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Gabriel's Ghouls and Ghosties

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”So Mylène, tell me about yourself” Gabriel Agreste’s friendly eyes met Mylène’s. He smiled at her in an inviting way, waiting patiently for the nervous girl to gather her thoughts.

Mylène’s hands kept fidgeting with her jacket’s buttons, the man had been so kind to her and now she suddenly felt really anxious about disappointing him.

She looked around at the strange and exotic plants standing in chemistry vials around on his desk and on shelves scattered around the large tent that he called his office. His black top hat sat resting as the only hat on a hat rag, a little worse for wear but only when you looked closely.

As Mylène’s eyes returned to the circus owner, she noticed that his patient friendly eyes were slowly growing impatient as she looked around scatterbrained. She gulped, trying to find the words to answer him.

“Well, I’m 15, no 16! Um… I was born November 1823, so I’m 16” she smiled sheepishly at the kind man who smiled back. She sighed “well as you can see I was born a midget and no matter what I’ve tried I haven’t been able to find anyone who would hire me or anyone who would marry me” Mylène sighed “my parents have always tried taking care of me and they were going to keep doing so, even as they could barely afford to take care of themselves.”

Mylène felt the tears starting to form in her eyes, remembering the pain in her mother’s eye which she’d tried to hide from her for her entire life. She tried hiding back her sobs as she spoke, “I’ve always been nothing but a burden to them and so I decided to run away and join a freak-show *sob* maybe I can survive without hurting anyone… is what I thought…”

Gabriel nodded sympathetically, handing her a handkerchief which she gladly took, blowing her nose. Gabriel waited for her sobbing to subside before warmly telling her “I don’t have a freak-show Mylène, I hire talented young folks from all walks of life. I’ve always felt immense love for people like you. You won’t be paraded around because of your short stature for people to laugh at, but I’m sure we can find a job for you, if you’re willing to work hard.” He placed a hand gently on her shoulder.

Mylène doubled over, her crying returning with double intensity at the kindest words she’d ever heard. She slid off from her seat to run around the table, jumping onto Gabriel and hugging him as tightly as she could. She felt  his arms awkwardly closing around her, he was clearly not used to (nor entirely comfortable with) hugging, but Mylène didn’t care, she nuzzled herself against him, finding comfort in his warmth.

Gabriel allowed her to stay like that, softly patting her head as she cried. After a minute or so he began working by his desk while allowing Mylène to take the time she needed.

Mylène finished her bawling, feeling cleansed, feeling like she’d needed that for years and never realized. She looked up with glee at the man who gave her a nervous smile, clearly hoping she was done.

She jumped down from his lap, taking a cleansing breath, she felt like a new woman. “so what do I do now?”

Gabriel smiled “I’ll have someone show you to your new tent, a few other new faces have joined us and you’ll live with them until we figure out exactly what your job here will be. Until then simply make yourself useful, someone always needs an extra hand so just try to be available.”

Mylène nodded “I live to help! I’ll make you proud Mister Gabriel!”

“It’s Doctor actually. Doctor Agreste” he corrected her with a friendly tone. Mylène cocked her head surprised that he would name his show ‘Mr. Gabriel’s Ghoul’s and Ghosties’ if he preferred another name.

“If you don’t mind me asking, if you’re a real life doctor then why run a place like this?” she asked confounded.

He smiled, a hint of regret shining through his eyes “I was working on something really important. Something that would have changed the way we view sickness completely. My wife died from a mysterious illness and I wasn’t able to save her. Since then I’ve devoted my time and resources to figuring out how I could have saved her. However some fools decided that my research was dangerous!” flashes of anger struck like lightning through the kind man’s otherwise calm and friendly demeanor.

He sighed, tapping his finger against the table in frustration, “I was forced to leave my field and pursue different possibilities. Running this place helps give me the funds and freedom I need to continue my research.”

Agreste looked at a strange purple plant with an almost entirely black stem which sat on his desk. He seemed completely lost in thought, morose and a bit frustrated.

Mylène swallowed, sad that she’d put him in a bad mood after he’d helped her so much. She made a mental note of not talking about his past, but looking at him, he really was an amazing man.

She wanted to say something to cheer him up, maybe ask him what his favorite cake was and maybe bake it for him. She was interrupted by someone else entering the tent.

A woman who seemed a little older than Mylène, wearing a beautiful shining suit of metal armor which showed only her face, which was also painted in metallic colors. A strange symbol was painted in red on the front of her helmet. The most striking feature was the large sword she wielded, almost comically big and terrifyingly sharp.

The woman looked down at Mylène with a cold uncaring glare, Mylène swallowed, looking at the drawn weapon, wondering why she would carry such a thing around so openly, hoping she didn’t intend any ill will.

“Ah Riposte, good to see you” Agreste smiled from behind his desk. His friendly demeanor immediately melted away Mylène’s worries, the circus had all kinds of people after all.

Looking over the woman, Mylène couldn’t help but wonder what kind of performance the woman did, something to do with swords definitely.  She was intrigued but knew she didn’t have the nerves to watch such death-defying performances, she couldn’t imagine the kind of steel it took to actually perform them.

Riposte walked up to Agreste, placing a small small jewelry box in his waiting hand. He nodded at it smiling. “Excellent work. Mylène here will be joining our family, please, show her around will you?” he said without looking up from the box.

