Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Nineteen: It's on


My wife… was badly beaten today. And it's all my fault.

That makes me sound like an abusive husband, I know. I swear I didn't touch her, diary. You think I could beat up Libby? Not likely. I once lost a fight with a house cat. True story. I'll never be a tough guy. Gods only know why I got named as a guard. Maybe my dad did it 'cause he wanted me to get slagged.

Huh. That makes a lot of sense, now. What an uncharitable ass he is. I oughta beat the stuffing oughta him, but lack of arm strength is the ISSUE here, so… y'know… perhaps not.

After my fight with Libby yesterday - and an encounter with a giiiiiiant pack of roaming cougars, all of which are now QUITE dead - I mulled over what could be done to bring her and Eve together. To, y'know, establish a common link between the two. But what could that link be?

Wasn't sure, at first. I've tried so many other little things to bring them close that, ah, running on fumes. (I know that's a SAYING, but I don't know what it means. Honestly, things get in my head that don't make a bit of sense.) Eventually I resorted to one of my favourite pastimes: lists. I went through all the things I know about Eve and Libby, looking for a link between mother and daughter.

Here's Libby's list:

- Daughter of carpenters, and a carpenter herself
- Arranged marriage
- Temperamental
- Violent
- Good with her fists
- Mood swings
- Likes the queen
- Enjoys machinery
- Can read
- VERY good at 'cuddling'
- Attractive enough that 'cuddling' comes naturally
- Spent time as a werewolf
- Likes to sleep in
- Dislikes lazy husbands
- May dislike husbands period

And here's Eve's list:

- Daughter of a guard and a carpenter
- Grew to the size of a girl in less than a year
- Violent
- Prone to fits of murder
- Unnaturally good with weapons
- Voracious, and likes raw, bloody meat
- Unemotional to the extreme
- Epic
- Spouts gibberish
- Not good at taking orders
- Poor with pep talks
- Very jumpy
- Blonde

I saw only one thing in common on those lists, one thing that, I hated to admit, might actually bring them together: violence. They both like to fight. Or they're both at least GOOD at it.

So… um… logic… at the time… dictated… that I propose they get into a fight.



I'VE HEARD! I've totally heard, diary, that men DO NOT TRULY KNOW EACH OTHER, until they've gotten into a fight. I don't know if that's true of women, but I REFUSE to let a sexist saying control my life. I REFUSE!

Aaaaand perhaps I should have let the former logic go to work. But I didn't know that at the time, so… so… y'know…

I asked. We'd just forded a small river, and all of the wagons had stopped to dry off, so I asked. I went right up to Libby, told her that this nonsense between her and Eve had to STOP, and said that they should get to know each other by duking it out. A friendly boxing match! Gloves and everything, just like with Captain Cedric!

Yeah. Because THAT turned out well.

Queen Daena, overhearing the conversation, quickly cautioned against the idea. I do believe she came down from her linguistic pedestal for a few moments and called me 'retarded'. Libby, though… Libby… she smiled.

"Y'know what, Dragomir, you're right." She dropped what she was doing - repairs on one of the wheel axles of the Matriarch - and tossed her gloves down. "That's the best idea I've heard all day."

"It is?"

"Yep!" She hopped off the side of the Matriarch, striding towards Eve, standing off on her own in a nearby field. "Best idea all year. Your entire life, even. Might make up for that devilspawn you call a daughter."

"Huh." I struggled to keep up. She was moving fast. "W… wait, maybe this isn't the best idea."

Libby didn't care. She charged straight for Eve, flexing her fingers, swinging her arms in wide arcs. Warming up.

And me? I had sudden mental images of Eve licking Libby's blood off her broadsword.

Eve has spared me before. She's hurt me, she even stabbed me, but she's always missed vital organs. I am CONVINCED that my daughter won't do me any fatal harm, possibly because I try my best to be nice to her. Libby, though… Libby's Eve's harshest critic… did the family exemption extend to her…?

Before I could catch up Libby was confronting Eve, hands on her hips, sneering at her daughter and growling every word. "Hey! Hey, you, freak show! Y'know, I always knew you were a mistake. Ready t'throw down?"

Eve peeked over her shoulder. "Olive?"

"Sure, whatever, fucknut." Libby cracked her knuckles and grinned. "C'mon. Fist fight. Get rid'a those blades of yours 'n show mommy what you can REALLY do. Or are you too chicken to take on a 'normal' chick like me?"

Eve wasn't. She turned fully to face Libby (and me - I was grabbing Libby's legs by this point, praying for her to STOP, DEAR GODS) and tossed her sword on the ground. And her gauntlets. And her upper armour. When she was done, the only things Eve had left on were her leggings, her Omega tattoo, and, uh, her long hair.

I blanched. My daughter was half naked in front of me. THANK THE GODS she has long hair.

Libby smirked. "I guess that's a yes?"

Eve nodded. "Deadly void."

Kicking me off, Libby charged, her boots kicking up grass. She brought her fist up, swinging it back and aiming for Eve's cheek -

- but Eve wasn't there when Libby swung. She ducked under the punch and levelled one of her own at Libby's stomach. Libby staggered backward, the air knocked out of her, and Eve used the opportunity to sweep the legs out from under mommy. Libby went down hard.

But she wasn't out. Somehow ignoring the pain in her gut Libby lunged at Eve from the ground, three quick jabs cutting the air. Eve dodged the first two, then redirected the third and slipped past Libby's hasty guard. Her punch caught Libby in the jaw. Again, humble wifey, down hard.

Libby didn't give up. She kept rising and swinging, breathless each time, knocked down just as hard as the last. Each time I tried to intervene, Eve batted me aside as easily as a whirlwind would hurl a gnat. The girl's strength is insane.

By the end, Libby was a bruised, bloody mess, lying unconscious in the grasslands. Eve didn't have a scratch on her. I've seen my wife take on an Omega Corpser and win, diary, so I can say with all confidence that Eve truly is a monster.

Once she noticed that her mother was out cold, Eve grabbed her armour and retreated over a hill to redress. She offered no apologies. I summoned some help and dragged Libby back to the Matriarch, laying her down in one of the resting compartments. A quick check from a doctor in the caravan confirmed that she wasn't in any great danger.

I sat slumped on the grass inside the Matriarch for the rest of the day, watching Eve up on the catwalks. She stared at the walls and said nothing to me. Nor did anyone else, really, 'cept for Queen Daena:

"I told you so."

You sure did, your majesty. Sigh.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Idiot

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Eighteen: A Jaunty Picnic


Grr. It's tough to nap on this trip, what with the queen's wheel's always turnin'. And try shaving in this thing! Libby's sliced my face up more thoroughly than a Jeffmas ham. Bet I look like Barrel's belly by now.

(That, diary, is called alliteration. Thanks Robert!)

SO. We've discussed the departure; we talked a bit about the caravan; we jumped into failed attempts at Evangelina reconnaissance; hell, we even visited Princess Celine, the mysterious second child of Queen Daena. That just leaves us with one topic as we travel: Eve and Libby, and the lack of relationship betwixt them.

I talked a bit about Libby on this trip. When she's not chattin' away with Daena by the tree, Libby's busy getting the Matriarch tuned up. Or yelling at me for one reason or another. Or somebody else. Rule of thumb, if Libby ain't talking to Daena, she's pissy. Fact of nature, diary, fact of nature.

(Yeah, I exaggerate. You'll live.)

So that's Libby. WHAT ABOUT EVE?

Eve looks the exact same here as she does back at Castle Bonvoyage: impassive. Cold. Possibly brain dead, but in a fierce kinda way. When she talks, it's doom-and-gloom time. When she moves in any drastic way, it's 'cause she's defending the caravan from some massive beast that's lurched up out of the plains to eat us all. Eve alone has made the trip so smooth that I won't even BOTHER talking about these encounters.

(I'm not even kidding. She fought off a chimera the other day. All three heads - bulldog, rabbit, salesman - are mounted on top of some unlucky merchant's wagon, courtesy of Eve's bloodied gauntlets. I think the merchant's afraid to take 'em often, lest Eve get mad and trash his ride.)

We return to that all-important word that I've been using a lot lately: bonding. Bonding bonding bonding. How goes the bonding process between the three of us? It DOESN'T GO AT ALL. Libby and Eve haven't said anything to each other. Libby's done her best to ignore that Eve exists. And Eve, well, she kinda does that all the time anyway.

Queen Daena had a solid idea when I went to ask her about the problem:

"Try a picnic, Dragomir. Families are always picnicking. Why, technically, I'm on a picnic as we speak. Isn't that right, Celine?"

An apple dropped out of the tree above Daena and landed in her hands.

She took a bite and smiled. "See? That's my little girl. I'll stop the caravan for a little while, Dragomir, and you can break out some snacks for Libby and the Lord Knight. Maybe appealing to Eve's stomach will get her to open up."

I bit my lip. "I tried that last week."

"Oh? And how'd it go?"

Visions of vomit and falling octopi wandered into my brain. "Don't ask, your majesty, just… don't ask."

So we stopped. The merchants and commoners attended to their horses and ostriches and giant frogs, guards and soldiers set up a perimeter around the caravan (though they were really just playing cards out in the fields where nobody could see 'em), and I set up a picnic blanket.

I invited Libby to sit down. She did. Brought her a nice big stack of meat pies. She tucked in immediately, commenting that she could probably make BETTER pies. I would've objected, but I wanted a pleasant experience, so I just excused myself.

I found Eve crouched on top of one of the wagons. She was watching a merchant who'd been preparing salted mutton. He looked EXTREMELY EAGER for Eve to vamoose, though he wouldn't meet her eye. There's probably a folk tale out there that says she'll eat your face if you meet her eye.

I still had one of the meat pies, so I pulled out a bit of filling and waved it at Eve. "Heya, cutie! Want some pie? Fresh made, like… three days ago! It's still good!"

Eve appraised the pie. Then she looked at the mutton. Then back at the pie. Back and forth, back and forth. The merchant eagerly pointed at the pie, mumbling words of frightened encouragement.

"C'mon!" I waved the whole pie at her. "Delicious stuff, and I've got a whooooole lot more back at the blanket!"

Ultimately, Eve hopped off the wagon. Stole the mutton. Ate it in front of its former owner. Spat the gristle on his shoes. Said "Your flesh tastes sweeter still." And followed me back to the Matriarch.

(I apologized profusely. The merchant had no words.)

Libby's reaction to our approaching child could have been predicted by the crappiest oracle in the land:

"Fuck!" She jumped off the blanket. "Get that thing away from here, you bastard! Agh, you tricked me!"

