The crew bustled around the stage, making last minute adjustments to lighting and props. Kiza bounced on her heels, the ball of apprehension in the pit of her stomach sending bolts of energy through her limbs. The djinn tugged on a long black braid and wiped sweat from her blue-skinned brow. Next to her, the sphynx, Nara, patiently waited while the make-up artist highlighted her golden cheekbones and smoothed brown feathers back into place along pert wings. The hairstylist twisted the long, honey-gold mane into a chignon and brushed loose fur from her hide.
The sphynx rolled a tawny eye at her handler, sharp canines peeking from between bright red lips.
"Your anxious prancing is distracting. Calm yourself, I will not lose."
She glanced over at the show's first contestant being similarly preened on the other side of the stage. He was middle-aged and balding, with a paunch grown from too much beer and too little exercise.
"I do wish they had provided a leaner one. These Americans give me heartburn."
Kiza blanched under her cerulean hue.
"You cannot eat him, Nara. This is a game. If you win, he merely goes home without any treasure."
Nara scoffed, smiling at her the way one would at an ill-informed child.
"That is not how the game is played. I have done this many times, Kiza. The game is mine."
Her stomach turned cold. Her greatest fear about this whole game show fiasco was quickly becoming reality. Who's idea was it anyway to hire a real live sphynx to host a trivia show? These silly people cared for nothing but gimmicks and the bottom line. They didn't understand the nature of a sphynx, their bloodlust and obsession with proving their superiority at brainteasers.
Kiza should never have let it get this far. She told Kevin, their boss at Extravaganza Circus, to refuse to loan Nara out to the show. The fee, however, had been too much for Kevin to refuse. The producers wanted a Shade monster, but it didn't have to be a real sphynx. Her boss could easily have told Meegan to give them an illusion, one that would film real enough without the danger of tangible claws and teeth.
It was too late, now. The deal had been struck, the contracts signed. Kiza and Nara were to film eight episodes or risk litigation. Kiza didn't think they'd last even one.
Catching sight of Mr. Davidson just off-stage, she rushed over to reason with the trend-savvy business man one last time. She grabbed his elbow and tugged, forcing him to look her in the eye.
"Please, Mr. Davidson, you cannot do this. Nara is not a pet, and she does not think like you humans. The game is real for her."
He jerked his arm from her grasp, smoothing wrinkles the djinn's thin blue fingers had left. His smile was bland, business-like, and not nearly as concerned as he should be.
"Perfect. A bit of realism to liven up the crowd. They love off the cuff banter."
"This is serious. She cannot host. Can't you use an illusion instead?"
Mr. Davidson narrowed his eyes, glancing over at Nara in the final stages of wardrobe with uncertainty. He pursed his lips, recalling the huge investments his company had laid on the venture. VeilFilm Enterprises was counting on a Shade celebrity success to rejuvenate their failing empire.
"Why? Did she forget her lines? Don't worry, we've got cue cards in case she stumbles. Everything will go smoothly."
"Look, the cameras are about to roll. Can she say her lines, or not?"
Kiza sighed, her shoulders slumping as she abandoned warning the stage manager of the impending doom.