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MOMENT 25: CIRCUS BLUES
The chin bun bun ride couldn't have been farther from enjoyable. With each hopping leap, Jeremy groaned and covered his mouth. Pupper-Dog Boy didn't even notice. Every second he hollered and yipped, barked and howled. Only a dog could be so happy. It must've been the time of his life.
Every so often, the chin bun bun would jerk to the side and dodge a tree. Sometimes Jeremy and I even had to duck to avoid getting cracked in the face with a branch. The girls stayed in sight most of the ride. I'd look over and they'd both wave, causing my chest to ache with anxiety.
Just when I thought I couldn't take anymore, we flew out of the Cotton Wilds, and the chin bun buns came to a halt, digging up dirt for a dozen yards. We'd made it without incident. Except for Jeremy. He finally leaned over and hurled up the jerky from earlier.
I fought back my nausea and looked away. The girls hopped up between Pom Pom and us.
We sat atop a cliff overlooking Leeroy's Big Top and then the Soda Pop Fields. Strange World had become a nightmare. We found the fields scorched, and dead chin bun buns lay about being eaten by scavenger birds and probably ground versions of such. Even before that gruesome scene of chaos, Leeroy's Big Top looked alive with movement.
"Who are they?" I pointed at the circus.
"The Barn Brigade," Inicula waved her hand from one end to the other of the expansive circus. "They control the entire thing, and are using it as their main base against the resistance."
"Well, where's the resistance base?" Jeremy asked.
Pupper pointed off into the distance, past the destruction of the Soda Pop Fields. "Closer to Munster City, just out of the range the Barn Brigade dares to go. If they knew how close they were to crushing the only thing standing in their way, they'd surely move further."
"This is awful." Fox-Face held her hands before her face. "It's even worse than when I came through on my trip to Mt. Arkhamm."
"Times change," Inicula said, her voice cold. "Even here in Strange World."
"Can't the other lands help?" I asked.
"Nope!" Pom Pom said. "Every land is busy fighting back the Barn Brigade Incursion, that they are. If you believe it or not, that's the way it is. You do believe it, don't you?"
I scanned the area beyond our cliffs. The circus sat dead in our way. Unless we wanted to spend forever cutting through the Forest of Blues, we had but one way.
"What are you thinking?" I asked Inicula.
She stared, stone-faced at the circus and I already knew her answer before she said it. "We try to ride straight through the circus grounds."
"Suicide," Jeremy said. "We'll get killed for sure. Look how many Pigsmen are wandering about down there. Every few feet they have a fire pit set up just to feed the porkers."
"It'll take us a day to go in either direction," Inicula said. "And if we don't want to be seen, then it'll take at least two."
"Time isn't on our side." I pictured Kat and could hear her cries. "We ride straight through."
"Now we're talking!" Pupper-Dog cheered. "I'll throw some arcane spikes this way and that and--"
"No!" Inicula said. "Our goal is just to get through the grounds unharmed. We don't have the luxury of focusing on kills."
I noticed a sheathed blade behind Inicula's back. She had a weapon, and I'd never seen her with one before. Pom Pom still had her long sword, and Pupper had his magic. If we were lucky enough to find metal, I could be considered armed, but Jeremy and Fox-Face, we'd have to procure them weapons. A fight in the center of a hundred Pigsmen or more would not bode well for any of us.
"Okay," Pupper said. "I'll give us both arcane bubbles around the chin bun buns, but they won't take many hits before popping. I haven't exactly practiced the spell at length."
"Let's head down the cliffs, and then you'll cast the spell," Inicula said.
Pom Pom looked over. "I'll fly high up, so they don't notice me. Good luck guys. If a fight breaks out, I'll dive in."
"Again, no," Inicula said. "If a fight breaks out, go to the resistance headquarters, tell them the package will not be delivered, and they must move forward on their own."
"Package?" I asked. "What package?"
Everyone looked at me as if I were missing some big picture. I sighed. "Oh, I'm the package."
"Right, Luvaduv," Inicula said. "The resistance has decided they need you to make it to Mt. Arkhamm. This is all about you, as we'd already known. We'd just hoped we could make a move without you, but if we do, our chances of success drop dramatically."