Monday, December 31, 2012

Day Three-Sixty-One: Stuck



New Years' Eve.

By all rights, Pubton should be bristling with festivities. Even if they were the meagre festivities I'd come to expect.

Instead…

Instead, the shadow things have finally caught up to us. Pubton is under attack. Not by slaves, not by woodland animals, not by starvation or self-doubt, but by horribly aggressive things that want to kill us all. And it's only by the grace of something ornamental that we're still alive.

I haven't even had time to look back at last week's diary entries. I always do that. I'm so freaked out right now that looking back may just make me envious. 

After having… a fight… with my dad, I went out for a walk. A simple walk, just something to clear my head while I puzzled over so many things. Food, hatred, land ownership, daughters… so many things. Eventually I wound up in front of the golden tree, where, eh, I kinda screamed out my frustrations. Didn't think anybody would answer.

Kierkegaard answered. Plain old penguin Kierkegaard, but Kierkegaard nonetheless. My soul froze the moment he stepped out from behind that tree… and frost formed on the ice when he pulled back the hoods of the men - things - carrying him on their shoulders. Arrayed in a lumpy row were the pained, grumpy, frightened faces of Captain Cedric, Driscol, and Bernard. In that order. All joined, as though they're one creature, their skin covered in crude stitches and horrifying purple veins. I can only imagine, don't want to imagine, what they look like under the cloak.

I was too shocked to register much of what they said, was too shocked even to really care about the green eyes emerging from the night behind them, too shocked to move as the cloaked horror, guided by the penguin, shambled towards me. The way it moved… those weird, awkward spasms… like there were dozens of legs underneath the cloak…

Driscol's eyes, gods, those strained, angry eyes, drilling into mine…

I think I should have died again, carried away on Kierkegaard's laughter. Instead I was blinded, everyone was blinded, when the gentle light of the golden tree exploded outward. I staggered back and fell on my butt, flailing for some purchase, anything, half expecting to wake up from a dream, because, hell, this kinda shit often happens in my dreams. I don't talk about such things anymore, but there you go.

Shielding my eyes, I crawled behind a snow bank and waited for the globs of light stuck to my pupils to fade. They did, gradually, and when I risked a glance over the edge of the snow bank I saw what I can only describe as a dome of pulsating white light, stretching and expanding out of the golden tree. It blossomed and blocked out the stars, and as it grew it pushed Kierkegaard, his unholy triumvirate of heads, and whatever other unseen nasties they'd brought along to the edge of Pubton.

And then it stopped. And there they stayed. And there they are now, surrounding the village, pounding heartily on the wall with massive black fists and slapping tendrils. Though I'm sure it's daytime outside Pubton, there are so many black creatures crawling along the walls and top of the dome that the sunlight can't get through. 

I wonder what this all looks like on the outside. I hope Pagan doesn't come looking for something - he might have a heart attack. Cripes, he was right to not want us around.

Everyone's frightened half to death, and most people are refusing to leave their shelters. Our resident Weekendist keeps screaming that 'Saturday is surely coming for us all' as he staggers about the town. Didn't know he was so doom-and-gloom. The only exception to all this is Libby: she's been pacing along the edge of the light barrier, yelling at the shadows beyond and challenging Kierkegaard to a one-on-one fight whenever he pops into view.

She shouldn't do that, I know. If she'd seen him… like I did… she wouldn't challenge him. Nobody would. But I think it helps distract her from the fact that… Grayson… has gone missing… and this time she knows it…

We're stuck. Edmund and I dared to walk out to the edge of the barrier, once, and he touched it. It's solid. They can't get through, no matter how much they claw, and we can't get out. Even if that thing did save us, it may have just condemned us to starve. Depending on how long Kierkegaard sticks around. Judging by what he's said before, I think he'll stay here until we're all dead.

Fuck.

We're all going to die.

Happy New Years, diary.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Day Three-Hundred-Sixty: We're back


Drags is not write in I, who is diary, today.

I sees him. I sees Drags. He walks in the white stuff - what is white stuff, I ask? No one answer - and looks the mope. He not look so muches the mope since he was all 'Blondey-blonde slayed me 'cause she loves'. And he was very mopes then. I say, writing, cheer? Yes. Super-defos cheer. But Drags, he will not listen to awesome diary.

Sigh. Drags. So much on mind. People yell, and asking for food, and Drags is all "Go look for another damned goat in the woods, there were two more yesterday". By which Drags is mean bleaters. Oh bleaters, you are so bleat.

Note came today. Drags not looks at it. Tucks inside I, diary. Because diary, you, I, we's like mini library. All things good? In I. Is true. Anys, this what note is read:

'Dragomir,

Leave town now. This is your last warning. Things are on their way. You aren't prepared to stop them. You CAN'T stop them. Pick up your people and leave now.

Lord B.T.'

Drags no look at note. He is all stuffs in me without unfolding. What is things that come? If greens, is bad. If whites… wells, whites here already. If oranges… mmm, oranges. We, you, I, diary, should try oranges some time. Vi-ta-min C. Is what Libbers say. She likes oranges. Libbers is know best, yes, diary? But not as best as you, by which I mean I. 'course. Libbers smart, but not DIARY smart. Silly!

Big man came today. Is maybe why Drags not write in the I, which is you, which is me, diary. Yes. Big man, gruff big man, but not gruff big man who is Ceders. This is dude what is Drags dad. I see resemblance none, but Drags? He says is dad. So is dad.

(What is dad, diary? Is like Drags to diary? Who knows. If diary, which is I, does not know, then no one. No one knows. Diary is awesome enough to know all that is knowed. If you say others, diary, then you? CRAZY. So crazy, diary.)

Dad, he says things. I record. Super spy, is diary, super spy!

"We're goin', Dragomir. We're goin' tomorrow."

"Tomorrow's, uh, Saturday, dad. Where're you going…?"

"Pagan's. We're gonna steal that fuck's food. 'n when we get back, you're gonna step down as mayor. I'm takin' over."

"Gotcha."

"Gotcha?"

"Yeah. Sure. Whatever. Go nuts."

"So, you givin' up, then?"

"Wouldn't be the first time."

"Spineless wuss, I didn't raise you to act like this."

"You didn't…. barely…"

"What's that? Got a beef with me, kid? C'mon, y'danmed momma's boy, be a man for once. Trottin' off on a dragon with Pagan 'n comin' back with good news doesn't make you a man, not in my eyes. Step up and be a fuckin' man."

"…"

"Yeah, what I figured. You said you died, right?"

"Yeah."

"Great to see you learned a lot from the experience. Real lot."

Stomp, stomp, stomp. Offs he goes. Then I watches Drags draw on papery thing - WHY HE DRAW IF HE NOT WRITE, AND WHY HE NOT DRAW IN DIARY? - and he leaves. No draws for diary.

What's he draw?

Blondey-blonde, of course. 

Always is drawing blondey-blonde.













Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Nine: The Prisoner



June won't give me answers.

Libby won't give me answers. 

The rats seem to be too tired these days to give me answers.

Grayson… Grayson's a child, and he's selectively cryptic. I shouldn't have to get answers from him anyway.

Lord B.T. hasn't replied to a couple of probing questions, and even in his previous letters, he gave no answers.

Edmund returned today with no answers. Every town he and his little entourage visited was shut up for the winter, and not willing to entertain trades until the spring. They certainly weren't parting with their stockpiles of food with snow still up to their ankles.

Even my dad won't give me an answer. I straight out asked him today, in my frustration, if he planned to take over Pubton. He shrugged his armless shrug and gave me a smile that probably was an answer, but it wasn't what I wanted to hear, so I dismissed it.

I went to the one person in town who might be willing to talk, even if every word was commensurate to a slap to my face.

Lady Evangelina has been locked away in one of the top-floor rooms of the pub for almost a week, now. Libby essentially turned the room into a cage, using spare wood to create solid bars to keep Evangelina away from the door and the window. She gets two meals a day, and was watched over by a guard most of the time until we realized she wasn't a threat. Now somebody pokes their head in once an hour to make sure she's still there.

