Friday, November 29, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-Five: Every day I'm regulatin'


I hit upon an idea last night.

A suicidal idea. 

And an idea that worked.

Still. That was a poor risk indeed. I very nearly got myself killed.

I spent most of the evening in the rafters of the throne room, thinking. It hurt my damaged brain to think so pointedly, but I did it anyway. I needed to concoct a way to save my friends.

Truth be told, I came up with a plan rather quickly. But I wanted an alternative so much that I continued to scheme for at least three hours. By the time early morning rolled around, I knew I didn't have much choice in the matter - I'd have to go with the obvious plan.

Possession.

Grayson is possessed by someone. Something. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I skimmed through this diary, I would eventually figure out what.

Using the myriad cracks in the walls, I slowly made my way down the wall behind Grayson's throne. I waited for a moment of sleep, when he would, at least, be slightly less vigilant. I knew he would begin to rouse the moment I got too close, but every little bit of sleep helped.

Regulators.

Grayson has the power of a regulator. Of many regulators. Just look at his name and it's obvious who spawned him. My kind is very self-serving with their names, I've noticed.

Poised maybe ten feet over Grayson's head, clinging to an ancient, stone coat of arms, I waited for June and Julius to enter the throne room. Not to wake Grayson, just to enter.

The moment they did, I leaped. The vial of poison leaped with me.

To be a regulator is to share. Not just share power, but share a consciousness. We are linked intimately, a single being with a single purpose. The purpose of balance. We regulate. So when two regulators make contact, they, in a sense, become one.

When I landed on Grayson's head and shocked him into wakefulness, I shared in both his memories and his power. I also shared the minor jolt of poison as the vial smashed against the throne and coated his back in purple. I've since recovered, but tasting poison... even poison absorbed through the skin... is not pleasant.

I learned much from Grayson's mind. 

Far too much. Most of it is gone already.

Though he knows he has a brother. And he hates his brother. He'd hoped Fynn would starve to death in the jungle.

Grayson, I assume, learned a few things from me. I have no idea what.

What we both learned is that the thing residing in Grayson is very, very tired of being contained. It is malignant, and it is foul, and its name is Philip.

The second I made contact with Grayson's immense power, I furrowed into it and snapped the chains binding Philip. The spirit awakened and went wild at once, seizing control of Grayson's body and hurling him from his throne. I went flying -

-  and was saved by the quick hands of the newly-freed Plato. He plucked me out of the air and stared at me, blinking groggily, as though his body had reacted without input from his brain. I suspect that's pretty much true.

As Dragomir and his crew recovered, the room flew into a frenzy. Philip, whatever it is, seized partial control of Grayson's power and triggered a fantastic whirlwind. Bits of debris flew everywhere, crashing into the walls and destroying the throne, nearly decapitating a shocked June. Julius immediately hoisted the witch over his shoulder and ran, which is exactly what I'd hoped he'd do. Remove her from the game.

Though obviously confused beyond belief, Dragomir immediately ordered everyone to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE. After a single parting glance at Grayson, who was writhing in agony, features split between human and phantasm, Dragomir followed the crowd. We dashed out of the palace at top speed as it slowly crumbled behind us, toppled by Grayson's wind magic.

Using the last of his strength still in me, I reached out and called this diary away from the palace. It's still running to catch up to the group, and I suspect it will when everyone stops to rest. (I'm writing remotely. It's kind of fun.) We've been on the move ever since the escape, and the lot of us are looking pretty haggard. These people have barely eaten in the last week.

We've gotten away. Somehow.

But Grayson is still alive. I can feel him, burning brightly somewhere behind us. Wounded, weak, but... still... so strong.

That is not a good thing.

Sincerely,


V the Rat


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-Four: The Hunger Lames


The surest way to poison a person is to lace their food with the stuff. Consequently, I spent the majority of today looking for an opportunity to do just that. Rather than success, though, I may have discovered that the ghost king's plan is... impractical. At best.

Grayson seldom moves from the throne room, and then only to relieve himself. The rest of the time he's either staring balefully at Dragomir or sleeping, both while sitting on the throne. I would trickle poison into his mouth while he sleeps, but he has a distinct aura of alarm. If I try to sneak up on him, he'll awaken.

It also doesn't help that he's got a second soul inside him. That's the nature of the rot poisoning his body. He's almost certainly been possessed, and the dead don't sleep. Another level of security.

The alternative was to follow the witch around. She and her werewolf-arachnid  retainer often leave Grayson to attend to other things, typically to her wellbeing. She has a room of her own a few doors over from the throne room, and judging by the well-appointed nature of the place I'd say it's magically induced on the palace. How else would you set up tables and chairs and bookshelves and a fireplace and a meal tray laden with food in a place like this?

Following them via the rafters, I sat and listened a while as the witch supped on an assortment of cheeses, the werewolf on the floor beside her.

"I don't know what he expects to find down here, I really don't." She bit viciously into a hunk of brie, coughing a little. "Bloody nuisance, this all is. Damned nuisance. Get me a bib."

The werewolf gently reached into a bag beside her chair and pulled out a napkin. It looped the napkin around her thin neck. "Would you like some wine, June?"

"Of course I want fucking wine!" She sputtered cheese into the werewolf's shaggy coat. "When don't I take wine with my food, Julius? When have I ever not taken wine with my food? Get me some wine double quick, ya twat."

The werewolf sullenly stalked across the room and retrieved a bottle of wine from a cupboard. It poured a small dollop into a goblet and placed it in front of June. 

"Fucking kid," she muttered, downing a small swig of alcohol and coughing. "Fucking kid. The things I do, the things I do... the things... for a body... damned kid, nibbling on souls, can't be healthy... can't... I ever tell you where this body came from, Julius?"

The werewolf shook its head. It sat down, either bored or exhausted, and I noticed a distinct rustle of movement in the fur on the back of its neck. 

"Some peasant bitch." June took another gulp, coughing more forcefully as it went down. "Just a girl. A wench. Took 'er on her wedding day. And the body before... before that... think it was a man, a snake person... hells, I can't remember anymore, a life this long. Too damned long."

I don't think she saw it, but the werewolf tipped its head in agreement.

The witch stuffed more cheese into her face, chomping greedily, coughing irritably with each bite. "Fubbing kib. Hib'n all dose wats. Ib dey'd jut 'ave... mmm, ah, there we go... if they'd just made my brats the way I wanted, I wouldn't be... or if that stupid... fucking... key... if it'd just worked the way..."

"Are you sure you want to take this boy, milady?" The werewolf spoke to June, but its head tilted upward, staring into the rafters. "He's badly tainted. I doubt that his experiments to expunge the presence will yield fruit. Perhaps you should look elsewhere...?"

"What, you want me te take over one of the others?" June waved towards the door leading to the throne room. "The bard, maybe, or that smelly-ass goblin? Had enough goblins for one lifetime. The king? The fatass platypus? That woman and her foxes? Could use a fox te replace your worthless ass, Julius. Or, hells on bells, perhaps I should take over Mr. Mayor 'imself? Get me a grumpy-ass wife? Yes, oh yes, I'd love sleeping in Libby's bed, getting beaten up by 'er every day. Livin' with her for several weeks was bad enough, the surly bitch."

The werewolf grimaced. It continued to scan the rafters, and despite the darkness I'm quite confident that it caught sight of my nose before I could hide behind a crossbeam, as its ears suddenly pricked upward.

"The hell you lookin' at, Julius?"

The werewolf didn't answer. Snuffling from its keen nose filled the silence.

The witch's chair moved back. Alarm crept into her voice. "Something's up there, innit?"

At length, its voice tired and cranky, the werewolf replied. "... no. It's nothing. I think I caught Grayson. He exudes a stench that seems to change by the day."

