Carnaval de Magia
Of all the people I could be spending my time with, I had to be stuck with Lawrence Cavendish Jr strolling the dusty paths of the Carnaval de Magia. One of the places I'd always tried to avoid because I knew what I'd find here: people like me. Though, admittedly, I'd always felt I'd wind up here eventually. I just never thought it'd be with him.
I flicked my eyes over his debonair attire. He probably shouldn't have dressed up so much, though considering all of Lawrence's attempts to woo me, at least he was attracting something. The dust. It sat in his neatly groomed moustache and danced about his top hat. But judging by his disgruntled expression, he wasn't too impressed by the outcome.
Still, he smiled as he wiped his spectacles with a handkerchief, "Apart from all the dust, I think my father made a riveting suggestion. An exciting little break from that dismal case."
I flashed a non-committal smile. I'd much rather be working. In fact, I urgently needed to speak with my boss, to strongly advise him not to try to set me up with his son.
I didn't need this break, I could've handled the investigation.
He continued, "I think you're perfectly capable of handling…"
I elected not to hear him over the obnoxious accordion music, and instead scanned the red and white tents for a convenient opportunity to get myself lost. I soon felt him closing the gap between us, and as I was turning my head, I noticed an arm extending to me in my periphery.
I snapped my head back and exclaimed, "Oh, that tent looks interesting!" and promptly glided past him, feigning obliviousness.
"Oh? The contortionists? I didn't expect - wait, slow down," he said as he caught up and extended another arm, "Allow me."
Christ, he was persistent. Three years of explicit rejections to his advances would have, I imagined, been pretty obvious indicators that I was not interested in his affections. But he seemed to be stubbornly ignoring that.
A scent caught my attention and I sniffed the air, "Do you smell that?"
Lawrence followed suit, and gestured behind me, "I think it's coming from that food cart. They seem to be selling chocolate-coated marzipan. How about I get some?"
I smiled. I hate chocolate.
I watched his back as he strode towards the food cart, making sure he wasn't about to turn around, before ducking behind a group of flame-throwers and into the midst of the carnival.
There were far too many people here. It was a mess of chattering bodies walking in all directions. I tried to focus on the signs directing me back to the exit, while juggling the possible excuses I'd eventually have to give Lawrence. A sudden flash of light drew my attention and I realised too late that it came from a Dorchani boy performing petty arcane magic tricks. I jerked away, pretending it wasn't there, but still, the thoughts clanged through my mind. Your people, you left them, you betrayed them. I quickened my pace and kept my head down, determinedly ignoring my surroundings. Until I bumped into a group of patrons and nearly rammed my foot into a brightly painted podium. I realised too late that somebody was standing on it and leapt back, only to gasp at the sight.
It was … a man, or at least an extremely realistic wax statue. The point was, he wasn't moving. He didn't even appear to be breathing. He stood, frozen, poised like a lover offering a rose to the air in front of him. He was striking. In more ways than one. His skin was dark but splashed in patches of milky white. Some of which sprawled up his face, resting like a crescent around his eye, which themselves were a brilliantly pale blue. He wore typical Victorian formalwear, and uncomfortably reminded me of myself. My feet itched to keep moving, I couldn't linger. I cast my gaze around the carnival, making sure Lawrence wasn't following, only to jolt back when I faced the living statue again. He was now holding the rose to my face. I looked at him curiously. Well, he was a real human at least. Slowly, I removed the rose from his grasp as a slight curve formed on his lips.
A voice called behind me, "Miss Nightingale!"
Lawrence jogged over to me, "What are you wandering off for? I thought I'd lost you. Here's your chocolate marzipan," he extended the bag to me, only to notice I was holding the rose. "Did that freak give that to you?"
I scoffed. He'd said it so casually, but so blissfully unaware of the ignorance behind it.
"Yes, Mr. Cavendish. And in case it has skipped your notice, I too am a freak."
I brushed him off, and as I saw his face fall, I cast a smoke spell. The white blaze of an arcane circle erupted from my fingers. Duuma.
White smoke poured into the air and Lawrence cried out. I strode past the podium but paused briefly, realising it was now empty. How did that man move so quickly? I focussed on the crowd as I squeezed behind the people who had stopped to watch the smoke, assuming it was another performance. There was only one man heading against the crowd. He paused at a stretch of canvas connecting two tents, and a pair of pale eyes disappeared behind a concealed canvas flap.
That would work. I forced my way towards the entry and almost dove behind it, bracing myself against the wall of the narrow path within. I sighed and peeked back through the gap hoping Lawrence hadn't seen.
A throat cleared to my left and I jolted. Should have thought about that. His bright eyes were wide and I felt my cheeks flush. I straightened into a more dignified manner, as if that would help.
"I'm sorry, you can't be here, this is for performers only."
I struggled for words, as a cold weight rose in my chest. How would I explain this?
I noticed him cringe as he looked down, "Oh. I'm sorry, that wasn't personal."
He gestured to my hand and I looked at the rose, "Oh! No, that's not why I…" I flailed my hands in the direction of the unsecured tent flap, "I just…"
Distractedly I peered through the gap hoping I wouldn't find Lawrence.