When I went visiting, she was. I brought a chair in and sat it down in the small space between the bars and the door, closing the latter behind me.

Evangelina looks a wreck. She's still wearing the same bulky winter clothes she had when we hauled her away, though the bullwhip she was carrying is sitting in Robert's kitchen. Her face is gaunt and tired, her hair looks like it hasn't seen water in a while, and she has an air of defeat about her that's usually better associated with peasants and drifters. Given what she's been through, I guess she's allowed to feel pretty crappy.

She barely looked up from her cot when I sat down. I expected as much.

"I could have brought my goblin," I said as a starter. "I think he used ta do this stuff professionally. Interrogatin', you know. But I didn't. Y'know what that means?"

She shrugged.

"Means I wanna have an honest conversation. I wanna know what you know."

"What'll you give me in return?" she rasped. "Driscol? I doubt you can swing it, murderer."

I sat back and cleared my throat. "I didn't kill him. He killed himself, trying to take out The Baron."

"You're half responsible." She looked away, towards the barred window. "With the fat man dead, that makes you wholly responsible."

I tensed. I'd wondered if this subject might come up, and, bam. Here it was. I'd also decided what I would do if it did. "He's not dead. The Baron, I mean. He's still alive."

Evangelina shook, her laughter dry, bitter, and devoid of humour. I thought she might ask if I was lying, but I guess she can discern lies from truth. "Fuck. Fuck me. He really did die for nothing, then. We failed."

She sat up straighter, peering through the bars, eyes fixing on me but seeing something else, something behind me. Memories, maybe. "We wanted to help you. He wanted to help you. You, your wife, your friends, every one of those witless peasants who let themselves be ruled by Jeffrey. We wanted to make that kingdom prosper and you spat in our faces, preferring to let a simpleton sit on the throne."

"You tried to destroy the castle!"

"WE DIDN'T WANT THAT!" Now she was on her feet, words crackling with anger. "YOU THINK WE WANTED TO SIEGE THE FUCKING CASTLE?! WE TRIED SO MANY THINGS… we had so many ways to get rid of him… so many you don't even know about, before the fat man brought you in against us… so many… but they didn't work… and the siege didn't work… and his death, his death didn't even work, even though it wasn't supposed to be a gods damned death…"

"What?" I sat up straight, watching her pace towards the bars, a caged animal.

"The spell," she breathed. "Something went wrong. Obviously it went wrong. The last ditch measure if he got caught… he would use the fire, then trigger another spell to escape… we would meet up… outside the castle…"

She went silent, her head dipping. I stood and moved close to the bars, wondering if she was whispering the rest - and, stupidly, I stepped within grabbing distance. Her hands wrenched through the spaces in the wood and clutched my tunic, pulling me hard towards her. 

"BUT HE NEVER FUCKING CAME! HE WASN'T THERE! BECAUSE YOU AND YOUR FUCKING FAT MAN MURDERED HIM! YOU MUST HAVE! YOU MURDERED MY BROTHER, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"

She spat in my face and threw me back. I stumbled over my chair and hit the wall. Voices came from outside the door, and it flew open, knocking me into the bars again. I wondered, as several people charged in to check on the yelling, if Evangelina would try to hurt me again - but she'd retreated to her bed. She was crying.

I left. I only had one answer, and it wasn't the one I'd expected.

They're siblings? Cripes. What's next, is June gonna turn out to be their freaking mom?

I give up,

Dragomir

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Eight: A happy chat



When I trekked into the forest today and was sucked into June's home I found two surprises waiting for me. Their existence wasn't the surprise, so much as their presence in June's home.

"Hey," Libby said offhandedly as she bent over June's writing table. "What're you doin' here? Thought you had to help uproot more winterweed."

I hesitated. Something in her voice bugged me. Accusation? "Uhh… I switched with Lonnie. What're you…? Where's Grayson…?"

Libby pointed. Grayson was sitting in front of the fire, cross-legged, looking deeply into the swirling, weird eyes of June, who was similarly cross-legged. Neither spoke to the other.

"They've been like that for almost an hour," Libby said, preoccupied with the spread of parchment on the desk. "She's a damned good babysitter. He hasn't made a peep."

"… great." I tried to peer around Libby's shoulder. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Working."

"On what?"

"Parchment. Before you ask, I'm usin' a pencil." She waggled a stubby orange shaft for me to see.

"Pencil?" I arched an eyebrow. "The hell is a pencil?"

"You here for somethin', Dragomir?" Libby turned to glare at me. "June asked me to draw up a schematic for her. I'm drawin' it up. You're makin' it hard to do that. You got business with her, you go talk to her."

Libby turned back to her drawing. Exhaustedly sticking my tongue out at my wife's back, I went and sat by the fire, watching Grayson's stare-down with the witch.

They still hadn't moved, hadn't acknowledged my presence in the room. That worried me. Grayson hardly looked sick or ill or otherwise uncomfortable, but he had a mischievous smile on his face that hinted at something deeper than a simple staring contest. I might have been more worried if June's eyes had been glowing orange, but they were her usual greyish-white, her pupils spinning crazily in angled arcs.

I poked Grayson experimentally. He smiled, but he still had his eyes on June. "Hi, daddy."

I smiled, despite myself. "Wow. You're getting' good at talkin', kiddo. Whatchaaaaaa doin' here, eh?"

"June is teaching me. I'm teaching her."

"Oh yeah?" I went down on my haunches and waved a hand between their locked gazes. No response. "Ain't that something. What're you teaching her?"

"Not to dig."

"… okay…" I thought back to Grayson's weird words, so long ago. His first words. In the shadow of the mountain range. "And what's she teaching you?"

Grayson's smile deepened. He looked far too old. "To dig."

A hand caught me in the back of the head, then, and as I whacked my forehead off the chair by the fire June's shadow fell over me. She kicked me once in the side, her foot too small and weak to cause any damage but nevertheless knocking me away from my son.

"You twit," she said, glaring at me as I picked myself up. "We were talkin'. You don't interrupt a good conversation. What the hell do ya want? Eh? Eh? Speak up, mayor, speak up."

"You're all too loud," Libby said behind us, grunting. "Knock it off."

"Yes, momma," Grayson said happily, hopping onto the chair and kicking his feet. I hadn't realized he could hop like that. Wasn't he in my backpack less than a week ago?

"I wanna know," I said, seating myself in a corner and accepting a steaming cup of tea from Julius, "a lotta things. Like, too many things."

"I see." June accepted a different cup, this delivered by a hand that emerged from her hair. 

I shivered and stared, watching the hand recede into her messy tresses. No one else seemed to care. "… you… willing to talk straight, for once?"

"Naw." June sipped her tea, coughed, and angrily poured the remainder on the floor. She wagged a finger at her own head. "I TOLD you not to use bloody chamomile, Maurice! I'm not gonna be able t'sleep tonight! You idiot!"

I'm fairly certain I twitched. Grayson, who appeared to be enjoying the spectacle mightily, said "Maurce lives in her hair."

"… yeah… listen, okay, June, I need you to tell me things. Like why - "

"Shut UP!" Libby yelled. "I'm BUSY! Take it outside, dammit, or the old woman doesn't get squat from me!"

"We don't have to. The mayor was just leaving. Weren't you, Dragomir? Here, take your son with you. He's a pest."

June picked up Grayson, handed him to me, and motioned with her hands. Some invisible force slammed into my side, and moments later I was sprawled in the snow outside June's hut, Grayson sitting on my side and laughing. The door clicked shut in our wake and vanished.

Pushing myself into a sitting position, I looked at my son. He beamed back at me.

"Don't worry," he said. "I won't let her dig."

In summary, I'm now more confused than I was before.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Clueless

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Seven: Alas, poor Goat. I knew him, Horatio!



