Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day Eight-Hundred-Four: Teamwork and Bedfellows

At first, everyone in Logan’s party was headed for the command deck of the Sky Bitch. That changed, and swiftly, when the engine of the airship began to groan. It was enough even to draw Logan’s attention away from his former fiancee, who’d just disappeared around a corner.

It started as a low, unhealthy hum, akin to the burble of an extremely hungry stomach. Then it transformed into a sound and a sensation, a slight shiver throughout the ship’s hull that hinted at foul things afoot. Then, as if to punctuate the need for action, the Sky Bitch swayed unnaturally to one side, as if perched upon the world’s largest swing set. The ship did not jerk precipitously, but Logan had spent enough time aboard to know that something was not right.

His father apparently thought the same. “That’s… that’s not good. Uh.”

Half cowering behind Logan, The Baron peered at Jeffrey. “What? What are we waiting for? We should go after Eve! I can’t properly tell her what to do with my hands in their current state…”

Logan shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. If the engine’s borked then we’re all fucked. C’mon, we’re headed to engineering.”

“But - “


Logan pointed to Cedric, then to The Baron. The big man happily grabbed his former boss and hauled him along, complaining, in the party’s wake. Jeffrey took the rear, his fists raised and ready, a quirk of a smile on his face. It disappeared when they heard Kierkegaard’s squawking laughter floating down from the command deck.

A short trip later they were standing at the entrance to engineering, a mishmash of churning cogs and well-oiled belts that was quickly devolving into utter chaos. A dozen sky dwarves were flitting about the place, jamming their spears into the machinery at random and doing their best to hover out of reach of the frantic workers below. Pagan and Evangelina led the campaign against the creatures, though Evangelina’s inability to use her magic without damaging the equipment was apparently hurting their chances of clearing the area in time.

Grabbing a nearby wrench, Logan sprang into the air and smacked the first sky dwarf he saw in the face. Its face twisted in pain, the sky dwarf flew back several feet, got caught in an intricate pulley system, and died horribly as the mechanism tore it apart. The pulleys shuddered to a stop, and the entirety of the Sky Bitch quaked in response, dipping precipitously to port. Logan had to twist dramatically, and accept a painful landing, to avoid flying into a bank of noisy gears.

Not like that, idiot!” Evangelina hissed, eyes flashing orange. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

Rubbing his head, Logan gave her the finger. “After knockin’ me out, lady, I’m not acceptin’ any orders from you.”

Watching Cedric as he attempted to swat two sky dwarves out of the air, Pagan wagged a finger at Logan. “The lady’s correct. We need to bring these creatures to ground level, then deal with them. This is the worst possible combat zone.”

Logan agreed. The sky dwarves, though not technically adept in any sense of the phrase, had managed to gum up a substantial portion of the Sky Bitch’s inner workings. Three of the beasts were attempting to pry a massive gear away from its axle, two more wrestled with a counterweight, and two more were attempting to cram the body of an engineer into a set of pistons. The rest kept anyone daring to stop them at bay with their spears.

The shudders of the hull spooked Logan, and he grabbed a guardrail as the Sky Bitch tipped from a portward lean to starboard. “Gods be damned. Okay, so we pull ‘em down. Got any ropes?”

“For lassos? No. We can’t use ropes in here, they could gum up the engines,” Pagan insisted. He was struggling to remain upright, his heavy armour threatening to drag him to the floor as the deck listed from one side to the other. “Hells. You! Big man with the stitches! Put the prisoner king on your shoulders and work together!”

Grinning broadly, Cedric plucked the complaining Jeffrey from the floor and dropped him onto his broad, lumpy shoulders. Logan couldn’t help but snicker as the two shuffled towards the sky dwarves attacking the counterweight, Jeffrey weaving as nimbly as possible to avoid the jabs of spearpoints.

Pagan turned to Logan. “Get to the deck and find out why this bloody ship is listing so badly. Try to keep us level. We’ll do what we can to clean up down here.”

Nodding, Logan turned to leave. He pointed to The Baron, who was cowering behind him. “You! Get in a corner, keep quiet, and don’t get in anyone’s way unless they ask. Get me?”

Shuffling to one side, his expression meek, The Baron dropped his eyes. “Yes, m’lord. Whatever you say.”

For half a second, Logan felt the impulse to apologize. Despite his reckless, damned near stupid attitude as a child, he’d always held a soft spot for his relentlessly kind mentor. The Baron had treated Logan much better than his father ever had, and in many ways the old man had been a better father to Logan than Jeffrey. But the memories of everything The Baron had done since the days of old smothered the impulse, and he settled for a quick roll of the eyes as he dashed out of engineering.

I’m gettin’ too soft for this, Logan thought. He thinks I’d make a good king? Fat fuckin’ chance of that.

Logan sprinted as quickly as he could through the corridor separating engineering from the stairs up to the command deck, the unhealthy lean of the Sky Bitch preventing him from moving at his full speed. He suspected, too, that some part of him wasn’t in a hurry to get to the deck, because he knew monsters waited at the top of the stairs, and though he was monstrous in his own way - he’d never met anyone near as fast as himself, save perhaps Eve - Logan didn’t like monsters. They scared the part of him that was still a child.

Monsters did indeed wait upon the command deck. But one of them was not who Logan expected.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Day Eight-Hundred-Three: Meanwhile

Things were not going much better below deck on the Sky Bitch. It would be quite accurate to claim that things were, in fact, spiralling into hell, because engineering was filled with sky dwarves.

Logan knew shit was up the moment a sky dwarf appeared from a portal in the recreational room. The angry purple creature buzzed out of thin air without warning, its pinched-and-paunchy face abruptly replacing that of The Baron. It held a spear in its hands, and it jabbed out at Logan with violent intent. Only Logan’s quick reflexes saved him from being skewered.

“What the fuck!” Logan danced away from the sky dwarf, his back slamming into the wall as the Sky Bitch lurched harshly to one side. He instinctively reached for the sword on his belt, cursing as he realized that the sword was, in fact, in his cabin.

“Sky dwarf!” The Baron cried, unhelpfully. He backed away from the table, his useless hands flailing. “This is Kierkegaard’s doing!”

“Ya think?” Logan yelled back.

A second sky dwarf appeared from the portal before it snapped shut. The first plodded across the table towards Logan, its three-toed feet slapping against the table harshly. Its buzzing threats stung Logan’s ears, and its baleful red eyes promised a bloody future. Its spear darted out at Logan again and again, and judging by the older man’s cries, Logan suspected The Baron was receiving a similar treatment from the other sky dwarf.

Sliding neatly past a particularly vicious thrust of the spear, Logan punched the sky dwarf in the left eye. Its eyelid pinched shut, and the creature screamed as it lurched backward, wings buzzing displeasure. Logan used its momentum to push it onto its companion, and both sky dwarves yelped as they tumbled off of the table and rolled onto the floor. The Baron fled across the room, scurrying behind Logan’s back.

“Thanks for the help, ya twat!” Logan elbowed The Baron in the side. “Just GTFO if you’re gonna hide! You’re in the way!”

“I’d be fine if I had my hands!” The Baron waved his broken fingers at Logan. “Blame Emmett!”

Extricating themselves from one another, the sky dwarves rounded on Logan. He used their disorientation to his advantage, flashing forward with incredible speed and smacking both dwarves with quick, stinging slaps. They roared irritation and pain - and when the left sky dwarf’s grip on its spear faltered, Logan was quick to snag the weapon. Two swift stabs left the dwarves with holes in their throats, and they collapsed in a heap.

“What a shitty weapon,” Logan said, glaring at the short, crude stick in his hands. “Your penguin is a fuckin’ cheap-ass when it comes to weapons, old man. I’m pretty sure this tip is made of stone.

“Sky dwarves are just a distraction,” The Baron insisted, panting. “Which means - “

The ship rocked again, sending The Baron sprawling. Screams of surprise, pain, and battle rage floated down the corridors of the Sky Bitch, accompanied by far too many familiar buzzes. Staggering but maintaining his balance, Logan pulled The Baron off of the floor and pushed his former mentor out of the room.

Chaos waited in the corridors. Sky dwarves had apparently infiltrated nearly every section of the Sky Bitch, riding in through Kierkegaard’s portals and attacking the crew. As he righted himself in a passage leading to the galley, Logan spotted his father at the far end of the corridor, weaving around the thrusts of a sky dwarf spear and lashing out with strong punches. Cedric stood beside Jeffrey, a spear jutting out of his shoulder and apparently forgotten, a sky dwarf wriggling in his lupine claws. He slammed the creature against a bulkhead, and it bit at his arm as it died.

“Dad!” Logan called, wincing as Jeffrey’s opponent nearly put its spear through Jeffrey’s bicep. “Uh, maybe now’s not a good time.”

Sidestepping, Jeffrey lashed out with a right, the careful movement of his legs giving the punch more heft. The strike sent the sky dwarf slamming into the wall, apparently knocking it unconscious, and Jeffrey shook his hand, grinning. “Ow. Ow. Those things are hard.”

“Looks like somebody finally grew into his pubes,” Cedric growled, though he was grinning. “Damn. Wouldn’t mind sparrin’ with you some day, Jeffrey. That was a nice move.”

“Don’t think we’re well-matched anymore,” Jeffrey pointed out, glancing at Cedric’s hulking body. “What’s going on? One minute we’re talking, the next, these ugly creeps are attacking us!”

