Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day Three-Eighty-Four: Their friendship is mostly armless

Oh, come ON

I have volunteers. Two of them. They're not exactly the people I would have expected, and one of them makes me wonder if I'm mildly prophetic. Kinda foretold his presence in my little party earlier in the week, though I said it as a negative, not a thing that was meant to HAPPEN.

I was reading some bulletins on the Beefiary's message board - one about that crazy rock thrower in the Imperium, man, he gets up to some weird shit - when an enormous shadow blocked out my light.

I knew who it was without having to look up. "Uh, hi, dad."

"Useless spawn." He used one of his legs to whirl me around so I was staring at his chest. "Haven't seen ya 'round the house much. Visit your mother, she needs consolin'."

It's true. I've been avoiding my parents' farm since Robert died. I don't know what to say to them. "Okay."

My dad grunted. "Peh. What a way with words ya got. Where'd that fire go from a couple weeks ago? When those fuckin' black things were ready ta tear us all a new one? Ya almost impressed me with your speech. Almost."

Highest praise I ever got from Oswald the Farmer. "… thanks?"

"Don't mention it. Ever." He pushed me aside with a thrust of his chest. "Goin' to the mountain, eh? Ya seem a hell of a lot ballsier than before, Drago. Maybe you're my kid after all, even though your arms turned ta pudding. Guess I'd better go with ya to make sure you come back."

I twitched so violently my floppy hat almost fell off. "W… what? You're not -"

"Volunteering? Sure am."

I grasped for a reason to turn him down. "But… but… you're the reeve…! You can't just… I mean, you're supposed to make sure the tenants - "

"Ahh, balls to ya." He stomped lightly on my foot. I say lightly, because a full-power stomp probably would have crushed my toes rather than bruising 'em. "You're mayor. You leave this dungheap all the time. S'my turn to go on an adventure, 'n that's that. You got a problem, you can try 'n force me to stay here."

I could try. I could also get my face collapsed under his knee. Neither sounded appealing, and I sagged and agreed.

"Good!" He kicked me in the butt and laughed as I hit the floor. "Y'can't fight for shit, so let your reeve do the work. Your reeve 'n your lord."

"Hey, you aren't lord -"

"Not yet," he said, still laughing. "I mean your actual lord. He's here for his payment, 'n he wants in. Ain't that right, old man?"

"You certainly are, cripple."

Sitting at a table nearby, sipping a cup of tea and watching me stand, was Pagan. He wore his armour, as ever, and absently tapped his cane sword on the floor in slow rhythm. 

"Pagan!" I stuttered, fighting hard to ensure that my legs wouldn't make me look like more of an ass than I already did. "Uh, hi! Um! You, you, you want to come with me?"

"I do." Sip.

"… why?"

"I've always been curious about those mountains. In the wake of the attack on my mansion, as well as the attack on Pubton - yes, I am well aware of what happened, don't give me that look - I think it wise to scout the terrain. If you are interested in them, so am I."

I thanked the gods for his brevity. Pagan knows a hell of a lot more about the shadow things than my dad, and I didn't feel like explaining everything to yet another person. "Sounds… great…"

"It's settled." My dad plopped down in the chair opposite Pagan, dipping his face into a flagon of ale and slurping loudly. "Omn Mumdab be set ob! Ahhh!"

Pagan shielded himself from flying ale. "You are disgusting."

My father emerged from the flagon with a beard full of foam. "'n you're stuck up! Shut your face, old man!"

"I would ask you to do the same, cripple."

Surprisingly, they laughed. Pagan clinked his teacup against my dad's flagon. I've never seen such an oddly matched pair, a giant, uncouth, drunken farmer and a lithe, refined knight. Guess opposites really do attract.

So that's that. I have travelling companions next week, both eclipsing me in years. Pagan especially. It's nice to have combat-worthy partners, even if one has no arms… though if I could have picked, I would not have chosen those two.

That leaves one more prospect, the one I've agonized over all week. Barrel.

I'm gonna go ask him tomorrow. I need his help, and he can get us to the mountains and back much more quickly than if we walked. Here's hoping he will listen, and agree, and not eat my head.


Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day Three-Eighty-Three: What to do, what to do

Still no volunteers. Pubton's full of cowards, I say, a right bunch of COWARDS. The petition I put on the pub's board is utterly empty, Bora tells me that most people avoid looking at it as though it'll jab their eyes out if they do, and when I bring the subject up segues to other conversation items abound. ARGH. Here I thought they were avoiding it because most of them are illiterate. (Which may still be true.)

Also, I found rat droppings in my bed this morning. Guess one of them took exception to my eviction rant yesterday.

There's only one person… person-ish… that I can think of asking who hasn't yet turned me down. I know it's a terrible idea, given his attitude in recent weeks and what June told me, but… I don't know who else could help… and like I said, he hasn't ACTUALLY turned me down…

Yeah. Barrel. I'm talking about Barrel.

I haven't been into the forest since Grayson pulled his controlling stunt on Barrel, and I've warned the hunters and loggers not to go too deep while doing their jobs. Barrel's unpredictable, he's dangerous, and he's currently pissed. I doubt that's changed since I last saw him, and I fear for my life whenever his name comes up.

But he's Barrel. My good buddy. My scaly shoulder dragon confidant when things go bad. He's my sidekick, my partner, my occasional saviour, one of my best friends. Used to be I could bring him in on anything and expect good results. Even if he is dangerous I still consider him a friend, and I need his help.

Or… or perhaps I should do what June says, and let him go. I dunno what he's going through, but it must not be pleasant.

Loyalty. She said he's loyal to me, that I have to tell him to go.



Maybe if I do ask him to go with me to the mountain…

I can tell him to leave right after.

I don't want him to leave. But I also don't want him to suffer. Is it wrong of me to feel so much conflict over this, diary? To want him to stick around despite all that's happened, and all that COULD happen, if Barrel doesn't mate? Whatever that might be? And can bad stuff like this really happen if you don't use your thinger often enough? I don't get biology, obviously.

Ugh. Next time I get an abnormal animal buddy, I'll make sure it's less complex than Barrel. Maybe the rhino from the castle will come back and fill the niche. I miss that thing…

I'll mull this over. I need time to decide whether or not to ask Barrel. If I'm wrong about his manners he might munch on me. Wouldn't blame him, considering what Grayson put the poor guy through. And Evangelina. And potentially the rats.

Maybe the name Apocalyptor was more appropriate than I thought.


Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Day Three-Eighty-Two: Eviction notice

Still no volunteers for my posting in the pub. Libby seemed interested, at first, but now she says she's too busy with June to help me right now. Still won't say why. Gah, blasted women, always keeping secrets.

After thinking it over for a while, I decided to pay the handful of rats left in Pubton a visit. They brought animals here in the first place, and I figured, 'Hey, maybe they have some insights about all the injuries that they won't share with me.' Because that's what rats do. If nothing else I could express my intense dislike of their shenanigans, because I'm sure they have their tiny paws in everything.

The rats weren't to be found in their warrens. The tiny group remains in hiding, despite my entreaties to emerge and talk to me. I suspect they wouldn't have much to say, either - the last time they tried to communicate through you, diary, they got all exhausted and barely made a lick of sense. Commence intense dislike.

"I know you have something to do with this," I began, kicking at the massive roots of the golden tree. "I ain't stupid. Whenever somethin' goes wrong or bad, you've got somethin' to do with it. First those ruins, then Philip, then all the shit at the castle… bringin' those animals here so they could freak out on us… 'n those shadow things, hell, I bet them comin' out here is your fault too. What the hell is out here that they want?"


"S'what I thought. Ever since the start you've jerked me around. I dunno why I welcomed you back. Sure, ya saved my life with that… blue… fire… thing… whatever, but if it weren't for you I might not have been stuck in that situation in the first fuckin' place. Coulda lived a nice, normal life 'til Jeffrey got so bad that everyone left - 'n then I coulda left with 'em! This all wouldn't be my problem!"


