The group of four now walked north, over the jagged landscape of the Opeos region and into the rolling hills of Farmers Valley. The green valley traveled as far as the eye could see; vibrant trees and lush grass were in abundance, with different crops painting the landscape with a variety of colors.
The Conductor stopped at the beginning of Farmers Valley.
“This is the fastest way to Rem, but my powers are all but gone, so I am a mere immortal. Chances of us being stolen to be slaves is pretty high.”
The conductor continued walking forward, and Sarah followed with no hesitation. The brothers looked at each other with concern, Ulysses decided to speak up.
“So if there is a good chance of kidnap, why are we heading in?”
“Because any other route will take months, and unlike Sarah and I, you two are mortal. This means you need to eat food, so this way has food.”
Ephraim’s eyes widened, “Wait, you guys are immortal; how? Furthermore, how do we?”
“I can give it to you once I recharge, but in order to do that, we need to find Anodyne. The easiest way to find Anodyne is to get me in a compromising position; weakness of me is weakness of him.”
Before either brother could ask the question, Sarah answered it,
“This is the Conductor, Anodyne’s Angel. Don’t worry; he only hurts those he does not like.”
Neither brother had words; they simply followed the ConductorConductors’s steps, wondering if they had made a mistake leaving Opeos. The party traveled in silence through the valley; the Conductor was content, Sarah elated, and the brothers deeply concerned. Hours went by without a word until the silence was broken by the sound of growling stomachs.
“Urgh, not even one day without food, and your body is already complaining; mortality is such a tedious state of being.”
The Conductor turned to his left, heading towards a small homestead that could be made out by its lights cutting through the night. The party had just about reached the house when the ground they were standing on opened up, consuming them. The hole closed itself above them, forcing them to follow a dim light deeper into the tunnel. As they went further in, the light got brighter until they arrived at the end. Even the room where the light was dim also contained one other Holite.
“Looks like the Conductor was right; we are slaves now. Ephraim and I should have stayed in Opeos instead of blindly following you two.”
Sarah scrunched up her face, “With a hat that big, I assumed you wouldn’t be such a little bitch.”
The man in the corner gave off a little laugh drawing the attention of the group. He was mostly covered in shadows where he sat, but as he stood up, he revealed his full self. A hulking man of incredible strength, he stepped towards the group causing the brothers to step back.
“The man who used to run this farm is dead; his skeleton is there; he was delicious.” The hulking man licked his lips as he stared at the group, “The fight I get from you might just be as tasty as your flesh.”
Ephraim scoffed, “You don’t know who you are dealing with; this here is the angel of Anodyne. You are nothing in his eyes. Sit down, little man.”
Just as Ephraim finished his sentence, the brute grabbed the Conductor by his collar, tossing him into the far corner of the room with a war cry. His body crunched and cracked under the force of the blow, his body bleed from holes stabbed through flesh by shattered bones.
“Never tasted angel before, might have to save him for last his blood should be sweet.”
Ephraim and Ulysses both drew weapons in anticipation of the oncoming tidal wave.
“You think your tiny weapons will help? Look around you. There are weapons everywhere. I will consume you alive and watch as you die from pain, weak man; hiding behind your weapons is pathetic. As for her, well, my body can enjoy her before my stomach does.”
Sarah grinned, “You see, unlike the Conductor, I don’t give false hope; I like to warn people of my skills with a blade. I like to cut people, I like to hurt them, I want to hurt them. Cutting is my art, and you are such a big canvas.”
A baritone cry erupted from the man as he lurched towards Sarah; she was far too fast, planting a blade into each shoulder as she vaulted the charging cannibal.
“I am Breccan the Devourer; I consume all in my way. You are nothing but a meal to me, now crumble under my might.”
Swipe after swipe, Breccan tried to grasp Sarah; each attempt was met with disappointment and another slash to his hands. Although he had enough strength to pry a man in half, Breccan struggled to keep up with the slowest of Sarah’s movements.
“I do so adore the fact you let me cut you time and time again. My blades thirst for you, Breccan; Hollow thirsts for you.”
“I thirst for you.”
Everyone turned to see a figure standing down the dim corridor, speaking as he walked towards the group.
“You speak your own title as if it was given to you for you to speak; if you have to announce it, it is not a title we need to recognize. You may have achieved one but keeping it is another story; you’re in my world, you follow my rules, or you die by my hand.”
Anodyne emerged from the darkness; the brothers dropped to the floor, bowing to Anodyne as he walked towards Breccan. Breccan did not hesitate; as soon as Anodyne was within reach, his neck was grabbed. Using all his might, he squeezed onto his neck; Anodyne did not react as his neck stayed intact.
The Conductor emerged from his own corpse, climbing out of his chest back into the dim room.
“Nice of you to join us, Conductor. Did you enjoy your little nap?”
“I did, lord Anodyne, thank you for being patient, but I will be taking my strong man now.”
The Conductor placed his hand over Breccan’s mouth; his eyes turned black as his body changed to the touch of the Conductor. What was once rags is now the finest of red and white striped leotards?
Sarah started jumping, “Yay, another friend, hey Conductor, what are you actually doing when you touch people?”
“I am giving them immortality as I did you, by simply feeding their soul a small part of mine. Ephraim, Ulysses, this is your last chance. You can join me or go back to being simple performers.”
Both the brothers were still bowing on the ground; slowly, they stood up, shaking.
“If we follow you, we get immortality, but we will lose all mental freedom, is that right?”
The Conductor stared at Ulysses, confused, “No, you do not lose any freedom, but the soul will always want to be whole. You will instinctively follow me, but you do as you choose; Sarah was different; I had to make her insane before she could join.”
Breccan’s eyes had returned back to normal as the Conductor finished his sentence. He dropped his hand from Anodyne’s throat, shaking at the new energy running through his body.
“Now or never, brothers, I am not a patient man.”
Staring at each other, the brothers nodded to signal their joint decision.
“We are sorry, but we will be on our way; we will find immortality elsewhere….”
The Conductor leaped across the room, interrupting Ulysses, grasping both of the brothers by their faces and smashing them into the ground.
“I am out of time. I need you two; it looks like you get a dose of insanity too.”
Both of the brother’s bodies rolled on the ground in agony while everyone else laughed at the foolishness.
Anodyne walked over to the Conductor, “When will you be done with this circus nonsense? I need my angel back.”
The Conductor released the still writhing bodies, “I need just one day in Rem for the first and final act. Then my circus will not need me and can wander Hollow in my name.”
Anodyne scowled, “I will give you one day total, but never say I never help; I will take you all there now.”
The whole party was consumed with a blanket of darkness, regaining vision in a dark alleyway of a city. “24 hours, Conductor, then I re-attach the tether, and you are done with this circus nonsense.”
Anodyne wandered out of the alleyway arcing colored energy from his hands as he flew into the sky. The sounds of pain and panic echoed down the narrow alley they all stood.
The Conductor took the lead foot; turning to the others, he grinned.
“Welcome all to the capital of Hollow, the first stop for the Hollow circus. Come tonight, we will have a glorious act for all Holites around. We have our lead acrobat, the mightiest of strong men, the truly fearless beast tamer, with the trickiest of magicians.
The Conductor turned to the opening of the alley, drawing a fine walking stick from the air.
“Finally, I, not as the Conductor but the Ringmaster. Now my friends, let us create chaos in the name of our gracious god Anodyne.”