Friday, February 28, 2014

Day Six-Forty-Five: Tee hee


Oh. So this is Mud's diary. I see. What a pleasant distraction. I'm glad Logan picked it up.

I've never owned a diary before. I never saw much point. The whole practice seems patently juvenile. I would rather fill out reports, or essays, or the forms for a dance tournament. I'm quite a good dancer, you know.

Dancing didn't help me when the soldiers came. Dancing is only good for dodging. And dance contests. I suppose it could have been handy if the soldiers had seen me... but they didn't. They never do. No one ever sees me. And that's the way I like it! I like not being seen.

It's a ninja thing.

The soldiers came with pikes and clubs. They came with swords, and spears, and axes and cannons and armour and steel and sass. They came, and they found Mud and my father and mother and the rest of the crew, and they arrested them all. Our resolve was weak and our resistance feeble, and so everyone I know has been arrested.

Well. Except my brother. And his lesbian girlfriend. 

Perhaps I should not simply define her as a lesbian. I run the risk of stereotyping her. I do not like to stereotype people. 

Except Mud. It's fun to stereotype Mud.

I wish I could have done something to stop the soldiers. And, I suppose, I really could have. They were stronger; I am skilled. Skill beats brute force every time. But to do so would be to flaunt justice, and I am nothing if not an adherent of justice. We broke the local law; we pay the local price. It is simple.

Though that does not mean I will allow myelf to be captured. That would be silly. Who would save our friends if I were to be captured? Logan? Poor, pitiable brother, he wouldn't know where to begin. Not a clue. He is proactive without aim, exhuberant without goal, nonsense without end. No, it had to be me. I will save them all; it is my calling.

Even Mud. Stereotype or not, I'll save Mud. I like him. He's an idiot. Is it wrong to like an idiot? Or am I doing him a civic service? Do I deserve a medal? Perhaps. Oh, I hope it is mauve.

The only one left behind was mother. Mother, poor be-treed mother, captive of a venomous hunk of wood. They did not know how to remove her from our rolling home. I gave them an hour to puzzle their way through her extraction, holding Logan back all the while, before descending on the soldiers. One hour is all the time I permit for foreign justice. Once that time is up, our justice furls its sails and tramps all others.

The soldiers are not dead. Such is the capacity of my mercy. I will not cause a death that is not first deserved, and these three men and two women did not deserve death. But they did deserve a cudgel to the brainpan each, and that is what they got. Their bruises shall delight the eye come Monday.

Mother will remain behind. We have supplied her with all the food and water and entertainment and toiletries she shall need for an extended stay on foreign soil. I am confident she will endure. She is, as Mud's wife puts it, one tough bitch. When we return with our weasely father

(though not too weasely!)

she will be as steadfast as ever. I know these things.

We pack up, now, in preparation for following the force that took our friends. The gypsies that evaded capture will show us the way to the capital. They believe we can reach Rodentia by sunfall tomorrow; I believe they are correct. The sloth has cleared the way for us, after all, and wagon toads are ever so swift.

I licked a wagon toad this night. The gypsies own several.

My gods, it was full of stars.

Sincerely, and with the greatest flourish,


Celine the Magnificent


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day Six-Forty-Four: Blub blub


Gods damn it. Our wheel fell off.

When Libby designed the Dauphine, she expected trouble. She knew we'd have to weather a lot to get from one side of the world to the other. Animal migrations, bandits, inclement weather... the works. It was bound to happen. You don't travel the world without taking some knocks in the process. What Libby did not anticipate was going up against the Imperium army, or at least not on multiple occasions. Maybe she should've.

Okay, yeah. She definitely should've. 

To say the wheel fell off is not quite accurate. It would be more accurate to say that it fell apart. We heard the groan, the crack, the crumble, the collapse, just as we were digging into a soggy breakfast this morning. This followed by the groan, the crack, the crumble, and the collapse of our chief engineer as she heaved her bowl of porridge across the Neo Beefiary and into a wall.

Libby's not in a good mood these days.

Here's the state of the Dauphine as it stands right now:

 - We can't move. One wheel? Gone. Another wheel? Not looking so good. The rest? Decent. Wear and tear.
- Engineering has three big holes in its walls. The gears that comprise the Dauphine's internal guts are in disarray. They still move when cranked, but you can't really tell if they're actually doing anything or just slapping ineffectually against one another.
- Engineering is equal parts swamp and skating rink, depending on where you are. Under other circumstances I'd find this entertaining.
- Several of the cabins ringing Subsistence are gone. Ed's old home, bless his bardy soul, is now a hole. Grylock's been forced to move into new accomodations, as well, as his cot fell out of the side of the Dauphine during our escape from the soldiers.
- Two of our three sails are ruined. Lucky potshot that zipped right over our heads and hit the mast. We can fix those easily enough.
- A fair few windows in Command are broken. Again.
- The mechanism that allows Daena to both power and steer the Dauphine is on the fritz. We found that out when she steered right and the Dauphine banked left... right into a dense forest. Ouch.
- And, because it would be remiss of me to neglect the poor guy, the rhino's till on the mend. Apparently a cannonball blast stopped the rhino's wheel dead for about two seconds - just enough time for everyone's favourite quadruped to trip. Ouch time.

Also, the Dauphine just plain looks like crap. During the day, when the lights are off, it resembles a derelict husk. Passers-by probably think Libby's angered wails are those of a haunting banshee.

The gypsies regrouped and found us again - they're apparently very good at avoiding the Imperium's patrols, and no surprise - and they've been helping us rebuild the thing. For, you know, a minor fee. Bloody gypsies. Nevertheless, we've embraced their aid and fervently hope it'll be enough to get us back on our feet.

Which, Libby assures me, it will. She's more positive on the gypsies than I am.

Still...

We can't repair the Dauphine forever. Eventually it's gonna break for good, like the Matriarch before it. And when it does... what the hell do we do then?

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day Six-Forty-Three: Fight and / or Flight


Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. SHIT shit shit.

After yesterday's brief, unscheduled foray into the farmlands of Rodentia, we turned away from the borders and skirted northwest. I wanted nothing to do with a rampaging sloth, not after all I've heard (including that one, brief, fake encounter with the beasts in Pubton), and I knew that every available Imperium army unit in the region would be making haste to the capital. Consequently, one of two things could possibly happen:

1.) We would avoid the inevitable battalions altogether. Our chances of success would probably improve the sooner we got underway.

2.) We would run smack-dab into one of said battalions. Cue fight music.

I hate to say that we ran afoul of the latter. Because, you know, of course we did.

The first sign of trouble was Plato's frenzied quacking from the observation deck. He near fell down the stairs as he was trying to warn us -

- though, truth be told, the rumble of a cannon impact on our hull was warning enough.

"FUCK!" Libby cried from Engineering, her voice so high that it carried all the way up to Command. "GET US OUTTA HERE! JUST GOT AN IRON BALL WEDGED IN THE GEARS!"

She had good reason to freak out. A second impact shook the hull as we rushed to the viewports, and I quickly realized that a large contingent of Imperium soldiers, their telltale blue banners flying, were on our trail. They'd already scattered the gypsy caravan in our wake, and were aiming the brunt of their shots directly at us.

"FIRE BACK!" I commanded, swinging around to point at Daena. "Head for the hills! Maybe we can outpace 'em!"

"I doubt it!" Daena swerved the Dauphine violently to the left, plowing neatly through a grain silo. The whole rig shuddered. "There's some drag on the pedals! We're not moving as quickly as we should!"

She was right. The Imperium war wagons were gaining on our rear, their gunners lobbing volley after volley of deadly projectiles into the Dauphine. We fired back as best we could, but our crewers... they just aren't trained in the ways of war, y'know? Firing at human and orcs and snake people who know how to dodge is different than firing on a brainless t-rex.