"And another thing!" I stabbed a finger towards the tree, as though it were to blame. "My son! That boy! That fucking boy is psychotic, and I bet that's your doing, too! You're all about that balance crap, 'n so's he! You should see his damned room, everything's all symmetrical! Playing with people… using his… powers… to mess with me… mess with my head… he drove off the shadow fuckers, but who's to say he won't turn on us? 'n what the hell is his weird obsession with my hands?! And what the hell is UP with my hands? You KNOW, DON'T YOU?! ANSWER ME, GODS DAMN IT!"


I kicked the tree root again. It ignored me, as trees usually ignore me. I spat on it, admiring the gold glint of the saliva on the shining bark.

"I'm goin' to that stupid mountain, 'n I'm gonna find out what you're hiding from me. 'cause I know something's there. Grayson's 'no dig' crap is clue enough that something's there. And once I find out what it is, I'm sendin' my hunters down here to clear the last of you out. I know you're in here somewhere, you little bastards, 'n this is your notice. You're DONE. I ain't putting up with your shit ANY MORE."


I left it at that.

The search continues.


Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, January 28, 2013

Day Three-Eighty-One: It's only a suicide mission - no big deal

Mounting an expedition to a mountain that people don't care about at best and outright fear at worst is surprisingly difficult. Minus, you know, 'surprisingly'. Nobody wants to go with me!

Everyone who was abducted last week flat out refuses to go, claiming that I'm signing my own death sentence. Grylock solemnly told me that he'll take care of Libby when I'm gone, and Edmund is writing a dirge in my honour, as he knows I'm set on travelling. Everyone who believes the returned abductees is similarly reluctant, and the rest… the rest are too busy with other stuff.

The only person who's said they'll come thus far is Grayson. I shot that down by telling him to stay with his mother. In truth I'd sooner make the journey with my father, or perhaps a rabid wolverine, than go on any more trips with Grayson. Our days of infantile fun are far behind us. Sigh…

So, yeah, no progress on that front. I've put up a sign on the Beefiary's wall asking for help. Hopefully somebody in the community will agree to go along, 'cause I'm tired of doing things on my own all the time. Especially given what seems to keep happening on the other side of the forest…

I've mentioned, sometimes in passing and sometimes blatantly, that the animals from Barrel's rebellion are slowly trickling back into town. They were clearly bewitched by Evangelina (and she's confirmed as much), so they must have been damned confused and frightened when they suddenly got away from her influence and realized what was happening. Hence their slow return to Pubton, many of them looking shameful…

… and almost all of them beat to snot.

Some animals are worse than others. Most have slight black eyes, as if punched in the face. Others are in terrible shape, their bodies covered in dark blemishes - but never cuts, never claw marks or scrapes, the usual things you'd expect when one animal is attacked by another. Undamaged or slightly-damaged animals we take back in; those that are obviously suffering and aren't likely to survive medical treatment are slaughtered.

Today saw the biggest exodus in a while. A troupe of boars, at least a dozen strong, walked timidly into the middle of Pubton and waited for someone to lead them away. Their old farmer did the deed, restoring them to their pens. All had been smacked around, and two looked bad enough that we're having ham tonight. None of the boars protested overly much, so I guess the fighting spirit has been taken out of 'em by bad weather and the mystery assailant. 

All of these animals came from the forest that leads to the mountain. Harold, one of the abducted, made the argument that the sloth must have done this to them as a sign. I think that's hogwash, but nobody agrees with me. Man, if that guy wasn't busy setting up a wall with the labourers, I might slug him one for such a dumb idea.

On the plus side? We have food again. The winterweed is flourishing, and we can eat meat. People live in a shadow of fear at the thought of a nearby sloth, and a few have hinted that I'm an idiot for considering an expedition to bother the thing, but Pubton is back on track. Kinda.

Still. I know a damned sloth isn't responsible for animal injuries. A sloth would just rip 'em apart and be done with it. There wouldn't be animals returning if a sloth actually lived on the other side of the forest. So my question is, what IS happening over there?


Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, January 25, 2013

Day Three-Hundred-Eighty: Sloth-be-gone

I waited for Libby to fall asleep before I left the Beefiary. She hasn't been getting much sleep of late, as she's obsessed with protecting her 'helpless' son. If only she knew. She collapsed today, though, and slumbered through the entire debacle that was to come. Thank the gods, as well - she might have killed me had she seen me walk out the front door of the pub.

People tried to stop me. The town's other bard, a scruffy fellow with a monkey, nearly smacked me in the face with his lute when he saw me reaching for the door. Ultimately they were all unsuccessful, as no one was willing to make any noise. I opened the front door, took a deep breath of the cool air (which isn't much different from the air inside the Beefiary, what with all the broken windows), and walked out into the snow.

You might be asking yourself why I'd be crazy enough to wander around the streets of Pubton with a sloth on the loose. For now, diary, consider it a mixture of stir-crazy madness, loyalty to my constituents, my weird brand of unthinking bravery in intense situations, and a desire to get it all over with. If nothing else it was nice to get out of the pub for a change. None of us had bathed the entire week, and it was starting to smell pretty bad.

Pubton looked much the same as ever. No burning buildings, no corpses, no signs of wanton destruction typically associated with a sloth. I couldn't even find subtle indications of the creature, no footprints or claw trails or furrows made by dragged bodies.

But I saw the sloth. Oh mama, did I ever see the sloth.

I'd made note of the beast's location before leaving the pub. It was, as it had often been during its visit to the town, loafing by the golden tree. It had its limbs folded into a crouched sitting position, as if in prayer, beneath the glowing boughs of the tree. It watched me approach without comment or action.

I did not slow as I stomped across the snow. I did not falter. I plowed ahead dauntlessly, bladder stirring in preparation for what must surely be my demise, brain whirling with all the possibilities yet batting them all down with evidence, evidence, evidence. More often doubts outweigh evidence, but not this time, not this time, there was too much weighing against the sloth, and I tromped up the small slope to the tree and stood in front of the sloth and folded my arms and invited it to devour me.

It did not devour me. It made no noise, no sudden movements, no signs of aggression. It merely watched, its craned neck wavering back and forth in the cool air. Blinking comprised its most violent action.

Aware that dozens of eyes from the pub were on me, I stooped down, prayed briefly for the deliverance of my soul by the mysterious gods of the weekend, and touched the sloth on the head.

My hand went through its skull as though it was made of air. I felt nothing. Hell, the sloth seemed to feel more than me, as its face rippled and swayed for a few seconds before settling back into the same clueless stupor.

My breeches sloshing with urine as I pulled away, I straightened and waited for the sloth to respond. It watched me, but nothing more. I touched it again, finding no more tangible flesh under its fur than I did the first time. After several brief investigations I went so far as to throw a snowball at the sloth, and though the hunk of packed ice disappeared into the sloth's belly I distinctly heard it smack into the trunk of the tree.

My suspicions were confirmed. The sloth was not real. Hell, on further inspection it now had three claws on each arm, not two. If I'd noticed that earlier this all might have been resolved a whole lot earlier.

I stormed away from the tree, making a beeline for the entrance to the rats' warrens. I knew that the sloth spent a lot of time at the golden tree, and wondered if there might be a connection to its presence and the tree itself. I'm still not sure if that's the case -

- but when I entered the warrens I DID find everyone who had gone missing. Even Lonnie. They were all unconscious, draped over luminescent tree roots and covered in blankets I hadn't realized were missing from the pub.

I rushed to Edmund, the first to go missing and my favourite of the lot. I shook his shoulders, and at first he made no response - but then, as if suddenly released from the grip of sleep, his eyes flew open. They locked on mine, and he clawed at my shoulder.

"Beware thee well the far mountain," he said, "or blood shall flow as a fountain."

