After the Great Wars, magic was outlawed and those who used magic forced into hiding or to give up their magic. The authorities made devices that could drain the very magic from the different races and although it was still starkly evident that some were Fey, Elven, Dwarvish or other magical varieties, the magic was gone. Magic was forcibly drained from their being, if they wanted to live a 'normal' life.
All that remained for some were travelling circuses run by mandated officials, slaves to the authority and higher powers. This gave people the chance to see the dangerous and feral magic users up close and for the most part, it was a good life for those who didn’t want to hide nor give up their magic entirely and become regular. The roving bands often made their ways through many kingdoms and towns, stopping for a few days at a time to perform. Magic of all sorts, flight, Elemental magic, breathing under water, animal kinship, transmutation, telekinesis, anything and everything that would make the crowd gaze in complete wonder and bring a hefty profit for those who dared to go and watch.
There was only one way to freedom, pay your way out, which would take a lifetime, or run away and those who ran had very little chance of making it to the next morning once the Authority were set on them. Magic users were considered dangerous, hostile entities with no control over their prowess, labelled and hunted like dogs. If there was a problem in the local village then the witch hunt would begin and the magical would be blamed and chased from town.
However, as the ringmaster cracks his whip one last time and living conditions continue to deteriorate, there are murmurs of escape and a Haven in the south, on an island with white sand beaches and clear blue water where Magic wielders can live peacefully and answer to no one. Rumour has it that it is a quaint place where the skies dance with the water. Even the Authority can't touch it due to the powerful nature of the place.
The drums of war ended, but a new verse is beginning to strike up.
Anyone caught speaking about such a place suffers punishment, many of the magic wielders were born in this circus and will die in the travelling band. The ringmaster rules are strict and without mercy. Never escape. Never run. He will pair up beings to provide magical offspring he can use in his shows. Never, ever mention The Island.
Looking for this to be a one on one, of course I'm open to plotting and scheming on things. This can be modern set, I'm not fussy and I can work with any setting. Just drop a message if you're interested.
The applause was deafening as the circus performers took to the stage for one last bow to a pleased crowd that was packed under the main marquee, not a seat left unsold. As they began to file out, passing the odd gold coin to a performer they particularly liked, the Ringmaster trailed behind them and picked up the coins and put them in his little silk purse with the promise of 'safe-keeping' because having any sort of goods around these parts would earn a slit throat in the night. It was always the headliners, the fancy acts that could really get the audiences adrenaline pumping and their hearts pounding. It was the fizz of excitement they loved and not all acts could do that.
Nixie broke off, in her time at this place, she ad barely scraped together thirteen gold coins that had gone straight into the Ringmaster's coin purse. Some part of her knew that she wouldn't see it again. Just as she was about to split off and head to get washed up and settled in for the night, the Ringmaster gave a flourish of his arms and commanded the attention of all present. Nixie glanced through one of the flaps and could see more people, lined up. They weren't leaving and they were just looking in. "As many of you know, the call for magical circuses has been heightened, people want to see bigger and better, and I am nothing if not a crowd pleaser. Another circus has opted to join with us, since the unfortunate passing of their own director. I expect you each to share, I will spend tomorrow sorting out the show and the order of events. Now, go and say hello, be polite otherwise there will be consequences." He said and Nixie knew that tone, she knew it meant trouble if he was disobeyed.
She had no intention of going to greet these new performers, they were more mouths to feed and more bodies for tips to be spent on. She did want to look them over, judge them. She stepped out and eyed them, lined up together, putting up their own tents and she raised an eyebrow. The brunette looked unmoved by them, in all their vast array. They had the usual suspects helping to put up accommodation for them all, the stronger ones and the feral ones, the ones less civilised. Nixie eyed them, they were all coming into an established family unit, they were outsiders and she was unsure whether they were even trustworthy. They were magical beings, already outcasts from regular society, hunted down if they dare wish for some semblance of freedom.
"Feed the damn horses, it isn't a family reunion there's still work to be done." The Ringmaster called from somewhere and Nixie ambled over to the barn area, waving a hand and the buckets filled up to the top from seemingly nothing and she watched the water become still. Around her neck was a small pendant that was filled with water, an emergency vial in case she was ever stranded somewhere where her powers couldn't be met. It had never happened before and she didn't expect it to. A horse huffed from the shadows and Nixie was startled out of her thoughts before running a hand through her hair. It had come loose during the show and her face was prettied up with gems and paints and glitter that she would need to wash away before any hope of sleep happened.
There was a gentle patter of rain outside and she glanced out at it as it became heavier and lightning split the skies overhead followed by rolling thunder. She ground underfoot would become slick and sticky. The water bucket seemed to be vibrating almost, her mood shifting the water and it was cloudy as she thought about the unsure future now they had joined forces with another circus. Something would give, there would be fights for top spot and dominancy.
The 'unfortunate passing' of their director wasn't all that 'unfortunate', but far more deliberate. However when the investigation started, none of their family, whose ties weren't all the best, would talk. More so than each other, they hated the non-magical that subjugated them. Eli had never said much and now was no different, though he had all reason to. He hadn't always been treated with dignity or respect. Still, speaking now would mean a death-sentence. So no amount of lashes, shocks and other punishments would loosen his jaws. No amount of bribery, promises and pleads would make him tell what had happened to their director. And of course some had been punished. Eli wouldn't now. Living his life in the shadows meant he was part of very little. Their band was torn apart and sold to several different buyers.
In short, they were only a dozen in the end. To Eli, this meant he might have a second chance, though he didn't hold much hope. What did come with them were the animals however. Beautiful Arabic horses, well-trained and with shining coats. Lions, elephants and tigers. Their trainer too had been bought by this circus, as well as their main act; Igni the Passionate, handsome as he was fiery. As for Eli, he'd barely been worth more than any single one of their horses. It'd been a package deal.
He guided the horses into the barn at the animal wrangler's command, the large dominant male of the herd first. The others followed in line naturally. They were to mingle with the herd already present, which would pose a challenge as well. Everyone was tired after the travel they'd done, but work wasn't finished. Eli rolled his shoulders, sore after hauled the carriages alongside the other horses. Sometimes being a shapeshifter meant being an animal of labour. It wasn't a charming job, but it was simple. Being lead could be simple. Eli regarded the stables, took a deep breath and started to work on making sure the horses were secure, fed and dried. Unlike him, they would now be able to rest.
He caught sight of a performer, watering the horses already present and hesitated for a moment. Knowing his orders however, Eli put on an apologetic smile and started to make use of the facilities, stabling the horses one by one. After having secured the leader of the pack, the others followed in line easily. "Sorry, I'll be out of your hair in a second," Eli said as he skirted near her to grab the hay. Someone else looked into the horse's barn, another shapeshifter, "Eli, come, they need us to be quicker on the tents. Rain started," he said and Eli looked up, then figured he could come back to feed the horses after. "Okay," he muttered, then cast a smile at the young lady, all made up to perform, and finally tore his eyes away and followed his mate. "Change into a blasted elephant and make yourself useful," the wrangler, Lloyd, snapped. Eli pushed his hair back, took a deep breath and then swallowed his protests. Shifting into something big twice a day was taxing, but it was obviously needed, so he did as he was told. So did his mate and together the got the large beams for their main tent in place.
Nixie almost toppled over when another voice sounded and she looked to the man, curious about him initially. He was one of the newbies and evidently charged with looking after the animals by the look of it. He didn't look well kept, barely looked after and he was oddly polite. She was silent as she watched him grab some hay and potter around. It was busy now, things needed done and she eyed Eli and his friend, peering out and watching them shift into elephants no less. She furrowed her brow, that explained a lot. They were shapeshifters and she knew that was why they likely weren't treated all too well. She moved to the edge of the bar but still under shelter, watching the great lumbering beasts pull up the beams and cocked her head to the side. A horse shifted and she glanced over, pondering for a moment whether that was actually a horse or whether it was a shapeshifter. The horse looked bored and drank some water and she figured it was indeed an animal.
"Nixie, are you going to stand there looking dumb your entire life? Feed the horses." Illiad, the Ringmaster, called over and she just nodded before turning and dealing out the hay. At least the animals didn't care about who was born magical and who was 'normal', they just cared about who fed them and she ran her hand down one of their manes. They were unsettled from the lightning but they were dry and she finally left the shelter of the barn, soaked within minutes. She couldn't couldn't off the rain but once the tent was erected, she knew her job and she stepped into it and started to evaporate the water from the ground, digging her fingers into the ground and absorbing all the water so it was dry beneath the tent.
When she crouched, her hair shifted and on the back of her neck there was a brand. She had been with the same circus troop since she was fifteen, she was almost a decade later and thankfully hadn't been sold on or gone missing under mysterious circumstances. "Thanks, Nixie." Illiad said although the gratitude was missing from his voice and she eyed him over before figuring it was safe to retreat. She shivered a little as she exited the tent once more, looking around as night was settling in. Small campfires were lit up around the campsite, people huddled around under overhangs from caravans and trailers and tents to shield from the wet.
"Nix, come get something to eat." One of the boys mentioned and she figured she may as well. He glanced around, Francis was his name, he was still young. "Oi! Come on, get a seat by the fire." Francis was too nice for his own good, if anyone wanted an easy victim it would be him and yet here he was waving down the new comers to come and join them to eat. It was a good opportunity to size up these newcomers and what they could do. Francis chuckled and let Nixie tuck into his side for warmth, slinging a slightly damp blanket around her shoulders.
Now that they were done, the prize acts finally got to set up and Eli worked to move things, set them up just as the new Ringmaster liked them. Preferably, the Ringmaster saw them readied up to rehearse the next night and at vet what he had bought to create promotion for the upcoming show. When they finally called it a night, the weather outside was deplorable. Alex swung an arm across his shoulder and Eli grunted at the additional weight sagging onto that side. "You're heavy, what do they feed you that I don't get?" Eli grumbled under his breath. Alex laughed and whispered to him about the ladies in this new circus, how they looked pretty and for Eli to get him an in with some. Unlike Eli, Alex had never been one for shifting his appearance much, said it wasn't worth it. Now, Alex regretted it, as he was unpractised in changing his appearance. Sure, Alex said he feared losing himself and often told Eli off, asking whether he still recognized what he saw in the mirror. Eli merely scoffed and said some things would never change. Like the marks on their backs, several, for how often they'd moved from one place to the next, sold as easily as an animal. Their magic was hardly rare, after all.
Someone called out to them and Alex steered them over. Eli tried to escape his friend's grasp, but like most shifters, Alex was strong. "Will you let go," he snapped, a flicker of sharp incisors warning Alex not to push it. Eli felt tired and knew Alex was too. In their own circus, they might have a brawl before settling with the other shifters, like a pack. Usually as wolves, because it was warm and wolves had the fortunate ability to ignore hunger for days on end. The strains between them were deal with better as a pack as well. Eli wondered who the alpha shapeshifter was. He hadn't met them yet.
Unlike the girl sitting with the young man. Francis smiled, "noble of you, sir," he complimented Francis, who introduced himself. "Alex, and this here quiet being is Elija," Alex spoke for him. "Call me Eli," Eli corrected and sat down near the fire. If nothing else, it was warm at least, though the scent of food made his stomach contract with a growl. The rain was somewhat soothing. No one cared to pick a fight in this weather, so for now the tension in the air was soothed by the volume of water weeping from the skies. Eli knew it would be different come morning, but for now, he'd appreciate the moment.
"Don't waste too much food on him, he's a bottomless pit," Alex joked, leaving Eli to give Alex an unimpressed look and reach out for his portion. They'd travelled all day and set up everything when they arrived. He was beat. And they would be doing the same old routine come morning, because the animals didn't tend themselves. Eli's threadbare black coat fell open as he ate, giving a good view of the collar he wore. Alex too wore a similar band around his neck. Their skin, just below the collar, was mottled in bruises from the interrogations. Neither had had the time or energy to mask them yet. Or a desire to. "So what do you two do here?" Alex asked, making conversation. They'd have to find the other shapeshifters, to make sure they had a place soon. Unlike some, they didn't have their own trailer or tent. They were to sleep with the animals and late-comers tended to get the worst spots.
Nixie glanced to the two shapeshifters that came over. it was common knowledge and taught to many of them not to trust those creatures, they could be sneaky and she eyed their collars. Part of her did feel sorry for them, to sleep with the animals like that and be treated worse than stray dogs. Francis was as talkative as ever and chuckled, "Pleasure to have you aboard! I'm Francis, local fire starter." He introduced himself and nudged Nixie, "This is Nixie, local water expert. Then you've got Nia who is an absolute whiz with animals and plants, she can make you a nifty flower crown if you ever fancy it." Francis introduced everyone slowly and passed some food over to the two shapeshifters.
"You'll want to check-in with Snow." Francis remarked and Nixie cast him a look and Francis shrugged. "Snow is the one in charge of the shapeshifters. He's an old guy, but he cracks the whip and how he isn't just a full on bear by now is beyond me." Francis remarked. Snow was ruthless, he had asserted his dominance over the shapeshifters a long time ago and no one had toppled him since. He had killed a few shapeshifters over the years who tried and he wasn't to be messed with. Nixie looked between the two, she wasn't sure they would stand much of a chance but it would no doubt be an eventful night for them both. New blood was just that, new and not everyone liked change, it offset the balance massively and that was always unsettling.
"You ought to sleep with something to protect yourself." Nixie piped up and looked to the others. She supposed everyone should because frankly, they didn't know these people. She drew in a breath and ate a little, it wasn't anything fancy but rabbit stewing over a campfire was better than nothing. "Snow doesn't have a great patience for newcomers and he'll want to puff his chest out some to get his point across." Nixie remarked to them with a brief shrug. They would be fine, they just had to let him think he was in charge and submit and presto, everything would work out. Then again, they needed to man power now there was extra performers and such so it would be unwise to let Snow's temper get the better of him and it would just end up messy.