Dad held a little rally today, right out in the open. Discussed us going after Pagan and stealing his food stores. He says we shouldn't have to pay the old man shit. My dad's arm was payment enough, or something. His argument didn't make sense, but it got people nice and riled. 

If a goat hadn't shambled into town at that moment, they may well have run off to attack Pagan's manor. Instead, they tackled, cooked and ate the goat. The allure of meat is just too much.

A goat, you ask? A goat, I say, and one of the goats that strayed from town during Barrel's weird rebellion. Can tell by the little swirl brand on its right leg.

I was standing off to one side, watching the rally from the shadows of the pub, when the goat wobbled into Pubton from the direction of the forest, bleating weakly. It was clearly hurt, and I could see that it had, of all things, bruises under its fur. Not cuts or scratches or bite marks, bruises. Like something had been knocking the crap outta it. Probably woulda recovered in a few days had the small mob not turned it into mincemeat ten minutes later.

Poor goat. I almost feel sorry for you. Only almost.

The smell and taste of meat was enough to appease the mob for a while, and dad opted to instead lead an expedition into the woods to try and catch more animals, assuming they were coming back. They returned four hours later with a single sheep, which got the same treatment - and was similarly bruised.

I don't know what's going on with the animals. I also don't really care. Unless they all suddenly flood back into town and need protecting, I will happily take this small stream of returning animal flesh without question. Call me a pessimist, but when you've eaten nothing but vegetation for two weeks you get a bit testy. I do, anyway.

Gods but that goat tasted good. Didn't get any sheep, but... the goat… mmmmm. Juicy. I used to take the Beefiary for granted back home, I really did.

While I wait for answers from Edmund and stew over the problem, my mind is drawn to various other issues that I know should be of import. Should I be worried about Grayson's burgeoning weirdness? What do we do with Evangelina? Why was June's motivation for bringing us here? Is it connected to Kierkegaard's presence a few weeks ago? And speaking of the jester bastard, when's he going to follow through on that parting threat and come knocking? He made it sound like he'll be a while, but… you have to take everything he says with a grain of salt the size of my head…

To hell with it. If I'm waiting, I'll do it armed with information. Tomorrow I'm going to June's hut and demanding answers to my questions. She knows a lot more than she ever lets on, and I'll be damned if I'll let her screw around with me any more. At the very LEAST I need her to let Robert the Librarian go once and for all.

You'd figure a guy who managed to escape the jaws of death would feel less pressured by the weight of the world. You'd figure he might be willing to relax, having realized that you don't sweat the little things in life, and that all things are little things. Clearly, you'd figure wrong.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, December 24, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Six: Yay, veggies



(Author's note: Yes, there will be an entry tomorrow. Christmas be damned, Dragomir is every day. There likely won't be any Twitter' or other social messages 'bout it, though - I won't be around in the morning. My bad! It still exists!)

I like my new socks. They are warm. I thought I'd been a liiiiittle jilted, but, no, these new ones are much better than my old pair. The sight of Jeffrey's crumpled face makes me all warm inside. Thanks, bannerman!

That's, uh, that's about the only good thing I have to report for today. Figured I'd get the nice stuff outta the way first. Noooooow we go down to the doldrums, and find out why Pubton is doomed THIS week.

Quite frankly, it's doomed this week for the same reason it was doomed LAST week. We have no food. Aside from winterweed, of course. Got a damned big bumper crop of that. But we need to keep it all for ourselves so we're making very little money selling product to passing merchants, and all that money goes to Pagan, thus preventing us from having any OTHER kinds of food. The occasional animal snagged from the forest provides meaty sustenance, but the woods are kinda barren these days.

You wanna know how desperate we are? You really wanna know? Robert made snow soup the other day. He actually tried to make snow soup. You know what we got in the end? Well, whaddya think we got? HOT WATER, THAT'S WHAT WE GOT.

Yet we still have beer. Dunno where Bora gets it.

I sent Lord B.T. a letter on Friday, asking if he would consider an actual trade agreement. Not just a friendly person-to-person relationship, but an honest-to-god alliance. His reply today was less than optimistic:

'Dear Dragomir,

I'm sorry, but that will not do. We are quite a distance from Pubton, making any trade agreements impractical. I'm not certain that your people would welcome our ambassadors, at any rate, and mine certainly would not accept yours. 

All I can suggest is that you move your town somewhere more temperate. I know that is crazy talk, considering all you went through to endear yourself to the owner of the lands, but that area is not conducive to survival. I hope you will take my word on that, though I doubt it will be so.

Yours,

Lord B.T.'

Move? After all his damned advice? MOVE? What the hell kind of a suggestion is THAT? And what does 'conducive to survival' mean? Almost sounds like he knows more than he lets on.

Well. We're not moving. Sure as hell are not moving. People wouldn't AGREE to moving after all we've been through. I've sent Edmund and a few escorts out to try and make ties with other towns, riding on horses we purchased rather dearly this morning. I don't know what I think they'll achieve, but I gave them a list of things we can offer other places in exchange for food. 

The longer we go subsisting on the same thing, the sicker and the grumpier people 'round here will get. Winterweed is nutritious, but it's not enough on its own to keep us afloat. Everyone's getting restless… dad has been staging little meetings, I've heard from Bora, and after the elephant costume fiasco, it sounds like Robert's helping him…

Gods, is he actually gonna make a move to take control of Pubton away from me? He's certainly popular enough among the workers… me convincing Pagan to let us stay helped my popularity, but dad getting his ARM lopped off turned him into a superstar… 

Argh. Edmund, please, come back with good news. 

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Five: An Allofusmas Miracle



He came back.

He… came back…

My heart almost died from exhaustion and fear… but he came back…

I spent the entire night looking for my little boy. The entire night searching, hoping, praying that he would turn up. I searched for so long that the other searchers abandoned helping me, reasoning that he would probably be asleep, wherever he was, and that it was dangerous to look for him in the dark.

I carried on by torchlight until I passed out from fatigue. My torch sank into a snowdrift and, mercifully, went dead. Had I not been found within the hour I, too, might have succumbed to the grip of winter.

Of all the people to find me, I didn't think it would be Pagan.

I awoke in Pagan's big war tent on the edge of town, snoozing in a bedroll, my clothes drying over a small fire set just outside the tent. Pagan himself was writing at a desk, and Grayson, my precious little Grayson, was seated happily atop the folded legs of one of Pagan's slaves. They were playing.

I groaned and sat up. My body ached, and my head felt a little warm. I sneezed.

Pagan turned his harsh glare on me, though he smiled. "You are not a smart man, are you, Dragomir? I've never seen a mayor napping in the snow before."

I wearily waved that away. "G… Grayson… you found him…"

Pagan snorted. "More like he found me! The tyke was sitting in my study yesterday afternoon, playing with my things, when I came in for a nap. I recognized him at once - you don't quickly forget a child who has pronounced your demise. I thought it only proper to trek out here and return him."

I rose slowly, pulling the bedroll with me. I was uncomfortably naked underneath. "T… thank you… for going to so much…"

"I've also come for my rent," Pagan admitted, tapping his helmet with his quill. "I trust you have it ready. Five hundred gold?"

We did. Just barely, but we did. Lord knows what we'll do NEXT month. 

"I am curious, though," Pagan said, glancing at Grayson, "how the devil could he have travelled that far on his own? It seemed obvious that you were searching for him, but… how long was he gone…?"

"Only… a day…" I said, shivering. "He's… he's not… normal…"

"Normal, normal," Grayson repeated, bouncing on the knee of the slave and smiling. "He is not normal, he is abnormal."

"You have that right, child." Pagan stroked his beard. "The world gets queerer each day. Shadow creatures, babes that can travel great distances… I thought I'd seen everything there was to see. You'll keep better watch over him from now on, yes?"

I nodded. Yes. I most definitely would.