The Baron, still creeping behind Logan, jumped into the conversation. “Kierkegaard. He must have gotten the drop on us. I would recognize his portals anywhere. Which means he may also be on the ship - “

The Sky Bitch rocked again, turning the rest of The Baron’s sentence into a yelp as he fell into a bulkhead. Logan joined him, grabbing a guardrail, and as they stumbled against the wall Jeffrey and Cedric followed suit. So when Eve appeared and launched herself down the corridor, followed closely by her enormous brother, they had a clear path through the crowd.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Day Eight-Hundred-Two: Showdown

“I can only teleport so far on my own, y’see,” Kierkegaard said, stepping out of the stairwell and crossing his hands behind his back. “Mite inconvenient. But, hey, when you’ve got an army of shitheads that can fly, it’s less of a problem.”

The crew of the Sky Bitch had collectively backed away from Kierkegaard, most retreating towards the captain’s cabin, though Libby held her ground. Dragomir shuddered to his feet beside her, quaking hard but similarly refusing to budge. They glared defiance at the penguin.

Kierkegaard laughed at their silence. “What? Nobody gonna say hello? I’m offensed. I bonded with some of youse guys, back at the old castle, and I don’t get a single greetin’. You humans are so rude.”

“Hi,” Libby hissed, dipping into a poor curtsey. “Good enough? Then get the fuck off my ship.”

Kierkegaard’s grin grew, and his mustachios seemed to curl and twist of their own accord, sharing his glee. “A woman after my own mouth. Ain’t it nice ta swear? So much more honest than bein’ all polite ’n shit. Really lets ya know what a person is thinkin’.”

“What do you want, Kierkegaard?” Dragomir demanded, his right hand opening and closing. Red-and-greens sparks skittered around his fingers, almost unnoticed by everyone on the command deck.

“I’m visiting my buddies! I just said! Kinda, anyway.” Kierkegaard shook his head. “You lot don’t get many visitors, I bet. Must be all lonely up here. That’s the only reason I can conjure for why you’d fly right over my army without openin’ fire. Seems a pretty duncey move, don’tcha think?”

“Yeah,” Libby admitted, pausing to glare at the rat that was now perched on her shoulder. It stared mutely at her. “Duncey.”

“Yep.” Kierkegaard tapped his beak, then held out his arms. “’n you guys, well, you’re kinda stupid, but you’re not that stupid. So, I figure, ya must be lonely! I’d say that’s pretty fair. I could’ve ordered my Nothings to bring you down with their hook things, but, I figured, nah. This calls for a personal touch. So here I am, with an impulse ta cheer all the lonely people of the world, ’n you lot are a good place to start. Who wants a hug, eh? Anybody?”

The crew didn’t move. A few were trying to open the door to the captain’s cabin without arousing attention to themselves, and they froze in mid-action, looking almost guilty at their attempt to escape.

“Ach, you’re all balls. Balls, I say!” Kierkegaard threw his hands up in mock dismay. “Okie dokie. I’ll pick someone myself. How ‘bout… mmm… you?”

The penguin pointed across the command deck, the edge of his nail aimed directly at Morris. Despite the hair brushed over his eyes, Morris had no trouble spotting the threat, and for whatever reason he began to fumble his oversized cowboy hat off of his head. Libby had told him a dozen times to stop wearing the hat, after he’d become a member of the Sky Bitch’s crew, but he’d refused the order every time. It clashed horribly with his plain uniform, but Morris didn’t seem to care.

The hat popped off of Morris’s head when a portal appeared beneath his feet. By the time it fluttered to the ground, Morris was heaped in front of Kierkegaard, a tangle of awkward limbs and jittery fear.

“H… help!” Morris yelled, his voice bewildered and panicky. He struggled to get to his feet. “I don’t, I don’t, my cows, they need me, I, I, I, don’t - “

Kierkegaard’s ‘hug’ cut the one-time rancher off. Kierkegaard’s arms disappeared into a pair of small portals, emerging soon thereafter as massive, clawed hands, each bigger than Morris’s entire body. They wrapped around Morris and lifted him off of the ground, trapping him in their palms as neatly as a child traps a frog.

“NO!” Dragomir shouted. The Catastrophe blazed to life in his hand, and he took three steps towards Kierkegaard, lifting the pixelated blade threateningly. “LET HIM GO! NOW!”

Tilting his beak snobbishly into the air, Kierkegaard sniffed. “I just wanna give him a hug. Is that so bad?”

Dragomir took another step forward. “Let. Him. Go. Now.

“Man. You sure got ballsy.” Kierkegaard shrugged. “Well. Maybe you don’t need a hug. But this scaredy cat in my hands really seems to want some quality TLC. Hope you’ve got a sink, ‘cause I’m gonna have to wash up in a second.”

Shouting, Dragomir launched himself across the deck, the Catastrophe poised to strike, but it was too late. Kierkegaard’s oversized hands crunched inward, squeezing mercilessly even as they floated up and out of Dragomir’s reach. The squealing crunch of broken bone sent a shudder of horror down every spine in the room. Blood began dripping onto the deck as Dragomir roared, streaking his hair as he swung the Catastrophe in a flat arc towards Kierkegaard’s body. The penguin only laughed, however, and a pair of portals split his body in two, protecting him from Dragomir’s attack. Kierkegaard’s clenched hands slammed down onto the deck, leaving a deep dent, and Dragomir just barely managed to leap away. 

“Ha ha ha! You suck with that thing, don’tcha? Should get more practice. What an overrated piece o’ shit.” The portals protecting Kierkegaard’s torso disappeared, leaving him whole, and his hands jittered back and forth. Then, his face lighting up, he brayed laughter. “Hey, hey! I got one! Roll dem bones! Ever heard that ‘spression before? Man, it’s so literal right now! Wonder if I’ll get snake eyes. Anybody wanna see if I get snake eyes?”

Dragomir tried to lash out at the hands again, plainly hoping to stop them from spilling their grisly contents onto the deck in a horrid mockery of a dead man’s life. The hands remained staunchly out of his reach, however, and Kierkegaard carried on laughing. The rest of the crew, Libby included, were too shocked to move or speak.

“You gotta do more than this, Dragofuck!” Kierkegaard danced, hopping from one foot to another. “You gotta embrace your heritage, dude! Show ‘em what we can really do! Else you don’t stand a shrimp’s chance in a frying pan of beatin’ me!”

The comment stopped Dragomir in his tracks. He was breathing hard, but Kierkegaard’s words seemed to clog his lungs for several seconds, and the rage and pain in his face gave way to a deep, wordless fear. The Catastrophe flickered in Dragomir’s hands, a few tiny hints of green speckling the crimson blade in an almost festive pattern.

“There’s… no… there’s no we…” Dragomir panted, bringing the Catastrophe up in a sloppy guard position.

“That hurts, bro. That hurts right in the feels.” Kierkegaard hung his head. “Remember the good ol’ times? Me riding on your back, huntin’ for rats? Imagine how much better that would’ve been if only we’d both known that you’re a - “

Dragomir’s roar drowned out Kierkegaard, surprising everyone on the command deck, the penguin included. Dragomir bolted at Kierkegaard in a flash of speed, swinging the Catastrophe five times. Kierkegaard avoided the onslaught, using his portals to avoid the whirring blade, but his grin had faltered by the time the rear of his general’s cap squished against the glass canopy. It reasserted itself as Dragomir pulled away, though, and Kierkegaard’s eyes shone dangerously.

“They don’t know, do they?” Kierkegaard tittered. “They don’t know what you are. So, say, if I were to open up and tell ‘em that - “

Dragomir charged again. His slashes sent Kierkegaard dancing across the deck, arms still plunged into portals, and Dragomir’s attacks left large, sparkling gashes in the canopy. Wind whistled through the breaking glass, and Libby’s crew, their hesitation now gone, dashed for the stairs into engineering.

Libby did not run. She was rooted to the ground beside the steering wheel, her eyes fixated on her husband. She couldn’t look away from the beam in his hands, a beam that seemed to be vacillating between familiar red and unfamiliar green every few seconds. She was so enraptured by the sight that she didn’t notice the rat crawling up her neck, its claws pinching her skin, until it whispered something in her ear.

“Look at what he is,” the rat hissed, its tiny voice so unnatural that Libby wasn’t quite sure what it was saying at first. “Look. Look. Then you will understand why I did what I did.”

Libby’s first compulsion was to brush the rat away, but she couldn’t tear herself from watching Dragomir swing the Catastrophe at his foe. “Wh… what… I don’t… understand…”

“I wanted to tell you for a long time, but they wouldn’t let me,” the rat squeaked. “But now I’m in charge, and, eheh, I can. Watch your husband reveal himself, m - “

The rat didn’t finish its sentence. It was, instead, inconveniently cut off as a third combatant rocketed up the stairs from engineering and onto the command deck. With unstoppable speed she flew across the deck, pushed her father out of the melee, and launched a kick at Kierkegaard. Surprised, Kierkegaard nevertheless managed to lower his still-clenched hands in front of her outstretched leg, but the force of her attack pushed penguin and claws alike, hard, into the canopy. The glass smashed open, vaulting Kierkegaard into the night.

Crouched low, an aura of too-subtle green encircling her body, dark purple blood staining her gauntlets, Eve glared at Kierkegaard through the hole in the canopy. Her brother stood behind her, imposingly tall, his arms crossed. Cuts marred his face.

