Dinner that night was a plate of cold, leftover beef. It was a large plate, Dragomir had to admit, but it was still a single plate. One of Dragomir’s crewers left it outside the cabin door, sitting on the floor, and alerted Dragomir with a terse knock. When Dragomir opened the door to retrieve the plate he caught sight of Libby, and she looked ready to tear the man’s throat out. Dragomir shook his head, picked up the plate, and went back into the cabin.
Libby screamed at the man anyway. Dragomir smiled to himself, then tuned her out. He could put up with disrespect; she could not, apparently.
Eve had seated herself at the far chair in the small conference room, sitting rigidly at attention. Dragomir paused for a moment, studying her, and she studied him back. The scar on Dragomir’s belly stung, but he didn’t mind. It was a loving sting. He could put up with that.
“Here,” he said, setting the beef in front of Eve. “I’m not hungry. You have it.”
Eve looked at the beef. She poked it with a gauntleted hand, then leaned in close to sniff it. She didn’t eat anything, however, and resumed staring at Dragomir. She looked to him like a picky cat, ill at ease with any dish presented to her unless it was exactly what she wanted.
“You don’t turn down food,” Dragomir murmured, seating himself beside Eve. “You’ve never turned down food ‘round me. Not once. I saw you eat a gods-be-damned mammoth, kiddo. What’s the deal?”
Eve blinked. She looked at the food again, then back at her father. Her green eyes sparkled. “I will cast you into the deepest hell available to me. And while you burn in a lake of roiling lava, I will hurl spears at your face.”
“Well, that hasn’t changed,” Dragomir said wryly. He reached up to touch Eve’s face, and she let him. Her skin was smooth… but there were still lines. “Normally you’d’ve chucked me through a wall for this. Something’s wrong, innit?”
Eve didn’t respond. She ran a hand along her jaw and up her cheeks, inspecting the faint creases around her mouth and under her eyes. She traced each one quietly, then, with surprising tenderness, she held Dragomir’s hand up to her face until he did the same. The skin here felt almost crinkly, as if made of old parchment, and when Dragomir pulled his hand away he found pale white flakes decorating his fingertips.
“Does it hurt?” Dragomir asked, voice trembling.
Eve nodded. She patted her right breast, her stomach, and her legs. “I have been pierced by the darts of a blazing sun. My skin smoulders, as yours will, when I set your body ablaze.”
That seems as close as I’m gonna come to a straightforward answer. Guess it’s enough, though. Dragomir nodded. “Open your mouth, kiddo. Lemme have a look.”
Eve did as instructed. Dragomir peeked inside, inspected her teeth. He had no idea what he was looking for, but something told him that this was a good place to start - and that something was right. Eve’s front teeth looked as oddly straight and white as ever, but her molars looked old and eroded, and her breath stank of death. Even in the dim light of the cabin he could see that the top of her mouth was decorated by sticky black blood.
The ship rumbled, and Dragomir could tell they were now in the air. Despite the shaky decks he remained standing for a long time, looking at those decaying yellow molars, wondering exactly what they meant. No, fearing, rather, because he knew what they meant. They meant something he’d suspected for a long time, ever since he’d come back from Goblinoster to find that his tiny baby girl had grown into a teenaged warrior.
Dragomir moved to the door and popped it open. As he’d hoped, The Baron was still on the bridge, standing by himself. The crew seemed to be shunning him even more than normal. “Old man! Get in here a second, will you? Need to ask you somethin’.”
As The Baron quietly walked towards the door, one of the crewers raised a hand. “Uh… Dragomir? Logan’s sent a message by pigeon, asking what we’re planning - “
“I already told you what we’re planning,” Dragomir snapped. He caught a brief glimpse of the army of Non outside the ship as it lifted into the sky. “You tell him that. He’s not in charge here, and he needs to stop thinking he is.”
The crewer shut his mouth. On the other side of the bridge, glowering at her crew in general, Libby nodded approvingly. The Baron stepped past Dragomir, and he shut the door again, nodding back to his wife. He should’ve known the authoritarian route would work for her.
Eve still had her mouth open. The Baron cocked his head at her. “What’s this? What are you two doing in here?”