Mylène watched as he opened up the stopper on one of his plant bottles, he smiled as he opened the small box. Mylène was ushered out of the tent by the woman before Mylène’s curious gaze could pick up what was hiding in the little container.

The woman practically dragged Mylène out of the tent with a stoic, unchanging expression. Mylène gave her an attempted smile but the woman just scowled down at her. Mylène didn’t let it bother her, whatever the others here could do to her, it couldn’t be worse than what she’d already been through. At least here she could find a way to belong.

“So, Riposte? How did you join the show?”

Riposte scowled down towards Mylène through the corner of her eye, walking at a brisk pace towards on end of the camp while Mylène half ran to follow.

The armored woman’s mouth twisted into a disgruntled line before she seemingly decided it was less trouble to simply answer. Her voice was hollow, metallic and cold “I was, and am, unmatched as a fencer. I have never lost a fight. All I ever wanted was to hone my skills and prove to the world that I am the best” Her eyes narrowed with determination and grit.

Mylène listened intently; amazed that such a woman could even exist.

“When my father told me to hang up my sword, get married, have children, I refused. He didn’t take it well.” She grit her teeth with anger “so I challenged him, bested him in his own art. It should have been enough, but they branded me a criminal!”

The silvered warrior looked at her sword with a sigh “the doctor promised me sanctuary, and a chance to dedicate myself fully to the blade.”

Mylène swallowed, she figured everyone here would be like her, but the woman’s story was so amazing. She must be one of the most talented people she’d ever met, and yet she wasn’t allowed to live her life the way she wanted. It was easy to forget that others had it hard too, even people who were born ‘normal’.

Mylène’s own fears welled up in her, “do you ever regret it? Coming here I mean”

Riposte shook her head “only in the beginning.”

Mylène smiled, assured that she too could get used to life here.

“Riposte… it’s a bit of a mouthful” Mylène chuckled “what’s your real na- AHH!” Mylène fell back in shock as the large silver blade struck down into the ground in front of her. She looked up with terror at the glaring eyes of the warrior.

“Never ask anyone here that!” she said with barely contained rage, slowly pulling the sword from the ground.

Mylène swallowed, seeing the deep crevice left after the sword. She tried finding words to say but it only turned into an incoherent stutter. She wanted to cry, to apologize for having offended her, but she couldn’t find the courage to speak.

Riposte looked down at her with a look of cold loathing that Mylène had never experienced before. The silver woman then turned and continued walking in the same direction as before. She took a few steps then looking over her shoulder towards Mylène, still on the ground, fighting back tears.

Mylène understood from the deadly look in Riposte’s eye that she meant for her to follow. The pint sized girl could barely muster the courage to get on her feet, but forced herself up. She followed Riposte through camp, sniffling and sobbing occasionally, trying to hold herself back from crying. Hoping to at least not make the silver swordswoman hate her more than she apparently already did.

They stopped in front of a fairly large matted yellow tent with red triangles adorning it. Riposte opened the entrance and stood, impatiently waiting for Mylène to enter. Mylène nodded nervously at the intimidating woman, entering into the tent.

The flap held open by the fencer fell behind Mylène and she heard the trudging of the metallic boots against the gravel, disappearing off somewhere else. Mylène sighed in relief but couldn’t help but feel a growing sadness that the woman seemed to dislike her, she’d never been good at people disliking her.

The small woman looked around the tent, old but comfortable looking pillows in various colors and sizes were spread out on the floor. Shelves held toys and various intriguing nick nacks, like colored balls, wooden horses and soldiers and a few pieces of jewelry.

Looking around she was shocked to find a young dark skinned man sitting patiently at the opposite end of the tent. Mylène stumbled over herself trying to make up for her rudeness of not checking if she was alone before looking around. “um I… HI! Mylène!” she blushed as the blurted out words sank into the room like the seeds of her awkwardness.

The man chuckled softly, giving her a warm and inviting smile “hi. Max” he mimicked with an amused look in his eyes. He looked to be around her age, maybe a bit older. He wore a nice green west which folded over itself with two buttons on the side, dark brown pants and a small glasses over his eyes. His hair was cut short, and his brown eyes seemed to shine with curious intelligence.

Mylène gave him a sheepish look, approaching him and sitting down on a large pillow which seemed to have at one time been pink, now a matted rosey gray. “hi” she repeated, clamping her hands nervously “I’m new” she shrugged, unsure what else to say.

Max nodded “me too. We just arrived today”

Mylène smiled relieved that she wasn’t the only new face in camp. Max seemed like a nice guy, that would make fitting in a lot easier. His words dawned on her “wait, we?”

Max nodded again “Kim and I came here together. He popped out to explore a bit, he should be back-“

“-Hey Max! Look what I found!” A brightly smiling man around Max’ age but almost twice his size burst into the tent holding a transparent orb, it looked too clear to be a glass orb, Mylène couldn’t guess quite what it was.

The man rushed over to Max, presenting the orb to him with enthusiastic, childish glee. He had dark semilong hair running down the side of his head. He wore a really nice red jacket over a black shirt, dirt covered the knees of his black, fancy pants.  Mylène wondered what someone with such fine clothing was doing in a place like this.

Max corrected his glasses, looking over the orb “is this… a soap bubble?” he asked with an inquizical look.

