The magician gave a weak moan, turning his head slightly towards Josephine and nodding before he passed out. Iris bounded across the room and began to lick his face comfortingly. Josephine stood aghast, unable to fathom how the hack magician was still alive.
"And for my n-next trick, I will pull a rabbit out of this v-very hat!" said the slightly disheveled man on the stage. He removed his hat and held it out for all to see inside. Without any warning, the bottom of the hat gave way and a disgruntled white rabbit tumbled out, scampering into the audience amidst squeals and jeers from the crowd. The Amazing Larry gave chase, stumbling between rows of disappointed children and tired looking adults before seizing his costar by the ears and holding him up to show the audience.
"Ta-da! There you h-have it, ladies and gentlemen, a white rabbit, summoned entirely by m-magic!"
"Get off the stage, ya meatball!" a man shouted from the back of the tent.
"Who said that?" Larry demanded.
"Boo! I wasted eight bucks on this hack and I want my money back!" shouted another.
"But, ladies and gents, b-boys and girls, please! You h-have not seen the e-entire show!" Larry flung open his arms with a flourish, spilling an entire deck of so-called mystic playing cards across the room. The crowd began to get up and leave, murmuring their disappointment. "No, wait, come back!" The crowd continued to ignore him. "Wait! Come back for the f-final show of the evening, that's nine o'clock, ladies and gentlemen, and witness a feat so daring, so f-fascinatingly intrepid, you've never seen anything like it!"
"Ah, forget it! You're just a phony!"
"No, p-please, everyone! I will perform my most fearless feat yet! I'm going to…" he paused, thinking wildly. "I'm going to s-saw myself in half!" A few audience members stopped, turning around to give him intrigued looks. Larry looked as though the very idea of performing made him ill. "That's right! And, courtesy of M-Madame Fate herself, the tickets for this once-in-a-life-time performance will b-be…free! That's right, ladies and gents, free tickets to see the Amazing Larry saw himself in half! Right here, at Fate's Carnival!"
"I knew his act was disappointing, but that's no reason to do…this!" Iris had turned her attention to bother a white rabbit tucked into a silk top hat. "Iris, stop that. If you want a toy, go bother the bat hanging in front of that bird cage." Eager to oblige, iris jumped onto the high shelf and began to nudge the bat. Annoyed by the sudden attack, the furry vermin fluttered off. Iris pawed through the bars and pulled out another mask, much like the one by the gate, and a crank handle, dropping them expectantly at Josephine's feet. "Good girl!" Iris scrambled to her perch and gave a very dignified nod. "Come on, then, let's go see if we can find anything of use!" The pair exited Larry's tent and crossed to another booth, the opening fitted with a large latch in the shape of two masks. Josephine fitted the pieces in as the entrance sprang open forcefully. Inside was a gumball machine, a tape recorder sans tape, and a small target. Classic carnival game: throw a dart, get a prize. Now, if only I had a dart…She fished for a quarter in her pocket and twisted the gumball machine knob. Instead of dispensing a gumball, the front of the machine opened, revealing a small leather bound notebook and a metal lever.
"Looks like we lucked out, eh, Iris?" She tossed the notebook into her bag and grabbed the lever, hoping it would fit the chained gate by the theater. As the passed the Day and Night Theater, the same raven she had seem by the entry swooped past her, dropping a piece of paper. Josephine snatched it up, reading it carefully. It was a collage of pictures, of Ravenhearst Manor, Charles and Victor, and another man, the same one on the poster outside the theater, with the inscription Charles, my son. It was signed with a scrawling A.D. and a raven. She tucked it into the notebook without a second thought and trotted to the gate, fitting the lever into the panel and giving it a brisk tug. One of the chains went lax, though the others remained as taught as before. She had failed to notice a second slot. Josephine pulled the crank handle out of her bag and fitted it to the slot, giving it a hard jerk. The rest of the chains came loose, unbarring the entrance. She strolled through carefully, drawing her jacket tighter around her. A poster was nailed to a tree stump, depicting the mermaid Marlena, with the words You'll FISH you were dead! smeared in what she tried to convince herself wasn't blood. Another scarab was stuck underneath the ominous advertisement. Iris, who had managed to wander off again, sat at Josephine's feet and dropped a battery, which Josephine tossed into her bag as well. Taking the lead, Iris prowled through the overgrown grass to a large gate, this one looking like a gaping fish mouth. A cable box buzzed shrilly as the gate, a pair of guillotine blades, slammed open and shut.
"Yikes! Not going in there. Perhaps I can shut off the power somehow." Noticing a metal gear and a reel of tape on the ground, she dusted them off, examining it before tossing them into her bag with the rest of the bric-a-brac. Iris, deciding she was tired of walking, jumped back onto Josephine's shoulders as she walked back to the magician's tent and dart game. She fitted the tape to the recorder and pushed play, eager to hear what was recorded. To her disappointment, it was only some raspily whispered gibberish. The machine sputtered and went silent. Annoyed, she turned it over, hoping to find a way to repair it. A battery fell out of the back, which of course she tucked away for late use.
"Come on, Iris, we're going back around."
They walked back to the open gate, stopping at an abandoned wagon. The side was fitted with an empty battery chamber, which Josephine filled. The side opened, revealing a complicated puzzle lock. I knew it, the Dalimars are definitely connected to this case! She fiddled with lights, switches, levers, a miniature Ferris wheel, and an array of colored shapes until a low beeping began. Uncertain whether it was real or a figment of her imagination, she leaned in, placing her ear on the side of the cart. Realizing what the sound was, she took off, scrambling away from the cart as fast as she could. As expected, the structure exploded in a blaze of smoke.
"Really? That's what I get for solving it? And explosion? Well, alright then!"