"Hey!" I motioned for Libby to sit. "She's not a THING, she's our daughter. C'mon, can't you at least TRY to have a meal? Can't WE? Please, Libby, try it for me. Please?"

Libby's answer was immediate and emphatic. "No! Fuck th'both of you! Go murder a village or something!"

We bickered. Eve didn't react in any way I noticed, besides looking at the pies stacked on the blanket. She didn't eat 'em out from under our noses, though, which I took as a good sign.

The matter was EVENTUALLY settled when Queen Daena, watching from the Matriarch, yelled at Libby to "Man up and have a lovely lunch with your husband and darling daughter". Libby told Daena to ram her pigtails up her arse. (I didn't know you could SAY that to royalty!) Libby did sit down, so I guess insults are the way to a woman's heart…? Meh, I don't get girls…

Eve refused to sit down next to us, and I didn't want her going ballistic and torching the grasslands like she did the rat city, so I made the most of the moment. I used a knife to caaaaarefully cut three slices of pie, blanking my mind so the knife WOULDN'T turn into a weapon and slip away, and handed plates to the most important girls in my life.

Libby moodily stuffed her face with pie. Eve tipped the plate into her mouth and swallowed the whole piece without chewing. I see a family resemblance THERE, at least.

I continued passing out pieces of pie, trying fruitlessly to spark a conversation. I asked Eve what she thought of the Matriarch, her mommy's handiwork; Eve responded by mentioning something about 'mole ivy' and 'limy ovum', which, I'll admit, is a CHANGE (confusing change) from the doom and gloom.

Then she told Libby she'd be committed to the blackest night while sheathed in a prison of bone, so, uh... baby steps.

Libby didn't take kindly to that. I tried to change the subject by asking Libby what she thought of our daughter's appetite, and how she was already so BIG. I asked, "Hey, aren't you proud of her? Not even one, and she's Lord Knight! That's dang impressive, innit?"

"Oh, yeah, very impressive," Libby admitted. "I bet ya would get promoted quick, what with all th'people you've killed. No competition left to take the spot from you. Demonic little bitch."

Eve blinked. "Levy… oleo."

Libby cocked her eyebrow. "What?"

Eve looked at me. "Levy… doodad."

I got down in front of Eve, on my knees, and lightly laid my hands on her shoulders. "What is it, lovely? C'mon, you can tell dad. Are you trying to say something?"

Eve's expression didn't change. Never does. "Levy."

Libby snorted. "I think you broke 'er."

"I will rend your eyelids and deliver you unto the darkened seas of Valhalla." Eve picked up the rest of the pies and jumped away, clearing a wagon and disappearing into the caravan.

That was it. Our first chance to bond, and Eve… Eve had been saying SOMETHING, I knew it… and Libby had fucked it up. Totally. We argued for a straight ten minutes, me calling her a heartless mother, her calling me a blind twit. We broke it off when Queen Daena announced that the caravan would be on its way.

Libby and I aren't talkin' to each other tonight. I'm too busy puzzling over what Eve was saying. Is it some kinda code? Or is she just full of gibberish, and because she's running out of dire predictions the nonsense is starting to come out?

Sigh. I dunno. I'll think about it.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Seventeen: Betcha forgot about her


Hey, guess what! I made a new friend today, in the not-so-friend-but-more-duty sense! And she's ROUGHLY the size of Eve, so… it kinda counts as a family bonding experience, even if it's not the same family. But my daughter will be marrying INTO the family, so I'll be, like… a step… father… uncle… brothersomething… I dunno.

I'll get to her in a second.

First, the caravan! The caravan's great. I may have made it sound like it's just the Matriarch and a couple wagons, but it's a lot bigger than that. Just peering out one of the windows now, I count over a dozen wagons, a couple soldiers on horses, some carts… it's a big party of people. Really beats walking on your own, lemme tell you.

And there're tons of people! Can't have tons of vehicles without tons of people. Though this started out as an ambassadorial thinger on Evangelina's part, it's expanded to an official visit from all walks of life. A bunch of small-time merchants came along to look for new products in Bottomless, as well as to set up shop, and at least a few peasants tagged along to look for work. I wonder if they'll stay behind…? Wouldn't blame 'em, our castle's not exactly well-adjusted.

(Read: It has King Jeffrey. Bottomless does not. Why WOULDN'T they wanna stay behind?)

Also: Grylock! Yep, like I mentioned yesterday, my gobliny-not-so-buddy hitched a ride. As soon as he heard that Lady Evagelina was engaging in diplomatic nonsense, he wanted in. Guess he figured he could carve out an alliance for the goblins. Or maybe he's spying for 'em. I dunno. He's always been a little sketchy. Gives me someone else to chat with, though, and we're on friendlier terms than we used to be.

We also play cards whenever the caravan stops for a break. He always wins. I think he cheats. I don't know the rules to the games we play, though, so it could just be suckiness on my part. Though if he's not teaching me how to play properly, then isn't he still cheating…?

Bah. Grylock peed on my boots. And used me as a pawn in his scheme to shave King Jeffrey's head. He's a pint-sized jerk. Even if he isn't ACTUALLY cheating, I'll always accuse 'im of it.

Despite the awesomeness of the caravan, I've been more wrapped up in exploring the Matriarch today. My wife has made THE COOLEST DAMN THING EVER. The outside is neat enough, but the guts are amazing! There are a bunch of tiny rooms ringing the edges of the Matriarch where guards (or families) can sleep, and there are scaffolds lining the inner dome that you can climb and walk on! I managed to walk to the tip-top of the Matriarch and peer out the sunroof, I did. Great place.

It's up there that I met my little friend, somebody who I think I've mentioned ONCE in you, diary: Princess Celine.

There's a reason Princess Celine is so oft-neglected: She's really secretive. She only comes out to dance for people, then disappears again. I don't think she's shy - if she were, I never woulda seen her - but she doesn't present herself often. I haven't seen her in months, so there wasn't much point mentioning her 'til today.

Thankfully, she didn't sneak up on me and scare me into falling into the top of the queen's tree. She just appeared on an opposite catwalk, watching me, and came over to talk when she caught my eye.

I bowed, and nearly fell off the catwalk anyway. "Princess Celine! I didn't know you would be here! It's an honour!"

She took off her tiny tiara, mussed with her long, dark hair, and put it back. "Rise, guardsman. Can I call you Dragomir?"

I had trouble hearing Celine's slight voice over the constant rumble of the Matriarch's great wheels, so I moved in closer, dangling my legs over the edge of the catwalk and holding on tight. "Yes, your majesty. You can call me mud, if ya want."

Celine joined me, precariously balancing her shoes on the tips of her toes. "Okay. Mud it is."

I squirmed. "Er, I was… just… joking, your majesty… should you be sitting like this? Your mother - "

"My mother's why I'm here, Mud," Celine cut in. "She wanted me to speak with you in private. She'd do it herself, but it's not possible with your wife's constant socializing."

Had to agree with that. Libby 'n Daena have been chattering away like a pair o' schoolgirls since we left Castle Bonvoyage. I swear, Libby ONLY REALLY SMILES when she's with Queen Daena, and it's still as creepy now as the first time I saw it happen. Maybe they should get married instead.

"Okay. What would her majesty like of me, your… majesty?"

Celine held up two fingers.

I nodded. "Okay…? Two things?"

She nodded. Lowered one finger. "A request. She wants you to watch Lady Evangelina and report any suspicious activity. My ninjas and I will be doing the same. Mother doesn't trust that woman."

"Huh? Ninjas? What's a ninja?"

Celine's finger jabbed upward. I followed it, and in the glint of the sun I noticed a flicker of movement on the top of the Matriarch's dome. Then, blocking out the sunlight above for the brief second, a hand. Waving.

Celine smiled quietly.

"Okay." I peeked up again, but the hand was gone. "I still dunno what a ninja is."

"That's good. It means they're doing their job." Celine's first finger went down, and the second went up. I quickly decided she wasn't cursing me. "A question. Mother needs to know something."

"I'm at her majesty's command 'n stuff," I muttered, rubbing the sunspots out of my eyes. I hate those things.

"Very good, Mud. Mother noticed you speaking with The Baron before we left. What did he say?"

"Huh? Oh. Um." I've had you at my side since we left, diary, so I lugged you out of my pack (don't trust anyone NOT to look in you) and opened you up to check. "Lesse… yesterday… oh, yeah. Pretty much just asked me t'do the same thing. Watch Evangelina, doesn't trust her, yadda yadda."

"Ah." Celine paused. She kicked upward, and one of her shoes sailed into the air. She waited a few seconds, then, without moving her foot, caught it again. Must be like her brother. "Okay. I'll tell mother that. Thank you, Mud."

She got up, straightened her shoes, and began to walk away. I stopped her before she got too far. "Er, your highness?"

"Yes?"

"Y'think…" I fidgeted with my armour nervously. S'not the same as asking a favour from Logan, y'know. "Y'think you could call me Dragomir?"

Celine blinked. Then, slowly, she smiled. It wasn't a pleasant expression. "But you said your name was Mud."

Rising lightly on her toes, she danced behind a cannon. When I checked for a trace of her, she'd vanished. Weird kid, that one - though I suppose if she's like her brother, I'd best watch what I write in you, diary. She's liable to sneak a peek. Or seventy.

SO. That's that. I have been officially requested, from all angles, to keep watch on Evangelina. Except from Driscol, and he's not exactly in my good books. I will have nooooooo problem disobeying him, especially if my pals in the nobility are poised to bring him down.

Unfortunately, at least for now, it's kinda TOUGH to watch Evangelina. She's shoved in her own nook of the caravan, one of Driscol's personal carriages, and whenever the caravan stops she stays away from the rest of us. Sticks with Driscol's servants. I doubt she'd let me come snoopin' along under the guise of bein' hospitable, so I'll leave her be 'til we get to… Bottomless…

Wait…

They've made me into a spy again… NOOOOOOO, MORALITY BREACH

FUCK

Bah. This sucks. I don't WANNA spy. NO MORE LETTER OPENING

I'm gonna go chat with Libby, diary. Maybe get her to cosy up with Eve a little. They haven't exchanged two words this entire trip! Bugger!

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Sixteen: Let's-a Go


I woke up this morning with two things on my mind, diary, two very important things:

- The caravan to the city of Bottomless, of which Libby 'n me are a part;
- And the protection of said caravan.

That second point is particularly crucial. It took me many long hours to convince Libby that it would be safe to join in the fun. As soon as she heard that Eve was going along, she was QUITE adamant about avoiding the trip. Said she'd just as soon gouge out her eyes than spend a whole week in close proximity with her daughter.

