1 Cirque Imaginaerum

November in London was somewhat to be desired.

The air was bitter and had a cold snap to it, a depressing amount of rain scattered the industrial city, grey seemed to be a recurring theme around this time of year.

The streets lined with uniformed buildings that stretched into the sky.

Men and Women marching to their dull 9-5 jobs and tourists scattered themselves throughout the city, taking photographs and videos of all the monuments central London had to offer.

Posters were scattered around the city, lazily plastered on walls and leaflets pinned under windshield wipers of nearby parked cars, advertising a show that nobody had heard of before.

"Imaginaerum presents :

A . Barnum's Cirque.

Amazement and Magic for all!"

The Big Top Circus stood tall in the centre of Hyde Park with its unusual purple and black stripes. It seemed like a traditional fairground tent that spread out into a few smaller tents but something was off, there was a strange aura to it, like the atmosphere itself was electrifying, which made it all the more alluring to passers by.

The dazzling lights illuminated the park and people were cramming themselves inside the grandeur tent, some with the intentions to see the show, others to shield themselves from the elements.

It was truly a miserable night, but that was outside the tent.

The inside was welcoming and vastly spaced, the warmth radiating from the glowing orange lights put the crowds of people at ease with a sense of snugness and nostalgia.

Sawdust veiled the ground and the scent of sandalwood mixed with freshly made cotton candy lured people in to buy a ticket and take their seats.

Mumbling and curious conversations flooded the crowds as they hurried their way into warmth and cover from the gloomy English weather.

The lights went dim, the crowds went silent, then a single spotlight was summoned in the centre of the stage, a handful of beautiful men and women dressed in exquisite and equally as beautiful costumes ran, marched, flipped and danced onto the stage from different directions, all in unison with one another and all of them looked elegant doing so.

The performers alluring movements and expertly-timed choreography synced perfectly with the upbeat music blasting from the speakers scattered around the stands, some in the crowds began to smile, others began to clap and applaud the amazing feats of the acrobats being flung and caught 50 feet in the air.

Anthony stood firm, though not that tall, peeking through the crimson velvet curtains, he was a good-looking man in his 20's with hair red like fire, he wore a plain white shirt and scruffy looking jeans, his golden eyes glistened as they darted to watch the extraordinary performers, fire eaters, acrobats, aerial performers and jugglers working together to perfect their mesmerizing routines, blurs of colour from the performers delicately tailored costumes dashed quickly from one side of the tent to the other.

Anthony took a deep breath and bounced on the spot in anticipation, flexing his hands and rolling his shoulders, then when the timing was right he made his move and bolted out onto the stage, dodging and diving between a knife-thrower who launched the blades at a rotating board with a young woman attached.

He stopped at the centre of the stage, looking very out of place with the rest of the performers, once the spotlight hit him he spread out his arms and beamed a smile to the audience, within a split second he erupted into flames.

Gasps and a scream or two echoed before there was an ear-splitting silence. Anthony stepped from the flames just as they dissipated, arms outstretched, grinning from ear to ear. When the fire wilted away Anthony took a step forward, his casual clothes had disintegrated into a glamorous Ringmasters outfit, complete with the cane and tophat, it was a transformation like nothing anybody had seen before.

The crowds became silent.

There was nothing, no boos, no cheers, no noise.

Only his heart thundering in his chest.

His throat was dry, he scanned the crowds as one by one people rose to their feet, he could see them clapping and that's when the faint cheers became a roaring applause thundered throughout the tent, he let his breath escape his lungs and took everything in.

It was a mystery as to how Anthony pulled it off, not even his own performers could figure it out. The floor was the ground everyone walked on covered in sawdust, with no trap door or secret entrance. The only way to describe his entrance was spellbinding.

Anthony bowed, as did the other performers.

The next forty or so minutes were a blur of excitement inside the tent. A small firework display officially brought the show to a close, the performers holding their composure through exhausted flashy stances as the fireworks highlighted the audience's faces and to show that people were watching.

They were really being watched.

Closely.

When the show drew to a close the crowds began to bustle out of their seats and back into the cold streets of London, full of happiness and wonder, their imaginations going wild and that little spark of enjoyment that made even the grouchiest adult feel like a little kid again.

The children in the audience left holding their parents hands, dancing and twirling, some trying and failing to do handstands and cartwheels on their way out.

The main stage lights dimmed out, the performers waited until the last few people had left until they allowed themselves to relax and managed to trudge themselves backstage. They were exhausted, their limbs ached and their muscles sore, but that's just another day in the business for them. The performers carried themselves past the luxurious crimson curtains and down a long, narrow hallway.

From the curtains onwards everything changed, instead of the ground remaining the unlevelled and bumpy ground, the floor was flat, smooth and made of wood that stretched farther than the eye could see.

The performers migrated as one mass to the common room which was nicely furnished, a kitchen and living room in one big room, everything was surprisingly clean, even the walls kept their fragile cream colour, there were tables, chairs, a TV, a fridge and an oven, it was like a home away from home.

