Monday, June 30, 2014

Day Seven-Thirty-One: Hopeless


Maybe this is what Iko wants. Maybe he wants to crush me before he meets me. Maybe he wants everyone I know dead. Or, at the very least, everyone whom I dared to bring with me. Maybe Plato... the rat... Celine... maybe they'd all be alive...

If I hadn't...

Or maybe everyone in the Dauphine... for all I know, they could be... could...

No. No. Don't think like that, Dragomir. Pull yourself to-fucking-gether. This isn't the time to freak out. You... you can't do this. Not when your remaining friends are still alive.

Jeffrey's a wreck. He was a wreck on Friday and he's a wreck today. No doubt he'll be a wreck tomorrow, and Wednesday, for the rest of the week, and maybe for the rest of his life. I don't think anyone could ever recover from the death of a child. Possibly two. We've heard nothing from Logan, nor is there any sign that he's still attempting to sabotage the Nothing.

The only positive here is that we now have extra supplies to split between Grylock, Jeffrey, and myself. Celine and Logan left theirs behind. Lots of food, lots of water... that should be comforting to me, but under the circumstances...

At first, Grylock was... understanding. As understanding as Grylock ever gets. He gave Jeffrey his space to grieve on Friday, and even this morning. But Jeffrey is locked in shock, virtually comatose, and when he stalled our progress from one hiding place to another Grylock opened his cancerous little mouth.

"Move!" Riding on my shoulders, Grylock smacked the side of my head with his poisonheart's scabbard rather weakly, as though I were at fault. "Don't have... time... for this shit! We have te hide 'fore we're as flat as yer little girl!"

I suspect Grylock wanted to get a rise out of Jeffrey. It didn't work. Sagging dangerously low, Jeffrey collapsed in the middle of the road between two rows of buildings. He sobbed out the names of his children, then began to pound at his forehead with both hands. When I leaned over to help him up - not easy with an irate goblin on your shoulders - I heard him whispering "My fault, my fault, my fault" to himself, a constant litany of self-loathing.

In other words, Jeffrey might as well have gone missing with the rest. He's useless to the party.

I've given up on meeting Iko. All I want to do at this point is survive. If I ever do come across the old man... if I'm blessed with the opportunity... I'll have absolutely no regrets when I do what I came to do. My fingers will go for his neck at the first opportunity.

After Ed, I wondered if I could still do all this. Now I know I can.


Dragomir

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Thirty: Nothing can stop Nothing


fuck

oh fuck me

why is this happening?

why?

what did we do?

Fuck. Okay. Compose yourself, Dragomir. Enough... enough gods-be-damned crying. That won't...

Gods.  

Why us?

Jeffrey has been inconsolable since the disappearance of his kids. He flipped the moment I woke him up and asked for his help, and his condition got steadily worse as we searched with no success. Grylock kept berating us for blowing our cover by running willy-nilly 'round the streets of Below, and Jeffrey could only listen to the nagging for so long before he blew.

"Shut the fuck up." Lifting Grylock with one hand - Jeffrey's been working on his arms with his boxing, and Grylock's pretty damned light these days - he pushed the goblin up against a wall. Not hard, not enough to really hurt Grylock, but firmly. "Those are my kids. I'll panic as much as I want. Keep jabbering and I'll break your neck."

His words chilled me, and I kept away. They apparently didn't bother Grylock at all, as he cackled away Jeffrey's threat.

"Have ye seen me lately?" Grylock lifted one arm weakly, allowing the fabric of his loose desert clothing to slide away. The skin beneath drooped from his bones. "Ye'd just be hastenin' the inevitable. Might thank ye for it, high-and-mighty asshole."

Jeffrey soon gave up, returning Grylock to the ground. He apologized; Grylock did not. We continued our search in vain.

Unwise though it may have been, we began to move closer to the thudding movement of the Nothing. I suspect both of us came to the same conclusion: if Logan and Celine planned to attack the Nothing, they would spend most of their time near it. Grylock developed a small fever partway through the day and his thinking became muddled, so he didn't seem to notice that we were approaching the beast.

We didn't spot one of them - Logan, of course it was Logan - until early evening. By then it was too late to stop them.

The Nothing was circling a six- or seven-block stretch of Below as we moved into the neighbourhood. It had already demolished a dozen buildings, and it was crushing the remains into powder as it followed a single track, around and around and around. Slinking behind a crumbled wall dividing one section of Below from another, I peered out at the thing - 

- and spotted the flash of extended tendrils, lashing out at something. The telltale scream of its liquid weapons reached our ears a moment later, chilling me. I hastened Jeffrey over to have a look, worried by the desperation crawling across his features.

"Is that them? Did you... oh gods." He gulped at the angry sound of the Nothing's metallic shrieks. "Gods. Why's... what is it..."

"Look." I pointed. "Look. I think that's Logan."

The Nothing's long, circular track took it around two small buildings that it had miraculously not crushed, and for a brief second I spotted a figure landing atop the taller of the two buildings. It crouched a moment, then leaped into the air and vanished. The Nothing followed its track a few seconds later, its tendrils ripping through the roof but failing to bring the building down. 

"He's luring it." I placed a hand on Jeffrey's shoulder. On the surface I wanted to be sympathetic; in reality I was holding him back, lest he try something stupid. "They've got a plan. Don't - "

"LOGAN!" Jeffrey stood upright, bellowing out his son's name with a challenging, frightened snarl. "GET AWAY! STOP IT! COME BACK!"

The Nothing was perhaps five hundred feet from us at that point, clearly concentrating on Logan, yet at the sound of Jeffrey's voice it turned. Its two legs, jutting awkwardly out of its orbular surface, pivoted the body around to peer at us with unseen eyes. And as one of the legs flashed around, I caught a glimpse of something clinging to the side - 

Jeffrey spotted her, too. He began to run. "CELINE! NO!"

I jumped to my feet, all attempts at subterfuge abandoned. I grabbed at Jeffrey's clothing; he wheeled around and put a fist in my gut. I went down, kneeling and panting. Jeffrey ran towards the Nothing, screaming at his children to STOP, STOP, GET AWAY and for the Nothing to COME GET ME INSTEAD, YOU BASTARD. And, oh boy, it came.

I'm not sure what Logan and Celine had planned. I'm guessing that Logan was keeping the Nothing occupied while Celine tinkered with its leg, trying to fuck up its gears so it would fall apart. That, at least, would strand the Nothing in one spot, a spot we could avoid. If so, their plan was wise. A shame that Jeffrey had to go and screw it up.

The Nothing is a killing machine, i can tell that much. Its purpose is to destroy. I assumed it would use its tendril attack to impale Jeffrey, much as it was trying to skewer Logan. Instead, the Nothing's left leg slid along the sleek surface of its body to the Nothing's front, rising above the shell-shocked father. A long shadow eclipsed Jeffrey, and my heart stopped as the leg came down to crush him.

Jeffrey was not crushed. At the last second something small, and swift, and abruptly strong, shoved him out of the way of the Nothing's huge, flat foot. He sprawled, bounced, and fell onto a heap of stone, disappearing in the sudden puff of sand exploding upward as the Nothing pulverized the ground.

Moments later, covered in sand and looking utterly shocked, Logan appeared beside me. He said something - "Grab him and get the fuck out of here", I think that was it - and then leaped back into the fray. I haven't seen him since.

Taking a moment to recover, I ran from the remains of the wall and into the clouds of dust. I tried to envision Jeffrey's position in the chaos, doing my best to ignore the obvious presence of the Nothing looming over us both, and, miracle of miracles, I tripped over his foot after a minute of blind running.

The dust began to clear. The Nothing above us was turning toward some new threat to my right, its foot lifting away from the ground. Hefting a semi-conscious Jeffrey to his feet, I spared one quick look at the hole the Nothing had left in the ground - 

- blood -

- and pulled Jeffrey into hiding. 

