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Preperations

"Okay, let's run through the file one last time…"

Sam sprawled himself across one of the reading chairs in the living room, closing the manila folder in his lap. The past week he and Lilli had done nothing but study the ins and outs of the mission file they'd been given by Maerria. There had been so many names and faces to memorize that he thought he never would have been able to recognize them and yet…

"Who is this?" Lilli leaned forward, holding a picture of a blond man, his long ponytail tucked over one shoulder and a black and red top hat nearly obstructing his pointed face.

"Luca Hughes. Age unknown. Hughes is suspected to be using an alias and also the ring leader of the Nights End Circus troupe. If anything he would be the one who ordered the soul stealing spells and is using them in the routines." Sam recited, shifting his legs so they dangled over the armrest.

The case had been more complex than he had thought. The Nights End Circus, a traveling motley crew of performers had been quietly moving from town to town across eastern Europe for years, he had learned. They always stopped in small towns, places out of the way and away from big cities. It had been no wonder that no one had took a notice to them until when Maerria began her investigation. They had learned that the apparent stealing of souls had been shrouded by myriads of mishaps ranging from children staying out too late in the cold to adults celebrating the show into the wee hours of the evening until they were too sick to make it home. It had seemed reasonable enough to Sam until he read about the deaths of twenty people after one the Nights End Circus shows; long after they had left town in fact. The whole thing had sent shivers down his spine when Sam first read it. Now he had to force himself to take a deep breath as he looked at his companion.

"Very good," Lilli complimented with a smile, setting the picture aside, "And this is…" The blond hummed, holding out another picture, this time of a dark skinned woman with frizzy brown hair streaked with flames and gold.

"Tia Barnes, the Fire Mistress. Age 32 and mother to Notch and Fang, the knife throwers. She's Luca's right hand when it comes to preparing the shows. It's hard to believe that a mother would involve herself in harming children but…"

"Now, now. We don't know the extent of any of their involvement yet," The blond scolded, hitting his arm before setting the picture down, "Despite your bad experience with the Board, we don't just kill everyone who makes mistakes. Your case was special."

Sam groaned at the lecture. He had heard it, at this point, an annoying amount of times. Despite that, he still felt ill at the mention of the Board of judges and their harsh treatment of him and his human heritage. According to the file, everyone in the circus was also human. He couldn't see them getting any special privileges, even if they were innocent.

"Next. Name and occupation." Lilli ordered, nearly shoving the next picture at him.

Snatching it from her fingers, Sam hummed, studying the petite young face that greeted him, "Ainsele Dyer. Age 19 and the Master of Puppets. Cyarocya seems to think that she has a bit of magic in her if she's able to manipulate inanimate objects and she could be the one casting the spells on the crowd." Sam murmured, glancing over the picture of the young girl. She was younger than him but she sported an old Victorian style in the photograph making her appear older. He couldn't help but think that her bobbed brown hair was cute with the ribbons she sported.

Lilli snatched the picture back, nodding, "Very good. She will be the one we will have to keep an eye on, her and Kalitha are the most likely.." Sam glanced at her, nodding as he thought of the fortune teller who was half turned and blurry in their photographs. It wouldn't be hard to distinguish her from the rest of the troupe though; she had bright, white hair, even whiter than Cyarocya's. The silver haired demoness looked gray in comparison.

"What about the rest of them. Notch and Fang couldn't be behind it, they're just kids…" Sam frowned in thought, sitting up straight in his chair as he swung his feet to the floor and faced forward, "Same with Aireili. She's only ten and I know that Cyarocya said that a lion tamer could be trouble but I just don't think it's possible."

"You can't doubt people just because of their age Sam. There and those younger than you that can conjure powerful illusions. We have to think of everyone as an accomplice until we know more."

"You say that but I still can't make myself think that. And don't call me soft. I've heard it enough." Sam snapped, pointing at Lilli as she opened her mouth to speak. She pursed her lips and shook her head.

"I wasn't this time. I was going to tell you that I think that kindness of yours is the reason why you'll be good for the job. They will trust you and that will make it easy for you to get information out of them." Lilli began, folding the photographs into her own file with a calm expression.

"And who came up with that idea?" Sam inquired, his stomach flipping at the mere thought of him infiltrating the potentially dangerous circus.

"Cyarocya did," Lilli responded, cutting Sam off as he opened his mouth to retort, "And before you think it was in attempt to get you killed, I agreed! If these people really are magical they will sense us from miles away. They will hardly notice you and that, dear Sam, is the reason why we are taking you along."

As she finished speaking, the front door opened and both assistants turned to see Cyarocya stepping inside. She paused, sighing as she took her coat off and seemed to ignore them for a second before she finally turned to the living room and blinked slowly at the pair. Lilli was the first to speak up, "How did it go?"

"Permissions have been granted," Cyarocya began, waving a hand, "Our travel permits have been approved and /he/ has been approved to come. Here's your passport. Though you'll only need it for menial things." the demon added, tossing a small book at him. Sam caught it clumsily and opened it. It was indeed a passport, though the photograph was obviously recycled from his prior driver’s license. It made his heart flutter. He'd never traveled outside the states before.

"When did they say we could leave Cy?" Lilli asked, standing up and following her into the kitchen. Sam stood up and followed them in mild curiosity.

