Reisor took a seat, adjusting himself on the wooden bleacher. The bleachers were set up in a circle inside the giant tent—and right in the center, a stage gleamed under the glow of shroomlamps. Dane would perform there any minute.
Reisor clenched and unclenched his fists, swallowing. It would be fine…it would be just fine. He rubbed his hands on his tunic. Dane knew what he was doing. He’d been trained for a week, right? And he was pretty athletic…
“What do you think he’ll do?”
Reisor glanced at Feselea. She was swinging her legs back and forth, hands on her knees. She blew strands of red hair from her face, then glanced at the ceiling. “Plenty of ropes and equipment.”
Reisor followed her gaze. Trapeze swings, a tightrope, and a couple giant hoops. The hoops were new from when he’d last been here. “Yeah.”
“Think Dane will use it all?”
Reisor’s neck tightened as he studied the swings. “I hope not.”
“Ladies and gentlemen!” A middle-aged lady—Junine Blossom, right? She’d tested Dane in his audition—made her way to a stand before the stage. She cleared her throat, surveying the crowd. “We appreciate your presence here tonight.”
The murmurs hushed. Some of the crowd was still settling into their seats—but most were leaning in, eyes wide.
“Every few years, the Blossom Circus intends to make a complete circuit of Ayphae.” Junine spread her hands, golden bracelets tinkling along her arms. “And here we are.”
Some in the crowd nodded, whispering into each other’s ear. Reisor licked his lips, hands pressed against his legs.
“Our policy is to accept the most athletic and willing among each town we visit. While we are there, such volunteers will be allowed to perform with us—provided they are skilled enough.” Here she smiled, lacing her fingers. “And this visit, we have a particularly skilled volunteer who will be performing some excellent feats.”
That was Dane. Reisor nodded to himself, tapping his fingers against his legs. They wouldn’t let Dane do this if it wasn’t safe, right? They were sensible.
“We are pleased to introduce Misty River’s own Dane Carter!”
Applause. Most were politely clapping, as Dane wasn’t exactly a celebrity. Well, not yet—that could change after tonight.
“Sorry we’re late.”
He glanced up to see Jad and Belsy taking their spots on the bleacher beside Feselea. Jad grinned, his mustache curving. “But we do have treats.”
“Spicemold punch.” Belsy reached into her purse and pulled out a vial of greenish blue liquid. “A classic when you’re at the circus.”
Feselea accepted the vial with a “thank you,” dipping her head. She popped the cork—then tipped it back and took a swig. “Mmm.”
Jad chuckled. “I knew you’d appreciate it.” He pointed at the stage, where dancers were taking their place. “Dane’s about to enter, you know.”
“Yeah.” Reisor’s brow furrowed. Wouldn’t Dane have entered when Junine introduced him? Where was he? “I, uh—I hope what he’s doing is safe.”
“Safe?” Jad laughed. “Not by a mile. This is the circus!”
“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.” Belsy elbowed Jad with a glare. “He’ll be fine. Don’t you worry, Reisor.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself.” Reisor glanced at the swings again, biting his lip. Why had he let Dane try this? What was going through his head?
He almost stood up—then stopped himself. No. Dane needed this opportunity. This was something Dane actually enjoyed—and Reisor wouldn’t take that from him.
He straightened his shoulders, closing his eyes. This would be fine. He needed to calm down.
“That’s weird. Where’s Dane?” Feselea pointed at the stage, where all the performers were in a circle. Two athletes had placed a hopper in the center—and now the other performers were raising their hands, backing up. One of them ran forward—and leapt onto the hopper, bouncing high and seizing a trapeze swing.
“Beats me.” Jad shrugged. “Junine introduced him, so I assume he’s part of the act.”
“Could be he comes later.” Belsy took a sewing needle and cloth from her purse. “Hope you don’t mind—I like the circus, but I need something for my hands.”
“It’s fine.” Reisor tapped his legs again, raising his eyebrows. At least Dane might stop complaining about things being boring.
Dane gave the performer a thumbs-up. His stomach was churning. What was the deal? This was no biggie. Easy moves, basically. Not a problem.
Except it was a crowd of like a hundred people. So yeah, kind of a big deal.
Adrenaline shot through his veins—and he took a step forward. It was just past the curtain. The show, the fans…everything. He’d never been so excited. Or nauseous.
He bobbed up and down on his feet, letting out his breath. Nothing to it.
“And now, please welcome Dane Carter!”
And that was his cue. Dane dashed through the curtain, cartwheeling onto the stage. He leapt onto the hopper, did a triple flip—and thrust out his hand.
A performer hanging on the trapeze swing grabbed it. Dane grunted, body jerking as they swung. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. He grabbed the guy’s other hand—then swiveled his body to gain momentum. One swing, two—and he released the guy’s arms at the peak.
For a second he sailed through the air, shroomlamps spotlighting him. He was weightless—then the girl on the other swing grabbed his legs. He caught his breath, hanging upside-down, his arms out. Blood rushed to his head as he swung to and fro.