That understandably gave me pause. So did his continued warnings, all pointed at the sloth having come from the mountain range. Edmund knew it, he believed it in his bones, and he further knew that this entire week had been a warning from the sloth. A dire omen for any who might be foolish enough to disturb its home. I couldn't convince him that there was no sloth, that it'd been nothing more than a weird, localized hallucination.

I was no more successful with the rest of the people. One by one Edmund and I woke them up, and each uttered the same dire prophecies, albeit without rhyme: 'Avoid the mountain. Stay away from the mountain. Bad things live in the mountain. The sloth claims the mountain. Stay away from the mountain.' Edmund agreed with each, and they reached an unceasing consensus that destroyed any argument I might make regarding the existence of the sloth. It had come to Pubton, it had threatened to destroy us all if we dared to set foot near its mountain range, and anybody who failed to listen would die.

"Then why the hell would it kidnap you?" I asked, grasping at futile straws.

"A warning," they said, no uncertainty in their voices. "We were a warning. Stay away from the mountain."

When we emerged from the rat warrens, the sloth - or whatever it had been - was gone. There was no sign of its departure, and when I asked the people back in the Beefiary what they'd seen, they all admitted that they'd hid their faces when I'd ducked down to touch the sloth. None of them saw my hands go through the blasted thing, so none of them believe my story that it wasn't real. They think the sloth did that on purpose to lead me to the warrens, so everyone who was unconscious could spread the news.

How did the sloth tell the unconscious people not to go near the mountain? Dark magic. Naturally. Dark magic is to blame for everything.

I'm not stupid. And I don't think everyone completely buys into this nonsense. Libby seems pretty sceptical 'bout it all when she's not beating the crap out of me for AGAIN risking my life. She says the mountain's nothing to fear, that it could come in real handy. She won't say why, of course, and when I ask she changes the subject and beats me up again. Point is, most people DO believe the hoo-hah, and there have been demands to put the mountain range out-of-bounds. 

Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. Either way, despite what the stupid imaginary sloth has to say, I think it's time I go visit the mountains and see what's actually there.

At least they're all still alive,

Dragomir the Mayor

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Nine: Suspicions

Seven people that I know of are now missing. I can only assume the sloth is to blame.

Edmund was just the beginning. The sloth has proven relentless. It's smashed all of the windows on the upper floor, each time grabbing a new victim. Grylock. Jeffrey's old bannerman. The fox hunter. Our Weekendist preacher. Harold. Hell, it managed to grab two noblewomen at the same time not an hour ago, pulling them through the broken window of the kitchen's back room. The only thing I found was a crumpled elephant hat.

In a fit of despair, Lonnie the Noble burst out the front door and ran. We haven't seen him since. Gods help him.

People are giving up. Again. Pubton has been through so much shit, has weathered so many bizarre trials, only for its people to be murdered by the most notorious of creatures. Even Grayson, who managed to impel peasants and nobles into driving back an unending legion of shadow creatures, remains horribly grim. I would not be at all surprised to learn of a suicide in the next few hours.

Yet something smells fishy to me. Something… doesn't seem right.

Sloths are things of myth. Granted, they are real, but they're so rare and so deadly that their reputation seems almost overblown. Sloths are said to level towns, to raze cities, to murder armies, to feast on the blood of entire cultures. It's often postulated that the Great War of the past, the war that established the Imperium, was waged against a small colony of sloths - and it was very nearly lost. 

This sloth is surely a thing to fear. Watching it linger by the golden tree, I know this to be true. It's a freak of nature, and a murderous demon. But it hasn't destroyed our town, even after four days, and it hasn't visibly killed anyone. Even at this distance I can tell it doesn't have a fleck of blood on its fur. Unless sloths possess some weird power of gobbling down meals whole, leaving no trace of the victim, I find it unlikely that we'd see nothing of their bodies.

And that's another thing. We haven't seen the sloth take anyone. Every time somebody disappears, we hear a smash and arrive to find them gone. The only person to actually see the sloth's arm come through the window was Grayson, and even under these circumstances I take his opinion with a massive grain of salt. Surely with seven abductions somebody would have witnessed the disappearances at least once.

All that is weird. Kinda circumstantial, but weird. Yet it took a long staring session to realize what's really weird about all this, something that makes me suspect there's more going on than just a sloth in Pubton.

I've become listless after the events of the past year, and the whole sloth thing didn't help. Sure, I propelled people to do something during Kierkegaard's shadowy siege, but a sloth is a sloth. You don't make people feel better during a sloth attack. You just don't. Missing my pals, I staggered up to the room where Edmund had been abducted, sat on the bed, and had me a good old cry. The window was still broken and open to the world because people are too afraid to make the noise needed to fix it, so my tears froze to my face pretty quickly.

Crying is odd. It brings the world to a screeching halt while you vent your frustrations, even if that venting is deathly silent. I've done my share of crying, though there hasn't been much in the last few months, and I've found that I notice things while crying that I might miss when I'm feeling happier. I noticed, for example, that our apartment back in Goblinoster smelled faintly of cheese while I was weeping over Eve's love, and I similarly noticed the absence of cookbooks in the kitchen while lamenting Robert's death. Never woulda thought that he memorized all of his recipes.

My frustration over the current losses spurred me to notice something about the room, or, rather, the lack of something. Glass.

When I came charging upstairs the other day and found Edmund missing, I found the window broken. There was a smattering of broken glass on the windowsill that cut my hand, and when I looked outside on the roof I noticed the rest of the glass in the snow. Burst right through.

But there was no glass on the floor. Not a bit of it. And if the sloth came through the window from outside, most of the broken glass should have been on the floor, not the rooftop.

There's nothing better than a bizarre revelation to stop the tears.

I'm going to try something tomorrow. Something insane. If I'm right, maybe… maybe this will all end. If I'm not, then… well, we're all screwed as we are now anyway. Why not give it a shot? I've been through bad things before…

If it goes wrong you go to Libby, diary.


Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Eight: Bye Bye Bardy







Calm. Calm the hell down, Dragomir. Just… tell… the diary… what happened… deep breaths… stop hyperventilating… oh gods…

Like I said yesterday, we've all been taking turns watching for the sloth through the windows of the Beefiary. We lost track of it around midnight after it disappeared behind a barn, and despite a constant vigil nobody knew where it was when the rest of the pub awoke at daybreak. Some took that news with optimism, praying that the sloth was gone; I was less convinced, and ordered continued watches.

Deprived of his barding, Edmund has been more than frightened this week. He's been bored. Bards usually sing their way through peril, boosting others with song and rhyme, and I've had to sternly tell Ed not to whip out his lute a few times. He always complies, though grumpily.

Unable to minstrelize, Ed was spending a lot of time quietly chatting with other people, notably Grayson. The devil child is happy and cheerful in these trying times, and he took to playing with Edmund whenever possible. I wanted to protest their little friendship, but Grayson didn't seem to be doing Ed any harm… and in the end, he didn't…

They were in the room next to Evangelina's when it happened. I'd been watching them quietly play one of Libby's experimental board games a few minutes prior, and though they weren't guarding the windows as diligently as I might have hoped I decided not to bother them. I limit my interactions with my son, these days. All that was fine and well, and after checking on Evangelina I went downstairs -

- and heard a smash. A scream. No, two screams. Turning back I tripped my way to the second floor, followed by a few brave souls, I wasn't even sure who it was because I was too scared, I knew that weirdly lyrical cry for help, I knew -

- and when I got to the room, I found the glass of the window smashed. Grayson was sitting on one of the beds, his face blanched, staring out at the rising sun beyond the shattered panes. Edmund was not with him.

I ran to the window, heedless of the broken glass on the windowsill, looking frantically for my bard friend. I cut my hands without realizing it, because I was too busy scanning the rooftop, hoping to see Edmund participating in some stupid practical joke, even though he's never once pranked me.

