Monday, March 31, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Six: Hellish Happenings

Man. Dragon competitions are intense. Like, Cedric-and-Antonia-boxing-as-werewolves intense. I'm surprised they don't sell tickets.

We split our time today watching the Contest and looking for Libby, taking turns so we'd never all be watching the dragons. Finding her is still the priority, and I remain fearful for her the longer she's stuck up here. Some of the indigenous species - sky dwarves, anyone? - are not friendly.

But... it's tough to ignore the Contest. It's so interesting.

I'm not sure exactly what internal logic the dragons are working on, and I gave up trying on Friday. They have their system; I'm just a bystander. Evan nevertheless assures me that they're building to a decision, and should have it within... five days. Aaaaaalways on a freakin' Friday.

Let me describe what happened today. The dragonic competitors began the day with an hour of light exercising and apparent gossip, milling about and chatting in their apparently-silent language. They looked generally amiable - though an exchange between Barrel and Ridges seemed frosty even from our distant perch. Then, all at once, the entire aerie - competitors, bystanders and all! - bolted into the air... and five dragons began wrestling crazily with one another. (Ridges was the winner, as far as I can tell.)

That was just the beginning. Half of the dragons returned to the ground once the wrestling was done while the other half flew off to a different cloudy island, and I've no clue what they did. The dragons still in the clearing below began to rapidly change shape, transforming from lizard to rhino to giant beetle to living lamppost to tiny speck to zombie horse and then back to dragon. They each performed this rotation nine or ten times, apparently depending on their normal size, and the... slowest... competitor... appeared to be the champion.

I... I would have figured on the fastest...?

Once the regular competition was complete, the dragons continued to transform eratically into whatever they felt like until the second half of the aerie flew back into the canyon. The two halves conferred, and two luckless males were booted out of the runnings for some reason. Ridges, one of the fliers, looked particularly upset about the results. I'm sure he had a simply fantastic reason.

Then the entire flock of competitors wrestled with an enormous, octagonal block that reminded me of a child's toy I'd seen for sale in Trademore. I have no idea what they were attempting to accomplish.

Evan did his best to commentate, explaining the logic to the best of his abilities, but his attempts were all for naught. He's only watched two other Contests before, as they happen once every dozen years or so, and they made no more sense than this one. Eventually his chatter turned into vivid descriptions of the capabilities of the different dragons, and we all quietly agreed to smile and nod without processing anything he says. Dude's a little dragon crazy.

The dragons gave up around what Evan assures us is dusk (stupid omnipresent sun), and we retired to his cabin for a dinner of scones and chopped onion soufflee. Evan's a pretty good chef, if nothing else.

I hope Libby's eating well. There's lots for her to forage from on these flying islands... so long as she's careful...

Sigh. I may not sound like it, but I really do miss my wife. Will I ever have my whole family together in a single place? Or is that just too much to ask? 


Right. I guess Pubton was under attack the last time that happened. Everyone almost died. Well, nevermind...


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, March 28, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Five: Make Contest Go Now

I should believe more in coincidence. Coincidence practically rules my life.

Though we didn't start off the day with signs of Libby to go by, we did discover ample evidence of the wild man's presence. Evan's little garden was absolutely ransacked of every piece of fruit or vegetable, and dozens of confused human footprints made the culprit rather obvious. Evan is still fuming over that, and he's asked for our help in getting rid of the wild man. 

If he gets us to Libby... maybe.

Despite seeing his food supply pilfered, Evan's spirits could not be at all destroyed today. He was far too excited for the beginning of the Contest, a great competition between dragons to determine who will be the alpha male of the local aerie. (Omega females have a much more private competition to determine their leaders. The males are grandstanders. Sounds about right.) He knew it would begin at 3 pm, on the dot - 

- and so it did, at least according to Evan's watch. That's when I realized I should've expected what I saw.

We arrived at the Contest grounds almost an hour early. They consist of a vast canyon of furrowed clouds, carved into the peak of Evan's cumulus abode. We took the long route and settled at the top of the furrow, watching as dragons trickled into the area far below. Most seemed to notice us immediately; most didn't seem to give a damn.

"We're far away," my son commented. He likes to make obvious observations no one else will. I love him for it. "Couldn't we go closer?"

"Certainly we could," Evan replied. "If you wish to be crushed. Many of the activities that comprise the Contest are skill- and intelligence-based, but just as many are physical. I don't wish to be trampled to death by that tubby quartzian tornface down there while he's dancing!"

Evan laughed at his own joke. Fynn's eyes went wide as he considered the prospect of a draconic dance contest. I tried not to act surprised, because something so silly as that sounds pretty normal under these circumstances.

"Besides," Evan continued, "Contests are often raided by rogue dragons. They're feral, you know, and none too bright - yet there seems to be a biological imperative for the brutes to prove their worth in martial competition. I'd rather not risk getting caught in the crossfire."

Nodding over the sagacity of the comment, we mumbled and waited. Dragons continued to appear below, flapping in from all directions in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some appeared as stealthy animals - foxes, birds, insects and the like - and were barely visible before they transformed. Some appeared in joking forms, with the heads of hippos and the bodies of enormous pterodactyls, usually to the appreciative grunts of their fellows. Yet others simply entered as plain 'ol dragons, which is how they all wound up looking once the aerie had gathered in its entirety.

I must confess myself surprised. Despite the run-in with the greyish rogue dragon last week, I kinda figured all dragons would look alike - ie, they would look like Barrel. I was wrong. In their natural forms, dragons run the gamut from tubby and emerald green to stocky and bright orange to outrageously thin and freckled-tan. They are much more individualistic than other races I've encountered, and I wonder how much of that stems from their shape-changing abilities. (I also wonder how, or why, Evan classifes them with names like 'greenback'. Shrug?)

"Ahhh, ahh, there he is!" Evan pointed, finger quivering in excitement. "There! The big one! That's the purplehorn! See him? Ridges! You can tell by his distinct, inverted patella! GO RIDGES!"

"The hell's a patella?" Logan muttered to his father, seated beside me.

"Don't swear," Jeffrey muttered back. "But damned if I know."

"It's this." Grylock pointed at the abrupt curve in his ear. "This kink. That's a patella."

"But they don't even have ears like yours," Jeffrey retorted. "You're just making that up."

"Ye lookin' for a fight, kingly?" Grylock threw up his fists. "I'll make ye kiss your patella so hard ye'll wish ye never crawled outta your mother's womb."

"SHHHHH!" Evan hissed, unexpectedly loud. He continued to jab a finger towards the crowd of dragons, now at least one hundred beasts strong. "They're starting, you fools! Don't wreck this for me!"

We fell silent. Evan is passionate about his dragons.

Through some mutual decision that none of us could detect - Evan suspects that dragons speak non-verbally - the dragons began to part. Dozens of females and smaller, lankier males gathered into a massive, milling crowd, forming up around a smaller contingent of large, proud males. Near the center of them stood the tall Ridges, larger than the rest by a significant degree, his plaited mane glimmering in the sun -

- and next to him, not quite as tall but still quite regal, rested a very familiar figure. One with a rotund belly covered in scars, and a shaggy mass of hair that had grown even longer since we'd parted ways over a year ago.

"Is that my dragon right there?" Jeffrey poked at my shoulder. "Hey, Dragomir, isn't that Apocalyptor?"

I rolled my eyes. "His name's Barrel, stupid. But, uh, yeah, I think that's him."

"SHHHHHHH!" Evan's insistent hushing burned my ears. "This part's important and if you ruin this for me I'll push you off this cliff so help me gods!"

I held up my hands in supplication. Huffing, Evan turned back to his dragons. All of us exchanged glances, and Antonio pantomimed pushing Evan off of our tall perch instead. I shook my head, surpressing a laugh... though I do wonder how much Antonio was actually joking.

Once the two crowds of dragons had settled, the members of the Contest - Barrel and Ridges included - rose up and stretched their necks, craning their heads towards the sun. The area became very silent and still, and for at least a minute I wondered if they'd all gone to sleep. But then the low humming of their voices reached us, a sonorous, almost mournful tone, and soon the entire aerie was singing, the spectators providing background rumbling to the chorus of the contestants.