I invited Pagan and his attendants to the Allofusmas festivities. Everyone was gathered around the golden tree, under the big, misspelled banner, with their wrapped boxes and packages and sacks ready. Most everybody there breathed a sigh of hearty relief as I walked up with Grayson held firmly in my arms, though they were smart enough to keep quiet with Libby present. She took Grayson, cooed at him, and all was right with the world.

Kinda.

I still didn't have a present for Grylock.

The exchanges began. Libby, it turns out, had built a freaking fox launcher for one of the hunters, the girl who raises, y'know, foxes. It's crazy! The thing sits on the girl's shoulder and launches mammal projectiles! Apparently the foxes are perfectly fine when they land. Supposed to be the perfect hunting tool. There was much praise centred 'round that little doodad.

Everything else was kinda ho-hum by comparison. My gifter, Jeffrey's old bannerman, gave me a nice pair of woollen socks - with pictures of someone punching Jeffrey in the face stitched into the wool. Robert got one of the nobles a bottle of homemade wine. Mom got Bora a dress that covers absolutely every bit of skin… including much of her face. Bora got one of the hunters a practice crossbow. Harold got Edmund a notebook for jotting down song lyrics, and Edmund got Harold a notebook for jotting down accounting figures. And Grylock, well, Grylock pissed into an ale tankard and handed it to his giftee, Lonnie the Noble. It was spilled with much swearing and laughter from the peasantry.

Fortunately, Grylock also got Lonnie a rather wicked and cool-looking dagger. It was one of the better gifts.

It was pretty damned obvious at the end who hadn't yet received a gift, as Grylock was standing closest to the golden tree, peering around at everyone and grumbling.

I panicked. I didn't know what to do. I'd spent so long looking for Grayson that I'd had no time to dream up even a remotely-suitable gift for the goblin. Desperate, I dove into my pockets, hunting for something, anything I might be able to give him… a bit of lint, a spare key, some money, ANYTHING…

... and that's when I found something odd. A small, octagonal container, buried deep in my pants pocket. I could feel a small hinge on the side.

Not wasting any time, I WHIPPED the container out of my pocket, barely bothering to look at it, and stormed at Grylock. He had just enough time to look up in surprise before I pushed it at his face, almost crushing his nose.

"HAPPY ALLOFUSMAS, GRYLOCK!" I cried, wincing, hoping that whatever was inside would appease the goblin.

Blinking behind his spectacles, Grylock snatched the box from my hand. "'bout time. I thought I'd been cheated. Was gonna steal m'dagger back. Lesse…"

He clicked open the box. I twitched and looked away. He squealed. I looked back, wondering if the noise was excitement or anger, and was pleased to see a crooked smile forming under his long nose.

Tossing the box into the snow, Grylock held up the contents: nothing more than a necklace, at the end of which dangled a tiny purple sword. It glinted in the sun.

"Dragomir!" Grylock cried, carefully cradling the necklace. "A poisonheart! Gods, where the hell did you find it? Buddy! Pal! C'mere!"

Grylock jumped on my leg and hugged it ferociously, humping at it a few times for laughs from onlookers. Then, standing away from me, he held the sword's tiny pommel in his fingers and squeezed. In seconds, much like Edmund's lute, it grew into a purple short sword. He cut at the air experimentally, bringing it dangerously close to the rest of the crowd. They jumped back and swore at him, and the chase was on.

I stood still, gaping, not sure what had happened. I didn't notice until a hand fell on my shoulder that Pagan had snuck up on me from behind.

"A poisonheart, eh?" He scowled thoughtfully, his grip tightening until I winced. "Quite an expensive gift. I had one, once, a long time ago… I lost it somewhere in my house… you didn't happen to pick it up during one of your visits, did you…?"

I turned to Pagan and answered. "Nope."

He gauged my expression for a moment, found it to be honest, and nodded. "Tell him to be careful. It has the name 'poisonheart' for a reason." 

Pagan turned back to his slaves. They'd joined in the festivities, and Pagan, not the harshest master in the world, indulged their fun side by having a few drinks from Bora's kegs. They stuck around until dusk, then went home as the party really started to pick up.

It was true. I didn't pick the poisonheart up in Pagan's house. But I think I know who did…

… because every time I looked towards my wife, I saw Grayson watching me from her arms. Smiling.

Happy Allofusmas.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Spooked

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Four: This may be a recurring problem



HE'S GONE

SWEET FUCKING GENTLE HEATHENS OF THE SOUTHERN PLAINS HE'S GONE

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT LAST SENTENCE WAS SUPPOSED TO MEAN BECAUSE I DON'T THINK THEY ACTUALLY EXIST BUT LORDS HELP ME HE'S GOOOOOOOOONE

AGAAAAAAAIN

It happened during a visit to Robert's kitchen. He's still peeved at me about the dressing-as-an-elephant-and-ditching-him-to-be-chased-by-a-ghost thing, and I've been sucking up to him a bit to get in his good graces. Doesn't pay to have the cook pissed at you, even if you are the mayor. He, Bora and I were all chatting about the prisoner upstairs -

- when Bora pointed at the empty backpack slung from my shoulders. "Uh, shouldn't that… have… somethin' in it…?"

I flipped. I have no idea how he got out - well, that's a lie, really, I have a GREAT idea how he got out - but Grayson was gone. IS gone. Is STILL gone. And I've been running around ALL DAY, TRYING TO FIND HIM.

Most of the community knows. I've quietly enlisted the help of a dozen people to aid me in the search for my lost boy, and though word has quickly spread, everyone knows to keep it a secret from Libby. They know that I'd not live to see another day if I lost her boy. Thank the gods that she's tinkering with her Allofusmas present, or I'd never get away with this.

We've looked freaking EVERYWHERE. He's not in the pub. He's not on the top floor of the pub. He's not outside the pub. He's not in the fields, he's not in the empty stables or pens, he's nowhere near the frozen river, he's not on or under the rickety bridge we've built OVER the river, he's not in or on or under the golden tree, he's not visiting the foxes, he's not visiting the rats, he's not ANYWHERE, and no one has even found a TRACE of him. It's like Grayson never freaking EXISTED. No tracks, no drag marks, no drool, no little piles of baby doo doo. NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING.

Oh man. Oh man. Oh man.

I'm gonna keep searching. All I can do is keep searching. A couple of nice peasants have agreed to keep Libby busy for the night, Edmund's with her despite his still-healing injuries, and I'm using the excuse that Grayson and I are 'bonding' on a camping trip. Libby's probably a bit mad about that, but not enough to come looking for us when night falls. Especially since we're accompanied by a couple guys.

Which we aren't.

Because there is no camping trip.

It's a hunting party.

I've only stopped to make this entry because I'm FREEEEEAKING OOOOOOOUT

You don't understand, diary. Grayson isn't just Libby's son. He's her pride and joy. He makes her, I dunno, complete. She's so freaking HAPPY around him. It's like all the normal anger and gruffness leeches away into the ground, leaving one of the most pleasant people alive behind. WE CAN'T LOSE HIM BECAUSE LIBBY WILL MURDER ME IN SO MANY HORRIBLE AND SUNDRY WAYS.

Also he's my son and I miss him and stuff.

FUCK

I ALSO STILL DON'T HAVE A PRESENT FOR GRYLOCK AND NOW I DON'T HAVE TIME TO THINK OF ANYTHING

GRAYSON COME BAAAAAACK

Sincerely,

WAAAAAAH

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Three: We all float down here, Dragomir



My son… my son is an oddity. And I think other people are beginning to notice it.

I, of course, am fully aware that Grayson is not normal. He's growing too quickly for a normal baby, like Eve, and also like his sister he's able to do things other kids can't. Like, y'know, messing with the wind and making stuff float. He's also able to speak in broken sentences - and don't think I've forgotten his pronouncement that Pagan would die if we left. 

You'd figure I would be more perturbed. After, uh, 'raising' a child like Lord Knight Eve, though, very little strikes you as abnormal. (Hell, compared to Eve, Grayson is downright normal so far.)

