In the Southern quarter of Heaven, the Southern corner of the sky, there once was a man named Zhu-rong who helped to divide the Heavens from the Earth. Under Jing, Gui, Liu, Xing, Zhang, Yi, and Zhen, the ancient God still resides with the well, the ghost, and the willow, having nothing more to fear or prove, since the flood bringer has been killed.
Between Jian and Po, Kai and Bi, Zhie and Ping battle to the death where Po and Wei lie in wait. Cheng lies in wait.
The twelve officers on duty are silenced by the harvest moon, painted red by the fires that raged on the earth.
I think that, perhaps, Nezha swept down from the heavens, with his body made of lotus after killing the son of the Dragon King and, subsequently, himself-- and having learned from his misdeeds, he thought to teach me of my own.
PAI BAN-BAO, he says, with his youth and his trickery and his perseverance in the Heavens. ORANGE IS THE COLOUR OF YOUR GUILT AND RED IS THE COLOUR OF YOUR FOLLY. THESE ARE THE COLOURS OF THIS NIGHT, SO YOU CAN SEE THE SCARS YOU'VE LEFT ON THE SCOPE OF YOUR DAUGHTER'S EYESIGHT; YOUR LOVER'S MEMORY; ACROSS THE FACE OF THE BROTHER YOU KILLED.
And I say Thank you, thank you, thank you, for showing me the light of my errors, the errors scrawled across my past.
He replies with nothing but
B . U . R . N
(if i can destroy myself for my sins,
the same can go for you and yours.)
The enfant terrible and the God of Fire :: in league together to burn down my circus.
My daughter, the most beautiful flower in all of Asile, is safe and sound and tending to our wounded. I find myself fortunate that she has the wits about her to escape when confronted with danger.
I find that I, myself, am not so lucky as I watch my tent burn to the ground.
Frozen, as deceptively calm as the night above the flames, the only thing twitching is my pupils as the image burns its way into the back of my brain.
PAI BAN-BAO, he says. WHAT WILL YOU DO NOW THAT YOUR TENT IS AFLAME? WHAT WILL YOU DO NOW THAT TEN GENERATIONS OF WORK IS BURNING RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES?
And my response is only
"YOU MOTHERFUCKING TENT.
YOU ARE SO FUCKING FIRED."
In older days, before the world was the way it is today, messages were sent by letter, by mail -- in legend, with pigeons. I used to wonder about such a practice; how a bird would ever know to fly straight to the recipient, how long it would take to get the message from one point to another.
In those days, a fire could have devastated an entire village before word ever reached anyone capable of supplying aid or help.
Today, a message arrives almost as soon as it's sent, and in the blink of an eye, the world you were in just a moment ago, when you sucked in your breath, doesn't exist anymore.
In an instant, everything changes.
caught on fire.
Today, in fifteen minutes, before the letter could have been penned, transportation was arranged.
Today, in fifteen minutes, before the pigeon could have been caught, help was organized.
Today, in fifteen minutes, before the message could have been strapped to the foot of a single squealing bird, I was gone, and the good doctor was left with running instructions.
Today, before anything relevant could have possibly happened in years gone past,
we might just make it in time to be useful.
In two hours, one ringleader can make her way to another circus with a single thought on her mind --
a single focus --
F A M I L Y.
So in two hours, a single pair of tanned arms wrapped around a single pair of shoulders much
strongertaller than her own, sucking in a breath and breathing a sigh of relief, because --
such a thing was not possible yesterday.
A tent (still fired, in the eyes of the seething ringleader who's screaming had, now, stopped) continued to burn
because nothing could change facts
until the pen nib hit the history books.
The circus' lot was deserted except for the performers and workers that called it home,
but the older Ringleader's scarredsplinteredcharred hands smoothed across his
wife'slover's beautiful arms.
"...how did you hear?"
"It doesn't matter. Help is on the way." She whispered, standing on tip-tip toes, to reach the base of his neck with the words which caressed his skin.
She just wanted to panic, and just wanted to cry, and just wanted to find her beautiful daughter and make sure everything would be fine and run.
But ringleaders knew better; after surviving so much trauma, Ciro knew that even now, even here,
nobody needed her panic;
but everyone needed her action.
"We need to get this fire out."
"With what water?" the ringleader asked, turning to see her beautiful face and to smooth the lines of worry from her eyes. "We need to collect our dead and dying and leave." Back to the tent, back to the flames. "We need to account for everyone, and send for the tents from Beijing."