His hands still stained with gore but no longer engulfed in portals, Kierkegaard hauled himself up onto the small jut of deck outside the canopy. He wobbled as he fought for balance, the high winds threatening to knock him off the Sky Bitch, but his beak formed a delighted sneer, and he brayed shrieky pleasure.

“The bitch returns!” Kierkegaard’s face blanched, the fleshy white around his eye sockets turning as white as bone. “Been lookin’ all over for you, my darling, oh, my darling. Shall we DANCE?”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Day Eight-Hundred-One: Evasive Maneuvers

The Sky Bitch arrived in the combat zone before anyone was prepared to fight. Having consulted carefully with the rats via Dragomir, as well as through their map, Libby expected to have two more hours before she ran into trouble, and remained in the clouds to keep out of sight. She was deprived of the extra time when the first Non flier hit her airship on the port side.

Caught entirely off-guard, Libby slammed into the control panel in front of her, the wind knocked out of her lungs by the buffet to her stomach. Gagging, she slumped over the controls as the Sky Bitch tilted ponderously to one side. Judging by the shocked gasps and groans from all around the command deck, Libby suspected that everyone else on the ship was faring no better.

The Sky Bitch rocked again, harder this time, and slipped out of cloud cover. Libby clung to the console, her gloved fingers biting hard into the wood as she fought against the urge to throw up and the gravitic compulsion to fly into the glass canopy surrounding the deck. Twisting, she slid to a crouch and rode out the smacks, wincing as the Non flier assaulted her airship over and over.

It took twenty seconds of non-stop attacks before Libby got her voice back. “R… OW… REPORT!”

“We’re bein’ attacked!” Morris yelled as he scrambled to remain upright.

“TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T FUCKIN’ KNOW!” Libby pointed at the helmsman, a technician from Pubton who had no great aptitude for flying. “TO PORT! SWING US AROUND! GET A LOOK AT THE FUCKER!”

“I…” The helmsman struggled with the wheel, though his thin arms seemed incapable of lugging it in the proper direction. “I… the wheel is locked, ma’am! I don’t think - “

Deciding to take a page from the man’s problems, Libby didn’t give much thought to her next actions. Ignoring the swell of nausea in her gut, she launched herself across the listing deck, knocked the technician aside, and grabbed the wheel. Biceps straining, she wrenched the Sky Bitch around in as tight an arc as she could manage. Shouts of surprise floated up the stairs from engineering as crew members throughout the Sky Bitch’s guts flew into bulkheads and tumbled about in their quarters.

I should install harnesses in this fucker, Libby thought, the sketched plans of her beloved ship floating to mind. Some kinda… I dunno… belt. Keep you in your seat. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea for later.

Though the sky beyond the Sky Bitch’s command enclosure was both dark and cloudy, Libby had no trouble spotting the Non as it came around for another pass. It looked absolutely massive, with a wingspan almost twice as wide as the Sky Bitch itself. Baleful green eyes peeped out of the silhouette of its body, and Libby wondered if everything it saw was tinted emerald. She wondered, too, if she would ever get an answer to that question.

Reaching for a comm tube jutting out of the deck beside the wheel, Libby bellowed. “GUNNERS! MARK IS DEAD AHEAD! PRIME YOUR CANNONS AND BE READY FOR THE NEXT PASS - “

The Non rocketed towards the Sky Bitch, almost eclipsing the canopy before Libby could finish her sentence. She wrenched the ship to starboard, grimacing as the Sky Bitch shrieked in structural pain. Something long and incredibly sharp scored the airship’s side as the Non flitted past, and Libby wondered if her precious transport was venting cargo. She brought the Sky Bitch around again, satisfied that the Non had not damaged the rotors, ready to shout another command - 

- and the Non, flicking upward, came down at the Sky Bitch’s massive balloon. The impact knocked the Sky Bitch downward, its nose pointed towards the ground. Libby’s stomach lurched at the motion - and the sensation only got worse when she spotted the army far below, milling along in huge columns. She only caught a quick glimpse of what lay below the Sky Bitch, but that was all Libby needed to realize that they were floating almost directly above enemy lines.

We shouldn’t be here, Libby thought, gripping the wheel with all her might. They shouldn’t be here. This ain’t right. The fuck have the rats gotten us into?

Though he didn’t say the same, the sentiment was mirrored by Dragomir as he stumbled onto the command deck, a flurry of parchment following in his wake. He staggered against Morris, nearly knocking both of them off their feet, and catapulted himself towards Libby as the Sky Bitch’s helium sloppily balanced the ship.

What the fuck?” Dragomir cried, collapsing at Libby’s feet and clinging to her leg. “What the fuck is going on, Libby?

“DON’T ASK ME, THIS WAS YOUR IDEA!” Libby growled back. She reached for the comms tube, watching as the Non pulled away and wheeled around in the distance. “GUNNERS! FIRE ON THE MARK!”

A chorus of panicky voices acknowledged Libby from various parts of the Sky Bitch, and the thunder of the ship’s innards was abruptly, deafeningly replaced by the roar of a dozen cannons going off in concert. Streaks of smoke erupted from the front of the Sky Bitch, and before they reached their target Libby was already screaming for her gunners to prep their cannons for a second volley, nevertheless praying the first would be enough.

It wasn’t. Though massive the Non was also agile, and if any of the cannonballs actually met their mark the ebon avian showed no signs of slowing. It hurtled towards the Sky Bitch’s canopy at a suicidal pace, growing so large in the viewport that Libby wondered if she’d simply gone blind. Refusing to close her eyes, Libby gritted her teeth and prepared for impact -

- but it never came. Before the Non hit the canopy it seemed to ooze around the Sky Bitch, its body compacting into a sleek bullet that slipped through one of the gaps in the Sky Bitch’s superstructure. The ship shuddered, as though hit by a vicious breeze, but the Non apparently left no damage behind in its wake.

Libby’s eyes twitched. She couldn’t help it. She was faintly aware of Dragomir’s grip on her leg, and of the pinpricking nails of a rat crawling up the arm of her uniform. Temporarily numbed, Libby tried to shake the rat off, but it continued to climb, its presence warming her left side. She abhorred the sensation.

It took a few seconds, and one quick kick, before Dragomir released his wife’s leg. Libby thought she detected the tang of urine on the air, a scent she knew quite intimately, but given the events of the last minute-and-a-half she suspected anyone on the command deck could be to blame. She peered down at her husband, and he peered back, his face surprisingly unafraid. Alert, yes, but not that fearful.

“Uh…” Dragomir gulped. “That… was that… strategy, or…?”

Libby shrugged. “If… uh… if it was, I dunno what the point was…”

But by now the Sky Bitch had quieted, the furor of the action reduced to the dull roar of the engines and the rotors, and Libby noticed the quiet click of sharpened nails on the wood-and-steel deck. They climbed the stairs into command slowly, deliberately, almost gleefully.

“Howdy, boys and girls,” Kierkegaard said as he climbed onto the command deck, the wisps of a green portal clinging to his tail. “Penguin in da house.”  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day Eight Hundred: Convene

As the Sky Bitch rumbled across the twilight sky, four men sat at a table within one of its three small recreational rooms. One wore chains on his wrists.

“So,” Logan said, fiddling with a wooden coaster. “This is… awkward.”

To Logan’s right sat his father. Jeffrey was looking much buffer these days, his muscles considerably larger thanks to a rigorous training regimen prescribed by Antonio the Gypsy. On Jeffrey’s right, still much larger than the former king, sat Cedric, a hulking mass of semi-undead fur and messy stitches hidden beneath a large cloak. Logan knew that half of Cedric’s body did not belong to him, and he was glad not to see what it looked like. And on Cedric’s right, isolated from the rest by a fair margin, his bandaged hands folded neatly on his lap, sat The Baron.

“Don’t think ‘awkward’ quite does this shit justice, kid,” Cedric snorted. 

Logan sighed. He began to wonder why he’d arranged this little ‘meeting’ in the first place. The four men sitting at the table all shared a sticky past, thanks largely to the oldest of their number, but if The Baron was to work with everyone else…

“You all look well,” The Baron commented, his tone surprisingly even. A sardonic smile curved the front of his cloak. “Perhaps not you, Cedric. I suppose I should apologize for that.”

“Gee, don’t put yourself out over it, none.” Cedric picked at a plate of carrots, breaking one in half with wolfish claws and popping it into his mouth. “Only got me killed. ’n brought back. ’n fuckin’ tortured for, like, two years. No big, old man, no fuckin’ big.”

“Kierkegaard ordered your death, as I recall,” The Baron said, his voice small but officious. “And Emmett picked up the pieces. So to speak.”

Cedric’s fists tightened, slamming against the table and leaving sizeable cracks in the wood. His plate of carrots went flying. Logan suspected that the former captain held back, however, and Cedric’s hands trembled with restrained force as they hovered in front of him. 

“Try not to wreck that, Cedric,” Jeffrey said, his expression dark and focused. “Libby will have a fit if you ruin her ship.”

“I ain’t bound to listen to you anymore, my lord,” Cedric barked. “Was a life of service, wasn’t it? Kinda ended when I fuckin’ died.”

“Just some friendly advice.” Jeffrey glared at The Baron. “Wouldn’t want you to get dumped overboard. Though I wish Dragomir would dispose of some of the trash on this ship. Preferably while we’re in flight.”

The Baron rolled his eyes, apparently unintimidated. “My, Jeffrey, you’ve lost your sense of creativity. What happened to the elaborate death traps and ridiculous decrees? I know Kierkegaard was behind some of it, but you were quite ridiculous before he showed up. It’s almost sad to see that you’ve been reduced to a level of, I don’t know, actual sanity?”

Jeffrey rose to his feet, rocking with the movement of the ship and nearly tipping into Cedric. “Don’t you talk about my sanity, you lunatic - “

Enough.” Logan grabbed his father’s arm and pulled him back into his seat. He struggled more than he would have liked, admitting that his father had quite applied himself to his boxing. “Shut it down, dad. I didn’t bring us here for this.”

“Then why did you bring us here, Logan?” The Baron raised his useless hands, chains clinking. “You all hate me. I’m well aware. Did we need to congregate around drinks and food to establish the fact? You could have simply come to my cell and hurled insults at me. Given the company, I would have found such a choice much more intimately familiar.”

“I miss the ol’ dungeons,” Cedric said, scratching at his cloak with nails so sharp that they tore the fabric. “Right beside the treasury. I’ll give ya that much, Jeffrey, puttin’ all the prisoners beside the gold was a funny-ass idea. Not smart, but funny.”

“Thank you.” Jeffrey stared into his drink, a foamy beer he’d barely touched. Half of it had spilled onto the table. “I’m with the bastard, here. What’s the point of this, Logan?”

Steepling his fingers, Logan looked around the table. “We’re here because we all have the same boss, these days, though he was too busy prepping for later to show up here tonight. I figured we’d better establish an accord before it gets in the way of being productive. For his sake.”

“Meanin’ what? You want me to shake hands with you guys and call it even?” Cedric shook his head, his shaggy hair swaying. “I don’t mind you, kid, ‘specially now that you got rid of that fucking werewolf you called a kangaroo. I’ll even admit the ol’ king, here, ain’t doin’ too bad for himself. Can tell you’ve gotten inta boxing. Good exercise, innit?”

“Quite,” Jeffrey said, rubbing his arms.

“But this fuck?” Cedric jabbed a finger at The Baron. “He’s the reason we’re out here. I don’t ever intend to get along with him. Put me in a room alone with ‘im and I might just turn his intestines into wall decorations. Sounds festive, don’t it? A real Jeffmas miracle.”

Jeffrey grimaced. The Baron flinched, retreating an inch into his cloak. Cedric took advantage of The Baron’s show of fear, throwing more threats at the old man, his hateful glowers promising even worse than his mouth. Logan’s attempts to stop the bullying were largely in vain, and it took several moments of floundering before he hit upon an idea.

Captain! At attention!

Cedric immediately went rigid in response to Logan’s crisp words, his back military-straight. His hand travelled halfway to his head before stopping, and a slow scowl spread across his face. “Fucking… old habits.”

“They’ll do.” Logan grinned, then sat forward. “Look. We’re all here because this guy - you, old man - did something. He did something really bad. He got you killed, Cedric; he used you, dad; and he possessed me. Right? That’s how it worked?”

“Something like that,” The Baron mumbled.

“He also set a whole gods-be-damned race of things loose on the planet, ’n now they’re bein’ commanded by a penguin with a chip on his shoulder.” Logan rapped his knuckles on the table. “That’s bad shit. Real bad. Even you know it’s bad, The Baron. Otherwise you wouldn’t be on this ship. Right?”

Slowly, The Baron nodded. 

“Right.” Logan sat back. “As far as I can see, we all have an obligation to set this situation right, ‘cause we all contributed to fuckin’ things up. Yes, Cedric, some more ’n others. And the only guy we can rally behind to do that is our boss. We all know he’s in charge, even if he won’t take a military title, or whatever.”

The rumble of the engine filled the gaps between Logan’s words. The other three men were all silent.

“I’m not a fan of worldwide messes, personally,” Logan continued. “I’d rather hop from town to town, conning people. It’s a lot more fun. That’s why I’m not in charge of this shit. Dragomir is. He’s the one that’s gonna set things right again, or at the very least he’s got the best chances of doing the deed. ’n if we wanna help, we need to support him. That means not being at each other’s throats constantly.”

“You want us to leave this guy alone, in other words,” Cedric growled.

Despite the disparity in their sizes, Logan stared Cedric down. “That’s exactly what I mean. And if Dragomir asks you to work with him, you work with him. Understood? You, too, dad.”

Cedric’s body seemed to shake at the prospect of heeding Logan’s words, and for several terrible seconds Logan thought he would reach across the table and pop The Baron’s head off his body with one strong squeeze. Instead, though, Cedric nodded, and with a soft pound of his fist he got to his shaggy feet - he looks like my bloody Kangaroo, Logan thought - and stalked away. Adopting a slightly quieter stance, Jeffrey did the same, omitting some of the bluster.

When Logan looked back at The Baron, the old man was smiling at him. “What?”

“You’ve grown up, young man,” The Baron said. “And despite what you say, I think you would make a fine leader. You have much of Dragomir’s casual charisma. With more experience in politics, you could be an excellent king.”

Logan rolled his eyes. “Don’t start. I put up with enough of your preaching as a kid. The last thing I want is a crown on my head.”

The Baron leaned forward on his elbows, grunting at the pain in his hands. His expression, at least from the nose up, looked mischievous. “And what if Dragomir asked you to put a crown on your head? What if he thought that could bring stability to the world? Would your pretty speech to your father and Cedric suddenly ring hollow? Or could you set aside your aspirations of a low life for something greater than yourself?”

Logan opened his mouth, ready to argue, but The Baron’s words cut through him like a knife. Shaken, he rose to his feet without another word and returned The Baron to his cell, unwanted mental images of himself sitting on a throne threatening to overwhelm his senses. He clicked the cell door closed, and was about to leave - 

- when the Sky Bitch suddenly rocked to one side, forcing Logan to reassess the situation, as well as his orientation with the ground beneath his feet.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Nine: She'll want to bond, surely

Eve was doing sit-ups when Fynn entered her cabin. She didn’t stop when he opened the door, and she didn’t stop when he shambled inside and seated himself on the floor. She also didn’t stop when Fynn offered her a timid greeting.

“Hi,” he said, clicking the door shut. “I’m… I’m Fynn. Hi. Nice… nice, to… nice…”

Eve stared at Fynn from her cot, eyes wide and unflinching. Her steely Non-green pupils gave Fynn the chills, and he dropped his gaze to his legs, focusing on his thighs. The incessant shuffle of fabric told Fynn that she still hadn’t stopped doing sit-ups, and he wondered how long she’d been working out. She didn’t look tired at all.

“I… ah. Um.” Fynn laced his fingers together, unlaced them, laced them again. “You… so… you’re… my… um…”

“We are bonded by a bloody curse,” Eve said, her voice monotone and even.

Fynn felt as though he might jump out of his skin when she spoke. He backed up against the door, looking at Eve for only a second before he focused, again, on his legs. Something on his calves required his absolute concentration. “Agh! Ah! Um, uh, that’s… that’s… uh… kinda, y’know, weird, but - “

Eve continued with her sit-ups, but her legs rose into the air as well, and she began peddling. The motion reminded Fynn of his times with the rhino, back on the Matriarch, helping the great beast power the transport across the country. The thought gave him a temporary sense of warmth, but the coldness of Eve’s presence squashed the comfort.

I feel like I’m being swallowed, Fynn thought, acutely aware of the thin sheen of sweat on his skin. I’m, like, twice her height, but she’s so much… taller… than me… feels like she could eat me in an instant if she felt like it. No wonder dad didn’t just walk in.

Fynn tried a friendlier approach. “Um… are you hungry…? I could… I could, like, go to the galley, and… maybe… I mean, dad told me once that you’ve… like… your appetite is crazy… but, well…”

Eve continued to stare at Fynn, peddling and scrunching, scrunching and peddling. Fynn envied her strong sense of bodily coordination.

“I…” Letting out a breath, Fynn slumped. He reached for the door handle. “I’m sorry. You probably, like, wanna… be… alone. I’ll… I’ll go - ”


Fynn’s hand shuddered to a halt, then began to tremble as Eve abandoned her sit-ups and hopped nimbly off of her cot. With three lithe steps she crossed the cabin and stood, perfectly balanced, in front of her brother. She leaned in uncomfortably close, her face only inches from Fynn’s, and he could smell blood wafting off of her grimy uniform. He wondered, between spasms of fear, how long she’d gone without a change of clothes.

She’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, Fynn thought, huddled so fiercely against the door that he wondered if he should just break through the wood and try to flee. He suspected Eve would not let him go so easily, however. She makes dragons look like puppies. I… I can’t… take this…

Eve’s gauntleted hand rose to Fynn’s cheek, the rough steel caressing his skin with a cold, firm kiss. She ran her fingers down to his throat, encircling Fynn’s neck and pressing very lightly. He knew she could crush his windpipe in an instant, and he also knew that he could do nothing to stop her. No amount of buffing magic could slow Eve.

“I…” Fynn winced, wanting to pull away, fearful that Eve might strike if he tried. “I… that… that kinda… hurts… please…”

Eve pulled in so close to her brother that their foreheads touched, and her eyes bored into his. She sniffed him, the gesture both predatory and creepy. Fynn nearly followed in his father’s footsteps and wet himself, but his bladder seemed too paralyzed by fear to respond.

“I…” The first hints of an emotional expression flickered across Eve’s face, but she smothered them with fierce blandness. “Sir. Sir, my mom heist. My… augh, my mom heist, sir. His mess, some Ed? My… my mom heist. Sir.” 

