Barrel is my safety net. He is my assurance that, physically, everything will be okay. Nobody can beat Barrel, nobody. He's a fucking dragon.
I was wrong. Something beat Barrel. Something beat Barrel badly. So badly that Pagan and I nearly died as Barrel dropped out of the sky.
It came upon us as I was writing, in case you hadn't guessed. One second we were looking at a gentle landscape, tinged with the first hints of the sun; the next there was a massive black shape, easily as big as our dragon, bearing down on us from the east. It swooped at Barrel, silent and vicious, claws poised -
- and then it had Barrel, and they struggled, and Pagan and I fell past their beating wings, dropped and falling to an inevitable death -
- ripping, shredding, clawing, roaring, fire -
- and we hit the ground. Pagan in one of Barrel's claws, I wrapped up in his tail. He took the brunt of the impact, carving a deep crater in the landscape, knocking down trees and disrupting the flow of a stream. Animals scattered in all directions as the boom of Barrel's impact awoke every sleeping critter within a thousand miles.
We groaned, rolling out of Barrel's slack grip. My pants soiled in so many ways, I brushed myself off and looked to the sky, praying that the black shape would not come in for the kill. It didn't, instead sweeping off into the fog, heading towards Pagan's estate.
Pagan, now standing beside me, took a deep breath. "Son of a bitch. Look what you idiots have done. Now all of my people are at risk of losing their homes. Are you happy?"
I watched Barrel, curled, crumpled, groaning Barrel, shrink to the size of a dog. Licking at his wounds and moving slowly, he disappeared into the scattered underbrush. I haven't seen him since.
"No," I said. "Not fuckin' happy at all, m'lord."
We're walking. We've been walking for hours, now, trying to get to Pagan's manor. We came a fair distance, but Pagan twisted his leg pretty badly on the landing, and the going's slow. Probably would've been faster to take a stupid horse, Pagan's original option.
It's early morning Friday right now. We rested for a few hours before continuing our painful trek. Pagan tells me we'll be at his manor in a couple hours. What we can do when we get there I have no clue, but… we'll see.
Three Hours Hence
Three Hours Hence
Pagan and I talked. Sporadically. He's grumpy, I'm grumpy, we're grumpy. Our conversations have stopped short of bickering, mainly 'cause I don't think Pagan is the bickering type, but we're not terribly friendly with each other.
"It's your fault," he said sometime 'round midnight. "Your fault this is happening."
"Oh, fuck yourself, old man. We didn't do this."
"Of course you did. I haven't had any problems in years. Then along comes your ragtag band, supposedly from King Jeffrey's ruined kingdom, and what happens? My manor's under attack, my slaves are being killed - "
"You shouldn't have slaves in the first place!"
"They're perfectly happy the way they are. Don't try and judge me, boy. My point is, there's a correlation between this mess and your presence."
"Oh yeah? Prove it."
Pagan hesitated. "I can't. Yet. And it hardly matters now. The damage is done, the world is changed. I will adapt to live in what remains."
Silence. Hard to counter that, when he effectively shut down the argument.
"You said you knew something. I assume that's true, if you came along. What was that thing? In the sky?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. Not really. But a bunch of 'em killed me, once, and they ruined my old home."
Pagan hesitated when I said 'killed', but only for a second. "You've died before?"
"You don't sound surprised."
He chuckled. "You don't get as old and grizzled as me without biting the dust a few times, young man. I assume you've touched the blue flames in dark places?"
"Yeah. Just one. Guess that was enough."
"It is, if you want to endure multiple lifetimes of pain." Pagan winced, rubbing his ribs through his armour. "Do you have any advice on killing these creatures?"
I laughed. "Do you really think I'd know anything about killin' 'em if I've died myself?"
"How battle-hardened you are." He looked me up and down. "I suppose you haven't done much killing at all in your lifetime."
He chuckled. "Many times over."
"Focus on the road, mayor. These woods are treacherous in poor light."
Five Hours Hence
Five Hours Hence
We're standing on the edge of Pagan's manor. It's a mess. The fields are burning, most of the wooden structures are either ablaze or smashed to bits, and the manor… well, it stands, but… things are there. I can see them moving in the dark.
Green. Evil green. Familiar green.
I'm sorry, diary. I shouldn't have brought you along. This was a terrible idea, and I don't even know what I'd hoped to achieve. Other than… some kind of… confrontation, I guess? I'm hoping that HE'LL be here? And maybe, just maybe, he'll give me back my daughter?
Yeah. I guess that's it.
I'm leaving you here, diary, hidden in an old groundhog's den where you can't get in trouble. Hopefully somebody will find you.