"Hiding from someone?"
My cheeks flushed deeper. "Um, well…" What was the point of hiding it? "…yes."
His face softened and he held out a hand to me, "Where do you want to go?"
I sighed. "An exit if you would."
He nodded. "There's one near the Fortune Tellers tent. You're Dorchani, are you not?"
He must have felt it because he cocked his head to the side. His glassy eyes felt like they were peering into my soul, "You're running from much more than a person, aren't you?"
A chill ran down my spine. I wondered if those eyes could see far more than they should.
. . . . . . . . . . .
The wrought iron gates of the exit were not five metres away, but some part of my heart locked me in place outside the Fortune Teller's tent. The words 'Zura de Luna' painted on its side. It was so painfully exoticized; tailored for the consuming eye. But it was a relic from my past.
It would be easier if I just went home, but then I knew I'd never come back. My feet faltered towards the curtain and I cursed myself as I walked inside.
I entered a small incensed sitting area, with a short round table placed in the centre. A glowing arcane circle etched in its surface fuelled a blazing fire above it. An impressive spell; most couldn't keep a fire going very long without concentrating on it.
"Come in," a lilting voice called through the beaded curtain to my right.
I hesitated before ducking through, straying no further than that. The so called 'Zura de Luna' sat behind a crystal ball at a table draped in cloth. She was obviously well versed in divination; tea cups, tarot cards, and other artefacts lay about the table.
Her brows shot up when she saw me. "Oh! I've never read for one of my own before." Her voice was significantly less lilting now, "or are you here for a different reason?"
I could feel her eyes scanning my clothes and instantly wished I'd never walked in here.
"I… came for a reading."
She smiled, but her eyes were piercing. She was trying to make sense of the situation, trying to figure out who I was. Dorchana didn't usually read for each other, especially not in these circumstances.
"Please. Sit." she waited for my compliance then waved a hand over the table, "what form of reading would you like."
"…Tarot," my mother used to read them.
She began shuffling the cards, "I don't believe I recognise you, what's your name?"
The one thing that would undeniably mark me as an outsider, "…Elvira N-Nightingale."
She smirked at my hesitation. The English name of a girl who'd never lived amongst the Dorchana outside the city.
"Nightingale? What a pretty name,"
That was a lie. She ceased shuffling and drew the first card.
Seven of Fire…
"What's yours?" my palms were sweating, "somehow, I doubt 'Zura de Luna' is the full story."
King of Air…
"You'd be right. My name is Zura Rios. But that's not nearly as mystical."
Six of Water.
Past, present and future. She placed her hand on the table and an arcane circle glowed beneath it.
Staring into my eyes, she spoke, "There was once a place where you belonged. Where everything made sense. You knew who you were and you trusted yourself … your people. But all of that went away. Something broke you, and you faltered."
My chest tightened.
"You were lost, and you let that harden you. Locking away your fears and turning your back on all that you knew. You started to change," her eyes flitted over my clothes, "you did it well."
"You forced your focus solely on the next task ahead of you. Hoping it would make you stronger, but it has only made you blind."
My eyes narrowed and I clenched my fist.
"There is a choice in front of you. You must decide what you value most. The life you once had, or the life you've built," she finished.
"What kind of reading was that?"
"One you needed to hear. You can't always pretend to be something you're not."
I shook my head, "Oh? Instead, should I be a Fortune Teller at the Carnaval de Magia?"
Her eyes seared into mine from under lowered brows, "Not all have the same options."
I knew that. And I knew how she saw me: out-of-touch and ashamed. She was right, I knew it in my heart. It was a truth I'd never wanted to face, one of the reasons I'd kept away. Because I didn't want to face that look in their eyes.
"What should I pay you?"
"For you? Crystals."
The source of magic for Dorchani witches.
I raised a brow. "Don't you have enough?" I looked around at the shelves decked in crystals.
She scoffed, "Those? They're glass. Do you think they'd leave me in a room with real crystals?" she made a derisive laugh, "we're thieves! Didn't you know?"
I wasn't that out of touch.
"Yes. I do. I stopped the crime syndicate stealing jewellery all across the city that was framing Dorchana," I said coolly as I set a vial of topaz dust on the table.
She paused, "…I've heard of you."
I shrugged, "Maybe the cards don't reveal all of a person's story."
I strode out of the tent, tears prickling my eyes. I was right, it would have been easier if I'd just gone home.
I trudged towards the gate, battling the tears that threatened to fall. Absently, I removed the rose from the pocket I'd placed it in, and spun it around in my fingers. At least one good thing had come from this-
Someone grabbed my arm and I spun to see Lawrence. My heart sank to my stomach.
"Elvira, I'm so sorry about what I said," he was out of breath and obviously couldn't be bothered to employ manners, "I didn't mean that you were a freak, I've never thought of you like that. You're so different, and so beautiful. Could you forgive me?" he clutched onto my arms.
Again, he didn't get it. Didn't understand a single thing.
The rose snapped in my fingers.
As tears slid down my cheeks.