There was no Edmund. Just a long skid mark, carved into the snow and terminating at the edge of the roof, roughly the size of a man being dragged.

"We were just playing a game."

I whirled to stare at Grayson. He blinked, studying the wall, a tiny frown on his pale face.

"We were playing a game… and a claw came through. Busted the window. Grabbed him. It… it happened so fast… daddy, I thought… sloths were slow…?"

Grayson freaks me out. I think of him as a manipulative monster now, if you hadn’t noticed, diary. Yet that tiny frown broke my heart.

I tried to convince people to go searching for Edmund. They would not. Everyone believed him dead. The only thing I accomplished with my frantic story was a mass shushing and a redoubling of the watches. Somebody drew a small picture of Edmund and surrounded it with candles for anyone hoping to pay their respects, setting it on the edge of the bar.

I haven't paid anything yet. I can't… I can't believe that he's gone.

Two. Two good friends. One a brother. Gone in less than a month.

I can't accept that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Seven: Caged

I've known Libby since we were married. If you're not keeping track, diary, that's… um… a few years. I dunno, I didn't really note the passage of time 'til I started writing in you. I've seen her happy, sad, upset, mad, vengeful, chirpy, peeved, irritated, bored, grim, pissed, and a whole lot of other emotions I can't currently think of. Throughout our marriage, however, I've never seen one fundamentally-human emotion plastered across her chiselled features: bald-faced fear. She's been a little scared, maybe tentative, but never terrified.

I see terror now. As she grips our psychotic little boy in one arm and stares at the window, she looks afraid. She's helpless, and on a strong-armed bear like Libby that's so unusual that it almost makes me forget the sloth roaming beyond the walls of this pub.

Almost. But then I remember WHY she looks so afraid, and, hell, the situation becomes all the worse. We're so screwed, diary, so utterly and completely screwed.

I've mentioned sloths many times, usually as a dire omen that I'd rather not discuss. There's a reason for that. Sloths are well known for their barbaric tempers, unworldly strength and apathy towards other life. They are voracious killers, unwilling and unable to be sated when somebody pisses them off. Most cities near jungles have strict laws against entering said jungles for fear of enraging a sloth.

There are no jungles here. Therefore, there should be no sloth idling outside Morris' farm, staring blankly at his fence. Yet there is. 

Because everyone's too afraid to go outside, we take turns quietly watching for the sloth through the Beefiary's windows. It's not difficult to find recruits for sitting watch for long hours when their lives are in dire peril… though everyone wants to take the windows on the top floor rather than the bottom. I guess they forget that sloths can climb. Climbing is, like, their thing. Their thing they do.

There are only four rooms upstairs from which to watch, and one of them is still occupied by Evangelina. (Yes, we still haven't built her a proper jail, shut up. There are more important matters at the moment.) Nobody's willing to enter the jail cell with her, despite her obvious helplessness, so whenever I take a watch I do the honour and sit on her bed. Somebody (often Libby, she seems quite suspicious of my lack of fear) usually stands watch outside the door to make sure Evangelina doesn't, I dunno, throttle me or something.

She hasn't. And she won't. I'm not her favourite person in the world, I'm sure, but she's friendly enough after all the crap with her brother that she's willing to talk to me. I remember saying, ages ago, that she's not as crappy as the rest of the nobles - and that still stands. There's an odd, quiet resilience about her: she doesn't complain, doesn't fuss, doesn't make demands, yet manages to command respect every time she opens her mouth, despite her ragged clothes and shaggy demeanour. 

Now that we both know the full story behind the fall of the castle… or as much as we're likely to know… we've swapped tales of what happened behind-the-scenes. Turns out that Driscol and Evangelina had a contact in Bottomless, land of endless merchants with unusually deep pockets, who funded their entire private army. Not so strange, that, until I learned who it was:

"A little girl selling ice cream cones."

I gaped as I whispered back. "Wh… what? Ice cream cones?"

Evangelina smirked and nodded. "Yep. Ice cream cones. You visited Bottomless with me, you know what the place is like. They have infinite amounts of money. Willing to buy anything you bring to them while not selling nearly enough to justify their purchases. It's a strange land…"

"Okay, yeah, I get that. But a little girl? Selling ice cream?"

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter what you sell, so long as you're a registered merchant of Bottomless. She was. We tapped her, and she handed over as much gold as we needed to hire mercenaries. That's what I was doing when we visited, paying the merc captains."

"And trying to kill my daughter."

Evangelina bit her lip. "I knew it wouldn't work. So did Driscol. We just wanted her out of the way during the siege. If I had managed to kill her, well… all the better for keeping the castle in the aftermath?"

"I should probably be mad, but… I never have feared for her life… 'cept maybe now…" Shaking my head, I swerved back to the original subject. "How'd you convince a little girl to fund a damned siege? Did ya sell her a bunch of rocks or something?"

Evangelina paused. Her cool expression, normally controlled and sly, broke a little. "I… uh… agreed to be her pen pal. In exchange for the money."

"Pen pal?" I thought of Lord B.T., from whom I've not heard in almost a month. "That's all it took to earn you a fortune?"

"She was an orphan," Evangelina snapped, looking away. "She had nobody. Just her business. She wanted company, I gave it to her. I sent a letter or two a day to keep her happy, and she handed over as much gold as I wanted whenever I visited."

"Oh." I mulled that over. "An orphan owns a business? An orphan child?"

"I never said she was a poor orphan. Just an orphan. She has her own mansion."

"Of course she does. Do ya, um, still correspond, or whatever…?"

Evangelina looked around the room, focusing long and hard on the wooden bars. Then she turned back to me and rolled her eyes. "Does it look like I have writing materials in here?"

"Ah. Good point."

We've had some interesting moments. Serious, funny, sombre, even touching. She told me a lot about Driscol that I never would have known: he plays the piano, for example, and watches birds in his spare time. He loves birds. Catalogues them in a book and everything. Evangelina doesn't know where the book is, now, but she hopes to find it some day.

Yet for all I've learned, Evangelina refuses to discuss her past. She won't talk about how she came to the castle, how she and Driscol lived before that, or the details of her apprenticeship with June. Every time I make even the slightest reference to June Evangelina gets a pinched look and changes the subject. There's some bad blood there, I have no doubt, and maybe I'll find out about it some day.

You know, if we survive the sloth.

The last time somebody sighted it, the beast was sitting on the roof of Morris' farm. I fear for anyone trapped in there, and I know there are a few souls in the buildings around the Beefiary. May they keep quiet until the sloth leaves.

I have peed myself in fear at least seven times since this started,

Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, January 21, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Six: The latest catastrophe

I'd planned on addressing Barrel today.

As well as the sadistic nature of my son.

But something else happened that threw all other concerns out the window.

Something that has all of us trapped in our houses, afraid to move.

Something I've been inwardly fretting ever since I started this town.

Something everyone who's ever been born secretly frets.

Pubton may stand once this catastrophe is over, but I don't know that any of us will still be alive in the aftermath.

I spent much of the morning in turmoil, the events of the previous day running through my head in a constant loop. Grayson is a jerk, June has advice, Barrel wants to mate. Grayson is a jerk, June has advice, Barrel wants to mate. Barrel's problem was foremost in my mind, as he could indeed be a significant threat to Pubton if he goes crazy - and I don't want his loyalty to our cause to drive him over the edge.

I also don't want him to suffer. Dragon buddies deserve love too. And the thinger thing is really good. I can understand that he'd go loopy not doing it for a long time.

I was so preoccupied with these questions that I found myself unable to make the tough decisions of the day. Leaving them in Harold's capable hands, and confirming with my father that everybody was on track with the morning's tasks, I wandered out to the periphery of Pubton to have a look at the beginnings of our new defensive wall.

Harold and I have been meeting intermittently over the last few weeks to discuss the construction of a wall. We need an enclosure to protect us against outside threats, and though I doubt that a mere assemblage of stone and wood could keep out The Baron's shadow things, it's certainly a start. Besides, the people of the town deserve a sense of security, and a wall encircling Pubton can provide just that.

