Can you see me? All of me? No. No one ever really has.
The Main Acts: Crow Slippery Fingers (Slippy) - Klyptomaniac - Build Anything Out of Nothing - Very Ackward and Sleezy - Poor hyguine Jewel Sisters Alexander Ribs Fright Knight - Cursed Knight; all armor, no body - Very vain and queen-like - Tall Were Vain (Wallace) - Shapeshifting werewolf (Non Violent) - Very polite - Strict diet of red meat - He and Slippy are good friends Haphazard - Pyromaniac Clown - Claims he is immortal since he cannot to hurt - Likes to show this off on stage - A big headed crazy piece of shit. No one really likes to hang around him Jasmine the Bearded Lady Invisible Man Archane - Sexy half spider woman - Favors the colors black and red - Has a strict rule of no dating - Enjoys solitude
Madame York - Seer/The Mother Renald - Royal Coward
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost He was in an empty room, a soft light washing over him and the molding wood floor. Someone in the surrounding darkness was winding a music box, soon filling the air with the soft lullaby that he recalled from many years ago. The man stood absolutely still, clenching his fists as he listened... And a whisper of his name, his real name... [i “Let me see you...”] His heartbeat quickened, suddenly eager and desperate. [i “Let me see you...] How long had it been? Since his first memory, it always felt like he was in the background. Fading away everyday into nothing.
Invy opened his eyes, staring up at a worn, faded yellow fabric peak, his body coursing with sudden need and the unexpected realization of another body sleeping soundly next to him. He sighed heavily as he was dragged back to safe reality and focused on calming his hammering heart. He had recognized some time ago that he was coming into an existential crisis phase in his life- and so young at that. Madame York had been so kind as to inform him how to decipher the damn nightmares and since he found a sort of enjoyment recalling them.
Gently shifting his weight, he peered over the alarmingly thin child that joined him on his cot sometime in the night. Alexander Ribs was tucked beneath the covers and sucking on his thumb bringing a smile to his face. He ruffled the child’s tuft of hair causing Alex to stir and mumble before looking back at the indention in the sheet covers.
"Imma sorry Invy..." he yawned, "I hadda nightmare and I couldn't shake it off."
Invy shook his head and reached over the boy to grasp a white mask discarded on the floor. He pushed it to his face and looked at Alex. "It’s all fine though next time, wake me before you just crawl right in. I could have been naked in here."
Alex laughed, showing off his missing tooth grin. "Y're right. No one knows since we can't see you."
The invisible man scoffed and slid out from the covers to stand and step over the boy. With the bed so low to the ground, it wasn't much of a challenge to maneuver successfully. His tent was small but quaint; enough for a man of his tastes since he had a thing for tiny places. He'd prefer a closet over a bedroom any day. There was one dresser for his mirror and bed sheets, one wardrobe for his clothes and shoes, one cot for his rest and pleasure, and one trunk for his personal items and midnight treats.
"Shouldn't you be running along? Assisting in the preparations for this evening?" Invy asked as he slipped on an oversized, cotton shirt.
"Shouldn't you?" The boy countered as he stood himself, his skeletal body bare save for the boxers around his waist.
"I have the obligation to bathe. We're performing for the royals after all." He pulled out a washcloth from one of the drawers.
Alex scoffed. "Ya’ good luck with that. You know who is probably in the tub and ya know how much hair she has." Alexander waved goodbye as he stepped out of the tent.
Not bothering to even slip on pants, Invy followed suit and was greeted by a flood of golden morning light and the sound of bustling entertainers prepping for the big show. All around odd characters passed saying their wondrous 'good morning's and 'hurry your ass up's with great enthusiasm. He must have slept later than he thought.
The man made straight for the makeshift bathtub that his good friend Slippery Fingers must have thrown together last night and, sure enough, Miss Jasmine Locks was washing her hair. Every single bit of it... The first time Invy had set eyes on her he was appalled. Now years later, he found himself quite comfortable around her since, like him, she wasn't in the least shy to show off what the good god's had given her.
"Invy," she breathed happily upon seeing his floating blouse. He smiled, stripping off his shirt as she scrubbed mercilessly at her beard. "Nice to see you stepping into the sunshine. You need some color."
Oh like he never heard that one before. "Pleasure. Can I share that with you?" He gestured to the oversized barrel even though she couldn't see his hand.
"I'm not that much of a hog," Jasmine laughed as she stepped aside for him.
The freak tossed his mask to the ground and let himself fall into the soapy, dirty water with a splash. He let his body rest underwater until his mind calmed. He rinsed quickly, stepping out in time for Jasmine to dunk her head in the water, filling the entire barrel with hair. He smiled briefly before retrieving his mask and draping his shirt over his shoulders.
He walked back to his courters and immediately began dressing himself into his more appropriate wear. He pulled on a few thin garments; tight trousers and a breezy shirt, and topped himself with his favorite striped hat, deciding to leave his heavier clothing till later in the evening. He glanced in the mirror and saw the silhouette of an oddity. The Scarga Circus’ own Invisible Man.
He slipped on a pair of black working gloves before walking back out in the camp. In all technicality, all of the performers in the show were a part of his 'family'. Granted some were a little closer than others but Invy liked the variety that such a place beheld. He was able to try new things, meet new people without ever having to make an effort to find them himself. His traveling home was something he'd never dream of replacing.
There was a deep roar above his head and the invisible man looked up to catch a quick glance at the magnificent beasts he could only admire from the ground. Dragons were common creatures amongst the royals and heroes but only the brave and crazy could ride them.
Invy shook his head at the thought. Dragons were always used for warfare and quick glory statuses. Knights and princes only ever faced them if there was a princess or money on the other line and for some reason Kings only ever tended to guard their precious beauties with those wondrous beings. Why couldn't they do what King Stephen did? He sent his daughter away with a bunch of snot nosed faeries. Sure, his kingdom fell for a [i spell] but it was all a happy ending.
The crunching beneath Invy's pointed shoes faded out as he approached a singing older woman. Madame York, his 'mother', hummed an old lullaby. He bowed respectfully once she noticed his presence and paused in her sewing work. "Oh my dear," she laughed weakly, "You're up late. You know he's been looking for you all morning."
"Let him continue to search," Invy replied dryly.
The invisible man raised his eyes to see the ringmaster kneeling over the edge of York's tent, the sun gleaming behind him like he was a god. "Oh I was just talking about you..."
"I can see that." The leader jumped down from his perch and landed beside his real mother with magnificent grace. The Crow always thought himself on a higher ‘perch’ than others due to his direct relation to the Madame but many contemplated this fact was a lie. Crow was tall, lean and had the grace of a thousand angels. His hair and eyes were jet black and his finger nails were sharp to the tip. His most distracting feature, however, was the long wings that made up his arms and the 'v' of his back. "You should be setting an example for our family. Waking up on time is very important."
"As you mention from time to time," Invy smirked, adjusting his hat. "I came to gather a list of what still needs to be done. I hear further preparations have to be handled for this wedding celebration."
Crow waved his finger in the air. "Not just that, but we have to be good enough to impress the brother."
"Boys, can you please continue your conversation elsewhere. You're ruining my peace of mind," York muttered as she continued to sew her oversized sock.
The ringmaster guided Invy to his own private tent and right away they were hit with the strong smell of lavender. Crow had grown a liking to lavender ever since his last girlfriend said she hated it. Awfully petty. "Why the brother?" Invy continued. "Shouldn’t we be focusing on the prince and princess?"
"I heard from one of the Erimonn family guards that the Princess's brother was an illegitimate son of a thief or something of the like. Since then his destiny has been written that he would never find true happiness. He is a pauper pretending to be a princ so, of course, everyone thinks he's going to be the next evil warlord. The last thing we want is for him to hate [i us]."
"Ah, looking out for our skins I see."
"I am. That's what I'm supposed to do so please, be on your best behavior. Don't go stalking anyone in the castle because your curiosity will be the death of you, Invy. I know it."
"I do not deny. I just have to keep my attention elsewhere. I promise to keep out of trouble." The invisible man raised a single hand in a vow.
"Right then. Make sure our set is clean and please tell Slippery Fingers to try to retain his kleptomaniac ways. I don't want to be on the run again. Oh!" Crow ruffled his feathers, "Those boxes out back behind the stables, please bring those around. They belong to Fright Knight and you know how his highness gets all drama queen when he doesn't have his props set up and ready."
Invy gave a thumbs up. "I'll return after I brief our new performer when he arrives."
"Thanks. I'll be on my perch singing to our dictators will till this evening. Au Revior."
The invisible man trekked around the back of the temporary establishment and headed around to the stables where the horses for the land roaming royals were kept. Invy was never interested in those creatures but the world outside of it was another story. Whilst he did feel free with his family, it wasn’t safe out in the world for cursed beings like him. A harsh truth he had to learn on multiple occasions.
He bent down to arrange a few wooden crates, his mind drifting to his upcoming act and then a moment where he could tend to himself in the privacy of his own tent.]]
[size14 Rhys’s boots clanked softly as he headed down the hallway. One armored hand rested on the hilt of his sword at all times. Every guard he passed was accompanied by a “ser” or “captain” and he would usually give them a polite nod back, no matter how old it had gotten over the years. Today, though, he was silent. There was a storm behind his eyes and he did not even knock when he reached Prince Mikael’s room. The heavy door swung open and Rhys stepped inside.
Mikael was being dressed for the festivities that evening. The servants jumped as the door thudded open, but it was as if Mikael sensed his coming and did not even seem phased by the intrusion. This wasn’t the first time his trusted friend interrupted him. At least this time he wasn’t preoccupied.
“Oh do lighten up,” the prince said, gesturing for the servants to continue. “We’re supposed to be celebrating! And you come barging in here wearing that look on your face.” Before Rhys could speak, Mikael continued. “You know the face. The one you make when my brother said something suspicious again or when the kitchens are out of your favorite ale. So which is it?” Mikael’s kind eyes finally turned to look at him. Rhys’s face fell even more into its scowl because his friend hadn’t even needed to look at him to know his demeanor. “Is it my brother? Or should I contact the kitchens?” With one gesture, the prince sent the servants away. When the room was empty, Rhys spoke.
“Your brother is-”
“So it [i is] Owain,” Mikael said with a chuckle and closed the distance between them. They were only a few years apart, Mikael being the younger of the two, but despite their closeness in age, the prince looked no more than 30. The royal life often lended itself to beauty. Rhys on the other hand wore his age on his face. Grey temples in his long hair, crows feet by his eyes from laughing too hard with his friend, frown lines from when he wasn’t taking him seriously enough, like now.
“I have tried to have one last conversation with the king, but he won’t listen to me,” Rhys told him, all business for now.
“I could have told you as much.”
“Won’t you try to speak with him?”
“Me? His own flesh and blood?” Mikael mocked. “We both know he’s always listened to you more than me when it comes to matters of protection. If you can’t sway him out of this, then no one can. Besides, the performers are all here. He’d never swallow the pride it took to send them away.” Rhys gritted his teeth which caused Prince Mikael to look him over and place his hands on either one of his pauldrons. “I’m sure you have taken every precaution necessary to make sure my brother doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“And what happens when precaution isn’t enough?”
Mikael sighed, letting his hands drop. He paced to the window and looked down at the colorful tents below and the performers, just ants, moving about. He was silent a long while. And then, “You know, when we were kids, I always wanted to be like you. I wanted nothing more than to be like that boy that saved me from my own stupidity. Do you ever wonder where we would be if you hadn’t been there? Of course I know I would be dead,” Mikael laughed solemnly. “But what about you?”
“I would probably be dead, too,” Rhys confessed. “Gutter rats don’t live long.”
“Funny how fate has a way of turning your entire life upside down. You- what?- fifteen? Having no idea what you were doing with your life, starving to death. Now look at you. A knight and captain of my father’s guard. And [i I] thought I wanted nothing more than to be someone else. Twelve years old and I was so sure I didn’t want to be my father. It’s why I ran away. And now he’s the best man I know. Other than you.”
“Watch yourself,” Rhys warned. “I haven’t had anything to drink and you know I don’t do this kind of talk sober.”
Mikael laughed and turned back to face his best friend. “Just… try to have a good time tonight. You’ve done all you can. And I have faith that that’s enough.”
It would have to do. Rhys could fight anything off with a sword, but he could not fight off his own royal court from having bad ideas. He would just have to keep a watchful eye on Owain and anything he might have a hand in. A thought struck him suddenly that he should take a walk amongst the performers. Perhaps they had been hired by Prince Owain. He left Mikael to continue his long and arduous process of getting dressed and headed down to the garish tents. Yet when he tried to get close to where they were setting up, he couldn’t do so without ruffling a few feathers- quite literally.
Without any legitimate reason for trespassing and deciding it might not be in his best interest to force himself inside if they were truly under Owain’s employ, he decided to simply walk the perimeter.
He circled around the camp, keeping a far but watchful eye on everything he saw. It seemed like most of the showstoppers that were promised were hidden away inside the tents somewhere, but he still managed to see a few strange sights. He was so distracted with looking inward at all the different kinds of oddities that he completely missed the one by the stables hefting up a box when he passed.
As evening approached, Rhys took his room and donned his ceremonial armor. The king preferred him to wear it in all matters of celebration or importance. As he did so, he tried to remember what on earth it was they were celebrating. King Erimmon loved his parties and it was almost useless to keep track of them, but he had a sinking feeling Owain had something to do with the latest increase. Erimmon was growing older. It was only a matter of time before he would step down and give his throne to Mikael.
An hour later and Rhys was standing behind the royal family along with a dozen other guards of his choosing in the dining hall. After dinner they would all head outside to see the wonders of this traveling circus.
It was not something Rhys particularly cared about or found interesting. Perhaps it was because he spent too much of his youth begging for coin on the street, only to see it reflected back at him in the shape of beast-tamers and freaks. Had he not been decent with a sword, he never would have made it this far. These people sold their lives for profit. Were they so different?
Rhys closed himself off and became the weapon he knew he was as he followed close to the king. Thinking would not permit him to be watchful this evening. As the royal family all took their seats, Prince Mikael turned in his seat to look at him. He mouthed “have a good time”, reminding the knight of their previous conversation. Rhys would not. If he allowed himself to get lost in even a moment of the performances, it could mean death. He didn’t know how to tell Mikael this, especially now that a cheer had gone up around them as royals and nobles alike took in their first sights of the circus.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Daydreaming helped pass the time from loading crates to helping the Fright Knight pose his feathers. It took him a few hours to have everything prepped for a flawless show.
Props and sets usually took the longest and, unfortunately, there were few performers that have been around for as long as he had. Invy knew how things functioned inside and out, which is why Crow depended on him so heavily. He didn’t mind the work and savored the feeling of being needed but... it did little to distract his active mind.
After briefing the newest addition to their evening lineup, Invy finally had the opportunity to get ready. Closing himself in his small quarters, he let his mind drift to the dream as he dressed into his stage attire. Wondering, if not for the millionth time, if it held meaning to a greater prophecy of his future. [i Gracious], he needed to stay focused. This performance was a matter of grave importance. Impress the royals, impress the brother, stay alive.
It was twilight once Invy made his way over to the main theater, extravagant as it was. Commoners had begun crowding around the castle walls and staring profondingly as he and his family worked to prepare. He was just repairing a cage for act seven when Jasmine glided over to him. He pursed his lips.
“You look distracted. I dare say, unnerved.” She leaned on a wooden post beside him.
“I’m just fine,” he muttered.
“Oh?” she smiled coyly, “You know you can’t keep secrets from me.”
Invy turned to face her. “How are you the only one who seems to read me like a book?”
“I don’t need to see you to read the tone in your voice. Everything will be fine.”
“You’re not at all concerned?”
“Why should I be? Crow does all the worrying for us.”
“You are incredibly positive.”
Her smile was gentle, stroking her beard absentmindedly. “That’s why I’m here darling. You can’t stay afraid of the circus business forever.”
“But you can be wary of those who hate it. Some of us don’t really have the choice to be fearless.”
Jasmine didn’t get the opportunity to debate further. “Show time,” the Crow exclaimed from his high perch. “Places now! We start in three.”
Invy leaned around to peek through the heavy plum curtains. The entire audience consisted of only royals and their families with their knights on either end. The prince and princess sat at the forefront of the group as the guests of honor. He swallowed hard as an unfamiliar nervousness gripped his insides. Pulling away, he met gazes with Jasmine as the lights dimmed.
The curtains pulled away to show a black backdrop. Once the room was quiet, the blackness began to move and shift then out stepped a foot. The figure emerged, separating from the background like sickly ink. Black wings spread out in a welcoming gesture, the man smiling in a knowing way. His striking red vest made his lean bird-like qualities stand out. “Welcome ladies and gents!” he bellowed, “The Scarga Circus would like to thank you for inviting us to a land of great magic and royals! We humble ourselves at your feet and repay with lively entertainment. So without further ado, the oddities and misfits offer you our show.” The lights dimmed once again to blanket the stage in darkness.
The lights illuminated in a pattern like way, showing shades of yellow across the first performer who now stood where the ringmaster once had. “We present to you Slippery Fingers!” Invy always felt he was the least interesting of their performing family. Granted, Slippery was one of their main prop creators and building mechanism technicians but he seemed a little... plain. He did manage to ‘wow’ the audience with his clever ways of building something out of nothing talent which is what kept him on the stage for so many years.
Once he was finished, Act 2 followed, starting the real line up of freaks. “Presenting the Jewel Sisters!” The conjoined twins entered on a more eerie note, walking onto the stage so that the audience only had a side view, until finally turning to reveal their deformities. Invy often hated the looks from some of the male viewers at times like these. Caked in over exaggerated make-up, the girls performed tricks and gags until their spotlight had ended.
Act 3 was his little favorite nosey boy “Alexander Ribs!” Unnaturally thin, the dirty haired child jumped across the stage showing off every single bone in his tiny body. He clanged his ribs with tiny sticks and let the audience sit back in awe as they heard the musical notes that drifted from his gaping mouth.
Fourth was the queen himself... “The Fright Knight!” Cursed in the prime of his life, the former knight was merged with his armor giving him a terrible case of vanity that the Crow found quite hilarious. Like any metal suit, the Knight was able to disconnect his body parts and show up wherever he so pleased. They even impaled him on stage as his departing farewell.
Act 5 was something a bit more ugly in nature... but a guilty pleasure for royals. One of the minor crew men began to drag out a cage, undoubtedly filled with a ravenous creature known to most as a werewolf. Invy noticed the obvious excitement of their viewers and hated the rich for it. “Were Vain!” The act consisted of roaring and snarling till one of the crew released the metal hitch and the creature was set free. There were screams and gasps as the werewolf charged for the edge of the stage and sniffed the air before howling one last impressive call. The performance ended with the wolf standing, turning back into a man. Those shallow reactions...
Six was “Haphazard!” the danger craving, adrenaline addicted clown. Every circus had one and Scarga was no different. The painted man was actually known for immortality, or at least that’s what the freak family wanted to believe. He swallowed knives, he had arrows shot through his chest, he could fall and not have a single bone broken. They had betted he made a deal with a devil but no one really knew his true story.
Next was his ever stunning best friend. “The enchanting, hair raising Jasmine Locks!” Her act was a little more on the sensual side with a tall throne and mischievous clothing. She danced, using her beard to compliment her body in the most imaginative of ways, interacting with the audience as well.
Then it was his turn. Once he saw Jasmine walk off the stage, the curtains closed and he jogged out to take position at the center, letting some of their minor crew aid him. Then the veil was lifted.
“Presenting the devil, our own Invisible Man!” The stage was revealed as a set of toys where the main figure was crumpled near the ground, strings attached. Gently they began to lift the heavily clothed man in the full venetian mask much like a puppet. He slouched in his posture until the music started to play. The band commenced a tune of an eerie but playful song.
The man began to sway in rhythm, his back straightening until he was lifted on his toes. He stepped into a dance, twirling about in his colorful garments, he acted as if he was dutifully being controlled by a bigger master until the tune came to a climax where he reached up and pulled down his strings. The man held out his arms for a moment then proceeded to shrug off his colorful overcoat. He blurred his sight to only focus on being in the moment. It was like living in one of his many morbid dreams. [i For only the devil was truly invisible.]
Invy stepped around the stage to show everyone his lean figure before kicking off his pointed toe shoes, revealing his lack of feet. He looked down to follow where the viewer's eyes would have been and faked surprise. ‘Where had his feet gone?’ He stepped around as if looking for them until he finally shrugged and unbuttoned his vibrant blue vest.
He paused in the center of the stage and looked down at his chest. He gasped in another faked surprise and ripped the cotton shirt underneath apart to gander at his sudden disappearance. He threw the garment to the side and began ever so hurriedly to take off his pants and rings. Items went flying in every direction but he paused before he took off the hat. Choosing his targets from afar. Slowly he threw away the hat and reached up to detach the white and gold designed mask.
Then to the audience he was gone. With the music a good cover for his light footsteps, the performer jumped down into the viewers seats and began ‘misplacing’ items. He took the cross hung around the bishop’s neck and waved it in front of his face. He took the pin from a woman’s hair and dropped it in her lap. He ruffled the locks of a curly haired handmaid. Eventually he made it around the royal family, being careful on the objects he chose. Then, as he approached the couple to-be, his eyes landed on a rugged man with silver streaks in his hair. He was handsome with bold facial structures in a way that made him seem like he was sculpted as a demigod.
[i Composure! Right now was not the time to ruffle his feathers over a stranger! Play your part, forget the rest.] He picked a rose from a strategically placed bouquet and dropped it on the ‘bride to be’s’ lap. Before his departure, he tugged gently at the knight’s hair. [i I see you.]
The man popped back onto the stage and pulled on his overcoat and striped hat. He knocked his heels together and with his arms spread out, bowed deeply for the King and Queen. Then it was over and the Invisible Man was dragged back into reality.
The last act was “Arachne!” The best was always saved for the end. She was a beautiful creature with the lower appendages of a spider but a face of beauty. It was a wonderful way to end the Circus with a cherry on top.
