The Circus Freak was doing what he always did, being annoying, but in truth, he knew he was just avoiding asking about her. He didn’t want others to know of his interest, which was turning out to be an irrationality he couldn’t fight very well.
So instead, he tried being the Circus Freak if the Circus Freak wasn’t being strange.
“So I was having fun back in the boat,” he said, pointing back at the door for some reason, “but then I kinda got bored of that? So figured I’d have more fun around here.” Hugo paused and looked around, adding “and so far so good. So, the Beasts are comin’, what’s the plan?”
The two men looked at the old woman, waiting for her reaction. She hummed in thought.
“Beasts?” one of the men asked.
“Dark Ones,” she corrected, “Beasts are what the mages have been calling them. I said so in the briefing…” she glanced at him dangerously and he looked away, scratching his face.
“Ehh, sorry,” the man apologized.
“In any case, the plan is to fight…Circus Freak, was it?” the woman, apparently the superior, asked.
“You betcha,” Hugo said, grinning and closing his eyes for added effect. He then remembered his predicament as far as his makeup was concerned and opened them again, choosing to pretend that he had suffered a need to blink somewhat slowly.
“There is no plan other than to fight, now. Despite the forces committed to this place, it’s still the least priority defensive location so we’re not getting reinforcements,” the general explained.
“Well yes but that decision was made when you thought the Beasts were just gonna charge, right?” Hugo guessed, “things’re different.”
“We haven’t heard different,” she said calmly, “unless you’re here to tell us different?”
That information was important, but what was even more relevant was that Hugo felt it was a good conversation path to take him where he wanted to go.
“Oh, do you have a way to contact the others? I can talk to my buddies, ask what’s what. Maybe they’ll want me to stay and help yo–”
The building shook.
Agh really?! Hugo thought, angry.
The wrinkly faced old veteran looked at one of her colleagues, the youngest one. He nodded and sighed.
“Victory or death,” he said.
“Dark Ones are giving us no other choice,” the woman said.
He drew a pistol, stood up and ran out. The Circus Freak followed him out with a turn of his head, but quickly looked back at the two remaining leaders.
“Okay so uuhh…” Hugo said, trying to call them to attention, “about contacting my buddies?”
“It’s irrelevant now,” she told him, putting a pistol on the table. The other man got up and drew a double-barreled shotgun and moved back from the door.
“Yer gonna want to move, son,” he said, with what the Circus Freak could describe was a grizzly voice.
“Okay, well, it’s not irrelevant to me?” Hugo pressed, doing his best to give a normal smile, “so what is it? Is it one of those magical scrolls? Gimme.”
“It won’t make a difference anymore. They’re inside, we’ll all be dead in minutes,” the woman explained, sounding a bit too accepting in Hugo’s opinion.
“I can write pretty fast, though!” The Circus Freak promised with a giggle.
The old woman gave him a stupefied look that had a very unique kind of exhaustion to it. Sighing, she told him, “just leave us be, Circus Freak. We would like to pray in peace before we die.”
“No yes, I understand, but you see I-I-” Hugo said, trying to find some words while scratching his neck, “I uhh… really wanna find out what I should be doing?”
“Just chase after James, he has the darned scroll,” said the angry man, “go away.”
The Circus Freak’s face contorted in anger, and he snapped his fingers.
“Ya know, ya really coulda just…” Hugo trailed off and didn’t say anything else. Frustrated, he just ran off.
Once outside the door, the Circus Freak stopped. He started hearing noises of people fighting and dying, coming from every direction. He could also feel the building shaking and crumbling. Men and women were yelling, in rage or death, usually both. He looked around unsure whether this James character had gone right or left.
“Right,” the woman’s voice came from behind him.
“Ah’right,” Hugo jested, darting off.
The Circus Freak reached the end of the corridor, which led to the staircase, without seeing signs of James. Instead, a number of soldiers ran past him. There, at the staircase, a row of soldiers wearing several different uniforms were shooting down at the floor below. There were two beast bodies on the floor, presumably dead, and one had just crashed through and was still in a sturdy enough form for bullets to be bouncing off its body.
It clawed at the ground and leaped up at them all. The Circus Freak jumped back but nobody else did so it crashed against the balcony that led to the staircase, utterly destroying it while killing two soldiers.
The ones that survived then jumped back, each yelling over each other.
“By the Light!”
“By the ancestors!”
“Gimme dat!” Hugo shouted in turn.
“What?” Asked the man he was stealing from.
The Circus Freak retrieved a sword off the man’s scabbard without waiting for approval, and jumped forward. The Beast crumbled the floor as it came around, slashing another soldier violently enough to also throw him off the balcony. The remaining ones kept their distance and Hugo, though in range, bent his body all the way back down to dodge under that slash.
The Circus Freak rose his torso back up like a snake and thrusted, the sword’s tip went in a few inches but not completely. He thrusted a few more times, feeling each one meeting softer and softer opposition. Meanwhile, the beast turned towards him with another swing, which he dodged.
