Cirque de Lucioles

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Controlling the Inferno

Archer laughed, walking through the bazaar with his friends; it was a nice and quiet day and all four had decided to, for once, spend the time enjoying themselves, instead of practicing with their masks. Diantha and Lori had cotton candy in their hands, Zeria had a slushie in hers, and Archer was munching on a spicy, yet sweet little jerky stick; they’d all been equally surprised when they’d found out that the circus had a few human delicacies as well as foreign Fae treats and candies.

“Seriously?” Archer inquired with a smirk and Zeria huffed, looking away, shrugging.

“In my defense, I was still trying to learn how to use the stupid mask.” She said and Diantha giggled while Archer snickered. Lori seemed to be too focused on her cotton candy to really pay attention, though. “Hey! Don’t laugh! At least I wasn’t the one that caught my cloak on fire!” She shot back and Archer nearly choked, his cheeks lighting with a bright red blush.

“That totally wasn’t my fault!” He argued and Diantha outright laughed.

“At least you guys didn’t give a knife to a spiderling to play with,” she shuttered at this memory and looked down at the knife along her belt. Archer snorted at that and shook his head, turning his head to Lori and he nudged her.

“Hm?” Lori hummed, distracted and Archer snickered.

“Come on, what was your first screw up with your mask?” He urged, trying to get the girl to join the conversation; Lori only glared at him and continued nibbling on her cotton candy.

“Come on Lori,” Diantha encouraged and Zeria tilted her head, looking a little curious. Lori opened her mouth to say something, the glare still placed upon her lips, but all four were brought from their conversation when they heard a loud, unmistakable hiss and Archer tensed, eyes wide. He dropped the rest of his jerky in a nearby trash bin, barely noticing the others doing the same with their unfinished treats, and quickly made his way to where he figured the hiss came from.

What they saw made him freeze in his tracks, eyes impossibly wider and he let out a noise resembling a squeak and a groan. Oh come on! Can’t we ever just get one day of peace around here?! He thought mildly, freaking out a bit as he stared at the new faerie and her giant snake friend, before turning his attention to Evice and the Ringmaster. “What in the bloody hell is going on!?” He shouted, fists clenched and his fingers itched to grab his mask and put it on.

He stepped up when the snake turned its ugly head towards them, fangs bared and eyes narrowed dangerously and he held out an arm, as if to protect his friends. It was then that the new faerie saw them, her eyes wide and pleading. “Please help us! We can end this vicious cycle once and for all!” She shouted at them and Archer shivered, eyes closed for a moment before they snapped open. End this once and for all...? What does she mean... does she... could it be that...

“No, you don’t understand!” Evice pleaded in response, snapping Archer’s attention to him, and Archer let out a sharp surprised noise when the snake snapped its jaws at the Fae. “Don’t let her do this!”

It was then that he decided what to do and he untied his mask quickly and efficiently before put it on and he snapped his fingers, flicking his wrists, before letting the fire consume his hands. He ran forward, jumping around, and catching the snake’s attention, turning it away from Evice and the Ringmaster. “We can’t ever get a moment of rest in this place, can we!?” He huffed out, trying to put on a brave façade, though in truth, he was scared and excited and he was thrumming with anticipation and anxiety. I don't know what’s going on, but I do know this... I won’t allow my newest friends to get hurt... Not now, not ever.

His own move to pick a side seemed to have snapped the others from their frozen states and they decided for themselves what to do. He could barely focus on what the others did as the snake made a move to attack him, and he jumped back, letting out a sharp relieved breath when the snake closed its jaws around the air instead of him.

He did notice, however, that Lori had gotten out her flute, edging closer to the new Fae, and though he didn’t know what she was going to do, he could only hope it was for the better and not for the worst.

His attention was quickly turned back to the snake when he saw that the beast was no longer eying him and he would’ve called it back, had it not been for the shopkeeper that was making his way towards him, with a sword made of water, gripped tightly in his hands. Fuck...! he tensed up when he saw the shopkeeper edge closer to him and his eyes narrowed beneath the mask as he scoffed. “You've got to be bloody kidding me...” He looks like he’s about to run off at any minute, like a frightened rabbit. He felt enough confidence go through him as an idea sparked in his mind and he threw out his hand, firing a ball of fire at the man. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous to play with fire?” he taunted, grinning wide, skipping to the side, as he readied another fireball in his hands.

He watched as the shopkeeper yelped, barely blocking the fire ball with his sword, causing the magics to sizzle and hiss before the fire was doused and smothered by the watery blade. When the shopkeeper swallowed hard, he noticed that the other seemed to have gained a little more confidence as he readied his blade to block another attack. Archer noted with a twisted smirk that he seemed to be looking for an opening, a moment in which he could strike and come that much closer to winning. Such a pity it is, that you’re no where near winning this match. He thought before adding with narrowed eyes, Of course, water against fire... normally I’d have thought I was screwed, if it weren’t for the fact that he looks so uncertain with all of this.

Archer snickered and jumped back as he shot two fireballs this time, one at the shopkeeper’s feet and another after, making sure it would go right by his head. This Fire-dancer gig is actually pretty cool! Huffing out a laugh, he barely registered that he was actually having fun with all of this, dancing around like he was, playing with fire on his own. His aim hadn’t been so great, however, as he observed with wide eyes that the fire to his head actually hit the mark instead of going past it, after the man barely managed to block the fire to his feet.

