Friday, May 31, 2013

Day Four-Hundred-Seventy: ATTAAAAACK

We attacked before dawn. Before they were prepared, before they were even properly awake.

Eve and I forced ourselves to remain alert through the night, waiting for an opening. Doc was the first to sleep: curling into an odd, amorphous ball, he seated himself atop the prone form of one-third of the sewn-together monstrosity, ordering the other two parts to take shifts in keeping watch. They were joined by Titan Blue for several hours, and even Dragomir, though eventually only one was left to watch.

These creatures, these former humans, they suffer. I watched the strain on the largest one's face, noting the constant perspiration upon his pallid cheeks, the painful throb of the purple veins beneath the skin. Yet he remained awake for four solid hours, watching intently, his broad, square chin not sinking once during his vigil.

The same could not be said for his replacement, the squirrely fellow with the bloodshot eye and tarnished guard's helmet. Perhaps ten minutes after his watch began, he fell asleep.

We did not attack immediately. We wanted all of them to be deep asleep before we put our plan into motion, and within an hour of nodding off the squirrely fellow's legs were kicking, his eyes swivelling rapidly under his eyelids.

It began with the tickle of a line of silk on Dragomir's nose, because, bless the lad, he sleeps on his back.

I'd climbed up into the treetops above the group, helped along by an ensorcelled raccoon. Perched high above Dragomir, praying I'd aimed properly, I spooled out a long strand of silk and rubbed it gently against his nostrils. It was enough to make him sneeze and awaken, and when his head jerked up he blew the thread away. I let it fall on the other sleepers, unnoticed. The subtle roar of the waterfall masked Dragomir's sneeze.

Dragomir might have immediately gone back to sleep then and there - but, fortune favour us, he noticed a slight gleam far above him. The gleam of my eyes. The distinctly orange gleam. And, to his credit, he made no noise, nor did he panic and try to flee. Instead, settling back down, he watched and waited. He was smiling.

As I climbed down the tree, a beaver I'd recruited padded through the camp and quietly bit through the ropes binding Dragomir. When I reached the bottom of the tree, atop my raccoon mount, Dragomir was sitting up and looking around. I flashed my eyes once, and he nodded. Slowly, slowly, slowly, he got to his feet and made for the edge of camp, stepping over limbs and around twitching legs.

This being Dragomir, the plan went awry. He tripped over Driscol, landed on Doc, smacked his head on the edge of the fire pit, and… is still unconscious.

The camp exploded in uproar immediately. Doc is small, and I can't imagine the full weight of a grown man on his amorphous back felt good. The Non squealed and screamed, awakening the rest of the camp, and as Driscol rose from the ground Doc and Dragomir slid onto the dirt.

There was no point holding back. CHARGE, I mentally ordered, and my troops charged.

I mentioned that I've been communing with various animals for the past few days. I didn't mention that I've been collecting a small army in the process. Every creature I've come across has joined us in a quiet march through the wilderness, held by my power and bound to do my bidding. I regret having to use them as such, but Dragomir is more important. He must get home alive, and thanks to them, he probably will.

Emerging from the still-dark morning, a massive contingent of birds and mammals and insects erupted onto the campsite, assaulting the Non. Titan Blue's attempts to rise were thwarted by a huge flock of sparrows spinning about her head, and Doc was buried under at least two dozen writhing squirrels. The monstrosity, too, was assaulted as its three bodies became one -

- but I quickly laid off of it when I saw it lifting Dragomir off of the ground… and carrying him to the edge of the camp. To us.

Driscol addressed me by name, calling me out of hiding. I appeared, standing on Eve's shoulder.

"Hello, Julius," he said, smiling painfully. Purple blood dripped down his face from a wound pecked into his brow. "Get him out of here. Before Doc regains control."

The other two heads nodded. Though both looked incredulous at the idea of handing Dragomir over to a spider and a little girl in a hood.

Summoning the squirrels away from Doc and replacing them with a cloud of mosquitoes, Eve and I left the camp behind. Dragomir flowed along behind us, carried on the backs of nearly a hundred rodents and small mammals. Straining, I relinquished my control over the other animals after we'd moved several hundred meters away. Nobody has pursued us.

We've saved Dragomir. We're taking him home. I suspect he'll wake up soon - the bump to his noggin isn't too bad. Hopefully he can tell us why he was abducted along the way. Even if he can't, I'm sure he'll share some fascinating insights regarding the Non.

Phew. Quite an adventure. I haven't had one like this in a long time. I fear I'll have to moult from all the stress.

It was enjoyable writing in you,

Julius the Familiar

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Nine: Delicious spies

Aha! Success! We've tracked the blaggards down! Dragomir yet lives!

I haven't mentioned it yet, but throughout this journey I've been conversing with the local wildlife. June's powers definitely have their perks, and one of them is the ability to commune with other species. They aren't normally intelligent enough for speech, but when I switch my eyes on they temporarily gain enough smarts to chat.

Several times each day I've been asking animals if they've seen anybody coming through their territory. Most are hostile, and they demand that I leave immediately. A few have provided hints as to the presence of others, though animals move around so much that it's easy to miss a band of miscreants. I only lucked out today, thanks to a chatty sparrow, and that luck turned into a discovery.

The sparrow, part of a large flock that usually lives in towns, had noticed a giant black figure in the distance earlier in the day. Uncharacteristically curious, it had left its quarrelsome brethren behind and flown in close to inspect the shadowy being. The sparrow discovered a camp -

- and, when bribed with seeds from one of Eve's buns, it led us to said camp. The Non have set up a small fire pit near a waterfall, and we've managed to sneak in close without being detected.