"Where were you before? Your ringmaster died." Nixie wasn't stupid, she knew performers could and would set upon their own directors if things got too cruel and with close knit crews like this, it was easier to shut up and plead arrogance to whatever happened if you wanted to avoid being killed outright and coming to a sticky end. Still, she was curious about the why, shapeshifters were often the most cruelly treated and that was no secret within the industry.
Snow? Eli's blue eyes crossed to Alex, who shrugged and focussed mostly on eating. At seeing his fellow shapeshifter eat, Eli too decided food was a priority, before someone noticed Francis had offered to share food with them and they'd be forcibly reminded that they shouldn't have taken charity from those higher up on the pay-scale. Not that any was allowed to keep coin in these parts anyway. Eli grunted at Francis' description of Snow and it made sense for the leader of the shapeshifters to be someone strong and fierce. Nothing new to them two, so they'd find their place sooner rather than later. If anything, shapeshifters amongst themselves were farer than the Ringmaster. Sure, you could be put down a notch or two with some physical reminders, but at least it was clear for everyone involved and not completely hopeless. If the alpha could be fought, there was hope.
"Oh, don't worry about us," Alex said with a wink. Eli smirked. They slept with their weapons at all times. There was a reason for their collars. Eli licked his fingers clean as the food had disappeared from the bowl. Alex' statement was no lie; he had always had a ferocious appetite. "We'll find our place," Eli said definitively.
When Nixie asked where they'd been before, Alex grew a few shades paler and Eli had to swallow down some apprehension too. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Several days travelling from North," Eli said softly. "Circus Orpheus." Alex shuddered and returned the emptied bowl to Francis. "We should really find Snow then," he decided. Rain was still coming down and Eli gave Alex a look, but then nodded his consent. They'd find trouble if they stuck around these two anyway. "Thank you for the meal," he said warmly. It'd been long since they'd had a proper meal with meat. He rose and followed Alex as the man stalked through the torrential rains in search of where they kept all the animals. Eli pulled Alex to the side, off towards the horses and when there was no one there, they moved on to where the smaller animals were kept. The show-dogs, birds and cattle.
"You two are late," a low voice boomed. Eli had nearly missed the man in the darkness, tucked in the shadows underneath a small overhang to avoid the rain. Alex stumbled to a stop and held his breath. At seeing their large eyes, fearful for reprimand, Snow merely brushed a meaty hand through his beard and coaxed them out of the rain. There, in the light of the lanterns, the large shapeshifter regarded the two newcomers with a leer. A sharp pull exposed the bruises and Snow's dark eyes narrowed at the sight of them. So far, all the shapeshifters that Illiad had bought were covered in bruises, slender in a way that clued away they had little to eat over a longer period and skittish. Their alpha had been punished and had paid with his life, effectively leaving their hierarchy in a lurch. Eli pulled his coat back up to cover the bruises and shifted on his feet, slightly uncomfortable. "We were held up by- Francis? Nice fellow, told us where to find you," Alex mumbled quickly.
Eli noticed the others, in the shadows, tucked between the animals they kept. All eyes were on them. "Well, now that all of you are here," Snow's voice echoed with a rumble, "All shapeshifters answer to me, unless Illiad gives you a direct order. No one else, understood?" All four newcomers nodded. The others listened, already aware of the rules, and remained quiet. "No back-talk, nothing to give them a reason to use your collar," Snow continued. He turned, but both Eli and Alex knew better than to look at the man directly. Such an act of defiance would be punished immediately. For a moment the looming threat remained, but then it eased. "You can sleep there," Snow pointed at the goat's pen. It had hay, so it wasn't the worst spot, but it wasn't the best either. There were no protests. Each and every one of them was tired. They would need to rest before they could fight over their designated place and Snow was well aware.
"Think they'll survive the night?" Francis asked Nixie who just shrugged, it wasn't their business really. The shapeshifters were their own entity most of the time and it was easier to leave them to it, Snow would get them in shape one way or another. They seemed nice enough, oddly hopeful in a way and Nixie had to wonder how long that would last. "I should sleep as well." She muttered as she got up, forcing herself to her feet and hearing the mud squelch under her feet. She heard Snow's booming voice as she headed back towards her tent. At least it was dry and she fixed her lantern on so she could see what she was doing. She shuffled a few things around and wiped off her makeup and all of the glitter. She undid her hair and settled in for the night. She turned out the lantern and knew tomorrow would be a mess of organisation.
Morning came through the flaps of the tent and she pulled herself up. A fresh face was given with the gift of cold water and she eyed the glass of water by her small cot. It was trembling, unsettling and she figured as much. She changed and poked out if the tent. Everything was busy already, animals being tended to and sorted out. The ringmaster would probably call a meeting at some point and she sighed as she combed through her hair and finally managed to wake up. It would be interesting to see if everyone made it through the night. This would last a few days while everyone sorted out who fit in where. She grinned a little to herself and looked around. She saw her people and that was a relief at least, Francis was still around and being his usual, chipper self. He was a Ray of light, nothing seemed to get him down and when his light went out this place would feel it.
"Gather around!" The ringmaster shouted and Nixie rolled her eyes but said nothing as she moved over and took a seat on one of the audiences chairs along with some others. She glanced around and it seemed like everyone was on edge. "There will be some changes to the order. Head spots will be shared, more shapeshifters in the animal portion." Illiad explained and eyed them all. "I want no trouble, understood? I paid good money for you all and I'll not see it go down the drain. You've got practice, it better be showstopping." He muttered. Nixie was wise enough to know he wasn't messing around either and she preferred practicing outside anyway, sitting by a puddle from last night. She knew her magic better than anyone and she scratched the back of her neck, ignoring the rough skin where the brand had scarred her.
Bubbles formed and rose into the air from the puddle and she lazily watched them, listening to the musicians practicing. There was never any quiet around here, no matter how much she tried to get away from it all. She knew the campfire tales of an island to the south, a safe Haven for magical beings where they lived in harmony. They were just tales though, stories to keep hope alive for kids.
Cold water rushed through his coat. Eli shot awake and Alex next to him was served the same treatment. It was still dark out. Eli had trouble coming awake completely and was hoisted to an unsteady stand, then pushed by strong hands- the other shapeshifters. All four of them were being goaded into a the large tent. At this hour, it was empty of all others. Eli barely had time to get used to the light before he was forcibly stripped from his coat, boots and whatever else could get in the way, until he started to become snappy. They let him take off his own shirt after that. Alex too had his incisors out and was giving out a low growl at the treatment they were given. They were certainly not going to end up on the lowest rung in this pack.
"Places must be earned," Snow said, arms crossed in front of his chest. The full extent of their past was on display, but Eli merely clenched his jaw and his eyes were ablaze with emotions he refused to betray on his face. A young shapeshifter came forward, another. All four of them had soon found an opponent. Eli rolled his shoulders and while at Orpheus they'd favoured wolves, it seemed here the shifters were more keen to lions. It suited the somewhat milder climate of their circus. A blessing, somewhat. Eli didn't have long to think about it before he was force to shift as well, if he wanted to keep up with his opponent. They were strong and agile, but Eli was stronger. Soon, he was biting into the thick scruff of the other lion, who'd been pinned to the ground by his larger weight. It'd taken only one pounce. He stalked and circled the other shapeshifter, but they chose to droop off, only to be replaced by the next.
Meanwhile, Snow watched and waited. Soon there would be a match that the newcomers wouldn't be able to subdue and their places would be set, until the next challenges. Shapeshifters were a common race. Some stories were told, from parent to child, about how they used to roam freely, like wild animals. Some would favour to gallop as horses, lounge as a pride of lions or a flock of birds. Now, their packs were torn apart time and time again and their relations were rife with struggle and violence.
It didn't take long for the large lion that had pinned Alex, to also face Eli. Eli was tired and while he fought with vigour, had to accept defeat. There were three above them before Snow. There was no way either he or Alex would make it to the top of this bunch. It was somewhat frustrating, but that was the way of the shapeshifters. Eli lay on the sandy floor of the tent after his defeat, panting to catch his breath. Snow had already left at that point, knowing he didn't need to defend his position.
Alex rested his large lion head against Eli's side and together they rested. None of the other shapeshifters bothered them then. The fight was done. Each had to lick their wounds in private and put up with the arrival of new shapeshifters. It would be dawn soon. Whatever sleep they'd hoped to have that night had already been had. Eli shifted back after a while, rising to a clumsy stand. "Come, we should leave the tent," Eli coaxed Alex into following. Others were also leaving. There'd be a day filled with chores next and hopefully food, Eli's stomach grumbled moodily.
After Illiad's speech, there was a momentary reprieve. Most of the animals had already been tended to, cleaning out the cages would happen soon. For now they could rest. Eli felt ill at ease amongst all the unfamiliar people, but found a relatively dry spot to sit at and found himself watching Nixie, fawning over a puddle. Hadn't Francis mentioned she possessed water magic? He'd had enough of water after last night and that early morning's rudely wet awakening, but couldn't help tiredly staring.
It wasn't as though these simple parlour tricks took a lot out of her. She knew that all she had to do was make some pretty illusions and forms from the water and it would be fine, people would love it and the kids would be in awe as she created their favourite animal ans had it splash around a little. Her true extent had never been unveiled, there was always little point to it. She looked over to see one of the shapeshifters from before, watching her curiously. Elija wasn't it? Had he never seen water magic before, she figured it was common, elemental magic wasn't exactly rare from what she had heard at least. Maybe she was wrong, she crossed her leg, dressed in more comfortable clothing because she wasn't performing right now and all of the glad rags and such was for the show.
"Didn't have water magic where you're from?" She asked him, regarding him with her brown eyes. He had survived Snow then and that was a promising sign that he and his friend might just stick around of they could handle the heat. "It's not so bad." She murmured and waved a hand, the water ran clear in the puddle and morphed into two elephants pulling a beam, akin to how Elija and Alex had been last night. These small things were fun to do, they were enjoyable for her and seemed to be enjoyable for those around her. She gazed at the shapeshifter for a while and let the elephants play their small song together as they lumbered around. She had to wonder what they were usually subjected to, at Orpheus and if it was the same. Given their director had gone under questionable circumstances, she figured it was worse than here.
"Good to see Snow didn't traumatise you too much, he can be a little frightening at rhe best of times. I've crossed his temper a few times and if he's horrid to us then i can only imagine what he's like with you lot." Nixie said. Snow had always said it was better to be harsh so they wouldn't receive punishment, cruel to be kind. "You're a shapeshifter, a strpng one too, to be able to turn into an elephant like that." She didn't know much about shapeshifters but she did know their magic was taxing. Most performers used cheap parlour moves and minot magic to fix up a crowd but Shapeshifters didn't have that luxury. They were a commodity, something to be used constantly with no sympathy. They were animals and she had seen countless amounts of them be treated as such, by ringmaster and performer alike.
"So, what's your act? Most shapeshifters I've seen have some sort of signature. What's yours?" She may as well make pleasant conversation because if they all stuck around long enough, they would become as close as everyone else. "The headliners here, they're usually partnered up. The ringmaster likes doing that, so there's always a steady flow of 'free' magical infants. Best you don't draw attention to yourself." She explained, the less attention brought the easier life was and she eyed the band around his neck. It couldn't be nice and he was more trapped than anyone else.
Nixie's voice started him from the empty void that'd been his thoughts and Eli shook his head, "no. They specialized in fire magic users," he said softly. Perhaps that'd been what had set off the whole deal. Eli ran a hand through his unkempt black hair and tried to smooth it out but found his hand snagged on several knots along the way regardless. He could easily fix it, but what was the point? He'd only be tending to animals as far as he knew. Or be one. He'd get combed then. Or just get asked to look nicely. Eli watched as Nixie conjured up a set of small elephants, cluing away she'd been watching Alex and him help out the others set up the tent. Was she sweet on him? Eli lifted his eyes to watch Nixie and decided she had something pretty about her, even if she wasn't his type.
"Snow seems fair," Elija said when Nixie broached the topic of the shapeshifters' leader. A firm leader was what they needed. Eli figured the ranks between shapeshifters would be sorted out before the other acts. It was easy when the system was designed based on strength and wit, rather than politics. "I'll make sure not to cross him," Eli promised. So Nixie was something of a troublemaker then? Had to be, if she was talking to a low-ranked shapeshifter all of people.
A signature act? Eli hadn't been in the ring as he was ever since he'd grown beyond the looks of a 'cute kid'. "Nothing special, I'm afraid. Nowadays I just shift into whatever animal they need," Eli said with a tepid smile. "...I used to. I used to help out with makeup and hair though, for the other acts. I guess that's my speciality. Improving something that's already pretty into something beautiful." And usually in exchange for a decent sleeping place. Eli had made good friends with some of the main acts in Orpheus and had been allowed to sleep in carriages on occasion. On rare occasions.
"I'll keep it in mind. Are you partnered up?" Eli asked, slyly suggesting she might be one of the main acts, what with her ability to manipulate water to such detail. He pondered whom she might be partnered up with. Another elemental magic user? Honestly, it mattered little, because there was no guarantee a magic user would be born at all, let alone what magic it was. Aside from that, it took years before the magic exposed itself. Eli figured if he ever was partnered up, it would be to another shapeshifter or as punishment for another magic user. He caught Nixie staring at the collar and grew a little self-conscious. "I should go back. There's work to be done before tonight," Eli excused himself and stood.
