Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK.

The Show Goes On

53: Tick Tock

The air hung heavy with a gloom so thick it was like a palpable fog weighing down shoulders and hearts alike.

Just those few words and that single idea that this was where they were to be trapped for the rest of eternity had crushed nearly all the morale that their recent victory had inspired. In its place came a bone deep chill.

Shinichi wasn't sure which was worse—the hopelessness or the fear. Except, he supposed, perhaps there wasn't much difference between the two. Both were smothering—choking off any attempts at discussion, let alone planning.

"What's going to happen to us?" was the one question whispered over and over from cup to cup as their bedraggled company of recently rescued 'prizes' gazed at each other with haunted eyes that were already looking into a future comprised of an unending cycle of carnival games gone mad. And that was the best case scenario, their eyes said as their minds filled with dorsal fins and sleek, silent predators. They might win the next game—and the next, and the next, but then what? No one could keep on winning forever. And when they lost…

"Maybe what we should be doing is angling to get put in one of the less dangerous games," someone muttered dispiritedly.

"Like what?" his cup-mate asked, but he had no answer.

"What's the matter with everyone?" Heiji grumbled, glowering around at the fleet of slowly revolving teacups. "It's like they're all just giving up."

"It's called facing reality," Ken said flatly, earning himself an irritated glare.

"What's your problem?" he demanded. "Ya haven't even really started trying ta find a way out! And here you are, telling everyone it's impossible."

"Weren't you listening to a word I said?" Ken shot back. "This whole place is rigged."

"You're the one who ain't listening," snapped the scarecrow. "All you've done is go along with whatever those clown bastards said."

"We don't have any other choice."

"There's always a choice."

Shinichi sighed as the two continued to squabble. While he agreed with Heiji, he also couldn't fault these people for their despair. After seeing what the clowns were capable of, it was difficult to imagine just what they could do to get themselves out of this mess. And yet…

"What are you thinking?" Kaito asked.

Startled from his thoughts, Shinichi glanced up to find Kaito quirking an eyebrow at him.

"You have that 'I've figured something out' look on your face," the vampire magician clarified. "We've got nothing else to do. You might as well share."

Shinichi frowned. "I don't know. It was just a weird thought."

"A weird thought or two might be just what we need," Rosa said with a somewhat lopsided smile. "I'm not ready to give up on getting out of here. But I must admit I'm fresh out of ideas. You guys sound like you've been around this crazy block a few times more than the rest of us though. So…" She waved an eloquent hand, endeavoring to express without words that there were still those, like herself, who were ready and willing but lacking in direction.

"I'm with you all on that," the gargoyle said with a wry grin that was all fangs. "My wife is still waiting for me. But we need a plan."

"Well, I agree and all," Takamiya said, adding his two cents. "But I think what we really need is information. You have to identify a disease and how it operates before you can establish measures for treatment."

Rosa looked amused. "So our disease is that we're stuck in a dimension ruled by clowns that want us to play games with them all day, every day."

"Er, well, I guess that wasn't a very good metaphor—"

"No, it's actually pretty good," Shinichi cut in, drawing everyone's attention back to him. "I was just thinking earlier that the clowns have played by the rules in every game we've played so far."

Overhearing this comment, Ken broke off from his squabbling with Hattori to scoff at the eastern detective. "Are you kidding me? What part of that shark tank was playing by the rules?"

"I never said they were nice or that the rules weren't twisted," Shinichi replied, ignoring the younger boy's derision. "But they said we could keep anyone we pulled out with the scoops, and they didn't stop us when we wrote messages to you guys on the scoops or used them to fend off the sharks. They didn't even complain about us telling you lot to grab onto the scoops to help us pull you out."

"So?" Rosa prompted, leaning forward as her eyes lit up with sudden excitement. "What's that mean?"

"It means," Shinichi said slowly as he sorted his thoughts out loud. "That they obey the rules of their games. They have continued to obey those rules even when we used their rules against them. Like when Kaito smashed that bell in the contest of strength so that their ogre could no longer get near it. They accepted the logic of our argument because it was based, word for word, on what they had laid down as rules."

"That is certainly interesting," the gargoyle mused. "But how will that help us get out of here?"

"I don't know yet," Shinichi admitted. "But I think it's a good place to start thinking about the problem."

"I agree," said Kaito. "Though I have another point I would like everyone who's not planning on just going belly up to consider. You've all seen how the clowns are getting larger, right? I'd like to know what that means. It may be important."

"But how would we figure that out?" Takamiya asked dubiously. "Ask them?"

Kaito gave the medical student a condescending look. "No. We observe, we hypothesize, then we experiment. You want to be a doctor, don't you? Think about this as studying some very unusual and dangerous patients."