Eyes wide, he let out a choked noise when the other let out a sharp cry of pain, a hand going to his face, before he got up and charged at him, letting out something that sounded like a strangled battle cry. He jumped back before skipping to the side and he lashed the fire at the shopkeeper’s back, finally done with playing around. I never meant to actually hurt him, but if that’s how he wants to do it, then fine by me! “Sheesh! You Fae sure don’t know how to listen, do you?” he taunted, unable to help it. “Come on then, is that all you can do?” Okay Archer, think... I need to get that sword away from him and then he’ll be powerless against my flames. Grinning dangerously then, he thought of how to execute his plan. Get him to run at me again, trip him, knock the sword from his hands, and keep it away from him. Simple, yeah? He scoffed at his thoughts and rolled his eyes, holding up his hands, his flames at his disposal once more. “Yeah right...” he muttered before narrowing his eyes as he watched the shopkeeper. Let's do this.

“Listen?!” the Fae suddenly snapped, drawing his sword once more, “I do nothing but listen to these brats! It’s time they listened to me!” Archer watched as he gripped the hilt of his sword more tightly and his eyes widened when the sword began to take the shape of an axe, “You think you're so fast?” he shouted, though his voice was on the verge of cracking as he eyed the fireballs, “How about I cut your legs off and we see how fast you are!” Without giving Archer a chance to react to the sight of the axe, he charged again, drawing the axe back in preparation for a wide arching sweep meant to take the legs right out from under the human.

“Oh fuck!” Archer shouted, cursing in his head, snuffing out the fire and he finally jumped back and away. What am I supposed to do now? Like this... there’s no opening I can exploit! He thought, letting out a shaky breath that barely just managed to not come out as a hiss. “Oh boo hoo, poor little Fae. Nothing but weak minded threats is all I hear," he continued to taunt as he tried to think of a way to get out of this. Suddenly brightening up with an idea, he landed on the ground once more, standing tall before grinning wide.

He waited for the right moment and as the fae charged, he jumped to the side before rolling behind the man and he swung out his leg, in a single move to trip him. Let’s see how he'll handle this little surprise! He thought as he watched with utter delight as the Fae tripped, landing on his face, and Archer noted with a snicker how his wings fluttered at the harsh movement.

Archer suddenly couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him then, extremely amused. He made his move, then, and quickly jumped forward, kicking away the axe that the Fae had dropped in the fall and he grinned, letting fire consume his hands once more as he stood a few feet from where the other lay. It was true that he often never used his common sense, but he did know now that if he wasn’t careful, he’d be taken by surprise just like he’d done to the Fae. “One move and I’ll scorch you,” he threatened instead, though it was a pure bluff. He knew that if he threw out his fire now, he could potentially harm the Fae more than he already had and that most definitely didn’t sit too well with him.

The shopkeeper finally looked up at the human, paralyzed with fear before he managed to put his hands up over his face, “P-p-please don’t...” he pleaded and Archer’s eyes narrowed as the Fae glanced anxiously at the fireball and then at something off behind the human’s shoulder, seeing something that caused his eyes to widen further and he flinched away with a cry as the great snake’s tail slammed down. Archer flinched away as well, letting out a sharp and embarrassingly girly shout that he would forever deny until the end of his days.

Turning around, his fire fizzling to nothing, he noted with wide eyes that the snake was now fighting with the Ringmaster. He cared little now that the Fae had managed to escape, unbothered by this as he knew that he wouldn’t bother trying to pick a fight with him again.

What managed to catch his attention was the fact that the new faerie, after stumbling back from a powerful blast of light magic, nearly bumped into Lori. The Fire-dancer stiffened up with wide eyes, as he saw the Fae brace herself, pulling out her whip in preparation for an attack but he saw that, when Lori did not attack her, she sighed in what looked like relief, “Thank the stars,” he barely managed to hear, “will you help me?” Before giving Lori a chance to answer, she had caught sight of something that clearly pleased her to no end, “That... that’s perfect! Go find some weak-willed pixies or other Fae,” she directed, and Archer couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “they’ll be hypnotized by your music!” he watched as she flinched away from another bright burst of light, and she continued to speak, her words faint now, “I hate to admit it, but we need as many hands as we can get, whether or not they’re willing to fight with us.”

S-she can’t be serious... D-does she really expect Lori to fight by her side!? Archer felt horrified when he watched Lori’s reaction to all of this, and he couldn’t help his reaction when he watched her nod and turn away. “Traitor!” he shouted, hands clenched into fists as he watched her run off. H-how could she!? He jumped away again, flinching and bringing his hands up when the snake’s tail came lashing at him, and he growled low and dark, eyes narrowed beneath his mask once more.

It was the sight of a knife being thrown at Evice that truly got his blood to boil and he finally summoned his fire back, deciding to focus his attention upon the beast before him, firing at the snake and hoping that his aim was right. Diantha and Lori... they’re both traitors! Do they not care that...? No, that’s not true... I can’t blame them for wanting this all to end. Even I want it to end... but the way they’re going about it... this isn’t... isn’t right! He thought, firing another shot when he noticed that he did indeed have the snake’s attention now.

The snake had coiled and hissed loudly in anguish, turning it's burning eyes on the source of the annoying burning sensation along its spine. Archer watched as it reared its head with an angry hiss and lunged at him with the intent to swallow him whole. “Oh fuck!” Archer squealed, eyes wide and he snuffed his fire, scrambling to get away. “I did not think this through! I did not think this through!!” He shouted, shaking his head as he ran from the snake, noting how it gave chase after him. Just as it lined up its next strike, Archer stumbled when he saw that the serpent was interrupted by a beam of magic aimed at its head, hitting one of its eyes and temporarily blinding it, it seemed.

