Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Day at the Circus

A Day at the Circus

              Zlato was a well-to-do man, doing well. A prominent banker within the Orzhov Syndicate, he had managed to pull himself high enough in the organization to have actual power. Power enough to be more than a pawn. He was now a mid-level investment agent, tasked with appropriating funds and determining where money was to be made in the organization. He was feeling good about himself; he had received an invitation from a Rakdos entertainment troupe. They were one of the troupes about legitimate entertainment not some subversive snuff performances, framed as a thanks for his continued investment and well-being between their two guilds. Things were going well for him.
            The invitation was for the Rowdy Rioteers, one of the more renowned circus troupes within the Rakdos Cult. While on the dangerous side (this is the Rakdos, after all) their shows were said to be some of the most entertaining around, and getting admissions was a chore in and of itself. Zlato had been a go-between for this particular troupe going on three years now. They would pay him for whatever goods, equipment, training or any other necessities the troupe requested for their maintenance, and he would provide. They hadn’t even seem to noticed or cared when he started skimming off the top sixth months back. They should be fortunate to even find a financier that would dare to do business with the Cult openly; he was too valuable for them to let go.
           This would surely be a night to remember. He had spent hours going over a wardrobe that would be appropriate. Nothing too ostentatious, he didn’t want to get robbed on the way there; but nice enough to let everyone else there know that he was better than them, that he was a guest of honor. He had chosen a suit of the finest pelts of beasts hunted in the forgotten wilds those stupid Gruul troglodytes called home; embroidered with silver and pearls in the shape of the Orzhov sun. Nothing too fancy.
           The night’s entertainment took place in the outskirts of the district, just far enough from prying eyes that the Rakdos need not fear regular scrutiny from the Azorius inspectors or the Boros patrolsmen. They liked it better when the entertainment was on their terms and not according to some prudish standards of safety or decency. Entertainment was supposed to be shocking and subversive after all! The show would be performed in an old Simic holding facility for some of their nastier beasties, abandoned with the Vigean ways when the Guildpact fell. The Rakdos had appropriated the facilities and made good use of the wide open space that had formerly accommodated monsters. Small and subtle were not things Rakdos entertainment specialized in. He made his way to the theatre, guard thrull in tow, can’t be too careful with these street urchins.
           It was never a trouble finding the Rioteers; this wasn’t one of those depraved debauchery clubs, they had nothing to hide. The place was always well marked. Lots of signs and arrows painted into the wall with what looked like blood but what Zlato always figured was just paint playing into the edgy dangerous look the Rakdos liked to cultivate. They weren’t all cannibals and rapists, Ravnica wouldn’t tolerate them if they were. It was a calculated image to increase their interest and prestige. He made It to the show; bold black and red colors and decorations halfway between a circus and a slaughterhouse. “All part of the act” Zlato told himself as he sauntered in.
        The building was quite a bit bigger on the inside than one would have thought. Surprisingly careful consideration had been given towards converting the facility to a performing arena. The center of the building had been dug into to provide more room for some of the larger performers and high wire acts. The back half of the complex was hidden behind makeshift walls and curtains, likely where they stored the props and dressing rooms. All manner of strange spectacle covered every inch of the warehouse. Rakdos grunts performing simple parlor tricks; juggling, breathing fire, artsy magic spells to impress the manaless commoners Several cooks had kiosks selling meat, and only meat, of various flavors. Several of the signs boasted that they were people who had slighted the Rakdos, but Zlato kept telling himself, that only happened in the slummier districts; these were well-to-do honest performers.
          Zlato found his seat, near the center of the ring in the third row. Close enough to vividly make out all of the spectacle, but far enough to avoid being lit on fire or splashed with ‘blood’. He found himself people watching until the show began. Though proud he may have been, there was still something oddly inspiring about seeing so many people from different guilds and even the guildless together in one place in spite of their differences. He might have to try to do some business after the show. Several of the lanterns strewn about the facility began to dim, and everyone rushed to take their seats.
         “Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadies and gentlemen!” a magically enchanced high pitched voice boomed throughout the room. “I bid you a welcome to the Rowdy Rioteers pyrotechnic, acrobatic, trip fantastic, dynamite show extraordinaire!” An explosion of indescribable color occurred in the center of the ring and when the smoke cleared, Zlato clearly recognized the form of Zikki, the Rowdy Rioteers’ ringleader. Zikki was a goblin of average frame but above average ambition. Most goblins that Zlato had ever known were little more that petulant, short-sighted children, but Zikki was special, with an ambition and forethought that made him stand out amongst his species. He wore a clearly fake set of devil horns and forked tail to make him resemble a devil (an even more brainless lot than the average goblin). He had a patchwork red and black-checkered pants, a rather slick black leather vest and a comically oversized tophat. “It is an honor to have you all as our guests! I hope you’ve all up to date with your insurance, you’re gonna need it!” Zikki made note of Zlato and gave him a wink. Zlato couldn’t help but chuckle given the amount of insurance the Church dealt with.
           The show went off largely without a hitch; with a Rakdos show its hard to tell when something is scheduled, if they’re faking an accident for shock value, or someone legitimately got hurt. There was little difference to most Rakdos. There was a duel of flame-throwing elementals, fed all manner of strange minerals to make their flames unusual colors. There was a bit where they launched several explosive thrulls out of cannons as makeshift fireworks, there was a zombie clown that kept “accidentally” cutting his own head off.  All spectacular and visceral. Say what you will, but the Rakdos were excellent showmen. Then came the finale.
