“Wha—” the yell came from outside, “how’d they get out there?!”
The door was left half pushed open, with all assortments of items keeping it that way, an inch away from spotting the Circus Freak. He looked at her confused. She motioned at him to wait, a finger in the air and gingerly moved her crouch to an angle from which she could look outside. She saw no one one and shrugged back at his companion.
“Huh. What’d you do?”
The Hunter shrugged again and straightened up, taking yet another breath while checking on her cheek to make sure it wasn’t bleeding. It wasn’t.
“Well, let’s keep going, I guess?”
She nodded in agreement and allowed him to clear the entrance, or exit, and pull the door open. The alarm was still flaring, and somewhere in the distance, bullets were being fired, things seemed to be bursting or exploding. There was a fight going on.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
They looked after the voice, landing eyes on someone they quickly associated with the Magni. The figure wore a red robe, only the sleeves were different, both on the arms and the legs, they were made of a lighter tone and spiraled down to the appendages, hands and feet, the fabric getting lighter and darker erratically. He wore a scarf with four ends and also had similar fabric ends tied to his wrists and thighs.
Circus Freak giggled, which no longer came as a surprise, it seemed to be his standard response for everything.
“Who’re you, now?”
“I am the Illusionist,” responded the man, “head spy for the House of Magni. I have been sent to assist you.”
The Circus Freak chuckled again.
“He rhymed,” he whispered to her, conspiratorially.
“We know where we are going.”
She turned her back to the Illusionist and moved along.
“Keep up or give up, scarfy,” the clown told him, giving him a thumbs up.
“I will be watching.”
So Eliza had sent backup.
The Illusionist used some of his magic to direct her assailants away, did that mean they were now free to seek out their prize? Would he keep them hidden? She could have asked. Then again, she could have said no to the mission and gone back to Thunuk and the guild to rest and heal up.
The Hunter was tired, she knew from how many breathing pauses she was taking. She turned a corner just as the sound system flared up again with a bothersome whine.
“IT’S THE BEASTS! They’ve been spotted in the city heading this way! Damn you LBA bastards, stop this, we can’t, ourselves like th–Gahk! Guuuhhh….”
The sound of a man dying clearly filled the halls, stopping them in their tracks. She looked up in thought, wondering who that had been. LBA, most likely. No matter what had happened to the announcer, there was no denying the sight of the beasts was alarming.
A beast showed up for the amulet in the deepest reaches of the jungle. Can they track it, somehow?
The wound on her back throbbed. “We need to hurry,” she said gravely.
“UUuuuu. So dramatic!”
“You have lost to the beasts, too, do you wish to face them again?”
“We’ll have to,” he shrugged, “I’m not scared, they’re slow and stuff, they can’t catch me.”
“They caught you before,” she looked at his stump.
“No, they caught the Shadow,” he grinned in explanation, “they can’t catch me.”
The commotion on the sound died out, going silent, and one second later, a cold voice came out, skewed and ruined by the chaos of noise surrounding it, made up of static, explosions, the alarm, and the all-around, all-encompassing yelling.
“This is the Darkness. I am here on behalf of the Shadow Conclave to deliver a message.”
They looked up in wonder but did not stop moving.
“I will be patrolling the tower. Every man and woman I find not fleeing for their lives…will have their light snuffed out of them.”
“This is the Warlock,” a much gruffer voice sounded, not cold or unfeeling, but vengeful and full of wrath. “I don’t care if you’re tryin’ to run.”
Whatever was used to relay the voice was then destroyed, and the whole feed died out.
“Well,” the Circus Freak reacted, without much waiting. “We got the anarchist idiots, some beasts on their way, and now these guys. Talk about a clusterfugdge, huh?”
The Warlock and the Darkness. They were counterparts belonging to the Kagekawa and the House of Magni, and in a way, to the Zoo Keeper. The three were the veritable warriors of their guilds, often used on assassinations or combat actions.
To have both of them working together against you? The Shadow Conclave had, it seemed, truly run out of patience.
The Hunter tried to keep focused, however, and led them, the clown and the now invisible presence that was the Illusionist, to a door that was essentially a sheet of cloth.
Inside, left forgotten on top of a table that was otherwise cleaned up, was a small leather pouch.
She felt an ambush in that.
“That’s one of the things, right?”
“Shh. Leave the room.”
The Hunter waved him back and then carefully stepped towards the table, looking carefully. She found that there was a cup of water, filled halfway, left forgotten on another part of the room. She inspected it, finding it was full of dust, it had been there for a while.
Zaniyah grabbed the cup of water and brought it to the table, replacing the pouch in a swift movement that prioritized not spilling one single drop.
She grabbed hold of it and felt it.
“It’s the dust.”
“What was all that about,” the Circus Freak giggled, “nothing happened.”
“That was the goal.”
She lifted his hands in mock surrender.
“Hm, alright fine, so that’s one outta two. Where’s the amulet?”
“I will search,” the voice said from outside of the room, unseen. The air sucked itself as the man’s presence vanished.
“Man, these guys’re all pretty creepy, huh?”
Zaniyah found herself nodding.
She had to agree with that.
Zaniyah used a string to tie the pouch to her free thigh, the other had the few daggers she carried, and motioned at him to leave.
“We are not without our methods, however.”
“Gonna use that freaky predator sense, again?”
The Hunter looked at him accusingly, how did he know about that?
“It will not work.”
Everyone was fearing for their lives too much, no longer in standard combat mode. They had, obviously, things they feared to lose because of that, all personal now that their survivor instincts were kicking in, whether they fought them or not for the sake of their duty. That meant too many alternative belongings for her to hone in on.
She didn’t feel like explaining all of that, though.
“It just won’t.”