I've seen these Non before, but I didn't realize that one of them is comprised of the remains of my master's son. The stink of corruption lies too thickly on his mangled body. I do not recognize the other two humans that make up his shambling form, though one of them wears a helmet similar to Dragomir's old outfit. The smallest among them, 'Doc', complains incessantly; the largest, 'Titan Blue', seems to hate her lot in life. If the small one is her commander, I feel her pain.

Dragomir sits among them, tied up, sometimes chatting with the three-headed aberration. He seems to know all three of the heads. I suppose they come from his old castle? Who knows.

The Non remain stationary for now. Apparently Titan Blue hurt her feet somewhere along the way, and thanks to her size she has plenty of room to demand a stop. We're using this downtime to plan an attack, ever changing our position around the camp to avoid being caught downwind. Our plan will involve animals, and lots of them. Hopefully it will work.

I'm so sorry for all that my master's done to you, Dragomir. I hope this rescue effort makes up for it. If not… well, if I'm caught and squashed to death, at least I won't have to serve June any longer. I love her, but I abhor what she has become.


Julius the Familiar

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Eight: Get your tickets, get your tickets here

We're getting close. We're not there yet, but we're getting close. I can tell, because now I can smell Dragomir's presence wherever we go.

My leg hairs are amazingly sensitive to chemical changes. I'm not quite as good as sniffing out malefactors as, say, a goblin, but I come extremely close - and when I'm on the right track to find somebody I've met before, I know. This is especially true of Dragomir, because he usually smells of stale pee. There's a reason June told me to watch over him. He's easy to follow.

Catching up is another matter. We're getting closer and closer. I'm hoping, given Eve's relentless pace and the Non's slowed movements, that we'll get to Dragomir by tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I continue to question my own sanity for travelling alone with this girl. To use Dragomir's odd phrasing, she weirds me out.

Eve can talk. She's expressed desires clearly and succinctly several times during our trip, usually telling me that it's time to rest, to eat, or to perform the usual bodily functions of a little girl. She's also offered a few keen insights on tracking Dragomir. For example, when we came across a Non campsite that 'smelled' wrong and offered an odd set of tracks in a different direction, Eve suggested that they might know they're being followed. We've since been travelling downwind, and the Non's stopping sites are back to normal.

The rest of the time, though, Eve is silent. She offers no conversation, and aside from investigating me and turning me over every now and then, I might as well be a rock perched on her shoulder. She also refuses to write in you, diary, which I find most peculiar. I suppose she could be illiterate, but… somehow… I don't think she is…

I can't help but think back to June. When Eve first appeared, June had considered using the little girl to kill Grayson, her own brother. The witch surmised that only something of roughly equal might could stop that boy, and the old Eve fit the bill. This new Eve… she has none of the power, but still…

I don't know. I'm musing over things that will do me no good. For the moment, at least, I must cooperate with Eve in getting her father back. Once that's done, perhaps I can look into her strangeness a little more thoroughly. She seemed so normal when Dragomir was present… oh well.

I sleep now. The search continues, and hopefully it will end tomorrow. If it doesn't… well, it doesn't, I suppose.


Julius the Familiar

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Seven: Yummy

The trip continues. Dragomir's captors are not attempting to hide their tracks, and I suspect their leader is… easily distracted. Also, he's a horrifying butcher of a Non.

At least we know we're going the right direction.

I am a spider. I may be intelligent, and magical, and refined - my tea is second to none, rest assured - but I am still a spider. I web up my meals and suck their juices dry. Since gaining human sentience all those ages ago I have been forced to cope with the grisly nature of eating like an arachnid. I am no stranger to death. I do not revel in it; I simply do what I must to survive.

The man we found… the remains of the man we found… were not eaten. They were dissected. Pulled apart and left to rot when they proved unhelpful.

We found him perhaps half an hour after eating lunch. I'd caught a cricket using my witch-bestowed powers of persuasion, and Eve pulled one of many sandwiches out of her backpack. I don't know about her, but I was ready to vomit up cricket juices when we discovered the clearing. The bloody, trampled, disgusting clearing.

I hid my eyes for a few moments, steeling myself for the inevitable. I would have to check. I would have to know, for certain, that this was… or was not… Dragomir. I, the elder, couldn't rely on a little girl to do the job, a little girl who may or may not have just lost her father to a lunatic.

I didn't have to bother. Eve, true to her reputation as a merciless blood-letter, sifted through the scattered remains without hesitation. It only took her a few moments of observation to find the head… and when she rolled it over, the horrified face was covered in crimson-tinted wrinkles and a bushy beard.

"Not him," was all she said. So hollow.

We left the massacre behind as quickly as we could, I riding well away from Eve's bloody hands. She washed them in a stream a few hours later, and only after I insisted. What a twisted girl.

(And, yes, I'm fully aware that you can read all of this, Eve. It doesn't change my opinion of you. Let's just get that out in the open right now.)

I don't know what to think about the man we found. I will admit that we didn't stick around long to inspect him, but there seemed to be no tangible benefit to… ripping him apart. Did the Non take something of his? Do they, perhaps, feed on a part of the human body which we can neither see nor touch, but can only be acquired through complete dismemberment?

Or, as I insinuated earlier, is their leader just a sadist? For Dragomir's sake, I hope they were simply feeding… because if they're not… he might be in even more serious trouble than I'd anticipated.

The only up side is that the man's murder appears to have stalled the progress of the Non. Their tracks are fresher than before, untainted by the passage of animals through the brush. I just hope we catch up with them before they reach the vast fields north of Dragomir's former home - I find it a lot harder to track in grasslands than in a forest.


Julius the Familiar

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Six: Odd wanderfellows

This girl unnerves me more with each day of travel. Egh.

We have been on the move since waking up this morning, and Eve uses every opportunity she gets to investigate me. I would not normally mind the attention, especially since we are losing no time, but she flips me over and around far too often. Spiders can be just as bashful as humans, and I'd rather she not gently poke at my undercarriage.

Also, she does it without saying a word, without even an expression on her face. I don't know how Dragomir finds her so utterly adorable.

It may be the disassociation with her reputation that unnerves me the most. Eve is supposed to be a rampant killer, a fighter without peer. She murders without hesitation. This Eve, by contrast, has no combat prowess: when we ran afoul of a brown bear earlier, I had to claim control of its mind before it ate us. She showed no great fear of the thing, but Eve also didn't look ready to kill and consume it, either.

Why weakness over strength worries me is unfathomable. But it does. Hrm.

The girl's strangeness aside, we're making excellent progress. I was worried that the Non we're trailing might be capable of quick flight, but it's obvious they're moving by land. On Friday we were tracking the big Non's footprints through the wilderness, and early this morning we found the footprints merging with the remains of a campsite. Several more sets of footprints joined the larger in a new direction…

… headed towards Dragomir's former castle. Which, as far as anyone out here knows, belongs to the Non. These creatures have obviously been ordered to abduct Dragomir and return him to his old home. Why they're doing this I don't know, and I'd like to discover the answer.

I'd like to know more about the Non, for that matter. They're perhaps the most enigmatic race of creatures I've ever encountered, and I've been alive for almost a hundred years. June has a few ancient tomes regarding the Non, and she's discussed them with me several times, but from all that I've learned very little. All I know is that they were once sealed away by the rats, the regulators of this world, and that the act of doing so brought a horrible war to an end.

Given what June sometimes says about the rats, I'm not sure which side I would have rooted for. She is… biased.

Regardless of the past, the Non have returned, and they're on the move. They seek the same thing June seeks, a 'lock', and my master demands that they not have it. She has her slaves working constantly in Pubtwon to unearth the lock so she can claim the full extent of its power, and not just emissions through rock walls. If the Non reach her before she can get to the lock…

I don't know what will happen. I'm not even certain what will happen if June has her way. My master has always kept her deeper schemes and ambitions closed, and I, her familiar, cannot open what is closed. All I can do is look for a man, and hope that all is well in the end.

We have stopped for the night to rest. Eve is a hardy girl, but she can't walk forever. I pray that the Non grow weary like the rest of us or we'll never catch up.


Julius the Familiar

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Five: Terrible timing

Why is your personality locked away, diary? What happened? I can sense a powerful seal inside you. It disturbs me.

I have bad news regarding your owner. I hope to rectify this news, because he is a good man who does not deserve what's happening to him. My master has done him wrong. He was used, and abused, and now he seems to be on his way to a fate most grisly.

I have been tailing Dragomir for several weeks. My master ordered me to keep my eyes on him, as his continued presence in Pubton may persuade the Non to split their forces and attack the town rather than focusing all of their strength on Pubtwon. On the cave. It is a wise move, though cowardly.

She is cowardly. She uses people, rather than doing things herself. It is no wonder her children grew up hating her.

Pagan's manor was swarmed by people this morning, though only a few nobles and public servants - Dragomir included - were allowed inside to see the first day of the trial. Their numbers dwindled as the day grew hot and the information they craved remained inside the manor, and by the time Dragomir marched outside they were all gone.

I sneaked into the manor through one of the windows. The ability to climb walls more than makes up for a tiny body, let me tell you.

The entrance hall of Pagan's manor looked very much like any courtroom I've seen before. Two rows of benches lined the court, parted down the middle by a dark red carpet. At the end of these benches sat a no-man's land, separating the massive judge's desk and a witness box from the rabble. Another box stood off to the side, home to a jury that was already waiting for the trial to begin.

I settled down on the balconies above, careful to hide myself so Pagan's house slaves would not see me. I heard no screams and was not crushed by a broom, so I assume I was successful.

Overall decorum nearly broke down when Ex-King Jeffrey was escorted into the courtroom, guided by three of the newly-minted guards of Pubton. He looked scraggly but healthy, his face sunken, his head stooped. The angry rise of voices from outside the manor hinted at a great deal of unrest, and I suspect that more than a few members of the populace wanted to crucify Jeffrey before he got indoors. The spears held by his guards must have persuaded them otherwise.

Once Jeffrey was clamped into a chair at the side of his lawyer, a snake person in a dapper tuxedo, Pagan emerged from his chambers and clanked down into his throne. A white wig rode unsteadily atop his knight's helmet. He banged his gavel down hard, and thus began the trial.

"We are here today to discuss the fate of King Jeffrey, formerly named Jeffrey the Noble, ruler of Castle… Castle… is that a blank?" Pagan shook his head. "The bailiff will read the charges."

Pagan motioned to one of his slaves, a slight, trembling man with wide eyes. The charges were fantastic in amount, and ranged from respectable to ridiculous:

- Murder
- Manslaughter
- Attempted murder
- Attempted manslaughter
- Negligence
- Cruelty towards animals
- Bribery
- Theft
- Larceny
- Public lewdness
- Adultery
- Destruction of private property
- Desecration of private property
- Masturbating on private property
- Consuming banned foods
- Flaunting decrees with impunity
- Drunkenness
- Operating a vehicle without a license
- Grand theft cart
- Butchering
- Baking
- Candlestick making
- Ownership of an exotic pet
- Villainy
- Mistaking longitude for latitude

The list went on for at least twenty minutes, and the bailiff had to stop several times to take a drink of water. Jeffrey only protested to one of the charges, that of adultery; the rest crushed him into his seat. I can only imagine what it was like to live in his kingdom.

When the last of the charges was read and the bailiff led away to a bench to cool down, Pagan tapped his gavel a few times to restore order. The voices of the attendees had nearly risen to a din during the reading. "That will do. And what does the accused plead?"

The snake person slithered out of his seat. "Not guilty, your honour."

The noise level skyrocketed. Pagan gavelled the crowd back into silence and raised an eyebrow. "Not guilty? Interesting. I half expected a 'guilty' and a plea for mercy."

The snake person waved towards Jeffrey with one wooden arm. "My client pleads guilty. I have invoked the right to change his plea to innocent of my own volition."

"Oh? On what grounds?"

"I am paid by the hour, my lord."

Pagan laughed. "Very well. I hope you put up a spirited defence. Do you have an opening statement to present to the court?"

The lawyer did. He outlined his approach quite succinctly, saying that he would, beyond a shadow of a doubt, prove that Jeffrey had been under the control of a malicious force. Indeed, that he had been controlled since before he'd even established his castle, and that, therefore, none of the things that had happened since were his doing. There were many mentions of Jeffrey's sanity without the lawyer making an outright insanity plea.

The prosecutor took the floor after that, a doughty former noble who had suffered as much under Jeffrey's control as the rest of them. By that point I wasn't so much interested in what they were saying, though, as in one of the attendees, this one sitting on the rear-most bench.

Dragomir was shaking, his face blood-red. He seemed to be gripped by tremors, one of his legs tapping incessantly against the ground. His eyes darted from one side of the court to the other as though he were watching a game of hedgehog tennis. I'm not sure what was the matter, but the trial was taking more of a toll on him than anyone else in the room.

Fortunately, I was not the only one to notice.

"Mr. Mayor."

The prosecutor, only halfway through his speech, froze. Everyone turned away from the judge, who was glaring at the rear of the court, to stare at Dragomir. The major eeped and stilled his leg with an equally-shaky hand.

"Do you have a problem, Mr. Mayor?"

Dragomir nodded vigorously, but "N… no…" came out of his mouth.

"That's what I thought." Pagan sighed. "Step outside, please. You can come back in at recess - assuming you've collected yourself."

Dragomir rose, calmly enough, and walked out of the court without a fuss. Everybody watched him go, but only Jeffrey and myself continued to watch the front doors of the manor after they'd shut. Of the two of us, only I was in a position to keep watching. That is my job, after all.

Leaving the manor through a window, I followed Dragomir. He paced in front of the manor for a few moments, but eventually decided on a walk instead. Leaving the high ground of the manor behind, he strode down the road, off to the almost-finished wall, and into the forest. I followed, suspecting that he just needed some fresh air.

It's difficult for something my size to keep up with a man, but after spending so much time here I know shortcuts through Pubton that give me the advantage. Using an abandoned rat hole I came out under the wall shortly after Dragomir disappeared into the forest, and a quick mental command to several squirrels in the trees got me the ride I needed. We took off in pursuit.

It didn't take long to find Dragomir. He was not alone.

The mayor had seated himself on a log, looking much more relaxed and in charge of himself. Staring up at the sky through the treetops, he muttered something to himself about you, diary -

- and completely missed the colossal black figure looming out of the forest at him. It fell upon him with terrible speed, wrapping its hands around Dragomir's head and torso. One second, Dragomir was there; the next second, gone. He had no time to scream, to react, to struggle, and given the bulk of his captor I doubt any of the above would have helped anyway.

I tried to follow, but squirrels can only go so fast with a tarantula on their back. It was, at least, quite easy to follow the trail the giant left behind, and it's that trail which I follow now. I have been tasked with watching over Dragomir, and if I can rescue him in the process, so be it.

I imagine you're trying to figure out how I'm writing in you. The answer is simple enough: someone brought you to me. Someone who is as intent on getting Dragomir back as myself, someone who somehow knew he was being captured. She found me, she lifted me up, she presented me with this diary, and now, in relative silence, we travel. Her only request is that I write in you, as her father does every day.

She unnerves me. She has always unnerved me. But if she can help me rescue her father, she is welcome on the trip. I only hope we can free Dragomir from his captors before it is too late.


Julius the Familiar

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Four: This is your life

Great first impressions.

I am bad at them.

Information: check. Fortifications: check. Pubton's defences only need one more thing, and that's a crop of young, dumb soldiers and guards to watch over the town's walls. We now have a bunch of those, too… only they probably think their new mayor is retarded. And justly so.

Harold's still busy touching up the wall (the thing is his baby at this point, and his claim to fame) so Evangelina did the honours of presenting me to the recruits we've scraped together to defend Pubton. She brought me out to see them by the golden tree, as good a landmark as we have in town, and I hoped to present an air of confidence.

The recruits, a squadron of fifty-odd farm boys and assorted bumpkins from the neighbouring districts, stood in four rough lines that would make Captain Cedric furious. They displayed no semblance of discipline: they lounged and chatted, most of them facing away from the golden tree, laughing and joking and fighting. None of them had been issued weapons, thank the gods, as I suspect they would've playfully gotten into duels and killed one another.

In short, way too excited to be guards. Kids these days. They don't take martial duties seriously until the enemy has a knife to their thingers.

Stopping in front of the lot of them, standing under the boughs of the golden tree, I waved and called for attention. A few of them waved back, but that was all.

I glanced at Evangelina. She shrugged. "I'd help, but this is your job. Make them respect you."

"How the hell do I do that?"

"Scream at them?" Evangelina smirked. "You bellowed quite expertly when Jeffrey rolled into town. I heard you freaking out from my cell."

"I can only scream like that when I'm mad," I replied, slouching slightly. "See, watch. HEY! HEY! PAY ATTENTION! I'M THE MAYOR AND STUFF! I'LL ONLY BE PAYING YOU IF YOU LOOK AT ME! LISTEN, LISTEN!"

The same heads as before turned. They waved me away. A larger fight broke out in the midst of their ranks, and the recruits formed into a cheering circle around two brawlers, a burly farmer and a lanky labourer.

"See? My voice doesn't project when I'm calm. Or mildly exasperated. Or whatever."

"Ah." Evangelina shrugged again. "I suppose we'd best leave, then, and let them wander back to their huts. We don't need guards anyway. Right?"

Rolling my eyes, I looked around. I needed something that would get their attention, something that would prove more interesting than a tussle in progress…


More than a handful of eyes looked away from the fight, up to the golden tree.


The rest followed. The two fighters broke off, one with a bloody nose, the other a bruise on his cheek.


The crowd parted for me. I walked up to the combatants, my arms over my head.

"Here's one for you… and here's one for you. There, that's more like it."

While setting up this meeting of the recruits, Evangelina had procured a crate of newly-made helmets and spears (good ol' Horace works damned fast, he does) to show off during my speech. Originally they'd been a part of the speech itself, not the attention-getter, but when I placed helmets on the heads of the two brawlers the gathering immediately became the meeting it was supposed to be.

"These're your helmets," I said, motioning to one of the spike-topped metal domes. "They come with breastplates, and a bit of chainmail for your neck, and a spear. I'da brought the spears down instead, but… uh… nevermind that."

The recruits stared at the helmets, oohing and aahing.

"You're gonna be guards for Pubton!" I raised my arms, trying to look excited. "It's a big responsibility! We've got more 'n five hundred people livin' here now, last we counted, and we've got one hell of a wall to man. We need strong fellas watchin' our backs. You guys think you can handle that?"

A loud 'hell ayuh!' rose from the crowd. A few of the farmers raised their pitchforks in salute. (Why did they bring pitchforks? Seriously.)

"Good!" I cheered a bit, grabbing the helmet off of the lankier recruit. "That's good. 'cause it's, you know, a huge responsibility. HUGE. Being a guard's no laughing matter, lemme tell ya, and we need us some good guards."

That's when it went bad.

I hadn't really looked at the helmets before, but… they're the same. They're the exact same helmets as the ones we used back at Castle BlahDeBlah. Makes sense, since Horace made all of those helmets, as well. Same curved horns, same unadorned, slightly-polished finish, same dome top, same leather interior… same everything.

"I used to be a guard," I said, staring at the helmet. "I used to do this job."

The clamour around me settled down. All eyes on me. Captive audience.

"It was… a boring job." I spun the helmet on one finger. "Most days I'd sit around doin' nuthin'. My old captain, he'd yell at me for goofin' off, y'know. Standard sorta stuff. Can't help it when the dude sets you in one place all day, guarding a cupboard full of dead cockroaches."

Nervous murmurs. Many sideways glances. I sensed Evangelina's approach, her confusion and mounting curiosity.

"Boring job… but it's the best one I've had, all my life." I set the helmet on my head. It didn't feel quite right, but it was… more right. Righter. Whatever. "I loved bein' a guard. Even if I died while I was doin' my job."

Somebody yelled "That's a lie, right? 'e's lyin'?"

I couldn't help it. So many memories… emotions… feelings… good times… it all flooded back when I put that helmet on my head. I suddenly missed my old life, living with Libby in a cramped little apartment with no door, living in a crazy-ass castle where anything and everything seemed possible.

"Take care of your helmets," I said, clutching the spikes of the one I'd stolen. "Take good care of them. You hear?"

I began to bawl. I fell to my knees and I bawled as though I was three years old and somebody had stolen my portion of eel pie. I bawled until Evangelina lugged me to my feet and led me to my house, and there, once Eve was clinging to my leg, I bawled some more.

The recruits are under Harold's command for now, much like The Baron had issued orders to Cedric and the rest of us back in our old home. He says he's hired someone to whip them into proper fighting shape, along with fifteen of Pagan's slaves. They'll comprise our defence force.

I was originally going to be in charge of the guards. But I can't do it. It's just too weird.

The trial starts tomorrow. I've tried not to mention it much, because there's a shitload of stuff on the horizon that seems much more important than the fate of a jackass, but it has me feeling ample amounts of nervous. I spent the evening playing with Eve to calm myself down, and it worked a little bit, but…


I really miss that helmet.


Dragomir the Crybaby

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Three: Sproing

Shiiiiiiit. We're in better shape than I thought. Pubton has become quite the little stronghold… and it's not even that little anymore.

I've looked at the walls of Pubton before, and I know I've mentioned the fact many times. Thing is, I don't think I've really looked at the walls, not at what's been done to beef them up. They've always been a continuous project, something that needs to be done but which isn't that impressive. They're walls. Big whoop.

But they are impressive. They're really impressive. And apparently I have Harold to thank for that. He's a great deal more useful than I ever would have imagined.

Stretching along the edges of the forest in all directions, the wall is a behemoth of stone, mortar, and a whole lotta wood scaffolding. Ranging from fifteen to twenty feet tall, depending on where you are, it's an impressive feat of defensive fortitude. The entire length of it is covered in ramparts, archer slits, cannon emplacements, secret doors for accessing the outside, and, oh my lord, traps. The wall has so many cool traps.

Libby's responsible for many of the traps. She brainstormed a lot of them, my brilliant, crafty wife did, and long before she left Pubton to go mining she'd set them all down on parchment for her workers to craft. Many of those workers left for Pubtwon when Libby took off, but a few remained behind, and they've been building traps ever since. Some examples:

- There are stone launchers hidden in random spots along the walls. Many of the smaller stones are loose, despite how they look flush with the mortar, and with the flick of a switch a spring attached to the stone will sproing outwards, slamming hard rock into whatever's in front of it. Ouch. The stones have to be reloaded, but it's still a good idea.

- Many of the arrow slits are actually spear traps in disguise. Anybody who sneaks up to one and tries to peek through will get a blade to the face. Makes me cringe just thinking about it.

- The wall's walkway has a bit of an edge to it, and an enemy that gets close enough can, technically, hide under the edge at the base of the wall… but they might accidentally step on a pressure plate and get a ton of spikes dropped on their head. (We've been encouraging everyone IN Pubton to avoid walking along the outside of the wall. For their own protection, y'know.)

- There are also spike projectors at some of the more vulnerable spots along the wall, usually where there's a clearing. It ain't exactly uncommon for bad guys to bring ladders.

- My personal favourite is the glue trap. Many of the more vulnerable ramparts are coated in a weird, semi-sticky substance whose recipe Libby found in some alchemy book. When it's at a normal temperature, the stuff is just goop. Heat it up, though, and it immediately hardens into a crust that's near-unbreakable with normal weapons. The plan is to heat the stuff with a torch the moment an enemy gets onto the ramparts. He gets stuck, everybody behind him is prevented from continued scaling, and our defenders can do as they please while the bad guy struggles to break free. Glorious.

She's done a lot of work, my wife. I'm damned proud of her accomplishments. She really was dedicated to making Pubton as good and secure as possible.


Libby left for Pubtwon before she could implement any of these traps into the wall, so Harold's been left with the task. He's a bright lad, is Harold, but he has no experience with traps, trap making, or trap placement…

… yet he's persevered. From a few discreet conversations with our masons, I've learned that Harold spent many long nights both studying the placement of traps on the wall and consulting with more knowledgeable folk about where they should go. He even suggested some other traps that, while mundane (boiling oil, sections protected by small moats, crossbow turrets on the ramparts, etc.), are easy to implement and should serve us well.

And the best / worst part? He tested some of the traps, to make sure they would work. The non-lethal ones, mind, and always when wearing protective armour, but still. That's dedication. Harold ain't your typical noble.

If I leave my post as mayor… hell, WHEN I leave the post… maybe I'll back him for next in line. He's earned it.

The trial's coming. I'm nervous as fuck. Hopefully that doesn't show through too much when I look at our guard candidates tomorrow. Gotta put on a good display of political power, and all that…


Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-Two: Peek-a-Boo

First line of defence, information. I didn't find any with the rats, and the news briefs are a bit too brief for my tastes. Time to look elsewhere - and that elsewhere was an abandoned tent on the edge of town.

With Ed in tow for backup (he's been a bit bored, babysitting the jurors) I decided to explore Doc's tent. Probably thanks to his hasty departure from the mountain, Doc and his ghoulish band left their ragged-ass home behind, with everything still inside. I figured it might be worth a quick check. At the very least it might tell me something about the Non.

I was, sadly, wrong. The tent was (we've since taken it down and shoved it into a shed) empty, save for a few mundane doctoring tools in a box. Scalpel, hammer, a lot of cloth bandages, some dirty gloves, and a few bottles of foul-smelling yellow liquid. Edmund believes they're antiseptic; I think they're piss. Neither of us wants to confirm our suspicions, so we dumped the contents in the Potos River and called it a day.

Yet the tent's emptiness was, in its own way, a bit telling. Aside from a rickety table, which I suspect was used for 'examining' patients, there was no furniture. Doc seemed to be using the Cedric-Driscol-Bernard Thing as a bed the last time I saw him, so I suspect he doesn't give two shits about the comfort of his minions. The same probably goes for Titan Blue, the massive elephant-which-almost-certainly-wasn't-an-elephant. I dunno, though, 'cause I never saw it unmasked.

(Speaking of which, there's been no sign of the big'un in the forests of Pubton. If it's still there, it's hiding really well.)

Of course, these Non fellas might not even need furniture. When they were attacking Pubton during the winter, the lot of them seemed quite content to sit on the shield protecting us and leech away at it as a giant, uncomfortable lump. I assume they're able to change shape, since I've seen Kierkegaard and the Omega Corps change, but… well… hell. I dunno. Maybe they're more like liquid normally, and thus can rest without having to sit down.

This is all conjecture, of course. I don't know what the hell I'm talkin' about. Maybe they're made of cake, and they feed off the fetid souls of three-year-old goats. Anything's possible.

As much as the lack of information depressed me, Ed pointed out one solid fact while we were searching that gave me some grim hope.

"'tis true we know naught, /
Of that I can'st lie;
But them we have fought.
We know they can die."

Yes. Yes, they certainly can. Thank the gods for it.

Tomorrow I do a thorough check of the walls with Evangelina and Harold. I hope they're up to the challenge of repulsing an attack… because the Non are coming. I just know they are.


Dragomir the Guard

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day Four-Sixty-One: The state of the world

My proclamation of self-discovery last Friday was ill-timed. Busy busy busy. NEVERTHELESS, I'm gonna get to the bottom of some shit. Just you wait and see… uh… whomever might be listening.


No, you aren't listening anymore. You used to, but… still… can't… ugh. Sigh.

