Friday, May 3, 2013

Day Four-Hundred-Fifty: Come the Non

The day began with a cockroach on my face. It went downhill from there.

I'd been dreaming of stone buildings that are all vertical instead of horizontal - what a weird concept - when something tickled my nose. Ever since I woke up to Julius sitting on my forehead I've been a light sleeper, and the speedy crawl of a cockroach onto my nostril got me up in a flash.

I squashed it. Naturally. Made a lovely smear on my cheek, gotta say.

Disgusted, I sat up, flicked the carcass off of my face… and noticed, with no small amount of trepidation, that there were more cockroaches. At least twenty of them. They were lined up at the foot of the bed, standing in a rectangle of morning sun so I could see them, stock-still and attentive. All eyes were on me.

As I shrieked and hopped out of bed, skittering to the opposite side of the room and tripping over a box of tools, they, too, jumped onto the floor. But they didn't approach, didn't show any hostility, and when I was back on my feet they made an orderly run for the door.

I know cockroaches. I saw them all the time back when I was a guard, and more than a few have moved into Pubton. I know how normal cockroaches act, and normal cockroaches don't sit in the sun. Nor do they make it obvious they're trying to lead you somewhere.

Also? Glowing orange eyes. That's a thing.

Slipping on my clothes, I followed. The cockroaches led me outside, past dozens of snoozing bodies in sleeping bags, well away from the campfire I'd briefly shared with Doc and his mystery buddies the night before. They were still there, Doc nestled atop the biggest one's chest like a puppy. All asleep. Or so I thought.

I figured the cockroaches must be on to something, and I knew if I woke anybody up that Doc would get up, too. I wasn't interested in guiding him to any revelations. The cockroaches ran up the mountain, and I followed.

As I'd figured, they led me to the approximate area where I'd originally found the cave with the giant symbol. A few of them, apparently exhausted, died along the way. Their bodies went unmourned, and have probably been eaten by birds or other insects by now.

The cockroaches halted in front of a flat dirt wall. I noticed almost a dozen other cockroaches near it, all dead. Then, forming a single line, the bugs walked slowly into the wall, as though it were made of air. Which, I now know, it was.

Daunted but determined, I followed.

Stepping through an illusion is a curious thing. It's like walking into a waterfall that consists of a billion infinitely small water droplets, each sufficient to send a tiny chill through your body for less than a second. I emerged on the other side of the illusion shaking all over, quite aware it wasn't the first time I'd felt that way. I wondered if I'd see any sloths inside the cave.

I didn't. Something quite different waited.

Though blocked by imaginary flat rock on the outside, I could see out of the cave's entrance from within as though nothing was there. Light from the rising sun lit the cave almost to the rear, glinting off the rough stones jutting out of the walls and providing me with ample evidence of figures within. I didn't need natural light, though, because the cave was filled with unnatural energy that illuminated the place just fine.


Libby, my wife, the love of my life, the woman I can't believe I kinda but didn't really cheat on, was suspended in a bubble of swirling air. Every time she sank near to the ground she would bounce back upward, her body twisting slowly around as though she were caught in a current. Her eyes were closed.

Beside her, caught in another bubble, massive and monstrous and just as asleep, was Antonia. Her lips curled, her ears twitched and the fur on her back rose into hackles, as though she was caught in a bad dream.

They floated above a pair of figures. I knew who they were without looking.

On the left sat Grayson. His face was ashen, cheekbones prominent, and he was almost slumped over his own dusty knees. There was a large bloodstain on his right shoulder, and his shirt looked ragged. His eyes twitched and glowed, projecting white light towards the figure on the right…

… June. If Grayson looked bad, June was caught in hell itself. Big clots of her hair were missing, her skin clung tight against her skull, her hands trembled with exertion, her mouth snarled and sneered and whispered words I couldn't hear. She, too, had light flooding out of her wild eyes, a violent orange I've seen too many times in my life.

They sat inside a roughly-drawn but ornate circle, chalked onto the floor. Thinking back later, I realized the circle bore three letters, written over and over and over: T, O, and E. Toe. No idea what that means. Floating over the circle, caused by the intersection of light from their eyes, was a swirling orange-and-white orb, the two colours struggling for dominance over one another. The massive rat symbol watched over it all, faintly glowing white, epic and ominous.

I wasn't thinking, not about danger, not about consequences. I was only thinking about Libby. Screaming her name again I bolted for the circle, rushing towards the pocket of air that kept her aloft as it dipped near the floor. I jumped at it… and bounced off of the thing, slamming into the wall.

That was enough. Grayson, probably finally noticing my presence, looked over at me as I slid to the floor. As my eyes reconnected I noticed his dumbfounded expression… and over his shoulder, I saw the orb of light suddenly flash imperious orange. Like a herd of snakes a dozen orange tendrils flooded over white, twisting and twining towards Grayson and knocking him onto his side. He screamed pain, landing on his blood-soaked arm.

A lot of things happened at once.

Libby and Antonia fell. Antonia, awake immediately, flipped and landed on her feet. Libby, more sluggish, whacked her head off of a stone. Her eyes were only open for a second before they closed again with a yelp and a shudder.

June loomed over Grayson, panting hard, obviously struggling to keep herself together, her face alight with manic glee. Her skin glowed a faint crimson, prominent even under the shine of the symbol nearby.

Grayson vomited. He began to cry. He's never looked quite so vulnerable.

Then, just as my brain was considering the options and compiling them into a list of priorities - with Libby at the top, of course - a shrill voice filled the cave.


I peered around the corner of the symbol room and back to the entrance. Standing there were Doc's three companions, their rags rustling and ripping apart as their bodies came together, dragged into union by hideous black tendrils I'm glad I couldn't fully see, and I knew immediately, yes, yes, that makes sense now. That makes sense.

Doc, his rags torn away to reveal the face of one of the shadow things, pointed. The shambling horror that is now Cedric, Bernard and Driscol combined launched itself down the tunnel, Cedric's wolfish arm and the blade attached to Bernard's mangled hand outstretched and ready to kill -

- and they met with Antonia. The werewolf leaped at the monster, I heard snarls and snaps and yelps of fearful pain from Bernard, and I looked away, fearing to watch such a gruesome battle.


Even over Doc's voice I heard Grayson rasp "You… morons… you led them… the Non… you led them here…"

Ignoring him, I staggered to my feet. I ran across the cavern, past June (who looked very confused at this point, perhaps because her hair was rapidly growing back), and dove onto Libby's prone form. I covered her body, and closed my eyes, and prayed for it all to be okay, because, really, what the hell is a political ex-guard with a floppy hat who can't even pick up a weapon supposed to do? At the very least my armour could shield Libby from the blows of the titans.

There were sounds. Yells. Screams. Arguments. The world swirled, and I found myself both loving and hating cockroaches. After an eternity of action, of fear that I would be stabbed or clawed or blasted or otherwise destroyed, the cave was silenced.

When I looked up I saw June. She was hunkered down in the middle of the circle, fixated on the symbol on the wall. A white light danced around her, forming a tight bubble. It seemed to be pulling her back together, eliminating the excess wrinkles, restoring her hair, even smoothing and reshaping her face. She looked… younger. Almost pretty.

Beside her, outside the bubble, was Grayson. Panting hard, still as grimy and bloody and put out as ever, he rose to one knee and coughed blood onto the floor. "She… she won… and now… now they know…"

Glaring at me with an exhausted eye, Grayson stumbled out of the cave. Prying myself off of Libby I watched him go, noting that Doc and his horror were gone, leaving behind splashes of green and purple on the walls. Antonia was crammed against a cluster of rocks, hunched over a leg wound, bristling as Grayson limped by and disappeared.

Eventually, deciding Antonia would not hurt me nor June stop me, I hoisted Libby's right arm over my shoulder, pulled her to her feet, and dragged her out of the cave. Eventually, searchers led by Grylock's nose found us.

I have no idea what just happened. And writing this entry doesn't seem to help me sort it out.

The Non.

Is that what they're called?

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