The escape was long, and painful, and not without sacrifice. It took us the better part of an hour to finally shake our pursuers, and we only managed it by driving the Dauphine across a shallow bay. The Imperium soldiers continued to bellow threats and belch cannonballs in our direction, but their wagons are not suited to aquatic travel.

Problem is, neither is ours.

Engineering is filled with three feet of frigid water. We're slowly draining the cargo bays and moving everything up to Subsistence, and Libby is cursing up a storm as she assesses the damage to the Dauphine. Last I heard, one of our wheels is in terrible shape, and there are giant punctures in the hull that Libby's not confident she can fix any time soon. The forested area we're in has trees we can harvest, but they might not be strong enough to reinforce the hull.

Also? The rhino is injured. Bruised up his leg on his wheel. That's the most depressing part of it all.

We're moving. Limping. Slowly. But I don't suspect we'll be getting anywhere very quickly. If we run into another patrol, we're pretty much fucked.

I've been saying that a lot on this trip, haven't I? 

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day Six-Forty-Two: The Worst News


Bloody hell. We're heading into a metaphorical thunderstorm, I can tell right now.

Lisanna and her gypsies - they don't have a name for themselves, surprisingly - have been searching for Traveller for months. He has a penchant for getting into mass amounts of trouble wherever he goes, and consequently he leaves a bit of a trail. It's a random trail, mind, but it's a trail nevertheless - and since Lisanna's group is full of gypsies, it stands to reason that they can afford to follow him. Itinerants following an itinerant. They make their living in the wake of his rock throwing.

My first thought was that we'd accidentally, or perhaps not that accidentally, stumbled onto Traveller's path. I'm surprised to say that I wish I'd not been wrong in that regard.

Rodentia is a kingdom amongst kingdoms. Though the city itself is part of a rather concentrated cluster of huge buildings far from where we are now, the province of Rodentia stretches for many mlles in all directions. Most of that territory is farmland, and we'd laboured hard to avoid even the smallest and sparsest of these farms. I have no further interest in engaging the people of the Imperium, and Lisanna did her best to accommodate my wishes.

She miscalculated. We crossed Rodentian soil about five hours ago. What we found... well, at least we didn't run afoul of immediate trouble...

Morris was, as usual, on watch atop the Dauphine. He was the first to spot the rising smoke in the distance. He bellowed the notice down to us, and when the message made its way to me I ordered an immediate stop. Grylock took his boar out to investigate what lay beyond the hills of snow -

- and what he found was devastation. Complete and utter devastation.

Early in the trip, we came across the town of Vacia. It was a dead town, empty of all signs of life. Not destroyed, not on fire, just empty. I remember feeling quite creeped out by the lack of bodies or blood, creeped out by, indeed, the absence of evidence. I wanted to know what had happened.

I figured out pretty quickly what'd happened on the severe outskirts of Rodentia. Yep, Grylock didn't have to expand on his findings at all.

"It was a sloth," the goblin explained, ushering me down the ramp of the Dauphine to explore the ruined landscape. "Nay a doubt. Nothing I've e'er seen before has caused this much destruction."

I grimaced. The scene that lay before me was horrifying: a close-knit collection of farmhouses, ripped apart and smouldering, their occupants strewn about the snow in many, many pieces. Nothing had been spared, neither home nor barn nor farmyard animal. The trail of destruction carried on far to the west, beyond a lumpy hill that separated one farm from another. 

I called Lisanna forward, apologizing in advance for the scene. "You, uh... you sure this wasn't...?"

She shook her head immediately. "It wasna him. Traveller would never do somethin' of this... no. No."

"Okay, okay." I traced the trail with my finger. "Is it headed where I think it's headed?"

Lisanna scanned the horizon a moment, slithering up a blood-smattered tree to get a better look. I heard her curse as she came across something foul. She made it to the top, though, and she shouted out a confirmation. "Aye! To Rodentia proper! I can see the Stalk of Rodentia risin' inte the clouds!"

"Joy." Turning away from the carnage, I pulled the few people who'd been willing to come out of the Dauphine into a huddle. "Okay. Ideas?"

"We keep goin'," Grylock offered. "Willna get a better opportunity. Bet every soldier in the region's headed te Rodentia right now."

"We're not going to alert them?" Jeffrey breathed deep, slow breaths. I'm surprised he had such trouble - he's watched many executions in his day. "I would think that the honourable thing to do, here. Myself."

"Ye're free te take a horse and go tell 'em yourself, Kingly Kingerston." Grylock spat on Jeffrey's boot. "Don't expect me te come with."

"I wouldn't," Jeffrey replied, some of the grey in his face flushing red.

"Do we know it's a sloth?" Logan, who looked little better than his father, scratched his chin. "Could be something else. What's your proof, Grylock?"

The goblin, unperturbed by the gore, turned away from us and picked about in the snow for a few moments. He came back with two pieces of evidence: three-toed animal tracks... and a small handful of brown-and-white fur.

"... that could be anything." Logan poked at the lump of fur, clearly unconvinced by his own lame argument.

"Aye, it could. But it's a sloth, sure as not." Grylock looked back to me. "We heard stories 'bout one roamin' these parts, ye mayor in transit. Y'know it's gotta be the culprit."

I grabbed the tuft of fur from Grylock's hand and sniffed it. I didn't expect to learn anything, as my nose is not the nose of a goblin, but somehow that one motion told me enough. 

"Sloth or no sloth," I concluded, "we keep going. It's not our problem."

"But there must be thousands of people -"

"They already know, Jeff." I shook my head. "We're not goin' up against a sloth. Not even the possibility of a sloth. I have people to look after, and I don't want 'em sacrificed so a bunch of no-faced nobodys will have a slightly improved chance of survival. Understand?"

Jeffrey straightened. Hell, everybody straightened. They all seemed surprised. Truth be told, I guess I was a little surprised myself. But I turned away from the blood and broken fences, and I got on the Dauphine, and our war machine with its gypsy-steered wagon tail continued on its way. I considered telling Lisanna that we wouldn't need her help anymore, but the timing didn't seem right.

A sloth. That's the last thing we need. Hopefully it and the Imperium can keep each other busy until we leave this area. If a sloth attacked the Dauphine... that would pretty much end our trip right there.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, February 24, 2014

Day Six-Forty-One: Temporary PCs


I feel like I'm losing control of this trip. And it's everyone else's fault. I am not to blame and I know it.

(Okay, maybe I am, but you know what? Judgemental little diary? Fuck you. I can say what I want and blame who I want and you have to sit there and take it.)

...

(...)

(I need a vacation.)

I wasn't in the mood to hear any solid explanations as to why we suddenly had a band of gypsies on our tail last friday. All I wanted to do, in the wake of the Cirque du Magnifuckery's departure, was to sleep. I felt exhausted. So I slept, and I dreamed, and the dreams were awful, because my dreams are always awful, and gods help me, he's always there, staring at me. He's there and he's smiling and he doesn't fucking blame me

Losing track. Calming breaths, Dragomir. Calming breaths.

I still wasn't in much of a mood to talk to a complete stranger when I woke up late this morning. Nevertheless, Libby booted me out of bed and forced me to sit down with Lisanna, the head of the current gypsies, and discuss why in the hells they're still following us.

"It's simple," she said, taking a sip from a glass of orange juice. "Ahhh, that's right dandy stuff, it is. Simple: ye need us, 'n we could use you."

My eye twitched. For the fourth time I set my fork down. I still hadn't touched my plate of ham beyond the first bite, and the first bite was still harpooned onto the end of the fork. "We need you. How's that, exactly?"

"Well, judgin' by yer course, I'd say yer headed towards Rodentia. That about right?"

I motioned to Bora to bring me something to drink. She gave me the finger. I guess she's still pissed about our last conversation. "No, actually, that's not right. We wanna avoid Rodentia. We're going 'round."

"That so? Well, ye could still use us. We can explain away yer big transport, here, as part of our act. Might wanna pull in those cannons, mind - I doubt our union license'd cover that."