Anyway. With the trial more or less out of my hands - everything's been arranged and a date's been set - I can concentrate on the other pressing matter of the year: seeing to the defence of this town. We need to prepare for the worst.

I've mentioned it several times before, but kingdoms are falling. All along the Grand Chasm, whole armies are basically being gobbled up by some mystery force - and because most of the kings controlling these places are fiercely independent, very little information about the invaders is getting out to everyone else. I know exactly who they are, of course, and during the week I'm going to write letters to the remaining major kingdoms on the Indy Plains, detailing what I know about the creatures.

Which, yeah, isn't a hell of a lot. But it's better to charge at a rhino with a sword than a stick, I always say.

… I never say that. I'm not even sure if it makes sense. But whatever.

Bora keeps all of the news postings in the Beefiary (though she was strangely 'sick' today and not around), so I collected them today and read through 'em all. It's become quite clear that all of the kingdoms to fall are along the Grand Chasm, or at least near it. After consulting with Harold, Evangelina, and a few other nobles, I've also determined that most of 'em had some kinda mining operation. Seems a running trend, I gotta admit, and I wonder how many of those doors they've unearthed.

Unless they're not doors. Doc… when he was here… in the cave, on the mountain… he said something about a lock. And breaking the lock. I GUESS that can apply to a door… so maybe they're just trying to free more of the… Non… assuming that's their name… bah. I dunno. Point is, we can't let 'em do it, 'cause I'm guessing it'd be bad for us all. That means defending Pubtwon.

… which we can't really do. Everyone who goes to June's self-made fortress never comes back. I'm certain they've all been pressed into hard labour, digging out whatever it is she wants in there. And since she seemingly keeps sending raw metal to us in the night… well, hell. Questions, questions.

I went looking for answers under the golden tree today. It's looking especially radiant, and I wondered if the colouring might, I dunno, say something about its tenants. The rats have remained in hiding for a long time without bothering me, and despite the copious amounts of bad blood between us I figured I might be able to coax at least a bit of info out of the lot of 'em.

No luck. They're not to be seen. If the rats are still under the golden tree, they're not willing to meet with me. Only thing I noticed down there was the root system of the tree, which is bigger than ever. At least it's healthy.

Anyway. Yes. Defence of the town, right? That's what I'm focusing on, and information is your first line of defence. The second line is a big fucking wall, which we've almost got, and the third is troops. So sometime this week I need to check on the horde of recruits that shambled into Pubton early today. That should be… interesting.

War is coming. I've seen plenty of wars before, petty, meaningless things between irate kingdoms, but this is different. This is war.


Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, May 17, 2013

Day Four-Hundred-Sixty: Thievery

Yesterday was all about self-confidence and boosting myself. Today… today things crumbled.

I have vague recollections of complaining that Pubton no longer needed me. That's kinda what drove me to try to leave with Eve… and… uh… Bora. And, in fairness, that's still true. How often do I talk about working in the fields, or repairing fences, or dealing with the reeve, or any of that stuff? I don't, because other people handle those jobs. Everybody has their niche, and I've come to peace with that. I am the mayor, and I do my job when it needs doing, regardless of what that entails. If it means sitting in my room and waiting for constituents to come to me with a problem, I'll do it.

I think I've also come to peace with something else. It's that which made me crumble.

Today was slow. The arrangements for the trial are set, so there was nothing to do in that part of Pubton. King Jeffrey has a lawyer, hired from somewhere outside town, and he'll have to try and convince everyone that Jeffrey is innocent. I don't know where Daena got the guy, and I suppose it doesn't really matter. The court is set up (and looks really good, by the way), the jurors have all been sequestered, and Pagan is brushing up on his law books.

The defence of Pubton continues to grow in scope and strength. Harold assures me that the recruits he hired will be here on Monday, and he'd like me to look them over, having been a former guard myself. We discovered a large amount of iron ore this morning, deposited outside the walls, and Evangelina suspects that June ensorcelled someone or something back in Pubtwon to lug it to us. I'd prefer some help on locating the stupid hut, but, this will have to do, I guess. Horace is already hard at work turning the iron into arms and armour for our incoming troops.

Aside from checking up on everybody in Pubton, which I always try to do on Fridays (it's tough - the town is damned big), there wasn't much for me to do. Eventually, taking Eve in arm, I retired to the Beefiary. With Bora's permission to enter the kitchen we paid our respects to Robert's grave, then sat down to have a bite to eat.

Bora. Things are still weird between us. It's amazing how quickly a relationship can crumble after slowly building up. It's also amazing how foul a kiss can be. I like to think that the horrible taste was a sign from my brain that I'm an idiot and I belong with Libby, but, no. There's something more behind it. No point dwelling on it now, but, some day.

We had fun. Eve's not exactly popular around Pubton, but people have learned to at least be cordial to her, and a few brave souls seem to legitimately like her. Ed's a great example, as he's been trying to teach Eve how to play his lute. I don't think she's catching on at all, but they seem to have fun. They did that for a few hours today while I watched, and then the three of us played one of Libby's board games.

Bah. Teary-eyed frustration. Anyway…

Eve was getting tired, so Ed offered to take her off to bed, as he, too, was a bit sleepy. After muddling out what he actually meant -

"This fair blonde lass seen here /
Be not so full of cheer /
'tis time I say /
Bid gone to day! /
Cast off for Morpheus' pier!"

- I assured Eve that I would be along in an hour or two. Not the most fatherly thing I could have done, leaving my child alone in a house while I sat in a pub, but I knew nobody would try to break in and endanger her. This is Eve. Everyone's still afraid she'll slip back into her old power. And, uh, habits.

