- - -
"Mister Jack... are you, well, reading?"
Jack quickly tried to hide the tome somewhere, but since he was reading in his coffin bed, there wasn't all that much space available. "Kind of" he muttered.
"Surely not for the plot?" Ennu enquired in an innocent tone.
"It is very good indeed."
"Yes. It tells about a ringmaster who lashes out at his far too nosy subordinates."
"The one in pink clothes has arms and legs torn from the body and made into a hula hoop. What's left is cut in four pieces, and the dancing bear juggles with them, all the while she runs the hula hoop."
Laughter came a little too late, and was a little too nervous. But perhaps Jack would've needed to use some other way to express his point - the aforementioned number had really been performed on two separate occasions during Cruor et Caedis' lengthy existence. First time had been when Jack was about four years of age. How curious that Jack remembered Ennu being around that time, too - all big and adult and such. It had been at least forty years.
The one turned into a hula hoop was one of the circus freaks that were on display. A troll-looking fellow with a very large nose, in fact. Jack didn't remember how the freak had displeased his father. Though it was possible that it had been a prototype of a new stage number, but it had gone horribly wrong. Who knows.
Second time had been at least fifteen years later, when one of the elderly servants had complained to Jack how much better his father had been at running a circus.
Despite having strong distaste for the written word, Jack had eventually taken a look at one of the many thick grimoires the circus had found during their search. This had happened mostly because one of them failed to catch fire even when Jack had aided the burning process by calling a demonic fire from the underworld. He had never seen such writing and it was difficult to decipher. It felt like the writing was embedding itself inside of Jack's skull, symbol by symbol, rather than him consciously studying the text.
Jack wasn't alarmed, though. He had fair amount of experience about various otherworldly powers invading people's body or psyche, and sometimes both. This was nothing like it. The actual intent and practical purpose of the arcane writing was a mystery, but the more he read more keenly he was able to sense magic auras inside inanimate objects. They were calling to him.
Fortunately they were calling to him in a discreet, silent manner. He didn't need any additional voices inside of his head. After he had been overusing his mystical powers in stressful and life threatening situations, his mind felt like a sieve. Demons and other spiritual entities were visiting him constantly. Sometimes they were talking, sometimes he only felt an oppressive and menacing presence. And then there was Ís. Her monotonous high pitched scream had slowly changed. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes it was slightly more quiet. Earlier the sound could not have been produced by human throat, but now it resembled a non-stop "e" or "i".
But all of this was of no importance while he was inside his metal coffin. It had been fitted with wheels to allow for transportation to Frostgrave and back to the "Roadside Inn Welcome".
Inside of it all was quiet... all except for the dogs.
On their spare time Rophy and Mesant, the acrobat brothers, had lured a pack of wild dogs into a trap. Originally they probably wanted a more robust meal, but then someone got this great idea about a new lineage of circus dogs. There was now a sort of animal shelter in the lower story of the inn, and the dogs were barking and whining a lot. The brothers had brutal, yet inefficient training methods. The fools were wasting their time, and Jack almost felt sorry that they had eaten their animal trainer. But there had already been some merit in this whole damnable affair - a tormented physical shell was always easier for darker powers to inhabit. As proven by the recent killing on that frozen river.
Come to think of it... they really could use a new dancing bear.
"Where are we heading, mister?" the question woke up Jack from his thoughts.
"Nowhere!" Jack snapped.
"Nowhere? But earlier you said..."
"Yes! I sense a place that's nowhere, and there is nothing there. We're going there."
"Well, alright, sir... but can you be a little more specific about, for example, our direction?"
"We're going there where there is a whole lot of nothing. Nothing at all."
- - -
Jack felt drawn to the majestic tower. He had known there was nothing in here, and he was right! All the nothing was inside that tower. He didn't know how he knew this, but it was probably indigestion, or maybe the weird texts he had been kind of reading.
