Friday, February 21, 2014

Day Six-Hundred-Forty: Showstopper

(Author's note: Art has been delayed. Why? Because my apartment has flooded! That's... that's hilarious.)

Man. Gypsies, gypsies, everywhere.

After yesterday's weird blackout, I wasn't in a hurry to revisit the Cirque du Magniwonderful. Yes, they were good for morale, yes, I was probably being paranoid, yes, those occasional evil glances in my direction were probably harmless. I know, I know, I know, I've been crabby this week, leave me alone. I still didn't wanna go back.

Problem was, Ramone insisted. He said they would not depart from the Dauphine until we'd come out for a final celebratory performance. And that meant everyone, myself included. It took a lot of convincing on Libby's part to drag me out of my cabin, and in the end she had to promise not to hit me for a week. I ultimately figured it was a fair deal. (For all I know, she's the cause of the blackout. I receive a fair number of buffets from day to day. Brain damage, you know?)

Everyone gathered at the front of the Dauphine and settled down in chairs as the gypsies rounded up their stalls and created an impromptu stage along the tops of the wagons. Ramone insisted I sit right up front, where I'd have a good view of the proceedings. Again, it took a lot of convincing to get me there.

"It is an apology!" he assured me, patting my hand as he guided me to the 'seat of honour'. "Major apology! Surely, ah, surely the grandeur of the potential of meeting with your future wearied your mind. But no worries! This time we shall introduce you to a different kind of magic: stage magic!"

"Great," I grunted. Unease mingled with grump in the back of my mind. "Can't wait."

I slouched into my chair, a ragged throne the gypsies had pulled from one of their wagons, and watched as the vagrants quickly assembled their show. The two teddy bears lashed the wagons together for stability, the slighter of the bears clearly drunk out of his mind; the goblin with the balloons hissed orders at the other carnies; the orc stared vacantly at a sheath of paper, I assume a script; the three-headed jester followed Ramone like an enormous, grotesque puppy; the snow hippo lay down under its blanket. I never did get to see what it looked like.

As I waited, expecting Libby and Fynn to join me, I was instead surprised by the appearance of Plato and Bora on either side of me. They plunked down into the chairs and stared gravely up at the milling gypsies.

I snorted. "Thought you'd had enough of this lot for one lifetime."

Bora snorted back. "It'd be rude to miss the big show."

"That's my wife's seat, you know." I glared moodily at Plato, as well. "'n my son's."

Bora shrugged and said nothing. Plato looked at the sky, quacking something about the weather. I sighed, wondering if I'd have to clean up a fist fight between Libby and Bora sometime in the near future. (Wasn't wrong, but that's another story for another time.)

Ramone took the stage once all was complete, and though he seemed to regard my two companions with some level of surprise and contempt, he nevertheless began. "PEOPLE OF THE DAUPHINE! The Cirque du Magniwonderful would like to thank you kindly and profusely for this week of fantastical fun! We have benefitted in coin, and you in good cheer! We would therefore like to conclude all that we have shared with a very special presentation! One that will fill your lives with awe! Ooooo!"

He waved his tiny fingers in the air. A few members of the Dauphine's crew clapped appreciatively.

Ramone gestured to the jester, who seemed to brood at the base of the central wagon. He (it?) threw a small cape up to Ramone, and he tied it around his neck with a flourish.

"Very good!" He pointed into the crowd - directly at me. "You! You have had no fun at all this week, have you, good Dragomir?! You, the leader of this brave crew, who should be enjoying himself as we speak! Is he not crabby, my kind fellows?"

I glowered. All the more so when several members of my crew shouted agreement.

"Indeed!" Ramone tapped one of of his ridiculous boots on the roof of the wagon. A door on the side of the wagon swung open, pushed by invisible hands. "Therefore, we seek to make your lives all the better... by making him disappear! It shall be the greatest feat of magic of all time!"

The crowd murmured. One jackass applauded. 

Ramone, as well as the two teddy bears, beckoned me forward into the wagon. "Come, brave Dragomir! Prove your mettle! Show your friends and family that you do not fear the unknown! Prove to them that you are willing to have a good time for their sake!"

I floundered. Under no account did I want to set foot in that darkened wagon. I thought of a thousand reasons not to go, from the warning bells in my head to the vision of the brown net to Bora's warning glare at the edge of my vision to the quick realization that Ramone had said nothing of making me reappear again. The assumption was that he would ultimately bring me back, but it was nothing more than an assumption.

"C'mon, Dragomir, don't be a butthole!" someone shouted. "We wanna see magic!"

"We see magic all the time!" I shouted back, gripping the arms of my chair. "I'm not doin' it!"