Invy sighed in relief once the curtains had closed after the Crow’s departing words. He changed back into normal attire, immediately getting to work breaking down the sets and cleaning. “Good job everyone!” Crow exclaimed from one of the many high posts. “Surely we saved our necks today! We’ll be safe and sound- no worries!”
Invy was very glad Crow felt so comfortable. Maybe it would take his mind off of other things. There was a shout that caught his attention and Invy watched as a messenger spoke quickly to Crow in discreet manners. There was a tinge of worry as the Ringmaster jumped off his post and followed around to a place Invy could not see.
“It’ll be okay,” Jasmine whispered behind him and he hoped it would.
The invisible man paused in his clean up, turning to see Crow as he emerged from around the plum curtain, messenger in tow. “You will not believe what we’ve been invited to.” The ringmaster grabbed Invy arms, shaking him slightly in excitement. “The ball!”
Invy blinked in disbelief. “They want us, the freaks, to join them in a room full of pompous royalty whilst we eat their food and drink their wine?”
“You make us sound like scum, Invy,” he retorted. “I think it means that we’re being recognized for the superb work we did tonight.”
“We danced around the fucking stage and made them laugh. We’re made- created to be fools for them. Don’t you think they’ll laugh over there too?”
“Now don’t play like you don’t like being on stage, hypocrite.”
“This has never happened before in all the years we’ve been doing this. This doesn’t seem a little suspicious to you?”
“Now you’re starting to sound like me.” Crow cleared his throat. “I think the King’s son is just utterly fascinated by us. Twas his idea.”
Invy felt his mouth go dry. “Oh, I see.”
“Let the crew know, I’ll clear your conscience by confirming with Madam York. Does that work for you?”
Invy nodded as he watched Crow turn to leave, pushing off into the air.
The circus was electric with excitement. Everyone had pulled on their best garments to show off to the royal family and were starting to huddle at the castle gates. They all looked like a bunch of characters out of a fairy tale. Normal wears were not found in their closets, only costumes, which, despite how much Invy loved his clothes, definitely felt out of place.
Once Crow had landed beside him, the servant opened the doors to let them through the front gardens and up the pathway to another doorway into the ballroom. Invy glanced at the creature in a top hat. “What did York say?” he asked, low enough for only Crow to hear.
“She was displeased. She urged those left behind to start packing the wagons and tents.” His black eyes landed on him, an obvious sense of discomfort etched in his features. “We can’t back out now. It would be a great disrespect. We just need to relax. Maybe whatever the Madam is fearful about will happen after our departure.”
He was right. There was no way of pinning down a premonition from the seer to the exact moment. “Just do what I do in these situations,” Crow continued, “Bottle it all up, have a couple drinks and pretend that you don’t know the colors of the future.”
In colors was how Madam York always saw her visions. Never visuals but through feeling and hues. “Alright. I trust you.”
The circus soon arrived at the ballroom, glamorously decorated and lit to reflect that prosperity. The group eagerly dispersed and with one last glance at the ringmaster, Crow did his leadership duty and moved to greet, thank and grovel at the King’s gracious invitation. Invy took advantage of the food and drink offered, knowing full well how rare it was to actually fill his stomach completely. Relax.
Adjusting the mask around his eyes, the invisible man brought a glass of wine to his lips, looking around amongst the King’s man for the knight that caught his eye earlier. [i Stay out of trouble.] He spotted the stranger across the room, brooding with tired eyes. Invy took the opportunity to move closer, trying to look inconspicuous. Absolutely out of his league, he raised a gloved hand cautiously, waving slightly. There was still a chance of rejection in this encounter so he wasn’t terribly obvious.
“Evening sir, sorry if the hair thing bothered you. Part of the act, as you know.” ]]
[size14 Rhys was not as easily impressed as the royals were with the man who had stepped onto the stage despite the fact he had never seen anyone with wings before. He was so preoccupied with keeping a watchful eye on his surroundings that not even the smooth, charismatic voice of the crow-man could lure him in as he promised them wonders. Rhys spared a glance at Owain, but he gave nothing away as the show truly started.
Rhys would not have been able to recall the first act of the show if he were asked about it later. Mikael nudged him to try to get his attention at one point, but he only nodded, feigning interest as his eyes scanned the back wall for movement.
When the second act arrived on stage, a few whistles rang through the air, headed by Owain. Rhys turned his attention to the stage to see who the circus called the “Jewel Sisters”. Their performance was hardly erotic and yet seemed to have every man in the room except for Mikael and Rhys drooling: Mikael, because he had the good sense not to ogle another woman- women?- in front of his wife, and Rhys because he had never found women all that appealing.
There was a small uproar of men wanting the Jewel Sisters back when she left the stage and was replaced by a young boy. The audience quieted soon enough. Rhys was less concerned with how he was making music with his ribs and more about what they were feeding the poor child.
When the Fright Knight came out and began his act, Mikael turned and looked up from where he was sitting with a wide grin. “Remember not to piss off Father’s magister or [i that] could be you,” he said with a soft chuckle so that he didn’t ruin the show for those around them. Rhys couldn’t help but grin at the thought. The magister was a prickly old man and wouldn’t hesitate to curse Rhys given the chance. He’d had a vendetta against him ever since they had taken him in as a boy and he was caught sneaking around his office looking for a magic cure for teenage acne.
It was when the fifth act came out on stage that Rhys realized he was getting sloppy. His hand found the pommel of his sword again as the crew on stage dragged out the cage. When the door opened and the beast came flying out to the edge of the stage, Rhys stepped up protectively as if to defend the king and Mikael should the werewolf get too close. By then, it had already turned away, satisfied with the gasps and shrieks.
Mikael’s bride decided that watching was too much for her now and she kept her face hidden all through the next performance, which seemed best, as the clown was rather off putting. Yet when the so-called Jasmine Locks stepped out, she seemed to capture her attention again. At least she wasn’t violent. Once again, most of the men found this performer strangely enchanting despite her beard, though none would fess up to ogling her after the show, he was sure.
Rhys was just starting to think that he might not have anything to worry about from these performers after all. Perhaps Owain had nothing planned and Mikael was right: he should relax. Yet the next act made that incredibly difficult for him to do.
At first he thought it was a ruse. Surely no one could be [i invisible]. And yet he had seen things just as strange only moments before. This Invisible Man’s stage presence pulled the audience in easily. Even Rhys had a hard time staying present-minded. It was hard to believe he wasn’t actually a lifesize puppet on strings until he became fully animate and started to kick off his shoes.
It was only when his hat was gone that it occurred to Rhys how easily an invisible man could kill someone and get away with it. [i Presenting the devil,] they had said. Rhys’s hand gripped the handle of his sword tightly. He watched the mask fall to the ground. Then there was nothing to see at all.
The audience waited a tick. Rhys waited. Then little things began to move. This made the people laugh, but Rhys only pulled his sword from its scabbard an inch. He watched as the items floated through the air, drawing nearer and nearer to the royal family. All it took was something sharp… If Rhys had to look the fool, flinging his sword at nothing, then he would if only to try and defend the only family he had ever known.
His fingers relaxed. [i A rose.] He had laid a rose in Mikael’s finance’s lap. She giggled softly, covering her mouth shyly. Nothing else was picked up by invisible hands. Rhys turned his head, sensing movement beside him in the way that only a seasoned soldier might.
A tug on his hair.
He might have thought he imagined it if a strand of hair hadn’t come loose from the leather string he used to keep it pulled back. Rhys’s eyes searched in vain until they caught movement back on stage. The coat and hat suspended in air took a bow. And then he was gone.
Mikael seemed oblivious to the danger he could have been in, nor did he seem to notice that Rhys’s own person had been messed with. He was far too interested in the last act. Rhys would have found the spider woman interesting had he not just seen Mikael’s life flash before his eyes.
When the curtains closed for the last time, Mikael wore a wide grin. “See?” he said, clapping Rhys on his back and speaking to him softly. “Nothing to worry about.”
“How many engagement parties does your father plan to throw before you’re actually married? Because I’m not sure this is wise. If just one of those- those performers got too close…”
Mikael rolled his eyes. “Oh, sush. Come. Time to get some drink in you. Then you’ll be in a much better mood.”
Rhys couldn’t argue with that…
“He did [i what?]”
“He invited them to the ball! I think it’s one of Owain’s better ideas, honestly,” Mikael confessed as they walked through the hall together, leaving Mikael’s quarters. Of course the royals had to change attire for reasons Rhys could not understand. He thought they all looked quite ready before, but apparently one did not wear yellow or green to an evening ball. Rhys was just glad he only had his armor to worry about.
“You’re not worried this could-”
“I’m not, Rhys, and quite frankly I’m getting a little annoyed with you.” Mikael stopped and turned to face him. “You are more a brother to me than Owain is, you know this. But please, for just one night, let this go. I want to make my fiance feel welcome. I want to make her happy. And I want her to [i like] you.”
They shared a tense look for a long moment. Mikael rarely put his foot down like this. Rhys lowered his eyes. Nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll try to enjoy myself.”
The prince began to walk again and Rhys followed close behind. “Good. Owain is a piece of work and sure, he’s made a threat or two, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to kill me.”
“I won’t take that chance.” Mikael only cast him a look over his shoulder. Rhys made his mouth a thin line. “Apologies. Starting now I won’t speak a word of it for the rest of the evening.”
Together they walked through the large doors to the ballroom where the rest of the royal family was waiting with many of their guests. “Good. And please try to [i mingle.] I know that’s difficult for you and it’s very flattering for me to be the only person you show any inkling of your personality with, but you need more friends.”
Finally, the hint of a smile rose on Rhys’s mouth. “You are so kind to me.” He placed his hand over his heart, pretending to be touched.
Despite Mikael’s words, Rhys moved away from the mingling and stood on the outskirts of the hall. He was holding an empty wine glass and couldn’t remember reaching the bottom of it, having been so desperate for something to ease his tired mind. He set it aside, his gaze lighting upon a brightly colored outfit moving towards him. He hadn’t even realized until that moment that the circus must have received their invite.
Rhys turned his head, checking over his shoulder to make sure the gloved hand wasn’t waving at someone behind him. When it was clear [i he] was the target of interest, his brows drew together.
The space below the mask spoke, but there was nothing there to prove it. Rhys could see straight through to the other side of the floating collar. Then he realized it might be rude to stare at someone’s not-mouth and raised his eyes to meet the holes in the mask where the stranger’s should be.
It took Rhys a moment to recall what was said to him, this being the first time he had ever spoken to an invisible man before baffled him for a moment. [i Part of the act.] Acts were meant to be seen. No one had seen his hair being pulled. He didn’t know what this realization meant, but Rhys took the apology at face value as any knight should.
He inclined his head. “No harm done,” he finally replied. Over the brightly-colored coat’s shoulder, Rhys could see Mikael mingling with a large group. Several other guards were standing nearby. So he wanted him to mingle? Fine. He would mingle. When he lived on the streets as a child he could talk his way into anyone’s pockets. Of course he felt old and weary and far from those days, but he would make sure he had a conversation worth telling Mikael in the morning.
He returned his eyes to the sockets of the mask in front of him. “If you wanted a lock of the captain’s hair you only needed to ask.” [i There, Mikael. I still have it, after all.] He stuck out his hand to shake one of the gloved ones should he offer it. “I am Ser Captain Rhys of the Kingsguard.” [i And I thought I might have to kill you at one point.] He let the thought go.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The man looked a little baffled upon being addressed, enough to verify that he was the only one around. The performer smiled even as the knight’s brows met with suspicion though he shouldn’t have been surprised. Not many wanted to be in the presence of cursed men and even little wanted to talk. Usually those variations of fans mainly consisted of the poor, deformed or those of servitude. Crow had a soft spot for people like that which was how they obtained grunt help for camp breakdown and wagon loading. It was much harder, however, to find true circus acts.
Once the other spoke, Invy felt a sense of relief. What was he expecting? Instant flogging? And the Captain of the Kingsguard- what were the odds? The soldiers in Erimmon’s kingdom were known for their leadership and strategy. Shortly, he was flattered.
“There are better ways to go about that without using my skills, I’m sure,” Invy replied playfully. Taking the hand that was offered, he couldn’t help but to notice how firm Rhys’ shake was. Powerful, stiff and further adjectives that burned heat into his cheeks. “Invy.”
He let his hand drop and took a sip of the wine, smirking as he did so. “Do you often stand alone at large parties? I take it that a Captain's job consists of all manners of the day.”
Ignoring the glares around them, the invisible man reached for another helping of rye bread and spread, sighing gratefully. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had real butter and I hear I have your prince to thank for that.” As long as he ignored the warning from Madame York...]]
[size14 It had been some time since Rhys spoke to anyone of interest that wasn’t King Erimmon or his sons. Even his right-hand man was a bore. The witty reply from his current conversation partner was almost like a breath of fresh air- and then a quick undercurrent of stench as he wondered if [i he] were the bore to everyone in his life. Suddenly everything Mikael chided him about became clear. Oh, God, he [i had] grown dull, brooding, and unfun as they had gotten older, hadn’t he?
He allowed the self-pity to wash away for just the moment, knowing it would return later to haunt him as he was trying to get some sleep after this long night. After all, one could hardly keep distracted from the talking nothingness in front of them for long. Especially when his voice made Rhys feel like a bug caught in sap. Stuck. And quite enjoying it, despite himself.
“Invy,” Rhys repeated, almost to himself when their hands dropped, just to make sure he had heard him correctly. He didn’t know what he expected. Surely they didn’t all use their stage names in real life, but he had to wonder if [i Invy] could possibly be his real one.
Rhys watched him take a sip of wine. The red liquid drained from the tipped glass into nothingness. Rhys was fascinated, but refused to let it show on his face. “If I told you yes, I do usually stand alone, then you would think me a black sheep and wonder why. If I told you no, I don’t, then you would wonder why I am on this occasion. So it’s really a lose-lose situation for me,” he told Invy, watching a glove take some bread. This time he could not hide the amusement. “Please, by all means. Have as much as you want. They always overcook for these things and my men usually get the leftovers. They’re getting lazy and the extra servings aren’t helping.”
Rhys was just being polite now, but his eyes moved to find the king and Mikael. At the mention of Owain’s invitation to the Scarga Circus, his wits were back about him. Surely he was not being distracted so that another could make their move. Wouldn’t the invisible man be the perfect one to go for the kill? Mikael was speaking with a couple of the performers. There were plenty of other nobles and guards around him.
Rhys took a long sip of his wine. He thought about asking his guest what he knew about Owain’s invite, but decided against it. [i You’re growing old and paranoid. Mikael is right. Owain would have done something years ago if he was going to do anything at all.]
He returned his eyes to Invy who was shorter than Rhys. Everyone was shorter than Rhys. He was just
wondering to himself if it would be rude to ask how a man found himself invisible when another guest- the princes’ cousin three or four times removed- stepped up to the table nearby to fill a plate. Invy caught his attention and his eyes widened. Almost tipping his plate onto the floor in his drunken state, he joined the two of them.
“Renard,” Rhys said, stiff again.
“Hogging the entertainment for yourself, are we? I’ll tell my cousin!” he directed his attention to Invy. “I think I favored your act the most,” he slurred. “Though I do have one question. When you took off [i all] those layers, were you-” he hiccupped, and Rhys had a feeling he should stop the man before he embarrassed all parties involved. He reached out and took the man by the shoulders.
“My lord, I think your sister is beckon-”
“Were you-” Renard was fighting against Rhys’s strong grip, “naked? As you ran around? Because that is- I think that is just- You took my sister’s hairpin! And put it in [i my] hair! Naked!” His speech was constantly interrupted by hiccups. He couldn’t tell if Renard found it the most amusing thing in the world or the most appalling that there had been an invisible naken man in front of him. Rhys walked him away from Invy and towards his mentioned sister who looked mortified. She pulled him into a corner by his arm to tell him off while Rhys came back to his guest.
“My apologies. These people… They rarely see life outside their mansions.”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost It sounded strange hearing his name said out loud from someone other than a member of his adopted family. A question not often asked except by poor children. In a way, he liked hearing Rhys say it... and that singular thought had him drinking the rest of his wine. [i Idiot. This isn’t the time to be indulging in stupid fantasies.]
The chiseled specimen continued his rather dodgy confession and even down-talked the cooks which had him striking the knight as a little ‘lost’ in all the surrounding prosperity. Invy couldn’t help but to feel humbled by the whole situation if not definitely still weary about the invitation. Though... he shouldn’t judge Rhys. He was confident that it must be easy to fall into such a lifestyle. [i Urg, what a commoner thing to think.]
The invisible man refilled his cup and claimed a fruit as the conversation lulled for a moment, watching curiously as the seasoned soldier's eyes drifted about as if he was looking fiercely for something. Must have been a habit. He was the King's right-
“Captain! Hogging the entertainment for yourself, are we? I’ll tell my cousin!”
Invy turned towards the drunken royal, smiling as one did in awkward situations. The man was sloppy and forward, reminding him of times when Crow would tumble into his quarters and mumble himself into a teary life existential crisis on his lap. Those... those were long evenings.
Questions of how and why were never answers he was shy to give. In fact, it gave most an unsettling feeling that a naked man could and was running around wherest he wanted to. It got him into lots of trouble over the years and Crow was counting his days for him.
Invy laughed at ‘Renard’, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant way as Rhys tried to keep the question from coming off that slurry tongue. Rhys pushed against the man, eventually guiding him back to another. “I’ll leave that to your imagination, sir,” Invy replied with a grin. He continued to drink, entirely amused, as his worried confidant crossed the short gap between them.
“Nothing of consequence,” Invy assured Jasmine as she approached, gesturing to the knight once he had returned. “And nothing to worry about, Rhys. It happens more often than you think.”
A look of relief settled on the woman’s features and instantly she held out a hand to introduce herself to Invy’s new aquantenice. Despite her uncanny appearance, she always managed to radiate confidence in any conversation.
As the two introduced themselves, a movement towards the main doors caught his eye. Taking a step back from the pair, he could make out the discretion of a servant unlocking the doors, revealing behind it a crowd of polished knights. Invy felt himself grow cold and reached out to grab Jasmine’s wrist. She paused mid sentence and turned to follow his gaze as the kingdom’s soldiers began to pour in, shouting and unsheathing their swords. Crow was wrong. They were going to be stuck in the middle of it. ]]
[size14 When Rhys returned, his company had been joined by another. “Well, in that case I wish I could apologize on behalf of them all, but I don’t think half of them probably deserve it,” he said. He shook hands with the bearded woman, trying not to stare too long even if he was sure she was used to it. Her beard was longer than he would ever be able to grow his and she wore it better, too.
“Jasmine,” she said, her grip almost as tight as his.
“Captain Rhys,” he replied.
Jasmine was just about to continue polite conversation, but the sound of the double doors opening drew their attention. Rhys needed no further warning that something was amiss. Even before he saw them, he could hear the plated guards marching. Letting his instincts drive him, he paused only long enough to scold himself for thinking Owain would stoop to using circus performers to do his dirty work when apparently half of Rhys’s men could be bought.
Rhys couldn't remember drawing his sword. He didn’t look at the invisible man and the bearded woman as he spoke to them. “There is a way out along that wall,” he said, gesturing with his free hand after tossing his wine glass aside. “It leads through the kitchens. Try to get your people through before they cut it off.”
His last words were pierced by a woman’s screams. The soldiers were inside now. The doors were being closed again. Rhys did not look at Invy or Jasmine again. As much as he wanted to save every innocent in this place, his duty was to his king.
What had once been a peaceful celebration had now turned into a madhouse. Rhys watched as men he had known for years slaughtered nobles who tripped over their own shoes trying to escape. There was shouting. Crying. Smoke. All in a matter of minutes.
Rhys turned to face the dais. Prince Owain stood with two soldiers flanking him and he held a torch to the massive banner above the table with his family’s crest. Rhys scanned the room for the king. For Mikael. He was met with a sword swinging at him.
Steel met steel in a clash. It was one of the new recruits. A foolish boy who put too much faith in his new skills. Rhys feigned left, then found the soft spot behind the knee and he was down. He would not kill any sixteen year old boys this day.
His head snapped up, hair coming loose from its binding. Mikael was doing his best to hold off a guard on his own, but his rapier was more decorative than it was made for battle. “Rhys! My father!” Turning his head back towards Owain, Rhys saw he was standing on the dais, watching with wicked satisfaction as several guards marched the king up the steps. “Protect my father! Protect the king!”
Rhys knew he had a choice to make. And every second he spent looking between father and son meant risking [i both] their lives. He swallowed hard against the smoke gathering in the rafters.
“Rhys! Brother! I order you to protect the king!”
He could not say no to that. One glance around told him that his last remaining loyal men were trying their best to hold off those they once called brothers in arms. Finding an opening in the slaughter, Rhys jumped onto the nearest table to bypass a struggle between men, dodged a sword being swung at another, and found himself at the base of the steps to the dais.
In the few short seconds it took him to get there, Owain had managed to force King Erimonn into a kneel and put a knife to his throat, forcing him to watch his world crumble.
“Turn away, Captain. Or you’ll get far more than a demotion,” Prince Owain shouted over the sounds of screaming and battle. “Oh, who am I kidding? I’m going to have you killed, too.”
Before Rhys could speak, Owain pulled the dagger away from his father’s throat, then jabbed it into his chest with such hatred and such force. He heard someone shout in rage and grief, only to realize the sound came from himself. Owain put a boot to his father’s back and shoved him down the stairs. The king crumpled, leaving a bloody trail down the steps of the dais.
Rhys shouted again, agony and fear making his words unintelligible. He rushed forward, turning the king onto his back to see if anything could possibly be done to save him. What he saw was not the face of some noble king, but the face of a dying man, fear in his eyes as he choked on his own blood, reminding Rhys that all men were equal in death.
Owain turned from the dais. “Let me know when the rest of them are dead,” he said to a man nearby who Rhys had never seen before. He did not wear the armor of the guard. With Rhys’s former men surrounding him, Owain left the room.
