Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cruor et Caedis chapter V

Earlier chapters:
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV

- - - -

The inn was a roadside inn relatively close to Frostgrave. It's name was "Roadside Inn Welcome", which told everything there is to know about the imagination of the innkeeper.

Regardless their ragged band of performers had shambled there after a recent encounter in Frostgrave.

Their poor looks made the innkeeper suspicious... or perhaps it was the tainted, demonic aura that by now emanated from every member of Cruor et Caedis? Were the two even separable?

In the end innkeeper let Cruor et Caedis stay for free. It had taken a little bit of... convincing. Not in the way Jack had anticipated, though. First he let Groldo, the world's strongest man, express his dissatisfaction after a hard day... week... few months of fighting the wilderness, law, monsters and eating old friends. Now Jack owed a new, well... half of the inn for the innkeeper. Somehow the innkeeper did not appear frightened at all - in fact looked like he'd put up a fight at any given moment.

But then Adon and Ís had entered hall that was still fairly intact. They had somehow managed to cast the enchantment of unbearable beauty upon themselves. The innkeeper was transfixed. He could not get his eyes away from the sight. Equal measures of terror and awe were painted all over his face, plain for everyone to see. And also a slight hint of... lust.

So they got a permanent, free attachment for their remainder of world renown circus. At a half-broken inn in middle of nowhere close to the very edge of known world. Had they really sunken that deep? Where was their class, their dignity?

You have betrayed the legacy. You're useless. Worthless. One day I will gut you and read the future of Cruor et Caedis for the world to know - crap, nothing but crap. Crap with small bits of undigested morsels of world renown artists. You're nothing. You're...

"Have you never wanted to slice through that throat?"

Ennu froze in place and the sudden stop of movement caused a nasty cut to appear on Jack's throat. Jack did not flinch. This was their personal tradition; a solace and a small escape from hectic circus life. Not the slicing of Jack's throat, no. Rather this beard shaving ritual.

"Mister... why do you ask? Have you gone insane?"

"I've ruined this circus. This is no art we're doing here. What am I without an audience? What are we? Fighting for survival against the dead and the scribes. Pathetic." Jack spat on the floor and Ennu had to dodge the projectile. Floor started to slowly hiss and dissolve beneath the saliva.

"Mister is only testing us. Do no talk such sad things. It does not suit you, my dear... boss. Lead us to new glory if that is your wish. Do not talk of death. At least your own death. I have no other desire than to see these crumbs of beard fall off."



"I hit you and made your mask fall off."

Another sudden cut appeared on Jack's face. Ennu said: "Now look at what you made me do!" and Jack could hear the strain in the voice.

"It won't happen again. You're the only one I trust. It was a terrible thing for me to do." Jack said awkwardly and hesitantly. Apologies didn't come naturally from him - unless they were part of the show.

There was a silence, followed by nearly whispered: "Mister is only testing us."

"You're right. We can all use this as inspiration. And I still haven't found my ring. We're going back for more."

It took a few days to re-supply their party, take care of the wounds (both physical and psychological... and magical) and to fit the strange sarcophagus they had found with wheels, so that Jack could be dragged to places without going insane and violent over Ís. Jack had trusted the navigation of the expedition to Ennu, who had some sort of mysterious relation to this place.

But the journeys felt rather long inside the metal box. Jack had a lot of time to think. He wasn't actually claustrophobic, no. He wasn't even that afraid of being buried alive. All of this had happened many times already during his training. Yet... he was terrified. Why was he terrified? Perhaps being terrified was his way of life. The only thing you could trust in this world was sheer, absolute horror. Dread is all there is. Fright is all there was. And terror is everything there ever will be.

This metal sarcophagus reminded him of things. Bad things. Like being buried inside a box with his father and a volunteer from the audience. Jack didn't know what the trick had been, but he knew he was the one who suffered. His father had lousy numbers. He had been a selfish and terrible man. Though now that Jack was thinking about it... there had been that one good performance where the volunteer would be sawed in half, the steaming guts exposed to the crowd and then being melded back together with some aides from beyond. Why did they ever remove than number from their repertoire? Was it because of that one time when aides refused to graft the flesh and instead possessed the two halves, and started doing acrobatic tricks? Jack had thought it had been genius.

The sarcophagus came to a halt. The lid was raised. Before the silhouette took the shape of Ennu, Jack couldn't help but feel the primordial fear that his father was reaching for him.

"We're at the temple" Ennu said. "Somebody lives here now I think."

"What?" Jack shouted and sprang up from the coffin-turned-into-a-carriage. He could hear the shriek coming from Ís right away.

"I don't care. I... I don't care. If they come our way, kill them. I can't stand that noise any more than I have to" Jack ordered.

"What noise, mister? The hum coming from the sacred pillars?" Ennu enquired but received no answer. Jack no longer paid attention to the conversation. His eyes were fixed on a strange and exotic figure in the distance. A figure that Jack could sense wielded a power not unlike his own. Was he a rival? An ally? An usurper? A teacher?

Jack left the rest of Cruor et Caedis to their own devices and started to pay close attention to every move of that stranger. Jack summoned some unclean spirits to inhabit Groldo and Wanny the Juggler just to see how the stranger would react. But the stranger did not react. He closed in and neared a pillar that was giving off an aura of great power. He touched the pillar, but Jack could not fathom why.

Since the stranger was not openly aggressive, though everybody else was fighting, Jack felt interested. He might actually invite this individual to Cruor et Caedis, if he could only talk to him... He started imagining the great wonders they could do together. A new rise for the circus. A show unlike any other. Until now, the only person Jack had ever felt such a connection had been...

Suddenly all Jack could see standing next to the pillar of power was his father.

The things they had done together. A great anger arose in him. A hatred unlike any other.

Calling forth all pyrotechnical prowess he had at his disposal, he blasted his father dead with a ball of fire.

Next chapter

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