Kim nodded with childish glee “there’s a bubble-guy here who says he can make soap bubbles that will NEVER break!” The man was practically jumping with excitement.

Max poked at the bubble, it reshaped itself under his finger, but didn’t break “fascinating, while certainly impossible that it’s unbreakable, this is definitely more resilient than I would have imagined a bubble could be. I wonder if he’ll let me study his formula” he smiled, taking the orb from Kim, pushing and touching the orb curiously with his hands.

Kim beamed “I knew you’d think it was cool! I can’t wait to see what other amazing things are around here”

Max nodded “I concur; coming here may go down as your best idea to date. But I’m being rude, Kim, this is Mylène, she too is new here.” Max motioned towards Mylène without looking away from the orb, continuing to experiment with its strange properties.

Kim looked at Mylène with surprise, he’d clearly been so caught up that he hadn’t noticed at all that someone else was there.

Kim plopped down next to Mylène with enough force to send a few pillows (and almost Mylène) flying. He smiled down to her, reaching a hand out and taking hers “I’m Kim! It’s nice to meet you!”

Mylène smiled back, feeling his huge hand enveloping hers. “Mylène” she introduced herself.

“You’re the smallest person I’ve ever seen!” he said fascinated “can I pick you up!?” his eyes shone with the same childlike glee as before. Mylène usually didn’t like being picked up, but then, most people didn’t ask, and most people didn’t have the warm and comforting energy of this guy. She gave him a soft smile and nodded, hoping he was gentler than his radiating energy let on.

While still sitting, Kim picked her up, placing her on his lap and nuzzled her like a teddy bear. “I swear you’re the second most adorable thing I’ve ever seen!” he hugged her comfortingly, allowing Mylène to sink into his warm arms and feel safe. She let herself hug Kim back, feeling whatever worry and discomfort from talking to Riposte disappear.

She sighed contently, hoping these hugs could become a regular thing, a small hint of a thought snuck into her brain despite her self-doubt, if maybe the sweet muscle-bound man would be willing to marry her. She shook the thought and locked it in her fantasy box.

“So what’s the most adorable thing you’ve seen?” she asked curiously, wondering if he already had a girl, but also just curious.

Kim smiled his beautiful boyish smile down at her “Max of course!”

Max sighed with a smile, sitting down next to them, still holding the orb. “you big softy” he chuckled “you’re too much.”

Kim shook his head “the whole point of coming here was that we wouldn’t have to hide, so expect lots more of that!” he boasted proudly.

Max smiled softly, a blush running over his face. He leaned in and kissed Kim lovingly.

Mylène was frozen in surprise, feeling like she should hide her face, as though she was seeing something wonderful and lewd that she shouldn’t. In spite of herself she simply could not look away, especially as Kim’s hand touched against Max’s collarbone, moving down his chest and to his hip, pulling him in closer in an act of intimate passion, the likes of which Mylène had never seen.

She could feel the two boys’ bodies against her as they continued their deep kissing. It was somehow heavenly.

The kiss ended and the two men sat back, their hands finding one another and intertwining softly between them. They seemed unable to look away from one another for a moment, entranced by the others stare.

Kim’s attention returned to Mylène after what felt like too brief of a moment. “so why’d you join the circus?” he asked as though nothing had happened.

Mylène stumbled over her words but managed to tell her story to the men who listened patiently. Or at least Kim did, Max’s focus seemed to constantly fall on the orb, finding new ways to poke and play with it.

Kim nodded sympathetically, “that’s so unfair! Just cause you’re short? Who wouldn’t wanna marry you!?” he said with a righteous frown. Mylène could hardly believe him, he was so wonderfully kind, she couldn’t believe that she’d heard that men who loved other men were wicked, how could they be if these two were amongst them.

“What about you?” she asked, half knowing the answer.

Kim smiled over at Max “well, it’s pretty taboo to fall in love with the help.” He sighed happily, looking at his love “but Max is like an actual genius! I convinced my parents to have him help me with my school work, which, admittedly meant that he ended up making most of it” Kim scratched at the back of his head sheepishly.

Max chuckled “if it weren’t for you lending me your textbooks I wouldn’t have been able to learn half of what I know, I’m incredibly thankful”

Kim nodded “and so we spend a bunch of time together, then we spend even more! And well… look at him! How could I not fall for him” he laughed without a hint of irony.

Mylène smiled, her heart filling with warmth for the sweet forbidden love story. “so did your parents find out?”

Kim shook his head “wasn’t about to wait for them to figure it out. My brother married an English woman and my parents practically disowned him, wasn’t about to tell them I planned to marry a black man. They just wouldn’t understand” he sighed deeply, Max placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

Kim shrugged “still, no regrets! Now I’m a circusman and I’m going to train until I can be one of those strongmen! Until then Gabriel says I can help by carrying stuff, and Max will help with bookkeeping and other brainy stuff!”

Max corrected his glasses, barely able to hide the blush and his growing smile.

Kim pet Mylène’s head softly “can’t wait to meet everyone here properly, they all seem a bit busy but there are some amazing people and they all seem so nice!”

Max cocked a knowing eyebrow “everyone?”