Rhys sat motionless, holding the king who gargled and coughed. “Take… this…,” he managed to say, the blood dripping from wound and mouth alike. With the last bit of energy he had left, he struggled to pull a necklace free from his shirt. At the end of it was an old key with several prongs. “The… vault… Documents… Owain never would have… been…”
“I don’t-” Rhys was looking between his dying king and the man he did not know stalking towards them.
King Erimonn’s eyes grew wide, then relaxed. Then he was gone. Rhys had only a second to act. He lifted the king’s head and removed the necklace with the key before standing and readying himself for this unknown soldier.
The man was pale and thin with dark hair and dark, leather armor. Everything about his movements told Rhys that he would be quick. His right hand came down, readying his weapon as he stalked Rhys like prey. The morningstar fell from its chain, held by a strong hand and began to swing.
Just then, two of Rhys’s remaining loyal men stepped in to take on the beast. Rhys would not normally have abandoned them, but he needed to find Mikael. When he turned, the world seemed to move in slow motion with him as the shock began to catch up with him. He shook it from his head and searched for the prince among both the living and the dead. He came to realize that the only living left were his enemies and the dead lined the floor.
That’s when he saw him. Lying face up where he had left him to fend for himself. Why hadn’t he gone to Mikael instead? Rhys rushed to his side, fell to his knees, and let out a choked sob. He pulled the prince into his arms gingerly, as if he might be sleeping and was afraid to wake him. Rhys closed his eyes tight against the pain. The guilt. The anger. He pressed his cheek against his forehead and felt blood. Mikael should not have blood in his hair. He would be so angry when he realized he had [i blood] in his hair…
Heavy boots slowly circled them, coming to stop in front of Rhys. The knight opened his eyes and looked up at Owain’s soldier in black leather. The morningstar fell from its chain and Rhys could see the blood dripping from the sharp tips. Its owner smirked.
“All your men are dead, old knight.” The stranger lazily began to swing his weapon. If Rhys reached for his weapon, he would be killed. He would be killed anyway. His fingers flexed. He reached.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The invisible man barely processed the information given by Rhys, trying to blink away the scene that was beginning to unfold and dropping the food and drink in his hands. No, this was happening.
Invy turned in the direction of the King, meeting gazes with their feathered leader across the wide room. He put his gloved hands around Jasmine’s forearm, pulling her closer. He couldn’t necessarily protect, but he and Crow were strategists.
A collective scream emanated from the crowd as the doors were closed shut behind the group, taking no time to begin their slaughter of the nearest monarchs. Instinctively, Invy twisted his body to shove Jasmine away from the enemy that had begun fanning out from the entrance. As the captain said, they needed to head to the connecting hall towards the kitchens.
A gust of air and Crow immediately began retrieving his nearest family, grabbing hold before sliding across the room and diving through a large window.
The Invisible Man glanced back just in time to see a sword flashing beside him, slicing through his robes but missing flesh completely. He pulled off the garment, throwing it over the knight's head to buy him time. The room was discombobulating. Screams, cries, clashes of metal. He could barely formulate an escape plan. His family. They needed to get out. They needed to-
The freak snapped his head towards the scream, sprinting forward to the lackey who had a hold of Jasmine’s beard, dragging her to face the floor. He tackled the man to the wine spilled tile, gathering to his feet quickly to kick the metal helmet, the knight's head snapping unnaturally. Something collided into his right side, pushing him back to the floor and knocking the air from his lungs. The heavy man swung an elbow into his face, cracking the mask and toppling over his chest. Invy tried to push him off, struggling to move the gargantuan off his body. His heart pounded in his ears, panic rattling his thoughts. [i Breathe, breathe!]
The man grunted above him, squirming just enough for Invy to see Jasmine pulling the back on the armor plate to get the knight to teeter off of his stomach. The invisible man rolled out from under the weight, catching his breath as he retched his friend to his side to get away. Someone else tugged on Jasmine and just as Invy turned to pull her out of harm's way, hot blood sprayed over him, stopping him instantly. Coating his clothes and face, Jasmine rolled her eyes back as her neck parted open, her beard in knots as she fell at his feet. A pool of deep, hot red.
He froze in shock, starting to hyperventilate as the murderer jabbed his sword once more, this time in Invy’s direction. He stumbled backward, slipping on mixed wine and blood as he turned to flee. It was hot and sticky. [i It’s too hot.] He needed to get it off.
He shrugged off his stained vest, tore off his tunic, and kicked off his shoes as he weaved through the madness, no longer the brave second in command Crow always bragged him to be. He aimed for the hall towards the kitchens and, once hidden enough, he took off the last of his garments finally fully invisible to make his get-away. Despite being splashed in the blood of his family, the royal guests and the enemy, he managed to disappear through the crowded kitchens. Invy shoved and shouldered till he finally tumbled out into the bitter night air.
His heartbeat pounded in his ears as hurried and hunched behind a rose bush, far enough away from the ballroom but not far enough to escape the cries of anguish. He couldn’t stop shaking or control his breath. His thoughts wouldn’t formulate. Just blood, screams, hot, on him- they can’t see me, they can’t see me.
Through the hyperventilating, Invy tried to calm himself enough to think about what he should be doing rather than sitting here hiding. How long had he been sitting here? What do I do? What would someone else do? Home. He needed to go back to the circus. They were already set to leave, right?
Without delaying another moment, the invisible man hurried to his feet, sprinting to the iron gates across gravel and dirt till he could see the outline of the carts and wagons through the settling darkness. The minor crew was scrambling, throwing rods and props wherever they could fit, torches being lit at the front of every caravan. Invy followed the sounds of shouting, rounding the corner to see Crow hovering above.
Once Invy laid eyes on the black feathered man, he felt his chest fill with raw emotion, collapsing to his knees as Crow called out his name. He lowered his gaze, tears forming at the edges of his eyes. He couldn’t look at him. Not after what he’d done.
The dirt kicked up around him. “Invy,” Crow breathed, touching his hair. “You’re covered in blood.” Invy choked back a sob, starting to curl his body inward. The leader groaned in impatience, pushing the Invyr’s head up and pointing to a cart with an open flap. “Get in. Now. Did you see anyone else?”
The performer shook his head, letting Crow pull him to a stand. “I..-”
“We’ll talk later. Get in the fucking wagon. We have to go.” Crow’s tone was strong, giving the invisible man enough incentive to climb into the cart.
There was a single lit candle in a jar illuminating the solemn faces gathered inside. Various performers, a couple palace residents and the Captain of the Kingsguard, lying on his back across the floor, unconscious. His hair was tousled, blood coated nearly every bit of him. Invy wondered vaguely how Rhys got here but he knew... Crow was the only hero.
Under different circumstances, he might have been embarrassed of his appearance, just bits of floating unsightly red... But this was no time for his usual vanity. No time for anything. Madam York was right. They shouldn’t have come here...
Invy took a seat beside the fallen soldier, pulling a tattered blanket over his shoulders and keeping his grief as muted as possible.
The ride lasted for hours and Invy imagined that they were deep in the enchanted forest by now. He felt he should say something polite, even encouraging, to the others but had no energy to do so. Some leader he was. A heaviness settled over him and soon he was asleep.
The halting of the caravan bumped his head against the wood, awaking him instantly. Invy stood first with a slight groan, tying the blanket around his waist and pulling aside the canvas flap. It was mid day or late afternoon. He didn’t recognise the spot but they were clearly still deep in the forests, surrounded by trees, a small creek and hills.
Hearing Crow shouting once more, he figured this is where they would recover and kneeled beside the sunken eyed captain, shaking him gently as the others stepped out. “Rhys... Rhys we’re here.” Damn, he hoped the man didn’t have a concussion.
He snapped his fingers, trying to get the older man’s attention and the longer he tried to wake him, the more emotional he could feel himself becoming. “Don’t you fucking die now,” he uttered under his breath.]]
[size14 Rhys had been wounded before, but not like this. Even in the darkness of death, he grieved. Even as he felt his soul return to his body, he begged it to stay away, to let him drown in the darkness and be reunited with Mikael. But he had a key around his neck and a job to do. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but the red of his own blood and heard a raging fire nearby. Owain would burn down his own castle if it meant taking the throne.
Rhys struggled to put his weight under him. He fell and the world faded away into nothingness again, but not before the man with crow wings saw he was alive. The world fell away. Rhys dreamed he was flying.
The next time he returned to himself, he could not have been sure if it had been minutes, hours, or days. He felt someone dabbing his face with a damp cloth, but he did not open his eyes. Knowing he was safe, he slipped away again, this time into a deep, restful sleep that not even the rocking of the cart could wake him from.
A short grunt escaped his lips when his sleep was disturbed. For a moment, he imagined one of the young messenger boys waking him up with a summons from Mikael. Then he felt the hard wood of the cart beneath him and the shell of this armor and he remembered.
There was a snapping of fingers in front of him and Rhys reached up, grabbing at where the noise originated from. His fingers closed around a slender wrist, just trying to get the noise to stop. His head was pounding something awful.
“I’m not dead,” he said hoarsely, and opened his good eye. The first thing he noticed was the floating blanket. The next was that he could indeed [i feel] the muscle in the wrist he grabbed twitch in surprise and feel the bone where it connected to the hand. But he couldn’t [i see] it.
“Invy?” Rhys asked, letting his wrist go slowly and losing track of it again. He sat up slowly, bringing a hand to his face. This only made the pounding worse. “I’m not dead,” he repeated, more to himself. [i I suppose I’m lucky Owain’s man thought I was. If he had been any closer, I might really be.] Rhys felt the ruin of his face. He’d get away with a few scars once it was all healed. But for now…
He had a million questions to ask. Where were they? Who had survived? How had they saved him? But when Rhys looked up and saw only the floating blanket… searched the space where Invy’s face would be and saw blood speckling the air… he forgot all about his questions and bleeding face.
His brows creased together in worry. Even if the size of his flock had shrunk, he still needed to care for these people. “Are you alright?”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The grasp startled him, almost bringing him back to a triggering memory. Taking a sharp breath, Invy flexed his fingers, relieved once the soldier let go. Rhys looked awful. There were gashes across one of his eyes and his movements were slow and weak. He couldn’t imagine the peril he’d witnessed in the last few hours.
“Are you alright?”
Invy cringed at the question and was grateful that Rhys- nor anybody else for that matter- could never see his face. Was he alright? No. He wasn't. His heart ached and could feel an overwhelming sense of guilt wash over him. How many others had he let down by running away? How many had their blood spilled in that ballroom? He was afraid to learn the truth.
“I’m fine,” he replied, gathering to his feet and feeling the darkness creep into his mind again. “If you feel well enough to stand, you can stay with me or you can rest here.” Invy pulled aside the canvas flap, illuminating the caravan. “I just... need to rinse off.”
The sun was tantalizing on his bare skin making him instantly self conscious once more. It was amazing how the actions of a few hours changed his entire perspective of being invisible. Terrifying and cowardly. Not at all the way he used to see himself. Rhys on the other hand was brave, strong. He was confident that the soldier would have given his life for the royals. Invy wondered what it would feel like to have that kind of righteous purpose.
He turned slowly, stepping closer to the creek before kneeling before it and rinsing his hair and body. It felt relieving, washing the blood and dirt away, almost like it was a stigma. “I’m sorry..,” he started, still staring at the pebbles in the water. “About the kingdom.”
It felt like the right thing to say. It felt like the [i only] thing he could say. Nothing could bring the dead back- at least nothing holy. He sat there for a moment, letting the sun dry and warm his skin. ]]
[size14 Rhys watched Invy retreat. He knew it had been a stupid question when he asked it. He wasn’t sure how Invy had come around to losing his clothes, but he could guess it had been to make use of his invisibility to escape the mayhem. No one would be alright after witnessing a violent coup like that.
Rhys moved slowly so his head wouldn’t spin and followed after Invy. When he emerged from the covered cart he found that the rest of the circus’s caravan surrounded them along with its performers and several other survivors. There were so few of them…
Rhys didn’t need to ask where they were. He had scouted these woods himself a time or two. Strange things tended to happen in this forest, though he supposed they were no stranger than the company he was keeping at the moment.
His attention was brought back to Invy, the blanket falling from his back and the sound of his voice the only things hinting at his location. Strangely, Rhys was already getting used to this. Perhaps it was because talking to an invisible man was less shocking than what he had just been through.
“Yeah,” Rhys replied with a long breath. “Me too.” He should still be there. He should have died fighting. But he couldn’t tell him that. He couldn't explain that kind of guilt.
Rhys reached up to the clasp on one of his pauldrons and let it drop. The other came loose and soon after he was shedding every bit of armor he had on him. They bore the crest of the royal family: the crest Owain was tempted to burn. Rhys wondered if he planned to make a new one.
He picked up the plating and went to set it next to a nearby tree. The gold stared back at him, reflecting his own bloody, scarred face. His life’s work was to be left and forgotten in the woods. The enchanted forest would pull the symbol of his devotion into its roots. Time would erase it, like everything else. He could not be seen wearing it again.
Despite the clothes he wore underneath, he felt naked. Blood ran into his eye and he turned away from the armor, buckling his sword belt once again before wading into the creek and kneeling down to rinse the wound. He hissed, but did not flinch and did not pause. The cold water felt like a baptism.
The armor was gone. He was no longer Captain of the Kingsguard, but he still had a job to do. He reached into his shirt and pulled out the key. After a long moment, he stepped out of the creek, his wet boots searching for purpose on the bank as his head swam.
“The king is dead,” he said aloud. He needed to hear himself say it. And he needed the others to know it. “The king is dead.” Rhys said it a little louder this time and his commanding presence caused all movement and conversation to die down around him. “Prince Mikael is also…” he swallowed hard. His brows furrowed. “He has also been killed. Prince Owain has taken the throne with violence and he will no doubt try to place the blame elsewhere. I would get as far away from here as possible. Find yourselves an alibi. And whatever you tell people, you are not the circus that entertained the royal family.”
With that, he tucked the key back into his shirt. He turned back to Invy. He was the only one he really knew here other than a couple cowering nobles and they were not in any state to answer him properly.
"How long have we been traveling? I need to go back. I need to..." His head swam again and he slowly had to lower himself onto a large rock next to the creek. He put his face in his hand, trying to get the world to stop spinning.
By all accounts, he was fine. A little banged up, sure, but [i fine]. So why wasn't the world catching up with him? He looked up and watched the trees sway just a little too much in the afternoon light. Then he had to look back down for fear of passing out. He swallowed and looked back up at Invy, waiting on his answer and completely oblivious to just how not-travel-ready he looked.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The invisible man watched the soldier shed his metal layers, the last reminder of the kingdom he once served. He vaguely recalled the burning smell amongst all the carnage. Searing away the crest of a noble family. Selfish. The outcome of a jealous heir dragging everyone down around him.
The knight washed away the blood, halting any chance of infection. Invy watched it flow downstream near his feet in strings of red. His favorite color. Or... it used to be.
Rhys then spoke, first to himself then loud enough for everyone to hear. The dead king... a spoiled prince to be wed... a resentful brother. All things the Scarga Circus didn’t care about and Crow- oh he knew it. Atop his perch, the black feathers ruffled in annoyance but let the man speak till he was through.
Invy stood, tightening the blanket around his waist and moved closer to Rhys, looking upon the tired and dazed man. He felt a different emotion spark within him this time almost hating the man’s loyalty to a fault. “As much as I would love to see you make a fool of yourself trying to get back, you should probably rest. We’ve been traveling for hours. On foot, it would take you twice as long, no doubt.”
He sighed. “We will find a way to get you back, if that is what you so wish. You may have to rough it with us but these people...” He glanced behind him. “They’re good. They’re family.”
“Come,” Invy touched his sleeve lightly to signal his whereabouts. “Let’s find you a place to rest.”
Giving the performer something else to focus on seemed to distract him from his grief if only temporarily. The circus was lively despite the circumstances, setting up tents and tables, prepping an area for food and drink. Crow took the opportunity to flutter down beside them, his face twisted just short of spite.
“Captain Rhys, isn’t it?” he asked, keeping his voice even. Invy tensed slightly, narrowing his gaze and wishing he had a pair of gloves to convey his caution to the leader. “I appreciate your enthusiasm to keep our stories in check but we’ve been around [i all] the enchanted forests a time or two. I do advise that any further announcements to my Circus get run by me. Savvy? I don’t give a fuck who you are.”
“Crow,” Invy snapped. “Let him be.”
The bird man waved his hand in dismissal. “You and I need to talk as well. Find me tonight before I get too drunk to fucking care anymore.”
The invisible man scowled, pulling the taller man away from the grumpy old bird. That prissy flock of feathers. “Don’t mind him. He’s obviously in a sour mood.” For a damn good reason.
The storage trunks, though haphazardly stacked, were arranged by rank, easily finding his among all the wild colors. His hand brushed against a violet trunk, lingering in thought before pulling his down and dragging it to a pitched faded yellow tent. The minor crew had been quick with their duties.
“These are my quarters,” he said, slamming the trunk down. “I’ll have someone bring in another cot for you but for now you can use mine to sleep.” Invy didn’t think he could sleep anyway. “Crow will decide if we have enough resources to get you your own tent but you’re welcome to use anything here till then including the trunk of garments.” Though with broad shoulders and a physique of a warrior, he was sure the offer was lost on him.
The freak unlocked the trunk and dipped his hands in for an airy cotton shirt, trousers and gloves. He felt better back in his colorful, clean clothes. Safe. He took a deep breath, building his confidence to ask the stranger in his home questions. “Why the hell do you want to go back so bad? You’re free despite how it was done. You could be anyone now.” And he envied that. He was completely normal with exceptional skills.]]
[size14 Invy’s soft voice found him and Rhys lifted his head from his hand. It was clear from the sound of his voice alone that he loved his travel companions. If Rhys didn’t need to get back to the castle, he might have been willing to give them a shot. He shook his head and stood, pulling his wet hair away from his face and back into a leather strap. He was just about to say as much when he felt Invy take his sleeve and offer a place to rest. He hated how good more rest sounded. He felt like he had been sleeping for eternity already.
The hand on his arm was temptation enough to pull him away, but their plans were interrupted by the crow man landing in front of them looking none to happy.
“Captain no longer,” Rhys reminded him sourly upon being addressed, sensing this was not about to be a pleasant conversation, so he might as well air his grievances now. Rhys wasn’t sure [i why] he was up in arms over him addressing the camp without his consent or why he was so hostile towards receiving any bit of advice, needed or not. All he knew is that if he had the energy, he might have argued. He might have caused an even bigger scene.
This was not the first time Rhys had seen the tragedies of war. It was in his very nature to make sure everyone knew how to keep moving forward. What did this circus know other than how to put on a show? Had they ever seen so much blood spilled? Did they not care that their king was dead?
It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps not. Perhaps it mattered very little to them who sat on the throne. Well it would. When the enchanted forests they loved so much started to burn and no one had any more time for their little shows… they would come to understand the importance of a good king.
Rhys stared at the winged man, fury in his eyes, but too tired to stoop any lower than that. Invy scolded him and then Rhys was being pulled away again. All he could do was follow.
Trunks floated about, dragged, and he found himself in an old yellow tent. Invy was offering him his cot and he shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, but thank you,” Rhys replied, the manners of a knight returning. Instead, he allowed himself one of the couple of pillows on said cot and lowered himself down to the ground, watching as the ghost of a man dressed himself from the corner of his eye.
Then, as if the clothing gave Invy all the confidence in the world, Rhys was facing down questions he hadn’t been prepared for. He sat up, frowning. His head spun from the swiftness of the motion and he gripped it for a moment, waiting for the world to catch up.
“Free?” Rhys scoffed, louder than he intended. “You think it’s freedom to watch the only people who ever saw your worth die in your arms? You think it’s freedom to simply let the man who did it sit on a throne he stole from them?” Rhys tossed the pillow back onto the cot. “King Erimmon saved me and I owed him my life. I failed to deliver. That is not freedom.” With that, rocked forward and onto his feet, pushing his way out of the tent with a force that made the flaps of the fabric slap against each other.
He let his feet carry him through the woods, far enough away from camp that he felt a sense of privacy. [i You could be anyone now.] But he [i had] been someone. He had been a soldier. A captain. A friend. He thought Mikael and the all the years they had known each other. He wasn’t sure how to be Rhys without him. He sunk to his knees, forgetting himself. For the first time, the tears flowed. And he realized he was angry at Mikael. Why had he not listened to him? And he was sorry. How could he have let him die?
When all his tears were spent, Rhys stood up again. He noticed that the world did not shift under his feet. His head did not throb so much. He felt a burden had been lifted.
When he returned to the yellow tent, he was ready to try again. “Invy?” he asked. “I’m going to stay. For now. And I hope you can forgive me for my outburst. I swear it was quite uncharacteristic of me.” He paused a moment. Glanced up at the ceiling. “Would your… Crow? Want to have a memorial service?”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The reaction from the older knight utterly baffled him. Rhys made it sound like working for a merciful King was the greatest honor anyone could be bestowed. As far as he was concerned, Knights were contractually obligated to stay with a kingdom till their last breath. Maybe Rhys was so far up their ass that he actually thought of them as family instead of tyrants. Of course [i his] King was the greatest thing since sliced bread, saving his life and all, but what has any [i King] done for anyone else? No King had ever ruled the freedom’s of the Scarga Circus. Not then and certainly not now.
“[i That is not freedom,]” Invy mocked once the behemoth of a man left him to his own devices. “To hell with you to know what freedom is.” He angrily retrieved a hat and spare mask from the trunk, leaving the tent behind to get this impending conversation over with. Trying his best to keep his temper at bay, the freak barged through the flaps of Crow’s tent and not to the leader's amusement.
“Oh, now you have something to say?” Crow muttered, looking over a yellow parchment. Invy kicked aside ink feathers as he approached, noting how much Crow was shedding. Always a bad sign.
“Upon your request, [i sir],” Invy answered venomously.
Crow stood up so fast, Invy nearly jumped out of his skin. The leader’s face was twisted, angry. “Where the hell did you go?” he spat. “They [i needed] you.”