They poured into the common room, letting loose and celebrating after another successful show by pouring a few drinks, grabbing a snack or just allowing the sofa to take the weight off their feet.

Anthony was the last to walk into the room, the atmosphere changed and everything went silent.

"How the hell did you manage to pull that off?" a smooth and silky voice with an Irish accent almost as strong as his physique was the first to pipe up, the voice came from a tall and handsome man sitting on the couch. His Raven hair in a manbun and short stubble covered his jaw and upper lip, his eyes were a dark chocolate brown. Dan McQueen, one of several resident acrobats, was never one to shy away from the important questions in life 'What would happen if your Organs itched?', 'Can you cry underwater?' and 'How come our nose runs but our feet smell?' were some of the most infamous questions to come from his mouth, he smirked and slapped a heavy hand around Anthony's shoulder "C'mon, you can tell your best friend."

"When I see him I'll be sure to let him know" Anthony gave a mischievous grin back as he slipped from under Dan's arm "A Magician never reveals their secrets-"

"Oh, so you're the Magician now?" he was cut off by Sebastian, a tall, tanned and handsome man with an exquisite taste in suits and immeasurably straight posture, rubbing theatrical make-up from his face that were a spade and a heart over each cheek under his eyes "In that case what do you need us for?" he raised a brow to his wife, Mia, who was an equally stunning woman, she was considerably younger than her husband. The rhinestones in her leotard radiated her pale blue eyes and complimented her beauty, she spoke with an eloquent French accent, the same as her husband's "Are we out of a job?"

Anthony spun around on his heels to face the two with a nervous smile "Of course not! You two do a better job than I ever could. You are my best performers, afterall."

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There was an eruption of groans and chattering, some performers arguing that they were more skilled than others, some shaking their heads, a few others leaving the room disgruntled.

A woman with bright blue hair wearing a bodysuit that hugged her slender figure folded her arms in annoyance, rolling those dark blue eyes of hers, Aptly named, Blu was one of the Fire-Dancers "I thought you said there was no comparing since we're all great in our own way, and then you go ahead and say something like that." Blu was among the majority of British performers within the circus, a few Europeans and Australians but Anthony was the only American, which made him the target of a few jokes here and there.

"I didn't mean it like that," Anthony tried to settle the dismay he caused "I mean they're my best Magicians."

Dan sank back in his seat and tried to save Anthony from digging any further "So, tell us how you did it then."

"I'd love to tell you but I have a thing to do."

"What thing?"

"A thing."

Dan furrowed a brow "Does this thing involve your plan to get us to Carnaval?"

Anthony beamed with excitement "Of course, when we make it in Carnaval we've officially made it as performers."

"Ant," Blu sighed "we know that's your dream for us but only the best performers make it to Carnaval, you've been trying for years."

"Carnaval is the breeding ground for talent in the performing arts, it's a once in a lifetime chance to make it-"

"We've tried more than once."

"We'll make it, I know we will. We'll perform at Carnaval among the other greats, our names in lights."

The performers were quiet amongst themselves, giving each other looks of unease like they were keeping something from him. Dan put his hand on Anthony's shoulder "Ant, you're my best friend so I'll let you down gently, but we aren't great."

"I think you guys are amazing."

"Ant, people come to see your ideas and your shows. They come to see the things you can do."

"I'm not me without any of you," he brushed Dan's hand from his shoulder "I know we're good enough, I know you're all capable."

"We're good at what we do, Ant. That's a given, but we're not there yet."

"How can you say that?"

Mia took out her expensive looking earrings and passed them to her husband "Anthony, it's perfectly fine to accept us for what we are."

"And what might that be?" he looked over to her.

"Mediocre. Maybe just above that."

Anthony looked in disbelief, "You don't think we can do it?" he looked around at the remaining performers who didn't leave the room "Do you all think the same?"

Dan shrugged "Look, it's your dream to get us there and dreams are great to have, they're what keep us going, but sometimes you just have to keep your feet firmly on the ground."

Ant raised a brow "Do you know how stupid that sounds when the majority of you are doing acrobatics… You know? Your feet barely touch the ground."

"You know what I mean."

"What are you afraid of? What are you all so afraid of that makes you think we can't get to Carnaval?"

"We just don't want to disappoint you, Ant."

Anthony looked stunned at what he was hearing, instead of arguing his point back anymore he nodded and dragged himself out of the common room "You guys never would." he spoke quietly before leaving to walk into the long stretched corridor, the performers spoke amongst themselves, quickly changing the subject onto other things.

Everyone had a small room to themselves that split off every few feet or so down the long corridor , Anthony's room was all the way at the end.

Anthony swung open the door and let himself practically fall through it, his room was cosy to say the least, a small room with not much in it beside a bed, a window, a set of drawers that were visibly worn out, probably older than him, and his clothes were scattered across the floor, he was either too busy or too tired to clean up.

After taking off his tophat and tossing it to the side he shimmied off his red jacket that he let fall to the floor, he unbuttoned his charcoal waistcoat, raised his arms until he heard a crack from his back and then let out a content sigh followed by a shudder as he dropped his arms to his side, he was beginning to realise he wasn't a young man anymore, he was almost Twenty-Four, but he felt Centuries older.