I'd point out the twisted nature of that, diary, but I think you understand by now.

From what I understand, it's actually surprising that Eve's going on this expedition. I heard from Morris, who was guarding the throne room on Friday, that The Baron petitioned long and hard to have her stay in the castle. Said she might hurt somebody if she went anywhere else. I'd argue that 'hurt' is an understatement when it comes to Eve, but that’s just me.

And that wasn't The Baron's only reason. I'll get to that in a minute, though.

Needless to say, I eventually persuaded Libby to go along, using a lot of empty promises that we both know I won't follow up on. Buy her a dozen new sets of tools when we arrive? Good luck, m'darling. Either way, she's coming, and that's a good thing for our little family.

Which brings us back to the subject of…

PROTECTION! Yes, protection was big in my mind. I've never been to Bottomless, but from what I hear the land between here and there is pretty rough. It's not far from the borderlands with the Imperium, and there's a lot of lingering, vicious animals on the path. There have even been reports of sloths. Damned scary. I don't wanna fight a sloth.

My fretting was all for naught, however, as I discovered something AMAZING when I went out with Libby to meet the caravan: Queen Daena is coming for the trip.

Which means the MATRIARCH is coming for the trip.

You wouldn't believe how much of a load that takes off my mind. The Matriarch? A giant death machine, escorting our caravan safely across foreign territory? Guided by the queen, who can kick anyone's ass? Literally? Dang skippy that's awesome! It also means I get to RIDE in the thing, 'cause Queen Daena wants Libby to stick with her for maintenance checks! Score!

And… because the queen's coming… Eve HAS to stay with her. HAS to. So it'll be a week's travel with me, Libby and Eve in close proximity. YEEEEEEES, BONDING WILL HAPPEN.

Or death. One or the other. Either way, the family will be interacting. The nature of the interaction may be questionable, but the presence? Undeniable.

I am curious as to WHY Queen Daena's coming along. When I greeted her in the morning and found out what was up, she told Libby 'n me that she wanted to experience the countryside first-hand. She's been stuck in one spot for a couple years, now, and with the castle explored (as much as she can explore in the Matriach), the queen's itching to get out on the road.

I… don't totally buy that. Judging by the looks Daena kept giving Evangelina, she has other motivations. I'm quite curious, gotta admit, so maybe I'll work the queen for some answers during the trip. Can't be enforcing GLORIOUS FAMILY BONDING all the time, now can I?

(Family time! Weeeeeee!)

Speaking of Evangelina: I happened to overhear a little conversation between her and Driscol the Count, shortly before we left. Not the whole thing, mind, but just an accidental, final snippet of secretive chattery between the two:

"… as long as you can," he said. "We need time to prepare. You understand?"

"Yes."

He took a deep breath. "This is extremely important. Everything we've done comes to this. Are you sure you understand?"

"Stop…" And she did just that. "Who's there?"

They were huddled close to one of the wagons, and I guess they'd heard me skulking around a corner. So I figured, the hell, might as well show myself and not look like I'd overheard anything big. I'm tricksy like that. "Lady Evangelina?"

Driscol scowled. I haven't seen him in a while, but I could tell he still recognized me. "Ah. The dog. What in blazes are you doing? Following us for that bloated master of yours?"

Who else could he mean but The Baron? Who else, diary? "I'm… sorry, m'lord. The queen's ready to get underway, and the king's coming out… I… just thought you might - "

Driscol stalked in close. His oniony cologne hit me first, and I must've wrinkled my nose at a bad time, 'cause once he saw my lips curl he grabbed me by the chainmail and pulled me into a toe-to-toe faceoff.

"Listen to me, you mewling prat," he growled, eyes dark as coal, "I know you're spying for him. I'm not stupid. I suggest you keep your distance from the lady during this trip, as my men have my eye on you - and even though I can't separate The Baron from King Jeffrey, yet, I will be more than happy to see you gone. Do you understand me?"

That raised any number of questions. If I was supposed to keep away from Evangelina, then why go on the trip? What had I done to make him so suspicious of me? Why did he think I was in such deep cahoots with The Baron? And why, by the gods why, did he have to wear such AWFUL cologne?

The last question proved the most potent, and I quickly agreed so he would let me go. I scuttled away, back to the Matriarch, where the king and his entourage were just arriving. Libby didn't ask why I looked upset; she just pushed me away 'cause I smelled so bad. Cologne is like a virus.

"Our lady!" the king beamed, treading up the Matriarch's patch of grass towards his queen, "We will miss you. Are you certain you wish to go abroad without us?"

Queen Daena smiled, though wryly. "Certain, my love. Take care of Logan for me, will you? And would you knock off that third person? Royalty doesn't need to act priggish."

"Absolutely not, our darling. We are third person. It is a distinguished practice." Jeffrey carefully sidled around Daena's flailing legs to give her a peck on the cheek. "Be careful. We look forward to the cementing of many a new alliance. If Lady Evangelina fails in her trade talks, feel free to roll into town and forge friendships at cannonpoint."

"I will do no such thing, Jeffrey."

He pouted. "But that's boring. Please forge friendships at cannonpoint? We WILL be going to war EVENTUALLY, after all…"

The delight in Daena's face died, and their argument turned low and heated. The rest of us weren't privy to the remainder.

The Baron used their royal squabbling as a chance to approach Libby and I. He had Eve at his side, and he looked emotionally mixed.

"Greetings, Mr. and Mrs. the Guard. Care to have a daughter?" He patted Eve on the shoulder, and, surprisingly, she didn't flip him onto his back. She must have a slight respect for older dudes with flubby bodies.

Libby snorted and turned away to inspect the Matriarch. I bent down on one knee and enthusiastically grabbed Eve's right hand; she used the leverage to twist me into a painless, but debilitating, headlock. Once The Baron stopped laughing she let me go and walked up the Matriarch's ramp.

I rubbed my wrists, even though they weren't hurting. "She's got quite a grip, my daughter."

"She does at that." The Baron helped me up. "It's a shame she has to go with you. And worrying."

"Worrying?"

The Baron leaned in close, whispering in my ear. "Driscol is on the move. The number of messages he's sent out have doubled. A lot of gold has changed hands in the last couple weeks. He's planning something big, and I fear that he'll get away with it now that Lord Knight Eve is leaving the castle. Even worse that the Matriarch is leaving, though perhaps it is best that Queen Daena be safely out of harm's way."

I've been out of the spying loop for a while, so this took me by surprise. "Whaddya think he's up to, m'lord?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. His messages have been consistently coded, like that one you intercepted for me, and I have no cipher for breaking them. I fear he's planning an insurrection."

I yelped. He shushed me. "What… should we not be leaving, m'lord?"

The Baron shrugged helplessly. "You must. I have no concrete evidence proving Driscol's foul play. I can only suggest one thing…"

"What's that…?"

He pointed, slyly and cautiously, across the castle thoroughfare. At Driscol. And Evangelina.

"They are in a relationship. If need be… capture her. And use her as leverage against her lord. Driscol is cold-blooded, so it might not work, but… it's the best I've got."

Kidnapping. Yeesh. I've been brought down to the level of a kidnapper. But, if it's for the good of the kingdom… "I… yessir, I'll… keep that in mind."

"Good." The Baron smiled. "Your friends have failed, I'm afraid, Dragomir. Our friends. It's up to us to pick up the slack."

That comment took me aback. "Huh? What's that mean, m'lord?"

The Baron squeaked. Then he nodded at Driscol, and squeaked again. Even make little finger whiskers around his nose. Pretty obvious what he meant.

I turned to inspect Driscol. He's an imposing man, diary: much bigger than the average noble, and a lot tougher. He could probably give Captain Cedric a run for his money. But it's the eyes, those cold, unfeeling eyes, that always get me… and as they watched the king fighting with his wife, I knew, I somehow knew, that Driscol was responsible for a lot of things.

Rats.

Libby came back, half-drenched. She'd been feeding water into the Matriarch's watering tubes to keep the tree healthy. "Think we're underway, now, husband. C'mon, grab your things 'n let's get this over with."

The Baron slapped me on the shoulder. "Good man. You take care of him, will you, Mrs. the Guard? I still need to stop by and check out those nicely-framed pictures of yours!"

I froze. Shiiiiit. Those stupid sketches.

"What pictures?" Libby drained water out of her goggles. "We ain't got no pictures."

I woulda peed myself, but only fear brings on the golden showers.

The Baron barely reacted. His smile didn't waver at all. As I watched him, however, I noticed the slightest droop in the skin around his eyebrows. That tiny change made him look like the saddest man in the world. "I see. My mistake."

So that was that. Ugh. I'll have to apologize when I get back.

We debarked shortly after, waving goodbye to long lines of peasants and soldiers and nobles and guards and such. We've been travelling ever since - and nothing's really happened! Boring trip thus far. That's why that EXTREMELY long entry was allllll about this morning. Sigh.

I'll talk about the convoy tomorrow, diary. We'll have lots of time - we're not slated to arrive in Bottomless 'til Friday. Right now, I'm tired from watching Queen Daena pedal. Probably more tired than her.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Fifteen: Whip it, whip it good


I'm in deep shit. As predicted. But it's weirdly created a job opportunity! So… yay!

The Omega Corps has officially called a premature end to the job shadowing nonsense. They were sick of us 'normies' interfering with their schedules, and the king agreed to return things to normal. I think Logan's disappointed that I didn't get anywhere with Eve, but, there you go. I frankly didn't expect much bonding.

And, uh, my stomach hurts from throwing up. So… I'm kinda glad it's over. I don't wanna know EVERYTHING she does. Just… some.

But it's not totally! There will be another chance to get to know my lovely daughter - and this time, I'm gonna try and bring my wife in on it. Yep, Libby, Eve and I are aaaaaaaall (assuming I can convince Libby) going on VACATION!

Lemme explain. I was stationed back by the slop buckets today when Captain Cedric came calling. He informed me, with GREAT relish, that I was to report to Lady Evangelina's quarters in the nobles' wing. Said a royal guard would lead me once I got to the wing. I didn't really need guidance since I've technically been there before, but I figured it was better not to tell the captain that I was spying on her for The Baron. Sticky business, that.

Went to the nobles' wing. Got escorted by Brock, of all people. (Like there's any difference between those Omega Corpsers anymore.) Knocked on Lady Evangelina's door. Went in when it was opened by one of her servants. Spent every second of the trip trying to control my bowels.