Invy took a step back. “I tried-”
“You coward! Amy and Anya, Jasmine, Alexander!” Crow shoved the papers off his desk, feathers flying in every which way. “They fucking killed a child! [i A child!]” His voice cracked on the last syllable and his chest quivered.
The invisible man held his breath, letting an awkward silence pass between them as he controlled the grief boiling up. He had to be the strong one. “Will,” he started, using his given name instead of the stage name. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry... but I tried.”
Crow crumpled back onto his seat, letting all his emotion escape in awful sobs. “It was all my fault. I should have listened to you.”
Invy rubbed the back of his neck before crossing the short space to embrace his adopted brother at a loss of how to respond...
To say the least, the invisible man felt no pull to join the rest of the others in a grieving gathering around a campfire. The one he wanted to talk to was Jasmine and she was laying in a pool of blood a hundred miles away. He kept imagining her lifeless... at his feet seeping through his shoes...
He hadn’t seen the knight for nearly an hour but the minutes seemed to drag like nails in his brain. Three... they had lost three performers. The conjoined twins, Alexander- He stifled a hiccup of emotion recalling just yesterday that the little boy had been in his bed, hiding from a nightmare. Fucking bastard of a prince.
Rhys reentering the tent startled him greatly, pushing aside the cheap lager he’d been babysitting with a huff of mild embarrassment. He really had to get used to that brutish force of man.
Invy titled head in Rhy’s direction, listening to others' plan to stay and small apology. It really didn’t matter in the retrospect of things. Everyone lost something last night.
The invisible man gestured for Rhys to join him on the cot. “Don’t be shy. I don’t bite,” he said softly, pulling off his ridiculous circus hat. There was no joy, no effort to put on a front for the stranger. They were beyond that.
“Crow... would love a memorial service.” He passed the knight his own mug, pouring the lager from a jug nearby.
“We’ve never had to bury young actors before,” he continued, setting the jug aside. “I’ve only experienced one death since I’ve been here and we’ve had a few close calls... but not like this.” A glove rubbed the back side of his neck, grateful to finally be feeling a slight buzz. “A memorial would be nice... and after that.” Invy shrugged. “Who knows? You might get your own act.” [i Though what the hell that would be I couldn’t say.]]]
[size14 When he returned, Invy seemed calmer, but no less bleak. He seemed to have been nursing something strong from a mug. Perhaps that had something to do with it. At first, his invisible companion didn’t say anything. Then he gestured to the empty space beside him on the cot and Rhys decided it would be better to make friends than keep this distance between them.
He crossed the tent in a broad step or two and sat down beside Invy, the cot creaking under his weight. “No, but you do pull hair,” Rhys reminded him, the hint of the man he had been before the attack coming back for just a moment before he let out a long sigh. He eyed the lager.
As if reading his mind, Invy handed the mug over. Rhys dwarfed it in his massive hand. He took a sip and wiped his beard as he listened to Invy’s next words. He slowly nodded, letting him know that he was listening, but his eyes were cast at the floor. There was nothing he could tell the man that would make the deaths of his friends any easier, so he simply let him speak.
Then he let a short, humorless laugh escape him. “Sure,” he said, “I will earn my keep. But I’m not wearing tights.” It was a poor attempt at lightening the mood. [i The former Captain of the Kingsguard performing in a traveling circus? Doing what?] What would they think of next?
Rhys drained his mug and set it aside on a small table. It hadn’t been enough to affect him in any way and frankly all he wanted to do was get blackout drunk, but he wasn’t about to ask Invy for more.
“I will run this memorial idea past Crow tomorrow,” he said, turning to face Invy’s mask. “And I will play by his rules. For now. But a handful of my people are still here and they will look to me. They are nobles and they will not respond well to demands from… commoners.” They both knew that wasn’t the word he meant, but Rhys had no qualms about the company they kept and therefore would not insult them. “But I won’t have them taking advantage of your hospitality, either. I can get them to work. And if they wish to leave, then they can, but I have no idea where they will go.”
Rhys reached for Invy’s massive hat and gently placed it back on the approximation of his invisible companion’s head. “Don’t lose your spark, Invy. You’re the closest thing I have to a friend right now and I’m going to need you, yet. I am completely out of my depth here.”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Invy smirked at Rhys’ attempt for humor, taking a long drink of the warm lager. “Wouldn’t dream of-” He paused, actually considering if he would like to see that man in tights but shook his head.
“Commoners,” he repeated with a chuckle. “Yeah, I- [i we] understand.” In Invy’s own biased nature however, he didn’t really care for royals but... the last thing he wanted their guests to feel was alienation. Life was fucking hard enough without cursed people shunning other’s away in their shruwed exclusivity. They knew they were no better than the cockroaches beneath their own feet.
Invy couldn’t help a smile, looking up at Rhys underneath the wide hat. The knight was right, of course. Jasmine nor Alexander would want him to feel this way. They wouldn’t want him to be... stuck again. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t drink himself into oblivion tonight with an unexpected ‘friend’, as Rhys called it.
The invisible man shoved the jug between them, refilling both their mugs heartily. “Then let's start this friendship by not remembering tonight at all.”
He was in the small empty room again. A singular spot light illuminating where he sat, casting wicked shadows in every corner. There was the music box, reminding him once more of a place where he couldn’t hide but where he was never seen. [i “Let me see you.”]
Then his nightmare took a different turn. A shift in the scene where blood stained his shoes and a knight’s armor lay at his feet. [i “Weak, weak, weak!”] In the corner of the room, Rhys stood with his back turned to him. Invy reached out a hand and called out for his friend but when the man turned, his gray eyes saw nothing. Panic filled Invy’s chest as he stood, shouting hysterically... but Rhys made no reaction. He still saw nothing.
Invy shot up, grasping his throat as if he’d really been shouting himself hoarse. He caught his breath and glanced around to assure himself that he was still in the same tent with familiar possessions.
Groaning, the invisible man pushed himself out of bed, stooping over his trunk for a fresh set of clothes and mask as he simmered. [i Love how I’m dreaming of the approval of someone I just met. Fucking fantistic.] He rinsed with a shallow bowl and made himself presentable before emerging into the mist of a cool morning. The weather was always different in the enchanted forest, almost like it had an ecosystem of its own controlled by some nymph or witch.
Invy rubbed his hands together, looking down the path at the tent built just yesterday for the behemoth man. Crow had given in to presenting the knight with his own personal quarters shortly after the very respectful memorial Rhys generously put together. Crow had been in tears that whole evening but would never give Rhys the satisfaction of knowing so.
The last few days were difficult to say the least. No one was motivated. No one wanted to travel and no one wanted to act. But as their fearless leader said many times before, the show must go on! [i With or without them...]
Crow had left Invy in charge of scavenging for the day, leaving room for the invisible man to explore just far enough away from Scarga. Of course, he would take Rhys with him- no doubt about it. He wasn’t about to scoff at all the... muscle.
The performer fetched a serving of bread and cup of beans and by the time he had returned, Rhys had emerged. The cursed man almost didn’t announce himself but he thought of Jasmine and what she might have said. Something along the lines of [i be yourself, you silly man.] He practiced a grin before skipping up to the silver touched Rhys and handed him his breakfast.
“Top of the morning.” Invy tugged the pony tail of the taller man. “Better eat up. You belong to [i me] today and we have a long trek ahead.” He wrapped his shawl-like coat around tighter, looking back at the table where the inhabitants of the circus were lining up for their meal. “We have a ration shortage since we’ve taken in a few more mouths.”
Invy looked back to the knight and smirked. “I don’t suppose you have any negotiating skills underneath all that wild hair.” ]]
[size14 As it turned out, Rhys would get his wish after all. He managed to get so drunk that the throbbing heat of his scars ebbed away and the pain in his heart dulled until there was nothing left but the taste of alcohol and good company. And Invy did make for good company. Rhys didn’t remember much of that night, but what he did remember was the warmth of a growing friendship in the midst of hell. And the twisting and turning of Invy in the morning as he dreamed of something awful.
Rhys took advantage of Invy’s hospitality for only a few nights. The invisible man helped mediate the conversation about the memorial with Crow and it only took another day or two to plan. As if by magic, a new tent popped up the next day. Green canvas, nothing fancy, but large enough to suit a man his size. Inside was a cot and a trunk for his personal belongings as if he had anything to store inside. It was just another reminder that he might be with this Scarga Circus for some time. He might have turned it down, knowing that this only solidified his presence, but he didn’t want to intrude on Invy’s privacy any more than he already had. So he’d been sleeping there ever since. Other than that, Rhys and Invy seemed almost as connected at the hip as the Jewel Sisters had been.
Rhys examined his face in a small mirror, knowing it was only a matter of time before he heard Invy’s wake-up call. He sat on his cot and tried not to itch the healing scars over his eye. He had done his best not to think about Owain or his strange knight over the past week, but it had been a difficult task since he was wearing the proof of their existence on his face. The proof of Mikael’s death. It was healing well, though, no sign of infection, and for that he was grateful.
He heaved a sigh and put the mirror face down, then stood up, buckled his sword belt, and ducked out of his tent. He glanced out over those just waking up. The nobles who had never had to rise before noon in their life were having a hard time of it, but there was washing to be done. When Rhys had discovered that Renard had survived and his sister hadn’t, he knew he was going to be one of the more difficult of the bunch to pull their weight. He was glad to see him up and moving this morning.
Rhys realized he had been zoning out when a plate entered his peripheral. He looked down, instinctively taking it. As he did, he heard the familiar voice and felt a small tug on his hair. What had once been a secret hello in a room full of people seemed to have turned into an inside joke: Invy’s own way of telling Rhys he was there. Rhys couldn’t help the smile from tugging at the corners of his lips.
“Good morning,” Rhys replied, taking a bite of the food. He almost had to stop chewing at Invy’s next choice of words. Sometimes he wondered if he [i knew] what he was doing or, more shockingly, if he was oblivious to it. He turned to Invy listening to him talk and watching the mask bob around as he gestured.
This wasn’t the first time that Rhys wondered what Invy looked like. What color was his hair? His eyes? The shape of his nose couldn’t be as sharp as the beak on half of his masks. Sometimes he had an overwhelming urge to reach out and touch Invy and make sure that he was really there and not a ghost or a figment of his imagination that he conjured up to help him get through all this. Would he let him touch his face, just to “see” him? Did Invy even know what he looked like? What was it he spent all night thrashing around dreaming of?
“Well, if I’m yours, then I surely can’t refuse. I’m at your disposal,” Rhys heard himself say before Invy continued. “Negotiating? Me?” Rhys almost laughed. “I’m really good at standing there and looking intimidating if that helps anything. Why? What do you have planned for me?” He scooped the rest of his meal into his mouth and set the plate aside.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The Invisible Man wasn’t surprised that Rhys agreed to their unconventional outing. They had, in the last few days, grown pretty acquainted with each other. Whether that was from the grief of losing their closest friend or the simple fact that misery likes company. Both of them were oozing enough of it, so it was comforting to know that the knight valued him as much as he did the other.
“Well, looking big and mean isn’t going to do much when you’re standing next to someone like me.” Invy nodded for Rhys to follow him away from the other residents of Scarga. The grounds became more crowded the later the morning continued and Crow had plans for moving within the next day or so. He didn’t want to get in the way of that.
“Look I can wear normal clothes all I want but it doesn’t change the fact that this lovable act doesn’t have a face. Little unnerving to some.” He shrugged. As they headed towards the stables, they passed by a dirty laden Slippery Fingers who gave Invy a thumbs up. “Looks like our rides are ready. Slippy never slacks when he’s given a job but we did have to keep him away from the local towns. Very handsy, in more ways than one.”
The stables were settled beside a worn trail weaving through the east enchanted forests. The mist hung low enough that it gave the surrounding trees an ominous look that made Invy a little nervous. He turned back to Rhys with his plate of beans. “We’ll be riding on horseback,” he gestured to two stallions dressed with leather. “To the nearest village or settlement to obtain rations, medicine and warmth- anything we can carry on Becky and Sable. I’m usually the one who does this by myself and I’ve come to learn that soldiers don’t usually spend copious amounts of time in the forest so we have no need to worry about that.
“However,” he held up a single gloved finger. “We avoid any singular homes, farm homes and circular formations. The women with candy cottages have terrible hospitality.” He snapped his fingers. “Dwarves. I suggest we avoid them too. They don’t like me any more than humans.”
The invisible man began to pace slowly, occupied by thought. “Since this is the first outworldly task we’ve ever done together, I have to ask a couple of questions so this doesn’t come up at an awkward time. Have you tracked or navigated in the enchanted forest and how do you feel about theft?” Invy put a finger to his chin. ]]
[size14 Rhys stood up and followed after his invisible friend. A bark of laughter escaped him. “We do make quite the pair, don’t we?” They weaved through the camp together, avoiding people moving about with breakfast, boxes, and carts. Everyone was preparing to move along soon and Rhys, while hating to move further away from the castle, couldn’t help but think it a good idea. He knew whatever cowards remained of the kingsguard would probably not venture into the enchanted forest, he didn’t want to risk Invy or his people being found out here. Not after all they had done to help out at the castle.
Invy gave Rhys an informal introduction to Slippery Fingers. Rhys nodded at the man who wiggled his fingers in his direction. He had been here for a week and Rhys still had yet to have more than a passing conversation with any of the acts other than Invy. He had a sneaking suspicion that his loyalty was still being tested and Crow didn’t want him engaging with too many of his people. Though sometimes Rhys got the feeling that Crow wasn’t the only one pulling the strings around Scarga.
Rhys listened to Invy explain their goal for the day as he took one of the horse's reins. Was it Becky or Sable? Rhys had to admire the fact that Invy had set out into the forest alone. It was as unpredictable as its inhabitants, but then again, Rhys knew very little of it. So he listened intently to the rules even if he wasn’t quite sure if Invy was pulling his leg about the candy cottages and dwarves. He wondered if he’d done anything to the dwarves to make them hate him or if they just hated everyone in general. In the enchanted forest, he supposed anything was possible.
“You’re the boss,” Rhys said, watching Invy start to pace in front of the horses. The stallion’s heads followed him to and fro before losing interest and dropping to the grass below. “Only a time or two,” Rhys confided. “And never this deep.”
He could remember the hunting trip and Mikael’s prized boar running into the forest. They followed after, too young and brave to care, only to find the boar gutted by something far larger. Mikael wanted to hunt the beast. Rhys had to talk sense into him. It wasn’t worth dying over.
“As for theft,” Rhys said and glanced down at his belt. He had not been wearing his coin purse when Crow pulled him from the castle. Even if he had been, he doubted the people here used coin as currency out here and Scarga didn’t have much to trade with. “As long as no one gets hurt and we leave them with enough to get by, then I see no issue with it,” he finally said.
He knew it was not the expected response from a seasoned knight, but he had never been able to shake his childhood. He knew what it was like to starve. He avoided Invy’s gaze for a moment and mounted his horse, making it look like the easiest thing in the world.
“What’s this normally look like? Do you try to barter or just go in invisible and take stuff?” Rhys asked, a small smile forming on his lips as he imagined Invy chasing after a gaggle of chickens in some unsuspecting witch’s backyard. “Wait- you’re not bringing me along to be a [i distraction] are you?” he asked, mocking offense. His grin stayed in place as he clicked at the horse and led it out of camp the most direct route to avoid walking through all the traffic. He couldn’t help but wonder about his warhorse, Athelstan. Was he still in the stables? Or was someone else using him? The thought made Rhys angrier than it should have, but he had reared the mustang himself and their bond was strong. He was just another reason to go back to the castle. To go back home.
Rhys looked over his shoulder, waiting for Invy to join him. It came back to him what Invy had asked that first night, and not for the first time.
[i Why the hell do you want to go back so bad? You’re free despite how it was done. You could be anyone now.]
It was only now, as he watched Invy leave the confines of camp to join him, that he realized it might not have been so much to do with him, after all.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost He didn’t know why but Invy assumed that a knight like Rhys would have been familiar with the basics of hunting. He was never good with a weapon, much less keeping himself from getting lost in a wood that always looked the same. Perception might have been a speciality of his but he was one hundred percent directionally challenged.
The performer chuckled to himself, taking the reins of the horse Rhys left behind. Sable was his favorite. He pulled the creature away from the tents and out onto the trail, watching as the other man straddled his ride with years of expertise. Invy still struggled despite his experience with scouting but he had always chawked that up to stature. [i I mean, look at the man. He could probably ride dragons if he wanted to.] Now there’s a thought. He wondered if Rhys knew how much dragon fights paid out. It may spark an interest with Crow.
As with many things the behemoth said, it surprised Invy that Rhys wasn’t against even petty crime. Thoughts like that didn’t come from the mouth of a royal. He was something different. Someone humble enough to understand the desperation of the poor but loyal enough to stay with a family that, as Rhys said it, ‘saved his life’. Anyone could save a life. It’s how that debt is repaid that made him nervous.
[i It’s a gift,] he recalled someone saying. [i They let you live. That is a gift to be grateful for.] Somehow he couldn’t bring a clear image of their face in his mind. Just a black figure.
Rhys’ questions brought him back to the present moment, removing a satchel from one of the many saddle pockets. “Rhys my dear, I don’t rule out any opportunities and [i how] I steal [i or] barter is strictly my secret.” Though he would have winked if he could.
He clicked at the horse to follow the knight's lead out towards the main road. It tickled him that Rhys thought they were going a normal way but he let the other tread as he pleased till they were just far enough away from Scarga. He looked back once at the cluster of small tents, as he always did on a scouting task, and said a silent goodbye. Tomorrow was never promised.
“You might want to stop. We’re not heading down that way.” The invisible man called out, pulling on the reins to get Sable to halt. He tugged on the string of satchel pulling out a handful of glowing blue rocks. “I am a terrible navigator. These are how I mark my path to find my way back.”
Invy nodded towards the misty tangle of trees. He flicked a pebble ahead with his thumb, the stone landing a few feet ahead. Big enough to catch it if you were looking for it, small enough to blend with the foliage. “Madam York bought these off a hag a while ago. Were Vain lost a fang but I think it was a valuable trade and- don’t worry. Becky is familiar with our routine.” He gestured to Rhys' horse.
This time Invy took the lead, weaving Sable through the foliage and dropping a pebble every few yards. “So,” he said after a few silent minutes. “Were you an orphan before the blessings of the kingdom took you under their wing?” He met gazes with Rhys. “Or did you always want to be a Knight and Captain of thousands of men?”]]
[size14 Rhys smirked, looking off into the trees. Invy’s playful banter never failed to amuse him. He supposed he would simply have to wait and see how Invy might handle their upcoming adventure together. Tactics in battle were one of Rhys’s strengths. Tactics in the middle of an enchanted forest with the possibility of meeting creatures he had never run into before… That was not so comforting.
Rhys turned in the saddle to watch Invy as he produced glowing rocks from his satchel. Rhys trusted his own sense of direction, but this was probably for the best in the forest. He had heard tales of its dark magic turning travelers around and making them so lost they never found their way out again. Stories to frighten children with, he was sure, but all the same. He would not refuse the aid.
He watched the rock roll when Invy threw it and picked up on a name he had only heard a handful of times since he had been rescued by the troupe: Madam York. Rhys was quiet through all of Invy’s explanation and let him take the lead now so that he could toss his pebbles wherever he so pleased.
Only after a few moments of silence, Rhys felt like he should say something and, thinking of this Madam York woman, he decided to ask about her. She was quite the enigma considering he had yet to lay eyes on the woman.
“So-” he started at the same time Invy did. Rhys let out a low, short chuckle before gesturing and saying, “you first.” He had been expecting some polite travel conversation and while Rhys did not keep his background a secret, he didn’t expect it to be the topic of discussion. His brows rose and he looked over at Invy. He had a vague feeling Invy was meeting his gaze.
Rhys thought about his answer. So often when they spoke they kept things light. He was worried answering earnestly might break some kind of spell he had been able to maintain since that first night in camp after apologizing for his outburst. Yet Rhys also felt like if he was going to be staying here for an extended period of time, it couldn’t always be quick wit and quips.
“Actually,” Rhys said slowly, looking forward and into the trees as their mounts walked on. “A bit of both, I suppose. I definitely didn’t believe I would be where I am today, but… My mother died having me and my father was killed when I was seven. I decided then and there that I would avenge my father and once I had I would dedicate myself to making the streets of the city safer.” Rhys spoke with a subtle amusement shining in his eyes and a fondness for his childhood self, as if he were someone else entirely. “I swore my service to one of the city guard if he would only teach me how to use a sword. He liked the sound of a squire, so he took the deal. It wasn’t until a few years later when I learned that my father was killed over a gambling debt. He’d been swindling half the street, slept with several men’s wives, and was keeping a ledger planning his escape out of the city. And I wasn’t even mentioned.” He let out a sharp laugh. “I had spent years wanting to avenge a man who didn’t think twice about me. The most he’d ever given me was my last name.
“The guard didn’t care much for me, either. I was too eager in my learning and not eager enough in my service, so he let me go and it was back to the gutters for me to dig up food where I could. I was near on starving when I stopped a foolish noble boy who adventured into the slums from getting mugged. When the guards shows up they took me into custody. I thought I had done something wrong until they were marching me though the palace and I had a personal audience with the king. Turns out that noble boy was Prince Mikael and he had escaped his guard’s watchful eye to go explore his city.
“Thus started my real training. I let go of the past, my father, our family name. One more week in the gutters and I would have been dead. A sword can only save your life from so much. You cannot stab starvation. Which is why I suppose I am eager to help you now, even if I might not be the best man you could have chosen for the job.”
Rhys hadn’t spoken so much in some time and he cleared his throat. He glanced over at Invy.
“So long as we’re playing twenty questions,” he said, eager to take the focus off of himself again. “Have you always been with the Scarga Circus?”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Invy listened carefully, flicking pebbles absentmindedly as Rhys told a tale of how a young poor boy became a knight. A very rare rags to riches kind of story that didn’t even involve witchcraft or sacrifices. He could imagine Crow rolling his eyes that such a pure upbringing even still existed in these dire times, and that made him smile.