He continued to strike. “C’mon!” Hugo demanded, impatiently.
“Get outta there, man!” Someone yelled after him.
“What’s happening?!” A voice came from behind the beast as it blundered ahead, trying to reach for the Circus Freak without success. He was on his fifteenth thrust meanwhile.
“Come on!” Hugo yelled again.
A claw reached out for him which he knew he couldn’t dodge. In reflex, he swung his sword down on his side to intercept it. Half the Beast’s arm passed by in front of him, sliced open.
The beast paused, its eyes rolling to glare at the part of the claw that went off by its own, flying off the balcony.
“Hah!” The Circus Freak celebrated, slashing at the beast and getting a good slice into its hide. “Duh, this’s a cutting blade! It’s made for slicing!”
The beast blundered forward to try and squash him with its body but he hopped back and then up on top of the beast, laughing, “you’re like me now, all armless!”
However, the beast wasn’t as okay with it as he was, because it managed no worthwhile opposition as he slashed at its back rapidly and incessantly until he finally cut through, on his fourth swing. The beast had recovered a foothold to push itself up but it was too late by then.
A yelp came from inside the machine just before it was cut short and silent, and the blade came out bloodied.
“Whoah!” Hugo exclaimed in surprise, feeling the machine shudder and die. He looked up at the soldiers. “I think I killed it?”
The two soldiers looked at each other, then back at him.
“Well good!” they said in a chorus.
They took position again and aimed at the door, which was a good thing because a beast came in just then. It again ignored the bullets and jumped up into the balcony, and this time they had to pull back and face it inside one of the corridors, forcing it to crawl through. However, it didn’t quite fit and the beast obviously was in a rush since it didn’t want to die, so part of the corridor crumbled around its back as it forced itself forward.
The next one would get that far much faster. It was at that point Hugo knew he couldn’t just make a stand with the rest of the soldiers.
Man, they’re really doing their best, Hugo thought, of the Beasts.
He leapt over the beast while it was still being finished off by the soldiers, returning back to the balcony, now broken, that lead to the staircase. Another beast was just finished jumping to the other end of the balcony so that it could pursue the other end of the platoon.
Dividing and conquering even… Hugo remarked in his mind.
The Circus Freak looked down and saw there was a passage next to the main door that was not broken. The balcony came from the corridor he had come and continued on to the corridor where the other soldiers were. Since he had not seen James, Hugo could only assume James had taken that one untouched entrance before or while the first beast was getting killed, the one which was already dead when he arrived.
The Circus Freak leapt down, landing at the same time as another beast landed at the busted up main entrance. Hugo saw its eyes focus on him as he made a run for it.
He crossed the entrance he guessed James had gone through, and a second later, the beast crashed into it, unable to fit through in one smooth leap.
They’re gonna chase me, now, Hugo thought in realization, where are you, James?!
The Circus Freak ran right into a spiral staircase which he followed for what seemed like more than two floors, which meant he was going underground.
Great, just great, Hugo thought, starting to get really annoyed.
He could be escaping already, the odds he could flee amidst all the fighting were pretty high but he still hadn’t confirmed if anyone was actually in the building, and unless he wanted to run aimlessly around the island, he really needed that magic scroll.
Man, I used to be okay with running aimlessly, Hugo thought, bitterly. Used to make me happy.
The Circus Freak passed by some soldiers who were barricaded behind steel cabinets that they had brought down, or tables. They didn’t much react to him. If there was any advantage to the situation it was that they didn’t care who he was so long as he was human. In a fight to the death against the Beasts, any soldier would assume that if he showed up, it was for a reason, so they would just hope that it was for a helpful one.
However, the Circus Freak did reach an intersection, at one point.
“Hey,” Hugo said, poking a soldier in the shoulder. She looked up at him. “James run through here?” he asked.
“Yeah, he took that left there, why? Who are you?” she asked.
The Circus Freak didn’t answer and just ran. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t get an answer but again, in a situation like that, nobody was going to be unhelpful. He asked again and again and trailed the man all the way to some backroom in an ill-lit corner of a corridor not being well guarded by anyone.
The whole thing was suspicious.
The door knob didn’t work so he decided to kick the blasted door until it fell.
“I’m not a dark one! It’s the Freak!” Hugo yelled in warning, while kicking.
It took four kicks. James was inside, already staring at the door in worry all while holding some kind of lever. The lever was connected to a panel from which several wires were coming out. They turned and circumvented the room, disappearing into the walls through holes.
The man was definitely the youngest of the three leaders.
“The void’s that, James?” Hugo asked, gravely.
“The final payback,” James answered with a sigh, “scared me for a second there, I was about to blow everything sky high.”
“Blow?” Hugo growled. His memory was triggered by the statement and showed him the image of the barrels he had seen at the entrance of the building, to which wires were connected that looked very much like the ones exiting the panel.
“Wait, yer gonna blow everyone up?” Hugo asked, appalled.
