The crowd was now heavily diminished in numbers, more than half of it having successfully boarded whatever means of transportation they chose. He couldn’t be sure of numbers however because his vision was half-blurred.
His situation was exactly the type that he had always been warned to avoid. When he was hurt, he had to tend to it immediately because his immunity to pain made it impossible for him to know the true state of his injuries.
Internal bleedin’, right? That’s what they call it?
He was sure that was it, but he couldn’t stop. He felt his bandage, over his wound, with the back of his hand. It was clearly soaked in blood.
“Get outta the way!”
The shapes nearest to him flinched, startled, but didn’t immediately move. He swiped with his hand, pushing the first blob of colors to the side.
“Hey now, wait yer turn, you.”
He homed in on the voice and pushed the source aside.
“MAGIC GUY! Where’s my magic guy!!??”
His body convulsed, very much against his permission, and he spat blood. Because he was carrying the paper, he didn’t exactly catch it, so it simply spewed down to someone’s leg.
He stood back up and grinned between teeth smeared with blood and ink.
“Get outta the way. Now.”
People obeyed, and promptly so.
He stepped forward, on heavy feet. When had his feet ever been heavy? He saw the wave of misshapen things parting before his advance.
“Gangway.” It was hurting to talk. “Lemme through… I need.” Did that just come out sort of hoarse?
He breathed out, tired, and continued to advance.
The Circus Freak laughed at how hard it was to raise his voice. He wondered why it was hard, he couldn’t feel it, his air was just not summoned with the usual force. Might be busy somewhere else. “MAGICMAN…”
Hugo’s head bowed down as he snickered, shaking his head helplessly. He hadn’t felt like that since…
I’ve never felt like this.
He had made the joke earlier, but the reality was dawning on him that he might actually die, and all to pass on Griff’s findings to his allies. Not even to his allies, to people he didn’t care that much about.
Oh just fess up.
He snarled. Hugo growled and retook his march, stubborn in both walking and convincing himself it wasn’t true that he cared about those people. Despite that, he was aware he was simply stumbling forward as if lost or hurt, both of which he was.
“Look at him,” someone whispered.
“What happened, he looks like a corpse.”
“I’sjustpainf,” he mumbled, “MAGIC MAN!”
His foot tripped on something, and he fell. Losing balance was simply…not something that happened to him so, at that moment, when his mind lost its bearings, and his instinct was stunned for some reason, he experienced the most weakness he had ever experienced.
But he didn’t hit the ground.
The voice sounded young. Young, one of the brats? The fake kids that were actually all grown up? No, they wouldn’t help him. Or at least they wouldn’t call him Mr. Clown. Or maybe they would?
“Leave him alone, son, don’t you know who it is?”
“He’s dangerous is what he is, let him go before he hurts you.”
The Circus Freak chuckled against the reality that he had gone blind. And that he was trying to get off whoever was holding him so he could continue walking… but failing.
He hardly heard it himself, even when he intended to yell. It was like a nightmare. Nightmares always made him laugh, they were inventive, creative, and filled to the brim with ideas for him to use. Some of them had him go mute and blind, and despite how much he tried to yell, his voice would come out mute, and despite how much he tried to open his eyes to see, darkness was all they showed him.
It was like that.
Anyone else would probably be focused on the pain but not him, he didn’t even have that.
His head reflexively turned and looked up towards the sound. The boyish voice repeated the yell, and after a second, he heard it echoed ahead by a gruff more aggressive voice, and much louder. Following that came another voice, and pretty soon, it seemed like a crowd was trailing the call onwards and away.
His mind went blank. He thought nothing was making sense with Minali before, but it turned out it was once she tried to kill him, but that relief had been really short-lived as he had to quickly face the fact that—
Hugo pushed off the person to try and walk, mumbling “lemmego,” but he simply managed to properly fall on the ground.
He was about to die heroically. Tragically. It was hilarious if he wasn’t the one doing it. Oh, who was he kidding, it was hilarious all the same.
Not being able to laugh was the final blow, and what took him to wishing for company. For the person who had asked him to tell jokes, and who had gone after him when he had volunteered to stay behind in the Tech Guild stronghold. The quite but not so quiet, mysterious figure he had saved on a whim at the cost of an arm.
Not because he was eccentric like that, but because he had fallen in love.
The way she moved her tone of voice and the way she was affected by him. In their first meet up, his interference with her had gone from a fun experiment to an actual concern, and he had lied to himself about it because he didn’t know any better.
Time was the best teacher, and not even the best lies hold up against it. Even more so when you bring them to the light by thinking them out loud. Or worse, saying them.
Or being in the midst of yells that go against one’s understanding of…well, people. Their lack of compassion towards him, as well as a lack of any willingness to understand him, had been an absolute observable constant.
And now suddenly.
“Mister! Hey! Hang in there, the mage’s coming!”
Suddenly it occurred to him that that might have been because he never asked for it.
“Do you hear me!? Moan or something, man!”
He had never needed it, that was why. It was so obvious. He was assumed to be a fool, through and through, and he had always been convinced he wasn’t.
The Circus Freak laughed.
“Ah, there we go!”
But he was. Despite what he always thought, he really was.
“Over here! He’s over heeereee!”
One of them.
He was really surprised when he woke up. Disappointed even.
“Ogh, no.” He opened his eyes. He lifted his left arm to find it half-gone, cut at the stump. “Argh, what? I survived?”
“If anyone is to survive this whole mess, it will certainly be you.”
He turned his head to land eyes on the robed back of Eliza. He recognized the hair, grayer the closer it got to her head. The Circus Freak tried to get up but found himself unable to fully lift his torso.
“Hm,” he remarked casually, lying down again. “Am I paralyzed?”
“Yes, indeed, if you know fate as well as I do,” she continued, seemingly ignoring his question, “then you know you are just the right amount of crazy and irresponsible to survive anything you shouldn’t.”
“Well, excuse me,” he complained, trying not to pick up his thoughts where he had left them off, no matter how offended they looked or the impatience with which they kept checking their watches. “And am I paralyzed?”
She turned and faced him, hands raised, dressed in leather gloves with blue paint, which was glowing. Eliza moved them over his belly, keeping them inches from it.
“Or you won’t be, in any case.”
He felt a sort of warmth, and something else. It made him itchy, somewhat, as if his insides were scraping.
“I’m sorry? I won’t be?”
“You are under the attention of the matriarch of the House of Magni and the most talented sorcerer alive, now that my successor is dead. And a particular expert in healing spells. You will not be paralyzed for long, just as you were not dead for long.”
He stared at her meaningfully, amused by how she was avoiding his look.
“You told me before you couldn’t help me. When I said I was poisoned?”
“I lied,” she flatly stated, “you seemed as if some immature child handling their first crush, I had more important things to do.”
“Me? I’m the immature one? You n’ Griff go at each other like a couple o’ wild cats in heat, and yer judgin’ me?”
Eliza halted her hands, and thoughts most like, for a few short seconds. He let her chew on that, he didn’t ask to be healed, he didn’t ask for any of what had happened.
Eliza was, at the end of it all, to be blamed for everything. If she hadn’t invited him to the Shadow Conclave, he would be somewhere in the middle of a crowd, freakin’ someone out and having a very fun time. But no. He was paralyzed and weak and in love.
“That is true,” she interrupted him, and blessings onto her for doing so, “and fair of you to say.” Her hands started moving again, which he could tell by the scraping sensations somewhere in the center of his back.
“What are you doing?” He asked because talking was better than thinking right then.
“Your body suffered…abuse, while you’ve been away. I am reshaping bones and connecting them. It would usually be impossible to perform this act since the pain will drive anyone into shock. But that’s not a problem for you.”
“I still feel something, though. It’s kinda weird. Can you grow my arm back, too?”
She eyed him patiently.
“No. I cannot do that much.”
“Oh. Hm.” He lifted his stump, he had enough strength for that. “I kinda don’t think about it, but I really miss having two arms.”
He let it fall and looked at her again.
“What’d you mean with abuse, anyway? Why’d my body get abused? Was it Minali?”
He looked away.
“Retrieving you proved difficult, is all. Arthur first took you to a doctor, who pronounced you dead. But on the way there, you mumbled something about saving the world and giving Griff’s message, so instead of abandoning you, he brought you to me.”
“So Arthur abused my body?”
Eliza sighed apologetically.
“I’m afraid Arthur is not a strong man,” she offered as an excuse.
That was, of course, a really worrying thing to hear.
“The void’s that supposed to mean?! What’d he do to me?!?”
“He dropped you down a hill,” she told him casually as if it was nobody’s fault.
“Oh! Oh okay then, I mean, fine, just say so, damn.”
She looked at him a bit confused but decided to leave it. She seemed to have settled into the short group of people who knew not to encourage the Circus Freak’s tirades.
“Apologies. But yes, there was some chasing from some LBA individuals, and in a hurry to survive and carry you, the poor fellow dropped you.”
“And he still brought me to you?”
“Evidence would suggest he did, yes.”
He chuckled, calling her attention.
“Your people really like ya, huh? That’s nice. I take it you got the paper, then?”
“Yes. We have planned accordingly. We were going to make our last stand there, but it seems we will have to delay it. We will not be abandoning the Scavengers to their fate, but rather joining them.”
It was then his senses deigned themselves to inform him that his body was rocking back and forth very slightly. He looked around and judged the room to be a bit too small to be a part of the mansion.
“We’re on a ship!”
“Observant,” she remarked.
“But then, then we’re heading to Neyrk.”
She was bound to be with them, he realized. Or maybe not?
Who cares? Not me.
But he did.
“He told me to tell you…” Hugo started, to get it over with. He used a dramatic tone of voice, such as the moment required of him. “You got a nice butt.”
He held a smirk, expecting her to throw him some kind of look, but to her benefit, she didn’t react to it and instead just replied with a disingenuous look.
“You know I did get poisoned,” he told her in the complaint. “That woman poisoned me. She said so.”
“No, she did not. I would wager you simply misplaced your feelings.”
“So what Griff said,” Hugo immediately cut in, “was that you were right. He told you to trust your judgment because it was only wrong when it came to him.”
Eliza blinked and slowly nodded, a smile forming roughly to the speed of a heart healing. She looked away.
“What do you think he meant by that, Hugo?”
“Hm?” Someone else would try to discern what kind of test he was going through, but not him. “You usually make the right decision, you just didn’t when you decided to trust him.”
Eliza gently shook her head.
“He was talking about when I decided not to be with him.”
“What?” He laughed in her face. “No, he didn’t.”
She turned to him, looking absently shocked, her smile twisting slightly into one of disbelief.
“Excuse me? You think you know him better than I do?”
“Uuuh, I actually heard him say it?” He chuckled. “It was even a takeback, he first told me to tell you you were wrong and had doomed the world or something. But he did that little pause that you people do, like, you know?” He feigned dramatic tension and gestured a conscience-fueled change of mind.”Ugh, no, lemme tell you what I really think,” he mockingly said, in a tone of voice that almost perfectly parodied that of Griffs’.
She held Hugo’s expectant look, and he held her very slowly changing one. Her smile transformed back to what it was, and she glanced ahead in thought.
“Huh.” Eliza breathed in with a nod, a nod to herself of course, and suddenly gained all the height he had seen her without ever since first finding her in the jail cell. “How about that.”