"Peh." The witch returned to her meal. "Maybe we oughta put 'im back in diapers. I just bet he shits those pearly white breeches 'o his, sitting there all day. There such a thing as soul poop, ya think?"

"I do not know, ma'am."

"'course you don't. Idiot spider."

I contemplated dropping a bit of poison into her food, but gave up on the idea. Killing only one of them would alert Grayson to an outside presence. I might also accidentally poison the werewolf, and I'm confident that it, at least, is friendly to my presence. Or friendly enough that it won't give me up, anyway.

So that's that. Though the hints were few, they're sufficient. Grayson isn't eating. He's feasting on the souls of the people he's captured, absorbing their HP with his magic to keep himself alive. He must only be taking a few HP a day, as Dragomir and the other captives all still look healthy, but in time... in time, they will surely die.

Fuck. I need to find a way out of this. But... how...?

At least I managed to sneak some cheese from the witch. I was getting pretty damned hungry.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-Three: A dying king

Before Traveller, my life was nothing. 

This is not, of course, a literal statement. I lived. I breathed. I worked. I wielded power, or helped wield power, as part of a mass. I was one of the rulers of this world, even if we were greatly diminished. 

But my life, my singular life, was nothing. Thanks to Traveller, and all he showed me, all he taught me... even if those teachings were merely the virtues of idiocy... I am a bigger person. A better person. I am V the Rat, and I do not want that taken away from me. Not while I struggle to remember who, exactly who, I am.

But I fear my life will end soon. I have reached the palace.

The ghost king's palace is enormous. It stretches at least eight storeys tall and is easily five or six times as wide, encompassing two whole city blocks. It juts upwards  into the uppermost reaches of this cavern, its tallest spire nearly touching the ceiling, and every inch of its architecture is covered in roiling, writhing snakes. Artistically writing and roiling, of course, but the effect is no less impressive, even on a building so scarred by ages and battle damage.

I have no perception of time down here, but I think I arrived at the palace sometime in the evening today. Exhausted from the precipitous load strapped to my back I sought shelter in one of the palace's side doors, noting immediately that the ghosts who'd dogged my trail the whole way had given up. They really do fear this place, and in retrospect I can see why.

Happy for an opportunity to unburden myself I untied the vial from my body, laid it safely down in a musty batch of hay (I think it used to be a servants' bedding, long ago), and began wandering the palace. The inside is as serpentine as the outside, though most of the snake carvings are broken beyond easy recognition. I'm glad I ordered this diary to remain behind, as it probably would've given my position away at once.

The dead and their haunts give off a distinct bouquet of demise. Their decay, even as spectres, is unmistakable. But it's such a dull and uninteresting odour that the smells of life immediately shine through, and almost immediately after I began searching through the palace I caught distinct hints of living creatures. Indeed, there was a rather strong concentration of them deep within the palace, in the king's enormous throne room.

Once I found a few useful holes in the architecture and made my way to a taaaaaall perch in the throne room, I discovered just what was wafting through the palace and into my nose.


Far below, seated on the king's cracked yet opulent throne, was a man. He looked to be in his twenties, perhaps, with long, blonde hair, a cut build, and pure white clothing. He had the unmistakable scent of a regulator. Yet mixed in it was some horrid decay, something malignant and festering, which may have accounted for the cruel look in his eyes and the gauntness of his skin. He was a sick man, to be sure.

But he wasn't alone. Floating in front of him was a line of people, of recognizable people, of people dressed in dirty travelling clothes and carrying backpacks and tents and all the things needed to survive in the jungle. My friends. Dragomir hovered in the middle of them, eyes closed, caught in a faint whirlwind of repressive white magic.

The man stared at Dragomir for a long, long time. His dislike was too obvious for words. I'd call it hatred, but that's not strong enough. So I assumed this to be Grayson, Dragomir's son, whom I glimpsed fleetingly during the attack on Pubton. Grayson all grown up.

In time, Grayson was joined by more living souls. The witch, yes, I recognized her, and with her a hulking werewolf. I caught a distincly arachnid odour wafting up from its fur, but I didn't see any spiders. Perhaps in time it will reveal itself.

They spoke with Grayson for a while, identifying themselves, and eventually he dismissed them without a word. He seemed utterly fixated on his father. The witch looked put out being ordered around by Grayson, but she tottered away nonetheless. She doesn't look much healthier than her youthful counterpart, though her decay is of a more natural kind.

The intruders are identified. The stage is set. Now all I have to do... is find a way to poison them. 

Gods knows how I'll do that.

This may be my last entry,


V the Rat

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-Two: Poisonback'd


Today consisted largely of walking. Slow, painful, poison-in-vial-addled walking. So I won't bother discussing the events, as they'd be terribly boring, I suspect. Instead, I'll discuss what I promised yesterday: a description of where I am.

When I first awoke yesterday, I suspected I was in the remains of a castle. Perhaps the smaller of two, given the king's reference to a 'palace'. Surely my walk to find whomever is causing trouble for these ghosts would not take that long.

I was wrong. So wrong.

This place is a city. An enormous, underground city, built for human-sized creatures. It has buildings, single-storey and otherwise; it has cracked but serviceable roads; it has aquaducts that still drain water into fountains and wells; it even has walls, which makes me suspect that this was all aboveground at some point. Much of the architecture and the remaining signage hints at a worship of snakes, but I don't think these ghosts are snake people.

How did the city get down here? My memory fails me, for the most part, but I suspect it was part of the Shelving at the end of the war. I do not recall that going entirely according to plan. Changing the layout of the world is bound to create some unfortunate glitches, after all.

I'd like to say that I walked alone, aside from this diary, but I would also be wrong about that. For the last mile I've had near-constant companions watching over me. The ghosts won't allow a regulator to walk in their territory unattended, and though I can see no ghosts in the ruins ahead there are many behind. They hide in great hordes, quickly sweeping out of view if I ever dare to turn around. Their comments travel to me on the wind constantly, whispering of hate.

For a while it was creepy. Now it's just annoying. Sigh.

I can understand fully why ghosts dislike regulators. Why they dislike me. Powerless or not, I represent the top authority in this world. No race has more power than the regulators at their peak, not even the Non, and we're especially equipped to manipulate ghosts. A person's code is linked intimately with Codespace after death. For one of my kind, wrenching control away is rather easy.

How do you do it? I don't know. Can't remember. It was easy, at one point. But it's not anymore, not until I meet more regulators and rejoin the collective. Gods, but it has been so long.

Yet I'm not even sure if I want to do that anymore.

Because, after all the things I've seen... even all the things I've forgotten I've seen, forgotten I've done... I can't help but wonder if our actions are incorrect. At what point does the pursuit of balance tip the scale in the opposite direction? Some of the things I kind of vaguely sort of recall doing... now they feel wrong.

Though they can't be any more wrong than conspiring to murder several people.

Morality is a bitch.

I struggle onward. I've caught sight of the tip of a broken spire which the king told me is the top of his palace. I will make my way to it or die trying.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-One: The court of ghostly opinion


This is not the situation I expected.

But it'll do.

With the weekend come and gone - another passage of Codespace that I have, once again, missed - I found myself still in my blasted cell, which I now know is indeed a coconut. Half of me wondered if the ghosts had forgotten about me; the other half feared they were going to leave me trapped inside it until I starved. I certainly couldn't escape the blasted thing, try though I might.

Fortunately, my attempts got the attention of creatures beyond.

"The bastard's awake," a deep, sonorous voice announced. "Open it."

I was blinded as the top of my cell lifted away, though the light was not so bright. My eyes adjusted after a few moments of casting about -

- and when they did, I realized that I was, again, surrounded by ghosts. A lot of ghosts.

But this was different from last time. Far removed from the drab tunnel where I'd been captured, I found myself sitting atop a stone table in the midst of a crumbling court. Filled with tiered benches that hadn't been touched by mortal bums for a long time, it looked like the domain of a great king, long abandoned. 