Nixie watched him for a few moments she always found his kind to be a little curious. They could turn into whatever they wanted, could they turn into birds and take to the skies if they wanted to? Snow was more beast than man these days and she shrugged a little, the elephants splashing back into the puddle and she regarded him with interested eyes. He would do makeup and hair on kccassion? She wondered for a few moments and hummed a little, he would probably do a better job than Lily who loved glitter and it was a stubborn thing to get out. "I'm not a headline act. Francis is, fire and all the excitement. Water is much calmer." She pointed out and eyed him over as he stood. "Tonight, come and see me before the show. I'm tired of glitter and gems, let's see how good you can do makeup." She remarked with a smirk. No one would really mind if he wasn't needed and it would free Lily up for more time with the others.
She watched him for a while, pleasantly surprised by how polite he was. She nodded to him and pushed herself up, a bunch of performers figuring out their place in the pack was bound to flare tempers and cause sparks. She had only ever been partnered up when she was young with people who could keep her right. She ran a hand through her hair and figured she should eat before getting ready. It was the same as yesterday, bread with some stew that was most likely rabbit but it was easier not to ask what the meat was. She watched Francis with a couple other fire users, it seemed good on the surface but realistically it was a silent fight for dominance on who was strongest.
Nixie watched them for a few moments as she combed out her hair and got changed into a flowing silk dress. She'd had the same dress for years and had always been told to keep it pristine because she wouldn't get another and the dress was worth more than her, or so she had been told. She sighed out softly and rubbed her eyes, washing her face and listening to the hum of conversation going on. She didn't remember the last time she had quiet, a proper quiet night. The lights pinged into action above, lights on strings and she sighed out. It wouldn't be too long until the audience started to show up and the magic users who manned the vendors. She watched as they filtered out and sighed a little, getting up and dusting herself off. Another night in paradise where they would literally have to dance for their supper. "Do me last." She said to Lily and waved her off, it wasn't as though she was exactly saving the best for last.
Nixie wasn't a headline act, but she'd allow him to help her get ready for the show nonetheless. Alex caught his smile as they were brushing down the horses for tonight's show. Lloyd would have nothing less than perfection, but Eli also knew that the animal wrangler would take care of the final details himself, to make sure he knew each animals' mood and physical status, to make sure everything would go well during the performance. "So...?" Alex said, stealing a quick glance around the horse's nose, just make sure they weren't caught chatting. Eli gave him a slightly dim glance. Alex pointed out he smile on his face. At that, Eli broke out into an even larger smile and shrugged, smoothing over the dark horse's black coat with the brush, gently, but meticulously. Until the coat glistened and shimmered under the flickering light of the lanterns. Next were the manes, the tails, which needed to be braided and then the decorations. "Nixie invited me to do her hair and makeup," Eli said plainly. "Lucky," Alex said, slightly envious. "Think she's sweet on you?" "I'll take any scraps we're tossed." An grunt of agreement was all Alex managed before Lloyd stalked along and adjusted some details, running by all the horses and moving on to the lions and tigers. It wasn't long before they were allowed to sneak off. 'Entertain the guests', Lloyd said, but they didn't take his orders, though Alex made some effort in hopes of petty coin for his parlour tricks. Eli on the other hand sneaked into the tent behind the main tent and easily mingled, changing his hair's appearance to look more cared for, wiping the grime off his skin as he went. One of the luxuries of being a shapeshifter was that he didn't need to manually brush, wipe and clean himself, unless he liked to indulge. If opportunities such as sleeping indoors were scarce, the opportunities to indulge were even slimmer, not that they'd been complete absent. Sneaking into some place was easier as a shapeshifter. Sure, they were limited because of the collar, but there were options still. At least they were regularly fed in this circus. For now.
"You don't look happy," Eli announced himself, sneaking up on Nixie from the shadows. He came to stand behind her, catching her eyes in the mirror. "You can still back out, you know?" he gave her the opportunity to give in to doubt. Perhaps she regretted offering up the challenge. Eli's eyes were on Nixie's hair. Without any alteration, it was dense and hung loose, only a partial length. She really ought to grow it longer. Before he could even stop it, the hair in between his fingers curled, shaping into his imagination. It was the sensation of the hair, Eli accused himself. He scratched the back of his head. "I might as well finish what I started though," he said apologetically.
Eli checked what was on the table and picked some gold and blues, hues he figured would bring out the colour in her eyes. "Close your eyes," Eli instructed. Unlike Lily, Eli had no need for brushes. He also didn't need much time. He took some of what was on the table and shifted it into what he felt was a sunny day, one where the flowers spread their scent freely, now applied to her cheeks and eyelids. For her hair, it was the gentle caress of tepid water brushing against the skin, creating waves around smooth rocks. Some paper morphed into intricate lilies, dappled between the finely weaved hair. A ribbon turned into white pins, to accent the colour of Nixie's hair. His fingers danced across Nixie's face and soon he finished touching up his art. "Okay," he said, almost shyly. "You can open your eyes now."
Nixie dropped the comb in her fright at being crept up on and she looked in the mirror. Eli had cleaned himself up and she watched him from where she was sat. She shook her head, "No, you're fine." She assured him, she had been miles away thinking about everything else going on. Eli didn't seem the sort to slit her throat and she watched him work in the reflection of the mirror. He didn't go flamboyant, in fact he made her look rather pretty, just accentuated her features. She closed her eyes when he instructed and felt his fingers moving but she was used to being looked after in such a way. She smiled a little and opened her eyes when he said she could and she leaned in to see her reflection, touching her cheek and smiling.
"Well, you certainly weren't lying." She murmured, admiring the look. It wasn't as showy and she liked it. It didn't make her skin feel heavy either. Her hair was beautifully done and she looked Eli, utterly stunned. He really was wasted looking after the animals and she nodded to him, "Thank you." She said to him quietly. She hadn't expected a rough looking shapeshifter to fix her up so well and she stood, finding the white shoes that matched her dress. "Reallt, thank you. If you're allowed time then feel free to shelter in here during the show." It would be more comfortable than the barn at least and everyone would be too busy to bother him. She cast him a smile before stepping out, careful of where she stepped so she wouldn't get herself covered in mud.
The tent was bustling with life and ducked through the crowds of performers. It was messy tonight, a little uncoordinated given it was new but they were sold out. Her act was short, a small pool of water forming in the middle of the ring as she carefully made a song and dance about bringing forth bubbles, creatures crawling from the deaths under a gentle blue light with tinkling music to accompany her movements. A watery cat shimmered among the crowds, it got bigger until it was a large horse, galloping around the ring. Then all at once droplets seemed to freeze in the air, akin to stars as they caught the light and she watched the children stare in awe. It wasn't death defying, it wasn't scary, it was just pleasant and harmless fun.
She stayed like that for a while, letting the lights catch the droplets that were still in the air. She moved around them and then all at once, they splashed onto the ground like glass shards. She took a neat curtsy and then exited, stage left. She moved through the crowd again, keeping to herself and finding a quiet corner to watch the rest of the show. The headline fire users went at it with vigour, drumming up the crowd to a small frenzy and she watched Francis. He wasn't as strong as the older ones and she drew in a breath, it was dangerous territory and he could end up sold on or mauled in the night by the others. She watched as the tigers were brought out, paraded like house cats and she always felt for the animals, creatures that didn't judge and had never experienced their true wilderness.
A smile played across his lips, a shadow of a smug tint to it, when Nixie confessed he hadn't lied about his ability to manipulate hair and makeup. Like this, Nixie looked better, more naturally beautiful than she had the other night. Eli stepped back and watched her prepare for the stage, crossing his arms as he leaned against one of the sturdy poles of the tent. Allowed time? Eli didn't think he would be. The show was underway and there was a lot to do. "I should get back out there," he said apologetically. Maybe he'd steal a peek during the show, to see Nixie's performance, but Eli could already predict what was more likely to happen. He watched Nixie walk off with a smile, caught the opportunistic glance of Lily and then ducked through the crowd, back outside, where Alex was performing petty tricks for the people that came to visit them. Eli changed his clothes, shifting them into something more festive and neat, before he joined Alex and also performed his tricks. It was best to follow orders. At least until they had a little more certainty.
Once everyone was inside the main tent however, Eli and Alex, together with some of the other shapeshifters, were to wait with the animals. The order of the acts was know to Snow and he had them bring out the animals in accordance. Some shapeshifters mingled with the animals, but not the four from Orpheus. Obviously, there would have to be more practise before they could take part in an act. There was no room in them for more animals currently. Eli wasn't sure whether that was a blessing or not. Somehow he felt Snow was letting them off the hook after seeing how they'd been treated at Orpheus. Eli felt he shouldn't get used to the treatment. It wasn't likely to last.
"Tigers after this," Snow snapped and Eli moved towards the cages. The animals were well-fed and slow, but opportunistic enough to perform for food. He opened their cages and carefully approached, reading the animal before undoing the chain and tugging the beast along. It wasn't quite willing, but Eli had dealt with plenty of animals to be able to assert his dominance. It was one of the traits a shapeshifter picked up on quickly. The amount of times he'd heard others laugh and point out that was because they were practically 'one of the beasts' were too many to count.
He was just in time to see Nixie leave the main stage in favour of the fire magic users. They had gone in with them all, including Igni, their own star. Eli could already predict how that would go. Igni's ego was too large for a stage like this, never mind having to share it. Rather than show any worry, Eli merely waited patiently. The tiger stood next to him rubbed its shoulder against his leg and yawned, a display of impatience more than anything. Eli suspected the tigers were part of the act. Illiad gestured for them to approach with the beasts, keeping a rather generous distance from them, and the beasts walked in almost on their own, confident with this type of freedom. Chore finished, Eli waited for the act to finish so he could take the beasts back and tend to them.
As expected, fiery tempers exploded once the act was finished. Igni gestured hotly and spat on the floor, "the boy is inexperienced, incompetent and nearly singed by costume," he complained fiercely, even as the other act shimmied behind him to carry on the show. Francis was obviously the target of Igni's rage, because the boy went to protest, but both got sent away by Illiad. To deal with at a later time, Eli suspected.
Nixie stared as Igni came off the stage and spat his fury at Francis and she narrowed her eyes. She got up, this was a united front, she would look after her own because it was all any of them had and she watched from a distance. She wasn't stupid enough to put herself in the harms way so easily. She knew fire users carried flaming hot tempers and worse rages, she had seen Francis cave to it now and then. She figured that Igni needed to cool off and she deftly put herself in the crowd, glancing to the gap in the tent and cocking her head as some water piled down on top of him, cleverly disguised as residue rain water falling through a slight gap and she smirked a little before turning to the stage to watch the tigers. If Igni figured it was her then she would probably bear a few bruises tomorrow but she seemed covered right then.
Francis glared but said nothing to Igni as he turned on his heel and left. She raised an eyebrow and said nothing as she watched the tigers in the ring. It always did seem cruel and she wanted nothing more than to find a fire to sit by and warm up. Tonight was going to be strange and no doubt fizzy with anticipation. There would be fights and people set upon to learn their place and Nixie was quietly grateful she wasn't competing with anyone else for a spot. She was just fine as she was, she was easy to overlook and she rather enjoyed it that way, it kept her nose clean. She watched as the show ended and turned to head out, standing at the exit point and slowly forming bubbles. A little girl tugged her sleeve and Nixie stooped to listen to her and she smiled a little and created a lifelike watery cat that bounded around the girl, who squealed in delight and Nixie watched her.
She couldn't remember being that age and care free, ever since her parents had discovered she was a magic user, her life had been shows and fierce lessons and fighting. She had never had that sort of childhood, laughing and clinging to a fathers leg. Speaking of which, the father dropped a gold coin into Nixie's palm and she quickly pocketed it. She liked to keep a little of her own set aside, just in case. It was a risky move, keeping currency on her person but so far she had kept her head and not been murdered in the night. It was only a little, a tiny amount that would barely buy a good meal in the town but it was a security blanket for her.
He didn't get much time to dawdle. Igni walked off, his temper enough to set alight the tent if he allowed it and Nixie's mischief didn't help the situation. Eli suppressed his smile, keen to see Igni's ego taken down a notch. Francis was in for a world of trouble though. He sighed. Best not to get involved. They had plenty to deal with. The tigers were guided back out and Alex and Eli took them back out, towards the cages. Sometimes Eli felt that, for however badly they were treated, the animals had it worse still. Even after the show ended, they were still tending to them. Horses needed to be fed, water and brushed down. Meat was distributed to the lions and tigers. Hay was put down for the elephants. The morning would see much of the same routine.
Illiad would undoubtedly make changes to the show after seeing their performance today. From what he could hear, few were satisfied with what had happened tonight. Murmurs around the fires had it that they would be paired differently, to ensure the show would remain relevant. Then practise, before they might travel further South, away from winter's cold, which could harm the exotic animals in their troupe.
At least there was food. Being somewhat on the middle rung amongst the shapeshifters saw them an alright portion, but they were keenly watched and Eli had no doubt there would be more challenges. Maybe not as definitive ones as there had been that morning, but one of the other shapeshifters was definitely looking at him and Alex to take them down a notch. Likewise, Eli eyed the shapeshifter above him. If he was rested, then maybe he stood a better chance. For all the tension amongst the group however, they all looked up when Snow approached them and lowered their gazes. Silence made him swallow down some apprehension and Eli slowly breathed out. Unless Illiad tired of his purchase, they wouldn't be killed outright. Eli wanted to believe that. "Sneaky little shifters get noticed," the leader breathed, closer to him than Eli thought and he stiffened. "Perhaps I should've been clearer," Snow said with a moody tone. "You do the tasks you are given. And no more," he snarled. Eli stared at the bowl held in his hands, empty by now. His breathing had quickened and he wanted to shift into something less fragile than this form. He wanted to become a bird and fly away from it all. Or a wolf and run for days, away from this place. As it was, Eli was stuck in place, the weight of his collar hot against his neck. As hot as Snow's breath. "Is that understood?" Eli nodded. "Yes, Snow." A low growl was all the warning he got before a punch hit him low in the back. Eli grunted at the sudden pain. Snow's well-aimed blow would leave bruises in places there weren't already some. And then the tension eased and Eli felt like he could breathe again. He put out a reassuring hand to Alex, whose eyes were brimming with concern. He'd be fine. "Your place is outside. See you earn it back," Snow said and Eli wanted to protest, but then clenched his teeth and stood. Snow thought for a moment Eli might try to fight, but then the shapeshifter left and moved out of the barn.
