Elidyr was woken by the first lights of sunrise streaming through the fogged up window of his little trailer. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and listened to the hustle outside. Everyone was busy this early in the morning. Most people here liked to take it easy in the morning, especially when they expected another busy crowd of people from town to come for a show.
The carnival had picked Elidyr up several months prior when they had come to his hometown. The carnival’s proprietor, Theo, had done his initial scouting and came across Elidyr busking on their small main street. Elidyr had always had a fascination with alchemy and chemicals, mostly in the form of small fireworks, colored fires and smokes. Usually, he would be told off by the local guardsmen, but the meager tips he received were often enough to buy himself some food, more supplies and sometimes even shelter at one of the local farmers.
Theo had watched him with interest and instead of giving him a tip, had dropped a small business card into his hat with the collections and said, “Come and see me tonight.” When Elidyr had gone to the carnival that night, he had not left it since, starting his own little show with the support of Theo and the crew. With the added support, his shows became more elaborate, but he was just one of the many weird acts that the Three Morning Carnival had on display, but it felt good to earn a living and leave the town he grew up in behind.
Elidyr rolled out of bed, threw on some of his few clothes covered in stains and burn marks and immediately began to finish up some of his concoctions he had prepared the night before. He had set up a batch for one of his biggest show tomorrow night, at least by his standards. As he felt his stomach rumble, he decided to head out amidst the bustling crowd and see if Maycie would still make him some breakfast or at least had some leftovers for him.
As he stepped out of his wagon, he realized his preparations must have taken him longer than he expected. He caught Naddi carrying some equipment and he caught up with her. He put his hand around her shoulder and she shrugged him off.
“Eli, no here,” she hissed.
“As if they don’t already all know.”
“Maybe, but I just don’t like being showy and I’m working right now.”
Naddi was a female dwarf with a big bushy beard that she had braided mostly down into two braids, and her mane had the same vibrant red color, contrasting with her piercing blue eyes.
“Is everything alright?” Elidyr asked.
“Yeah, yeah, uh,” Naddi said, clearly not expecting that question “Sorry, it’s just all a bit hectic right now.” “What’s going on?”
“Eh, just some prep for a thing that Theo wants to do tonight. It’s just one of his speeches.” Naddi put down the heavy box and wiped the sweat off her forehead. “Something about the numbers he’s not happy with. You know, how we have to put more effort in.”
“Does he do that often?”
“Well, he does them once or twice a year, yes, but I just didn’t expect them already. I think that’s why everyone is scrambling a little right now,” she said, picking up a different crate. “Let’s talk later, okay?”
“Your trailer or mine?”
“Mine of course, I don’t want you to burn half my hair off again.”
“It was an accident!” Elydir protested.
“If you say so. See you later!”
She seemed really stressed. Their proprietor hadn’t held one of these meetings before, so Elydir had no idea what to expect, but if he judged it by the faces on everyone, it wouldn’t be a very fun event.
After Elydir managed to get a few apples from Maycie, he caught up with his friend, Reuben.
“Doing alright, just made some room after last night.” Reuben said and gave Elydir a big grin that made him shudder.
Despite all the acts Elydir had seen, he still thought Reuben’s one was probably the weirdest. He just ate. Like an inordinate amount and that was somehow his entire schtick. He would eat all kinds of things until his belly was round, like he had just swallowed a large boulder. And he wouldn’t eat just normal foods. His diet ranged from fried rats to pieces of broken glass or an entire piece of firewood. Elydir still didn’t understand how he managed to even chew it enough to be able to get it down. First, he thought it had been a trick, but then Reuben had let him observe him very closely. It was just a thing he was good at, and being at the carnival getting paid to eat sounded better than working with his father in the fields.
“So everyone’s kinda on edge because of the thing tonight?” Elydir asked, “Theo holding some sort of speech?”
“Oh yes, that’s Theo. He just does that every once in a while. While people don’t love it, it has definitely for the best for our carnival. Theo knows what he’s talking about. I think we’ve been doing really well the past couple of years.”
“Had it been different?”
“Oh yes, most towns we went to, we were almost immediately kicked out. Or at least we weren’t welcome. People thinking we’d bring crime and curses and other such nonsense. But ever since the meetings, things have been picking up.” Reuben said, trying to get out something stuck between his teeth with a toothpick. “It’s a bit unpleasant at times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not too bad.”
“What’s unpleasant about it?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s fine,“ Reuben said casually ”just nobody likes meetings. People would rather spend their free night getting drunk, you know? Don’t think too much about it. Oh, sorry, gotta run, nature’s calling again!”
Elydir looked after Reuben as he disappeared to the outhouses in the back. Now that he thought about it, if there was going to this meeting tonight, that might seriously cut into his alone time with Naddi. Well, a bit of time would be better than none. Overall, he was feeling vibrant today.
Elydir helped out with a few crates and carrying firewood for a large bonfire in the middle of their carnival and some extra boxes with supplies he couldn’t identify. Theo was a showman through and through, so he was probably going to wow his crowd, even if they were his own employees.
