The Beast crashed two walls before colliding headfirst against one of Norwayaka’s phalanx. The gigantic three shields, buried into the ground and supported by twenty men behind them, shuddered and splintered as they took the hit. And held.
The ones on the right flank advanced while the ones on the left pulled back, as the Beast flailed with its mighty claws, denting the shields outright in the few seconds it took to push it into the ditch on the side of the street.
It had been dug to be wider and deeper, and it was filled with machine oil, black and greasy. The Beast bellowed while slipping into sliding down the steep hill it had just climbed, causing more damage to what was essentially a moat. Eventually, the whole thing would be battered to a point they wouldn’t slide down as easily, and at that time, the Knights would retreat.
Until then, however…“form up!”
The Circus Freak had to admit it was impressive. He wasn’t really all that interested in the outcome of that battle there, or any of the hundreds of others taking place all across the country at that very moment, but he was curious why the stubborn medieval nation had been specifically sought after by the Shadow Conclave. Having watched that particular group of soldiers for the past two hours, however, he was beginning to understand.
The tactic itself was pretty creative.
Two Beasts hit the shield, sending the last file of the soldier stack tumbling back. A third one grabbed onto the two and tried to jump over, but with a simple yell, spears rose to push against the third, forcing it to slip and fall on the floor, and roll over its back.
And off the three beasts went, sliding down the oily gutter-turned-moat, leaving behind nothing but claw marks and frustrated bellows.
It still made him laugh, even after watching it for the up-tenth time. Some of the soldiers had noticed him but were trying to pretend they didn’t. Not that he was trying to hide, he was sitting on a window-sill of an abandoned house, second floor, watching the scene unfolding with little concern.
Was I supposed to be doing something?
He had left the magic mansion for a reason, but for the humor of him, he could not remember it. All he knew was that the Shadow Conclave was getting more and more boring, and its members were getting unnaturally accustomed to his presence. They didn’t seem even a bit unsettled by his presence anymore, which was unsettling to him.
The Shadow had changed uniforms again. Nobody ever commented, which was weird, was he the only one noticing? Maybe he was seeing things. It had been blue when they first met, red the second, black the third, and now it was purple. Every iteration had covered more skin, but since the black one had basically covered it all, with the purple one, she had even flattened her hair. Or she was bald now, who knew?
I hope she didn’t shave it off.
He paused and flinched.
What did he care? What the void?
He shook his head and jumped down into a roll, standing up and looking around as yet another beast was pushed away to the sound of heavy grunts or yelling. He was considering what to do next when he heard a scream. The pleading-for-rescue kind. Without giving the matter much thought, he got to moving.
He crossed back across the house he had been in earlier, traversing it at top running speed before diving through another window, paying little mind to the shards of glass scratching him in return.
Within seconds, he had reached the street two blocks over the one to where the knights had already retreated, leaving behind a third of their strength to be trampled beneath a group of stampeding Beasts, which were delayed by having to do that. They were giving chase via their monstrous leaps, but one of them was not, it had instead turned towards a house.
Another scream surged. The Circus Freak smiled.
He turned his head to the right, and then to the left, and then slapped his hands. The Beast turned back to find him, along with two more that were far away enough from the climbing ones to hear the clap.
One of the ones that was climbing, which was actually near enough to reach for him, did so. He leaned out of the way, allowing the bulging member to crash through the wall like it was cardboard. Hugo spun away as part of the second floor doubled over and fell on top of them.
He started into a run, avoiding the leap of the other Beast, and then leaped towards the third and final one, that had been heading towards the house on the opposite side of the street. He vaulted over it.
His feet stormed the door before he even landed, well into a run. He turned right into a room, somewhat guessing it was where the scream had come from, to find out he was right. Alas, what he saw came as a shock. A couple, hugging each other in the corner of the living room as if they were hiding, clearly aware they weren’t, and in the middle of them was a baby.
It was at that moment the Circus Freak’s brain caught up with what he was up to.