Eventually, through some miracle, the Nothing went away. It's a long way from us now, though I'm mortified to say that it's still moving.

After an hour of struggling with Jeffrey's stunned form, I made my way back to our former hideout. Grylock was waiting inside, awake and largely alert, sipping water with chapped, broken lips. His eyebrows furrowed furiously as I entered, dragging Jeffrey along behind me.

"Fucking... idiots." He coughed. I noticed a patch of stained sand at his side. "Looks like ye got what's comin' to ye. Botched their... ack... plans, did ye?"

Dropping Jeffrey, listening to the ex-king's pained sob, I covered my face. It was coated in grime.

Grylock studied us for a minute before saying anything else. His voice... it was so hollow. So defeated. So fucking sad. "Which one died?"

Sincerely,


Mud

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Nine: His name is Drags


"Keep looking for an exit. We'll find you when we're done."

Famous last words.

After writing my diary entry last night, I'd expected to go straight to bed. Instead, I faced a rather heated confrontation with Logan and Celine. They kept arguing that they could bring the Nothing down with a distraction, and I counter-argued that they  would only get themselves killed. We needed them for scouting purposes. They went to bed fuming, I went to bed fuming, and Jeffrey and Grylock... well, I heard Grylock's rattling chuckles, so...

I didn't sleep well. We bedded down in the cellar of a small house, each taking their own room for once, and the argument left me uneasy. Thoughts of their brash, half-baked plans kept my brain a-ticking, and those brooding fears were soon joined by other issues: dwindling food and water, Grylock's illness, our physical and mental fatigue, the never-ending nature of Below, the ghost rats...

They keep looking at me, and they never look at anyone else... as though they're considering me...

Eventually, fears changed to dreams. An hour of restless mental pacing led to sleep. But, as usual, it was not a good sleep, and pretty soon I was being chased through the corridors of my subconscious by that vicious, overbearing fog. Only now the fog has parted, and the thing killing my friends every night is just the Nothing. Because that's all it ever was.

But something saved me from the Nothing in my head. Something allowed me to have a decent night's sleep, for once.

I was being chased through a dark alleyway by the nothing, an alleyway with no end. The Nothing of my dreams doesn't seem to give a shit about its size in comparison to the buildings 'round it, and it squeezed easily into the alleyway on my heels, chasing me as a titanic wall of oozing black. Its snaking tendrils nipped at my feet, razor-sharp and hungry for blood. On a normal night it would have chased me for an eternity.

This time, though, there was a light. A faint light, so weakly white that I could barely see it approaching me in the opposite direction, charging straight towards me. Trembling, I reached for it...

... but it slipped between my fingers, danced over my shoulder, and launched itself at the Nothing. The second it touched the wall of black the darkness dispersed, fluttering away as a billion motes of teardrop pitch. The alley went with it, fading and reforming into a grey, dull, almost lifeless field.

I collapsed on the grass, panting. The ball of light hovered in front of me, strong enough to warm my face.

"I'm sorry, Drags," the light confessed, shining a little brighter with each whispered word. "This is all I can do. I thought I was awesome, but I guess I need some practice."

Though the field was utterly cheerless, I smiled. "I... I know you, don't I? We've met... but I've never heard your voice before. Who...?"

The ball of light pulsed. "That doesn't matter. It only matters that you wake up, Drags. Wake up now or they'll be gone, and you might not get them back."

I looked around. As horrifyingly bland as the field seemed, I didn't want to leave. It was such a nice change from my usual dreams - and I knew I was in a dream. "D... do I have to? This place is... better..."

The ball of light whistled a tiny sigh. Then, apologizing in advance, it whipped forward and slammed into my face. It felt as though someone had closed a book hard on my nose. I yelped -

- and, reluctantly, woke up -

- and spotted a foot disappearing through the door to my small section of the cellar. I called out with a grunt; no one responded. 

This diary lay open on my chest. Picking it up and rubbing the faintest burbles of sleep out of my eyes, I read the open page. It bore one message: "Keep looking for an exit. We'll find you when we're done."

I got up and checked the rest of the cellar. Jeffrey, yes, Grylock, yes... Logan and Celine, no. They're gone. Suddenly awake and panicky I ran out of the house and into the street, yelling for them to come back. I was stupidly loud, I know, but I had to do it.

They didn't come back. Grylock, Jeffrey and I are on our own.

We've heard increased activity from the Nothing in the distance, and on several occasions it's moved away from us, not towards. A lot of buildings came down today. I can only assume that Logan and Celine are carrying out guerilla attacks on the thing, hoping to bring it down - or at least keep it distracted while we search for Iko.

Jeffrey is a babbling, near-incoherent idiot. I don't blame him a bit.

Come back safe, you damned fools,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Eight: It never ends


"Take it out," Grylock coughed, staring blankly at the sheath of his poisonheart. "Find a way te kill the fucker. I'm tired of gods-be-damned hide and seek."

"Agreed," said Logan.

"Also agreed," said Celine.

"How?" Jeffrey looked out a window. "How the hells do you destroy something of that size with our resources? I think the Dauphine would have trouble with the Nothing, let alone five weary city rats."

I nodded. "I'm with Jeffrey. It hasn't found us yet. We keep ahead of it well enough. It doesn't even know we're here. Why not continue lookin' for Iko and stay out of its way?"

Reasons. Many reasons. 

We've been arguing a lot lately. Morale is piss-poor. I'm feeling impatient, Jeffrey and Logan are understandably nervous, and Grylock looks worse with each new day. Only Celine doesn't seem to mind the situation, because, y'know, she's Celine. Celine is fucked up in the head, pardon my saying so.

The Nothing is one of our few topics of conversation. It continues to rumble through Below a five-or-six hour intervals before powering down, and whenever the damned thing lumbers to life I swear it somehow gets on our trail. Any cautious ground we make away from the fucker is completely undone when it begins to travel, as it's seemingly a lot faster than we are. That, or...

Er...

Or this city has no end. And we've been walking in circles this whole time. There's reason to believe that's true.

Sick of running constantly, we decided to set out for the closest wall. Below consists of an enormous cavern, one cavern, and though you can't see the walls in the distance they must exist. So we picked a direction - away from the Nothing, of course - and started walking. Considering how much we've been hiding of late, we should have reached the cavern's edge by now.

But we haven't. Below doesn't seem to end. No wonder Grylock lost track of his norths and souths and easts and wests, if that's the case. Navigating down here is apparently a hopeless cause. Which may mean... we're trapped.

Maybe Plato was the lucky one, getting spirited off by the ghost rats. He's probably dead by now. He won't have to wander around this infinite fucking maze until he starves.

We haven't reached consensus on the Nothing as yet. When we aren't running from the thing we're sitting in moody silences, tending to Grylock's increasing needs, fretting over our water supply, and staring blankly at one another. Any hope of getting out of here seems to be dying fast.

Logan and Celine want to go after the Nothing. It appears to be a machine, they argue, and machines can be broken. I'm pretty certain taking it on would be suicidal, so I've forbidden them from doing any such thing. We'll see if they bother to listen to me.

Grylock smells sick. When humans can smell sickness, there's something very wrong. We need to get him the hell out of here before he deteriorates any further. Without an exit, though...

Fuck.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Seven: Testing, Testing, One-Two-Flee


The Nothing is not friendly. I can tell. More to the point, Jeffrey can tell.

As with the Dauphine, everyone here has a role. We just kinda settled into them upon entering the city, and no one argued over who does what. Logan's the scout when we need speed; Celine's the scout when we want stealth; Grylock handles tracking; I make final decisions; Jeffrey's the idea man.

Jeffrey's no leader. I've seen as much in the past. When you give him people to command, he tends to go a bit... wacky. One might even call it moderately tyrannical. I once caught Jeffrey ordering other crewmembers to clean his cabin first when I put him in charge of cleaning detail, and there was a gleam in his eye I didn't like. He looked much more comfortable after I removed him from duty and put Ed in charge instead.