But… yeah… Grayson is odd…

Take today. I went about my rounds with Grayson cooing and laughing on my back, watching intently as I pointed out landmarks and trying to pronounce them with his still-babyish voice. He's pretty good with s-words, snow and snowball and stop throwing snowballs at me, but he's still working on his k-sounds, keep on throwing snowballs and I'll call your damned father on you. (I may have been naughty.)

I had some work to do on Morris' farm. Since his cows went AWOL he's been feeling rather purposeless, and I wanted to help him find something else to do with the little beat-up property. We were out by his busted-up fences, discussing other things he could do for the community, when we noticed Grayson doing something peculiar. 

"Hey, what's your son about?" Morris asked, pointing over my shoulder. "What's 'e up to, Drago?"

I turned to look. Grayson, having toddled his way out of his backpack enclosure, was holding one of the boards up to the fence, as though expecting someone to come in and nail it home. No bruiser like his sister, he was swaying back and forth in an effort to keep the board aloft.

"Ha, ha!" Morris chortled. "Good 'lil man you're raisin'! 'e'll be a great worker some day!"

I agreed, but I wasn’t smiling. I noticed that Grayson wasn't so much focused on getting the fence repaired as he was holding the board perfectly parallel to the two fence posts. He used his little feet to smooth the snow out so it was as even as possible, then struggled to keep the board nice and balanced, snorting and sniffling whenever it swayed too much to one side. 

Once it was perfectly level, Grayson stepped away and laughed. The board remained suspended in place, hovering over the ground.

Morris stopped laughing. "Whoa. How in the…?"

I stooped and picked up my son, sliding him into his backpack. He beamed at me with the greatest self-satisfaction. "Don't mind that. You, uh, you keep quiet about this, Morris, okay? Please?"

Morris nodded. He's a genial fellow, and big on gabbing, but he knows when to hold his tongue. I thanked him, told him we'd talk again later, and whisked Grayson away. Part of me wanted to scold him for making things float, but how do you do that and NOT sound like a crazy person?

There's more, and it only started to happen recently. Grayson… I have a ton of fun with Grayson, don't get me wrong. I treasure the time we spend together. I even enjoyed changing his diaper while it still needed changing. (He knows how to go on his own now.) He's my son, he's the way I wanted to raise Eve, and I relish every second I get to spend with him. Even if I have to occasionally explain away weird stuff he does, he is my son.

But he makes me nervous.

His eyes make me nervous.

There's… there's something in 'em. Something that looks past the surface, deep into your soul. Like he's searching you, probing you for something you can't see in yourself. It's a look that's way too old for a kid his age, still little more than an infant. It's gotten so bad that I can barely look him in the face anymore, and when I have to force myself to do it, I get weak in the knees.

Lords above help me, I pray this is just a phase.

Still not sure what to get or make for Grylock. Maybe I should have set Allofusmas NEXT week instead - I bet everyone's feeling similar pressure. Man, this holiday's not as fun as it first sounded at all.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-Two: Of all the goblins in all the towns



Before I get started today, I wanted to share a weird little posting I found on the news board in the pub. It's kind of a 'Wanted' sign, though without pictures:

'WARNING!

A man has been sighted in Doughnton County hurling boulders into the air. He has destroyed several houses and killed or injured at least twenty people. 

The man is described as medium height and medium build, with long brown hair, facial stubble, ragged clothing and no shoes. One of his eyes is covered with medical rags. Witnesses report that he travels with a platypus. Anyone who spots this man is cautioned to stay away from him, and to report the sighting to the Doughnton County Constabulary. Rewards for his capture will be posted shortly.

Signed,

DCC Warden Troys'

I asked around. Turns out Doughnton County is somewhere in the Imperium. Dunno how this notice got all the way out here, and I doubt we have to worry about the guy, but… still. Hope to hell he never comes here! We don't need boulders raining from the sky, lemme tell you!

Enough about that. On to Allofusmas! We had our name drawing today! Everyone who wanted to participate gathered 'round the golden tree, under a big banner with 'Allofusmas' stitched into the fabric (though, uh, it was spelled 'Allusofmas'… close enough, I guess), and we took turns reaching into my floppy hat to draw names. I went last.

My luck… was not great. I got Grylock. 

Don't get me wrong. Grylock's been a lot of help since we set up Pubton. He's a diligent worker, seldom complains, is good with light smithing, knows how to track with his nose REALLY well, and shares good advice on town building. He's a seldom-mentioned but vital asset.

But he's also such an asshole.

Take last week. We'd successfully conquered Evangelina, Barrel was missing, and we were headed home. The trek back to civilization was fairly quiet, even though June assured us we could be as loud as we wanted with the animals freed from Evangelina's control. (She took back our cool medallions, speaking of which. Boo.)

Grylock was the only one to speak up, and, unfortunately, he directed his conversation at me. "Wonder where all that wine came from."

"Wine?" I murmured, my mind occupied with other things.

"Yeah. The wine. On Barrel. Used ta keep me from findin' him, I guess."

"Oh. Right. Wine." I shrugged. "Maybe she, like, stole it from Pagan. Or something. I dunno."

"Yeah." Grylock sniffed, then grinned. "Heh. Wine. Barrel. Wine barrel."

"Huh?"

"Get it? Wine barrel?" He nudged my leg. "Wine… barrel?"

I got it. I offered a weak smile.

Grylock seemed to think I wasn't understanding the joke. "Wine barrel. A thing in which you put wine. You had lotsa 'em back in the castle. You know? Wine barrel!"

"I get it, I get it."

"I don't think you do!" Grylock scrambled in front of me and blocked my way. "Wine barrel! He was covered in wine, and his name was Barrel, so he's a wine barrel! It's comic gold, ya petty human fop!"

I tried to nudge him aside. "Grylock, c'mon, I get it. I'm really tired, we're really tired, 'n I'm kinda… depressed about Barrel, so -"

"Wine barrel!" he repeated, stomping the snow. "If you're feelin' so down, why don'tcha get a snifter from the damned wine barrel! He's got lots! Lookit the siiiiiize of that wine barrel!"

Libby stepped in to shut him up, and the argument escalated from there. You get the idea. Grylock's an ass. What kind of present do you procure for an ass? I'll have to think about it while I go about my routine this week.

On the plus side, I get to go about my routine with GRAYSON! Everyone's busy with other stuff, and Libby's hard at work on her present - I think it's for one of the hunters? - so I'll be toting Grayson about on my back. He's not so little anymore, but I can still carry him in a backpack. Here's hoping he doesn't do any weird stuff while we're strolling through the town.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day Three-Fifty-One: The holiday season is upon us



SO. 

I left you with some dangling plot points last week, diary. Perhaps we should pick up where we left off, yeah? (Heh, I talk as though this's fiction or something. Though that COULD help me downplay the seriousness of my life… yeah, it's all just a story…)

With June still binding Evangelina with her magic, or whatever, we tromped out of the valley and headed victoriously back to Pubton. The townsfolk gathered quickly when we returned, and they happily erected an impromptu jail in one of the second floor rooms of the pub. We want to have a proper jail built by some time next week.

Evangelina is silent. When she woke up she refused to say anything. June tells me she CAN talk, she's just being stubborn. I guess I don't need an explanation as to why Evangelina was fucking with us, 'cause I was kinda complicit in the downfall of her… lover…? I guess that's what Driscol was to her. I had a different question for the old witch anyway, one I'd tried to ask ages ago:

"What the hell is with the orange eyes?"

June smiled her crooked smile as the whites surrounding her swirly pupils turned a hazy orange. "You mean like this?"

I flinched. "Uh, yeah. Like that. You've got 'em, she had 'em… another guy I knew had 'em…"

June raised an eyebrow. "Another guy?"

"Yeah." We were standing in the pub, and I pointed up the stairs, towards Evangelina's locked room. "They used ta be, I dunno, in cahoots or something. I saw 'im with weird orange eyes a couple times, 'n whenever that happened crazy stuff flared up."