Nixie moved through the crowds and rinsed her face. She had an extra bowl of food, a way of thanks to Eli for his work earlier but she stopped when she heard odd silence. It was never silent, the shapeshifters were always talling or growling and she moved to a small slat in the structure. She heard Snow's and furrowed her brow, sneaky? Snow was such an oaf and she pressed against the foundation so she wouldn't be noticed for a moment. Eli had been kicked out, suddenly she felt rather foolish and she watched and waited for the coast to be clear and for Snow to retreat before approaching and setting down the bowl. She pressed a finger to her lips, he would only suffer more if Snow saw him with another person and she gave a nod to him. She retreated, it was safer for them both and she found her temper flared about the entire ordeal.
Stupidity was in her nature and her hot blooded temper wasn't helping as she tried to make a hasty retreat. "He is under my orders." Snow loomed from the entrance and Nixie turned to face him. She was tiny in comparison to him, easily swept aside but she stood her ground. "Look at you, Snow." She muttered, "More beast than man. Wouldn't she turn in her grave to see you now?" Nixie muttered and Snow narrowed his eyes, daring to step forward. Nixie felt her confidence waver slightly, "It was a thank you for his help. That's all. Illiad wants everyone in working order now new partnerships are being made." She said and Snow growled but didn't touch her.
Nixie let the moment brew before taking a step back and turning her back to him without fear. Snow was acting like a bully and she wasn't happy about it, but she had no control over Snow and only Illiad did. "Picking fights with Snow isn't wise." Francis said as she sat by the fire and Nixie just picked at her food. "Illiad is putting up a notice tomorrow, new partnerships. You might might finally get a partner." Francis teased and Nixie figured it wouldn't be any if the fire users, water and fire didn't mix properly. Nixie just ate in the quiet, tension was in the air and she figured she should definitely sleep with a weapon, a mostly blunt dagger and she turned out the lantern, listening.
Despite the additional warmth of the travel down South, it could still get cold at night. Eli looked up when Nixie approached, a bowl of food in hand. He wanted to protest, saying he was already in enough trouble as it was, but she shushed him with a simple gesture. Hungry, Eli weighed his options and decided it'd be a waste to go without a second helping of food as well as shelter. Knowing better than to linger, Eli walked off to find a quiet place to eat near a fire. Then, he might shift into something better equipped to deal with the cold night. Strangely enough, he missed the weight of a fur pelt on his shoulders and back, the keen sense of smell that came with changing into an animal. Human senses were rudimentary in most ways except for eyesight.
When the food was gone, Eli found a decent carriage, elevated from the ground by large, sturdy wheels and shifted. It came easy to shift. Like putting on a clothes, shirking into a new layer of existence. Each sense came to him slowly. A new way of seeing, smelling, feeling. Soon he was a wolf, with fur as black as his hair and eyes as blue as his human ones. He crawled underneath the carriage in this form and dug away some of the soggy dirt, creating a soft bed of sand for himself. Eli fit barely, large for a wolf as well, but it was comforting to know nothing could approach him from behind. His fangs would take care of whatever lay at front.
The wolf in him welcomed him back with a slight brush. They'd become familiar with one another over the years. When first Eli learned how to be a wolf it was distant and unyielding, but they'd come to respect and understand one another. Sometimes, the wolf in him felt like wandering off, so much so, Eli had trouble reigning it in. Their mutual fear of the collar's shocks was the only thing keeping them in place. When he looked at the stars however, and particularly on a clear night with a full moon, Eli had half a mind to risk it. To shift and contort himself to free himself from the shackles of the circus and their warped way of appreciating magic. But what good would it be to escape alone? Eli huffed and rested his head on his large front paws, eyes wary of whoever moved by. Like this, he could barely be spotted in the dark. He heard the occupant from the carriage step in and undress. Heard the creaking of a bed and a sigh. Small animals roamed the area surrounding them. Rabbits, rats and birds. Most were still at this point, but Eli could smell them.
He woke to a stir. His ears flicked towards the upset voices and he took a moment to wake up, quietly listening and adjusting. Eli was always slow in the morning, animal or not. Yesterday had been an exception. He lifted his head when he realized it was about pairings. Were they announcing new ones?
Morning came too fast and she was keen to figure out who would be paired up. It seemed Illiad wanted all of his merry band to be put to work and she supposed it was his way of telling them to earn their keep. Nixie figured she'd be put with an illusionist or something like that to make a very pretty segment of the show. She watched Illiad move around and partner up the acts. No one seemed happy about it and she was wary when he approached her. "You'll go with the shapeshifter. One of the new ones." He grunted and Nixie raised an eyebrow at him. Shapeshifters didn't commonly perform, they were grunts to do the heavy lifting and Nixie wondered if she was being punished for something. She didn't say a word though, just nodded at him and sighed. It would make much if a segment, a shape shifter and water magician.
The crowd was bickering quietly, sizing each other up and Nixie didn't want to be in the middle when tempers flared and she ducked out of the way. The fire starters were the most offended at being paired up with 'lesser' beings. Pairing up would mean time needed to come up with some sort of act if they were to earn their supper and that would bring about a new host of issues. Francis had been paired up with his very own wind magician and Nixie figured that would prove rather a sight but they seemed to be getting along fine. She sat by a campfire and tried to think of how such a match up would work. She could manipulate the water but adding another being into something seemed lackluster at best.
They would have to make it work though, they didn't have much of a choice. She nestled down some and warmed her fingertips. There were yells already and Nixie figured she was safest out of the firing line as tempers flared and she watched from her safe spot by the fire but the campfire seemed a little aggressive and she figured it was down to the charged fire magicians in the area. Nixie shifted a little away from the fire just incase it sparked out and she looked to the skies, she wasnt exactly the most pragmatic thinker so this was new. "Alright, this was unexpected." She would rather work alone but choice wasn't a thing they got here.
Eli crawled out from the carriage, stretched and then shifted, smooth as water, back into a human shape. Sleep clung to him and Alex sent him a meek wave as they both approached Illiad at the same time. "You okay?" Eli nodded, "same old." Alex knew what Eli meant by that and simply nodded, listening to what their new Ringmaster had to say. New pairings. It wasn't unheard of to pair shapeshifters and seeing as they had fewer ladies than men in their pack since their arrival, it didn't come as a surprise that some of them were paired up.
To find Eli was paired with Nixie however made Alex laugh. "Do you think they're punishing you or her?" Eli shrugged mildly, thinking about the additional food she'd brought around the other night. There were worse pairings. Nixie was kind at least, unlike some of the performers. "Wait, does that mean you'll have to get out there, on the main stage?" Alex started and clamped his jaw tight after the careless words upon seeing Eli's face. Neither of them had been on stage in front of an audience since they were teens. It wasn't that shapeshifters couldn't entertain, but the general consensus was that they were better suited to act as animals. Perhaps Eli would. Being paired with an animal wasn't bad for any act. "Maybe she'll ask you to change into a fish," Alex snickered and put a hand in front of his mouth when Eli elbowed him in the ribs. "You just wait and see who you're paired with. A singed lion isn't a pretty sight either," Eli snapped back. As it was, Alex was paired with another shapeshifter. Eli did appreciate it was Nixie who would be taking the loss. "I'm going to find Nixie," he excused himself and let Alex with his own thoughts.
He took a deep breath and set out to find the water mage, aware she'd left the whole speech early as Illiad tried to control the crowd. Not a lot of performers were happy with their new pairing and Eli could imagine Nixie wouldn't be either. She'd have been better off being paired with a light magic user, to create dazzling displays, or perhaps an ice magic user.
"Hey," Eli announced himself gently, trying not to startle Nixie this time. "I heard- Illiad paired us together," he said with an apologetic smile. Eli scratched at his unruly black hair and found sand there -from last night's choice of bedding no doubt. After some thought, Eli sank down some end away from the fire, close enough to feel its heat, and waited for Nixie. "It's been years since... well, usually shapeshifters only enter the ring as animals. I can do pretty much any animal," he offered shyly. "Just. Maybe not fish. On dry land. It's. It's awkward," he said with a slight laugh, trying to make a joke.
Nixie looked up and watched Eli, "I'm not sure whether to apologise or not." She murmured in regards to be partnered up. He seemed nervous and she wondered what he was thinking. His joke did coax an amused smile from her lips as she gestured for him to sit by the fire. Evidently Snow hadn't continued his siege on him last night so that was something at least. He wouldn't now either, if Nixie had anything to say about it. She needed Eli to perform otherwise they would both be seen as a waste of money and the performers who were like that didn't last long. Nixie shook her head, they would figure something out eventually she was sure it would just take some creative sprinkling.
"We can figure something out I'm sure. I can manipulate water, you can manipulate everything about yourself." She murmured thoughtfully and a fight broke out somewhere, clued away by the sounds and Nixie didn't turn around, more afraid that she would see someone she cared for being beaten to a pulp. A chill went down her spine at the sounds and she looked to Eli. "Maybe we could use that, turn a water wolf into a real wolf." She murmured out loud, distracting herself. She expected aggression, fighting and tantrums but it wasn't nice to bear witness to like this. She watched Eli, he had probably seen some very questionable things in his time and she eyed his collar with a sad smile. She felt bad for him, she was only bound here by fear but those collars... She knew what they did, most shapeshifters had them and Illiad liked to keep his property close.
"I'm sorry, it's been a while since I've had a partner. I'm usually left to my own devices." She didn't work well with others, her mouth forever getting her in trouble and making her seem a rather prickly affair. She shivered a little and for a moment she wanted to move closer to the fire but right as she thought it, it blazed in place and she swallowed, finally turning over her shoulder to see the firestarters in a brawl, bloodied and she recognised Francis in the small fray, beaten and bloody. She wanted to help but this was a status thing and she was forced to simply look away. Shebhated this place, this life.
Fights broke out. Eli looked over and watched as the two performers went at each other. Each had some backing and while his initial instinct was to mingle and protect the ones he knew, Eli knew it was a bad idea. Best to do what Snow had told him and prevent the use of his collar, in before Snow spoke to Illiad and he would be sold again. Nixie looked away, a thoughtful murmur giving voice to a careful idea.
"We can do more than just change ourselves, but the skill isn't often asked after," Eli said with a smile. He picked up some grass and soon it shifted into a budding flower, then a blooming one. The thought went too far and Eli watched as the petals fell. It didn't matter because Nixie finally looked around at the fight, only to realize Francis was caught up in it. It was best not to get involved. Fire users tended to have quite the ego and pride. They too needed to establish an order amongst themselves and Igni liked to think he was a whole lot of something. Eli watched pensively as the petals were swept away by a gust of wind and carried into the fire. Shapeshifters could, if and when the occasion called for it, also shift elements, but it was a somewhat guarded bit of knowledge Eli didn't feel like sharing. Besides, it'd cost too much energy to perform night after night. Shifting the self was easier.
"I make a pretty stag, they tell me," Eli said, trying to distract Nixie from the fight. Usually they didn't last long. The Ringmaster's booming voice was already setting his performers back in their place, with threats of skipped meals and denied perks. Nothing they could strip off a shapeshifter without a place, but Eli felt earning back his place wouldn't be done by fighting. In general, it just wasn't worth it. He bit his lip at the memory of Orpheus' Ringmaster's demise. It just wasn't pretty.
"I can do an eagle?" he suggested. "I could fly ahead of the water, make it like a trail," Eli tried. Maybe he could even do some tricks, dive through the water or fly with a water-version of himself. Nixie seemed good at copying the things she saw using water. With some practise, they could make it like a dance. "I could dance? We could dance," Eli offered up. "I'm rusty, but strong?" he shrugged with an apologetic smile. A lift or carry would be easy. Maybe he could carry Nixie around as a horse even. Or they could change halfway during the show. Shifting halfway sometimes unsettled the public. Shapeshifter magic spoke to the imagination and left people feeling thinking that their loved ones might no longer be who they seemed to be.
The ringmaster was actually a welcome presence as she heard him break up the fight. It was better Eli didn't look and she just hoped whatever tension they had pent up was done with. She sighed softly and rubbed her eyes as she listened to him. She watched him turn the grass into a beautiful flower and she smiled gently at the sight. She never associated such pretty things with shapeshifters and she didn't quite know why that was. She watched as the wind brushed them aside like they were nothing and looked to him. She supposed he actually had good ideas and she chuckled a little to herself. The idea of him dancing was a little strange.
"You dance?" She said to him, slightly bewildered at the notion. She did like his ideas, her magic was always dainty in the show, always majestic and graceful and she looked him over. They would need to tidy him up, maybe some black pants and a white shirt, they could match she supposed. He was a good hand with hair and make up and she eyed the collar it was a shame about that thing around his neck and she imagined they wouldn't get away with taking it off anytime soon. "I can dance, not formally I wasn't taught much. When I was very young I'd use a tambourine in my act, then the cute factor wore off." She said withba wistful smile. Things were easier back then for the most part, everyone looked after her. It took a village, so they said. She didn't remember her parents much, blotted out of memory as just smudges and her true parents were those in this place that had raised her, Snow was part of that but he had been kinder some years ago.
She gazed at him and hummed to herself before eyeing the fire. "We could work those all in. Weave the magic like a dance and then our physical selves." She murmured. She knew people wouldn't really be coming to see her and Eli although the idea of shapeshifters being in a show would turn a few heads. "Right, so... an Eagle and a stag. Do you have a preference?" She asked him curiously. Maybe some forms were more comfortable than others, she wasn't sure how it really worked and this was the most she had talked with a shapeshifter before.