Evangelina was not happy to see me. She made no secret of the fact that she despised me for messing up her negotiations yesterday. Hell, most of the meeting she was staring, not at me, but at a bullwhip mounted just above her bed. She's scarier than I thought. Perfect fit for Driscol, I guess?

Evangelina didn't punish me. On the contrary: she said she wants me to come with her to a conference in a city to the west of here, a place called Bottomless. Big merchant hub. She says it's the perfect neutral territory for ambassadors to meet and greet and all that stuff. She wants to carry on the talks that I flubbed the other day, and that's the place to do it. You know my stance on politics, diary, so meh.

But going to a city! On an official visit! That's damned exciting. DAMNED exciting. I've never been to a city before. (Goblinoster doesn't count, that was a GOBLIN city.) I've always wondered what a city looks like, a proper, human city with people milling around and talking and selling stuff. And so forth. Excitement! Glee!

But…

"Why me, your ladyship?"

Evangelina sneered. She sat down behind her desk, a big, curvy oaken unit with ends sculpted into tiny trees. She didn't, wouldn't, look away from her bullwhip. "Why do you think you're coming along?"

Shrug. How would I know? I figured the last thing she'd want a dude like me to do is come along on some ambassadorial excursion.

She sighed. "I need guards. You're a guard. I need attendants. You can serve in that capacity, if necessary. I hope. I've also been asked to take you along by someone influential, and I do not question influential people. I simply do my job. I trust you can carry through on yours? Without further inquiries?"

I saluted. "Yes, m'lady. I can do inquiries. I mean, er, not do inquiries."

"Shut it. Be ready for sun-up on Monday. We leave early. Pack light. Any questions?"

I straightened. "Ah, yes, I - "

"I told you there would be no more inquiries. Get out."

"But you said-"

"Out!"

Confusing.

Her servant ushered me out of the room, and Brock, still waiting outside the door, ushered me out of the nobles' wing. So much for basking in the glow of the lives of the rich. (They have stupid tapestries anyway.)

So that's that! It's not REALLY a vacation, but it's a trip beyond the walls of the castle. And, unlike this time, there will be lots of other people goin' with us: a few soldiers, a couple royal guards, a whole caravan of merchants and castle representatives, Grylock (them ambassadors stick together), and, hot diggity, Eve. The Lord Knight has agreed to join the caravan, at Evangelina's request. I'm sure she was MUCH more polite to Eve than she was to me, though, in fairness, Eve didn't muss up her guests' hair and clothes.

Yes, if Eve had done anything, it woulda been to KILL THEM ALL, probably. Evangelina should be GRATEFUL for my silliness.

This is my chance, diary. I'm gonna spend allllll night tonight convincing Libby to come along. We can use the trip there as the PERFECT bonding experience with our little girl. Libby still hates Eve, and I would LOVE to karate kick her outta that mindset. Y'know? A mother shouldn't hate her daughter. We'll work on it.

I'm stoked, diary. Never has dumping seafood on a dude's head yielded so much profit!

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Fourteen: Land octopus toupee


Maaaaan, I got in so much trouble today. The castle dudes shoulda known better than to trust me with watching over some ambassadors, but… still… maaaaaan. So much trouble.

I mentioned earlier this week that a buncha dignitaries from some foreign power are at the castle right now. I didn't figure it was much of a big deal to mention, 'cause I don't give two hoots about politics. Plus, y'know, there's always some outta-towner passin' through the castle. Grylock's an ambassador, and I barely EVER mention him. So why chat about the rest?

WELL. Today, Eve was given the assignment of watching over a trade conversation thinger with a couple of these ambassadors. When I say 'given', of course, I mean that The Baron asked her reeeeeal nicely, and she actually went along with it. Go figure. Since I was still shadowing her today, that meant I went along for the ride as well.

I figured, 'Hey! They won't have any animals to kill in a meeting! I won't be puking everywhere! That's totally a good thing. I can do this.' And it's true, I didn't puke even once - but I still got in trouble. Mainly 'cause I'm kind of a dunce. Yeah, I'll take the blame this time, diary.

The meeting took place in the king's dining hall, the same place I watched Logan get etiquette lessons from Driscol the Count and The Baron. The hall's as unnecessarily massive and opulent as ever, though it looks like King Jeffrey's had Libby at work modernizing the place. There's a system of hand-cranked conveyor belts criss-crossing everywhere overhead, allowing waiters to deliver food to patrons without ever leaving their loading stations. They plop the food on the belt, they start crankin', the food moves to its intended recipient and flops down onto the table in front of 'em.

It’s… well, it's dumb, to be honest. The belts get in the way, they're ugly hanging from the ceiling, and it'd be a hell of a lot easier for the waiters to serve food normally. BUT, the king being the king, that's how things'll stay.

There was no king today, just a bunch of suits at a table that's way too big, supping on octopus dishes and chatting about foreign policy and trade. Leading the discussion was Lady Evangelina, who - and I totally did not know this before today! - is the castle's official ambassador. Might explain why I don't see her too often: she's always out making connections with other kingdoms.

(Considering she's all cosy with that douchebag Driscol, I don't know that that's such a good thing for everyone else. But, y'know.)

I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying. I was fixated on my daughter, Eve, who was standing off to the side of Evangelina. She didn't seem to give two craps 'bout the trade negotiations, either, so I guess she's verifiably family. We all hate politics. She also wasn't paying attention to ME, though, so… does that mean…? Well, hell, I dunno what runs through her head.

Evangelina was going on and on about some 'mutually beneficial' agreement, and some bulbous dude in a dress seemed quite keen on listening to her. They went back and forth for a while, and I, well, not only was I bored, I was anxious to get Eve's attention. Y'know, in a forum where she's NOT slaughtering things. So I… might… have kinda forgotten where I was, standing guard at a diplomatic event…

… when I quietly whistled at Eve.

A couple people turned to look at me. I ignored 'em. Whistled again. Eve checked over her shoulder, veeeeeery slightly, but turned back when she saw who it was. Guess I'm not interesting enough on my own. Hmph.

I started to ponder, huming and hawing so loudly that a few nobles told me to shush up. What would get Eve's attention? What could I do to get into her good books, and, perhaps, help her to open up? More important, what does a father do for his child to prove that he cares? Quite a conundrum, that, but I eventually boiled it down to two things:

Killing and eating.

The average kid wouldn't be so much on the first. I hope. Number two, though… EVERYBODY can relate to number two. And I don't just mean bowel movements. Oho! Zing. I'm priceless.

I can't help Eve with the first one. She loves to kill, and she can do that on her own. Don't need no help from her pappy. Eating, though… I'd been watching her for two hours, and I hadn't seen Eve eat once. Surely she was getting hungry. Babies GET hungry, and often. They're tiny eating machines. Eve may not LOOK like a baby, but she still is.

I like to think so.



IF YOU'RE LESS THAN A YEAR OLD YOU'RE A BABY, DIARY, 'N THAT'S THAT

All the food was going to the table in the centre of the room, and Eve didn't look all that inclined to move for it. I figured she'd decided to behave herself for once, and not gorge in front of a bunch of important people. I couldn't just walk over to the table and start picking up entrees, though, so… what was I to do?

The answer, when I looked around a bit, was pretty simple: redirect one of the belts delivering the food.

Even though they're fancy-dancy technology at its finest, the belts aren't complex. They hang from the ceiling by ropes that turn whenever a waiter wants to change the course of the belt. They usually do this from the side of the room, but I could tell, just by lookin' at the ropes, that I could twist a belt in a different direction just by grabbing hold and yanking. Do it subtly enough and nobody would notice.

Yeah. THAT didn't happen.

My courage screwed up, I grabbed. I pulled. And, stupidly, I lifted, just in time to get a big plate of steaming octopus on an incline. As I was wrestling to get the belt in the right position, it wriggled out of control -

- and the plate, er, upended on the head of one of the ambassadors. Splat. Tentacles everywhere.

It didn't end there, though. I'm convinced - CONVINCED - that one of the waiters, noticing my nonsense, decided to go crank-crazy. Four more octopus dishes went flying down the belt from the sides of the room. I was still wrestling, the belt zipping this way and that, so I managed to nail three more ambassadors. Everybody stood away from the table, outraged, and started yelling at me. Because, clearly, I was the ONLY one to blame.

I'll find out which of those waiters took advantage of me, diary, gods as my witnesses. And he will PAY.

Most of the screaming came from Lady Evangelina. She told me I was a worthless bucket of slime, no better than the dirt under her makeup table, and banished me from the room. Last I saw, she was leading the ambassadors away to wash up and talk somewhere else. Away from me.

Whoops.

The job shadowing isn't done yet, so I followed Eve around for the rest of the day. She, ah, went back to murdering as usual, and didn't seem at all put out by the octopus fiasco. She also didn't eat during the meeting, so, once again, I've failed my fatherly duties. Maybe she's not big on inky land-dwelling-sea-dwellers? 'least I didn't get any seafood on her head, like I managed with everyone else.

Sigh. I'm gonna get it now. Lord Knight for a daughter or no, I'm in deep shit.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Thirteen: Ew


… dear gods…

She is not a child, she is a spawn of the lowest pits of hell…


Remember that time I guarded the Neck for a week, diary? And I kept vomiting over the wall because I saw such disgusting things? Yeah. Today was worse than that entire week put together.

I began my job shadowing with Eve, like the rest of the guards and royal guards, in the throne room. The king gave us a long-winded speech about cooperation and awesomeness while we all nervously eyeballed one another (the guards were nervous, anyway - the royal guards looked annoyed), then he sent us off to perform our duties.

Eve didn't speak to me at first. She just walked, and I followed, and we made a circuit of the keep. Nothing happened.

I waited 'til we were in the nobles' wing before I asked anything. "Eve, sweetie… why'd you kill all the rats?"

"I shall coax a thousand daggers into your still-writhing eyeballs," she replied. Try as I might, I couldn't decipher THAT answer into anything loving or, hell, intelligible.

Eve left the keep and patrolled the roof, with no obvious destination. I tagged her every step, persisting with my questions. Most of the time she didn't say anything, and when she DID it was always horrifying, religiously epic, completely opaque, or a blend of all three. Yeesh.

That wasn't the gross part. We didn't hit the gross part 'til she came across the pigeons.

Castle LookyLoo is infested with pigeons. They love to nest on the ramparts, and since they can fly, we have trouble getting rid of the things. Our archers are crappy shots. And, hell, now that they're on the Beefiary's menu, the officials in the castle don't wanna get rid of the pigeons. Apparently they taste delicious, once you burn away all the disease.