"C'mon, don't be a puss!" another voice challenged. "Hey, hey, I'll do it if he won't!"

"No! It must be him!" Ramone commanded cheerfully, though with a hint of impatience trickling into his voice. "Come, come, your courage demands you stand up, Mr. Dragomir! CHEER HIM ON, FOLKS! HELP HIM FIND HIS COURAGE!"

The crew began to shout discordantly. Some argued that I should man up and get in the damned wagon, because they wanted to see what would happen. Others argued that I should be free to do as I please, and I'm pretty sure Libby, who was now fighting her way towards me, was the strongest of their number. Yet others volunteered to take my place, and I was most fervent in shouting them down, already on my feet to shout over the back of my chair. I felt it a poor idea indeed for anyone to enter that wagon.

"Plato, get ready," Bora whispered, apparently not knowing I could still hear her. "Watch the big one, he's moving in."

I peered down, trying to hear through the noise. Plato nodded, his fingers wriggling in some strange movement I'd never seen before. I looked behind me -

- saw the teddy bear and the three-headed jester slowly plodding in my direction, their arms outstretched -

- began to realize that the gypsies, the other, less remarkable gypsies, had spread out in a circle around the crowd -

- noticed Ramone pawing at the straps on his mask -

- and fell back into my chair as a wholly unfamiliar voice cut the air.


The crowd quieted. The jester and the teddy bear stopped moving. Ramone's fingers faltered, and the mask remained in place. Heads turned, mine included.

Parked at the edge of the crowd was a second band of gypsies. Their wagon train was much larger than that of the Cirque du Magniwonderful, perhaps twenty vehicles strong, and every soul of their one-hundred-twenty complement was standing in the snow and staring at us. More pointedly, they were staring at Ramone.

Somewhere behind me, I heard Nagi moan "Oh, gods, not them again."

Their leader, a snake person with a bright blue bandana, pointed accusingly at Ramone. She had much better control over her spindley wooden arms than my father had ever managed. "You! You the leader 'o this sorry lot?"

Ramone faltered, nearly slipping off the roof of his wagon. "Why, madame, you are ruining my act -"

The snake person slithered forward, joined by a burly orc with a wide grin. She hissed. "Act! Act! I know nothing of yer act, cully, 'n I know every gypsy band from here te Goblinoster. What's yer name?"

"I?" Ramone jumped from his perch, onto the shoulders of the jester. "I am the great Ramone, ringleader of the Cirque du Magniwonderful! We are known far and wide as -"

"As what? Unlicensed gits?" The snake person shook her head and bared her fangs. "Yer card, if ye will."

Ramone scratched at his mask. "M... my what?"

"Yer card! Yer card!" The snake person thumped her tail against the snow impatiently. "If yer te be plyin' any shows, ye've got to be part o' the union! That's regulations!"

"The..." Ramone swallowed. "The gypsy... union?"

"Aye!" The snake person motioned to the orc at her side. He held up a thin, gilded piece of metal, covered in tiny writing; I assume it was her qualifications. "If ye have no union card, ye canna practice this trade anywhere but the Indy Plains, and they be of poor standards indeed!"

Ramone fumbled, searching his pockets. "Um, yes, my... my union... yes, of course, I, ah, I must have... I must... it must be here somewhere... Umbro -"

"Teddy," the big teddy bear rumbled. "Name. Teddy. You stupid?"

"Ah, yes, Teddy, of course, Teddy, yes, did you leave the card somewhere? Ah, you, you, you're always the one who carries it for me, like, ah, this lovely lady... and her orc..."

The orc bowed.

"Ye'd best be movin' on, charlatan." The snake person grinned. "We'll be takin' over the entertainin' of these fine folk from here on. 'n if ye don't agree, we'll be happy te alert the Imperium patrol we met a mile back to yer malfesance."

Ramone tried to argue the point a bit longer, but it was no use. The snake person, whom I've since learned is called Lisanna, won her case. The Cirque du Magniwonderful is long gone, and their sketchy wagon has gone with them. I suspect them of planned wrongdoing - the cry of one of the gypsies that they might not be 'paid' was a telltale sign - but that's kind of a moot point.

And now we have more gypsies. Ones that Logan, Nagi, and Plato apparently know. Haven't figured out the details of that, yet, but hells. I'm sure I'll find out more next week.

Gypsies. Bloody gypsies.

I'm going to bed. Ever since the 'performance' I've been holed up in my cabin, and I'm in no mood to come out. I'm so tired of looking at entertainers. The memories are too strong, and that besides, I'm running out of money to pay for their services. Everywhere you go it's 'Spare a coin for a flip?' this and 'Buy a bag of luck stones?' that.

Bloody gypsies.


Dragomir the Wanderer

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