A/N: This is the third piece I wrote for the Ravenloft Carnival setting for the Ravenloft websites Netbooks. This, like all are stand alone pieces. This is the third in the timeline of my Carnival stories. Several of my characters from the previous two pieces are in this story. So, although you need not have read the other two to enjoy this one, for character background, you might want to consider reading them in order. The first was Carnival, Boss Canvas Man; the second was Not Just an Ordinary Trip to Muhar. Also, this first piece in the story, the Prelude, amplifies the adventure in the back of the Carnival supplement. So it might be useful to have read through it, but again, not necessary.

Disclaimer: Ravenloft and it's supplements aren't mine. Any references to any of the characters, places and settings are solely the property of TSR, except where specified.

Sideshow Game

Prelude: Evening Shadows

The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous will happen.

- Claude Debussy French composer

Professor Pacali stepped from the Hall of Horrors. It was between shows, so he had time. Tenira, the Squid Woman, followed him.

Pacali leaned in close. "It's time. Find her and bring her to me," he said. There was a sinister smile on his face and an unnatural growl to his voice.

"Yes, Professor," she said walking toward the Midway.

Pacali waited patiently, rubbing his hands together.

Isolde walked around the midway, sword at her side. She nodded at the Troupers as she passed. She surveyed the Townies. Most were having fun, enjoying the attractions. But some, were horrified. Even the Fates Three, Leer, Pry, and Scream, acted out the horror in their minds. There was an air, that disturbed her, but she just couldn't put her finger on it. Something was very wrong.

There was an incident earlier. One of the Townies attacked Mola, the Living Skeleton. He was apparently an Arcanist who wanted to rid the world of this "Undead horror." So the warriors among the Troupers were walking around and watching the more unusual of the Troupers, all with weapons at their side; at Isolde's request. And Mola was out of site. As much as they all wanted to, they couldn't leave just yet. One more day and they'd have the money they'd needed to get their supplies in the next town.

Suddenly Tindal ran up to Isolde.

"Isolde, there's a group of soldiers coming from town."

"How many?"

"At least a dozen. Maybe Amelia can find out for sure."

"Amelia!" called Isolde.

They both walked toward the front gate.

Pacali heard a ruckus in the direction of the entrance. He saw a Trouper running in that direction.

"What is wrong?" Pacali called to him.

"There are soldiers coming from the town." He yelled not stopping.

"It's all coming together." Pacali smiled and walked into the Hall.

Isolde reached the entrance. Hermos stood there waiting. She saw the soldiers. Amelia landed by her, her large, leathery bat wings folding behind her.

"Amelia, how many soldiers are there?"

"I'll find out." Amelia spread her wings to their full twenty feet and took to the air.

Isolde turned to Hermos and Tindal. "Ready for a fight? Cause it looks like we might have one."

"Maybe we should have left anyway," Tindal said.

"True. No amount of money is worth a fight," Isolde said putting her hand on the hilt of her sword. "But it's a little late now."

Pacali left the Hall. He stood watching in the direction of the Carnival entrance. He saw Amelia take to the sky.

She's going to survey the soldiers, Pacali thought.

The Runt walked up to Pacali from the Midway. He felt something wasn't quite right. He saw the look on Pacali's face, the manner in which he waited, staring out at the Midway. He knew Pacali was going to do something. It had to do with those pieces he brought back from his sabbaticals to his home in Darkon. They almost looked like cage walls. And Pacali wouldn't let him into the Hall's back area all day. Then he saw it, Tenira running toward them with Isolde's sword. He stepped from Pacali's side and ran between the vardos. This was wrong and he needed help.

Lucian stood across from Mola's wagon. Even though she hadn't gone on stage since the incident with the Townie, he felt she needed watching, and Isolde agreed. He felt a tug at his pant leg. He looked down to see the Runt.

"Is something wrong?" Lucian asked, knowing there would be no answer. "Is it more important than watching Mola?"

The Runt started walking away, looking at him.

"Lead on," Lucian said.

The Runt moved quickly toward the Hall. They passed the Organ Grinder playing his music. A dozen Creeplings danced about him. His back was to them. The Runt pointed to him.

"Organ Grinder," Lucian called.

The Organ Grinder turned to look at them. He did not stop playing.

"Something's wrong," Lucian said.

The tone of the music instantly changed. And Lucian noticed.

Then there was a high pitched shriek from the direction of the Hall of Horrors and the ground shook.

"Isolde!" Lucian screamed. He and the Runt broke into a run.

Screams continued in the direction of the Hall. The ground shook again.

A Pickled Punk ran past Lucian and the Runt. Lucian nearly tripped trying to avoid it. But that was not his concern right now.