The raven had appeared again, peering at Josephine from the topmost branches of the tree. Iris hissed.
"You know, I think that bird is spying on us." The raven took off, swooping away over a pair of immaculately kept gates, each equipped with a brass lion's head handle, the type which was supposed to keep a ring in its mouth…sans ring. A wooden figure holding a miniature fishing pole was perched haphazardly between the bars, his leg snapped off and tucked in next to him.
"Perhaps we ought to search the magician's tent more thoroughly?" She wandered back, uncertain what she expected to find, when suddenly a cloud of purple haze surrounded her, rolling over her like waves. Out of the mist appeared a figure, obscured for a moment, before appearing in too-crisp detail in a blinding flash of light. A jarring buzz shook Josephine to rapt attention as Iris hissed and arched her back, hair on end. The air tingled with energy and foreboding as the aberration disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared. That looked exactly like that new carny! Getting her bearings, Josephine entered the tent where Larry was still trapped. She approached his dressing table and sat down cautiously on a tripod stool. On the table was box, each side adorned with in imprint of a lucky symbol; a rabbit's foot, a clover, the number seven, and a horseshoe. Also on the table was a circular object she immediately recognized as a mutoscope reel. Neat! If I can find a mutoscope, I might be able to view these slides! Pinned to the mirror frame was a poster of the Amazing Larry, with the phrase Life is your only illusion! painted sloppily in what she again attempted to convince herself was not blood, instinctively drawing her jacket tighter around herself, shivering. A cloth heart, torn at the seams, was wedged into a drawer. Josephine tucked it away, hoping to mend it and see if perhaps it would fit the scarecrow guarding the ticket booth. Larry stirred slightly, his face contorted in anguish as his disjointed legs twitched sporadically. On the side of the crate was a metal square, with thin, looping tracks carved into it, a gar fitted to each. A few holes were empty, as if the mechanisms had been pried out. Josephine dug the bird gear out of her bag and fitted it onto one of the lines, attempting to inch it down. The metal screeched, too old for it to work properly. Josephine and Iris left the tent, Iris maintaining her roost, as they went off to explore the other side of the destroyed wagon. Thick mist was rolling in, shrouding the grounds with foggy tendrils. She picked her way cautiously through the rubble to the midway. A rollercoaster track towered above her, the controls and decorations bursting with light. If I remember correctly, this's been redone several times. Currently, it's a space theme. What're the chances it would pass inspection? A paper fluttered by in the breeze, plastering itself to her leg. It depicted a skeleton with a raven's skull and the words CORVUS SALTATIO. On the back was another raven skeleton sketch with my best lock, mark of genius! scribbled in hasty scrawl. A newspaper of sorts was tacked to the side of the coaster.
DAILY MYSTIC #3
A reliable source has confirmed that notorious dark sorcerer Alister Dalimar has been fighting with the great fortune teller Madame Fate. The root of conflict seems to be a mysterious artifact in Madame Fate's possession, the Ball of Fate. Who will win the epic battle—dark magic or divine lore?
"Knew it! The Dalimar family has returned and they are indubitably terrorizing the carnival." Iris pricked up an ear and growled softly in agreement. Josephine approached the control panel for the coaster, looking over the array of gears and buttons. Another gear was wedged into the ticket slot, easily able to be pried from its nook. Seizing the gadget, Josephine took off for the magician's tent, bounding excitedly over branches and other debris. Iris followed, yowling indignantly. Hurriedly, she threw open the tent flap and squatted by the side of the magician's box, fitting the final piece into its slot. Much to her frustration, the gears let out a wine, scraping heavily against each other as she tried to move them. Disheartened (though not defeated), she bounded back to the midway. A chain-link fence barred her way further in, though she supposed she would be able to bypass it with a pair of bolt cutters if she happened to find any lying around. Beyond the rollercoaster and an abandoned hotdog stand was a small stage, with an old-fashioned mutoscope in the center, surrounded by heaps of other junk. Josephine fitted the reel to the scope and pressed her eyes to the lens. As she started the machine, a histrionic voice blared.
"Alister Dalimar approached Madame Fate one night, demanding her crystal ball. She refused to give it to him. Dalimar wouldn't take no for an answer and he stole the crystal. But Madame Fate knew a secret spell to unlock the ball's hidden power. Alister Dalimar hasn't been seen since that fateful night. Exactly one year later, Madame Fate died under mysterious circumstances. Please insert next reel."
With great fanfare, a small compartment at the back of the stage sprang open, revealing a dart. I should give that game a try! She took the dart, thanking her fortuitous luck, and went back to the tent. Positioning herself at the counter, Josephine scrunched up her face as she tossed the projectile, hitting the bullseye almost directly. The target retracted as a small can of oil was raised through an opening in the counter as two more targets appeared. She snatched the canister, returning to Larry's tent, certain now that she would be able to rescue him. Careful not to spill a drop, she glugged the lubricant onto each of the gears, beginning to twist and slide them to make an unbroken chain. With a satisfying mechanical WHIRRRR-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, the two halves of the box lid together, rejoining. The lid sprang open and Larry practically tumbled out, too weak to walk. Josephine pulled up a chair for him to sit and he nodded thankfully, breathlessly trying to regain some composure before timidly addressing the detective.
"I-I just can't fathom what's happening here! Time seemed to st-st-stand still. I remember feeling a bit divided, of two minds as it were, and then, then you came to the rescue! Thank goodness I'm no longer subject to this horrendous curse!"
He rummaged through the dozens of inner pockets of his coat before extracting a slip of paper.
"H-here, take this. It's the least I could do."
He took her outstretched palm, curling it around the slip.
"Honestly, I can't th-thank you enough!" he chuckled. "I suppose I'm free from this wretched c-carnival after all!" he laughed.