“Stay out of its line of sight!” Archer heard Evice yell at him over the den as the snake turned its aggression on this new attacker. Evice ducked around to its other side, staying in its blind spot and muttering something that Archer couldn’t hear. “We need to get him away from Athis. It will be easier to subdue them when they’re separated!” Athis... is that the new Fae... The one that started all of this?

Archer nodded at this, though he was sure Evice didn’t see it, and spoke verbally his consent to this plan, “Can do, Sarge,” he drawled with a smirk gracing his lips, panting only slightly as he summoned his fire again and he turned on the snake, ready to hop away at any sign of true danger. “Oi! Venom breath!” He taunted, throwing a few balls of fire at the snake. When he saw one hit its mark, he turned and ran in the opposite direction of the enemy Fae- Athis, or whatever. “Come on! Follow the annoying human! You know you wanna!” What the hell am I doing!? He thought in a moment of mild panic at his own actions.

The snake hissed in anger as another fireball collided with its shimmering scales, tarnishing their natural gleam and stinging the flesh encased beneath and he turned on Archer once more, following after him.

Archer, jumping away from the snake as it lunged once more at him, was thrilled, adrenaline humming through his body and he continued to blast fire at the snake, jumping this way and that, quick on his feet and determined to never stay in one place too long, lest he get caught in his own trap. “Let’s see how you do, completely blind!” He shouted, focusing his fire attacks on the snake's head, trying to aim for the other eye. Come on, can't I do any better than this!? He hissed in his thoughts, annoyed that he can’t ever get his aim right. Well, at least he was hitting the snake... just not where he wanted.

In answer, in a rage, the snake twisted his body around, and swept his tail through part of the bazaar in an attempt to catch his prey, destroying many shops and wagons in his wake.

“O-okay, okay, so not what I was going f-for!” Archer winced, jumping away from the destroyed shops. His heart raced as he realized that the shops around him were rubble and splinters of wood and he’d have to get closer to the snake to get around the piles of debris. “Fuck...!” His breath came out in short bursts now and he continued throwing out his fireballs. He let out a yelp when the snake lunged forward again and he jumped back just in time, but he realized that his jump was clumsy and mis-timed. He cursed again as he tripped, falling backwards, hissing when wood dug into his bag and he barely noticed that his fire had snuffed out in the fall. “Ow...” he muttered, unable to help the small reaction to the sharp pain. With all the grace of a bear on a tightrope, Archer... pathetic, he grumbled in his head, struggling to sit up.

“Archer!” the teen snapped his head up at the familiar voice, eyes wide when he saw Diantha, worry creeping into her tone. It took a few moments for him to remember that she was on the other side of the battle and his eyes narrowed, but they widened again as his attention was diverted back to the snake when it lunged at him once more. Cowering away, he waited, only to be met with a hiss and the sound of rubble moving as the snake moved along the ground.

Opening his eyes, he was mildly confused when he saw the snake was no longer focused on his and instead found that it was circling Diantha, her knives poised and ready to strike. “Diantha...” he whispered, barely letting out a sigh of relief and his shoulders sagged before he finally got the sense to move. Getting up and out of the pile of debris he’d landed in, he summoned his fire once more and grinned then, ready this time for anything that the snake could give him.

“I totally missed what’s going on,” Archer fumbled a bit as a voice whispered near his ear, though as usual, Heathersbane was a bit difficult to see, even more so in this situation. “And you look a little busy so I won’t ask, but from the looks of things you’ve got a snake problem. Anything I can do to help?”

Archer huffed out a heavy breath and nodded his head in return, “Help me and Diantha keep the snake away from its master. While we distract it, hopefully the others can take care of Athis, or whatever her name was...” he said, trying to keep his voice low and he took in another deep breath, letting it out before striking the ground below the snake with the fire. If he could lure it away with the blasts then that would only be an extra bonus. His aim was terrible anyway, so surely he'd be able to get the snake to slither further from the others and closer to the outside of the bazaar. “Hey thanks Diantha, but I think ol’ Silvertongue is looking for me! Yeah? Well, I'm right here!" He shot two more blasts at the snake’s head with this said and barely managed to catch the almost silent ‘Yeah,’ breathed out from Diantha.

“Wait, Athis?” Archer wasn’t really paying attention, but he still managed to catch the words spoken by Heathersbane, at least until he muttered something incoherent, or perhaps in another language, “Why am I even surprised...?”

Archer shook his head and ignored the Fae then as he once again got the snake’s attention, as the scaled beast grew increasingly angry at the fire-dancer’s antics. The snake hardly seemed to care for the fire that now streaked across the ground, or about dodging the fireballs, Arched noted with triumph and dread, he just seemed to really want Archer dead with as much immediacy as possible. It was then that Heathersbane let out a shrieking cackle that echoed across the circus grounds that seemed to come from everywhere. And between the snakes furious mood, blinded eye, less than fully functional eye, the noise, and the fire; the beast was becoming more disoriented and therefore less predictable by the minute. Fuck...!

“Fuck!” Archer repeated the curse out loud, dodging another whip of the snake’s tail and he shook his head. He was starting to get exhausted and that was not a good thing. “Damn it, Heathersbane, isn’t there any way we can take this thing down?!”

