Vintage Circus Poster

Spliced together the title from these options to bring you the following:

The Ringmaster grinned and bowed to the applauding audience. The Cherubs of the Trapeze were helped from the tent as the next act, Darius the Dragon-Tamer, made his way into the center ring. Balthazar watched from the side of the right-most ring, the top hat feeling more and more uncomfortable as the show went on.

“You look like you’re fit to burst.”

He smiled carefully, not showing the teeth behind his black lips. The leader of the burlesque act that happened in the largest side tent stood at his elbow, regarding him coolly with her bright orange eyes.

“As much as I relish the anticipation, it does kill me some nights.” He adjusted his cravat. “I also wonder if tonight’s the night Darius gets his face bitten off for his trouble. You know how much Inferna hates to act like an animal.”

Camilla rolled her eyes. “If she tries to drag me into another one of her existential discussions on the philosophies of the superhuman, I’ll rip my own throat out.”

“And ruin such a lovely neck? That seems excessive.”

Blood-red lips curled into a seductive smirk. “Balthazar, you do know how to make a lady feel appreciated.”

“Were a lady actually here, I’m sure she’d share your sentiment.”

He got a slight slap on the cheek, but her expression didn’t change. “Cad. I have half a mind to show you one of your organs for such churlishness.”

He did smile, this time, with his back to the mortals in the stands. “You know how that will end.”

Her grin showed her fangs, and her tongue slid against one of them. “And you do have a show to do.”

“But what a show that would be.”

She slapped him again. “You are perverse. I shall leave you to your audience. Do try not to be too distracted, darling.” With that, she turned and sauntered away, hips swaying beneath her elaborate skirts, the corset turning the silhouette of her torso to an hourglass Balthazar wanted to turn over and over again.

He turned back to the center ring, forcing his bestial instinct back into its cage. Darius was cracking his whip at Inferna, who roared and snorted flame from her nostrils and, as the Ringmaster had requested, did her best to seem ‘somewhat mechanical’. After all, what mortal would truly believe a dragon whose age outstripped empires was prancing around the ring for their amusement?

Already he could feel it. The connection the audience had to the world outside the tent was growing more and more tenuous. The crashing of the band and the roars of the dragon drowned out their little electronic distractions. The sight of Darius’ performance, scimitar in his left hand, whip of shining barbs in his right, coupled with Inferna’s glorious crimson scales and burning golden eyes, kept them from looking even at one another. Soon the time would be ripe, and it would be Balthazar’s turn to shine.

The Ringmaster looked across the tent towards him. He kept largely to himself, never seeming to take one of Camilla’s girls into his tent or indulging in Inferna’s evening-long debates around the fire. Yet it was he who chose their destinations, oversaw the tents being put up and broken down, and ensured that every night they stayed in the shadow of a city, the seats were filled. Balthazar had never dared to ask from where he’d come or how he’d found all of them, for The Ringmaster would not hesitate to throw him out. It had happened to Imhotep, and the gap in the center ring left by his prestidigitation show remained vacant until Inferna and Darius arrived.

For his part, Darius was delighting the crowd by getting Inferna on her hind legs, dancing a merry jig. She glanced to Balthazar, her chagrin plain in her eye. He touched his hat and bowed low. She knew it would all be worth it very soon. Darius shooed her from the ring moments later, and Darius took his bows before he was replaced by the Ringmaster.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, it is my deep delight to introduce you to the most understated but most vital of acts, that Spinner of Stories, the Delver of Dreams, Forger of Idle Fancies and Prince of Phantasms, our very own… Balthazar!”

The crowd applauded. Balthazar stepped into the center ring and bowed, once, to each of the four cardinal directions. Already the power was surging through him. Anticipation bubbled in his mind like a fine broth. He glanced to the performer’s entrance to see Camilla in the shadows, a bright fresh splash of red on her pale chin, smiling at him.

“It is my honor to be before you tonight, to show you the highlight of our show!” He tugged on his white gloves, immaculate as the rest of his dark suit and brocaded waistcoat. “Surely these delights you are about to witness will visit your dreams and haunt your waking days for years to come.”

He snapped his fingers, and vapors filled the air of the tent. Phantasms, illusions, ghosts of delightful pasts and imagined futures all began to flit hither and yon within the tent. The humans sat transfixed. Balthazar smiled, showing his pointed and polished teeth, removing his top hat to reveal his inch-long dark horns. His tail uncoiled from around his waist, its wedge-like tip waving lazily in the sand of the ring.

“It is almost a pity none of you will remember them.”

Another snap of his fingers, and from every nostril and mouth and eye socket and ear in the crowd, the essence of life itself drifted forth. It collected above Balthazar’s head, then slid silently to the waiting performers. Each inhaled deeply, and each was filled with invigoration.

One year of life from each human in the tent meant all of them would live on, ageless and energized, until at least their next stop.

“The Black Dreams Pageant thanks you, ladies and gentlemen.”