Fynn blinked. “W… what? I… I don’t…”

Eve’s grip on Fynn’s neck faltered, and after one more careful sniff of his face she pulled away. Her fists clenched, and she looked as though she wanted to mangle something, but Fynn felt that her irritation had nothing to do with himself. For the first time since entering the cabin, he felt… well, not safe, exactly, but safer. The teeth of the predator were no longer seeking to end his life.

“Firm yeti shams,” Eve muttered. She returned to her cot and sat, cross-legged, mumbling to herself. “My mom’s rimy heist. Sir… heist… augh. Sir. Let pleas hem… let… sir. Hem tall.”

Watching his sister struggle, the sweat on his brow turning cold, Fynn did something he didn’t realize he was doing until it was done. Using his magic, he reached out to Eve and scanned her. It was a branch of his buffing magic, he knew, but Fynn hadn’t known he could look into a person until he was in the middle of seeing his sister through a different pair of eyes. Green power flooded his corneas, obscuring his humanity, and when some of the glow faded, he saw.

“You’ve got something inside you,” Fynn said, his fear forgotten. “Something’s holding you back. Something… old.”

Though Fynn couldn’t see Eve’s face properly anymore, he knew she was watching him, her attention entirely fixed on his presence. A vague sense of relief, long penned away in a secret part of her soul, washed over her body as a red, warm silhouette. For one fleeting second Fynn actually saw his sister, hidden somewhere beneath the monster she was forced to present to the world.

“Firm yeti shams,” Eve said again, but Fynn didn’t hear nonsense. “I… I miss my father. I miss my mother. Does she miss me? I want to see our parents, because I miss them. Please tell them I love them.”

The scan didn’t last any longer than that. Something inside Eve, the old something, abruptly shoved Fynn out of her soul, breaking the connection between the two siblings. Fynn’s head rocked backward as though he’d been punched, and a headache lingered there for the rest of the day. He rubbed his temples, gasping and amazed.

“Wh… whoa.” Fynn hunched forward, drips of renewed sweat falling onto his legs. “Holy… wow. I… I dunno what to say…”

Still seated on her cot, her face stolid and expressionless, Eve bowed her head. She reached beneath the cot and pulled a grimy, tightly-tied parcel out, setting it on her lap and tracing lazy lines across its surface with her fingers. The motion reminded Fynn of the crew of the Dauphine during their visit to the Imperium town of Cheem, skating on ice and enjoying Allofusmas in the shadow of a massive, frozen beanstalk. Fynn had made a snowman with his mother that day. 

It was one of a thousand happy family memories Eve had never experienced, and probably never would experience, because she’d grown up as a weapon.

“Kill the fat man,” Eve hissed, all business again. She tugged at one of the strings on the parcel. “Rip his head from his corpulent body. Let his veins flood the world with red. Then I will be free.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Eight: Family Meeting

Huddled beside his mother’s chair, watching her issue commands to her crew, Fynn watched the landscape whiz by through the front viewport of the Sky Bitch. The gentle swish of colour beneath the ship did not, as it usually did, improve the boy’s mood.

“There’s a clanking beneath the deck,” Libby barked to Donovan, her deck chief. “What’s that clanking? I can feel it right through m’damn boots.”

Fynn could feel it, too. He suspected it was something to do with the Sky Bitch’s starboard rotor. It was not operating at full efficiency. He was too large to effectively enter engineering these days, however, so he couldn’t do anything about it.

“Might be rhino control, captain,” Donovan hypothesized. He was a tall, skinny man with a friendly, officious air. “The big guy was having digestive problems yesterday. I’ll send Morris down to have a look at ‘im.”

It’s the rotors, Fynn thought. One or the other. He’s wrong.

“Get to it, then,” Libby commanded. She smoothed the crisp folds of her uniform. It was a funny habit she’d picked up shortly after decreeing herself captain and dressing like she was in the military. “Check the gear boxes for the rotors, too. Kinda think they might be fuckin’ up.”

Offering a passable imitation of a salute and receiving a passable imitation in return, Donovan clomped off of the command deck. Fynn watched him go, waving a little as Donovan passed, but the deck chief didn’t see the big hand swivelling in his direction. Fynn sighed and gave up.

Fynn had grown up on the move. Born to one transport, he’d now found himself living on another. Moving on the ground or moving in the air didn’t really matter; all that mattered was the roaming lifestyle. Fynn found his nomadic existence more than satisfactory, having long enjoyed the experience of moving from town to town, field to field, danger to danger. He’d seldom known any great dissatisfaction, content to remain at the sides of his parents.

But that was before he’d discovered his green eyes. That was before he’d discovered his father’s green eyes. And, now, there was another set of green eyes on the ship, one to whom he was intimately connected.

A hand dropped onto Fynn’s head, tousling his mass of curls. He smiled, recognizing the gruff warmth beneath the glove. “Hey, mom.”

“Kiddo.” Libby learned forward to stare Fynn in the face. She didn’t have to stoop, as he was sitting level to her, despite being seated on the floor. “You’ve become one big fucker, ya know that? I’m gonna need a ladder to keep doin’ this, sooner ’n later.”

Fynn offered her a little smile, but even he didn’t find it terribly convincing. “Heh. Yeah.”

Libby frowned, scratching her chin. “What’s the matter, boy? Look like you mucked up ’n ate a heap of dog poo insteada the morning’s slop. I dunno which’d be worse, but…”

Fynn laughed, but he dropped his eyes to the deck plates. “Aw, nuthin’. I’m just feelin’ a bit woozy, I guess. Been a while since we flew anywheres. Those zombie guys kept us in one place for too long.”

Libby winced. “Yeah. Bastards, the lot of ‘em. ‘course, I’d rather be there than where we’re goin’.”

It was no secret that Libby disapproved of their current destination. She and Dragomir had staged a barely-civil disagreement on the command deck earlier that day, Libby straining hard to maintain an even tone, and when they’d ‘retired’ to her quarters the shouting match between the two was so loud that they may as well have just remained on the deck. It took Pagan’s intervention to calm them down, and now they were far from one another, Libby up here, Dragomir somewhere below-deck.

Fynn didn’t like it when his parents weren’t getting along. He pretty much hated it, in fact.

Standing to full height and stretching, his knuckles scraping the glass ceiling quite easily, Fynn forced a smile. He suddenly found he didn’t want to talk to his mother. “I’m gonna go sit ’n my room, mom. That okay?”

Libby scratched her chin. “Sure. Watch your head. You sure you’re okay, kid?”

Fynn cracked his knuckles. “Um, yeah. Just, y’know… maybe… nervous.”

Libby nodded her head, a slow, sage-like movement of understanding. “Ah. Yeah. Gotcha. War, ’n all that shit. Sure, go, go, get some sleep or somethin’. We won’t be there ’til tomorrow, this rate.”

“Yeah.” Fynn leaned over and kissed his mother on the head. He was almost twice her height. “Love you.”

“You, too, tall boy.” Libby hugged her son’s torso, then went back to yelling at her crew.

Crouching low, Fynn exited the command deck and made his way towards the living quarters, knocking his head off the Sky Bitch’s light fixtures as he went. It was a common enough occurrence that Fynn erected a small, magical shield around his head, one so slight and weak that no one could see its greenish aura. It protected his noggin, and no more.

Fynn did not go to his cabin, however. He went to a different cabin instead.

Fynn’s father was standing in the corridor as Fynn approached. Dragomir was slumped against a wall, his diary skittering about at his feet. He was staring at one of the doors with an expression of such fixed intensity that Fynn almost rethought his plan. He knew he would be in trouble enough if his mother discovered his intentions, hence his rather pitiful explanation of nervousness. The prospect of combat did not make Fynn nervous.

Despite Fynn’s clunking presence in the corridor, Dragomir didn’t seem to notice his son until Fynn announced himself. The diary ran over to greet Fynn with a flopped hug against his leg. “Hey, dad.”

Dragomir jumped. “Ah! Oh! Um… hi… shit, Fynn, you nearly made me fly outta my skin. Don’t do that.”

“Sorry.” Picking up the diary so he wouldn’t squash it flat against the deck, Fynn seated himself beside his father. The curving corridors, built especially for his massive body, made sitting relatively comfortable. He pointed at the door Dragomir was watching. “Is… is, um…?”

Letting out a deep breath, Dragomir nodded. “Yeah. She’s… she’s in there. Hasn’t come out since we took off.”

Fynn joined Dragomir in staring at the sloping wooden door. Despite Fynn’s size, he felt vaguely intimidated by the door, as if it was somehow darker than everything else on the Sky Bitch. He understood, of course, that it was not so much the door’s fault, but the fault of the girl on the other side, the young woman with the silvery ponytail and unflinching green eyes. 

“You… gonna knock…?” Fynn asked, eying his father. “I mean, like… she’s probably… maybe…”

Dragomir shook his head. “I… well, I tried. Couple minutes ago, I tried. She didn’t answer. Not sure if I should just go in, or… y’know. Like, what if she’s… changing…?”

Based on what little he knew of his sister, Fynn suspected she would not be changing - and even if she was, she wouldn’t give a shit if someone walked in on her. They’d be greeted with the same level of hostility as any other situation. “Yeah. I… guess I get that.”