"The fire will go out on its own when there's nothing left to burn. Xining won-- that's all there is to say on the subject."
"Then perhaps you should make sure it can't reach your trains. Set up an infirmary. Uncle's on his way."
Uncle, the good doctor. It wasn't that Ciro didn't know Asile had doctors of its own; she just didn't trust them.
"So are most of our men. I cancelled next week's shows. Where's Jian-yi?"
"Jian-yi's tending to the wounded with Mama Njoki," the ringleader said, mutedly, his voice sore from his screaming and his rages and his firing. "If you see any dead chickens, don't panic."
"I want to see her." Replied the woman smoothly, reaching up to caress the lines of his face through the smoke and the heat. "I don't know your staff, but are they trying to get a count?"
"Avi's going through her hitlist, and if you follow the dancing black woman and the jingling of her bone bracelets, you'll find Jian-yi; she's perfectly safe. She was the first out, and no one's allowed her to go back in." A murmur just barely above the roaring of the Xining fire. "Thank you for coming."
"Come with me?" Asked the woman gently, tugging on the hands she'd entwined with her own; a woman who knew that left to his own devices, Ban would stare at that motherfucking tent until nothing was left but ash and smoke and the smell of death.
the smoke's not good for
but i don't want to leave you here.
"Mais oui," the man replied, head ducked and eyes venturing toward the wounded, the unconscious, and the ones working to save them.
He decided he needed a drink,
but he knew he couldn't get it.
"Let me show you the way."
"Comme vous voudrez." Ciro replied graciously, her head held high amidst the smoke, because, unlike years gone by,
-- salvation was possible.
Binding and helping and stitching and cooling,
Ila had never been witness to so many burn victims in all her life. Ointments, bandages, and solvents.
The hand balancer was, indeed, quite scared, but she'd never let it show.
"Jian-yi," the father said, gently, turning his eyes from his half naked witchdoctor dancing a ritual to aid in the healing of third degree burns. "Your mother is here."
An arm about tanned shoulders;
eyes still shaking with the tension of a ten-year warranty that'd just run out.
Ciro reached for that beautiful face, cupping her daughter's cheeks in the smoothness of her older hands.
"Are you alright, belle?"
The girl nodded silently, biting her upper lip as she placed her hand over her mother's.
"Mais oui, mama," she replied, near silent, still nearly shocked by the destruction about her.
"It might be good that Doc is coming," Ban replied, his lidded eyes falling closed. "There's too many burns for Mama Njoki to treat on her own."
"I thought it might." Ciro added gently, sliding her fingers up to the curls of her daughter's hair as she spoke to her lover, without turning to spare him a glance.
And because she was a mother --
who'd seen loss once already --
Ciro pulled Jian-yi into her arms, eyes squeezed shut.
"...grace a dieu... mon fifille..."
"Tu me manques."
the daughter accepted her mother's embrace,
as the father,
turned his eyes to his tent
(and considered, briefly, why he failed to extend the warranty).
"I missed you, too." Ciro said gently, smoothing her daughter's shoulders -- hoping to ease some of the fears the girl was too strong to show through the blood of two ringleaders. "And I'm so glad you're safe, mon belle."
"I have to tend to the worker's wounds," Jian-yi said as she extracted herself from her mother's arms and turned to Mama Njoki. "I might not be able to show it very well, but I'm glad you came, mere."
She offered a little smile, then bowed her head, and Ban placed a hand on his lover's shoulder.
Ciro nodded and gently let her daughter go.
"How many did you bring with you?"
"Our working crew, some of the acrobats, and our doctor are on their way once he gets them organized. I left immediately."
"We need to leave this place. The next city-- Yumen, isn't it? Both trains will meet there, and then we can arrange for a recovery." Hardlined eyes and hardlined features scanned the landscape; from his fallen workers to his smoldering tent. "There's so much work to be done..."
"When my workers get here, we'll load the trains. I've cancelled next week's shows." Replied Ciro, reaching for his hand and weaving it with her own; lifting his fingers to her lips. "It's just a tent, Ban-bao. We've both survived worse -- and will, still."
"Of course," the older man replied, hoarsely. "I know."
If we've survived the fire,
we can survive the smoke.
And Ciro, who could have cared less about the reputations of two separate circuses, or the publicity of their relationship, or the secrecy of their engagement, reached for his face and smoothed out those creases in the heat and the smoke.
"I love you."
Said she, standing on tiptoe to whisper against his lips, because, for twenty years now, that had been the only reason to pull through anything.