A short nod and a smile, "yeah, Vina taught me how to dance before it was apparent what my magic was," Eli said casually. "And then some more when being a child is enough to stay the unsettling notion that someone's appearance might not be what it is," he waved away the protests. Surely Nixie knew them well by now. They had plenty of shapeshifters in their troupe. Nixie too could dance. Perhaps they could dance together, but Eli figured it was smarter to let him supplement Nixie. That way, the audience wouldn't pay him much attention. "I could change the colour of your dress, or its appearance," Eli offered by means of inspiration. They'd have to come up with something good and pass it with the Ringmaster. That meant practise. They way they were paired, Eli could already predict they'd not be practising in the actual ring much.
"Maybe we could make it a story. Something with meaning," Eli said softly. Most of the good acts had a short story in them. Nixie's powers definitely borrowed themselves for something more subtle, unlike the roar of fire and the untamed tricks of tamed animals. Even they had a method however. A build-up and cool-down. Eli had watched and participated in plenty of the acts to know now.
"Both are alright. The stag, if I had to choose," Eli said with a smile. It was easier to shift back, but perhaps not as spectacular as an eagle or bird might be. That way, they could use the height of the main tent and reach the audience in the back more. "I think a bird might work better with your magic however," he said. "It doesn't have to be an eagle, I can do a raven too, or a dove." Plain animals they'd encountered in the circus in ample amounts. As a flock, they might be interesting for small tricks, sleight of hand, but a trained bird -or a shapeshifter- could perform a more intricate act. "It's," Eli looked away, then at the fire and back at Nixie, "it's probably a bad idea to shift during the act. They don't tend to like that, the audience." Unless maybe Nixie's magic could hide it. They'd have a lot of practise to do for that to work and it was too risky.
"I heard you two are paired? Does that mean you're on going on stage?" Alex greeted. Alongside him was Althea, one of the female shapeshifters below Alex. She nodded at them both in greeting, obviously wary but not quite displeased with the choices made for her. Alex was quite good-looking, if he tried. They hardly did however. Eli gave a nod. "I'm not sure whether that's a good thing," Eli said with a mutter. "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" Alex said soothingly. Eli looked at Nixie. She'd be dragged into their mess, that's what. "Snow says to gather in the barn," Althea said softly. Alex clacked his tongue, "Snow isn't happy with your pairing. It seems he still wants half your time." Eli rolled his eyes and sighed. That meant even less time to practise.
"We could hide it." Nixie said, sprouting an idea. "If you delved into a watery fountain or a wave and emerged as man or Eagle." She mused on the idea, trying to paint the picture in her head. It was a nice image and with any luck, the audience would like it enough and so would Illiad. Nixie hummed a little and eyed him, "You've got to make yourself presentable too, a little accentuating of your features like everyone. On the stage you're a performer just like me, an equal." Maybe if they did enough then Illiad would ease Snow off of the shifters. They were working performers now, not just donkeys to take the work load. She glanced up when Alex approached with one of the quieter shapeshifters. She nodded to her in greeting and eyed Alex as he spoke. "We'll be fine." Weakness and lack of confidence was easily chewed on in this place and Nixie's worries would need to be kept inwards.
"You tell Snow he lays a hand on you, I'll make sure he sleeping soaking for the next two weeks. I need you in best shape for this to work." She said to Eli and she was as foolish as she was tempered when it came to Snow. She didn't blame him for twisting into what he was, he was trying to keep them safe but he was doing it in his own twisted way. She looked Eli over, if he got kicked out again then maybe he could use the campfire if he so desired it. They were partners and it would benefit them both if they were in good condition. She didn't say it though, he seemed polite enough but she didn't want to overstep. She offered a smile to Althea and Alex before getting to her feet. She would need to practice her own magic and she went off to find some space that wasn't occupied.
"Hey! You should see the other guy!" Francis said as he approached, he was bloodied but smiling and Nixie shook her head, morphing a watery orb from here to there. It had taken years for her to make the perfect sphere like this, and it was rushing water, going at a high speed and rushing around to make the sphere. "You're going to end up dead." She pointed out and slowed the sphere so he could wash his face with the water and she sighed a little. He was playing dangerously this entire endeavour was a chess board and pawns were expendable. "You can't have your face messed up either." She remarked to him and Francis chuckled a little, finally rinsing his face. "What about you and the shifter?" He asked and Nixie glanced to the barn. "We'll make it work... if he can survive Snow that long."
Eli smiled at Nixie when she said to tell Snow he was in for a watery bed if he misbehaved, but didn't take her up on the offer. There was no point. In these parts, Snow's word was law and to contest his leadership was sure suicide. Not even he was that crazy. In fact, the last few years Eli had kept his head down. Too many incidents around just one shapeshifter lead to a quick curse and death as well. He'd kept his mouth shut and stayed out of trouble, blended in. Snow wasn't having it however. Eli felt Snow might be singling him out because he was the strongest of the new lot and made to be an example. It wasn't entirely fair, but did make quick work of establishing a new pecking order.
"Just stay out of trouble and I'll try to do the same," Eli said with a smile and followed after Alex and Althea. The two seemed a good match, though Althea seemed withdrawn, especially when matched with Alex. Still, he could see how that might work. Obviously, the two would never end up on stage.
They ducked into the barn, meeting up with several of the other shapeshifters. Most were charting about the new pairing, voicing their opinions with growls and snaps or happy excitement. Alex seemed to be amongst the latter. Eli crossed his arms and kept to a corner, unsure about whether or not he was even welcome yet. Alex had told him they were to listen to Snow, but Eli wasn't sure it'd been an invitation extending to the shapeshifters 'without a place'.
When Snow entered they fell quiet. Eli looked at the bear of a man, but other than a glare of disdain, didn't receive any telling off. Small steps, Eli told himself. Navigating the minefield that was the troupe was hard enough without having anyone backing you. "Work doesn't stop with new pairings," Snow snarled at some of them. Obviously new pairings meant new responsibilities. It mean that some of them would need to be freed up to actually tend to the pairing. Like him.
Snow's dark eyes were intense underneath his bristly eyebrows. Eli swallowed and looked down and then away. Snow recited the new roster, dividing them amongst the animals. Each mornings he'd be tending the horses and felines. It wouldn't be too bad, if that didn't mean rehearsals in the afternoon and performing at night. They were all dismissed and Eli unfolded his arms to leave, when Snow stopped him. "Don't you, for one second, forget what you are out there in the ring, boy," Snow said threateningly. "I won't, Snow," Eli said obediently. A meaty hand lifted his face, fingers digging into his cheeks. "It'd be better if you didn't show your face," the older shapeshifter said, almost thoughtfully. "Get to work," Snow snapped and pushed him off towards the exit.
Nixie watched Francis head off to go and practice some more and everyone was keen to make an impression and she sat by the campfire and thought for a while. They would need to make an impression too because Illiad wasn't above selling his actors and actresses just to make a quick handful of coin although half of them weren't even worth that much and Nixie had no intentions of going to a marketplace and being bought by some, better the Devil she knew. She sighed out and rana hand through her hair. They would figure it out but she glanced over to the barn and could see the shifters being put to work, she wasn't exactly sure how they would find time to practice before shows but they would have to find a way to do it if they had any hope of causing at least a small fraction of an impression.
Creating a fountain or wave would tax her but she would become resilient to it, build herself up she supposed. She grinned some towards Francis who was having a lovely time practicing despite shielding a few limps and sore patches. She tied her hair back from her face so she could watch the others together. Everyone was having trouble finding their equal footing she figured that it would be that way for a while, until they either found their tandem or realised it wouldn't ever work. She found herself daydreaming, she had to wonder what these people would be like somewhere else, free. They were still people, they each had personalities and were bright and beautiful souls for the most part. She sighed out softly and crossed her legs, it would do nothing to wonder about such dreams.
She looked over to see Eli being pushed out of the barn and raised an eyebrow. For some reason, he wasn't popular but then she figured no one really was with Snow. He was kinder to the female shape shifters, only because he was traditional that way but it was a stretch to say he liked any of them. She figured Snow would do his best to work the shifters to the bone so they would end up dog tired and she pinched the bridge of her nose. This was a mess and Illiad was expecting results. Her gaze moved along to the others and she knew full well they would all be having the same issues.
There was no quick work to be made out of caring for animals. Each animal needed a certain amount of brushing, feeding or cleaning and there was no way to speed that up without upsetting the animals themselves. Eli started to loathe the amount of horses they kept and Lloyd was very critical about just exactly how his animals were left and cared for. It was early afternoon when he was done. Eli stretched and groaned, used to the work but sleeping outside was definitely not as comfortable as the barn or a cot. Perhaps Snow rather have Alex be above him, for Althea's sake. If she did have a babe, then a higher standing would help them out. Eli was sympathetic, but had no intention of losing a step over sympathy. He liked Alex, but that wasn't how you got through the day in a circus.
"Hey," he greeted Nixie. "Sorry I'm late, Lloyd was fickle today," he said with a shrug and sat down near Nixie. "They're using the ring to practise with the lions today," Eli disclosed. That meant they would have to practise outside. There wasn't a lot of space that wasn't already used, but they could probably work on the small field behind the tents without triggering his collar. A lot of others were doing the same thing, after all.
"Snow said that I shouldn't show my face during the performance," he started, folding his hands behind his head and resting back, eyes to the sky. "Maybe I should take his warning literally and wear a mask," Eli suggested with a flicker of a smirk. "I guess he means I shouldn't shift into this form." If they were going to do a dance however, that wouldn't work. "What do you think we should do?"
He let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes for a moment, letting his muscles relax and rest. It wasn't particularly warm that day, but the sun was out and the rays warmed him up quite nicely like this. "I don't think I can fly if there's too much water logging the feathers, so maybe we should start out with that. It's also easier for you to hide another shift if it's something smaller to start off with," Eli suggested and slowly sat up. They could probably get away with a few mistakes during the flight and ad lib some other parts, but the transition would be trickiest. And dancing. If they were doing that, they'd need to come up with a routine and practise it.
Nixie was brought out of her daydreaming when Eli appeared and she watched him. The animals were being practiced with in the ring, she figured outside would do just fine and everyone else was doing that today so they wouldn't garner much attention. She nodded to him, outside it was then and she knew the weather would start getting colder and before long they would head south to escape the overly cold months. She thought about him wearing a mask and tried to picture it. "Hm, you could wear a mask, I'm sure we could fashion something that fits with the performance." She wondered why it would be such a big deal for him to show his face but Snow had been doing this a lot longer than she had, perhaps he knew something she didn't.
"You're right, starting small might be the best way to go. So, we can practice the shift and I'll have to see your dancing skills." She pointed out with a small laugh. It was still bewildering to her that he could dance and she stepped off a few feet, waving her hands and water drew up to create a watery wall. "Perhaps instead of getting you wet, we could do it behind the wall, it'll be all watery but it would save you getting watery feathers." She murmured to him. She used to do this water wall trick and pull up water from a pond with fish in it but there was nothing like that here that she could use. She smiled to Eli some, the musicians would figure out there music, she would just have to speak to them in regards to what they needed and if they were lucky they would get the right sort of rhythm.
"Snow used to be married." She mused, busying her mind as she played haplessly with the water as it turned and twisted into shapes from the wall. Liquid rabbits bounced around and out of the wall before hopping back into it. "Kia was her name. They got married in secret, Illiad didn't know. Then we joined with another circus and Kia was an earth magician, she could make the most beautiful things grow. She looked after me when I was young. Illiad wanted Kia to produce offspring with a fire magician, he was desperate to see the magical baby but... Kia refused. She tried everything and Illiad said it was okay. He said she could have her freedom she had saved up enough coin to buy it outright. She went to his tent in the middle of the night, I think she must have asked to take Snow with her. The next morning Snow found her in his bed, she'd been strangled and put there." Nixie murmured, "I think Kia was the last gentle thing about Snow." She mumbled mostly to herself.
Illiad had been obsessed about making his own products for the longest time, most ringmasters were because it was cheaper than buying in but Snow had been devastated that day. It was the first and last time Nixie had seen him weep. Since then, Snow had given up on any hope of leaving this place. As if in tandem with her mood, the water became cloudy, it slowed down some and Nixie watched as two foxes played in and out of the wall of water and then one jumped in and the other was left alone out in the open.
Behind a wall? Eli looked at the ease with which Nixie could summon in a wall of water and was quietly impressed with her skill as a mage. It was no wonder that she would be on stage while they as shapeshifters did grunt-work. He watched as animals bounced in and out of the wall; rabbits and then as her story about Snow progressed, foxes. It was somewhat sad and Eli could tell by how the water had slowed down. Was the speed with which the water flowed tied into Nixie's emotions somehow? Snow had been married at some point? Eli could see that. While Snow's actions might seem abrasive to some, as a shapeshifter Eli felt he understood Snow's motives better than some. That didn't mean he'd be unable to prevent crossing Snow's bad side however. If Snow felt like making an example, Eli felt the man would have no reason to hold back. How Illiad was still alive however surprised Eli. As a shapeshifter however, they had little choice. Their collars would forever weigh them down.
Eli took the moment to shift into a black eagle, bright eyes taking in the wall of water. He flew up then, circling lazily around Nixie before approaching the wall, soaring behind it, tips of his feathers skimming the water's surface, before he changed into stag, also black. It was a difficult change. The eagle in him wanted to soar and be free, the stag in him wanted to carefully explore. However, the latter was easier to subdue and Eli fed into its curiosity by stepping through the wall of water. It was better to know what it felt like now, lest he accidentally catch the water during the show itself. Water cascaded down his back, across his antlers and Eli bristled, stepping out gracefully to watch Nixie.