They continued to watch the door, now silent. The relentless pumping of the engines that filled the hull seemed somehow quieter here, dulled by the presence of the very moment. Only the diary appeared eager to fill the hallway with noise, nudging up against Dragomir’s elbow and thrusting a dried quill at him with its curling tail. It almost always had a quill with it, these days.

“Maybe you should write in this little guy,” Fynn eventually said, pointing at the diary. “He kinda wants it.”

Dragomir chuckled, though without humour. “Yeah. I’ve noticed. Maybe later.”

“You used to write all the time,” Fynn pointed out. “What happened to that?”

Dragomir turned to the diary. It was standing on Fynn’s arm, its expression cheerful yet vaguely annoyed. It continued to jab Dragomir with the soft end of the quill, doggedly determined to have its way. Fynn suspected that the diary did this whenever it had the chance, and he pitied it. Without Dragomir’s daily entries, it must have been feeling quite incomplete.

“Maybe…” Dragomir reached out, grabbed the diary, and gently pulled the quill from its tail. He pocketed the feather. “Maybe later.”

“That’s… that’s not an answer, dad,” Fynn said, swallowing.

Taking another quick glance at the door, Dragomir looked sideways at his son. “You wanna talk to her?”

Fynn nodded.

“I… don’t recommend it,” Dragomir admitted, though a smile tugged at his lips. “She kinda sucks at talking.”

“I still wanna try,” Fynn pressed.

Shaking his head, Dragomir walked away. Fynn considered asking his father to stay, to join him in knocking on Eve’s door, but the thought of Dragomir’s wild romp through the midnight streets of Pubton sealed Fynn’s lips. He watched his father disappear down the corridor, noticing a lithe, athletic swagger in Dragomir’s steps that was not there when Fynn was born. It had only manifested itself since Dragomir’s return from the desert.

What did you learn out there, dad? Fynn thought, dispelling the Non barrier from around his head. Was it somethin’ about me? Is that why you never look me in the eye anymore?

Fynn knocked.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Seven: To war

“You’re headed to the front.”

Dragomir paused, a spoonful of sloppy oats less than an inch away from his lips. Drips of water plopped, unnoticed, onto his arm. “Say wha?”

“The front,” Barrel snarled again, though his white eyes told Dragomir who was actually talking. “We require extra support. You are to bring your vessel into the fight. Immediately.”

Dragomir set his bowl of oats down. He was eating on one of the Sky Bitch’s two lower observation balconies, casually leaning against the railing as he watched the zombies pack up their collection of tents and prepare to move off to Pubton. Pagan stood off to one side; Barrel, full-sized and looming over Dragomir, lounged on the grass beside the airship. 

His hair looks singed, Dragomir thought, momentarily distracted by the frayed, blackened edges of Barrel’s cascading mullet. He’s seen some shit lately. Fucking rats.

“Kierkegaard is making a move against the front lines of the Imperium. His forces have penetrated an area of low resistance in the north, and are proceeding towards Fillingburg. The Imperium’s forces are spread too thin to properly battle him. We require your assistance in holding him back until we can rally our troops and redirect them from other engagements.”

Dragomir’s mouth fell slack. He began to conjure half-hearted arguments, but steely Pagan beat him to the punch. The old man stepped forward, laid a hand on Dragomir’s shoulder, shook his head, and addressed the dragon without a hint of reservation. Dragomir had to admire Pagan’s testicular fortitude, if nothing else.

“What kind of support will we have?” Pagan asked, eyebrows narrowed. “Aside from what we have on the ship already?”

“A flock of dragons, ten strong,” Barrel replied, after a moment’s hesitation. “And two thousand soldiers in and around Fillingburg. The city is guarded by cannons.”

“And what can we expect to face?” Pagan pressed.

Barrel paused a little longer this time, the light obscuring his pupils fading to a dull white. Then it flashed back to full brilliance, and the dragon’s stumbling voice rang through. “Five thousand Non warriors, three thousand Non fliers, seven thousand sky dwarves, and four orbs. The enemy calls them Nothings, as you do.”

Dragomir’s throat constricted, and he struggled to swallow. The number of normal Non alone was terrifying. Throw four Nothings into the mix… four… “Wh… what the… what…?”

“Will we have time to gather our own forces?” Pagan said, his mailed fingers tightening on the bannister. “The goblins? Even the zombies?”

“Unlikely,” Barrel admitted, then amended his response. “No. There is no time. You must go now. They will reach Fillingburg within two days.”

“This is an error,” Pagan said, his tone almost threatening. “We are not ready for even small engagements, let alone a full-scale battle. This ship is largely untested in combat. Sending Dragomir’s force against such extreme odds is a waste of resources.”

Barrel’s scaled brow arched. “Are you disobeying us, human?”

Pagan sneered. It was difficult to see under his long beard, but Dragomir noticed it all too easily. “I’m not, because I’m not in command here. If I was, though, I would at least question such a request. From what little I know, Dragomir is key to your war effort; sending him into a battle like this is reckless.”

“Then it is fortunate that you are not in command.” Barrel’s tongue snaked out of his mouth, flicking at Pagan dismissively. He turned to Dragomir. “You have sufficient resources aboard to counter the Non. You have recently stolen their general away from them, have you not? She can defeat an army on her own.”

Dragomir gulped. Somewhere in the Sky Bitch, isolated from everyone else in her tiny cabin, Eve was brooding the days away in silence. He’d had little time to spend with his daughter, a fact that filled him with no small amount of sadness. “A normal army, yeah. I dunno if she can take an army of fucking Non. And I don’t - “

“You also have your son,” Barrel pointed out. “And a witch. And several other capable fighters. You will be fine. Make haste for Fillingburg at once. The regulators aboard your ship will provide you with a map.”

Barrel’s wings stretched abruptly, and the dragon rose onto his feet, clearly ready to zip into the skies and leave. Panicked, Dragomir called for attention, sparks of anger stoking his urgency. His urgent flailing sent his bowl of oats overboard, a smear of brown on dying grass.

“Wait! What the fuck!” Dragomir pounded his fists against the railing. “This is shit, man! Fynn isn’t ready for fightin’, and… Eve… well, fuck me, I just don’t know about her, but I do know - “

Barrel’s boxy head swivelled back towards Dragomir, nostrils flaring. The heat of his breath warmed Dragomir’s face with an uncomfortable, almost rotten odour. “We have an arrangement, Dragomir. You… you must obey us. We have given you… you, a command: you must obey.”

Dragomir pulled away from the balcony, almost tripping over Pagan’s cane. He stared up at Barrel, eyes wide, though his fear was not of the dragon itself. Instead, he feared the little twitch in Barrel’s right eye, the tics in his speech, the tiny shudder occasionally running up and down Barrel’s enormous neck. He looked like he was fighting regulator control, and not enjoying his failure one bit.

“We have… the platypus…” Barrel continued, lips rising and falling spasmodically. “And the traitor… we will… execute them… sooner… if you do not… obey…”

“This is idiocy,” Pagan muttered, close enough to Barrel’s jaw that Dragomir could see green dragon skin reflected on Pagan’s steel visor.

Barrel moved so quickly that Dragomir didn’t realize he’d pissed his pants until it was too late. The dragon’s head flicked sideways a few feet so he was staring Pagan full in the face. Then, with a roar that shook the Sky Bitch, he opened his jaws and howled “OBEY” so loudly that Pagan was knocked off his feet and against the hull. Strings of dragon spit decorated his armour, and he groaned as he tried to stand.

Dragomir assumed he groaned, anyway. It took ten minutes for his hearing to come back completely. In the meantime he joined Pagan in staggering to the captain’s room for a recuperative sit-down.

Barrel flitted away with a mighty push of his wings, the force nearly tipping the Sky Bitch on its side. Dragomir cringed at the dragon’s departure, wondering why the dragon had lost his cool so completely… and, more importantly, wondering if the regulators were in more trouble than they let on.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Six: Reporting In

The Nothings made short work of the dragons. Kierkegaard lamented his inability to deal with his opponents himself, but he enjoyed watching his playthings at work anyway.

Slumped against the leg of one of the Nothings, a tiny penguin with a mass of bandages on his shoulder, Kierkegaard slowly redressed himself. His medic, a wiry Non with nervous fingers, backed quickly away to give his general space. Kierkegaard approved of this, and he decided not to maim the man. Just this once, he’d show a little leniency.

Don’t kill ‘em all, Kierkegaard reminded himself, eyes fixated on a pulpy mass of dragon flesh nearby. It was festooned with barbs, each still connected to the Nothing standing over Kierkegaard. You need ‘em. The game ain’t done yet. Ain’t anywhere near done. Don’t sacrifice all the pawns ’til the fun is over.

“A… admiral…?”

Kierkegaard recognized the voice. It belonged to his aide, Shuster. He closed his eyes, sighing contentment. “I promoted myself. Killed a dragon, y’know. Call me something else.”

Though he was out of sight, Kierkegaard could tell that Shuster was shuffling his feet, afraid to speak. “Erm. My… my lord…?”

“I’m a military man, fool. I want a military title.” Kierkegaard rubbed his shoulder. “Don’t make me talk too much, either. I’m fuckin’ sore. Did you know dragons are tough SOBs? It’s fuckin’ true, kid.”

“I…” Shuster swallowed. “Oh. I’m… s… s… s…”

Kierkegaard waved a hand lazily. A portal appeared near Shuster’s head, and an enormous fingernail poked at his face.

