"Bravo! Bravo!" Jack applauded when the acrobat brothers showed him what they had been able to teach to the dogs in their improvised kennel. Sure, it was nothing when compared to their earlier animal whisperer, but considering the circumstances, Jack was proud of their accomplishments. The dogs had been left slightly more aggressive than what Jack had been used to, but this didn't bother him. He liked a little bit of ferociousness and passion in his crew. And dogs were part of his crew now. And the bear.
Bear had appeared some time ago, scavenging on the outskirts of their inn. Once Jack knew of the beast, he ordered everyone to catch the bear and shackle it. It was to become their new dancing bear. It was not a cub any more, so it would be quite a challenge. But challenge wasn't something Jack was afraid of. Once caught, the bear was put to rigorous training. The bear and the dogs were often trained together at the same time, which had a toll on their supply of wild dogs.
Sometimes the bear would become enraged and attacked the dogs, and any member of the circus that was too close. Mighty blows tossed dogs around like rubber chickens. This gave Jack an amazing idea. As the bear looked like it had a tendency of throwing living things, perhaps it could be taught to juggle the dogs?
That proved to be a mistake in the end. They had too few dogs available. But perhaps in time it would work out, somehow... When they would make it big on the stage, once more...
"Have they drugged the bear?" Ennu asked from behind of Jack.
"I don't know. Maybe. Whatever they did, it looks like it's balancing quite well on the barrel. Or perhaps it is afraid of the flames around the barrel?" Jack was wondering aloud, not directing his word exactly at Ennu.
"Reminds me of the old times. Not exactly the same... but I feel warm inside."
Jack turned to face Ennu, and said: "Oh, I know what you mean! Every circus needs animals. They're as important as everybody else, if not even more so. In circus they are ascending from their animal state to higher beings. That's more than any of us has done." Except, of course, when Jack's summonings became permanent.
"I think we should expand our repertoire of animals" Jack continued.
"Oh? What do you have in mind, mister? Please keep in mind the capabilities of our current trainers..."
"Yes, yes... I don't think they can handle anything more. And once we get back to the civilization, we need to recruit some real animal trainers. Meanwhile I don't think we can find elephants or parrots here. It's too cold. But I remember a funny little flea circus that played some tunes in a music box. There should be all kinds of insects everywhere. I might take responsibility of transcending them personally to perform wonders beyond human comprehension."
Ennu didn't say anything.
"I know, it isn't very grandiose... but I miss the real show. This is all just practice here while we wait... I'm growing slightly bored."
"It's yours to decide what to do. Yourself, and us as a whole. We could leave."
"No! I haven't found my ring yet. And I don't think the southern lands have settled yet, the uproar was nothing like we've seen before. We need to stay."
"As you wish, but others are also missing the stage."
"I know! I know!"
"Also, this morning an outrider entered this inn. Apparently some patrolling king's men are approaching the inn with the intent of holding up the law of the land and chasing off brigands. Surely we are not brigands, but I'm not entirely sure how the law feels about our circus, at least right now."
"Is that so. Sounds like a perfect time for a little tour. Nothing too fancy, not yet. Perhaps we should go and take our meagre menagerie with us. Just to see if they react well to people they don't know yet. And if they remember any of the new tricks they've been taught when they are in unfamiliar surroundings. Yes, I like this idea. We'll go tonight."
"As you wish."
"Ennu, please tell me. Do the good folk there, who have crashed with their cart, look like they'd enjoy a show while they're waiting for repairs?" Jack asked politely. He was genuinely interested.
"Hmm. Perhaps. Should we send someone to ask?"
"Oh, why bother. Let's surprise them! I'm sure they will love it! I think I might even début my flea circus..."
"An armed group seems to be closing in from the west. Are they coming to rescue the cart?"
Jack started to cackle maniacally: "But why would they need rescuing? It's only a show, you know! I already began. See that man in robes? I ordered my flea circus to entertain him a little!"
"Jack... they look like giant spiders. And I think they're trying to eat him."
Jack smiled and said with an unearthly voice: "Yes. The show is on." He raised his hand and saw thick streaks of blue liquid running up and down his flesh almost as if it was alive. Where the streaks had travelled, Jack vanished from sight. Eyes wide from surprise told Ennu that this had not been a part of their show tonight.
"Jack has gone missing" Ennu whispered. Oh, great. The bear had forgotten absolutely everything it had been taught, and was already attacking the supposed caravan retinue. Chances for a peaceful retreat had vanished as surely as Jack had done.
"Jack has gone missing! Our master is missing!" Ennu started shouting and running around, trying to gather everyone together. There was fighting in the distance there where the broken cart laid. Perhaps the approaching armed men were actually just filthy, plain robbers only? And now they thought Cruor et Caedis was coming to help the cart haulers? The fools!