The wall as it currently stands is little more than a framework plan. Though she's pretty busy with her secret projects - she keeps ducking into the woods when she thinks no one's looking, but I always am - Libby had enough time to hammer out some basic groundwork with her carpenters, and they've been dedicating an hour or two each day to laying the foundations.

One problem? We have no great source of stone. Libby says that will probably be solved shortly, but she wouldn't say how. Makes me very suspicious indeed.

I'd wandered out to the one of the larger frameworks and started inspecting it, my mind full of questions and half-solutions, when I noticed a hint of movement in the forest. This is by no means rare, of course: the redwoods are tall and rowed, leaving little room for animals on the edge of the forest to hide. My first thought was of returning livestock, which they continue to do with odd regularity, all bearing black eyes. I peeked through the wooden skeleton, expecting to spot a cow or sheep or pig.

I saw none of the above. The creature sifting its way through the snow towards me was smaller than any of them, a lumpy, slumped thing with gangly arms, a long, drooping neck, brown fur and slow, wise eyes. I would have thought it a monkey of some kind (they used to wreak havoc in the castle during their stupid migrations) had it not been moving so slowly.

As if sensing my presence, even from a hundred or more feet away, it raised one hand. Two thin claws waggled in the cool air.

Two claws.

Thin neck.

Long limbs.


My blood froze, my mouth fell open, I twitched violently, and before I could muster up any semblance of self-control I'd filled my pants with poop and pee. My frenzied dash back to Robert's Beefiary was awkward and messy, and I tripped several times as I screamed out a single word, over and over and over.

The first person to hear me was Grylock. He has an odd affinity for the cold, and likes to sit on the roof of the Beefiary and pick off birds with his small blowgun. I watched him rise and stare at me, lifting his nose and sniffing. He visibly shrugged in my direction, and appeared to be bringing his blowgun around to shoot at me instead -

- when he, too, noticed the creature. He must have, despite his poor eyes and great distance from the thing, as he immediately slipped off the roof and landed in a heap of snow. Soon his voice joined mine, alerting the townsfolk and pulling them from their homes and daily chores to have a look.

I fell in front of the gathering crowd and pointed. They gawked, looking towards the mountain range in the background and down, down, down to the fields of snow, to the lone, tiny, obvious figure trundling its way towards Pubton.

The screams shattered my ears. People ran. Most took shelter; some undoubtedly left town. I'm quite certain I saw Edmund bartering for passage with a visiting merchant who'd suddenly decided never to come back to Pubton. He obviously wasn't successful, as he's sitting across from me now, hugging his lute but refusing to play it.

Nobody wants to make noise.

Nobody wants to look outside. 

Nobody wants to breathe, or sleep, or do anything that might bring its attention to us.

Ultimately, I had to look. I was selected as the scout, the reckless idiot who would dare to walk up to a window and peek out at the snowy streets of our fair town. I, diary, I, the one who spotted it first, also have the privilege of being the one who spotted it last.

It didn't see me in the darkness. But that didn't matter. It's here. It's sitting near the golden tree, a hunched figure in the snow, almost meditative in its ponderous silence.

A sloth. A sloth has come to Pubton.

Gods help us all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Five: Does this mean the camping trip is over?

"Maybe the dragon will bring it out."

And then he vanished. Again.

There was no breakfast this time. No gentle wake-up call. As far as I can tell, Grayson sat and waited for me to wake up, cross-legged, on his sleeping bag. The moment I opened my eyes, he said that - "Maybe the dragon will bring it out" - and left. Got up and left camp.

I didn't know what he meant. I still don't really know. I get the dragon part, yeah, but 'bring it out'? What the hell's he on about? Gods, this kid pisses me off so much… parenting shouldn't be this hard, diary…

Frustrated beyond belief, I tore open my sleeping bag, bundled you up in my cloak, diary, and set after him. I found no tracks, like yesterday, and I didn't expect any. This time, I called for help from a person who should, by all rights, seem more threatening to me than my own son.

"JUNE!" I bellowed, almost (but not completely) surprised at the angry echoes that came back to me. "JUNE! GET OUT HERE! I NEED YOUR HELP!"

The witch appeared at once, from behind a tree. She's never done that before, and I suspect I'll have trouble getting her to do it again. "Yeeeees?"

"Grayson. You know these woods. Where's he going?"

She tapped her chin. "You know, that's an excellent question, one I asked myself, so I did - "

I lunged towards her, fingers curled into claws. "WHERE IS HE GOING?"

June stepped back, gripping her cane for support. There was a flash on uncertainty in her weird eyes that I swear I've never seen before. "Yikes! Stay back, ye fiend! He's headed t'where you faced off with that magical tart. In th'valley. That's where your dragon friend is stayin' these days. S'where I assume the tyke's goin', anyway, seein' as how he talked 'bout dragons and all."

I took off at a brisk pace. I've been in the forests of Pubton enough times to have a general idea of how to get to the valley - follow the slope. Even in winter it's not that difficult to spot the dip in the land. June trailed after me, and though I didn't look at her I don't think her feet were on the ground. I really hate people who can float.

"You seem a touch angered, Mr. Mayor. Ye seein' why I warned you 'bout that boy?"

"Yep." I spat the word, hurt that it was necessary.

"Libby talks 'bout your other child, sometimes," June mused. "That Eve. She hates the kid. I think she sees too much o' herself in her violent spawn, all the bits she doesn’t like. Maybe ye see the same in Grayson, eh?"

"Shut up!"

"Boy's a subtle schemer, 'e is. Got more going on than you think. Maybe more 'n even he thinks. He likes to lie. That doesn't sound like you at all? Does to me."

"I'm not cruel. I don't do what he's doin' to me."

"True." She tittered. "Wonder how long that'll last."

I refused to speak any further, and eventually June sank into the forest and out of sight. I could feel her eyes on me still, though, and as I hit the true lip of the valley and skidded down snow banks to reach the bottom I wondered if she was right or not. I'd never thought about Libby's relationship with Eve that way before.

The last time I'd come to the bottom of the valley it was teeming with life. Stoic, hypnotized life, true, but life. When I came to it this time… no life. No movement. No sounds, other than the occasional slap of snow falling off a tree branch. Breathing hard from the exertion I slowed my pace, winding my way through the narrow stretch of land and hoping that it wouldn't take long to find Grayson. Or Barrel.

I found both after a short five-minute walk. One was shaking in anger, the other puzzled. 

Barrel, full-sized Barrel, half-in-half-out-of-a-cave-in-stereotypical-dragon-fashion Barrel, was pressed to the ground as though held against his will by an invisible weight. His back and wings strained, and he fought unsuccessfully to rise to two legs to properly face the little boy standing a few feet away from his nose. Barrel's lips were curled back, revealing long rows of teeth, and his eyes blazed. Not orange, this time, but white, far too white.

"BARREL!" I screamed, running across the snow to reach my son. "LEAVE HIM ALONE, DAMMIT!"

Grayson flicked his fingers. I went flying, propelled into the snow by a burst of wind. He hadn't even bothered to turn around.

"This is odd," he mused, scratching his chin. "I should be able to control you. They said I could. What went wrong?"

Barrel grunted and roared, straining to get at Grayson. His jaws parted, ever so slightly, as if to bite the boy. A single nip would have killed Grayson in an instant - yet he showed no more concern for this than he did for my approach, flicking his fingers again and forcing Barrel's head into the ground.

"Ahh." Grayson shrugged and stomped the ground a little. "Oh well. I'm still learning. Aren't I, Mr. Mayor?"

I glared at him, pushing snow out of my face. "What… what the hell're you tryin' to…?"

"He wants to get y'mad, of course."