“Well," Heathersbane whistled, drawing out the word as he seemed to take a moment’s pause to think, much to Archer’s frustration as he hit the snake with another ball of fire, watching as Diantha tried to attack the beast as well with her knives, “It’s kind of covered in scales. That’s why Athis and her pet made such good guards, not much creatures our size can do to get through the two of them. But maybe... well we have two options," he chuckled again, this time uncomfortably, Archer noted with worry, "you can try finding something bigger outside the circus. There’s no one at the gate to keep you inside anymore, but there's also not much protection from other... predators... Or the other option... there aren’t any scales in it’s mouth...” the Fae suggested and Archer nodded a bit to himself before letting out a harsh breath.

Alright then, let's see what we can do. He huffed and threw out another fireball to catch the snake’s attention once more, diverting it’s attacks from Diantha to Archer. “Come on then, follow me, follow... me...” he whispered, to himself, and turned sharply on his heel, taking off in a sprint towards the gate. There was a fifty-fifty chance at there being anything that could potentially do any real harm to the snake but there was also a less of a chance if Archer were to try and blast its mouth. He already found out that he was a terrible shot. He kept running until he saw what he guessed was the main gate and he grinned, glancing back at the snake. Just a little farther...

Too focused on his current task and barely having enough thought to scorch the ground beneath him to hopefully slow the snake down a bit, Archer continued to run. True enough, it didn't take much longer for the Gate to come into sight and he grinned again, though it fell soon when he realized the gate was closed and he was about to crash directly into it. “Okay, change of plan!” He yelped, nearly skidding to a halt and he jumped quickly to the side before the snake could do the same thing to him, squashing him into the gate or crushing both him and it at the same time. Let's hope it’s weight is enough to destroy the thing... or I can get it angry enough to attack it. Archer huffed out a heavy breath, pulling himself up from the ground and he snickered when he saw the snake collide right into the gate.

The walls of the gate splintered and broke as the snake collided with it, sending the fairies waiting on the other side for the circus to open scrambling for cover. Archer watched as the snake shook its head, appearing largely unharmed, much to the human’s disappointment. But, now with half his body outside the circus and the other half inside, it would take precious seconds for him to maneuver a full one eighty degrees to get back to his fight with Archer.

This didn’t seem to matter too much, of course, as Archer was soon preoccupied once more by a water faerie that has dared to attack him just then. As Archer turned his attention to the Fae, a fireball was shot past him and right at the snake, much to his shock and surprise.

The snake, beyond enraged, turned his attention back to the circus, finally, but before Archer could pay more attention to it, he heard Heathersbane’s voice once more, “They did it!” Heathersbane became fully visible just long enough to point helpfully at Lori and Vel before vanishing again as his voice rang out across the open battlefield, "Ladies and Gentle-Fae grab your popcorn, because we have got a fight tonight. In this corner; my fearless friend with the flying fireballs and his knife throwing partner- Archer and Diantha! In this corner; the masterful musician that wants to murder me and her pet pixie- Lori and Vel. And in this corner; the undefeated champion of the front gate, the very monster that haunts the dreams of all fae kind- the Giant Snake!” Archer couldn’t help the snort that left him when he heard the Harlequin. He’s gotta be joking... “Who will come out on top, and who will be digested? Place your bets and hide your kids! Things might just get ugly!” ...apparently not then.

Archer growled and gritted his teeth, clenching his fists. This is starting to seriously piss me off, he thought, mildly angered, as he finally sent the water Fae running. He only barely managed to note that both Zeria and Lori were literally nowhere to be seen. Now it’s just me, Diantha, and Venom Breath. “Fine then, let’s play it this way.” He huffed, shooting several balls of fire at the ground.

“I got your back, Archer!” Diantha nodded at him and he nodded back at her, before turning his attention back to the snake.

“Alright, let’s see if we can’t even the battlefield a bit, yeah?” He grinned sharply, as the fire quickly consumed what was grass and surrounded what wasn’t. He easily made his way to a small path of stone and dirt and snickered, watching the field as excitement flickered in his eyes and a dangerous thrill filled him to the brim.

The snake hissed loudly, catching sight of the growing fire Archer had started. Archer and Diantha watched as it recoiled as the fire grew bigger and hotter, the beast eyeing the blaze as the light cast shadows and mirages that seemed to make it difficult for the beast to tell what was what. This only made Archer that much more pleased as he finally had the upper hand.

Now's my chance! He thought with a wicked smirk, summoning his fire once more and he waited for the snake to open its mouth. When it did so, he shot three balls of fire and cursed in his head when they all missed. Come on, come on... just one shot! That's all I need! He chanted in his head, putting his hands together to fuse the fireballs and he waited. One... two... three... he counted the seconds, evening his breath, four... five.... six... Now! And he let the fire go, throwing it at the snake as it opened its jaw wide to hiss once more at the fire. Unfortunately, the blast nearly threw him off his feet; luckily though, he landed back on the stone, forever glad he didn’t get burned by his own flames, even if his ass hurt now because of the fall.

When he looked up, sitting up on the ground, Archer stared for a moment, disbelieving that he actually did it. The snake was lying on the ground, twitching in the flames around it, and he actually did it. A moment became two, then five, and then he was jumping up, grinning wide with the realization. “Yes! I did it!” He shouted, and in his excitement, he let the flames around him calm a little, becoming no more than a light blaze. “I can’t believe that actually worked!”