The invisible man dared not interrupt such a personal story and actually admired just how similar Rhys was to some of the members of his family. Maybe once he was comfortable, he would branch out from just talking exclusively to Invy. Though... he wasn’t sure if he liked that idea either.
“I’m sorry to hear about your parents but from the sounds of it, everything seemed to work in your favor. Folks like your father just bring down everyone around them.” He smiled softly, adjusting his hat to stay put as it brushed against a few low hanging branches. “From the way you speak of him, this Prince Mikael was a swell gentleman.” [i But of course, he didn’t need me to tell him that.]
The performer twisted in his seat to gesture animatedly. “You should tell that story to Crow someday. I love to see that bird flustered over the most foolish of things. On that, if you ever find the time in your ever so busy schedule, perhaps teach this friend a few tricks?” He tossed another pebble. “And never sell yourself short Rhys. Even our token swordsman at the circus wouldn’t lift metal to another person. Let alone anyone there acknowledge their fathers.”
Invy paused briefly to listen to the forest, confirming that they were still alone before answering Rhys follow up question to himself. “About five or six years now I’ve been with Scarga. Me and Crow really hit it off when he caught me stealing mead while they were performing a show. It was a very silly argument that ended up with us drinking the evening away. The following morning Crow introduced me to York who read my colors and offered me a home.”
He smiled, imagining the teenage version of himself committing such petty crime only to be offered the greatest gift he could ask for. “I was more of a nomad prior to Scarga. Stealing here, sleeping there. Nothing really interesting in comparison to your story to be honest.” Maybe he shouldn’t have brought up the past as an ice breaker conversational piece. Childhood was a bit of a sore spot.
Invy pulled the reins on his horse as a rooftop came into view. The fog had lifted the further they went and through the treetop peaks, a ray of sun shone through, illuminating the settlement of a small town. “We’re in luck,” Invy spoke excitedly, sliding off Sable and wrapping the leather straps to a nearby tree.
He pulled his hat and mask off to get a closer but discrete look at the village just beyond a few trees. The villagers built their home in a clearing, offering just enough space for all the essentials including a tavern and church. All were humans.
“Couldn’t ask for a better first outing.” Invy placed the hat and mask back in place. “So, since I’m so nimble and you stomp around like you have stones for shoes, I’ll secure a few things and you be the distraction.” He smirked, hoping the joke wasn’t lost on the silver tipped giant.]]
[size14 When it was time for Invy to tell his own story, Rhys returned the attentive ear he had been given moments earlier. He had assumed that Invy had been with the circus for most of his life, so he was rather shocked to hear how little time it had actually been. He couldn’t stop himself from wondering what he had been doing before. How did an invisible man get by without the cover of a circus act to call his own? And not for the first time, he wondered just how old Invy was. It wasn’t as if he could read his age on his face. His voice didn’t have the weariness that came with age, but then again, neither did Mikael’s and he was only a couple years younger than Rhys.
Invy continued. There was that name again- York- and [i reading colors?] Rhys knew he was an outsider, but he was feeling it more and more with each passing sentence out of Invy’s mouth. He kept his urge to ask clarifying questions to himself since Invy had been such a great listener before.
Eventually, he let out a soft laugh. He couldn’t believe Invy thought his life before the circus must be boring to hear about. “I think you have ‘interesting’ covered by the mere fact that you’re you, Invy.”
Just as Rhys was about to ask some of those questions he had set aside, Invy slowed and they faced the small village ahead. Rhys was starting to think that he was fated to never know anything about Scarga. He dismounted with his friend.
“Who in their right mind would live out here?” Rhys couldn’t help but whisper to himself as they eyed the town. Invy formulated a plan and Rhys’s mouth dropped open. “I do not [i stomp],” he said, brows furrowing. He took a step and as if to betray him, a branch cracked under his large boot. He stopped and gritted his teeth, slowly turning towards Invy. “Alright… Let’s go with your idea. But what the hell am I supposed to do? Just walk into town and cause a scene? I’d have to be [i drunk] before I’d entertain that idea.” There was a long pause as he looked from the town and back over to Invy. He shook his head. “No…” He [i had] planned to put the idea to rest.
But in ten minutes, Rhys, former Captain of the Kingsguard, was stumbling into a small village in an enchanted forest well before noon pretending to be drunk out of his mind. He slurred his words, he knocked things over, and the whole town was focused on the inebriated stranger. The worst part? Rhys was [i good] at it. Every time the townspeople tried to talk to him and ask him where he came from he would talk over them, asking for more ale. When they tried to shepherd him away somewhere he would let his boots carry him the opposite direction. And wherever he saw Invy’s subtle movements, he kept the people looking his way. It was like a circus act all on its own and Rhys knew he was going to get shit for this later.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Invy’s smile grew as he watched the man become flustered with a single comment. Of course a little teasing was always good fun. “Drunk?” The invisible man perked up at the idea, putting a finger to his chin in thought and utterly loved his formulating day dream. Even though it was Rhys' plan, the giant still tried to sidetrack the conversation in a different direction but Invy wouldn’t let it go. No, this was happening.
And ten minutes later, Invy was behind the nearest cottage, watching Rhys make a total fool of himself pretending to be a drunk in the middle of the street... and he was very convincing. The performer laughed to himself, wondering if this was how he truly was a little tipsy. He couldn’t really recall their first night together but then it was entirely cloaked in grief. Not the type of evening to be silly.
The Invisible Man took advantage of the distracted townsfolk and began rummaging one by one, hopping through open windows and creaking through left open doors. He managed to procure blankets, medicines, fresh produce and jarred jams, dropping them in a discrete location just outside the village near the tied horses. Gauged that they had a small bit of room left, he took the chance of one last home towards the end near the church.
Crow had once opted he’d steal from a church from time to time but it never felt right. While it often held valuable items, he was sure his ancestors would turn in their graves at the very thought.
The last home shocked him, stopping him only briefly through the window. This room held pixies. Lots of them. All in little cages, boney things weeping and moaning. This must have been how the town made their living in the middle of the enchanted forest. Capturing and selling living creatures. A sadness gripped his chest, immediately sparking Invy into action unlatching and untying the cages scattered in almost every inch of the room.
Pixies were not generally friendly but slowly the collective recognised the invisible miracle and made their escape through the open window with small “thank you”s. Invy licked his lips as his heartbeat quickened, aware that he may have had only minutes before the guardsman heard the tiny squeaks and saw glowing dots in the air.
There was a rapping at the bedroom door as Invy quickened his pace, unlatching the last dozen with seconds left. He stooped, grabbing a bag full of something heavy and jumped through the window, pressing his body against the warm brick of the outside walls.
Taking great care to be as silent as possible while ignoring the sounds over his shoulder of a disjointed scuffle, he made his way up the ridge and back to the horses. He caught his breath as he waited for Rhys to join him, taking a quick peek into the heavy sack... filled with dust.
Excitedly he tied it back together, hurrying now to load the horses as fast as possible to make their getaway. Upon seeing the knight’s gruffy hair a few minutes later, he sighed with obvious relief. “You were brilliant, my friend.” He pulled on his trousers and stepped in his shoes. “You’re so good at acting, in fact, Crow might just give you a part in the show.” He laughed.
“Sorry about that last bit there, however. I couldn’t stand to see them in those cages.”]]
[size14 While Rhys had always aspired to be good and he was certainly upstanding in his role as a knight, he had not always been the latter. His fondness for drink far outweighed his desire to be courtley which is why when he became Captain he only allowed himself to drink with Mikael. The memories (what he [i could] remember) were easy to pull, and he let himself fall into the persona of a younger version of himself with far too much confidence. It was a suit he wanted to take off as soon as possible. And it was a suit he was forced to wear a little bit longer when he saw the glowing lights floating- no [i flying]- into the open air.
Rhys had never seen a pixie before in real life, but he could only assume that’s what the creatures were. His education was basic. He was a soldier after all. But he had read a book or two out of curiosity on the subjects they didn’t teach him. And in the castle and its city walls, you didn’t see a lot of magical beings.
When the last one was out of sight, Rhys decided it was time to end the show. He pretended like it slowly dawned on him where he was and that he could now remember his way home. The townsfolk were too annoyed to care or follow him, grumbling and waving him away.
Rhys staggered into the treeline where he promptly started to walk normally again. The horses were laden down with all of Invy’s finds. It was better than he expected for a town of that size.
Invy was getting dressed. Rhys never really knew if he was allowed to watch this or not when it wasn’t part of his act, especially when his friend was talking to him. So he settled for looking at his shoes until he pulled them on, then at his mask.
Rhys shook his head with a chuckle. “Who said that was acting? Maybe I’m just really good at pretending to be sober all the time.”
He waved Invy’s next apology away. “What were they doing with them?” Rhys asked, then gestured to Invy’s last haul. “And what’s in the bag?” He was surprised to discover that he truly wanted to know. If he was going to be a part of this world, even temporarily, he wanted to invest himself fully.
Just then, a shout came from the town. Rhys didn’t need to understand it to know that someone had discovered that the pixies were gone. Then there was more, and these were clear as day. “That drunk! I don’t know how he did it, but he took the pixies!”
Rhys’s brows rose. “Oh, yes, I just somehow snuck away and shoved them in my pockets,” he grumbled. “Let’s go before they get out this far.”
Without thinking, his knightly manners kicked in. Rhys had helped many a shorter noble get onto their steeds and like a whipped dog, he knelt and folded his hands together to offer Invy a step up onto his. When he was in place, Rhys returned to his own and it was only when he was in his saddle and they were on the move that he realized what he had done. He did not bring it up.
“Do we keep going?” Rhys asked, then cleared his throat. “Or do we go back to camp? What’s a day normally look like after you’ve freed a bunch of pixies?”
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Invy produced a hearty laugh, an act that felt good since he hadn’t had this much fun in months. With everything that had happened between the two of them, it was nice to be able to ‘let his hair down’ so to speak. Maybe his life didn’t have to be one continuous circus performance...
Before Invy had a chance to answer Rhys’ questions, a shout was heard just below the ridge, calling for Rhys as if by some miracle he was about to teleport in the blink of an eye to rescue pixies. The invisible man rolled his eyes writing off the townspeople as not only ignorant but utterly stupid. [i This is why you don’t commit your life to breeding pixies.]
Invy turned, ready to jump on Sable when he nearly collided with Rhys who- for some reason- was on a knee with his hands cupped like Invy was some dainty princess. His initial reaction was to be offended but caught himself mid-thought at the possibility that this was the knight's pure chivalry showing itself.
He felt the heat rise in his cheeks and, before the pause could become awkward, stepped up on the palms of the man and straddled his horse. [i God, that was unexpected.] Grateful once more that he had no face to see, he followed Rhys back on the path lit but glowing pebbles. Soon the rock's potency would fade as the day went on.
Invy grinned, riding up beside Rhys. “No need to continue the hunt,” he spoke excitedly. “We have enough food to get us to the neighboring kingdom and since the villagers were a bunch of low grade quick coin makers, we happened to find ourselves in a very favorable predicament.” He patted the pouch where the sack was stuffed. “They were selling pixies and where there’s pixies, there’s Dust.
“Dust goes for great coin even by the ounces and we have at least two pounds. That’s enough to feed our entire lot for a couple weeks or more when we know exactly where to distribute.” That though, he would leave entirely up to Crow. “And it’s all thanks to you.” Invy tilted his head sincerely, studying the silver scruff. “I wouldn’t have been able to obtain this much on my own, let alone free forty or so pixies.”
The invisible man would make sure Rhys received the proper recognition for today's work. He was certainly becoming an asset to their small family and Invy was grateful to have a friend again...
Once they returned to the safety of the Scarga Circus, Invy instructed Were Vain and Slippery to help unload and store the items they acquired on their journey, leaving Rhys in charge to make sure nothing went missing by their kleptomaniac family member.
Invy delivered the Dust to Crow who was flabbergasted that they managed to acquire something so valuable. Giving the performer their due reward and positive affirmations, Invy returned to the knights side, tugging the hair and waving two small pouches in the air.
“Our reward and secret.” He tossed Rhys his pouch. “One of the many benefits of being the scavenger is we sometimes get to keep what we find. Pixie dust but keep it discreet. Crow doesn’t want to clean up any messes.” He dropped his own in his jacket’s inner breast pocket. “Now tell me Rhys, are you truly playing sober for my sake or are you just a natural gentleman?” Oh, he hadn’t forgotten about the kneeling bit. ]]
[size14 “Let’s just leave out the part where I played the fool for almost an hour so we could obtain it,” Rhys said in reply to Invy patting the bag at his side. It made sense. Where there would be pixies, there would be Dust. He just never actually connected the dots before, somehow. Growing up in the gutters there was hardly anything as pure as what Invy had on him now. It was diluted and sold for far too much. Rhys had never had any himself, but they said even a small dose made you feel like you were flying. All your problems disappeared for an hour or two.
It was hardly anything for the law to be worried about, but in the gutters, Rhys had seen men kill each other for even a pinch. He wondered if Invy knew what he was really holding. Or if anyone did when they weren’t stuck inside the prison of the poor sections of the castle city. He tore his eyes away from the pouch and together they followed the glowing lights back to camp.
Rhys fell into his usual job easily: supervision. It wasn’t an official job by any means, but he was already so used to it and he wasn’t about to let Slippy sneak any of the provisions away. Especially when he considered what he had had to do to obtain them.
Everything had just been delivered (securely) to their locations when Rhys felt the familiar tug on his hair. He turned to find Invy with two small pouches. He caught the one he was tossed expertly and opened it up to take a look at the shining Dust as Invy explained. He blinked a few times, closed the pouch, and looked back up at Invy whose voice had that playful tone to it once again.
Rhys chuckled lowly at his own expense. He knew what this was about. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword as it always did. It was his comfort stance. “Can’t a drunk be a bit of both?” he asked, then his free hand came up to scratch at his beard. “Fine, I’ll confess. I’m completely sober. It was just automatic. I didn’t mean to offend. Old habits die hard and all that. I know you’re capable of getting on a horse.” He paused and met Invy’s mask with his gaze. “It’s just… I think the townspeople might have been on us by the time you managed to get in the saddle.” He was not quite successful in hiding the smirk playing at his lips.
He held the pouch back out to Invy. “Here. You can keep mine,” he said, placing it in Invy’s gloved hand. He couldn’t look at him then. His hand lingered in Invy’s a moment, as if already rethinking this decision, then it pulled away.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Invy hoped that his teasing hadn’t been taken too seriously. The man [i seemed] to be acting normal but only the slightest withdrawn. Never had anybody given him back a gift, especially Dust. Of course he wasn’t offended by the horse thing. Of course he thought it was charming in a way that made him feel a little like he was being seen, even if it was just simply a knight’s old habit.
The invisible man tilted his head thoughtfully, his thumb circling along the soft pouch. There was a small awkward pause between them before Invy spoke again. “Afraid to let your guard down again, are you?” he asked softly.
He reached out, taking Rhys large hand in his and placed the pouch back in his palm. “You can keep it till you do feel safe enough or you can sell it. Either way-” His coat lifted in a shrug. “It’s not mine to have. It was your hunt too.”
Invy smiled, letting go of Rhys’ hand and immediately regretted it. It had been so long since he touched another so tenderly that it almost felt like something had been deprived in just those few seconds. He let out a nervous laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. “Wow, apologies, that was a little too personal for us.” He felt something flutter in the pit of his stomach and now he was really in the mood to change the vibe of the interaction or leave the interaction altogether.
Invy wanted to invite Rhys to lose his head in the clouds for a bit with him but thought that was too inappropriate for their current relationship. After all, they did just have a traumatic experience and obviously Rhys wasn’t ready for such a vulnerable experience so soon. Especially with someone like him, he could imagine.
“We... can grab a drink,” he offered. “I know it’s still a little early in the afternoon.” Not that time of day ever stopped him from wasting a few hours with hard liquor. “Or we can...” Invy muddled over his words, utterly distracted with his need to try and ease the conversation out of awkward territory. “Or we can split ways and you can do whatever giants do in their spare time.” He fiddled with his low hanging hat feather. What exactly were they to each other exactly? Someone to be around when they couldn’t stand the loneliness? Maybe that was just him.]]
[size14 Invy could read him like a book. And there was no hint of his usual humor when he called out the real reason for his refusal of the gift. Just a soft, simple observation. Rhys let Invy take his hand and return the pouch. It took a moment for his fingers to curl around the pouch in final, defeated acceptance.
When Invy let go, they both seemed to weigh less. “Personal” might not have been the word Rhys would have chosen to describe the moment shared between the two of them, but he wasn’t about to correct Invy in his choice of vocabulary. “Intimate” perhaps would have been better suited. Rhys, while he played the part of indifferent knight most days, was not blind. He knew that despite Invy’s usually humorous nature, he didn’t see him going around camp pulling on other people’s hair or letting his hand remain in theirs well after it was time to remove it.
Rhys had had to play this game in the barracks. A brush of a hand, a lingering look, a long laugh. The tumbles in the hay barn were sometimes more trouble than they were worth, leaving him itching and finding straw in his uniform for days. But the game was fun and he liked to play. However, the older he got and the more respect he gained, the less the other men wanted to be found rolling around with him. And when he became Captain, he certainly couldn’t entertain the idea anymore. They were his men and he had to be an example. Slowly, Rhys had forgotten what subtle flirtations even looked like.
Which is why Invy had him so perplexed. The hair pulling, the lingering about, the shy gestures… The stumbling over his words as he asked him to get a drink. Or [i not] get a drink.
Rhys watched him toy with the feather on his hat and found that he didn’t want to be alone. “C’mon,” he said, finally tucking the pouch of Dust away. “Yours or mine for that drink?” he asked, feeling his instinct to take charge when others were fumbling take over.
Invy’s tent was closer, and he had the drink, so Rhys followed him inside. He promised himself he wouldn’t drink too much. He never should have allowed himself so much that first night. Invy had been right about him not wanting to let his guard down. He had been foolish to do so so soon after battle and so close to the castle. But there was nothing wrong with taking the edge off with a friend.
[i A friend.]
He sat on a low stool across from Invy’s cot, taking his first sip. He looked rather ridiculous with his legs far too long for the seat, but he did not complain.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” Rhys told his mug after a long, awkward silence. He let the words hang in the air for a moment, so soft he wasn’t even sure he’d said them. When they became real, he cleared his throat. “Mikael said it was a big one. He was planning something for me.” He let out a gruff, humorless laugh. Then his face fell. “I don’t know why I just told you that,” he admitted, his thumb chipping at the wooden handle of his mug. They had come here to try to steer away from the personal, not delve further into their issues.
“Could I ask you some questions about your world? I feel like I am floundering at every turn,” he asked, changing the subject and deciding now was a better time than any to get some answers.
He was forty the next day and was living with a kleptomaniac clown, a spider woman, an indestructible knight (unlike himself) and a pixie-freeing invisible man. Rhys was so far into the unknown he couldn’t even see his comfort zone anymore.
“Who is Madam York?” he asked. “I’ve been here a week and I’ve seen no signs of the woman. Is she invisible, too?” Rhys looked into his mug and another question demanded to be asked. “What did you mean when you said she read your colors?” Whoever she was, she sounded powerful. He couldn’t help but wonder if this woman could be of any aid to him on his quest and he fingered the key under his shirt with his free hand.
Invy had said they were headed out of the kingdom. He couldn’t blame them. But could he allow himself to retreat so far away from his goal? If these people could be of any help with a little convincing, then perhaps he would go along with them for a while longer.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Startled out of his thoughts, Invy followed Rhys lead to his tent, grateful that the man chose to stay instead of parting. He licked his lips, letting the flap door drop behind him as Rhys took a seat on the small stool towards the corner. It was a comical scene, the knight looking much too large for Invy’s modest ‘home’ and waiting for the mug to be passed.
Invy shrugged off his coat, tossing it to the side as he stooped around the edge of the cot to his small cluster of bottles and chose the lager first. Something not too strong. After that earlier bit, he certainly didn’t want to make his friend feel uncomfortable. He passed the mug over to a solemn looking face, staring at his feet.
[i Birthday?] Invy looked up from his seat on the cot, listening with genuine curiosity as Rhys took the weight off his mind. Mikael was in a special place in Rhys’ thoughts- heart, that the performer could never hope to replace and he knew that. This was someone he grew up with. They were family. Invy was a stranger. In fact, he was barely family in Scarga but this wasn’t about him. “It’s okay,” he assured.
Surely, he could think of something fun for the marrow. If only Crow wasn’t pondering travel.
“Of course,” he encouraged, following Rhys’ floundering comment. What an idiot he was. How had he not seen Rhys struggling so much in the last few days? [i Blinders?] He was part of this world. How would he feel stuck in a castle?
[i Terrified.] He swallowed a full gulp of his drink.
To his surprise, Rhys started with Madam York, someone he assumed Rhys would have vague interest in. “Oh, the Madam.” He passed his mug from palm to palm. “She’s Crow’s mother and the founder of Scarga. An older woman, nearly 70 I believe, slowly becoming everyone’s mother they never had.”
The invisible man smiled fondly as he thought of the older lady, knitting socks. “Madam York is also a seer but not like the ones who read palms. She sees the future in colors.” For a moment he was reminded of the last time they heard a premonition from her... the day of the massacre. He drank a little more before continuing.
“What that means is she...” He shrugged his shoulders. “Feels the emotions of the future. She can see a color and experience the scene without seeing details. For example if she saw red, there could be anger or confusion. If she saw yellow, happiness or excitement.
“Madam York doesn’t like to come out too often. Prefers to keep private company when possible. Keeps the curious and desperate at bay, you know?” He drank again, feeling a little calmer as the bubbles warmed his skin and mind from the inside out.