Eve didn't bother with burning anything. The moment she spotted a cluster of sleeping pigeons about a hundred feet away, she unsheathed her broadsword, bent it into an arc with her bare hands, and WHIRLED it at the birds. At least a dozen of 'em exploded into a bloody mess, and a good half of that mess came boomeranging back with Eve's ruined sword.

Okay. I have problems with this scenario. First, I've seen swords being made, and I've seen 'em break. They are NOT THAT BENDY. Yet Eve managed to somehow force the metal to bend into a perfect arc, as if the sword was afraid of defying her wishes. Add EXPLODING PIGEONS on top of that and you've got a troublesome situation!

Also, she feasted on the still-writhing corpses as I watched! Oh my lords of all the heavens and nether pits, the vomit that spewed forth from me!

But that was just the beginning. Apparently quite happy with her new boomersword, Eve travelled calmly around the castle, slaughtering damned near everything she came across at a range. Only animals, mind, but that was a lot of animals, diary. Her precision throws had guts spilling out on flagstones in every sector. People were trying so hard to hide their animals before she could kill any of 'em.

And she ate every freaking animal she killed. Or at least parts of every animal she killed. I… I guess she's… a little picky… she really seems to like… nibbling… on intesti GODS ABOVE MY DAUGHTER IS DISGUSTING

BARF

I'm SO SORRY diary, I got a bit of yak on you from THINKING ABOUT IT TOO MBARF

ugh

pant

pant

Stop… stop writing everything in your diary, Dragomir… you must look… like a lunatic…

Ugh. Sorry. I'm back under control. Ew, this page is gonna be stained yellow forever, now. I really am apologetic, diary.

Around 3 o'clock we got summoned into the king's presence, in his throne room, for what he called a 'royal inspection'. Apparently he's been doing this a lot lately: he asks Eve to come before him, he prattles on to her about noble stuff she needs to learn before becoming Logan's wife, and he TRIES to make her act, er, womanly.

Today, he asked her to try on a dress. Just a simple sundress. He said she could flop it on over her armour, if she wanted. And every word that came out of his mouth was careful, controlled, and… pleading…

I've described King Jeffrey's manner of speech before. I've WRITTEN his speech before. He's a boisterous dude. He likes to yell a lot, even when he's happy. So to see him act so timid… especially when he's surrounded by guards… it's humbling, diary. Humbling to know that your daughter is scary enough to frighten one of the most tyrannical kings of all time.

Eve did not try on the sundress when it was handed to her. She barely even looked at the thing. No, she just stared straight forward as she HURLED the pink-and-blue piece of fabric skyward, flinging her boomersword in its wake.

A gentle rain of tattered cloth covered the court. No sundress.

All this is enough to say that, yeah, we did not bond today. We will not bond tomorrow. I fear that we will never bond, and that I, I… I don't really have a daughter. I never will. Not so long as she's a daughter like Eve.

Ugh. I… I still don't feel so good.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Twelve: The Great Tagalong


"I have an idea, Dragomir. A better one than last time. I'll come visit you tomorrow.

Logan"

Which is, you'll probably admit, weirdly formal. I'm used to Prince Logan spewing his utter nonsense-talk. Almost miss it, now. What's stranger, though, is that he didn't actually write it in you, diary. Just jotted it down on a slip of parchment and left it on my bed stand.

Has he gained some new measure of respect for personal belongings? Considering he knew of my connection issues with Eve, IIIIIII doubt it.

And that's not the only thing weird about the prince. He's obviously still up to his hijinks, 'cause he's still checking you daily, diary, but… he looks… off. Pale. Like he's always tired. He was like this last week, too, and the week before… is he getting sick? I asked him, but he says he's fine, so…

Hrm. Should I report this to The Baron? I need to talk to him about the rats fleeing anyway… he's probably worried 'bout 'em, what with him and the little blighters being in cahoots and all. Though that'll let HIM know that I

STOP IT. Stop it, Dragomir. You don't need to reiterate every plot point detail of your life each week. You remember them; Prince Logan presumably remembers 'em; that's good enough. Nooooobody else is watching.

… are they?

ANYWAY

I mulled over the problem of getting to know my fair Eve all this morning, and I kept it up until Logan popped his head out of one of the corridors leading to the dungeons. Damn near scared the urine outta me. Sly little bugger, you are, Logan!

Despite his overall lack of enthusiasm and energy, Logan is still keen to help me cross bridges with Eve. He out-and-out told me that he wants his wife (STILL SO WEIRD) and his father-in-law (not as weird but STILL DAMNED QUEER) to get along. He wants a happy little family, and he insists that there's more to Eve than just a genocidal block of ice.

How does he know that? Not a clue. Maybe they play Kick the Clam together or somethin'. Only thing I've ever seen 'em do is fight in the bailies, and that was a hell of a thing, lemme tell you. They'll be quite the married couple if they ever have an argument.

In order to stimulate 'bonding', Logan decided to impose a 'work study program' on all of the guards in the castle, effective tomorrow. For the next three days, a handful of guards are going to be paired with a royal guard, aka a member of the Omega Corps. The 'normal' guards, implied to be the 'shitty' guards, will learn by shadowing the corpsmen 'n women.

(Though most of 'em are men. Same goes for the normal guards. The powers that be say women aren't that suited to fighting, 'cept in irregular cases like Eve. I say dudes like Captain Cedric are just avoiding the possibility of emasculation. Tch. If I ever had my own castle or town or whatever, you bet your ASS I'd let the women guard 'n fight 'n stuff.

Y'know.

'cause I don't wanna.)

Sexism aside, Captain Cedric ain't happy with the job shadowing idea. He thinks he's the best guard alive, Omega Corps or not. Must prickle his pride somethin' fierce to tag along with some dude he detests. I bet he's writing a melancholic poem 'bout it RIGHT NOW. BAHAHA.

So what's the point? In a turtle shell, this plan is a long, complicated way of landing me with Eve while she carries out her, ah, duties. I guess she counts as a royal guard, though I don't think I've EVER seen her stand guard. 'cept maybe over one of her kills. Does it count if she's gobbling down horseflesh while she guards? Not sure… technicalities…

So, yeah. Today's my last day of watching slop buckets. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to follow my little girl on her patrols. We're gonna talk, and bond, and turn into a proper father and daughter combo. DragoEve, we'll be called.

Or, more likely, she'll flay me alive.

Eat me.

Spit out the bones.

Then eat those.

Spit out the remains.

And set them on fire.

That sounds like Lord Knight Eve, yessir.

I really shouldn't be as afraid of my baby as I am, diary.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Eleven: The Week in Review


I'm feeling a strong inclination to return to depression mode, diary. Last week was just onea those weeks. Yeesh.

So let's sum up: the rats have been driven from the castle. Officially. Their 'nest', which is conveniently not being called a 'city' like it should, has been completely destroyed by Lord Knight Eve. She would have won the contest, but since she's technically a guard, that prize went to Kierkegaard.

That… little… bastard. You should've seen him, accepting his prize (a bronzed pile of rat corpses on a plaque) from his king. He spent the whole award ceremony swearing at Jeffrey. He's the only one who can get away with that. Anyone else would be beheaded.

Or would they? Not sure, these days. After the strike, I bet Jeffrey's more cautious about his actions.

Maybe.

Probably not. We'll see how long all the reforms last. Democracy is kinda ineffective out here. But does a strike COUNT as democracy? Or is it… like… democracy on strike? Ah, bugger it.

Anyway. Bastard penguin, murderous daughter, rat city burned to the ground, most of the rats gone. Most. At least a few of them made it out of the castle, or they're hiding somewhere within the walls. Not sure which it is, but they've been officially replaced by guinea pigs, so that's that, I guess.

I can't believe Eve did that. She destroyed an entire culture. Potentially under the control of Kierkegaard, of all people. I guess it wouldn't be that difficult to convince her to kill a load of animals, but… how did HE manage to bring her along? Why would she listen to a bloody penguin, when she wouldn't even listen to his royal master?

I'm also surprised Kierkegaard hasn't sent people to arrest me, or something. He didn't seem at ALL surprised by the city he found, so he probably knows the rats are intelligent. Which means he probably knows I'm in cahoots with 'em. Which means… what? He doesn't figure I'm any kinda threat to 'im? That's rather insulting, coming from a squat, nude bird with a top hat. EVERYTHING should be a threat to Kierkegaard.

Bah. Stupid saucy waterfowl. To think, I thought he was the most adorable thing on the planet when he first entered the castle. Now he's just a loathsome little beast, and since I don't wanna think about him anymore, I'll move onto, hopefully, a more redemptive subject: Eve.

Eve perplexes me, diary. She really does. Every day I think of her at least once (usually when I come across the butchered corpse of some poor animal), and every day I try and figure out what she's thinking. Is she thinking ANYTHING? Or is every impulse in her body geared towards murder? Logan tried to convince me once that she cares for me, but… I don't see it…

Bah. I'm not even amused by the cockroach cupboard anymore. That's how much of a funk I'm in, diary. Fatherly woes suck all the joy out of the simple, mysterious things in life.

And I still want to BE a father. That's the kicker of it all. I've got a house; I've got a wife; I've got a job; I've got, like, possessions; I've got YOU, diary. And I have a daughter. All those things are under one roof, 'cept the daughter. She would COMPLETE things, y'know?

Y'know?

Y'know…

I can picture it now. Me in the living room, writing away at a desk; Libby in the bedroom, tinkering away on some new addition to the Matriach; Eve hauling a slaughtered bison through the front door, beaming happily at mama and papa as she shows off her latest kill. Dinner at home tonight.

Or, hell, maybe in my delusional world she MIGHT just be a normal BABY, like she's SUPPOSED TO BE

I STILL DON'T GET THAT

SHE SHOULDN'T BE ANY BIGGER THAN MY DAMNED FOREARM

huff

huff

Sorry, diary. Don't know why I bother to write out my breaths. I get so into writing you that it seems natural to discuss EVERYTHING I'm doing. Like, just now, I cracked my knuckles. See, that seems natural.

But I don't have to write it.

Bah. Maybe I should have Robert the Librarian edit you, diary. Bet my writing would improve drastically if he did. Then maybe I could revel in one of my successes, rather than sitting in the dumps with my life's one failure.

(Shut up, I know I've failed many more ways than one. I don't need a snarky reminder from YOU, diary.)

(…)

(Sorry. I love you, diary. Hugs.)

I need a way to connect with Eve. Something that'll let me get in her head. Watching her 'train' Logan as a knight didn't work, though… neither did a picnic… or a polar beat hunting expedition… so what am I to do? Guess I've got something to think about this week while I guard the slop buckets outside the dungeon.