"Yeah. The gypsy union. I figured that was just bullshit to get rid of your competitors."

Lisanna smirked. "tis and t'isn't. Ye do need a license to perform on a big scale 'round here. Ain't a criminable offense, though - ye just get told te fuck off 'n try your luck elsewheres."

I wanted to argue the point, but I like Lisanna a lot more than Ramone. Which isn't to say I like Lisanna, but she seems more honest than that big-booted mask muncher. "Okay. So maybe we could use you. Why do you need us?"

Lisanna peered 'round her vast snake hood at a nearby table. Logan was busy chatting with Antonio, Lisanna's orc compatriot. The pair were laughing and swapping stories while Nagi read a book, looking a little put out by the noise level. "That'd be why."

"Huh?" I followed her gaze, not understanding.

"Him. Them." She shook her head. "Ye know we've travelled together a bit, yeah?"

I drummed my fingers on the table, waiting for a point. "I've heard some things, maybe. Them and Plato."

"Aye, the platypus." Lisanna paused a moment, squinted, and smiled. "Ahh, ye're the one that was on his Wanted posters! He pestered me every day with those blasted things. Glad he found ye."

"Mmm." I didn't really want to think about the point of my journey at the moment, so I shoved the revelation rudely aside. "What about them all?"

Lisanna's wooden fingers came together in a neat pyramid, propping up her chin. "They're good at gettin' in te trouble. 'n if they're travellin' with you, that probably means ye're good at gettin' inte trouble, love. And if there's one thing my son gravitates to, it's trouble."

"Son?" 

"Yep." She sighed. "He went missin', oh, a year back? Which ain't such a big thing, in itself, but the news to the west... what we've been hearin'... kinda makes me wanna bring him back inte the fold. For his safety, y'know."

I should have shut my mouth right there. I should've been content with my mental image of a young gypsy snake person, similar to Lisanna but taller and stronger and dumber. A restless itinerant who had obviously struck out on his own, seeking an independent fortune. I should have been content with not knowing exactly who her son was. But, stupid me, I plowed ahead.

"What's he look like? Maybe we've, I dunno, come across him."

She laughed. "Oh, lordy, my boy, ye'd know if ye met m'son. Traveller's hard te forget."

I frowned. "I gathered that he was a traveller -"

"Nope. Nope!" Lisanna rocked back in her chair a little, laughing harder. "That's his name, Mr. Dragomir, that's his name!"

"... what's his name?"

Like I said, I shouldn't have asked.

Lisanna and her band have been welcomed to come along for now. They're friendly enough, I guess, and Lisanna has promised to steer us well away from Rodentia. In exchange... if we ever come across her son... she is to get away from us. Immediately.

Immediately.

Fuck. Traveller? The dude who has wanted posters all over the damned Imperium? The guy so destructive that we heard about him back in Pubton? Fuck me, why did he have to be her bloody son?

GYPSIES.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Vexed

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day Six-Hundred-Forty: Showstopper

(Author's note: Art has been delayed. Why? Because my apartment has flooded! That's... that's hilarious.)

Man. Gypsies, gypsies, everywhere.

After yesterday's weird blackout, I wasn't in a hurry to revisit the Cirque du Magniwonderful. Yes, they were good for morale, yes, I was probably being paranoid, yes, those occasional evil glances in my direction were probably harmless. I know, I know, I know, I've been crabby this week, leave me alone. I still didn't wanna go back.

Problem was, Ramone insisted. He said they would not depart from the Dauphine until we'd come out for a final celebratory performance. And that meant everyone, myself included. It took a lot of convincing on Libby's part to drag me out of my cabin, and in the end she had to promise not to hit me for a week. I ultimately figured it was a fair deal. (For all I know, she's the cause of the blackout. I receive a fair number of buffets from day to day. Brain damage, you know?)

Everyone gathered at the front of the Dauphine and settled down in chairs as the gypsies rounded up their stalls and created an impromptu stage along the tops of the wagons. Ramone insisted I sit right up front, where I'd have a good view of the proceedings. Again, it took a lot of convincing to get me there.

"It is an apology!" he assured me, patting my hand as he guided me to the 'seat of honour'. "Major apology! Surely, ah, surely the grandeur of the potential of meeting with your future wearied your mind. But no worries! This time we shall introduce you to a different kind of magic: stage magic!"

"Great," I grunted. Unease mingled with grump in the back of my mind. "Can't wait."

I slouched into my chair, a ragged throne the gypsies had pulled from one of their wagons, and watched as the vagrants quickly assembled their show. The two teddy bears lashed the wagons together for stability, the slighter of the bears clearly drunk out of his mind; the goblin with the balloons hissed orders at the other carnies; the orc stared vacantly at a sheath of paper, I assume a script; the three-headed jester followed Ramone like an enormous, grotesque puppy; the snow hippo lay down under its blanket. I never did get to see what it looked like.

As I waited, expecting Libby and Fynn to join me, I was instead surprised by the appearance of Plato and Bora on either side of me. They plunked down into the chairs and stared gravely up at the milling gypsies.

I snorted. "Thought you'd had enough of this lot for one lifetime."

Bora snorted back. "It'd be rude to miss the big show."

"That's my wife's seat, you know." I glared moodily at Plato, as well. "'n my son's."

Bora shrugged and said nothing. Plato looked at the sky, quacking something about the weather. I sighed, wondering if I'd have to clean up a fist fight between Libby and Bora sometime in the near future. (Wasn't wrong, but that's another story for another time.)

Ramone took the stage once all was complete, and though he seemed to regard my two companions with some level of surprise and contempt, he nevertheless began. "PEOPLE OF THE DAUPHINE! The Cirque du Magniwonderful would like to thank you kindly and profusely for this week of fantastical fun! We have benefitted in coin, and you in good cheer! We would therefore like to conclude all that we have shared with a very special presentation! One that will fill your lives with awe! Ooooo!"

He waved his tiny fingers in the air. A few members of the Dauphine's crew clapped appreciatively.

Ramone gestured to the jester, who seemed to brood at the base of the central wagon. He (it?) threw a small cape up to Ramone, and he tied it around his neck with a flourish.

"Very good!" He pointed into the crowd - directly at me. "You! You have had no fun at all this week, have you, good Dragomir?! You, the leader of this brave crew, who should be enjoying himself as we speak! Is he not crabby, my kind fellows?"

I glowered. All the more so when several members of my crew shouted agreement.

"Indeed!" Ramone tapped one of of his ridiculous boots on the roof of the wagon. A door on the side of the wagon swung open, pushed by invisible hands. "Therefore, we seek to make your lives all the better... by making him disappear! It shall be the greatest feat of magic of all time!"

The crowd murmured. One jackass applauded. 

Ramone, as well as the two teddy bears, beckoned me forward into the wagon. "Come, brave Dragomir! Prove your mettle! Show your friends and family that you do not fear the unknown! Prove to them that you are willing to have a good time for their sake!"

I floundered. Under no account did I want to set foot in that darkened wagon. I thought of a thousand reasons not to go, from the warning bells in my head to the vision of the brown net to Bora's warning glare at the edge of my vision to the quick realization that Ramone had said nothing of making me reappear again. The assumption was that he would ultimately bring me back, but it was nothing more than an assumption.

"C'mon, Dragomir, don't be a butthole!" someone shouted. "We wanna see magic!"

"We see magic all the time!" I shouted back, gripping the arms of my chair. "I'm not doin' it!"

"C'mon, don't be a puss!" another voice challenged. "Hey, hey, I'll do it if he won't!"

"No! It must be him!" Ramone commanded cheerfully, though with a hint of impatience trickling into his voice. "Come, come, your courage demands you stand up, Mr. Dragomir! CHEER HIM ON, FOLKS! HELP HIM FIND HIS COURAGE!"

