Friday, May 30, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Ten: Time to Go

Today we said our goodbyes.

When I set out on this journey, I had a huge group of friends backing my ludicrous plan. Friends, colleagues, associates... whatever the hell you'd call Grylock... they all wanted me to succeed. So they helped. It's because of all of them that I've gotten this far.

We escaped the Non. We watched my hometown get swallowed. We blasted past the Imperium's best and brightest. We escaped horrifying monsters, bounty hunters, soldiers, dragons, and illusions. Fuck me, we managed to escape the dungeons of Rodentia. That is a feat virtually no one can claim. (A sloth may have helped.)

We did all this together. So it breaks my heart to have to leave a bunch of my comrades behind for the final leg of the journey.

We did not have a huge, harrowing farewell party. I considered it, but I figured the kind of goodbyes people wanted to say were better left to private moments. Family shit, you know? So we committed three hours to tender moments.

Grylock said goodbye to his boozing buddies with a few final drinks. I'm sure he managed to toast Ed in the process.

Logan, Jeffrey, and Celine all said goodbye to Daena. She's stuck with the Dauphine, as we couldn't possibly transport her tree through the desert. I can't imagine how tearful that parting must've been - three-quarters leaving, one left behind.

Traveller said goodbye to his 'brozer'. I begged Antonio to remain behind and defend everyone. I asked Traveller to do this, as well, but... he's insisted on accompanying me. Can't really tell him what to do. At the very least he's leaving his kitten behind, which I think is wise.

Traveller also said goodbye to Plato. And to his rat. I don't know why, since both of them are coming with us. Weird dude is weird.

Nagi said goodbye to... something. She raised a glass of wine to the eastern sky when she thought no one was looking.

I said goodbye to my wife and my son. Officially they're needed here, to repair the Dauphine. Unofficially... 

"Bye, dad. Be careful." Fynn squeezed me tight in a strong hug, lifting me a few inches off the floor. I don't think he even noticed. "I... I love you. I'll take care of mom."

"I know, kid." I patted his arm when he let me go. "Gimme a sec with her, wouldya? I have some adult stuff to talk about."

Fynn nodded, kissed me on the forehead, and left. He's so mature for his age.

Taking Libby by the hand, I led her to the bed of our cabin. She sat down beside me, quiet and solemn. For a few minutes we held hands in silence, looking through the porthole at the setting sun. It hurt my eyes, but I looked anyway. It seemed a good way to prolong a bittersweet moment.

"Dragomir?"

I sat upright, surprisingly tense. "Y... yes?"

"Say what you have to say." Libby patted my hand. "I'm listening."

I let out my breath, having not realized I'd tucked it deep into my lungs. The first few words I said were whistled. "IIIIII... um... well, you see..."

Her fingers tightened on mine. Her grip was not uncomfortable, but it was forceful. "Say it."

My heart raced. Sweat, not from the heat but from the moment, bubbled on my brow. My mouth dried, my skin prickled, my thoughts jumped and jounced, and my imagination, oh, my creative spark, it concocted horrible conclusions I dare not repeat. But I said it all the same.

"I don't know who I am anymore." The words tumbled out of me, a stream of reasoned, educated, traitorous, honest bile. "But I think I'm about to learn a few things. 'n I don't know if they'll be good. I might not be who I thought I was after this trip."

Libby bit her lip, not quite daring to look at me.

Dozens of images flashed by me in that short, horrible silence. The Crimson Catastrophe, slicing out at my little girl in the rain. The visit to Villeinville, and the gaps in my memory. The look in Traveller's eye as he slammed me in the chest. Doc leering over me, whispering to himself about my body. Bora, sliding in to kiss me... and Bora, transforming into a hideous, bloated monster. And... one word... a brand, applied to me by vermin, one I've tried to forget.

'Taint'.

"And I'm afraid," I continued, trembling so violently that the feather on my floppy hat quivered, "I'm... I'm afraid that, when I meet this guy, I'm... I won't be your husband anymore - "

Libby grabbed my cheeks and wrenched me around so hard that my neck popped. Her kiss was dusty and cracked, a dry thing of the desert, but I've never tasted anything so sweet in my life. I kissed her back, and we held it for almost a minute.

She eventually broke off, but she kept her face so close to mine that her hissing words stung with the heat of her breath. "You're my fucking husband. You'll always be my fucking husband. You get that? I don't care what you learn in that stupid desert. You are my husband."

And that's how we said goodbye.

Loaded down with desert-ready supplies, we met outside the Dauphine a few hours later. The sun had already dipped beneath the horizon.

"Let's get going," Nagi advised, wincing at the weight of the backpack on her shoulders. Unlike the rest of us she's quite comfortable wearing her normal clothes out here. "We want to make good use of the night."

"Yeah, gods know I don't wanna be walking in these rags during the day," Logan replied. He, like the majority of the party, was swaddled in dusty white cloth. "I feel like a roll of toilet paper."

"Quit yer bitchin'," Grylock cut in. "I'm dyin' in here. We goblins aren't made fer this heat. I yearn for downpours... 'And when the bars are fully dried, / Our streams of piss the rain will hide...'"

"How I missed that anthem," Jeffrey said dryly. "Gok is such the songster."

"Better 'n you, human."

Plato quacked out a few words of agreement. Celine laughed, nodding.

As I scanned the desert, wondering (not for the first time) what internal mechanism was leading Plato to his former teacher, Traveller tapped me on the shoulder. I glared at him, noticing that his eyepatch did not, for once, stand out amidst his wardrobe.

"Hey, Dragomir? Can I ask ya something?"

I rolled my eyes. "Sure, go nuts."

"Did you say bye to Libby?"

"Yesssss, I said goodbye to my wife."

"Oh." He scratched the scruff on his chin. "Did you say goodbye to her for me? I forgot."

"No, Traveller. You should've done it yourself." I started to walk, motioning everyone onward, across the cooling sand.

"Oh," he said again. He scrambled to catch up to me, sliding a few times. "Why not? She was my girlfriend before she was your wife."

"Lies."

"Maybe." He pondered that idea for a full three minutes before saying anything else. I don't know why it taxed his brain so terribly. "Boyfriends and girlfriends are allowed to have sex, y'know. Even if the girlfriend is also a wife. I read that somewhere."

"Yeah, I'll bet you did."

Silence.

"Dragomir?"

I sighed. "Yes, Traveller?"

"I think I met a penguin somewhere 'round here. Did you know that?"

This is going to be a long walk.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Nine: It served them well


The Dauphine collapsed today.

It happened sometime early this morning. Couldn't have been later than 5 am. One minute the Dauphine was sitting quietly on its five battered wheels; the next the whole thing had flopped down into the sand. Lemme tell you, being bounced out of bed is one hell of a wakeup call.

Peering out the porthole of my cabin, I discovered the problem immediately. The wheels on my side had fallen off of the Dauphine. Somehow the axles connecting the wheels to the rest of the machine had given out all at once, and the massive weight of our fabulous transport, no longer supported, brought it down to earth all at once. If not for the sand beneath the Dauphine's belly there probably would've been some major injuries 'mongst the crew.

An hour later, Libby discovered the culprit behind our woes. We'd only missed one, but it was enough.

"Found it sleeping beside one of the fucking wheels," Libby snarled, hefting the desert beetle in both hands. Its legs flailed and it struggled to open its wings, but Libby's grip was way too strong. "Look at the little bastard. It's bloated to shit. Must've been eating wood all night long."

I stepped up to the beetle, poking at its distended stomach. It mewed weakly, and I swear it burped.  "Just one, eh? Cripes. What're we gonna do with it?"

Face contorting with rage, Libby threw the beetle into the sand. It tried desperately to right itself, its wings sweeping out of its shell, but the mass of digesting wood in its stomach practically pinned the thing to the ground. Several swift stomps from Libby ended its struggle.

"That," she said, kicking the thing's guts away. "That is what we're gonna do with it. Fuck me."

Libby's inspection of the damage didn't take long, and her conclusion was predictably hopeless. The Dauphine isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Given the amount of damage it's sustained over the past year, Libby's even doubtful that fixing it is worth the trouble at this point. It'll just keep falling apart until, one day, no amount of repairs will keep it going. And considering we have no wood out here...

So that's that. We're stranded. On the edge of the desert. Lots of food, lots of water, but... these things... these things will run out. We need to conclude our business out here before that happens. 

Scratch that. I need to finish up my business. I have to ensure that this trip was worth all the trouble.

Tomorrow...

Tomorrow, we begin to walk.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Eight: Bad Becomes Worse


Shit.

Ever since we entered the desert it's been harder and harder to get someone to keep watch on the observation deck. There are two reasons for this:

1.) We're in a desert, and there's really nothing to see; and
2.) IT'S FUCKING HOT OUTSIDE

Consequently, and I really hate to admit this, there have been many guard shifts left completely unattended. People not on duty in Engineering, clearing away sand, have been stowed away in their cabins and hiding from the growing heat. So no one was watching, or, indeed, listening, when the swarm of beetles surged out of the north.

Desert beetles are not an unknown breed by any means. I've heard about them before, mainly via the old saying: 'Drier than a desert beetle's craw'. That does not mean I knew even the first thing about the little bastards, and in retrospect I wish I'd done some more research on the desert before coming here. They left us in rough fucking shape.

Nagi sounded the alarm first. She's the only member of the crew not much bothered by the heat. "DESERT BEETLES! GET YOUR SWORDS, QUICK!"

Popping my head out of my cabin, I yelled at her to quiet down... only to see Plato freaking out in a similar fashion, his crazy energy scythe already appearing in his hands. This set a large number of the crew off, and pretty soon a dozen ramshackle warriors were outside the Dauphine, fighting off a legion of desert beetles.

I could say that they were desperate. I could say they were stupid for taking on superior numbers. I could even say that my crew was just plain not thinking, because we could've instead attempted to outrun the relatively slow-flying beetles. They made the right call, though, because a) desert beetles don't eat or even attack other species and b) the Dauphine doesn't stand a chance in hell of escaping anything in the sand.

I joined my comrades, trying to summon up the Crimson Catastrophe but instead simply punching desert beetles away from the Dauphine's superstructure. I had to, because desert beetles eat wood. Not flesh, not greens, just wood. The Dauphine must've looked like a rolling buffet.

Perhaps two hundred beetles strong, each the size of a hand basket, the swarm was relentless. They gnawed at the wheels, the walls and the struts, tearing small chunks out of the wood with their pincers at a frenetic pace. We stabbed and beat and squashed the things as best we could, but after a long three hours of relentless, heated slaughter we were left with a disabled wheel, a gaping hole in the starboard side of Subsistence, and no mast. The little fuckers managed to chew the thing right off. Not that there's much wind to propel us right now anyway, but...

Fuck. This is bad. The Dauphine was already in rough shape. Now... now I'm wondering if it can make the trip back to Pubton, the way it's looking. And who's to say it can even provide shelter to anyone who might remain behind while I speak to Iko? What if it just keeps drawing more and more desert beetles until we're left with a roasting-hot skeleton...?

Worst. Trip. Ever. I think that's what I'm getting at.

We're spending the rest of today searching for live desert beetles in and around the Dauphine. If even one of those fuckers survives I think we'll be in big trouble.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Seven: Stupid Transport


Shit. I think Nagi was right.

We hit our first big batch of sand dunes today as we crossed out of the fertile lands of the Imperium and into the extreme west. Plant life is pretty much gone, save for some sparce, tough cacti, and the only animal herds we've seen of late consist of camels. We considered catching a few, but Nagi advised against it. Too much spitting, she says.

The Dauphine seemed fine on the sand for about ten minutes. The going was slower, I'll admit, but the ol' girl managed to climb over one massive hill of sand without trouble. Then it hit another... and another... and somewhere between the next two, it hit a rather large patch of soft sand. 

"WHOA!" I flew back and out of my chair, landing on my ass as the Dauphine listed abruptly. The entire rear end of the thing tilted backward, flinging me against the wall of my cabin. Righting myself, I ran into Command - 

- and found everyone else in roughly the same state. Plato was nearest to me, and I helped him clamber to his feet.

"Whoa. Hey, navigator." I clung to Plato's shoulders, watching as Daena cursed her stuck pedals at the far end of the Dauphine. "That seemed bad."

Plato nodded, looking away. He's incapable of looking me in the eye these days. Not that he was ever terribly good at eye contact, but he wasn't even this evasive after hijacking the Dauphine and plowing through the Imperium's borders. Is it my teeth?

Moving from station to station, I made my way to the meeting table. Libby was waiting for me with Traveller, the former giving instructions to the latter with little apparent success. Traveller waved happily to me as I grabbed the edge of the table, fighting the Dauphine's pronounced slant.

"Hey, Mr. Libby!" Traveller reached out a hand. "I'm Traveller. Call me Trav."

"I know who you are," I muttered, swatting his hand away. "The hell happened?"

"Well, this one time, I got a letter from this castle, see, and they said they needed - "

"He's talking to me, stupid," Libby hissed. "Go find Fynn and help him right the Dauphine. We need level ground. Lift, don't throw."

Traveller's eye went vacant for the briefest second, and I thought he was preparing to hit me again. Then he smiled and nodded. "Okie dokie. Can I have a kiss?"

"No."

"A hug?"

"No."

"Sex?"

A slap sent him on his way.

"That was rough," I commented, pulling myself up beside Libby.

"Tell me about it." She sighed. "He asks me at least once a day. Dumb bastard just doesn't get the word 'no'."

"I meant the accident." I cleared my throat. "Y'know, sinking?"

"Oh. Right." Libby's face reddened a little. "Right. Pretty shitty. Fynn 'n that idiot will get us dug out in no time, though, I'm sure."

"Yeah."

We watched the day roll by for a few silent moments. Soon enough the Dauphine was, indeed, righted again - though it rose a little precipitously for a brief moment, throwing Libby and I across Command and into one of the windows. She squashed me flat against the window pane.

"O... ow..." I twitched a few times as Libby clambered to her feet. 

"Sorry." She scowled and helped me up. "I'm gonna clobber that twit - "

"No, no, I'm okay." My head pounded, in truth, but I didn't want to worry Libby. She tends to freak out when I'm hurt. "Uh... y'know, I was talking to Nagi yesterday - "

A foul look. Libby doesn't like Nagi. (Does she like any of my female friends? Daena, maybe?)

" - and she pointed out that, well... maybe the Dauphine... shouldn't be making the last part of this trip."

Libby's eyes narrowed. "Say what?"

Rubbing my head, I explained. I told Libby every reason why the Dauphine couldn't make the journey: the heat, the sand, the lack of traction, the lack of water, the lack of support, the possibility of damage. I also added, after considering the matter, that if the Dauphine were to break down, we'd have to abandon it - and then we'd basically have to walk back to civilization once we were done in the desert. And then back to Pubton.

I swiftly came to regret the entire trip during that conversation. And it was a one-sided conversation, to boot, as Libby didn't say a damned thing. She maintained a carefully neutral facial expression the whole time, one that left me with a mild case of the jitters. Libby isn't one for neutrality. She chooses sides. She's kind of a douche like that.

Waiting for me to finish, Libby scratched her chin thoughtfully. Then, setting her hands on her hips, she said one thing: "We'll see." She walked off to see to repairs.

I think she's going to be stubborn. Call it a husband's gut instinct.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, May 26, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Six: The End Begins


Desert's Edge is at our backs. We're headed into the Desert Proper.

That's... not really a name, of course. Not the name. If anything it's just 'The Western Desert'. But I figure since, y'know, I said Desert's Edge... that... I could mirror my capitalization. In Desert Proper. You know?

I thought it was clever.

I might also be a little nervous. Because this year-long trip is suddenly, slowly coming to a close. And the final environment before we reach the hermit... the man I'm gonna... well, anyway...

We haven't quite reached the desert yet. Greenery is exceedingly sparse and the days are getting hotter and longer, but Nagi - who turns out to be something of an expert in desert travel, as snake people live in warmer climates - assures me that we've barely scratched the surface of the desert. The edges are nothing like the core.

"It's fucking hot," she assured me, sipping a cup of juice. "Very hot. Fry-your-balls-off hot. Only during the day, though - during the night it can become deadly cold. But that's when you have to travel."

"During the night? I'm not sure that's such a good idea." I peered out the windows of the Neo Neo Beefiary at the passing landscape, nervously aware of the increasing stretches of blanched white and wheat yellow ground. "How're we supposed to navigate at night? The sun..."

"... isn't the only thing we can use to get around." Nagi shook her head. "Cripes. You've been travelling long enough. Haven't you learned anything about moving around after dark?"

"You don't," I said flatly.

"This tub travels at night all the time," Nagi pointed out.

"Only when we have to. And we tend to drive into ditches when we try. Better to move during the day, when we can spot shit that'll gum up the tires. I don't want the Dauphine to get stuck in the desert."

Nagi laughed.  She fiddled with her drink a moment before continuing. "That's... that's smart. And also very stupid. You don't honestly think your transport's gonna take you all the way, do you?"

"What?" I gulped. "Of course it will. The Dauphine can go anywhere."

"Anywhere it has traction. Won't get that in the desert. This sand is soft as hell. I bet the Dauphine'll get stuck on the first sand dune it tries to roll over. And even if it can travel across sand, you're gonna run into all sorts of other trouble."

"... like what?"

- Sand in the wheels. And gears. And supplies. And just about everything.
- Intense heat stressing and warping the metal. The Dauphine is mostly wood, but its skeleton is almost all metal.
- Intense heat frying the crew. The Dauphine can't cool itself. Apparently we'll cook inside.
- No support from friendly towns. The only people who live in the desert are nomads. They don't carry parts for a war machine, and even if they did, there's no way to tell where they might be at a given time.
- Run-ins with storms. Apparently the western desert is infamous for its dry lightning storms. The Dauphine is prepared to deal with lightning strikes, but not every lightning strike hitting the area. it would easily be the biggest target for incoming lightning, which could cause a fire, and since water will already be at a premium...

Nagi had more to say, of course, but it all boiled down to one argument: the Dauphine can't make the trip. It needs to remain at the edge of the desert. We're okay for now, she says, but soon... soon we'll have to leave our transport behind.

Which means, I suppose, that not everyone is coming with me to see Iko. I hadn't necessarily expected a full party, but...

We'll see. Maybe Libby can come up with a miracle device that'll allow the Dauphine to complete the trip. I sure would love her all the more if she could.

Gods but it's getting hot.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, May 23, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Five: Asshat


I made my move at lunch. I knew the boy couldn't resist leaving me alone to fetch some food.

The first stirring of Fynn's stomach came with the first hot gust of wind into our hotel room this morning. My son's a growing boy, after all, and he wolfs down food like zombies wolf down brains. Libby left him with a large platter of breakfast meats and veggies before leaving to attend to some errands.

The platter did not last long. Fynn's stomach continued to rumble.

Sensing an opportunity, feeling rather squirrely at the prospect of sitting indoors all day, I searched my pockets and grabbed a few coins. "Here, son. Go buy us something to eat."

Fynn stared at the heap of coins in my palms greedily. "Really? I've... I don't think I've bought anything before."

I smiled. "Now's a good time to start. Go on, grab me a sandwich or something. I saw a nice lookin' shop down the block a ways."

Fynn peered off the balcony and down the street. "That one? The place with the dome roof?"

"That's the one."

Fynn paused. My boy is largely without guile, no surprise for a less-than-one-year-old, though he possesses the earnest beginnings of a bullshit detector. His eyebrow went up. "That's... the Dauphine is in the other direction."

"I'm not sure what you mean by that, kiddo." I rubbed my stomach. "C'mon. I'm starving. If I can't leave, you need to get us some food. Hell, if you want, you can grab something from the Dauphine."

Fynn considered that a moment, taking the coins from my hand. He inspected one. "Dad, you've gotta stay here. Okay? Mom told me to keep you in the hotel."

"And I will stay here." I feigned a sigh. "Guard's honour."

"You swear?"

I crossed my heart with two fingers.

"Well..." Fynn's eyes narrowed, and he smiled a little. "I think they sell food in the lobby. I'll go grab us something from there. Gimme a few minutes."

The lobby is connected to the front door. The front door leads to freedom. You can't get to freedom without the front door. Fynn clearly thought he had me trapped, and I'm proud of him for it. But he missed something that might have been obvious to a seasoned guard watching over a prisoner: a balcony.

Thank the gods we were only on the second floor of the hotel. And that the owner keeps sandbags out front. They cushioned the fall.

Nursing an upset stomach from landing oddly I skittered through the streets of Desert's Edge, moving from one alley to the next. It seemed as though every road and stall and building was somehow occupied by a member of the crew, and I had to remain constantly-cautious lest I get caught. The only person to actually catch me was Traveller, and, uh, he was nude and being chased by police, so... I got off scot-free on that count.

We may have to bail him out later. Maybe.

After dodging a close encounter with the lady that wears the silly animal hats I escaped Desert's Edge, heading south towards the Dauphine. We've given up on hiding our big transport, and it's been sitting outside the city for days. Surprisingly few people in Desert's Edge seem to care. We have coin; why turn us away? The Dauphine's front loading ramp was extended as I broke into a run towards the transport -

- and as I got close, a booming, disapproving voice rang out across the flat plains. "WHAT IN THE HELL! COULDN'T YOU BE PATIENT FOR THREE FUCKING DAYS?!"

"NOPE!" I cried, spotting Libby at the base of the ramp. She was stringing up a banner between two poles. "TELL ME WHAT'S GOING - "

Then I skidded to a halt. I immediately felt like an asshole.

The area in front of the Dauphine had been transformed into a picnic ground of sorts. The tables of the Neo Neo Beefiary were planted firmly into the rough grass, each surrounded by chairs festooned with decorative flags. Morris was carrying a big bucket of dripping, sizzling meat down the ramp, no doubt intending to deposit it beside a long line of vegetable platters, pasta bowls, chilled deserts, and kegs of ale. A big, tiered, red-and-blue cake dominated the tables, its rough icing surface watched over by a small, wooden figurine wearing a horned helmet.

The banner read 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY DRAGOMIR'.

I stumbled into the midst of the celebration-under-construction with a smile formed of awe, happiness, and utter confusion plastered across my face. Libby whacked it away with a light slap. "Ow! What the hell!"

She slapped her forehead next and shoved me down onto a chair. "You asshat! This was supposed to be a surprise! How'd you get away from Fynn?"

"He got hungry," I mumbled, peering around Libby at Morris. He shook his head, but he was smiling. "What is all this? We missed my birthday. It's in February. This is May."

Grunting, Libby sat down beside me. She punched me lightly on the arm. "You're such a douche. I know it's May. We missed it. Gotta make up for that while we still can, 'n I figured... well, considering this place is called 'Desert's-Fucking-Edge', I didn't think we'd have another chance..."

"I see." I laced my fingers together and laid my head on her shoulder. "You coulda just said you were planning something."

"I figured it was obvious, numbnuts."

"Don't you know by now that I'm kinda dense?"

"I should, I really should. Stupid bastard."

"I love you too, Libby."

The event spoiled, we gathered everyone together and had a half-formed, fully-fun party. And it was pretty great. If morale was flagging before, it's been restored now.

I'm a lucky guy.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Four: Detective work


my wife is in on it

I don't know what it is but she's right smack in the middle

I am distrustfulllll

My head hurts. It hurts less than when I woke up, but it hurts. That said, the pain ebbs a little whenever I'm outside, especially in the early evening. The cooler air is good for my headaches. So, today, eager to prove myself capable of moving about without the aid of my son, I resolved to go for a walk on my own.

She was having none of it.

"A walk? No." Libby put her foot down. (She'd been tying her boot.) "No no no. You're still too fucked up. You wanna go for a walk, you take Fynn with you."

"I don't mind, dad," Fynn confessed.

I patted his shoulder. "Thanks, son, but I'd like to walk for a bit on my own. What's wrong with that?"

"Things," Libby said. She bit her lip and looked away, then, grasping at her resolve, she swivelled decisively back to me. We locked eyes. "I know what's best. Take Fynn or stay inside. That's that."

"But I just wanted to walk to the Dauphine and back, see how it's - "

"NO." That single syllable near shattered my eardrums.

Reeling, I blinked hard and clutched my head. "Oh, come on, this is ridiculous - "

"Don't let him leave," Libby commanded our son. "You stay with him. Got it? Don't let him leave."

Fynn nodded and threw Libby a salute as she left the room. Once she was gone, he turned to me and shrugged. "Sorry, dad. Orders."

I sat hard on our bed. We were in one of Desert's Edge's many hotels, and perhaps not the nicest amongst 'em. The bed's wood frame damn near bruised my butt. "Ow. Orders for what? Why am I stuck in my room?"

"Because."

"Because why?"

"Because..." It was Fynn's turn to bite his lip. He looked like his mother for about two seconds before settling back into my dark-skinned clone. "Because orders?"

"Thanks, kid. Real helpful."

I've been confined to my bedroom for the night. Fynn's with me, napping on the bed, though his eyes open wide whenever I move around. Making a break for the door is pretty much a no-go. I've been forced to observe Desert's Edge from the balcony, to watch the thinning crowds as they reveal more and more members of my crew moving from store to store, buying things.

Curious things.

That jester fellow who occasionally hosts comedy hours in the Neo Neo Beefiary purchased a giant bundle of string from a sewing store.

Grylock appeared to buy a bag of apples from a grocer. I don't think I've ever seen him eat fruit. Hell, he barely eats anything but meat.

Logan and Jeffrey wandered down the street towards the Dauphine with kegs over their shoulders. Judging by the stagger in their steps, I'd say the kegs were at least half full.

And Libby... Libby carried something lumpy and heavy in a leather satchel, right towards the Dauphine. When she spotted me watching her from our room, she gave me the finger. I gave it right back.

What the hell is going on...?

I want to know.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Three: Hmmmmm


Does my breath smell, or something? What's up? I mean, it has always smelled, if you talk to Libby, but... seriously... what is up?

We continue to recuperate in Desert's Edge today. The city is warm, welcoming, and forever open for business to anyone who has a full coin purse. Turns out a large portion of the crew actively stole riches from Rodentia's palace without letting me know, so our purse is surprisingly fat. The Dauphine is quickly being restocked... though I fear some of the local shysters may be exploiting our ignorance of desert travel.

"You will need these patented desert blankets!" one merchant proclaimed, hoisting a bundle of dun fabrics. "They retain the moisture given off by your bodies! Lick the inside of your blanket and you'll have enough water for the rest of the day!"

"Our pickaxes are a must-have!" shouted another storeowner. "They contain the spirits of the desert miners of old! They will send you to riches unbelieved by mortal men! Simply point the pickaxe and follow the glint of its edge!"

"The staff of the Sandy Emporium heartily recommends purchasing these special apricot plants!" said the only member of the staff of the Sandy Emporium. Truth be told it was a tiny market stall that couldn't possibly have accommodated more than one person. "They promote sexual vitality!"

"Why on earth would we need these in the desert?" asked Logan, whirling one of the apricots on his finger.

"Can't hurt!" The vendor crossed his arms and thrusted with a grunt.

Nagi has been useful in steering us away from such peddlers. She's been here before, it seems, and she has a good sense for proper merchants. I'm not afraid my crew will spend a lot of money on junk, of course - after all we've been through we're not the least bit naive - but it's nice to see that Nagi is finally pulling her weight. I guess being saved from a murderous Non improved her opinion of the Dauphine's crew.

(Though she was pretty sad to hear about Bora. And a little revolted. Let's not get into that, though, shall we?)

Throughout today's shopping excursion I couldn't help but notice something odd: Nagi, Logan, and my family aside, the crew of the Dauphine has been avoiding me. Like, completely. They barely talk to me, they won't come near me unless they have to speak to Libby, and if I approach any of them they'll come up with some excuse to leave and scatter into the streets of Desert's Edge, lost in a tidy sea of Ed-skinned strangers. Why?

"They're probably nervous," Libby said with a shrug. Her eyes couldn't seem to settle on anything. "You've been through a lot lately. Bet they blame themselves."

"Why?" Sitting in a small cafe, I watched Grylock skitter across the street with a brown sack over his shoulder. "Only Traveller punched me. No one else is at fault."

Libby stirred her cup of tea. It seemed oddly gentile for such a rough-and-tumble gal. "Well, I more meant the whole Doc-tracking-us thing. No one caught on to how he was doin' it. That's gotta gnaw at you."

"Doesn't seem to gnaw at you." I cocked an eyebrow. I assume Libby couldn't see it under the swathe of bandages still hiding my forehead.

"I did my part." She sipped, grimaced, and added a dollop of sugar to her tea. "They didn't."

"And what was 'your part'?"

"Blew him up." Another sip. "Ahh, much better. I should start drinkin' tea."

I remain suspicious.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Two: They get big so quickly


Man. What a kick to the testicles.

Today we arrived at a city by the name of Desert's Edge. It's apparently the last major population center before arriving in the desert that's been our destination all this time, and, unlike the other cities we've stumbled across in our journey, it has no wall. I guess they have less trouble in general 'round these parts. Our stocks dwindling and our boredom piqued (if boredom can be piqued), we decided to give the place a once-over.

I'm still in rough shape. I may be awake and largely alert, but the bump on my head still hurts like hell. Especially in the cold of the night. The pain makes me woozy, the wooziness makes me stumble, and stumbling is plain bad. I had to rely on Fynn to help me through the streets of Desert's Edge, and, given that he's quite powerful, he had no trouble lugging me around. At points he was practically cradling me in his arms as we went from shop to shop. 

(Speaking of Fynn, that kid has gotten big. Must be eight feet tall now, easily the largest of any of us. His head's scraping the Dauphine's ceilings. That may become problematic if he decides to keep growing...)

Desert's Edge is a nice enough spot, I suppose. It's largely a merchant's paradise, somewhat similar to Trademore, though the merchants are more practical. Where Trademore's dudes sold action figures and decorative glassware and silly clothes, the people of Desert's Edge sell shovels and weapons and tents specifically tailored for desert travel. From what we hear the western wastes are quite harsh, though there are enough natural resources (cactuses, sand worms, surface mineral deposits, etc) to make travel through them a worthy enterprise.

This fact is not the kick in the testicles. The kick came when I got my first look at the populace. 

Every day since Fynn was born I was forced to compare him to... y'know... Edmund. Call me racist if you want, but when you know so few people with chocolate skin you're bound to compare 'em. Castle LongGone was completely white before Ed showed up, and Villeinville was no better. So when I look at Fynn, I think of Ed. Just a bit. It's inevitable, and sad.

I, uh, may also think of Bora. But... well, I guess she was a different kind of chocolate. More like pure black. Sooo... we'll... we'll just leave her outta this.

Desert's Edge consists largely of two species: humans and snake people. The snake people are either a deep orange or a dusty brown, and frankly I couldn't care less about their colouring. The humans, though... they're all... well, they're chocolate-coloured. It's a city of Eds. And yes, I know, they all look different, and some aren't as chocolate as others, and some are old and some are young, and some are men and women and maybe something else, but... for just a brief second, when I first see each one...

They're all Ed.

And that makes me real sad.

We're sticking 'round town for a while. Doc's departure from life has us convinced that we can take it easy for at least the rest of the week, and given that we're about to enter one of the harshest landscapes on the planet I think we need the time off. Let's just pray Grayson and June don't show up to ruin our fun. Haven't seen him in a while...

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-One: The Rightful Narrator


Wayback. 

The, uh, the town. The town I don't remember visiting at all. Its name is... was... Wayback.

Hi. My name's Dragomir. I've been absent for a while. I guess I'm back now.

I'm still utterly exhausted, so I spent all of today in bed. Doc's potion... man, I can't believe Libby let him handle the doctorin'... took a lot out of me. I have zero energy. Anyone who wanted to see me after my long nap had to come visit - and, nice boost to my ego, that was virtually everyone on the Dauphine. Only person who didn't was Grylock, and I don't mind his absence. Little bastard burned pages of my diary.

Thanks to the testimonies of my many visitors, I've more or less learned what happened while I was out. (The previous entries helped, as well. Nice to read back on what I missed.) After capturing Doc... and... blowing him to pieces... the crew of the Dauphine proceeded to utterly demolish the remains of Wayback. There were no signs of life in the aftermath, so we're forced to assume that Doc and his buddies  killed everyone living here before we arrived on Thursday.

Yep. We'll... we'll just assume that. Better they were already dead than being held hostage... and buried by cannonfire. Yikes.

Unfortunately, the only body belonging to the baddies found was that of the purple goblin bounty hunter, Chewtoy. He looked to have been killed by a slash to his midsection, so the cannonfire didn't kill him. Logan's blade did. It's entirely possible that the rest of the bounty hunters, as well as Titan Blue and crazy-ass CeDrisArd, managed to get away. I don't care about the bounty hunters, but I hope the rest got out alive. I don't think they'll bother us so long as Doc is dead.

Crazy fuck. He'd better be dead.

Unfortunately, Libby's rash act of blowing the shit outta Doc destroyed any chance of getting a pressing question answered: Why was he so obsessed with capturing me? Clearly Doc wanted to pick at my body. I assume the Crimson Catastrophe in my hands had something to do with it, but... well, I think there was more than that. He wanted more. Now I may never know what. Maybe I'm better off not knowing, but... shit, you know? Shit.

Enough grisly news. I'm really tired. I need more sleep. I'd probably already be asleep, but I've had to listen to Libby arguing with Traveller outside my door. He wants in; she wants him to go away. I'm all for him going away, seeing as how he put me in a fucking coma. Comas, I've discovered, are a good way to start a grudge. Why the hell is he still here?

We're headed... somewhere. I dunno. Don't really care at the moment. It's to the west, and west is good. West is not east.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Bedridden

Friday, May 16, 2014

Day Seven Hundred: Boom


Well. I'm glad he's awake, at least. Took long enough.

Libby left Doc to the not-so-tender mercies of Grylock overnight. I'm not sure what the goblin did to the Non, but by the time we got up this morning Doc had stopped talking. He cringed away from the bars of the cell Libby constructed when I approached, though he still had enough hostility to hiss at me from behind his gag.

"Don't mind 'im," Grylock said, coughing. "Ack. Can't do all-nighters anymore. Anyway. He's as tame as he's gonna get. He'll do his job."

I inspected Doc, circling his small cage. His tar-black body was good at hiding wounds, but I noticed a number of pronounced indentations in his skin. It looked puffy and painful. "What'd you do to him?"

"Best ye not know." Standing, dusting his legs and yawning, Grylock wandered off to bed. As far as I know he's still there.

Popping the cage open, I led Doc to Dragomir's cabin. He went meekly enough, not putting up a fuss, though he paused to glower at Plato as we passed the playtpus in the corridor leading to Command. Guess he figured out Plato's a traitor to the race, or something. 

Antonio and Traveller were standing guard outside Dragomir's cabin, and Libby waited for us inside. Dragomir remained as unconscious as ever, though his breathing had devolved from a fitful snore to a worrying rasp. Libby was changing the bandage on Dragomir's head when we entered, I kicking Doc along from behind. Not hard when your captive is maybe three feet tall.

"Close the door," Libby ordered. I must have looked worried, because she smiled a little. "We can handle him if he tries anything. Don't wanna crowd the room up too much."

Nodding, I knelt behind Doc and removed the leather gag. He spat and cursed, but that was all. I noticed some rather vicious teeth marks in the gag, and I suspect he could've bitten all the way through if he'd really felt like it.

Libby didn't waste time. She pointed at Dragomir. "Fix him."

Doc's head slumped. His voice was slow and tired. "Don't even know what's wrong with him."

Libby glared at the wall. I suspect Traveller on the other side had a bad case of shivers. "He hit his head. He's in a coma. Fix him."

The Non chuckled, though he sounded quite defeated. "I'm a little tied up at the moment, yes?"

Libby nodded. Kneeling again, I carefully undid the length of wire holding Doc in place. Once free of it he stretched his arms, but made no attempt to escape. 

"That's much nicer." Doc's spidery legs flexed and dipped. "You're taking me away from important work, you know. I have another patient in desperate need of replacement parts - "

Libby stepped across the room, grabbed Doc by the neck, lifted him easily into the air, and slammed him against the wall. The Non screamed and jibbered, his tongue apparently loosed again, though he shut up when Libby began to punch him in the face. Once, twice, three times. Speckles of dark brown blood dripped from his mouth and onto the floor. 

Someone knocked on the door. "Everyzing okay in zere?"

I grimaced. "Yes, Libby's... just... venting."

"Underztood."

Ignoring the row of pointy teeth that could've easily bitten her nose off, Libby shoved her face close to Doc's. "I'm not putting up with your shit. No commentary, no games, no nothing. FIX HIM."

Doc quivered, gnashing his teeth. He tried to choke out a few words - I heard "Don't", "want", "what"  and "he is" - but Libby's tight grip forced him back into silence. Soon he was nodding vigorously, and she hurled him onto the floor.

That more or less did it. Requesting a few basic medical tools and supplies, Doc got to work on Dragomir. He lifted away Dragomir's bandage, inspected the wound, daubed it with a sticky salve, and mixed together a little potion for Dragomir to drink. Libby forced Doc to test it first, though it didn't appear to be poisonous. 

"It might only be toxic to humans," I pointed out, eying the milky-orange concoction. "Maybe it doesn't hurt Non."

Doc laughed hoarsely. "Oh, good god, if only you knew how stupid - " 

A backhanded slap shut Doc's mouth. He settled for quietly showing us each of the medicine's active ingredients, none of which were at all poisonous. Eventually Doc passed Libby's test, and she gently opened Dragomir's mouth and forced him to drink. We didn't breathe easy until, a few minutes later, Dragomir's rasping settled into a healthy snore.

"Good." Libby nodded, satisfied. "Bind him again."

Doc rolled his eyes and began to protest, but Libby stopped him with a glare. He allowed me to reapply gag and wiring alike. I guided him out of the room and back towards his cage in Engineering.

Libby stopped me, shaking her head. "No. Hey, Antonio?"

The big orc, still standing guard outside the door, looked at her. "Yes?"

"Grab him. Get his legs. Follow me."

Confused, I stepped back and allowed Antonio to pick up Doc and tie his legs with another length of wire, courtesy of Libby. The Non, perhaps sensing some ill fate in the near future, struggled uselessly against Antonio's muscles. Soon he was dangling over Antonio's shoulder, body writhing and distorting into a dozen different shapes as he tried to break free. None of them were terribly convincing, as he always kept his glowing green eyes and six insectile legs.

Waving away the curious, Libby ordered a dozen crewmembers to man the Dauphine's forward guns. She led us to the centermost emplacement, just beneath the Dauphine's massive sail... and told Antonio to stuff Doc into the cannon. This really put the Non out, and he screamed under his gag.

"You vizh to vire him vrom a cannon?" The orc chuckled. "Let me tell you, az a gypzy and a zircuz man, zis act doez not verk zo vell vith a real cannon. He zhall be ripped to piecez."

Libby's face didn't even twitch. "Oh, good. Stuff him in."

Antonio hesitated. I stepped in for him. "Uh... Libby...?"

Rolling her eyes, Libby grabbed the struggling Non from Antonio. She wheeled the cannon around with her free hand, headbutted Doc to stop his flailing, and shoved him headfirst into the cannon's mouth. The slat blocking out the outside world slid open, and soon Libby had the cannon pointed straight at the barracks where, we assume, Doc's goons were still hiding. 

Libby grabbed the closest comm tube. "Daena?"

"Yes?" my mother's voice floated back.

"Order all front cannons to open fire on the barracks." Libby gritted her teeth. "Right. Now."

Antonio stepped away, leaving Libby to her execution. I wanted desperately to talk to her, to ask her why she was doing this, how she could justify such an abrupt and painful end, but the vicious look in her eye said it all. They've fucked with my family too many times, her voice said in my head. They've fucked with me. Time for some payback.

The last thing I heard from Doc before the report of the cannon was a single, shrieking, panicky sentence. He'd somehow managed to chew away the gag in his mouth. "SHE'S FOOLED YOU, YOU BITCH! SHE'S - "

Boom.

I'll let Dragomir handle the rest. He woke up a few hours ago. I'm sure he'll want his diary back.

Been nice writing in you,


Logan the Thief

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day Six-Ninety-Nine: Downtown Smackdown


Wow. Libby is more intense than even I'd anticipated. And this is a lady who once strung one of her workers up on a spinning windmill for breaking a hammer. (True story.)

Probably a day earlier than expected, we arrived at the town where Doc and his buddies are holed up. It's a rather tiny burg, maybe fifteen houses large at most, with a little town hall, a sherriff's office, a barracks, and a general store to add some official flair. We pulled up on the outskirts 'round noon, Libby gunning the Dauphine along at top speed -

- and we were just fast enough to spot a three-headed monstrosity lugging a bag of something down the main street. It waved frantically at us as we approached, but soon seemed to think better of the gesture and shambled into a nearby house.

Libby, standing vigil by the Dauphine's front window, grinned and smacked fist against palm. "That'll do. DAENA? PLANT US."

"Yes ma'am!" my mom cried back. The Dauphine jerked, slowing to a roll, and then, gradually, to a complete stop. It halted maybe ten feet shy of someone's house.

Libby reached for a comms tube, barking into it. "GUNNERS, ACKNOWLEDGE!"

A chorus of acknowledgements floated up through the tube. Libby nodded gravely. "FIRE BY NUMBERS!"

I plugged my ears.

More figures were emerging from the town's homes as the Dauphine opened fire. A dozen cannonballs ripped through the afternoon sky, carefully timed by the gunners to go off at four-second intervals. Blam, blam, blam, blam, each report of the cannons seemed to make the tiny people in the town below cringe a little further away from the Dauphine. Eventually, after ten cannon blasts, the creature with three heads raised a white flag and waved it around.

"That'll do." Libby cracked her knuckles. "Did... did that wake up Dragomir, by any chance?"

I ducked into his cabin for a peek. "Nope. Sorry, boss."

She sighed. "Oh well. This'll be fun anyway."

The town sprang to life as the front of the Dauphine slid open. Watching from Command, I saw a goblin and an orc emerge from the sheriff's office with a struggling, purple-haired figure between them. An enormous, hulking Non appeared, a ramshackle wooden platform slung over its shoulder, and it dropped the whole thing in the middle of the street. Doc leaped off of the Non's shoulder and onto the platform, flailing his arms wildly.

When Libby, Fynn, Antonio, Traveller, Plato and myself emerged from the front door, Doc was waiting for us, flanked by the penguin and orc bounty hunters. The rest of his squad was hastily setting up the platform, a bound Nagi passing from one set of hands to another and complaining loudly all the while.

"Wow," Traveller said first, cocking his head. "He's really black. Are you made of tar?"

Doc snorted, otherwise ignoring Traveller. His fingers danced against one another. "Ah, yes, hello. You're... you're somewhat earlier than I'd anticipated. I don't see Dragomir - "

Libby cut him off with one swift swipe of her arm. "Can it. We aren't here to deal."

"Ahh, but you must!" A toothy white grin formed on Doc's face, and he gestured to the platform. The purple goblin bounty hunter was setting up a length of rope, attached to a gallows. "We have your comrade, and unless you wish to see her hang - "

Libby cut him off again, this time with a shrug. "I don't give two shits whatcha do to her. None of our business."

Freeing herself from one of her bonds, Nagi waved a hand in my direction. "Logan! Logan! Save me! C'mon, man! No, no, look at me!" 

I didn't. Instead, I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms, and waited. Gradually, the reality of the situation no doubt sinking in, Nagi's hand fell and she went silent.

Doc's gleaming green eyes narrowed. "You aren't in a position to bargain, no ma'am. If you leave, I'll find you."

Grylock spoke next. "Aye, been trackin' us all year, haven't ye? No wonder ye keep poppin' up. Yer poor little spy Kara won't be botherin' us anymore, I'm afraid."

Doc twitched. "K... Kara...? I... I surely don't know anyone named Kara."

"Aye, for certain." Grylock grinned. "I doubt ye'd call that thing you left on the Dauphine Kara. Little bastard near made me shit m'self when it started whispering 'bout that damned effigy ye left for us te find. Maybe ye should've just made the thing bigger, and not sacrificed yer little homing beacon?"

Doc scowled. Narrowing the fingers of his left hand into a line of points, he pressed hard against his ribcage. Everyone, including his bounty hunter cronies, cringed as Doc's nails plunged into his side and began to root around. After a few moments of exploratory surgery the hand emerged clutching a small, black-and-purple device. Doc's scowl deepened as he tapped its glass cover and shook it around, and eventually he cursed and tossed it away.

"Your words stink of truth," the Non admitted. "Fine. Fine fine fine. Then why did you come here, if you knew I couldn't track you? Assuming you're telling the truth about the purple-haired wench behind me?"

By now Nagi had a rope wrapped 'round her neck, and she was staring nervously down at something on the platform that I assume was a trap door. She looked terrified, but oddly resigned at the same time. I scounged up as much pity as I could muster for my former partner, which, admittedly, wasn't a hell of a lot.

Libby smiled. "My husband is unwell. He needs a doctor. So long as you're under threat of death, I think you'll do."

Doc twitched again, much more violently than before. He laughed. "Y... you intend to capture me? Woman, you know not how stupid you are, no, no, ha, ha, ha... oh, if only you realized the depths - "

That's when Libby gave the signal, a simple chop of her hand. The world went to hell.

The Dauphine exploded above us, twenty cannons opening up simultaneously. Cannonballs rained down into homes on both sides of the street, demolishing half of the buildings in the little ramshackle town. The noise was more than enough to distract Doc's forces, and most of them - the bounty hunters in particular - hit the dirt at once as wooden shrapnel flew in all directions.

We went next. Abruptly bolstered by Fynn's magic, protective shells settling neatly on our backs, Libby, Antonio, Traveller, Grylock and I bounded at Doc's bounty hunter bodyguards. Antonio put the orc on his back with a quick roundhouse, while Grylock and Traveller went for the stout penguin. I didn't catch their exchange, though I did hear Traveller shout "I remember you!"

Libby and Plato went for Doc himself. The stubby platypus charged at the Non, arms outstretched as if seeking a childish embrace. Doc jumped up and landed on Plato's back, neatly sidestepping Libby's grasping hands. He shrieked and cursed and laughed and squealed all at once, and his cries brought his huge Non enforcer and the three-headed CeDrisArd to bear on the attackers. I was dimly aware of Plato's scythe sliding out of its interdimensional hole.

I ignored the lot. 

Bounding around the throng of battlers, I leaped across the street and landed neatly on the platform, beside Nagi. Her bounty hunter attendants stepped back. The purple goblin brandished a pair of knives, while the other, a grungy old man with a box on his head, held an empty beer bottle.

"'ey, Chewtoy!" The old man giggled and waved his bottle in the air. "Got a nip for us, eh? We don't like to... hic!... fight on an empty stomach!"

"Sweet gods." The goblin shook his head. "Why am I always stuck with ye, fuckin' lush?"

"You're lucky!" the drunk cried, and he sipped at the bottle. Nothing came out, I assume, though he looked satisfied all the same.

Sliding a shortsword from its scabbard, I pointed at the fracas behind us. Traveller was leaping onto the giant Non's head, laughing happily. "How much you gettin' paid for all this?"

The goblin sighed. "Not near enough. But a gig's a gig."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

I charged. The goblin was good, I'll admit, and he managed to parry my first two slashes. The old man didn't do so well, and I laid him flat with a pommel to the back of the head. I doubled around after my first sweep, legs pumping, and cut the goblin down before he could turn to face me. He squealed and collapsed off the side of the platform.

Nagi, mouth tight with anger, glared at me as I leaned casually against the gallows, cleaning my blade. "You gonna cut me loose?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "You gonna let me out of my cell?"

She winced. "... next time... maybe..."

I sighed. "That'll do."

One quick swordstroke later we were rushing back to the Dauphine, the noose still dangling from Nagi's neck. I ducked and rolled as the penguin bounty hunter flew over my head and out of sight, and Nagi snaked expertly into the air as Traveller and the big Non wrestled and rolled on the ground, apparently a match for one another. They nearly flattened my ex-partner.

By the end of the brawl the bad guys were in retreat. Led by the big Non, who'd apparently had its fill of wrestling with Traveller, Doc's group fled to the other side of town and ducked into the barracks. A few cannon blasts ensured that they remained there, the Non huddled behind the building and occasionally peering out at us.

Doc is in an improvised jail cell. Tied, bound, gagged. His final words were "BUT I'M NEEDED" before Libby shoved a leather strap between his teeth. Despite the gag he remains a noisy little bastard, bouncing around crazily and annoying the shit out of us in general. We're keeping him that way until he calms down a bit. Once he does... well, then Libby will begin the process of frightening him until he won't dare consider harming Dragomir while working on him.

All in all, a job well done.

Sincerely,


Logan the Thief

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day Six-Ninety-Eight: Tracker? I hardly know her

Lords above. This situation is heating up faster than I'd figured.

The tide of yesterday's discussion changed rapidly, and I suppose it changed because Nagi's safety was no longer the concern. Doc is a doctor; Doc can fix people. He can also fuck people up, I noted, but Libby was quick to point out that if he fucks Dragomir up, we will fuck him up. Seemed convincing enough to me.

Grim but eager, the crew began planning for the coming confrontation. Libby has ordered full speed to the Dauphine to get us to Doc's meeting place before Friday, and just about everyone has pitched in ideas for somehow blindsiding the Non and his entourage. There was also plenty of veiled discussion as to why Doc wants Dragomir so badly, but it died off as little more than wild speculation.

I didn't take part in most of this. I was drawn into a confrontation of a different kind. One that freaked the shit out of me.

I was chatting with Celine about how to kill a Non - I saw Eve kill a few in the hole, and it seems a pretty straightforward process - when Grylock came looking for us. At first he only wanted me, but he seemed to remember something and invited Celine along as well.

"Where we going?" I asked, wondering why he was leading us into Engineering. I could barely hear him over the grind of the Dauphine's gears.

"Back," he replied. "And in. I need help trappin' something."

"Trapping?" Celine's expression didn't change, but I recognized the interest in her voice. "What are we trapping?"

"Good question." Grylock patted the sheathed poisonheart at his side. "Let's find out."

The goblin took us well away from the engineers toiling in the heart of the Dauphine and into the fore cargo compartment. Normally filled to busting with food containers of all shapes and sizes, it's looking a little barren after so long without restocking. Hints of light slid through the edges of the Dauphine's front loading ramp.

"Celine, secure the hallway." Grylock removed the poisonheart, nodding with satisfaction as it dripped sizzling green and purple droplets onto the deck. "Arm yerself. You'll know what te stab when it comes at ye, I'm sure."

"Goody!" Celine retreated into the shadows. The last I saw of her was the glint of a blade. i caught the faint padding of footsteps somewhere behind me; doubtless Celine's secretive ninja had followed us down.

"Logan, middle of the room. That blowgun any good at close range?"

I slid the bowgun from its saddle on my back, thinking of its previous owner, a jaunty pirate. Long, wooden and somewhat unwieldy, it's more a novelty item than a weapon. "Not really. Can bludgeon somethin' to death, maybe. Why...?"

Shaking his head, Grylock pressed a finger to his lips. He stalked into a corner of the cargo bay, clenched the handle of the poisonheart in his teeth (gutsy little bastard), and disappeared against one of the walls. The faint 'thunk' of shifting wood reached my ears, and after that, a slow padding.

I waited, blowgun drawn, in the middle of the cargo bay. I felt more than a little foolish.

I'm not accustomed to skulking around in the open. I don't like it, not if I'm in a situation. I prefer the shadows. The shadows are safe. The shadows allow you to spy. The shadows allow you to avoid situations, whatever they might be. I prefer to creep around situations.

This, after three minutes of relative silence, was beginning to feel like a situation. And it only got worse when I heard the voice.

"theyareheretheyareheretheyarehere"

It came to me gradually. So gradually that I wondered if I was imagining it at first. You know when you step from a light place to a dark place and it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust? It was kinda like that. At first I heard only the thrum of the Dauphine's wheels through the deck; then I heard a tittering whisper; then, as I strained my ears to catch more details, I noticed a distinct stream of words. Crazed, English words.

"comefindmetheyarehereKarafoundthemKaraKaraKara"

I tensed. My legs, perhaps smarter than my brain, slowly and quietly carried me over to a crate. I knelt and peered around the compartment, scanning the walls and ceiling for any sign of an interloper. I saw nothing.

"I'mhereI'mherewe'reherewe'rehereKara'shereKaraKaraKaraKaraKARA"

Something above me BANGED open. I rolled away from the crate, unsure whether the move would carry me away from, or into, danger. A shrill scream filled the compartment, young and utterly inhuman, and a big, black shape dripped onto the floor to my right. Part of the ceiling fell down beside it -

- and Grylock flew down onto the deck, cursing. His poisonheart cut into the wood. "FUCK, GET IT!"

Rising, I brought the blowgun to bear, wielding it like a bo staff. I've used it as such a few times, but I'm pretty clumsy with it, and the hard wood shaft smacked down uselessly. The black blob was slithering away, flying between my legs and towards the hallway. It gibbered the name 'Kara' over and over again.

I lunged. The blob whirled to the side. Grylock, surprisingly agile, leaped across the room and attempted to impale the blob. It formed into a donut to avoid the tip of his blade, and lithe pseudopods emerged from its oily surface to smack the goblin aside. Grylock hit a box, fell, and groaned.

The blob reformed. For the briefest second I spotted the intermingled flash of a glowing green-and-purple core, sheathed somewhere inside its black body. That broke my hesitation, and I tried to smack it again, with no success. The thing wriggled out of the cargo compartment...

... but it didn't get far. Three figures converged on the blob as it slid up the left wall, and three blades pierced its jiggling membrane. A hole opened in the darkness, and it wailed miserably as Celine and her two ninja flung it back into the cargo compartment. Grylock finished the job with a swift stab of his poisonheart, and soon the gibbering was swallowed up by magic toxins.

Breathing hard, we gathered 'round the remains of the thing. The slick exterior had all but withered away, revealing a near-perfect, fleshy orb. Once bright green with a veiny suffusion of purple, it struggled weakly as a deeper, deadlier shade of violet engulfed its surface. It let out one last weak 'Kara' before dissolving completely.

I fell on my ass. "What... what in the hell was... what in the hell was that!?"

Coughing up a wodge of blood, Grylock sheathed the poisonheart and wiped his face. Rather than answer me, he turned to Celine. "Sorry, kiddo. I got 'er this time."

Celine shrugged. "My kill was more artistic. Yours lacked subtlety."

"Subtlety my shiny behind," the goblin retorted. "Nuthin' subtle 'bout slittin' throats. Ye've got a few things te learn before ye become a proper assassin, young lady."

"Dead is dead," Celine retorted.

"Most of the time. Not always, eh?"

They bickered a few moments longer before I cut in, grabbing Celine by the shoulders. "Explain."

Grylock poked me. "Still got the diary? Dragomir's diary?"

"... yes?"

"Look back 'round September of last year. Might fill in a thing're two." Without another word of explanation, he walked off to soak his aching bones in a bath. Celine also left, grumbling that she'd not 'finished the job'.

I went back and did some reading.

And.

Uh.

I don't know if that explains anything.

But... at least I know who Kara is, now...?

What the actual fuck,


Logan the Thief

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Day Six-Ninety-Seven: His name is Doc


As I said yesterday, balls. I feel the need to repeat it today.

After our discovery of the effigy, we had a meeting in Command, encircling my mother's tree. Doc's note needed to be communicated to the rest of the crew, and I thought it prudent to hear everyone's opinion on rescuing Nagi. I figured it was a pretty open-and-shut case against her, and for the most part I wasn't wrong.

"Fuck 'er," Grylock said, quite simply. "What help was she ever to us? The short time she was here she bitched 'bout her quarters, complained when we asked her to do chores, 'n spent most of her days drinking our booze and hitting on a woman who turned out t'be some kinda monster. Why would we give Dragomir up for that?"

My sister nodded. "I agree. She left Logan and I to rot in Rodentia's dungeons. Had she let us out we may have avoided a great deal of trouble. I would only go to her rescue if I could plant a dagger in her heart myself."

"Amen, sister." Grylock fist-bumped Celine. Considering their disagreements over my father, goblin and girl get along really well these days.

Mom and dad looked at each other. Mom nodded first. "I... I'm afraid I agree. I'm sorry, Logan, I know you travelled with her, but we'd be rolling into a trap. I would rather call Doc's bluff and continue on our way."

