chapter 14

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“Come on, stop wasting time and come look at our monstrous freaks!” The crier kept shouting at the top of his lungs.

Hidden under the tarp that covered the cage, Hadjar could hear the howling of the crowd. He’d gotten used to it after five years, and after two more, he’d even grown to like it. At least it was something different in his otherwise routine life.

“Yes, my lady, that’s a good choice! The man-fish!”

And with a clap, the cover was thrown off the neighboring cage. The crowd gasped in horror, the girls screamed, and Leer did his best to perform well, trying to bite someone with his sharpened teeth. He often claimed he hadn’t even lost consciousness while they’d been filed.

Hadjar didn’t believe it.

“Three silver coins. Just three silver coins!” Stepha repeated, as she worked the crowd.

The girl was ‘friendly’ with almost every normal-looking employee of the show. However, she was also a very nice person and sometimes even let the ‘freaks’ out for a walk. She did it at night, hiding them under black cloaks. Because of this, Hadjar was far kinder toward her than the others.

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“And now, get ready to see a creature born out of the love between a woman and a wolf!”

This meant Ernesta was being shown to the crowd. She was the girl covered in thick hair from head to toe. She couldn’t even speak, and she didn’t need to fake her bestial rage. Hadjar once nearly fell victim to her fangs.

She was the result of what happened in this world if a person bred with wolves. Because of the energy in the air, or possibly some other reason, the mutant progeny could grow up and even be mighty. She had the strength of three adult men, not practitioners, of course, but she was still powerful.

“Is she as wild in bed?” One of the a******s asked, laughing as he did so.

“If you’re interested in trying it, we could make a deal, but it would cost you ten silver coins,” Stepha replied calmly.

The man immediately stopped talking and instead began muttering something unintelligible under his breath.

Stepha knew how to calm the audience down. Frankly speaking, cowardly men, the ones who were all bark and no bite, rarely argued with her. Stepha was very experienced when it came to sex and didn’t even try to hide it. Thanks to that, she had this mocking look to her that unnerved and quieted the usual troublemakers.

Hadjar fiddled with the collar around his neck. It was a strip of metal, sealed with magic. The seal itself looked like some sort of eastern figure, and if they activated it—he would receive a very intense and painful electric shock.

It was, quite frankly, a disgusting way to keep someone in line.

“Now! Get ready…” The crier began to speak in a more subdued tone of voice. “We present to you the horror of the Mist. A nightmare from the darkest corners of the Misty Mountains, a place where even the demons hide in their caves at night. I ask that all cowards please leave immediately. Even I’m afraid to look at it sometimes.”

Someone from the crowd began to brag, and others stayed quiet. He saw the same thing in every city. Hadjar has already stopped counting the years of his life he’d spent wandering. He’d visited so many places in the country that were the same as this one. Everything was the same everywhere, really. Tired and frightened of the authorities, people were looking for entertainment to help them forget, even for a moment. Something to help them leave their hardships and tribulations behind.

“Are you ready?” The crier whispered to the public.

“Yes!”

“Can we leave?”

“Show us this terror of yours!”

“Darling, please, let’s just go.”

The crowd cried out, most of them wanting to see this supposed monster. Today was a good day—the Governor had allocated the central square for the circus. They would normally not even be allowed inside the city walls. They’d have to make due and perform in the fields and meadows, which was far from ideal.

When that happened, all sorts of thieves, troublemakers, and people who just plain refused to pay would come out to see their show. However, nobody dared to take liberties inside the cities, under the watchful eye of the guards that’d been trained by the new government. Nobody was eager to receive ten to fifty lashes, lose their property or even their limbs.

“Behold!”

A bright light hit Hadjar’s eyes. He was glad for it. He often had nightmares about a small, dark oubliette, about being trapped in it, unable to move or breathe. He would probably remember the dungeon his uncle had thrown him in for the rest of his life.

“Demon!” The girls in the crowd screamed.

“Damn it.” The men moaned weakly.

A person that was apparently squeamish hurried to throw up into an urn. Hadjar began to howl and growl like a rabid beast while barely clearing his throat, because the popular ‘clichés’ demanded he do so. The boys and girls that were too cowardly began to move away from the cage and leave.

The soldiers who were standing on the perimeter of the square started reaching for their spears and swords.

“Calm down, beast!” The crier hit the bars of the cage with his iron stick.

Hadjar roared in his direction and then waited for the second blow. After that, like a thousand times before, he froze.

“Please, don’t be afraid.” The crier told the people soothingly. “Let me tell you this monster’s story. One day, a great hero went to the Misty Mountains. He could cross thousands of miles in one step. He could cut through the whole sea with by swinging his sword once.”

“Did he forget something in the Misty mountains?” The people in the crowd laughed.

“His sweetheart!” The crier responded loudly, and Hadjar frowned.

