Title: The Cirqus Voltaire (3/??)
Author: Allaine
Email: eac2nd@yahoo.com
Rating: PG
Distribution: www.fanfiction.net, and Gotham PM at ezboard. Anyone interested should just ask and can expect a positive answer.
Spoilers: Relies on Clayface's story from "Batman: The Animated Series", rather than the comic books. Familiarity with the Disney animated series Gargoyles is helpful, but not required.
Feedback: Always encouraged, often answered if meaningful, whether positive or negative.
Disclaimers: Clayface belongs to DC Comics, Kids WB and the Cartoon Network, the producers of the two Batman serials, the talented artists and voice actor, etc. Sapphire is inspired by one of the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, which is copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company.
The Cirqus Voltaire, the ringmaster, and certain other characters are very loosely inspired by the pinball game of the same name. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All other characters are original, as is the story.
Summary: Against his will, Clayface has been drafted into a twisted circus that seems to defy natural law, surrounded by people stranger than he. But perhaps he can become the first to escape the Cirqus with an unlikely friend's aid.

Chapter 3

"Is there something I can help you with?"

Clayface just kept pushing and prodding the tent wall with his middle finger, which was now three feet long. But the tent was more like rubber than canvas; it just bent and bent and bent.


Growling, Clayface returned his finger to its usual length, and the tent easily snapped back into place. He'd tried cutting it, smashing it . . . there was no exit to this place, and it didn't look like he could make his own.
"Damn," he muttered.

He glanced behind him and saw the gleaming black dome of the animal trainer from the Cirqus menagerie. The trainer's rippling muscles were necessary; he'd had to fight off one of his own lions the night before, and had survived. "It can't be done, Presto," the trainer said quietly in his deep voice. He went by the name of Hunter. "There is only one exit, and that is only for the ticket holders."

"You're wrong," Clayface told him. "There's an exit wherever the ringmaster says one is."

Hunter regarded him carefully. "Would you like to speak with him?"

"I've suffered through three shows, Hunter. I can't do this the rest of my life."

"Well, then," Hunter sighed. "Let me take you to him."

Their path took them through the menagerie, and one of Hunter's tigers roared at Clayface. He took the form of an even bigger tiger and roared back. The caged animal retreated.

"Down, Simba!" Hunter ordered the tiger, although it was now unnecessary. "Very nice. You train animals well," he added, looking impressed.

Clayface resumed his normal appearance. "No, I'm just good at scaring."

As they approached the center of the tent, they found Sapphire arguing with another member of the troupe, the knife-thrower. Clayface had learned that Delphine was his assistant as well, in that she was the one tied to a wheel while knives were thrown at her. She now stood near them both, looking as if she wasn't sure who she would be expected to agree with.

"It is too dangerous, Blade," Sapphire insisted. "You have asked me this time and again, and still the answer is no."

"But Sapphire," Blade, another one cursed with an unimaginative name, pleaded. "Knives and more knives, night after night. Your help would lend my act variety. You wouldn't want my act to become boring, would you?" he asked anxiously.

"No, of course not," she replied compassionately, "but this is one of a kind, Blade. I cannot allow it to be stuck in a wooden circle, over and over again."

Clayface came over. "What's the problem?"

"Ah, Presto! Perhaps you can convince her," Blade said, twirling his mustache.

"Ask Delphine, she's known her a lot longer," Clayface muttered.

"No, no, please leave me out of this!" Delphine begged. "No matter what I say, one of you will be angry with me."

"Sapphire, what's he asking for?"

She showed him what she'd been holding in her left hand, her body hiding it from his view. It was a rapier of fine manufacture. "He wishes to throw _this_ at the conclusion of his next act."

"Is that even possible?" he asked, surprised.

"If it were a heavier sword," Blade explained, "no. But the rapier is very light. If I throw it hard enough, it should remain on course."

Clayface chuckled. "If I were Delphine, I wouldn't just stay out of the argument. I'd stay the hell out of the way of that rapier."

Delphine blushed slightly and smiled at him. Clayface felt a little warm and smiled back.

"If you wish to enliven your act, Blade," Sapphire sighed, "just ask the ringmaster. This was a gift. It is very precious to me, and I am afraid of what might happen to it."

"Ask me what?"

Everyone turned and saw the ringmaster approach. Clayface still didn't completely understand why his skin was green, but with the powers he evidently controlled, perhaps it was because he wasn't entirely human. Which might be why he was so allegedly impossible to beat.

Blade trembled a little, but he stood up straight. "I was trying to convince Sapphire to let me use her rapier in my final trick, sir."

"But that is a very special rapier, monsieur," the ringmaster replied. "I went to a great deal of trouble to return it to her, along with her other things, when she proved herself to be a valued member of the Cirqus."

"I wanted to spice things up, sir," Blade explained.

"Very well," the ringmaster decided. "I will provide you with a rapier of your own."

"Uh, thank you, sir."

"But Delphine is very good at what she does," the ringmaster continued. "For tonight's show, you will use a replacement. If all goes well, Delphine will be yours again the following day."

Blade looked hesitant. "Who will be her replacement?"

"Jeanette! Would you mind coming here?"

Clayface watched as another woman emerged from the shadows. "Yes, sir?" she asked timidly.

"Tonight you will take Delphine's place during Blade's knife tossing. Understood?"

Both Jeanette and Blade looked frightened, but she swallowed and said only, "Of course, sir."

"Excellent," he replied. "The two of you can practice for now. Blade, you will find the rapier by your knives."

"Yes, th-thank you for your generosity," Blade stammered. Looking angrily at Sapphire for a moment, he took Jeanette by the arm and left with her.

Clayface tried to remember who she was. Best that he could recall, Jeanette was one of the acrobats. Not one of the stars, one of the supporting players. She looked about ten years older than Delphine, not as pretty, but definitely a gymnast's body.

Sapphire shook her head. "Nasty business," she murmured, further confusing Clayface.

"What, Sapphire?"

"Nothing," she assured the ringmaster.

Smiling, he turned to leave.

"Sir, Presto here would like a word with you," Hunter finally spoke.

The ringmaster turned back, looking none too surprised. "Yes, Presto? Is there something I can help you with?"

Clayface nodded. "I realize that everybody seems to walk on eggshells around you . . ."

Sapphire closed her eyes.

"But I haven't quite figured everything out yet, so I'll be plain, ringmaster = there's no exit. There's no way out. And I don't like being cooped up in here."

"Really?" the ringmaster asked, smiling. "And after we took you in, what with your head injury and your amnesia and all?"

"I think," Clayface told him, "you should open the tent a little early today. Because I'm leaving this place."

The ringmaster nodded. "Then come this way." He walked away.

"Be careful," Sapphire warned him. "He is like this cursed tent. He bends, but he does not break."

"What the hell was that all about with Blade and the acrobat?" Clayface asked before he forgot.

"This, too, is something you will learn in time," Sapphire said softly. "Both Blade and Jeanette have been with the Cirqus for a very long time, almost as long as I. I will explain later."

"I might not be here later," he pointed out.

She smiled bitterly. "I hope you are correct."

Frowning, he turned away and followed after the ringmaster.

Eventually he found himself in the center ring. The ringmaster was standing on a short podium, but he leapt down and landed on his feet. "I am the ringmaster," he said. "Defeat me for what you ask."

Clayface smiled evilly and smacked his fists together. "This should be fun," he said.

"Oui, monsieur," the ringmaster answered. "For what is the Cirqus but fun? Marvel at what you are about to see, Presto. Do your worst."

He looked around and saw people gathering in the shadows, but at a safe distance. He spotted a blue tail moving restlessly, and saw Sapphire watching.

Transforming into a massive silverback gorilla, Clayface pulled back his arm and struck a vicious blow to the ringmaster's face.

The ringmaster made no response at first. Instead, his back bent backwards in a ninety-degree angle, and then sprang back into place like it was on hinges at the waist. "Is that the best you've got?" he sneered.

Shocked, Clayface made a double fist and crushed him across the face, lifting him off his feet.

He got up nonchalantly and dusted himself off. "You make me weep - nothing!" he laughed.

Snarling, Clayface decided to end this once and for all. Transforming one arm into a giant blade, he swept it around and cleanly lopped the ringmaster's head off. It bounced away and rolled to a stop.

"There," Clayface retorted. "How do you like them apples?!"

He heard a strange sound, like the turning of gears. Then, slowly, something _pushed_ its way out of the collar of the ringmaster, whose body had remained standing. Something like hair.

Before Clayface's eyes, the ringmaster's head emerged from inside the body, like a machine. "I am the ringmaster," he said, walking over and retrieving his top hat, which had remained fixed to the first head the entire fight. He put it on and straightened it. "I think you've had enough for today."

"This is not fucking possible," Clayface whispered.

The ringmaster pointed his arm at Clayface, and his hand retreated into the sleeve. "Fire the cannon!" he ordered, and there was an explosion of fire and smoke from the empty sleeve.

Clayface felt a great weight strike him in the chest and throw him three feet backwards. "Unghhh," he moaned, trying to get up.

"Some wouldn't have survived that, Presto," the ringmaster said. "I guess you're just - lucky."

He looked down and saw a black iron cannonball lying at his feet. Clayface wondered just what else this ringmaster was capable of.

The cannonball popped in two, and something floated out - two bright red balloons, which slowly rose before him.

"Presto, look out! The boom balloons!" Sapphire suddenly called out.

"The what?" he thought, still a little groggy.

"Au revoir, Presto," the ringmaster said. "Arrivederci, adios - goodbye."

Both balloons exploded in his face, and that was the last thing he remembered.

"Clayface?" someone whispered.

He groaned. "Sapphire?"

She breathed a sigh of relief. "You're alive," she said.

"Hey, it takes a lot more than some hydrogen-filled balloons and a trick gun to stop me," Clayface muttered as he tried to sit up. His whole body felt stiff.

"The ringmaster, Clayface, does not use tricks," Sapphire told him. "He makes me use tricks because he wants to limit my powers. But his powers are absolutely real."

He hadn't really believed until now that this was a matter of sorcery. He'd thought it advanced technology. But . . . "Black magic?" he asked doubtfully.

"Yes," she said.

"What about the show?"

"Delphine and I did it without you," Sapphire told him. "The ringmaster was upset that I tried to help you, so I was compelled to perform one of my old 'illusions'."

Clayface looked at her. "What?"

She stood up and showed him her chest.

He stared at her. "That's a nasty scar you've got there, Sapphire. Were you shot?"

"No, I was stabbed with my own rapier," she replied. "During tonight's show."

Clayface gaped at her. "That's not possible," he said.

"You mean like you surviving not one, but three explosions?"

"But you're flesh, Sapphire!"

"I am also immortal, Clayface. I cannot die. How did you think I managed to live for 800 years before my abduction?" she asked. "Once, long ago, my magic act consisted of me being stabbed and burned and shot," she added softly, "and letting the audience watch as my wounds healed magically."

"Torture?" he asked, stunned. "Who the hell would watch something like that?"

She sighed, irritated. "Must I explain everything to you? This Cirqus is all about _memory_, if you hadn't figured that out yet. Sometimes people get hurt in the ring, Clayface, and sometimes they die. But all the crowds ever remember after they leave is what a great time they had, and how they'll recommend it to all their friends, and boy, wasn't that amazing?" Sapphire tapped her head. "They only remember the fun parts."

Now he realized why he'd forgotten watching Sapphire's act the night he was kidnapped. It was more of this sick bastard's black magic. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

She shook her head. "No, I am," she answered. "Tonight has been very stressful, with your defeat - you are very lucky he did not discover your secret, by the way - and my injuries, and Blade . . ."

Clayface sat up. "What about Blade?"

"He swore to me that he had practiced it a hundred times before the show," she told him. "Maybe that was why. Maybe he was tired. Or maybe it was something else."

"Something else?"

"What do you think happens to Cirqus members eventually?" she asked.

"I don't know," he admitted. "I hadn't thought of it. You've been here two centuries, right?"

She shrugged. "I am far too valuable, because of my special gifts," she said. "But sooner or later, others wear out their welcome. Their skills deteriorate eventually, or become outdated. The audiences lose interest. And the performers - they don't retire, you know. Things happen to them."

His mouth felt dry, which was strange, considering it was always dry. "So what did I miss?"

"Blade threw the rapier, and it had the distance, and it pierced Jeanette's throat and killed her," Sapphire said.

"No fucking way," he whispered.

"Jeanette was once one of our stars," Sapphire informed him. "But the ringmaster found other acrobats who were better, and she was relegated to the supporting cast. I think she was losing her touch. So he disposed of her."

"You're saying maybe it wasn't Blade's fault?"

"He has a _damned_ good arm," she said. "The rapier may have curved in flight, I don't know. Maybe if I had lent him mine, it wouldn't have happened."

"What happens to him now?"

"You heard him before. His act needed spicing up. It was losing popularity. The ringmaster has his excuse now. If you want to know where Blade is, you'll have to ask Hunter."

Staring at her, he slowly got up and moved past her. Shoving curtains aside, he stormed towards the menagerie. "Hunter!" he called out.

The trainer appeared. "Ah, Presto," he said calmly. "You were amazing today. I am sorry . . ."

"Where's Blade?"

Soundlessly Hunter pointed to Clayface's right.

Turning his head, the only thing there was a cage, with a spider monkey inside. It gripped the bars with dexterous fingers and tail, and stared at him.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me," he said.

The monkey screeched, hurting his head, and he ran.

The ringmaster watched him go. "You will learn, Presto. They all learn."

To be continued . . .