Because, y'know, it's super important that those not get stolen. Bloody Captain Cedric, you think he'd give me some better assignments by now. There are diplomats from some kingdom or another visiting at the moment; you'd figure I'd be better served at least WATCHING them. I can do it from a distance if you're afraid of bungling, stupid Cedric!

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Ten: Smoke on the Daughter


The rats are gone.

I'm injured.

And a certain penguin is very, very happy.

I stayed the night in the rat city, curled up against a wall near the entrance. The rats all gave me lots of space, so I guess I can be thankful for that much. Sleeping with a horde of vermin 'round you is a creepy prospect. Though I… guess I've done it before…

Barrel slept right in front of the entrance. He grew several sizes, too. Made it plain I wasn't leaving. You can't argue with a dragon. Dragons eat people if they're feeling cross.

When I woke up in the morning, which I had to ASSUME was morning 'cause the only light source down there was the usual magical glow that defies any logic I understand, my stomach was growling pretty fierce. I hadn't eaten for hours. Toss in an extremely stiff back from sleeping on dirt and you have a snarky Dragomir.

I asked the rats for food. They offered me… themselves. Crawled over to my feet, lay down, and waited for me to eat 'em. I few pantomimed me picking 'em up and putting 'em in my mouth.



Let me get something straight, diary. I am a meat eater. I like meat. I will never say that animals should NOT be harvested for their delicious, delicious flesh, especially if topped by cheese. That does not mean I wish to eat uncooked, still-living, intelligent animals for my breakfast. I'm not a weird interspecies cannibal, y'hear me? Even if that made no sense, I am not an interspecies cannibal.

Rats are strange. They don't seem to value their own lives, but they have funerals. I don't get the little bastards, I really don't.

That left me with no food and no water, and given how weak the rats look I think they're all starving, too. Probably trying so hard to avoid the extermination efforts elsewhere in the castle that they can't get food for themselves. So I had to look to entrance-guarding Barrel for help.

He wouldn't let me leave. Refused to guide me back to the Beefiary for a breakfast break, the little-ish bastard. He DID, however, agree to zip through the tunnels to the kitchens and bring back a few morsels for me to eat. A couple yak tarts, say, or even a nip of that octopus nonsense. I'll eat land octopus if I'm starving.

While I was waiting, I watched the rats. Toyed with the idea of running away a bit, true, but I mostly just watched the rats. The lot of 'em looked worse than ever, lacking the usual swiftness and chittery energy that makes rats, rats. Hell, one dropped dead out of one of the overhanging buildings and landed a couple feet away, and the rest didn't even bother to bury 'im.

I couldn't help but think that they were on the verge of extinction. Which is a really weird thing to say about a species so prolific as rats. Guess it can happen to the best of us?

After about twenty minutes of listless watching, though, I noticed… a difference. A change. An attentiveness, I guess you'd call it. The rats heads were held a little higher, their beady eyes more alert, and every little nose was twitching in the direction of the entrance tunnel. I looked down it, too, and the darkness suddenly seemed a bit more forbidding.

Then hell broke loose.

The rats began to screech. Their coats bristling they rushed out of their buildings en masse, converging on the central square of the city and jamming together in a giant mass of gnashing teeth and thrashing limbs.

I thought, for sure, that this was the moment of death. They were done for. Something was happening to 'em, something bad. But that wasn't quite it.

Every rat in that square, large or small, brown, grey or any colour in-between, raised its tail. They curled and lifted, knotting together into a massive network of tangled strands, growing to an outrageous height that heaved their tiny bodies into the air. The unnatural glow that lit the city shrank, collapsing around them and creating an absolutely pure beam of white light at their epicentre -

- and in that light appeared the screaming face of Philip the Guard.

You might not remember Philip by now, diary. He's the poor bastard who, months ago, died during one of Robert's stupid schemes. Had his head knocked clean off his shoulders by an elephant. Then he became a ghost, and he followed me on my trip to Goblinoster, and last I saw him he was, like, the avatar for some otherworldly being that told me a lot of stuff I really didn't wanna know.

I hadn't seen him since then. And here he was, his wavering image surrounded by writhing rat tails, and he spoke to me. His voice, like before, was that of my dad.

"WE HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME," he said. His face wavered, his mouth stretching unnaturally large. "THIS IS THE LAST OF OUR POWER. WE WILL SOON BE DRIVEN FROM THIS PLACE, AND THOUGH WE WILL BE FREE, WE WILL ALSO HAVE FAILED. BUT THAT WAS ALREADY A GIVEN."

I had trouble standing to face Philip. I'm partially responsible for him dying, and, besides that, it's mentally tough to chat with a ghost who talks like your dad and is surrounded by a convulsing mass of floating rats. I opted to wet myself and remain seated, cringing against the wall of the tunnel.

"IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO ASK, DRAGOMIR, YOU MUST DO SO NOW. WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR WRITING IN YOUR DIARY. OUR DOOM IS ON ITS WAY."

This was it. The moment. The time to get some questions answered at long last. What were the rats? What had they done to Philip? What was the hole really meant for? Who was behind everything bad going on? WAS something bad going on? Was my house going to burn down? And what, by the gods, was with the door with the eye that continues to haunt my dreams, the door I see at least once a week but never mention in you, diary, because it scares me too damned much?

I didn't say anything. I had so many questions that I couldn't ask a single one. My tongue turned to sand and crumbled into the bottom of my mouth. Not literally, mind, 'cause that would've been the first thing I mentioned in this entry, but… anyway.

But Philip did receive a question. It slipped out of the dark, shrill, amused, and very, very cruel.

"I've got a poser. Whaddya get when you mix a pack of smelly vermin with a couple dozen torches?"

A hand dropped onto my shoulder. My heart stopped. The dim light of fire lit the entrance of the tunnel, and I turned, my ear brushing against a long, thin, mustachio…

"Hiya," chirped Kierkegaard. "I'm your partner ALL week, remember?"

A lot of things happened at once. Philip vanished. The light expanded, filling the room. The mess of hovering rats collapsed and separated, fleeing for their buildings. Barrel, looking badly beaten, tumbled into the city and flattened a tiny house. And in his wake, expertly juggling a quartet of blazing torches, came Eve.

The rats ran. For many of them, it was far too late.

Kierkegaard helped. He had his trident ready, and he pounced on many a scurrying rat. Eve was by far the more destructive of the pair, however: the first torch she hurled sliced through the unfortunate rats still caught in the middle of the city, setting dozens of ragged coats on fire. The rats screamed and flailed, trying desperately to get away and failing, failing, failing. Those that did avoid her first attack fell under the sweeps of her remaining three torches, the gentle light of their bodies replaced by amber flames. Eve's merciless attacks left few survivors -

- and those rats, a mere handful, cowered at my feet, watching helplessly as Eve and Kierkegaard advanced on us all.

The penguin sneered and licked blood off of his trident. "Yummy. Best step aside, now, Twatomir - don't want yer own flesh 'n blood to set fire to ya, do you? From the looks of it, she's like to cut you down."

I didn't need convincing of that. Eve shows about as much emotional attachment for me as a lion for its dinner. And now, backlit by the rising flames, striding towards me, Eve looked positively hellish. A demon in child's form.


My child's form.

My daughter.

And I still love her, because she's my daughter. I know I shouldn't, because she sure as hell doesn't love me, but I can't help myself.

Daughters don't tell fathers what to do. At this age, it's the other way around. And gods help me, much as I think they're horrible little wretches, I couldn't let the rats die. Not totally.

I stood. The rats scrambled behind my legs. I inched towards the entrance, arms spread, keeping myself between the rats and the hunters.

"You…" I stammered, grateful that I'd not had enough liquid to piss myself again, "You can't… can't kill them. Leave them alone. Let them go."

Kierkegaard laughed. "Let 'em go? Don't think so, chief. We got strict orders t'see 'em gone, once 'n fer all. Besides, I love the smell of roasting trash. Move."

I shook my head, and sidled a little closer to the exit.

I'm not entirely sure what happened next. Kierkegaard jumped at me, I know that much, and I tussled with him and his stupid trident. I wound up slammed into the dirt, and… something whizzed over my head… there was a screech… then darkness. Sleepy time. A curious few words, only half-remembered, probably from Eve:

"The abyss will swallow your hopes, and I am that abyss."

I'm sure she meant "Nighty-night, daddy. I love you lots. Thank you for being such a caring and understanding daddy, and not judging me for setting fire to all these rats."

Or maybe not. Maybe Kierkegaard said that line, in which case he probably wouldn't be secretly calling me 'daddy'. I hope.

I woke up in the doctor's office a couple hours later, 'round dinnertime. The nurse on staff said I'd been dropped off a little after lunch, along with you, diary, and an injured raccoon. (Barrel, of course. Bless his shapeshifting.) I had a few mild stab wounds, nothing serious, and the raccoon… well, it was gone. Slipped away.

(Don't worry, diary. I've seen him since then. He's fine. Looks… very… sad, but he's fine.)

Once I'd received a stern lecture about getting into fights in the streets, 'cause I TOTALLY lied about why I was in the hospital, I went home. Libby fretted over me for a few minutes, in her own way ("Why the hell would you get into a street fight? Are you an idiot? I should stab you for getting stabbed, stupid"), and I collapsed in bed. I wanted to drain my failure with some sleep.

But I hadn't failed. Not totally. When I opened you up to write, diary, I found a message waiting for me, lightly and messily scribbled just after my last entry:

'see you soon'

The rats must've gotten away. I don't know how, and I don't know where they'll go, but they got away. Even if it was only a dozen or so.

That was a long story, and it left me with a lotta questions. But I'm too tired to ask them, and my eyelids and drooping, so they'll have to go unanswered for now.

Bye, rats. Bye, Philip. The castle won't be the same without you.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Nine: The Grim Hand of Mystery


I… should not have waited. To see the rats again. I should have gone back last night.

This appears to be a common trend for me, diary. Somebody insists I do something NOW, but I decide, instead, to do it later. How much can go wrong in one night, after all? Really? Not that much, says I.

Yeah. I was wrong. Lesson learned. I'll try not to procrastinate anymore. No doubt that promise'll be shot to hell the next time I'm feeling lazy, but at least the sentiment's there. Y'know?

Kierkegaard seemed kinda wary of me today while we were hunting. He kept asking me little questions about what I do after work. He'd jab my neck with his spurs whenever I failed to give him a good answer, and since he didn't learn anything, that was a lotta jabs. I'm feeling a bit weak from blood loss. Nothing new in my life, that.