"I see…" June paused. "What was his name?"

"Driscol. Driscol the Count."

"I see… and what happened to him?"

I cocked an eyebrow at the odd, hesitant sound in her voice. "Killed himself. Was trying to off, uh, another guy. Went up in crazy blue flames."

"I see…" June shrugged. "Oh well. The eyes are just a manifestation of our power. The more power we're siphoning through our bodies, the brighter the orange becomes. Bad for sneaking about, y'know? You won't have to worry about that lass doing the orangey-dance again, though - I put a seal on her neck that'll keep her from using her power. She's a bitter tart, 'n naught else."

"Okay…" I scratched my head. "What was with the potion thing she was gulping down, then?"

"Sorry, have to run, gotta go, toodle-o!"

June left without further explanation, flitting out of the pub and vanishing. I'd seen the seal (it's in the shape of an actual seal, very cute), and Evangelina hasn't tried to escape, so I suppose June is telling the truth. I doubt she's telling the WHOLE truth - she got pretty quiet when I mentioned Driscol, and that potion thing worries me - but I'll have a hell of a time forcing anything outta the witch.

Now that the town has quieted and we have a villain to focus our frustrations on (most people detest Evangelina after the whole Driscol traitor thing back at the old castle), we can get back to more important matters - namely, the food shortage. None of the animals returned to town after Evangelina's… whatever, was released, so we're much worse off than we were before. Don’t have to feed the animals, I'll grant you that, but we're out sooooo much money.

Thanks, Lord B.T. Your slaughter plan was great.

The mood 'round town is pretty depressive at the moment, what with the prospect of eating winterweed and naught else for several months, so in a panicky moment I looked back on my history to find a way to cheer people up. AMAZINGLY ENOUGH, the answer came from none other than King Jeffrey, tyrant asshole - albeit in a different form.

Jeffrey was a big fan of himself, frankly, and he figured everyone else should be too. To that end he created Jeffmas, a season of giving where everyone was supposed to present him with gifts. Rather an assholish idea, that, and typical of Jeffrey - but the idea of giving gifts to other people holds a certain appeal. 

My first thought was that everyone gives a gift to everyone else. Libby quickly pointed out that this plan wouldn't work, as we'd have to prepare several dozen gifts. Silly idea. I then revised my idea to a potluck kinda deal where we each throw a single gift into a pile and take one at random. This was better, but Libby swooped in again and noted that we might get presents we don't want.

Ultimately it was Libby who had the best idea, and the one we're using. We're gonna put everyone's name on slips of paper and throw the bits of paper into my hat. We'll then each pick a name out of the hat and buy or make (more likely make, we're all a little broke) a present for that person. Everybody gets a gift, and, hopefully, that gift will be something the person likes. Each gift'll be wrapped up in a box with some twine, 'n we'll all swap presents in a big meet on Friday. We won't know who has our names, so the gift-receiving will be a big surprise. Festivities and some drunkenness will surely follow.

The name of this little celebration? Allofusmas. To the dung heap with your stupid name, Jeffrey, to the dung heap.

I put out a short petition regarding the event, 'n most people seem eager to participate. It's genius, too, 'cause those who don't wanna just don't get their name stuck in the hat. (My dad's one of those miserable buttholes. He says he can't give a gift 'cause he's got no arms. I say he's cheap.)

We draw names tomorrow. I look forward to it. We need a bit of joy in this harsh weather. Still, there are a few people whose names I really wish I could throw in the hat… Eve, Barrel… they might not be so good at giving presents, but still…

Sincerely,

Dragomir

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day Three-Hundred-Fifty: Of Wood and Malice


Julius woke us up this morning with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. We'd all been sleeping on couches and cots in June's hut, and the smell of chocolate raised our spirits. Libby asked Julius if he knew how to make pie, and when he said he did, they swapped recipes. Woe unto that spider if he follows through on any of Libby's suggestions - rock salt has no place in a fruit pie.

Peeking outside the door, Julius seemed satisfied that the coast was clear. He grabbed his quill and wrote a few more lines in you, diary.

"The ghost must have left, because the animals are at rest. They are vigilant, but they are also relaxed. This is your best chance to get to the valley. Look to my master's work table."

We looked. There were five gleaming medallions laid out in a row on the table, each bearing a stylized star.

"June calls them Sense-Me-Nots. She uses one whenever she wants to move about the forest unmolested. So long as an animal isn't utilizing its heightened sensory skills, either from panic or anger, you can wear these and not be detected. Do you understand?"

Libby looked at the writing and frowned. "What the hell're 'heightened sensory skills?'"

Julius began to write something about 'encoded survival instincts to make animals appear more skittish', but he scratched out most of it and ended with one simple line: "Just put them on and you'll be fine."

We took the medallions tentatively, pinning the backs to our coats and tunics and what have you. I didn't see any great difference as Julius ushered us out the door, with one final warning to keep quiet as we headed towards the valley -

- though the medallions obviously worked, because we were surrounded by milling animals… and not a one of them noticed us. In fact, they went to pains to avoid us.

It was weird, diary, real weird. The forest, normally vacant, is filled with pigs and sheep and cows and such, and all of them are either on watch or delivering food to the ones on watch - yet none of them saw us. They steered out of our path whenever we were in the way, and none of 'em seemed to question why they were steering away, as if there was something inherently offensive about where we were walking. Dunno where June got those medallions, but dang are they awesome.

We kept as quiet as we could on the way through the forest, Grylock leading the pack with his nose tuned to Barrel's scent. He knows Barrel well by now - "Smells like burning logs and a summer's day after the grass is cut," he told me - and I figured if any of the animals could see through our little disguise, it was Barrel. Fortunately, we didn't run into my dragon-buddy-turned-animal-activist during the trip.

We walked. Eventually we hit the slope in the forest and descended into the valley, the area we'd tried to scout weeks before for different tree types to appease Libby. She was quietly pleased to see that there were many varied specimens on the slope towards the bottom of the valley, and I'm sure she was turning each tree we passed into a desk or house or duvet or whatnot. She's a bit crazy like that.

Soon the tall redwoods thinned, giving way to much lower and denser foliage, most of it consisting of snow-draped skeletons and low, brambly plants. We looked for safe trails as best we could, but nevertheless made a lot of noise as we went… which is probably why, when we hit the clearing, there were at least twenty animals staring at us.

And Barrel. Coated in… something.

"Oh," commented Grylock, the only one to speak, "I thought I smelled wine. Figured I was goin' nuts."

Yeeeeep. Barrel was coated in wine. Judging by the crazy look in his eyes, he may well have partaken of a great deal of it.

The animals were not alone in this spacious forest clearing, however, this lowest point in the valley, a long, thin ribbon of land that stretched far through the trees and out of sight. There was also a figure, roughly the same size as my father, a thing of twigs and branches and gnarled composite limbs, standing at Barrel's feet and watching us from a mound of a head. I could tell it was watching us, because two distinct orange eyes peeked out through slits in the wood, cold and hateful.


"You shouldn't have brought witnesses," it said in a cold, ragged voice. "I'll have to kill them too. Nice try with the medallions, though."

I shrugged, though my veins had run cold. "My wife insisted on coming."

Libby cracked her knuckles. "That's true. You the asshole who's been tearin' up my houses?"

The figure lifted one misshapen arm towards the animals. "No. These kind folk did it for me. Consider it repayment."

"For what?"

The figure paused, then shrugged. Twigs cracked and tumbled from its shoulders. "You'll find out in a moment. You might have found out sooner, had Pagan's manor not been attacked and the old man not had a change of heart. Go, get them."

The orange eyes flared, matched by similar flares in the eyes of the animals, of Barrel. A small squadron of menacing pigs huffed and advanced, flanked on both sides by a pair of bull, and Barrel's shadow loomed over them as he dipped in with his mouth open. Libby stood her ground, though uneasily, and the rest of us shrank back. Even Grylock, who's pretty damned unflappable much of the time, scrambled behind me.