The crew began to shout discordantly. Some argued that I should man up and get in the damned wagon, because they wanted to see what would happen. Others argued that I should be free to do as I please, and I'm pretty sure Libby, who was now fighting her way towards me, was the strongest of their number. Yet others volunteered to take my place, and I was most fervent in shouting them down, already on my feet to shout over the back of my chair. I felt it a poor idea indeed for anyone to enter that wagon.

"Plato, get ready," Bora whispered, apparently not knowing I could still hear her. "Watch the big one, he's moving in."

I peered down, trying to hear through the noise. Plato nodded, his fingers wriggling in some strange movement I'd never seen before. I looked behind me -

- saw the teddy bear and the three-headed jester slowly plodding in my direction, their arms outstretched -

- began to realize that the gypsies, the other, less remarkable gypsies, had spread out in a circle around the crowd -

- noticed Ramone pawing at the straps on his mask -

- and fell back into my chair as a wholly unfamiliar voice cut the air.

"SSSSSSSSILENCE!"

The crowd quieted. The jester and the teddy bear stopped moving. Ramone's fingers faltered, and the mask remained in place. Heads turned, mine included.

Parked at the edge of the crowd was a second band of gypsies. Their wagon train was much larger than that of the Cirque du Magniwonderful, perhaps twenty vehicles strong, and every soul of their one-hundred-twenty complement was standing in the snow and staring at us. More pointedly, they were staring at Ramone.

Somewhere behind me, I heard Nagi moan "Oh, gods, not them again."

Their leader, a snake person with a bright blue bandana, pointed accusingly at Ramone. She had much better control over her spindley wooden arms than my father had ever managed. "You! You the leader 'o this sorry lot?"

Ramone faltered, nearly slipping off the roof of his wagon. "Why, madame, you are ruining my act -"

The snake person slithered forward, joined by a burly orc with a wide grin. She hissed. "Act! Act! I know nothing of yer act, cully, 'n I know every gypsy band from here te Goblinoster. What's yer name?"

"I?" Ramone jumped from his perch, onto the shoulders of the jester. "I am the great Ramone, ringleader of the Cirque du Magniwonderful! We are known far and wide as -"

"As what? Unlicensed gits?" The snake person shook her head and bared her fangs. "Yer card, if ye will."

Ramone scratched at his mask. "M... my what?"

"Yer card! Yer card!" The snake person thumped her tail against the snow impatiently. "If yer te be plyin' any shows, ye've got to be part o' the union! That's regulations!"

"The..." Ramone swallowed. "The gypsy... union?"

"Aye!" The snake person motioned to the orc at her side. He held up a thin, gilded piece of metal, covered in tiny writing; I assume it was her qualifications. "If ye have no union card, ye canna practice this trade anywhere but the Indy Plains, and they be of poor standards indeed!"

Ramone fumbled, searching his pockets. "Um, yes, my... my union... yes, of course, I, ah, I must have... I must... it must be here somewhere... Umbro -"

"Teddy," the big teddy bear rumbled. "Name. Teddy. You stupid?"

"Ah, yes, Teddy, of course, Teddy, yes, did you leave the card somewhere? Ah, you, you, you're always the one who carries it for me, like, ah, this lovely lady... and her orc..."

The orc bowed.

"Ye'd best be movin' on, charlatan." The snake person grinned. "We'll be takin' over the entertainin' of these fine folk from here on. 'n if ye don't agree, we'll be happy te alert the Imperium patrol we met a mile back to yer malfesance."

Ramone tried to argue the point a bit longer, but it was no use. The snake person, whom I've since learned is called Lisanna, won her case. The Cirque du Magniwonderful is long gone, and their sketchy wagon has gone with them. I suspect them of planned wrongdoing - the cry of one of the gypsies that they might not be 'paid' was a telltale sign - but that's kind of a moot point.

And now we have more gypsies. Ones that Logan, Nagi, and Plato apparently know. Haven't figured out the details of that, yet, but hells. I'm sure I'll find out more next week.

Gypsies. Bloody gypsies.

I'm going to bed. Ever since the 'performance' I've been holed up in my cabin, and I'm in no mood to come out. I'm so tired of looking at entertainers. The memories are too strong, and that besides, I'm running out of money to pay for their services. Everywhere you go it's 'Spare a coin for a flip?' this and 'Buy a bag of luck stones?' that.

Bloody gypsies.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Nine: No


"C'mon, dad, it'll be fun."

"No."

"Please? You'll like it. It's a lot of fun. Just try this one thing."

"No."

"It'd be, y'know, a favour. A favour to me. You wanna do your awesome son a favour, right? Just one?"

"No."

"That's pretty mean of you, dad. Pretty cold. Mom wouldn't approve."

"Yeah, well, mom's got her head stuck in a frigid barrel of pineapples right now."

Which was true. I really don't see the point of that game.

Somehow, somehow, Fynn managed to coax me out of the Dauphine today. If only for a quick look around the Cirque du Magniwonderful. I have trouble saying no to his big, beautiful brown eyes. He's a gorgeous boy, I'm not afraid to admit it, and I'm not afraid to admit it because he looks like me. I'm fine with calling a darker version of myself handsome. But that doesn't mean I have to go along with what that version says.

"Dad, c'mon. Just watch." Plucking a dart from the extendable wood countertop, Fynn aimed carefully and threw the projectile into a well-worn dart board. It thunked home with expert aim, smack-dab in the center ring. "See? Piece of cake. You could totally do that."

Eying the proprietor - that weird purple goblin with the balloons - I shook my head. "No. No deal. C'mon, let's go."

"But wait!" Fynn grabbed my arm. "I won a prize! I won a prize with that, didn't I?"

The gypsy shook his head. "No, ya gotta get three in a row. In the same spot."

Grabbing two more darts, Fynn hurled them at the dart board. Not only did they hit the center ring, they wedged themselves into the rear of the first dart. 

The goblin glared incredulously at the darts for a few seconds before composing himself. "You... ya didn't pay. Got a gold?"

Fynn floundered. He searched his pockets for money. "Uh... uh... uh... dad...?"

I grabbed his hand and led him away. His disappointment seeped through my fingers like a sickness.

I had to admit, even in my poor mood, that the Cirque du Magniwonderful was fairly impressive. For such a small band of miscreants the gypsies had cobbled together an eclectic assortment of attractions, from counting games to dance routines to mystery animals that I'd never seen in my life. Possessed of speech, too, apparently - I swear the snow hippo muttered 'This is so degrading' as I passed by its pen. I wonder what it looks like under that enormous sheet.

Fynn tried to prod me into a dozen different attractions, but I wouldn't bite. I refused to bite. I didn't want to eat candied corn or ride the Merry-Go-Down or play Fifty-Two Card Pickup. I wanted to go back inside. I was only indulging my son because of his big brown eyes.

Apparently Ramone, the leader of the gypsies, decided to take advantage of those same eyes when he came tromping over in his ridiculous boots, arms splayed. "WELCOMED BY ALL! You must be, yes, I'd say, you must be Dragomir! I have heard much about you from your friends! You are the captain of this mighty vehicle before us, yes? This mighty Dauphine?!"

I scratched my head. "Yeah, I guess you can call me captain. I don't, really. Is, uh, is there something you want...?"

"Yes! Yes yes yes!" Ramone scuttled over, grunting hard as he strained to pick his way through the snow. "I have something special for you! Something I reserve in particular for important members of, ah, state! Yes, state! Your vehicle is a state, is it not?"

I pulled away as his spindly fingers tried to ensnare my hand. "No. No, I don't think it is."

"But surely! Surely, it is, ah, um, a state... of... being! It exists, and therefore!" He made another lunge, this time successfully grabbing my arm. "Come, come, this way!"

I tried to pull away, but Fynn urged me onward through the stalls. I'm pretty sure he threw Libby a thumbs up, as she was watching us from a nearby wagon. Damned family is conspiring against me.