"Wonderful. So beautiful. Cruor et Caedis, let me represent you... our new home" Jack was speaking to his performers. Everyone else only gave a blank stare to the tower, well, except for Ennu (whose eyes were behind a mask, maybe Ennu was also staring the building, hard to tell) and Berethra, the vocalist. She was rolling her eyes.
"Of course it is only a temporary home. Our true home is on the stage. But we need to find my ring. And this will be our base of operations" Jack continued to explain.
There was some movement in the vicinity. Someone pointed in that direction, but Jack didn't notice. Someone gently tapped Jack on the shoulder, so he noticed the pointy finger.
"WHAT?" Jack shout, enraged.
"Someone is already living in here? They got no right! Dirty hobos! Burn them, burn them all! And their filthy beards, too! Wait, don't burn those. I want to do that. Otherwise, don't spare any of them. Cleanse this place."
Soon violence started all over the outskirts of the tower. Figures were not homeless people, though. They were spellcasters very capable of defending themselves from Jack's wild and unpredictable power. But Jack had already made up his mind, and refused to see them as anything else.
One by one his fellow actors were struck down or shot with crossbow bolts. Groldo, the mighty strongman, was knocked unconscious right before Jack's very own eyes when a powerful enemy wizard appeared out of thin air.
"Groldo you fool! He didn't even hit you that hard. Rise up. Damn you! Okay, then. Let's kill that urchin!" Jack said and dragged the sharpshooter of Cruor Caedis, who was able to shoot an apple from the head of a person one hundred yards away, while blindfolded and Berethra, the vocalist who could shatter glass with her voice alone, and attacked the newly appeared foe. They managed to put him down, but Jack failed to recognise the magic in foe's weaponry. Jack got a nasty slash to his belly. It was probably lethal in the long run, but for now it only lit demonic fire in Jack's eyes. His sisters in arms had also been badly injured, and it was probably due to sheer luck that all of them didn't meet their fate there and then.
"Curses! Why won't they just leave? They're nothing! They're even less nothing than this tower! Our new home, our destiny..." Jack was rambling, when a ghostly apparition rose from the corpse of their recently slain enemy.
"You again? Go away! Why won't you go away? To hell with you, to hell with everyone!" Jack yelled in frenzy, and punched the ghost with a sword he had found from Frostgrave. The sword gleamed in hues of red and blue, and somehow it looked like the ghost froze in place and shattered into dust. Again, Jack didn't even notice the danger he was in.
Bleeding he ran closer to the entrance of the tower, and was shouting: "You imbeciles! Die! Run! I'm coming to get you! Come to daddy! I'm going to show the only thing you're good for! Ahhahhraarghaahhah, yes, just like that, you waste of flesh! Yes, cry more! Grahhahhgrlahaahh."
Jack's incoherent outburst was interrupted by his eyes flaring up and literally giving off tendrils of flame - which also appeared from his ears, mouth and nostrils. The wound he had suffered in earlier fight was burning, too.
- - -
Next thing Jack knew was him standing inside the tower of nothing. Everything was silent. Battle was still raging outside of the tower, but he could hear nothing. Ís was as silent as when Jack was lying in his coffin. His mind was also empty from dissonant voices and whispers from beyond. Then panic struck him. His genius was also silent. He knew none of the fabulous tricks that had made his circus such a success. Maniacally he looked back and forth from the entrance to his dying circus. He scratched his belly, and was surprised to find an itching burn mark there.
This was a silence he could not bear. Afraid, he took flight from the tower.
Outside he stumbled upon Ennu.
"Mister! Oh, this is a blessing! We thought we lost you. Many of us has fallen... almost everyone... Brother of yours has escaped and everyone is injured, maybe dying, I know not! But your wish has been fulfilled, the enemy is retreating! 'Twas a a high cost indeed, but we are victorious! The tower is ours!" Ennu was crying and sobbing hysterically.
"Oh, this tower? Ah, yes. I exchanged my thoughts. We're not staying. Let's leave this place."