“Is there anything else you want to know?” Invy inquired, wanting to keep this conversation as open as possible to repair what he severed earlier. “Curious enough that you want to meet her?” ]]
[size14 Rhys nursed his drink as he listened. He was right, then, to assume that Madam York was important. She wasn’t just the insufferable bird-man’s mother, but everyone else’s as well. And when he continued to explain her fortune telling abilities, it took everything in him not to discount it all as an old woman’s dreams and superstitions. Rhys could [i see] pixies and magic when it was being performed. But asking to believe in something he [i couldn’t] see was much harder for him.
And yet there was clear evidence to the contrary sitting right in front of him. He looked over Invy’s brightly colored hat and outfit, his eyes eventually landing on his pointed shoes. After a long moment of silence, he finally nodded.
“Yes,” he said with finality.. “If she will meet with me.” It was an admission to try. To try to fit in. To try to see things from a different point of view.
Rhys raised his mug to his lips, thinking about what he might gain from a visit to a woman who could read the future. He thought of the vault. Of Owain. What would his future say about them? He let his anger subside before looking up at Invy again.
As usual, when he felt himself focusing on his own pain for too long, he turned his attention elsewhere. “I have another question,” he said, standing and walking over to the jug next to Invy to pour himself more drink. He was feeling a nice buzz now. Just enough to feel his conversational skills warming up like they had been the evening of the attack on the castle.
“Because I want to know you better.” The words were out his mouth before he could pull them back. Rather than try to wrangle them with more useless utterances, he let them hang in the air. Then he sat next to Invy on the cot like they had the first night they got drunk together.
He looked over at Invy, eyes wandering over his mask and what would be his face if he could see it. “Have you always been this way?” he asked, careful to keep his voice gentle in an attempt to prove that he did not want to know out of morbid curiosity, but rather in an attempt to understand his friend better. “Or… were you cursed like some of the others?” Then, realizing suddenly that he was steering back into the personal from which they tried so desperately to escape from, he added, “I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that. That was… not tactful, and frankly none of my business.” And yet he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Invy’s floating mask. [i What color are your eyes?]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The performer chuckled despite himself. Of course Rhys wanted to meet Madam York. Who wouldn’t want to have their future read to them? He just hoped the knight didn’t take her reading to heart. It was a fluid future after all. Always changing.
“Of course,” he assured once more. “I can get you an audience.” An easy request.
The invisible man watched the other refill his mug, starting off another question in a more forward way. The alcohol must have been working its magic, making him feel more buzzed and intrigued by his need to know him better. Maybe there was something there? Or Invy was just seeing things...
Invy refilled his drink with something stronger, content enough that Rhys was finally relaxing without making the room feel heavy. It nearly startled him, however, that the knight chose to have a seat next to him instead of the spot across the room. Making the heat in his cheeks rise in slight embarrassment.
Then those piercing eyes met his and, for a moment, he thought Rhys was actually seeing him again. It made his heart skip a beat, giving him an additional moment to admire the well built and tall specimen in the privacy of his own quarters. [i Friends,] he reminded himself. [i Friends, you idiot. You just met.]
“Have you always been this way or... were you cursed like the others?”
Invy should have expected this question eventually given the time they were spending together. He knew a lot about Rhys already and rarely had he shared a detail about himself. Was it selfishness? Or preservation? He took a hearty swig of his liquor this time, hoping the drink would help take the awkwardness out of such a personal conversation and relax his anxious mind. He... knew Rhys meant well. He just didn’t like the pity that usually followed.
“It’s fine,” he laughed, brushing away Rhys’ concern. “But no, no I haven’t always been this way and frankly I can’t remember what I look like anymore.” He glanced at the vanity mirror. A floating hat and mask sitting next to a completely normal man.
“My mother had me when she was quite young and we lived with my grandfather till I was six. One day she wanted to leave the family house. Strike out on her own and she took me with her.” Invy took another sip. “I remember there being lots of shouting between the men and my mother and suddenly we were running through the forest until she could no longer control her breath. We walked, it seemed like forever, until we finally stumbled upon a house with a garden.
“I can’t recall how long we’d been walking but I remember seeing those apple trees and just being so hungry I thought I could eat everything I laid my eyes upon. So she helped me hop the fence and we ate and ate until the door of the cottage was thrown open.” Invy could feel his head becoming a little swimmy now and the elation returned as if this was where he’d hidden his happiness all along.
The invisible man stood, turning to face Rhys as if he was in an act once more. “And there she was, the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen with a curved nose that looked like a fish hook. She grabbed my mother by the hair and dragged her into the house with me quickly in tow.” He took another swig. “The living room had one wall- I kid you not- covered ceiling to floor in antique music boxes. It sounded like a choir of tiny fairies, so distracting in fact that I hadn’t even noticed that my mother had traded me over to save her own skin.”
He waved his hand in the air dramatically. “But the witch was not that foolish and wouldn’t let us off so easily. The hag blinded my mother, sealing her eyes to never see again and cursed the child to never [i be seen] again. In all the hysteria, I was the last thing on my mother’s mind that night and...” He sighed, taking another drink. “I ran. I ran and hid and stole and survived.” He smiled and pointed at his face. “But I [i think] I had green eyes.” He nodded to himself. “Yes, they had to be green.”
Invy glanced down at his empty mug before refilling it and sitting beside Rhys once more. “And that’s that,” he exclaimed. “Though I can say being invisible has come with its perks. I can do whatever I want, be wherever I want. I have seen [i loads] of strange creatures and people. Nearly twenty years of adventures.”
He smiled at Rhys, the liquor dampening his mind in a way that made Rhys look incredibly handsome in the dim light. “Did I quench that curiosity about me?” he asked softly. “Or would you like me to tell you another story?”]]
[size14 Rhys was mildly surprised when Invy let out a laugh. He was used to the man applying himself to the role of comedy relief, but he could tell without even seeing Invy’s face that the sound wasn’t genuine. Invy turned to face his mirror, and Rhys turned with him. Their differences were only easier to see this way. Rhys took up far too much space, but at least Invy wasn’t leaning away from his imposing figure.
He returned his attention to Invy as he started his story. There was a moment or two when he wanted to reach out and tell him that he didn’t have to continue, but just when the urge became the strongest, Invy jumped up. His drink sloshed slightly as he spun to face him in a blending of colors. He continued his tale now, not as one would tell a traumatic experience, but rather like a campfire ghost story. He was a flurry of gestures. He paused at the right spots and exclaimed when he needed to.
Rhys caught on quickly that this was Invy’s way of detaching himself from his own story: to treat it like it wasn’t real. Just another act. He was suddenly feeling guilty for asking at all, but Invy was on a roll now and it didn’t seem like he was going to slow until his tale was done. So Rhys played the good audience (and it would have been very difficult not to since Invy was very good at what he did) and listened attentively.
[i Green eyes,] Rhys thought. Had he spoken his wonders aloud? He realized no, that Invy just said what came to his mind freely, but the coincidence was almost too much for Rhys. His heart had set to a hard but steady hammering in his chest, like a giant knocking to get out. [i Green eyes.] He chalked it up to loneliness. The life he knew was gone. All his friends were gone. All he had was Invy. He shouldn’t start mistaking a longing for friendship for something… more.
Besides, Invy was invisible. Rhys’s eyes wandered back to Invy, now once again at his side, and tried to pinpoint exactly where the sound of his voice was coming from. How far below the nose of his mask. [i It wouldn’t be too difficult,] he thought, his mildly buzzed mind making it easier to imagine. [i It’s not like lips are ever in the wrong place. The weird part would be getting past kissing solid air.]
And then came the rain of Invy’s next words, dousing Rhys in a cold and bitter realization. [i “Nearly twenty years of adventures.”] He blinked. By the time he had done the mental math, the invisible man had moved on. [i Quench?] The man’s thirst was hardly quenched. And he realized now that there was no way it could ever be when it came to Invy. What a fool he had been. When a man didn’t have a face, it was easy to forget that he also had an age. And what young man could possibly want Rhys? He was far too old and far too brooding. He had misread all of Invy’s signs. He had to.
“You must be- what?” he asked. “If you were six when you left home… You can’t be older than twenty-five or twenty-six now!” He masked his disappointment with well rehearsed courtly interest. “You’ve been through so much in so short a time. I’m sure you’re tired of the pity,” he said, forcing himself to look at Invy again. “I couldn’t even imagine. I was dealt a selfish father. You were given a selfish mother [i and] a curse. But… for what it’s worth…” Rhys raised his cup to toast his friend. [i My friend.] “I don’t think the curse worked too well. I see you everywhere I go.” He forced a little smirk.
It was the closest he could come to what he really wanted to say: that Invy was the only one he looked for in the entire camp. That any time the breeze managed to get through the branches and blow his hair, he hoped it was Invy. How foolish. He felt like a boy again.
Rhys touched their mugs gently before taking a long sip.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The invisible man’s eyebrows rose at Rhys' surprise upon learning his age. Did he not act like a young man? Did age mean something to the knight that resulted in Invy’s window of opportunity to shrink? Would it be too radical to just lean in and kiss those framed lips? Was he only thinking these things because he was becoming a little drunk?
“Yeah..,” he smiled, trying to understand Rhys perspective on such a simple fact. “Yeah, I will be twenty-six in just a couple months.” Sure the giant was certainly older than him, but day dreaming about himself in the strong arms of the silver hair made him quiver with anticipation.
Invy nodded, absentmindedly agreeing with Rhys words as his mind began to wander into slightly naughty territory. Then Rhys said something that almost bit him back into an emotional wreck he was for so many years.
“I don’t think the curse worked too well. I see you everywhere I go.”
Did Rhys even know he often said things Invy always wanted to hear? Did that behemoth even know what the hell he was doing? Invy bit his bottom lip, holding back any emotion that threatened to rise out of his throat as he raised his mug to meet the other’s. This time he drank the rest of his drink and automatically refilled his and the way-too-fucking-attractive knight’s mug.
The liquor warmed him back into relaxation, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks again. He wanted to make a move. He had to know but... what if he was rejected? What if he was imagining this whole scene through a drunken haze? Who was he kidding? He was certainly losing his focus already so maybe Rhys would think it just playful curiosity of a tipsy freak? Maybe...
Invy looked up at Rhys, his chiseled face framed in a slight blur. “Thank you for saying that,” he said finally. “I...” [i I have an overwhelming urge to crawl over-] He pressed the mug to his lips again. Oh he hoped that the knight was feeling as loopy as he was. He turned and, pulling off his hat, leaned forward to hover briefly before pressing his lips against the corner of Rhys’ mouth. [i An invitation,] he thought. If he dared to indulge in someone like Invy, so taboo.
The invisible man pulled away slightly, smelling the sweet lager in Rhys' breath as if it was luring him in to enjoy the brief intoxicated happiness. But he waited. Waited for the reaction that might backfire in a single moment.]]
[size14 Rhys watched Invy fill their drinks again. Were his hands shaking? He wished he could reach out and take them in his own.
He wasn't sure when they'd shifted so close. And was the drink stronger now? His head was swimming. There was no other explanation other than his finally willing to admit his attraction to Invy.
Invy thanked him, slurring slightly. Then made to start another statement, but trailed off. Rhys watched him drink. Watched him turn. He could not look away, either. Watching Invy was always like watching art.
His hat came off and a moment later Rhys felt his warm breath on his skin. His lips. When had his eyes become so heavy? Invy's lips on the corner of his mouth made his own open just slightly. He could almost taste him. His heart hammered. His heart sung.
So he hadn't misread the signs…
The white mask retreated, but only by an inch or so. Rhys looked it over, trying to see the green eyes he knew were there, but could not see. He felt drunk. Drunker than he had ever been before. He set his mug aside blindly and it nearly tipped over, but he exchanged it for something far better. Rhys brought his hands up to frame Invy's face with a ghosting gentle touch, trying to find the edges of his features against the nothingness.
"Let me see you," he whispered through his drunken haze.
When Invy did not move, Rhys let his thumbs find his cheeks to feel their shape and trailed one down to find the curve of his cupid's bow. He leaned in.
Kissing Invy was like kissing the sun. He could not see him, but Rhys was convinced in that moment that if he could, he would only be blinded by his radiance.
His lips opened. His beard scratched Invy's skin. There was a [i crash] outside as someone knocked over several trunks they were packing for departure the next day.
Rhys parted from Invy, his heart hammering. The sudden noise brought him back to reality and he realized what he was doing.
"I… I'm sorry," he said slowly. "I shouldn't have… The drink got to me and I lost myself. I shouldn't have encouraged you."
Now sober, he realized it was Invy who had been making him feel so drunk. He had almost forgotten himself again. If they were attacked while he was here with Invy… This was why he didn't want the Dust. Or too much drink. He could not risk being vulnerable.
"Besides Invy, I'm far too old for you."
His brow creased, ashamed he couldn't admit the real reason: that he was afraid when he wasn't in control. That the future was already so uncertain and how could this help?
Rhys stood. "Let's just… pretend this didn't happen. With any luck, neither of us will remember it." Rhys knew that neither of them had had enough to drink to make that happen, but perhaps it could be used as an excuse. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Though Rhys said it, he still struggled with leaving Invy's tent. He stood there a moment longer, a guilty, pleading look on his face. Then, finally, he turned and left the tent behind. Along with the kiss.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Rhys’ gaze locked him steady in the moment, no matter how much he wished to dive back in, to indulge his own fantasy, he could not look away. A breath, a second and the knight had his hands lifted, finding the lines of his face as if navigating a maze. [i “Let me see you.”]
Invy felt his heartbeat quicken, his lips remaining slightly ajar as Rhys’ thumb found the edge he was searching for and leaned in to seize them. It was as if he was caught in a tide, pulling him in in a way that could drown him if he let it. He felt enveloped, magnetized, convinced that if he pulled away he would be swept back into the deep end.
Invy felt the beard tickle his naked chin and nearly jumped at the sudden crash outside the tent. He was about to laugh off his nerves when Rhys' gaze turned hard and distant. Lost? Encouraged him? “What?”
He watched as the giant gathered himself, pulling together his garments and severed the contact between them in one clean dissection. [i Too old?!] He wanted to shout. He wanted to scream. He wanted to drag the knight back in some desperate act of self preservation but instead remained stuck to the cot as Rhys continued his excuse. The knight became something of a shadow to Invy after a moment and eventually Rhys left.
The words seemed to stick in Invy’s mind like an echo. Sickenly swirling in his hazy mind like tar sticking to his skin. [i Pretend it never happened. With luck, neither of us will remember.] He felt disgusting. Black. Cursed. “Told you,” he whispered to his imaginary image of a former best friend. “Being myself never works.” And then he really did try to forget that moment. He really tried erasing it at the bottom of a bottle.
The tent flap flew open, the performer squinting to see the silhouette of an angel. No, not an angel. A fucking bird. “Louder so I can have a valid excuse to rip off your wings,” he mumbled.
Crow ruffled his feathers and pulled Invy up by the collar, wrinkling his nose. “Drinking before the move? How bloody brilliant you are.” He let go and began rummaging through his chest.
The invisible man massaged his splitting headache as Crow tossed a clean set of clothes. “Come on, we have to get moving.” He waited until Invy had shed his previous garments before tossing them into the trunk and dragging it outside.
Despite his moodiness and dry mouth, Invy pulled himself together enough to take down the rest of the tent and start loading the last of the circus members into the wagons. He caught the silver haired behemoth in his peripherals once or twice, leaning towards Crow once they were together again. “You know,” he started, tightening the straps of the lead horse. “Rhys is really wanting to become more involved. Maybe we should consider a small promotion.”
“Ha!” Crow scoffed, his smile widened. “You want to give him a part on the stage? What are you into normals now?”
Invy shook his head, adjusting his oversized hat to block out the sun as much as possible. “I’m just relaying the inquiry from the muscle.”
The leader chuckled, expanding his wings for flight. “I’ll let him know I’ll consider the application once he knows what the hell he’s good for.”
The invisible man watched him part and recognised the clomping of boots approaching over his shoulder. [i Smile. If you’re smiling, it sounds like you’re happy.] He turned to greet the man, simply watching but not engaging further. “Good mornin’ Rhys. I hope you’re ready for a long ride because you’re going to be doing alot of brainstorming with my good friend the Fright Knight. He can help you come up with a new act.”
He rolled his shoulders into a stretch. “Second in command duties call me, I’m afraid. We have to usher in modestly into the Kingdom of Drull. They own trolls you know. You’re not afraid of [i them] are you?”
Invy tipped his hat before turning away, grateful that he didn’t have to sit next to someone as truthfully blunt as Rhys. Crow at least had a sense of humor. [i Encouraged me, huh Rhys? How about I encourage you to come out of your comfort zone for a few hours?]
By the time they parted the camp site, it was late morning. They rode, passing bread and sharing stories. Crow wouldn’t shut up about Madam York’s most recent prediction about his brilliant idea to visit the Kingdom of Drull instead of Sir Pearl’s Kingdom. He could have told Crow they had a better chance with concussed arena fighters then half merpeople.
The Kingdom of Drull was surrounded by tall stone walls, the only entrance blocked by an iron gate that reminded him of a pitchfork. Crow introduced them in a way only a charismatic raven could do and soon they were ushered in. The streets were alive with humans and dwarves alike, a cacophony of howls coming from beyond an arena that sent shivers down his spine.
“Be wary of the trolls,” Invy warned once he and Rhys were reunited, shouldering on his coat due to a slight breeze. His spite had since subsided leaving him only fatigued from the long trip. It was dark again and the streets were brightly lit with torches and bonfires. “The King breeds them for the arena. The last thing we need is for one of us to be thrown in it for sport.”
He smirked, looking the man up and down. “Did you figure out an act? I’m sure Crow would love to throw you into tomorrow night’s show.” ]]
[size14 Rhys was one of the first people up the next day. He didn’t sleep more than a few hours. He could still taste Invy on his lips. There came a point in the early hours of the morning when he couldn’t stop thinking about how foolish he was for turning Invy down. He thought to leave in the heat of his frustration to barge into Invy’s tent and take it all back. To take his face in his hands again and kiss him deeper this time. The way Invy deserved to be kissed.
But Rhys remembered his king. His prince. It was better to detach himself from everyone here because he would not be staying and the circus was Invy’s home, and Rhys had left midnight trysts and short affairs in his past. If he was going to be with Invy, it was going to be all or nothing. And he could only choose nothing. It was better for the both of them if Invy thought they had no chance.
Rhys was packed before anyone else and began to help others take down their tents as they slowly woke. The activity kept him from thinking about the night before and he always liked to feel useful. An hour or two later, he was well aware that Invy was up and about. It felt odd to not have him come straight over and tug on his hair. He had to fix this. Invy was his only friend here. He didn’t want to lose that.
After a while, Rhys noticed that Invy wasn’t accompanied by Crow any longer. He took that as his opening. As he approached, Invy turned and they regarded each other for a moment. Then Rhys opened his mouth to apologize or say something awkward, but with humor. The invisible man beat him to it. He had foolishly thought that he and Invy would be riding together, but he couldn’t expect to heal everything with a good morning greeting, he supposed. So now he was being booted to ride with the other knight of the group, completely void of Invy’s company. It seemed a just punishment and he knew he deserved it, but he couldn’t help but feel a little deflated.
Invy’s tone was far from its usual teasing and bordered on callous. His final words were the killing blow. “They own trolls you know. You’re not afraid of them are you?”
Rhys kept his expression vacant. He realized he hadn’t even managed to get in a “good morning” before Invy was tipping his hat and leaving him behind. He ran a hand down his face and looked over at Fright Knight. This was going to be a [i long] trip.
As it turned out, there was no brainstorming between the two knights. The men sat in awkward silence for a long while before the armor turned his helmet his way and said, “You better not steal my act. Scarga doesn’t need two knights,” with surprising sass.
Rhys’s brows creased. “Well, considering I can’t take my head off and juggle it, I think you’re safe.”
Fright Knight leaned back, clanged his metal arms over his chest, and promptly fell asleep.
Rhys had never been outside Noren. He knew that Erimmon had relations with the Kingdom of Drull, but it had never been his business. All he knew was that it was a relatively small kingdom in comparison, but they were very much a military driven society so their forces were large in number.
When they approached the wall, Rhys wondered what madman’s idea it had been to keep his citizens locked up inside and why. Rhys had a feeling it was usually much more difficult to get into the city, but Crow seemed to have an all-access pass because he was, well, a crow, and they wanted to see what entertainment he brought with him.
The sounds hit him immediately. Despite the sun’s departure, the streets were still alive and Rhys became immediately homesick. Except for the sounds of the trolls. Their growling and roars floated through the streets and killed the mood completely. He peered down the long street towards the opening to an arena.
Once inside, a group of guards insisted on searching their things, so they were forced to stop. “Why do we have to search every single wagon?” he heard one of the younger guards complain. Another responded, “Neighboring kings are dyin’ and people fleein’. Last thing we need is a war.”
He felt someone join him as he looked down the long, busy street. He did not expect to hear Invy’s voice. Without his usual hair pull, he hadn’t even known it was him. He was afraid to look at him in fear that he might disappear again, so he kept his eyes on the arena.
Rhys wasn’t afraid of trolls. A couple had managed to find their way into the dungeons of the castle some years back and Rhys dealt with them easily. They were only a little larger than he: vermin that crawled into dark spaces. He assumed if the pastime here was breeding them, they could be twice as big and twice as angry.
Rhys finally risked turning his head and looked down at Invy. [i Right. An act. Me. On stage.] “Fright Knight was… not in the most helpful of moods,” Rhys said and looked over his shoulder at the other knight who was polishing the dust of the road off his armor. [i Not that I was willing to talk much, either,] he thought, and turned back to Rhys. “I’ll think of something. Even if I have to throw spears at Haphazard, I’ll make myself useful.”
He looked over Invy’s hat and mask, then turned the rest of his body so he knew he had his full attention. “Invy… About last-”
They turned and the leader of the guards approached them with a few men. He glanced at Invy, did a double take, then gave Rhys a look over. “What do you do?”
“I’m sorry?” Rhys asked.
“You spit fire? Grow a tail? What do you do?”