Ramone and Fynn led me to the rear of the gypsy encampment, where a large, bone white tent waited. The three-headed jester stood at the entrance, holding the flap open and exposing the darkness inside. The mood around the tent seemed oddly subdued compared to the rest of the Cirque du Magniwonderful, a small knot of unease amid a wild clamour.

I held back against Ramone's urgency, staring at the three-headed figure. Though its hand was held out invitingly, all three heads were swivelling back and forth. They didn't stop until Ramone shot them a glare.

"This," he proclaimed, running over to the entrance of the tent, "is the home of the miiiiighty Madame Rosmertier! She is our crowning glory, a seeress of unparalelled power, and she can peer into the future of your mind's eye! She knows all!"

I thought of my dreams. Of figures with white sheets on their heads, of a goblin being pierced by a lance of darkness. "I've... had enough of knowing the future, thanks. I'll pass."

"C'mon, dad, it'll be fun." Fynn patted my shoulder. "I'll go in with you, if you want."

"Yes, dad, come, it will be fun!" Ramone capered in front of the tent, climbing onto the shoulders of the three-headed jester. "Come, dad! Father! Mi padre! Do you not wish to view your unobstructed and totally not-dangerous future? Who could resist such temptation! Especially since the first reading is free!"

I tried to see past the shroud of the tent's entrance, to get a look at this 'Madame Rosmertier'. It was too dark and too voluminous inside to catch any details, however. "I... I dunno, Fynn. I've got a feeling."

"Yeah. It's called crabbiness." Fynn punched my arm. I'm pretty sure it was meant to be light-hearted, but, ah, he's strong. Ow. "For me, dad. Do it for me."

I hesitated. Fynn smiled. Ramone beckoned me onward. The jester held the tent open, a silent sentinel. The head furthest from Ramone shook almost imperceptibly, a tiny gesture you could only notice if you were staring right at it.

I took a step forward...

... and blacked out.

While I was blacked out, I saw the inside of the tent. And the only thing waiting for me there was a snare. A big, brown net, woven of tough rope.

I woke up back in the Dauphine, Libby looming over me, Fynn a short distance away. Someone - Fynn, I assumed - had carried me back to my bed. They both apologized profusely for 'tricking' me into visiting the Cirque du Magniwonderful before I was ready. Neither asked why I had blacked out. That's good, 'cause I wouldn't have been able to answer.

Though I have a suspicion.

A net.

A big, brown net.

We're leaving tomorrow, despite the protests of the gypsies. Apparently Ramone is dead set on celebrating our time together with a big, final show tomorrow evening. He promises it's worth sticking around for; I'm not so certain. I'm not so certain about any of this anymore.

Hm.

Symbolism.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Eight: Old Man Dragomir


The Cirque du Magniwonderful is still fucking here, and because they're still fucking here my group doesn't want to leave. FUCK.

I can understand why. We've been through some shit in the last few weeks. (As if I can't apply that to any part of our journey. It has been a crap storm of the highest order.) Not only was everyone mind controlled into acting like freak shows for two weeks straight, we lost two of our number. Permanently. Who wouldn't want to forget all that?

Me. I don't. Fuck revelry. We have better things to do.

I'm the only one who thinks so, apparently. Most everyone else spent virtually the entire day with the gypsies, making merry and having fun. From one of the portholes in the side of the Dauphine I watched Grylock play a dart game; I watched Jeffrey swat at a paper duck with a mallet while blindfolded; I watched Libby arm wrestle the bigger teddy bear; I watched Ed JIM, his fucking name is Jim, drink way too much apple cider; I watched Fynn ride the snow hippo.

I watched fun. And I wanted in. But I also wanted to leave. I wanted to leave more than I wanted in.

"You can go out there, you know. You don't have to stay in here with me."

I turned, waving a hand towards Daena. She was knitting a blanket. "It's no problem. I don't mind. S'not fair to you, is it? You'd be all alone."

"No I wouldn't." She pointed across the Neo Beefiary at Bora, who was also knitting a blanket. The same blanket. It's going to be a very long blanket. "I have company."

"Yeah. Great." I sneered as I turned away. "And why aren't you out there? I haven't asked."

"How nice of you to talk to me," Bora commented dryly. "I've had my share of gypsies in the past. Don't need any more of 'em."

"Oh? And why's that?"

She shrugged. "I don't trust 'em. They cause more trouble than they're worth."

"I see." I paced across the Beefiary, pushing aside chairs as I went, even if they weren't in my way. "But you don't seem to mind your girlfriend that much."

Bora's knitting needles faltered. "The hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Play nice, children, play nice." Daena shot me a stern glance.

I ignored her. "C'mon, we've all seen you with what's-her-name. You two are so chummy. Might as well just come out and admit it. She's your damned girlfriend!"

(It's true. I'm convinced of it. Nagi spends most of her time in the Neo Beefiary, chatting away with Bora. It's become a real problem. Damned women are slacking on their duties. You should've seen the tart Bora served me yesterday. It was disgracefully undercooked. She was clearly distracted by the chattering half snake.)

"She is NOT my girlfriend, you dunce!" Bora paused. "And what the devil's the correlation between her 'n those gypsies? You're talkin' nonsense."

"Whatever." I waved my hands, as though constructing an image of Nagi out of thin air. "You've seen her. She's got... I dunno... a gypsy vibe. She oozes sleaze and mistrust from her... snake... pores. I can feel it every time she wiggles by me."

"Wow." Bora pinched the bridge of her nose, obviously vexed. "Wow. I've seen the two of you exchange maybe ten words the whole time she's been here, yet you're judgin' her to high heavens. You're quite the little bitch today, Dragomir."

I whirled around. "Don't YOU call me a bitch, you b-"

That's when Queen Daena sent me to my room. No supper. Balls.

Fynn has since returned from the festivities, saying he's had enough of the gypsies for one day, but everyone else is still out in the snow, whooping it up. Apparently they're having a big tug-of-war sometime tonight. I get the feeling Fynn opted out because he doesn't wanna give our side too much of an advantage, but whatever. I enjoy the company.

Bugger.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Seven: Out of the blue


Oh, for fuck's sake, life. That's just cruel.

We woke up this morning to a light bit of strangeness. We'd parked the Dauphine in a shallow, even valley the night before, and I expected a bit of digging-out time would be necessary to get us back on our feet. That's kind of the norm in winter, even when the snow's not so harsh. So imagine our surprise when we got up...

... and found the Dauphine virtually bare of snow.

Not only that, we awoke to the sounds of jangled merriment outside.

The gypsy caravan is perhaps twenty people strong. Traveling in a small wagon train formation, they'd set up camp outside the Dauphine sometime in the night and, for a wonder, scraped our transport clean of snow. The whole troupe was waiting when our front ramp clunked open, their tambourines out, their winter clothing covered in decorative cloth veils, their voices bouncing off the sky.

"WELCOME, DEAR FRIENDS!" the lead gypsy bellowed shrilly from behind his mask, perched atop an enormous 'snow hippo'. He has quite the voice for a midget. "Dear, wonderful friends! This is the best of days, surely, that we find ourselves upon! WELCOME TO THE CIRQUE DU MAGNIWONDERFUL, the greatest travelling show on this fine planet!"

Libby, Fynn, Logan, a dozen other workers and myself all paused at the exit of the Dauphine, bewildered. We exchanged confused glances and said nothing.

The lead gypsy - Ramone, he says his name is Ramone - launched himself off of his hippo and hit the snow, clonking towards us in enormous black boots. "BE NOT AFRAID, dear friends, dear allies in merriment! We have come to entertain you! Are you not entertained?!"

Grimacing, I took in the motley assortment of figures arrayed before us. A thuggish orc in a clown suit. A one-eared goblin with a fistful of leather balloons and the silliest beard I've ever seen. A pair of teddy bears, one rotund, the other slight - and wearing a box on its head. A three-headed jester, the heads consisting of a unicorn, a lion, and a lemur. Plenty others.