I'm not sure I can accurately describe dragons singing. There were no words to the spectacle, only sound: a rhythmic, booming intonation that shook the skies and the clouds. As the song hit its crescendo I felt as though I would be bounced off my seat at any second, and I clutched nervously to the pliable ground, fearing that the dragons might destroy their clouded kingdom with their power.

It was, in summary, awful. Dragons have terrible voices. Or at least they do to humans who aren't Evan.

Eventually the song subsided, and as it did the twenty-odd competitors in the Contest exchanged stubby handshakes. Barrel and Ridges seemed particularly cold in this formality, and the jagged smile on Ridges' face chilled me. Barrel's expression was no less stern, though he didn't return the smile.

I gently poked Evan's shoulder. "Can I say something?"

"Huh?" Evan peered at me, his eyes glazed. The remnants of stupid rapture lingered behind his deep beard. "Oh, uh, sure. Be quick, please."

"Those two. The... greenback. And Ridges. They look kinda pissed at one another. How come?"

"Rivalry, of course. What else?" Evan shrugged. "They both wish to lead the aerie and establish a lasting dynasty. Each has a mate, and I believe both mates are pregnant. It's within their interests to seize power, for the good of their offspring."

"Oh, yeah. Because of the whole 'higher position in society, better raised' thing, right?"

"Err... kind of." Evan scratched at his beard. "I think it may be more serious than that this year, though. Ridges is a particularly domineering male, and he likes to flaunt his power. He may try to force his rivals out of the aerie if he becomes the alpha. It's his right, if he wins the Contest."

"Huh." I looked at Barrel. He was striding off of the field of battle, hard expression softening as he approached a smaller female. His wife? Mate? Whatever? "What happens to dragons who're kicked out?"

"They have to find a new cloud to live on." Evan sighed. "And if they don't, they're forced to live down with the rest of us. Slavery, persecution, and death await them down there. Dragons may be strong, but they're in high demand amongst us lower races. Forcing dragons to be pets is not uncommon."

Jeffrey shifted uncomfortably behind me. Sigh.

The Contest has, in small part, begun. The dragons engaged in some light physical exercises today, kind of an elimination round, and a few of the scrawnier competitors got the boot. Barrel's still in the running, though Ridges is easily the most impressive competitor of the lot. He can benchpress a tonne of clouds like no one I've ever seen. Evan tells me the Contest will become a great deal fiercer in the days to come.

I'm kind of torn, I have to admit.

Because... if he win... Barrel is the leader of an aerie. And that's good! I dunno how the hell he got here in the first place, but that's good. And I'm glad for him.

But... on the other side... if he loses, and gets kicked out... Barrel could come with us again. And that... that'd be pretty awesome.


Such conflict.

I really need to get back to this looking-for-my-wife thing. Y'know? That should be a priority.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Four: On Dragons

I've learned a lot about dragons in the last twenty-four hours. Perhaps more than I ever cared to know. Oh, Barrel, Evan knows more about you than you know about you.

We'll start with the important info: there's no sign of Libby. In his time off Evan enjoys wandering the five hundred-ish square miles worth of cloudy land that makes up Above The Sky, and he's seen no signs of human inhabitation beyond the wild dude who runs around and acts all nude. Evan is a seasoned tracker, and he knows when people are about. He also knows where Micro-Dragons tend to roost in the clouds, and three visits to high cliffs where he knows they live yielded no fruit.

These visits took us most of the day. In the meantime, Evan practically pelted our party with information on dragons. He smothered us.

Dragons, known scientifically as scalus hugus and breathus badus, comprise one of the most long-lived species on our fair planet. They existed before the rise of the groundling races, and though they live simply dragons are well known for their evolved brains and mystical abilities. They are big, they are smart, and they stay out of the affairs of those who live below.


Dragons live in large packs known as aeries. Each aerie is led by an alpha male and an omega female. The alpha male makes any decisions pertaining to war, hunting, and overall aggression; the omega female... well, she deals with everything else. Social interactions, aerie-to-aerie relations, even trade and economic policy. (Yes, dragons use money.) These positions are not inherited, nor must the alpha and the omega be romantic partners, but linked dragons tend to take on those roles anyway- and so do one of their children. Something about pack leaders having a better chance because they're raised with more privileges than the average dragon, and thus grow up stronger, smarter, and more capable.

Or something. Science.

Despite my experience with dragons... or dragons in the singular... I held back on peppering Evan with my own stories. The guy's nice enough, but he's an employee of the Imperium. Funded and accredited and housed and everything. Therefore, he's kind of an enemy. A potential enemy at the very least. Even if he helps us track down Libby, I want him to know as little about us as possible.

Which means I probably shouldn't have told him our real names. Doi.

We're back in Evan's home at the moment. It's a spacious, three-floor cabin with modern amenities and inventive gizmos that make up for some things that Above The Sky lacks. Apple trees stubbornly refuse to grow up here, for example, and Evan loves apples. So he's whipped up a contained growth dome for a small apple tree that receives greater amounts of oxygen than usual, uses soil from the surface world, and heats and cools much like the air would down on the planet. Seems decades ahead of its time, but, hell, so does the Dauphine. Some people are just plain clever.

In exchange for his help in tracking down Libby, Evan insists we accompany him to the nesting grounds of the dragons for their 'Contest' tomorrow. He's still willing to help us look, but there are, uh... opening ceremonies... which he refuses to miss. He further refuses to allow us to miss 'em, even though most of our party is not that interested in dragons.

Shrug. Who knows. If these things are so smart, maybe they've already found Libby. Maybe she's their guest. At the very least, maybe the 'greenback' and the 'purplehorn' can prove their worth by scouting from the air for us. Anything's possible.

Ah. Dragons. I'm not that interested, despite the inherent coolness of big scaly creatures, but all the crap Evan discusses... it sure makes me miss Barrel. I guess he's hanging out on a similar cloud somewhere...? I miss ya, buddy.

Too many people take off on me. It's just not right.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Three: Obligatory researcher


The bellowed shout was not what we'd expected. Not up here, in the clouds, far from civilization or even hints of civiliation. But, ultimately, it served well enough.

We'd been picking our way across a complex field of geometrically-perfect rocks when the call came. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to step over a rhomboid, even more so when a man with a big, fuzzy beard yells out a hello. We all stared up at the rise surrounding the field, more than a little confused.

He waved. "Hi! My gods, it has been a time since I last saw anyone! Are you visitors from Rodentia? Have the snows receded? I wondered when they would. This has been a long winter!"

Not sure what else to do, I waved back - and asked the man to hold off while we tackled the rest of the rock field. He did us one better, hinting how best to circumvment a boulder with no definable edges. It, like the rhomboid, held unexpected challenges.

When at last we'd left mathematical precision behind us and crested a marshmallow hill, I shook hands with the man around his stout walking stick. He introduced himself as Evan, and, to my surprise, he was not a mathematician. 

"Evan the Dragon Researcher, at your service." He fiddled with a pair of thick glasses, tiny in his huge hands. Evan's a big guy. "I knew I'd heard voices. You're very much welcome to the realm of the clouds. Though it looks like you've been here a while, eh? Have you met the sky dwarves yet?"

I offered him a pained look. Everyone else did the same - save Antonio, who said "Pigeonz" instead.

"I'll take that as a definite yes." Evan's laugh boomed. "Ahh, but given the season, you must surely be up here to watch the Contest. Yes? Surely?"

I shrugged. "Contest? Whaddya mean, Contest?"

Evan's shoulders sagged the tiniest bit, though he tried to hide his disappointment behind information. "The Contest! Of the dragons! This is the time of the year for the selection of a leader for the dragons!"

"Oh." I thought back to the dragon we'd butchered near the tip of the Stalk of Rodentia. "That... that seems dangerous. They're like to eat us."

"Only if you watch rogues at play. I'm not talking about rogues." Evan waved a hand. "I mean the colony. Much more civilized. This year's Contest is pretty exciting! There's a newer greenback fighting with a veteran purplehorn. I've been waiting for months for it to flare up. Would you like me to show you the way to the staging grounds? Humans aren't usually welcome, but the colony likes me."