“I don’t do anything. I’m just the muscle,” Rhys said, hoping that would be enough to move them along. But the man looked at him skeptically. “But you [i are] with this circus? The reason I ask is because I have only ever seen two swords like that in my life.”
The man held his own sword out and clinked it against the scabbard of Rhys’s at his hip. “Ten years ago, King Erimmon sent an envoy to discuss trade.” Rhys knew the man. Sir Gilroy had come back hoping to never see the place again.
“And how would a gate guard know this?”
That seemed to be a sore subject and he spat. “Your Noren friend took issue with how we do things around here. I challenged him.”
“And paid the price. I hear you all settle things with duels around here. Or the arena. Sir Gilroy told us that the law of the land seemed to be ‘survive and you are innocent’.” The guard spat again. “He was a good man. He would never kill anyone that didn’t deserve it.”
“We kill our opponents here because it lets them keep their honor. I lost my respect that day. I was demoted and shamed.”
“And now you guard a giant gate.”
The two men stared at each other. One fuming, the other calm as water. When the guard spoke again, he stepped forward two paces and his men came with him. “Your sword tells me you are a knight of the Kingdom of Noren and I must bring you in for questioning. Your kingdom is falling apart and we can’t have you bringing your new king’s wrath here.”
“I am no longer a knight,” Rhys said, but he knew it wouldn’t help even as the words left his mouth. “I, too, was stripped of my rank when the usurper killed the king.”
“The arena reveals the truth,” the guard said. The men behind him all joined their voices in a chant, repeating: “The arena reveals the truth!”
All of Scarga and most of the street were looking at them now. Rhys only then realized his hand was on the hilt of his sword, ready to fight. More and more guards showed their faces in the shadows and he let his hand fall.
“Then let the truth be known.” As soon as he said the words, the guards were on him, pulling his hands behind his back and binding his wrists. The leader removed his sword belt. Rhys took this all without complaint or grunt.
“You know where to take him. I hope the trolls are hungry.” The guard was looking over Rhys’s sword like it was gold. Rhys looked at Invy and shrugged his shoulders as they started to lead him away forcefully.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked his friend as they led him past. He was really starting to regret leaving Invy in that tent. He’d kill for one more kiss. “It [i is] my birthday after all.”
Three hours later Rhys was in a small cell. His captor’s name was Carth and he was everything Rhys aspired [i not] to be. After being relieved of his gambison and left only in his undershirt (Carth was trying his best to make this fight as unfair as possible) he was left alone. Rhys didn’t want to discount their abilities, but he knew that Crow would not risk Scarga’s reputation right out the gate by trying to rescue him, especially when there was a chance that if he won this fight, he would prove his innocence anyway. Besides, he wasn’t a main act. He didn’t hold much value to the bird. He [i did] wonder, however, if Invy worried for him.
Rhys leaned his head back against the cold stone wall of his cell and breathed deep. He had no way of knowing when he would be called upon. So he meditated. Except he kept being interrupted by the dripping of water nearby and by the memory of how warm Invy had been when he held him in his arms.
His thoughts wandered to places he shouldn’t allow them to go, not after refusing Invy. But this might be his last day, and he allowed himself to indulge in one last mental tryst, even if he did have trouble figuring out exactly how it would work with Invy’s invisibility. Somehow, he figured he and Invy could figure it out with laughter in their hearts. Warm laughter that would turn into…
Rhys squeezed his eyes shut and shook the image from his mind. He could be dead tomorrow and his last thoughts were of [i Invy.] It had not been enough time at all to truly know the boy. But he couldn’t deny how his heart sang around him. He should instead be thinking about his failure to his king. If he died here, he would never get back to stop Owain’s destruction…
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Admittingly, Invy wasn’t entirely gung ho about inviting Rhys onto the stage especially after their previous interaction. He found a curtain draw a very intimate piece of work that literally put himself out there for everyone to gawk or laugh at. Certainly it was part of a survival tactic for people like him but Rhys was not...
“Invy...” He looked up, immediately pulled out of his melancholy thoughts. “About last-”
Invy’s jaw tightened, immediately wanting to rip the heart out of whoever just interrupted Rhys. He turned and reeled back his temper at the sight of a guardsman. He knew what kind of face to wear in front of men like them but Rhys was a totally different species of his own... and chose to engage.
Now he wished he was on the caravan ride with the knight. He could have forewarned, explained the precautions the Scarga Circus had in order for moments like these. Never engage, never make yourself a target no matter how tempted you were. Each of them represented the collective and that now included Rhys.
Invy wanted to intervene but no opportunity felt right. This was a conversation between two men who unfortunately recognised the other and that was bad news for everyone involved. They were beginning to make a scene which put a knot in the pit of his stomach. Rhys was giving away too much information. The fact that the guard picked up on the sword, gave away that they were there that night and harboring a knight from the heinous neighboring kingdom. A crime of association. Hopefully they didn’t look too hard at the other royals behind them. [i What the hell happened to your heroic speech of laying low you big idiot?]
“The arena reveals the truth,” they chanted and the breeze began to feel colder.
This was it. This was out of their hands and Rhys was on his own. As much as his bleeding heart wanted to jump between the pair of them as they maneuvered to detain Rhys, he knew that would only end with his blood being spilled across the dirt. A pointless effort.
And Rhys had the [i balls] to shrug his shoulders like everything was going to be fucking okay. “It [i is] my birthday after all.”
“What the fuck is your human friend thinking?”
Invy shook his head as he ran a knife underneath his fingernails. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Crow breathed pacing about like he was going to have an aneurysm. “We’re lugging around pompous royals and the only lunatic that had an ounce of persuasion over them was that knight.” He ruffled his feathers. “If he dies in that arena, and I gander he will because those Drull’s are a bunch of cheating pride seekers, we won’t be able to sell the circus and we won’t be able to sell your discovery. We would need to leave immediately and the god’s know we wouldn’t make it to the next Kingdom.”
Invy gripped the handle tighter. “You’re over exaggerating. Stop being such a drama King.” He stood up from the armchair throwing the knife into the ground. He studied Crow from across the tent, both fuming.
“We shouldn’t have gone to that kingdom.”
Invy rolled his eyes. “Regardless of what should have been done, we need to figure out what needs to be done right now.” He began to undress. “I’m going to go get him out.” For the sake of his family and for other selfish reasons. Whether it was a lie or not, that someone saw him.
“You are not going to save someone we owe absolutely nothing to.” Crow grabbed his mask before it was discarded. “You told me there was nothing between you two.”
“I didn’t say [i nothing].” Invy hissed. “Trust me. I’ve done this before for Slippery and Haphazard. You know I can do it and if we save Rhys, we don’t have to leave.” He pulled the mask out of Crow’s grip and placed it on the dirt beside his coat.
“But what about that night?” The invisible man looked up, studying Crow's worried creased features like it was crafted by an artist. “What if you don’t come back this time?”
Invy sighed and patted the shoulder of feathers. “I promise. I’m coming back.”
Though if he did come back to the circus it would be with him dragging Rhys by the ear and locking him away with Archane to be eaten alive.
Invy carried the small pouch in the palm of his hand across the busy roadway, too aware of the many people that could see through his act if he made his movements too quickly. The entrance to the arena was slowly becoming filled with bodies all eager to see the outcome of the spat from earlier in the evening. It was nearly ten-thirty now and the citizens were well into their drinking and smoking rituals, rallying for the show.
The performer slipped in without getting too close to anyone, managing to squeeze through the iron door into the dungeons once a guard had exited. Closed off from the public, the halls were lined with cells with every manner of man and creature. Waiting just on the other side of the wall were the roars of the caged trolls fighting to be released. Invy swallowed the lump in his throat and plastered himself to the stone walls as he searched for the silver tipped giant.
When Invy finally found the man in the second to last cell, his emotions caught in his throat and the anger flared up. He crouched low, whispering only loud enough for his voice to trail to the knight’s ears. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
He opened up his palm and untied the string of the pouch, pulling out a small metal hook. “I can pick the lock but I think it would look suspicious if you just walk right out here.” He paused, waiting until the circling guard passed behind him before speaking again. “Do you have a plan or were you planning to die in the palm of a green insane monster?”]]
[size14 Outside, Rhys could hear all kinds of excitement and preparation for the coming fights and he had no doubt that he was on the chopping block for that evening. Inside the cells however, there was mostly silence other than the occasional roar of an angry wild cat or wyvern. So it came as a surprise to Rhys when he heard a whisper just outside his cell.
Rhys opened his eyes and scanned the area outside the iron bars. At first, he saw nothing. Then, a small pouch floating in the air caught his attention. [i Invy.] He had been shivering from the damp cells only moments before, but now he was warm. Just knowing Invy still cared enough about him to come and attempt to save him- even if it was stupid- felt like the warmth of the summer sun. Oh, if he got out of this he was going to pluck out all that bird’s feathers for allowing Invy to come here.
Rhys made his way over to the iron bars and leaned against his neighbor’s cell so that he wouldn’t look suspicious to any guards passing by. His neighbor wouldn’t mind. He was dead.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Rhys whispered and looked at the hook. His brows furrowed. He needed to keep his temper. Invy was risking himself by even [i being] here and that made Rhys so… so… Well, the thought of Invy in danger made him ready to fight just about anything they threw at him. But he couldn’t help him from inside a cell.
“I’m not going to die,” he bit back, mirroring Invy’s tone. “And you’re not breaking me out of here.” He could practically feel the incredulous look he was being given. “Think this through, Invy,” he started, but stopped when a guard passed them by. When he was finally out of earshot again, he continued to whisper. “The man who took me is looking for any excuse to get back his reputation. If I break out of here he’s going to know it was you. Well- Scarga. The entire kingdom will come down on us because we broke their most sacred, cultish law of trial by combat. But right now, this is just between him and me. Trust me. If word has reached here about a circus being at the castle at the time of the attack, then this man is too stupid to put the pieces together. He’s just angry because I bear the same sword that cut him down. He said they were going to question me, and yet no one has even said a word to me.”
He could feel Invy about to start arguing with him and he wondered when he had gotten to the point where he was able to read him so well, even when he couldn’t see him.
“If I die, you and your people should still be safe because Carth only wanted me. If I live, then I have proven- by their law- that I am not working for Owain. Then they have to release me. By freeing me now you lose all chances of a smooth way out of this.” Rhys crossed his arms. “You’re lucky I attacked his pride so publicly or he would have started in on you next. I have known men like this my entire life.” He looked in Invy’s vicinity. “They might even let you watch the show. You could claim you had no idea your friend was possibly a traitor.”
The crowd outside was getting loud now. Seats were filling and people were laughing, excited for the bloodshed. Rhys looked away. “You should go now. If you were caught I would never forgive myself.” An announcer started to speak loudly, but he couldn’t quite make out the words.
“Go now,” Rhys said, his voice soft and surprisingly bittersweet. He wished there was some glimpse he could get of Invy before he faced his death. Something to think of in his final moment should he die. [i Green eyes,] he remembered. “Invy?” he asked, not knowing if he was still there or not. He waited. There was nothing in response, but he spoke the words anyway. “I’m glad I met you.”
Large doors opened to his left and guards approached. He hoped Invy wasn’t actually going to stay and watch this horrid affair. The guards opened his cell and got him to his feet, roughly escorting him to the doors. The floor angled upward and led out into the arena. One of the guards cut the rope binding his wrists, another handed him a sword. “The arena reveals the truth,” the guard said.
“This blade is dull,” Rhys replied, but his voice told them he wasn’t surprised.
“Ever try to cut rock with a dull blade?” came a voice behind him. Carth was chuckling. He was wearing Rhys’s sword on his hip. Rhys raised his head defiantly but he didn’t take the bait. Not even when Carth drew Rhys’s sword and gestured for him to walk with the tip.
Up and out into the arena. The sand seemed to glow in the light of the lanterns. There were so many and they were all burning so bright that Rhys had to blink a few times and remind himself that it was not suddenly morning. The guards stayed behind him and closed the gate. Carth grinned behind the bars. Rhys would need to figure out a way to deal with him later. But for now…
He turned around to face the crowd.
“My good people!” the announcer said, his voice carrying out from his podium. “As usual, we begin with the trials. Then we will move on to the [i real] entertainment." There came a thumping of boots in anticipation. “This man has been branded a traitor of his homeland and he claims that is not so! Do we believe him?”
The entire arena shouted: “The arena reveals the truth!” It sent a shiver down Rhys’s back. He had never thought there was any merit behind trial by combat. But these people [i truly] believed in its ability to tell the innocent from the guilty.
Rhys gripped the sword tighter in his hand. The gate across from him opened and a troll emerged: a living rock covered in moss with a small head, massive body, and two arms meant for pummeling. It was worse than he imagined. Not only was it twice as large as the ones he had fought in the dungeons, but it had jagged rocks protruding from its arms and legs and back. Rhys, still thinking he might have a chance, rolled his shoulders back and readied himself. Then the second roar came and another troll emerged.
“Oh, fuck me,” Rhys mumbled to himself. The crowd went wild.
The first troll charged.
Rhys was quicker without the armor, but he felt naked without his gambison. He rolled under an oncoming fist twice the size of his head and hacked at the back of the troll’s knee. It felt like he was slicing at rock and he knew that Carth was right. These beasts had much thicker skin than ones he had battled before.
He felt a spiked fist coming for him from the other direction now and dodged. He would have to aim somewhere critical if he wanted to win this fight. Like the eyes. Rhys backed away from the trolls, evaluating them as a soldier would a battlefield. They were so large it would be difficult to make it to their heads without being injured.
In moments he knew what he had to do. Now he just had to figure out how to do it. That could only come with patience and timing. The nearest troll threw his fist and yelled. They were faster than one would think they would be. Rhys dodged by the skin of teeth. He hacked at the retreating hand just to get the troll angry enough to lose its focus. The other one came from his other side and he didn’t have time to evade before he was being backhanded.
He flew back twenty paces and landed with a loud grunt. The jagged rocks on its fist scraped him through his thin shirt, probably drawing blood, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. If the crowd was still cheering, Rhys couldn’t hear it. If the announcer was talking, he wasn’t aware. All that existed in that moment were the trolls and his blade.
He felt like they went around the ring half a dozen times before the trolls began to get really frustrated with him. They normally had their prey in hand by now, no doubt. This is what Rhys wanted. All creatures became sloppy when they were frustrated.
The one to his left charged him and brought a fist into the air. When it came down, Rhys jumped back. It dug its knuckles so far into the sand that it had trouble pulling it back out again and that’s when Rhys struck. He hopped onto the buried fist and worked his way up to the troll's head. His soldier’s boots were thick enough that they hardly felt the rocky edges underneath them. Rhys drove his blade into the troll’s eye and it screamed, finally breaking free of the sand. It went down, Rhys stuck to it by gripping the blade, and when it landed he tucked and rolled away. Now there was only one troll left. When he went to fetch his sword, he realized it was stuck.
The remaining troll roared at him and approached. Rhys backed up. He backed up so far that he was pressed against the wall of the arena. The troll began to charge and Rhys knew that this was the moment he would live or he would die. If he did not time this right, he would never see his home again.
Everything seemed to slow. Rhys bent and pulled the hidden knife from his boot. He felt the earth shake with every step the troll took. When he straightened, he took a long, even breath, meeting the creature's gaze. He drew a mental line in the sand. And once the troll crossed it, Rhys turned his back to his hunter and time picked up again. The roar of the crowd assaulted his ears and he could hear his own heartbeat, but he knew he had this.
He jumped at the wall, using it to kick off from and propel him upward. Turning, he collided with the troll and his fate was sealed.
The troll ripped at Rhys, trying to remove him from his face as he shanked every soft area he could find. Both Rhys and the creature roared in pain, but only one came out alive.
The troll fell, sending Rhys rolling across the arena. The sand dried the trail of blood- his own and the troll’s- quickly. For a moment, Rhys just breathed. The crowd was silent, unable to see if he lived. Then he slowly sat up, the sand falling away from his streaked hair and beard. A roar went up.
“The arena has revealed to us that this man is innocent!” the announcer cried. The gate he came from opened again and after picking himself up with some effort, Rhys made his way towards it.
“You all should really consider the circus, instead. Far more entertaining,” he said, his voice a little slurred as his adrenaline finally crashed. He didn’t realize the amphitheater carried his voice and that his victory here would gain far more attraction for Scarga in Drull than they anticipated. He was given back his gambison promptly and ushered through the halls. It seemed they were fairly used to wrongful convictions and sending the winner on their way.
On his way out, he was greeted by a frowning Carth and someone in higher command. “I’m told this belongs to you, Sir.” He was holding out his sword. Rhys took it in his hands covered in drying troll blood and gave the guard a thankful nod. Sure, this kingdom seemed nuts, but it apparently had honor in some aspects. He gave Carth one last look before he was, rather unceremoniously, booted from the arena without so much as a bandage.
Rhys looked down the long path to the square and realized that the caravan had moved. He knew that might be the case, but to see it now when he was scratched to hell and bruised beyond belief, all he wanted was some medicine and a good night’s sleep. He imagined Invy’s hands spreading the ointment on his skin and shook his head. [i Stupid,] he thought to himself, wondering where to start his search.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost [i You shouldn’t have come] were words he certainly didn’t want to hear at that moment. Despite what happened last night, despite what Crow had said, Invy didn’t want to be the one leaving someone behind. That was a lesson well learned but the fact that Rhys was so damn stubborn and adamant made it seem like feverous ignorance.
As the knight continued his soapbox soliloquy, it became clear to the Invy that Rhys was consumed with being the lone wolf in his own story. That protecting people from either the world or himself was his true and [i only] purpose. Invy wasn’t an idiot. He knew putting his life out here was reckless but he wanted to help, even if Rhys did have to fight, to at least throw him a sword or something-
But Rhys made it clear he wanted nothing from the invisible man.
And that fucking frustrated him... and the knights contradictions and insensitive jabs did nothing to help the situation. ‘I’m not going to die’, ‘if I die’, ‘think this through’, ‘you’re lucky’, ‘you should go’. Invy decided it wasn’t best to argue. He’d lost just by the sheer fact that Rhys believed he was right. No use wasting breath on someone who wouldn’t try and live.
He stood, wrapping the pouch back in the palm for his hand and turned to leave.
“I’m glad I met you.” [i Make up your mind.] The attachment was beginning to strain on him. If Rhys wanted to kill himself, he certainly had a perfect opportunity. If he was just being a morbid, not at all positive, pessimist then he sure didn’t know how to read the room.
[i I don’t need your protection Rhys. I never had before.]
The invisible man snuck his way back out of the dungeon successfully, just in time for the announcer to introduce tonight's slaughter fest. He didn’t want to watch. Rhys may have been lead Captain of the Kingsguard but even fighting monsters was different then fighting regular men. He stood there, rocking back and forth on his heels before reluctantly finding a seat amongst the crowds and away from the jeering.
It was cold but his frustration kept him warm enough to sit through the breeze and find a perfect view of what he assumed would be the knight’s last stand. It made him sick that he might witness another friend dying. What kind of twisted freak was he? Was it punishment?
Rhys walked out onto the sanded arena to an applause of cheering and hooting. Invy crossed his arms, trying to keep any of the rowdy citizens from brushing against him especially when they revealed [i two] trolls. Crow was right. They were cheaters.
Rhys fought like a professional and strategist, something Invy never doubted for a moment he didn’t possess. He kept the crowd on the edge of their seats and even mildly impressed him when he was able to take down one out of two. Troll two had his gut twisting, however, and Invy betted this situation would best him. But at the very last bloody second, Rhys managed to emerge victorious, much to the crowd's enthusiasm.
Invy let out a shaky breath he didn’t realize he was holding. Carefully, he made his way from the rafters and around the back as the citizens filed out and back to their pubs and houses. He made his way back to the dying field behind the busiest party avenue and approached Crow’s tent with caution. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with the bird’s gloating and instead krept in when the leader was gone, retrieved his things and left a note. [i I’m here.]
Battle damaged Rhys soon managed to find his way back. The invisible man adjusted his coat as the circus members gathered around their suddenly new unsung hero and offered him medical aid, clothes with food and drink. Sure, it was nice to see the morale in Scarga had risen due to his ‘heroic’ actions but it made it no less foolish in Invy’s eyes. Soon they had led the knight to the bonfire to commemorate a job well done celebration.
Invy kept to his own devices, choosing to take dinner back to the privacy of his tent and put his head in the clouds.
Crow had found Invy’s note long before the human had returned and, rightfully so, there was an uproar of celebration at Rhys’ return. He even managed to plaster a smile in encouragement to his fellow family members as their positivity seemed to stem from the fact that they had a warrior living amongst them and here to protect. Much to the dismay of the Fright Knight, it seemed they had a new attraction.
Maybe Invy was right. Perhaps he should give the obnoxious normie a chance.
Crow joined the group by the fire, noting that Invy had yet to reveal himself back no doubt sulking over something as he usually did. It bothered the leader at times that his second in command was so at whim with his emotions, letting depression creep in the most inconvenient times when they should have been stronger as a pair. Was he not being a good enough friend? Could he be a better brother?
Crow’s golden eyes landed on the knight being bandaged by Archane in the quickest way possible when one had eight hands. He smiled and moved beside the knight. “Glad to see you’re still in one piece,” he offered a mug of water. “Got everyone worried making a scene out there earlier.” ]]
[size14 With the help of a few staggering, drunk individuals, Rhys found his way to the caravan. By now it was the early hours of the morning and his exhaustion was catching up with him. He stumbled into camp and was greeted with a chorus of hellos that he wasn’t used to. Word had gotten here about what had happened in the arena before he did, apparently.
Before he knew it, he was being fed and Archane was dabbing at his wounds with a gentle speed. He had only spoken to the woman a handful of times, and only in passing, but they were amiable enough.
“Rumor on the street is that we have an act with a knight that kills whatever we throw at him. Somehow the people here have taken your win in the arena as advertisement.”
Rhys stared into the fire and raised an arm. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“No, but you’ll bring the crowds.” She lifted his arm to start wrapping him in bandages.