Diantha laughed at his reaction, lowering her knives as she let the exhaustion take over. “Finally...” she breathed out and he hummed in agreement.

“Indeed...” he murmured softly before finally letting himself relax.

Heathersbane clapped and cackled, drawing the humans’ attentions towards where his voice resonated, “Honestly, I’m a little surprised myself.” Archer snorted and then laughed when the Fae added, “I mean, uh... Go humans!”

“No thanks to you, Heathersbane,” he teased the Fae light-heartedly, only then deciding to get a good look around the area and at his surroundings. The Bazaar was trashed, thanks to that snake, and the ground was scorched at their feet. And the others- before Archer could look, he was interrupted from his thoughts.

“Pfft,” Heathersbane scoffed, “Well I would have done it myself, but I prefer not to be the glory hog.” He said and Archer scoffed in return as Diantha giggled at the Fae, “You’ve really gotten a hang of that mask, you both have, I’m impressed. I might just see if I can convince Evice and Moonstone to let you keep them! But first, I’d like to see the number you can do on Athis with that kind of firepower.” The Fae added with a snort and Archer frowned.

“Oh, right...” Archer sighed, steeling himself up as he saw Evice standing over Athis, who was on the ground now, apparently, “this fight isn’t over just yet.” Frowning once more, he shook his head and turned his attention to Heathersbane again, his gaze still on Athis, “Tell me what's going on first.” Archer said, sharp and easy, “I want some real answers, this time.” He gritted out, suddenly very serious as he recalled everything that happened the last few days. “I never expected to wake up here. I never expected to get a mask with some admittedly really neat firepower... and I never expected the spiders... though they were cute.” He sighed and shook his head, finding himself getting off track as he ran his hand through his hair. “Look, I just... don’t understand. I thought the circus was suppose to end soon, why are they- we- all fighting like a bunch of children?” He asked, tiredly now, the exhaustion taking its toll as he looked between the Ringmaster, Evice, Diantha, and Athis. He’d look at Heathersbane if he just had the energy to care where he was currently.

Heathersbane let out a light-hearted laugh, “Ooh Athis is just being a spoilsport; a very... violent spoilsport with no sense of humor. You guys have done such a good job helping us collect fairy dust and now Athis wants to throw all your hard work away in her little temper tantrum! Meaning you would have come here all for nothing! And that would be a dreadful shame.” He said and Archer frowned in confusion. Fairy dust...? What is he talking about? “That mask though!” Heathersbane tried to change the subject, and neither Diantha nor Archer found this very amusing, “Aren’t Evice and Moonstone the best craftsmen ever? Though, I’m sure a whole fifty percent of it is all your talent, to give credit where it is due.”

Archer let out a soft sigh though and shook his head, looking back and forth between all the Fae once more and he cut in before Diantha could speak, “I don't get it though... why do this anyway? The circus... having us here... why all for... what? Fairy dust?” he asked, still very confused, but then he took the mask off, his mind going straight to what Heathersbane had said after. “You know, I almost didn’t waste my time practicing with this thing.” He hummed softly, “I thought it wouldn’t be worth it in the end. Guess I’m glad I actually did." He ended his words in a whisper as he thought back to the snake and he did well to hide a grimace. At least that part is over with...

Heathersbane laughed lightly, seemingly glad the human took to the subject change, “Yeah, otherwise I wager you’d be in the snake’s belly right now!” he paused before adding, sheepishly, "And come to think of it... I didn’t have a plan in case that happened. Huh... lucky then for all of us then that you chose to practice instead of taking a nap... or whatever it is you humans do in your spare time.”

A burst of light startled them all, bringing them from their current conversation and to the situation that Evice and the Ringmaster have gotten themselves into. I take my eyes off of them for one second! Archer hissed in his head and he brought his mask up as Heathersbane continued to speak, “Oh but what were we even talking about anymore? I can’t seem to recall. But right now, I think the Ringmaster needs our help. Or rather... your help... I’ll cheer for you!”

Quelling the urge to roll his eyes at the Fae, he nodded in answer and summoned his flames as Diantha got out her knives. Turning to her, he tilted his head, “Looks like we haven’t won just yet, then, huh?” He smirked at this, though he knew she couldn’t see it, and finally mustered the energy to start forward. “Let’s do this.” he added, though mostly to himself, before running in the direction of the Ringmaster, followed closely by Diantha. He didn’t know what he could do to help, because unlike with the snake, he had no initial base plan... This time, here and now, he would just have to follow another’s lead. And that... did not sit well with him; but he’d do it. If it meant that he’d save his friends and find a way back home... he’d do it.

Immediately though, upon entering the main battle area, he shot a blast of fire at the ground, not even caring where it went, signaling their arrival and willingness to help. Archer watched as Athis breathed in and then out, and with a pained hiss, she pulled the tattoo off her skin; the markings becoming a gleaming whip with jagged edges. She cracked it experimentally, causing the ground to tremble, and Archer stumbled in slight surprise and shock.

“W-what!?” he choked out, eyes wide beneath his mask, fear spiking through him when he saw the whip. What the hell!? Shaking his head, he called out, “Hey!” he huffed out, fire ready, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, creep!” He winced at the lame insult and the sentence altogether before deciding to just give up talking right then and there and instead he shot a blast of fire at the Fae.