Kim cleared his throat “well yea, sword-lady and I just got off on the wrong foot is all”

“Sword-lady? You mean Riposte?” Mylène asked

Kim nodded nervously “we didn’t exactly hit it off right away I guess. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time”

“Did you ask too many questions too?” Mylène asked.

Kim shook his head “nah, it’s just that when she said she was the strongest sword fighter I had to put it to the test!” he smiled “turns out she’s pretty good, but I held my own!” he said with false pride. Mylène caught Max looking at her, shaking his head knowingly.

Mylène held back a snicker, imagining the boastful boy challenging the terrifying woman and promptly having his ass handed to him.

The three of them talked through the evening, laughing and quickly becoming friends. As Mylène laid down her head on the pillow to sleep she could barely contain her joy. She was so lucky to finally have found a place where she could belong.

Mylène spend the next morning carrying around boxes and sacks. She could barely keep up with the Reflecta twins. Two pink clad clowns who looked exactly the same. In spite of their relatively small frames the two of them seemed to be surprisingly strong.

The two of them moved in perfect symmetry, walking past one another to pick up a box and place it on the cart, the other always at the exact opposite side of the task as her sister.

Mylène couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing dedication and skill on display in their every action, she had to believe that their act was something to behold, she hoped to see it someday.

Looking around she marveled at everyone around her, practicing their skills or working, all of them wearing their costumes, no matter how uncomfortable they looked. She hoped that if she was expected to do the same, that her costume would be a little less exposing than the skin tight suits that most around her seemed to have.

Mylène climbed up some larger heavier boxes to grab one of the ones at the top which seemed light enough for her to manage. She found a shoebox sized wooden box, checking it’s weight and finding it was manageable.

As she took the box and was about to maneuver her way down the stack of boxes, the whole tower suddenly started moving under her feet. She gasped, clutching the wooden crate to her chest, afraid of breaking something precious on her first day.

She felt herself rise quickly and saw to her surprise that the tower of wooden crates she’d been standing on had been lifted, all 30 or so of them at once, including her!

She looked over the stack to see the lifter, her eyes going wild as she saw a man the size of a bear, who seemed to be made entirely out of stone! She gasped in surprise, which made the stone-man aware of her presence.

He looked up at her, equally surprised to see a small woman on his stack of boxes, he gasped audibly, almost dropping her and the whole stack.

Mylène wobbled on the stack, trying desperately to keep her balance but it was a lost cause. She found herself tumbling onto the ground, landing on her shoulder and hearing the distinct sound of glass inside the crate clattering around and shattering.

She got up quickly, looking mortified at the grate, that had definitely sounded bad. She bit her lip, slowly opening the crate, looking away as though seeing it would make it worse somehow. The lid slowly came off of the box and three beautiful white butterflies began fluttering out into their freedom.

Mylène watched them curiously for a moment, enchanted by the insects appearing from such a strange place. She realized too late that she was letting go circus animals, cute and tiny as they may be. She tried grabbing for them but it was much too late, they had already flown towards the sky.

Mylène sighed “bye bye pretty butterflies…” she looked up, unable to be entirely sad that the beautiful little creatures had managed to escape.

She felt a bump through the earth as the heavy stack of crates were placed down relatively gently next to her, she looked back at the stone man who looked down at her with a worried expression.

“Goodness I’m so sorry for spooking you! I didn’t mean to be in the way!” she told him.

The man was truly huge and his skin really didn’t look like a costume, he really was just made of stone! He was like taken out of a fairy tale. His eyes were painted with worry as he looked her over, wordlessly checking if she was hurt. Carefully touching her like she was a porcelain doll with his rough clumsy hands.

Mylène chuckled “I’m fine! Just got surprised is all. Seems I spooked you too, we’ll call it even alright?” she looked up after the butterflies “a shame those cute butterflies escaped though… I sure hope they weren’t important…”

The stone man looked at her with complete surprise, he swayed back and forth slightly.

Mylène looked at him curiously, unsure what he was thinking. She was growing certain that he couldn’t speak, which was a shame, she would have liked to have a less one sided conversation with him.

“Is something the matter?” she asked him in a friendly tone.

He hesitated, then began slowly dragging his large finger into the gravel. When he moved his finger she saw that he’d written a short message for her. She swallowed embarrassed “I’m sorry mister, I can’t read” she admitted, feeling childish and stupid.

He nodded slowly, rubbing his chin for a moment before erasing the message and dragging his finger once more. When he finished this time, Mylène saw that he’d made a simple drawing of stick figures screaming in terror in front of a drawing of himself.

Mylène looked up at him sympathetically “people are usually afraid of you? I understand that.” Mylène sighed deeply “people often don’t react too well to me neither. I’ve never seen or even heard of a man made of stone other than in stories, I don’t think it’s scary, I think it’s pretty amazing”

Mylène smiled up at him shrugging “when you’re a midget there’s no benefit, you’re just ugly and tiny for life… You get to be strong as an ox, and you’re handsome in your own way”

The stone man shook his head with an almost panicked look in his eyes, unwilling to believe that anyone could call him handsome. Mylène could easily read his expression since she knew it well from herself.

He began drawing again, this time making a little drawing of her with a shimmering aura around her like an angel.

“You’re saying I’m pretty?” she asked perplexed.

He nodded sternly.

She shook her head “no I’m not, and that’s ok, I’m at peace with it. Don’t have to be kind.”