Lucian reached the Hall before the Runt. But he could not enter. Something blocked his way. It was one of the Abominations. And there were more screams from the Hall. Tenira ran from the Hall's side entrance, followed by Charlotte.

More Pickled Punks raced about. Twisted Troupers and Townies ran about screaming. Lucian didn't know them. They looked twisted, more so than usual, newly twisted. They ran into him and the Runt knocking the Runt to the ground.

Lucian grabbed Tenira's arm as she ran past stopping her progress.

"What happened?" Lucian screamed at her.

"Pacali was wrong. She's not a demon," she cried, tears running down her face.

"I could have told you that. What has he done to her?"

"She's in a cage he made, and he has her sword."

"How did he get it?"

She shook her head.

"HOW!"

"Tenira took it from her," Charlotte said, flames dancing in the Fire Eaters eyes.

"Get it back to her," Lucian shook her arm.

"I, I," she stuttered.

"Make this right and I will try to help you later," Lucian said, "Go, NOW!" He pushed her toward the Hall.

The Abomination approached, slowly, five tentacles flailing. Another Abomination came out of the Hall. It had three interlocking jaws and boneless legs.

More screams. And not all of them came from the Hall. The ground shook.

Lucian drew his longsword and attached the tentacled Abomination.

"Charlotte, get help," Lucian said, lunging forward. "Runt get out of the way."

Charlotte ran. The Runt was already gone.

Lucian's longsword glinted in the late evening sun. He ducked and dodged the tentacles. One tentacle fell to the ground. The Abomination screamed. The ground shook.

Lucian swung his sword with precision. But as a second tentacle fell to the ground, he noticed the stump from the first severed tentacle starting to regrow. Regeneration, he thought. Damn it.

Several daggers flew into the creature. Without looking he knew it was the Blade Brothers.

"Take the other one," Lucian called. "I've got this one. This one regenerates. That one probably will also. Charlotte!"

Lucian swung at another tentacle.

"Here!" she called.

"Stay back. This thing's got a reach. These things regenerate. Get something flammable. We'll need you to light them on fire once we get them under control."

"Got it," Charlotte replied and ran off toward the Cookhouse.

Immediately blades flew at the second Abomination. The Brothers, their harlequin makeup identical, their Skurra-vera betraying no emotions, moved into a flanking position, but close enough so they could see each other.

Lucian's sword cut through the air, cut through the Abomination. Another tentacle fell. The Abomination screamed. The ground shook. Screams came from the Hall.

Lucian and the Brothers heard a voice from above. "A group of soldier's are approaching from the town," Amelia's voice called down. "Isolde was going to get Troupers to help, but Tenira took her sword and ran before she could. What do I do?"

More blades flew at the second Abomination. The Brothers seemed to have an endless amount of daggers. Or perhaps it was just them throwing the same ones back and forth to each other. Like they're known for.

"Get anyone who can fight," Lucian called. Another tentacle fell. The ground shook. "If they attack, fight back."

The Brothers' daggers flew.

Blood flowed freely.

Screams came from the Hall.

Both Abominations screamed.

The ground shook.

"Where's Isolde?" Amelia called.

"Trapped by Pacali. She can't help."

"All the Abominations are loose," Amelia called.

"Go get the others ready."

Amelia flew off. "Clem! Clem! Ready for a Clem!"

"Damn it Pacali," Lucian spat.

Daggers flew.

Another tentacle fell.

Both Abominations screamed.

The ground shook.

Screams came from the Hall.

The first Abomination fell motionless to the ground. Lucian reached to get the two daggers thrown by the Brothers. He slipped them into his boots.

"Brothers, I have your daggers."

A pool of blood covered the ground beneath the two creatures.

Lucian saw the creature regenerating. It would only be a few minutes before it would rise and fight again.

"You need help?" Lucian called to the Brothers.

A wave came between throws. Lucian took that as they had it covered.

A group of Troupers ran past them with a huge net. Lucian noticed Abominations coming out the back of the Hall. Another group of Troupers ran past with ropes and spears.

More screams, Troupers and Townies.

Charlotte walked up carrying a large bucket. It was almost more than she could carry.

"Cooking oil from the Cookhouse," she said to Lucian as he took the bucket. "Two cooks are bringing two more buckets each."

Lucian dumped the cooking oil onto the regenerating tentacled Abomination.

The second Abomination screamed.

The ground shook. Then the Abomination fell to the ground.

Screams came from the Hall.

A large rotund woman approached easily carrying two buckets. Both the Brothers took a bucket each. Another large woman came with two more buckets. Lucian took one of them and threw it across Abomination.

