Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Intus Opaca, Part Two

"Wake up... mir," someone said. "... ke up. We have... appointment."

Dragomir recognized the voice. He'd heard it a few times in his dreams, dreams he was trying desperately to escape even now. Worse, he'd heard it from the mouth of his daughter. Or a thing that looked like his daughter. To have a nightmare where he was forced to listen to Iko... this was not a new thing.

And yet, somehow, it was. This time it was very much a new thing. So Dragomir woke up.

He was laying on a rough stone dais, itself part of a rough stone floor. When Dragomir opened his eyes he found himself staring up at a circular ceiling, its dozens of concentric circles almost hypnotizing to Dragomir's sleep-addled brain. He groaned and forced himself to sit up -

- and when he brushed the hair out of his eyes, Dragomir noticed a rat. A big rat. And beside it, another rat. And then two more on the other side. Two, and three, and five... seven... his eyes followed the long line of rats 'round the chamber, rat after rat after rat, all of them stony, expressionless, staring -

"Calm down," the voice urged, somewhere to Dragomir's right. "Take your time. This must be strange."

Dragomir whirled, teeth bared, hands coming up. Heat flared on Dragomir's cheeks and ears, but nothing appeared in his hands. He glared at his fingers as though they'd committed some traitorous act, then flicked his gaze back to the man seated cross-legged before him.

Iko was not young, but he wasn't exactly old, either. His hair was white, but spiky and unruly; his skin was lined, but not with age; his belly bulged beneath his robe, but it hinted at many good meals rather than the indolence of the decrepit. He looked like a merchant, and Dragomir fought the urge to see him as one.

"Strange." Dragomir wrinkled his brow, looking almost comically upset. "Yeah. Strange. That's a word I'd use."

Iko motioned for the younger man to sit. Dragomir refused. Iko shrugged and offered Dragomir something to eat or drink. Dragomir again refused, but a growl from his belly betrayed him. Iko smiled, though he made no further offers, instead pulling a steaming cup of tea from one sleeve for himself. He sipped the tea, hand still hidden beneath the simple fabric of his robe.

"So." Iko set his cup down. "How was your trip?"

Growling, Dragomir dashed forward and kicked the cup of tea across the room. Hot brown splashed on the floor, leaving a trail of blotches resembling continents and islands on a parchment map. The cup smashed against a statue.

Iko waited two beats before commenting. His tone didn't waver from polite interest. "Not good, then?"

"I'M NOT HERE FOR A FUCKING CONVERSATION!" Dragomir stood over Iko, fists raised as though he might squash the old man. "I'M HERE TO KILL YOU!"

"Yesssss, yes you are." Iko pulled his boxy hat from his head and scratched his scalp. "I do apologize for the prank I pulled. Pretending to be your daughter. It was... impolite? Perhaps that's an understatement."

Crouching low, hands on his head, Dragomir half laughed and half screamed. "... Im... impolite...? YES, very... very fucking... so... ha, ha... impolite... you motherfucking... you pretended..."

"I met her once, you know. The real Eve." Iko shuddered. "A bit of a little creep. She spat on my face. That was impolite. Surely The Teach... no, sorry, The Baron... could have included some manners when he tinkered with her code. Although, judging by your attitude, she may have gotten her anger issues from her father."

Dragomir stalked around the dais, so low that his knuckles nearly brushed the ground. He stopped several times to tromp his feet before speaking again. "D... don't. Don't talk about her. Don't you fucking talk about her."

"As you wish." Iko shrugged. "But if you want to hear what I have to say, she'll come up eventually. Eve is an integral part of your story. You don't have a story without Eve."

At first, Dragomir believed Iko to be commenting on fatherly love. He understood it well enough, too, and even agreed. Eve was his pride and joy. He loved his daughter with all his heart. Even though they'd been separated for most of her life, Dragomir was nothing without his little girl. Yet the shiver that crawled up Dragomir's spine hinted at a deeper, more sinister meaning, and he knew Iko didn't give a shit about paternal relationships.

Huddling into a half-crouch, ready to spring at Iko's back, Dragomir asked what he didn't want to ask. "Explain. Tell me. I w... I want to know. What am I?"

Dragomir couldn't see Iko's face, but he heard the sharp whistle of the old man's indrawn breath. He took small comfort in knowing that Iko, too, was nervous, even if his nerves were nothing compared to Dragomir's.

"You're a hammer that learned how to nail on its own," Iko said. "You're a tool. A thing. You, Farsighted, are the most unfortunate creature on this planet."

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