Athis’ whip, Archer noted, wasn’t as good for blocking, and there was little she could do about the fire that scorched her shoulder except to bear the pain. The attack had given the Ringmaster enough time to make a bubble of protection around himself and the bottles, seeming possessed by the need to guard them and becoming blind to all else including the fairies and humans helping his cause. Athis growled unhappily, her attention directed at Archer, “Mortals... you just can’t reason with them, can you,” she hissed before drawing back her arm, ready to crack the whip again, this time directly in Archer’s direction.

As Archer jumped back, dodging the whip, he noticed Diantha helping Evice out with the Fae that had attacked him, but he didn’t so much mind that. He could do this on his own so long as he could figure out how to beat her and win once and for all. Piece of cake... he thought sarcastically. His heart sped up with more fear and his breathing quickened as he jumped away from the attack that had almost actually grazed him, a fragmented plan in his head. Dance around her... create enough of a distraction and wear her out... and then I'll make my move... he thought, though he had his doubts. He continued to throw fire at her, though the blasts were significantly smaller than they would be if he were standing still. “Come on then, come at me!” He taunted, unable to help it, but it was only a second too late that he realized this wasn’t some dumb animal he could blind with anger or fear... this was someone on relatively equal grounds and taunting... would only turn out worse for him if he wasn’t careful.

“You must be meant to be a fire-dancer,” Athis snorted, “Let’s see you dance on broken earth!” With a roar she snapped the whip against the ground, creating another large shock wave and causing cracks to lace across the ground. The bottles of fairy-dust trembled as the Ringmaster struggled to hold his concentration. Archer knew that if she wasn’t stopped soon, the entire circus might be swallowed up by the ground, and the only steady place, the fire-dancer noticed with confusion, appeared to be the worn shed the Ringmaster had been so protective of.

Archer nearly stumbled when the earth trembled and tore beneath his feet, but he was quickly able to jump to a more ‘stable’ ground. “Damn it...” he cursed to himself, quickly sparing a glance at Diantha and Evice to see how they were holding up in their own fight. This wasn’t going like he wanted, and with that whip in her possession, it was only making things worse. He had to find a place they were more on equal ground; a place they would be able to fight, without anyone else to tip the scale... a place they could settle this fair and square.

And he knew just where to go.

Athis tried to shield herself from the flames, as Archer kept firing at her, “You are wasting my time,” she growled out and Archer snorted, grinning to himself under the mask. Before he had a chance to react, however, he was attacked from the side by more Fae, led by a few water Fae, much to his annoyance.

His eyes narrowed dangerously as he jumped back, avoiding their magic and their attempts at getting the better of him, No, no no! This isn't how it's supposed to happen! He shouted in his mind, his temper soaring to an all time high and with his temper, his flames grew larger and stronger. “It’s time to settle this Athis! If you can’t fight fair, then you’re a coward!” He tried shouting this, throwing his flames to the ground once more and he watched with thrilling pleasure as they grew, the firelight sparkling in his eyes, announcing his fury and his annoyance. You’re messing with the wrong human... he thought bitterly shaking his head and he jumped back, throwing out more fire. The more the water Fae tried putting out his fire, the faster it spread. “Come on then! What'll it be!?” He held out his arms, a smirk upon his face as his cloak billowed around him, catching the tips on fire as it did so.

The water Fae began attacking him directly, ignoring the fire despite this not being a very good idea, and Archer scowled as he continued to jump around, his fury bubbling higher. These fairies are getting on my last nerve... He used his fire to his advantage, shielding himself with it, and he kept bringing more fire up even after each blast of water doused the temporary shields. He never once took his gaze off of Athis, though; he couldn’t risk it. Not this time.

As Athis watched him back, it seemed that she was unwilling to attack with the other Fae so close. So Archer decided to use this to his advantage, wasting little time as he ran several ideas and plans through his head, working them each out in steps and each either raised his hope, raised his fury, or crushed any hope he had of doing anything that helped. But then, as he jumped back and threw more fire, he caught sight of the Ringmaster and another plan formed in his head. Athis has her attention on me... which leaves no one attacking the Ringmaster. Archer's eyes widened when he realized this and he grinned sharply. All he has to do is take the dust away from here, while Heathersbane and I keep their attention on us. He nodded and shot another ball of fire at Athis, raising the fire as a shield when a couple of the more daring Fae attacked him upright and he almost flinched when he heard one make a noise of pain as the fire flickered and burned, surrounding him. Yes, that’s it! He gets far enough and we’ll have one this, once and for all!

Jumping back again, he threw more fire, in hopes of keeping their attention and leading them away, if only just a little to create an opening for the Ringmaster.

Athis seemed to take this as her chance to attack, as Archer jumped away from the Fae, and she cracked her whip at him. He dodged out of the way, stumbling only a little as he did so, but his plan was working, so he knew he had to keep it up. Just a little longer... he promised himself and with a shout himself, he used what knowledge he’d gained in his practice of bending the fire to his will to keep the upper edge.

Athis had fallen; after so many minutes that seemed like hours, she had been beaten and her allies had fled the scene. The Ringmaster and his bottles of fairy dust had survived the battle, but it seemed that they had done so only just barely. Overhead, Archer saw as his fire flickered and died on the field, the skies had become clear and the wind became as still as it had been just before the battle had begun. Evice, though still dizzy and recovering from the fight, gathered the human’s together, ally and enemy alike, finally telling them what they all, perhaps, wanted to hear. “It’s over. Athis will no longer cause any of us trouble, the fairy dust is saved, and... you all can finally go home.” He said and Archer gaped at him as the other three spoke in excited and surprised tones. Watching as Evice flicked his wrist, Archer gasped and flinched only slightly as each of their masks disappeared, and though he was disappointed, he guessed it was for the best. Everyone was still calming from the battle that had taken place only minutes before, after all. But even still, for once in his life, he felt helpless and lost and he had no idea why.