"Light the oil," Lucian said to Charlotte. He took the second bucket from the woman throwing it across both Abominations, linking them together.

The Brothers returned with the buckets to stand next to Lucian, Charlotte and the two cooks.

Charlotte pulled a dagger out of a belt sheath. Then put it into her mouth and drew it out. The dagger was burning. She then spat at the creature as it began to stir. A flaming ball shot from her mouth and hit the Abomination. It exploded into flames.

Lucian, Charlotte, the Brothers and the cooks stepped back. The second Abomination burst into flames also.

Abominations twitched.

Screams came from the Hall.

The ground shook.

Shouts came from behind the Hall directing nets and ropes.

"Your daggers are in my boots," Lucian said to the Brothers. Lucian reached down to get them. One of the Brothers touched his arm, stopping him. "Thanks."

Pickled Punks were everywhere. They attacked anyone that passed by. Troupers and Townies kicked and batted at them. They added to the mayhem.

Screams came from the Hall.

The ground shook.

Abominations screamed.

Amelia flew threw the sky. "Clem! Clem! Ready for a Clem!" she screamed while she flew over the crowd.

All the troupers moved.

Elthryn Winter, the Wraith, heard Amelia's call. He was performing his act on the pull-out stage of his vardo when the ground shook and the screams came. His hands moved to his belt. He felt for his pouches and his sword. He jumped from the stage and ran.

"Where?" he yelled to the sky.

"Entrance," came the reply.

Elthryn ran toward the Carnival entrance.

The Abominations screamed.

Screams came from the Hall.

The ground shook.

Troupers arrived with weapons in hand.

Gon Stonesplitter and Tosk approached the group. Gon carried his maul and Tosk had his executioners axe.

"Amelia said to ready for a fight," Tosk said.

"What's wrong?" Gon asked Hermos.

All Hermos did was point toward the group of soldiers.

"There's twenty-eight of them."

Gon looked at them. "They look seasoned."

"Seasoned enough," Tosk said. "Most of us aren't combat ready."

"We are," Gon said.

"I don't think the two of us can stave them all off."

Abominations screamed.

The ground shook.

Screams came from the Hall.

Amelia landed next to them. "Lucian said if the soldiers attack, to fight back."

"That was my plan," Gon said.

Elthryn ran up and stopped next to Amelia. He noticed the soldiers.

"I think you better get out of the way," Elthryn told Amelia. "Unless you want to drop rocks on their heads."

The Skurra arrive. More Troupers arrived also. They were all armed.

"Where's Isolde?" one Trouper asked.

"Pacali has her trapped," Amelia said. "She can't help us. Lucian said if the soldiers attacked to fight back."

"Sounds good to me," the Trouper said. He readied his weapon.

All there readied their weapons.

"Shall we try to talk our way out of this first?" Tindal asked, unenthusiastically. He held his cane in one hand and slapped it into the palm of his other.

"Go for it," the large round woman who brought the cooking oil to Lucian said. She had two heavy cast-iron pans in hand. "I'll pick you up after they trample you." She blew a kiss at him.

When the soldiers were about twenty feet from the entrance, they spread out into a line. They drew their weapons and started chanting.

"That sound like they want to talk?" the cook said.

"Just a thought, Mrs. Renauldi. There are the rules of the Carnival."

"I think this exempts the rules," Mrs. Renauldi said.

The other cook showed up with two pots of steaming liquid.

"What's that?" Tosk asked.

"Boiling oil."

"That'd stop me."

Screams came from the Hall.

The ground shook.

Abominations screamed.

Lucian, the Brothers and Charlotte watched as the two Abominations burned. They could hear screams coming from all over the Midway. And there was the sound of metal on metal. The fight between the soldiers and the Troupers began. They saw the Troupers with the nets and ropes restraining two of the other Abominations. But there were still two out there on the Midway somewhere.

"Time to go help with the soldiers," Lucian said.

The four of them turned and ran toward the Carnival entrance, weapons in hand. As they neared the Carnival entrance they saw someone enter the Carnival. It was a man. A tall dark stranger calmly walked through the mayhem. He didn't seem concerned about the danger. As he passed people he touched them. Whomever he touched fell to the ground dead, instantly.

"That's not normal," Charlotte said.

"No, it's not," Lucian said. "If I had to venture a guess, that would be a demon."

"Not someone you'd want to get friendly with," Charlotte said.

"No you wouldn't," Lucian said. "But someone has to stop him." He looked to the three beside him. "Let's go, just not too close."

Then they saw Blasse. She ran from the back end of the Midway.

Abominations screamed.

The ground shook.

Screams came from the Hall.

"Blasse," Lucian called to her. "Get into a vardo, it's not safe."

