Damaskenos, the half-bear, sat glowering in his cage, rain pattering down from above. The head of the Sergeinov Circus was having one of his meetings with the head of another circus, the Dark Wood Circus. Ringmaster Sergeinov had sent Herr Braun to discuss things. The ringmaster of the Dark Wood Circus was wearing a long red coat, a tophat, and gloves. He was thin, and moving with a quick pace, pausing every now and again to allow Herr Braun to catch up. With him were four people, a young man dressed in a black and white suit who looked like he might be a clown, a man with short, black hair wearing leather gloves for some reason, a man dressed in a white-tie suit with a top hat and a masquerade mask, and a young girl wearing a leotard following just behind him.
"Herr Ashen, this town cannot suffer two circuses," Herr Braun said, "You must leave and let the bigger show have its place in the bigger cities. I'm sure you can make what living you need from smaller towns."
"We can't leave," Ashen said, "We promised a performance to the people of this town, and I always keep my promises."
"You promised me you would be reasonable when we began this conversation," Herr Braun said, "I don't find you've kept that promise."
"Alright, so I almost always keep my promises," Ashen responded, glancing at the various attractions and acts the Sergeinov Circus was setting up. Damaskenos got the eerie feeling for a moment that Ashen was looking directly at him, and he quickly looked away. Ashen, who was looking at his watch now, continued speaking, "Oh, my, I'm late, we need to start packing up," he said, "Wilder, come with me, we must go immediately, Byelbog, see if we can come to an agreement with Mister Brown."
"Herr Braun," the manager corrected, but Ashen ignored him while he and Wilder ran off away from the large, open field where Sergeinov Circus was setting up. The two passed quickly by Damaskenos without so much as a glance, and Herr Braun and the other four circus members slowly walked out of earshot, still discussing business. Herr Braun certainly seemed to like Byelbog better than Ashen.
A few moments after, Damaskenos had shut his eyes and was trying to sleep, but a clanging noise as someone climbed up onto the cage bars in front of him stirred him. He opened one eye and saw Ashen there, holding onto the bars at the front of the cage. "Bear-person, what are you doing in a bear cage? You do not belong there. You are a person," Ashen said. Damaskeons sat up and looked at Ashen, scrutinizing him, wondering why he was here and afraid it might have something to do with tormenting him...Or killing him. One less act for Dark Wood Circus to compete with.
"You can understand me, can't you?" Ashen asked. Damaskenos nodded. "And can you speak?" Ashen asked.
"Yes," Damaskenos responded, his voice deep and growly and already a bit sore from speaking words meant for human throats.
"Excellent. When you were a little boy, did you ever wish you could run away and join an entirely different circus?" Ashen asked.
"What?" Damaskenos asked.
"No cages, and we'll find you an act as something other than 'is a bear-person, rawr,'" Ashen said, "That, or I can leave you here, we're kind of squeezed for time, so you're going to have to make your choice now."
"Get me out," Damaskenos said.
Ashen nodded and turned to Wilder, saying "Help me bend these bars, you push, I'll pull." Wilder nodded and jumped up onto the cage with Ashen, the two of them slowly bending one bar after another out of shape. In a few minutes, they had enough bars bent up that Damaskenos could fit his arm and head through them, but not quite the second shoulder. "Just three more inches," Ashen said, when a group of circus performers for Sergeinov turned the corner. "Or we could go with plan B," Ashen said, turning to Damaskenos and saying "Break the whole thing, now!" Damaskenos nodded and threw himself against the bars of the cage while Ashen and Wilder turned to face the thugs. The thugs shouted an alarm and one of them rushed towards Ashen, who brought him down with a knife in the throat from fifteen feet away. The other thugs froze as Ashen pulled out another knife, and then dove for cover as he threw it towards one of them, narrowly missing as the thug dived out of the way. A pack of thugs, one pulling out a pistol, arrived, scowling. Just then, Damaskenos broke free, the cage exploding into debris as he tore through it. He sat there for a moment, panting. "We should leave," Ashen said, running behind a stack of crates for cover, Wilder and Damaskenos close behind.
The three of them ran to the end of the stack of crates and turned a corner, hiding behind one of the large tents. "Where do we go?" Wilder asked.
"I'll get back to you on that," Ashen responded, peering around the edge of the tent.
"We don't have a plan? How are we going to sneak out of here with a nine foot bear-person if we don't have a plan?" Wilder asked.
"Twelve is more than nine," Ashen said as the three of them ran from behind one tent to another.
"What?" Wilder asked, confused.
"Just wait here," Ashen said, slipping under the tent wall. Damaskenos and Wilder tilted their heads to one side, listening. Ashen was speaking with another man, and Damaskenos wasn't sure if he should stay or run. Adrenaline had carried him through the past three minutes, but now he was out of his cage, he wasn't sure if he wanted to trust Ashen. He was a circus ringleader, so how did that make him different from Sergeinov? Sergeinov always said that any business that wanted to stay in business had to step on people in order to do it, and that freaks like him would always be the first ones to be stepped on. It was the natural order of things, and Damaskenos couldn't change it. All he could do was run away from it. And if he wanted to run, now was the time.