“I won't have Scarga breeding creatures for me to kill like they do here,” Rhys mumbled, putting his face in his hand.
“I’m sure you and Crow will come up with something. Speak of the devil.”
Rhys looked up just as she was securing the bandages to find Crow offering him a cup of water. Rhys ignored it, along with his statements that stunk of false relief. He knew the bird didn’t care a lick if he lived or died.
“Invy made it back then?” Rhys asked lowly, looking into the fire. When the confirmation came, he stood up. He stood even with the bird man, but he was broader whereas Crow was perfectly lean and angelic. “You’re supposed to watch out for him. For all of them. Isn’t that your role as a ringleader?” He could feel his temper rising. “And don’t tell me you didn’t know.” Rhys took a step, advancing. “If he were caught out there trying to break me out of a cell it would have been death for the both of us- and not by combat.” Rhys was as close to the winged man as he had ever been before, his finger out in an accusatory point. What were you [i thinking]?”
Unbeknownst to Rhys or any of the onlookers, Madam York was watching her camp fall apart piece by piece and was waiting to see if it would work itself out or if she would need to intervene.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost When his peace offering was rejected, Crow picked up on the tension immediately. Perhaps it was from exhaustion that Rhys decided to pick a fight now out of all places but little did he know that Crow never backed down from an argument and rarely lost.
“Of course,” he stated. “Invy always makes it back.” His jaw tightened as the human stood eye to eye with him, his broad statute trying to leer in some form of intimidation when one was angry. Crow watched Rhys carefully as he got all his thoughts out in the open, of course for everyone to see. As the leader, he led by example and didn’t react out of his own irrationality. Even when Rhys [i dared] to point at him, he only barely ruffled his feathers.
Crow plastered a practiced smile and gestured beside him. “How about we not throw my second in command’s name out where you can drag it?” He dropped his arm and smile and moved out of sight of the circus onlookers though within range of the Madam’s tent just beside his own.
Crow turned sharply, thrusting a finger back at Rhys. “Let me start with saying everything you do has a cause and effect. Just because you think someone should do something doesn’t mean they’re gonna do it.” He closed his eyes and took a breath. “To answer your question, yes, it is my job to [i watch] after my family, not [i control] them.”
He scoffed. “Hell, the many times that man has run off without my permission is ridiculous. All the idiot has to do is take off his clothes and all of us would be none the wiser. He at least has enough respect for me to tell me when he thinks about doing something stupid before he actually does it- and- for the record, he has done it. [i Twice] for two others.”
Crow gestured widely, feathers shredding off him. “Behemoth, if I could control the Invisible Man I would have the perfect circus. No thanks to the likes of people like you!” His chest heaved. How [i dare] this man tell him he didn’t do enough. It wasn’t his fault Rhys had a possession issue.
“And on that, why the hell are [i you] trying to change a man who’s snuck and stole all his life, hrm? You encouraged that confrontation despite the cultural values of this god forsaken kingdom.” It seemed stupid to assume that Invy was helpless but that just showed what side of the fence Rhys really was from. Prideful. ]]
[size14 Rhys bristled. [i Drag] Invy’s name? The only name he was dragging was Crow’s. Or so he thought. Against his better judgment, he allowed himself to be led away from the others.
“To answer your question, yes, it is my job to [i watch] after my family, not [i control] them,” the Crow was saying, apparently trying to calm the situation. But Rhys shook his head.
“If you cannot [i control] the people you look after, then you cannot [i protect] them!” It hit Rhys suddenly just [i why] he felt this way. If he had better control over his men, perhaps not so many of them would have been bought. If he had been a better leader, they might not have turned on their king. It was slowly dawning on him that his anger was all stemming from one, unhealed wound, and it was not one that bled. And… he might actually be [i wrong]. Invy was not a soldier. None of these people were.
Before he had time to think on this, Crow was speaking again. “And on that, why the hell are you trying to change a man who’s snuck and stole all his life, hrm?” Crow prompted.
“I’m not trying to [i change] anyone. I wou-”
“You encouraged that confrontation despite the cultural values of this god forsaken kingdom.”
“I encouraged that confrontation [i because] of the cultural values here! You’re a fool to think that if I [i hadn’t] encouraged it you would all still be here. What was I to do?” Rhys held his arms out. “They were going to take me one way or another. He had seen my sword. If I denied my knighthood or his wounded pride then I would have only appeared more guilty and that would have made the rest of [i you] suspect! The more I leaned into it, the better the chances they looked [i away] from the very obvious, blighty colored [i circus] that was rumored to be at the castle when it was taken.” Why on heaven or earth Crow could not understand this, he didn’t know, but it infuriated Rhys beyond belief. “If I walked out of that cage, if Invy came to my aid in any way, they would know and your lives would be forfeit, all because of one man’s vendetta. This city would not rest until they saw you all dead for disrupting their law.”
He glared at Crow. “And don’t [i ever] accuse me of not understanding cause and effect. What I choose to do may not make sense to you, but I will [i not] watch the people I care about burn more than once in my lifetime.” His anger seemed to dull in his last few words, but his eyes still burned holes into Crow’s.
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Crow shook his head, keeping his jaw tight to bite the explosive anger that many had warned him about. It wasn’t right for the knight to have so much say over a community that survived just fine without his amazing advice and intervention.
He fought to keep his voice even. “You don’t know how [i we] do things around here. I don’t care how virtuous you think you are and how right you [i think] it was to go along with displaying your truth to a bunch of prideful men.” Golden eyes glanced down at the sword on Rhys’ hip. “We didn’t ask you to wear that thing. Had you kept to your word of keeping ‘your head down’.” He air quoted. “Then it would have never happened in the first place. You’re the one that can’t pull out of the role of Captain of the Kingsguard. You’re not a leader here and I’m certainly not any fucking [i King].”
Crow inhaled another shaky breath. “Invy will choose to do what he thinks is right even when you think otherwise. [i That’s] what I mean by cause and effect, you idiot. The even bigger idiot moping in his tent right now cares about you so if [i you] do something stupid, better expect the same result.” Rhys should understand that it was his job to do his best to protect the members of his family and as their rule of thumb, confrontation required them to keep their head down or just play stupid. It wasn’t the bravest thing to do but none of them were warriors. They were actors and playing the butt of the joke was what they did best. Rhys... Rhys was just-
“You’re just the end of a sword,” he spat. “Always a weapon that if wielded wildly will always hurt someone.”
There was a crack of a wooden door slammed where Madam York stood in the mouth of her caravan. Dressed in gypsy garb, she crossed her thin arms and narrowed her gray eyes. “Gentlemen, do you have any idea what time it is?”
He rolled his eyes. “He started it and he knows it.”
York shook her unkempt hair. “I don’t care. Crow you know we needed to save those whom we could in Erimmon at least pretend to treat them like you want them here.”
Crow bowed mockingly. “I do [i pretend]. This one-” He stuck a thumb in Rhys’ direction. “Is just a pain in my ass.”
“Be the bigger man, boy.” She made eye contact with Rhys firmly. “The knight has bigger things to worry about than how my son runs [i my] circus.”
Crow plastered yet another smile before nodding his head in departure, an air of confidence leaving with him.
“And you,” Madam York took the short steps down from her caravan. “You are just a mess of emotions aren’t you?” She was quite shorter than Rhys but it didn’t stop her from approaching the broad shouldered man. “Look, my son’s are going to bicker until the other has folded. Invy puts a lot of effort into trust around here and you need to be a little reflexible with that concept as well.”
She beckoned for his hand. “Nothing is ever simple or straightforward around here. Jasmine was perfect at balancing those scales for Invy but things are not how they were and will never be.” York studied his hand, running his wrinkled fingers over the lines in his palm. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. For a few moments, she was silent before meeting his gaze once more.
“I have to warn you. Should you continue down your current path there is much anger, much pain. An abundance of burgundy and black.” Madam York blinked, letting go of his hand and wiping the tears that pricked the edges of her eyes. “Your emotions are strong, darling.” She patted his arm gently and gave him a knowing smile. “Should you need someone to talk to, my door is always open... Usually.” ]]
[size14 Crow’s words stabbed deeper than every one of the injuries he received from the troll combined. Was he any better than Carth? Parading about, holding onto the past? He had promised to keep his head down. But things weren’t always predictable. Crow once again reminded him that he had no place in Scarga and Rhys felt the child inside crawling his way out his throat, fighting to be seen, fighting to prove his worth. But he silenced him. Just as he had to with his father. With the other gutter rats. Mikael was the first and the only to see any worth in him and it would remain that way.
“The even bigger idiot moping in his tent right now cares about you so if you [i you] do something stupid, better expect the same result.” Rhys glanced over his shoulder at Invy’s yellow tent. God, he felt foolish. Would he not have done the same if Invy were taken? His guilt was far too overwhelming to even feel anything at Crow's admittance to Invy’s care for him. Besides… He knew that already, didn’t he?
Rhys had a million things he would like to yell at Crow, but he knew it was no use. He was realizing his own faults far outweighed the bird’s here, and even if he wanted Crow to understand where he was coming from, his willingness to fight this battle was waning. A part of him knew he deserved this. So he stayed silent, waiting for the next reason why he had been wrong to act on impulse, in a heated moment that he was not used to, because he had never been in a traveling circus before. And god forbid he make a few mistakes along the way.
Then the words were out of Crow’s mouth: “You’re just the end of a sword. Always a weapon that if wielded wildly will always hurt someone.”
This, Crow was not wrong about. [i “To be a knight is to be a weapon first. And without proper training, your good efforts could get the king killed rather than save his life.”] His first lesson. The only lesson that truly mattered. And his one failure. Rhys opened his mouth. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he wanted it to hurt. He wanted it to feel like he was tearing away layers of his skin, just like Crow was doing to him. Before the words had a chance to make it out, they were interrupted. And thank god, because Rhys knew he would have regretted his anger- yet again- getting the best of him.
He turned his gaze towards the small woman in the doorway. He immediately knew who she was. Crow, surprisingly, took on an almost child-like response of “he started it” and Rhys remembered that this was mother and son. Rhys took a step back, listening to the scolding. On any other occasion, Rhys might have found a bit of selfish humor in the way Madam York took control over her son, but he knew Crow would not like Rhys being a witness to this, not to mention, Rhys was not himself. He was just as beaten as Crow was.
Rhys kept his head low as Crow left, not wanting to cause any more trouble than he already had. When Madam York addressed him next, he met her gaze. He wasn’t sure how to respond to her, so he remained silent as she approached with no sign of apprehension. It was apparently his turn to be scolded, but she sounded gentler than she had before. She spoke of Invy and that always seemed to soften him somewhat, so he nodded without interrupting her.
When she gestured for him to give her his hand, he hesitated for a moment. Then he finally caved, offering her his calloused palm. She continued to speak, her small, weathered fingers running over the lines she found there. She spoke again of Invy and his friend Jasmine who had died at the castle. “I just want to protect him,” he said softly, so softly that he hardly heard the words as spoke them. But something told him Madam York heard them.
She closed her eyes and there was silence. Rhys felt an eerie calm take them over and for a moment he wanted to rip his hand away from her grasp. But then her eyes opened and met his. His heart thumped in his chest as she spoke, dropped his hand, and wiped her eyes. For a long moment he didn’t know what to say. When Invy had told him about Madam York and her abilities, he imagined something extravagant. A crystal ball. Smoke. But this? It was so simple.
The anger, the grief, the regret… It consumed him in that moment. He had been so used to hiding his emotions away for the sake of others that he had no idea what to do now that someone actually [i saw] them. There was something about Madam York that made him understand how everyone could feel adopted by her.
“Thank you. And I’m sorry for my brashness,” he said softly, looking down at his boots. He wiped his cheek, realizing a tear had fallen, then sniffed as many grown men do when they’re embarrassed to have been caught crying. “I appreciate all you have done to save me and my people,” he said stiffly, blinking away the tears. “But I can’t stop thinking about how I should have died with the rest of them,” he confessed. When he met her gaze again, he swallowed hard. “How do I take myself off a destructive path if I am lost?” He let the question hang in the air, somehow knowing she wouldn’t- couldn’t- answer that for him. “I will think on this. And… I owe someone an apology. But tomorrow.” He glanced up at the moon, already almost done with its arc across the sky before looking back at the Madam and bowing. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
Not wanting to take up any more of her time, Rhys backed away. Even their short encounter had his mind reeling and he suddenly understood her reputation. She was wise and commanding, but gentle. Rhys was terrified of her, honestly. And yet he wanted more of her advice. He thought he might take her up on her offer to talk.
Rhys found his tent had been set up for him and he laid back gingerly on his cot, careful of his bandages. He would need new clothes from town. He had needed a few extra sets of clothes since they had fled the castle, but now he had no undershirt.
The next morning, after about two hours of sleep, Rhys rose and left camp. He traded half his pouch of Dust for new clothes (apparently a little of the stuff went a long way here) and he returned to camp just as everyone else was stirring. Back in his tent, he pulled on his new gear and put the extra in his trunk. It was the first time he was actually using the thing.
Then, he unclipped his sword belt, and laid his weapon to rest for the time being. If they were serious about him fighting for their circus, then he would use it to make them money. But Crow had been right. They hadn’t asked him to carry it. And that part of his life, at least until he could make it back to Noren, was over. He had said he was no longer a knight. It was time to make good on that.
He shut the trunk and left his tent, feeling naken without his sword. The lack of control he felt without it made him ball his fists, but he fought the feeling. He had to try [i something], he reminded himself, because what he had been doing was not working.
Next, he sought out Invy. He was aware that he had perhaps ruined the friendship entirely, but he had to try and apologize to him. He had no idea what he was going to say. Perhaps something simple. Perhaps [i I’m sorry].
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Madam York’s smile was gentle as she listened though she did not give any additional advice. She could only feel the emotions of the future, not how and where it happens or what path was the correct one. Many had come to her with the same questions and left her just as confused as they came. It saddened her slightly on her darker days.
York patted his arm lightly once Rhys announced his departure. “Be kind to yourself, young man. It is always my pleasure.”
He [i loved] how refreshed he felt after a hit of Dust. No nightmares, no headache, almost felt like he had a few more hours of sleep rather than his mere three hours. Invy turned over in his cot and rubbed the mass of curly hair atop his head. He was going to need to cut it again soon but definitely after their next move. [i Urg, I can’t wait to be in one place for more then a day again.]
The invisible man stretched, washed his face in the still water bowl on the vanity before dressing in a fresh set of clothes. Black. He was feeling pretty ebony today.
The circus was in full swing once he emerged into the daylight, everyone getting ready for the performance that Rhys promoted overnight. [i Rhys.] Invy took a deep breath. He had to get over it. The knight was going to be living here whether he liked it or not and he couldn’t- [i shouldn’t] be treating him any different just because he was utterly rejected.
He rubbed the back of his neck, finding himself looking for the giant despite his feelings. When his search was fruitless, Invy busied himself with breakfast and directed those a little lost in the circus routine. It boosted his esteem to be second in command and when he emerged from helping Were Vain with his torn suit, it all crumbled like parchment in his chest at the sight of Rhys across the path.
Invy tightened his jaw, gathering himself awkwardly once he realized Rhys had purpose to speak to him. He didn’t feel ready. He didn’t feel like he had anything nice to say if Rhys wanted to rub it in how he survived such a great and noble feat. How killing trolls must mean something back where he’s from or whatever knightly bit he had up his sleeve.
Though as far as sleeves went, Invy had to admit he looked different. He looked naked almost? He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He stared a little longer before snapping his fingers. [i The sword. It’s the fucking sword.] What, did he manage to break it or mayhaps somehow realized it was an obnoxious thing to be swinging around like he had some bigger-
At some point Rhys had greeted him. Invy blinked, trying to recall what was said and instead opted with, “Morning.” He cleared his throat. “Rest well I take it?” ]]
[size14 Rhys eventually found Invy next to Were Vain. His all black attire gave Rhys a hint as to what he might be able to expect from the younger man when it came to his mood. He knew Invy well enough now to know that there was usually a reason for the things he did, even when it came down to his choice of fashion.
“Invy,” Rhys said in greeting. “Good morning.” Were Vain looked between the two of them awkwardly. It was a long moment before Invy answered. Rhys was starting to think he might be getting the cold shoulder treatment when he finally replied.
Rest well? He couldn’t tell if Invy was serious or not. Surely he had heard he and Crow bickering. “No, not really,” he said honestly, but not in a way that said he expected sympathy. “I was hoping we could speak.” There was a moment of silence and Rhys glanced at Were Vain. “In private.” He held out his arm and gestured for Invy to accompany him somewhere away from eavesdroppers. “Please.”
He headed for the outskirts of camp, not wanting Invy to feel like he was cornering him in one of their tents. Not for this conversation, at least. The larger man put his hands on his hips and looked around him, wondering how to start. When he couldn’t find the right words, he went with his first plan. It was simple, at least.
“I wanted to apologize,” he said, finally letting his eyes meet Invy’s mask. “I’m sorry.” He did not look away no matter how awkward he felt. Invy needed to know he meant this. “It wasn’t my place to tell you what you should or shouldn’t have done. I was fortunate you did anything at all. And I could tell you every excuse behind why I did what I did, but I’m not going to. After my fight with Crow last night and the conversation with Madam York that followed, I realized that none of it matters anymore.”
Rhys took a step closer to Invy. He wished he could reach out, but he knew he had burned that bridge. “From now on, I’m just Rhys. I’m leaving the commander at the door. For real this time.” He paused. “Just… be patient with me. Because old dog… new tricks. All that. And if you can’t stand to look at me, then I’ll remove myself if only to spare you the grief. You could tell me to walk a hundred leagues away from here and I would do it, Invy. I’d fall on my sword. Just name the price to stop you looking at me like that.”
It was driving Rhys mad. The tilt of Invy’s mask as he let Rhys trip over his words. “Just tell me what I can do to make it right, Invy. To make [i this] right.” Rhys gestured between the two of them. If he could not win Invy’s trust back, or at least his friendship, then he might really debate leaving…
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost This was terribly uncomfortable but Invy smiled nonetheless at Rhys' proposal to speak in private. He nodded, saying a brief goodbye to Were before following the silver tipped man. To his surprise, ‘private’ didn’t mean one of their tent quarters but instead to the outside border of Scarga which, he had to admit, did make him feel a little better.
Rhys turned him like he was about to confess a sin to a priest, full of intensity. Invy crossed his arms as the other began his apology acknowledging his dismissal of the invisible man’s efforts yesterday. But fight? Him and Crow [i and] Madam York? The heat rose in his cheeks. He must have been more spaced out then he thought to have missed such an event. A conversation he’d have to prod details from later.
Rhys stepped forward and his heart skipped a beat. “Just... be patient with me.” Invy took a steady breath, his negative mood already diminishing with every passing second. This man had grade A skills at being utterly sincere and it slightly frustrated him. But, then again, he was admitting fault and even going as far as to ‘fall on my sword’ humoring him. This knight was too much.
Invy laughed. “Don’t be so dramatic, Rhys. If there’s one thing Madam York likes to engrave in our brains is never hold judgment of someone by their faults. [i This.]” He gestured between the two of them. “Is just fine. I’ll get over it. We’re two different sides of a coin, you and I, and I get that.
“That being said, I can get emotional about things. Sometimes it’s hard to put that barrier between past and present and I appreciate your understanding if I have the urge to run away from time to time.” He began rolling up the sleeves on his tunic. “If we’re going to continue to coexist as friends, we need to communicate. You have the need to confront soldiers, make sure we’re not around. If I extend my offer to help, take it and in turn I [i promise] to try and be more understanding of your previous life experiences. They seem to run you Lone Wolf.”
He snapped his fingers. “Perhaps you should consider that as your stage name, can’t be Rhys forever. Though I’m quite sure Crow won’t force you on tonight, judging by your story. We should be staying longer in the next kingdom, however, which will help revamp our image, so to speak.”
Invy pushed Rhys arm playfully. “We square? Anything else to say, giant?” ]]
[size14 Rhys really had no idea how this was going to go. Invy was rather… unpredictable when it came to his reactions and moods. Rhys didn’t want to change that, but he sure wished he had some kind of hint going into this as to how he might react.
To his surprise, Invy managed to break the awkward tension with just a few words. Rhys had given him all the power and he was being extremely gracious. More gracious than Rhys deserved. Invy spoke about his need to run away from time to time and Rhys nodded. He had noticed this quirk in his friend. Hell, he hadn’t even shown his face even when he and Crow were shouting his name across camp. He couldn't, however, promise Invy he wouldn’t come looking for him after a certain point. Isolation had never been good for man, even an invisible one…
“If I extend my offer to help, take it and in turn I [i promise] to try and be more understanding of your previous life experiences. They seem to run you Lone Wolf.”
Rhys nodded at this and Invy’s earlier mention of communication being key.
“Communication. Right,” he said with a small, breathy chuckle. “Mikael was the only one I ever actually had conversations with. Everyone else I just issued orders to. So this might take a while. But I’m willing to learn. This art of… communication.” He paused, his mouth finally twitching up into one of those familiar smiles he usually gave Invy. “You’ve done a decent job of pulling conversation out of me in the past. Perhaps you can teach me. Perhaps this ‘Lone Wolf’ can still learn a few things,” he said, adopting the name.
He looked over his shoulder and found Crow moving about camp. He hated to admit it, but he had a newfound respect for the bird, even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye. “I should be fine to fight tonight. I owe him that much and I’m not injured badly. I just don’t know what he has planned for me. Surely he wouldn’t buy another troll for me to kill. I think I’m done with trolls,” he said, rubbing a sore shoulder.
When he dropped his arm, Invy pushed it playfully. It still felt like there was a barrier between them, but it was a fading fog, and Rhys would happily take whatever it was they had now over Invy’s cold shoulder. “We’re square,” Rhys confirmed. Did he have anything else to say to Invy? Only everything. “Nothing else, other than… What can I do to help set up for tonight?”
Continue reading this role play by signing up to Roleplay.cloud Roleplay Now ! No email required!