Wait, what’m I doing?
Did he intend to save someone? He? Hugo Martins? The Circus Freak? Save someone? The couple was looking him over, particularly noticing his missing arm.
He was going to turn around and run right then, but the woman whimpered.
He turned his head back to the sound of the entrance collapsing before the weight of a Beast, to see that she was stretching her arms, baby in hands.
“PLEASE SAVE HIM!”
The deepest darkest corner of his soul cursed, very succinctly and clearly in protest. Perhaps if he had had time to think about that decision, he would have made the right one; the only one that made sense and was, in fact, the decision he would always make, and had always made. The one true to who he was.
Instead jolted to grab the baby with his free arm while the very wall of that room burst in behind him. His instinct caught up with what he was doing and was appalled. It had learned to leave him on auto-pilot, such was its trust in the Circus Freak’s historical lack of interest in whatever other parts of him wanted to say. It had to admit, however, that the primary focus was now to survive.
The Circus Freak leaped at the window, turning his body so that the back would crash through it, baby clutched to his chest by his one good arm, his stump providing further protection for its head.
It cried heavily as the Circus Freak ran on, having an easier time at ignoring the wails of its dying parents than the undeniable fact he would have a better chance of surviving if he dropped the thing. It was at that moment that his mind, instinct, and soul all noticed that the heart was to blame for it. The brain flexed an involuntary thought, surrendering to the nervous system and its emotional pressure, purely out of perplexity at the fact it was even really there.
How would she look at me if she knew I abandoned it?
No time for the brain, said the instinct. The thought was pushed before being properly processed if only so it wouldn’t get in the way of the adrenaline-fueled concentration that was being tasked with making sure he survived the next few minutes.
The Circus Freak surprised even himself with how he was able to perform, seeing as he had never practiced high-speed acrobatics while carrying a soft squishy living thing. He dodged a Beast’s leap and ran right through a row of them before they could react. They jumped after him too late to catch him as he made a turn around some fence.
Despite the danger, his reaction to the near-death outcome of his adrenaline-fueled actions was the same as always, he laughed his heart out.
More-or-less ignoring the thing he was carrying, as far as the noises it was making were concerned, he quickly found what he was doing to be a very new kind of fun. It was extraordinarily more difficult to weave and serpentine, and hard turn and wall jump and even flip and spin while carrying more weight than he’s ever had and without the support of his arms.
As he landed on top of a Beast, making it notice him, he ducked and grinned at it excitedly.
“This is kinda fun!”
It spasmed and reached for him, but he leaped off of it to crash through a second-floor window while performing a twirl so to make sure no glass shard hit the bundle of vulnerability he was carrying. He traversed the bedroom he landed on and went across a corridor and into another bedroom. The building shook as Beasts trampled their way into it. He opened the room’s window and looked down, seeing the drop was too high for him to land, especially when he couldn’t drop and roll with the help of a strong slap of his hand. Unless…
He smiled and dropped down. When he was about to hit, he threw the baby up. Quickly, he landed with a roll and a smack on the floor with his arm, to transfer force, and then stood up and turned, grabbing to snatch the crying little critter from its gliding trajectory.
“Ha!” He was amazing “Woohooo!”. He turned and ran on.
Chaotically but skillfully, he made his way across occupied territory and back behind a line of knights, through their flanks. It was the squad he had been watching earlier, it was still there, only less numerous.
The knights at the back looked at him, recognizing him, but before they could say anything, he made himself heard.
“Just thought you’d want to know that your friends kinda suck. The darn things’re all the way up there,” he pointed with his stump, “a few streets over.”
Lost for words, as people usually were when forced to interact with him, one of them managed to gape at him and ask, “is that a baby?”
The Circus Freak looked down as if noticing it for the first time. It was more of a tiny tear factory if he was honest, with a built-in snot dispenser. It had also puked on his arm, but outside of that, it looked overall okay. It was certainly alive.
“Oh yeah, I found it.”