Let Jeffrey handle the brain work, though, and he's wonderful. He concocts creative solutions to worrying problems with such zeal that even Libby would be impressed. I got a chance to see that in action earlier today, and though his conclusions were not to my liking, I can't complain with his methods at all.

Below is, in its way, as much of a wasteland as the desert above our heads. Given the number of surviving buildings you might think it's chock-full of goodies, but there's very little of value remaining in this place once you go looking. Furniture has rotted away; fabrics are little more than useless scraps, if they exist at all; food is practically fossilized. I found what I think used to be an apple buried in my sand bed this morning, and it was harder than most swords I've handled.

... which would be no swords. They sorta drop out of my hands, like all weapons. I've at least touched one, so I know how hard swords are. Can I get on with my story, please? Thanks.

Despite the distinct lack of anything besides stone in most buildings, we have come across the occasional remnants of whatever society once lived here. Usually we find things while hunting through the back rooms of residential buildings: a chest here, a cupboard there, the occasional hidden niche that Logan uncovers with his nose for secrets. All told we've discovered the following in Below:

- Three scarfs
- Twelve shirts, all blue
- A torn dress
- Five leather pouches
- A dozen wooden poles - Jeffrey suspects they were used for steering boats
- Seven potions of various colours, none of which even Grylock can identify
- A book, though only the cover remains - the pages appear to have been torn out
- A baby's rattle
- A bundle of copper coins
- An urn
- A set of dried paints

Most of the above is useless to us. I decreed all of the above to be useless to us, truth be told, but Jeffrey quickly took to assembling a few of the items into a sort of pet project whenever we took a break. By this afternoon he explained what he had in mind.

"This," he said, holding an extremely crude wood-and-sandbag dummy up for us all to see, "is a person. Do you agree?"

No one said anything at first. Grylock was too tired to talk, and the rest of us seemed cautious of hurting Jeffrey's feelings. Eventually I said "Uh, sure, Jeffrey. A... person."

Rolling his eyes, Jeffrey set the dummy down on its base. It wobbled, the broken poles shifting a little under their ripped shirt bindings, but the thing stayed together. He pointed at the leather sandbag drooping atop the dummy's body. "Head. Arms. Trunk. Legs. It's a person. Can you see as much?"

Logan, crouched beside me and only half watching Jeffrey's presentation, nodded. "Yes, dad. Person. Close enough. What of it?"

Jeffrey turned to Celine. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at the dummy with glazed eyes. "Could you set this up somewhere high and visible? Without being seen yourself?"

Celine nodded. "I believe so. Father, do you have a thing for mannequins? If I recall correctly you kept one in your bedroom back home - "

Jeffrey clapped a hand over her mouth, grinning sheepishly at the rest of us. I don't know why he bothered - the rest of us found his freaking wife mannequin back when we were still living in the castle. "Eheh! Anyway. Just nod. Can you get it close to... er... the Nothing? But somewhere we can all watch from safety?"

Celine nodded. Then she bit her father's hand. After he jumped away, she picked up the mannequin and darted out of the room. Logan followed after her at a distance as discrete backup, though he needn't have bothered. Celine returned twenty minutes later with a little salute.

Following her, noting the pounding steps of the Nothing as it lumbered slowly through a distant section of the city, we made our way back to the park where we'd first encountered the Nothing. Where once the sphere had lain was a crater, much bigger than I'd originally expected, with ample signs of struggle. Apparently the Nothing had fought hard to escape its sand-and-stone half-prison.

Celine had placed the dummy atop one of the surrounding buildings, possibly a former market. Ghostly rats swished around and through the thing, not paying it any mind. We hid in a building down the street from the park, within sight of the dummy, and looked to Jeffrey for further instruction.

"Okay. Stay here." Taking a breath, he sneaked out of the store, down the street, and onto the fringe of the park. He disappeared from sight after a minute, and we heard nothing for a few minutes more -

- until Jeffrey abruptly barked "HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!", his call echoing loudly through the empty streets of Below.

We tensed, hunkering instinctively lower. About a minute later Jeffrey came speeding towards us, running faster than I've ever seen him move. He slid in beside me and, breathing hard, turned to watch the park. We waited.

The methodical walking in the distance stopped. A thoughtful silence descended upon Below. Then, taking two steps to reorient itself, the Nothing began pounding towards the park at a greater-than-normal pace. I imagined its titanic legs punching hard into the ground, driving up stone and street alike. Buildings crumbled in its wake, and maybe three minutes later the building on the opposite side of the park collapsed into the crater, scattering thousands of ghostly rats to the edge of the park.

The Nothing stepped through the rubble. Celine's name is so apt. It's a big black ball of nothing, tottering along on two thick, rusty legs. It's nightmarishly huge, as large as the meeting chamber that used to rest atop Rodentia's palace, and now that it's in motion... I only saw it from a distance, but I swear the Nothing's black metal hull seems to move. It warps and twists and bends, as though made out of oil, yet it never seems to reflect light.

Straddling the crater it had left behind, its legs splayed wide to avoid falling, the Nothing paused in front of Jeffrey's dummy. I don't know if it was actively thinking about the dummy or simply preparing to attack, but the Nothing hovered in place for almost a full minute before it did anything else. The dummy looked pathetically small in front of the Nothing, little more than a speck.

I understood Jeffrey's plan. He wanted to see how the Nothing would react to a 'person'. With the flurry of ghost rat activity surrounding the park and the lack of proper light I was worried we might miss anything he'd wanted to see. I needn't have fretted, as the Nothing's attack was visually spectacular. 

A dozen black tendrils exploded out of the front of the sphere, each seeming to screech as it flew from the Nothing's rounded surface and hit the air. The tendrils skewered the dummy with pinpoint accuracy, shredding the wooden trunk, ripping through its sandbag head, separating base from body and removing its legs and arms. The dummy collapsed in an instant, leaving behind a faint puff of sand as the tendrils slid back into the Nothing's body.

Apparently content, the Nothing began to ramble again. Its path brought it unnervingly close to our hiding spot, so we fled down alleyways. It didn't find us.

So... that answers that, I guess. Stay the hell away from the Nothing.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, June 23, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Six: Unbound by normal rules


The sphere has been dormant the whole day. That should ease my mind, but it doesn't. It really doesn't. 'cause we discovered something rather chilling despite its dormancy.

We spent Friday night in what looked like a small church. Lined with stone pews and saintly statues rounded and smoothed by time, the interior of the little building also featured a lovely, comfortable coating of sand. We've long since given up dusting our clothes, as the sand is fucking everywhere, and I was quite comfortable flopping down into a big heap of yellow and snoozing away.

Before sleeping, though, we discussed our strategy. We've been belowground for two weeks now, and though Plato kept us on a more-or-less straight path to Iko (he insisted as much, anyway) we've since lost our way. Grylock was in charge of watching for landmarks to establish direction, and he admitted on Friday that, at some point, he'd mucked up and lost his bearings. I guess his mounting illness played a part. 

Where are we? No clue.

Where's Iko? No clue.

Where's the exit? No clue.

Where are my hands? On Grylock's neck, but only briefly. We all should've been paying attention to direction. 

Given that we fled from an enormous black thing for a long time on Friday, I'm not at all surprised that we're lost. Our strategy at the moment is simply to avoid trouble and hope Iko somehow finds us. I have no doubt in my mind that the prick knows exactly where we are, and that this is all some sick game. His little charade with the Eve clone stinks of a twisted personality.

Eve. Cripes. I wonder where she is. Surely she's doing better than I am. Some day, sweetie, some day...

At any rate, after determining that the enormous black sphere thing was nowhere near us - Celine informally named it the Nothing, since that's kinda what you see when you see it - we bedded down and slept. We stopped moving 'round at roughly 11, assuming we're still counting hours properly (doubtful), so we figured we'd be safe for the weekend.

We probably assumed wrong.

