The slums of rem started burning as Anodyne flew from its boundaries; the panicked Holites ran from their homes to calm the flames before they could escape deeper into the city. Meanwhile, The Ringmaster and his band of insane circus freaks walked the back alley streets, finding a location to set up for the coming night’s festivities.
The Ringmaster wandered the empty alleyways, dancing as he went.
“I have plans and aspirations, goals and dreams, to have the greatest circus ever seen. Hollow Circus up in lights, dishing out a nightly fright to all the little Holites.”
The Ringmaster continued to lead his gang through the morning light, singing and dancing as he went on his way.
Sarah felt discomfort with this new side of the Conductor she had never seen before.
“Hey, Conductor, why are you happy? Why are you singing? I have not seen you this way before; it is concerning.”
The Ringmaster stopped dead in his tracks, turning on the spot.
“I am sorry you called me what? For the Conductor is who I’m not. The Ringmasters, my name, red coat with a world to tame. You call me Conductor again, and you will be nothing more than a bloodstain.”
The group fell silent as Sarah looked concerned; she went to respond but held her tongue. Breccan was not so controlled; he let his tongue roll.
“I like the new Ringmaster; he seems fun. Lead on Ringmaster, ignore this one.”
The group moved on, leaving Sarah behind, Ringmaster first, Breccan second, and Magician third, but the beast tamer took a second.
“Look, little one, people change and have different faces. Just move on.”
Ulysses marched on, following the others, “Come, Sarah, the circus is no circus without a lovely-looking acrobat.”
Sarah blushed and ran on, catching up with her circus group. They pulled a corner slightly ahead; by the time Sarah arrived, they had stopped dead. Before the group stood a tent, red and white, striped and tall, parked right next to the south Rem mall.
“Here, it’s here. My tent is here for all, now I know it looks so small, but inside it is larger than the mall. Furthermore, what hides within, Circus town for us to prepare, the most devilish circus fair.”
Holites gathered around, circling the tent, listening to the sounds that seemed to be spilling forth. No one had seen this tent before and was wondering how it all arrived with no one noticing it; a couple of Holites walked to the entrance only a meter away when the Ringmaster erupted from the mouth of the tent.
“Hello, hello, what have we here? Two young gentlemen wanting to come in? Our circus is not prepared yet; please wait till we have all prepared within. But you can get a ticket to the show, would you like one? Would you like to go?”
Both of the men were highly confused, “But what is a circus?”
“My goodness, friend, it is a stupendous event of fun, wonder, and thrills. Do you not wish to see a man tame nightmares or even someone make entire objects disappear and reappear? How about a thrilling dare-devil flying overhead from rope to rope, not to mention the strongest man lifting impossible weights.”
The Ringmaster continued to ramble on, drawing a larger crowd till he was surrounded by intrigued Holites. He handed out tickets to all of those that wish to see the first Hollow Circus later that night.
“Do not fear; these tickets are free. I just need to know how many are coming for the night. Do not worry about space, for there will be plenty; we can always make room for more.”
The Ringmaster quickly ducked inside after everyone had tickets to his show; he made his way through the tent and out the back to circus town. A dimension created by him that exists within the tent, allowing all the circus acts to prepare in silence. He stared out at the bare ground, knowing that someday there would be a grand complex of tents and circus acts that would be performed in his main tent.
“Ringmaster, I have two for you.” Breccan appeared from the main tent with two Holites, one under each arm. Their mouths were gagged, and their hands and legs bound.
“Are you going to give them a piece of your soul, like you did with us?”
“Oh my no, a soul can be split only a few times. What I am going to do is far more interesting, though; I am going to eat them without touching them. Why yes, I will indeed, and since you all have part of my soul, you can do this trick too. We need clowns, obedient and mindless, in order for that they need to be soulless.”
The Ringmaster knelt down, breathing heavily above the wriggling man; his skin started to steam as screams tried to escape the gag. The longer he did, the thicker the steam got, absorbing the colors from his skin as it went. By the end, the man was as white as a cloud, eyes opened wide. “Now I just dress them accordingly, to how I want.” A wave of his hand and the man was fully dressed in the most ridiculous of clothes, with the face paint to match.
“Now, I am going to get the majority of clowns dressed, but you may take a few for yourself, make them in your image, let them follow you, and let them fill the tent with fun and joy.”
The group was in an uproar as more and more Holites were taken for the circus; never before had any of them consumed a soul, nor would they ever wish to consume anything else ever again. Before long, they had an army of soulless workers at their disposal. All the preparations were done by the clowns; they set all the decorations and were to run all the stalls. Circus Town was to be their home, a place for them to live in anticipation of the next show. Moods were high, for they knew that the first show was nearly upon them. Only minutes to go, everyone was on edge for the night to start, except Sarah, who sat quietly on the ground.”