Only it wasn't really abandoned, because, you know, ghosts. Hundreds of them stared at me accusingly, none daring to come close, yet most clutching bits of rock and debris. I knew if I made a single wrong move they would unleash a flurry of projectiles and squash me to death.

"Wat! Wat!"

The familiar voice cut across the room with all the welcome glee of a songbird on a rainy day. Fynn stood on the sidelines of the court, waving at me from within a bundle of old, oversized clothes. He was watched over by two ghosts who, despite obviously being gentle, also made sure he did not run across the cobblestones to greet me. I suspect the big bundle of grapes dangling from his hands played a part in buying his compliance.

"You have a strange companion, rodent. Using him, as you use everyone?"

I turned. Sitting... ish... atop the throne at the opposite end of the court was a large, imposing ghost. Rotund of belly and sporting a ring of phantasmal spikes on his head, similar to a crown, he was clearly the man in charge. He glared with obvious disdain. 

"I am lord of this domain," he thundered. "I say who comes and goes. I would never give you clearance to enter. Why in the hells are you disturbing the dead, regulator scum?"

Looking around, I spotted this diary on the floor a few feet from the table. I reached out, touched it, and commanded it. The diary lurched to life, surprising half of the assembled ghosts into vanishing, and tottered over to the bottom of the king's throne. Its pages split open, and my words spilled out onto the page.

"I am looking for my friends. They went missing in the jungle beyond this place, and I caught their scent on the house that stands above your realm. Do you know where they are?"

The king, for I know him by no other name, studied the words for a few moments. Then he snorted. "Hmph. And why should I help you, regulator? It's much more enjoyable to force helplessness upon you. How does it feel to not be in control for once? Eh?"

I continued writing. The distance of the diary from myself made it difficult, as did the content, and it took me a while to finish. "I know my kind has wronged yours before -"

"That's a fucking understatement," the king rumbled as he read.

"- and I have no desire to further wrong you. If it please you, I will remain here to be willingly executed in exchange for the lives of my friends. I know you have them trapped down here. Please, let them go."

That gave the king pause. He leaned back on his throne, far enough that part of his body disappeared into the stone, and considered for a long time. The ghosts surrounding me murmured, no doubt wondering what was written in the diary.

"Oddly generous of you, rat," the king said. "Very odd. Though given your collective nature, I'm not certain that killing one of you would make much difference to the whole. You may as well be offering a toenail in this bargain."

I winced, but carried on. "My life is precious to me. I am a singular creature now, and I do not want to die. But I will, if it means freeing my companions."

The king floated out of his chair and began circling the court, maintaining a wary distance. All eyes were on him. He stopped briefly to pat Fynn on the head before moving on; the boy didn't seem to appreciate the gesture much, his frown deep.

"Generous indeed. Very generous." The king's wispy bottom half formed into legs. He paced around the table, still not daring to approach. "But it's useless, regulator. We don't have your friends. We know where they are, but they are held by someone else. Several someone elses."

I blinked, confused. Reaching out to the diary again, I commanded it to scurry to the king's feet with the following message. "Then who has them?"

The king edged away from the diary. I suspect he can sense that it's made of ratskin, at least in part. "More of your kind, actually. Or something similar. They raided this place two weeks ago, demanding refuge and assistance. Their... leader... gave us no choice in the matter. They've taken my palace for their own, and have captured several of my servants. I think they are being experimented upon. As are your friends."

Fear twitched my tail. "Where is this palace? Give me leave to speak to this regulator - "

The king sneered. Grabbing a rock, he whacked the diary shut. "And you'll do what? Weasel your way out of this situation by joining with them? I am not a fool, rat. I would sooner see you killed than let you go."

I slumped. Death seemed imminent, frustrating, unproductive death.

"... unless..."

Perhaps not?

The king looked to Fynn. A malicious smile stretched across the blankness of the king's face, his wavering teeth jagged and multiplying with each second.

"This boy is your friend, yes? You count him as an ally?"

I watched Fynn stuff a grape up his nose and snort it out again. Eventually I nodded.

"Do you care for him enough that you would do exactly as I say?"

Another nod.

"Hm." The king puffed up his chest, which was not nearly as considerable as his belly. "Very well. We keep a small supply of poison in these ruins, in case any living creatures drop in for a visit. As we cannot enter my palace of our own accord, for fear of being controlled, I will give you a dose of this poison. You will use it to murder the malefactors who have stolen my property. Do so and you will be permitted to leave this place with your friends, unharmed."

I waited for the other wingtip to drop, gulping at the word 'murder'.

"The boy will remain here." The king paused near Fynn again. This time he held a hand over the boy's head, and the white energy forming his body turned into a dagger. It dangled above Fynn's messy brown hair. "Should you fail, or betray your task, he will join us permanently. Do you understand?"

I understood just fine.

One of the king's servants supplied me with an old, cracking vial filled with purple liquid. I have strapped it to my back, as I don't trust the diary enough to haul it along for me. I'm very aware that if the glass breaks, I may die in an instant. This whole deal sits on a precipice already, so what's a little extra danger going to do?

I have set off into the realm of the ghosts. I will detail it more tomorrow, as I will need something to occupy my time. The going shall be extremely slow.

Be safe, Fynn. I will save you. You and everyone else.

Sincerely,

V the Rat

Friday, November 22, 2013

Day Five-Hundred-Eighty: Gotcha


Several years ago, I was charged with doing something. 

Something important.

Something... 

Something.

My memory is so muddled. I don't know anymore.

I can barely remember the days I spent with Traveller, hiding in his hair. I recall him getting beaten up a lot, and... something... something being stolen... constantly... but I'll be damned if I know what.

He was a rascal, that man.

But I think I liked him.

And I think I felt bad for doing... something... to him.

I don't remember. 

Why am I talking about all this?

Perhaps I'm just expressing my regrets before I die. I don't know what else could possibly happen at this point.

We walked, Fynn and I, for miles. Frightened as we were by the still air and the lack of noise, I'm pretty certain we were both also bored stiff. There was nothing of interest: no spiralling stalctites or stalagmites, no precious jewels to illuminate with brown magic, no intricate cave paintings or sculptures to betray the origins of this place. Just a path, a pair of idiots, and a diary walking behind them.

At some point Fynn gave up and went to sleep. I kept watch for a while, but, in time, I too gave up. We rested in a nook formed of rock.

Time passed. 

I woke up again.

The cave was noticeably brighter. And it had nothing to do with Fynn's little ball of magic, which had gone out for the first time.

I dared open my eyes, extricating myself from Fynn's hands to look around.

We were surrounded by ghosts.

They floated in utter silence, watching over us with empty white eye sockets, their translucent limbs dangling limp at their sides. Despite varying sizes and builds they were all ambiguous, as ghosts tend to be, not revealing who or what they may have originally been. Each exhibited a pale, unhealthy glow.

The silence was broken when one of them spotted me. It shrieked in a foreign tongue, and as the others caught on they, too, filled the tunnel with their furious vocals. Soon Fynn added to the confusion, screaming as he caught sight of the spectres for the first time. Covering my ears was not nearly enough to block out the din.

The ghosts vanished. Fynn clambered to his feet and tried to run, but unseen hands tugged him into the air. I fell from his hands. They did not grasp me, no ghost would dare touch a regulator directly, but something - a coconut shell? - scooped me up and locked me away. I was carried, jostled violently, for a long, long time. 

The only thing I could do is concentrate on leading this diary along behind the procession of ghosts, trying hard not to focus on Fynn's grim wail. Eventually even that noise disappeared as Fynn and I were separated.

I don't know where I am, other than being locked away in a small, confined space. The diary is somewhere nearby; I'm writing in it without seeing the words. It's the only thing I can do without going half mad with fright.

Ghosts don't like regulators.