It was best his appearance didn't surprise her, so Eli walked a slow circle around the water magic user before tentatively nipping at some of the grass. He hadn't eaten yet that day, so a secondary meal was welcome. His antlers were heavy, but Eli was used to the weight by now. His ears twitched as other magic was practised; he felt the shift in air and the scent of fire was alarming to his sensitive nose. Eli imagined the ring would be no different. Alarming and worrisome. He shifted back slowly, slender hooves turning into fleshy feet and hands. Fur receded to be left on top of his head. Clothes folded back over limbs and the dark of his pupils receded to show very human and blue irises.
"I think I can be quicker," Eli said as his vocal chords shifted back in place. "I guess we all have a story to tell, don't we?" he said in regards to Snow. They were paired. That meant Nixie too might have regrets or worries. After all, Illiad expected them to do more than just perform together. "Why were you paired with a shapeshifter?" Eli asked Nixie. He adjusted his clothes to look a bit nicer, but he needed a better base to change into something worthy of a performance. Regardless, he offered up a hand. Perhaps they ought to just see where their dancing was at.
Nixie was taken aback by his change and she watched the black eagle, part of her so envious about how easily he could sprout wings and move like that. He made it look effortless and she steadied the wall of water, keeping it mobile and quietening her own magic because she didn't want to try anything to complex right then. She did smile though as he morphed into a stag and emerged at the other end of the water and she watched the creature. She wasn't sure how much of the animal Eli would take on but she watched with a stillness to her as the stag moved around her. He looked impressive, sheer black colours and antlers. He looked like a true monarch of the forest like this, stronger than his human form and she would be lying if she said if she wasn't impressed by how he could change.
He changed back and Nixie watched with keen interest, her dark eyes trying to fathom how such a thing was possible. She had seen shapeshifters change but it had always been because they had to and usually it was horses and elephants to move large loads. She let him get his bearings and find his voice. "That looked great." She said to him, easing off his concerns about being quicker, it would come with practice and she nodded, everyone had a story in this place and the really unfortunate ones had many under their belts. His question caught her off guard and she shrugged a little as the water fell to the floor and was absorbed by the earth beneath her feet. "Illiad wants to experiment, I suppose." She murmured and she watched him closely, wondering how much she could trust him, "Besides, weird and magical offspring brings in money." She mused to him and chewed her lip. It wasn't a nice topic and she would rather get the performances out of the way first and foremost. "And I've always been relatively well behaved, never gotten into fights and never caused trouble... Or never been caught." She added with a cheeky smirk.
The musicians were practicing and she always liked the music, it changed the atmosphere up rather easily and she watched him, "Your forms, are they always black?" She asked him as she fixed some hair out of her eyes. More than half of the pairings wouldn't work, even Illiad knew that but he was casting a wide net. Nixie would sooner throw herself under a horse and carriage than bring any form of life into this world and she hoped Eli felt the same way. They could act it up, she had seen others do that when they really didn't want any sort of fruit brought to this place. "And you, with a water magician?" She raised an eyebrow, "I thought Illiad would set you all up with the fire magics, a little more explosive and crowds would love to see a horse or tiger leaping through flames." She remarked. Illiad was either desperate or he had some sort of sordid plan in the making.
Experiment, huh? Eli sighed. Nixie likely wasn't wrong, though it spoke volumes about their current Ringmaster. Eli wasn't looking forward to finding out just how keen Illiad was at setting off a shapeshifter's collar. Offspring brought in money. What were they, cattle? It angered Eli in ways few things did, but there was little they could do about it, other than fake their union and pretend Nixie or he weren't compatible or fertile. That happened more often than not, even in pairings that were cheered on. "Sure you are," Eli said with a smile. Nixie wouldn't temper Igni's flames with a splash of water or threaten Snow's bed be soaked at all and he figured that was only the start. Some music started playing that actually had some structure to it and it was Nixie's turn to ask the questions. Eli shrugged, "black comes natural. Because my hair is? I can do different colours," he said. On most animals, black was rare however and regarded as something exotic and new. It wasn't a bad choice. Even his elephant skin was darker than most.
"I guess so." Fire magic. It made him uneasy, but Illiad didn't know that. Most shapeshifters were uneasy around fire magic. Their animalistic nature, their feral side, warned them of its dangers. Sometimes Eli thought the wrong reaction was that of a human's, but it'd gotten them so much further than any animal. A fire's potential couldn't be denied. "We're with many. I'm sure they picked the shapeshifters they're familiar with in this circus over the newcomers," Eli said. "Or the more docile ones. Tigers can be difficult. Plenty of black horses in our troupe too," he ventured with a shrug. Eli took Nixie's hands and carefully tried to spin her, see if she would be lead in a dance and how much effort that would take.
He hoped they'd have a few days to perfect their part of the performance. Eli knew Illiad was likely going to try and vet them tonight, see what people came up with and how to use the finished product in his show. Or he would be stalking them while practising, looking from afar. See who was dangerous or in the wrong place. See how well his new purchases were doing. Eli tried a few paces, loose and started to consider he ought to just be a backdrop for Nixie's beauty if they were to do a dance. He could only frame her, not be there with her entirely. It was a difficult concept to grasp and Eli gave it no further conscious thought. "Maybe we can use Snow's story, but give it a good ending," Eli offered up. "For the routine? People like stories."
Nixie cast Eli a look at his comment and she held fast on her statement, it was easier not to get caught. She had only ever bristled at the other performers though, Illiad was a separate force and once that could put her her out of commission very easily if he so desired and didn't like her attitude. She was expendable as most of them were, she wasn't a headliner and so she couldn't exactly push the boundaries otherwise she would be sold on or find herself like Kia. She took Eli's hand and smirked a little as she watched his feet and she figured he had potential. Most dancing was self-taught, save for those in the circus that had taught her the odd thing or two and she supposed Eli could really make an impression if they did this right.
She span out and stopped at his suggestion of Snow's story. It would either touch the head of the shifters heart or cause him to become bitter but they could always claim it was an accident and any similarities were sheer coincidence. She thought for a few moments before looking to him and nodding. "That would be nice, we could make it something beautiful." She said, they could do it. They could really make those who didn't think Shifters could do much realise maybe they could. The black colour would work just fine and it would be nice set against the water. Illiad was watching, she could see him in the corner of her eyes, watching and no doubting waiting for what was to come. Her attention turned to some of the others practicing, some of them seemed to have real chemistry and others seemed locked in a battle of strong wills or were just uncomfortable around one another. Alex and Althea seemed to be getting along just fine but it would take a while for Althea to come out of her shell.
"You and Alex, you've been friends for a while, I suppose?" She asked Eli after a minute, directing his feet gently and smiling some to herself, they would manage just fine together and put on a decent performance that would keep them safe enough in this place. Nixie eyed Francis and his partner, a pretty little thing that Francis actually seemed quite keen on for a change but she seemed a little prickly towards him and his fire magic. Nixie supposed that would serve for good entertainment for a while watching the young man trying to win her affections. "I wonder if that's part of the reason you were all brought here, fresh blood and such." She mumbled to herself thoughtfully as she absently swayed to the music.
Alex and Althea? What were they doing here? Eli didn't think they were to practise for the ring, but maybe Illiad meant for them to perform as animals in another's act. "Yes, I met Alex at Orpheus," Eli said plainly. They were friends because they were of equal standing. Sometimes Alex won, sometimes he did. They didn't often fight no more however and had come to respect each other's strengths and weaknesses. "Well, I don't know Illiad's motives, but you can't run a circus without a Ringmaster," he said in a soft mutter. Nixie was a reasonable dancer, probably better than he was at it. They would need to come up with a routine and practise it.
"Let's keep the routine simple, so we can master it for a performance," Eli offered. If they went overboard on complexities, it'd just water down the quality. "Maybe I can do a white dove for the marriage," he said, just tossing an idea out there. Perhaps there could be a mirroring of water and physical, until it fell apart, same as in Snow's story. A pull and tug, a change in atmosphere. Did Nixie control the flow of water well enough to protray the emotions needed? Could she control her emotions?
"Snow has me tend the horses and felines under Lloyd's watchful eye each morning, so we can only practise together in the afternoons," Eli explained, slowing down their dance. "You're a better dancer than I am," he said with a smile. They didn't have much time to come up with something good either. Eli let go of Nixie's hands and rubbed the back of his head.
If Kia actually meant that much to Snow, Eli had a rough idea of why the man's personality changed the way it did after her death. He'd likely retained an echo of her after finding Kia dead. Nixie had given him enough information to really pull the rug from under Snow's feet, but it could go both ways. He might then see a broken leader or a ferociously angry one. Eli figured he wouldn't risk it.
"What would you like to spend our time together practising on?" Eli asked. He could practise his shifts into these animals in his own time, perhaps spend a night as them, while he was forced to sleep out of the barn anyway. Get comfortable in their skin again. But how and where to fly and move, those were things they needed to think about together.
Simple seemed the best way to go about all of this and Nixie was quietly glad because she didn't want to overcomplicate anything but she also didn't want to look like she couldn't do what was needed. In time, if they worked well in tandem with one another then maybe they could get more complex with one another when it came to performances. "A dove would be a nice touch." She murmured and smiled at the thought, it wasn't like marriages were a real thing around these parts, they were rare and usually secretive affairs if they were lucky and there was nothing official about it. It had made Snow and Kia happy for a long time with their marriage until it had all gone down the proverbial drain.
"Well, I say we work on the water and shifts, if you don't find it too tiring that is." She murmured, she wasn't sure how taxing this could be for him and she didn't want him to overdo it and end up too tired. At best, they could put on some sort of show. She stood before him, perhaps the dance would need some work but she wasn't too sure. She figured the dance could be a little awkward at first, at best. It would be better than nothing though, they could at least put something on show. She figured they could master some steps at least and she surveyed him. She could feel eyes on them, not just Illiad's. Everyone was tense and she eyed over Eli "Make sure and sleep with protection, Eli." She murmured quietly to him and she didn't want any unprovoked attacks happening. Performers hated to see the others doing well.
"Dance first, everything else can be masked and played off." Nixie decided with a chuckle. She spent some time while the music was still on helping him learn some simple steps. It wasn't anything too difficult and a few spins thrown in were helpful in adding some flare and flamboyance. It wasn't particularly difficult and she finally let him go, a little breathless and she looked at him, "How do you think that is?" She asked him with a bright smile. He was doing well, learning quickly and she was so sure they could make this work between them both. She wanted it to work so that at least they weren't at risk of being sold on.
It would be tiring, but hopefully practising the shifts would make things easier. After all, they were meant to perform it for nights on end, if they did get an act Illiad would approve to display in the ring. Eli gave Nixie a nod, "it'll be fine." Sleep with protection? He'd not be allowed anything sharp like that, but then few of them were. Eli trusted in his abilities as a wolf or other animal and trusted Alex at least to have his back. Shapeshifters tended to stick together as a group.
Dance first. Eli took a deep breath and figured Nixie was right to choose that first. They were both rusty at performing in such a way, while their magic had been put to use recently, for acts or no. He tried to focus on the dance, thankful for his fortitude and stamina. Dancing was tiring work. He shot Nixie a withdrawn smile, "I think it could work." The sun was getting low in the skies. If he wanted to eat before his evening chores, they'd have to wrap up their practise session.
"Let's do a few transitions at least. See if we can convey the story with them," Eli said. They could start with a dance, because it was most indicative of intimacy. Then perhaps the marriage. He could shift into a dove, then under the guise of water an eagle. At first their flight would be together, happy and dancing in the skies, free, until a conflict rose. They would be brought down to Earth like that and Eli figured that if Nixie could forge a deer out of water, it could abandon him to be left behind on his own, searching the woods for something that was long since gone.
So far, that'd be Snow's story. Eli thought of Snow and what would be a good ending, but struggled. None of them had a good ending here, though he'd heard of a rumour.
"He should meet her again, somewhere, in a promised land. For the ending," Eli offered up as he sat on the grass to rest some. Shifting was more tiring than dancing, that much was certain. "Perhaps after a long journey, a search," he said softly. Eli took a deep breath and sighed out, "I need to wrap up for today." He gave Nixie a comforting smile as he stood, "I've got my fangs and claws, but you should watch your back too." For a moment Eli paused, but then he just scrubbed at the back of his head and walked off towards the tents. They had a show to prepare for and soon they'd be packing to move to the next town.
Nixie nodded to him, he had a lot to get on with and he was working double the amount she was. He had his fangs and claws but she was worried Eli would be set upon. She could handle herself she had done before and she shifted slightly and figured some food and rest would be the best way to prepare for what lay ahead but Eli's wistful ending intrigued her some. He sounded hopeful and she figured maybe there was a world after this one, a world they could be free but it was hard to hope and Nixie found that even she had been turned pessimistic with her time here. She watched him go and nodded to him as he left, she would be alright, she would keep herself alert.
Francis joined her after some time, he seemed giddy. "I happen to be partnered with the prettiest girl in this circus." He announced as he handed Nixie some food and she raised an eyebrow. "What does that make me?!" She asked him with a short laugh and Francis chuckled a little. "What about you?" He asked and gestured to the barn, "Snow's latest plaything, is he nice?" Francis wiggled his eyebrows. He had seen them dancing. Nixie rolled her eyes, "He's nice, professional." She emphasised the professional part because frankly, any show of affection was a weakness here but Eli had been incredibly polite. He was a breath of fresh air, she would admit that much. "Think you'll have a performance together?" Francis asked and Nixie just nodded. They would have something, whether it was passable or not remained to be seen.
Nixie ate some and finally lay back, watching the skies. Night would be upon them soon and the scuffles would break out once more. "Stay on your guard tonight." She said to him softly, she would hate for him to be set upon and Francis just nodded. "Don't worry, besides Illiad wants some of us to share tents and whatnot... you know, for the whole partnership thing." Nixie cringed at that and shook her head. Francis would never do anything untoward but it was an awkward thought to be sharing a tent with a stranger. Francis patted Nixie on the back and she watched him amble off as the sun started to set.