In moments like that I always wonder what I was thinking. I wonder, 'Dragomir, why the good gods would you go to such a place? What do you hope to accomplish? You're no hero. You're just thinking that something good might happen in your presence. You want miracles. They don't always happen, y'know. Didn't you learn that when you fuggin' DIED? You could have at least left your friends behind!'

But I didn't. I brought some of them along. Probably would have brought one more, if Edmund hadn't been recovering from the bird attack. And to what end? To get more people killed? What was the point? Were they moral support as I died a second time? I was scared, but I also regretted my selfishness, wondering if I'd hoped to use them as sacrifices while I ran for my life, content that I'd done everything to complete my duty as mayor.

Fortunately, I proved myself a little more resolute than that by EVENTUALLY stepping in front of Libby and appealing to my old friend.

"Barrel!" I yelled, waving up at his fierce eyes. "Buddy! Pal! We've been through so much! You can't honestly tell me ye're gonna fuckin' EAT us! You… you're, like, onea my best friends! I don't even think of you as an awesome pet or nuthin', 'cause you're so much better than that! I respect your opinion, 'n if you don't want animals slaughtered, then we won't do it! But this ain't the way to protest! This can't be you, pal, this can't be you at all! C'mon, show us the real you!"

I'll be damned if I didn't see the orange in Barrel's eyes flicker. Just for a second. He halted, and the animals stopped to look up at him. His head swayed, mane wagging in the cold whisper of the wind through the valley.

"Go," urged the figure of wood, and its eyes blazed more strongly. "Do it. Do it now."

Barrel took another step.

So did I. "Barrel! Remember how we saved the castle from the werewolves? Remember cookin' that polar bear that tried to eat me? Remember pluckin' me outta that damned hole before I could dig my life away? Remember all those cold nights when we first met? Remember you lickin' me? I remember, buddy! I remember all of it! 'n I specially remember how you saved my wife! So if you're gonna eat anyone, let everyone here go! Eat me, 'cause gods, I owe you by now!"

Barrel blinked. His limbs groaned and popped as though fighting some external force I couldn't see. The animals at his feet cowered, several of them breaking ranks and running into the woods, their eyes also flickering as the orange went out.

"Gods damn it," the figure hissed, rising to full height and stalking slowly forward, "this is not a fucking democracy! We tried that and it didn't work! Obey me, you stupid dragon!"

Barrel did not comply, however. His neck went taught and stiff, and he winced, eyes pinching shut. His tail thrashed and beat on the snow, sending up great banks of white and hidden brown detritus, and hisses of smoke issued from his nostrils. He roared, frustrated and straining to control himself, slowly turning away from us and towards the figure.

The figure groaned, the eyes petering out and fading a little. One arm collapsed into a bundle of dead wood, revealing a much softer, more human arm underneath. It struggled to stay whole, I could tell it was struggling, but more wood continued to fall, revealing a snow jacket, embroidered pants, a lithe female form -

- and as June descended quietly from the treetops behind the figure the head collapsed to one side, revealing the sour, pained, miserable face of Evangelina the Ambassador. 


Evangelina, still attempting through whatever magic she possesses to keep her wooden body together, did not notice the old woman floating down behind her. She hefted a half-empty bottle of blue liquid to her lips, but only managed to sip a drop of it before June laid two fingers on the ambassador's neck. There was a flash of light, a pained scream, and Evangelina collapsed with the rest of her disguise.

Standing triumphantly over her target, folding her batwinged umbrella, June nodded. "Thanks. I was waiting ages for an opening. You brats are slow, y'know that?"

The remaining animals, released from Evangelina's control, bolted out of the clearing. Barrel, as if released from a great burden, staggered backward - and then turned into a hummingbird and darted out of sight before I could call to him. Within moments we were alone with the fallen Evangelina and the leering June, who soon began to rant at us as though we were at fault for most of what had happened.

This entry has gone on a long-ass time, diary, so I'll quickly sum up the aftermath and talk about it more on Monday:

- The livestock have all run away
- The forest animals are back to normal
- Evangelina's in our new jail
- She's got a mark on the back of her neck that June says will keep her out of trouble
- Barrel is still missing
- But Robert and Philip came back - and Robert had most of his elephant's head disguise shoved into his pants

All in all, a good day…

… though I can't imagine what Barrel's going through right now. 

Gods, please protect him, wherever he is.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day Three-Forty-Nine: No worlds on this back


I haven't talked about Robert much lately.

My brother, I mean. Not the librarian. (Poor guy's still trapped with June. Gods, I really need to set up a library…)

Despite the constant destruction and reconstruction of Pubton, Robert's been in high spirits. Sure, he supported my dad's covert mutiny during the problems with Pagan, and sure, the animal mishaps put him out a bit, but he's happy to experiment with his meals. He's also shacked up with the most beautiful woman in Pubton each night, and they make a lot of noise.

A LOT of noise.

Egh. Disturbing.

Anyway. Robert's got it good. Life is swell. He's generally excused from watch duty, he doesn't do much manual labour, and he gets the best pickings of the food. So I figured, what the hell, time to contribute.

"This… this is… this is your idea? Bro? What the hell?!"

It was my idea. I'd employed five seamsters and seamstresses to cobble together a costume the two of us could wear. Cobble they did, and had it ready by this morning. (I would've gone with something bigger but we didn't have time or materials.)

"Get in, bro. As in, get under."

"You're crazy!" Robert hefted the head, testing it for a second, then dropped it on the ground. "Batshit loco! Mom'll kill us if we try this!"

"Look," I said, slipping my legs into the back end, "I don't know what 'loco' means, but this is the only way we'll get Philip into that forest. Don't you remember how animals reacted to 'im back home? We need his help!"

It's true, too. Remember how I wrote about the rats reacting badly to Philip, way back in the day? The same happens with other animals. Whenever Philip floated into the barracks, for example, or wandered into any of the stables, the animals would freak out. Granted that these other animals didn't ENSLAVE Philip like the rats, but the point remains. Ghosts and beasts don't mix.

"Bugger. You only want me 'cause we…" Robert hesitated. "I mean, you… I… it wasn't my idea - "

"Yes it was. It totally was your idea. And I TOLD you it was bad."

"But I didn't ask him - "

"You told ME to ask him! That's even worse, ya coward!"

"I did not! And I am not! Your insinuatin' nonsense is… is… uh… nonsense!"

I picked you up off a nearby table and waved you in Robert's face. "You can lie to yourself, bro, but you can't lie to this. I have it aaaaaall written down."

He stared at you, eyes fluttering with recognition and irritation. "Gah… you still writing in that thing…? The cover's getting' kinda green, y'know… should clean it better…"

"Don't change the subject." I stowed you in a small pouch at my side and hitched the legs up the rest of the way. "C'mon. They're waiting. And so's he."

Robert's a jerk, but he's not a bad guy. Not really. I also think that, deep down, he can appreciate a crackpot scheme. He comes up with his own all the time. He donned the head, and we buttoned up the tabs and hoisted the crude wooden frame under the fabric, and soon we were plodding into the sunlight of a snowy Thursday afternoon, followed by a small group of people.

As we walked towards the forest, we yelled. We yelled for Philip.

"Phil!" I screamed from the buttocks, hoping my voice wasn't muffled by the disguise. "Phil! C'mon out, you ghostly bastard! Lookit this!" 

"Phil!" Robert wailed, uncertain. "Don't hurt us, Philip, please! Uh… we… uh… we're not what we look like…"

"Shut UP, Robert, it's supposed to be a disguise!"

"YOU shut up! I don't wanna get killed by a ghost!"

"You two are the worst saboteurs ever," Grylock commented dryly from somewhere outside our misshapen suit.

"Dunno if saboteur's the word, but I agree, they're lousy." Libby snorted and yelled. "Ghost guy! C'mon! You always like fuckin' around and making Grayson float, so get out here and mess with somethin' more your own size!"

