Actually being in the city made Hugo realize that the Beasts were fighting terraforming with terraforming. Large pillars had been placed around the docks, each spewing the dark mist that would soon be scratching the inside of his throat.
There were no Beasts immediately visible, but a very large machine was parked on top of a crumbled house. There was another at the end of the street, and even at that distance, it was clear there it had some kind of gate that had been opened all the way up.
It was at that very point that a beast jumped out from behind the closest vehicle.
“Oh,” Hugo remarked.
It turned and arched as two landed, one right at its side, the other on what was left of the roof of the house. The roof caved in, however, and the beast unceremoniously fell down with it.
The Circus Freak snorted and started laughing, narrowly managing to jump out of the way when the first of them lunged at him.
“That’s too funny!” Hugo yelled.
The Circus Freak ran off at full speed, quickly jumping through a window of a house’s wall that was summarily broken down by the pursuing beasts, which were impeded enough by the collision with the wall that it allowed him to get across the room. “This is worth it, already!” he yelled.
The Circus Freak dove straight through the window at the opposite side of the room, shoulder first, and turned and weaved around into another street, doing what he did best, which was outrun and lose a chasing party.
After that, he found himself in a neighborhood containing buildings which were all taller than he was on several floors. That meant Hugo could no longer get a clear enough overview of the surroundings to know where to go. So instead, he looked up, caught sight of the closest source of fiery smoke and headed towards it.
The Circus Freak avoided a group of roaming beasts and eventually came to find the very large very impressive Neyrk militia headquarters. It was under siege, and all things considered, it was really odd to see the Beasts sieging.
They were standing around the big government building, outside the reach of the glowing air which was equally outlined by a ring of previously killed beasts, and there was quite a number of them. The Circus Freak had to pull back in order to not be seen. He turned around and edged into a house, silently for once, and took to the second floor so that he could better oversee what was happening.
Once there, the Circus Freak recognized that the Beasts were setting up the pillars. They were being set in a spiral, closer and closer to the building. The soldiers inside were shooting at them, but the bullets were just bouncing off, much like they had been doing in every other battle involving the Beasts.
Once they’re close enough, they can rush them and win the fight before getting too weak.
The Mad Genius’s terraforming was smart, and the way he had screened the entire island using only one terraforming engine was smart, but it meant that it was just smog. It wouldn’t keep. It could be transformed back just like it transformed the Beast’s metal back into… whatever material they were really made of.
The Beasts were scary enough in their unstoppable rampages, but now they were actually making use of tactics and caution? That was bad news, very bad news indeed. On top of it all, there were so many of them. Easily hundreds of them were around which meant it was only a matter of short time before they were alerted to the Circus Freak’s presence.
Right at that moment, a large noise boomed to announce a cannon being fired. The Circus Freak watched as one of the Beasts took it right to the face, being projected back into colliding with four others. They tumbled into a light crash against a wall and the building collapsed on top of them. Despite all that, they simply got up and crawled back into position.
If she’s in there… Hugo thought, worried.
He looked, imagining what an escape plan would look to anyone trapped inside that building being forced to watch as the army of the Beasts closed down on them further and further. More cannons sounded out with similar results, which made Hugo feel sure that nobody inside had any intentions to get out if there was even anyone who could even dream of a way to make it out. Likely not.
They were in it until the end.
I’ll get her out, Hugo thought, I can do that.
The Circus Freak walked back. He was on a second floor so jumping down would be no problem. Getting through the Beasts, however…well, if he couldn’t get in, he surely would not be getting out.
Look what she’s done to ya, ya Freak o’ Nature, the Circus Freak complained, shaking his head at himself.
He hopped around, not even trying to pretend that he wasn’t nervous. Hugo shook his head and took a deep breath, trying to steel his will.
Look what she’s done to ya. Agh, the Circus Freak thought again. Well. Enjoy it at least.
Hugo grinned and ran.
The Circus Freak protected his face with his arm. He fell into a roll and got up into a hop onto the face of a beast. He leaped high and far to hopscotch over yet another beast at around the time they were reacting to his appearance.
“Duck!” Hugo yelled.
He laughed madly as he landed on another beast’s head, promptly jumping off and along. The Circus Freak landed on the ground and sped amongst them like a cockroach trying to outrun the wind. Meanwhile, the Beasts were shoving each other trying to get enough room to jump after him.