Looking up at the sun, Elydir realized that he’d have to get back to his trailer to finish up some more of the now dried charges for tonight. As he made his way back, he noticed that Zorg and Grit, the two half-orcs, were keeping a distance but were following him around. They always had a problem with him, or rather with him being a half-elf, which seemed to be too much elf for their taste. Luckily they weren’t dumb enough to do anything about their mistrust other than stalk him from time to time and Elydir had gotten used to it.
He got back into his trailer and prepared a few more charges, taking extra care not to cause any to go off. This had not been his first trailer after he had blown up another just a month prior. Since then, he had been more cautious and had been mixing smaller batches. When he was done, he would in on Naddi again, maybe pull her aside for a bit. His heart quickened at the thought of being close to her. He opened the door of his trailer and as he stepped out, he was greeted by Zorg and Grit, blocking his path.
“Uh, can I help you two gentlemen?” Elydir asked.
“No, we just want you to stay in your trailer,” Zorg said, the more vocal of the two.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because we tell you so.”
“Why would I listen to two dumb half-breeds in the first place?” Elydir said, trying to bait them, but knowing that they’ve been receiving insults like that all the time.
“Well, Theo told us so, you wouldn’t want to upset Theo.”
“That makes no sense. Can I just talk to him?”
“No, not unless Theo comes here. You stay in your trailer until we let you out, you got it?”
Elidyr looked around the carnival, but couldn’t see anyone nearby. It was as if the place had been abandoned, only to be guarded by the two half-wits standing in his path.
“Where is everyone?”
“How about you stop asking questions and get into your trailer?”
“But what if I need to pee?”
“Not my problem. Pee in one of your bottles,” the half-orc grinned.
“How about I just pee on your feet instead?”
“How about I break your nose,” the grin was now gone ,”Knife Ears?”
There was no way he’d been to take on these two brutes, so he angrily returned to his trailer and slammed the door. Then he turned around, opening the door and quickly added, “Sorry about the half-breed insult.” He waited for a moment and added, “You know, this is the moment where you say how sorry you were for calling me Knife Ears.”
“Is fern-face any better?” Zorg replied.
Elydir rolled his eyes and slammed the door shut once again.
He had no idea why they would want to keep him in the trailer? Were they going to talk about him at the meeting? Were his performances bad and they were going to vote him out? Well, whatever they were discussion at Theo’s meeting, he was clearly not allowed. Maybe he just hadn’t been here long enough. But they could have just told him that. He would have understood and he had a mostly clean track record when it came to listening to commands. Mostly.
Something wasn’t right, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now, so he set out to work on his charges for tomorrow’s show. When he was done making the small compressed balls, he carefully wrapped them in cloth and placed them in a metal box. He wondered how long they would keep him in here, because he was eyeing the bottles in his trailer. He would have preferred to keep their purpose for mixing chemicals. Then suddenly, a heavy banging on the trailer door startled him out of his thoughts.
“You can come out now.” Zorg called out to him.
“Finally! Almost peed my pants!” Elydir called back “One second.”
On a hunch, he took a few of the charges he had made and stuffed them carefully into his pockets. He’d have to be careful to not run into a solid wall with them so close to his precious bits, but if he could avoid any direct impacts with the are near his, he’d be fine.
He opened the door and stepped out.
“Okay, so what now? Can I finally use the outhouse?” Elydir asked.
Grit grabbed Elydir’s arm, causing him to yelp. Then Grit forced his hands together and Zorg came around and quickly wrapped a rope around them.
“You know, I can go there by myself, I’m all grown up, you know?” Elydir protested.
Squirming while being held in their grip seemed as effective to him as trying to pull giant tree out of the ground by himself.
“What is wrong with you two? What are you doing?” Elydir asked, his voice in an even higher register. “You can’t just tie me up like that. What is going on?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll bring you right to Theo.” Zorg eventually replied when he had made sure the restraint wasn’t going anywhere. “I’m sure he’ll explain it all to you!”
They pushed him ahead and made their way to the center of the carnival. Even before they arrived, Elydir could smell the smoke in the air and see the orange flicker of a fire shining glowing against the tents. The center was taken up by an immense bonfire, surrounded by what must be dozens of cloaked figures. It didn’t take him long to recognize some of the dimly lit faces staring into the fire. The performers, roadies and even Maycie were standing in a wide circle around the flames. Closer to the flames, standing in front of a large wooden table, or tall platform, stood Theo. As his eyes caught Elydir’s, Theo showed a large grin and started a low chant in a deep, guttural voice. Almost immediately, he was joined by all the cloaked participants and the chant filled the space, Elydir feeling the rumble in his chest. He couldn’t make out a single word and it all sounded like gibberish to him.
“What is going on?” he tried to pull out the grip of the half orcs. “For fuck’s sake, let me go you idiots!”
