File: condy_contortionist_story_1

By: macrocondy3point0


Tags: bendy | flexible | contortion, commission, Her Imperious Condescension (Homestuck)

Condy Contortionist Story, part 1

Blood dripped from the branches, a dark fuchsia ichor that stained everything it touched. Running down deep, jagged grooves in the bark, a single droplet slipped away from the stream and hung off the precipice of a chip. It lingered for a moment before a mighty shockwave shook the entire tree, and sent it tumbling to the ground, where it splashed into its own little puddle in the middle of a massive footprint. There the tiny puddle lay, vibrating quietly with each subsequent jolt, until the foot that made the indent in the first place slammed down upon it once again.

The towering alien woman pounded her fist into the nearest tree once again. She had been stranded out here for hours now, and her hands were starting to bleed from constant expression of her bottomless rage. The deal she made had included many stipulations, but she had no idea just how it would actually feel until she was left naked in the woods, feeling betrayed and very, very small. While once she could have easily uprooted these oaken giants with a single fist, now she could barely make a dent in them with… she hesitated to even think of them as hands. How could they be hands when they were so weak and lacking in proper webbing? She clenched her fists, only to drive several splinters in deeper.

Her jaw dislocated as she let out another screech, and unleashed a flurry of blows against the nearest tree, trying her hardest to make it fall with nothing but brute strength. Raw bark scraped against her knuckles, stripping what little skin was left and beginning to cut down to the bone. They promised her an entirely new branch of her empire to conquer, and what she wound up with was… was…

The tree shook once from the crack of her skull ramming against it, and again when she hit the ground, dazed and cross-eyed. Huffing and trying her hardest not to chew out her tongue in a bind fury, the enormous gray-skinned lady lay upon the ground, staring up at the stars. Even if she could focus and see them proper, she wouldn’t find her home out there. They’d made it very clear to her before departure, it didn’t even exist here. Only empty, dead space lay out there beyond this planet she’d been sent… no, banished to. Banished was the word for it – all those promises of conquest were completely empty if she couldn’t even menace a tree, much less a single member of the local populace.

“I SAY, what WAS that noise over there, Franco?”

Black hair flew all around as her head shot up, looking around for the source of the noise. The language sounded familiar, but it couldn’t possibly be her native tongue. Not if her people had never formed here. Picking herself up quickly, she spun about the clearing, searching for any visual sign of advanced life.

“Go on ahead, we’ll stop and see what it was…”

There! In the distance! A faint light, and voices! Steadying herself from the blow to the head, she started to run through the woods, ignoring the feeling of sharp rock beneath her feet. Perhaps it was some kind of rescue party, here to free her from the exile her supposed benefactors had forced her into. Or maybe they sent her to the wrong world entirely, and she had a chance of conquering a familiar system. Or…

The giant of a woman burst out of the trees and onto the road, only to find a collection of small, pinkish creatures huddled around a torch-bearing wagon. All present stopped breathing, the giantess included, as she stared down at the creatures who scarcely came up to her stomach. Several of them looked hideously deformed, all gazing upon her with a collective sense of horror. Whatever they were, they certainly were not any civilized creatures she ever laid eyes upon. Her hopes had been raised for nothing.

One of the creatures sitting at the front of the wagon looked ready to say something. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the one sitting next to it draw some sort of weapon, and fire upon her.

A projectile shot through the side of her abdomen, and she roared so loud the leaves began to fall from the darkened trees above. The beings she found screamed in fright, and things that looked like malformed hoofbeasts attempted to bolt, dragging the wagon along. Her vision glazing over red, she took several steps forward, and grabbed onto the top of the wooden transport with both hands. These creatures had tricked her, however unintentionally, and wouldn’t escape with their lives for such treachery. Digging her heels into the ground, she strained with half-broken, bleeding fingers straining hard to prevent their escape as panicked shouts echoed all around her.

“…hell IS she?”

“..only meant to protect you s…”

“…der control! We have to go back for her you blasted fo…”

“…G ON!”

With another screech, the massive grey lady tore the wagon free from its bearers, leaving the strange hoofbeasts to gallop off into the night. Now all trapped in one place, the little creatures scattered in all directions. She kicked out blindly, sending two of the fleeing things flying into the dark woods. Even if she couldn’t menace with the same sheer overpowering might she had before, she could still do quite a bit of damage to them in her current form. Stomping forward, she lashed out again and again, bloodied extremities connecting with flesh and wood alike, sending all manner of materials flying off the road.

One creature, however, stood its ground, staring up at her as she rampaged amongst its companions. “You there!” it cried from behind her. “Gigantic woman! Cease massacring my employees this instant!”

In her frenzy, the giantess neglected to regulate her movements, spinning her torso around to such a great degree that it looked for all the world as if her spine had turned around completely. The look on the creature’s face went from frightened yet haughty to something she couldn’t quite read – not that she was putting much effort into reading expressions at all. This one had sat next to the one that attacked her, and so deserved a particularly gruesome death.

Legs turning to follow her upper body, she began to charge the diminutive thing, arms stretched out to rend the life out of it. With a deftness she hadn’t anticipated, it instead leapt through her legs, tumbling in the dirt on the other side. Snarling, she pressed her ankles against the road, skidding to a halt and bending forwards. With a small crack, she thrust her entire torso through her legs, making a mockery of her form as her raw fingers reached out, clawing at thin air.

For a moment, she stared upsides-down at the creature who stood just out of her reach, bloodlust waning momentarily with the brush of its finger against her enormous hand. Though she was still far too feverish to see what went through its mind, she could swear she recognized something in its expression. Some sort of bottomless greed and powerlust that she too had felt before…

Another projectile tore across her leg, only tearing through the surface layer of flesh but still stinging like all hell, and she flung her body back into an upright position, tossing her head about wildly to find her attacker. From behind, the creature she chased shouted, “Blast it, Kynag, stop shooting her! Greenstein, the chains!”

A length of cold, hard metal lashed across her back, and the giantess roared in pain and outrage. Twisting her arms behind her in anticipation of the next blow, she suddenly found them bound by metal links constricting against her hands. The raw steel pressed into her open wounds, and she fell to her knees, shrieking in pain. Summoning up all her might, she snapped the joints back into their sockets, and attempted to throw her captor high into the sky – only to end up tugged back into the ground herself.

“Now, now, now!”

More and more chains came, smacking into her body from all angles and pinning her to the ground. No matter how hard she strained, she simply couldn’t get away from such a concentrated assault. Mouth foaming, veins bulging, eyes rolling, she found herself looking up at the stars again. With a mixture of anger and dread gripping her mind, she tried in vain to find a distant star, any star, to which she might look and find herself home again in her recupracoon, all memory of this nightmare bargain quickly fading away.

“Well DONE, Greenstein! After the way she overpowered our horses, I was thinking you might not be worthy of being our strongman anymore! Now, if you’ll please put her out so we can clean this mess up…”

Blood spattered against the ground once more, little pools of fuchsia ichor vibrating in the dirt as footsteps echoed all around, starlight glinting in the tiny droplets.