My mouth went dry when Libby mentioned Grayson floating, and I thanked the gods that she attributed it to Philip and not Grayson HIMSELF, but then we heard a howl and a swoop, and I knew Philip had finally seen us. The chase was on.

"RUN, ROBERT!" I cried, pumping my legs forward, vaguely aware that a few other sets were following warily behind us. "NO, NO, RUN IN STEP WITH ME!"

"ARGH, I'm TRYING! WHY DIDN'T WE PRACTICE FIRST?!"

From what I heard later, Philip appeared from the barricades and dove at us with a giant, distorted, ugly grimace on his wavering face, no doubt put out by the fact that we were wearing, yes, you've probably guessed it by now, an elephant costume. One that was already coming apart at the middle, but still an elephant costume. 


We ran. Philip gave chase, gibbering in his ghostly tongue. At some point we hit the forest, me unable to see a damned thing from the rear, and my legs got tangled in a bush. Robert managed to clear the bush and kept going, the ghost on his tail, probably more fixated on the patchwork elephant's head than the butt I was meant to represent. The wooden framework collapsed around me.

I didn't see the animals run. I honestly wasn't sure at first that our plan had worked. Then it occurred to me that we were in the forest, and soon after I heard frightened hoots and squawks and howls and growls, and the flutter of many birds taking flight, and I knew that every damned animal was making way for the horrible ghost and his ungainly prey. If we were going to find June's hut, that was the time.

Pushing the framework off of me and hitching up my gray-and-green pants (we were a damned ugly elephant), I motioned for the rest of the group (Grylock, Libby and two hunters) to follow us in. We dashed into the trees, not sure what we were looking for, only hoping that June would appear magically, as always, and usher us into her weird hut thing.

She did not usher us into her hut. It did, however, open suddenly in front of our group, a way-too-big gaping maw in one of the trees, and we were sucked into the door and deposited dangerously close to June's fireplace.

June was not home. Her little spider, Julius, was. With a tiny wiggle of one of his legs the door slammed shut in our wake, and he scuttled to higher ground as we picked ourselves up and dusted off the snow.

"That you, June?" Robert the Librarian yelled from his tiny cell. "Got some new scrolls for me, old gal?"

'Old gal?' Libby mouthed to me. I bit my lip. "Uh, no, Rob, it's me! Dragomir!"

"Oh, okay," Robert responded with a laugh. "I'll get right to work sorting them. Just let me rearrange the periodicals like you asked! Busy busy!"

I looked at Julius with one eyebrow cocked. He shrugged in return, or gave me the rippling, eight-legged approximation of a shrug. Poor Robert, June must have him hopped up on some really weird magic.

I asked where June was. Julius, sitting atop a broken birdbath, shrugged again. I asked when she would be coming back. He shrugged. Frustrated, I asked if he knew a way for me to find out - and he shrugged again. I figured I'd wasted my time until he pointed to the bag hidden in my pants.

I pulled you out and set you on a table. Grabbing a quill from an inkpot, Julius skittered onto your pages and began to write the following with surprisingly good penmanship:

"June is somewhere in the forest. She suspected you might come calling, and she told me to send you to the deepest part, to the places in the valley that you haven't yet visited. She thinks the perpetrator is hidden somewhere in there, and she wants you to draw them out of hiding so she can strike."

"Do ya know who's behind this, Julius?"

More writing. "No. Not precisely. If June has a hypothesis, she hasn't shared it with me. She has said that the person must hate your guts, Dragomir, to go to these lengths."

I scratched my head. Definitely the person Pagan used to bother us, then. Somebody who hates me, somebody who can control animals usin' the same weird powers as June. And the bastard noble, may his soul rest peacefully in hell, or something. Still not sure how to feel about him.

Julius advised us to settle down for the evening, as it's apparently not a good idea to go outside while the animals are fearful. He wasn't terribly clear on why, though he says he'll explain tomorrow. He hasn't steered my wrong yet, and he served us tea, so I'll accept the word of this little tarantula.

Poor Robert. I don't think Philip will harm him, and I doubt he'll stop pestering him so the animals shouldn't be much of a threat, but he's probably so damned lost right now. Poor, poor Robert.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day Three-Forty-Eight: TARGET ACQUIRED



Two things today, diary. One good, one bad. We'll start with the bad and work our way up.

The animals attacked us several times yesterday, and assaulted us twice overnight. The daytime-to-evening excursions weren't that bad, and the first overnight attack 'round midnight didn't hit us hard, but the one at 3 am… woof. We're in danger of being overrun, and the blasted animals seem to know it.

Edmund and I were on watch at the barricades we've set up near the periphery of town. They're not much more than hastily-constructed bundles of wood fitted with pole-mounted crossbows (which, naturally, I can't fire), but they're nicely lit with twin torches, and with the moon in the sky illuminating the snow we can usually see things coming from quite a distance.

Assuming, you know, those things come from in front of us.

The previous animal attacks had been land attacks, and we were confident that they'd remain land attacks. So Ed and I watched, we chatted a bit, mulled over possible causes for all this shit, and waited for our shift to end. We both looked forward to bed.

Only had an hour left before blissful sleep when the sparrows came at us.

In my experience sparrows are chatty little bastards. They sit in trees and squabble with each other. They're not stealthy birds. So for this giant flock of the little peckers to swoop in FROM BEHIND THE BARRICADE and catch us completely unawares… yeesh.

Edmund took the brunt of the attack, because he was closest to the torches. The sparrows dove at him in a great wave, over a dozen clawing and pecking at his face and chest as they swooped past. A single sparrow nick can't do much, but a ton of 'em at once? Not good. I received similar treatment, though I'm also a bit quicker on the uptake than Edmund, having learned early in my career as a guard to curl up into a ball and wait until danger is gone. Plus, y'know, I have a bit of armour on. Certainly helps when vicious fluffballs are trying to get at your vitals.

The sparrows dove again, again and again, each time trying to get at Edmund's bleeding face. He took a slightly braver stance than me and grabbed one of the torches, using it as a deterrent to drive the sparrows away. This worked to a degree, and it certainly kept us busy, as I joined Edmund in torch-waving. (Guess they don't count as weapons? I knew I wouldn't hit any of the birds… all in the head, diary, all in the head…)

Unfortunately, the birds kept us SO busy that we failed to notice the wave of boars and goats tramping across the field. We didn't have nearly enough time to warn any of the defenders sleeping in Pubton's sparse houses that their help was needed, and by the time the first boar hit the barricade Edmund was a heaving, bloody mess and I'd wet myself three times.

That's when our fortunes changed. That's also when I discovered our way INTO the forest.

When I said we had failed to alert anyone to the attack, I fibbed. Just a little. Fact is, there's one person in Pubton who never sleeps, who's always alert to troubles. Most of the time he passes moodily by 'em, but not this time. No, because of the scope of the mess, he flew right into the middle of the fracas, perhaps intending to cause as much mischief as the animals, probably not knowing that his presence would, in fact, drive them away.

Yep. Philip. Ol' deadhead Philip appeared from nowhere and hovered over our heads as the main wave arrived, pointing and laughing eerily at Edmund and I. He can't talk when he's not around rats, I suppose, but he's plenty good at mocking us anyway. He taunted and taunted, wavering with the torchlight -

- and the animals ran. The sparrows squawked and bailed, the boars squealed and turned back, the goats blinked their crazy horizontal eyes and ran for cover. In moments we were alone again, Edmund and Philip and I, bewildered and pained and, in Philip's case, definitely disappointed. (I don't think he likes Pubton very much.)

Wavering in incoherent irritation, Philip faded away. I helped Edmund into the pub, where Bora patched him up. (Girl's got a good head for medicine if we ever lose June.) Ed's bedridden, and we have double the watch out, some watching the sky, some watching the forest. Can't be too careful.

But I have a plan.

I have an idea.

I just need Philip to help me…

… and I think I know how to get his help.

Poor Ed. He's so scratched up. Hope he recovers soon.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor