Sunday, July 27, 2014

Groundwork, Part One

Jeffrey woke up in a bed.

When he saw who had woken him up, Jeffrey started to cry.

"LOGAN!" Throwing his arms around his son's neck, Jeffrey pulled Logan roughly down into his shoulder. "You're... you're ALIVE! Oh my gods, my gods, my GODS, you're..."

"Whoa." Rubbing his cheek, Logan slipped away from his father's frantic embrace... though he stayed near enough that Jeffrey could still hold his arms. "Calm down, old man. Yeah, it's me. I'm okay. Settle."

Jeffrey sniffed away his tears, nodding a little. Manliness, he thought. Logan wants to be manly about it. Okay. Just this time. I can do manly. I am a manly man. Boxing makes you a manly man. But... manly men can also be fathers... and when fathers think they've lost their sons and their daughters - 

Jeffrey's bawling exploded. Logan couldn't avoid another smothering hug.

Once Jeffrey had calmed down, his smile radiated pure joy. He looked around the semi-familiar-but-only-semi room, noting the sculpted, ovular walls and opulent silks. "Are we... is this...?"

"Iko's place," Logan confirmed. "You're in his bed. We've been bunking out here for two days, now, waiting for you to wake up. Damned lazy coot."

Jeffrey fluffed his sheets. They reminded him of his kingly bed back home. Iko knew how to live, plainly. "S... sorry. I, uh, guess I needed a good rest. So... so if you're here, then... is...?"

Logan's face darkened. He tipped his head, staring at the floor. "She's gone, dad. I’m sorry. We never should've run off. Was fuckin' stupid."

Jeffrey's good humour fell about a dozen notches. He squeezed his blanket tightly, hoping the gesture would prevent his hands from shaking. He shook his head hard, then looked back at his son. "She'll..."

Logan looked up.

"She's... dancing in heaven, now." Jeffrey swallowed. More tears, formed of grief, speckled his cheeks. "I just bet she's... dancing for the gods."

"Yeah. Her 'n Grylock." Logan forced a smile. "Though I guess he's more likely t'be challenging them to a drinking contest, the lil' bastard."

Jeffrey sighed, running one hand through his hair. He thought of all the dance recitals he’d forced his subjects to attend. He’d loved watching Celine twirl about the throne room, veils drifting from her arms, a sly smile always on her lips. 

Logan slapped his father’s shoulder lightly. “We’ll get her back. Don’t forget that blue… flame… uh… thing. Once we find someone who can use it, she’ll be bothering us all over again. It worked for Dragomir, ’n it’ll work for Celine.”

“But we don’t have a witch to make it work,” Jeffrey moaned.

Logan barked a grim laugh. “Oh, we’ll find one. Don’t worry about that.”

Jeffrey dressed and followed Logan downstairs. Nagi was waiting for them, a plate of fresh-cooked greens in front of her as she sat at the kitchen table. Somewhere outside, Traveller whooped and laughed, and Plato quacked loudly. Jeffrey couldn't hear what they were saying.

Nagi flashed Jeffrey a genuine smile. "Good lords above, finally! Welcome back, Jeffo. Glad to see you're out of bed. Means I can steal it for myself again. I've missed it since you lot showed up. My tail just doesn't fit on that coot’s couch."

"Thanks." Jeffrey seated himself at the table, patting his stomach. "Any chow? I'm starving."

Nagi shoved her plate across the table at him. "Eat. I've been chewing on greens for weeks. Pretty sick of it. Guess we stole all of Iko's meat on the first trip through."

Jeffrey popped a slice of green pepper in his mouth. It crunched loudly, flooding his taste buds with bitter delight. "Wow. That's good. Iko knows his gardening."

"You have to, out here." Logan seated himself, picking a carrot off of the plate. "Speaking of Iko, you have parts of the story to fill in. Start talking, dad."

They chatted for almost an hour. Nagi was the most eager to talk, having lived in stony silence for nearly a month while her body recovered from the effects of the hydra scorpion venom. Logan and Traveller had only emerged from the hole outside the house two days ago, Jeffrey hanging limply over Traveller's shoulders, and Plato and his rat were newcomers as of three hours prior. Plato wouldn't speak a word about Iko or Dragomir, only confirming that Dragomir was still very much alive.

Logan's tale was the most interesting. After the failed surprise attack on the Nothing, he'd nearly died trying to take it on a second time. It was only thanks to the last-second intervention of Traveller and Iko that Logan had survived the encounter. He'd spent the next week with the two men, watching over father and surrogate father from afar, trying constantly to reach both and failing every time.

"Iko had this... influence, I guess... on Below," he explained, smacking a hand off the table. "You didn't go where he didn't want you to go. No clue how he did it. All I know is he wouldn't let me get near you, Dragomir, or Grylock. I... had to watch... when... and I couldn't do..."

Jeffrey stared at the table. None of them said anything for a long time. Jeffrey couldn't tell if his son bore a grudge, and though he hoped not, he suspected Logan might. In more bitter times, Jeffrey's role in Grylock's death could easily get thrown back in his face - and Jeffrey would deserve every bit of recrimination he got.

Nagi, perhaps uncomfortable with the tragic brooding, broke in with an unsteady laugh. "Uh, well, hey! You should see the shit they've been up to since Traveller got back. Idiot's damned near ruined Iko's farm. Says he swears that Iko had newt turnips last time, and he's determined to find a few. Going to turn them into a new pair of boots."

Jeffrey peered out the window of Iko's house, watching Traveller skitter by. Yelling loudly, he leaped into the pond at the rear of the house and landed with a heavy splash. Water exploded up and outward. "I thought he had boots."

Nagi shook her head. "Lost 'em."


"It's a new story every time. Iko found him barefoot, so I doubt we'll ever know what happened." Nagi leaned in close. "'tween us? I think he loses 'em on purpose. Just won't admit he likes to air out his toes."

Jeffrey snorted. He watched Traveller flailing wildly in the water, laughing a little as Traveller grabbed Plato's leg and pulled the platypus into the water. They wrestled, Traveller easily winning, and he lifted Plato over his head like a trophy. 

Something tickled at the back of Jeffrey's mind. He squinted.

"Yo." Logan poked his father's shoulder. "Story? You have some telling to do."


Jeffrey didn't look away from Traveller. The shaggy man was laughing hard, hands busy tying back his mane as Plato draped from one shoulder. Big, spiky clumps of half-wet hair fell down over his eye and patch. For about three seconds it looked as though Traveller had gotten a major haircut.


The something tickled again.

Jeffrey turned reluctantly away from the rowdy scene outside. "Have... you ever noticed how much Traveller looks like - "

A loud 'click' from the rune-covered door in the basement cut the thought very short indeed.

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