A few claws were swung to intercept him, but that wouldn’t work. To him, the Beasts were sluggish. They hit each other when within range, or otherwise, they hit the air, and that was about it.
Finally, the Circus Freak went on a long slide under a lunge and into the open clearing marked by the white air and beast corpses.
Standing up, Hugo quickly flipped them off with both arms, forgetting one of them would just be a pointing stump, no matter how vigorously it moved. As he laughed at them, a cannon ball was shot right at one of the Beasts in front of him, which again caused a bowling effect. That only made him laugh harder.
“You’re hilarious!” the Circus Freak shouted. “Alright, be seein’ ya!” He turned around to walk towards the building.
“Clown,” a twisted, broadcasted and a slightly reverberated voice called out.
Hugo stopped, duly surprised at hearing the mechanical voice reaching out to him from behind as if it was scraping across the air with difficulty and disgust.
The Circus Freak turned with a wide grin. “Oh?” He replied.
“You. Are the clown,” the voice said, from among the Beasts.
“You mock,” another one said.
“You. Run well,” yet another one said.
“Soon,” the first one continued, “there will. Be no. Running place. Left.”
“You think ya scare me?” Hugo asked immediately.
He stepped forward towards the thick rows of beasts with his arms behind his back as if interlocked. “Ya think when I can run no more, that’s when you’ll get me?” Hugo asked. “Nah, that’s when I’ll get you.” He closed his eyes and grinned widely at them.
He was, of course, bluffing. Not even bluffing, the Circus Freak was just lying for the fun of it. For the show. “’Till then, you’re just so much fun.”
The beast grappled the ground and pulled itself as fast as it could to catch him but he, eyes closed, span and leaped around to evade it with a glorious spin of the body.
“Whoopsie!” Hugo yelled, goading.
The Circus Freak giggled as he danced around in the building’s courtyard, amidst glowing air that would corrupt the beast’s skin, which is why it immediately retreated to the mass of its brethren, all while under fire from the soldiers behind who were watching from the window.
“Too slow!” Hugo yelled after the fleeing beast.
The Circus Freak, feeling watched by hundreds of people, even if some weren’t exactly people, opened his arms and looked up triumphantly. He then performed a double spin and a bow.
Hugo laughed, paused, and then released a cackle that was fully energized by the attention he was getting right then. It came out loudly, disturbingly without explanation or reason.
Again, he abruptly stopped, freezing the perceived frame on his grinning face with eyes closed.
“I’ll be seein’ ya real soon,” Hugo threatened, with a hint of a growl in his voice. “Real…soon.”
Then the Circus Freak turned around and walked to go inside because one should never run away from a threat unless it were to completely disappear. As he did so, the Circus Freak observed that the building had been outfitted for defense against the Beasts, beyond just placing people in there. Cannon mouths spilled over many of the windows, now broken, and the ceiling was also brimming with big pots containing something to spill over the walls at a given point.
The Circus Freak also noticed peculiar barrels sitting next to the wall as he approached the entrance, connected to the inside of the building by some sort of cable.
More importantly, he quickly realized that the door was locked.
“Hey,” Hugo called, knocking, “Hey in there, yer makin’ me look bad. Lemme in.”
“Who are you?” Someone asked.
“Not a Beast,” the Circus Freak replied, holding in a giggle, “what’re you doing? Lemme in.”
“Beast? You mean dark one?” the person asked.
“Sure?” Hugo replied, giggling. “What’re you doing? C’mon, lemme in?”
Whispers came from inside, but the door did open to reveal a rather diverse group of soldiers, in both looks and wear. There was a policeman from Neyrk, as was evident by the black and blue uniform and hat, what seemed to be a Brithan soldier, made evident by the red and green uniform and also a wide hat, and a couple of Hanppon naturals made evident by the pajama uniforms they were wearing.
“Hi,” Hugo said with a wave of his one hand.
“Who’re you?” The cop asked.
“What? You don’t know who I am?” the Circus Freak asked, closing his eyes and grinning so he’d be more recognizable. After a couple of seconds, an awkward voice rose up.
“Why’re you closing your eyes like that?”
“What?” Hugo asked, and opened them. “You really don’t–” and then it hit him. He had swum long and hard against the might of the cold seas. He reached up to his face and confirmed that his make-up was utterly washed off.
“Argh!” The Circus Freak yelled in a panic, and all the soldiers flinched away. “No! Damn it!” he complained. He gestured and looked back out the door in the realization that he had made a fool out of himself to the Beasts.
