A/N: We have come to the end of Volume I! Yay! A great big thank you to Alouise Briggslay, as always. I hope you stick around for the sequel.
Now I know I've left a few loose ends hanging, but fear not! I didn't forget about them. If there's an issue or a mystery that didn't get resolved, that means it's going to be relevant to Volume II or even Volume III.
Thanks for sticking with me, everybody!
A New Day
After receiving that mysterious text message and running from the murdered housekeeper in his home, Mitch Lorrins found himself at The Kichirou Show, buying a ticket at the entrance.
The carnival lights glowed like a lighthouse calling him home. It was past midnight, but the show was still up and running. Slowly, the dread and panic he'd felt over the past hour melted away. A sense of peace blossomed in his chest. This was where Mitch was meant to be—he could feel it.
He wandered through the midway in a trance. The scent of popcorn hung heavy in the air. Mitch felt like he was floating.
Dazedly, he meandered from one food stall and carnival game to the next. His journey finally ended when Mitch's feet brought him to a man wearing a smiling white mask and a black top hat. The man raised one gloved hand and waved to him. Mitch stopped directly in front of him and stared into the eyes of the mask.
Fear didn't take hold of him until the silent man removed his mask.
Underneath it was the badly decayed face of a corpse. Barely any of the man's flesh remained. His nose was a black hole in the middle of his face. Strips of skin and muscle hung from his cheeks, exposing a full set of dirty teeth. The man's tongue was nothing more than a withered piece of meat that lay useless in his mouth. And his eyes… they were nonexistent. His lids were limp over empty sockets, and yet, Mitch got the feeling that the man was somehow looking at him.
Before Mitch had a chance to run or scream, the dead man leapt upon him, wielding a gleaming letter opener. For a moment, he didn't register the deep slash across his throat. Then, Mitch felt hot blood drench the front of his shirt.
Strangely, he didn't panic as his body grew colder. Mitch's final thought was, At least I'll see Steffie soon…
When the body of Mitch Lorrins fell to the ground, the Magician placed his mask over the dead man's face. To complete the transfer of consciousness, he also removed his hat and his gloves and carefully placed them on Mitch.
There was a second where the Magician's previous body swayed on its feet. Then the corpse collapsed and what was once Mitch Lorrins stood up. The Magician brushed the dirt off the pajamas that Mitch hadn't bothered to change out of. Working quickly, he stripped his old body of his suit and put on his familiar clothes in place of the pajamas. When he was finished, the Magician stretched his arms above his head.
He always felt refreshed whenever he took possession of a new body. Despite the magic that kept him from stinking of rot and stopped his dead limbs from stiffening, the corpses the Magician wore always eventually deteriorated. Like a pair of stretched-out socks that couldn't regain their shape. But the new body of Mitch Lorrins fit the Magician snuggly. It was a new body for a new day—and just in time, for he had the sneaking suspicion that things around The Kichirou Show were about to change.
Leaving his old body where it was—it would be nothing but ashes by morning—the Magician headed to one of the employees' private tents. He always needed a rest after switching bodies. The process was exhausting.
As soon as he entered the dark tent, the Magician sensed that something was amiss.
The tent was nearly vacant, but not quite. A man with an unfamiliar face sat in one of the foldout chairs. His appearance was haggard. Dark circles ringed the man's eyes, and his brown hair was sloppily cut, like he'd sheared the ends off himself even though he wasn't practiced at it. The scruff of a beard grew unevenly along his jaw. When the man lifted his gaze, the Magician saw sharp gray eyes that looked slightly manic.
He smiled when he saw the Magician. It wasn't a nice smile.
"I found you!" he breathes in awe. "I still can't believe I found you!"
The Magician cocked his head and pointed to his chest as if to ask, Me?
The man laughed; he sounded like he was on the brink of becoming unhinged. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this. How long I've searched. How lost I've been…" As he trailed off, he fiddled with a cane clutched in one of his hands. The cane was topped by, what appeared to be, the head of a raven.
The Magician made several gestures that roughly translated to, What are you doing here?
The young man's gaze zeroed in on the Magician, his eyes once again focused. "I'm here to fix things," he said solemnly. "And the first step to doing that is getting rid of you."
The Magician wagged a finger at him, saying, That would be a mistake.
The young man laughed, insanity gleaming in his gray eyes. "No, no, no. I don't think so. You don't get to tell me what to do."
It didn't take long to see that this was someone who couldn't be reasoned with. The Magician took a step back. In the same instant, the other man raised the cane, pointing it at the Magician, and put his finger on a hidden trigger under the raven's beak. A concussive bang shook the tent as the man shot the Magician four times: three times in the chest and once in the face.
The wounds left the Magician feeling dizzy, though certainly not weak. However, it seemed the other man somehow knew this. Without wasting a second, he jumped up from his chair and leapt upon the Magician, tearing off his mask, his hat, and his gloves. Immediately, the Magician's vision began to fade to black.
"You… don't know… what you're… doing," the Magician managed to say, even though his lips and tongue felt numb.
"Actually, I do!" the man told him cheerfully. "I know I can't kill you, but I can take you out of commission. See, as long as you're not around, I can manage The Kichirou Show! And I'm going to run it right into the ground."
The Magician's awareness trickled away until it was limited to just his mask, his hat, and his gloves. He was vaguely cognizant of being carried out of the tent. Then his belongings were dumped into a trunk. He sensed all this, but without a vacant, human body nearby, there was nothing he could do to stop it.
The Magician heard the clunk of a heavy lock being secured to the trunk. Then the Magician was alone, although he wouldn't be for long…
To be continued in Volume II