“Victory or death,” he announced in reply, as if it was a statement.
“Well yeah but I figured that was because the Beasts will kill ya or die,” Hugo said in a high pitched voice, truly surprised at the reasoning. “Why don’t you try to run? Reach another defensive whatchamacallit?”
“Impossible,” James said, in that tone of voice that a warrior will use when he’s accepted defeat, and death.
“No,” Hugo scoffed, “it’s just really unlikely. Surviving this is impossible,” he added, gesturing at the machine.
“If you try and stop me, I’ll do it! I want to wait as long as possible to get as many of them as I can but if you try to stop me—”
“Alright, alright, eesh!” Hugo said, holding up his hands to show he wouldn’t.
And they say I’m crazy? Pff, Hugo thought.
At that moment, the Circus Freak caught sight of the scroll. It was peeping out of the man’s jacket, shoved into some kind of inner pocket.
Due to everything he had gone through, with the clothes still wet on his back and sweat still running down his brow and the emergency of the sounds of war all around him, the Circus Freak didn’t think and simply reached out for it.
“I’ll just take what I came for then–” He was interrupted by James who nervously pulled the lever.
The Circus Freak froze.
“I…” The man looked at the machine, then back at Hugo, “I thought you were trying to stop me.”
The building roared.
“Nn!” The Circus Freak groaned violently and felt something he had never felt before.
Well, many things, actually. It started with the realization that he might die, and the fear that came with the discovery he really really didn’t want to.
Then despair kicked in.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, his brain emptied itself of all and any cleverness and wit and any willingness to talk or to banter. It went sharp and unforgiving, it wanted to survive.
The body followed like a slave.
The Circus Freak kicked James in the groin to make sure no more stupid resistance delayed him from getting the scroll, and he just snatched it off his jacket pocket. And then he ran out.
The Circus Freak had never run out of fear for his life. Even at his fastest, he had been doing it for fun. It was different now. The halls blurred as his vision tunneled, his mind concerned on the single point of escape.
Soldiers passed by him like they were part of the scenery.
He was carrying the scroll in his one hand so he couldn’t use it for anything, it was all in his legs. Hugo was wall running instead of making proper turns, nearly leaping over every obstacle, people including, and overall doing everything in his power not to slow down.
The building very clearly started exploding from every direction and side. The Circus Freak’s brain was providing all the calculations, collaborating with the muscles and what memory was stored in them, and with his instincts, to provide near-perfect movements at every possible half of a second.
Hugo’s mind was staying out of the whole ordeal and yet still contributing by generating white noise in the form of a continuous and shrilling scream. The despair was all there, in that scream, and thus helpfully out of the way of his nervous system.
There was a beast at the entrance to the floor, it had crushed its way down the spiral staircase and was already dead. Another one was finishing its landing when the Circus Freak reached the first one, surrounded by bullet fire that didn’t stop just because he got in the way.
Surrounded by bullets, Hugo hopped onto the dead beast and jumped off of it to step off the wall, jumping between the dead and the landing beast, to then wall-run up another feet into jumping and bending over the edge of the staircase’s start, narrowly making it.
Hugo rolled off his back, getting up, turned and ran towards the end of the corridor. However, he immediately saw fire from the explosion, death, rushing at him in a rage from the opposite end of the corridor. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a beast halfway to him, clawing at the floor to leap at him, and within that corridor, he had no room to dodge.
In the split second Hugo had to make a decision, he stepped hard on his right foot to both stop his momentum, which he didn’t do fully, but also hop into the air and against the wall to his left.
The building shook with another explosion just after his left foot finished kicking off the wall to throw him in a leap to his right.
Hugo broke through a barricaded window with a cannon mounted at its base, both of which had been weakened by everything that was happening. The beast was violently pushed past him by the explosion, which soon erupted at him as well, like an afterthought.
It singed his clothes before an even greater explosion took place. All Hugo had time to do was turn and bring the scroll to his belly, to protect it.
The Circus Freak was flung several feet off his jump.
His brain, still intent on surviving the whole ordeal, forced his eyes open before he even landed. Hugo saw he was going to crash across the ground amidst what looked to be a platoon of Beasts.
The Circus Freak was immune to pain so he had no idea in what shape his body was in. His instincts, lacking that same information, assumed, as ever, that everything was okay, and so summoned the right muscles and gave out orders, setting them to purpose.
The mind was still screeching.
The Circus Freak landed with a roll that turned into a triple tumble which finished into a leap over an expected beast lunge. However, his legs crashed against said beast’s face and sent his body flipping further away.
Hugo landed the exact same way, but this time, he translated that into a run instead of a jump, darting to the side so as to avoid yet another beast.
The barracks, one of the oldest buildings of Neyrk and representative of their desire for justice, blew up one final time.
It sounded like a ridiculously huge explosion, grand and magnificent to watch…but Hugo didn’t know and wouldn’t know because he wasn’t looking.
Hugo was doing something he had never done before, he was running for dear life.
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