“…believe you thought it a remotely good idea to keep such a brute around!”

“Do calm down now, Kynag, do calm down! Were you really so lost in the prospect of taking down a titanic beast that you didn’t see the prospects she had?”

“Nearly a quarter of the staff dead, our tools and assets in shambles, you nearly torn in half, and all you can think of is bloody profits!”

“I admit, I do, that we have suffered a considerable loss. But it is one we shan’t ever recover from should you simply put a slug between her eyes! Think straight for a moment, man! Of course profits are what matters here!”

“You hired me to keep you and your freakshow safe from any upsetting goings on while you perform, and highwaymen on the road. If you honestly expect me to lend my services out to you while the single most horrific… horrific THING I have ever had the displeasure of laying my eyes upon is paraded about like just another geek, then I say bollocks to your profits! Pay me my final wages and lose my employ, or let me do what needs to be done, and…”


“Good Lord. It’s awake.”


“SHE’S awake, Kynag. I believe we have thoroughly established our new attraction as feminine in nature! Do refer to her as such.”


“We won’t get another chance if it breaks free of the chains! I implore you, allow me to…”


Her mouth wasn’t shaped right. The teeth were too small and rounded, the tongue not nearly long enough, and the fundamental shape of her jaw was just slightly off. On top of everything else, her chest was pressed down with the crushing weight of cold chains, her mouth parched from thirst, and her throat raw from her bellows of fury. All of this added up to her verbal abilities being near nonexistent, leaving her unable to do anything but hiss.

She twitched her limbs, only to find them firmly bound together. In fact, no matter where she focused her attention, she was met with binding metallic links. Laid out on her side, she could barely even raise her head to properly glare at her captors, leaving her completely helpless. This only served to enrage her even further, as she continued to hiss, trying to work the words out through her malformed mouth.

“Hhhhhhhhhhhh… whhhho… thhhhhhhhe fuck are you?”

It came out, raw and hoarse, but it came out nonetheless. Her vision began to coalesce, and she saw the two men standing before her. One was presently reeling in shock, his entire khaki ensemble soaked with sweat and blood, hand reaching for his gun. The shorter fat man beside him, in a crumpled, ruffled black suit and torn top hat, reached over and grabbed his companion’s arm, stopping him from impulsively shooting once again.

“You,” he said, taking slow, hesitant steps towards her. She couldn’t tell if he was nervous, or holding back excitement. “You can speak?”

“Course… whhhhhhhhhhhat did you do to me?”

“Nothing worse than you’ve done to my troop, I assure you!” he barked, laughing heartily before doubling over and holding his ribs in pain. “Ah… you’ve certainly done quite a number here. Fortunately no losses, but the Conjoined Man was in danger of not being quite as conjoined as we’d like for a minute there, if you catch my meaning! But no deadly harm, no foul I like to say.”

“Conjoined…” Even if she was starting to come back to her senses, she still could scarcely speak in anything except brief statements or repetitions of what the man said. She tried to move once more, and felt a tiny shift in the chains, only to wince and retract back from a pain shooting down her arm.

“Star material for only a month, I’m afraid,” the man mused, pacing back and forth before her. “Just couldn’t hold the public’s attention with his self-bickering. He’s still on rotation, but we have to use him spar… I’m sorry, you must be terribly confused by all of this!”

“Sir,” the man in what she now recognized as hunting gear said, stepping forward, “I’m not sure the chains will…”

“Nonsense!” the first said, waving his companion away as she tried the bonds again. “Have you ever known Greenstein to do a Samson’s Bind on ANYONE and have them get away? Now…” he continued, turning back to her, “we had assumed that since we found you out in the woods, this would take quite a great deal longer, but seeing as you can actually communicate, we may have ourselves an easier situation on our hands! Tell me, do you happen to know what a carny is?”

“Carnage…” she muttered, shifting her arms back and forth. Just a little bit more…

“No, no, carNY! Two syllables, noun, referring to an individual who performs in a carnival! That’s our line of work, or at least my employees’. Or at least, it would be, if we had ourselves an actual carnival to perform at! As it stands, we’re more on the… what’s the term we’ve decided on, Kynag?”

“Illegal,” he replied, hand twitching on his gun again.

“That’s right, freelance side of things! Keep telling me what I’m doing is WRONG and SICKENING, but I’ve been to those bigger circuses and carnivals, and let me tell you,” he said, suddenly walking forward and wagging a finger right in her face, “I’m the best deal you’ve got! Certainly better than living out in those woods!”

She blinked, slowly breathing as her brow narrowed. “Thhhhhhe hhhhhhhhhell you talking about?”

“You’ll have to forgive my employer,” the taller man said, stepping forward to pull the man in the suit back. “He does have a tendency to ramble a bit. I’ll put things simply. You are to be our newest performer, dazzling our customers with your incredible size wherever we go. I believe he’s planning on calling you ‘The Stupendous…’”

“ ’Magnificent’, Kynag, Greenstein’s already got Stupendous!”

“…yes. ‘The Magnificent Wild Woman of Minnesota.’ And should you dare to try anything, I’ll… SIR LOOK OUT!”

It was around the elbows. They’d kept the chains just a little loose there to avoid breaking her arms, and that’s where she got them. All she had to do was twist them a little bit further, just like navigating it through a crevice, and the links fell away. Her bones shifted, and she felt the pain of a body unused to these movements, but pushed through to completely free her arms. As the right one flew up in the air, the entire network budged just so, and she was able to push her torso up, looming over the two men. It wasn’t complete freedom, but it was enough.

Pupils dilating with unabashed rage, she went from hazy and groggy to wide-awake and pissed off in a second. With arms as long as the short one’s entire body, she reached out and placed the two men in a death squeeze, raw scarring hands pressing their bodies together in a vice grip. She tried to stand, but found her legs still constrained, and so settled for remaining on her knees, hunched over them with tangled black hair falling all around.

“I ain’t anybody’s carny. And I ain’t gonna play your cod dam games. I’ve got better shhhhhhhhhhit to do thhhhhhhhhan sit round being yakked at by…”

“My GOODNESS!” the fat one cried as his face went red from the pressure. “A giantess AND a contortionist!”

Her trip lessened slightly in shock. “Whhhhhhhhhat.”

“Varvara has… managed to slightly subvert Samson’s Bind before, but… it took her HOURS! And you… you… did it… in… MINUT… ack…”

Still shaking slightly, she relaxed her grip a touch, more out of curiosity than her rage diluting any. “Whhhhhhhhhhhhho’s…?”

“Var… Varvara… our star contortionist! Or at least she was! Greenstein always said if someone ten times as flexible as her came along, he’d have to figure out an entirely new set of tricks to use!” It was downright remarkable how quickly his voice came back to him after his lungs were nearly shredded by his ribcage. “Listen – revenue has gone down significantly lately. I have been on the lookout for a new star for weeks now, and if you promise to not try murdering myself or any of my employees again, I can personally guarantee you an instant top billing in my show!”