"They didn't seem too particular. We could probably go to the station now, make our way to the safe house and begin investigating immediately." Cyarocya explained, flipping the faucet on to fill a glass.

"You don't seem to agree." Lilli mentioned with a frown.

"I do things at my own pace…" the demon hummed lazily, pulling herself onto the counter, crossing her legs.

"But they're a traveling circus," Sam piped up, swallowing hard when Cyarocya's burning green gaze turned to him, "W-wouldn't it be better if we left as soon as possible…? Just in case?"

Lilli stayed quiet and just looked at Cyarocya questioningly at his inquiry. It made Sam wonder if he was the only one who could feel the tension as the demon stared at him until she set her glass down and slid herself back to the floor. Leaning over to Lilli she muttered, though it was loud enough that Sam could still hear "When did the help become so annoyingly observant?"

Lilli's gaze filled with a hint of pride as she glanced over at Sam with a soft laugh, "I trained him well, don't you think?" Cyarocya scoffed and sauntered past him.

"Pack your bags. Quickly. Everything is already prepared for us upon our arrival." she called, traversing up the stairs with the slam of a door following after her. Sam let out a sigh of relief and looked at Lilli, tilting his head slightly at the faint smile on her face.

"What are you looking so happy about? Relieved you don't have to quiz me anymore?" He teased, starting to turn away.

"No, it's not that. Cy wanted to leave today. That was, I suppose in her own way, a test for you," she said, brushing past him, "You passed, by the way."

"Wait, what?" Sam blubbered, following her in confusion. It was too late though. Lilli was already walking up the stairs while reciting to herself what she should pack leaving Sam scratching his head. Had that really been a test, or was it just coincidence? Or maybe Lilli was just trying to be nice and tell him what he wanted to hear. Either way, as Sam followed his companions upstairs, he decided to take the compliment. Whether Cyarocya meant it or not, he decided it was progress!

He reached his room and grabbed one of his suitcases and began to toss his clothes inside. He had no clue what he would have needed to pack otherwise and his stomach churned with nerves as he folded his jeans and laid them in the bag. He was sure both Lilli and Cyarocya were packing magical artifacts and talismans and protective seals and many other magicks that Sam couldn’t even dream of. Here he was packing clothes and a prayer. Fear gripped him like an icy claw, drawing him back to reality. The last couple days were easy; it was just studying. He could do studying easily. But actually taking action? Fighting and investigating and dealing with dangerous criminals?

“This is too much. I have to tell them I can’t do it…” Sam whimpered, pushing himself to his feet and walking out of his room. Normally, Sam would have automatically went to speak with Lilli, but his feet guided him to Cyarocya’s door and he raised his hand numbly, knocking on the heavy wooden door. It looked even more imposing when he was close to it. The door always remained closed at the end of the hall, even when Cyarocya wasn’t home. It was an ominous symbol of Cyarocya’s reign; her closed off heart and mind to Sam’s presence in the house.

“Lilli? You know I don’t want to be disturbed when prepping for a mission.” The demon’s voice was muffled and Sam felt all of the air get sucked from his lungs. Whatever confidence that had been there, if there had been any in the first place, was gone. He took a step back, hesitating for a second too long before the door was wrenched open and the demoness peered out.

“Oh. It’s you.”

Sam swallowed hard, his mouth dry with fear as he stared into her exposed green eye. He tried to glance at her eye patch in hopes of alleviating his anxiety, but he looked at the rose patterned leather he felt like he would be sucked into the darkness of the fabric and tore his gaze away. Cyarocya looked impatient, a scowl forming on her face in his silence, “What do you want?”

“I—“

“I can smell the fear coming off of you,” She snapped suddenly, leering forward, “And if you ask to take your leave here, then the answer will be no. You’re not getting out of this so easily. Don’t forget, this is part of your punishment. Your right to live isn’t a reward: you earn your keep in my house. Do you understand?” Cyarocya went on in her usual icy tone.

Sam nodded half numbly, aware of her eye searching his face. He hadn't yet proven his worth to the demonic woman, let alone to himself. He had to ask himself quickly if he would be satisfied with running away at the first sign of trouble. His stomach flipped when he didn't find a good enough reason to say yes. Sam was reminded that these people could be connected to the syndicate that framed his father and got him into his current situation. He had to do this. It was for more than himself anymore. Is that what Cyarocya felt like she had to choose the jobs she took? It was more difficult than he imagined.

"N-nevermind. I'm sorry I disturbed you…" he muttered, hanging his head slightly as he turned away from the demoness.

"I don't understand you," Cyarocya signed, raising her hands she shrugged dramatically, "you keep changing your mind over and over again. One minute you're ready to take on the world and the next you're ready to run away. Humans are so fickle; it makes me ill."

Sam felt his stomach bubbling with anger. She didn't understand him at all… she probably never would. He tried to keep himself steady as he walked back to his room, holding his tongue. /She couldn't understand my motives. She's a demon, probably out to cover her own ass. Just keep on doing what you're doing Sam…/ but he couldn't shake the feeling of Cyarocya's eye on his back as he wandered back into his room. It was hard to imagine her cockiness was just for show anymore. With just a look, she had paralyzed him.

It's a damn good thing I’m on her side. I’d really hate to be the guy who crosses her…

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