"I don't know. We should go. Everyone retreat! Shoot the bear with sleep dart or something. We can't handle this without Jack" was the message Ennu wanted to tell, but there was no proof everyone got it the right way. Eventually Ennu just decided to take a run, orderly retreat wasn't one of their strengths. During escape, Ennu noticed Adon just standing idly. In fact, Adon had his eyes closed. The other... face... thing? had her eyes open, and they were looking sternly to the distance. Ennu poked Adon multiple times and tried to make him understand to run away. Eventually Adon opened his eyes, and Ennu took running off running again. Perhaps they followed. Or maybe not.
Few hours later almost everyone had found themselves together hiding in one of the ruined manors of that particular district where they happened to be. Curious thing, that instinct of theirs. Truly the bond between members of Cruor et Caedis was deeper than that of a close family. Nobody had really ever gotten lost from others during any of their many, many escapes and retreats. Come to think of it, none had ever really been able to escape Cruor et Caedis, either.
But here they were. Their dancing bear had been sedated and brought in the coffinmobile (that's what Jack called his sarcophagus with wheels). A few of their dogs had either died, or weren't here yet. First possibility was more likely by now. And here they were. Injured, bleeding, clobbered and insane. And... without Jack.
Adon had fallen asleep, but the other face was still looking somewhere that was beyond the sight of anyone else. The face refused to look anywhere else. If Adon was turned around by force, the face would turn back right away.
Soon they would need to get going. As there might be a connection between Jack's location and Adon's other face's direction, remains of Cruor et Caedis let it guide them. It only lead deeper into the ruins of Frostgrave. Their medical supplies were exhausted, but there was no reason to go back without Jack. There was hardly any reason to live without Jack.
After travelling for a day or so a snowstorm had started hampering their advance. The reasonable thing to do would have been to start falling back to their inn - visibility had been hampered so that it would be next to impossible to spot Jack, even if they reached his general whereabouts.
Then they came across an eerie opening, where the air itself was rippling with unknown power. Adon's other face seemed to pay special attention to this place, so Ennu ordered a more thorough searching. Soon it became clear that they were not alone.
"Curses. We must retreat. There are so many of them. Clearly we haven't been the only ones who've been drawn to this place! We will never find Jack this way" Ennu was lamenting, even if nobody was listening.
"Well, you don't really even need to", said a familiar voice nearby.
"Jack! Everyone, Jack is back! Jack is right here!" Ennu tried to inform their camp.
"Be quiet. Here lies a great power. Do not disturb it. I will capture it and harness it. See that stonework? Some sort of pillars, but they're not supporting anything. I don't know what will happen, but it will happen soon", Jack said and put his index finger in front of his lips with a soft "shh."
"Jack! Where were you? And have you... my apologies if I'm being too inquisitive, but have you found your ring? Can we leave Frostgrave?"
"Oh, this" Jack snorted scornfully and raised his hand in front of him for a better view of his own fingers. "This is trash. I thought it was the ring that would make a ringmaster, but this thing must be a crude joke. It is not my ring, but I will keep it as it has some minor... powers. Where I was if of no concern. It was freak accident, I believe. A vial had shattered in my pocket. It somehow... placed me. Somewhere. Somewhere where I could see this place and it's power. It should not happen again, I assure you, my loyal minion."
Ennu was about to say something, but suddenly Jack look alerted.
"Now! It starts now! Everyone, let's get moving! Kill everyone in sight, this wonderful secret shall be mine alone!" Jack ordered. Then he muttered to himself: "A glimpse... I can almost see it... the veil is so thin. Tear it down..."
Truly something was happening in here. Mighty beings out of this world were moving in the maximum reach of their vicinity. The living dead were walking towards the opening lead by a dark figure. A demonic entity was approaching the area from another direction along with its diabolic master. An invisible, terrifying presence could also be felt closing in.
Jack was fixated in observing the pillars when their group was attacked from within the snowstorm. It would be a fight unlike any before. Jack didn't care, but their group was injured, undernourished and exhausted.
"Jack. This is not natural. And we are outnumbered. We can't do this. Please, reconsider!" Ennu begged.
"Hah! For sure it is not natural! This is the most important event we have ever witnessed. We won't fall back, you coward. And look, they're fighting among themselves. There are more sides than two here today."
Ennu shook head, but submitted.
Until a green explosion of energy filled the clearing, and ghastly creatures rose from beneath the banks of snow and piles of rubble. It was pure hell on earth.
For a moment Ennu was sure that this was the end of them all. Cruor et Caedis would be no more. Everyone would die here today.
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