I twitched. Evan was up on the balls of his feet, wringing his hands in clear excitement. No questions about our destination, our origins, our intentions... we could be robbers set on plundering him for all his worth and he wouldn't even know it. I don't often consider people to be fools, but Evan...


Maybe I'm just pessimistic these days. Who knows.

"No, no." I offered him a hand. "Dragomir. Hi. I'm lookin' for my wife. Have you seen her?"

"No. Why? Is she here too? To see the dragons?" Evan gushed. "The purplehorn is the odds-on favourite to win. I can't speak draconic, but I've named him Ridges. Because he's covered in small, spiky ridges. Clever enough, isn't it? You know, I managed to collect some of his shed scales last year, and they're so remarkably resilient -"

"My but he gabs," Grylock muttered behind my back. He stepped out and snapped his fingers. "Human! Human! Pay heed a moment! The man has questions!"

Evan breathed deep, his face red, a wide smile tightening beneath his beard. "S... sorry. Sorry. I, ah, I don't have many people to talk to during the off seasons, so when tourists come up, I get, ah, a little bit excited. Many apologies. Many!"

He offered his hand again. I shook it.

"I'm looking for my wife," I repeated. "'bout as tall as me, dark, short hair, big muscles. Mighta come here on a, uh... what were they called again, Logan?"

"Micro-Dragon, boss."

"Yeah. Micro-Dragon. You know Micro-Dragons?"

Evan snorted. "Yes, Micro-Dragons. Ill-tempered, dumb cousins of the real thing. Lizards with wings. I used to train them for the Imperium's scouting division. Did you see Rodentia's roost? I lived in it for a few months."

We all fidgeted. Logan had described in vivid detail the collapse of the Micro-Dragon roost. I waved it away. "Neat. So, you... haven't seen her, then, I guess? Maybe?"

Reluctantly shoving away his chatter about dragons, Evan pursed his lips and considered. "Nnnnnno. No women up here since the last tourist season. And I would know, eh? Gets awfully lonely up here during the winter, eh?" He elbowed me a few times.

I frowned. "C'mon, this is serious. She's missing. Have you seen anybody? Maybe someone who could've been a woman, but, like, you saw at a distance and weren't sure?"

That earned a bristling shudder from Evan. He turned away from me, peering over a long, bumpy row of clouds covered in tangerine trees. "There is someone else. A wild man who's been running loose up here for near a month. But he's definitely a he. Definitely."

"How do you know?"

"He's always nude." Evan shuddered again. "Bloody nuisance has raided my garden twice. Keeps disturbing the dragons, as well. No idea what he wants or why he's up here, but he's no woman, I can tell you that."

"Vat doez he look like?" Antonio chimed in. He'd been skulking in the rear of the pack, watching for trouble.

"Shaggy brown hair. Covered in scars." Evan tapped his head. "Bandaged. I assume he's suffering a terrible concussion and has gone feral. That happens, you know."

Antonio nodded, his smile widening the tiniest bit. I haven't yet puzzled out why.

"But come." Evan pointed to the ever-present sun, which, for some reason, never moves out of the west when you're in the clouds. "It will be dark soon, and some of the fiercer creatures come out at night. It's not safe when that happens. Best you not run into any rogue dragons! They will rip a man to shreds!"

"But..." I looked at the rest of my party. They shrugged as one. "But it's never dark up here. We've been on the clouds for three days, now."

"Yes, but it's dark below, and for nocturnal animals that's all that matters." Evan ushered us along. "I'll show you to my house. I have maps of the clouds over Rodentia. Perhaps they will help us locate your wife."

I struggled with the logic, but, ultimately, we had little choice. We needed a guide. Evan led us back to his cabin in the clouds and fed us some choice greens from his garden, and now we're sitting in his solar, learning the lay of the land from his book of maps. Soon we will sleep, and tomorrow we'll set out to find Libby.

Hopefully find Libby.

Better find Libby.

A wild man covered in scars... and naked. Hrm. That doesn't bode well for Libby. She can take care of herself, but... still...

I'm off for now. Evan's an avid board game player, and his pet lemur doesn't provide the best competition in the world. He's anxious to drag us all into a round of Twelve-Man Chesterfields. We're short a few bodies, but Evan assures us that he knows some alternative rules that'll get us by.  


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-Two: Not your standard dwarf

About a billion years ago, in a castle far, far away, I read a book. That book spoke of a mythical creature known as a sky dwarf, though not with any sort of context.

"The sky dwarf," Robert the Librarian told me, "is a small, winged pixie of stout frame and bushy beard. They are said to live in plentiful colonies amid the clouds of the Grand Imperium. If I remember correctly, their tears contain a potent healing salve much treasured by those who live on the land."

"Oh." I'd puzzled over that a moment, picturing a tiny version of my father with wings. And, uh, two arms. Also weeping. "That's weird. If they live in the clouds, how do people know they exist?"

"The world is a place of miracles, Dragomir." He'd winked, and left it at that.

I long kept that image of sky dwarves with me. They seemed fantastical beings, and on nights when my dreams were not full of prophetic horrors, they often cropped up as benevolent background filler.

The creatures that swarmed us today were not benevolent.

We were exploring a small copse of mint green bubble trees when they came upon us, their arrival heralded by a tumultuous buzzing that shook the fragile branches and sent twigs tumbling onto our heads. 

"INCOMING!" Grylock had shrieked, yanking his poisonheart free of its scabbard as he pointed skyward. I could barely hear him over the buzz. "THE FUCK BE THAT, THEN?"

I followed his finger. Not fifty feet from us was a huge, angry cloud of puppy-sized humanoids, held aloft on insectile wings and glaring at us with puffy red eyes. Each carried a small, but wicked, spear in their three-fingered hand, and those spears came zipping at us with alarming speed.

"PIGEONZ!" Antonio, hand still swaddled in a bandage, tried to shove us out the other side of the copse. "RUN!"

We ran. The cloud gave chase, yelling at us in an unintelligible tongue and hurling a few spears in our wake. They did not follow us far past the edge of the copse, though, and when we looked back we spotted them nestling in the trees. I swear a few of them gave me the finger; I dared not give it back.

By then we were tucked behind a large embankment of cloud with a crest of purple tallgrass, and I felt safe to let out a breath. "What in the seven hells were those? Antonio?"

The orc grinned broadly. "Pigeonz, zey are called. Nazty brutez of ze zky. Ve gypziez have contended vith zem many a time on ze road."

"No, no." Jeffrey shook his head. "Those... I think those were sky dwarves. They look like something my... tutor... described... yes, they must be sky dwarves."

"Sky dwarves?" My image of clean, happy little creatures exploded. "Fuck. Your tutor wouldn'tve been Robert from back home, would it? The librarian?"

"No." Jeffrey's face darkened. "The Baron."

"Oh." Awkward silence. Very awkward. "... 'kay. Uh. Any reason why they attacked us? They sure like those trees."

Antonio, maintaining his idea that they were called 'pigeonz' instead, did not have an answer. Nor did Jeffrey, beyond saying that sky dwarves were fiercely territorial - and, no, they did not have healing tears. Either The Baron knows things about sky dwarves no one else did, or Robert's books are written by drug users. Maybe both.

It was my son who offered the only answer I thought feasible, as it was so damned simple. "Maybe they like the colour."

I pulled away from a minor argument with Grylock, who claimed they were just jealous of his stunning looks. "Whaddya mean, bud?"

Fynn pointed. "The trees. They're a nice green. Maybe they like the colour."

Grylock laughed at that. "Feh! Wise son ye're raisin', Dragomir. They didna look te be any nicer te the orc 'n I when they came flyin' at us, lad. Lest ye be blind, we're a mite bit green."

Fynn flushed and bowed his head, embarrassed. I cuffed Grylock on the nose, and we squabbled over his attitude. Jeffrey was the only one who seemed to take the idea seriously besides myself, though he kept his thoughts on it to himself. Very helpful, Jeffrey.

