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.


Dragomir the Mayor


  1. Also known as 'The one where Elred was right all along'.

  2. What I want to know is "why sticks?" Especially in a scenario where MAGIC is required to hold the whole outfit together. Why not something more practical likea cloak or a big hat? Surely that would have the same effect of hiding your identity while not being an absolute bitch to hold together.

    1. I'll be honest.

      Totally honest.

      It looked cool in my head.

      No other reason.


    2. It was pretty cool idea. I'll allow it!

    3. I have more respect for that reason than any other possibility. Good show.

  3. I read the democracy line and nerly died laughing imagining a dragon and a giant twig monster discuss policies. Also DANGIT, all my animal traps are now useless. Holes- everyone's complaining about them. Net Catapults- somehow ended up in the holes. I'm inclined to just bury them.

  4. I would have just killed her then and there and not bothered with June's magic. What happens with all the spells she has cast in the event of her death? Isn't death of the caster usually what breaks spells? I'm worried and distrusting. Kill Evangelina!

    1. Probably because June is probably the one who trained Evangelina and Driscol, seeing as how they both seem to use the same magic as June. And even if they weren't taught these magics by June, they probably were taught by a "class-mate/sibling" of June. Hence, there could be a new story arc where June wants to interrogate Evangelina as to the where-a bouts of this "old class-mate" or even "rival class-mate" or "rival sibling". Most likely due to some "no sharing/teaching magicks" oath. Keeping her around opens up more plot options. And you know I LOOOOVE plot!



    Wait a sec...wrong person



    1. It's just no fair. He obviously gets some divine assistance. I CALL CHEATING.

    2. I can see your I am also a genetically engineered superhuman whose sole purpose is to rule the world, and to a lesser extent, be SteewpidZombie's arch nemesis....

    3. And a simple misspelling turned me from a noble into a humble candlemaker/crafter. Suuuuuure.

  6. You guys made my inbox explode with comment notifications. Buncha jerks. I'm so mad I could keep writing entries, so I could.

    1. Yes, for that is our diabolical plan. Annoy the author to the extent that he must pacify our crazed demands for more posts, thus satisfying our hunger for human flesh through the unholy tribute of MORE DRAGOMIR! HAIL CHTULHU!

      Or maybe that's just me, but bottom line...Dragomir is awesome and we want more!

    2. Truly, it's all I want for Christmas this year.

    3. ... And a chair of spinning. Either's fine.