He then shoved his head in his hand and groaned in frustration, “this is so embarrassing, argh!”
“Guy,” the cop called out.
“Buddy,” the soldier followed up.
“Who’re you?” the cop asked again.
“I’mthecircusfreak,” Hugo mumbled dejectedly.
“Who?” the pajama wearing warrior asked.
Hugo then remembered that the Beasts had recognized him. They knew who he was even without the make-up. Sure he was still in his costume but still, to be recognized in his ordinary face, sporting his ordinary hair and eyes? It made him feel a bit better.
“I’m the Circus Freak,” Hugo said, more confidently.
“Who’s that?” the cop asked.
“Why’re you wet?” The Hanppanese asked.
The Circus Freak put his hands on his waist, including the one he didn’t have.
“Kinda question is that, why am I wet? Why are you dry?” Hugo asked in return.
“What? Why am I dry? ‘Cause I’m not wet,” the man replied.
“Exactly,” Hugo said, smiling triumphantly.
“I reckon he’s one ova ‘em,” the Neyrk cop said, “didja see him move out there? He’s one o’ the thieves, for sure.”
At that point, more soldiers were arriving.
“They’re setting up more pillars,” one of the more seasoned ones commented, a Neyrk native, “who’s this, then?”
“The Clown Freak,” the cop said.
“Circus,” Hugo corrected, “The Circus Freak.”
“He’s one o’ the thieves, ‘perantly?” the cop pointed out, not too sure.
“I don’t care ‘bout the thieves, I care ‘bout the dark ones outside,” the impatient soldier said, “get back to your posts. You, boy, come with me.”
Boy? Hugo thought, smiling but not saying anything to that.
Hugo followed the slightly chubby leader across what had been, in the past, a waiting room for civilians with complaints or reports. The building was decently sized, and from the inside at least, it seemed to be pretty sturdy. Thick stone lining steel framing seemed to make most of it, and the pillars were very wide and looked pretty firm.
But what did he know, he was just a clown.
“Sooo…” Hugo voiced while looking around, “how’s it going?”
“How’s it look like?” the man asked.
“Better than expected?” Hugo asked.
The man grunted instead of chuckling.
“Reckon yer not wrong, there. Sad that,” chubby said and his heavy face, spotted by the occasional freckle and framed by gray hair, glanced at him. “So you one ova ‘em? People keep sayin’ the Chancellor’s not really in charge. That a group o’ you thieves been fighting the dark ones from the background. That yer leading us.”
“I’m not leading anyone, my good man, I’m just a clown,” Hugo said, politely.
“What are you doing, then? Why’re you here?” chubby asked.
“Ouf, now that’s a really good question. Why are we here?” Hugo asked, and he looked up, thoughtfully adding, “Really?”
The man rolled his eyes so hard Hugo saw it from just the back of his head. He was going to say something else, but they reached a door which the big man opened. They were on the second floor by then.
The room contained three people in proper military uniform, all of them dark green and filled with medals and other decorations. Two men and one woman.
The big man got out of the way so they could catch sight of him.
“This here’s the Circus Freak, whoever the void that is,” chubby said, annoyed. “He just charged through the dark ones and got inside untouched. Won’t tell me why.”
One of the men, the youngest one, raised a very perplexed eyebrow. “What?” he asked.
“Yeah, figure it out,” chubby said, waving the Circus Freak out of his life.
Then he just left. Without another word and without expecting any either, the hulking man just stepped off and walked away.
“Well,” Hugo commented, side-glancing at the distancing figure, “the world starts ending, and suddenly there’s no more respect for authority, is there? How shameful,” he said mockingly.
The youngest of the men, who was still old enough to be Hugo’s grandfather if he had had Hugo’s father as soon as possible–which was a weird way to classify someone’s age but there it was–turned to the other two duly confused. “What?”
“He’s Shadow Conclave,” the woman replied, “I was told he deserted.”
“Deserted?” Hugo questioned with a frown, stepping into the room, “can’t very well desert when ya never got drafted, right?”
Hugo closed the door behind him, showing the three perhaps a lack of intimidation that they had not seen in decades. That made them raise some walls, some invisible walls that were discernible to someone who spent a life freaking people out and making them get defensive.
“So what do you want? Why are you here?” the woman asked.
“Ouf…” Hugo said, nodding sagely, “now that’s a really good question.”
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