“Inspecting,” Dragomir replied. He pointed at Eve’s mouth. “Look at her teeth. The back teeth. Then tell me what I wanna know.”
The Baron hesitated, and the slight flinch in his hands revealed his thoughts. He moved slowly to Eve’s side, then, with infinite caution, he looked into her mouth. He only seemed able to stand her terrible breath for a few moments before he pulled away again, waving a hand in front of his already-covered nose. Dragomir folded his arms and waited.
“That,” The Baron said, after a long moment, “that is something I suppose I expected. Your daughter is dying, Dragomir. I’m so sorry.”
Dragomir wanted to reach across the room, which was something he could literally do now, and throttle the old man. He wanted to wrap his Non fingers around The Baron’s Non throat and squeeze his fucking Non life right out of his Non head, because all of this Non bullshit was to blame. “Is this because she’s some kinda weapon? Is that why she ages so quickly?”
The Baron must have heard the anger in Dragomir’s taut voice, because he took a step away from father and daughter alike. “Er… yes, something like that. She possesses incredible power, but that power comes at a cost. I tailored her to grow quickly, because I needed a full-fledged warrior within a year to complete my plan. Her extreme movements and constant battling have aged her prematurely, it seems. I’m… I’m - “
“I don’t give a shit if you’re sorry, so stop saying it,” Dragomir snapped. “How long does she have?”
The Baron shook his head. “I have no idea. A few months, perhaps. Maybe a year if we’re lucky. She is, ah, extremely hardy, so a year wouldn’t surprise me - “
“Then let her go.”
The Baron’s head rocked back at the suggestion, though he pretended not to understand at first. “I beg your pardon?”
“You don’t get a pardon. I know you’ve got one of your… ghost… things…. inside her. Controlling her. Probably been restraining her since she was a baby. Let her go so she can live normally for the last few months of her life.” Dragomir’s lip trembled. “Come on. It can’t hurt, now, can it? Just let her be herself.”
The Baron’s tiny eyes narrowed sadly behind his glasses, and he shook his head. “I… I can’t. If I do… Dragomir, you’re right, I’ve been keeping her under a leash since before she was born. I had to, because her… tendencies… if she were to be released from my control, I think she would go on a rampage. She would kill indiscriminately. I don’t know what kind of personality you think she has, but…”
Dragomir looked to his daughter. She was staring at The Baron, expression vacant… yet there was a hint of reproach in her eyes, and the slightest promise of vengeance. If she ever got free, The Baron would almost certainly be the first person she killed. Dragomir knew that with complete and utter certainty, just as surely as he knew that The Baron was probably right. He’d known his daughter too long not to realize that she was, despite the core of sweetness, a killing machine.
“I don’t know what to say.” The Baron shuffled his feet. “I’m to blame.”
“Of all the things you could’ve picked, that was pretty fuckin’ stupid.” Dragomir pointed to the door. “Of course you’re to blame. Get out.”
The Baron scuttled out the door without a moment’s hesitation. The haste of the man’s departure gave Dragomir the slightest taste of what it would be like to act like a dictator, and the gesture was bitter to his tongue and his mind. He shuddered, kicked the door shut in The Baron’s wake, and turned back to his daughter. She still hadn’t closed her mouth, and he smiled sadly at this. He motioned for her to clamp her jaw shut, and she finally did.
“First Evangelina goes missing, now this.” Dragomir sighed. His heart hurt as much as his head. “I’ve lost a lot of people in the last… hell, four years, Eve. Most of ‘em just this year. And now I’m going to lose you too? It’s not right. It’s not right at all. I haven’t had a single chance to be a proper father to you. That’s maybe my biggest regret.”
Eve said nothing. Dragomir almost wished she would casually threaten him, because her silence seemed like just another sign of sickness.
“Well, you don’t need to worry,” he said. “I’ll be coming with ya. We’ll enjoy whatever afterlife there is together, yeah? You and me.”
Dragomir hugged his daughter, firmly but gently. He could feel her ribs through her leather armour, and he immediately loosened his grip a little. But Eve did not flinch, did not complain, did not harm him as he’d initially thought she would, and did not hug him back. He hoped, secretly, that she would hug him just once before the end.