Grown old before she had a chance to truly be young, Delilah gathered her courage, fighting down the first faint stirrings of fear. Such an emotion was foreign to her, unnamed and unrecognized, acknowledged only long enough to be pushed away. The heavy velvet of her skirt brushed softly against the tent flaps as she pushed her way inside, echoing through the silence. Within it was as though she had truly stepped into another reality, as though she had left the bustling fair behind, shutting it away completely behind walls of stone rather than hanging cloth.
The darkness and heat that pervaded the entrance extended into the interior, a heavy mantle that defied the eyes. Squinting into the abyss, Lady Beaufort took a hesitant step forward, wishing madly that she might find something to alleviate the curiosity that drove her near madness.
Finally, her eyes adjusting infinitesimally, she glimpsed a faint impression, a darker patch of night. Having come so far, Delilah saw no reason to hang back, no excuse for hesitation. One quick step after another, the expensive cloth of her gown help up off the ground, she approached the shadow, every moment the image resolving more until, finally, she could see it clearly.
There, in the center of what she could only imagine to be an extremely large tent despite the knowledge that it couldn’t be much larger than a bedchamber, lay a large box. Like those used to contain the Troupe’s strange beasts, it was made of thick, brightly painted wood, the color barely visible through folds in the woolen blanket covering it.
Wishing for some sort of light by which to inspect her discovery, Delilah leaned closer, her fingers slowly pinching one corner of the cloth.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the ringmaster called from behind her, the rustle of his entrance hidden by her own rapid breathing, by the excited, erratic beat of her heart.
“I was just-”
“Just looking into things you weren’t supposed to, ne? Little Dove, you’ve gone and spoiled the surprise, gotten him all riled up.” Delilah wished desperately that she could see the face of man who spoke to her, could remember more than a red suit and a wide smile. Stepping away from the man and crate both, she tried to back toward the exit, hoped that he would fail to recognize her. What would Henry do if he knew? What would become of her?
“Who?” she asked, not wanting an answer so much as a few extra moments of distraction, a few moments in which to slip away into the darkness that had so failed her. “Who have I disturbed?”
And she swore that, despite the shadows and invasive, overhanging night, that she saw the ringmaster grin once more, perverse delight radiating from him in waves of nauseating delusion. “Well, now that we’re all here already anyhow,” he called, clapping twice in quick succession, “let’s skip right to the fun part.”
Before she could blink, Delilah found herself bathed in the dim light of a half-dozen lanterns, a glow that would typically be gloomy but was blinding after the near-total dark of only seconds before. Along with the light came a small crowd, a few dozen men and women shuffling into the tent, their heads swiveling as if to find whatever entertainment they had been brought to see.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, welcome to the main event of this evening!” The front-man’s voice boomed eerily in the hush, silencing even those daring whisperers who seemed almost afraid of stillness. “I proudly present a one-of-a-kind beast, a monster never before seen here or anywhere outside of the Troupe. I give you: the Devil!”