We looked up. June floated into the valley, suspended from her umbrella, a deep frown on her face. "S'what this whole trip's been about. Hasn't it, Grayson? Ya wanna test him out. Only it's not workin'."

"Test me out for what?" I rose to one knee, coughing. "For what? Gimme a damned answer!"

Grayson ignored me. "Stay out of my affairs, witch. When I'm done playing, you're next."

"Oho! Don't think you'll have such an easy time throwin' me about, boy. You're strong, yes, but you aren't crafty enough to trounce a witch. I've been around a long time. S'probably why I know the reason that you can't make that dragon dance to your tune."

This got Grayson's full attention, enough so that some of the weight must have lifted off Barrel's back. The dragon's head reared up, and he roared, prepped to dive in and do… something… to my boy. The rearing informed Grayson of his slip, though, and in seconds Barrel was pinned again.

"Y'don't know animals, boy." June walked to Barrel's side, swiping snow away from her feet with her cane, and patted his shaking arm. "There, there. You can't control this one 'cause he's in heat, so t'speak. He needs to breed."

I gaped, despite the circumstances and my anger. Breeding. I'd overheard my dad saying something about breeding in the pub a few weeks ago, something vulgar and gross. It involved thingers. And… that fun activity I've done with Libby. A couple times. I figured that was a name for it, perhaps even THE name for it.

June turned to me. "I know you've been worried 'bout his temper. He's hot-headed 'cause he feels the compulsion te mate. But he's feelin' all loyal ta you, so he won't leave. S'enough to get anyone's dander up, innit? Surprised my Evangelina managed to weave a spell 'bout him before. Must've done it with suggestions, not the brute force the brat's tryin' to use here."

Grayson nodded, slowly. "Yes… that makes sense… I'll try it with more subtlety next time, I suppose…"

Barrel roared at that. His time slapped against the roof of his cave, bringing down a small rain of rocks and dust.

June laughed. "Next time? I doubt there'll be a next time, young man. This dragon's more like to eat you than to help you out. You'd best be wandering home, now, and lettin' him go once you're far enough outta his sight. Else you're in for a long, cold night of stallin' 'til the inevitable."

Grayson didn't protest this. Smiling and shrugging, he turned away from Barrel and began to walk into the woods. He spared me a single, happy glance before the wind gathered beneath him and launched him into the trees and away, far away.

Once he was gone, Barrel shot up and scorched the sky with fire. Melting snow poured down like rain, and steam filled much of the valley. His roaring continued, hard and harsh, and I wanted to console him - but I was more afraid, now knocked on the ground, that he might stomp on me instead. He came close, too, his footfalls huge and uncontrolled in his anger.

Then, without warning, I was sucked into a door. Into June's house. The door clicked shut, and Barrel's roars faded, left only as pounding aftershocks bouncing between my ears.

"You've gotta tell Barrel to go," June said, not unkindly, as she stood by her fire. "You've gotta let him go. The big greenie's been away from his own kind too long. Much longer 'n he'll wreck Pubton, whether he wants to or not."

I didn't have time for a question. The door opened again, and I was pushed out, into darkness - 

- and dropped in my campsite. 

I packed up and went home. I had a lot to think about. 

Grayson was waiting for me. He was playing with his mother.


Dragomir the Mayor

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Four: How fun it is to be a father

We played tag today. A long, brutal game of tag.

Grayson prodded me out of sleep with his light touch and sunny disposition. He'd already prepared breakfast, a meal of cooked chicken eggs on toast. I remember packing the eggs; I don't remember packing the bread. I also don't know how he cooked either of them, as the fire was out when he handed me my plate.

"It's a beautiful day," he said, staring up at the treetops. "Look at all the white. It's my favourite colour."

I nibbled on the toast. It was well-browned, if a bit dry. "Robert once told me that white isn't a colour. It's a hue."

"It's not a hue. If it's anything other than a colour, it's a shade. Which Robert is this? The uncle or the librarian?"

"Librarian." I chortled, trying to ignore my kid's brains. He sounds smarter than I do most of the time. "Your uncle wouldn't know colours or hues or shades or whatever if they ganged up 'n bonked 'im on the head."

"You mean he wouldn't have known."

Crumbs down my shirt. "Huh?"

"You missed a word."

I thought about it. My stomach sank. "Oh. Yeah."

Gobbling down his eggs with grace and speed, Grayson hopped to his feet. "It's time for a game. Let's play tag. I'm it."

I sputtered on my toast, coughing up a big chunk of wet brown. Grayson took the opportunity to reach over and tap me on the head.

"There. Now you're it. Come catch me!" He danced off into the trees, laughing and skipping.

"Grayson!" I stumbled to my feet, pulling on my jacket and groping for my boots. I tripped trying to put one on and landed face-first in a fire pit full of ashes. "Pffffttt! Grayson! Wait, wait, it's dangerous!"

Too late. He was gone. I must admit that my first inclination was to slink back to Pubton and leave him here - but my fatherly instincts quashed that terrible thought, and I dashed into the forest to track him down.

The dash slowed to a jog.

The jog petered out to a walk.

The walk eventually became a crawl.

The crawl remained steady.

I must have searched the forest for Grayson for at least three hours. It wasn't so much a game of tag as it was hide-and-go-seek: there was no sign of the boy, save the first few footsteps he took out of our little camp. I suspect, having seen what he can do, that he flew up into the trees… but even when I looked up, all I saw was soft blankets of white, ragged branches, and the sky. 

For the first half hour I called for Grayson, imploring him to come out, to at least give me a chance to catch him. For the second half hour I gave up on verbal pleas and focused on scanning the tree line. When that proved unsuccessful, I spent the second hour walking, walking, walking, not sure what I was doing or where I was going. The third wasn't much different.

Except for the anger. Oh, there was anger.

It came naturally to me. I fear my son, but I'm also angry at him. He's jerking me around too much, knowing things he shouldn't know, saying things he can't be allowed to say. Asking if I like other women? Telling Pagan he might die? Reminding me of Robert's death, still so fresh and so raw that I want to scream? Where the hell does he get off, sayin' shit like that? When did Libby and I raise him to be such a little bastard? I can see her giving him a bad attitude, but me!?

I raged. I stormed. (Slowly.) Eventually, coming in a huge, lopsided circle, tempted many times by visions of myself strangling Grayson for running off, I returned to the camp. And there he was, sitting by a lit fire, you in his hands, diary. He was reading you.

"You've been through a lot," he said, motioning for me to join him. "This is fascinating."

I clenched my fists. Red blurred my vision. I wanted so dearly to stalk across the camp and cuff him one in the face. I didn't care if he was my son, he'd gone too far this time.

"Your hands must be cold."

Some of the tension breaking, I looked down. My mitts, my comfortable, warm, fuzzy mitts, made by my mother as a special Allofusmas present to me (she kept it a secret from everyone else), were on fire. The wool charred and flaked, and smoke rose from my fingertips.

I yelled, shaking what was left of them off of me. The ashes scattered, sizzling in the snow.

"THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" I yelled, back away from Grayson. "WHY DID YOU DO THAT?! IT'S NOT FUNNY, KID!"

Grayson beamed pleasantly, turning to the next page. "Who ever said I did it?"

He's asleep. I have you back, diary. If I have any say, he'll never touch you again. Who knows what he'd do.

I want to go home. And we will, tomorrow. Just one more night.


Dragomir the Pissed

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Three: The other women

I am writing this entry under low-light conditions. It is cold, I am wet, and my son is slumbering in a sleeping bag on the other side of our fire pit.

We are in the woods. We are camping. We are playing. We are having fun. That's what he says, anyway. I'm not so convinced. 

Today started out with a plan. Grayson must have been bushed after yesterday's long trek through the snow, as he was still asleep and unwilling to rise when I got up with the rest of Pubton. I took advantage of this by doing what I'd wanted to do for several days: have another chat with Evangelina.

Prior to Kierkegaard's attack and… everything… else… associated with it, Evangelina had proven an uncooperative prisoner. She ate little, she wouldn't talk much, and when she did it was to bark out orders or demean whomever was unlucky enough to have to serve her food. 

After the attack? Evangelina's much nicer. She's still quiet, but she accepts her meals with a measure of manners, holding back her usual slew of barbs. I heard her and Bora having a somewhat genial conversation yesterday, even if Bora did most of the talking. And when I walked into Evangelina's room this morning, the first thing she did was express her condolences over the death of Robert.

"He was a good man. I loved his shrimp."

I smiled. "I thought Jeffrey forbade people from havin' anything that wasn’t on the menu. Don't remember shrimp bein' on there."

She flushed. "Yes, well, a bit of extra money takes you a long way." 

I told Evangelina everything. I told her about The Baron, how he'd used me to spy on Driscol, his public demise and secret return, and my descent into the hole. Evangelina expressed further condolences for my death, which I accepted with a chuckle.

"He must have been in there, then." Evangelina fidgeted inside her cell, staring out the window. "You said there was a coffin. In the hole. Driscol… he must have been inside. I tried so hard to discover what became of his body, but…"

I shrugged. No way of knowing, now. "Yeah. 'n for what it's worth, I'm… sorry. I helped that bald bastard when I shoulda stayed outta Driscol's… your brother's… his way. He was a better guy'n I figured he was."

Evangelina laughed, a little harshly. "My brother was a bastard. As much a bastard as I am a bitch, and perhaps a little more so. His ideals were noble, his goal was noble, but his methods… weren't. Neither were mine. We would have been better on the throne than King Jeffrey, but not by as much as we might have thought."

Neither of us addressed the fact that we were speaking of Driscol in the past tense. As though he were already dead. Discussing whatever he'd become was not an option.

"Now his outside looks like his inside. Rotting and rotten."

I turned. Grayson was standing in the doorway, spinning an apple on his finger. He tossed it through the bars, and it landed beside Evangelina. She stared at it but wouldn't touch it.

"How is your neck, dear lady?" Grayson asked, striding to the bars and peeking his face through. "Are you still sealed? The witch is more potent than she lets on. Though I suppose she would, at the very least, be stronger than her student."

Evangelina bit her lip and said nothing. She picked up the apple and rolled it back through the bars.

Grayson laughed. "She thinks they owe her more. She thinks wrong. She will be punished for her transgressions… when I feel the time is right."

He turned to me. "Come. We're going camping. That's how I want to play today."

Shooting Evangelina a sympathetic glance, not at all surprised that she'd been taught by June and not doubting Grayson's word on the subject, I followed my son out of the room. The door closed behind us.

We gathered our things, including a slew of warm clothes. Libby, upon hearing where we were off to, insisted that I keep her son in healthy order. Grayson happily assured her that he would be fine as he fidgeted his way into his snow pants, laughing as Libby planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. He waved as she left the pub to repair the chicken coop, as five of the birds came back today.

"Do you want that woman?" Grayson asked.

I smiled. "Y… your mom? 'course I want her. I love her. She's my wife. Silly question, Gray."

"No." He pointed up the stairs. "Her. Evangelina. If you want her, you could have her. I can make it happen. Would you be interested?"

I paused, incredulous. I'd never thought of Evangelina in any capacity beyond 'noble', 'enemy' and 'prisoner' before. Possibly 'witch'. I was very relieved for a resounding 'No' to burble up in my head.

"Oh." Grayson smiled, without need for a further answer. "Right. You want the dark-skinned one."

Bora. I glanced across the pub, watching as Bora cleaned a glass in the kitchen. I forced another 'No'.

"Of course you do." Grayson's smile grew, his eyes radiating joy. "How hideous."

Grayson is asleep. We trekked through the forest in silence for much of the afternoon, me wishing that I'd asked someone else along, knowing at the same time that Grayson would not have permitted it. This is a week of bonding between father and son. Supposedly a happy experience. The kind of thing I wished for with Eve, so long ago.

I don't want it with Grayson.

He terrifies me.

In the same way Kierkegaard terrifies me.

The fire's fading. I'd better get under my covers and sleep. I doubt I'll look as content as Grayson in my sleeping bag - the cold barely seems to touch him.


Dragomir the Camper

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-Two: And then came the stripping

WELL. I was… thoroughly… humiliated. Today. And chilled.

After several long and quiet hours of play with Grayson yesterday, I went to bed early and slept dreamlessly the entire night. It's pretty rare for me not to have at least one dream, and in this case it felt oddly pleasant. I don't miss random images zapping my brain.

I was not awoken, as I usually am, by Libby moving next to me in bed. Or by a punch in the arm from her. For once Libby didn't have to rouse me at all; something quite different did the job. A sensation, a touch, a faint, unpleasant tingle just under my armpit. Most men would call it an itch.

It started small, a thing of little to no consequence. My eyes slipped open, noting the disturbance, and my arm did its work. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Subtle relief flooded into my skin, and I braced myself to return to a sleep that I'd barely even left behind.

But the relief did not last. The moment I removed my fingers, the itch began again. So I scratched, a little more attentively, still not the least bit alarmed. Sleep.


The average itch, one brought on by everyday phenomena, should last no longer than a few seconds. It begins, you scratch, it goes away. For an itch to continue in this manner it must be caused by something else, something worse than a minor epidermal disturbance. (Learned that word readin' a book the other day, I did.) As this itch continued to do its thing and I was driven further from sleep, I swiftly concluded that something else was to blame.

I scratched. There was relief, but only so long as I continued to scratch. The second I stopped, the itch began again. Soon the itch was a tiny raging fire in my left pit, an incessant blaze of irritation that demanded constant attention and punished me for not delivering. Failing to attend to it was not an option.

Then my other pit began to itch. 

I scratched it too. It didn't even start off as a slight irritation; it flared to life with the same power as the first itch, prompting me to shriek. This woke up Libby, who whacked me in the face and went back to sleep… but only for a few minutes. I was scratching so vigorously at my armpits that she couldn't fail to notice, and after three more whacks she adopted sincere wifely concern. We both know I don't need to be reminded not to be stupid four times in a row. That's a marital standard.

My left foot began to itch.

I rolled out of bed and onto the floor, howling. My cries of miserable irritation woke more people, and they formed a small crowd around me, some laughing, some asking Libby questions, yet others trying to diagnose my weird ailment. "It must be the product of a dream," one noble offered, which Morris countered with "No, no, it's a bug infestation in his bits. M'dad told me that you gotta smear yourself with glue when that happens. Yep, m'dad said that."

My shoulders flared up. Then my other foot. Then my belly. Soon I was frantically ordering people to scratch their mayor in the name of democracy, whatever that means. Five volunteers, including Libby, bent over me and vigorously rubbed at my blotchy red skin - but that still wasn't enough.

My thinger started to itch.

Nobody would scratch my thinger. I'm dumb, but I'm not dumb enough to ask anyone to do that. Everyone 'round me wasn't doing enough to help me anyway, so in a fit of utter madness I bolted to my feet and ran from the pub, screaming, waving my hands and tearing off my pyjamas. Not ten paces from the front of the pub I was butt naked and flailing, carving a furious path as I ground every inch of my skin up against cool, blissful, rough snow. 

The itching did not abate for some time. To me it felt like an eternity. To everyone else - particularly Grylock, who for some reason kept track of time while he howled laughter - it was ten minutes. Ten minutes of wriggling through the snow and yelping out my displeasure.

Then it stopped. As abruptly as it had come, the itching halted. I passed out from the sheer pleasure of release, having never felt so good in my entire life. I assume that's how my constituents found me, sleeping in the snow, smiling wider than is probably possible for a human mouth.

I woke up back in bed, shortly before lunch. Everybody was going about their duties. The only person in the room was Grayson, sitting on a windowsill and reading. When he saw me awake, he smiled and waved.