He placed his large hand softly and carefully on her head, pointing insistently on the drawing and nodding.

Mylène chuckled “alright tell you what. I’ll try and believe that I’m pretty, if you do the same ok?”

The stone looked at her surprised, looking down thoughtfully for a moment, then smiling to her, nodding.

She smiled up at him “good then! You know, they say that having a heart of stone is a bad thing, but I think your stoneheart is the biggest heart I’ve seen in a long while. I hope to get to know you more”

The giant man smiled softly, nodding. Then his expression changed to a solemn, melancholy one. He looked around to make sure that no one was looking, finding the Reflecta twins already long gone and no one looking at them. He drew a moon on the ground and looked at her with a serious expression.

“Night?” she guessed.

He nodded. Mylène took a moment to appreciate her amazing guessing skills, and people had claimed she had no real talents, if they could only see her now! She chuckled to herself.

The man looked at her sternly and she took a moment to figure out what he meant “you want me to meet you tonight?”

He nodded again, he seemed worried and a bit sad.

Mylène swallowed, putting a soft hand over his enormous stone fist “alright, but no funny business until I’m married alright?” she said sternly, half jokingly.

The stoneman’s eyes went wide with embarrassment as he shook his hands in front of himself in a ‘it’s not like that!’ motion. She chuckled at him “tonight then” she smiled, grabbing one of the smaller boxes and walking off with it.

Later, Mylène found Max, sighing with a notebook in his hands. She smiled as she saw that he’d put the soap bubble somehow on his wrist using a band.

“What’s wrong Max?” she asked, approaching her new friend.

He shook his head “This place is terrible at keeping their books up to date! Many of the boxes are unlabeled and Doctor Agreste told me they sometimes lose stock of what’s in what crate. It’s gonna take ages to catalogue it all”

“Oh… that’s a shame” she felt a small sigh of relief, figuring maybe they wouldn’t notice the butterflies she let loose.

Max shrugged “it’s a challenge certainly, but honestly it means that they are in desperate need of my skills. Makes me feel like I have a place here, not just living off of charity” he smiled down at her, his smile quickly broken by Mylène’s sad expression. “What’s wrong?”

Mylène shrugged “what you said… You’re all so talented. I’m not sure I can do anything to help out!”

Max kneeled down sympathetically putting a hand on her shoulder “we’ll figure something out you can do! With my brilliance and Kim’s creativity we’ll have you working on a job that’s perfect for you in no time at all” he gave her a cheery smile.

Mylène wiped a tear from the corner of her eye “you really think so?”

Max winked at her “I know so! Back before I started tutoring Kim I felt the same way. I was supposed to help my parents but I’m terrible at cooking and cleaning and everything like that. I felt like a burden, but then we found the perfect thing for me and well… you know that it worked out perfectly.” He sighed dreamily “if you’re lucky we might even find you your very own Kim”

Mylène blushed smiling, her thoughts falling on the strange stone man, of course his build was truly strange, but she wondered if maybe it was possible anyway?

“You look like you’ve already met someone” he chuckled with a teasing smile.

Mylène shifted embarrassed “no way!” she softly pushed at his shoulder making him laugh.

Mylène remembered something she’d wanted to ask him. She never liked asking others for help, especially when she had nothing to give in return. She fidgeted with her hands, looking up at Kim with a shy look “say Max… I was wondering. Think you could teach me to read?”

Max smiled “the pursuit of knowledge eh? A noble endeavor no matter the reason. I’m sure you’ll be a better student than my previous one” he snickered.

“Kim was a bad student?”

“Well… not a bad student per se, but he did keep distracting his teacher with his beautiful auburn eyes” he winked.

“Kim!” Max yelled out over Mylène’s shoulder, waving at the approaching hunk of a man.  

Mylène and Max both stared stunned at Kim as he approached wearing a red costume. Large black angelic wings with red stripes running through them. He wore a quiver on his back and held a black bow in his hand. His skintight suit showed his bulging muscles through the red and black fabric and his hair went up in a spike in the front. His costume had a large white broken heart at the front.

Be still my heart, he’s taken, Mylène thought to herself as he approached the two of them, smiling confidently. Mylène looked over at Max who seemed as spellbound as she was.

“So Kim” Max corrected his glasses with a smile, hiding his blush. “Archery then? That’s a good idea, I hadn’t even thought about using some of your gentleman’s sports for a performance. That’s a great idea”

Kim gave an uncharacteristically cold smile, “Call me Dark Cupid.”

Mylène and Max looked at one another with a confused look “well… alright then Dark Cupid? I’m glad you found a persona that would work for you” Max smiled encouraging, “but why Dark Cupid, you’re a lovely angel of love, what’s dark about you?”

The skinny man walked up to plant a kiss on his boyfriend, but was pushed back. He landed on the ground with a pained grunt, looking up with hurt eyes at the person he was willing to sacrifice anything for.

Dark Cupid looked down with cold eyes “everyone leaves you, they won’t be there when you need them most. I can’t save you Max, and you can’t save me.”

“Kim…” Max whispered, tears forming in his eyes.

“I’m Dark Cupid!” he snapped, anger roaring in his eyes, his wings swinging out into a broad circle behind him wildly as though they were real.

Dark Cupid looked down at Max’s crying eyes, sadness washed over his face for a moment but was replaced with a terribly pained expression as though he’d been stabbed. He doubled over, groaning in pain.