Before sleeping, Celine went looking for the Nothing. She returned to our shelter twenty odd minutes later, telling us that the Nothing was exactly twenty-five blocks to the east-west-north-south. One of those directions. It was, she said, nestled against a leaning tower, a busted flagpole draped over its black shell. 

It wasn't there when we got up. Took us an hour of searching to find the Nothing, discovering in the process that it had moved around us while we slept. It moved during the weekend, during that time when nothing fucking moves.

Things don't move on the weekend. That's what the Weekendists say. Only the gods ever do anything on the weekend. The gods, and, I suppose, the rats. 

So...

Is it a creation of the rats, and can, therefore, move whenever it likes?

Or...

Is it a god...?

Regardless, I don't think we're ever safe. And that terrifies me. I'm so glad Libby and Fynn stayed with the Dauphine.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer
























Author's note: This may be a thing-in-progress.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Five: Rise of the Nothing


Tremors, tremors, tremors in the dark. Tremors and running.

Because the ghostly rats are pretty much omnipresent down here, there's no real discrepancy between 'day' and 'night'. Everything looks the same. We can only guess when it's nighttime based on our levels of fatigue. When we're sufficiently tired, we sleep. Once we've slept enough, we wake up. Night, day, day, night. Simple. So when I say that something happened last night, I'm only guessing.

I'm glad it's somewhat light down here all the time. If we were forced to flee this thing in the pitch black... that would be bad. We'd probably all be dead.

Before the tremors awoke me and loosed my bladder, I was dreaming. My dreams were - Dragomir the Farsighted as I apparently am! - quite bad. In this case, I dreamed that Traveller, Traveller, had ripped my face off and put it over his own. He looked absolutely delighted to have two eyeballs again, as mine had left my skull along with my skin.

And beneath the skin...

I don't remember. A whole lot of blood. Not enough to jar me out of sleeping, apparently - it took the tremors to do that. Tremors, and the insistent push of Jeffrey's rocking hands.

"Dragomir! DRAGOMIR!" He hissed my name into my ears, quiet but insistent. "Wake up! Something's happening!"

Perhaps eager to escape my subconscious, I woke at once. At once, too, I noticed the dull pound of heavy vibrations through the stone beneath my body, as well as the thud, thud, thud of something impossibly heavy several blocks away. Sitting up, I poked my head through the window of our shelter, a two-floored mansion with some very fancy spiral staircases.

"Look," Jeffrey whispered, pointing carefully through the swarms of rats in the distance. "See? Fuck, it's huge."

"We're so dead," Logan whispered, joining us. Grylock tottered along at his side; I suspect Celine watched from the roof of the mansion. "Reeeeally could've used Traveller about now."

I didn't catch what they meant at first. Looking through long rows of buildings, all I could see beyond the rats was the rounded blackness of the horizon, as sure a sign as any that the city is massive. Then the blackness moved, toppling a tower, and I realized just what they meant.

"H... holy shit..." I swallowed. "That's the... the sphere we saw yesterday, isn't it...?"

Grylock cleared his throat and nodded. "Aye. Gotta be. Nay a thing down here that'd match the description. Daresay we'd best stay out of that brute's way, gents."

The sphere, whatever the fuck it is, wanders restlessly at intervals. It will pad about Below on enormous feet for three or four hours, go silent for two more, then continue shuffling about aimlessly. All it seems to do is knock over buildings, crush roads, and scare away large clouds of phantasmal rats. They won't go near the thing, which, in a way, helps us keep track of the sphere when it's not moving. I'd rather maintain my distance, personally, and I've refused offers from Logan and Celine to go check it out. I don't want it to know that there are living creatures down here.

Unless... unless it already knows.

And if it does...

Could it be looking for us...?

I don't want to consider that. Not for a fucking second.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Four: That's Not Ominous At All


The rats... the rats noticed me today. I had the dream about the murderous haze again, and when I woke up I found a dozen ghostly rats staring at me through a window. At me.

I didn't do anything. I swear to the gods I didn't do anything.

The search through Below continues, though at this point I'm beginning to wonder what we're even searching for. Was I brought here to speak to Iko? Or was there more to learn beyond the old man? Or, perhaps, was this all just some horrifying trap, and we'll continue to bleed members until I'm the only one left...?

I don't know why I assume I'll be the last one. I just feel that whatever's going to happen down here won't really happen until I'm alone. Only then will Iko come out to play, 'cause I'm the one who's supposed to talk to him. The rest of my friends are just filler. Another reason I would love to take him down. As if I needed more reasons.

We found what I assume used to be an enormous park in the midst of several city blocks today. Similar to the baileys in the old castle but a hell of a lot bigger, the park probably teemed with life back when Below was a thriving metropolis. I bet there were stalls full of food, bards and actors putting on shows, politicians belting out their agendas to who would listen... now, though, it's just empty.

Well. Okay. Empty isn't the right word. Nor is 'park' or 'bailey'. It's actually more of a crater these days. A crater largely occupied by a giant, black sphere, surrounded by a crust of crushed stonework.

None of us knew what to make of the thing upon discovery. Resembling an enormous cannonball, thousands of times bigger than the kind you'd find in the Dauphine, the sphere is dusty and nicked and cracked in many places, yet the metal feels incredibly smooth. Touching the sphere is like running your hand across the surface of a wet rock that's been submerged for a decade or more. Smooth, you know? Very smooth.

The scratches aside, I thought the sphere was unbroken at first. Just one giant ball. Then Celine skirted the edge of the park, to the opposite side of the sphere, and found a huge, metallic girder jutting out of its side. Rusted almost as black as the sphere, the girder appeared to be a giant hinge of sorts, its two sections meeting at ninety degree angles and narrowing into a series of long-dead cogs and belts.

"Huh," I finally concluded, crossing my arms. "Huh. Any ideas?"

"S'a weapon, obviously," Grylock croaked. His legs dangled from Logan's shoulders, and he settled his chin on Logan's mop of brown hair. "Biggest damned cannonball in the world. Wouldn't wanna see the cannon ye'd need te fire that baby off."

"That's silly," Celine decreed. "I believe it is a transport. Similar to the Dauphine. Perhaps this... metallic... structure... is a leg. Or the strut for a wheel. It is partially buried in the ground; who's to say what else is connected?"

"And who's to say it's even a sphere?" Jeffrey cut in. "Could be a dome. Maybe there's something underneath it. I've read of defensive fortifications shaped like domes."

I tapped the surface of the sphere. The metal zapped me lightly, the same zap you get from moving across a rug and touching something. I pulled back and shook my hand. " Ow! Bastard! Ergh... it sounds hollow enough, I guess... kinda... any other thoughts?"

Logan shook his head. "Let's get outta here. We're lookin' for an old guy with a beard, right? I doubt he's in there. And if he is, he can come out and find us. This thing weirds me right out."

We could all agree on that much. We left the sphere behind, and though I remain curious as to its purpose, I'm quite happy not knowing. We have better things to do.

We're camped about a dozen blocks from the sphere. Dome. Whatever you wanna call it. (I think it's a sphere, myself.) None of us were quite comfortable 'til it was out of sight, and given the size of the thing that took some doing. I pray nothing comes of it, or out of it, or from it in general, during the night. Night, of course, being relative down here.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Three: Problems on Problems


When it rains it pours. Misfortune always brings a bedmate. Woe likes to breed. When shit stinks, it stinks.

Today was not a good day. It wasn't as bad as yesterday, but it was bad enough.

I've made some tacit reference to this throughout the journey, but Grylock... Grylock's condition is steadily worsening. When we set out from Pubton he was a healthy, albeit cranky and bent, old man; now... now he's doing rather shitty. And it's not from any visible wound I can see.