"O—oh," Takamiya stuttered before his expression grew thoughtful then determined. "I can do that."

"Actually, I think I have something to add on that," said the gargoyle, stony brows furrowing. "As I said, I've been through a few rounds here already. I didn't pay much attention to when the clowns grew or anything, but I did notice that they were always large when they shunted us into a rest area and normal again when they picked us up."

"That's interesting," Shinichi mused, hand rising to his chin. "Maybe they're feeding off us somehow when we play."

"Think they'll starve then if we refuse to?" Rosa asked hopefully.

"I wouldn't say it's impossible," said Kaito. "But I'd guess that would be hoping for too much. This carnival tent is in the middle of nowhere. I seriously doubt they've seen much traffic of late. Not until we showed up at any rate. If they can starve, it'd probably take longer than we can afford. Especially since they'd just have to threaten not to feed us."

"We could go the other way," Heiji suggested. "Play until we stuff 'em sick."

"What, and pray they explode?" Ken asked dryly. "Fat chance."

"Says the guy who already gave up," Heiji retorted.

"We're just theorizing right now in any case," Shinichi interjected before the two could start sniping at each other again. "No matter what, our first order of business is to find and free the other people we know are here. Once we've done that, we should have more evidence to work with as well. Then we can plan."

"I second that," said the gargoyle. "Four of my friends are still missing too."

"We might find them faster if we ask those clowns when they come back if we could split up and all play different games," Rosa suggested, but Shinichi was shaking his head before she had finished.

"I think we should stay together. We need to be able to keep track of everyone at least as much as possible. Otherwise it'll be like trying to find someone in a maze when that someone is also running all over the place looking for you."

"Ah. Okay, that makes sense. And I suppose a lot of these guys might not be feeling very motivated to do anything anyway," she added, gazing over at several of the cups where their occupants were no longer even talking, simply sitting and gazing blankly at some inner landscape only they could see. "Talk about Gloomsvile."

"Give them time," said the gargoyle. "This is a great deal to take in."

""He's right," Takamiya agreed. "To be perfectly honest, part of me would like nothing better than to curl up in a corner and scream."

"Really?" Rosa blinked then smiled at him. "I'd never have guessed. Maybe you should have gone into theater."

The medical student laughed, and that merry sound here in this strange and unwelcoming dimension was a breath of fresh air.

Taking one of the heretofore neglected food baskets from the table standing in the center of their cup, Kaito flipped the cloth off the top. "Biscuit anyone?"


Ran was starting to worry.

Okay. That was a lie. She'd started worrying the moment Shinichi and the others had left, but that had been the general worry any sane person stuck in this dimension was doomed to feel when the people they cared about left their direct line of sight. What she was feeling now, however, was the growing dread brought on by the notion that her friends had been gone for an awfully long time. Sure, that carnival tent was large, but surely it wasn't so large that it warranted a whole day—two? Or was it more—to explore. But maybe the place was like a maze in there with trick doors and hidden passages. That sort of thing could easily keep Shinichi happily occupied for days if not weeks.

And well, maybe it hadn't actually been that long at all. It wasn't like they could tell time in this place with all the clocks insisting that midnight was the only time worth naming. Maybe she just felt like they'd been gone for days because she'd had pretty much nothing to do, and long, endless stretches of nothing always made time feel like a slug on a hot day.

Hakuba was busy compiling and reorganizing the notes that he, Hattori and Shinichi had taken during their travels, and she hoped he was finding something useful in there, but she privately had her doubts. Still, it had kept him content and occupied, and she envied him that serenity.

But she just couldn't sit still. Not with all the monsters she knew just had to be out there and all the dangers that her friends were probably facing right now. Yet here she was, washing the towels and hanging them out to dry. She'd already finished the dishes from their previous meals and the sheets, and she'd even gone over the tiling in the bathroom with a soft washcloth until they shone. By now, the interior of their walking cabin could have won an award for cleanliness.

With their room spic and span, Ran was left once again with nothing to do but fret.

Why weren't they back?

Moving to the window, she peered out only to find that the cabin had rotated again, and she could no longer see the carnival tent through the window. She wondered why the cabin liked to change its position every so often. Did it get restless? Feel the need to stretch its chicken legs? She wondered just how alive the cabin really was. Did it have thoughts? Did it like them?

She shivered and pushed the thoughts away. This world was creepy enough already without letting her imagination make it worse.

It was as she was turning away from the window that she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Her heart leapt into her throat. She jerked back around, eyes skittering along the jagged tops of the canyon walls. She was just in time to see a winged shadow disappearing over said walls.

Ran felt her blood run cold.

They had been seen. But…by what?