The damned penguin let me go after only five hours of hunting. We'd had almost no luck catching any rats, leaving Kierkegaard in a bad mood. He invented a few new swear words based on my name - Twatomir was my favourite - then shambled off to the Beefiary to get some food. As soon as he left, I rushed home and grabbed you, diary, intent on taking you right to the rats.

Well.

Maybe rush is a strong word.

I might have gotten some food for myself.

And a drink.

And I mighta stopped for a nap in one of the rain barrels on the eastern wall. It's been really warm lately, and the rainwater's been warming with the weather. I strip down, climb into the barrel, and snooze for a bit. Works wonders for the skin. You should try it some time.

Or maybe not. That would be bad for all your pages. Sometimes I forget you're just a diary.

EVENTUALLY I managed to drag myself back to my house. Libby was already home, playing with Barrel in the living room, so I guess… they're… acquainted, now? The things that go on behind my back. She'd built him a wooden framework for practicing his precision flying, 'cause he's still not that great. Gotta wonder what happened to 'im to muck up his flying so much… he looks more than old enough when he's big to be able to fly anywhere he likes, no problem.

As soon as I walked in the house, Barrel zipped past me and out the door. Turned into a dragonfly right away. I scooted in, grabbed you, diary, gave Libby a peck on the cheek, received a quick swear word in return, and fled. My darling wife didn't ask for an explanation, and I wasn't forthcoming with one. I love our relationship.

Run run run, sneak sneak sneak, spelunk spelunk spelunk, I'm back in the underground world of the rats. Barrel seemed to lead me down different paths this time, so I'm not sure if I could find my way back out of the depths without him. It's like the tunnels change each time, or… something.

Hrm. Hadn't thought about that before. What a disturbing concept.

The rats were the same as yesterday, all lined up outside their buildings and watching me. This time, though, I noticed that they were all… cringing, I suppose. Very low to the ground, and not moving too much. If they had less fur, I mighta called them pale. I guess they were like that yesterday, as well, though I was too overwhelmed by the circumstances to notice.

Once I'd been surrounded by rats and their little leader came out to confront me, I set you down, diary, and let the rat go at you with its self-writing messages. I've ripped out the parchment and set it here, so everything's in the right order. Here's our conversation:

'Dragomir,

You should have come back last night. Many of us have been killed overnight. We are much weaker, and have little time left. We must leave soon, or our collective will be destroyed for good. We cannot let that happen, as we're the only ones with full knowledge of what's happening here.'

I tugged on my hair in frustration. I'd heard this kinda nonsense before. "Okay, fine, then tell me what you wanted me to know. I'm here. 'n skip that destiny nonsense."

'We can't. Through the mistakes of your birth, you were fated to aid us in driving back the darkness. Though you have also done much to aid its course.'

I imagine my expression at THAT was not pretty. I jabbed a finger at the rat. "What?! Bugger you, the lot of you! I've done everything you asked in a more or less kinda timely fashion! You owe me!"

Every rat in the place sighed. It was a weird sound.

'There is no time for squabbling. We lack the energy to continue like this. We have been repressed for months, and the power arrayed against us grows as we get weaker… and as the hole gets deeper.'

The hole. Down to the meat of the conversation. "That's just a mining hole. Jeffrey's a war-mongerin' sod, is all. What's it have to do with you lot? How's a stupid hole supposed to, like, repress a civilization of intelligent rats? And do you have any idea how silly saying that made me sound?"

The lead rat rolled his eyes. Never seen vermin do that before.

'You cannot still think it is a normal hole. It forces obedience. It… it is…'

The writing stopped. Every rat shuddered, their tiny coats shaking gently. The motion reminded me of a breeze across the plains, tickling the grass - though the rats didn't look to be enjoying the touch of a spring wind at all. They were in pain.

I lightly poked the lead rat. "What? What's the matter? Hey, y'all aren't gonna die on me or somethin', are ya? That'd make my job much simpler, 'n probably get me a promotion, but…"

The lead rat pushed my finger away with its nose. The rat composed itself, rubbing its head, then pointed back to you, diary.

'There are things we can say and things we cannot. The one that feeds on the hole's influence limits what we may reveal to you. It… he… he has been… guiding everything…"

The rats shuddered again. The lead rat collapsed backward, squealing and writhing in the dirt. The writing didn't stop, but each letter turned jagged and uneven, etched into existence with painful slowness.

'He… will move soon… and his woman… will… be the first… stroke… you… must… le… the makers didn't… they didn't want this… to… the door…'

That was it. The writing stopped. The rats collectively sighed again, all flopped onto their bellies or overturned on their backs, breathing hard as one. The lead rat, I saw, was twitching painfully on the ground… and when I poked it, it didn't get up.

A few minutes later, several of its fellows dug a shallow grave for it and held a small, quiet funeral. They did the same for at least two-dozen other rats.

Poor little guys. Hope the one that came with me to Goblinoster wasn't included in that lot.

The rats are super-sluggish, and they haven't moved much beyond grave digging. They all look really weak. Barrel hasn't made any sort of move to take me outta here, though, so I suspect they've still got more to say… they just can't say it yet. Once they do I'm sure they'll pick some new lead rat to write in you. So I guess I'm staying here for the night.

I don't understand what's going on, diary. Who's keeping the rats from talking? And why? And what does this all have to do with that bloody hole?

I said it last week and I'll say it again: Why do I get the feeling that this will turn out to be a very bad thing for all of us?

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Rat… Something

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Eight: The Ratscovery


Another day, another slaughterfest. More penguin riding on my back for way too many hours. Not much more to say than that…

… oh, wait, yes there is. Did I mention that I DISCOVERED THE HIDDEN CITY OF THE RATS?!

Ahem.

Okay. So maybe I, specifically and technically, did not discover the hidden city of the rats. I MAY have been led to it by a certain serpentine buddy 'o mine. Still counts as a discovery for humankind, says I.

The first seven hours of my day? Horrible. All Kierkegaard wanted to do was murder rats. He wouldn't let me take a break. Slowing down was forbidden. He actually drew blood with that stupid spear of his! My butt blood! I hate tridents, and I hate jesters! What the hell kind of jester isn't funny at all?! I should get him fired!

(Though to be fair he DID tell jokes every now and then. About killing rats. Most were off-the-cuff gross, but there was this one… about three rats, a garbage can, and a pack of quillberry juice… ah, yeah, that one was pretty good. Better not tell it here, though, there're kids watching. Hi Logan!)

Eventually Kierkegaard tired of the chase, and bidding me a most painful farewell with the tip of his beak he wandered away. I, stuck in the depths of the keep, somewhere to the east of the treasury, began to wander home…

… when I spotted a magnificent mane of hair, disappearing around a corner. I knew that hair!

Staggering to catch up, I peeked down the adjoining corridor, and voila! Barrel. Hovering in midair and obviously waiting for me. He looked quite anxious about being a dragon, and as soon as we locked eyes he transformed into a dragonfly. (Clever.) Then he set off down the corridor, hovering at the end. He wanted me to follow.

I did. I wanted to rest up and get a hot meal after all the running, but I followed. Barrel's saved my ass so many times that I owe him some trust. He led me down another corridor…

And another…

And three or four more…

And probably a dozen more, all looking progressively more worn and old…

Until, surprise surprise, we were in the rat farms! I hadn't been in the farms for a while, but they looked more or less the same. I figured the castle's workers might retool the place to suit it for guinea pigs; no dice. I guess they don't live much differently than rats.

(Gonna be weird calling them the guinea pig farms. It doesn't have the same ring. Guinea farms is a bit better, but… well, what the hell is a guinea, anyway? And why do they call 'em pigs? They don't look anything LIKE pigs.)

I figured a rat was gonna be waiting for me in the farms, 'cause them 'n my dragon pal seem to have a connection, but no. Barrel didn't stop there. He led me around the fences, into the dark corners of the rat farms, where I found more rooms. More tunnels. More twists and turns, leading into cramped quarters that should have been pitch black, but which, for some reason, weren't. The experience reminded me way too much of the ruins outside Goblinoster.

(No traps, though. Thank the gods for no traps. I wasn't in a fit condition to dodge arrows or figure out puzzles.)

Time passed. I have no idea how long Barrel flitted and I followed. I barely even noticed that he'd turned back into dragon until we hit a patch of light, at the end of a narrow passageway, and beyond the light we found more light… and a massive clearing, larger than any room in the castle…

And buildings.

Small, crude buildings, like the domes of the tribal people of the desert. Dozens of them. Built into the floors, and the walls, and even the ceilings. All of 'em were teeming with rats, and every last pair of beady black eyes was quietly watching me, investigating me, judging me for what I'd done to their kind.

I hate audiences, I truly do.

Barrel landed near the entrance and nudged me into the midst of the buildings. I carefully walked down a tiny, central avenue, stopping in what looked like a city square. Sat. Waited. Watched. I felt like I was in some weird peep show.

The rats followed. They gathered around me, hanging out of their buildings and scurrying up around my feet, surrounding me on all sides but one: a patch of dirt right in front of me. As has always happened, one emerged from the group, standing on this patch and wriggling his whiskers.

It made a motion with its paws. I figured it wanted me to clap, so I did. It waved a negative. It tried the same motion again, its paws coming together and then parting slowly, in tiny arcs.

I clapped harder, just in case. That earned me an exasperated look, which is pretty insulting from a rat.

Five more rats entered the clearing, a stick perched on their backs. Standing on their hind legs they dragged the stick in the dirt, slowly etching a message for me:

"go get your diary"

Ohhhhh. That made sense. I've never spoken to a rat WITHOUT the diary. It's not like they can have a normal chat. I was damned tired by then, though, and I made that very clear when I said I would come back tomorrow, diary in hand. They frantically waved for me to return that night, underlining what they'd written, but, hell no. I ain't going back tonight.

I'm sorry, rats. I'm tired. Drained. I'm not hunting through the dark a second time to find your city. You wanna talk, you come to ME, not the other way around. That's the way we always did it before. Otherwise? Wait 'til tomorrow.

Though maybe I should… I mean, Barrel's still waiting just outside my house… peering through a gap in the wall… watching me write…

Blah. No. Good night, tiny dragon. Show me the way again tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Rat-Hunter

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Seven: The Battle of Splattergoo


It occurs to me, diary, that I didn't talk much about the rat hunt yesterday. That 'chat' with the jester demanded the attention of the entry. He's still the centre of attention, but I think I should speak up on the subject of ratstermination before I get back to that black-and-white blighter.

