Content warning: Strong language
Tracking down the circus wasn’t as straightforward as Dom thought it would be. The traveling company didn’t do much by way of advertising before arriving at a new destination; they simply rolled into town and set up shop. Their reputation alone seemed to be more than enough.
“You don’t have to do this,” Trina hissed beneath her breath. She had managed to get Dom alone for what seemed like the first time since he had decided to help the strangers find Em. “You told them where to look. You don’t have to go with them too.”
Dom sighed, a heavy sound that seemed to move through his entire being.
She was right; he didn’t have to take them. But when he made the decision to live among humans – as one himself – he had done so with the understanding that he would always do what he could to protect those in need. It was how he wound up with the SAR team in the first place.
His eyes drifted across the courtyard to where the band of not-quite-strangers milled, speaking guardedly to his teammates. His gaze landed on Rue. Dom was prone to overwhelming compassion even at the worst of times, but Rue’s story – and what it had meant for all four of them – left no doubt in his mind.
“You know I can’t do that,” he replied, his voice low. “They need help.”
But there was also the guilt.
Guilt that he had promised to keep Em and May safe – their whereabouts a secret – only to eventually hand them over anyway. Dom had been so torn about agreeing to help at all, and he had to trust his heart that he was making the right choice. He figured the least he could do was apologize for betraying their trust in person.
It was only in the deepest recesses of his mind that he dared admit even to himself he wanted to make sure Jeremy and company didn’t try anything stupid when they found the girls.
It took a few days of solid, tense driving – Dom at the wheel of his trusty old truck and the others taking turns riding shotgun while the rest rode out back in the bed – to follow the path woven by the travelling circus. They arrived in the city on the company’s second night and scrambled to the wicket just as the teeming crowds were making their way into a massive, light-soaked tent.
Dom lead the conversation, showing the boy on the other side of the grated window a photo of his friends from the collection of ones they had sent him.
The boy studied the photo quietly, a hand muffled thoughtfully over his mouth.
“You’ll have to talk to Lenore about those two,” he said at last. His words sent an electric thrill circuiting its way through the ragtag group. This sounded promising. “But your timing’s a bit crummy. Show’s starting so she can’t talk ‘til later tonight. Maybe even tomorrow.”
Beside Dom, Jeremy bristled, instantly combative.
“Is there somewhere we can wait for her?” Dom asked before Jeremy set their chances of getting anywhere alight. “It’s kind of important.”
“You can watch the show if you wanna!” The boy smiled brilliantly as though this was the best idea he’d ever had. “I’m sure we can squeeze you kids in.”
“Kids?” Priva growled quietly. “He’s like, what? Fifteen?”
“Shh,” Connor hushed her from the corner of his mouth.
An usher led them into the tent, a wide, a welcoming smile splashed across her vibrantly painted face. With a flourish she motioned to a row in a high section and one by one they edged into their seats.
“This is fucking dumb,” Jeremy spat, taking in the crowd around them; people of all ages laughing and chatting excitedly. “We don’t have time to watch some glorified talent show.”
Before Dom – who was starting to find Jeremy’s attitude grating – could reply, the lights were extinguished and the show began.
That this was no ordinary circus was immediately clear. Absent were the trained animals and ridiculous clowns. This show was one of fantastic, dream-like costuming and stunning feats of agility. Colourful acrobats tumbled and soared via trapeze, seeming to defy the very laws of gravity. Glistening contortionists braided themselves around one another in a way that made them appear more like serpents than humans. Performers of great strength and grace made the extraordinary look easy. Every performance glittered with an air of the magical, making everyone in the tent second guess where the line between skill and the fantastic truly was. Each act told a story and soon even Jeremy found himself lulled under the show’s fanciful spell.
They watched in breathless wonder, only taking snatched moments to whisper to one another between acts. During one such interlude Dom sat back and smiled while the others shared their awe with one another. This place had Em and May written all over it.
Again, the tent was plunged into darkness.
For a few moments there was nothing but blackness.
The sound of peaceful rolling waves grew gradually louder in tandem with brightening blue filtered lights, drifting across the floor like dappled sunlight touching the sandy surf. It was only when the light had come to its full intensity that a single, solitary performer came into view.
Dom lurched up in his seat so violently people in other rows turned and craned their necks to see what was going on.
“What is it?” Connor asked quietly, his eyes darting between the centre stage and Dom’s gobsmacked expression.
The costume was a good disguise, but Dom – a forest spirit – saw with more than his eyes. He could feel her soul.
“It’s her,” Dom whispered back, his lips barely moving.