“Augh!” Shuster jumped away, then stood stock-still. “I, I, I, I’m sorry! Sir! General… admiral… grand… master… maestro…”

“Maestro…?” Kierkegaard tapped his chin. “Hm. Kinda like that. Maestro Kierkegaard. Good work, Shuster.” 

The aide’s quivering calmed, though only a little. He saluted Kierkegaard several times. “Yes! Maestro! Yes, sir! Fine… fine… fine name! I… it’s grand! It fits you so - “

“So why the fuck are you here, eh?” Kierkgaard opened his eyes, watching as a column of Non bounded past the Nothing and into Imperium territory. They were not the first, and they would be far from the last. “You must want something, ’n you’re makin’ me talk an awful lot to get to the point.”

Shuster’s trembling redoubled. He saluted three more times, then, pausing a half a beat to collect himself, the Non pushed ahead. “We… we have news from Commander Emmett, sir.”

Kierkegaard moved his fingers to a tune in his head, pretending to be a conductor. He tried to hum, but his phlegm-choked voice only produced a half-decent squawk of sound. “Ack. Fuckin’ dust. What about him? He fuck up again?”

“Erm…” Shuster shrank. “Well… the mission… you sent him on… appears to have been… unsuccessful. He did… erm…”

“No The Baron,” Kierkegaard finished for Shuster, fingers still dancing. “No Eve. ‘bout right?”

Shuster nodded, head bowed to his chest. “… yes, sir. The, ah, mission… was a complete failure. He… he also reports that he has… lost… his Freak.”

Kierkegaard hissed mild disapproval. “No more Freak? Aw. I liked that fuckin’ wretch. Pretty strong, too. Smelled like shit, though, so I guess it ain’t all bad.”

Stretching his legs, Kierkegaard rose slowly to his feet. He leaned against the toe of the Nothing, patting the rusted metal casually as he picked bits of drying blood from his fingers. A horde of Sky Dwarves buzzed past in the far distance, and Kierkegaard wondered if the Nothing’s screaming barbs would be accurate enough to pick the little creatures out of the sky.

“So. No Eve. That sucks. But we’ll make do.” Kierkegaard shrugged. “I want a full debriefing. Get me every detail ‘bout his mission, ’n where The Baron might be. Once that’s done, get him back to workin’ on his stitch monsters. Put him in his own damned body, too. He’s no good as a fuckin’ pimple.”

Shuster hesitated. He seemed lost for words, every little shuffle of his feet a question.

“What? Need somethin’ else, antsy?” Kierkegaard glared at Shuster. “You’re startin’ to bug me, you know. All this talking.”

“Er, er! Sorry!” Shuster saluted for perhaps the tenth time. “But, erm… well, Commander Emmett already passed on news of where The Baron is likely to be, sir. And Eve.”

“Oh?” Kierkegaard scratched his stomach, feeling the first pangs of hunger since his meal of shredded, raw beef earlier that day. “Don’t leave me hangin’, bro. You won’t like me when you leave me hangin’. Where is he?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Five: Matchup of the season

Kierkegaard didn’t get pissed until one of the soldiers managed to blast him with a cannon. 

The cannonball caught the tip of Kierkegaard’s ivory beak with near-point-blank-range force. Moving as quickly as it likely ever would, the iron ball snapped Kierkegaard’s head to the side, the end of his bill snapping off with a loud crack that made even Kierkegaard cringe. He’d been hunched over a squadron leader, delicately ripping each of the man’s limbs off, and the attack had caught him completely by surprise.

The soldier, sprawled over a cannon that lay half-buried in debris, looked immediately regretful as Kierkegaard’s massive face swung in his direction. He tried to hide, but it was far too late.

Kierkegaard offered the man a grim smile, his Non body immediately repairing and reforming the nick in his beak. “Nice shot.”

The man fell out of a portal and into the gorge between the Indy Plains and the Imperium a few seconds later, joined by the bloody stump of his captain’s torso. The fall took exactly seven seconds.

Annoyed but triumphant, Kierkegaard began to stamp his massive, clawed feet. Bits of barricades and bodies flew up into the air as he thundered his displeasure, unleashing a battle roar that echoed across the plains and back to his army. The few remaining Imperium soldiers, regrouping quietly behind a large rock some fifty feet away, immediately broke off their plans for a counterattack and fled. Kierkegaard let them run, knowing they would spread word of his ferocity back to their masters.

A few seconds later, though, an answering roar floated back towards Kierkegaard. It cut his own bellow short, and, surprised, he turned to stare across the Imperium. He should have looked up instead.

The dragon rocketed down at Kierkegaard from above, parting a vast bank of clouds and descending onto the penguin’s head with incredible force. A Black-and-Crimson Widower with blazing white eyes, the dragon raked its talons across Kierkegaard’s bare skull as it pushed him to the ground, its sinewy tail wrapping around his torso. It squeezed, trying to force the breath from his lungs.

His head oozing green Non blood and wracked with pain, Kierkegaard unleashed a shrill cry - but it swiftly turned into an ecstatic, if choked, laugh. He flexed his stomach muscles, struggling against the dragon’s whiplike tail. “Y… you… ah, now… this… is… more… like it…

The dragon responded with a vicious bite to Kierkegaard’s shoulder. It put its full weight on his back, crushing him into the dirt. The ground quaked under their combined fury, Kierkegaard trying to rise, the dragon allowing gravity to do most of the work.

“We will not permit this,” the dragon rumbled, though Kierkegaard knew its voice belonged to one or more rats secreted on its body. A gust of heat, promising flame, followed its words. “You are unnatural. Begone!”

The penguin sneered. “I’ll… show you… be… fuckin’… gone…

Driving his arms into the ground, Kierkegaard focused his powers into his own skin, gritting his teeth and holding back a scream as a window to codespace ripped his back open, from his shoulderblades to the tip of his tail. He’d always struggled to open portals on or inside living things, let alone himself, and creating one that stretched his entire back caused more agony than even he could bear. But it was worth the effort, as half of the dragon’s body slipped into the portal, freeing Kierkegaard from its ponderous weight.

Normally he would have opened another portal elsewhere, and simply allowed the dragon to fall through. Instead, though, Kierkegaard closed the portal with the dragon half-in, half-out. The action was excruciating… but it ended the battle.

The dragon’s upper half lay twitching on the ground, a chunk of Kierkegaard’s flesh gripped tightly in its jaws. The light in the dragon’s eyes had almost faded. Staggering, struggling to maintain his true form, Kierkegaard regarded the dragon with great pride. He’d never killed one of the great reptiles before.

“Y… you…” the dragon rasped, the will of the regulators forcing it to speak through ruined vocal chords. “You will… not… succeed… there must… be… balance…”

“You assholes… take yourselves… too… fuckin’… seriously,” Kierkegaard replied, spitting out a glob of blood. “If life’s… just a game… then… ow, fuck me… then why… so…”

The dragon twitched its defiance. “You… will not - “

Rolling his eyes, Kierkegaard stomped on the dragon’s neck. Then, anticipating a horrid mess inside his codespace already, he opened a portal beneath the corpse and allowed it to slip inside. He hoped to find the little regulators trapped within later, helpless and alone, and make them squeal for mercy.

His fun would have to wait, though. In the distance, another dragon roared. And another, and another. A squadron appeared on the horizon, closing fast.

Kierkegaard raised his head, drips of blood seeping into the sockets of his bird’s skull face, and sighed. “Just… another day at the… office, I guess…”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Four: Penguin Takes The Field

Kierkegaard entered the battlefield alone.

He did this, sometimes, when he was feeling frisky. He didn’t like hiding behind his troops. He didn’t need to hide behind his troops. They were virtually always inferior to him anyway, both in magical power and in raw strength, and the few that managed to impress him… well. Those few usually wound up on the worst battlefields, destined for a terrible, tragic death, all in the line of duty.

“Line of duty,” Kierkegaard muttered to himself, stretching his stubby penguin arms. “Line of duty, line of doody. Heh. Shit jokes. I’m a class act.”

He was standing on a blasted plane, a hotly-contested battlefield on the borders of the Indy Plains that the Non and the Imperium had clashed over for almost three months. He’d sent his rawer troops here dozens of times for battle experience, knowing the stretch of bland land was of little strategic value… or at least pretending it was of little strategic value… but now, with a massive army waiting three kilometres to his back, Kierkegaard wanted it taken. 

The Imperium’s blockade on the other side of the gorge, perhaps six hundred soldiers strong, watched him from a distance. The penguin hoped at least one of them had shit themselves after seeing his olive green general’s uniform in the far distance.

Shrugging his jacket aside and placing his cap atop the heap of sleeves and buttons - he didn’t want to ruin his favourite uniform, after all - Kierkegaard began to walk. His sharpened nails clicked quietly against the ground as he approached the thin land bridge separating one side of the border from the other, a dangerous bottleneck the Imperium had somehow managed to guard against some very nasty attacks. 

Kierkegaard understood the value of bottlenecks in defensive strategy. He also knew they were useless against him. 

The first cannons on the Imperium’s side of the gorge went off the moment Kierkegaard came into range. Dozens of ill-aimed cannonballs whistled through the sky towards him, their sheer volume enough to insure his immediate eradication. Smiling, his kinked moustache curling up to tap his bill, Kierkegaard raised a hand - 

- and, almost immediately, a field of green-and-black holes tore open the sky above him. Kierkegaard grunted, pausing a moment as he focused on forming as many holes as possible. Then, satisfied that he’d caught the majority of the cannonballs, he pointed his other hand -

- towards the Imperium’s lines. 