Kynag hacked, still trying to get a regular airflow going, and shot his superior a killing look.

“Hhhhhhhhhhhhow do I know you’re not just gonna screw me?” she asked, ideas swirling around her head. Maybe, just maybe, murdering these two wasn’t the way to go.

“My good lady, Portello Prochnow never goes back on his word! And my word right now, in this moment, is that you will not ever be treated with any less respect and dignity than I afford the rest of the men and women and assorted other under my employ! Now…” he dusted himself off, coughed a little himself, and extended a hand outwards. “May I have your name so we can shake on it and make the matter official?”

She hesitated for a moment. If she was ever to rise back to the power and glory she once knew, it wouldn’t do to give out her proper title here. Its meaning and impact would be utterly wasted in a context of necessary servitude. But… if she were to give her secret name, her REAL name, the one nobody was ever to know… what would the harm of it be if she only ever used it in this context, and no other?

The chains shifted around her body as she leaned forward to extend her arm, tightening their clutch upon her torso. “Lindahhhhhhhhhhh Loreli.”

“Splendid!” he smirked, grasping the much larger hands with both of his, and shaking it much harder than expected.

In retrospect, Lindah should have expected a trick like this. Were she still in charge, it was the sort of double-cross she’d pull in a heartbeat. The potential opportunities offered by this unique set of conditions, coupled with her general exhaustion and the continued dull throbbing in her fingers, must have blinded her to a classic piece of sucker’s bait. On any other night, she would have slaughtered them all on the spot for such a betrayal. However, since she simply could not afford to toss herself back out into the woods without any sense of purpose or direction, she silently accepted her fate.

Prochnow certainly didn’t treat her any better than the rest of his employees. That became fairly clear once they dragged her out of the secluded clearing they’d tied her up in while the hoofbeasts were recovered and the wagon repaired. A multitude of malformed, misshapen figures had stood around listlessly in the light of the lanterns, gazing aimlessly off into the shadowy trees around them. Upon finding his means of transport back in order, Prochnow and Kynag quickly set about forcing them back into the back of his cart. Though it seemed spacious enough at first, by the time the last disfigured freak was stuffed in, it was clear they didn’t have the space for a third the amount of people they packed.

In a somewhat mixed blessing, Prochnow seemed to realize there wasn’t any way of fitting Lindah into the same space without risking killing her or a number of his other employees, and so instead arranged for her still attached chains to be repurposed as straps, and slung her atop the wagon. This involved a considerable amount of reshuffling of bodies to get the strongman out, and the roof and wheels groaned in protest under her weight, but they eventually finished the task and set out again, her enormous grey body bouncing up and down all the way.

With her head bound to reduce the jostling (though at the expense of any comfort due to the tightness of the chains), all she could do was stare up at the stars slowly sliding across the treetops, and think. Her whole body ached from the various abuses of the past few hours. Already she missed her grand palace, and all the comforts it offered. Were there any other way to achieve the conquest she was promised, she would have taken that path in a heartbeat. Someone of her stature shouldn’t have to sell herself into what amounted to slavery just to have a chance at reaching her goals. Each and every bump and hole in the primitive dirt road they clankered along served as a reminder of just how degrading this whole thing was.

But then, she had been here before, hadn’t she? Back when she started… way, WAY back when she started, life wasn’t nearly as easy. Her people couldn’t sail amongst the stars and easily hop from one side of a galaxy-spanning empire to another in the space of a day. It wasn’t until actual ages later that they’d managed such a feat. In the early days, if she wanted to engage in conquest, there weren’t any shady deals with mysterious beings of supposed great power – there was just her, a crew, and a fleet, traveling to new lands across a hostile open sea.

She tried to hearken her mind back to those days. Back to that time so long ago when sleep came hard as the waves buffed and battered her flagship, and every day brought the promise of capsizing. Not that there was any ocean to slip into, or currents to ride back, or a home to recover and relaunch from, but… no, not differences. She shook her head as best she could to stop those thoughts, for they wouldn’t do her any good here. If she was to get by, she needed to focus and remember…

…remember lying in her coon, trying to ride the rhythm of the sea. It wasn’t as smooth or comforting, but the beat of the wheels jostling the wagon across a rough length of road was very much like the waves on a stormy day. All she needed do was find a rhythm, however irregular, and latch onto it, and let it carry her off to sleep. If this was to be life for the time being, she needed to adapt, and adapt quick. Otherwise she’d loose what little advantage she had in this godforsaken world, and find herself completely deposed…

Rhythm and flow. Rhythm and flow. Worry about the future later, focus on the bumps and knocks and jostles, and…

When she awoke next, the sun was already well on its way up into the sky, and the wagon had stopped. Though she could still only gaze upwards, she heard activity all around her, grunts and shouts and thuds combining in a cacophony of noise. She’d recognize that particular combination of sound anywhere – they were unloading for something important.

Groaning a little, she tried to stretch out, only to be suddenly, rudely reminded of the chains that still bound her. Not at all willing to wait for whenever Prochnow saw fit to release her, she started to twist her limbs about in order to free herself. First her legs – the strongman had taken care to put a great deal of chains between and beside them to prevent her from stretching them out, but it seemed he hadn’t counted on her pulling them inwards. There was a slight slack there, and all she needed do was pump her thighs up and down a few times to loosen them further. Once she felt she had enough freedom, it was a simple matter of pulling her legs, up, and up, and up, all the way until they folded the opposite direction and rested upon her torso. She kicked them out, and they landed with a heavy THUD upon the pile of empty chains beneath.

Next, her arms. They’d been bound rather quickly, as Prochnow was easy to get back on the road again and catch some sleep himself, so the strongman had been a bit sloppy here. If she popped her shoulder and twisted the arms around just ninety degrees, the links easily slid off and granted her a full range of motion. Getting them off entirely proved more difficult, however, as trying to slide her arms upwards only caused the chains to bunch up and pinch at the skin of her upper biceps. Wincing in pain, she relaxed, which caused them to slip back into a loosened position. An idea entered her head, and, still keeping her arms twisted, continued to relax even further, draping them over the edges of the roof. The chains complied with the laws of gravity, and promptly dropped off, piling up in coils on the ground.

Finally, with her limbs fully free, she simply reached around herself to unsecure the shackles about her head, and slip out of the lengths strapped across her body. Feeling more like an overly valued piece of luggage than anything else, she stretched herself out with a yawn, blinking the sleep out of her eyes. She shook her head, slung her legs over the side, and tossed her full weight into the grass and dirt.

It was only when she stood up to her full height that she noticed the noise of the wagon crew unpacking had completely halted, and had been halted for quite some time. An entire crowd stood stock still, staring up at her naked form, hair billowing in the breeze. Staring right back down at them, she scanned the area and was briefly confused as to how there could be so many of them. Dozens of regular workers mingled about, all eyes locked upon her alone. Prochnow’s comments the night before indicated he wasn’t affiliated with any larger organization, and made it sound like it was just him, his bodyguard, and his “freaks.” Where in the world could all these others come have from?

