Kiera stands at the top of the tightrope, smiling down at me.
“Heard about your little challenge from your minions,” I chuckle. “Where are my friends?”
The Ring Leader smiles and the crowd watches every move he makes as he steps closer, laughing to himself.
“I knew you were smart, Rochelle,” he says and turns to the crowd. “But I didn’t know you were smart enough to fool me!”
The crowd laughs.
“Yes, indeed. I offered a challenge. Defeat me and you can have your friends back. But, if you don’t...” he turns back to me, still talking loud enough for all to hear. “Your friends get fed to the monkey-people.”
The crowd oohs and the monkeys howl and squeal with glee.
“Can she do it folks?” He circles the arena.
The audience spits with boo’s and cheers of encouragement. They think it’s all a show.
It will be.
The back of my calf itches as the new skin finishes forming from where Kiera ripped some of it off. It was tricky, and it hurt like heck, trying to get that to happen without causing a scene and making the monkeys question what’s going on. They are stupid, but I didn’t want to underestimate it. All I had to do was transport Harold and I to a different location where we could watch them take Kiera. When she got up on the tightrope, I knew it was time to come in. I couldn’t wait any longer.
I just hope it wasn’t too soon of an entry.
He turns towards me, crouching down like he’s ready to pounce. I stand, leather covering me from head to toe, looking exactly how I did the night of the wish in that alleyway. My heels are digging into the dirt below me, but that won’t matter in a moment. I’ll be on my toes the entire time, considering what’s about to happen.
I smile coldly at the Ring Leader, and he mirrors me. I can see his fangs dripping with venom already, and I can feel the all-to-familiar cockiness bubbling up inside me. It just takes one touch. That’s it. Then he will be gone. I already have a nice place for him to be in that includes chains and locks and a lot of torture. It seems like he’ll fit in well. Even though something inside of me tells me I’m doing the wrong thing, I’m still going to do it...
Harold told me that no matter what happened, I was going to go back to fight for the carnies. It was inevitable. My human side would win and I’d drag myself back here whether I liked it or not. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t have mercy on the Ring Leader like my human side would. We’re too different. The human part of me is like a whole other person living inside of me and whispering in my ear, trying to persuade me to ‘do the right thing’.
I hope she knows that this is the right thing.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I shout towards the audience, ignoring the Ring Leader’s invitation to fight by crouching down. “I bet you’re wondering how I could possibly defeat this vampire. He’s older, stronger, wiser,” I say sarcastically, laughing at him with the audience. “But I will say this. Some vampires have powers, much like superheroes. Some can read minds, some can time travel... and then there’s the Ring Leader and me.
“He has the power to alter moods and emotions, much like what he did to my skin-walking friend up on the tightrope platform. He made her so scared she could barely climb the rungs to reach the top.
“And me... I’ve never had a power before,” I start, the Ring Leader watching smugly as I say my final words. “But I got one somehow. And with one touch,” I turn to face him now. “I can send someone anywhere in the world, if only I imagine it.”
The Ring Leader cocks an eyebrow and swings his cane around in his hand as he stands up straight. He chuckles.
“Sounds like a real challenge.”
“Trust me,” I hiss. “I am.”
“Just one touch, huh?” He waves his cane around again. “That’s all you need?”
I nod in agreement, thinking I have this planned to the last moment how I want it to go down.
But by now I should know that things never go as planned.
“Well good luck,” he smiles, a hint of humor plastered on his face. “You’ll need it.”
“Are you ready for the show?” The Ring Leader turns to the audience with his arms stretched wide.
They cheer and he does a full three-sixty, turning back to me. He takes off his hat and his jacket, revealing a whip at each hip, one of them I was all too familiar with. The other one glows red like fire. He throws his jacket and his cane into the audience, and tosses his hat to the top of the tent. A witch catches it and the lights go off. There’s a single spotlight from the brim of the hat, landing on the Ring Leader and I as we stand, ready to take up each other’s challenges.
The light creates creepy shadows on his face and his eyes are glowing beneath the blackness cast upon them by his eyebrow bones. I hold my ground, hands on my hips and balancing on my toes so I won’t get stuck in the dirt.
The crowd settles down, and I can hear the whispers spreading through the arena. They’re betting on who will win. And it makes me wonder if this isn’t the first time this has happened.
“Go,” The Ring Leader says to me.
I smirk and lunge forward.
The red whip strikes me down, and I feel my diamond-hard skin split open. I cry out and pull myself up onto my knees. The sound of my skin regenerating makes me feel sick. I try to stand.
“What kind of whip is that?” I whisper through the pain.
“A magic one,” he chuckles as he bends down next to me. “Cuts through any type skin. Could decapitate a human.”
The crowd marvels at this and I see him stand up.
How could one blow from a whip knock me down that hard?
I stand up and look at him through my hair.
This is going to be harder than I thought.
The Ring Leader stands smiling at me as if he knows I can’t win.
I charge at him again and he strikes me down with the whip, hitting me in my side.
I roll onto the dirt, holding myself and pressing on the wound bubbling with venom.
The Ring Leader laughs at me, and backs away.
“Stand up!” he cries mockingly. “Stand up, Rochelle.”
“That’s not my name,” I grunt as I roll over and place my feet under me. He stands on the opposite side of the ring, running the whip though his hands with a sick smile on his face. I can’t get close to him like this without getting hit...
I touch my arm and picture the audience behind him.
The crowd erupts with surprise as I appear behind him in the stands and reach out to him. He spins around almost immediately and smiles.
I fall to the ground, hitting my head on the railing around the ring. Ferocious pain courses through my body like hot fire, and I can’t move. It’s everywhere, and it won’t stop. I can feel myself crying out, yet I can’t. Everything is numb besides the pain. It takes over every inch of my body and I start to shake.
I open my eyes to see the little werecat I’d talked to the first time I was down here. He’s watching me with wide-eyes.
I can barely hear him, and his image is blurring in and out, but I know he said it. He’s rooting for me.
I pick up my hand and fumble for the bottom rung on the railing to pull myself up. My hand wraps around it, and the pain intensifies. My muscles clench together as fast as they relax again and I can hardly breathe.
Pulling myself up a bit, I place my other hand on the next bar. The Ring Leader has moved on, walking around the arena to flaunt his power. I can barely hear him as he calls down Kiera to challenge him.
She makes her way down and changes into a big animal. She tramples over him, but within a second, a painful second, he’s back on his feet.
And I’m on mine.
The pain has died down a bit, but I still feel like an airplane is hitting me over and over.
I slowly, painfully, make my way over the bars, stepping onto the dirt.
The crowd cheers and I smile slightly.
He had to know I wasn’t going down easily.
I see him throw the blurry figure of Kiera into the crowd, and she lays there, motionless. He turns around to face me.
“How are you enjoying my gift?” he says loudly. “It’s quite magnificent, isn’t it?”
I say nothing. I don’t think I can manage anything. My brain is on overdrive and it’s not thinking clearly.
My feet move towards him sluggishly as more pain shoots through my body with every step. His body gets closer and less blurry and I put my hand out. I need to touch him. I have the place. I need to touch him.
I see him raise his arm, the red of the whip glowing in bright in my partial-blindness.
He starts to bring it down, when I hear my name.
The pain stops and I put my arm up, catching the whip in my hand.