He had been manipulated to go against his instincts, not the ones that were against attachment, but the ones that were against being fooled and trapped.
She had noticed he had stopped walking. He considered quickly what to do by asking the ignored instinct for ideas, but it just crossed arms and shook its head in stubborn retaliation.
Meanwhile, his mind played interference.
Why am I even afraid? I’ve never been afraid.
“Don’t tell me you ran away again?!”
He looked up. He could run away. He could.
Or he could go freak the void out of her. He could also do that.
Grinning expectantly, he marched forward. He made the turn walking expecting to find Minali still playing the part, but instead found holding a pistol aimed at him with two men at each of her sides.
I do not fear.
“Surprise, you idiot.”
He didn’t stop walking.
“What is he.”
He only smiled wider. Meaner. He kept his eyes wide open and bearing down on them.
“No…stop.” Quite quickly, she had gone from playfully interested to arrogant and victorious to, all of a sudden, very much aware she had made a mistake.
Trigger fingers moved. The Circus Freak dashed. Three bullets were shot.
In a blurry motion of wind, he struck the neck of the man on the right and left him to try and work out, amidst gagging reflexes, that his windpipe was crushed. Meanwhile, the Circus Freak attacked the man on the right, striking the armpit, stopping the man’s heart long enough for a follow-up attack to the temple which not only caved in an inch but also sent the man to violently slam against the wall of the house.
By that time, Minali had turned around to try another shot.
He lunged for the throat with his long arm and leaned to the side completely, allowing the bullet to fly past his chest without touching him. He reached Minali in the same instant the shot’s sound reached his ears.
He sneered and squeezed as some door on the upper floor flung open, beyond the turn of the corridor. He expected more of her men would be showing up in instants.
“You were expecting me to be shocked, yes?” her eyes turned to him, afraid and aware. “I bet you had a speech all ready, word for word. ‘Oh, you poor Hugo, did you really think anyone could truly love you?’”
Steps scurried closer and closer, coming down the stairs and along the hall beyond the turn of the corridor he was in. But he didn’t care, he wasn’t afraid. There was a weakness to his belly, somewhere on the side. He had been shot before so he could recognize the sensation.
But he didn’t care, he wasn’t afraid.
“No one’s crazy enough to love you, not a freak like you,” he chuckled. “Freak, because of my name, ooooh I’m SURE you planned to say it,” he squeezed even harder, his nails drawing blood just as other individuals, Led By Anarchy, showed up behind her.
They flinched and drew abnormal weapons that nonetheless did not hide their nature.
“Let her go!”
Instead, he lifted her up.
“Look at me. LOOK AT ME!” Eyes red with tears amid a face both lacking oxygen and containing an excess of blood flow, turned towards him. They looked terrified.
It made him happy.
“I feel nothing for you,” he told her, realizing it was true. Saying things out loud was the best way to find out if they were true. “You confused me, yeah, but I feel nothing. And whatever your name really is, no one’ll remember it. No one’ll remember anyone led by anarchy.”
“I can’t get an angle.”
“Do we shoot anyway? We should shoot anyway.”
She moaned loudly.
“Are you afraid to die?” He pulled her down closer to his face, feeling her attempt to nod. “Then I’ll let you live,” he laughed, “because those beasts yer helpin’? They sure won’t.”
He was about to release her and run when the collection of nearly eight men and women, which was a flattering number, was suddenly gunned down by a hail of bullets.
Even he flinched, pulling Minali out of the way to watch what was happening. The rate of fire that he was witnessing was beyond anything he had ever seen, and the caliber of the bullets had to be considerable as well telling by how the bodies were torn apart against the wall to his right making a very bloody mess.
She whimpered and tried to yell within his grasp.
“Friends o’ yours, huh?” He grinned at her. “What a bummer.”
The hail stopped.
Hugo let her go, harshly throwing her aside, and waited for the steps he was now hearing approaching the corridor to bring the person into view.
New implements of war? Either the Mad Genius had paid an unexpected visit or…
The old man stepped into view following his cane, on his own and without a sign of whatever had produced the hail of bullets. He spared the woman a glance but no comment or actual care. There was an urgency to him.
“Will you lemme put a word in before you do somethin’ crazy?”
“Were you going to kill the Shadow and me? Back then?”
“I didn’t want to,” he said, making it clear with the way he said it that yes, he was. “But things are different now.”
“Yeah, no joke. What’d ya want?”
Minali jolted to try and run, but the Circus Freak kicked her back down and against the wall.
“Augh! You said you’d let me live!”
He laughed in return and grinned down at her.
“I will I will, I swear I will, but you wanted to have fun, right?” He growled the question, and she cowed in reaction, terrified.
He turned his head back to Griff.
“Ach. What do you want?”
“I want you to take something back to Eliza.”
“What? A bomb?”
He seemed legitimately insulted by the statement, not to say a bit hurt, but it was hard to tell because he had never seen the man hurt.
The old man sighed and shook his head, and he seemed to lose all of his height.
“Listen, man…seriously, I’d never screw the world over like these LBA bastards are trying to do. I’m not insane.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that…”
“Just–…just, man, c’mon, look at me. I’ve lost everything. I’m going to die in this country, trying to fight those stupid things to buy you more time. What I got here is important…I found out…” he glanced at her. “Are you really going to let her live?”
“Oh yeah, the beasts’ll get her, it’s more fun that way!” He nodded gladly.
“More fun…then let her go. What I have to tell you, LBA can’t know.”
Hugo looked down at her, then back at him, then crouched and brought his face right next to hers. He smiled widely, staring at her intently.
She met his face, then was forced to look away. Then she looked at him again. After very long moments of silence, her voice stuttered out.
Her brain short-circuited hard. She screamed, screeching even, and got up and ran like the wind. The Circus Freak watched her go, happy with himself.
“There’s really something wrong with you,” Griff stated.
“Yep!” He stood up, proudly, “sure is!”
He paused and gestured to the bodies.
“So how’d you do all that?”
Griff did not look or seem to acknowledge the mess that was standing just a couple of feet to his side with all the furtiveness of an elephant.
“I built something.” He took out a large sheet of paper that was rolled up somewhere in his person, using a very impressive sleight of hand that should not be possible to perform so casually and carefree. “Which is also how I obtained this.”
“You built a paper-making machine?”
His eyes closed, drawing on what patience was inside his head.
“They already make those, I think.”
“No… I mean the contents.”
“Is it a love letter? You know she’ll never love you, right?”
Griff opened very angry eyes to meet a teasing grin. He grunted and walked forward, punctuating his steps with his cane.
“What do you know about love, jester? You think some old woman comin’ on to you is love.”
“I didn’t think it was love,” the Circus Freak protested, “I knew she was deceiving me!”
“Sure,” he shoved the rolled up paper on Hugo’s chest. “The location of the Beast’s main power source, possibly their capital city, or whatever they have that serves as one.”
An eyebrow was raised, and curiosity was indeed engaged.
“Really?” he immediately opened the paper but could hardly understand the contents. Griff was already walking away.
“It’s deep underground, Eliza’ll know to find someone who gets it.”
“Yer just gonna leave?” He was rolling it up, finding it way less interesting than he first assumed it would be.
“My guild’s in shambles. I can’t even take down the LBA now, especially with how Falk… no, got nothing more to say, least of all to you.”
The Circus Freak did not predict the kindness coming out of his own mouth.
“And to her?”
And yet, there it was, stopping Griff in his tracks. Making him think.
“You’re screwin’ wit me.”
He laughed, hoping against all evidence within him that that was true.
The old man thought further. Carefully. A shadow as if extended off of his already dark complexion, accentuated by his white vest and shorts, which only went to show off how fit he was.
What’s the cane even for? He doesn’t need it, I bet I could take it away and he wouldn’t fall.
He stepped forward, mischief sparkling in the shadow of his eyes, stopping the very next moment due to Griff’s voice coming out.
“Tell her I’m not sorry.” He made a point of not turning around. “I did my best. I made the right decisions. She should’ve trusted me.”
Mischief gave way to something else, and Hugo surprised himself yet again.
Silence was the answer. A silence through which the Circus Freak looked down at himself thoroughly perplexed. What was going on? Minali was handled, the misunderstanding was cleared, why was he being weird? Why did he care? He didn’t care.
He looked at Griff. He didn’t care, so why?
What would she think?
The question he had forgotten was there popped out in a more conscious manner. In his mind, floodlights were turned on it, very accusingly.
“Fine. Tell her she was right. Tell her to trust her judgment, it was only ever wrong when it came to me.”
The Circus Freak gave no response, however, and instead walked away, partly dealing with shock. His thought process, or processes, had dissolved under the full introspective analysis of his mind which was buckling beneath a mist of conceptual sincerities that were, to say the least, terrifying.
Paper rolled up still in his hand, he turned into a room and headed towards the window, casually climbing out. Members of the tech guild were there. They flexed their jaw muscles, uttering some half-threatening inflections, but overall scampered aside as he marched on.
The point of the matter was that if he had indeed been feeling attraction to someone, some kind of emotional affection, it would have further explained how he was fooled by Minali. Tortuous confusing feelings as they were, they were all the more foreign to him than they would be to anyone else. And thus, all the more confusing. Maybe they were real, and he simply misjudged their source.
Not maybe. And why was he feeling dizzy, it was like he was losing blood.
Wait, I am losing blood.
He stopped and looked down at the bullet wound. He felt around his back to confirm it had not come out the other side. He was still bleeding.
“Ah crap, I’m stupid!”
He was so far off his game that his mind decided to bring him concern, which was a dusty old emotion that propped up if only to make him address his impending death. He turned into an abandoned house and looked for something he could use.
“Let’s see what implements of pain can I find?”
He settled for a grapefruit knife and a kind of pick fork that only had two blades. He used the grapefruit knife to open the wound for the pick to hold open, and then shoved the knife in there again to pull the bullet back out. Once he did so, he saw it was shattered.
“Oh come oooon.”
His vision blurred, and his mind did a leap through some dark part of something for a second, all which alerted him to the fact that he had indeed been alarmingly late at caring for the wound. Maybe too late.
He looked down at the table to look at the paper. In the sincerity of his thoughts, they just couldn’t lie to him, he knew chances were high he would pass out trying to take the rest of the bullet out, he was already feeling weak, much as he hated to admit it, because he never felt weak.
Chances were higher, however, that he could find the mage before he collapsed. Chances were then less he could survive the wound but, at least then, Griff’s information would be delivered.
She weighed on his decision making, being a looming presence and threat on his survival instinct that was, nevertheless, hard to ignore. It brought up his feelings even more clearly.
Cursing, he pulled the pick out of himself and grabbed a tablecloth off the kitchen table, and bent over it, throwing the cloth over his back. He brought it under his belly and painstakingly tied a knot with his one arm. Cursing heavily under his breath all throughout.
He worked with the kind of nimbleness and speed one would call frantic.
With the stupid, terrible and inefficient bandage around the wound already soaking up blood, he grabbed the paper and rolled it up.
“Always thought I’d be my own punchline,” he laughed a very rare laugh. It was a self-detrimental laugh, with a hint of spite. “But this is ridiculous.”
He kicked open the door and ran.
“I’m the greatest joke of them all!” he yelled, to none one in particular but rather to the whole world, “watch me die a stupid boring death!”