Then she noticed the wagons. At least six in number from what she could see, they all bore a crude, cartoonish likeness of Prochnow’s rotund face on them, beaming under both his tall top hat and significant paint degradation. Said chipping and peeling made it hard to tell what it said from even such a short distance away, but… Lindah turned herself about, backing away a bit to get a good look at the wagon she stood before. Ignoring the shocked gasps at her sudden motion, she knelt down and squinted. “PROCHNOW’S AMAZING TRAVELLING FREAKSHOW!” it read in gaudy bright, yet somehow dull, green.

A revelation slowly dawned upon her. Even if it was some kind of illegal setup under whatever law this land had, she wasn’t just stuck with a small band of loosely gathered traveling freaks for some strange, unspecified pay. This was an entire organization, with its own internal structuring and everything. The thought of a large group this size operating in flagrant disregard for the law might’ve sent a shudder down the spine of anyone else trapped in glorified servitude to such a group, but Lindah found herself gripped by another feeling entirely. If this was anything like how it looked, she might even find herself feeling…

“Well, I DID say your skills were ten times greater than Varvara’s!” a familiar voice sounded from behind her. “Guess Greenstein will have to step up his game, won’t you Greenstein!”

Lindah whirled about to find Portello Prochnow striding up to her, spinning a long straight black cane in his hand. Kynag followed close behind, occasionally coughing up blood. Clearly their altercation the night before hadn’t done him any favors, and he gripped his long rifle rather tightly. His boss, however, was beaming off to Lindah’s right, rubbing his staff betwixt his hands. She glanced along his line of sight, and found herself staring at her first freak.

There was nothing remarkable about the man’s height or face. A fair five and a half feet tall, he had ruffled brown hair and young, somewhat angular features, which twitched in pain with every step he took. Below the neck, his loincloth-clad body billowed out into an unsightly mass of muscles, ranging anywhere from two to five times too big for his frame. Pectorals jutted out nearly a foot from his center of mass, biceps threatened to prevent his elbows from bending in the slightest, and one calf hid a foot entirely. His skin showed signs of having split open and sewed shut on multiple occasions, and a nasty looking tear was opening on his left thigh as he shambled towards them.

“Right…” grunted the man called Greenstein in a voice that sounded as if even his vocal cords were too large for his throat.

“Can’t even IMAGINE the sort of profits we’ll bring in from your team-up! The Gargantuous Greenstein, his very body rending itself apart with the force of his effort, wrangling the chains that bind the Colossal Countryside Contortionist, her every attempt to escape blocked by his deft, whirling arms!” Prochnow banged the cane against the ground, and turned his attention to Lindah. “The two of you would do well to get to know one another before tonight’s performance, Lorelilly! Don’t want him to choke you to death in a Herculean Headlock!

“I don’t have anything called…” started Greenstein.

“Whhhhhhhat do you mean tonighhhhhhhh…”

“But I suspect you’ll have to DEVELOP that Headlock!” Prochnow plowed on, striding up closer to Lindah. “Only just came up with the name, got the sign-makers drawing it up as we speak. You!” he barked, placing an arm around her leg and trying to lead her away from her spot next to the cart. “You must be just dying to see your fellow freaks! See them in a capacity that doesn’t involve attempting to rend them limb from limb,” he hastily added, giving her thigh a slap.

For a moment, Lindah considered stomping Prochnow flat and having a go at Kynag before he could ready his weapon… but then her mind turned to the possibilities offered by playing along for a short time, and she allowed her temper to fade. “Alrighhhhhhhht,” she said, taking a step forwards. “Let me see whhhhhhhhhat thhhhhhhhhey’re like.”

Steering her in the right direction, Prochnow led Lindah through the open field his wagons parked in, calling back to Kynag to stay in place when the guard tried to follow and doubled over in pain. They walked past a small crew working to erect a massive tent, with support poles that towered far above even her head. A group of workers emerged from the forest as they strode by, carting along what looked suspiciously like contents raided from a warehouse. She had to duck as they walked past the tree line, branches dragging across her hair as Prochnow blathered.

“Most of the paid workers don’t like to look at you lot while they’re setting up, so first thing in the morning I have you all go out to the nearest convenient hiding spot and wait until dusk! Gives you time to indulge in your little quirks and oddities! Course, Greenstein’s an exception –they complain day in and day out but I always tell them, a man THAT strong is right useful for making sure we’re all set up and, more importantly, torn down before the locals realize they’ve been swindled! Now, I do have more security besides Kynag – Franco and Bullworth will be keeping a close eye on you – so I wouldn’t advise trying any funny stuff. But given the opportunities I’m giving you, I can’t imagine why ANY of you would POSSIBLY want to… why HERE we are!”

They’d wandered a fair ways away from the clearing, and the trees around them had grown oppressively thick remarkably quick. In the darkness of the dense wood, Lindah’s eyes had to adjust (something she wasn’t quite used to in this new form) to view the motley assortment of freaks before them.

Closest to her leaned a man bisected cleanly in half right down his middle – though unlike most performers of his nature, he lacked a left side rather than a bottom half. The sliced portion of his body was coated in a smooth sheet of shiny skin, which pulsed oddly when he breathed. Slightly behind him, a woman clad in a dress of bird feathers with an overly large head and unfocused eyes rocked back and forth on the grassy ground. A squat fellow scarcely taller than two feet and an extremely hairy one with a face elongated about six inches past normal squatted on either side of her, whispering into her ears. The bird woman screeched in response, startling another short person – although this one was a woman with a relatively proper-scaled upper half. It was her legs that were odd, squat and flared out at the top, before tapering down to smaller-than-average feet. Several others lurked behind trees, but aside from a man with a distinct horn jutting out the back of his head, Lindah couldn’t get a good look at them.

These were the bunch Prochnow thought dangerous enough to warrant warnings against escape? Half of them didn’t even look as though they could even function a day without intervention of some sort, and the other half appeared so jittery it was a wonder their malformed anatomy wasn’t shaken apart. As for the matter of using them for ENTERTAINMET, they wouldn’t have passed muster in her cou…

“So, that’ll be Chick-eela, the Bird Woman there!” Prochnow started, waving his hand towards the feathered woman, who’d started cooing. “Don’t think she’s all there, but the crowds LOVE it when she raises a ruckus! You’ll see Timmy Boy and Murry the Ferret Boy, my very own Dichotomy of Man! Perpetual innocent child, or wild sexual ANIMAL!”

Murry’s jaw clenched at the comment, and Lindah had just enough time to make out the badly shattered jagged teeth he bore.

“Let’s see… Puffin Lady, can’t remember her name… Ching back there, the Reverse Manticore… goodness me I seem to have neglected Halfy! Guess why we call him THAT! HA!”

The barking seemed to go on and on, Prochnow proudly listing off every last freak he owned, striding up to those hidden in shadow and yanking them out by the neck for Lindah to get a better look at. She supposed he didn’t treat her that way only due to her newness and his lack of ideas on how to corral her. There was ample enough reason already to let this all play out at its own pace, but she made a private note not to stretch things out to the point where the fat freakshow owner was yanking at her nipples to demonstrate how impervious to pain she was, like Janelly the Unflinching.