Nixie went into her tent, eyeing the glass of water that was always by her bedroll. The fancier people had caravans, the favourites and Nixie rather liked her quaint little tent. It was spacious and she had some lanterns and knick knacks scattered around. Under her bedroom was a small pouch of coins, only about five tucked away for good measure but usually it was just the odd food vendor that came by. That hasn't happened in a while and she figured that it was just because the weather was growing colder. Nixie listened to the outside, it was oddly quiet, like the calm before a storm and she figured an hour or two of resting would help her mind settle.
Eli ventured to fetch him and Alex food, then found the friendly shapeshifter talking effortlessly about himself, on and on. "Give Althea room to breathe, will you?" he announced himself and handed over the food. Alex's cheeks were already rosy, otherwise he might've indulged in a blush. Instead, he just made a face and took the food. "It's alright," Althea said softly. Apparently she didn't mind listening.
"How're you getting on?" Alex muttered around some food. Eli sank down and sighed out. "I didn't think I'd get paired as an act," he sighed out and toyed with his food. He was hungry, but worried. Nixie was well aware the other acts would look down on them, because usually shapeshifters were just a clever substitute for an animal, not part of the whole performance. And he'd likely get a reminder about just how low his place was tonight or any other night, if he wasn't careful about his ways. "Nixie is nice though. Trouble, but nice," Eli said. Althea giggled at that, "she gets away with a lot," she said. "I bet," Eli chuckled with a shake of his head.
"We're going to be part of Igni's act," Alex said. "Just need to jump through some hoops and that's it," he explained. Althea seemed young. Maybe Alex was trying to teach her how to be a graceful lion or tiger. It wasn't overly difficult, but shifting back could be problematic for young shapeshifters. Horses were easier in that regard, so were birds.
"Do you think Snow will let me sleep in the barn tonight?" Eli pitched. Althea looked down. Alex shook his head, "no, I don't think so. He seems to dislike the idea of you being paired with Nixie." "Yeah, figures," Eli sighed out and finished his meal. Eli hadn't figured out how to earn back that right yet, but he knew the act Nixie and him were working on wasn't it. Rather, a protest with Illiad about not performing at all would likely earn him more respect with Snow. If not the other performers, Snow himself would likely see to it that he wouldn't or couldn't perform at all. Eli stared at his empty bowl for a bit, lost in thought when Alex put a hand to his shoulder. "Want me to stay out with you?" Eli shook his head, "no, no, you just... enjoy your pairing." That got Althea to blush and Eli smiled at Alex.
They didn't have much time to enjoy the moment as work needed to be done. Eli kept his head down and did what he was told to do, trying to blend in with the environment best he could, trying to make people forget he even existed until it was absolutely necessary they give him instructions.
Nixie fixed her bedroll and the lantern. She wanted to keep as unnoticeable as possible. Tonight would bring trouble and she let the night creep in on her. After an hour or so, she could hear shuffling and she sat up, turning out the lantern. She could see through the tentbmore clearly as she rolled onto her side and watched the campfires go out one by one. Maybe she was panicking over nothing, perhaps everyone would simply rest. She closed her eyes and drifted into a state of dozing.
"You'll do it, show us you're not some coward. Everyone knows fire is the top of the food chain and we all have to do this." Igni snapped at Francis who looked sheepish and reluctant to go along with his sordid plan. "You just have to go in, rough him up and then we'll know you know your place." Igni muttered and smirked. He planned on bringing Hell to the campsite that night and showing the acts that the fire magicians were still top dogs. He watched Francis with cold eyes, "We'll come with you." He stated levelly. Francis chewed his lip and knew this wasn't a request as much as an order. He just prayed no one saw his face. Fire magicians didn't ask twice and he finally nodded. "Fine." Igni chuckled and clapped him on the back before steering him out and he looked around before setting eyes on Eli. "Him. All shifters have to know they are bottom of the rung." He remarked in Francis' ear and Francis looked at the wolf. It would really be like kicking a dog and that's exactly what he did. "Put some mettle in it!" Igni said before picking up a rock and handing it to Francis.
Carnage bad broken out, the easy targets being picked off easily and set upon and Francis held the rock. It was just a shifter, this was what needed to happen if he was to prove himself to the other fire users. Francis threw the rock with some force, if he did it weakly they would only do the shifter more harm.
Nixie woke with a start, she knew those sounds and she narrowed her eyes. The footsteps around her tent were not the most welcome wake up call and she glanced to the water beside her bedroll, it was churning in time with her emotions and she slowly moved around. Her tent was set alight like many of the others and she quickly summoned water to douse the flames, stepping out and seeing some being dragged out by others and she moved over to put out the flames of the other assailants. She glared at one of the female fire users who was giggling with her little troop behind her. This was bad and she knew Illiad was either drunk and passed out or simply didn't care that the weaker ones were being beaten into submission.
He'd only just settled when a rock hit him in the shoulder. Eli's pelt kept the majority of the impact at a minimum, but it was still a rude wakeup call and would undoubtedly leave a fresh bruise to outline the old ones. The wolf's instincts were profound. Eli growled and showed his teeth, the scent of fire reaching his sensitive nose. It was one of those nights, where the fire magic users pushed their dominance on the others. Shouts went out, flicking his ears back and fro, panic and frustration echoing across the field. No Ringmaster to reign them in. His ears were flat, his teeth out and Eli's stance was ready to pounce. None of that was a guard against fire. And he couldn't risk attacking either. If he killed a fire mage, he'd be the one to pay the price.
"What's wrong, little Eli?" Igni said sneeringly. "Go on, just singe his fur a little," he told Francis. Eli was crouched low against the ground, circling his opponents while trying to figure out how to get away unscathed. Part of him had the sanity of mind to consider shifting into something sturdier, like perhaps an elephant, but an elephant's instincts could be even harder to control than the wolf he'd gotten used to.
Francis had no choice but to obey. Eli tried to jump away and escape the flame, but it was impossible. It was through sheer will Eli changed back and was able to beat out the flame, all the while listening to Igni's laughter. "You wouldn't try to do anything stupid, would you?" he cajoled Eli. "Hit him, go ahead, he won't do anything back," Igni said and pushed Francis forward. Eli looked at Francis, hand still over the singed part of his coat, smothering the fire.
"You're sick," he snarled at Igni, who just crossed his arms and smiled. "Yeah? What's this then, a shapeshifter talking back? That mouth of yours has gotten you into plenty trouble in the past already," Igni challenged. He pushed Francis aside and threw the punch. Eli was familiar with what was to come. It was best not to fight back or resist too much. Just enough to give them the idea that he was trying and failing. Give them the idea that they were stronger.
"Give it up, Eli," Igni said when Eli was down, curled up to protect his vulnerable parts. "A shapeshifter won't ever become a performer," he hissed and then they went to find a new victim. Eli relaxed a little after they'd gone, shaking off the tension he'd forced upon his muscles to try and protect himself. He shifted to rest on his back and took a few deep breaths, already regretting his guard hadn't been perfect. At least he wasn't the only victim today. It wasn't anything personal. Just an order rebalancing. It'd pass. Eli carefully stood and spat some blood at the ground. The animals. They'd be panicking too. He grit his teeth and stumbled there, knowing some of the other shapeshifters would be there and hopefully there'd be safety in numbers.
Nixie stared the the little gaggle that thought this would somehow raise their standing. She was outnumbered but she had the advantage, these were fire users and she could bend water to her will. She knew it was easier to back down however, protect herself but she wouldn't forget their faces. If they moved on then she would leave it be and wouldn't involve a fight where it wasn't needed. "Cosying up with a shifter, you must be a desperate little thing?" She knew the female, Igni's fancy if she had to guess and they were a match made in the fiery pits for sure. "Move on, Lucrezia." Nixie grit her teeth and the flame haired woman stepped forwards so she was nose to nose, she stood a few inches taller than Nixie but she made up in spirit. Her eyes threatened more fire but Nixie would douse whatever game her way. Lucrezia knew this and chuckled a little, stroking her cheek and she could feel the faint tinge of a burn and she stood her ground foolishly. They moved on and she looked over to the barn, flames danced and she grimaced before heading over to put them out with some water.
The animals were panicked and she figured that was only natural, such an electric atmosphere. She could see Francis running with the proverbial wolves and she clenched her jaw but didn't utter a word, she would only get him in trouble. "What is going on?! Who dared set fire?" Snow boomed and he stepped out, Nixie looked to him but she was putting out the fire before it could spread anymore. Snow looked ready for a fight but Nixie wasn't his victim and she knew that much. He glared at her, "Who was it?" He asked and she just shook her head, "Take your pick, they are on a rampage." She muttered, truthfully. She hadn't seen who had done this and it could have been anyone. She quietened the flames with her water and could hear the horses stamping and she looked to Snow, "Please take the shifters inside, you know they'll be the first victims in all this." She murmured, more of a plead than anything else. She couldn't command him.
Snow did relent though, the shifters had already been set upon and Nixie followed his gaze to see some limping back to the safety of the barn and Snow's shadow. "They try you?" Snow asked and eyed her cheek which held a red mark from Lucrezia's fingertips and Nixie just sighed out, "Tried." She muttered as she started to soak the hay and straw so it wouldn't catch so easily on the outside. Snow growled like the bear within him and turned and moved inside to take care of his flock. Nixie surprisingly stuck near the barn, Snow wouldn't simply let others be set upon and she watched as those who wanted to prove their mettle stood off against each other. She looked to the skies, they were heavy with clouds and the stars were invisible that night.
"Where are you going?" Alex's voice. Eli turned to reply, only to have Alex grab his shoulder and pin him in place. A nudge got them moving again, "this way," Alex said shortly. "I was going to check on the animals," Eli said finally. "The fires-" "Who did it?" "Did what?" "Your face?" Eli shook his head, faltering a step and straightening out again. He tried to shirk free from Alex' grip as it was impeding his gait, but the other shapeshifter seemed to have gotten protective over him now that he was injured. "I'm fine," Eli tried. A derisive snort was all he got in reply. "Igni," Eli said at last and Alex merely let out a malcontent noise from the depths of his throat. "Did you fight back?" "No." "Good," Alex sighed out.
At their approach Eli received a glare from Snow, but he held his head down and hoped the situation would allow them entry. Someone had to make sure the animals wouldn't do something unpredictable and try to escape. Some of the others had been caught in the middle as well. Eli caught one or two limping -shapeshifters that were at the lowest rung in their order. He swallowed back some blood and caught the silent exchange between Alex and Snow. It seemed he'd gotten the bad end of the deal, being caught off guard outside like that, in comparison to some of the others. A huff and a sigh. Alex nudged him forward, into the barn. Several of the other shapeshifters were already taking measures to ensure no smoke would get to the animals and pulled the hay from the walls to prevent it from catching flame.
Alex pushed him to sit on a stool and then walked off to help the others. Eli felt he ought to be helping, but the beating left him feeling a bit dazed. Maybe he'd rest for a few minutes and then help. He gingerly touched his temple, feeling a nice shiner forming. And that was only the visible part. He could hide it. Shift his form to hide the bruises and damage. It'd just take energy he couldn't really afford to spend.
Eli snapped from his daze when Althea pressed a wet cloth to the side of his face. It came back bloodied. "Sorry, does it hurt?" she asked softly. Outside, the sounds of discord had died down some. Other shapeshifters were now sitting around, resting, but vigilant. "Can you shift the injuries?" Althea pushed gently. Eli figured he'd eaten enough lately that he probably could, but he was tired after today's practise and work. "I probably shouldn't," Eli sighed out. "We'll keep you safe," she promised, but Eli didn't trust her promise and searched for Snow. "He won't just throw you out like this," Althea soothed. Eli hesitated, but then focussed on a sensation of a whole self, a memory from before he knew his magic made him a shapeshifter. "Is he-?" Alex started, but Althea shushed him and watched as Eli's injuries slowly receded. Alex smiled at the sight and stepped in when Eli was done to guide his friend to a spot to sleep. Eli was asleep within seconds.
Fires were put out almost as soon as they sprang up, Nixie trailing around in the shadows and being careful with herself, she couldn't be spotted and where she could, she set people to bed. She was no healer and some of these troop were her friends and it stung to see them like this. She pulled them to safety with the help of others, the injured were done, no more fight in them and she hauled one of the men and a handful of them stood watch. It was like gang warfare and she eyed Igni as he approached with his merry band of fools. Francis was among them but Nixie didn't even look at him, they were all flecked in blood. "Lucrezia said you were giving her some hassle." Igni gloated and Nixie swallowed but said nothing. "She got above her station." Lucrezia goaded and Igni approached, at this, Nixie did step back. The first punch didn't hurt as much but the knee to the stomach did. The set to didn't last long and Nixie didn't fight back, she wouldn't hold much steadfast if she did.
Francis just watched but he couldn't directly look at the scuffle. Nixie felt a hand haul her up and she spat out some blood. "That's it for the night." She muttered as she wiped her mouth and glared at the backs of the offenders. They had made their point, they were in charge and the best of the best. "You alright?" Firenze asked, a kind man who had seen this too many times to count and Nixie nodded, shielding her ribs from any further harm. He was just as bloodied and Nixie waved him off, her pride dented and she would much rather her spiral wasn't made a fuss of. Silence fell across the camp and Nixie slumped to sit and stare at the carnage. No one was untouched, some had fought back and she figured there was safety in numbers as they gathered together at one side with the injured.
Dawn came and Nixie figured she must have slept at some point through the night but she was stiff and sore when she woke. She pushed herself up and washed her face free of scabbed blood and eyed her outfit. It would need washed but she could figure that out at some point. Food was being passed out and the only ones in a merry mood were the victors from last night as they laughed together over a campfire near the front of camp and Nixie made her way back to her tent, forcing herself to stand straight and she eyed her tent. It would need put back up, they had trampled it and a look under her things signalled what gold coins she had kept, were gone. She stooped and started fix poles in place and try to salvage the tent, hissing in discomfort.