When we were first captured in Rodentia, he acquired a bit of a cough. I figured the cough was part of some small sickness he picked up in the dungeons, but it lingered. Soon he was hacking up phlegm, and in the last four weeks or so there's been more or more blood mixed into the phlegm. He runs out of steam much faster than he used to, which makes me wish we'd brought his stupid boar mount, and today... today we took turns carrying him on our shoulders.

He puked in my hair. I'm pretty sure he saved it just for me. An insult, yes, but even more worrying, as the puke was speckled with blood as well. I won't even comment on the pained noises he made when he wandered off to use the toilet.

Suffice it to say that we didn't get very far today. Even though he wasn't expending much energy, Grylock demanded an extended break. Told us to keep searching for Plato and the rat, true, but... we didn't wanna leave him alone. Nor did the prospect of splitting up in this place appeal to a single one of us.

"He smells funny," Celine commented to me in a quiet moment. She didn't need to tell me who she meant. "Like dad's toilet after a bad meal. I do not relish such smells, Mud. Is he dy- "

"SHH!" I slapped my hand over her mouth, peering back over my shoulder. We were in a ramshackle apartment on the first floor of a large, squat building, and I'd left Grylock on a soft heap of sand in the opposite room. His ear twitched once, but he gave no other indication that he was awake.

Celine pushed my hand away and lowered her voice to a whisper. "I don't think it matters, Mud. The goblin is not a fool. Surely he knows that he is dying."

"Yes, well..." Sighing, I sat quietly on the floor. Somewhere above us, Logan and Jeffrey spoke to one another in low tones. I couldn't make out what they were saying. "No point talkin' 'bout it unless he wants to talk about it. And we don't know he's dying, okay? Probably just... picked up a bug, or... something."

Celine is not an empathetic girl. She doesn't really offer condolences. Truth be told I find her even weirder than Eve, my own daughter, and when you look at the surface person Eve is pretty strange. Takes a lot to outdo her. So when Celine did offer condolences, I was more distressed than relieved.

Celine patted my arm. "There there, Mud. Everyone has to die. He's old. It's his time, that's all. You shouldn't try to lie about such things. To Grylock or yourself. That will only make the inevitable parting more difficult."

I shook my head and said nothing. In time, Celine floated away to do whatever she does when she's alone. Not a clue what that might be. Maybe she thinks of more ways to be weird. I remained seated on the ground, chewing absently on one of the few pieces of jerky to survive the coyote attack in the desert.

Grylock began to cough. I covered my head with my sleeping bag and tried to think of home. But all I could picture was a world of spectral rats, and I wondered if they were passing unseen through my body as I shuddered.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-Two: Flight of the Platypus

... dwindling...

I wonder if Iko's weird name for me was accurate. 'Dragomir the Farsighted'. It implies a few things... the most likely being that I can see the future. Wouldn't be the first time I've considered as much, given my string of weird, horrifying dreams.

Dreamed that a polar bear would attack me. Happened.

Dreamed that I'd have to deal with werewolves. Happened.

Dreamed that Castle FuckIt would be on fire. Happened. In spades. A few times.

Dreamed of a door, and bad shit associated with said door. Happened.

Dreamed I would be a mayor. Happened.

Dreamed that someone would die. Happened. Even if she was a weird clone thing.

Dreamed of a woman in white. Happened.

Dreamed that Grylock would be skewered by some sharp, black spear. Hasn't happened yet. The rate he's been coughing and spitting up blood, I wonder if the spear will show up in time to do the deed.

And this morning, in my latest fitful rest, tucked into a ruined, sand-filled building, I dreamed that Plato would be attacked by rats. Never has one of my dreams come true so quickly, because when I woke up people were already yelling. Hell, I'm pretty sure the yelling woke me up in the first place.

I mentioned yesterday that this place is teeming with ghost rats. I also mentioned that they don't seem to give two damns about us. Apparently that doesn't apply to the Non, because when I opened my eyes and looked around our crumbling hotel, I immediately spotted a thick swarm of the things swirling and circling 'round Plato. They were holding him aloft, circling and circling with their phantasmal bodies as they lifted him through a nearby window.


Yelling, I jumped out of my sleeping bag and dived for Plato's legs. Logan and Jeffrey beat me to it, though, each grabbing one of the platypus's boots. Plato squealed and yelped, kicking the air so hard that he landed a hard blow on Jeffrey's chin. The one live rat in the place paraded around on Plato's head and, I assume, tried to stop his flailing with a bite, but the panicky duck wouldn't stop.

We locked eyes for the briefest second, the first time he's willingly looked at me in weeks. I saw fear there, fear of death... but also profound sadness. Hell, I'd even call it apology. Then he was gone.

Yelling, I ran for the window, pushing Logan aside. I caught one final glimpse of Plato's tail as it vanished into a veritable sea of silent, swirling rats. We haven't seen his rodent buddy since then, so I can only assume it, too, got swallowed up by the ghostly vermin.

The rat might be okay. It's among its own kind, of a sorts. But I really don't fancy Plato's chances. The rats... regulators... whatever... have made one thing abundantly clear: they fucking hate the Non.

We searched. Spent the whole damned day trying to find Plato, calling his name and following what little trail the ghost rats left behind. A smeared boot print here, an abrupt swirl of sand there. Not nearly enough to go on. Eventually we had to give up and follow the direction Plato sent us on in the first place, which, as far as we can tell, is south.

This trip was the biggest mistake of my life. Wish I'd fucking foreseen that in a dream.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day Seven-Twenty-One: Something's strange in this neighbourhood


I thought meeting Kierkegaard in Pagan's mansion and seeing his... transformation... would be the creepiest thing ever. I'm still not wrong - I've never been so scared in my life.

But this place... it comes a very close second.

I don't know if Iko was deliberately misleading or honestly mistaken, but saying that this city of the dead is not quite as large or as grand as Rodentia was wrong. Below - which is what I've decided to call our new home, since its name is apparently lost - is absolutely enormous. It could be as large as the desert above it, for all I can tell.

Similar to the murals we saw earlier, Below is filled with tall, stone buildings, all of them easily as tall as those found in Rodentia. Some taller, even. Yet these structures are old, probably a thousand years or more, and they have not preserved well. The roads are cracked and packed with sand; many of the tallest towers have toppled into adjacent streets, blocking off entire intersections; and the artistry of the architecture, doubtless so prominent when this place lived, has been worn away by friction and time. Every edge is smooth, smooth, rows and rows and miles and miles of smooth.

It's creepy. Very creepy. Ghost-city-under-the-jungle-where-we-got-imprisoned-by-Grayson creepy. But it's creepier even than that place, because where that metropolis was filled with self-aware spectres, this metropolis is blanketed in dull, vapid, pale rats.

Dead rats.

Ghost rats.

Millions of them.

They don't appear all at once, and they seldom appear nearby, but these ghost rats are everywhere. Floating in large squadrons through the streets, seemingly without purpose or brainpower, the rats only phase into existence when you're observing them at a distance. Get too close and they fade into nothingness. Consider what it's like to see a cloud atop a mountain, and then pass through that cloud, and you'll understand the effect.

The rats largely ignore us. I don't know if they live in this world or the next, but wherever they are they barely register us as present in their city. Not once have I noticed one of them looking at us, and the only reaction we've gotten to our presence came when Celine dashed at a cloud of the things. They swerved out of her path for a brief second before vanishing. Not as a living being would avoid a crazed princess, mind, but as mist curls before wind. 

Part of my brain - a biiiiiiiiiig part of my brain - wishes I could think of them as decorative, and nothing more. But, well, yeah, I can't do it. I know they are... were... living things. And knowing what I know about rats... yeah. At least their spectral glow keeps Below bright enough to navigate.

Logan managed to scale one of the surviving towers, and he tells us that the city stretches for many long miles in all directions. He can see the sandy ceiling, but the far walls of this place? Nope. No chance. Our only hope of finding the old man down here is Plato, as he still seems to have a bead on Iko's location.

No turning back. No running away. Doesn't matter how often I piss my pants. We have a job to do. I have a job to do.

....

I fucking hate this place. The nightmares are worse than ever.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, June 13, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Twenty: Never a Good Sign

It's never a good day when you discover something associated with your death.

I'll start off with the assurance that everyone who was here yesterday is still here today. Nagi is (probably) back at Iko's house, and Traveller is... travelling... but Logan, Jeffrey, Grylock, Plato, the rat and myself are in the ruins. Correction, in the city. But I'll get to that in a moment.

The empty chambers continued to pop up as we travelled, and we happened across quite a few more murals. They were interesting enough sights at a distance that I scribbled down some descriptions:

- One depicted what appeared to be the same city from the first mural, only this time there was a large, black sphere amid the buildings. It appeared to be tethered to the ground via dozens of strings, or cables, or ropes, or... other stuff. I won't speculate.
- Another mural showed a large group of warriors with long poles, beating away huge droves of insects from a grove of trees. Fucking desert beetles. You think they might have changed their diet after such a long time, but noooo...
- Another depicted what I assume was a map of the world. It didn't look exactly as maps of the world do today, of course, as there was no Grand Chasm... though, uh, I assume new maps don't have the Grand Chasm anymore anyway. The east was shaded a sketchy black; the west, a chalky white.
- Yet another showed an army of shadowy figures bearing down on an army of.. well, every other race. Humans, orcs, goblins, snake people, the works. We all more or less understood the implications of the mural without speculation.
- The last mural we came across depicted a night sky. Rather than stars, though, it appeared to be dotted with tiny white figures. I recognized it at once: the place where I spoke with rat-controlled Philip. I let the others ruminate over the meaning.

We did not approach or touch any of the murals. Logan assured us this was wise, as he detected a fantastic number of traps set around each mural. If only he'd noticed them while Nagi was still with us.

One room past that final mural, we discovered an open space... and I knew at once that we'd arrived at our destination. Or, at the very least, the front gates of our destination.

The entrance to the city beneath the sands consisted of the largest pair of doors I think I've ever seen. Stretching maybe ninety feet high and double that wide, the doors appeared to be built directly into the stone, with no visible hinges. Each was covered in a jumble of metal panels, set into a huge steel grid that stretched across both doors. The doors needed no lock; the grid itself kept them closed.

Sitting to the left of the doors, hovering above a circular pedestal, was a glowing blue flame that I remembered all too well.

"Oh, shit," I wheezed, stumbling up to the flame. By this point I was quite exhausted from constant walking. "I... fuck me. One of these."

The group gathered 'round the flame. Jeffrey, Logan, and Grylock recognized it from my stories about my death and resurrection; Plato and the rat simply seemed to know what it was without prompting. Only Celine needed a story, and she grasped the mechanics of the flame without hesitation or alarm.

"So if we touch this we can come back to life?" she asked, poking at the blue flame without touching it. "Oooo, it's not even hot."

"I... guess so." I shrugged. "Something like that. Might take a witch to actually bring us back, though. Otherwise I would've popped back on my own after Eve... uh... y'know. Did her thing."

"Stabbed you," Celine crooned.

"Thanks, Celine. Yes, stabbed me."

"Uh..." Jeffrey stepped up beside his daughter and tried to pull her away. "Soooo... should we... touch it?"

Without hesitation, Plato stepped up and passed his hand through the flame. The rat did the same, trembling to stretch its paw into the blue light from atop Plato's head. Not wanting to be upstaged by the fearful platypus, the rest of us followed suit. 

"And then me," Celine concluded, touching the flame last of all.

"Why's that matter?" Logan asked, scratching his head.

"Because it might only keep track of the last person to touch it," she replied smugly. "If that's the case, I wish to be certain that I am the one to be resurrected. The world would weep otherwise."

That comment sparked an argument, of course, and it took perhaps ten minutes before we settled on allowing Celine to have her way. That done, we turned to the doors.

"Big," Jeffrey murmured.

"Glad ye noticed that," Grylock replied. He coughed loudly, almost doubling over.

"Looks like a puzzle," Logan concluded. "How do we open it?"

I'm certain that, under other circumstances, the trial might've been tricky. Even difficult. But we had a minuscule advantage on our side, a tiny ally, and he immediately leaped to work by rising onto his hind legs and flailing crazily at us.

I turned to Plato and his grey companion. "What's he sayin', Plato?"

Plato shrugged. He ushered the rat onto his palm so he could watch its rapid gesticulations. The rat waved...

... and mimed...

... and appeared to struggle, as though lugging a huge weight...

... and, eventually, Celine got it.

"It's a picture," she declared, pointing at the grid. "If we form the picture properly the doors will open. Is that right?"

The rat nodded.

"See, the world would be much worse off without me." Celine tugged at the collar of her robes and grinned wanly.

For the next hour - with the aid of a human ladder formed out of myself, Logan, and Jeffrey - we slowly moved the panels into place. The rat directed us frantically from Plato's palm, waving his paws about like the were the conductor of the world's most boring orchestra. The grid seemed bent and warped in places, as though it had been forced open at some point, and I shivered at the thought of what might be strong enough to muscle through. 


With only six panels left to move, I realized what the image was: an enormous rat's head. Surprise surprise.

As the final panel slid into place the doors clicked. We stood back - way, way back - and allowed the grid to part in the middle as the way to the city beneath the sands opened.

Dead, hot air wafted out at us.

What we found... well, that's for next week.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Nineteen: And then there were still a bunch


The party is shrinking. But at least this time the parting party member didn't just disappear.

The tunnel, which began as a formation of hardened, stable sand, has slowly but surely shifted from natural curves to smoothed sandstone. It's also widening, and instead of the semi-claustrophobic passage we've been finding rooms of various sizes. They're empty, mind, but the change is nice.

The rooms are also lit by torches. I won't bother asking who set them blazing in their sconces.

Though the craftsmanship on the chambers has been nice and sturdy, it's also been plain as hell. There's little to no semblance of artistry in the blocks, the walls, the archways... which is why it was rather surprising to come across a room with a mural. And, in retrospect, it should've been rather suspicious.

"Whoa!" Nagi cried, clasping her hands together. She was the first to spot the mural. "Look at that! It's gorgeous!"

Indeed it was. Carved directly into the wall as a series of interconnected, angular lines, the mural depicted an enormous city. Filled with spiralling towers, huge domes and flapping banners, the city looked as though it might give Rodentia some steep competition on the grandeur front. Even at a distance I noted the similarities between the two cities... and, I suddenly realized, the similarities between the Imperium's building design and that of the underground city of the dead outside Goblinoster. The city where so many of my troubles really began.

"Amazing," Nagi whispered to herself. Reaching into her pack, she retrieved a length of rolled parchment paper and a bag of charcoal. "I have to make a rubbing. I know this archaeologist who would pay some serious gold. And how much I could make leading him back here! Oh man."

"Be careful," Logan warned. "Might be trapped."

Nagi winked as she slithered towards the mural. "Oh, come on, I've been a thief longer than you, kiddo. I think I would recognize a trap."

Apparently not.

A loud THUNK sounded as soon as Nagi touched the floor in front of the mural. Immediately realizing her error, the thief dropped her tools and attempted to bound away, smacking her tail against the floor as though it were a spring. But she wasn't fast enough to avoid the trap...

... which was, despite the loud sound, little more than a dart. It flew out of a barely-noticeable hole in the wall at an amazing speed and embedded itself in Nagi's tail. She shrieked and flopped, and Logan was just barely fast enough to lug her out of the way before three more darts whizzed by at varying heights. Thunk thunk thunk, all three hit the opposite wall and shattered against the stone.

Everyone pulled well away from the mural. No one dared move for about a minute, fearing more traps. Then Nagi began to groan, and we snapped back into motion.

"Hydra scorpion venom," Grylock confirmed, lightly sniffing Nagi's wound. "Paralytic, mostly, though it can kill in sufficient amounts. I think yer thick rear might've saved ye the worst o' it, lass."

