polka stared at one another, while unnoticed the spots that had been thrown during the fight began to slide along the floor to pool at the polka-gheist's feet. The gheist reached through the portable hole and grabbed the back of alabasters suit, pulling him out the other side and turning him round so they could look at each-other face-to-mouth.
The creature took a deep breath and roared deafeningly in the paper persons face.
"Eat him gheist. Now!"
The gheist lifted alabaster up, dangled him between two claws above its gaping maw and- the world tilted.
Everyone in the tent slid side-ways as the once flat ground became a slanting slope.
"I am the owner of this circus! It's mine to do with what I will. And nothing will stand in my way."
From the ground beneath the puzzled polka, a hand made of stone reached up and engulfed the beast in a fist of godlike proportions. As suddenly as it started the ground returned to its normal unlslanted state.
"Aah , ow, ow, ow!" breathed Anya "Thank goodness I landed on something soft..." She looked down and started "Oh! Sorry, Maya, Bethany!"
Standing up, Anya looked back at where the fight was taking place. The tables had been turned dramatically as both ringmaster and polka-gheist were bound in the grip of arms apparently formed from the packed earth of the tent's floor.
"Give up." Alabasters cultured voice now sounded like the rasp of dry and brittle parchment and it carried on the still air to where the group had been dumped.
The ringmaster began to laugh. It wasn't a pleasant laugh, nor the sort of laugh you might hear when talking about old and embarrassing times, it wasn't even the awkward little laugh you sometimes emit when a particularly awful joke has been made and you feel you have to make some sort of comment.
This was more the laugh of a man perched atop the catwalk of a burning laboratory whilst a mob batters on the door below. His mad humour subsiding, the ringmaster fixed a wild-eyed gaze at Alabaster.
"Y'know. I was so sure that the powers that be would have your hide for the way you run this place. So danm sure."
Alabasters inked frown grew even deeper. "The outcome was obvious, given the alternative."
"Ah-hah. Yes indeed. But this is my domain and I still have my trump you half pulped sheet of blotting paper. I don't think you've quite grasped the... significance of your surroundings."
Alabaster blinked. Horror dripped its way down his face and onto his suit.
"That's right matey. This whole place is made of circles, and you're right in the middle."
Alabasters features wiped themselves into a semblance of calm. "All I need to do, Is Squeeze you over-bloated sack of squishy meat." He snarled and his words dripped with not just ink, but pure unbridled loathing.
"All I need do is think and the air in here spontaneously combusts, you-" No-one got to learn exactly what else he thought of alabaster, because he was cut-off mid-sentence.
"Both of you. Acting like a pair of toddlers comparing heights and squabbling over mud-pies." Harliquen leaned on the hand holding the polka-gheist.
"Y'know, I think I can understand what that boy feels like." She commented with nonchalance, aware that she had the stage and the attention of everyone in the room.
"-But!" She continued in a weary voice filled with a mix of annoyance, exasperation and unchallenged authority "-That doesn't change the fact of the matter, which is that the circus must have a head. As much as I hate it, I can't let you screw up things for every single man, woman and other here because of some petty, selfish, short-sighted and above all Idiotic power struggle! Now. Either you both agree to an armistice and reach a point where you both can stop behaving like behaviourally deficient toddlers, or..." she trailed off.
"Or what Miss Jess? You'll make us? Honestly Albert, I'm disappointed in you not just because of your inferior style of leadership, but your apparent lack of parental skill as well."
The ringmaster sighed "I cannot dispute that Henry, I too expected better of her. I guess I was wrong again."
Jess had hung her head while the two men conversed. "How... dare you..." She mouthed.
"What was that Miss Jess? Please hurry up so the adults can go about their business." Alabasters expression turned into a sketch of a patronising sneer.
"How. Dare. You..." Her voice trembled with rage. "YOU!" She advanced on alabaster eyes blazing "You treat us as things. You care nothing for this place or the people within it... And he's just as bad! He doesn't give a fucking toss about anything but his pride and position. I should bloody well know! And It ENDS HERE!" She leaned forward, yelling so forcefully that alabasters face was blown backwards.
"This is your last chance. Before I make you two tossers squeal like the pigs you are."
Alabaster chortled, relaxing as he realised that rage or no, it was still just a minimum wage performer he was facing.
"Why should I let you?" He snapped his fingers and ropes of earth twined up and around her, forming an impenetrable cocoon.
"Nice try jerkwad." The punch was nothing fancy, but it didn't need to be. Paper tore. Alabaster picked himself up and felt the tear, even as it began to seep back together. His fingers came away heavy with ink. He stood and his right hand reshaped itself with ribbons of paper whirling out of the depths of his sleeve to make a paper sword. It didn't look like the kind to give you a paper-cut which could be ignored.
"I tried being reasonable-" He began in the strained manner of a person close to their breaking point.
"Save it. I'm done talking." Jess's multicoloured Harliquen outfit flickered with shifting patterns.
Alabaster raised his blade and began to charge at the girl... or at least he tried.
"Why... can't... I move?"
Jess's hand was curved into a claw, as if she was controlling an invisible marionette.
"Not everyone with power feels the need show it off. I have the colour within you and it dances to my tune. That goes for you too dad. I've decided to reconsider and give you both a final chance... Or else I'll leave you both to bleed in a puddle of red and black. Can you feel it? The pressure... I can increase it. How long until your ink runs dry paper man?"
