Taking a cue from the retreating cook, we follow him around to the back of the main tent for the servants entrance and I do my best to sneak up and take a peek at what’s going on inside.
I try not to gasp as I notice the bright colors and vast insides much bigger than the tent on the outside. Amazing…we simply must tell Tain, he might invest and give this place some style… or use it as a new wardrobe.
Tightropes and trapeezes swing in the breeze above the ring as disgruntled creatures lay about the bleachers amidst the trash and throw the occasional vegetable at two bears riding unicycles and a juggler. At the far end of the ring is a wrought-iron cage with someone sitting in a chair in the shadows. I’m betting it’s Beniditi… but there’s only one way to know for sure.
“You go around back and try to get a closer look, Kenari, while the rest of us cause a distraction,” says Ef Utan.
“What did you have in mind?” I ask, just in case fire is involved. You never know with these guys.
“I thought we’d just walk in the front door, actually.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic… so I proceeded to sneak around to the back of the tent and under one of the flaps to try and get a closer look at our caged stranger.
Well… I definitely think that’s Beniditi… I had no idea crocodiles could look bored, though. Strangely enough, he’s clad in a velvet smoking jacket and idly stiring a cup of tea while sitting in what looks like a rich persons den transplanted into a cage. I wonder why? Is it to keep himself in… or to keep the rest of the world out? By Basts whisker… his hands are backwards!
I’m trying to get a closer look at the rings on his hand when I hear something that sends a cold shiver down my spine.
“Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea?”
Thankfully my friends chose that moment to stride into the tent and gave me a moment to think of a proper reply. This isn’t your typical monster… the sharp teeth and claws are hidden under a thin veil of propriety. It kind of reminds me of some of the clerics from home, actually. Let’s see how long talk will keep me alive this time.
“The entertainment is here!” Ef Utan yells to the crowd, only to have rotten tomatoes thrown at them in reply. Ef proceeds to slip on one of them, causing a raucous laugh from the audience. I wince and chuckle softly, glad I’m not with them… until the clinking of the spoon in the teacup reminds me of my own potential dangers.
“I thank you for your hospitality, kind sir… but I prefer to remain outside of cages. It’s a cultural thing… I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Suit yourself,” Beniditi shrugs. “I assume you are the one to thank for the entertainment?” He gestures with his spoon at the others as the juggler starts to shake with rage.
“YOU’RE STEALING THE SHOW!” Suddenly before our eyes the juggler begins to grow into a giant. I just hope to the gods that the others are capable of handling him… I have a feeling that I don’t want to let Beniditi out of my sight until we’re out of here safely.
As I ponder my next words my hand drifts to the cards in my sash. Wait a minute… I think I’ve seen him before! I quickly pull out the cards and flip through them until the image of Beniditi appears before me, teacup and all. “The Rakasha” is the title of the card. I shall have to ask Ef or Lenata what they are.“Here goes nothing,” I whisper to myself as I concentrate and use the card. I feel an energy radiate through me, and then… nothing. Hmmmn.
“My friends and I are looking for a strange metal canister that might have showed up here not too long ago,” I offer.
“Is that all you are looking for?” the Rakasha replies… and then I notice it. It’s almost like his words are clearer to me now.
“Well, we also want to leave this place. We don’t belong here, so we would appreciate it if you didn’t hinder our attempts to leave. And of course, there’s always the parts of the Bard.”
I hear more noises of battle and shots fired in the ring and risk a look out of the corner of my eye to see that Vedis has defeated the two bears with her Force Push ability, and Melchior has blown a new hole in the Jugglers head.
The crowd cheers as Vedis and the others bow… and Beniditi even offers a polite clap before going back to stirring his tea. “Oh very good… I do love a good show. Perhaps we can come to a suitable arrangement after all.”
“Have we learned what we need?” Ef asks as he wipes off his weapons and walks up to the cage.
“I’m afraid Beniditi here lies amazingly,” I say with chagrin.
“You are too kind,” he replies with a nod. “If I may say so, you also lie well for a humanoid. Now that your show is finished, I shall explain my offer. I will give you 5 questions to ask me, and if you can catch me in a lie, I will help you.”
The others turn to each other to whisper over possible questions as the ‘clink’ of the spoon in the teacup keeps nagging at me. Every time he stirs it, it’s not the sound of a spoon hitting the side of a cup… it’s more like the clink of metal on metal.
“Is there something other than tea and a spoon in your teacup?” I ask him curiously. I figure we all would get one question, right?
Beniditi chuckles, and I quickly decide that the sound of a crocodile laughing is something I never want to hear again. “You take advantage of my hospitality, humanoids… but I find myself suitable entertained so I will assist you.” He lifts out a garnet on a gold chain from his teacup and hands it to Ef Utan, who promptly wipes it off and puts it in a pouch.
“The Realm of the Briar is the only way to the other spheres. If you go to the gardens, seek the Black Nib from the Shadow of Sonneray. Now if you will excuse me… I need to find myself a new juggler.”
We bid Beniditi and the Midnight Circus a quick farewell lest the Rakasha change his mind. “I don’t know about you all… but I got the feeling that Beniditi was right peeved that he gave us his token,” Melchior offered.
“Thank Celestian that even Evil can have a code they live by,” Lenata replied.
Personally, I think Lenata is giving Beniditi too much credit. I’m afraid that we haven’t heard the last from that Rakasha… and I’m sure he’s planning something even now.