For as much as any of us may bitch about the devil who's enlisted us in rank and file to dance to his merry tunes, everyone in the circus would lay down their life in the blink of an eye at Ban-bao Pai's request. In the older, military constructs of a world far beyond our own, enlisted men entrusted their lives to their commanders, to men stronger and wiser than themselves; placed their faith in the fact that their captain could not lead them astray.
It is the authority complex of mankind, we will do, like puppets, what those in charge say there needs to be done, we are a mass.
It is not, entirely, a bad thing.
One look at the face of Ban-bao Pai will tell you the man is absolutely insane, but that does not make it insane to follow him.
When this year's tour schedule said Xining, nobody said anything --
Ban-bao Pai is our ringleader; in his ranks and files we march and sing and play -- to Xining we would, of course, go.
Any one of a number of points on a map to those who don't see the world with a wider eye, with an attention to detail.
I suspect Ban-bao Pai may have chosen to go to Xining to expand upon the empire he's built, may have thought that with enough persistance and dedication to an ideal, Asile's show could convert a hostile crowd, could show them the world in fresh light.
Ban-bao Pai is just like the company he keeps; not quite the bird he's fallen so madly in love with, but every ounce as foolish.
When I saw Xining on the tour list, I smiled, and I shuffled my cards.
Nobody listens to this old dragonlady anymore, anyway.
We arrived; we set up camp.
The lights went on, the curtains rose, and the show went on, just like always.
I tended to my birds backstage, in the ever-going process of taking them back in flights to the cars.
First the birds of prey, their king, Fei Lian; the falcons.
Then the parrots, one by one.
I'd never seen Agni so flighty, but then I realized -- I smelled it, before I saw it.
They'd wheeled Jin and his pieces in after the act, and I'd gone to take my last set, my beautiful Agni, the brothers, Re and Benu; back to the cars.
By the time I'd stepped back outside, flames had opened the roof of Asile's tent and shown our show to the stars.
It was fire, that destroyed me, that burnt away what made me tolerable, what kept me useful.
It was an accident which rendered me utterly undesirable.
Which took away my ability to speak and be heeded.
Sitting at an old vanity, surrounded by old posters, I straighten my back.
I brush my hair.
I apply a fresh shade of stage lipstick for the show I'm not in; crimson red, for the dragonlady.
I stand, and over my shoulders, I slide the robe of an old costume.
This reflection has aged but the woman who once wore this costume was beautiful and useful, and only wanted a little recognition for her talents, consistantly overshadowed by the star of the sky, the belle of the circus at its best, at the height of its success.
She was talented, the woman who once wore this costume.
She knew things, the woman who ocne wore this costume.
She would have cared enough about this circus she's given her life to to have said a word of warning.
I'm afraid she's lost her voice.
When every inch of this wardrobe has achieved complete and total perfection,
when I've contemplated life's little ironies in the pathetic quest for happiness,
when I think over the things I know are yet to come, you foolish little man,
when all of these things remind me that I am, in fact, superior to the place you've lowered me to --
I walk to the doorway, Ban-bao Pai, and I watch your circus burn.
...and I smile.
Frozen at the cars, for a moment, Avi turned to stare at the presence who'd stepped out several cars to her left -- Xing-Xing, the dragonlady, the forgotten fortuneteller. Composed and prepared and smiling like she'd known all along.
The bird-trainer found the filthy anger of a whore and redirected it at the spinning wheels of fortune; found a flight of violence to be instigated in her small frame, found the will to take the old woman down to the dirt, where a perfect costume could be smeared with the mud of the earth.
"You fucking knew?" She spat, "All this time and you motherfucking knew you fucking whore, I swear to GOD I could kill you if anything had happened to my birds, you bitchtastic cunt --"
The dragonlady smiled.
The American gave her a solid right fist, and Xing, once she'd slowly turned her head and focused her apathy back up to the young woman, smiled politely again.
"...ah, a whore, of course, will look first after herself and her own, instead of considering perhaps the best friend, the roach-trainer, or the mute most would expect her to have an interest in saving from the flames. Before you burn me as a traitor, consider your own fidélité, beautiful bird trainer -- Jin's still in pieces, isn't he?"
AINSI. AINSI. AINSI.
Jin. Jin. Jin.
Avi rolled to her knees, and kicked out of a perfect little pair of stilettos, because nobody could run in those heels.
She pulled a phone out of her pocket and dialed -- "Hello, Father. I know we haven't spoken in years, but would you be so kind as to call L'ombra, and inform their ringleader that Asile is burning?"
Perfectly composed, the whore stood, back-straight, and smiled. Her father, the previous bird-trainer, had, of course, been in the circus in those years -- knew the story -- shared it with the daughter he'd never understand.
As a parting blow, the whore grabbed the shiny threads of a perfectly ancient costume and rent it in half, smiling all the while as she got to her feet.
"Bet you didn't see that one coming, bitch. I hope Ciro rapes your fucking ass when she gets here."