While he tried to break free, a robed figure strode slowly towards them coming from the crowd surrounding the bonfire. Most of his thin body covered in the dark-red robes, so Elydir didn’t recognize the figure immediately as Reuben.
“I’ll take care of him,” he said to the two half-orcs and stepped past one of them and grabbed Elydir’s bindings “Don’t worry about it!”
Reuben started to feel around Eli’s pockets. When he felt Elydir’s charges, he audibly sighed.
“You two are as incompetent as you are ugly.” Reuben said as he pulled out the charges. “What do you think would have happened if we threw him on the pyre with that in his pockets? Morons.”
Reuben put the charges into a pocket in his coat. The two half-orcs exchanged a quick glance, shrugged and then walked off to join the other participants in the chant.
“Reuben, what’s going on man?” Elydir tried to turn around “You want to throw me on the pyre? Is this some really messed up initiation prank? Please tell me!”
He could feel the cold steel of a blade against his throat.
“I’m sorry Eli, it’s nothing personal, it’s just how things worked out sometimes.”
“What do you mean? What worked out?”
“So I wasn’t quite straight forward about the meeting thing.”
“Don’t smart-mouth me, Eli,” Reuben said with a hiss. “I’d prefer not to hurt you more than necessary. Do you want to know or not?”
“Fine.” Eli froze, trying not to gulp as his friend was pressing the blade against his throat with even more force.
“Remember when I said, that carnival business was hard?” Reuben continued, almost whispering into Eli’s ear “People used to spit at us, kick us out of their town, sometimes they’d even beat us up, just because they were scared of us.”
“People love our shows!” Eli protested.
“Yeah, you’d think that, but you haven’t been here in the early days, before we had his blessing.”
“His blessing? What are you talking about?”
“I’m getting to that Eli, you’re always so damn impatient.”
The chant had taken up in volume and more wood was thrown on the bonfire. Theo lifted a blade into the air. It was an ornate dagger with a wavy blade, gleaming in the fire’s light. Theo was a showman, Eli thought.
“I don’t know how Theo did it, but he found Deadspark, willing to help us, protect us, even thrive where before we were shunned and chased off. For a price, you see.”
“Deadspark? Like the deity? What are you talking about?” Eli tried to turn towards Reuben and he could feel the blade cutting slightly into his skin. He was no staring Reuben into his face, the blade pressed against his Adam’s apple. “You can’t be serious!”
“Oh, you’ll see how serious we are when we—“
Reubens eye’s went suddenly wide, staring directly into Elidyr’s eyes. Now the only things coming out of Reubens mouth were bubbly gurgling noises. A sharp blade was protruding from his throat, streams of blood running down along his neck. Then the blade disappeared and he fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Wearing her own robe, Naddi stood in front of him, holding the blade and breathing heavily.
“Naddi … what” began Elidyr.
“I told you I’d see you later, didn’t I?”, she turned him around, positioning herself behind him.
“Are you one of them?”
“I don’t have time to explain,” Naddi cut his ropes, “but you have to get out of here. Now!”
The chant had turned into almost a continuous screaming, making it difficult for him to hear her.
“Let’s get both out of here.” Elydir tried to take her by the shoulder “Come with me!”
“It’s not that easy Eli.”
“Why not? We just run away together!”
“Don’t argue with me, just get out of here.” Naddi gave Eli a quick kiss, took a step back and then took a deep breath. Then with a rapid motion she jammed the blade into her shoulder. Her face was a grimace, but she managed to suppress a scream.
“What are you doing?” Eli bent down towards Naddi. She grimaced, pulled out the bloodied blade, and pushed it into his hand.
“Eli, please!” she said through gritted teeth “Run!”
Elydir heard that the chant seemed to have lost in strength. Multiple voices were calling out something he couldn’t understand.
When he turned, he saw that multiple robed figures were approaching him.
“Fuck, they’re going to get you,” Naddi winced.
Elydir bent down towards Reuben’s lifeless body and put his hand into the robe’s pocket, retrieving two of the charges wrapped in fabric.
“Please come with me.”
“I can’t. Please, run now or we are both going to die!” Naddi said and let herself fall sink to the ground, pushing against the bleeding wound in her shoulder. “I’ll convince them you did this.”
He now heard the voices calling out for him.
“I’ll come back for you!” Elydir said, not waiting for Naddi’s response.
He took one of the charges, aimed it in front of one of the figures approaching, threw with all his strength and covered his eyes. As the charge hit the ground, it exploded in a big white flash, quickly flooding the surrounding area in a big white smoke. He ran in the opposite direction, hearing multiple people shout and cough violently. Once he was clear of the thick smoke, he took a deep breath, turned around and threw the other charge into the thick fog. Another white flash and more confused screams followed. He ran to his trailer, quickly snatching a bag he had prepared earlier and toppling over a few bottles with various liquids. As he disappeared into the dark woods that had surrounded the carnival, he heard an enormous explosion from behind him. The purple cone of fire shooting up into the sky was his biggest show yet.
Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days