Though I obviously noticed the rest, one stood out like a festering wound: a bard. Not a chocolate bard, not one with thick black hair - he was bald, in fact, with a piratical eyepatch - but a bard nonetheless. He strummed his lute rather discordantly and hummed a few bars of a terrible ditty I did not recognize.

"Come, come!" Ramone beckoned. He gestured for us to descend the ramp. "We've travelled far in search of patrons, and here you are. We have chosen! We have food! We have music! We have the finest in fortune... telling... where are you going, kind, kind sir? Please, after all the time we spent cleaning your transport for you -"

"Didn't ask ya to," I grunted over my shoulder, heading back inside. "Fuck this. Let's go."

But Libby, whom I expected as an instant ally, hesitated. "Well, no, hold on. Maybe we could use some good times for a change. I mean, what with -"

I shook my head adamantly. "We have better things to do. Pack up. We're clean, we're outta here."

Libby protested. So, too, did Logan, who insisted we spend at least a bit of time with the gypsies. (I suspect he was just eyeballing the buxom bobbing-for-pineapples attendant.) Nagi pushed past me and slithered down the ramp, apparently overjoyed to have some new faces to con. I was ultimately outvoted, and I left the rest to their fun, giving everyone strict orders to be packed up within the hour.

Twelve hours later, we're still here.

We're being grifted, I'm sure of it. Those stupid gypsies are surely dipping into loose pockets even as they put on a show. They prance around, they tell tales and sing songs, they play games, they yell at one another for the amusement of their crowd. There's even a big strength-testing game, where you smack a hammer against a catapult release and see how far you can launch the midgety Ramone into the surrounding snow banks. He seems to love it - though I wish they'd stop aiming him at the Dauphine. The thumps of his body against the hull are irritating.

Fucking gypsies. Fucking people having fun. Fucking snow. Fucking wife, out having a fucking good time without fucking me. 

Fuck.

I'm gonna go play some one man poker. At least there I'll have a say.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, February 17, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Six: Changes


She's right. I won't ever say what happened. It's better that way.

I can't... 

No. No, that's not the right way to start.

I don't know how to express how I feel right now. That's more appropriate. I don't know how, because this experience... it's novel. New. In a way that's more horrible than anyone could ever understand.

In the last three years I've had a lot of firsts. Had my first kid. My first argument with a noble. My first brush with a king. My first thing with my thinger. My first death, and I hope it's the last one for a while. My first death in the family. My first betrayal, cross-country trip, semi-affair, political position, captaincy, fight with a penguin, hint at what's in my hands... a lot of firsts.

And now, I've had my first murder. I have killed a man. More than that, I've killed a friend. One of my best friends. A guy I've hung out with almost every day for the last year-and-a-half. I may have been tricked, I may have been confused, may even have been outright manipulated, but I killed a person.

I haven't killed before. Nothing bigger than an insect. I've talked about it, I've threatened people behind their backs... but a threat is not the same as the act. A threat is grandstanding. Murder is murder.

I'm back. I'm talking. I'll continue on, because that's what I have to do. The people in Pubton are counting on me to get something out of this trip, and I'll be damned if I'll let them down. But I don't think I'll ever be the same person again. Not really.

Gods damn my son. What little of me still loved Grayson has been buried in Edmund's coffin. Now he's just an enemy, as bad as the Non, maybe worse than the Non, and if I ever get the chance I'll...

I'll...

I don't know.

But I get the feeling that killing is easier the second time. That's all I'll say about that.

The snows are beginning to thin a little, mercifully, as we make our way further west. Plato tells me that this is common - we're headed to a desert, after all, and deserts are typically quite hot. So the lands surrounding them are warmer than average. I guess that makes sense.

We're also coming up on the lands surrounding Rodentia, capital of the Imperium. Plato's doing his best to skim us safely around even Rodentia's outlying farmlands, but he's never been to Rodentia before, so his directions are iffy at best. I suppose we'll see how that goes. I'm not eager to set foot anywhere near the capital, and I don't think anyone else is either.

I'm going back to work for a while. The rhino has a cold, and needs tending to. I doubt I could sleep anyway - Ed's face is always sitting on the insides of my eyelids when I close them.

Please forgive me, my friend. I did not mean it.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Five: Someone has to wear the crown on this boat


"You ready?"

"... I guess so."

I hesitated. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah." He strapped on a pair of gloves. Why, at the time, I had no idea. "Yeah, I think I know what to do."

As promised, Jeffrey stayed up all night pondering what he should say to drag my husband out of his funk. He obviously knew he had one hell of a job on his hands, considering Dragomir's predicament, and his conclusion... well. It was a considered approach. 

You'll see shortly.

Jeffrey asked to talk to Dragomir alone, at least at first. He wanted to gauge my husband's mood. So I opened the door to my cabin, I ushered my despondent and unsuccessful son out of the room, and I let Jeffrey in.

In that time, all I could do was look at Dragomir.

He was a mess. He'd barely moved all week, curled into a foetal position at the base of our bed, arms folded over his head. His clothes were stained with a light coating of sweat or drool or tears, I can't tell which, and his eyes stared at nothing. Something. Anything. He barely responded to the light flooding over him, only rocked and murmured and expressed regrets in a babbling tongue.

Jeffrey took one look and closed the door behind him.

I waited, watching the door for several tense moments, hugging Fynn. He hugged me back. Soon I discovered that I was not alone, that a great number of people were watching, waiting for their fearful leader to come back out and tell them everything would be okay. Like he always does.

We rely on that dumb shit. We really do. As much as he relies on us.

Dragomir did not come out first, as we'd hoped, and it took a solid twenty minutes for the silence to break and Jeffrey to step out. He was pulling Dragomir along by the collar.

"Step aside," Jeffrey commanded, hints of his old majesty creeping into his normally penitent voice. "Move it, Dragomir. Move it."

Under other circumstances I would slug Jeffrey in the face. This time I was too confused to do anything but follow orders. It was half reflex, a movement from the old days, when I was his favourite carpenter. Favourite or not, if Jeffrey gave you a command, you listened.

Everyone moved. We created a path as Jeffrey lugged his unyielding burden across Command, towards the stairs, up to the observation deck. Dragomir's legs thumped, bump, bump, bump, as he uselessly resisted Jeffrey's demands that he get his ass in gear. We followed, a quiet, curious, careful mob.

"What's he doing?" I asked Logan, unable to raise my voice above a whisper.

Logan shrugged. "I dunno. Wouldn't tell us what he had in mind. Barely talks to me anyway."

"Mom, what's he gonna do to dad?" Fynn's lip curled. I saw his thin, deceptively-wiry muscles tighten under his shirt. "Should I stop him?"

I held Fynn back. "Uh. Just... hold that thought, kiddo."

The door to the observation deck swung open. Jeffrey pulled Dragomir through, hurling him onto the ground. He didn't bother to close the door, and since I dogged him most fervently out of the growing crowd, I was the first to climb the stairs in pursuit.

When I peeked through the gap in the flapping door, I saw Jeffrey pulling Dragomir through the snow and up, up, onto the metal rim surrounding the observation deck. The slick, slippery, iced-over rim. Jeffrey stood shakily on the ledge as the Dauphine rumbled beneath him, beckoning Dragomir to join him.

"C'mon!" Jeffrey kicked at Dragomir's hands as they clutched blindly at the metal. "I shouldn't have to do all the fucking work! Get your butt up here!"

"Nnnngh." Dragomir flopped over the rim, his face plastered in snow. "Lemme... 'lone..."

"No!" Jeffrey kicked again, nearly tumbling over the edge. "You wanna die? Fine! Then so do I! Bloody hypocrite, telling me I can't kill myself when that's exactly what you're thinking! Come on, we'll do it together, you and me!"

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" I bellowed, slamming the door open. "YOU CALL THIS HELPING?"

Wobbling dangerously on one foot, Jeffrey gave me the finger. "Go away! No wives allowed! If this is what he wants, this is what he gets! He killed his friend and now he pays for it!"