By the time he’d burned through most of the squatting oddities, though, Prochnow seemed rather antsy. He kept rubbing his stick between his hands and looking up and down Lindah’s form, sizing her up. They went even further into the woods, far away from the freaks’ squalid segregated campsite, as Prochnow continued to drone on.

“…so by tonight you’ll have your own outfit, something EXOTIC but classy! I’ll tease them with the Dichotomy act and Halfy first, they always get the crowd going, and then when I’m announcing Varvara’s act, I’ll pretend as if there’s been a sudden change in scheduling, and out YOU come! And SPEAKING of Varvara…

They’d come to the darkest part of the forest yet. Sunlight barely penetrated the treetops, and Lindah had to screw her eyes up almost shut in order to see at all. As they adjusted, the image of a woman chained tightly to a tree swam into view. Her arms twisted into unnatural positions, she simply hung there, eyes fixed upon the ground through a mane of matted, twisty brown hair. For a moment Lindah suspected her to be dead until Prochnow clapped his hands, causing her to jolt to life. A crack sounded out from her left shoulder.

“What is? Come to torment me? Can’t you leave well enough?” The woman stared straight through Prochnow, until she spied Lindah through the gloom. With jaw dropped, she stared up and up at her gargantuan figure. “Who is?”

“Samson’s Bind!” Prochnow puffed out his chest and turned to Lindah, ignoring the chained woman entirely. She struggled to free herself from the steely confines as he continued; “You’ll be bursting it tonight as part of your entrance! Thought it up JUST this morning! Then we’ll have you pull yourself out of some of Greenstein’s easier binds, followed by his Herculean Headlock! After that, I’ll leave it up to your skills – if you can break out, we’ll go into chain dancing, and if not, then…”

“Whhhhhhhhhhho’s shhhhhhhhhhe?” Lindah asked, pointed at the chained woman, more to shut up Prochnow than out of actual curiosity.

“Ah, yes I suppose I SHOULD talk about her for a brief moment, shouldn’t I? After all, you’ll be replacing her tonight! Miss Linda, if I may, I would like to introduce you to Miss Varvara! Until recently, our FINEST act in the whole show!”

The chained Varvara spat at Prochnow’s feet at the slight. Simply shaking the flecks off his polished black boots, he plowed onwards. “I figured the two of you should spend the day together; see if you can’t learn any tricks from her sort of thing! Just be sure not to play TOO rough,” he added, winking in what he must have thought a roguish manner at Varvara. “Don’t want to see another one lost before I can make a penny off it!

“Well, I’ll just leave you two to it, shall I? Tata!” And with that, he strode off back towards the campsite.

Wind whistled through the trees for several minutes. Lindah regarded the struggling contortionist with mild curiosity as the few cracks of sunlight shifted across her face. Did Prochnow really expect this woman to be capable of murdering her? Even if she weren’t bound tight enough to crack tree bark and flesh alike, her form seemed so frail and slight that there would be no trouble snapping her spine in seconds. Moreover, come to think of it, the more she looked around the dim forest, the more it seemed like Prochnow had left the pair of them unguarded, relying on misplaced faith alone his new charges wouldn’t wander away to freedom. Although she had no interest in doing so, Lindah still found the act exceedingly foolish.

With a shrug, she started off back towards the camp herself, totally uninterested in obeying Prochnow’s commands no matter how much he postured and threatened, when a hoarse voice behind her said, “I.”

“EIIIIIIHHHHHHHHHHHH?” she grunted, turning about to glare. The contortionist had her dull eyes locked firmly upon Lindahs, her face set so hard her jaw looked ready to burst off. “Thhhhhhhhhhe shhhhhhhhhhhell you mean by thhhhhhhhhat?”

“I would,” Varvara repeated, wrenching an arm against her chains with a sickly grinding noise.

“Shhhhhhhhhhhouldn’t be a probubblem, thhhhhhhhhhen…” Lindah turned about once more, only for Varvara to shout, “I would not advise proceeding in that direction if you value your life, you idiotic!”

The exact nature of Varvara’s manner of speech suddenly struck Lindah head on. A speaking quirk – it had been quite a while since she’d heard one of those outside herself. Anyone who communicated in such a fashion usually had something special about them, and thus did not typically live long enough to exploit such a gift. She had initially taken the bastardization of her own quirk in this new body as yet another symptom of a body forced to adapt to a world that did not accommodate her features, as with her unhealthy skin tone and disgustingly smooth forehead. Yet it appeared the residents of this planet could develop them too… and she just so happened to be in the company of one such individual.

Fighting down the urge to slaughter Varvara on the spot, Linda moved to face her, and hissed out, “Whhhhhhhhhhy?”

“Because of the Bulcao. Prochnow mentioned. Franco and. They are not as forward or forceful as Kynag, but they are equally as. Hidden in the shadows, they will simply dart you if you try to.” Varvara shifted, rubbing her neck awkwardly against one of the thick chains. “He thinks it a more effective way of dealing with difficult charges, after he lost his last.”

Narrowing her eyes again, Lindah squinted through the trunks, trying to catch sight of the Bulcaos. Aside from a brief rustle in the lower branches of a distant tree, she found no sign of any watchful guards.

“I don’t believe you,” she said confidently, taking another step away… right as something small and fast whistled through her mane of hair and embedded itself in Varvara’s tree. Upon closer inspection, it revealed itself to be a small dart, its tip dripping with a nasty looking liquid.

“You might,” Varvara said with a dirty smirk. “Doesn’t. They’ll shoot.”

Evidently so. Lindah thought. She glared in the direction of the offending dart, but saw no movement whatsoever. Half growling, half sighing, she stomped back to Varvara and threw herself on the ground cross-legged. If she was stuck here until Prochnow came to fetch her later in the evening, she might as well try and squeeze some information out of his former contortionist.

“Lost hhhhhhhis last whhhhhhhhat?” she asked, still staring into the heavy wood. “Talk so you ain’t leavin’ out important details.”

“His last,” Varvara repeated, and snickered to herself.

“I ain’t in thhhhhhhhhhhe mood for games, gurl,” Lindah snarled.

“Giant like you, of. Prochnow has been after one for years and. When he caught one a few months ago, he was over the. But she proved difficult to control, and made a bid to. Kynag was responsible for hunting her down, and his particular set of skills were only good for putting buckshot through her. So now those two guard anyone who he hasn’t yet broken.” Varvara spat once more into the darkness, earning another dart right above her mangled hair for the trouble.

“Anothhhhhhhher giant… like me.” Lindah repeated, furrowing her brow. Was it possible…?

“Not like YOU. You’re much bigger than any of the other. You should have been awake to hear him rant and rave about how much you’ll make. And of course, he’ll be expecting me to kill.”

