Friday, July 5, 2013

Day Four-Ninety-Five: Pachelbel's Can(n)on(s)

Ever since the Matriarch rolled into town, we've been stockpiling cannonballs. Either we make 'em or we buy 'em. We're not picky about material, either - we have balls made out of densely packed rock as well as iron. The news from the kingdoms along the Grand Chasm was too dire to ignore.

Before today, we'd used up maybe a tenth of our cannonballs repelling the Non. Now… well, I don't know how many we have left. But I'm sure the warehouse where we stocked 'em is a hell of a lot emptier.

After the hole was completed yesterday, my dad and two of his guards slid down into the rat warrens to have a look around. There was no sign of intrusion on the part of the Non, and some cursory exploration revealed that the entrances, well-hidden by long grass, remained hidden. (Though no one, not even dad, dared to go outside.) So that part of the plan remained steady.

I said my goodbyes to my mom and Eve, leaving my daughter with her grandmother. Mom's been slowly warming to Eve ever since it became obvious that she wouldn't have much of a relationship with Grayson, and now I think she's fully accepted her granddaughter. I'm sure she'll take good care of my little girl.

Walking away from Eve was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I vowed, earlier in the year, to get her back. One way or another, I'd see Eve returned to me. Walking away from her… so damned difficult.

But I did. We whispered our goodbyes, I cried a little, and she hugged me. I promised I would be back soon; she nodded. "You came back last time."

So I did. And I will again. I swear.

Pagan, Evangelina and Harold were all waiting for me at the 'command post', a giant, red system of tents covering up the hole. Pagan shook my hand and called me a suicidal twat; Evangelina and Harold both hugged me. They'll all do fine, I have no doubt. So will the rest of the town.

Pubton. I hope I come back to you.

The hole into the rat warrens isn't terribly big, because our one-man digging crews had little time to excavate. Only a rope ladder provides access in and out of the warrens. (Don't ask me how they got dad down there.) Lugging on a backpack with some basic provisions, as well as this diary, I climbed down the ladder…

… and discovered a sight most grotesque below. Beautiful, but… grotesque…

It looks no different up top, but the golden tree has swelled dramatically underground. Its roots system is enormous, occupying at least twice as much room as before. The bark is covered in bubbles, like warts or pimples, and the golden glow throbs and pulsates rather than remaining constant. I don't know what's changed in that tree, and I'm not sure if I want to know. Hopefully it's good for us.

"Ugly piece a shit, innit?"

I whirled. My dad, flanked by two nervous guards, walked up to me out of the darkness.

"Yeah. I guess."

Dad motioned to one of the guards. The skinny, shaking man had a big, red blanket looped around his armour. He nodded and scrambled up the ladder, struggling to keep the blanket on his body.

I shook my head. "You could've just let him keep the thing up there, you know."

Dad chortled. "Nah. Gotta be tough to make tough. You know? Ain't that right, Forstein?"

Dad swatted the other guard on the shoulder. Forstein trembled, but saluted.

"Damn right." Oswald frowned. "This's crazy shit, you know. You sure you wanna do it?"

I looked down one of the side tunnels. "Not really."

"Ah, grow some balls." Dad whapped me across the face with one of his skinny wooden arms. "You keep movin' back and forth. Dunno if I should be proud of you or kick your ass."

"You'd do both."

We had a moment. It was pretty lame.

Dad pointed down one of the tunnels. "That one. It'll take ya towards the mountain. Make sure you wait for the signal, now."

Nod. "Thanks." I turned to leave.



"Don't get yourself killed."

"I won't, dad."

"Your mother'll lose her shit if you die."

"… yeah. Bet she will."

"Not me, though."

"I know, dad."

It was the nicest conversation we've ever shared. Left my skin crawling, it did.

Making my way through the tunnel by my hands rather than lighting a torch, I fumbled in the dark a few times. The thought that a Non might suddenly slip out of the darkness and swallow me was inescapable, but I shoved it back. Once I left the tunnel, I'd be facing something more dangerous than a damned Non. Many several somethings.

After two minutes of blind walking, I hit the light. Clouded light, filtering through thick layers of grey cumulus, but light nonetheless.

In the distance, somewhere far behind me, my dad bellowed. I suspect a big red flag, a signal, hit the air.

I spotted tall grass ahead, waving a bit in the breeze.

Elsewhere, I imagine, Daena was yelling instructions to her fellow cannoneers. Instructions on proper aim.

I parted the grass and cautiously peeked outside. I didn't see anything - but there were loud footsteps, loud, shaking the ground.

I swallowed.

Libby, I thought, if I live through this, you'll probably kill me when you hear about it.

The cannons roared, and I ran like fucking hell.

The plan, as most good plans go, was relatively simple. Daena's diversion was not so much meant to distract the Non as to force them away from the part of the forest where the hole was located. Every cannon in Pubton that could aim in the right direction would go off in timed volleys on both sides of the hole, essentially creating an alley for me to run down. Any Non in the area would be insane not to flee for their lives, given their size. I don't know if cannonballs can kill the things, but I'll be damned if they don't hurt like shit.

A good plan. Just one problem: I had to run through a debris field and hope I didn't get hit by an errant cannonball or pieces of trees. The result of the barrage was even more ridiculous than I'd anticipated.

The world exploded as I left the hole. Coming down in waves of roughly three per side, the cannonballs ripped through the lovely grove of redwoods and sent splinters flying everywhere. Mighty, age-old trees tottered and whined as their trunks flew apart and crumbled. Leaves rained down everywhere, often obscuring my vision, and I ran more on instinct, fear, and decisiveness than logic. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I had to run in a straight line. So I did.

Bang. Crack. Boom. A cannonball landing here, sending up great puffs of dirt and rock. A tree collapsing there, nearly squashing me flat. Always the sound of military precision, deafening me, filling my ears with a terrible whine that could outdo the most annoying of people. Doc on his most loquacious days couldn't hope to be anywhere near as irritating as that whine.

I was hurt. Nicked. Pummelled by falling branches. But never was I hit by a cannonball, or eaten by a voracious black mouth, or crushed under a tree. And though the mad dash lasted an eternity, I made it out. By the gods, I made it out.

I didn't stop running for at least twenty minutes, despite being exhausted and stunned. What little reason remained in me demanded I get well away from the attack zone before the blasts stopped, on the bet that the Non were content to remain near Pubton. And I was apparently right, because I didn't see a single behemoth during my flight from the town.

Safe. Kinda.

I breached the trees on the other side of the forest as the moon hit the sky. I would've been faster, but I used the valley running through the forest to avoid detection. I've somehow succeeded at that.

Tonight, I rest and recover my strength. I'm exhausted, and the rock I'm hiding under does not provide much shelter. When Monday comes, I'll head for the mountain at full speed. I just pray that 'full speed' is fast enough.

Gods. GODS. What the hell was I thinking? I mean, I know I was thinking, but FUCK ME, that was TERRIFYING, MY PANTS ARE SLOSHING WITH URINE



Dragomir the Idiot

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