And, then, dad nodded. "Yeah. Another vote for leaving her behind. Sorry, son."

Sighing, I scanned the rest of the crowd. Command's opinion seemed pretty much unanimous. Everyone either shook their heads, looked at me with sympathy dripping down their faces, or wouldn't look at me at all. Nagi hadn't made any effort to warm up to the Dauphine's crew.

Traveller was the only exception. He raised his hand. "Hi."

My mother, who seemed to be the informal leader of the meeting, looked to the hand warily. She likes Traveller well enough, but she doesn't trust him. "Traveller?"

The hand went down again. "Who are we talking about?"

Antonio slapped Traveller on the shoulder. "Ze girl vith ze purple hair und ze znake body. Zink of mother'z bottom half zlapped onto a pair of breaztz."

"Oh." Traveller scratched his head a moment, then his face brightened. "Oh! I think I remember! She was my girlfriend, wasn't she?"

"I do not believe zo, brozer." Another hearty pat. "You come on too ztrong."

"Yeah, mom told me that. I always figured she was lying. Or not telling the truth." Traveller paused. "I vote we go get her. I like women."

That seemed trigger enough. My mother, irrepressibly democratic since losing her crown, asked who would like to save Nagi versus leaving her to her fate. My hand went up to save her, though it was shaky and half-hearted; Traveller's joined it. Every other hand went up when asked if we should abandon Nagi, and Traveller's stayed up. He looked like he was having fun.

"That settles that," mom said. She offered me a sympathetic glance as she reached for her control scaffolding, intent on pedalling the Dauphine further west.

A hand pulled the scaffolding out of her grasp. A hand that, I realized, hadn't bothered to vote. Everyone turned to stare at the hand, and the brooding face to which it was faintly connected.

"We go," Libby announced. She was holding the note from Doc, reading it almost casually. "We go. No discussion. No vote."

People began to argue. Libby silenced them all with her glare. Traveller's hand shot up again, for some reason. Only my mother had the guts to confront Libby.

"We already decided, Libby." Mom strained to grab the scaffold, floating inches away from her fingertips. "Ngh. Give me that!"

"No." Libby turned, pointing towards her shared cabin with Dragomir on the other side of Command. "He needs to go. He needs that asshole. We're goin'."

"Why?" Dad sidled in beside mom. He's put on some muscle from boxing lessons, I must admit, but he still looked pretty puny compared to Libby. "You can't honestly want to trade Dragomir for Nagi. That's... that's..."

Libby barked out a laugh. It was cold and angry. "Trade? Fuck no. I wouldn't trust that little rat with a lump of stale bread, let alone Dragomir. We aren't gonna trade, we're gonna hunt 'im down and fuck 'im up."

Murmurs from the crowd. Some agreed with the idea; others wanted to avoid Doc entirely. The latter opinion seemed to win out, but Libby remained undeterred.

"He'll keep comin' after us if we don't deal with him. Fuck's sake, he's been on our asses all year, I bet. Why pussy-foot 'round this problem when we can charge in and blow him to hell?"

Dad huffed. "Because it's probably a trap - "

"Of course it's a fucking trap! I ain't stupid!" Libby threw her hands up. "Obviously! But so what? We've gotten through worse! Shit, we survived a sloth! You really think Doc can be any worse than a gods-damned-sloth?"

The murmurs began to move back in Libby's direction. She made a good point: take the offensive, wipe out Doc's little gang, and he can't bother us again. Nevertheless, I got the feeling that she wanted more out of the encounter, and I wasn't wrong.

Libby strode over to her cabin and slammed the door open. Inside, partially shadowed, I spied the slumbering figure of Dragomir. His leg twitched at the sound of the door, but he remained otherwise motionless. Pained snores floated out of the darkness.

"I shouldn't have to point it out," Libby snarled, "but we have to deal with this. We need him. I want my fucking husband back."

Confused glances bounced around Command. No one seemed to understand what she was getting at... no one, sadly, but Traveller. His face lit up. "Oh! Oh oh oh! I know whatcha mean, Libby! I get it! What was his name again? It's the name!"

Libby's snarl twisted into a satisfied, predatory grin. "Doc, numbnuts. His name is Doc."

Sincerely,


Logan the Thief

Monday, May 12, 2014

Day Six-Ninety-Six: Summons


Oh, balls. Balls balls balls.

Things haven't changed much on the Dauphine. Our westward journey continues through sparse terrain, and according to our navigator we're headed towards a city called Desert's Edge. It's the nearest major population center, and the most likely to have a doctor that can treat Dragomir.

Problem is, we've been sidetracked. Might play out to our benefit in the end, but... definitely sidetracked.

My role on the Dauphine changes constantly. Everyone who started out on the transport has a set job; everyone who joined up along the way (ie me) is in a state of flux. Most often I'm sent off in advance of the Dauphine with Grylock to scout, but I also receive a bundle of odd jobs. Today I was cleaning cannons. We haven't had to fire at anything major in a while, how lucky we be, but the damned things still accumulate a lot of grime.

The Dauphine's second floor is ringed with cannons, each one assigned to a small latch that can be popped open for broadsiding, and I was cleaning out one of the cannons on the left side of the ship when I decided to open its latch. We use some horrible-smelling chemical to clean the guns, and it was making me quite light in the head. I figured a bit of spring air would clear the haze and help me concentrate.

That was a mistake. One look at the landscape gave me yearnings. I wanted to shimmy out the hole, slide down the side of the Dauphine, and run away again. The open road is a great deal more carefree when you're not embroiled in a war. I'm still glad I opened the window, though, 'cause I would've missed something completely otherwise.

"Purple," I murmured to myself, squinting. Something... something in the distance... "Purple. Purple?"

Curious, I wandered away from my cannon and headed for Command. I figured my mom would be willing to stop the Dauphine so I could investigate. I needn't have bothered, as the machine was already pulling to a halt.

I found my mom speaking to Grylock, her flailing feet pulled away from the pedals that propel the Dauphine. She hates the goblin, so, predictably, she had the look on her face. I hate the look. "This had best not be a waste of our time. Dragomir needs a doctor."

"Dragomir's needed a doctor for weeks," Grylock shot back. "He can wait a few moments more. Drop the cargo hatch."

"Please," mom insisted. "Drop the cargo hatch please."

"I would, but ye've got the controls." Grylock showed her a long line of teeth. "Silly human."

Patting mom on the shoulder as she grumbled and cursed, I pulled Grylock away. "Hey. What's up? I was just gonna order a stop myself."

Coughing, Grylock straightened his glasses. "Oh yeah? Might be we've a shared purpose. Did ye hear the voice?"

"Voice?" I cocked my head. "No, no voice. I just spotted something outside. Wanted to check it out."

"Ah." Grylock frowned, ears twitching. "Might be I'm losin' it. I did see somethin' of mine own, though. Let's go look."

"Something wrong? You look spooked." I've seen Grylock enough times to notice when his green skin isn't as green as it should be. "What kind of voice - "

"The kind that shuts up," he snapped. He motioned for me to take the lead. "After you, ma'am."

Uneasy, I tromped down the stairs to Engineering and off to the aft of the Dauphine, where the rear hatch sat open to the world. A lovely spring breeze greeted us, perhaps a little warmer than usual, though not at all unpleasant. Somewhere along the way Grylock's boar joined us, and he crawled atop the oinker and took the lead into the field.

The effigy we'd both spotted, Grylock apparently with a little help, was perhaps half a mile south of the Dauphine. It was tall and lanky, its limbs formed of wood, and it hung from a tall, rough pole. A length of rope held its sandbag head aloft. It had no legs, only a long, awkward tail, and a bright purple wig adorned its smooth brow.  

Pinned to the effigy's chest was a note.

'I am tired of chasing you. Now you will chase me. Bring me Dragomir or the half-snake becomes my next pet project. I can assure you that she will not look near so pretty as she does now.

There is a small town four days' travel south of this spot. By the time you arrive it will be empty. Be there on Friday or I will strip every inch of skin from her body.

Do not attempt to flee. If you do, I will know. I will find you. And I won't be happy.

Doc'

Sincerely,


Logan the Very Troubled