Lindah had to sneer at that. If Prochnow expected this woman to put even the slightest scratch on her…

“Or you to kill me, either works for,” she continued, rolling her neck and shaking the chains once more. “One less mouth to feed, you,” she added with a bitter laugh.

“Divide an’ conquer sort of thhhhhhhhing, hhhhhhuhhhhh?” Lindah mused, flicking her tongue across her front teeth. “Keepin’ hhhhhhhis slaves incentivized to fighhhhhhhht eachhhhh othhhhhher instead of focusin’ on hhhhhhim…” It was her turn to laugh, as it dawned on her exactly what sort of game Prochnow was playing. “Thhhhhhhis shhhhhhit common around hhhhhere?”

“What do you mean by?” Varvara asked, turning her head to gaze at Lindah’s mass of jet-black hair. “Of course! Prochnow is constantly on the move because he fears the law will catch up and throw him. Where are you from that you would think his abuses are at all?”

“Long way off.” Lindah gave a small cackle, and rose to her feet once more, squinting at Varvara’s disheveled form. “Thhhhhhhink I get thhhhhe picture hhhhhhere. Gotta stay out of thhhhhe way, do shhhhhhhhit thhhhhat makes hhhhhhhhim hhhhhhhhappy, an’ you get to live, thhhhhhat righhhhhht?”

“For someone who’s lost their freedom to be a sideshow slave, you don’t seem particularly,” Varvara remarked, glaring back up into Lindah’s shadowed eyes.

“Ain’t gonna be a slave for very long,” she whispered, kneeling down and working the complex knots in the chain binding her fellow performer. “Took a whhhhhhile, but I know whhhhhhere I am now. Thhhhhhhrow around a few deathhhhhhh thhhhhhhreats, play Prochhhhhhhnow’s game, an’ don’t make too muchhhhhh noise, an’ ya could be in hhhhhhhis place inside a sweep instead’ve bein’ tied to thhhhhhat tree. An’ thhhhhhhat’s exactly thhhhhhhe route I’m intendin’ to take.” It hurt talking so excessively with her malformed mouth, but now that all the elements had clicked into a solid plan, she couldn’t help but gloat a little. Still baring her teeth in a contorted grin, Lindah managed to find a weak link in Varvara’s bonds and broke them, sending fifteen feet of chain snaking to the ground.

Varvara stood shakily, bending her arms around her back to simultaneously stretch and rub her bruises. “Dreams of freedom and rebellion don’t tend to end well around. Although if you truly wish to die trying, I won’t tell you not. It saves my hide, at.”

“Yeahhhhhh, whhhhhhatever,” Lindah said, towering over the contortionist once more. “So, you’re supposed to shhhhhhhow me some shhhhhhit, yeahhhhhhh?”

As the sun slid across a sky they could not see, the pair set to work rehearsing for the show that evening. Varvara instructed Lindah in basic chain bursting techniques for most of the morning until Greenstein showed up around noon to provide them nourishment. Flagging him down, she convinced the malformed strongman to demonstrate some more complicated knotwork, just in case Prochnow demanded anything more daunting.

Lindah found the work extremely tedious and boring. Now that she was not so disoriented by the transfer to this new form and fresh injuries, and bound by flimsier chains, she found breaking her bonds laughably easy. Whenever she burst out of her chains with a simple flex of her shoulder muscles or shimmy of her hips, Varvara groaned and slapped at her head, glaring at her with silent contempt. For the life of her, Lindah couldn’t see why – she’d been instructed to escape chains, and she was escaping chains. From what she’d gathered, nobody else, not even the strongman himself, could cause three-inch thick lengths of metal to explode off their body with a mere shrug, so there wasn’t much to complain about.

It wasn’t until Greenstein thought to clarify matters (in his rather clumsy way) after she’d exploded a fourth chain length from him that she understood Varvara’s reactions. Prochnow would be promoting her as a contortionist, and expected the show to go on for longer than a few seconds. If she were to take the stage and burst her chains, it would certainly thrill the crowd, but it would also fly right in the face of what they were promised, and grow incredibly boring after the second or third time. Putting on a show of a struggle, even if it was entirely faked, and slinking out of the chains rather than rending them into scrap would have more long-term entertainment value, butter up Prochnow more, and not drastically reduce profits when they had to buy more chains.

She understood all this – basic manipulation of the masses to part them with their money, something she’d employed for years at home – but found it objectionable nonetheless. The way she’d read the troupe and Prochnow himself, she’d thought this a situation where the barest minimum application of her talents would suffice to make things go her way. As it stood, she’d have to actually put forth some effort and actually degrade herself in order to succeed.

At first, escaping the chains without destroying them was rather tricky work. Lindah’s new form still had many differing aspects she didn’t quite understand, and occasionally refused to move in a manner she found desirable. Twice she had to ask Greenstein to shift the chains so she could disentangle an arm she’d trapped in a position impossible to move from without inducing breakage. Her spinal column seemed to required extra persuasion to move beyond a few inches back before she realized there were vertebrae in the wrong spots, and she’d have to use her back muscles in an entirely different manner to proceed.

The more she practiced, however, the easier she found the task. What started as stubborn cricks and hang-ups were gradually revealed as biological differences that needed mastering. While she wasn’t quite sure she’d gotten beyond a journeywoman’s level of skill by the end of the afternoon, she found her form much more flexible than even her original body. Arms glided effortlessly wherever she desired them to go. Legs kicked up as high as her face in a near 180 degree sweep, before swinging all the way around to match the same position from the back. With a little effort, her spine twisted and turned in ways she’d never thought possible, transitioning from bendy swaying to rigid locking with the remarkable ease. Flesh and bone seemed somewhat more malleable too, though she had to halt just short of working her hands through tight spaces – the damage she’d inflicted upon herself the previous night left them too raw to perform such tasks. In fact, if there were any major weaknesses to her talent, it was the perceptible amounts she flinched whenever a chain slid over her bullet wounds.

Within hours, she’d gone from receiving contemptuous looks from Varvara and worried brow-wrinklings from Greenstein to looks bordering on awe from both. If she listened closely, she even caught gasps from the two Bulcao’s when she pulled off a particularly difficult move.

“So,” she hissed out as the forest darkened around them, signaling the arrival of night and the immanent show, “ya two seem pretty strong. Whhhhhhhy don’t ya coordinate withhhhhh thhhhhe othhhhhers an’ take over righhhhht away?” She already knew the practical answer, but wanted to hear them provide an explanation of their own.

Glancing nervously towards where they thought the Bulcao’s were, Greenstein grunted, “Wouldn’t work. Not good enough. Others weak.”

“We may be slightly skilled,” Varvara said, keeping her eyes locked on Lindah, “but most of the other performers are rather. They can barely look after themselves, much less revolt against. To try such a thing would be.”

“Fair nuff,” Lindah murmured, balancing on one knee as she wrapped her left leg around her right. Such willingness to capitulate to authority based on the weakness of a group might be disappointing to hear while attempting to consolidate power, but she was sure once things were going her way, that flaw could work to her advantage. She placed the toes of her twisted leg upon the ground, tensed, and launched herself into a backflip, spinning her legs apart to land rather gracelessly on the ground. For all her improved coordination with this new form, she still couldn’t manage actual locomotion very well.