Nevertheless, we're paying heed to our surroundings from now on. Mint green trees are out. I can only hope Libby made the same discovery early on, and has not been speared by a mob of flitting runts. 

Or eaten by a dragon.

Or fallen off a cloud bridge to her death in the night.

Or... other things.

I still like it up here. I just wish I had a map, is all.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day Six-Sixty-One: A whole new world

(Author's note: Images are on temporary hiatus for the next few days. I had... technical problems with this week's batch that I only discovered this morning. Yay!)

My worldview... has expanded. Substantially.

Before I left home, there was one world. That world was Villeinville, may it rest in peace. After I left home, there were two worlds: 'everything else' and the castle. May it... also rest in peace. Once I'd died, the worlds multiplied - Pubton was a world, the Indy Plains were a world, the territory of the Non a world... and everything out west, yep, a world.

Now I'm on a cloud. I've come to the conclusion that there are just thousands of worlds, and I should give up counting.

Above The Sky, which I've come to call this particular subset of creation, is weird and fantastic. I've never been anywhere so utterly alien in my life, and for all its dangers, I wonder if I should retire here. I rather like this place.

We'll start with the ground. The ground is white. The ground is soft. The ground is bouncy, and pliable, and pillowy - yet firm. There's never any risk that you'll suddenly fall through the ground, plummet a few miles, and hit the real ground. This is exactly what I'd always imagined of standing on a cloud.

But there more than just clouds up here. There's running water. And rocks. And plants that look like they're made of soap bubbles. And grass that's so velvety red you swear you're staring at roses. Above The Sky is a complete ecosystem, one watched over by the sun regardless of the time of day (I don't know how that's possible, though), and as you move from one fluffy island to the next you begin to realize that the people who live on the ground have no idea what they're missing. I certainly had no clue what it was like to travel on the clouds.

Kinda sucks to run out of air so quickly, mind. Oxygen's reeeeeeeal thin up here, and you have to rest often. But I can handle that much.

We spent most of today getting our bearings. We did our best to keep our location comparative to Rodentia in mind, as you can't see the city from up here, but the battle with the dragon last week threw us off. We need to know so we can figure out where to begin the search for Libby. Not a great beginning, I'll admit, but no one wants to scramble back down the Stalk to check. I'm not sure how much knowing would help us anyway - Libby's Micro-Dragon could've carried her anywhere by now.

(... hrm. Didn't think of that before. The damned thing better still be up here... surely she woulda unsaddled herself, or something...)

Nevertheless, the search begins in earnest tomorrow. Antonio says he's used to the thin air already, and Grylock didn't seem that bothered in the first place, so we humans should catch up relatively quick. As soon as we get past huffing for breath every time we go for a walk we'll be ready to hunt my wife down and drag her back to the Dauphine.

It's a shame we don't have the whole of Pubton with us. I'd make 'em clamber up the Stalk and set up camp here instead. Maybe just burn up the Stalk and live here permanently, where the Non and the Imperium can't get at us.


An idea to consider.

Best you pardon me, now. There are many dragon leftovers, and my stomach is rumbling. Gonna need half an hour to spark up a fire... stupid thin air...


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day Six-Hundred-Sixty: Right straight

Sweeeeeet gooooods we reached the tooooooop

And then neeeeeearly dieeeeeeed

When is that not a thiiiiiiiing

The majority of our trip up the Stalk of Rodentia has seen us exposed to the open air. Sure, we've passed through the occasional vaporous cloud, but most of the time we've had no choice but to stare at the world below as we slowly wind 'round the Stalk's twin vines. I took this as a mixed curse - it's much colder when you're inside a cloud, yes, but when there are no clouds you also have to look at the ground. I'll never get used to that view.

The things I do for love.

That ended shortly after breakfast today. We hadn't noticed it the night before, thanks to the darkness and the clouds above eclipsing the moon, but when we woke up Jeffrey pointed out that there was a huge bank of fluffy white above our heads. Very solid fluffy white. Our limbs sore and our wills sapped, we nevertheless continued onward through the mounted snow...

... and soon, we discovered that the clouds were not dissipating to our rights and our lefts. Indeed, we could reach out and touch it, and Fynn even stopped my heart by flopping down against a big bank of the stuff as though it were a vertical bed. I may have screamed overly much when he did that, but I don't want to have to rescue more fucking family members. Danged kid.

I feared the clouds might press in and bar our way to the top, but, as we'd been promised far below, they remained far enough away from the central stalk to allow us passage. We also found the trip much more agreeable, as the snow quickly disappeared from our path, the Stalk thawed, and the winds no longer threatened to sweep us to oblivion. Still took us two hours to emerge from the enormous, spongey fluffball, but I enjoyed the climb a great deal more.

Grylock was the first to pop his head out into sunlight, pushing through a dense cluster of clouds near the top. Judging by his shriek, I suspect he instantly regretted his role as spy - and the abrupt disappearance of his flailing legs suggested the same.

Rushing to Grylock's aid, we burst out of the top of the cloud and onto a vast expanse of white and sunlight. Nearby, standing perhaps a dozen times larger and bulkier than even Antonio the Gypsy, was a brown-and-grey dragon. Its long neck craned upward, supporting a thin, pointed head with beady black eyes. The dragon snapped at the air, seemingly at nothing, though as I watched it roar in frustration I realized Grylock was spinning around and down its neck. The hood of his coat had been torn clean away.

"DOWN!" he cried, pointing back at the Stalk. "DOWN DOWN DOWN!"

Jeffrey retreated immediately. Logan proved a bit braver, swiftly hauling his long, tubular blowgun out of the sling on his back and firing a dart at the dragon's neck. He didn't retreat until the dart plinked harmlessly off of the dragon's hide. I did not join them, as I was too dumbfounded and confused to move.

That was my mistake. The dragon eyed me next, slobber dripping from its mouth as it dipped towards me.

I raised a shaky hand, not sure what else to do. "H... h... hello?" I stammered, hoping it would respond. Perhaps even transform into a little form of itself and flit to me for a pleasant pantomimed chat. Like the old days.

Its jaws opened in my face. This, I realized, is not Barrel.

Then suddenly I was flying to the left, thrown by a heavy arm, and I tumbled across the clouds like a rag doll, bouncing and yelping. The ground was amazingly buoyant, and when I rolled to a stop I realized I was unhurt. The dragon hadn't touched me. The same could not be said of someone else in the party.

Antonio, once again my saviour, was standing strong in front of the dragon. He had his gloved hands jammed hard inside the dragon's jaws, just barely managing to hold them apart. Blood trickled down onto his bandana from his left hand, partially impaled as it was on one of the dragon's sharp teeth. Yet his smile remained, strained but unrelenting, and he snorted out a little laugh.

"You... you are... verthy prey..." The orc spat in the dragon's mouth. "Iz zhame I muzt end zis now, but... ve are... on... timetable... ya?"

The dragon didn't respond, not with words, but the look in its fierce eye suggested intense anger - and a great deal of confusion. I guess I'd be confused if I was an apex predator and beaten by my meal, too.

Roaring, Antonio pushed. The dragon's jaws separated by about a foot more - enough to allow the orc to plant one boot against its bottom lip. The extra leverage allowed Antonio to immediately pop the dragon's jaws upward, but before he could do too much it released him and pulled back. Its thin head shook, and its mouth popped loudly as joints tried to settle back to normal.

Antonio didn't give the thing a chance to strike back. Leaping up to his feet and throwing his gloves to one side, Antonio crouched down in a classic boxing stance. His fists came up, his legs parted, and as swiftly as Logan on a good day he drove his right arm forward. Green knuckles connected with the dragon's broad chest -

- and, almost instantly, a choked wheeze its final sound, the beast collapsed. Its long neck slumped against the Stalk of Rodentia. It twitched for three long minutes before its death spasms ceased.

Slowly, unbelievingly, the party emerged from the top of the cloud and gathered 'round Antonio. He was breathing hard, blood dripping down his fingers from wound and torn knuckles alike, but he looked as happy as ever.

Fynn was the first to break the silence. He'd been lollygagging, apparently, and had missed most of the fight. "Now I really don't wanna arm wrestle you."