The mass of soldiers didn’t know what hit them. One moment they were staring across the battlefield at him, no doubt wondering what the hell he’d just done to protect himself; the next they were running and screaming, their protective dirt mounds, ramshackle stone blockades, and finely-beaten armour abruptly smashed by a cavalcade of iron balls from above. A network of green holes, matching the portals above Kierkegaard, floated happily above the Imperium’s heads.

All but one of the portals vanished, and a new one appeared in front of Kierkegaard with a dramatic click of his fingers. Licking his bill, Kierkegaard stepped inside, his squat penguin body abruptly stretched to titanous proportions as he moved through his own, personal section of codespace. Watching the stars pass in the distance, Kierkegaard smiled at the chill tingle of the backside of the universe.

Another portal loomed in front of him, looking down at the battlefield on the other side of the gorge. Kierkegaard slipped through… but he did not shrink as he crashed down among the panicked soldiers. His legs as thick and strong as stone pillars, his arms strong enough to lift a whale, his skeletal face as bone white as the snow he knew was coming within the week, Kierkegaard fell out of the hole in codespace as a horror.

“Line of doody,” the massive Non whispered, enjoying the wriggle of dying soldiers under his veiny toes. “Line of duty, line of doody. Get it, fellas? Oh, stop screaming already.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day Seven-Ninety-Three: Is he...?

Dragomir expected an evasive answer. Something cryptic, and vague, and elusive, and perhaps even grandiose. ‘You are a means to an end,’ ‘You are the beginnings of empire,’ ‘You are the tool that pries open the door to darkness’. Shit like that. He was, therefore, a little surprised when The Baron provided a nice, straightforward response - though, given The Baron’s middle-management personality, Dragomir supposed he ought not to have been surprised at all.

“You’re a Non-human hybrid that I used to create a general for my people,” The Baron replied evenly. He tried to steeple his fingers, then winced when he remembered what had happened to them. “You’re also a part of Litobora the Many, a segment that has far exceeded her expectations. Or mine. Though I suppose that’s what happens when you give free will a chance to blossom.”

Dragomir rocked back on his legs, suddenly fidgety. Up to this point he’d felt in control of the situation. Abruptly, though, The Baron’s answer had robbed him of his advantage, and his emotions threatened to turn him back into a Non. He fought the slippery slope. “Uhhh…”

The Baron smiled, though it was a guarded expression, his tension evident even beneath his cloak. “I take it you’re used to hearing only half of the tale. I’ll admit I’m guilty of keeping secrets, but there’s no point in doing it now. That’s what you are, Dragomir. You were a step along the path to creating Eve. Where is Eve, anyway?”

Dragomir rested his chin on his fist, staring at the floor. “Outside somewhere. I think. Last I saw, Jeffrey was trying to coax her onto the ship. Don’t think he got very far.”

“Jeffrey?” The Baron whistled. “King Jeffrey? You’re joking. I’m surprised you’d even allow him to travel with you, Dragomir.”

Dragomir shook his head. “He’s… changed. We all have. None of that, though. Why did you need to make Eve? There’re plenty of Non strong enough to be a general, from what I’ve seen.”

Sighing, The Baron leaned against the wall of his cell, trying - and failing - to make himself comfortable. “Strong, yes. But not quite what I was looking for. I needed strong. Ungodly strong. The kind of strong that, oh, could haul massive rocks out of the ground while still in infancy. The kind of strong with seemingly no limits.”

“Like the real Dragomir,” Dragomir murmured.

The Baron nodded reluctantly. “Yes, like… him. I heard a number of rumours about the boy while everything was still in the planning stages. I knew I would need a human to create my general; I decided I might as well use a freak of nature. So I, ah, may have arranged a marriage. I don’t suppose…?”

“He’s in Pubton,” Dragomir said bluntly. “I didn’t need him knocking the ship out of the sky. He’s probably busy having fun with his family. Somehow all of ‘em are stupid enough not to realize who he is. At least in his case I can understand why he doesn’t recognize his parents. He’s a fuckin’ numbskull.”

“Er… yes.” The Baron’s eyebrows drifted downward in sad arcs. “I’m sorry, Dragomir. I don’t know what to say.”

“Answer my question,” Dragomir insisted. “Why did you need a human? I know you see what I’m gettin’ at. You’re a lot of things, but you’re not stupid.”

“No, I suppose not.” Rubbing his neck, perhaps predicting another through-the-bars outburst if he kept talking, The Baron joined Dragomir in staring at the floor. “Believe it or not, Dragomir, but I always planned to coexist with the world. I intended to go to war - but I only wanted the former lands of the Non back under our control. Namely our former homelands, held in bondage by the locks, and… the Indy Plains. They were ours long before they belonged to other races.”

Dragomir waited.

“Once we’d recaptured our territory, I… well, frankly, I wanted to establish a dialogue with the other races.” The Baron coughed lightly. “I had hoped that creating a Non-human hybrid would prove that our two species could, in fact, co-mingle. Eve would serve as the face of the Non, as well as a powerful deterrent should anybody try to go to war with us again. I only got half of what I wanted, in the end…”

Dragomir considered the idea. There was some merit to it, even if it seemed overly-idealistic. Races spurned would not forgive just because of a pretty new face. “Say I buy that. Which I’m not sure I do. Why concoct such a weird-ass plan for making a hybrid? If humans ’n Non can reproduce, which I’m pretty sure they can, why didn’t you just marry some human girl and get your kid that way? Sounds like you had enough years to brush up on your wooin’ skills.”

Dragomir expected mild frustration. What he got was, instead, a full-blown blush on The Baron’s face. He raised his hands, as if to somehow physically ward off the idea that he might strike up a romance with a woman. “Ah… ah… um, no, uh, no, that… that wouldn’t… um… uhhhhhh…”

Dragomir straightened, his grim mood lightening ever so slightly. He’d seen The Baron flustered before, usually when the old man was trying to get Logan to attend to his lessons, but this… this was somehow different. He looked far too embarrassed. “The hell’s wrong with you?”

The Baron’s green eyes bulged behind his glasses. “No! No! Nothing! I, ah, I, ah, um, I, ah… I… well, you see, there’s… uh… um…”

A thought popped into Dragomir’s head, a silly, vicious thought, one his slight sense of social decorum would normally brush gently under a rug and ignore completely. Given the circumstances, however… “You’ve… you’ve never done it before, have you? With… with your thinger?”

“DON’T… BE…” The Baron’s head sank almost entirely into his cloak, the tips of his snow-white hair poking out of the purple fabric like a pair of shy mountains. “Don’t… ridiculous! My… my, my, my GOD, why are… why is this… why, why… I mean, of course, but, oh, um…”

“You’ve never done it!” Standing, Dragomir pointed at The Baron with all the tact of a schoolyard bully. “You’ve never done it with your thinger!

“Of course I have! Don’t be stupid!” The Baron’s glasses emerged halfway from his cloak to glare at Dragomir. “That… is… that… of course I have! I have so… I mean… uh… my god, when did this conversation become so crude…“

Dragomir mocked The Baron a few minutes longer, enjoying the moment. He knew it was not the best way to entertain himself - he usually didn’t hold with making fun of other people so mercilessly - but the fact that it was The Baron, architect of so much misery, kept Dragomir on the offensive to the point of childishness. He only settled down when the engines of the Sky Bitch began to sputter, sounding as though they might suddenly die down and reveal his taunting laughter to the rest of the ship.

“I think I know enough for now,” Dragomir concluded, standing by the door of the jail. He wiped a few jolly tears from his eyes. “I’ll send somebody down with food, or… something. Don’t expect much.”

Before Dragomir could open the door to leave, The Baron called out. “W… wait! You… that’s it? You just wanted to talk, and… now… what? You’re going to leave me here? What’s going to happen to me?”

Dragomir paused to consider that, though he’d already made his mind up before entering the jail. He’d wondered, well before the conversation, if he might just strangle The Baron, rendering Pagan’s suggestion moot; but the man was still alive, and the suggestion was still valid.

“You’re gonna be onea my advisors,” Dragomir said, smirking. “You were my boss, and now I’m your boss. You’ll be my resident expert on the Non. You do what I want and maybe I won’t hand you over to the regulators at the end of this stupid war.”

The blush faded completely from The Baron’s pale cheeks. If anything he was even paler than usual, his pallid skin tight against his skull. He looked incredibly old. “An… advisor…? I…”

Dragomir turned back to The Baron. Raising one hand, he focused his rage into his fingers. Slowly but surely, coils of pixelated light erupted out of his fingertips and swirled around his palm, eventually settling into the blazing, two-pronged form of the Catastrophe. It was a brilliant red, but tiny flecks of Non green danced along the edges. Dragomir fought to speak past the pain pummelling his temples.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he warned, levelling the tip of the Catastrophe at The Baron’s chest. “We’re not buddies. I hate your fuckin’ guts. You didn’t just ruin my life, you fat fuck, you made it a lie. I am a thing thanks to you. And if you step out of line once - once - I will cut your head off and put it on my shelf with your brother’s. You get one chance. You understand that?”

The Baron’s shaky nod was answer enough. 

The Catastrophe vanished. Turning, Dragomir popped open the door without another word. He managed to maintain his composure until he left the jail, The Baron’s raspy fear shut out by the clank of metal on metal. Then, the door closed, Dragomir collapsed to the deck plates, the pain in his chest so bad that he thought he might vomit.