The Ringmaster knelt down by her side, “Now Sarah, where is that smile? Where is that energy that lasted all this time? Why are you not prepared for the show?”
“I listened to all your stories of the circus on Earth, the acrobat sounds amazing, but they always worked with multiple; I am just one. My show won’t be fun.”
“Why yes, it will, and do you know why. Because you were my first fragment of a soul, inexperienced was I? A large portion of the soul is what you got. You are more me than any other, but with that comes power. You tired of being one, then be three, be six, have fun, tap within and release your desires for the sake of fun.”
Sarah was confused but tried to listen; she closed her eyes and hoped. As she opened them, she looked around to see she was still one; standing up and walking off, she yelled with frustration, “See, I am terrible; I am one; I can not be an acrobat show with one.”
To her amazement, as she turned to yell at the Ringmaster, she saw herself still sitting; the version of her sitting stood, “Well then, let me help you one, for I am two. Together we can make this fun for both me and you.” Sarah was elated, jumping around, leaving behind another duplication and receiving a similar greeting from each one as they appeared.
“See, look at that, your show will be fun, now I have to run. The tent opens soon, so I must take my position as a welcoming buffoon.”
The crowds of Holites started to gather in front of the tent, slowly amassing in numbers. The Conductor waited for the right moment. He gave one final look around the internals of his glorious tent before pulling the rope to let it all in.
The curtains raised as the joys of the circus were gazed upon by the public.
“Come in, come in, let the Hollow Circus begin.”
The crowds forced their way through the narrow opening, swarming to the attractions. The lights overhead shone down, giving the whole tent a colorful air; the stalls below each had their own glow of color and decoration. All around was fun and games that enticed all who drew near; an uproar of laughter was trapped in the tent as it filled with more and more souls. The clowns wandered around the games, entertaining people as the night went on. Never before had Hollow had such a fun-filled environment.
A loudspeaker system crept through the loudness of the crowds to tell the crowds to take a seat for the upcoming show that was about to happen. As they were told they did, all sat at the seats provided and awaited the promised show. The large grandstands full of people filled the whole tent as they circled the show stage in the center. Not a single Holite realized that the stalls had all vanished into thin air in order to make room for the grandstands and the stage; all were engrossed with what was to happen next.
All the lights went out, leaving the crowds to fall silent in the black as a single light appeared in the center of the stage. In the light was a mic, but no one to operate it; through the hush of the fans, footsteps could be heard until, finally, the Ringmaster appeared.
“I want to welcome you to my show; you have all had fun, this I know. I watched from afar as you laughed and ate, having fun on every take. The night is not over yet; before you, I have a set of great performers to entertain you yet. Without further ado, I give my first performer to you.”
One after one, the Ringmasters crew came to the stage and performed for all, enticing and amazing the crowds in every act. Once again, the Ringmaster took to the stage.
“Tonight you have seen a man with the power of ten, a group of women who all looked the same perform daring acrobatic feats, a man who can trick your eyes with the art of magic, and a man who could tame the most unruly of nightmares. But fret not that is the end of the show; for our final act, a feast will be held.”
The Ringmasters group of four all came out, along with the clowns as well.
“The feast is not for you but us, you see, for we have a full team to feed, not to mention the nightmare we contained. I am truly sorry, but once you have tasted soul, it is the only flavor you shall ever know.”
The crowds started to panic as the nightmares tamed in the show re-entered the stage; screaming ensued when no one could find the way out. What was once a soft curtain was now hard as stone, all the entrances no more.
“Let the feast begin; let us all get stuck in.”
Everyone made their way into the crowds of screaming Holites, one by one consuming their souls, leaving a Hollow husk of a body behind for the nightmares to consume. The clowns were used as herders, scaring everyone into groups for easy containment; where there was once pleasant makeup was now a face of a Holite who was Hollow within, with no soul or life left in the eyes. Hours went on as everyone was hunted down and consumed, both body and soul. Everyone rested as the clowns cleaned up the mess and returned the nightmares to their cages.
“My hour has come; I must return to Anodyne, for I am the Conductor to him. Please remember I am the Ringmaster to you.”
The Ringmaster flourished his red coat, turning it back to his plain pinstripe just as Anodyne came crashing through the roof of the tent.
“Look, you have had your fun, but I have redone your tether, so know that once I leave this place, you have minutes before you shall follow.”
Anodyne said nothing else before flying back into the sky and far away.
Ulysses looked at the Conductor as he waited for him to go.
“I get that while you are away, we will put on the show, but if you never do this again, why did you bother to do it in the first place?”
“I did it because I had a goal, I had a dream, I want to be whole. I have this empty pit in my soul that seems to get bigger and bigger as I go, so I was hoping this would fill my soul.”
Sarah stared at the Conductor, “Did it ?”
The Conductor disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving the circus tent to the four, sitting in silence, awaiting their next chance for a show.