"That would be murder. YOU are MY daughter." Jess cleared the gigantic fist with a single leap and grabbed the protruding head of her father by the chin. "Really? REALLY now. How about on my last six birthdays? Was I your daughter then? How about when mother ran away from the circus and you left me for THREE Whole Days, just wandering from stall to stall. How about then? No. I am done with you. One more word and you'll be coughing up teeth for a week."
Jess jumped down. "Now. I don't particularly want to kill either of you... Okay, that's a lie, I'd rather have your guts taken and used as macabre decorations. But I promised that I wouldn't... right now. If either of you misbehave and I get the slightest wind of it, then I will come back and we'll both get to see what colour you are on the inside as I take your heart and hand it to you still beating." Jess didn't bother looking back as she walked, skipping the distance and stepping from the centre of the tent, to the exit where Irae and his not so motley crew were waiting.
"Excellent work." The boy smiled venerably "I expect they'll be most careful where they put their feet from now on and hopefully will handle affairs in a new light."
Jess shrugged and only responded when the flap had flapped shut behind her.
"Oh, danm I'm glad to be out of there! Now I've got a killer migraine and so I need to ask, what the hell did you make me drink, kid?" She gasped, massaging her temples and glancing at Irae.
"Distilled essence of... me. It's intended to temporarily add my strength to whoever drinks it.
But if you hadn't noticed, I'm a powerful person, so no matter how well I make the potion, some of my personality will rub off on you. Don't worry, it only lasts for ten minutes."
The group continued to walk as they talked. The world around them had gone grey with dampness and post-sleet mist.
After several minutes of walking through the deserted aisles, jess finally straightened up.
"...Its stopping- You feel like that? All the time? I wanted to kill idiots and use their organs to decorate my living-room... and I don't even have a living room- It was like being so angry, that instead of kicking a wall or a tree, the only way to feel better would be giving the universe a boot. I felt like I was the only adult in a room full of excitable children."
"Welcome to the club. Members badges will arrive in the mail in four to six weeks." Irae's voice was as dry as ever.
"Lighten up Iil' guy. You did the job, you get paid and now you've got some sweet keepsakes right?"
Irae touched his chin lightly with his index finger in a thoughtful manner. "So I did, which reminds me. Before we leave would everyone please hand their slates back so I may redeem them for credits?"
"We... kinda spent it." Bethany fathined* as she spoke.
Irae drooped "All of it? How?"
Ibis coughed "Well, Maya made winning look so easy, we thought we might win some things of our own... and Maya bought all the food 'n stuff."
"And did you?"
Anya grinned and nodded "Yup. I solved the restaurant murder before anyone else did and won the competitive detective contest... but... it was only a two star prize. I got a portable trapdoor!"
"Actually, that's pretty good. How about you Ibis?"
"I beat everyone in the circum circus races... But I didn't break any records either. I only got one prize point." She sighed "But, on the bright-side now I have a pair of really comfy socks which never need to be washed and absorb impacts!"
Irae looked over at his last student "And you Bethany?"
The girl smiled sheepishly "I got eight prize points..."
"When was this?" Anya was more than a little sceptical.
"Well, you know when I popped out to go to the loo. I went to one of those stalls with the cups where they shuffle around a bead and expect you to guess which one it's under."
Jess frowned behind her mask. "Hang on. Those don't even give prize points."
Bethany looked somewhat embarrassed "Well, they didn't, but when I said it wasn't under any of the cups the man running the stall laughed and offered me eight if I was right."
Irae paused and fixed the kleptomaniac with a stern look. "And you were right? Do you still have it?"
Bethany grinned broadly, holding up a glass bead between thumb and fore-finger.
"I kind of stole it before he started shuffling."
Irae sighed "And what did you select as your prize?"
"Secret!" She playfully put one finger over her lips.
Irae continued to stare. "It's in that pouch over your fanny isn't it."
Bethany sighed "And they say boy's notice nothing. Take a look! My very own bag of holding! And I got a skeleton key and this torch which makes walls transparent when you wear these special goggles, and this little doohickie for detecting gold and a thing that turns sand into chocolate!"
They'd finally reached the booth from which the rest would redeem their prizes, Ibis looked at her special socks and Anya the trapdoor fastened to her keychain.
"Somehow. I'm a little less excited about my winnings now." "I'm jealous of the cheat."
Maya tried to comfort the slightly dejected students. "Now now, You can come and visit my house whenever you like!"
Ibis sighed "Even if you say that. It's just not the same."
Irae shook his head "Get a move on and toughen up, line up on the platform while I set it for home."
Irae inserted his card and growled at the machine until the easy-listening music ceased.
He turned "Tak... What did you get out of today?"
The blonde haired girl shrugged "Memories. Need ah have got any more?"
Irae shrugged. "No. I suppose not."
*Authors note: A word I just invented to describe the action of rubbing the back of one's head or neck with one hand either with an elbow sticking out horizontally, tangential to the back of the cranium.
Used often to emote thought, particularly the pondering of difficult decisions, bad ideas, profound embarrassment and other such conundrums.
I've had this ready for months, never got around to uploading it.
Sorry about that.