“Gotta shut up,” Greenstein grunted. “Boss coming.”

Sure enough, the sounds of Greenstein’s ungainly, overheavy footsteps were slowly wending their way through the trees towards the three. Varvara set her face hard once more, casting a steely glare at the spot where Prochnow would emerge, while Greenstein simply turned his torso a few degrees, even this simple action causing his muscles to ripple beneath his skin in an alarming manner. As Lindah brushed herself off, the portly ringleader emerged into the clearing, clapping his hands together.

“RIGHT then! Greenstein, we’re a touch behind schedule in setting up the tents, so I’ll want you leading the goon squad in five minutes! Varvara, Chick-eela and Ching got into another fight while I wasn’t looking, so the JUNGLE OF FREAKS opener is out! That’s good news for you though, since I need a proper follow-up to the Magnificent Wild Woman act, so I’ll be letting you entertain them before Ponk can ready himself, he needs a few hours to ready himself and wasn’t scheduled tonight, you know! And Lordly…”

Prochnow attempted to draw himself up to his full height, but given Lindah’s considerable stature, the effect wasn’t quite impressive in the slightest. His mouth twitched, and he settled instead for wrapping an arm around her waist and leading her away from the clearing, talking all the way.

“Lordly, the Bulcaos were telling me how fast you picked up on Varvara’s tricks. Between you and me,” he said, dropping his voice to a low whisper, “you might make tonight her last! I was PLANNING on swapping the two of you out back and forth to see what you inspire in her, but if you’re as impressive as my boys say, well…”

Lindah glanced down just in time to see him rubbing his fingers together, eyes closed and mouth slightly agape.

“Shhhhhhhhhe stays,” she hissed over his sigh of anticipation. “Shhhhhhhhe’s useful.”

“Stays? Useful?” Prochnow’s eyes narrowed as he tried to stare up into Lindah’s own, and for a moment it seemed likely he would attempt to tell her off. However…

“Of course, of COURSE! Still got lots to teach you! Even a NATURAL needs a teacher sometimes, doesn’t she? Of course, I can’t tolerate any of that dancing they were talking about, sounds ungainly and liable to cut into profits. You’ll just have to stick simple escapes, nothing fancy! If you don’t, it might draw too much attention away from the other performers. Not to mention all the attention we’d get from those outside our usual clientel! And while I AM always looking for ways to increase our profits, something that might bring so much attention all at once would be rather, well…”

It was Lindah’s turn to narrow her eyes. By the tone of his voice, she could tell Prochnow was trying to intimidate her by placing foolish artificial restrictions on her act. She suspected that if she pushed her luck too hard, he’d threaten her with open humiliation in front of the audience, maybe even punishment. But he was a fool, openly revealing his fear of the authorities so often. His type was common enough in her old life – tyrannical only towards the weak, unwilling to exert power over the strong or skilled with anything more than veiled threats and near-miss assassinations. His bodyguards always stopped short of inflicting true pain or debilitation. He allowed his strongman to wander free and be treated almost like an equal among the other workers when useful.

And, she thought as they passed the other freaks, who now stood around watching as several of their own tended to the bird woman’s broken leg and several gashes along the Reverse Manticore’s face, he exerted too much effort on those he could easily terrorize. By keeping the disenfranchised in mortal fear, and the enabled merely angry and resentful, all he’d done was make it easy for someone to show them how meaningless his blustering was, and rally his freaks to tear him limb from limb. There would be no consequences regardless of what she did tonight.

Even as she nodded silent assent to him, only one thought crossed her mind.

She was gonna dance if she fucking wanted to.

For a man of what Lindah now highly suspected was a criminal background, Prochnow was able to set up one hell of a show. The tent they were all expected to perform under bore a dazzling array of colorful stripes – maroons, indigos, jades, and fuchsias all crisscrossing one another in a manner that would make a sober man dizzy after mere moments of staring. For a certain kind of fortune, however, none of Prochnow’s patrons seemed particularly inclined towards sobriety. A few respectable-seeming stragglers looked as though they had come on an ill-advised tip from friends they weren’t likely to take advise from again, but the vast majority were drunkards, low-lives, and general gutter-scum exchanging blood-stained currency for tickets upon badly constructed stock.

Within an hour of their departure from the woods, Lindah found herself waiting around the back of the gaudy tent, listening as the audience roared with laughter and jeers as the one called Halfy staggered about the arena, evidently doing something quite amusing with his disability. She crinkled her brow at the thought of being treated in such a manner, even if it were necessary for her ultimate plan to succeed. If she weren’t careful, she might not let anyone in the audience live…

No, best to not let those thoughts even cross her mind. The odds of things going smoothly were much higher if she simply kept her head empty and focused on nothing but the routine. Just like the night before, rhythm and…

She tugged at the outfit Prochnow had provided her for the act. Very difficult to go with the flow when the skimpy black two-piece she’d been provided pinched at her in such awkward spots. The beads strung between the two strips of cloth across her spheres kept catching in her cleavage, the hanging strings were constantly irritating her midriff, and though she was more than used to wearing a tiara, sweeps and sweeps of getting used to her own meant the weight and positioning of this one was entirely wrong. No matter how much she fidgeted with her costume, it simply did not feel right on her body. Some of that was doubtless down to the fact that she had not yet inhabited it for 24 hours, but she couldn’t shake the feeling Prochnow had deliberately made it so terribly uncomfortable on purpose.

“And NOW…!”

No matter. The crowd roared as Halfy hopped out the back, casting a forlorn sidelong glance at Lindah (Murry did not appear for reasons she preferred to not dwell upon). With a quick grinding of her teeth, she stepped before the flap, waiting Prochnow’s word. Rhythm and flow, rhythm and flow, rhythm and flow.

“…regular visitors to our finest of freakshow acts may know that after that HILARIOUS double-act there, I prefer to entertain you with a little show from Varvara the Vicarious Invertible! I am therefore sorry to say, my lords and ladies of the night, that Varvara has become tragically… INDISOPSED!” He let the crowd have a small riot before calling them to attention again. “Yes, yes, terrible inconvenience! After all, a contortionist of that caliber is not too readily found… OR IS SHE? For you see my excellent friends, on the night before this, I have found a more than suitable replacement for our lovely Varvara! A wild woman, a giant of a woman, a MONSTER of a woman whom I have tamed in the merest span of a single DAY!”

Lindah almost clawed her way through the flap, but resisted the impulse. Rhythm and flow…

“So now, with the aid of Greenstein and his world famous Krishna Krusher, I am please to present unto you, the very first appearance of LINDA LORALDRY, THE CORKSCREWING CAVEWOMAN OF THE COPSE!”