He noticed she was running from an Abomination. Then she stopped. She stood and looked toward the Carnival entrance.

"Blasse?" Lucian called again.

The dark stranger held out his hands to her and waves her to him. He smiled a sinister smile. Blasse smiled back. The joy on her face was more than Lucian has seen from her since he came to the Carnival. Blasse smiled at the stranger like Lucian wished she smiled at him. His heart sank.

"No," he whispered.

Blasse was elated.

"Yes!" cried the stranger. "When we embrace, Isolde's defeat will be complete!"

"The three of you, get Isolde her sword and out of that cage," Lucian said then ran toward the stranger.

Blasse ran toward the stranger. Lucian ran, but to stop Blasse from reaching the stranger. Lucian reached her about five feet from the stranger. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her away from the man.

"No!" Blasse screamed. "Let me go!"

"Stop, Blasse," Lucian screamed. He swung his sword and pointed it at the stranger. "He's not what you think."

"Yes, he's my beloved. He's the man I love."

Lucian's heart broke. "He's not what you think. Look what he's done!"

The stranger just stood there looking at them, with a wicket smile on his face.

"He's killed everyone he's touched."

"He is just trying to free me from this horror. Let me GO!"

The Brothers and Charlotte ran through the front area of the Hall of Horrors. A body with tentacles on the arms, Tenira, twitched on the floor in front of the curtained entrance to the back area. They walked through the curtains. They saw a cage in the middle of the circular room.

Screams came from the cage. Isolde stood in the cage. She gripped the bars and shook them.

The ground shook.

They realized the shaking of the ground came from Isolde not the Abominations.

Whimpering came from behind them. They looked to see Pacali rocking in the shadows. There was a sword on the ground by his side.

Charlotte screamed. She threw her hands to her head. She shook her head wildly.

One of the Brothers went and grabbed the sword.

Charlotte lowered her hands and looked to the Brother with the sword.

"Throw it to her."

He turned and threw it toward the cage.

Isolde's arm shot threw the bars and caught the sword. She instantly calmed. With one swing of the sword the cage door shattered. She stepped from the cage and walked toward the three.

"There's a stranger in the grounds," Charlotte said. "Lucian thinks he's a demon. Everyone the stranger touches drops dead. The stranger said something about when he and Blasse embrace your defeat will be complete."

Rage filled Isolde. "He is a demon. And who I've been chasing since before I came to this plane." She broke into a run.

The stranger smiled at Lucian. "Another time perhaps." Then he turned and walked out of the Carnival.

Lucian lowered his sword.

Blasse screamed and squirmed in his arm.

"No!" she screamed. "Don't leave me!" She stretched her arms out toward him. "Please! NOOOOO!"

Suddenly there was quiet. An unnatural quiet. There were no screams. No metal clanking. Nothing. It was over.

Blasse began to cry. She went limp in his arm.

Isolde ran up to them followed by the Brothers and Charlotte.

"Where is he?" she growled.

"Gone," Lucian said.

"No," Blasse whimpered.

"He just turned and walked away. Right before you came."

A group of Troupers and Skurra walked up to them. Elthryn, Tindal, Hermos, Gon, Tosk, the Organ Grinder, the Fates Three, Mrs. Renauldi, the other cook, Madame Fortuna. Amelia landed by them.

"No."

"What was he?" Lucian asked calmly holding Blasse.

"A demon, an incubus, what I've been hunting since before I came here. It's what brought me here."

"NO!" growled Blasse. "He is not!" Blasse spat. "You are just trying to destroy my life." She pulled herself from Lucian's embrace. "He's the only thing that has kept me going all this time. The one hope I've had. That the only man who truly loves me would come and rescue me from this nightmare."

"Blasse, I love you," Lucian said.

She slapped Lucian hard. Everyone was shocked, especially Lucian. He put his free hand to his stinging cheek. "NO! You love a freak. Not me. He's the only one who loves ME! The person I truly am." She waved her hands down her body. "This isn't me. This is a freakish, twisted version of me." She looked at Isolde. "And you made me this way." She pointed at Isolde. "He's my love. He came here to rescue me. And you," she slapped Lucian again on the other cheek this time. "You stopped him. He's a real man. A MAN!" she spat. "You are no man. You will never be a man." She took a step back. "And I," she said with disturbing calm in her voice, "could never love you." She turned and walked away.

Everyone watched her walk away.

Isolde put her hand on Lucian's shoulder. "Don't believe her."

"She's right," Lucian said calmly. "I'm not a man. I'm an elf."

"There's nothing wrong with that," Isolde said. "But there is something wrong with me. Everyone," she called. "Come over here. I have something to tell all of you."