"Gr... great." Nagi grimaced against the pain. "Fuck. I'm an idiot. Wh... why... ach, I think my ass is going numb..."

"It'll probably be numb for a few days." Grylock shrugged. "Can ye move?"

Nagi stiffly coiled her tail beneath her and attempted to rise. She managed, though very, very slowly. Nagi wobbled and cursed, nearly fell, wobbled some more, and tried to slide across the floor. The going was slow, and obviously painful.

"That answers that." I rubbed my forehead. "Will she live?"

"Oh, aye, I think so." Grylock eyed the passage from which we'd come. "But... ah... well. Y'know. We've nay got time te lug this one around."

Sighing, Nagi nodded. "Yeah. Fine. I got it. Not much use anymore. I'll... agh, I'll go look for a bandage back at that bastard old man's house..."

"I'll come with you," Logan offered.

"No, no, no." Nagi tossed him her backpack. "They... need a thief. Ow.You'll do. Always were better'n me at picking locks. I'll go have a... fuck... vacation in the meantime. The house is a sight nicer than this hellhole anyway..."

Nagi turned to leave, still wobbling. Before she could, I stepped over to her and extended a hand. "Thanks. Thanks for getting us this far. We'd probably be dead in the desert without you."

Nagi paused, eyeing the hand suspiciously, then shrugged and shook. "Yeah. You probably would. Have fun."

Everyone waved goodbye as Nagi left the room through an archway. Her lagging tail slipped out of view... and when Logan called for her a moment later, she didn't answer.

Shit. I'm sure she'll be fine, but... shit.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Eighteen: Bye!


Oh fuck off. I mean, I'm not that sad he's gone, but fuck off. We could've used the extra strength.

The tunnel is long, the tunnel is circuitous, and the tunnel is weird. Though ostensibly straightforward it seems to wind it large, long loops down into the earth, and as we travel the path we have to stay together. Yesterday Jeffrey made the mistake of dropping a canteen and walking back for it, and when he rounded the corner of the path back the way we came he vanished. Logan followed after him -

- and, of course, both of 'em were shot right back to the beginning of the tunnel. Their confirming yells floated down the passage to us a few minutes later, but we had to wait almost an hour before they caught up. What a pain in the ass be magic. A shame all the damned magic users I know either aren't here or are evil... maybe June or Grayson would have an easier time of this... Celine's taking the rear, and she's assured us that she won't let anyone turn back, so hopefully we won't go through this again.

Anyway. We eventually hunkered down for the night, all of us grumbling about the drafty nature of the tunnel as we laid down sleeping bags (rest assured we only walked forward to lay down our bags, never backward), and after a long argument between Traveller and Nagi over whom would be sleeping in whose bag, and what they would be doing in said bag, we slept.

I dreamed. I dreamed that the fog, the mist, the haze, came upon us in the tunnel. I stared, unable to move or speak or scream as it skewered Logan, Jeffrey, Grylock, Celine, Nagi, Plato, Traveller, and the rat with a spiralling black tendril. I thought it might do the same to me, the tendril dripping with gore...

... but instead it left me alone. And somehow, that was worse. I woke with a start.

Everyone was still asleep, some snoring loudly. Now wide awake, I counted the sleeping bags around me for reassurance, just barely able to make them out in the dim light of our guttering lanterns. Logan, Jeffrey, Grylock, Celine, Nagi, Plato - 

I stopped. One bag was empty, save for a snoozing rat flopped upon its pillow.

"Oh shit," I muttered to myself. I shook the nearest sleeping bag. "Logan. Logan! Up! Fuck! He's gone!"

Logan groaned loudly. "Wtf... this is not lol material, man, lemme alone..."

"No! UP!" I hissed the word in his ear. "Traveller! He's gone! EVERYONE WAKE UP!"

They did, each grumbling their discontent at having been roused after only a few hours of rest. Their bad attitudes quickly turned to concern when the realized where they were - and that concern morphed to... well, a variety of emotions... when everyone noticed that Traveller had wandered off.

"Fuck 'im," Nagi announced, flopping back down in her sleeping bag. "He's a pain in the ass. Maybe I won't feel sexually harassed every five minutes with him gone."

"He is kind of a dumbass," Grylock agreed. He hacked out a cough and shivered. "Gods is it cold down here."

"We need someone of his strength," Celine pointed out. Her father nodded agreement. "We have no idea what we'll find at the end of this tunnel."

Plato shrugged. The rat, having swapped back to his previous roost on the platypus's shoulder, looked unworried. I guess they've gone through this schtick with Traveller before.

We argued for a few minutes over what we should do, but, ultimately, the consesus was kinda forced on us by the circumstances. We couldn't turn around to search, as we'd immediately get shunted back to the beginning of the tunnel. We couldn't start searching down the tunnel yet, either, as all of us were still exhausted from the previous day's trek. All we could do is sleep a little longer, and hope we'd find Traveller upon resuming the journey.

We walked for ten hours today. No sign of Traveller. Not a whisper of babbled, one-sided conversation, not the pounding of a rock or the scream of a woman being harassed, nothing. Traveller may have fallen off the face of the earth, for all we know.

Great. Fantastic. Peachy. Marvelous.

We travel in the dark. My dreams get worse.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Seventeen: Down the Something Hole


We can't get the door open.

We can't leave Iko's home, because we're surrounded by desert. We have no idea which direction to go.

Plato assures us that there's only one path we can take.

And it's a prettty fucking obvious path.

The hole.

The hole is perfectly round, as holes usually aren't. The hole protrudes maybe two feet out of the sand. The hole leads almost straight down - but the sunlight, the copious, brutal sunlight, betrays the presence of a soft, curved path at the bottom. But the hole won't allow you to see any further than that.

Celine was the first person brave enough to enter the hole. Especially brave, as she left her ninja back at the Dauphine. She discovered that the hole leads to a sandy, stable tunnel, just tall enough that we can walk upright. It is, she says, a bland tunnel - but it has a curious property.

"I walked for maybe ten minutes," she said. "Did you time me?"

Her brother nodded. "Yep. I'd say ten is right. Find anything?"

"No," she admitted, but the quirk of a smile on her face suggested otherwise. "Nothing... tangible. But there's something odd about it regardless. As I said, I walked for ten minutes before turning around."

"No," Logan corrected, "you must've turned around after five."

Celine shook her head. "I walked for ten, into the tunnel. When I turned around I arrived back at the surface within a minute."

"Bullshit," Grylock insisted. He coughed and sneered. "You lost track've yerself, is all. Watch."

Horking up a big glob of yellowy spittle on the sand, Grylock hopped into the hole and began to walk. He remained below for roughly five minutes before reappearing, his eyebrows raised.

"Well, piss all over me." He clambered back up, eyebrows raised. "That's a mite peculiar, innit?"

I didn't want to enter that hole. It gives me the same sense of dread as the hole back in the castle. It promises answers, and I'm not so sure I want those answers anymore. But now... now that we've come so far...

The hole.

After making one final sweep of Iko's house and finding nothing of interest - dude really likes his philosophy books - we packed our things, stocked up from Iko's liberal stores, and dropped one-by-one into the hole. And now, lanterns at the ready, we walk.

And walk.

And walk.

And if Iko's words are truthful, I think we'll come across the remains of a city at some point. Wouldn't be the first underground ruins I've come across, but... that doesn't make 'em any less eerie.

...

Why are there so many underground cities...?

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Sixteen: Welcome to Paradise


The... the Farsighted...? The hell does that mean?

I'm honestly not sure what happened in the desert. My last cogent memories are from sometime early on Friday. I think I was playing chess with Grylock... and he tried to cheat... and it was so damned hot, and... I think I tried to... he has such a spindly neck...

Yeah. I'm pretty sure the situation escalated drastically from there. I was so dehydrated and out of my head that the resulting battle doesn't stick out at all. I'm sure our combat was pretty pathetic, as we're all still alive. Though I do have a bruise on my cheek.

