Friday, April 11, 2014

Day Six-Seventy-Five: Green

We're going home.

I awoke this morning to another explosion. Not a good start to a day under any circumstances, though during a siege... worse. Far worse.

Though the aerie had held out admirably under the circumstances, by this morning the Valley of Thorns was absolutely surrounded by sky dwarves. The little bastards had penned the dragons into the deepest part of the Valley with their flaming spears, and their aim seemed to be getting better. Five dragons had died to explosive gut gases by the time I was up.

The mood as we ate breakfast was grim. Logan and Antonio, who'd stayed up all night on guard duty, seemed very much the worst for wear. I ordered them both to get some sleep; only Logan obeyed. Antonio doesn't recognize my authority when he doesn't want to recognize my authority, I guess. No doubt worried about his 'brozer'.

The sky dwarf attacks came in waves. Every twenty minutes or so a concentrated mass of the bastards would rise up on one side of the aerie's lines and attempt to batter through the defenses, slipping through the thorns in incredible numbers and lashing out with their fucking spears. The dragons retaliated with flame and claws and a multitude of alternate forms, but each time the sky dwarves came the dragons lost a little ground. I'm certain squabbles over who was in command, Barrel or other male dragons, helped the situation not a bit.

I, uh, I'm not proud to admit that I ordered Grylock to find a safe path out of the Valley of Thorns that we could use in an emergency. I don't like to say that I'd abandon Barrel and his brood... but... yeah. Contingencies.

The dragons' defensive lines crumbled just in time for lunch.

Third-place Contest loser Lemonade was the straw that broke the proverbial Gutgnarl's back. He's provided some of the stiffest resistance to Barrel's leadership, as far as I can tell, though his persistance in proving his own worth led the yellow-orange dragon to remain on the front lines constantly. This made him sleepy, which made him sloppy, which, ultimately, got him blown up. Never yawn near a sky dwarf.

The swarm buzzed angrily through the hole Lemonade left in the lines, passing through our defenses far too quickly for the dragons to react. The Valley of Thorns quickly devolved into thirty-on-one skirmishes as squads of purple, puppy-sized demons engulfed the draconic defenders. Chaos reigned supreme.

Grylock hadn't returned with news of a safe route away from the Valley of Thorns, so I ordered my group (sans Antonio, who was picking sky dwarves apart with his precision punches) into the cave sheltering the young, the old, and the injured. Fynn kept us protected with his magic, grim and determined, while Jeffrey and I stood guard over the cave's entrance. As if we could do a hell of a lot to stop incoming sky dwarves.

It was in this role of guard - like the good old days - that I heard something which nearly got me killed: a voice.


My ears pricked up.

"Dragomir! Help!"

I looked at Jeffrey and Fynn. Jeffrey was nervously polishing a battered shortsword, and clearly hadn't noticed. Fynn, however, was as attentive and startled as me.

"Dragomir! I'm here! Here!"

Fynn stepped out of the cave's mouth and stood beside me, scanning the forest of vines and thorns that partially obscured the cave's entrance. "Dad... is that...?"

"What's up?" Jeffrey peered at us, confused.

I cupped my ears and waited, wondering if it might be a hallucination of some kind. I was more than a little sleep-starved, and my stomach was a roiling pit of hunger. Yet... the voice sounded so genuine... maybe...?

"Dragomir! I'm in here! Help me!"

"LIBBY!" I screamed back. "WHERE ARE YOU?!"

"That's her, isn't it?" Fynn grabbed my arm. "Dad, that's her, isn't it? Right? That's mom?"

"I'm here!" Libby called, though I couldn't see her. "I'm trapped! Help! The thorns! I'm caught in the thorns!"

I bolted from the mouth of the cave. Fynn and Jeffrey followed after me, scanning the thorns for signs of my errant wife - and her idiot captor.

"Fynn! No! Stay here!" I pointed towards the cave. "Go back! Stay there! Keep watch on it, okay? We'll just be a minute!"

Fynn faltered. "But - "

"NOW!" I commanded. "GO! PROTECT THE DRAGONS! C'mon, Jeff, we'll find her."

Fynn drooped, but he did as he was told. Given what happened next, I wish he'd been more rebellious.

Taking the lead with his shortsword, Jeffrey followed Libby's voice into the thorns. He hacked away at the vines in our path as I followed behind, cursing my inability to hold a weapon and the Crimson Catastrophe's utter unreliability. Libby's voice grew stronger, and closer, with each swing.

"Dragomir! I've missed you!" Libby seemed almost ghostly, a weird, over-exhuberant version of herself... but it was definitely her voice. "Here! Here!"

"I'M COMING!" I rasped, cursing as a cluster of thorns ripped at my shirt. "Are you okay?! He hasn't hurt you, has he? TALK, Libby!"

Jeffrey hacked at another vine. A huge mass of them slithered down in our path; he jumped back with a curse.

"I'm fine!" Libby reassured me. "Just stuck! Here! You're almost here! Help me!"

"Dragomir," Jeffrey breathed, blood trickling down his hand from a dozen tiny cuts, "are you sure about this...? It's kinda..."

I pushed past him. Wadding up my floppy hat, I used it to protect my fingers as I brushed away vines. Thorns pricked my skin through the fabric, but I didn't care. I wanted my Libby.

"Yes... that's it..." Libby urged me on. "A bit further... almost here, now..."

Almost there. Almost there. Sweat coursed down my forehead. The noise of combat on all sides seemed to fall away, completely replaced by the gentle caress of Libby's reassurances. I felt... soothed.

And that's when it hit me.

Libby doesn't soothe people. Not unless you're her kid.

I'm not her kid.

That's also when something else hit me. Something hard, and blunt, and heavy. So much pain.

I woke up some time later in a dark place. A pair of green, leering eyes hovered over my face.

"Hellooooo, Mr. Mayor," a sickly familiar voice hissed. "Did you miss me? Eh? Eh? It's been so long since you gave me the slip. I, ah, I thought I might never catch up to you."

The ache in the back of my skull blurred my vision, but I recognized the speaker anyway. He was tapdancing across my bare chest, his six tiny legs pinching my skin with each step. "F... fuck you... Doc..."

"Eeeeeheehehee." The Non roughly caressed my cheek. "Didn't think I'd given up on you, did you? You'd be mistaken. You were mistaken! Very! Here I am! It was the best trap, oh, yes, the best distraction! I've been waiting for this for a loooong time!"

I strained, hoping to throttle Doc, but my arms and legs were bound by vines. Every time I moved, more blood trickled out of my wrists and my ankles. I bit back the pain as best I could, but my struggles were useless, and I quickly gave up. "Where's... where's Libby...?" 

Doc waved a hand. A pair of much larger green eyes appeared above me, part of the giant shadow nearly eclipsing the sun above us, and Libby's voice rang out from nowhere. "Sorry, Dragomir. He's my boss. Gotta do what the boss says."

"Do you like my voice modification?" Doc jumped, tapping at the rubbery, pliable hide of Titan Blue. "I listened for such a long time! I knew it would come in handy eventually! She can mimic almost all of you, thanks to me! I'm such a damned genius!"

"Yeah," I grunted. "You're great. Real great. Stop yappin' and do what you wanna do."

Doc leered at me. He'd removed my breastplate while I was unconscious, and his needle fingers explored my chest and abdomen greedily. He poked at my ribs, my stomach, my throat, my cheeks. I grunted each time his claws left a tiny hole in my skin.

"You're so unique." His voice seemed almost loving, the happy chimes of a little girl playing with a new doll. "I can't believe, ah, oh, I can't believe... ahhh, I should have been first, I'm so much smarter than her... if only I had her power... I wonder if this will hurt...?"

I considered asking what the hell he was on about, but my words caught in my throat as Doc's claws suddenly grew by at least two inches, his smooth Non skin forming a series of tiny razor barbs that looked horribly sharp even in the dark. He tapped my skin lightly with one finger; the barbs pulled away a thin strip of flesh. I screamed immediately.

"Kierkegaard will be most interested by the results, I'm sure," Doc purred. "He will want to know how much it hurt her - "


Two things happened.

First, the dark shadow over me disappeared. Blue's wail of surprise almost made me want to laugh. My eyes were instantly blinded by the sun. 

Second, a stocky, burly figure kicked Doc off of my chest. He shouted, flew into the thorns, and disappeared. I haven't seen him since.

A new face hovered over me. This one was familiar in the best way possible. "Dragomir?"

I blinked away tears of pain and relief. "Oh... oh, Libby. H... hi."

Then another face hovered over me, silhouetted by a long mane of shaggy brown hair. "Hi! What was that big black thing? I threw it!"

It's amazing how that man can ruin a perfectly good tender moment. I rolled my eyes and passed out.

By the time I woke up, the battle was over. The sky dwarves had retreated, seemingly without good cause. They were on the verge of overwhelming and killing the aerie. That makes me think they'd been under Doc's control all this time... and with his prize snatched away, he had no reason to press the offensive.

Green. They like the colour green. Fynn, you may have been right all this time.

The aerie is an absolute mess. More than half of the dragons are out of commission, either dead, dying, or so injured that they can't even fly. Barrel himself is hurt pretty badly, though his war wounds seem to have earned him undisputed leadership over the aerie. That and the fact that he's one of the few dragons who can still take to the skies. Good on ya, buddy.

Of course, with Traveller now counted in our merry band, we were forced to flee. I suspect we're no longer allowed anywhere near this part of Above The Sky. The dragons didn't chase us, what with their horrible injuries and all, but if we ever come back... yeah. Bad times will ensue, I have no doubt.

We got Libby back. She's safe and sound. Didn't leave my side for a single second while I was writing this entry. Jeffrey's fine, too - just received a nasty lump to the back of the head. So, all told, this was a successful enterprise.


A man died.

Many dragons joined him.

I had to say goodbye to a friend, again, this time without even a farewell.

And I was left with... questions.

But I'm too tired to ask 'em, and the only creature who could answer got punted by my wife anyway.

I can accept that for now.


Dragomir the Wanderer

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