        “Folks, you’ve all been a most wonderful audience, but I’m afraid too many of our performers have been mutilated to continue” laughter rolled through the audience, “but we do have one final trick up our sleeve; Mungo the Magnificient! Let’s give him a hand folks!” Roaring applause rose from the audience, Zlato included, he had heard the reputation of this particular act. THOOM. The ground shook. THOOM. Again, it was getting closer. THOOM. It sounded like a thundercloud had become trapped in the earth. Suddenly the largest curtains, easily several stories tall, parted as a giant made his way towards the center of the ring. This was Mungo. A well-built giant that must have stood at least fourty feet tall stood in the middle of the ring. He wore simple tattered rags as a loincloth and was adorned with a variety of strange armaments that appeared to have been out of use Izzet piping and machinery, even a helmet with a visor. He brought his arms above his head as if to say ‘ta-da!’ “AYM MAGNIFISHENT!” he slurred. The cheering intensified.
        This act was legendary in this district. Mungo would pick up various performers, and sometimes reportedly, audience members; and would juggle them through the air. In and out of flaming rings of razor wire or other hazards. Three rather menacing looking thrulls covered in blades walked towards Mungo’s feet, and he reached down and picked them up, and with a delicate touch unexpected of such a creature, began juggling them in elegant sweeping arcs. Sometimes they would pass near each other midair, and clash their blades against one another, creating a shower of sparks. The audience vocalized their awe.
         “Now folks, I think we can do better than this, don't you?” Zikki queried. “Mungo, lets find out who our lucky ‘volunteers’ are tonight shall we?” “YEPYEPYEP” Several spotlights were lit up from near the ceiling, tracing arcs through the audience unti they came to rest on a well-dressed Azorius woman on the far left side of the stands. She clearly didn’t expect to become part of the show and began to protest. “Oh no, ma’am, we insist.” Mungo shifted all of the thrull to one hand, and with his spare, picked her up and included her in the act. Screams of fear eventually subsided into joy “It’s like I’m flying!” she could be heard screaming.
        “Next victim!” More spotlights. This time, they came to rest upon an extravagantly dressed Izzet mage. He was more accepting of his role in the performance. It was most impressive how Mungo managed to go from three things in the air to five with seemingly little effort. “Not bad, Mungo, not bad. But I think you can do better.” Another spotlight, this one eventually came to rest on Zlato. Shock to turned to smugness, “Of course they would pick me” he mused. He was plucked like a fruit and soon he too was flying through the air like a drunken griffin. Zlato had once ridden with a Wojek roc-knight to clench a business deal, and this was so much more exhilarating than even that.
          This continued for about a minute before Zikki chimed in “Folks lets give a round of applause to our volunteers!” More applause. A spotlight shone on the Azorius woman “Sveta here is an Azorius permit taker person thing, I don’t know the terminology. Anywho, she processes our various request forms for merchandise to be transferred from one place or another.” Still more applause. Then Zikki's smile faded into a menacing toothy smirk “Cept last month when she denied a request for a new cannon cuz we had reached the permitted limit of artillery for’a organization despite us not actually using dem as artillery.” Mungo’s hand suddenly jerked on the downswing and rather than being caught, Sveta rolled of the back of his hand and fell to the floor with a sickening thud. The audience gasped. Zlato’s eyes grew wide in horror. “Oh no, Mungo look whatcha did!” “HURRRR?” Mungo glanced down and shifted his weight, stepping on Sveta in the process. KERRUNCH. A scream from the audience. “Bad, Mungo, bad!”
         The giant lifted his foot away revealing the sickening mess on the circus floor. As Zlato bobbed up and down, still part of the act, he caught a first-hand glimpse of the scene as it darted in and out of his twisting vision. “D’oh well, the show must go on, right folks?” The audience was mostly silent. Some people murmured to their neighbors, and Zlato was sure he heard at least one child sobbing. The spotlight shifted from the smear on the floor to the Izzet man being juggled, whom Zlato was sure was wearing an expression similar to his own. “Plamen here is a chemister for the Izzet where he comes up wit new neato explosives and stuff. Couple month back he provided us wit’a experimental new propellant ta use for one’o our cannon tricks. I say experimental, cuz dere’s no way dat stuff was tested. Killed 20 o’our crew on our first test run.” Plamen rose in the air, and all three of the juggled thrulls intercepted him in midair and promptly eviscerated him. He let out a guttwrenching scream, and then the tangled mass of blade and man and thrull landed with a wet crunch on the floor. “Oh whatever will we do wit dose thrull. Dey’re so hard ta train!” More screams from the audience and a lump was beginning to form in Zlato’s throat.
           “Finally! We come ta Zlato here.” Zlato was blinded for a moment as the spotlight began to trace his arcs through the air. We was more scared than he had ever been, but could think of nothing to say, nothing to do. This whole experience was too surreal to process. He was going over the whole evening in his head. Had it all been a trick? A ruse to trick him and others that had slighted this troupe into a public spectacle? Every horrid little thing he had ever heard about the Rakdos seem magnified a hundred fold in his mind. “Zlato izza investment banker. Wat dis means iz dat we gives him money, and he gets us stuffs we asks for. After he pockets somes first, right Zlato?”

        Zlato stammered, tried to think of something to say, an excuse, an apology, anything, but the words died in his mouth. “No hard feelings, iz just business right?” Zlato was thrown higher than usual as Mungo stretched his arms out to the side. “And iz been a pleasure doin business witcha.” As Zlato fell, Mungo slammed his hands together with the sound of thunder. THWOOM. Zikki straightened his hat and cleared his throat“Thank you all for coming folks! We hope you’ll all consider what exactly it iz you want when you do business with the Rakdos in da future!”

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