They ran around for a few minutes, looking for someone to interrogate. Instead, they ran into old friends of the Circus Freak. Far as she could tell from his reaction.
“Hey!” He pointed joyfully – with his stump, of course – “it’s you guys!”
Three armored man, two of them brown, the other gray, all sporting piston-like mechanisms attached to their limbs, and small chimneys on their shoulders, faced the two thieves.
They looked ragged and tired, and most of their soot and rusted appearance was made worse by the quantity of blood sprayed around their armor, product of their fighting.
“You have spat in our faces, Freak,” the one in gray pointed back, “now, you will spit in blood!”
“Well I don’t have a problem with that! I’ll spit in your blood, no problem, is any o’ that yours?”
The man’s pointing finger wavered. His mind thinking through the reply.
The Circus Freak let both his arms fall and leaned forward like a dead beast, eyes shut and grin wide.
“Just askin’ if any o’ the blood on you is yours, or if I need to draw some. To spit on.”
“I believe you said he will spit in blood, sir,” one of the brown ones said, “which don’t make much sense if ya think about it, unless you mean he will spit, like, in blood. As in in a puddle of bloo–”
“Oh,” he brought his pointing finger all the way back. “Well hogdung, I made a mess of my threat. Forget that, I’ll take another go.”
What is wrong with these people?
The Hunter tapped the Circus Freak and turned to run away. The clown followed immediately, laughing.
The floor cracked beneath their movement as they gave chase, their feet heavy and powerful.
“Come back here and fight, damn you!”
The Circus Freak laughed as he casually overtook the Hunter who was serious in her run, and even more so after he just ran past her like she was jogging at a tempered rate.
She followed him into a room and down the stairs, at which point he made a turn and escaped her sight.
“Wait,” she embarrassingly whispered.
She made the corner and came into contact with his chest.
“Ouf.” He grabbed her by the shoulders to keep her steady.
“Whoah now, keep steady,” he chuckled, “sorry about that.”
She stepped away and around him, resuming the run.
“We should not separate.”
“No yeah, I agree, got ahead o’ myself there,” he laughed.
He wasn’t trying to be patronizing but that’s how she felt. Annoyed, she failed to hesitate when next they ran with someone, this time members of the Tech Guild.
These were different, however, they had swords which were connected to gadget-looking hilts. Again, though, she didn’t hesitate, she charged straight into one of the three, dagger in hand.
The blade was serrated. Soon as her own met with it, the sword whirred and trembled, spinning the blade like a saw. Her dagger chipped before she could pull it back. She also hopped back as another tried to hit her.
Her situational awareness informed her that, again, she got the short end of the stick. One of the swordsman had focused on the Circus Freak while the other two had focused on her.
She pulled out her blowgun and shot a dart point-blank at the forehead of one of them, immediately dodging a swing the second later all while smacking aside one of the swords with a violent enough strike of her dagger to ignore the sawing.
The Hunter turned and swung her blowgun to hit away the saw blade while spinning both herself to twist her dagger arm and sink it into the man’s neck behind her. At that moment, however, her peripheral vision caught something threatening to her life speed towards her. She twisted to try and avoid it to the sound of the Circus Freak yelling. Still, something tore into her sides.
She looked back at the source to find the man the Circus Freak had been fighting with a bladeless hilt, getting slammed into the ground by a very angry jester. The blade had apparently been fired at her, to maybe try and save one of his comrades.
That wasn’t the crazy clown’s interpretation however.
“WHY DO YOU KEEP IGNORING ME?!?!” His rage was palpable, almost as much as was her new wound.
“YOU SHUT U–” the clown interrupted himself and, terrifyingly, bit the tip of a finger off the man.
Yells filled the room as the Hunter herself opened her eyes in shock.
“Ptiu!” The Circus Freak backhanded the man and shoved his hand over his eyes, ignoring his cries for help. “I WILL BITE OFF EVERY PART O’ THAT HAND, YOU THINK YOU CAN IGNORE ME?!”
Zaniyah looked down at her side, the thing had sawed quite a new wound, her top was already drenched in blood as a result. She’d be angry the Circus Freak was still unscathed but he seemed to be angry enough for both of them, and maybe even for the rest of the tower as well.
She reached into her own pouch and got some herbs out, sitting down so she could apply them. The jester, meanwhile, pressed on with his madness.
“I want the amulet. The crystal,” he growled, “you know why we’re here, tell me where it is!”
“I…ow, my hand, by the Light, oh my—”
The Circus Freak bit off another bit.
She couldn’t help but wince at the shriek that made her skin crawl.
Despite it all, she had seen worse. The Circus Freak kept his hand over the man’s eyes as he helplessly tried to flail against him.
“Ptiu. You taste horrible.” He pulled the head a bit up, eyes still fully enveloped in his palm, and shook it. “TELL ME!”
Weakly and moaning painfully, he used his good hand to point in a direction.
“Two floors down,” he hiccupped, “please…”
The Circus Freak slammed his head down. She saw it happen so she didn’t react to the crunching noise of the skull losing the clash with the ground.
The jester stood up, shoulders arched in utter contempt as he snorted hard and angry.
“They keep ignoring me.”
“I am not happy about it either,” she admitted, shredding yet another part of her cape to tourniquet a wound.
She looked at it in defeat, then, and just decided to use the whole thing. The wound had been over her tattoo, on her left side. Not completely but it still made her sad as it was a connection she had to the Wild Felids.
“There you are!”
The armored warriors yelled out just as she finished the second knot to the sound of one grunt of pain she couldn’t contain. The Circus Freak had remained silent, outside of a quiet growl he was emitting every time he exhaled.
The Hunter stood up, sore, fighting through the pain.
And took yet another breath.