King Jeffrey has made rat-killing a kind of sport, probably to cheer himself up after the strike last week. He's offering a tiny bounty to any peasants who wanna join in on the fun: ten copper per rat. Fifteen if it's of exceptional size. And, if you can catch at least seven rats, you get a gold piece. There's a big scoreboard set up near the queen's parking spot in the castle thoroughfare for particularly ambitious rat hunters. The top hunter will get a prize at the end of the week.

That does NOT, of course, include us guards. We don't get extra for killin' rats, and we're exempted from the scoreboard. It's just our duty, 'n we damn well better do it. Pfft. Not that I expect to catch many rats, of course, but it'd be nice to be recognized as something MORE than the scum of the ramparts.

As you well know, rats can get everywhere. That's probably why they seem to know so much: they're so small that they're able to fit into every bloody nook and cranny they can find. They're also tiny, quiet and fast, so it can be difficult to corner even a single rat. And we're talking an entire castle full of rats. This will not be an easy week.

That's not all, though. As you ALSO know, rats are smart. They seem to be as smart as any human. They also seem to have some kinda connection with one another, so if one's in trouble, I bet at least a couple of the others will know. That's one hell of an early-warning system they've got going.

Also, they may be magical. That's a possibility. A grim one, too, if it means wiping these little creeps out. What if they don't WANT to be moved? What if they fight back in ways we can't counter? We'd be buggered, we would. Tiny, magical wizards numbering in the thousands can probably take on a bunch of lumbering, oafish humans. ('specially since some of the guards think they can bullseye rats with their bows. Don't think they've managed to bag a single one that way.)

But they aren't fighting back. Not in any special way. The rats are just acting like any other animal: if you confront 'em, they run away. If you lunge at 'em, they weave between your legs. If you corner 'em, they hiss, and… well, die, usually. How sporting. Not a hint of magic to be found.

And still no word. The rats are very quiet. I'm kinda surprised they haven't said anything to me yet. Hell, they haven't written in you in weeks, diary. Seemed like they wouldn't leave me alone for a while, there… what's up now? Do they resent me for joining in the great rat purge?

Am I, maybe, off the hook of destiny? That would be sweet. I don't wanna be destined for nuthin'. Destiny's for those bigwig chumps who build castles and conquer nations and invent subtle food pastes that go good on fries. THAT'S destiny.

There wouldn't be much point in resenting me 'til now, of course. Up 'til this point, I didn't have any method for chasing rats. All I did was wander around and, if I saw one, I'd run at it kinda half-assed and roar. It'd flee, and I'd go back to business as usual.

Kierkegaard changed all that when he planted himself on my team today. He makes me sprint whenever we see a rat, and while I'm doing all the legwork he lets out a war-whoop, riding on my back. Once we get close enough to the rat, which is surprisingly often (one has ample motivation to move when there are tiny spurs digging into one's neck), the penguin leaps off my shoulders…

… and impales his target with a freaking trident.

Okay. It's penguin-sized, so it's more like a long dinner fork. But still! That's ridiculous!

Considering he's got stubby arms and legs, Kierkegaard's aim is surprisingly good. He hasn't missed a single jump yet. Even when I'm slowed up from fatigue he seems more than capable of jumping the extra distance to snag the rat. Whenever I DO force him to jump further, though, he stabs me in the butt with his spear. I guess that's good motivation to keep up the pace.

His accuracy doesn't worry me. It's his enthusiasm. I'd wondered why the jester wanted to work with me on exterminating rats, and now I think I know: Kierkegaard hates them. That's the only motivation he seems to need. He cackles every time he nails one, and on a disturbing number of occasions he actually stomped his victim into a bloody pulp. The swear words that come outta his beak are so obscene that I'm not even gonna create a list for 'em.

It was a long day of all THAT today, and after he jabbed my butt with his spear and went back to the throne room I went home to be comforted by my wife. She was busy working on a new pair of goggles, so she didn't have time to comfort me much. And she didn't wanna anyway. You're having to serve as a replacement, diary. I'm glad you have a soft cover. You're great for hugging.

Seriously. Rat hunting has me disturbed. I KNOW we're killing intelligent creatures here. Or at least the KIN of one intelligent creature, the rat that came with me on my long journey to Goblinoster. Is that right? Or should we, y'know, not be doing this? Considering how fearful they seem to be of the hole in the east wing of the castle, I'm really worried 'bout what's gonna happen when they're all gone…

Man. This stuff is harshing my homeowner buzz. I damn well better not lose my house!

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Rat-Hunter

Monday, May 14, 2012

Day Two Hundred-Six: Who is that masked waterfowl


The rat purge has begun.

This is going to be a weird week, diary. In a couple different ways. Not only do I have to participate in this massive vermin hunt, I need to do it with a partner. Someone I NEVER would have expected to be interested in hunting rats… not that I know him very well, but still…

Before that: the castle. The usual status update. The former strikers, happy with what they got from their strike last week, are rebuilding. Aaaaaagain. It's a good thing they can basically turn ruined resources back into complete products, or we woulda been bankrupted from buying new stone and wood five or six times over.

Also: the Beefiary. Robert didn't waste a minute expunging rats from his kitchen. He ordered his assistants to scrub every inch of the food stations with lye, and the remaining rat corpses were taken away to be processed into the final few rat leather products. I hear the castellan won a secret auction to receive the last rat-skin coat. Hope he likes the thing.

(Robert's also been bugging me about the letter from our mom. How did I get one so fast? Excellent question. I have no idea how The Baron expedited delivery, 'cause he wouldn't tell me, even in private. Tricksy man, that one. Maybe I'll find out some day…)

On to the food replacements. From this day forward, the Beefiary will offer the following seven meals, all of which may be altered at the request of diners:

- Roasted pigeon - we have a lot of the things living 'round the castle, even if I don't mention 'em too often
- Fried ants
- Potato kabobs, which is really just roasted potatoes on a stick, garnished with some herbs
- Guinea pig soup / stew, though it won't be fully on the menu for a while - only nobles have the coin to order it right now, and I doubt most of 'em care enough
- The Month's Special, consisting of the meat of whatever animal happens to be passing through the area at the time - right now it's land octopi, which're nice and easy to hunt, I hear
- Aaaaand the old classics that are yak tarts and plates of veggies, both of which can be mixed and matched with ANY of the above dishes for an additional fee

Robert is blissfully happy. He has a larger team of hunters at his command for collecting the Month's Special, and he's got more variety than he ever coulda hoped. Good for him, one of his schemes actually worked.

Assuming it was his scheme. I have my doubts.

Either way. I like the selection. It's nice to have something else for a change. Several something elses. I'm not a huge fan of the octopus special, granted, but the ants are delicious. They melt in your mouth. Mmmmm, tiny legs.

Turned out I'm not the only person thinking that, 'cause the guy I've been partnered with sat down beside me with a big bowl of ants while I was at lunch.

"Mmm, bugs. Gotta love bugs." Kierkegaard the Jester dipped his beak into his bowl and munched down a big mouthful of tiny, sizzling legs. "Don'tcha think, blondie?"

I wasn't sure how to react. He's a talking penguin in a top hat, so my FIRST inclination was to go 'awwwww'. I have heard that he can be pretty nasty, though, so I tended towards courtesy… until I remembered that aristocrats are supposed to be nicer to COMMONERS, not the other way around. THEN I wondered if a jester COUNTS as a nobleman, even if he DOES have a top hat, and, well, I wound up not answering him for a good twenty seconds as I mulled over the predicament.

Probably woulda been in a stupor even longer than that if he hadn't jabbed me with his fork, which, given his table manners, he probably just uses to stab people.

I jumped. "Hey! Watch that thing!"

Kierkegaard laughed, a weird, high-pitched squawk. Sounded more like a tiny child screaming for its life. "Ha! So you are alive! Had my doubts, kid. You're Dragomir, right?"

"Yeah." He was eating, so I figured I could stop for a bite. Spoke around the ants. "You're, um, the jester?"

"He knows me! 'cause there are so many talkin' penguins 'round these parts." Kierkegaard rolled his eyes, then jumped up on the table and pushed my bowl of ants on the floor. "Listen to me, willya? It's rude to interrupt somebody with your crunchin'."

Another moment of indecision. Luckily, I only had two factors to face this time: punch him and maybe face punishment, or don't punch him and face public ridicule by a penguin. The silence was much shorter. "Sorry."

"Yeesh. You remind me of a guy I went t'school with. Only spoke in symbols. Damned nuisance. Probably talkin' in rhyming symbols by now, poor bastard." Kierkegaard snorted, crossed his knobbly little legs, and tipped his hat back. "Right. You wonderin' why I'm bothering you, blondie?"

Nod.

"Good. Curiosity's good. I'm botherin' you 'cuz I'm your partner for this week. I'm gonna come with you when ya slaughter up some rats."

"Huh? Why?"

He slapped me. "I don't LIKE rats, that's why! And I hear you're not so good at handling the sharpy-sharpies, so I'll do all the killin' work. You bag 'em, I'll tag 'em. Or the t'other way around, I'm up for variety."

I rubbed my cheek. I don't like being slapped, even if my attacker has the arm strength of a newborn infant who's not my daughter. "What? I don't get it. Why - "

Kierkegaard kicked me in the chest. And pecked my helmet off my head. And then pecked my forehead. "Fuck! Shut your trap, ya big baby! I'm the superior here, so you do what I tell ya t'do! And I say you help me out while I kill me some rats!"

I really, REALLY wanted to slug him. But I noticed, as I was recovering from his bloody stab to my forehead, that there were two royal guards watching us. I bit my lip, stood, and nodded. Even tossed in a salute to appease the little bastard.

"Good!" Kierkegaard grabbed his bowl, hopped off the table, and shook hands with my pant leg. "Glad we got that unpleasantness outta the way. I'm busy today, so you just go about lookin' for your ratty friends, and I'll come find you tomorrow. Gonna be a fun week, lemme tell ya. Ciao!"

The jester wandered away with his guards, guzzling fried ants out of his bowl. So I guess, technically, he stole something from the Beefiary. I'm kinda hoping I can use that to my advantage. Somehow. Maybe get him arrested? Though the king's personal jester probably has carte blanche on a lot of little things… and it was only a bowl

That's that, then, diary. I've got me a partner. A disagreeable little wretch of a partner, about whom I've been warned. (Heed the words of chocolate man Edmund!) What can I expect in the coming days? I haven't a clue. I doubt it'll be pleasant, though.

Rats. Ugh. It's just a matter of time before one of 'em comes to talk to me. I can feel them watching me… they must be really nervous…

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Rat-Hunter