Having watched all of Celia’s performances that evening, Marco stays behind when the rest of the audience leaves. Celia asks him to perform an illusion so he covers the inside of the tent with love letters. Celia jokes that Marco shouldn’t work so hard to impress his opponent, and they speak about how neither of them fully understands the game. When their conversation turns to their instructors, Celia tells Marco about how her father was able to shed himself of his physical form, but neglected to bind himself to anything, thereby cursing himself to remain adrift and constantly struggling to keep himself together.
Marco changes the illusion so that they’re standing on a great ship made of books in the middle of the ocean. As Marco leans in to kiss her, she turns away and says that she doesn’t want to complicate things. She tells him that she feels like she is losing control when she is with him and that she struggles to keep control in the first place. Marco asks her to run away with him and Celia tells him that they can’t. She explains that when he kissed her at the anniversary party, she thought about running away with him but was overcome with pain. Marco buckles with pain when he repeats the exercise. Marco asks why they can’t be together during the challenge, and Celia reveals that she cannot keep control of the circus while he distracts her. Realizing that Celia is constantly using her power to retain control of the circus, Marco lets the topic together drop. They spend the evening on the illusion boat telling each other stories. Before they part, Marco gives her a card with the address to his flat on it.
Poppet visits Bailey’s farm while he is tending to the sheep. To Bailey’s surprise, she asks him to come with the circus when it leaves. She explains that she had a vision that there will be no more circus if Bailey doesn’t go with them, and reveals that the circus is already starting to crumble. Poppet gives him a gift from Widget, which is a bottle that has a memory of the oak tree on his farm inside. Poppet kisses Bailey on the lips. After, Bailey knows that he will follow her.
Celia looks for the man in the grey suit at his hotel. She waits in the lobby and speaks with no one until he arrives. When he does, they have a conversation but its details are not revealed. Celia leaves and the man in the grey suit stands in the lobby for some time.
Intersections I: The Drop of a Hat
On All Hallows’ Eve in 1901, Marco visits Isobel’s tent to tell her that he is in love with Celia and to end things between them. When Marco leaves, she closes for the night and unearths an old hat box from its hiding spot. She retrieves an intricate charm that she weaved years earlier. The charm contains a bowler hat, a handkerchief with Celia’s initials, and the Temperance card. Though it was a precaution to keep the scales of the circus from breaking, she takes it apart. A moment passes and she doesn’t feel anything change, but then the quiet of her tent is shattered by Poppet Murray screaming.
Darkest Before the Dawn
On All Hallows’ Eve of 1902, Poppet and Widget wait by the gates for Bailey to arrive. Poppet tells Widget that she worries Bailey doesn’t understand why it’s important for him to leave with the circus. Poppet wonders why her sight is getting worse when Widget’s is getting better. She tells Widget about seeing the courtyard on fire in her vision and admits that she still hasn’t told Celia about it because Celia has been distracted with something else. Widget offers to kidnap Bailey, but Poppet declines and continues to wait by the gate.
“Stormy Seas” solves a key mystery of the novel by explaining how Hector turned himself into a ghostly apparition. That Celia reveals the truth of her father’s failed magical experiment to Marco is ironic because he is her opponent. The tone of suspense increases because the information could ostensibly be used to harm her. The fact that the information peaks Marco’s intellectual curiosity foreshadows that Hector’s vanishing magic may ultimately have a bigger role to play in the challenge. Similarly, Celia reveals her vulnerability to Marco when she admits she is constantly using her magic to keep the circus together, which is becoming increasing difficult for her to maintain. When Marco and Celia perform illusions for each other, they are both revealing their vulnerabilities and centering the dangerous, but driving force of magic within the novel. The tone of “Stormy Seas” is both tender and uncertain, leaving the fate of Marco and Celia’s relationship and the lives of everyone entangled in the circus up in the air.
Marco and Celia’s relationship both deepens and reaches an impasse as they struggle to reconcile their love for one another against the requirements of the challenge. The discovery that attempting to walk away from the challenge causes them both physical pain is a metaphor for the pain their love is creating in their lives. The fact that a relationship with Marco would distract Celia to the point of collapsing the circus leaves their relationship in limbo. Marco and Celia's attempts to brainstorm a solution that will end the challenge and allow them to be together reinforces the theme of the struggle for autonomy, particularly when their ideas repeatedly fail. It is ironic that the challenge which thrust Celia and Marco together against their wills is also the thing that is keeping them from exercising their autonomy by being together.
Poppet’s visit to Bailey’s farm serves two pivotal functions in the novel: it explains that the circus is starting to degrade and it highlights the way that Bailey’s relationship with Poppet has changed Bailey’s outlook. Poppet’s explanation of how the circus is beginning to deteriorate adds an urgency to the observations that others have made about it changing, especially when she reveals what she has seen in her visions of the circus’s future. While several other characters have made offhanded mentions of how the circus was beginning to act strangely or degrade as time went on, it is Poppet’s entreaty that reveals the urgency of the situation. Significantly, Bailey’s doubts are immediately dispelled the moment Poppet kisses him. The kiss and the prospect of being with Poppet reveals the power of love when it drives indecision from his mind and convinces him to uproot his entire life.
The love triangle between Marco, Celia, and Isobel finally comes to a head when Marco directly ends things with Isobel. Marco has long treated Isobel with cold indifference, but her love for him has kept her willfully ignorant of his feelings. The motif of tarot cards reinforces the breakup when Marco draws La Papessa, the Priestess, the card which symbolized Celia years earlier in Prague. Though the tarot has been providing Isobel with the truth all along, this final reading allows her to accept the truth. As a result of the breakup, Isobel finally releases over a decade of pent up heartbreak when she destroys the secret charm she made many years before as a means of protecting the circus from being torn apart by the opposing pulls of Marco and Celia’s magic over the course of the challenge. The consequences create an immediate tone of sinister dread when mere moments later, Isobel hears Poppet screaming from another part of the circus. Poppet’s scream confirms that Isobel’s charm was an effective spell, but the mystery over what causes her to scream serves to drive the plot forward.