What did I just do?!
She was crazy. Nervous beyond belief and surrounded by angry foreign words spoken through monstrous throats, she immediately slipped back into the wall, immersing herself in the layer of darkness that it provided. Immediately, however, she noticed there was no connection to the shadow-streams, making them more into just… lakes, as they weren’t connected to other sides.
That made her feel even more in danger, and thus, crazier.
Why did I let go? Oh by the ancestors, I really am the fool.
She had released her contact with the Sorcerer at the very last moment because of what she had seen in the room that, she knew, neither the Sorcerer nor the Hunter would care about. And she thought she didn’t care about, but when the time came to leave it behind, she had not been able to do it.
All the effort Kagekawa had put into her training, and brainwashing, had, after all, exerted some effect.
She had seen the eye slits. The shadow lenses. The equipment she could put over her eyes so she could clearly and instantly see all aspects of the world of shadows, the reflection of reality that she had the ability to travel through. It was the most important element of the identity of the Shadow, a veritable legacy which went as far as Kagekawa was concerned. She was so scared but, contradicting that, every fiber of her being was pushing her to stay…and get it back.
She watched as more guards leaped out of the room, crashing out the corridor and away. The alarm continued. She held her breath and dove into the shadows as deep as she could and then moved onward towards the door. She was upside-down as if swimming in a lake, her chest and face kept hidden by nothing but the mist and their choice not to look up. When long seconds went past without any more guards passing by, she swiftly moved inside the room. Thankfully, the entrance was as tall as the ceiling.
She kept her breathing quiet and light, and watched as the other humanoids surrounded the one who the Mad Genius had shot in the head…it was hard to believe that really happened, even seeing it in front of her. The man really was mad.
They seemed upset, sad, but mostly angry. One of them had walked around to face the rest and began delivering some kind of speech. It silenced the rest of them, getting their attentions and, within seconds, their hearts. They voiced in agreement, spurring what she guessed was the new leader on in a language she didn’t understand. In fact, it was the vocalization itself that she didn’t really understand, it seemed to completely ignore the use of the nose.
Then, for some reason, the leader reached down and grabbed hold of the Shadow’s lenses…they were, as she had noticed beforehand, on the table right in front of the now deceased leader. He had probably kept them as some kind of prize.
Maybe his body can still be found, should I search for it?
The priority were the lenses, she knew any Shadow worth the title would agree to that, and what happened next forced her yet again to go against every instinct of hers, and at the same time, to follow up with every instinct of the Shadow. The new leader grabbed the lenses and every physical tell that she could read informed her he was about to crush them. He held them in front of him, his vocalizations were angry and loud and foreboding and vindictive.
The Shadow’s hand moved without much thought, and so did she.
A light ignited in an explosion of smoke, catching them all by surprise, causing them to wince in unexpected blind reaction. She landed on the table and jabbed the new leader in the face while forcing his hand open with a quick twist of the wrist. The jabbing fist opened and swiped down and to the side, taking the lenses off the air. She leaped back, shoving the lenses through her top. It would probably fall down into her pants but there was no exit point there, so that was safe.
Yelling followed her leap out of the room now filled with smoke. Despite the language barrier, she could tell how some were insulting with profanities while others concerned commands and demands.
The Shadow had to run, at least for a while, the shadow wells in the corridors were not deep enough for her to disappear into, she would be noticed if properly searched.
On the corridor, she was immediately met with a beast, a guard. It was turning to see what the commotion was about. She turned, to pass him on his bad side, and continued running. Soon as she was able, she turned a corridor, hearing a loud landing crash behind her seconds later.
Her mind was empty.
The Shadow saw she was headed to an end that split two ways, so she threw a smoke bomb right at the wall there so it couldn’t be seen which way she went. Of course, the greater problem was she didn’t know what way she was going. When she had stayed, she assumed she would be able to use her shadow arts to traverse the walls and leave, but that was apparently impossible.