Antonio laughed, wrapping a bandage 'round his maimed hand. "Iz okay. I vuld not aim for your heart if ve vere to vreztle. Iz bad form, ya?"

Ya. My gods, ya.

Though he's still hearty, Antonio asked for a little break. That break has since transformed into setting up camp for the day while Grylock carefully scouts the surrounding area. He's pretty abashed about not noticing a fucking dragon with that honker of his, and I suspect he wants to steal some of Antonio's limelight by finding Libby first. But, hells, it's tough to outdo beating a dragon in a boxing match. 

Maybe I should ask for lessons. I'm pretty sure Jeffrey's already made inquiries.


Dragomir the Dragon-Eater-Because-We're-Running-Low-On-Supplies-So-Please-Don't-Judge-Me-Barrel

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Nine: Family tiez

Or maybe it could.

Since the little conversation we had with him the other day, I've made a point to get to know Antonio. He doesn't seem that inclined to speak up the majority of the time, content to listen to us yell at one another over the campfire or while climbing the Stalk of Rodentia. I've made an effort to draw him into the chatter, but he's not receptive. 

Today was a rather harrowing struggle up the Stalk. The air has become thin, the wind very windy, and we're all extremely cold. Grylock, who keeps complaining of his aching joints, surmises that we would have been to the top long ago in fairer weather. In the final throes of winter we've been forced to cope with a sometimes-treacherous path and the fatigue of wading through accumulated snow.

I question my decision to bring my son along. It was, as they say back home, fuckingly boneheaded. Or maybe they don't, but I rather like that saying.

We take breaks every hour to avoid mass buildup of fatigue, and we'd just stopped for one when the wind hit the Stalk with a particularly vicious gust. Everyone else was resting in the snow; I was still on my feet, peering down at the land. The gust pitched me forward, and with nothing to grab onto I flailed -

- and my pants filled with poo as I caught a glimpse of Rodentia, so far away that I couldn't even see fire - 

- and a big arm looped around me from behind and lugged me to safety. I landed on its owner's lap as we collapsed into a heap of snow.

I peered around, teeth chattering. "Th-th-th-thanks."

Antonio stared back, face as blankly pleasant as ever. "Iz no problem. You zmell of fecez now."

"Whew, does he ever." Grylock covered his nose. "Gotta learn te control yer bowels, Dragomir, or I'm not going anywhere with ye from now on."

Everyone laughed, though nervously, as I scrambled away from Antonio. He gave my butt a light slap, which, under the circumstances, I thought was a brave move. I discretely changed my pants, threw the old pair off the side of the stalk, and returned to the group to share a light dinner of cold apricots. Delicious.

While Fynn demonstrated his fledgling magical powers to Grylock, Logan, and Jeffrey (he can conjure lights in different shapes!), I sat down beside Antonio and offered my hand. "Thanks. For, uh, you know. Keeping me alive."

The orc looked at my hand a moment, then shook. His tight grip crushed my fingers. "Iz no problem, I zay. You eazterneze are over polite."

"Well, you saved me. I figure I should be grateful. Else you might not grab me next time."

The orc laughed. "You vill your pantz again and perhapz I vill not. Be happy I am not my zizter, ya? Zhe cannot tolerate ze ztink of poo. You vuld have vallen a long, long vay."

"I'll keep that in mind." I shook my hand out. "What's your sister's name?"

"Antonia." Antonio grinned. "Lizanna, when zhe adopted uz, zhe give us ztage namez. Ve keep zem for our own. Better zan original namez."

I swallowed. Yep, brother and sister. "What're your original names?"

Antonio whistled out a long, guttural string of musical toots and blats. They sounded more like the beginnings of a symphony than language. His expression didn't change once, so I couldn't tell if he was pulling my leg or not.

I waited for him to finish. "... I'll just call you Antonio."

The orc bellowed out another laugh. "I get zat often."

We talked a while longer, though Antonio remained largely silent on his past. All I managed to wiggle out of him was his time as a gypsy - adopted, raised as a boxer (another telltale sign), and ultimately separated from his sister when she went off to join a professional boxing league. He hadn't seen her since. Anything before Antonio's gypsy days remained carefully confidential, and eventually I gave up asking.

As the team gathered up their things and prepared to move again, I wrapped up the conversation as best I could. "You must miss your sister."

Antonio shrugged, adjusting his bandana to cover his pointy ears. "Zometimez. But zhe made her choice, und I only hope zhe iz happy."

I bit my lip. I figured it wasn't the best time to tell Antonio about his twin - but I also didn't want to drop the idea entirely. "But, uh, what if... like... what if she's in trouble? You must worry for her a lot. Even if she is a boxer."

"Zhe can take care of herzelf." He pounded his fists together merrily. "I vuld know. Zhe iz juzt az good a fighter az I, und ve vuld not let up our training. I have no reazon to panic."

"But..." I waved my hands around in the air, as if conjuring up wild ideas from pure fiction. "Say, uh... say she... like... turned into a werewolf, or something... something random... wouldn't that get you worried...?"

Normally when Antonio smiles his mouth remains clenched shut. This time, though, he bared his teeth in a feral grin, and his eyes creeped open. "Zat vuld make our reunion battle all ze more interezting, no? If zhe vere a verevulf. I vuld relizh zuch a combat."

I gaped at him. Eventually, his face settling back to normal, he cuffed my arm, laughed, and strode away. 

I think he wanted me to take that as a joke.


Not so sure.

Orcs are weird.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Eight: Iz high, ya?

Woof. Another third of the Stalk finished. I think. It's kinda hard to tell from way up here.

I am not afraid to admit that my breeches are awash with piss. This climb is terrifying. Not as dangerous as I'd anticipated, true, but terrifying. The wind howls and blows all the stronger the higher we get, there's less snow and more ice, and the world far below seems to be rounding out and disappearing. Rodentia still looms large before us, but it's a lot smaller than it was.

We've reached some normal clouds, now. That's some scary shit. I can touch fucking clouds. Haven't been this high since my ride with Barrel two years back. (Has it really been that long? Yikes.)

The group has mostly run out of things to talk about, so we spent much of today pondering over why Libby's Micro-Dragon would drag her onto a fucking cloud. The orc gypsy, largely silent, took the lead.

"Must be their natural habitat," Jeffrey offered. "It's got to be. I don't know much about Micro-Dragons other than their role as scout vehicles, but that seems logical. Doesn't it?"

"Didn't know anything lived on clouds," Logan replied, a little miffed he had to speak to his father. "Is there food up here? Water? How do they survive?"

"Could swoop back down to land when they're hungry," Fynn offered.

"That's a helluva trip when ye want a glass of water," Grylock shot back. "Think before ye speak, lad."

Fynn sagged. I patted him on the shoulder. He might be my height, but he's still a little boy - and a sensitive one, at that. I pulled him away from the pack as the others continued to argue, making a mental note to give Grylock a whack on the head.

I squeezed Fynn's bicep lightly. "How you feeling, son? Arms all better?"

Fynn pulled away shyly, though he nodded. "Yeah. Whatever they stuck on me has almost worn off. I, ah, I can kinda use magic again. Mostly."

"Show me."

Fynn stopped for a moment, bracing his feet to avoid slipping to his doom, and closed his eyes. A faint, brownish aura glittered into existence around him for a few seconds, then faded again. He took a deep breath and flexed his arms, grinning - though not as confidently as I've seen him.

"Bet you could benchpress the Dauphine," I said, hoping to encourage. "Atta boy."

"Zis vun could lift zat hooge vehicle?"

The voice caught us by surprise. Looking up, I spied the gypsy Antonio staring at us, his wide, enigmatic smile as impenetrable as always.

I nodded, wary. "Maybe. Done it before. What's it to you?"

"Vell!" Antonio slid down the path towards us, teeth-chatteringly oblivious to the hundreds upon thousands of feet from our position to the ground. He offered up his hand, I assume to arm wrestle. "Vhy not tezt zat, ya? I vould like to zee zis might in action."

Fynn stared around at the group. Everyone was watching. "Uh... uh... um... dad...?"

I let Fynn cower behind me. "No. Lay off, gypsy. He's just a baby."

The smile on Antonio's face did not falter. "He doez not look zo young to me."

"Well, he is. I don't want him getting hurt." I planted both hands on my hips, doing my best to channel Libby's maternal rage. "You wanna stick with us, you keep on walkin'."

The orc seemed to consider this, then shrugged. "Az you vish. I am not here to ztart a fight. Zat vas more often my zizter'z job, ya? I zimply helped clean up ze mezz." Antonio wandered back to lead the pack, happily silent the rest of the day.

I'm not honestly sure why Antonio came along. I didn't ask him; he barely even volunteered. I just discovered that, hey, he'd invited himself. Surprise! I'd much rather have had a known variable, like, say, Plato, or even his rat. (Though Plato waddling up the Stalk... with his stubby legs... maybe not. He'd have tripped and fallen five minutes into the climb.)

I have to say, too... his speech pattern... it's very familiar...

And... he's an orc...?

... hm...


Nah, couldn't be.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Seven: Skyward!

Today, we began the climb. It was... is... not fun. Not one damned bit of fun at all.

Rodentia remains under siege. The sloth's progression through the city seems to have weakened a little, and the siege cannons used against it continue long into the night, so I assume greater numbers of the Imperium's armies have arrived in the city. It's difficult to tell - even at the great height we reached today, the once fabulous city appears to be naught more than fire and chaos. In other words, one big fat distraction. Woo.

Still. Gotta feel sorry for all those civilians down there. They've got rough lives ahead, repairing the damage. I'm already sorry enough for my prayers that the sloth lingers in Rodentia at least long enough for us to find Libby and flee.

A giant, frozen beanstalk is hardly a call for concern under the circumstances, and so we found the checkpoints surrounding the Stalk of Rodentia deserted. We slipped past one of the small forts at its base, made wary by signs that the Stalk was 'closed', and approached the narrow road winding up the length of the great plant.

To say this is the scariest journey I've ever faced would be a lie. The descent into the hole chilled my bones to the utmost, and I've gone through even worse since. But ascending into the sky... it's preeeeetty bad.

The Stalk of Rodentia, much like the talk of Cheem, consists of a braided pair of emerald green slopes around an enormous central vine. The slopes are just level enough that we can walk up them at a decent clip, and gravel has been laid down all the way up to ease the passage. This gravel, of course, is now covered in snow, and the green is encased in large sheets of ice and crusty frost. These things do not bar our passage, but I can see why citizens are barred from climbing the Stalk of Rodentia in the winter.

The first ten minutes were not so bad. I was more focused on maintaining my footing and getting used to the brisk wind. But then I made the mistake of looking down, and even after so short a time I found myself far too high above the ground for my comfort. Squirt, traitorous bladder, squirt.

"Keep movin', fearless leader." Grylock slapped my rump with the flat of his poisonheart. "Don't look down. It only gets worse."

I gulped. "You... you sound like you've done this before."

"Nah. Not quite." He paused, scratching his tuft of white hair. "Had te spy on Gok, once. Wouldn't come outta his damned tower. Forced me t'peek on him from outside. Right through the windows. That was a climb I'll ne'er forget. Much worse 'n this."

"Oh." I cast a quick eye over my shoulder. The dancing fires of Rodentia waved at me. "What was he doing?"

"Affair. With some pug-ugly human girl." He grinned and spat. "Didna want the queen te find out. Sticky matter. Ye understand."

"Ahhh." The thought of the squat goblin king with his thinger... out... ack. "So what'd you do? About, y'know, the affair."

Grylock's grin broadened. "Boffed the queen. What else?"

Class act, that man.

We're now camped about a third of the way up the Stalk, our tents and food stolen from an abandoned house outside Rodentia's walls. (We left money.) I suspect the small fire we've started is visible from the city, but, really, who cares? No one's gonna bother us right now.

Hang on, Libby. We're coming for you.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Six: And then things happened

Give me that damned diary back.

Yeesh. Almost as bad as when I died. It's not supposed to be a frigging communal journal, you know. My shit is private.

So. Uh, to recap. Because... everything that happened has been from a different point of view.

We got captured.

My son, my super-powerful son, was clamped in chains that repressed his magic. So he was no help.

We were taken to Rodentia.



To my rage, my wife was apparently tortured. 

We stewed in our cells for almost two weeks.

Celine freed us.

We escaped!

But the palace came down on our heads. 

We fled!

But we nearly ran right into the sloth. Maybe one block away from the thing. I soiled myself furiously.

As we hid in an alley, I watched it climb the palace walls...

... so slowly...

... and when it reached the top tier of the palace, it knocked the Micro-Dragon roost out of place with a single swipe of its claws. Just like that.

We fled again!

And, now, we are outside Rodentia. Escaped through one of the busted walls and hid in a barn. The city is a horrifying mess, panic reigns supreme, and the guards don't give two damns about a bunch of escaped convicts. Even if we do rumble around in an armed transport. We're model citizens compared to a sloth on the rampage.

But we have a problem! Because.... because now my wife is gone. The mother of my child. And though Logan has a good idea of where she probably is, he's not sure. So... we kinda have to take his word for it, and pray that he's right.

My life is too complex. Cripes.

Logan's life hasn't been too simple of late either, I hear. (And read.) He and Celine spent the last week skulking about the palace, trying to find and free us. For that I am eternally thankful. I am also forever in Logan's debt for saving Libby - the description of... what he found... how he found her... well, it makes me want to tear into some interrogators. Just a smidge. I seriously don't think I'd hold back if I met the ones responsible, assuming they're still alive. 

Logan last saw Libby flitting away atop a Micro-Dragon. The thing's destination appeared to be the large bank of clouds spread over the province of Rodentia. Normally this might seem like a normal flight - except the clouds here are linked to the Stalk of Rodentia. And that means the clouds can be traversed as though they were normal terrain.

The Stalk here is a little better than the Stalk of Cheem, from what we can see. There's lots of ice, yes, but it seems to be more coated in snow than slippery stuff. Logan thinks we can climb it before it thaws. And if he's right about Libby... well, we kinda have to. I'm not leaving without my wife.

Our team is splitting up. Most of the crew is returning to the Dauphine. It needs to be defended and repaired, and without Libby on board those repairs are gonna take a while. Meanwhile, Grylock, Logan, Jeffrey, Fynn, the orcish gypsy Antonio (he reunited us with Logan, fancy that) and myself will be attempting to climb the Stalk. Boy's day out, it will be.

And, uh, that's... that's the recap.

At least I'll have plenty of stories to tell my grandkids when I'm old.


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Five: Flight

"Okay. There's one up there. You ready to go?"

"Fuck." Libby breathed deep. "Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Yes. Let's do it."

"Are you sure you don't want me to try and get down on my own? Because two of us on one of those things -"

"You're ridin' with me or we're not ridin' at all." Libby grabbed Logan's shoulder and offered him the sternest, most commanding glare she could muster. "It seems less suicidally stupid if two of us do it."

Logan blinked. "That's... that's not logical."

"Get moving, kid. Before I piss myself from fear. That's an order."

Logan and Libby gathered up what little gear they found valuable and left their quarters. Libby winced as she walked, the dozens of tiny cuts marring her skin poked and prodded by her clothes. She vowed to horribly murder the interrogators responsible for her pain should she ever meet them again.

The corridors were empty. The residents of the palace had long since abandoned its austere halls, or at least the upper halls, no doubt deeming life here too risky. To the east, Libby spied a glint of sunlight and a small heap of snow; she wondered if the wound in the structure was the fault of the sloth or the palace simply collapsing in on itself. Either way, they had to get out of here.

Logan led her to the stairs up to the Micro-Dragon roost. Libby took two steps and winced painfully. Logan offered her his shoulder, and helped her up the rest. She reflected that he'd turned into a pretty okay kid, a far cry from the troubled youngster she'd endured so often back home. A thief, yes, but an okay kid.

"How's your mom doing?"

Logan shrugged. "Not sure. She's back at the Dauphine. We... 'saved' her. Like they could've arrested mom without lugging the whole damned machine to Rodentia."