"My men are still talking with the manager, with Herr Braun," Ashen was saying inside, "But if you're going to shut this circus down before the freaks escape, you're going to have to act now."
"I understand," a man said from inside. His accent was from the Empire on the western edge of the continent, like Ashen's and Wilder's. "We'll need five minutes to get it ready regardless, so you've got that long to find your men and get them clear."
"That should be more than enough time," Ashen said. When he stepped back outside the tent, Damaskenos was gone. "Where's the bear?" Ashen asked.
"He ran off while you were talking inside," Wilder said, "I didn't want to draw any attention. Who is that in there?"
"Where'd the bear go?" Ashen asked, ignoring Wilder.
"That way," Wilder said, pointing.
"Great, I'll find him, you find Byelbog and the others and get them out of here, we've got four and a half minutes before everything burns!" Ashen said, running in the direction Wilder had pointed.
Damaskenos knew he couldn't keep himself hidden for long, and he also knew that he was much faster than the average human. Ignoring stealth, he barreled down towards the road in the distance, Sergeinov performers diving out of his way or chasing after him with muskets and ropes. Hot lead stung at his chest as a musket ball dug its way into him, and he raised his arm to protect himself as two more balls tore into him. A chain thrown by one of the men wrapped itself around his arm, and Damaskenos yanked his arm away, sending the man flying on the end of the chain. Another chain wrapped itself around his neck, this one held by three men, slowly pulling him towards them. Damaskenos fought against them as another chain caught his wounded arm, this held by two men and pulling him in the opposite direction. A crossbow bolt with a rope attached dug into his back, pulling him in a third direction.
Despair began to take hold of Damaskenos as he realized he'd just lost his only chance to get out, that he'd probably never be free again. Rage boiled up inside of him and he managed to toss another man free as he attempted to further chain him, but his rage was useless as now the men were beginning to pile up on the chains, four or five on each one, and another ball dug into his flesh, cutting and burning through him. Slowly, they dragged him to the ground, the pressure from each chain growing heavier and heavier, his bleeding wounds sapping his strength. His rage grew more desperate, but he could not coax any more power from his body.
Suddenly, one of the men dropped to the ground, blood pouring out from a wound in his throat. The men began to shout in anger and pain, and a few fired their guns at the new combatant. In a few seconds, one of the chains holding Damaskenos went slack, and he immediately pushed himself off the ground, pulling at the other two, trying to get a way. "Don't pull away!" Ashen shouted from the middle of a fight with several of the thugs. "Go tow-" he was cut off by one of the thugs putting a right hook across his jaw, knocking him to the ground. Ashen rolled to his feet and flung a knife into the thug's gut, and shouted "Go towards them! Make them run from you!"
Damaskenos turned towards the eight or so men holding the two remaining chains that bound him, fear slowly creeping into their eyes as they realized there was nothing but ten feet of empty space standing between them and an enraged, nine-foot tall bear-person. Damaskenos charged towards them and they ran in a panic. One of them pulled his musket from the ground and hastily tried to reload it, but Damaskenos swatted him away, sending him flying through the air, before he could even get close to finishing it. Ashen was staggering away from his group of thugs, clutching a wound where one of the men had managed to cut him with a dagger. Five of them were dead or dying on the ground, the rest had fled.
"What part of 'wait outside the tent' didn't register?" Ashen asked irritably. Damaskenos just looked back at him, thoughts and emotions tumbling through his head. Could he trust Ashen? Could he get away without him, now that he was halfway there? Ashen didn't seem to have any knives left, but he didn't seem to have any knives at all before the fight started. If Damaskenos tried to run, would Ashen stop him? "Why did you run?" Ashen asked.
"You don't hate freaks?" Damaskenos asked.
"I am a freak," Ashen said, sliding a glove off to reveal a skeletal hand, "Damn near everyone in my circus is a freak."
"But you said to kill freaks," Damaskenos said.
"In the tent? I'm an incredible liar," Ashen said, replacing his glove. Both of them were now stained with blood.
"Are you hurt?" Damaskenos asked.
"It's not as bad as it looks," Ashen said, "I'll be fine once we get back to Jenna. We need to leave now, are you coming or not?" Damaskenos thought for a moment, then nodded. Ashen began walking away from the circus, into the fields.
"What if we get caught?" Damaskenos asked. Ashen's wound was forcing him to move a lot slower.
"We've got a distraction on the way," Ashen said. An explosion sounded off on the other end of the circus, accompanied by the sound of furious gunfire and panicked shouts. Ashen smirked and said "Twelve is more than nine. Just as planned."