Her mind was no longer empty.
I am going to die.
The thought had crossed her mind several times before in her life, but as she thought it, this time, she felt different about it. Like she really believed it.
She ran around, not being shy to deplete her ammo of smoke bombs, sending one every time there was more than one way to take, and then picking at random. That was their vessel she was running through, however: their corridors, their home base, and little by little, she was found herself being cornered.
By the time she thought to give stealth a better chance, the corridors were being sucked clean of the mist. They looked made of chiseled rock, almost marble onyx is what it reminded her of.
More importantly, everything was dark, what shadows she could have inhabited was made from the supernatural mists that they had just vacuumed.
The Shadow had no way to hide and knew not one single way to escape.
I killed myself. What honor is there in this? I should have left…and prolonged my usefulness. This was such folly, this was—
She was interrupted when she heard a different sound. She had heard it before, but because of all the alarm, in both the actual noise and in her nervous system, she only realized it was there – and approaching – when it was almost right on top of her.
It was laughter.
The face of her savior was the freakiest thing she had ever seen, even, or maybe especially, in that place. She could swear that his jester hat, half red half black, was stitched to his face. The face itself was covered in makeup, whitened with black over his lips and teeth, and around his eyes in such a way that when he closed them, it made an a cross that looked to be stitching them shut.
The rest of the attire seemed regular jester nonsense, only darker and more fashioned to intimidate than to entertain. It also did not help that it was aged and ill-maintained; sporting patches here and there, the unwinding of fabric, and a general look of a lack of upkeep.
More notably so, while the Shadow was most likely looking grim, the man was laughing out loud, having the time of his life.
“Upsy daisy,” was all he said as he hopped out of colliding with the Shadow, apparently giving her no more thought as he ran off.
He got here with the Mad Genius and the eye. Her mind ran off. They can’t teleport, they must have come in at a specific location!
“Wooohoooo hahahaha,” he turned a corner and kept running, guards leaping after them but not fast enough to catch him. Even her, running at the top if her speed, was quickly losing ground.
“I said wait!” She desperately threw a flash bomb, her reach, at least, being enough to pass by him. She closed her eyes in preparation, saw the flash through her eyelids, and then opened them again to see him continuing his run.
How? Did he see it coming and closed his eyes too?
But as she was thinking it, he giggled his way right into a wall. She winced at his impact, “OOF!” He bounced off and fell squarely on his back, unconscious.
Oh, ancestors! I think I just killed him!
She quickly approached to crouch next to him. She nudged him a bit too frantically.
“Hey. Hey hey hey, come now, wake up! Wake up, I need you!”
But the beasts weren’t far off. She had but a few seconds before the crashing turned a corner and saw her. She grunted in desperation. Why did he have to be crazy?! It was so close, her salvation was right there…sleeping.
Dead… she thought to herself, shaking her head.
The Shadow ran.
She ran but because of him, she was even lost to what her escape route had been now. In her beginner’s mind, the hope of salvation had wiped her memory clean of the turns and twists she had taken so far, the map she was building in her map now lost. It didn’t take long for her to run into a patrolling guard coming from the only corridor she could run to while still being chased by a couple who were crashing their way through the corridor she had come from.
Better two than four, however, so she decided she was going to attempt to run past them. She turned and simply dashed as fast she could. She surprised them, they both pulled back as she ran straight at them. They lunged but she had the element of surprise and was able to hop and spin out of contact, the things crashing against the ground like spiked pistons, giving her the greatest fright yet.
She sped and she dashed, she heard them lunging after her and she turned to left instead of right, hoping to outrun their landing as she had been doing. But as she turned, her peripheral vision saw one of them had leaped to intercept her. It was in the air, a second away from hitting. She hardly had time to open her eyes in realization before she was pushed out of the way to the sound of a “ha!”