"Ah." Libby gripped the spiral railing, breathing hard. "She's... probably fine. Tough bitch, that one."

"Like yourself." Logan threw her a cocky grin. "I like a strong lady."

"Hey, hey, I'm a married woman." Libby knocked him on the back of the head. "I'm respectable. No cheatin'. Ain't no man for me but Dragomir."

"He's a lucky guy."

"You're damned right he's lucky."

After a great deal of painful hobbling, they emerged into a wide, smelly room. Partially open to the cold and the snow at the far end, the Micro-Dragon roost reminded Libby of the top of the king's tower: tight, restrictive, controlling, and occupied by a single dragon. Though this one was, as its name suggested, much smaller than Barrel.

Barrel. Libby allowed herself a single moment of reflection as she shivered, the chill wind whipping through the roost biting at her bones. Could use you right now, you little bastard. Wonder where you've gone.

Logan stepped away from Libby, passing by empty stall after empty stall. She could easily see his target: a thick, knobbly tail, thumping idly against the floor near the roost's open balcony. Loud snorting sounds hinted at a meal in progress, and a thick, grey pair of wings betrayed the culprit.

"Watch it, kid," Libby muttered under her breath. "Be careful. Don't ass it up like your dad."

Libby doubted Logan was an animal expert, but he seemed practiced enough. He called out to the Micro-Dragon in advance, allowing it a moment to raise its head and consider him. Tiny black eyes peered out of its thick skull, almost as large and as cumbersome as a rhino's, and a thin tongue slipped out of its mouth and scented the air.

Logan froze. The Micro-Dragon hissed, blinking stupidly. Then, apparently satisfied, it tucked back into its meal. Whatever it was, it smelled awful.

Breathing deep, Logan moved in close and touched the Micro-Dragon's tail. It remained apparently indifferent, engrossed in subsistence. Logan edged away from its pen to fetch a huge two-seater saddle from a nearby bin. Libby, content that the Micro-Dragon wouldn't pose a threat, moved in to assist.

"I thought dragons could form saddles outta their backs," she growled. "Why do we need this thing?"

"This is a Micro-Dragon. Very different." Logan grunted as he grasped one side of the saddle, lugging it carefully onto the Micro-Dragon's back. "Also stupid. You won't get a conversation outta this guy. He ain't Barrel."

"I was wondering if you knew about Barrel."

"Dragomir's told me some stories," Logan admitted. "Be handy right now to have a full-fledged, smart dragon. Gotta work with whatcha got, though. C'mon, hop on."

Libby looked at the saddle with no small amount of uncertainty. The last time she'd taken to the air, she'd just lost her husband. Everything had turned out mostly okay in the end, but her memories of the skies were not pleasant. Nevertheless, with some help from Logan, she painfully stretched herself up into the saddle and locked her feet into a pair of stirrups.

The Micro-Dragon peered back at her, cranning its long neck to get a good look at its passenger. Blink, blink, blink. Back to eating. If nothing else, she was satisfied by its apathy.

"How... how the hell're we supposed to fly this thing?" She looked around for reins, chains, a leash, a whip, anything that could alert the Micro-Dragon to her desired destination. "Help me out here, Logan."

"I think it has to do with shifting your weight," he replied, beginning to pull himself up into the passenger's seat. "I watched some scouts flying around last week, and -"

The rumble that seized the roost cut off the rest of Logan's explanation. The world turned abruptly, torturously vertical as the tower swayed, propelled by something far stronger than gusts of wind. Saddles burst out of their bin behind Libby, and as she turned to track them they flew across the Micro-Dragon launching pad and out into open air... down onto the city.

The city Libby could now see. Because the tower was leaning down towards it, falling onto Rodentia, falling apart.

Libby screamed. Logan screamed. The Micro-Dragon did not, though it was no less terrified. Immediately whipping around, its tail nearly launching Logan into an adjacent stall, it clambered towards the exit. Its great wings fanned open, and it flapped frantically. It pulled away from the tower as quickly as the tower pulled away from the Micro-Dragon, fleeing the thousands of tonnes of stone, wood, and thatch that rained down on Rodentia.

Libby's heart stopped. She thought she would die. She knew she was already dead, and that the vast expanse of clouds above her was, quite simply, heaven. She didn't know what heaven was, exactly - the Weekendists were vague on that point - but she was sure it had something to do with clouds. 

The dragon bucked. Libby's heart pumped again, squirting enough blood up to her brain to see that, no, she was not dead. She was, in fact, safe - or, at least, safer. 

Cruising downward, the Micro-Dragon screeched. As Libby watched the smoking city below her dip and bob, she dimly realized that the Micro-Dragon was too encumbered. Worse, it might be hurt. It flew unsteadily, unable to stay properly aloft, bucking so hard that Libby nearly fell out of the saddle. She clung to the saddlehorn, praying that whatever was bothering the Micro-Dragon would miraculously go away.

The Micro-Dragon flew in close to one of the remaining tall buildings of Rodentia. The lesser serpent tilted, flying almost vertically. Libby bit back a scream and clutched all the tighter to the saddle, squeezing so hard that her knuckles felt ready to burst. The Micro-Dragon's feet dragged against the building's stone facade -

- and, suddenly, it straightened. The weight lifted. The bobbing ceased. The Micro-Dragon cried happily, whirling around and soaring higher in the sky. Confused, Libby peered back towards the building, over her shoulder...

... and spotted Logan, clutching to the edge of a tower window. He was pulling himself inside, his face whiter than usual. Something green and familiar peeked out at Libby from the crook of his arm.

Sumbitch was holding on to the dragon. Despite her predicament, Libby smirked a little. Guess I forgot about him for a sec.

Safely inside his tower, Logan waved, getting smaller and smaller as the Micro-Dragon pulled up and away from Rodentia. 


The Micro-Dragon soared into the clouds. Libby briefly considered building a flying machine next, to emulate the experience. But, no, she reasoned - this was terrifying enough. No more flying.

The Micro-Dragon flew for a long time. Enduring every painful and frightful moment, Libby caught only snippets of the landscape below and beyond the dragon's back. She saw ruins -

- smoke - 

- a towering, green stalk -

- an excess of white -

- and, as the air got thin and her head got flighty, Libby saw darkness. That's when she passed out.

She dreamed of her boys. One was putting a dagger in her heart; the other was trying to patch the wound. They couldn't agree on anything. Eventually, to her despair, both of them disappeared. Her love went with them.

When she awoke, her head still spinning, she was laying on something soft. Almost plush. Above her was a man, though the sun eclipsed his features.

"Hi," he said, offering her a hand. Thick, shaggy brown hair brushed across her face. "Are you my girlfriend? You can be, if you wanna."

He was naked. Stark naked. And way, way too close.

Libby didn't know what else to do. Still dozy, she hobbled to her feet and punched the man in the face.

"Ow!" he cried. Reeling back, he brought his own fist to bear. "That hurt!"

The punch, pulled though it was, exploded against Libby's cheek. She collapsed, bouncing off ground no harder than marshmallows.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Four: Efficient Demolition

I watched a building collapse today. The sheer force needed to achieve such a thing frightens me. I don't think even Eve is this powerful, or this brutal.

It started with a slow, mounting thrum, followed by a dull rumble. It was enough to get me to my feet and over to a small window, a luxury apparently afforded to the most prestigious of ambassadors. Next came a cloud of smoke, billowing out the base of a towering apartment complex adjacent to the palace. The whole building creaked... and, level by level, it collapsed in on itself.

People screamed. People ran. Soldiers included. The only soul left at the end of it, spied via a telescope mounted to a nearby desk, was a little ball of brown fuzz. It slowly picked its way out of the rubble and peered around, a stupid, simple expression on its cutesy face.

I have never been so chilled in my life. I immediately pushed the telescope away and buried my head in a pillow. I'm glad I did - more booms followed.


In... other news...

Libby is improving rapidly. The physical scars of her interrogation aside, she was mildly malnourished. She's much more energetic today, and with that energy came a renewed determination to find her fucking son and find her fucking husband and get the fuck out of this fucking place. Yes ma'am.