No, they don't like regulators one bit.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Nine: There will be many caves this season

I suppose it was just a matter of time. 

After a nourishing breakfast of raspberries - good for solid and liquid alike, and by gods do they grow back quickly - I directed Fynn back downstairs. He's become quite adept at following my directions, and they're easier to supply now that he's less enamoured of his little energy ball. There's more caution in the boy, and I can tell he's going through some severe separation pangs. Never been apart from mom or dad for so long, I suppose.

There were three halls leading out of the foyer, entrances to a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, respectively. Bare remnants of furniture betrayed their original purpose, though we found nothing of use. Everything is swallowed up by dust and decay. In the rear of the kitchen we discovered another room, a small armoury -

- and in the armoury, stairs. Stairs leading down.

Fynn traipsed up the stairs to the second floor without a second thought. Indeed, he seemed to be quite pleased with ascending. Descending, though... going below ground level in this silent mausoleum... that gave the boy pause. It took several long minutes of coaxing before he would pull his finger out of his nose and take the first step into what I assumed was the basement. I like to think he was mining gold so vigorously in an attempt to ward off the musty smell we'd discovered.

The basement was not a basement. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. True, we did discover a small room which was probably once used as a storage space... but we also found a huge hole in one of the walls. Ancient brickwork lay scattered about on our side of the wall, hinting that whatever had made the hole came through from the other side. Eeks.

The feeling of dislike eminating from the hole was sufficient to drive Fynn to tears. He nearly ran back upstairs. It took a severe bite to his cheek to stop him from fleeing.

"OW!" he yelled, trying to swat me off of his shoulder. The mild heat of his glowing light source warmed my fur.

I dodged out of the way, then, in my best attempt to look stern, I stood on two legs and planted my paws on my sides. If nothing else this stopped Fynn from trying to attack me, and he regarded me with bloodshot, weepy eyes. His body trembled, as much from the cool air blowing through the room as fear. Poor boy is still wandering around in his diaper and naught else.

Using my frail powers I opened the diary in Fynn's hand. He nearly dropped it in surprise. Waiting for the child to steady himself, I flipped the diary to an empty page...

... and, using the few artistic skills I gleaned from time spent with Plato, I drew a picture of Dragomir. 


Don't judge me.

It was, at least, good enough for Fynn to recognize. He brightened. "Paaaaa."

I nodded. Then I pointed at the hole in the wall.

Fynn shook his head vigorously, tearing up again. "Ooooooo! Ooooooo!"

I circled Dragomir in the diary and pointed again.

Fynn is not a complex child. Why should he be? He's months old. Even with the Dragomir family's seemingly bizarre gestation period, the boy hasn't lived nearly long enough to process complex decisions. So when I say that this was surely the most difficult thing Fynn had ever considered, I'm not engaging in hyperbole. The cogs ticked in his mind as visibly as the drool dripped down his chin.

Slowly, gradually, pausing a moment to fill his diaper (you have no idea how gross it smells), Fynn stepped through the hole in the wall.

We've been exploring the tunnels beyond for hours. The brickwork long ago gave way to jagged rock, the kind you'd find in a natural cave, though the path is relatively even and simple to traverse. We've had to stop and rest many times. Fynn's slowly approaching exhaustion, determined though he seems to be to find his father.

I don't know what we're going to find at the end of this tunnel. I fear it's nothing more than a gruesome death. But we can't linger in a sealed, darkened house forever, feeding off of a single bush of raspberries, and this tunnel seems to be the only route we can use. So...

You know...

In the history of bad ideas...

This is one we can't really avoid...?

At least I'm smarter than Traveller. Wherever the hell he is.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Eight: Another one


Well. Perhaps this child will be handier than I anticipated. Though equal parts troublesome at the same time, I have no doubt. 

We spent the remainder of yesterday huddled in darkness. Fynn continued to cry intermittently throughout the night, though, mercifully, he slept much of the time. I don't know what perils he braved while wandering the jungle alone, but they seem to have exhausted him. Given his normal appetite, I'm surprised he's shown no overt signs of hunger. Even his stomach has been strangely quiet.

After what I estimated to be a two, possibly three hour nap, I awoke this morning and found my eyes lightly dazzled. I thought at first that it was the sun, gleaming through the porthole in Plato's cabin... and then I remembered where I was. A place very, very far from the Dauphine, and seemingly just as far from daylight. So what was pestering my eyes?

Rubbing the sleep away, I looked for the source. It wasn't difficult to find. A ball of glowing energy danced about the foyer, dipping and diving and cavorting in a wild, clumsy dance as it moved from the walls to the bannisters of an old staircase to the edge of a hallway leading deeper into the house. Initially I believed it was moving of its own accord...

... until I noticed that it was hovering above a pudgy finger. Then there were giggles, and, well, that was that. I know magic when I see it.

I skittered close to Fynn when he came to a rest by one of the bannisters. He passed the orb of light from one hand to the other, transfixed by it, trying to touch its edges with his opposite hand and laughing raucously whenever it moved away from his skin. It had - and has, because it hasn't disappeared ever since - a slight, brownish tinge to it, which is new to my experience. I don't know what brown magic might be.

(And really, why did the black child have to have brown powers? That seems so... I don't know... racist.)

I approached Fynn with caution, tittering loudly to announce myself. I don't trust his stampeding feet.

He looked away from the ball briefly, smiled when he caught sight of me, and pointed. "Oooooo."

I nodded. Hopping onto the dilapidated stairs where Fynn had seated myself, I used the banister to climb onto his shoulder experimentally. He didn't seem to mind, and giggled at the touch of my feet on his skin.

Steeling myself, I nudged Fynn's ear. He screamed laughter, nearly pitching me back onto the floor. It took a few more tries before he finally peered around to look at me, happily inquisitive.

I pointed up the stairs. Fynn didn't move. I pointed again, with greater emphasis. Fynn mimed me. I pointed at myself, at Fynn, and at the diary, then upstairs a third time. Fynn mimed me again... but he also collected the diary from off the floor before plodding up the steps, one creaking footfall at a time.

The search begins. 

In all this time, we haven't seen a single ghost. We also haven't seen much of great importance. The upstairs is fairly treacherous; many of the floors have been eaten away by time and moisture, and there are large gaps in the roof which we cannot reach. Sunlight stubbornly refuses to enter this building. If there was furniture, it has since been removed or destroyed. The only thing of import we discovered was a raspberry bush, growing through a hole in one of the walls. Thank the gods, too, as I was starving.

The upstairs is a dead end. There are no souls, living or otherwise, up here. Nor do I smell any of my compatriots, not that their scents would linger so long. If they're anywhere, it's probably somewhere below ground.

I don't want to go below ground. Nor, I think, does Fynn. But... we have no choice, now, do we...?

For now, we sleep. Fynn continues to play with the magic he's conjured, which, to my delight, entertains him more than the darkness frightens. I'm amazed he's kept it active for so long without running out of MP. Surely this child is a marvel to behold, even at this young age.

Still...

It makes you wonder what you're dealing with.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Seven: Two become three


Oh, balls. I'm inside the house. I was not driven here by choice, but... I am inside the house.

I spent most of yesterday rationalizing my approach to the situation, hidden beneath this diary's opened pages. As far as I could see, I had two different paths I could take: 

A) Enter the house and attempt to rescue the rescuers on my own. 

B) Return to the Dauphine and seek help. I am uncertain, but I assume, given Dragomir's reaction to me, that at least one other person on that transport would be aware of my kind's level of intelligence. His wife, perhaps?

The more I reasoned, the more I concluded that B was the proper course of action. What could I possibly do to ward off the evil presence of spirits? I am a single regulator. Nay, worse, I am simply a rat. A rat that can write in diaries without using his paws, 'tis true, but nevertheless a rat. A circus sideshow exhibit at best. Surely a band of humans with combat experience could do better than I.

Yet for all the evidence that I would be better suited fleeing home, I hesitated. I couldn't help myself. For so long, now, I've hidden in the coattails of others, secretly unwilling to brave dangers on my own. I am small, yes, and I am feeble, but can not a rat be daring? Can not a rat take pride in his willingness to leap into danger in aid of his comrades? Can not a rat be a man?

More, can a rat not do what a platypus can? I'd never live it down if Plato discovered that I'd fled. He's surprisingly snarky when he's not nervous. Stupid Non.

So I paused. I waited. I fretted. I remained rooted in spot for hours, clouded by indecision. Such is the way of the cowardly who wish to be strong, lingering so long in dangerous situations that they become ever more dangerous.

That is how my new companion found me.

I am normally a keen creature. My heart may not be strong, but my ears and my nose seldom fail me. Yet I was so preoccupied by the question of 'Enter' or 'Flee' that I didn't notice the tumbling footfalls approaching my literary tent, and by the time the diary was plucked from over my head it was far, far too late to react.

"Die-wee!"

I rolled instinctively, my little ratty form propelling me away from danger, but it was too late as a second, grubby hand plucked me from the dirt -

"Wat!"

I squealed, prepared to bite, to attack, to defend myself from this abomination -

And it patted me. Harshly, roughly, with utter inexperience, but it patted me on the head. My fur stung for an hour afterward.

It was Fynn. Dragomir's youngest child held me aloft, smiling stupidly through a thin layer of mud and grime. He waved me around as though I were a toy, which, I think, is how he views most things in life. You should see what he does to his food at mealtime. 

I flailed my paws at him furiously, attempting to communicate something along the lines of 'Please, good sir, we must return to your home at once, as your mother is no doubt worried sick. Please, oh please, young master, do not heave me about so, I fear you may break my neck.' I don't think it worked, though - Fynn just giggled and smacked me against the diary in a clapping motion. Sigh.

Dropping the diary, he pointed at the house. "Oooo."

I didn't like the tone of his voice. I pointed back towards the jungle instead.

Fynn considered that. He looked at the house again, standing on tip-toes to peer past the front porch and into the darkened foyer. "Oooooooooo."

I gestured towards the house, then mimed slitting my own throat. I thought this would be a universal gesture of 'bad'.

Not for Fynn, apparently. I don't know what it means to him, but he lit up and began stumbling towards the entrance. "Ooooooo!" 

No! I cried, squeaking at the boy, nipping lightly at his fingers, surprised at the resiliency of his skin. No, no, no!

It was too late for me. Mounting the porch, Fynn ran headlong into the darkness. The only thing I could do was call out to the diary to follow, which, somehow, it did. Shortly after it entered the house, we were plunged into utter darkness as the doors snapped shut.

Funny, that. There weren't any bloody doors before.

We're huddled in a corner somewhere, frightened out of our minds. Fynn is bawling, possibly aware of the stupidity of his actions. He's clutching to me a little too tightly for my liking, and whenever I try to escape he cries all the worse. There are no sources of light.

We're trapped. We're trapped. And I suspect it's only a matter of time before this home's residents come looking for us.

Sincerely,

V the Fucked

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Six: You can't see me, you can't see me



It's funny how nature can drive you places you do not wish to go.

Coming through this jungle in the first place was a bad idea. I knew as much. When last Plato and I touched these fertile lands we became separated from Traveller, our companion, and we sought refuge in a house. The house. We spent perhaps fifteen minutes inside it, searching darkened passages for a way out.

We found it. Though the ghostly creatures that waited within seemed rather intent on keeping us inside. I am lucky that Plato was with me - he unknowingly steered them away, and was blind to their presence the whole time. For such a fearful creature, he knew surprisingly little of terror then. Hence his suggestion that we cut through the jungle to continue on our journey westward.

Plato isn't here anymore. There's only me, this diary and its tiny, tottering legs, and the house.

The mist that claimed the crew was unnatural. I could tell as much from the start. You'd have to be a fool not to think that there was a presence behind it, and I can't think of any presence more likely to steal warm bodies than cold, dead ones. Ghosts are not well-regarded among my kind - they are nuisances at best, possessive terrors at worst. We don't like them, and they don't like us. 

Were I amongst my peers, my kind, I would not fear the house. We can control ghosts, manipulate their code and make them do our bidding. But I'm not amongst my kind. I haven't seen another sentient regulator for... well, I don't know. Two years, perhaps? My memory has corroded so much from their absence that I can't remember. Their power hasn't truly flowed through me in a long time. All I can do is write in this diary without a pen, command it to follow me...

... and cower beneath it at the foot of the house. The house

Nature guided me here. I knew I would have to find it to locate Dragomir and his team, and the trees did not disappoint me. A mere half hour of blind searching through the jungle brought me back to its darkened hallways, hidden in a place civilization has forgotten. It must be several hundred years old, perhaps as old as the war. Its eroded wooden walls and algae-infested supports smell of experience. 

I can't bring myself to go in. Even though ghosts typically fear and avoid my kind, I can't go in. 

Not yet. 

But... eventually... I'll have to...

Because I can smell Plato on the house. 

And Dragomir.

And the rest.

I can smell them all, and, oh, gods, the thought of following them fills me with dread.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Five: Bye, everybody


Hello.

I am not Dragomir.

But I believe I am qualified to write in this diary.

The trip into the jungle, a jungle I remember hazily at best, was meant to be a rescue operation. Thirty-something men went in; thirty-one men would come out. This has not happened, partially because we did not find our quarry last night.

It is also because one of our number was missing when we awoke this morning. The tracker, Grylock. He was snatched sometime in the night.

We did not know it at first. Indeed, we were barely aware that there was any group at all, as our small campsite was mired in mist. When I awoke to the sounds of panic I realized immediately that this haze was not natural, and despite our close proximity I struggled to find my companion. He seemed no happier to be trapped in fog than I.

Within minutes the remainder of our party was gathered in a tight knot, and Dragomir ordered that we remain as such. Without a tracker we could easily become separated and lost. I thought this a wise precaution, though ultimately fruitless - we were already lost. The goblin was the only one who had a good sense of how to return to the Dauphine.

Rain fell, light but oppressive. It made navigation through the white soup even more difficult. We did not move far, despite Dragomir's demands that we continue searching for his son, and by lunchtime we'd given up trying to travel altogether. The fog grew thicker and thicker.

Edmund disappeared. He'd been reciting a hearty ballad one minute; speaking of relieving himself the next; silent at the last.

In a blind panic, Dragomir rushed into the jungle, screaming for his son. He left his things behind, including this diary. He is gone.

One by one, they've all gone missing. The king. The bannerman. The baker. Even sitting in a tight knot as we were, we would turn to speak to one another... only to find our companion vanished.

I thought I might be immune from this. If my partner were to disappear, I, too, would go. I spend my time on his person, so there is almost no chance that I could not vansh with him. Yet that very thing happened when I dared to sneak in a quick nap, as I awoke atop this diary, alone and frightened.

The mist is gone. The jungle is as it once was: foreboding, but natural. Trees breathe, flowers pollinate the air, animals frollic cautiously. I believe I'm the only furred creature here that feels very much out of place.

I don't know what has happened. My brain is so poor, these days, and I fear it will only get worse the longer I am away from the collective. I can barely recall my own name, retaining only a single letter. Yet I do remember this jungle well enough to recall a place within it, a place I know is very nearby, a place full of things that might wish to do harm to living souls. They are the greedy dead.

That place is a house. A mansion. And I fear that I, and this diary, will have to go there to put this expedition back on track.

I'm too old for this shit.

Sincerely,


V the Rat

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Four: Deja New


Oh gods.

I should have paid more attention. I should have listened.

Now he's gone.

This situation is way too familiar.

As with yesterday, the first half of today encompassed efforts to dig the Dauphine out of its fucking rut. Suffice it to say that none of our shitty ideas worked, not even the brilliant ones that came from my wife.

I was standing over a heap of dried mud, trying to chip away at it with a stick, when he came toddling up to me.

"Dah," he announced himself.

I peered over my shoulder. "Hi, Fynn. Where's... ngh, heavy shit... where's your mom? You shouldn't be wandering 'round on your own."

Fynn pointed towards the jungle. "Moos."

I followed his finger. "Moose? You see a moose in there, son?"

He giggled. "Ick. Moos ick."

I scrunched up my face. "Moose ick? Don't play with poo, kiddo, is all I can say. S'bad for your health."

He turned to the jungle, raptly intent, swaying back and forth in that weird, dreamy way kids often do. "Moos ick. Pfffft bah. Gway!"

I blinked a few times, then looked around for Libby. She was busy elsewhere, so I asked the woman with the silly hats to keep an eye on Fynn instead. She led my boy away to play in the river's shallows, and he followed gleefully, prancing about. I kept digging at the mud in the meantime, determined to clear away at least a section of mess from the Dauphine's front wheel.

But I couldn't get Fynn's little phrase out of my head.

Moose ick.

We hadn't seen any mooses in the jungle. They don't live in jungles, I don't think.

Moose ick.

Mooseick.

Moosick.

...

Music?

It was around the time I pieced Fynn's message together that the woman with the hats came tearing across the mud at me, apparently not caring that her dress was now soaking wet and covered in gunk. The nobles who came with us are a much hardier breed than they used to be.

"Dragomir! Dragomir!" she cried, arms flailing so wildly that she lost her balance and hit the ground. "My gods, I'm so... pffft, ow... I'm... he's gone, he's GONE!"

I helped her up, the first tendrils of panic attacking my heart. "What? Who's gone, c'mon, who's gone?"

"Fynn!" she wailed. "Fynn, Fynn! I turned around for one second to get a drink of water, and when I turned back he was on the other side of the river! He waved at me, and went into the trees, and, and, and... I tried to follow, but I fell in, and... and he's gone... gods, he kept saying something about moose, I... oh, gods, could he be looking for one -"

I regret to admit that I pushed her back into the mud in my haste to tear after my son. She's a very nice lady. I'll apologize profusely when I next see her...

... but that won't be today. I, and a dozen other people, searched the opposite side of the river for at least four hours. Fynn is gone.

Libby is frantic. She demanded that the entire crew grab torches from the tilted Dauphine and spend the entire night looking for her son. It took a lot of effort on my part to convince her that she, and at least a dozen hands, needed to stay behind and continue work on freeing the Dauphine. We have to get out of here.

But I'm not staying behind.

There are three search parties, each led by a tracker. We're scanning the jungle by sections, spreading out to cover as much ground as possible. Each has instructions to look for Fynn's footprints, track the boy down, and bring him back to the Dauphine. I'm in one of these groups, along with Jeffrey, Ed, Grylock (he's in the lead), and a handful of other crewmembers. Plato, too, because it's his fault we're out here, and I wanna keep an eye on him.

It's nightfall. We've had to stop. The jungle is too dense and too dark for us to continue. It's started to rain, and the rain keeps putting out our torches.

Fuck.

Fynn.

Kiddo.

Where the hell are you?

And... if what I think might be happening is happening...


What is this music you're following...?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Three: The prudent decision


Nope. Not doin' it. Not fuckin' doin' it. For once, I am going to pursue the intelligent course of action.

The Dauphine is still all tilty. We haven't managed to so much as budge the stupid thing. The ground is too unstable, and we don't have the freakin' manpower to make it happen, you know? Not even the rhino can move the Dauphine at this point, either on the Hamster Wheel or by pushing / pulling the hull. We may actually have to abandon the old girl.

That raises questions. How long will it take to dismantle the Dauphine? Will we be stuck here for a month or more assembling carts to continue the journey? What's to be done with Queen Daena's tree? What will happen back on the Indy Planes... hell, even in the Imperium... in the meantime? Will the Non catch up to us? Or will something inside this jungle find us and finish the job the mud began?

At the moment, it's the jungle that daunts me the most. We're in a scary-ass place, even during the day. The depths of this place are near-unfathomable: if you dare peek into the darkness beyond the riverbed you'll see only hints of what might lay within, formed of sinister shapes and strange noises that move close and then go silent with alarming speed. I think I'd rather know that there's, say, a cult of cannibals watching us than to simply think there's one.

This brings us back to my original declaration: I am not going into the jungle. Nor is anyone else. Not until I absolutely have to. We're all staying by the river, by gods, and we're gonna like it.

I don't know how Plato and his rat survived for over a week in this jungle. I kinda want to ask, but that would mean semi-supplicating myself in front of the jackass who got us stuck here in the first place (who, I might add, is back in his 'cell' for the moment). Their continued existence hints that the jungle is not as sinister or dangerous as it looks, but I'd rather not take chances on that. Plato's a Non, after all, and the Non seem quite capable of taking care of themselves in bad situations. Humans? Sometimes, not so much.

And what could we find in the jungle that would help us anyway? A giant pry bar? A tonic that makes heavy objects magically fly? A helpful clan of labourers who love to push things out of mud? I can't think of anything feasible (though I will admit that I dreamed about a combination of all three last night, and I'll be damned if they weren't effective). There's no practical point in leaving our camp.

People keep asking me if I'll be leading an expedition into the jungle. I guess they expect that I'll try it eventually. I keep giving them the same answer: "Just because something's there doesn't mean you have to interact with it." I say we let the jungle keep its secrets while we wait for Libby to puzzle a way out of this predicament. She's done the impossible before, and I say that she can manage it once again.

(I hope, anyway.)

Enough writing for now. We're set up in a series of tents along the river's edge, and the light from my candle is probably keeping more than a few people up. We're getting precious little sleep from the combination of intense heat and irksome mosquito mantids as it is. Stupid little bastards with their pinchy claws.

Sleep, Dragomir. Sleep. Maybe tomorrow will have some answers.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-Two: Tilt


From now on, I'm keeping a list of things I've predicted will go badly. I have predicted many such things, yet I keep on allowing 'em to happen. Maybe a reminder will prevent this trip from constantly going all cantaloupe-shaped.

Our trip into the jungle progressed smoothly for maybe half an hour. We carefully positioned the Dauphine in such a way that it would straddle both sides of the river, then, after we were certain that the ground would remain stable, we set off. The twin banks remained nice and stable as we trundled along, and I was content to take a break and get some lunch from the Neo Beefiary. Fynn joined me, because he eats four or five meals a day, the little pig.

Bora, who was tending to Plato, ushered us over with an offering of chili. "Hey, boys! C'mon, grub's on! Nice and hot! Have a seat by the bar with us!"

I glared at the two possible-traitors-but-I'm-really-not-sure. "Erm, I think we'll just -"

"Taaaaall!" Ignoring my obvious desire, Fynn toddled over to Plato and grabbed at the Non's floppy tail. His free hand instinctively grabbed a bowl of chili, shoving a big gulp into Fynn's mouth. "Om beens!"

Bora grinned. "Your boy likes it here, I think. C'mon, don't be such a fusspot."

I scowled, but I joined the trio nevertheless. I turned so I wouldn't have to look at Plato, who, being released on probation, isn't currently in my good books.

Bora pushed a plate of chili in front of me. I ate a spoonful, secretly delighted in the subtle heat playing along my tongue, and outwardly winced. "Too much pepper. Less next time."

Bora rolled her eyes. "Yes, your majesty. How we progressin' out there? Windows down here ain't that great. All I see're trees. Bitch of a heat rollin' in, too."

I had to give her that. Breezy though it might be back on the plains, the jungle was slowly reducing the crew to puddles of sweat. Layers of clothing worn to keep out Autumn breezes were slowly disappearing into cupboards. I'd already doffed my breastplate. "We're gettin' there. No clue how long it'll take to get through, though. What say you, fearless navigator?"

Plato looked up, startled. He'd been focusing on Fynn, swishing his tail around to the boy's delight. After a minute of nervous thought he simply shrugged.

"Ah. Great. So glad everyone wanted to come this way. Fynn, c'mere, sit down and eat your food properly." Seating my son on a bar stool and setting his bowl properly in front of him, I cast a wary eye on the platypus. "You better be right 'bout this, Plato. Anything goes wrong... well, y'know."

Plato nodded so vigorously that he almost fell off his chair. He went back to his own chili, his spoon shaking with each dip into the slop.

"Mmm." I turned to my son, who was trying to shove his hands into the hot bowl. "No, no, you're gonna burn yourself, kid. C'mon, time you learned to use a spoon. Here, put it in your hand... like this..."

"Poon." Fynn attempted to comb his messy hair with the spoon.

"Not a brush, Fynn." I stifled a smile as I demonstrated with my own spoon, dipping it into my chili bowl. "Like this. See? Dip."

Fynn slammed the spoon against the table. I'm surprised it didn't break. "Boom poon!"

I shook my head. "Watch, Fynn. Watch daddy. See? You put the spoon in the bowl. See, like -"

Clunk.

" ... this." Blink. Not the right sound at all. "Huh?"

I looked down. My chili bowl was gone. I checked a few inches to the left and found it again. It had slid Into place in front of Fynn, replacing his own chili bowl, which had similarly slid away to Plato. You can probably guess what happened to Plato's bowl.

Then, propelled by some outside force, all three bowls slid away. Bora shrieked, trying to catch them, but, nope. Off they went. We soon joined them, all four of us tumbling end over end as the entirety of the Neo Beefiary adopted a pronounced, painful slant. Plato, Fynn and I wound up in a big heap against a nearby wall, while the clatter that followed Bora's fall behind the counter hinted at a meeting with a stack of pots and pans.

My first thought probably should have wandered to the welfare of the Dauphine. To problem solving. Instead, extracting my hand from beneath my son's belly as he wailed away the pain of a bruise, I thought of retribution. I grabbed Plato's quaking bill, yanked him upward, and stared into his shocked, suddenly-green eyes.

"I think this counts as somethin' going wrong," I growled.

Long story short, the Dauphine hit a patch of mud. A big patch of mud. The left row of wheels are all stuck in muck, leaving the Dauphine at a roughly 30 degree angle. The interior is a mess. Again. We can stand up and move around in it, but only with extreme difficulty. 

We've been looking for ways to extricate the stupid thing all day. So far, no luck. We're stuck. Can't go forward, can't back out. ARGH, that STUPID PLATYPUS SCREWED US AGAIN.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day Five-Seventy-One: Dat rhino


SO.

We found a jungle.

That was... unexpected.

The trip was proceeding so nicely. We covered a ton of ground last Friday thanks to the addition of the rhino to our group. As expected, it's driving us forward faster than that stupid mystery mechanism ever could (though Libby's still trying to repair it, for occassions when the rhino is too tired to continue). 

The rhino is also proving to be an endless source of entertainment for Fynn, who has latched onto the lumbering behemoth as though it were his pet. Every time he's in Engineering, Fynn babblingly demands to see the rhino. I'm happy to comply, since the rhino seems to like Fynn just as much. The licking matches between the two are adorable. (If unhygenic.)

The rhino was forced to make an unexpected stop this morning, though, when we hit the edge of the jungle. The damn thing is enormous, seeming to stretch both north and south as far as the eye can see. It's also unseasonably green, boasting some impressively leafy fauna, and Edmund assures me the Imperium's jungles are like that all year 'round. Warm, too, even during the snow. What a weird not-so-little ecosystem.

I couldn't make a decision on my own, so I called everybody together for a meeting up in Command. The crew gathered 'round the big planning table - which is still a bit fucked up from taking a cannonball hit - and we took turns arguing over what to do next.

"Drive right through the fucker!" Grylock demanded, pounding his tiny fist on the table. "Ow, splinter. But yeah, that's what needs be done. Plow it down!"

"What, and wreck the Dauphine up again?" Libby protested. "No! Go around, ya dumb shits! I don't care how long it takes."

"Go over!" cried Celine, uncharacteristically jubilant. "Craft legs for the transport that will allow it to climb trees! Then we can swing through the jungle on vines, like some sort of man spider!"

"That's impossible, dear," Daena said, patting her youngest on the head. "Would it be feasible for Libby to create wings for the Dauphine, however? We could soar over the landscape and make our trip all the faster..."

"I'm not a miracle worker!" Libby punched Daena lightly on the arm. "Chances're good we'd go up for five minutes 'n come crashin' down when the wings couldn't stand the weight anymore. Fun trip that'd be."

"We might make it over the jungle, though."

"'n then die."

"But we'd be over the jungle."

"'n dead." 

"But you must admit that we would be over the jungle, which is what we're debating."

"You're a weird one, Daena." 

Another light punch and buddy hugs. I don't get women.

I grimaced, considering our schedule. There only seemed to be a single viable course. "I think we have to go 'round, folks. If there was a path or somethin' through the jungle I might think otherwise, but it looks too dense from 'ere. Better we not take the chance and lose a few days -"
""

The clamour died. Everyone turned to look at the latest arrival.

Ever since his dramatic drugging of the crew and flight across the Imperium's border, Plato's been restricted to his quarters. Only people who bring him food ever see him, and they all claim that he hasn't said a word to them. He's been wrapped in chains of penitent silence, flopped over on his bed. Justly so, since he coulda gotten us all killed.

My eyes narrowed. "I haven't said you can come out yet, platypus."
Plato cringed. ""

"You know a way through?"

He nodded. His eyes wandered to his feet and stayed there, unwilling to look at the people around him.

I considered for a few moments, trying to decide if I trusted him more than I distrusted. Eventually I waved my hand. "Go ahead."

Plato stumbled through his explanation. Apparently on his long journey to find me he wound up travelling through this jungle from the opposite side, tailing that Traveller dude. He (and, presumably, his rat) got lost, and wandered the jungle for almost a week before finding a river which led him back out again. He's not positive, but Plato thinks that the river runs through the entire jungle, one side to the other.

Lacking anything better to do, since we hadn't made a better choice, we drove the Dauphine along the edge of the jungle. Sure enough, after three hours of searching we came across a winding river that slipped into the trees and disappeared. We're still sitting beside it, as Libby's team of workers is checking the banks to see if we can roll the Dauphine along the path the river creates. So far this looks pretty promising - the Dauphine's plenty wide to straddle both sides of the river.

I dunno. This seems like an awful risk, whether I trust Plato or not. What if the wheels get stuck in soft dirt? What if the river suddenly widens and we wind up splashing into a lake? What if we're attacking by some jungle tribe? What if, after all this time, Plato proves to be a traitor, and was waiting for this moment to strike...? 

What if, what if, what if. We won't get anywhere with endless what ifs. The majority of the Dauphine's crew seems willing to plow through the jungle, and majority rules on this trip. I just pray I don't wind up being justified in wishing this were a dictatorship instead.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, November 8, 2013

Day Five-Hundred-Seventy: Oms by moonlight

EEEEEEEE!

Seriously! I mean that! EEEEEEEEE!

Perhaps I should explain the use of that letter. Doubtless the myriad readers of this diary - and I'm sure there's at least one right now, there's always one - are curious. Best I satiate that curiosity.

... oh, what the heck. One more time. 

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

We spent the remainder of yesterday puzzling over the impending capture of the beast. Specifically, we wondered how we could peaceably lure a wild animal with a love of socks to a giant transport some three kilometers away. Grylock suggested a cage; Libby pondered rolling the Dauphine in and having everybody join the fun, exhausted though they are; Fynn gurgled and pooped himself. My suggestion ultimately won...