He gasped for breath, rising again with bloodshot eyes. “Your love for me will only cause you more pain. It would be better if you hated me…” He brought an arrow out from his quiver in a silent, practiced motion. The arrowhead was a black heart, whose point was deadly sharp.

Max looked with pain and fear up at the drawn bow. He stuttered, trying to find the words to convince Kim of his mistake, trying to prove to him how wrong he was, but the words were all trying to come out at once.

“Love is nothing but pain” Dark Cupid let the arrow fly, striking the ground where Max had been just a moment ago.  Mylène was running, having grabbed Max by his shirt and pulled him with her. He’d swiftly stumbled to his feet, running after her, tears flowing from his eyes.

“Get back here!” Dark Cupid’s angry voice echoed out with anger and disdain behind them. They heard another arrow being let loose from the bow, but managed to dodge out of the way in between the tents.

Mylène and Max ducked behind cover, looking at one another with a mix of panic and horrible betrayal.

“What’s going on!?” Max cried out “Kim wouldn’t do this!”

Mylène nodded “I know! Something terrible must have happened!”

Max looked around, trying to piece things together “It’s the Doctor! It has to be!”

Mylène shook her head “it can’t be! He’s the kindest person I’ve met!”

Max grit his teeth at her “wake up! Clearly he did something terrible to Kim! To everyone here!”

Mylène couldn’t believe it, she refused to. She felt the tears welling up and the fear beginning to creep through her, paralyzing her.

“You know” the uncaring voice of the man who had been so kind the day before whispered, “if you’re going to try to hide, I’d recommend not yelling quite so much.”

The tent they’d been hiding behind was ripped away with inhuman strength by the monstrous angel, exposing Mylène and Max. The two of them trembled in each others arms. “Kim… please… don’t do this…” Max begged.

Kim knocked another arrow “sorry ‘honey’, Kim’s not here” he smiled wickedly, taking aim.

“yea well, Kagami is!” a woman’s voice called out behind Dark Cupid, making him turn with surprise. A slender blue haired woman dashed in behind him, a slender sharp blade striking out mercilessly.

Dark Cupid barely managed to dodge to the side, avoiding being cut in half by the powerful swing. “Why you!” Dark Cupid jumped backwards, knocking another arrow. He looked with anger and panic as he found the string to his bow severed.

He looked towards the cold steely eyes of the woman, she wore a full red suit and her blue hair fell down over her eyes almost covering them. Looking at the spiteful glare Mylène’s eyes went wide “Riposte!?” she called out surprised.

Kagami nodded to her a soft smile breaking her expression with a look that was kinder than Mylène ever thought she’d see from the stern woman.

The fencer raised her blade towards Dark Cupid menacingly. The dark angel gritting his teeth in frustration. His large wings folded out and he dashed with impossible speed towards her, wielding an arrow as a weapon. Kagami smiled, easily sidestepping the blitz, her steel contacting his foolish attack.

Dark Cupid fell to the ground, his wing torn by the blade, he groaned in pained frustration.

“Kim!” Max called out worried.

Kagami approached Max and Mylène “he’s not Kim anymore, we have to get out of here before...”

“Before what?” an amused woman’s voice slithered in behind Kagami, making her spin on her heel, readying her weapon.

One of the Reflecta clones walked towards them with a smile, as she walked she seemed to fade out of view for a moment, suddenly becoming two, then four. “Stay a while boy” she looked down at the terrified Max with a sadistic grin, another Reflecta continuing “trust me, it’s better to stay by your lover” another Reflecta continued “than leave them to this fate.”

Kagami readied her blade, standing herself between the army of identical clowns and Mylène and Max “don’t worry, they don’t stand a chance.” She said with no hint of false confidence.

A puff of pink smoke appeared next to the Reflecta’s, another dark clown woman whom Mylène didn’t know appeared out of the cloud. She held a strange gun which smoked with pink and purple smoke. She giggled evilly “I hope you weren’t going to start without me my love” she smiled.

“Wouldn’t dream of it” Reflecta answered in unison.

Kagami’s stance shifted, her eyes turning into small slits “still don’t stand a chance”

A black panther jumped in to the side of them, roaring wildly before growing into a horrible titanic serpent, at least 7 meters long and with enormous claws and fangs.

Kagami turned towards Max and Mylène “actually maybe we should run” she wasted no time, dashing back towards them at lightning speed and grabbing both of them, jumping in between the tents, attempting to lose their pursuers.

Max was set down to attempt to run while being dragged by Kagami’s hand, his long slender legs swung widely to the sides as he tried keeping up with the impossible dashing speed of the fencer.

Mylène found herself cradled like a child against Kagami’s chest, she hung her arms around her neck, holding on for dear life. With her ear against the woman’s chest, Mylène could hear the panicked beating of the stoic warrior’s heart, showing the fear which refused to creep onto her face.

Mylène saw the scenery dashing past as she traveled at what felt like breakneck speeds through the canopy of cloth and crates that made up the circus camp.

Kagami lead them into a tent, hiding behind a large wardrobe. She went quiet, listening out for sounds of their pursuers, but they seemed to have managed to shake them.

“Shouldn’t we…” Max gasped for breath, trying to stay quiet “exit the camp…?” he wheezed.