The palace continues to slide into disarray, and though I could probably find a way down and out, I doubt the same of Libby. On her best days she's not quite as nimble as I am. (Though, uh, almost no one is as nimble as I am, I guess.) I searched for stable stairwells leading back to the ground floor... buuuuut only found stairwells leading up. Sigh.

After three hours of sifting through rubble for a viable exit point, I had to return to Libby in failure. She was propped up in bed, staring out the window as I had, scowling.

"Any sign of Fynn? Dragomir? Anyone?"

I hadn't expected any other kind of greeting. I shook my head. "I'm sure they're okay, though. Enough tough guys to dig 'em out of a problem. Heck, your boy's pretty strong, I hear, eh?"

Libby bit her lip. "They... when the soldiers showed up, at the Dauphine, they clamped something on his wrist. Almost first thing. S'like they knew he could... do... stuff. Either way, he wasn't very strong after that. I dunno what happened. So... Fynn might not be much help."

"Oh." I sat down cross-legged, defeated. "Well. Fuck. Still, lotsa strong bodies helpin' out there. I'm sure they're fine."

Libby sighed, but didn't argue. She turned back to the window, watching a squadron of Mini-Dragons circle in the distance.

"'sides, we need to worry about us right now." I joined her, envious of the swooping Micro-Dragons, free of the terrible, terrible ground. They didn't appear to have riders. Must've gotten loose somehow. "That sloth seems to like this neighbourhood, 'n the more damage it causes, the more likely the floor's gonna fall out beneath us."


"Yeah, again." I swallowed. "I can probably get down on my own. Maybe I could, I dunno, bring a ladder - "

"Don't bother." Libby shivered out a sigh. "I know how we're leavin'."

A tiny flood of excitement lit my face. "Oh yeah? Really? What's the plan?"

She didn't respond immediately. Instead, Libby touched this diary, something she'd been keeping close to her whenever I wasn't writing in it. She smiled a little, a sad expression that spoke of deep-rooted discontent. An expression that wanted a normal life, not all this bullshit.

Then she pointed. At the Micro-Dragons. "Those'll do."

Aw, fuck me.

Skimming back a dozen pages, I notice that Celine mentioned the roost of the Micro-Dragons. Specifically, she said that it's the tallest point in the palace. She wasn't wrong - and the staircase spiralling up to the roost is one of the few places that's still relatively safe. Though it's a clear target, the sloth hasn't yet approached the roost.

I went up to check. I found discarded scout armour, saddles, cleaning tools, empty pens, and a lot of Micro-Dragon dung. No sign of a live Micro-Dragon. But if Libby's right - and I have no doubt she is - they're probably so used to this roost that, free of human control or not, they consider it home. At least one of the beasts will come back.

And when it does...

Oh, joy. Oh, joy.

I don't want to be a splat on the ground,

Logan the Thief

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day Six-Fifty-Three: Sloth recreational sports

Good lords above. This is surely the apocalypse.

Celine and I couldn't manage to locate Dragomir, dad, and the rest of our company yesterday. There's just too much activity in and around the palace. Guards and soldiers are running back and forth everywhere, leading delegates and politicians and noblemen/women to safe places, and constant calls for backup in other sections of the city are changing their plans every five minutes. Chaos reigns, because of one fuzzy little terror.

Roughly a third of Rodentia's defense force has been wiped out thanks to the sloth, I've overheard. Apparently there are plans to escape up the Stalk of Rodentia if things get any worse. A poor plan, that - if this Stalk is anything like the Stalk of Cheem, it must be encrusted in ice right now. Anything's preferable to a sloth, though, I guess.

Celine and I spent the night in an ignored storeroom, down in the dungeons. Filched some food to fill our barren stomachs. Couldn't find our old clothing, but we did locate close approximations - as well as a lot of very familiar-looking stuff. Like, from-the-Dauphine stuff. 

After successfully evading a massive influx of guards on their way up to street level this morning, Celine and I crept back into the dungeons. She checked the southern wing; I checked the east. It was a tense two hours, slipping through darkened, fearful corridors, surrounded by pleading inmates and the sounds of activity overhead. Twice more, massive impacts rocked the walls around us; twice more I ducked, just to be safe.

I don't know what Celine found, but I found Libby.

Libby was nude and strapped into an interrogation chair, her head drooped and unresponsive. Her arms, legs, chest and belly were covered in little bloody nicks, and her face was ashen grey. A thin layer of dust lay on her skin. She was unconscious and alone when I found her, with no evidence that she'd been attended to for the last day or so. 

"LIBBY!" I yelled, dashing forward and covering her with my cloak. I quickly undid the metal restraints holding her in place. "Gods alive, Libby, what'd they..."

Libby groaned. Her eyes fluttered open... and when she realized that her hands were free, they jabbed up at my throat. 

"Where the fuck am I?" she hissed, spitting chunks of dry blood out of her mouth.

I strangled a short "Rodentia" and "dungeon", my windpipe too restricted to say much else.

Eyes widening a little, Libby wheezed a cough and let me go. She shivered under the cloak. "Water?"

Doubled over, I handed her a small canteen. She downed as much water as she could manage, then puked most of it up on the floor. That seemed to bring back her full awareness, though far from full strength.

They'd interrogated her. Tortured her. For three days straight Libby was harassed by two questioning women, both demanding answers. They knew she was the engineer behind the Dauphine, a fact probably gleaned from another prisoner, and they wanted full details on its construction and capabilities. Most important, they wanted to know if it could be repaired, and quickly. They'd humiliated and brutalized Libby into talking, cutting her with a small dagger, punching her in the stomach, stripping her naked to crush her spirit.

Then the sloth had penetrated the city. That was the end of the interrogation. Libby was abandoned, left to accumulate dust as it shook down from the ceiling, a testament to the carnage outside.

After allowing Libby to rest a short while, I helped her hobble into the nearby corridor and back, back, back to the storeroom. We found her clothes, we fetched her some food, and despite the pain of her wounds and the weakness of her condition Libby was already looking a great deal better - 

- when the world came down on us. Again.

We'd just left the storeroom and headed out into one of the main corridors, cautiously watching for troops, when the entire palace was seized by a fantastic rumble. Every bit of stone in the place seemed poised to drop out of its niche and crash to the floor, though, remarkably, the ceiling above us did not collapse. I hastened Libby to the next floor up, hoping to find a rare window, a balcony, anything that might allow us to figure out what the hell was going on -

- but life answered that question for me without requiring a window. Swiftly, and brutally.

The palace is topped by an enormous sphere. Within this sphere, on a normal day, the reigning council of the Imperium makes decisions of state. On an abnormal today, such as today, the sphere is instead used as a bowling ball, and as we darted through the corridors, Libby struggling to keep up, the hallway behind us was sheered away as the enormous council chamber came rolling down through the remains of the palace's east wing. Millions of tonnes of rock careened down into the streets, dragging most of the slate-grey facade with it -

- and as I looked back, horrified and awestruck, I swear I caught the briefest glimpse of brown fur clutching to the side of the sphere. I swear I saw it.

The floor beneath us began to crumble and collapse. Grabbing Libby's arm I hurtled towards the nearest stairwell, running past a flabbergasted guard who had just come around the bend and seen the sphere fall. Going away was not good enough, the whole floor was giving way, I had to go down, down, find an exit, find a way out -

- but the stairs were falling apart, falling away, and though I could hop and skip across them Libby could not, she's only normal, so I had to go up -

- and up - 

- and up -

- and up.

Eventually, the rumbling stopped. The screams of panic began. The palace yet stands... but it's an utter ruin.

Libby and I are nestled in some ambassador's quarters. They're relatively untouched, given the length and squatness of the palace (wise design, under the circumstances), and I've given Libby the bed for the night. Less seems to happen in the evening, and I suspect the sloth goes to sleep when night falls. So we should be safe.

As for the rest of the Dauphine's crew... that I can't say. Not for certain.

Libby rests. I'm going to rest, now, too. I've done enough running for the day, and I'm hungry and exhausted. All I can do now is pray that my sister is safe... and the rest of our friends with her.

Gods, please be safe, everyone. Even you, dad.


Logan the Thief