"Hey." Francis's voice caused her to flinch, "Let me help." He offered and Nixie clenched her jaw, "No." She muttered as she stood and turned on him, "I won't bother yelling because you'll get your miserable cronies to come after me. Stay away from me." Nixie warned, Francis looked stung but he retreated all the same, back to the safety of the ranks of his new found friends.
Eli woke to a tickle in his nose. Alex' fur. Eli recognized the wolf's coat anywhere and had woken up like this countless times at Orpheus. There was another animal at his back, warm. He was comfortable and tired still, but no longer in any pain. Alex hadn't been asleep and his wolf-muzzle nudged his cheek. A wet tongue was next and Eli fought with an uncoordinated push against the early-morning greetings. "Just be a nice pillow," Eli slurred, drowsy with sleep. At that, Alex the wolf stood and shifted, still crouched down near Eli's sprawled out form. "And here I was worried, you know?" "I'm fine," Eli murmured and opened his eyes. Yesterday night had been a confusing mess. Hopefully no one had been killed. Their last night spent at Orpheus had been like this. Only then the Ringmaster had gotten caught up in it. Chaotic. Preplanned. Carefully planned, actually.
"Well, if you're fine, how about getting up?" Alex said, patting his shoulder. Eli obliged and sat up, owlishly blinking at the barn. Other shapeshifters checked in with one another. Some rose to tend to the animals, giving them water and food. Eli realized he'd have to go about his chores too and rubbed at his face. It felt later than it should be somehow. The shapeshifter at his back was a tiger and carefully stood from where it'd kept watch over the injured. Eli was the last to wake up.
Alex offered him a hand up, which Eli took. Other than being stiff from sleeping on the hay as a human, he felt alright. The luxury of being a shapeshifter was that you didn't have to suffer through injury for particularly long. "Things are a mess outside," Alex said softly. "Last night escalated for a bit after you fell asleep. A flare-up, before finally people settled." "What happened?" "I think the hierarchy amongst the fire users has been established, is all I'm saying," the shapeshifter said. Of course, the other magic users had protested eventually, banding against the smaller group, but it hadn't been pretty and though their menacing had stopped, plenty of damage had been done already. Eli already knew who was going to clean up that mess too.
He still wasn't certain about his standing with Snow and now that he'd rested, Eli figured it'd be best if he just went out of the shapeshifter's way and did his chores. More people were up and about, repairing the damage, setting back up the tents. Eli spied Francis near Nixie, but the two didn't seem to have a nice conversation and Eli turned away. Nixie too wouldn't have been treated with kindness. Her water made the fire magic users ill at ease. And her pairing with him made her an easy target. Illiad was out too, moodily stalking through his property. It didn't take a detective to find out who'd caused this and Eli knew there'd be repercussions, for Igni and the others too. They might be top dog amongst the performers, they were still just assets to Illiad. Assets that could be killed or sold. The only difference was the lack of a collar. Eli huffed and sluggishly started to set to work on the horses. Most of them were moody too after a night filled with stressful events.
It took some time for Nixie to have her tent put back together and she did it alone, deliberately because she would not be seen as some weak and helpless creature. She could take a beating but it wouldn't down her. She adjusted the flimsy canvas and she grunted with the effort. She would need to get someone to take a look and bandage up her ribs if she was going to be sturdy enough to practice, the show must go on after all and she knew fine well that Illiad wouldn't listen to excuses, the only good performer was one doing their job and she sighed out as she sank down by the campfire again. She closed her eyes to try and regain some lost hours of rest but the campfire sparked and cracked just like a firecracker and jolted her awake and she flinched, hearing the laughter from the fire magicians. She hated it here, she knew it would all ease out eventually and be calm but she also knew the balance was precarious.
Her eyes shifted to the barn and she hoped Eli had managed to hide away from any fights. It had been impossible to see last night. She wasn't as worse off as some of the others, some sported broken bones and she got to her feet when Snow emerged and approached. "Is it done?" He asked and Nixie nodded to him, "For now, I suppose. They're top and everyone knows it." She explained to him feebly. Snow eyed her over, he was no healer and oh how small she looked right then, fighting the injury. "Get that seen to, Illiad won't accept any rest." He explained and Nixie nodded in understanding. He wasn't warm towards her but he had seen most of them here grow up from children and it hurt him to see them so injured. She assured him she would be fine and to go and take care of the shifters.
Nixie drank some water and then settled by the fire, she didn't much feel like doing anything and it seemed that no one else did either. She at least had cleaned up save for the scald on her cheek and a few bruises hidden under her clothing. Weakness was a real target here and she eyed the others as they set to practicing for the day. She tipped her head back and stared at the skies, it would rain later and thankfully it didn't really worry her too much.
He was late. Again. Eli figured he might be building some sort of reputation with Nixie of being tardy, but it couldn't be helped. She too didn't quite look herself this time. He sat some end away from the fire, rather not risking being scorched a second time so soon. "Hey, sorry I'm late," again, his mind finished. The shapeshifter's blue gaze fell on the burn on Nixie's cheek. They'd caught her properly then? Was she injured? Eli tried to suppress a yawn and stretched out his legs, resting back on his elbows. No one would try again now that Illiad was fuming about the fair grounds. "Illiad looks angry. I'm sure they won't be smiling after tonight," Eli said by means of consolation. "Did they hurt you bad?" he asked.
If she was too hurt to perform, then there was little they could do for practise. Frankly, Eli didn't feel much like shifting either. He caught sight of a singed mark on Nixie's clothes and conjured the sensation of water dripping down a leaf to repair the structure of the fabric and erase it. Eli withdrew his hand with a sigh and let himself fall back on the floor, hands behind his head.
Like this, Eli was acutely aware just how tired he still was, but given another decent night's sleep -hopefully in the barn with the other shapeshifters- and he'd be fine. "Francis got caught up in it. I don't think he meant any of it, but he doesn't want to be a victim either," he said softly. It was tempting to close his eyes. Eli gave in readily and felt himself drift. Just a short nap and he'd be ready to go again. It didn't help that shapeshifters only got fed once a day. Some joked that they could just eat whatever they fed the animals. They weren't wrong, but Illiad wouldn't much appreciate them stealing that way. The Ringmaster at Orpheus sure hadn't. Shapeshifters had been killed for less. Sometimes Eli felt tempted by the grass on the plains though. None of that would be missed.
Without meaning to, Eli had fallen asleep right then and there. Maybe if he'd had a better standing in the group, they'd have let him recover some more. Eli knew better than to ask. That would just come with even more repercussions. And if he wasn't on time for his chores later that day, he'd be punished all the same as if nothing at all had happened the other night.
Nixie eyed Eli and just nodded, it was fine if he was late. No one was particularly doing to good that day. She watched him mend her clothing and nodded to him gratefully. "I don't think so, I'm alright. My ribs." She murmured to him and watched him settle down. They must have got him good through the night too and she knew they were under Snow's protection, she wouldn't have been able to do much. She sighed out a little and brewed on what to do. The fire was warm and when she glanced to Eli after he mentioned Francis and found him asleep. She figured one of them ought to stay awake just in case and she knew Illiad would be furious later but for now the fire starters could have their day.
Nixie didn't even feel like conjuring her magic, everything felt taxing and all she wanted to do was rest. She gazed at the skies and then the crack of a whip signalled Illiad had arrived and she shot up to sit, cringing in pain. He was yelling at everyone, seething. "You are my investments, I will not have you killing each other in the night. The next person to lay a hand on another will feel the lash of the whip." Illiad said and Nixie knew he meant it. Illiad had some sort of sick fetish for taking the lash to their backs and thankfully, she had avoided it for so long. She swallowed some and looked away, towards Eli. He had the collar, the last thing the shifters would want is a whip to go with it. She tensed some at the thought, it was horrible and she Illiad had made his point crystal clear and she exhaled heavily.
Illiad turned and started off, he was itching to deal out some punishment and even the fire magicians were quietened by the threat. It was over with then, surely? Nixie knew full well that it would be far from over, people just wouldn't want to be caught and would be more sneaky about their issues with one another. "He isn't bluffing, with the whip. He's used it before, a few times." She murmured quietly to Eli, it was rare but when it did happen, it was a bloody affair and usually never ended well.
The crack of a whip had Eli's eyes shoot open to a hazy sky. For a moment his heart thundered in his chest, only to realize Illiad's wrath was aimed at no single person in particular -yet. He sighed out, drowsy now after just having woken up. Eli remained where he was, not wanting movement to set Illiad off in his direction. Once Illiad was some distance away, Eli took a deep breath and relaxed, slowly sitting up. Nixie's words were ominous. "I bet," Eli said, shivering. He'd been on the receiving end of a whip multiple times, when the collar hadn't been enough to instil confidence in his keepers. It was rough punishment and not something he wished on even the fire magic users.
"Sorry," he muttered. "We should probably practise something. Maybe not dancing, if your ribs hurt," Eli offered. He could probably do a few shifts, practise some of the patterns they would do. "Let's practise the routine after the first dance," he said and stood, dusting himself off and rolling his shoulders to get rid of the stiffness. His dark hair was all over the place, as per usual, and he had more dust than skin showing. None of that mattered when he shifted however. Eli figured he should try his rendition of a dove first and changed, folding into a ball of feathers, only to come out a pristine white, small bird. Skittish, Eli flew up, but soon found a perch on Nixie's shoulder.
He'd try the shift from a dove into an eagle. A white tale, into an increasingly darker one. Snow's story might be regarded as sorrowful, but honestly, Snow had been foolish to try his hand at love in a situation like this. Eli flew up, let the air rushing through his feathers clear his mind and find himself, then the eagle inside of him. The echo resonated and he changed mid-flight, a smoother transition as compared to the one going from an eagle into a stag. As an eagle, his flight became calmer, more coordinated. He could see further, could see the next town over and some prey hopping around. His instincts nearly got the better of him. Eli flew as high as he dared, then dove in a spiral, unfolded his wings at the last moment and changed into a stag, landing with a trot.
Nixie gazed at Eli and nodded, she didn't see the need in an apology, if roles had been reversed then maybe she would have slept a little too. She felt like she needed it and she pushed herself to her feet, grimacing at the sting in her side and she grunted with the exertion. She braced on one of the tent poles and nodded to him, "Thanks." She murmured to him, quietly grateful she wouldn't be doing any wild dancing right then because she wasn't sure her body would do very well. She was going to practice her water manipulation but he caught her off guard entirely, He morphed into a beautiful white dove and she was completely still, watching as he came to land on her shoulder and she inspected him. She was impressed and she smiled softly to him, she didn't dare reach up to touch him, she didn't want to spook him but then he took off.
From dove he moved to eagle and soared up high, almost out of her vision up above and she stared at the skies. She could only imagine what he could see from up there, way above the clouds and feeling the wind like that. Eli dove swiftly and for a split second Nixie wasn't sure that he would break in time but before she could give a sharp inhale, he formed a stag and landed neatly. She breathed out and frankly, his display had been wonderous. She gazed at him and approached the stag very cautiously. She looked him over for a moment before gathering her thoughts and waving her fingers, droplets of water like rain frozen in time around the air formed and she smiled a little to herself.
She didn't get too close to the stag, the droplets shimmered like starlight around the stag, she supposed in the dark with the right lights overhead it would look rather nice, almost like the stag was lost. She knew shifters could often take on the personas of their forms and she was careful not to spook the stag, just in case. She moved the droplets so they could swirl and dance, like small dancing lights moving around in a constellation as they moved and settled around the stag. It looked nice, an air of magic at least to it and whimsy and she walked around the stag, slowly because it wasn't as though she could do anything too quickly.
She was cautious. Eli could smell last night's chaos on her clothes, could smell the fresh grass on the field and he could smell Nixie too. Nixie was hesitant, but not afraid. Eli flicked an ear, but stood still as water droplets shimmered around him like small sparkles of light. His breathing was even, as if suspended and readying up for a run. Eli stood his ground however. He'd been here before and knew this echo, knew that while it was skittish and prone to flight, the stag was also curious. When approached with caution, it wouldn't move, but merely look on. Eli broke through the echo's doubts and hesitations, moved forward, ducking through the water. Droplets of it caught his antlers and fur, trailing down as if they were tears. A detail probably lost on an audience from afar.
He would have to harness greater control over the part of the stag that wanted to flee. An audience might hold their breath for a performance, but they would surely clap or show their appreciation afterwards, if their act was convincing. Eli lifted his head and searched the air, then wandered in a lazy circle around Nixie, like a slow dance. Would Snow ever find love again? Eli wondered whether the shapeshifter would. He didn't seem overly bitter, but then it might have been years since he'd list his love. Eli had forgotten the name already. Nixie had mentioned it, but they'd had bigger concerns. At some point Eli wished he could speak and tell Nixie that it was alright to be a little less apprehensive. He wouldn't be much of a shapeshifter if he couldn't control his echoes.
And they'd chosen mellow shapes as well. Eli stepped closer and lowered his head, carefully reaching for Nixie's sleeve, pulling with his lips. Part of the magic of their act would be in how close Nixie could be to animals that would otherwise dart away from human presences. He lifted his head at a familiar and dangerous scent -Illiad. The man seemed to watch the two of them, a dangerous glint in his eyes Eli wasn't sure was reserved for them in particular. Illiad's mad look reminded him of their previous Ringmaster's. Oh, how they had to adore power, knowing none of his purchases would even contemplate running away from the circus. They'd be hunted down like the beasts that they were and killed for their defiance. Feared by all they would come across, only applauded inside the safe confines of the circus. Eli bristled and shook his antlers. Droplets of water were scattered in every direction and he sighed.
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