Kagami shook her head  whispering “not yet, Animan will be able to track us, we need to take him out of the picture before we can escape.”

“So” Mylène whispered thoughtfully “what happened? How did you return to normal? Can we do the same for Kim?”

Kagami’s teeth ground slightly as she thought “I don’t know what happened. Bubbler, Stoneheart and me just suddenly returned to normal. I got the boys to flee while I went after the Doctor, I found you on the way.”

Max’s shoulders fell “so you don’t know what caused it to end” he frowned.

Kagami shook her head “I’m sorry.”

“Wait!” Mylène exclaimed, being promptly shushed by the other two. “sorry…” she whispered, continuing in a quiet whisper directly into Kagami’s ear “Stoneheart, did he escape?”

Kagami looked down at her “I’m not sure, Bubbler ran towards town like I told him, but Stoneheart headed in towards camp, I don’t know why.”

Mylène gasped “he’s looking for me…” she concluded, her eyes growing wide with fear of the man looking for her while the monsters lurked around the camp.

Mylène looked down at her hand, clenching it into a fist, trying to keep it from shaking. “I have to go look for him!”

“What!?” Max was shushed by the other two, making him shrink back. He continued in a hushed shout “are you crazy!? Did you see what’s out there! Kagami, tell her she can’t go!”

Kagami looked at Max, then at Mylène. She reached in under her clothes and handed something to Mylène, looking down at it she was shocked to see that it was a wickedly sharp looking knife. She looked up at Kagami.

“I refuse to force anyone to do anything. If she wants to go try to save Stoneheart then all I can do is wish her luck.” The stoic warrior looked into Mylène’s eyes with a supportive and even proud look which made Mylène believe that she could actually do this.

Max looked at them, shaking his head “Mylène you must see that this is crazy! Please, stay here, we’ll get an army or something and return! There’s nothing we can do right now.”

Mylène shook her head “I… I have to try.”

Max and Kagami looked after her as she snuck out of the tent. Looking around to find it empty for now. Not knowing how long that would last, she rushed out, trying to get some distance between herself and the others.

Mylène found that many of the tents were spaced apart just enough that she could traverse it, but anyone larger would have trouble walking comfortably. If she snuck between these tents she might be able to go unnoticed.

She could feel her heart beating like a drum, the knife feeling heavy in her hand . She prayed  she wouldn’t have to use it, she wondered if she even could.

She tried remembering the layout of the encampment, remembering where her and the rock-man had made their deal to meet. It was a little hidden away from the rest of camp, he might be waiting there for her.

She heard the sound of running footsteps close-by, she dodged behind a crate, feeling the cold wood against her fingers. She tried calming her breathing, holding a hand in front of her mouth while brandishing Kagami’s knife in the other.

Mylène resisted the urge to swallow as two of the Reflecta clones ran from both directions, meeting near Mylène.

“Where’d they disappear to!” One said frustrated.

“If you don’t know then how would I!?” the other snapped.

“Just keep looking! The doctor will have our heads if they escape!” The first said, clutching her head with worry.

The two gritted their teeth, dashing off in opposite directions. Mylène let herself sigh, waiting for her heart to stop trying to  beat its way out of her chest before she poked her head out to look around.

The coast seemed clear for now, allowing her to sprint from tent to tent, praying with every step that she wouldn’t run into another monster. Another creature whose powers and malice was somehow worse than the last.

She could feel her legs growing heavier with every step, she felt the confidence melting away as sweat began running down her forehead. She felt cold and hot at the same time, the fear of being caught made her blood run cold, making her want to curl up and cry. But she forced herself to keep going, even as she felt the tears pressing against the corners of her eyes.

Mylène begged for everything to turn out alright. For everyone to be safe, and for the stone man to be there waiting for her with open arms.

When she found the familiar path around which was their decided meeting spot, she bit her lip, daring to hope what he looked like, that he was handsome and welcoming.

She darted across the path, seeing the turn before her, then felt a heavy impact against the back of her head. Vertigo took her for a moment, barely feeling herself hitting the ground, then the world turned black.

“Quite the adventure you’ve had Mylène.” The faint comforting voice of Gabriel sank into Mylène’s slowly waking consciousness. She looked up to see the man she admired, looking down on her with terrifyingly cold and angry eyes.

Cold numbness started spreading through Mylène as she remembered everything, she tried getting away but found herself tied down to a chair. She swallowed, looking up at the terrifying doctor Agreste, the last waning hope that he wasn’t behind everything slowly disappearing.

Mylène felt cold and afraid, tears starting to form in her eyes “why…?” she managed to sigh through gritted teeth, tears starting to flow down her cheeks.

The doctor didn’t look at her, he was moving glass and metal appliances onto a table. Amongst them the small box Riposte gave him earlier, and a large glass beaker with a plant in it.

“Why?” he muttered quietly, not looking at her. “I’m finding a way to make people better, immune to disease, strong as ten men and with powers to rival gods. The question isn’t why, it’s how could I not pursue this?”

The doctor opened the box, a small white butterfly climbing sleepily onto his finger. He uncorked the flask with the plant, carefully setting the butterfly onto a branch.

“You’ve temporarily cost me my best akuma, but I’ll get her back don’t worry. When you find clay that perfect, you do not allow it to slip through your fingers.” He looked at her with cold professionalism, but lurking, bubbling anger shone through his eyes.