Through the flap and into the dimly lit tent she went. The only bright spot in sight – a small circle in the dead center, where Greenstein stood lopsided, clutching a thicker length of chain than any they practiced with. Keeping a sway in her step and her head held high, Lindah came to halt before him, gazing imperiously around at the crowd overhead. Out the corner of her eye, she caught Prochnow, watching the scene with an all too clear expression of mania upon his face.

She drew in a breath as Greenstein bound her. The knots and loops he’d tied that very afternoon must not have indicated his true skill with the chains, for she felt far more constrained as her arms were locked behind her back, her legs crossed and ankles bound in opposite direction, her neck arched back to the point of cracking. Several lengths of chain were braided through her hair, and her jaws forced open to accommodate a single link between them – neither strictly necessary for binding her in any manner to a casual eye, but still contributing to a sensation of total constriction.

As the misshapen strongman stepped away, Lindah felt the eyes of the crowd upon her. If she simply closed her own eyes for a moment and focused, she could easily imagine herself reinstated to her old status, billions of eyes trained upon her as a figure of rapture and awe, not degrading entertainment. There was need for a similar dynamic here, to surprise them with a sudden display of force, but not of the sort she was used to. True, she could easily use her new form’s strength to shatter the chains, but such an immediate exhibition would have poor long-term effect. What she truly needed to do was lead them on.

For a few seconds, she simply stood stock still, twitching only the tiniest, most imperceptible amounts. It did not take her long to find the weak links in Greenstein’s elaborate knots (all things considered, he’d hidden them incredibly obviously), but she kept the discovery quiet. The stands around her filled with murmurs of doubt, a few early jeers darting out sporadically. They thought her inadequate, incapable of delivering the sort of show Prochnow’s impressive introduction had promised. She allowed her struggles to grow slightly more frantic, prompting a sudden rash of booing.

And then, just as the first can bounced off the dirt to her right, she acted. Sipping a knee out of place, she jerked her leg up, loosening the chain before sending it in a sweeping arc that dislodged it entirely. As her foot hit the ground and the knee slid back into place, she used the momentum to twist her spine, giving her upper body a greater capacity for shimmying. Rocking her torso back and forth, she dislodged a few key loops holding her other leg ramrod straight, and leapt into the air. With a dramatic “Ptoo!” she spat out the link in her mouth, which, cleverly enough, had tightened the slack on the loops about her arms. One dramatic flourish later, they too were free, prompting the rest of her metallic straightjacket to collapse to the ground around her, leaving only the loops tangled in her hair.

Were it just her body that hit the floor of the tent, it would have already rattled the stands and caused the supports to shift in an threatening way. However, as she fell back to earth, Lindah whipped her hair around, sending the thirty-foot length of chain tearing dangerously close to the audience. Settling into a gyrating motion, she built up speed with a few more loops about the arena before jerking her neck forward, and causing the deadly flying restraints to crash down to earth.

Lightning might have struck each attendee’s ears directly for the thunderous roar of fast moving metal connecting with sold ground. The sound echoed through the forest, and Lindah elatedly tuned in to the utter lack of movement. She caught Greenstein out the corner of her eye, frozen to the spot, mid-stride to tie her up again. In the shadows, Prochnow, his face invisible, his posture unreadable.

A smile played across her lips. She’d made her show of force alright. Now to clench it.

She began to dance.

It was easy. Laughably, impossibly easy. Though never a dancer of any kind in her old life – her status called more for alternations between ruthless efficient slaughter and long periods of sedentary contemplation – her new body responded to whatever wild idea crossed her mind. Starting slow, she simply swayed back and forth, extending or twisting limbs in impossible ways to demonstrate what she was capable of. Elbows twisted backwards, spinal columns shifted too far out of place, hips buckled in conjuncture with bending legs in a way that should not support such a massive weight. But she was only starting.

Even without music, she felt the rhythm and flow of her own body. Her limbs whirled about with wild abandon, joints snapping in and out of place as tendons extended and contracted with almost audible snaps. She flopped onto her stomach and flipped her legs straight up into the air, tap-dancing them around her head and raising a cloud of dust. She flipped over herself in a series of backflips, hands and feet connecting with the ground before the already earthbound set left, and her spine didn’t complain one whit. She allowed her neck to go loose and send her head flying about as she stormed from one side of the arena to the other, yet it always seemed to stop just short of jerking into an injury.

And all the while, she kept the chain looped through her hair moving, crashing into the walls of the stands and eliciting shrieks of fear and excitement. With a little effort, she created a jump-rope with it, before whipping about along the floor for further leaping action. It flashed and glinted in the dim light, its cracks and snaps often complimenting her own body’s shifts into impossible positions.

The audience absolutely loved it. Lindah’s act held them under her thrall for a solid ten minutes, drawing out rapturous applause at every new twist and turn of her loose, limber form. None of the mocking jeers or derisive laughter that met the act before her echoed from the stands now – she had them all, hook, line and sinker, rather appropriately. Good odds were, she’d absolutely ruined any other acts Prochnow had lined up tonight.

Finally, after much whipping and whirling, enough to work up a glimmering sweat across her exposed body, she moved in for the kill. Swinging her neck about in arcs once more, she allowed the chain to come closer and closer to her legs, until with a SNAP it connected and began wrapping itself tightly about her once more. The rapidity with which it smacked into her flesh over and over again made several audience members retch, while others hooted and hollered as it slapped against certain sensitive portions of anatomy. In seconds, she was bound once more from head to toe, one link bound tightly about her throat.

Applause turned to shocked silence as she swayed back and forth, gagging quite audibly for all to hear. A few strands of drool appeared at her lips as the teeth behind them gnashed for air, her eyes rolling wildly. Even she thought, for just the briefest moment, that she might have gone just a bit too far…

Then she flexed in just the right way, and the chains burst into a million pieces, ripping holes in the tent and knocking into drunkards as they flew off into oblivion.

Lindah wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest if she could take over the entire operation right then and there, so deafening was the response to her final stunt. Bowing over and over again, she knew a few more performances like that would rocket her to the star of the show, that a consistent display of skill and prowess like that would make her a very wealthy illegal freakshow owner in less than a sweep, that…

Prochnow had stepped out of the shadows, and was making some speech to the audience, but his words failed to penetrate Lindah’s ears. She was too focused upon his face: although his words were as jocular and booming as ever, she saw a glint of steel in his eyes she recognized all too well. In offering her performance in such a spectacular, show-stealing manner, she’d crossed the same line a million exceptional rebels and resistance leaders had, and likely earned a similar level of severe punishment. Even though she doubted Prochonw could offer up horrors even remotely equivalent to those she devised as Empress of Alternia, the lividness coloring his eyes was more than enough to cue her up to the profound wrongness of her initial judgments.

Well, she thought, meeting his gaze, if that was how things were to be, that’s how they’d be. Even if the consequences proved far more severe than initially anticipated, she’d taken her first step towards freedom, and so long as she kept with the rhythm and flow of what came next, a little torture wasn’t going to set HER back.

Prochnow caught the evil smirk upon her lips, and his eyes narrowed into slits.

“Glubbin’ perfect.”