I am unconvinced that this even counts as a full one shot, but I enjoyed writing it, and it seemed somewhat of a shame to just post it in Datastream Apologues when it's really almost an AU. So it gets it's own space right here. It was kind of my attempt to concieve of a new origin story for Lady Illusion, since we've explored our standard fanon theories to death, and a couple of these appear to be popping up lately. Thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. If anyone has a better title, I'm wide open. Standard disclaimers apply.


Benefaction.

The blossoms laugh when she touches them. Or at least, it seems as if they do. It's actually merely the back echo of the Bellions in the arena behind her, drawing their teeth across the bone harpsichords to create a mournful resonance –the perfect backdrop to the Fair's aerobatics. A trick of her imagination, nothing more.

The flowers feel alive, nonetheless. Or at least a good facsimile. Probably the latter.

'Are these yours?'

Belle peers over the carefully stacked piles of the evenings takings with two of her six hands, brushing away the claws of a greedy Tent Rat with another. 'Ha. Not me, girl. My admirers tend to have skin thank you very much.'

Li refrains from making an acerbic remark. It would do her no good. Particularly not on opening night. '...Skin?'

'Mm. And a limp. And eyes like he just crawled out of a grave. 'Fer a second there I thought he had.' Oh, lord, not a zombie. Li feels the pit drop out of her stomach. Then she realised the staggering unlikelihood of anything undead thinking to bring her living, blooming flowers. Plants rotted in the hands of the undead. 'Now what've you been doing when you're not here, girl, that's what I'd like to know, to get him calling at your cabin.'

Li rubs the palms of her hands together and hisses at the pain. She almost fell tonight, all the way from the highest of the high wires, into the chasm of teeth. Would have probably died had Kellamy not caught her by the hem of her sleeve.

And now she has... this.

Frankly, she isn't in the mood. '...Mine?'

'Yeah, well. He said to give them to the Air Walker who fell tonight, ' Belle shrugged her enormous shoulders and sniffed. 'None of the other newbies are skittish enough to fall. Couldn't have been anyone but you. Tough break.' Her eyes are shining with what might be mirth, or envy, or might be some strange blend of the two. 'Your first Caller's a freakin' mage, would you believe it. You of all people.'

Li reaches out to touch the flowers again. The blossoms are heart black and DataStream purple. Their leaves are a soft grey and sting when they brush against the still-raw skin of her fingers. They purr.

She is definitely not imagining that. 'They're beautiful...'

'Demon Azaleas,' Belle huffs quietly, scattering silver coins across the table, to better pick out the fake ones. There's been a string of enchanted iron passing through the Fair of late. On previous nights over half their takings have turned out to be fake currency, Lightning Knight, or mortal... of no use to them. And Belle can pick out the fake ones with merely a glimpse. She says it's because they shine brighter than the others but for the life of her Li can't tell the difference. Li can see Belle's face, eight black, pinprick eyes blinking and squinting a million times over in the silver surfaces. 'And dragonsnappers. The things rot within a week.'

She could have faked disinterest as the other Artists did. Vanished into her cabin without a thought, tossing the flowers in the wash basic as she did so. And yet... her curiosity was piqued. 'Did he say who he was?'

'Didn't have to say, baby girl. Who he is was written all over that skull of his. Old as the freakin' dimension, that one.' Belle looks at her, leering a sharp toothed leer. There is another glare in her eight eyes –this time it is of disgust mingled with respect and frustration and... Not a lot else, actually. The anger and venom of her is always there, hovering just beneath Belle's skin and waiting to bite .'Ugly too. But powerful. Ain't much more powerful than him. They say that even old Zoar was afraid of that one.'

Li doubts this almost as much as she doubts that Belle has gentlemen callers. The Superior's name is not an appropriate one, and the name of Zoar is spoken only in hushed whispers amongst them, as if just saying it could bring the Knights down upon them in a flurry of blood and fear.

'...Is that important?'

'Depends entirely upon what you're after.' Belle stacks her coins carefully, cursing as she crushes the fake ones in her palm.

'So he's respected, then?' Li supposed that looks and money don't matter, provided you have the respect of your followers. The mage that Belle describes sounds very much as if he has followers. As if he could have picked from anyone of the carnivals hundreds of dancers.

'Aye, and he's powerful too,' Belle chuckles, as if amused that finally, finally something has caught their girl's attention. 'And he's taken a shine to our little weed-rot girl. Imagine that. You could turn out good with this one. Play your pieces well and you'll be performing at the manor before you know it.'