He’d figured out this story three years ago. Thanks to it, he could now eat meat every day. The crowd always paid handsomely to see his performance and the profits made the circus owner happy. This new crier, however, was really messing things up.

“What was she doing there?” The people continued to laugh at the crier while trying not to meet Hadjar’s eyes.

“This beast had kidnapped her!” The crier hit the bars of his cage again. “Don’t pay attention to his horrid ugliness or the fact he no longer has legs. This monster used to be the size of a mountain! He could create hurricanes and destroy entire countries with his breath alone. One single stomp of his foot could create a tsunami! He’d reached such heights in his cultivation that he was able to turn into a handsome young man. He fell in love with a beautiful and innocent girl, but her heart belonged to another.”

The crier was finally starting to sound convincing and wasn’t fumbling his replies. People in the crowd began to get interested in this story. The girls clung to their companions tightly, while the men stared at Hadjar angrily. He answered them with the same kind of look. While they were busy listening to the story, all Hadjar could think about was the meat he’d be fed after this.

“Then the beast kidnapped her!” The crier hit the bars again. “The hero immediately went after them. He managed to survive going through even the wildest places, where he fought ancient monsters, the kind whose strength and power we can’t even imagine today. He found himself on the verge of death hundreds of times, but love gave him the strength to keep going!”

All the women were listening attentively.

“And so, at the end of his journey, he came upon a palace of unprecedented beauty, where his beloved was being kept, chained to a huge column. The battle that made even gods and demons quake in terror began! They fought for ten years, day and night.”

Everyone had stopped talking. The man’s audience was all ears.

“The hero finally defeated the beast, after ten long years. He returned to the palace, but…”

The crier paused.

“But… what?” A guy asked.

“What happened to his lover?” A girl standing in the back asked.

The crier looked around at the crowd and just shook his head sadly. Many sighs and quiet whimpers were heard.

“Their battle had been so fierce that its echo had reached the palace and stopped the heart of the hero’s beloved.” Some people were crying now, and it wasn’t just the girls. “The hero wanted to kill the beast, but, at that moment, he became enlightened. He now understood all the secrets of this world. He threw away his sword, for he no longer needed a weapon. He’d reached the fourth stage of the sword skills.”

“There’s only three,” the soldier who was the closest to the cells of the circus grumbled.

“Most people think so, yes. The first is ‘One with the Sword’ when a warrior is able to attack their enemy at a distance of five steps,” the crier made a clumsy lunge with his iron stick. He mocked the soldiers, but got the attention of the crowd. “The second is ‘One with the World’, when a warrior can hit their target at a distance of twenty steps. And the third is ‘Wielder of the Sword’, a practitioner who no longer needs the sword. They themselves, along with their surroundings, become the sword. But…”

The soldiers moved closer in order to hear the story better.

“But there is a fourth one. When an adept reaches the highest degree of enlightenment and power, they understand that neither the sword nor the power exists. Then they cast the sword aside and know eternity. And the hero, who had thrown away all his skills and strength, knew eternity. Before he returned to the mountain peak so he could stay next to his beloved forever, he decided to give the beast a second chance.”

The crowd turned to Hadjar. He pulled at his fake chains sadly. They were lighter than paper, but sounded good and looked heavier than normal ones.

“What kind of second chance did he get?” One of the ladies asked while wiping her tears away.

“He cut off the monster’s legs! Then he sealed his power with great spells and turned him into a freak. He gave the beast his favorite Ron’Jah and commanded him to play it in front of people. The only way for the beast to be restored is for him to fall in love with someone who would then return his feelings.”

“Who could ever love such a freak?!” Someone in the crowd shouted incredulously.

“That’s why the beast’s been playing for three million years, no one can love someone like him.”

The people looked at each other and smiled. They thought they understood what the hero’s intentions had been. Instead of simple revenge and just murdering the beast, he’d instead doomed his enemy for all eternity. It was a sad story, but it had a just end.

“And now, let’s enjoy the beast’s music,” the crier turned toward the cage and struck it with his rod again. “Play, monster! Play!”

Hadjar snarled and took out a musical instrument from his black rags. It looked like a large, round balalaika—it had a round base with two holes in it, a short neck, four strings, and four long pegs. The instrument played mostly high notes, but Hadjar had managed to tweak it a bit and was now able to play a larger range.

And so, he started to play.

The people calmed down, listening to his song in silence, a song which was as old as the world itself.

He’d used to play for a lot of money in his past life, and now he was playing for a piece of meat. Ironically enough, he was back where he’d started. And if, before, it had only been Hadjar’s outlet and a way to keep in touch with the world, now it was what kept him going, what gave him hope. He felt lucky for the first time in five whole years.

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40045389
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40045389

Thank you for the chapter!

Graestra
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Graestra

Yeah, might as well enjoy playing the part if you can’t change the circumstances.