"Well," he said, "that was fun, wasn't it?"

Not only can my son use weird magic, he's also a dick.

We spent the rest of the day drawing a big circle in the snow, surrounding Pubton. Grayson, at least, had fun.


Dragomir the Raw - seriously, my skin aches from all the scratching

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Three-Seventy-One: Simple as that

Picking up where I left off, more or less: Grayson got rid of Philip. I don't know how, or where he sent the ghost, but the deed is done. Pubton is safe, the animal population is slowly and inexplicably returning to town covered in bruises, and I have a week-long, ill-timed vacation. Most of that is thanks to my son.

I haven't had time off, official time off, since before the fall of the castle. Back when we were prepping for Logan and Eve's wedding I had a few days away from my guard duties. Since then I've either been… dead… or dealing with everyone else's problems. Mayor is a full-time job, and with our food stocks at a dangerous low I can't afford to lounge about for a day, let alone an entire week.

But that was the deal. I only learned of it afterward, but Grayson wants me to be his personal plaything for the entire week. I've left control of Pubton more or less in Harold's hands; the skittery little noble has actually grown into his own in that regard, and seems capable of making decisions that please most everyone, not just the nobles. I barely spend any time with Harold outside work, but I should really treat him to a beer some time. He's a good fella.

Just needs to stop staring at Libby. He's harmless and has no chance, I know, but he needs to stop. Grr.

Speaking of Libby, she's happy to have me watching over Grayson this whole week. She spends an inordinate amount of time in the woods these days, visiting with June. I know they're planning a project together, and I know Libby's trying to keep it a secret from me. Why she is I have no idea, but I hope it's for the good of us all.

'Hope' implies that I have no idea what's up with them, of course. I actually do know at least one detail, confirmed for me during my first hour with Grayson:

"They're going to dig."

"Huh?" I looked down at the boy sitting opposite me. He was holding an ice cream cone, one of Bora's specialty items, and licking the drips off the sides. He'd been eating it for the entire hour. "What'd ya say, kiddo?"

"I answered your question. They're going to dig. You wanted to know what mom's doing with the witch; now you know."

I fidgeted. "How… do you do that, son? I wish ya wouldn't."

He smiled and licked his ice cream cone again. I noticed, not for the first time, that the lump of ice cream on top was almost perfectly round. "How do you do what you do?"

"Uh. Whaddya mean?"

"You know." Lick. "That thing. I want to know how you do it. You tell me and I'll tell you."

Unnerved, I tried the jokey route. "What, ya mean, like, wettin' myself whenever I'm in trouble? It's a learned art, m'son. You see, you have to drink a lotta water through the day, then you think about sources of water reeeeeeal haaaaaaard. Like the river! What's it called again?"

"The Potos River," Grayson replied.

"Yeah! That. Think about all that swishy-swashy liquid, movin' around under the ice. Maybe even the snow meltin' like crazy off the rooftops. Then you go out 'n get in as much trouble as ya can, 'n sure enough SOMETHING freaky will -"

"I don't care about your bladder."

No mistake. His voice was gentle and his eyes didn't flicker, but there was authority in Grayson. A command to stop. I cut my idiot explanation short and lapsed into silence.

Grayson reached over the table, motioning for me to take his hand. I did. He observed my fingers, wiggling them one at a time, creasing the skin with each touch as though looking for something he couldn't find. Eventually he shrugged and retreated.

"You're tainted," he said. "Come, let's go play with a ball."

We played with a ball.

Tainted. That's not the first time someone has called me that. Or something along the same lines.

This is gonna be a weird week.


Dragomir the Father

Friday, January 11, 2013

Day Three-Hundred-Seventy: Help me

"Play with me."

That was his answer to the question I didn't want to ask.

"I'll do it if you'll play with me."

It was the first time I'd ever openly addressed Grayson's… powers… to his face. Hell, it was the first time I'd ever tried to have a conversation with the boy, as he'd been a baby less than a month ago. He didn't lie, he didn't try to sugar coat the truth, he didn't even ask what I wanted. He simply requested, politely and lightly, that I play with him.

"… for… for what, Gray? I'm not… sure..."

"Of course you are. You want me to get rid of the ghost. I'll do it if you'll play with me."

He may have grown significantly, but Grayson is still a boy. Hasn't hit puberty, 'n I hope that waits 'til a more normal time. Say, six or seven years old. 'til then, I'm the taller man - yet I manage to feel dwarfed by the kid every time I'm forced to look him in the eyes.

"I know you saw me." He sat, cross-legged, on the floor of his room. Everyone's agreed to exclusively give him the room, though no one seems to know why. "Or I know you think you saw me. Which is the same thing, really, because it was me. You don't have to pretend."

A bead of sweat oozed down my forehead.

Smiling, watching the sweat, he held out a hand. "Is that a deal?"

I caught Philip ripping through one of the nobles' wardrobes this morning. He'd destroyed most of the man's clothes.

I shook Grayson's hand. His fingers were cold. He tittered, his grip lingering on my thumb.

"What's… so funny, kiddo?"

"Your hands," he said. "They're all wrong. We'll have to find out why. Give me a few minutes, okay? Don't go far."

Springing easily to his feet, a sudden gust of wind propelling his backside, Grayson stepped out the door and disappeared. I wish I could make a fart joke at this juncture, but my kid is too frightening for yuks.

I waited for a few minutes, leaning against the wall outside Grayson's room. I can't stand it in there. Everything is too neat, too… symmetrical. Hell, all he has is a bed and two bed stands, made by Libby, and I still think it's too symmetrical. I was interrupted from my musings about my son's room, and how much I dislike it, by a small voice from an adjoining room.

"Is that you, Dragomir?" it asked through the wall.

I arched an eyebrow, wondering if I should reply, then shrugged and answered. "Yep. Uh, is that… who is that…?"

"I want to talk to you," the voice said. "It's me. Evangelina."

I'd wanted to speak to Evangelina for a few days, but Robert's death, Philip's antics and general repairs took precedence. This seemed like as good a time as any, and I stepped into her room and peered at her through the bars.

Evangelina looks rough, and the events of last week left her even rougher. When the dark things came she stopped eating altogether, and after two days I think most people forgot she was still in her prison. She's gaunt, she's tired, she's thin, and, after the brief stare down with her dead-but-not-dead brother, she's probably traumatized.

Yet she wasn't hostile. I came in, and sat at the chair in front of the bars, and she pulled her bed over so she could talk while seated. She didn't go so far as to smile at me, but she lacked the heat of our previous conversation.

Instead, we were awkward. Now that I was in her room, she didn't seem to know what to say.

"Uh." I scratched my head. "Hey. What… what's up…?"

She stared at the floor. Her throat rose once, as if she was ready to say something, then fell. She breathed hard and tried again, this time managing a single word. "Driscol."

I winced. "Yeah. Driscol."

"He's… he's dead. And not dead." She frowned. "What… was that, the other night…?"

I shrugged, moving in close to the bars to inspect the smear of dirty green splashed on the wood. "They fuck things up. A lot. Those dark things, I mean. I figured that out a long time ago."

"I see." Evangelina folded her hands on her lap. "You'll have to tell me about them, some time."

I snorted. I couldn't help it. I suddenly felt upset. "Yeah? Why, thinkin' of joining up with your brother? Must be nice, havin'… havin' a…"

She didn't take the bait. Her voice still lacked anger. "He was a monstrosity. I would rather he'd stayed dead… though he did tell me something, moments before you came in. Moments before the flash."

The flash. I wanted to ask about it, to discover what she'd seen, but I knew she'd caught no more than me. There wouldn't be so many questions in her eyes if she'd seen what had happened. "What'd he say?"

"'Help Dragomir.' That's what he said. 'Help Dragomir kill us.'"

There's more, but I'm so tired, diary. I'm so tired.


Dragomir the Mayor