Evice had promised, though, after, to return them soon, and Archer relaxed a little at hearing that. He’d become dependent on that mask after so long and just like his pocket watch, he felt safer with it than anything else.

Evice smiled somewhere to the side, where Archer assumed Heathersbane was, before he left, leaving the humans to wait as the Ringmaster opened the old shed and began to carry armful of bottles inside. He seemed to be so possessed by this new task that he didn’t seem to notice anything else. Archer frowned as he watched Diantha and Zeria wandered closer.

No sooner had he realized this, did he grimace, remembering when he had barely just touched the shed a few days back. “I don’t think... guys, we can’t... oh hell...” he puffed out a sigh and shook his head, sticking his hands in his pockets as he reluctantly followed after. His fingers brushed against his pocket watch and they tightened around it, his eyes closed for a single moment before they opened and he followed the two to the shed and he saw the staircase.

Maybe now they would all finally get the explanation they deserved. Well, sure, they’ve had bits and pieces explained to them, but they never actually got fully why they had to come, why they had to do this, all for... fairy dust.

He watched as Diantha hesitated, as well, and he offered her a meek smile, nodding his head as he finally gathered up what thought he had and let out a noise of soft consideration. When Diantha smiled back at him, Archer let out a relieved sigh and he led the way, Diantha following closely behind him. “Now or never...” he whispered to himself, only barely noting that Lori had chosen to stay behind.

It was very dark down the stairs, but as the floor leveled out several feet beneath the ground, Archer began noticing shapes lined up along the walls. They’re reflective like mirrors and glow a faint blue-green light, as though you've entered some alien fun-house of humanoid mirrors. A fun-house at a circus... wouldn’t be surprised... he thought with a little chuckle, his nerves finally calming down.

“What’s so funny?” Diantha asks as she pokes Archer’s side and he squirms away, sticking his tongue out at her as the pathway curves up and down deeper into the earth and a lighter green glow can be seen emanating from the end of the path.

“Nothing,” he answered easily with a smile and she rolled her eyes, but relented, despite looking like she wanted to ask more. But as they continued down the path, his mind began to wander back to previous thoughts: he would get the answers he both needed and wanted... and then, maybe he’d decide what to do next. Go home... or stay...?

That was the ultimate question he desperately needed an answer to.

Soon enough, the passage opened up to a circular chamber. Archer watched curiously as the Ringmaster slowly pours one bottle of fairy dust after another into the top of a cocoon that hung in the middle.

Finally, Archer couldn’t take it anymore, “Why do all this?” was the first thing from him when he gathered enough wit to speak. “I truly don’t understand. Why all for a few bottles of measly fairy dust? And why not yourself. You all proved back there you can do this just fine without us... so just... why?” That seemed to be the only thing he could ask... why? Why were they all here? Why was this happening? Why do all this? However, before he could give the Fae a chance to answer, he suddenly glared at him, fists clenched. He barely noticed that he managed to startle both girls when he shouted, “And what the hell was that all about with Athis!? We could’ve died! And all for this!? You’re damn well lucky I decided to step up and help! You should be glad I decided to do anything!”

This was the second most exhilarating week he’d had in all his years of living. Though it came nowhere near the first... Archer sucked in a sharp breath at the memory and he clutched at his pocket watch tightly, frowning as he closed his eyes tightly. He tried to calm himself down, taking his deep breaths as he did so. “Archer...” Diantha whispered, but he ignored her for now.

It was a few minutes of tense silence later when he snapped his eyes open again and growled. “Answer me!” He snapped and then finally deflated. “Please just... answer me...? We... I deserve this, at least, do I not...?”

The three watched as the Ringmaster paused, then ever so slowly, offered a small rare smile of thanks and nodded. With a wave of his hand ethereal images appeared, though not as strong and clear as they had in the past. Silhouettes of fairies, laughing and playing, filled the sky, their glittering fairy dust falling to the ground. A wind swept through, gathering the dust into one place and from it emerged a green Fae, similar of shape to the Ringmaster, but instead of wings, the aurora streamed from its back, lighting the sky with its brilliant colors. And for a time, the other Fae seemed in wonder of the beautiful colors. But the aurora was a great drain on the green fae, and shortly the creature was sapped dry. The other Fae tried to shower the giver of the great lights with more fairy dust to recharge them, but its body would not accept.

And so a cocoon was weaved as the aurora began to fade from the sky, and the other fairies filled it with fairy dust as the green Fae used the last of their strength to seal it shut. The image moved fast then, showing the seasons in quick succession where upon the next winter the cocoon hatched a new green Fae, much to the delight of the other fairies. But time went on faster still, showing year after year, as the other fairies inevitably grew bored of the annual lightshow, leaving the green Fae struggling to collect the extra fairy dust for itself.

The images finally faded, leaving the Ringmaster looking a little light-headed. The battle seemed to have put an enormous drain on his power, despite his best efforts to conserve it all winter. But again the Fae smiled, inviting Archer to look down into the cocoon, and wearily, he did so, only to see it was very nearly full of glittering, glowing fairy-dust. Archer realized then that the Ringmaster had met their goal; and thus the cycle of his kind would continue at least another year. His shoulders were no longer tense, and his expression was for the first time truly calm, though worn from exhaustion.

And Archer couldn’t help but smile back, after all of this, “I get it now...” he whispered softly, “You need us because we don’t have magic. Because we can do what you can’t without..." he trailed and shook his head, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make that sound rude, but I finally get everything, why we’re here... why you had us do what we did.” He added as he looked back to Zeria and Diantha, smiling at them and getting smiles back.

He sighed and deflated then, looking down at his pocket watch. I wish I could take back all the rude things I've said... but it's too late now. All I can do is smile and hope that now that everything is okay, they'll accept what I've done to help as an apology and hope for the best.

He looked up then and smiled tentatively at the Ringmaster, once more, “Thank you.” He said, and without giving any explanation, he left, turning his back and he made his way back outside, leaving Diantha and Zeria to do as they pleased. There was something he needed to do... he just hoped that it was okay... “Evice,” he said, biting his lower lip when he saw the Fae. He hadn’t expected to see him out and he grimaced when he saw how ragged and worn he looked. It was then that he made his decision final and he nodded to himself as he steeled his nerves one final time.

“Yes?” Evice tilted his head Archer’s way, and noting the human’s initially sheepish look, gave an apologetic smile, “Our friend didn’t kick you out again, did he?”

Archer faltered in his steps when he heard this, and frowned when he heard Heathersbane click his tongue disapprovingly, “Always so paranoid...” and was quick to correct them.

Archer ducked his head, shaking it quickly as he did so, “Ah, no... he didn’t... um, he showed me something, actually... the answers I needed to all my questions.” He murmured and his grip tightened on his pocket watch. “He gave me all I needed to know to decide what I wanted to do.” He added, his words slow and unsure as he watched the Fae, trying to gauge his reaction. “Evice... I... I want to stay. I know I don’t belong and I most definitely know Madame Moonstone dislikes me nearly as much as I dislike her... but... I want to help. Well, I mean...” he trailed and looked away, frowning now, “I’m not sure what I can do to help... I am just human after all... but...” he trailed off again and let out a harsh sigh through his nose, running a hand through his hair and he let go of his pocket watch to put his hands behind his head to try and appear nonchalant. “That is, of course, if you guys decide you need my help or anything, I’m uh... I’m cool with whatever.” He winced, losing his facade, when his voice broke and he glanced at the two Fae with nervousness and anxiety in his expression and his stance. Damn... I can't believe I squeaked... he thought, mildly embarrassed and a bit upset with himself and his dwindling self-confidence.

But he was mildly surprised when he heard Heathersbane, “See, I told you at least one of them would have to like us!” he quipped, but fell thankfully silent at a firm look from Evice.

“Are you sure about this?” Evice asked, turned back to Archer, looking as if he was studying him, “Things will be a little different now that the circus has finished this year,” he chuckled humorlessly, “In fact, Madame Moonstone runs a theater here the other three seasons.”

“Ah, stop trying to convince him otherwise, Evice. It’ll save us the trouble of catching one less human next year.. Also he killed a snake... and we just ‘fired’ our last guard.”

Once again, Evice sent his friend a critical look, to which Heathersbane chuckled quietly. The green-skinned Fae rolled his eyes, turning his attention back to the human, once more, “He’s right, we could always use more help getting fairy dust every year. But... I don’t know how long you humans live... are you really sure you want to live your life here? Among our kind?” He cast another stern look at Heathersbane to get his point across and Archer couldn’t help the light chuckle that escaped his parted lips.

He looked a little sad though as he let out a small hard puff of breath, looking down as he spoke, “I don’t have anything or anyone to return to...” he said, his voice a little more than a whisper and he glanced at his pocket watch. He deflated then and sighed softly, “I’m of more use here than I am back ho-“ he cut the word off with a grimace and shook his head, “back where I came from. And if... if all you need me for is to guard the gates, then I’ll do it. I’ll help keep the grounds clean, the fairies happy... I’ll... I’ll do whatever I can to help, just... please..." he nearly pleaded, looking up now and staring right at Evice. “And... and besides, isn’t there magic or an item or whatever that can keep me around longer than any other human?” He tried to go for humor, but the tightness in his throat pulled it a little flat and he grimaced again.

“I'm sure Moonstone has something to that effect,” Heathersbane practically sang, and Archer visibly brightened at this, “Welcome aboard kid!”

Evice uttered a long-suffering sigh, but Archer noted that he was smiling, “If you are absolutely sure this is what you want,” Archer's enchanted mask appeared suspended in mid-air before him, “-then you will probably want this back.”

Archer let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and he hesitantly reached out and grabbed the mask, eyes a little wide, before he looked up and he grinned, wide and sharp. “Heh, you won’t regret it, I promise you this.” He laughed, loud and bright and tied the mask back to his pants, patting it; he almost missed the fact that Heathersbane called him kid. Key word being almost. “Hey!” he suddenly shouted, put out, “I’m not a kid!” He huffed, crossing his arms, but the little scowl was lost when he laughed again and he looked back at Evice, smiling a truly rare smile. “Thank you... for everything.” He said, with one final thought. If only you could see what’s happened, brother... he smiled sadly, you’d like it here... and... I guess, I can finally say that I’ve done it. I’ve found somewhere I can finally call my home.

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