... butt cheek. I won't ask.

I woke up this morning with Traveller attempting to probe my nose with a length of pussy willow. I snapped the thing away and barked out a complaint, and it took me a few minutes to wonder why I was sitting in a bed, and not in the middle of a sand dune.

"Iko saved me again!" Traveller proclaimed, waving to the semi-spherical room where I'd spent the night. "He's such a nice dude. I like him. His beard is awesome."

Iko's name made me shoot up and out of bed. "This... is this his house...?"

Traveller nodded and gabbed, and I largely ignored him. I was more intent on scanning the room. It was surprisingly opulent for a desert-dweller: lots of fine silks, a ton of small, decorative statues, bookshelves covered in dusty tomes, a closet full of sleek wardrobe choices, several fancy hats... nothing, really, to indicate that the man was much more than, say, a wealthy trader, let alone a hardened desert-dweller. I'd kinda expected as much from a hermit.

Quitting the upstairs bedroom, I followed Traveller downstairs. Half of the group was already up and about, feasting on a sumptuous array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Traveller slid in beside Nagi to hit on her, and I seated myself between Plato and Jeffrey, who were eating cantaloupe at a circular table.

"Fellas," I said, noting the cut between Plato's eyes and the bandage on Jeffrey's neck. I pointed at the cantaloupe. "Tasty?"

"Bery," Jeffrey agreed, shoving another slice in his mouth. "Ith wike a dweam aftar a week uf jewky."

"Yeah, I'll... I'll say it's like a dream." Grabbing a slice of cantaloupe for myself, I peered through a window in Iko's small kitchen. Grylock was swimming in a small oasis a ways from the house. "So where's our host? I'd... like to say hello."

Plato shook his head, and Jeffrey expanded on the answer. "He's not here. We've searched the grounds. Breakfast was served, and there were plenty of fresh clothes and linens in the living room, but... yeah. If this is your Iko's house - "

Plato nodded his head vigorously, quacking affirmatives.

" - then he's buggered off somewhere." Jeffrey finished with a shrug, sliding the cantaloupe away to get at a plate of cherries. "Sorry, boss."

After a hearty breakfast, we continued the search. There isn't a hell of a lot to see, really: though opulent and comfortable, Iko's land is fairly small. It's built around a nice little desert oasis, mentioned earlier, with a plot of irrigated plants for food and a chair for basking in the sun, complete with fancy umbrella. There's no form of transportation I can see, so we have no idea how Iko managed to carry our large party out of the wastes. Maybe he's not the only person living here...?

Ultimately, after checking every book and investigating every nook and cranny of the place, we found only three things of real interest:

1.) A door, covered in runes. It seems to lead down from Iko's living room and into a basement. We can't get it open. Even Traveller couldn't pull the thing loose of its rusty hinges. That's a scary thought.

2.) A hole, dug into the ground outside the house. It leads... somewhere. We're hesitant to look, but, hells, I know we'll have to because of the third thing...

3.) The diary entry. At some point, presumably on Friday, Iko hijacked my diary. It more or less told us where we need to go.

Pleasant as this house may be, it creeps me the fuck out. I don't like this situation, not one bit, as it stinks of a trap. But... after coming all this way...

Hell.

I hate holes. I really do. Some of my worst nightmares star holes.

Sincerely,


Dragomir the Wanderer

Friday, June 6, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Fifteen: Saved


Hello. 

I'm not Dragomir.

But you've heard that line before. Many times. For, as the great Beneficio once said, "Repetition is the sauce of life."

I can only speculate what happened to this sad little group. When I came upon them they were clustered together in a tight ball, their hands upon one another's necks. They looked, as one, withered, tired, dishevelled, and halfway dead. Except Traveller, of course, but he's always been a strange exception to every rule.

I suppose they tried to throttle one another. As the overseer of this desert, I've always found it quite fascinating to watch newcomers in action. No one ever anticipates just how bad life in the wastes can become, even after a few paltry days of travel. Add some sunburns, unquenchable thirst, and omnipresent grit to a reasonable man and he will become, in time, a ravening beast.

Hmm. I rather like that quote. Perhaps I should write it down somewhere other than this diary. The poor thing, it's been locked away for so long, just waiting to share the full extent of its malicious secrets with its owner.

Ahh. Yes. Its owner. I've waited many moons to properly meet you, Dragomir. You fascinate me. I wonder what my brother was thinking when he asked for that particular favour...? What a romantic.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, this desert was no different than the rest of the Imperium. Indeed, many would argue that it was even more fertile than the lands of Rodentia, its fields overflowing with crops that could - and did! - supply an army. Upon this land was a city, a metropolis that could rival Rodentia, and its king was wise and powerful. His greatest challenge was dealing with hordes of forest beetles.

(Having seen the state of your transport, you can guess what happened to the forest beetles.)

But the good times did not last, because good times never last. One day, war came to this city. A war that lasted hundreds of years. The city became the breadbasket of the forces of light, allowing them to wage battles in the lands far to the east.

The forces of darkness could not allow such a bountiful place to remain standing. And so, drawing upon their most powerful creations, they unleashed a horror on the city. And with their troops far, far away... the forces of light had no choice... but to bury the city. And when they did, the land itself withered and died along with the people.

Only the skeleton of grandeur remains on the top, blanketed in dusty yellow. But below... beneath... there are riches. History. Horrors. The truth. And, by the time you read this, me.

I have things to teach you, young man. Things that I dredged from an unknowing mind almost two years ago. I've waited so patiently to tutor you... and now, now that I've saved you from the desert... I'm waiting. 

I'm in the hole. Come find me, Dragomir the Farsighted.

Sincerely,


Iko the Plunderer

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Fourteen: Bastards of the Desert


Oh fuck.

Since we started out we've been maintaining our own supplies. There are two reasons for this:

1.) If one of us fucks up and loses their shit, the rest are fine - and they can compensate for the lost stuff.

2.) We don't trust one another to share evenly. This is an implicit reason, but it's totally there, floating over the camp like those fucking buzzards I scared off earlier.

I can't speak for the others, but I have a backpack. In my backpack I have a bundle of jerky, some trail mix in a pouch, a bunch of dried fruit, a bag of unsalted nuts, and water. Lots and lots of water. Three canteens' worth, in fact. More than enough to keep me going for a week, which is roughly how long we're supposedly travelling to find Iko.

When I woke up this morning, my backpack was gone. Stolen from beneath my head as I slept. I wasn't alone, either - Jeffrey, Nagi, Logan, and Traveller were all missing their packs as well.

Their absence was not a mystery, however. We found the shredded remains of one of Traveller's bags of grapes just outside our little camp, in the shade of a rock. We followed the half-buried grapes to the remains of his bag...

... and then, following paw prints and drag marks, we discovered what little was left of Nagi's pack... 

... and, beyond that, gorged and sleeping, we discovered a sizable pack of coyotes. Fifteen in all, sleeping peacefully and surrounded by a bevy of half-eaten foodstuffs and ruined canteens. They looked better-fed and happier than I'm sure they've ever been in their lives.

We slaughtered the little bastards. They became a mangey lunch. Grylock personally killed seven of them, such was his anger. Not because they'd stolen his pack, oh no, but because he'd now have to share with the rest of us.

We scrounged some of the supplies not ruined by the shifting sands, and three of our twelve canteens remained unbroken. We're now rationing water even more tightly than we were before, which is a bitch to think about 'cause we were already tightasses when it came to water.

Arguments are breaking out. Feuds. It's getting out of hand. No one will listen to reason. Everyone is being selfish.

...

Nagi claims she needs more water than average in order to hydrate her tail. Between us, I think she's a lying whore.

I want to go home. I hate this place. I never should've come here. We're all gonna die.

... wait...

Is... is that... whose hand...?


DON'T YOU TOUCH MY FUCKI