The Circus Freak marched on at running speed, trying to build up whatever amount of stubbornness he would need to surrender the baby to the first people who said yes. He would then have to find the mage or ride the train himself. The knights would surely hold the Beasts for more than enough time, so he wasn’t too worried about being in time for any of those things.
He looked around, silently remarking upon the abandoned city, slightly bothered by it.
Cities were not supposed to be empty. You see an empty desert, outside of the sand of course, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but an abandoned building and streets with nothing on them other than dust and emptiness, there was a lot wrong with that. It was unsettling, but most of all, it was sad. It was a place built to be alive, to hold bustling fun-generating life. It was a place that had been deprived of its nature and which purpose found itself at odds with its new reality.
It was like being in a jungle and finding it completely devoid of any animals. It was unnatural.
The Circus Freak had lived many years without suffering the gruesome penance of having second thoughts. Since traveling with Minali, however, that had been an issue. She had truly introduced some completely new and unexpected mental processes into who he was.
Now, people being attracted to what was dangerous or freaky? He knew about that. He also knew that there was usually some kind of proximity or a decent amount of…interaction and time involved, but yet, the woman had done what she had done.
It made no sense.
The Circus Freak did not know a lot, that much was true. He was in every secret meeting of the Shadow Conclave, and he still didn’t understand what it was, exactly. But Eliza? He understood Eliza. And Griff. And the Shadow and the Hunter, he knew people. He had to, how else to freak them out?
Minali didn’t make sense. The Shadow did; despite everyone else’s apparent impression, she had not been acting weird or distant or anything unsurprising or senseless. She was simply someone who had the misfortune of being—Hugo flipped his face, confirming what his peripheral vision had reported: the sight of a cape.
There’s someone still here?
He ran towards the wall over the side of which the cape had disappeared towards, to find nothing or no one.
“Hey! I saw you! Come on out!”
There was no response.
“I will go get the Beasts and bring ‘em here, how’s that sound!”
And yet, there was no reply.
He had no reason to care, really, probably some refugee going back for a photo album or something stupid like that. Why’d they announce themselves to him anyway?
The baby began to cry but was immediately cut short by a sharp glare and a vocal inflection that would’ve stopped a wild cat in its tracks.
The Circus Freak grabbed him, or her, well, the thing, and held its eyes.
“Good baby. D’you got a name by the way?”
“Sure, okay, dahth, and ‘re you a boy or a girl? It’s hard to think about you without knowing.”
Hugo looked up and, after a moment of realization, chuckled at the fact he had expressed desire to think about a baby.
“So that’s what it sounded like to the brat, no wonder the stupid kid was annoying.” The Street Rat might as well have said ‘I don’t want you thinking about me’, that would’ve been a better comeback. But still, this was a baby, what was it gonna do? And nobody was around to pass undue judgment for the Circus Freak to ignore, so he pulled the baby’s little winter pants down and checked on its sex.
Hugo pulled his trousers back on and moved on, his mind suddenly a bit more relaxed.
I have to find someone who’ll take him so I can give him away, already, my arm’s starting to get tired.
He marched off, his thoughts derailing in a very familiar way into presenting a slideshow of a limitless amount of memories from past scares and other heart-warming social interactions. Repeatedly but not continuously, he gave short laughs or chuckles, sometimes with an intermittent low-growling ‘oh…that was a good one.’
It took a good half-hour walk to find the first signs of the fleeing population. He wasted no time at all lest whatever traitorous part of himself was swimming about and stirring up the lake that was his soul decide to try and motivate him differently.
“Hey hey!” The woman turned around startled bit quickly shivering into a frightened quiet. “You want this baby? Take this baby.”
“What about you.”
“That’s not mine,” the young man protested, in a near shriek. “It’s not mine!”
“It can be, though!”
“Sir, please!” He shoved someone aside and stepped away, clearly desperate about not being a father.
The crowd was packed into a narrow street – as if there was any other kind of street in that bleak country, unless you counted the tiny ones, of course – and they were all in a very active fight against causing a panic by talking loudly at each other as if nothing was wrong and the whole thing was just some kind of exercise precluding everything going back to normal.
The point was, it’s hard to be noticed by people who are trying very hard not to notice anything alarming.
“Hi, hey, you, look at me, I’m armless.”
“You don’t look harmless.”
The Circus Freak giggled, and that got the attention of a good group there. He decided that ought to be the way to get rid of him, he would scare someone into it.
“He said he’s armless,” a familiar voice said from his side, coming from behind. He looked to find a friendly smile in the seasoned face of Minali. “He found this baby in the wreckage of a home, but certainly you can’t expect him to keep it.”
“And it’s easy for me, is it?” He protested, “it’s a baby, I can’t even feed it.”
“Alright, clearly not you,” she said, patiently and yet derisively. She scanned the crowd, all while Circus Freak looked for words in what was essentially a very empty mind, probably the work of the traitorous part of him that not only stirred the waters but found a way to drain them!
“Miss! Miss, please! Give it ‘ere, Hugo.”
He didn’t resist as she took the baby.
“Excuse me, excu-GIT” the person jolted away from Minali, who immediately brought back the smile and soothing expression. “Pardon me, yes, you, miss, please.”
The woman turned around to show her old face, not to say wrinkled, but also not to describe the face of the husband, who turned with her much like a corpse turning in its grave, and looking not that much better. She was carrying a toddler with a child grabbing on to her other hand and the man had a baby tied to his back.
Now, one would assume that they would consider themselves to be going over the call of duty already, so far as the survival of the youth was concerned, but nevertheless, the old woman did put the toddler down to accept the baby. Minali came back while someone else borrowed a large piece of cloth that the old woman started fashioning into…something for herself. Around her torso.
“Don’t look for charity from people who have a lot to give,” Minali told the Circus Freak. “They’re the ones who won’t give any.”
Coincidentally, Hugo’s mind finally provided some inspiring and appropriate words to say to Minali, circumstances being as they were.
“I remember you, Minali, hi!”
She smiled meaningfully.
“You remember me, huh?”
He nodded, holding the tell-tale scary grin that passed for his poker face.
“Sure do! What’re you doing around these parts?”
She paused, immediately at a loss as to what to say.
“That’s what you ask me?”
The Circus Freak, holding his poker-face, found himself perplexed. As such, he decided to regroup and allow her the initiative of the conversation.
She, on the other hand, was not interested in letting that happen.
“That’s what you want to ask me?”
“Uhh, why not?”
She flinched, choosing to rally herself. People around them had gone back to their conversations, lending him little in the way of attention.
“Well you know, I’m with them,” she nodded at the crowd, “aren’t you?”
“I guess I just thought you’d already be off,” Hugo said conversationally, at the same time finding out what that means for the first time. He scratched his head. “The weather’s pretty bad, huh?”
Minali smiled in response from inside her cloak, which was hooded and wet from the rain that had plagued the city for an entire day before taking a break for coffee just an hour beforehand.
“It’s been worse,” her head leaned to the side suspiciously. Well, it was suspicious to the Circus Freak, but it was clearly meant to be enticing. “Soo…not going to run away this time?”
Straight to the point, unfortunately. Couldn’t they just pretend nothing happened? Apparently not. He thought about what to say, he had never been in a situation like that before.
“No?” He wagered.
She took a step closer.
“Good.” A hand raised to touch his chest and her eyes, or rather her look, swallowed him. “Want to get out of here?”
His mind struggled. He was in a social situation under emotional pressures, which were both domains of the human experience he had never had any interest in, let alone practice.
“I think that’s the point, no?” He took a gander, gesturing towards the crowd. That made her giggle, which was annoying since he didn’t mean to, but it didn’t make him mad like it had with the king. He didn’t understand why.
“I mean find some privacy.”
He wasn’t as clueless as not to get a comment as blunt as a hammer. He didn’t want to find some privacy, however, but for some reason, he didn’t just say so.
“But don’t you want to escape?”
“Seeing as the world’s ending, Hugo, there’s something else I’d like doing. A bit more.”
Again, the remark was more than blunt enough for the Circus Freak to correctly interpret. More importantly, hearing her say his name disturbed him somewhat, and that was also a new feeling. Scared, freaked out, confused, awkward, and now disturbed, all by one person. It was no wonder his voice went up a few pitches using an undertone of slight desperation.
“It might not end.”
She brushed some dust off his chest but did it so slowly and gently that it hardly got rid of even one speck.
“Calculated risk… that I’m willing to take, considering the fun we could have…and you?
“Don’t you think we can have fun?”
He looked back at where he had run from, where the Beasts were stampeding. He looked over the crowd at the ferries they were boarding. Even if the train left soon, the ferries would be there for a couple of hours, worse case. And that was if his magic person actually left without him, which they probably wouldn’t.
It upset him somewhat he had no reasonable reason to deny her invitation, but at the same time, he abruptly felt angry at himself.
Reasonable? Excuses? What’s wrong with me!?
His grin, which he had maintained fixed and frozen, and had seemingly been ignored by her, relaxed somewhat into a smile.
She turned and walked off, and he followed, which was something he was not prone to do, all while wondering whether she was excited or determined and whether there was a difference. As they cleared the presence of the populace, of others, and became to be more alone, his wandering mind and panicking instinct started kicking up a storm that threatened to have him run away again.
Fortunately, she assuaged all that by talked to him.
“I’m sorry I was so forward before, I guess you’re not used to uh…attaining the interest of others? Or maybe it’s because I’m clearly older?”
“Let’s go with the first,” he replied, preferring to think about what to say over what he was doing, “are you crazy? You have to be, right?”
“Of course I am. I’m a serial killer, remember?”
He nodded in agreement.
It was all so unknown to him. Was he in a relationship? Starting one? Well, technically, he already had a relationship with Shadow. When you talk for hours and laugh together, that’s something, right? Even if it’s inside a jail and one of you can’t really see properly because of all the light shining from–
He turned and followed her into a door, realizing then his heart was overclocking at about the same pace as it did whenever he ran very fast very far. Also, his breakfast had apparently been rotten seeing as how much his stomach was complaining. All of a sudden. Hours after digestion had ended.
He sighed and walked in just as Minali was dropping her cloak, to fully demonstrate how well she could walk. Her bottom curve waved ceremoniously as she made the turn at the end of the corridor.
“I think I see a bed.”
The Circus Freak saw a flight of stairs leading up.
“In the ground floor?”
The comment was silly, sounding more like the words of a nervous teen than those of a world-class thief who wasn’t the least bit as dumb as people always mistook him to be. It was, however, indeed the latter.
He paused, and in an instant, he had a whole new interpretation of the conflict that was going on inside him. The stomach was not nervous. He wasn’t sweating out of expectation for something he never had, he wasn’t feeling sick with love, his instinct wasn’t trying to flee out of protest against a passionate mind. It was against an irrational mind, yes, against a heart that had been convinced, yes, but that didn’t mean it was in the wrong.
He heard people breathing. The flash of the stranger earlier came to his mind. He smiled fatally. How could he have fallen for that?
Not fallen in love, of course that wasn’t it, what actually happened made a lot more sense. He had fallen into a trap.