A calm voice rang through him, making him jump "Your show is… Interesting to say the least."

Anthony let out a pathetic yelp and span around to see a tall man of 6 foot with slicked back raven hair watching him from the corner of the room looking very unimpressed, almost bored, with his arms folded against his chest, his dull grey eyes glancing down to Anthony carefully "We need to talk, Mr. Barnum."

Anthony paled "Who the hell are you and how did you get here?" he spoke quickly.

"My name is Jesse Sterling, but you can address me as Mr. Sterling." He was a refined Englishman.

"Okay, Jesse-"

"Mr. Sterling." Jesse corrected him.

"What are you doing here?" Anthony held a hand behind his back cautiously.

"Ah, yes" Jesse continued, straightening his tie "You've been avoiding us for long enough."

Anthony snorted "We? You got a beautiful woman in your pocket or something?"

Jesse rolled his eyes "You've been either avoiding or ignoring the High Sages summons for far too long, they've grown irritated." he narrowed his eyes "Whatever that is you have in your hand, put it out."

"Oh, a Mage," Anthony tone switched from spooked to bored almost in an instant, he allowed his hand to move back to his side, the remains of a flame wilting away as he did, "In case you haven't noticed, this is a Circus. A travelling Circus, we move around a lot, so sorry for not staying in touch with my pen-not-pals."

Jesse stiffened "You've been garnering a lot of attention here."

"Considering my job is to entertain people, I'd hope so."

"From people you don't want attention from."

"What's it got to do with you with how I live my life and what I do?"

"I'm a City-Guard."

"A what?"

"A City-Guard for Mage Realms."

Anthony gave a blank stare paired with an awkward silence.

Jesse grumbled "You have no idea what that is, do you?"

"Not a clue."

"I answer to the High Sages directly. I make sure Mortals don't become aware of Mages. Any of this ring any bells?"

"Oh yes! I remember now! The High Sages sit in their offices all day acting important so they can distribute the wealth and power amongst themselves while people like me and you are made to just accept the lies of the world for what it is without questioning anything, right?"

Jesse took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment or two, "I'm not allowed to agree but I don't disagree with what you just said… However, you're undoing the work I've done and you're getting a lot of people angry to say the least, not to mention bringing illegal creatures here."

"Creatures like…?"

"That Scandivanian Short-Snout for one."

Anthony looked confused "The what?"

"The bloody dragon! Asleep on the bed!" Jesse snapped and pointed to a black dragon that was around the size of a small dog, maybe a terrier of some kind, sleeping on the foot of Anthonys bed, looking docile with its deep purple tongue hanging from its mouth.

"That's not a dragon, that's Buddy."

"That dragon is… Why Buddy?" Jesse frowned.

"He's my little buddy."

"I'm a stranger, are you going to call me 'Stranger'?"

" I can if you want me to, Stranger."

"Buddy is a dragon. And dragons are illegal in confined spaces." Jesse huffed, clearly losing his patience.

"I mean he's ready to pounce at any time, he can smell fear and chicken nuggets a mile away."

Buddy contorted his body around and stood up straight at the mere mention of food, letting himself fall off the bed and began sniffing around. He whined and thrashed on the floor when he couldn't find a scrap of food, so instead resorted to gnawing on Anthony's shoe.

"See? Now you've upset him with the promise of chicken nuggets."

"I didn't mention anything about them." Jesse sighed.

"Now I have to go get him some or else he'll throw a hissy fit and I'll have no more shoes."

"Mr. Barnum-"

"Anthony, or you can call me Ant, everyone else does. Some call me Anton, some Toni, never Antony though."

"Mr. Barnum, back to the matter at hand…"

"Sure, where were we? Oh yeah, Why are you here? And don't say it's because of the High Sages."

"It's because of the High Sages."

"What did I just tell you?���

"If you'd like me to be more specific, Mr. Barnum, it's because your Circus has been causing major concern among Mages."

Anthony's face scrunched up in confusion "Concern?"

"It's one thing to try and stop Mortals from finding out about us and that we exist, but it's a whole other thing to do what you're doing. You're showing Mortals magic!"

"I disguise it as being part of the show, I don't see what the big deal is."

"You're being reckless!" Jesse snapped, "You don't even know what you're doing, do you?"

"I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm running a Circus and have the advantage of being a Mage and using magic. What I don't understand is why you're here."

"The High Sages. They would like to talk to you."

"Me? Why?"

"I'm sure I don't know why, but they know you're here, so it would be wise to meet with them."

"When?"

"Now."

"Now?!" Anthony choked on his words "But I'm still wearing my work clothes."

"I assure you it's not a fashion show. Would you prefer they come here? Then you'd have a lot more questions to answer for not just them, but your colleagues here, too. I assume you are the only Mage here?"

"Yes." Anthony sighed "I guess I don't really have a choice here."

Jesse gestured to the door.

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