Hugo offered the baby to the knights.
“Do you want it?”
As knights more along the middle of the phalanx slowly noticed something was happening behind them, the ones listening shook their heads.
“No,” three of them said in unison, immediately.
“Ah we—” alas, they were interrupted by the building’s wall caving into their right, as beasts followed Circus Freak’s lead to flank the soldiers.
The Circus Freak darted back and away, unfortunately leaving the knights to fight to the death, as they were always meant to do in any case.
“Back into the house!”
“Turn the shields!”
And so on.
The Circus Freak ran up the road until he found another contingent of knights, protecting the very top of the hill. He offered them the baby as well but they also said no so, growing annoyed, he carried on.
Now feeling safe, he started walking, to rest a bit. He pulled the baby up in front of him.
“Enough, shut up.”
It knew enough to do so, lulling itself into weeping instead. The thing was not that big, but it already had a strong puff of curly brown hair. Its dark eyes were only visible intermittently, in-between all the blinking. Now that its face was lodged in his mind, he found it even harder to consider abandoning it.
And in truth, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do.
“Maybe some o’ the regulars will want you,” he told it, inconvenienced. “I mean I hope, not like there’re any churches round ‘ere where I can drop you at.” He looked around helplessly. “Are there? I mean, church people are crazy, maybe they’re still around.”
He left the group of knights behind and sped up towards the more populated part of the city. Everyone was either boarding the ferries or the trains, well aware they would be running out of time soon enough. He meant to run into the masses and drop the little thing with someone, and then he’d need to backtrack and find the mage so he could disappear away.
He had been taken there to see if he could help. With what, he didn’t know, he couldn’t hurt the beasts, and he didn’t really have the ability to carry someone.
Hugo looked down.
Well, I guess there’s something I can carry.
Of course, sure, he could also carry most people, one by one over the shoulder, but there was no way to outrun a Beast like that. Not even for him. A baby, however, had proved manageable.
“Badab,” it said, seemingly calming down somewhat now that movement had gotten a lot more stable.
“I know what you mean,” Hugo agreed, absentmindedly. “I tell ya, like, how’re you ever going to know what happened? I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna be happy. Oh, so some crazy clown kidnapped me from my mother’s fingers before leaving her to die, only to drop me off with some stranger somewhere who turned out to abuse–”
The Circus Freak’s mind once again flexed a muscle that was severely under-used, once again convinced by the argumentative power of emotion, with which it was not used to dealing with. It reminded Hugo of the first and only time he had been poisoned, by pop, for the sake of education. The point was he felt bad, imagining the baby with an abusive parent.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too hasty.
“Argh!” He held out the baby in front of him again, peering at him as he walked gingerly on as if an endless army of unstoppable Beasts weren’t just within a mile of reaching him. “What am I doing? Why do I care? You know how many kids I’ve left with bad parents? This one time I walked in on a couple beating each other while their kid lay on the floor bleeding, I guess she tried to stop them, know what I did? I knocked the woman out and made the guy piss himself with fear before—” the baby looked up at him, almost knowingly, “shut up! I left them there, that’s the point, I robbed them, and I left them there, I didn’t care!”
He looked away. Then back. Then away again before looking over at the baby one final time. Stubbornly, he frowned.
“Yeah, so I probably made the guy disappear forever, but she wasn’t any better with her kid! I think. Argh, point is I didn’t care, I never cared.” He paused as if expecting someone to disagree, but he soon felt the air around him nodding in agreement. “I have fun, fun’s what I’m here for.” The cold wind seemed to grumble in assent. “To do and to get and to make, not…whatever this is. That I’m doing now.”
He brought the baby back to his chest if only so he wouldn’t have to look at it.
“You’re going with the first person that’ll take you n’ that’s that. World’s comin’ to an end, here, I wanna have fun while I can. And it’s not you, ya know? It’d be with anyone, really.”
He spat aside and started into a run.
“Taking care o’ people ain’t fun.”