Mylène swallowed, wondering how she’d been the one to set back his plans. Looking at the butterfly out of the corner of her eye, she saw the dark purple color of the plant slowly rising into it, coloring it in black and purple colors.

She looked up at him, a realization slowly dawning on her “the butterflies I let go… They freed the others…”

Doctor Agreste’s eyes narrowed with disgust, but he recomposed himself, pushing his glasses into place and smiling, talking in the same carefree tone he’d had when first they spoke, or at least  a mockery of that tone. “yes well, in a way I have to thank you! I was keeping the butterflies around for research purposes, after I’d used them. Turns out they are much more important than I realized. In a way I have to thank your bumbling foolishness. Without you I may not have learned of this flaw in time to do something about it.”

The butterfly’s wings beat softly, as the last patches of whiteness disappeared from it. The doctor watched the process curiously but unsurprised.

“The others… they’ll stop you…” Mylène could feel herself shivering, she didn’t know what was going to happen but the terror of watching the man in front of her work slowly and meticulously without a hint of fear or worry chilled her to the core.

“I fully intended for them to try” he said coldly, putting together a metal tube, about the size of Mylène’s finger, with many copper colored pieces. “And when they do, I’ll get back my clay.”

The certainty in his voice send shivers down Mylène’s spine. Words failed her as she resigned herself to fall back, tears rolling down her cheeks.

The doctor slowly poked an incredibly thin needle into the butterfly, retrieving a tiny amount of small liquid into the metal tube. The butterfly froze, the purple markings on its body disappearing and it seemed to petrify into stone.

Gabriel admired the tube for a moment “for all the headache you’ve caused I do have to be thankful for one other thing. Your little meeting with Stoneheart allowed me to easily capture the two of you. Foolish young… well is it love? Or just two freaks finding comfort in their mutual horror?” he smiled sadistically.

Mylène sobbed, the thought of the stone-man waiting for her only to be captured like her breaking her heart. If it hadn’t been for her he could have just run away. “How… how did you know?”

“About your meeting? Oh let’s just say that sometimes the camp has eyes.” He smiled as the sadistic chuckling of a young woman echoed through the room, seemingly from nowhere.

Mylène closed her eyes, she couldn’t face this, she wanted to disappear. “you said… you said you loved people like me…” She sobbed, the fact that she’d trusted him hurting almost as much as the horror she was facing.

“Oh, but I do. I need clay for my work you see Mylène. And you freaks supply me with everything I need. That’s the lovely thing about outcasts you see, no one misses them.” Mylène could feel his breath on her face, she whimpered.

“So tell me. How do you feel?” he asked with an amused tone.

“Scared…” Mylène whispered, answering more on instinct than anything else, she opened one eye, looking at the strange man right in front of her face, wondering why he’d ask that.

“Scared? Hm…” Mylène opened an eye to see the doctor stroking his chin. “You know it’s funny, that’s what I expected everyone to feel in this situation, but surprisingly, you’re the first to be afraid. Everyone else have been so angry that it melted away the fear. I wonder how that will affect you”

He smiled a devilish smile he snapped his finger “open her eyes”

Mylène felt fingers touching at her head but there was no one there. Her eyes were forced open and her head was held in place by strong gripping hands.

The doctor kneeled down in front of her, readying the needle. “Are you afraid Mylène? Afraid of what will happen? Afraid because you know deep down that no one will save you? You should be afraid. Stay with the fear, focus on it. It’s going to be the catalyst for your beautiful metamorphosis.” He chuckled, the needle slowly approaching her skin.

Mylène shook wildly in her restraints,  seeing the needle inching closer. She screamed out in horror, desperate for someone to save her.

She wanted to look away, to close her eyes and pretend to be somewhere else, but the fingers holding her eyes open dug into her flesh harder, mercilessly forcing her to see every moment of what was happening.

She felt the needle against her skin for a moment before the piercing pain of it sinking into her flesh. She saw the lever being pushed down on the metal canister, and even though she didn’t feel it, she could practically see the blackness seeping into her bloodstream.

She gasped for breath, looking up at the doctor with wild terror, he returned her gaze with amused curiosity.

Her arm began growing cold, like it was petrifying into ice. She felt the thoughts of terror rushing through her more with every second. She gasped for breath as the unnatural freezing coldness spread through her. Every thought and feeling began melting away only to be replaced with screaming, pain and terror.

Outside of the tent, outside the camp, where Max and Kagami hid, having escaped for now. The sound of terrified screaming carried on the wind towards them. The screaming of a small woman, not screaming for help, simply screaming because it’s all she had left to do.

Kagami’s legs gave out under her, she fell to the ground, holding over her ears and trying desperately to quell the echoing sounds of terror, which at the same time reminded her that she could have saved this woman, and on the other hand allowed her to relive the final moments of pain before Riposte’s birth.

The screaming persisted, the doctor prolonging it as long as he could, knowing the effect it would have on the would be escapees.

The piercing wailing seemed unending, the shrill voice of a small woman slowly drowning away, growing deeper, hoarser and finally, bestial.  The screaming transformed slowly but surely into the hour long howls of a wounded, terrified animal, alone and lost in the world, unsure for now what to do but cry out into darkness.