She heard a big crash as her vision went blank from thinking it was dead. Her senses returned a moment later after her vision had wised up, to a human howl. She turned back to see the Circus Freak, his left arm pinned and crushed against the wall by one of the beast’s claws. She also noticed the other one was at the opposite end, so they had leaped for different sides to make sure they would finally catch her. There would have been no way to avoid them, except for that… the jester had…saved her?
“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! $##$$!” He laughed out-loud, maniacally, she assumed it was to handle the pain he must have been feeling. “THEY COMPLETELY IGNORED ME!” he laughed some more. “BASTARDS!” He hopped and twisted his body to put both his feet on the massive beast’s arm. And in one horrifying push, he detached himself from his arm.
He landed on his back, rolled around to her side. “All they want is you!” he laughed some more and used his good arm to pull her up. “All I want is to piss ‘em off!” and laughed again.
He pulled her along as he started a run.
“Stop! We need to tie your wound, at least, you will bleed to death!”
He laughed, raising his arm in response…and kept running.
She didn’t have words. He kept giggling, laughing. He was saving her and, at the same time, scaring her further than the beasts had. He was holding his…half forearm up and forward, so that with their running speed, most of the blood would stay inside what piece of arm he had left. It looked ridiculous, his running stance, and it was mind-boggling he could handle the pain so much as to do that.
It didn’t work perfectly of course, just enough, but not enough to spare the Shadow from taking droplets of blood to her face, further worsening the impression of it all.
They ran into a guard.
“Slide, ninja girl, SLIDE!” He pulled and flung her forward and her instincts kicked in and she used the momentum to indeed slide under and through the beast’s limbs, spinning mid-slide to dodge a claw thrust. She saw the Circus Freak kicking off the beast’s head, he had used it as a jumping platform. He slapped the ceiling yelling “chicken!” and landed just as she was standing up.
“Keep up now, ninja girl!”
He used his good arm to hold the other up, no longer pulling her along. The fact he couldn’t hold the arm up on its own was so far the only legitimate proof she had that he was human.
After a couple of minutes of running, the alarm sound now driving her so crazy that the Circus Freak’s mad cackling was actually welcoming, she began to wonder if he even remembered the way.
“Hey! You know where you’re going?”
“I always know where I’m going! Might just not know how to get there!” He laughed, but that didn’t really relieve her concern. She gulped and didn’t ask, there didn’t seem to be a point in talking to him.
After a few more minutes, it became evident that he did know how to get there.
He led her to a hole in a corridor. There was a standing guard there, but she used her last smoke bomb on it and, thanks to that, they overcame it and finally escaped the facility.
Once outside, the mists were thick with shadows again. Normal buildings, normal light, normal shadows. She felt a lot more at home, but for some reason, she kept following him. She felt responsible for him losing the arm, and potentially bleeding to death. If she could help–
“What are you doing?” He suddenly asked, hopping into a walking-speed, wave his bleeding arm at her dismissively. “go! Hide away and leeavvee, they’ll be so angry!” He laughed out loud.
“But what about you? How will you be able to escape in such a shape?”
“Me?” He suddenly had a serious look on his face, his voice growing dramatic. “It is alright, girl.” He stopped, making her also stop, and approached her. He suddenly looked serious. “For I shall be remembered by those who matter… and forever shall I live on…inside of you.” He laid his hand on her shoulder, pausing for effect. He looked her in the eyes and squeezed her shoulder throughfully. Intimately. She didn’t know how to react as he whispered: “deep and forever in your…”
Then he shoved his face in her head, squeezing his hand dangerously with eyes closed so as to show those crosses, and with such a hideous grin on his face that she would take long to forget. And with a voice contorted into a monstrous throat noise, he somehow whispered a yell, or yelled a whisper: “nightmares!”
She couldn’t help but shiver, widening her eyes in a terrified look. In reaction, he pulled away with one cackled, then abruptly pushed her away so hard she tripped and fell down.
He ran off laughing.