… hm. In retrospect… that bastard Doc… he could have… well, he didn't appear or anything, but… shit. Anyway. I'll go with her next time.

You'd figure that the Beefiary would be buzzing on a Friday night, but most people are dead tired from the week's work and will retire early. By 10 in the evening Bora and I were the only ones on the main floor, while somebody stood watch outside Jeffrey's room on the second floor. I'm quite confident that prisoner and jailor had fallen asleep.

It's difficult not to talk to somebody when you're the only two people in the room. Especially if you're already acquaintances. Even more so if you are kind-of-but-not-really former lovers. Swallowing my pride and revulsion, I took a seat by the bar and smiled at Bora.

She smiled back, though cautiously. "Hiya. Been in here a while."

"Yeah. Guess I have."

Bora cleaned a mug. She likes to busy her hands, I've noticed. "Any, um… word… on Libby?"

I shook my head, doffing my cap and rubbing my hands through my hair. "Nope. Nuthin'."

She patted my hand. "Sorry. You'll find her, don't worry."


I sensed an awkward silence settling in, but Bora did not hesitate. She worked one of the taps under the bar and placed a mug in front of me. Foam frothed over the edges. "Here. Drink. Might make you feel better."

I waved it away. "Ain't no point. I'm sure I told you before. I don't get drunk. Never have."

She pushed the glass a few inches closer. "Probably haven't tried enough. Now's the time. Booze isn't good for getting' rid of all your ails, but I think you could use a stiff one right now. Go on, give it a shot."

"But it tastes -"

She lifted the glass and pushed it into my chest. "Just drink it, stupid."

Screwing up my face, I relented. No point turning down free beer, or something. Raising the foam to my lips, I took a sip, wincing as hard liquor parted the foam and burned my throat. I coughed and moved it away again.

Bora laughed and poured herself a drink. "C'mon, keep going. The more you drink, the better it tastes."

It didn't. The taste didn't improve at all. But I drank anyway, because it somehow felt cathartic. Cleansing. As though I could wash away any problem bothering my mind with just a swig of a good drink. Rather than clouding my mind and muddying my thoughts, like alcohol seems to do to so many people, it opened me up.

I chugged one. Then another. Then another. Bora kept pace with me, her mugs the same size, and soon we were giggling over stupid jokes and making dumb observations. It felt like old times, though I was entirely lacking in lust. It was more like… drinking with a buddy. Or… something… I dunno. Something else. She asked about my family, I gave her candid replies. I asked about hers, she offered cryptic non-answers. Trying to work details out of her became a game that lasted almost half an hour.

Twenty minutes before midnight, I decided I'd best get to my little girl before I fell asleep. I stood from my chair, put my hat back on, and said goodnight. Bora did the same, smiling from behind the bar and mopping up a lot of spilled booze from our reverie.

But before I left, my mind still open, I suddenly asked a question. "Do you believe in destiny?"

Bora stopped cleaning. "What?"

I turned back. "Y'know, destiny. Things being… foretold. Can't change your fate. All that mumbo-jumbo."

She smirked. "Sounds like you don't much believe in it."

"I'm…" I looked at my feet. "I'm not sure. Let's hear what you have to say first."

Bora cleared her throat. "I… well. I guess, in a sense, yes, I kinda do."

"You do?"

"Yeah." She waved at the bar. "Take this place. I like bein' a bartender, right? So it's only natural I'd end up in the Beefiary. It's my destiny to be here, 'cause this kinda thing is what I wanna do with my life. My decisions choose my destiny."

"Oh." I shook my head. "S'not quite what I meant by 'destiny'."

"Yeah, I didn't figure." She laughed, propping her head on her hands. It's the kind of uniquely feminine pose I will never get from Libby. "I think you're better off ignoring anythin' to do with destiny, Dragomir. What's gonna happen, will happen. Focus on right now."

I clenched my hands into fists, my voice rising. "But… what… what if I can't ignore it?"

I sensed Bora's frown, even with my head down. "Hey, hey, c'mon. Somethin's the matter, obviously. Maybe you should go sleep -"

I kept going regardless. "No, no, no sleep, because… because… ugh. Destiny…. destiny. What if… fucking… what if parts of me make me… see… things? How do I ignore destiny if it keeps shovin' itself in my fucking skull?"

Bora's silence hovered longer than I would have liked, as though she was trying to figure out a way not to hurt my feelings while still calling me insane. "… what kinds of things?"

I thought back. Back to my dreams. So many dreams. "Things… the castle burning… a door… werewolves… a polar bear… me as mayor… someone in armour, someone I think I know… a guy, with brown hair, and a bunch of bandages over one eye, gods, he looks so familiar… and, and, Pubton… I… I see them, and, and, and then…  Bora…?"

I looked up. I hadn't been focusing on anything beyond my own problems, but I did when I noticed an absence of a companion. Bora was gone. I don't know where she went, hadn't heard her move away and didn't know why she would, but she was gone just the same.

Confused, a little broken inside, I left. I might have bothered to look for her, but there was very little time left until midnight. I would've slumped over in the Beefiary and not woken up until Monday.



A long time ago, the ghost of a man told me I would do three things: rise to prominence, find a weapon, and lead. He might as well have told me that it was my destiny to do these things. And ever since then, I've dreamed dreams that have, eventually, come true.

I just wanted a normal life.

But I don't think I'm meant to have that.


In lieu of being a lazy, poor, irresponsible guard… or even a frustrated, snippy, badly-dressed mayor… in lieu of trying to ignore the problem, or cover it up, or pretend it doesn't exist…

Maybe I should figure out what's really going on here.