... and by nightfall we were stalking through darkened rows of argyle trees, each of us carrying a basket full of semi-ripe socks. They smell of lemons when they're semi-ripe; I guess monsters like 'em best that way.

The plan was fairly simple. Once we'd found the creature, Libby, Grylock and I would quietly surround it, preventing escape. Then, before it could freak out, we would present gifts, no less than the thing's favourite food. We would then lay down a trail of socks leading to the Dauphine, hopefully earning the monster's trust in the meantime.

You, dear reader, may now be asking yourself a somewhat vital question: Why would three intelligent adults think that a monster could be tamed by the offering of socks? Well, for starters, we didn't believe it was a monster. Monsters don't eat socks. We figured it was some dumb animal, and, hey, we were right. We also reasoned that, should it prove violent, we could easily get out of its way by ducking through the argyle trees. Not as risky as it sounds...

... and the moment we identified the great hulk, I knew we wouldn't have any troubles bringing it on board.

For once Grylock wasn't the first to spot our target, probably because his nose was too full of lemon freshness to scent it out. Libby did the deed this time, peering down a long row of trees and noticing a pronounced black shape shambling about. It paused, seemed to sniff at a tree, and tilted its massive head to chew at the socks dangling overhead.

Maintaining strict silence we spread out, each of us taking up a safe position some distance from the creature. As we stalked closer, still unseen, I began to notice very specific details, revealed by the moonlight: great, stumpy legs, pebbled grey-and-white skin, small, twitchy ears, a sloping face decorated by curved horns, a metal collar -

When the shock of the discovery hit me I dropped the subterfuge, as well as my basket of socks. No doubt to Libby's horror, I rushed toward's the beast, a big, stupid smile on my face.

That was a dumb idea, of course. Surprised, it wheeled around and knocked me off my feet, roaring. I WOOFED and hit the grass -

- it leered over me, its small, beady eyes scanning -

- Libby screamed a battle cry in the distance, and I heard Grylock's poisonheart leave its sheath - 

- huge nostrils flattened against my chest -

- and, before I could stop it, a big, lumpy tongue rolled out of the rhino's mouth and licked me. I've been trying to get the ropey strands of drool out of my hat ever since.


Libby and Grylock's attack ended immediately when they heard me laughing, and as soon as they realized that this was our rhino, they joined me in surprised delight. Our rhino, the guard of the 'secret' entrance to Castle WhoGivesAShitAnymore, which disappeared over a year ago and hadn't been seen by anyone in all that time. I'd long assumed it was dead, swallowed up by the Non advance or killed by Driscol's mercenary army, but, nope. We figure it's been wandering the world at random like any other rhino, eating people's socks.

It recognized all three of us at once, and, with a little coaxing from our sock baskets, the rhino trotted back to the Dauphine as happily as a puppy. The whole crew was waiting outside to help with the capture (as well as Fynn, no, we didn't take our son monster hunting, thank you), and everybody had a joyous reunion as we appeared with the rhino on our heels. Even Jeffrey, who had the poor thing chained up beneath his castle in the first place, seemed extremely pleased at the rhino's return.

So that's that, really. The mechanism is still busted, but Libby's reinforced the Hamster Wheel to accommodate the rhino's bulk, and it seems perfectly happy to chase a sock on a string all day long. We've planted the sock tree seeds from the owner of the orchard, and they should help us feed the rhino in perpetuity. The Dauphine is back on the road, and we all suspect that it's a teensy bit faster than it used to be, thanks to the rhino's extra girth. We'll have to stop more often when it gets tired of trotting, but I think we can live with that.

Man. The rhino. I love that rhino. Friendliest beast in the world, it is. Bringing it back into the fold, in the Imperium of all places, really made my day. It also gives me hope that we'll eventually come across more survivors from the ol' castle, 'cause lord knows we can use all the help we can get.

In summary:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Elated


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day Five-Sixty-Nine: Socks a la carte, and you're to blame


I knew bringing Grylock along would pay off. I knew it.

We began the day with no leads. The people of Resupply are pleasant and accommodating, but as I suspected, they're not that open to strangers. We're customers, and customers aren't supposed to ask a ton of personal questions about the community. This wouldn't normally matter when you're trying to hunt down purely commercial metal, which should be public record -

- but it's another thing when you discover that said community is being hounded by a monster. A monster they may not want to talk about, because it's stunting their productivity. A monster that might solve your labour problems.

Libby, Fynn and I were eating breakfast on the front porch of a little pub when the news we'd been waiting for dropped into our laps. Or, uh, news of a sort, anyway.

"Dragomir?" Libby said, looking up from her bowl of bat soup.

"Ngggh?" I swallowed my mouthful of poached ostrich egg. "Chew your food, Fynn. C'mon, don't gulp it down whole."

Fynn giggled. He had half a steak in his mouth.

"Dragomir." Libby repeated.

"What? What is it? Fynn, get that out of there! Reasonable bites, kid!"

More giggles. "Wan om!"

"Yes, I know you do, just take reasonable bites -"

I was halted in place when something slapped me in the face. Something soft, white, and woollen.

I blinked, pulling away from my son. Next to me, Libby sat back, dangling the weapon she'd used to, ah, 'sock' me in the face. Analyze the wordplay and you'll get what I mean. (I'm so clever.)

I studied the sock. "That was kinda uncalled for," I eventually concluded.

Libby shrugged. "Maybe. But maybe I should be askin' why there's suddenly a sock in my soup. And one on your head. And two on Fynn's feet."

I glanced under the table. Fynn was now wearing a pair of adult-sized socks, which, I noted, fit him quite snuggly. Kids these days. "Huh. Lookit that."

"Yeeeeep." Libby folded her arms. "Any, uh, hypotheses as to why we're suddenly surrounded by socks?"

"'cause they smell nicer than yer dirty pits."

Libby and I jumped. Fynn laughed and clapped his hands. We three looked upward, suddenly noticing the slim, green nose pointing down at us from the awning above.

"Grylock!" I breathed, giving him the finger. "Don't freak us out like that! I coulda choked on egg, for gods' sake."

The goblin leaped down beside us and scurried under the table. Always about maintaining cover, that one. "What a shame that'd be. Got any chicken up there?"

"No. Want me to order you some?"

"Obviously," Grylock hissed. "Go fetch me a plate, Libby, that's a good housewife."

Libby rolled her eyes. From anyone else, that remark would drive her crazy; from Grylock... well, we all just know he's an asshole. He and Libby get along fairly well because they're both kinda douches like that.

While chomping down on a plate of fried chicken smeared in potato sauce beneath the table, Grylock revealed the point of the socks. It turns out that one of the richest farmers in Resupply owns and works a large plantation of sock trees, and Grylock overheard him complaining that something has been eating all of his socks before they can properly ripen. He claims it's a four-legged monster, a little smaller than an elephant, though it always runs away before he can properly ID the thing. Only comes out at night.

I wasn't certain how this pertained to us, frankly, until Grylock brought up a semi-reasonable point: something that's almost the size of an elephant would probably weigh more than twenty people. Consequently, that something might just be able to power the Hamster Wheel on its own. Grylock is convinced he can tame the beast, and though I have my doubts, I suppose I'm willing to give it a try.

We've since offered our services to the owner of the sock plantation, and though he's confused as to how we found out, he's willing to let us try capturing the monster. In exchange he'll give us some rare sock seedlings, which, if this thing has a taste for socks, should come in handy should we need to appease its appetites in the future.

So. Yeah. Tonight we try to capture a ravenous, sock-eating monster. The last time I tried to do something like this, a dude wound up dead. Squashed flat by an elephant. Here's hoping the same won't happen tonight.

... man. This week got real weird.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer