Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK.

The Show Goes On

48: Game Night

The funhouse mirrors had given the expedition party a taste of what they might find deeper into the carnival tent, and they were not disappointed. Once they had carefully edged their way around several more trick mirrors, they suddenly found themselves at the top of a seemingly endless, black and red staircase that spiraled down and down as far as the eye could see. Yet halfway down those innumerable steps, they found themselves moving up a straight and unfortunately narrow staircase with sheer drops into nothingness on either side. The steps grew narrower and narrower until not even Akiyama could put both feet together on one step, and they were walking strung out in single file, moving with what might have looked like exaggerated care to anyone not in the same predicament. Kaito was about to suggest that he fly ahead—maybe carry Shinichi with him to find the next landing, but then the stairs shifted once more, and everyone froze because, though the steps were now perfectly wide enough to walk on without fear, they were now above their heads. All of them now had their feet planted on the ceiling and their heads pointed earthward, hair hanging away from their heads (where there was any hair to hang anyway). Akiyama, predictably, screamed and flailed in the instinctual urge to seize for balance, but, contrary to what the rest of them half feared, he did not go tumbling away into the darkness below. For their feet, at least, gravity was where the steps were. So, after some discussion, they continued walking and tried to ignore the way they could feel themselves being pulled "skyward".

Still, they were all relieved when, once again, the stairs changed, this time becoming a zigzagging streak of yellow staircases that went up and down and sideways at random intervals for no apparent reason. Yet on they walked, and Shinichi had to wonder just how big the space inside the tent was.

No, it wasn't the space in the tent, he mused. The tent must have been only the front for this… Pseudo space, he supposed. There seemed to be a lot of such spaces (dimensions?) in this world. A place where the insides were much greater than its outsides suggested. And one that, in this case, was constantly shifting and twisting, by what logic, none of them knew, but they would hopefully learn.

They were just beginning to wonder if the staircases really did go on forever when the steps abruptly ended in a large, circular platform painted with an enormous, multicolored starburst. A door with a corresponding starburst stood on the far edge of the platform, but there did not appear to be anything but empty space beyond it. Then again, there was nothing but empty space in every other direction as well. It was either backtrack, open the door to nowhere, or jump into the void. The choice was obvious.

Grasping the doorknob, Shinichi braced himself then turned it.

There was a click. He barely had time to register that the sound had come from behind him when the air suddenly filled with cries of surprise. He whirled around just in time to see trapdoors opening beneath the feet of each of his companions before another opened beneath his own.

Kaito moved the instant he felt the ground under him shift. Reflexes honed by years of experience as the Kaitou KID had him up in the air and diving after Shinichi before his mind had consciously registered what was going on. It was only his quick reaction that allowed him to pass through Shinichi's trapdoor before it snapped shut again above them. He reached out and grabbed Shinichi, pulling his detective to him as he opened his wings to slow their descent.

Lights of all colors blazed to life all around them, so bright that both magician and detective squeezed their eyes shut on reflex. Unable to see where he was going, Kaito crashed into something that made a loud bonging noise like a struck gong and fell. Fortunately, the ground turned out to be merely a few feet further down. He and Shinichi landed in an ungraceful heap, winded but unhurt.

Kaito hopped to his feet then helped Shinichi up. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Shinichi assured him. "Thank you for catching me."

Kaito smiled, leaning down to drop a chaste kiss on his beloved's lips. "Always."

Shinichi ducked his head to hide his blush. "Um, where are the others?"

The two turned in a slow circle. There was no sign of either Hattori or Akiyama. They were standing alone in the middle of a circular room with a floor of packed dirt and walls striated with colored lights. A single, arched doorway gaped open before them, leading into a tunnel ribbed with yet more lights in repeating patterns of red, orange and yellow. Looking at it, Shinichi wasn't sure if the creator had meant the décor to be festive or ominous as peering down that path was like looking down the throat of some strange beast.

"Should we try to go back?" Shinichi asked, looking up only to see crisscrossing bars across the ceiling. It was as though they were standing in a cage—one with only a single available exit.

Frowning, Kaito moved to one of the walls and pressed a hand against it. He couldn't describe the material it was made of, but it felt sturdy. When he rapped on it, he could hear only a dull, solid knock. When he pressed his ear to it, he could hear nothing but an odd, constant hum as though the wall was vibrating. If there was another chamber on the other side holding their friends, no sound was going to reach them through these walls.

Shinichi moved over to the wall anyway, cupped his hands, and shouted, "Hattori! Akiyama-san!" He shouted a few more times then leaned close to the wall, canine ears shifting to listen for even the barest whisper of a response.

None came.

"We have two choices, as I see it," Kaito said into the ensuing silence. "I can hit this wall as hard as I can to see if I can break it down so we can find out what's on the other side. Or we can take the tunnel and hope the others meet up with us later. After all, if this place was built with a single path in mind like it seemed to be earlier then we'll run into them again sooner or later if we all keep moving forward."

"Do you really think you can break through?" Shinichi asked.

"One way to find out." Mimicking a boxing stance he'd seen on television, Kaito drove a straight right into the wall he had been tapping on just moments ago—the one that would, if they had all fallen straight down from their positions on the platform, be between them and their friends. Having expected to hit something super hard which would either give or not, Kaito was startled when his fist simply sank into the wall as though it were made of dense, heavy clay. When he withdrew his hand, the mark he'd made in the wall smoothed out, and it was as though he had never laid a finger on it.

He traded looks with Shinichi then shrugged. "Tunnel it is then."

Deciding that his senses were better suited for warning them of impending danger, Shinichi stepped into the tunnel first with Kaito hovering protectively behind him. The tunnel with its fiery ribs of light turned and twisted like a snake so that they had no idea which direction they were going in by the time it finally opened out into another brightly lit room.

"Hello, hello, hello, hello!"

Shinichi jumped at the sudden and very loud greeting and stumbled backwards into Kaito, who caught and steadied him then gazed over the top of Shinichi's flattened ears at the clowns that had popped up before them.

There were two of them, both dressed in gaudy, red, white, and yellow striped garments and huge, ungainly red shoes polished to a cherry bright shine. Their faces were chalk white behind the red rubber noses and topped with masses of red and orange curls shot through with the occasional streak of green or pink. But garish as the ensemble was, it was the huge, red painted mouth grinning on the first clown and the stark black tears streaking the face of the second that Shinichi couldn't tear his eyes from. The faces beneath the painted expressions were totally blank. The contrast was unsettling in a way he couldn't quite put into words.

"Hello, hello, hello, hello!" the two clowns said again, their voices blending in perfect harmony as though they were one voice. The two moved as a mirrored pair, each stepping forward with their inside foot at the same time and bowing over the corresponding arms as they greeted their guests. "What game would you like to play?"

They cart-wheeled away from each other then bounced to their feet and swept their arms out wide in perfect unison. "You may play any game you wish. Just say the word, and we'll take you to whichever game you choose."

"We're not here to play games. We're looking for our friends," Shinichi said. "Can you help us?"

"Ah, you wish to know about the prizes," the clowns chorused.

"What? No, that's not—"

"To earn a prize, you must win a game. So choose, yes choose, any game will do."

"I think we have to work with them," Kaito murmured into Shinichi's furry ear. "They only seem to hear what they want to."

"You're probably right," Shinichi murmured back unhappily before raising his voice to address the waiting clowns again. "We're new here, so we don't know what games are available. Can you tell us what our options are?"

"Oh yes, oh yes, never fear for we are here to make things clear for all who wish to play. Shall we start with something simple? Or would you prefer a more challenging stage? The greater the challenge, the bigger the prize! But of course, the higher the price paid for a loss."

"Well that doesn't sound good," Kaito noted. "Let's start with something easy and see what these guys are about."

"We'll try an easy game," Shinichi said loudly.

The clown twins pivoted together then turned to look back over their shoulders, all in perfect unison. "Then come," he said brightly. And they were off.

For people wearing oversized shoes and incredibly baggy pants, the clowns were remarkably nimble. Kaito and Shinichi found themselves half jogging to keep up. They were so focused on their colorful guides that neither of them noticed when their surroundings shifted again. What they did notice was the enormous, glass tank full of water that appeared before them.

On the far wall of the tank was a painted target. Above the target was a plastic seat. And above that seat, gagged and bound hand and foot, was a very familiar scarecrow.

"Hattori!" Shinichi exclaimed, horrified. He ran up to the tank, but he couldn't see any way to reach his friend other than to smash through the seamless glass front of the tank.

Shinichi rounded on the clowns. "What's going on here? How do we get Hattori out of there?"

"This is the dunk tank," the clowns replied, unperturbed. "When the portal opens, you must hit the target to drop the scarecrow into the water before the flames reach him. Do that and you win. Fail to do so and you lose."

Shinichi wanted to ask what flames the clowns were talking about but thought better of it just in case they decided to demonstrate. He could guess anyway. Some of the ropes holding Hattori were linked to brackets in the wall around him that resembled unlit braziers.

"You said something about prizes and prices," Kaito said, gaze shifting from their captive friend to the clowns. "What are they for this game?"

"Of course, of course, the prizes. They are right there on the wall. Look!" Two hands swept towards the tank, and a spotlight came on, illuminating a row of objects sitting on a shelf above Hattori's head. There was a fuzzy, plush dice the size of a chair, a stuffed rabbit that was every bit just as big, and, for some odd reason, a potted plant. "Any of these will be yours to choose if you win the game. If you are per chance to lose, you will hand over either your cape," they nodded at Kaito, "or your collar," they finished, pointing to Shinichi.

The canine detective suffered a moment of indecision as, well, he'd be more than happy to hand over the collar. But, alas, he couldn't let Hattori down just because he found his collar embarrassing.

"So," he said slowly, trading glances with Kaito. "We can choose any of those items on that wall as our prize if we win, and we give you something instead if we lose."

"That is the rule of the game, yes."

"Then if we win, we want the scarecrow."

The two clowns' heads rotated in opposite directions. They rotated so far that their faces stopped upside down before they rotated back again. The sight had Goosebumps rising on Shinichi's arms, but he tried not to think too much about it. Whatever these clowns were, they were most definitely not human.

"So?" he prompted. "Is that a deal?"

"You may have the scarecrow," the clowns chorused, their speech suddenly slow and pitched much lower. Menacing. "But shall you lose then one of you will have to take his place."

Kaito let out a loud snort of derision that shattered the tension in the air. "We figured that much out on our own. So how do we play? Is there a door in the front of the tank that you should open or something? Or do you intend for us to smash our balls through the glass and hit the target too."

"No, no, no need for that," the clowns chimed. Out of nowhere, they brought out three gigantic baseballs and handed one to Kaito. The other two they placed on the ground side by side. At the same time, a circular hole opened up in the glass at the front of the tank just above the waterline.

"Remember," the clowns chirped. "You have until the fires reach him."

And the braziers leapt to brilliant, sizzling life. The flames instantly began eating along the ropes attached to the braziers, following them down towards the now clearly panicking scarecrow who let out a string of muffled noises and began struggling against his bonds.

Shinichi tried to ignore the horrifying sight of his friend drawing nearer and nearer to being set on fire and focused instead on the target. They only had three tries to hit it, and it was quite a lot farther away than he would have liked. Kaito had a really strong arm though.

"Kai, can you hit it?" he asked.

"I'll try, but I'm afraid these aren't exactly a convenient throwing size," the magician said grimly. Hefting his huge baseball, he heaved it forward like a shot-put. The ball sailed all the way across the water and struck the far edge of the target hard enough to crack the wall behind it. Unfortunately, the button in the middle was not within the landing zone.

Kaito eyed his handiwork critically then turned to Shinichi. "These just aren't a good size for gripping. Why don't you try kicking one instead? They're only a little larger than the average soccer ball."

So Shinichi took another of the super large baseballs and tested its weight and bounce. He inhaled deeply then let the breath out slowly. Focus, he told himself. He could do this.

A moment later, the ball sailed through the opening in the glass, across the water, and struck the target dead center.

There was an ear-splitting pinging sound and the chair under Hattori tipped forward, dumping the scarecrow and the still burning ropes attached to him down into the tank. What was left of the flames hissed and died in a plume of steam.

Not waiting for the clowns to speak, Shinichi hopped through the opening in the tank and swam over to where Hattori had sunk to the bottom of the tank. He dove down and quickly ripped away the gag and half burnt ropes before helping his friend to the surface then the exit portal and out onto dry land.

The moment he was on solid ground, Hattori keeled over with a splat and groaned. "I feel like every part of me weighs a ton! But thanks for the save. I know you were thinking about ditching that collar," he added with a wry grin at Shinichi.

The other detective rolled his eyes and busied himself with squeezing as much water out of his clothes as he could.

The clowns were applauding. Kaito shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, ready to spring into action at the slightest sign of danger.

"Oh, well done, well done," the painted faces chorused with a perfect lack of expression. "Perhaps you would like to try a more challenging game?"

"Give us some time to decide," Kaito said to the clowns, his tone one of command. Despite that, he fully expected the creepy clown twins to object. Instead, they surprised him by going completely still and silent with their hands clasped in front of them and their faces split into wide, grotesque grins.

"We should think fast," the magician muttered to the two detectives still recovering from their ordeal behind him. "We don't know how long they'll wait."

Having finished wringing what water he could from his clothes, Shinichi turned to Heiji. "Do you remember how you ended up in the dunk tank? Was Akiyama with you?"

Groaning, Heiji sat up with a squelching of wet straw. "It's hard ta explain. He was with me briefly. We were falling after those trapdoors opened up. I only knew he was there because I could hear him screaming. But then everything just went dark. Next thing I knew, I was tied up and sitting above that tank with you two talking to the clown twins."

"Then we should probably assume that he too has become part of some game," Kaito said dryly. "If I had to guess, I'd say Shin-chan and I weren't pressed into service because we went through the trapdoor at the door, and games need players."

"It would make sense," Shinichi murmured then grimaced at his own words. To think that these were the kinds of things that made sense these days… He wasn't sure if it was funny or disheartening. "That also suggests that anyone else who might have wandered in here before us are now either playing games ahead of us or parts of games themselves."

Hattori stiffened. "Do you think Kazuha…?"

"It's possible."

The scarecrow scowled, fists clenching, and Shinichi was half afraid that his friend would leap up and take a swing at one of the freaky clowns then and there. But the Osakan detective drew in a deep breath and visibly forced himself to calm. Then he stood up and, still dripping, strode past Kaito to look at each clown in turn.

"So ya got any games involving skeletons or ghosts?" he demanded.

"We have many games," the clown to his left replied.

"With many pieces and prizes of all shapes and sizes," the clown on the right agreed.

"Ya saying you don't know or you won't say?"

"Nothing of the sort," both clowns insisted, spreading their arms out in entreaty. "We merely mean that many a game might present you with such beings."

"Can you tell us what all the games are?" Shinichi asked, coming up beside his friend. "We'd like an actual list this time."

The clowns laughed. "Why ruin the surprise?"

"You said you'd show us to whichever game we wanted to play though," Shinichi pointed out. "Isn't that right?"

"Of course, of course. That is what we are here for."

"Well, how can we choose a game if we don't know what games there are to choose from?"

The clowns paused at this. Their heads tilted, one to the right and the other to the left, then snapped back upright so fast that that even Kaito jumped. The clowns leaned forward.

"Then you wish to view the carnival map?"

Shinichi traded looks with his companions then nodded. "We would."