Wild applause. Cheers, whistles—everything. Perfect.
He swiveled again to gain momentum—then reached out as she released his legs. His stomach lurched as he flew, and the other performer grabbed his arms. He dangled, clutching the guy’s arms. Not too bad at all.
The Cheers only increased. People couldn’t believe he was actually pulling this off.
Well, that was fine. He was pleased to exceed expectations.
He looked up at the guy. His name was Darren or something. “I know, man.”
“Just reminding you.”
Dane tried not to roll his eyes. He hated being bossed around. He swiveled for more momentum—then released Darren’s arms. This time he thrust his arms out and seized the tightrope. It wobbled a little—he tried to look graceful dangling from it—then it steadied. It was coarse under his palms, which was great. They were getting sweaty anyway.
Now for the fun part.
Dane swung his leg around, then looped it over the rope. Flipping his body over the line, he pinned it between his knees, clutching it with both hands. He set his stomach on the rope.
Now to stand. He growled, the muscles in his arms bulging. Just needed to hook his foot on the rope…then he could position his knee and stand.
Right. He was doing it. He rose slowly, arms trembling as he held them out. The state was so far below him—but he had to focus. Heights weren’t a problem anyway.
A staff came flying at him. He caught it in both hands, using it to balance himself. Straight posture…bend the knees so his center of gravity was closer to the rope…chin up. Awesome. He took a step, angling his feet to prevent the rope from rotating beneath them. So much went into tightrope walking. It was insane.
People were silent now, watching him with wide eyes. No one wanted to see him fall—but Dane knew how to land. Even from this height, he doubted he would even break a bone. Not that he would mess up anyway.
He took another step forward—and someone whistled. He swallowed, leg muscles taut as he took each step. The rope vibrated only slightly—and he could deal with that. Next came the hoop.
A corner of his lips lifted. Man, challenges were awesome.
To learn all that in a week—it was pretty impressive. Feselea nodded, raising her eyebrows. Not bad, Dane.
She glanced at Reisor. He was massaging his forehead, eyes closed. His heart rate was probably through the roof. But at least he was here. Dane would be happy about that.
She took another swig of her spicemold punch. This really was good. What was in it, exactly? She’d have to research it later.
The crowd gasped. Her eyes darted up to see Dane leap from the rope. He tossed the staff, grabbing a hoop hanging from the ceiling. Now he swung, legs dangling as he tried to get a better grip.
“That’s a lyra hoop,” Belsy whispered, threading her sewing needle through the cloth. “Only very skilled athletes can use those. Or at least at an advanced level.”
That was Dane alright. He swung his legs out—then pressed them against the top of the hoop, like he was standing upside down. He reached one arm toward the ground, grinning. Then the hoop began descending toward the stage.
As he descended, Dane jerked the hoop so it started spinning. He braced himself against the hoop from the inside, straining his arms so he could lift himself. Now his head was inside the hoop, and he reached out with his other arm to grab the top. He released his legs from the hoop and spread them wide, like he was doing the splits upside down. Still the hoop kept spinning, and Feselea couldn’t help but be impressed. What a show.
“That requires some serious muscles,” Jad murmured, arms crossed. He rubbed his nose, then added, “Frankly, most people don’t even have the upper body strength—and certainly not the balance.”
That was Dane for you. Feselea stared at the spinning hoop as Dane contorted himself. He was making all kinds of weird poses—and at the rate the hoop was spinning, she wondered if he was getting dizzy. She would be.
Reisor inhaled deeply. He looked up at the hoop—then grimaced. “That’s—it’s fine.” He rubbed his forehead again. “It’s fine—right? It’s fine.”
Feselea tried not to smile. It was Reisor’s job to be worried, she guessed. That was the way things went. At least he was letting Dane do this. That took some maturity.
Maturity? Feselea tilted her head, rubbing her lips. Yes…that was the perfect word. They’d made some progress since waking up here with no memory. Made some friends, learned to loosen up a bit…not bad, all things considered.
She adjusted her position, putting the vial between her legs and setting her hands on her knees. Swinging her legs back and forth, she blew a strand from her eyes. Life here was pretty neat, actually.
The lyra hoop spun just above the stage now—and Dane leapt off it, landing in a crouch. He really did look cool.
Then the applause. Dane straightened, beaming as the crowd cheered and whistled. He took a bow—more whistling. And another bow after that.
Feselea shook her head, rolling her eyes. What a ham.
“Simply wonderful. Wouldn’t you say?” Belsy glanced at Reisor and Feselea expectantly. “I can’t believe he pulled that off.”
Reisor licked his lips, one hand balled. “M-hm. Yeah, he pulled it off.”
Feselea smiled to herself. “It was pretty impressive.”
“Overall, an excellent show.” Jad stroked his mustache. “Well-executed and coordinated.”
Feselea plucked the vial from between her legs—then tipped it to her lips, letting the tart but sweet liquid envelop her tongue. Such an interesting flavor combination.
Swallowing the liquid, she focused on Dane. He was still bowing—of course.