I dived at Dragomir, even though he wasn't in any real danger. Jeffrey tipped forward as I hit the rim and hit the snow. I kicked him in the face; he sneared back at me, nose bloody.

"You fucking lunatic." I pulled Dragomir up. "C'mon. Stay away from him, he's suicidal or some shit. You -"

What happened next I'm not sure I can fully explain. Jeffrey rose up on his hands; I helped Dragomir to his feet; Dragomir planted his arms on the steel; and somehow, somehow, he slipped beneath my armpit. More, my husband pushed me away from him. I zipped across the small deck, propelled by snow and ice...

... and landed in a bundle of people, all of them huddled at the door to the observation deck. They looked no less surprised than me, especially when Dragomir stepped forward and slammed the door shut. Click: locked.

Logan could have unlocked the door easily. I could have pried it open with my tools. Fynn could've wrenched it free with his bare hands, because hey, I've birthed another semi-freak. (After three of them, I can live with it.) But none of us could accomplish these things as a writhing, self-defeating pile, and ultimately our struggles against one another propelled the lot of us down the stairs and into Command.

By the time we disentangled ourselves, it was all over. 

Dragomir's okay. So's Jeffrey. They have ample evidence of bruises on their faces, and Dragomir hurt his left hand somehow, but they're otherwise fine. Neither will say what happened on that observation deck, and I get the feeling neither ever will. Not even to this diary.

I don't know what happened. I want to know what happened. But... somehow... somehow I think that knowing might dispel some of the magic of the moment. And if that happens, well, who knows what will come next.

I can live without knowing. Because I've got my husband back. He's grumpy and he's moody and he looks like garbage, but he's back. And that's enough for me.

Damned shithead, putting me through all that. He can have his stupid diary. My wrist is sore from writing all week.

Sincerely,


Libby the Mechanic

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Four: Doubleteam


"We have a suggestion for you."

"A plan."

"A pretty good one, in fact."

A crumb fell from my lip. 

"Sorry. Maybe we should've waited."

I was taking a break - a very, very short break - when Logan and Celine strode up to me. That in and of itself is unusual, as I'm used to both of them appearing out of nowhere. Maybe they decided not to shock the shit out of me, for once.

"Mmmmph," I replied, swallowing a hunk of lobster sandwich. Damn can that bitch cook. "Tell. Quick. I'm back on soon."

"It's simple."

"So simple!"

"So simple we're surprised you didn't think of it yourself, frankly."

"Yes, quite."

I looked from brother to sister, annoyed at their back-and-forth. "Stop talking like that. It's freakin' me out."

"Sorry." Logan curtsied, but his face was serious when he stepped out of the bow. "We talked about it a bit, 'n we both agree. Dragomir should talk to our dad."

I blinked. "Your dad? The hell's he gonna do?"

"Well..." Celine put her arms behind her and mimed a whistle. "We may have sneaked a few peeks at Mud."

"Mud?"

"She means Dragomir. Will you stop calling him that?"

"He told me I could!"

"Whatever." Logan lightly punched his sister on the forearm. "We looked in on him. A lot. And, y'know, we... know the signs. We travelled with the signs."

"Me longer than him."

"Oh, shut up."

"It's true. You ditched us."

"I still know what to look for!"

"Not as well as me."

I stood and shook the table, confident a nice, juicy vein was popping out of my forehead. "WILL YOU GET TO THE POINT?!"

The siblings rocked back on their heels. I swear they should've been twins. "Sorry," they said in unison, not looking particularly sorry. "We do this sometimes."

"It's damned annoying." I shoved the last of my sandwich in my mouth, giving a brief thumbs-up to Bora behind the counter. She waved back. She deserves that much. I guess.

"We figured," Logan continued, a hand now on his sister's mouth, "that... y'know... he could use support from someone who gets it."

"Mmmph."

"Dad's been there. He's still there. Maybe, I dunno, maybe he can kick Dragomir out of his funk? In ways none of us can?"

I thought back to my conversation with Grylock. He seemed more than capable of doing it. Whether he would, though... "I guess that's true. Couldn't hurt for them to talk... I'm surprised Jeffrey hasn't done it himself already. They get along pretty well."

"That's what I figured, yeah. After they, uh, ambushed me. Two weeks ago."

"Ambushed?"

"Long story."

Sweeping my plate from the table, I nodded. "Okay. Sure. We'll see if Jeffrey can get it done. One question, though."

Celine bit her brother's hand, freeing herself as he swore. "Yes?"

"Not you, him."

"Shoot," Logan grunted through the pain and the hand shakes.

"You hate your dad. Everybody knows you hate your dad. Why're you recommending him?"

"Oh, that's easy," added Celine. "I could answer that one."

Logan pushed her aside. "You steal all the gravitas from a serious moment. Bug off, kid. Uh, anyway, as for the question..."

I tapped my foot.

"I'm recommending him 'cause, as much as I hate the guy..." Logan bit his lip, his emotions clearly more convoluted than he would care to admit. "I can tell no one hates Jeffrey more than Jeffrey himself. 'n that's how Dragomir's probably feeling about himself right now."

Fair enough, Logan. Fair enough.

Jeffrey's agreed to sit down and talk to Dragomir. He wants to prep tonight, and tomorrow... tomorrow we'll see if my husband is ready to eat, drink, and be merry again.

Sincerely,


Libby the Mechanic

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Three: Besties


Thank the gods. We're back on the road again. That took less time than anticipated, considering... considering we're down a few people.

And I've been distracted.

And... yeah.

Dragomir has isolated himself in his mind, but I haven't allowed his body to go unguarded. He's been curled up in a ball almost non-stop for the last three days, and I've made sure someone's been there to watch over him constantly. If it's not me, it's Fynn. Or Grylock. Or Logan. Or Mitch, the surly peasant who only came along to see the world for free. I'm not stupid, Mitch, I know what you're on about.

When I'm not watching over Dragomir... which, admittedly, I do a lot... I've been working. There's been almost no time to sit back and really consider what happened last week. Grayson flipped our heads upside-down, and we're very lucky that we didn't kill one another while we were rampaging around the Dauphine. Very, very lucky.

I noticed that he made me draw pictures of him on the walls in Engineering. The two of us, in fact. Holding hands. They were the first signs of damage to go.

And, truth be told, I still don't have the time to really consider what happened. No one does. Shit goes down, we deal with it, we move on. We can't pause our progress to get down to the nitty-gritty, because the longer we stall out here, the worse things are probably getting back home in Pubton. We've passed a fair number of Imperium army battalions going the opposite direction, and Daena assures me that's not normal.

Daena. Oh, Daena. I wish you could've helped me more.

After the Dauphine's engine sputtered back to life and we set out again, my first inclination was to visit Daena. We haven't had much time to talk since Logan rejoined the fold (and his... girlfriend...? She's kind of a snob), and I wanted to chat with my bestie. Girl to girl.

Bestie. Eugh. I feel gross writing that. It's what she is, though. She's my bestie.

She pulled me into a hug when I walked up, despite being engaged in steering the Dauphine. She handed the steering wheel off to Plato, which, honestly, I thought was a little gutsy. That damned duck nearly got his killed the last time he drove the Dauphine. I like him, but I don't necessarily trust him.

"Hey," she said, hugging fiercely. "How is he?"

I drooped. Already? You couldn't have asked about the weather or Engineering or my crappy hairdo first? "He's... fine. He's fine. Really."

She studied my face.

Deep breath. "Well, fuck, no, of course he ain't fine. One of his friends... our friends... just died. You don't get over it as quick as that."

"Yeah." She let me pull away a little. Only a little. "I heard... um... I heard a rumour, about... well..."

"Grayson made him do it." Deadpan. I kept my rage and my sadness to myself on the subject.

"Oh." Another hug, much fiercer. "I'm so sorry. I... I know the feeling, of... a son, who's... well... erm..."

I tried not to be angry. "You don't really know, Daena. Trust me, y'don't."

"No, I suppose I don't. Empathy's tricky like that."

We chatted for a while, changing the subject a dozen times. Her husband. Her kids. Logan in particular. Nagi, the half-snake half-human all-prig. The weather. The geography. The Dauphine's handling. Baking tips, mainly from my end, mainly about pies. Edmund. In short, full circle.

"I don't know what to do, Daena, I really don't." I was sitting against her tree, cradling my head against a pounding headache. "This shit's complicated. He's been depressed before, but... doesn't matter if I kiss him or beat the crap out of him -"

"You shouldn't do that, you know."

"But it works! It... it usually works!" I threw my hands up, burying my forehead in my knees. "I wouldn't beat him up if he didn't... kinda... like it. Respond to it."

"You make him sound like a sadomasochist."

"I dunno what that is. Better ya not tell me."

"Noted."

"He won't respond, though." More headache. More pain. "He just sits there. Mumbles, sometimes. In these weird rhymes. Doesn't matter what I say, he won't say anything back. He's... I'm worried..."

"Worried...?"

"He's just... when I manage to pry his arms away from his head, he's always got this desperate look in his eye, like..."

I knew Daena, of all people, would understand. Look who she's married to. "You mean..."

"Yeah." I shuddered. "Like that."

Yeah.

So that's why someone's always watching him.

Sincerely,


Libby the Mechanic

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-Two: A Farewell to Hommes


We held a funeral for Edmund and Desmond today.

None of us knew Desmond. He was just a guy. A nice guy, a helpful guy, but he was a face. We didn't know anything behind the face. We buried him with as much dignity as we could muster, and I said what I could over his grave.

Ed was different. Ed was one of us. In a much more fundamental way, he was the best of us.

When I first met Ed I immediately noticed his wandering eyes. That was Ed's thing: he was a lady's man. He loved women. To a lewd extent, yeah, but he also worshipped the female form in kind of an artsy way. Tried to hit on me behind Dragomir's back a few times. I rebuffed him pretty violently. Figured he was just a perv. (Which he was.)

Then I watched him sing to a group of children in the western bailey, back home. They asked; he obliged. He crooned to them for half an hour, not letting up until a message came demanding his presence in the castle. Those kids loved him.

He crooned until the fall of the castle.

He crooned to all of us in the Hole. He kept our strength up.

He crooned to me, hell, he sang a lullabye to me, mere hours after my husband had died.

He crooned to my belly. To the boy who would later kill him.

He didn't do anything of fantastic importance. Bards seldom do, in my experience. They're just meant to be there. And Ed... Ed always was. He was one of the supports in our group, the guy who always had our back, and we'll never forget him for that.

I hope his grave survives the winter. I hope people find it and wonder over it, maybe telling stories of who might be stuck in the ground. Ed would like that. 

After we'd finished the burial, Grylock pulled me aside from the mourners. He's remained unusually sober since we were released from Grayson's control, and he's been fantastic in getting the Dauphine repaired. We still have a lot of work to do.

"Hey." He patted my hand. "Ye okay, lass? Not ailin' too much?"

I winked a tear away. "Y... yeah. Yeah, I guess. You?"

Grylock sighed. His tiny little body trembled, reminding me of just how old he is. "I'll cope. Men pass, 'n there's nary ye can do 'bout it but move on. Edmund was one of the finer souls."

"Yeah. You guys spent a lot of time together, I kinda realized."

"Aye. Drinkin' buddies to the end." He raised his poisonheart in salute to the grave, a small, unremarkable headstone. "How's Dragomir copin'? Didna see him. Nor your boy, for that matter."

Anger flared. I had to remind myself that he meant Fynn, Fynn. "Ehh... they're... they're back in our room. Fynn's tryin' to cheer his dad up. Hit Dragomir pretty hard."

"I can imagine." Grylock stuck the poisonheart into the snow at his feet. Purple poison oozed into the white. "Killin' yer first man is no triflin' moment. Especially when ye've killed two, and especially when one of 'em's a mate. The whole world starts te crumble 'n fade, and if yer lucky ye can steer through armageddon and walk out the other side."

I studied the goblin's face. I couldn't see his sunken eyes peering out of that stern, wrinkled green, but I knew they were looking into the past. "You've done this all before, haven't you?"

Lingering one moment longer in the mists of time, Grylock smiled. His toothy grin will never look friendly. "Oh, aye. More times than I care te count. Wasn't always an ambassador, ye know."

"You're barely one now."

"As true as true can get."

I expect we'll have the Dauphine up and running again in three days, tops. Our apparently crazed antics mucked up my baby's innards pretty good, but none of us gummed up the works or damaged the gears too badly. Whether Dragomir still wants to see his journey through to the end... well, I guess that's another matter.

Sincerely,


Libby the Mechanic

Monday, February 10, 2014

Day Six-Thirty-One: Killer


I have never known Dragomir to kill anything.

We've been married for... years. Not a decade, not yet, but enough years for me to know my idiot husband. He's many things: a goofball, a lazy idiot, a workaholic (sometimes those last two things at once, to my surprise), a depressive wretch, an inspiring leader... a kind, kind man.

He is not a killer.

Yet I watched him do just that for a week straight. Over, and over, and over. And each time he pulled that lever, he got this look on his face, as though he'd just had sex with... with... well, me, I guess. Not some random floozy. That shit is not happening, even in a metaphor.

All those people. All those dead. None of them real, but... well, even that's a lie. Two of them were real.

The first was a guy named Desmond. Big, hairy man. Mostly kept to himself. He was a member of my maintenance crew. Didn't know him that well, but he was reliable. Solid. Knew what he was doing. He will be missed professionally, and he seemed cordial enough that I'll miss him personally. You look past the gruff and you see the goodness in people like Desmond.

The other... the other was Ed. Edmund the Bard.

Ten minutes after we woke up, we found Ed laying on the floor outside Bora's room.  His face was plastered in dried blood, but the look... that look in his eyes... it was terror. Torture. As though he'd experienced every second of that execution, had known what was happening, and couldn't do a damned thing to stop it. He was a decapitated man who still had his head attached to his shoulders.

Dragomir did this to him. He pulled a lever in a dream world, and somehow... somehow that switched Edmund's brain off. Permanently. Try though we might, try though Dragomir might, we couldn't get Edmund to wake up. Oh, gods, Dragomir's expression, all those tears as he pounded on Ed's chest...

Dragomir did this to him.

But Dragomir is not at fault.

My son is. May he rot in every hell waiting to drag him in. We found evidence of a camp at the base of the Dauphine this morning, long deserted. It was covered in shed werewolf hair. I'd call that damning evidence of at least the witch's presence, and I know from Plato (yes, we talk) that Grayson captured my husband before. Whether he wants me to know or not.

Grayson's done this before. For months he toyed with my brain, forcing me to shun everyone else and love only him. For at least a month I slept with him, cradling him in a magical shack, held in place by his fucking obsession with me. And when he started to do it again... when he tried to force me to leave Dragomir in Trademore... I knew it was him, I fucking knew it. Resisting him made me want to vomit.

I tried to tell Dragomir. I tried. But Grayson wouldn't let me. And now Edmund is dead.

Grayson made Dragomir a killer. Worse, he tried to trick Dragomir into killing Fynn. Grayson's brother. One of the last lights left in my life. He tried to kill my boy, and he may have succeeded in killing my husband, because, gods, oh gods, Dragomir... Dragomir's shut down... he won't talk, he won't eat, I'm afraid to leave him alone, but all he wants is to be alone...

Gods. Maybe Eve wasn't so bad after all.

Is it wrong of me to want to strangle my own flesh and blood? To wring his neck until he no longer breathes?

Or is that my duty as his mom? Do I owe the world as much for bringing him down on its head?

I wish I still lived in logging country. Shit was simpler out there.

Sincerely,


Libby the Mechanic