Monday, September 29, 2014

Day Seven-Sixty-Two: The world's biggest bastards

The rats were the first to discover that Pubton was overrun. It was only by grace of their world-spanning connections that they saved Dragomir and his band from a most disadvantageous situation. Landing several kilometres away, they sent Logan out to scout the situation personally. The news he brought back…

“That’s a goblin town,” he confirmed, grimacing as he spoke to Dragomir. “Through and through.”

Dragomir saw as much for himself almost an hour later. Once a small, two-dozen-building-strong town surrounded by a badly-beaten stone wall, Pubton had blossomed into an impressive city. Spanning several square kilometres, its pointed rooftops cut ominously into the sky, their curving, spiky tips rising well over the massive, reinforced defensive wall surrounding the whole of Pubton. Dominating them all, however, was an enormous tower, constructed upon the bones of Pubton’s Weekendist monastery. Dragomir recognized it at once.

“Fuck me,” he muttered, glaring over the wall. “That’s… that’s Gok’s tower. Innit? Libby?”

Crouched at Dragomir’s side, thigh-high in mud, Libby nodded. “Yeah. For certain. Can even see his shitty glass apartment on top. What the hell happened here?”

Dragomir, Libby, Logan, and Jeffrey were all crouched in a small, wooded swamp a good distance from Pubton, using the smell to hide their presence from the ever-attentive goblins. Tiny but highly visible they patrolled the walls of Pubton constantly, moving back and forth with small spears against their shoulders. Dragomir suspected that they would immediately resort to using the dozens of cannons also lining the walls if trouble brewed.

Dragomir’s pack began to jostle. Grimacing, he pulled it from his back and dropped it on the ground, releasing its two occupants: a diary and a rat. The rat scampered up to a log, peered towards Pubton for a moment, went stiff, then turned to the diary. It swung open, grinning like an idiot, and words appeared on the page.

“Goblinoster has fallen to the Non,” the rat proclaimed. “The siege lasted for almost a week. Kierkegaard had to step in personally to break the goblins, and by the time the Non surged past the walls most of the populace had fled.”

“Why didn’t you warn us before?” Dragomir growled. “You must’ve known about this.”

The rat paused at this comment, seeming to consider it, then shook its head. The gesture seemed almost curt. “We cannot track everything that happens in this world, Dragomir. We do the best we can.”

Dragomir somehow doubted that - What’s the point of a fuckin’ worldwide network if it doesn’t keep you up-to-date? - but he dismissed his anger. “Whatever. So, what? Gok brought his people here? Pagan did that, too, I guess, but… this doesn’t look the same.”

“The goblins are in charge,” the rat confirmed. “Gok led his subjects to Pubton seeking shelter. Once the doors were open, his soldiers overran Pubton’s defences and enslaved the population. He has proclaimed himself king, and vows to strike back against the Non.”

“Sounds like him,” Jeffrey muttered. “Always did want more than one city, that bastard. Used to tell me that he’d set up a goblin empire before he died. Treacherous to the end.”

“Don’t talk like you were any better, dad,” Logan snorted.

Jeffrey flushed. “I… I had a sickness of the brain. Or something. Leave me alone.”

Libby craned her neck, scowling as she peered at the walls. “Damn. They did a pretty good job on those defences, I hate to say. Lot better ’n stupid Harold ever managed. Wall’s almost twice as high… looks like it’s covered ’n shit to keep climbers out, too… spikes, arrow slits, couple of oil cauldrons on top… gettin’ in there will be hell.”

“Not giving up already, are ya, Libby?” Logan elbowed her.

“Fuck no!” She elbowed him back, much harder. “You seen what they did to my town?! That goblin shit is ugly! Probably fucked up my house, too! I’m gonna punch that ugly-ass ‘king’ right in the balls!”

Listening to their banter with only half an ear, Dragomir shook his head. If only Grylock was still around. This’d probably be a hell of a lot easier. Or… well, I guess it could be harder, if he decided to go back to Gok… moot point now, I suppose. “Logan.”

The younger man looked up, halfway through a joking retort. “Hm?”

“We need to get in there. I want a lay of the land. You up for it?”

“We can provide intelligence,” the rat wrote in Dragomir’s diary.

“I’ll get my own, thanks,” Dragomir huffed. “So? Think you can manage?”

Grin faltering a little, Logan took closer stock of the walls of Pubton. He inspected the rows of spikes, the innumerable arrow slits, the empty-but-ready oil cauldrons, the primed cannons, the not-too-obvious-but-obvious-enough revolving traps built into the superstructure, the patrolling goblin guards. Then, as cocksure as a kid, his grin returned.

“Pfffft.” Logan waved a gloved hand. “Cake walk, boss. I’ll take mine chocolate.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day Seven-Sixty-One: The things I know

When Traveller learned that Nagi had left the party, he was inconsolable. He demanded - quite childishly, everyone vocally noted - that the dragon caravan, passing over a lake at the time, go back and get her. When Dragomir refused, Traveller jumped off of his dragon and into the lake. They were forced to land and pick him up, apparently spurred by the rats controlling their dragons. Dragomir agreed, though reluctantly.

While the crew was busy fishing Traveller out of the lake, Dragomir invited Logan to join him on Goranth. Logan, long waiting for a chance to speak to the older man, agreed, and he was lingering nearby when Antonio hefted Traveller out of the water and brought him over to Dragomir.

Arms crossed, Dragomir scowled at the shaggy, soggy mess of a man. “You’re ridiculous. Stop wastin’ our damned time.”

Traveller shook his head so hard that the flying lake water drenched most everyone nearby. “I wanted a swim! I think! Where’d that pool come from? One minute, I was dreaming about cows pooping sheep, and the next - “

“Fuck’s sake.” Dragomir smoothed his cheeks. “You don’t remember, do you? About Nagi?”

“Nagi?” Traveller beamed, showing his surprisingly white teeth. Logan couldn’t remember ever seeing Traveller brush them. “Who’s that?”

Despite the situation, Dragomir seemed rather satisfied by that answer. He waved Traveller and Antonio back to the their dragon, then ushered Logan onto Goranth. He asked Libby and Fynn to move to one of the other dragons, and Libby, squinting angrily, did as she was told. Logan suspected Dragomir would somehow pay for that later.

“Yep, I’m in for it,” Dragomir seemed to agree. “C’mon, hop on. I have some questions for ya.”

Goranth ascended with the other dragons, and soon they were winging away from the lake, over a vast range of mountains. Logan recognized them from his own travels. Already halfway to Pubton, assuming Logan’s father had pinpointed Pubton’s location correctly on a map. Logan marvelled at the deceptive speed of the dragons, crossing an entire continent in less than a week, and he wondered if the rats had anything to do with their staying power. They seemed to possess limitless endurance.

Once the dragons were back in a steady flight, Dragomir settled down in front of Logan, cross legged. He reached for the diary, and it hopped happily into his hands, though there was a petulant frown on its cover.

“It’s mad that I won’t write in it anymore,” Dragomir explained. “I… can’t. It’s just too weird, y’know? How do you write in a living thing? Too… just too weird.”

Logan nodded. “Yeah. I can understand that. So, uh, Dragomir, I wanted - “

“But I can read it, now,” Dragomir continued, cutting Logan off. He smiled, apologetic. “I… I can read all of it. I noticed when I was looking through it yesterday. Do you remember the blank pages? The ones where you couldn’t write?”

Logan did. He’d always found that to be one of the diary’s more peculiar attributes. In retrospect, of course, not being able to apply ink to paper wasn’t nearly as strange as, say, a book that can walk, communicate, and summon animals. Logan wondered, and would always continue to wonder, how he’d never noticed the diary’s cheery expression… or, more accurately, why he’d simply ignored that it was there.

“Well, they’ve been filled in.” Dragomir paused, flipping through the book. Its tail writhed in pleasure. “I’ve missed out… on… a lot of entries. A lot. Like, I can’t even believe how much was in here that I didn’t know.”

“Huh.” Logan held out a hand. “Can I have a look?”

Lifting the diary, Dragomir began to hand it over… then, abruptly, his expression changed. It became suspicious and ugly for a brief second, then settled back into forced cheer. “Uh… no. Not right now. Maybe some other time. Take my word for it, okay?”

Logan shrugged. I’ll steal it when he’s asleep, or something. Not like it’d be the first time I’ve done that.

“I learned some things,” Dragomir continued. He closed the diary and set it down, watching as it bounded around, treating Goranth’s hide like a trampoline. “Some stuff I suspected. Some stuff I feared. Some stuff… well, blindsided me. Completely. Dunno how else to put it.”


Dragomir took a breath. “Like the diary’s own little adventures. Apparently it came lookin’ for me in Goblinoster. Like… hells, what else… oh, like the rats, who talked about me bein’ important to them way before I really found out. Like the diary figuring out that the Non had infiltrated Pubton. Like…”

Dragomir’s face twisted. It seemed frank, and honest, and pained… but in a distant sort of way. As though he felt like he should feel something, but some fundamental part of him was getting in the way. Logan likened the expression to irritation after a bit of analysis, and he wasn’t sure if he liked that or not, given what came next.

“Like the fact that my son is dead,” Dragomir finished, eyes settling on Logan’s.

Logan immediately looked away, and he knew that was a mistake. It was a classic admission of guilt. He’d learned it while trying to con a merchant out of an expensive relic for far less than its actual worth. “I… but… he’s over there…?”

Not Fynn,” Dragomir growled, though under the circumstances he didn’t sound as angry as Logan would’ve imagined. “Don’t play stupid. You know what I mean.”

Logan took almost a full minute to meet Dragomir’s eye. He felt like a little boy again, though in this case, he was a little boy who actually demurred to his parents. “Grylock told me he took those pages out.”

“Yeah. Said so in there, too. C’mere, squirt.” Motioning the diary over, Dragomir popped it open and flipped through several dozen pages. “Uhhh… yeah. Here it is. ‘I have ripped these pages from Dragomir’s diary.’ Here they are, though, plain as day. Diary must’ve… regrown them, or something. Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing it’s done. Oh, and hey, look at this line. ‘We made a promise, we four. Very much out of guilt.’ That’s interesting.”

Logan cringed. He decided to give up on demanding they look for his mother, at least for now. He’d lost any leverage he might have possessed with this revelation. “Uhhhhh…”

Dragomir set the diary down and shooed it away again. “Yeah. So he’s dead. Cut in half, in fact, by Plato. Him ’n his fucking energy scythe… thing. Brings one child into the world with it, takes the other one out. I really need to have a chat with that goddamned duck.”

“Yeah. Uh. Yeah.” Logan began to stammer. “I… look, Dragomir, I was just - “

“Save it.” Dragomir’s tone shifted to strong, forceful, and… commanding. That, more than anything else, surprised Logan. “I don’t care what happened to Grayson. Not really. Know why? Because he killed my fucking brother. Found that out, too. Fucked with Robert’s head and killed him. Tripped some important wires in his fucking brain. So I’m glad the little bastard is dead, even if he’s… I dunno… wrapped up in Philip, now. Or whatever. I don’t have a clue what’s happening there, I just hope Grayson suffers through it.”

My gods, he’s so venomous, Logan thought, mouth falling open. Who is this guy?

Dragomir’s fingers flexed, clenching and curling into claws. His face darkened. “Rob… he looked after that kid a few times, you know? Always told me Grayson was ‘such a good boy’, even if he was… ugly. Like his dad. I mean, fuck, Grayson isn’t even… isn’t… bah!”

Turning abruptly, Dragomir spat over the side of the dragon. His spit flew off into the wind.

“Anyway. I’ll get to my point.” Dragomir wiped his face, seeming to put a mask over his anger. In a moment he was all business again. “I’m not mad you didn’t tell me. Disappointed, maybe, but not mad. No more secrets, though, okay? I need you to be honest with me from now on, ‘cause you’re gonna be important.”

“How… so?” Logan kept his voice low and tentative. He felt like a caged animal that was about to be offered freedom - but a false, potentially dangerous freedom, one that he didn’t trust.

“I need you to be my ears.” Dragomir cleared his throat. “The rats have agreed to pass intel along for the fight against the Non. Thing is, I don’t know if I can believe everything they have to say. They’re… uh… fuckers. I guess that’s the best word for them. Almost feels like they’re as much our enemies as the Non. I don’t wanna be blindsided, so I’m gonna need you to do some spying for me. Maybe even head up some kinda spy network. Think you can do that?”

Still hesitant, Logan nodded slowly. “Uh… I guess so…”

“You’ve always been good at ferreting out secrets. You seemed the natural choice.” Dragomir smiled. “I know this is all confusing. I get it. We’re headed into dangerous territory. Who knows if we’ll come back out again. I need all of you to help me out in this. Can you help me, Logan?”

Dragomir held out his hand. Logan shook it. Dragomir’s skin felt smooth, and oddly rubbery. Logan pulled away as quickly as he could, not liking the sensation at all.

They discussed the details. Eventually, Logan returned to his own dragon, hopping from one wing to another as the soaring reptiles flew parallel. Settling back into his seat, ignoring his father’s quizzical look, Logan stared down at the countryside. He didn’t want to see the man he’d regarded as a role model for almost three years anymore, riding alone on a dragon like some lonely king. A man who had, in the span of a single conversation with some old bastard, changed so much.

Still three hours distant, the goblin guards of Pubton watched, waited, and wished for rain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Sixty: Nagi has left the party

“Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Logan asked, scratching one arm self-consciously. “We could use a good thief, y’know.”

Nagi laughed away the suggestion. “Are you kiddin’ me? That’s nuts. I’m not goin’ into a war zone. I’m too fond of my skin. This’s all too big for me anyway.”

Logan shook his head. She’d never voiced as much, but Nagi had hinted, broadly hinted, that she would not be leaving the Imperium any time soon. She’d long complained that the Indy Plains were devoid of opportunities for thieves like her, too full of petty kings with a fantastic dislike for brigands such as herself. Nevertheless…

“Ve vill mizz you,” Antonio said, lifting a flagon of weak mead to Nagi’s health. He was, as far as anyone could tell, drinking away the pain of taking a spear to the side in the battle for Brickrite, and doing an admirable job of remaining both sober and lucid. “Ve have travelled var togezer. You made a fine ztable girl for uz gypziez.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Nagi shuddered. Slithering into an upright position, she raised a pack - laden with ‘liberated’ treasure from one of Brickrite’s vaults - onto her shoulder. She held out a hand to Logan. “‘least I’m not bugging out on you in a bind this time, right? Give me some points for that.”

Frowning, Logan refused to accept her handshake. Instead, he rose to his feet and wrapped Nagi in a hug. His bristly stubble stung her neck, but Nagi allowed it all the same, returning the gesture somewhat weakly.

“Gonna miss ya, Ms. N,” Logan muttered.

“Sorry, Mr. L, but you gotta stop playin’ the thief,” she replied. “Go be a shitty prince again. Con people on a larger scale. Gotta think big in this business.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He kissed her on the cheek. “You’re such a cool player, Nagi. Take care of yourself.”

A few moments later Antonio joined them, his big arms enfolding them both. He laughed, burped, and laughed again. His presence made the already awkward moment so much more awkward. “Yez, care. Take care. And do not tell my brozer, ya? Hiz vixation vith you iz unhealzy vor everyvun. Bezt you vlee hiz embracez.”

Sliding away from the hugs, Nagi shuddered. “Yeah. Don’t worry about that. Won’t miss him one bit. That reminds me - give Libby a piece of advice, would ya?”

Quashing a sudden impulse to cry, Logan barked a short laugh instead. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“Castrate that horndog,” Nagi offered quietly as she slipped around a corner and out of sight. “Or get Dragomir to do it with his glowy stick of death. Traveller’ll never let up on her otherwise.”

Logan’s laugh became loud and long, and, at least in part, genuine. He joined Antonio in raising a toast to Nagi as she slipped out of Brickrite, gulping down a few mouthfuls of weak mead. The young prince hoped he would see her again some day. He never did.

The dragons arrived a few hours later, four fliers strong. Goranth, the diary’s ensorcelled dragon - and one so happy to remain as such that the rats could not drag it back under their yoke, much though they tried - joined their squadron. Goranth provided a meeting ground for Dragomir, and as the dragons winged the crew of the Dauphine away from Brickrite and into the early morning skies he used Goranth’s back to have one-on-one chats with his crew, learning as much as he could about the current situation. No one was happy to move from one dragon to another while still in flight, but the mighty lizards proved stable platforms.

Watching the ground pass far below, his initial fear of flying long gone, Logan picked at his seat. It was formed of tough scales, weirdly warped into a comfortable chair and poking out the back of a mauve dragon. The lizard’s massive fin, something some dragons had and some dragons didn’t, separated its passengers into two rows. Logan sat beside his father, who was chatting with Antonio about boxing techniques.

“Your ztance iz acceptable,” the orc explained, forming his hands into fists, “but you need to be more flexible. Boxing is lezz about rigidity zen it lookz, ya? Root yourzelf when nezezzary, zen move like ze vind when ze time comez to ztrike.”

Jeffrey punched the air a few times. “Uh… okay. I’ll try to keep that in mind. I was wondering, are there ever any kicks…?”

“Not in my boxing!” Antonio let slip a rare show of emotion, this genuine disgust. “Your fiztz are your veapunz! You uze your legz to get zem into place, to drive zem all ze harder into your opponent! Your legz are too valuable az toolz to be uzed az veapunz!”

“Okay, okay…” Jeffrey looked down at his legs rather sheepishly. “I was just wondering. Eesh.”

Logan scowled. For a while it had seemed as though the barriers separating father and son were, ever so slowly, dissolving. Logan had found himself disliking Jeffrey a little less each day. He didn’t profess to love the man, not beyond the obligatory love one has to have for a parent, but Jeffrey’s poor response to Dragomir’s refusal of looking for Daena… it hadn’t sat well with Logan. Nor had leaving the desert without finding a way to bring back his sister, a seeming sacrifice to Dragomir’s quest for… what?

Logan’s eyes lifted, away from the land, to look at Dragomir’s ride. Goranth’s back was formed into a wide, shallow pit, and Dragomir had stolen several pillows from Brickrite to sit on. Libby and Fynn were riding near the front of Goranth, between raised shoulder blades, their backs to Dragomir, talking to one another. Though he’d been having meetings with the crew of the Dauphine during most of the trip, Dragomir was currently alone, reading his diary. He looked absorbed; the diary, or what little Logan could see of its face, appeared utterly elated.

As if a diary that walks wasn’t weird enough. Logan propped his chin on his fist, studying Dragomir. Everything about the guy is so damned odd. Guess that’s why I liked ‘im in the first place. He wasn’t boring, not like everyone else in that stupid castle. He treated me like a person. Now, though… I wonder… wonder if his oddness is… too odd.

Logan looked to Fynn. Tall, imposing, innocent Fynn, apparently somehow infused with the same colour as the Non. Logan thought of Eve, one of the greatest walking weapons in the entire world. Logan thought of Grayson, and of the stories he’d been told about Dragomir’s horrid son. A son Logan had watched die, sliced in half by an all-Non platypus.

And now, he has a diary that can control animals. On its own. Logan’s eye twitched. What the hell is with this guy? And… maybe more importantly…

Logan inspected Dragomir. The older man was sitting cross-legged, diary raised to his face. His expression betrayed absolutely nothing of his emotions beyond utter absorption.

… why does it suddenly seem to matter so much, when I never cared before?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Nine: Time for some leadin'

The dust of combat settled, and, after an hour of reckless mayhem, it was all over.

The battle for Brickrite ended in an uneasy, abrupt truce. The rats mentally ordered their troops to stand down, and Dragomir, accompanied by his (very confused) wife, spread the same message on foot to the former crew of the Dauphine. As the diary was causing the most trouble through its army of rowdy animals, this message was successful in very short order. The animals, save the diary’s ensorcelled draconic transport, quietly wandered out of Brickrite and returned to their lives in the surrounding wilderness.

Dragomir and his friends reunited on the roof of Brickrite. Jeffrey and Logan, recently engaged in sabotage of enemy arms, inspected each other for wounds. Traveller, as distractable as ever, turned his amorous advances to Nagi, who had spent most of the battle in hiding. She did not appreciate his leering. Fynn sat aside from the rest, pretending to nurse a minor bruise to his shoulder, though in reality wondering if he would ever be able to use his magic again. Libby consoled him, patting her huge son on the knee, but her attention was… elsewhere.

Dragomir stood amid them all, waiting for his crew to gather. He noted each of them as they approached, offering hugs and handshakes but never opening himself. Each person seemed enthusiastic to see him at first - he’d been separated from everyone immediately after the dragons captured the group - but their good cheer died a little when they saw the expression on his face. It was -








- guarded, something so unfamiliar for their leader, and it took everyone by surprise. For the first time, Dragomir seemed less like a leader and more like a boss

Even the diary noticed. It didn’t care. As soon as it saw Dragomir it tottered over and rubbed itself against his leg. He picked it up, forcing a little smile and shaking his head. It felt safe in his arms, even if they were a little cooler than usual. It could handle cooler.

Once everyone was settled on the ramparts of Brickrite’s eastern wall, either watching the tower for signs of aggression or staring across the plains of Outer Rodentia, Dragomir began.

“Hi, everyone.” He set the diary on the ground, nudging it to one side with his boot. It skittered away and joined LIbby; she cringed as it nuzzled her leg. “First of all, thanks for breakin’ me out. Sort of. That’s much obliged. I guess our teamwork hasn’t suffered from separation.”

A few rowdy voices rose in agreement. Morris, overly-enthusiastic after his release, fired off one of the fortress’s cannons, and everyone watched it smash through a tree in the distance. He pumped the air with one fist, shouting ‘TEAMWORK! TEAMWORK!’

“Settle down,” Dragomir said, rolling his eyes. “We have a lot to get caught up on, there’s no doubt about that, and we’ll all have time to talk. I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks - I think, anyway - so while we’re headed back home, I want to sit down with each of you and have a chat. Ten, fifteen minutes, no more than that. I need some intel before I make any decisions, ’n you folks are the best source I’ve got. The most reliable, anyway.”

More cheers, though these were slightly subdued, and a little confused. Fynn, his face unusually tense, voiced one of their questions. “Dad, we… there’s not much point going home, the Dauphine is all wrecked.”

Dragomir’s curt smile chilled his son. “Yeah, that’s right. You don’t know what home is, do you, Fynn? You were born on the road. I meant Pubton. We’re done out here. We need to head back east. We’ve got a war waiting for us.”

Most everyone in the crowd wanted, at that point, to ask the obvious question. Not a soul, not even Libby, dared to speak up. They all figured that Dragomir would open himself in due time, that he might still be processing whatever he’d learned from his encounter with Iko. It was a fair assumption - Dragomir was processing what he’d learned, incorporating that horrid knowledge into his sense of self - but only two of them were anywhere near grasping the truth, and a third was lagging somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Logan spoke up, raising a hand. “What about the, uh, rats? They just gonna let us go? We kinda trashed their fort.”

“Yes, they’re letting us go,” Dragomir said, nodding. “We have a deal. They need our help fighting the Non in the east. I don’t know many details, but it sounds like ‘ol Pubton is holding up pretty well out there. They wanna take advantage of that, maybe create a second front of resistance against the Non. I’m going to learn as much as I can on the way back, ‘cause they’re planning on chaperoning us.”

The word ‘chaperone’ dangled dangerously in the air. Considering how long it had taken to move from Pubton to the far west of the Imperium in the first place, most everyone was curious how the rats planned on getting the group back to Pubton any time soon. But one of their count - two, really, but one spoke up - had something else in mind.

“What about my wife?” asked Jeffrey, hands shaking slightly. “She’s… she’s out here, somewhere. Can you ask the rats…?”

Dragomir shook his head a little too quickly. “Sorry, Jeffrey, but we don’t have time to look for her right now. Daena could be anywhere. I’m not caught up on the details of her, uh, flight, but it sounds like she could be sprintin’ across the southern ocean, for all we know. I’ll get the rats to keep an eye out for her, though.”

Blinking, Jeffrey crooked an eyebrow. “‘Keep an eye out for her?’ Dragomir, that’s not good enough.”

“It’ll have to be.” Dragomir shrugged. “Daena can take care of herself. We all know that. There’s an entire town of people waitin’ for news from us; I have to worry about them, first. When we have a chance, we’ll find her.”

Jeffrey bit his lip, but he sat back down, staring at his feet. Logan, sitting nearby, furrowed his brow so dangerously that he looked ready to attack someone. He kept his mouth shut, however, and stewed over his frustration - a mother missing, a sister dead and waiting to be brought back - in silence. 

“The rats’re gonna give us supplies and whistle up a ride,” Dragomir concluded. “Your stuff is downstairs, in their storerooms. Go grab what you can, then rest up. We’ve got a long flight ahead. I don’t expect it’ll be too pleasant.”

Cracking his knuckles, nodding to his wife, Dragomir walked briskly away. Libby watched him go, mouth slightly agape, not sure what to think. He’d barely said a word to her since she’d found him in the command tower of Brickrite, barely offered any affection or explanation, and even a mild thrashing to get him in a good mood hadn’t goaded Dragomir out of his… his… phase. Libby couldn’t describe it to herself as anything else.

Staring at her husband’s back as he rounded a corner and disappeared down a set of stairs, his diary following close behind on stubby, frantic legs, Libby hugged her son. He hugged his mother back.

It’s like he stayed in the desert, she thought. I don’t know who this guy is.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Eight: For your own good

“Save me,” Dragomir said, not a question. “Save me. From what, eh? Save me from what?”

The voice seemed almost to shrug. “The obvious answer is the Non. They will sweep over this world and obliterate all that is good and decent. Imbalance is inevitable so long as they exist.”

“Pfffft!” Dragomir stuck a middle finger up at the white void, which, he realized, was no longer bothering his eyes. Nevertheless, his headache lingered. “I might not be all fancy book learned ’n shit, but I know a generalization when I hear one, bud. I’m not so stupid as I used to be. Not every Non is a crazy maniac.”

The backdrop shifted. Dragomir immediately recognized the fall of his hometown, Villeinville, as a horde of cloud-white Non figures enveloped the settlement’s flimsy palisades. 

“Yeah, well…” Dragomir shoved his finger up again and turned away, not wanting to watch his old home be destroyed a second time.

“It does not matter whether they are all monsters or not,” the voice continued. “They are currently commanded by Kierkegaard the Shunt. He has been labelled an extreme threat, one who leads through fear. He has more than enough power to keep the Non on the warpath. We must destroy him, and the potential for more monsters like him.”

“Monsters like me,” Dragomir murmured.

“Biologically speaking, yes,” the voice agreed. A disturbing satisfaction seemed to carry through Grayson’s side of the voice. “Monsters like you. Yet there is a solution for that, too, which brings us back to the original point: we can save you. Though you must help us.”

Tired of talking, Dragomir hugged his legs and waited for the voice to continue. He rocked in place, noticing that his pliable Non skin was furrowing up into a small heap against his butt. He wondered if warm candy toffee ever felt quite so dismal, then further wondered why he’d wondered such a weird thing.

“You complained of a headache earlier,” the voice began. “Does it yet linger?”

“It yet does,” Dragomir grunted. “Thanks so much for askin’.”

“You may believe that is our work, but it is not.” The voice paused. “You have had such headaches before, correct?”

Dragomir rolled his eyes, concocting a sarcastic response, but he stopped himself. Thinking back, he realized that he had been suffering more frequent - and sharper - headaches in the last few months. He realized, too, that the headaches were typically at their worst whenever -

“They are the fault of the Catastrophe,” the voice cut in. “Your body, strange though it may be, is not suited to using a glitch. No creature, living or dead, can tolerate the destructive effects of something like the Catastrophe forever. Even we can only hope to temporarily contain and direct its power. If you continue to use the Catastrophe it will degrade your code, eventually resulting in your destruction. Even if you never use the Catastrophe again, it will, one day, kill you - and your code will be too corrupted for you to ever return. A save point will not, eheh, save you.”

Manipulative though the voice might be, Dragomir realized that it was, probably, telling the truth. He’d suspected, even in the crimson haze that always came with using the Catastrophe, that doing so was somehow not good for his body. The voice’s cryptic explanations didn’t help his comprehension of the phenomenon at all, but he understood ‘kill you’ just fine.

“Gotcha.” He shrugged, a little helplessly. “So, what? You gonna suck it outta me, or something? Not sure how comfortable I am with rats, or regulators, or whatever the fuck you things are, havin’ it. You lot are bastards. I can tell a bastard when I see one, and I’ve seen plenty of you up ’til now. I’m practiced.”

“Perhaps,” the voice conceded. “But you will give us the Catastrophe, because you do not wish to die. Your dedication to life is admirable, even if you think you want to die. All living things wish to continue living.”

More generalizations, Dragomir thought. He shrugged again.

“There is a greater incentive, however.” The voice became smug. “You are part Non. To us, that means you are fully Non. We do not allow Non to live, and so, by our dictates, you must be killed with the rest of your kin.”

“Great.” Though he tried to sound sarcastic, Dragomir’s mouth instantly dried.

“We can change that.” For the first time, the voice full-on chortled. Its ill-humour made Dragomir shudder, though the word ‘change’ also sent a spark of excitement up his body. “We can remove the Non elements in your body and make you into a normal human when we pull the Catastrophe from your code. Every glitchy element of your existence will be purged, and you will, for all intents and purposes, be just another man.

Dragomir bit his rubbery lip, eyes wide. He rocked back and forth all the stronger, skin expanding and shrinking unnaturally. It was an odd, unpleasant sensation, one he knew he’d never get used to. For all his talk of generalizations, of not branding every Non as a monster, he thought of their very nature as monstrous. He did not want to be a monster.

“… can you actually do that?”

Libby would not want him to be a monster. She would reject him, just as she’d rejected Eve. Dragomir felt, down to his core, that this was a fundamental truth of her personality.


She’ll reject me, he thought. She’ll go for him instead. ‘cause… ‘cause he’s…

The voice waited.

Dragomir had no idea whether or not the voice was telling the truth. It could well have been lying, simply to get him to agree to its terms. Lead an army, become a human. Sounds good - if it can be done. Dragomir doubted that the voice could manage any such thing. Yet even a chance so remote, so likely to be a false hope, no hope at all, was better than doing nothing. So, when it came down to it, Dragomir only needed about a minute and a half to think over his position.

Somewhere to his right, as the white background faded, a door opened.

“It’s a deal, then,” Dragomir said. “Keep your mouths shut ’n I’ll do it.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Seven: We want to use you

“Explain,” Dragomir insisted. “Tell me. Why the fuck have you been screwing with my life? I want a straight answer for once.”

The voice, returning to a careful monotone as Grayson and basso alike, didn’t mince words. “You can destroy them. Permanently.”

Dragomir didn’t ask for clarification. His flat black skin provided ample hints. “How?”

Abruptly, the headache pestering Dragomir’s temples grew in intensity. He clutched his ears and doubled over, spitting out frantic curses as the pain doubled and trebled. Soon he was forced to his knees, and a deep, horrifying hatred of his captors stole over him. The air surrounding Dragomir seemed to quaver -

- and, moments later, a vast shaft of glowing green energy flowed out of Dragomir’s clawed hands. He swung it back and forth, trying to shred absolutely nothing and doing quite well at it. The headache doubled in pain, horribly severe and threatening to knock Dragomir out.

“F… fuck you,” Dragomir panted. He passed the Catastrophe to one hand, not sure how he’d managed it. “Fuck you, you little bitches. You’re as bad as the gods-damned Non.

“No, we are not,” the voice replied. “We are balance. We keep this world alive. They are chaos. They would plunge it into a dark age without hesitation. We cannot allow that.”

Dragomir growled out several curse words. Eventually the Catastrophe disappeared, though he felt it pulsing beneath his skin, ready and willing to emerge. The headache returned once it had vanished, a little worse than before but still manageable.

“That, to answer your earlier question, is how you can destroy them.” The voice adopted the flat disinterest of a bored teacher. “Your Catastrophe is what we refer to as a glitch. It is a byproduct of your unnatural creation. It exists only as a random quirk of our universe, one that we would normally have wiped out long ago. We cannot, however, as the Non - and, consequently, you - are not properly integrated into our system. We can only contain the Non using in-universe methods. That is the only reason they still exist.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Dragomir said, rubbing his forehead.

“You do not need to understand.” The voice remained patient, though Dragomir detected a hint of scorn. “Suffice it to say that we cannot create things of pure destruction such as the Catastrophe. We can, however, channel its power - once we analyze it properly. That will take time, time we do not have.”

“’n why’s that, eh?” Dragomir smiled sourly. “The Non knockin’ a bit too roughly on your door?”

“Your scorn notwithstanding, that is correct.” The voice grew harsh. “The regulator collective has been weakened by time, separation, and the strain of keeping the Non locked away for so long. Only recently have our composite parts come together again to face the Non threat, and they are currently insufficient to the task. Our resources are running low. We require more.”

Dragomir crossed his legs. He sensed where this was going. “Resources. You mean me. Not just me, either. You mean Pubton. Hell, ya probably mean everyone I’ve ever met.”

“Yes,” the voice agreed. “You were ever destined to lead an army into battle against the Non. We require you to distract them while we analyze your fully-realized Catastrophe. We had hoped to teach you how to tap into it ourselves, but time and circumstances were not on our side. We are… glad… that you have learned how to use it on your own.”

Dragomir thought back to his time with Iko. He bristled. “Whatever you say. Look, I don’t know what the hell you want to do with the Catastrophe, or whatever you wanna call it. That’s outta my range of expertise. But… me, leading an army? I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can. You have a vast capacity for leadership.”


The white scenery surrounding Dragomir changed, flicking through several scenes of his past. His time in the hole, leading Cedric and Bernard down into the unknown. His resurrection in Goblinoster, and setting out to found a town. His innumerable hours in the fields of Pubton, tilling fields, watering crops, helping people. HIs defence of Pubton against the Non, yelling out frantic, often useless commands to his would-be troops and offering support at every turn. And, last, his decision to embark on a massive journey - and the instant acceptance of the entire town that his weird, perhaps stupid trip across the world was a worthy campaign.

“You see?” The voice sounded smug. “People will follow you. We do not necessarily understand why, nor do we have to understand. You are gifted. You can do this.”

Dragomir seized on a counterargument at once. Lifting one arm, he pinched his skin. It stretched and contorted, pulling unnaturally downward like a thick, muscular elastic band. He managed to stretch his skin nearly a foot before letting it go, whereupon his muscles rebounded, wobbled, and formed back into a featureless black arm. Evidence speaks for itself, he thought.

“No one needs to know,” the voice countered smoothly. “You have maintained your secret, quite unknowingly, for a long time. We had hoped you would never find out. Your Non heritage is not a prerequisite for wielding the Catastrophe, nor will it factor into our analysis of the glitch.”

Dragomir’s scowl deepened. He realized at this point that the voice would have a solid, reasonable argument against anything he could say to try and wriggle out of his supposed responsibility. He knew even something as petulant as ‘I don’t wanna do this shit anymore’ wouldn’t fly, because the voice could simply keep him trapped in this limbo until he agreed to do what it wanted. 

“And besides…”

Dragomir perked an ear.

“You need to do this for us,” the voice explained. “Because if you refuse, we will not be able to save you.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Six: Straight Talk

Before a dragon crashed through a wall, Dragomir woke up with a splitting headache.

He did not, at first, know where he was. The world surrounding him consisted of, well, nothing: a floor, apparently, one he was seated upon, but nothing more than that. A grey abyss stretched in every direction around him, stark and featureless. It could not have been a more boring backdrop. Dragomir felt tired again just looking at the grey.

Gradually, though, the grey lightened, absorbing light from some unknowable force to become a pure, blinding white. At first Dragomir squinted; then he winced; then he shielded his eyes; then, overcome by the brilliance, he curled into a ball. The light overwhelmed him, burning his senses, and he yelled at it to go away, knowing that someone was probably behind it. Controlling it. There was always someone.

“Dragomir,” a voice whispered, half familiar. The voice of his first son, yet more than that. Grayson’s recognizable, petulant tone seemed overlapped with a monotone basso, something stronger - and far older.

“Oh, hells, not you again,” Dragomir groaned. “Kid, you’ve done enough, just fuck off and leave me - “

“We are not Grayson,” the voice whispered. “We are his father.”

Dragomir paused to consider that rather odd statement, odd mainly because it wasn’t odd at all. He got it at once, though he refused to uncurl. “Fuck. You guys. Could you turn it… agh, turn it down a bit…?”

They did. The world dulled to a mere white. It still hurt Dragomir’s eyes when he dared to peek through his fingers, but he could stand the light now. He uncurled and got to his feet, not sure what he was standing on and not particularly caring either.

“Gee, thanks.” Dragomir rubbed his head, scowling. “Can ya do somethin’ ‘bout this headache? Bet you can, considerin’ we’re in my mind and all.”

“How do you know we are in your mind?” Grayson’s half of the voice lifted in vague amusement. “We could be anywhere. Such is our power when we are one.”

“‘cause I’ve done this shit before,” Dragomir replied. “I know what it’s like. Gettin’ mighty tired of it, too. Among other things.”

The amusement grew. “Such as?”

Dragomir didn’t hesitate. “Such as you guys fucking with me. Constantly. I’m not stupid. You’ve been pulling shit since day one, haven’t you? Using me? Ever since I went down in that stupid rat farm, I bet…”

The background changed, though subtly. Now Dragomir was back in the rat farm, a system of tunnels beneath his old home, though this rat farm was slight and vaporous, formed of pale clouds and as fragile as a puff of breath. Taken aback for only a second, Dragomir moved his hand through a nearby fence. He was not surprised to see it explode into a dozen floating motes of white.

“Longer than that,” the voice said. “You have been ours since your birth, just as you were theirs. We have grappled over possession of you since your creation.”

The background shifted again. Now Dragomir was standing above an ethereal forest, his perspective skewed to stare directly at the ground. A pair of bodies, identical save for one missing eye, lay below him. Several rats darted back and forth in the trees over the bodies, silently consulting with one another.

“So you really did know,” Dragomir said, mostly to himself. “All that time, you fucking knew. And you kept your mouths shut.”

“You were not ready,” the voice commented. It sounded almost gleeful. “We did not wish to spoil your potential. The enemy selected you for breeding alone, yet what you can do is far beyond anything their myopic minds could have conceived.”

The white of Dragomir’s surroundings shifted ever so slightly. He didn’t notice it until he looked back to the bodies below, realizing that one of them now bore a faint, green aura. It tinged the body’s entire outline, yet the green seemed most focused, most potent, dancing around the body’s fingers.

Dragomir looked at his own fingers. They were black, sharpened claws. He supposed they had been since the beginning of the conversation.

“Yes,” said the voice. “Your Catastrophe. It is far more powerful than you ever could have imagined.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Five: Stop running off like that, you

Lieutenant Brooks was a mere five days away from retirement when the rats came to Brickrite.

He only remembered their arrival as part of an omnipresent haze, now. The staff officer in charge of overnight watches, Brooks had stood silently on the walls of Brickrite for over thirty years, watching to the north, south, east, and west for foreign threats. Aside from the occasional ballsy (and suicidal) bandit horde, no one ever bothered to disturb the fortress. Though no Rodentia, Brickrite was tough enough to rebuff all but the strongest enemy incursions.

Brooks liked that fact. He was a guard, not a warrior. Not once in his thirty-five years of service with the Imperium army had he marched anywhere. Two years service in an outpost on the eastern border; two years as a guard in Rodentia; half a year as an instructor in a combat school; another half a year as a cleaner, during the Great Janitorial Purge. Then, in recognition of his service to the state, promotion to lieutenant and a cushy job in Brickrite.

Watching the walls. Watching the plains. Watching… not a hell of a lot. Brooks was content with seeing very little. He was too old for shenanigans. Especially too old for dealing with, say, a sloth, the likes of which had decimated Rodentia. Or the great evil in the far east. No, he would sit at his walls, thank you very much.

Then the dragons had come. They’d appeared in the night, just as Brooks was coordinating a shift change with his men. And as they came, despite Brooks’ initial panic - Why are there so many? - a calm had fallen over the old man. He’d decided, seconds before the first set of draconic claws hit the ground, that dragons simply weren’t that bad. Nor, indeed, were dragons covered in rats at all terrible. Why, such a thing seemed downright novel, when you thought about it.

Dragons. Yep. Great folk, dragons.

That opinion changed abruptly, though only for a second, when a dragon reared up over the wall and swallowed Brooks whole. He’d never been a tall man, particularly not at sixty-two, and his roly-poly body fit rather nicely down the dragon’s expansive gullet. It would struggle to digest his breastplate for the next three hours.

Brooks’s soldiers raised their spears, though even with eyes glowing fiercely white they looked nervous. Taking a handful of steps back they encircled Brickrite’s command tower, creating a protective ring around a cadre of archers and crossbowmen. Their arrows plinked uselessly off the dragon’s thick scales, and before any of the soldiers could bring a cannon to bear, the dragon breathed fire. Most of Brooks’s soldiers died; the few who reacted in time disappeared into the base of the tower.

Riding on the dragon’s neck, clinging fiercely to its hair and gritting her teeth, Libby braved a glance at the wall. She’d ducked out of sight when the soldiers began firing their arrows. Sure enough, most of the dragon’s opponents were now smoking corpses. She breathed relief, then asked her other companion - Gods, it’s a book, why am I talking to a book - to get her on the ground. Smiling widely, the diary in Libby’s left hand apparently did just that. The dragon’s long neck descended and allowed her to drop onto the wall, then the beast took flight and moved to another part of the fortress, hiccuping as it went.

Kneeling behind a nearby barrel for cover, Libby set the diary down. “Okay. He’s up there?”

The diary nodded and swung open. “Drags. Up. Smells, I do. Smells like pees.”

“You’ve got a hell of a nose, then.” Libby glanced up the tower’s circular facade. Tall, but not that tall. “Any reason your dragon over there can’t just breathe fire through the entrance ’n smoke out the soldiers inside? It’d make getting your ‘diary army’ inside a bit easier.”

The diary considered this, then swivelled back and forth. Libby assumed that was a ‘no’. “We sets it on fire, we crispies Drags. Is no good. I, diary, know crispies be bad. No want burn his pages.”

“He… he doesn’t have… pages….” Libby winced at the absurdity of the conversation. “Forget it. Point taken. Guess we don’t want Traveller going in, either, then - he’ll probably bring the whole damned thing down on Dragomir’s head on his way up. So how do we get up there without them usin’ Dragomir as a, I dunno, hostage? Gonna send your hordes of bees up, or something?”

The diary grinned at the suggestion, and ‘bzzzzzzzz’ appeared on its page, but it seemed to reject the suggestion. “Is simples. You, Libbers, takes I, diary, and puts me closestness to soldier-guys. Gets me closestness as cans without you, Libbers, dying. I do all rest. Kay? Kay. Hup!”

Before Libby could argue, the book scrambled over and hopped at her arm. She picked it up, reflexively. “The hell? That’s your plan? All you’ll do is confuse ‘em! At best you’ll give ‘em a damned paper cut!”

The diary grinned up at Libby, but it would not elaborate. Its pencil-thin eyebrows wiggled as though it knew something she did not, which, Libby hoped, it did.

“Fuck me.” Libby shook her head, rising carefully into a crouch. She began creeping towards the tower’s half-charred entrance, trying to listen for the clink of jittering armour and readied weapons from within. It was difficult, given the horrible din of noises from other parts of Brickrite. “Where? By the door?”

The diary vibrated a negative, cover jittering. It pointed two small claws towards an arrow slit in the side of the tower, just over six feet off the ground. A little relieved by the idea, Libby changed her route, edged through the field of charred bodies and tiny fires in front of the tower, and dipped beneath the arrow slit. She had to rise onto the tips of her toes to get the diary in place, and it only managed the climb thanks to its graspig feet.

“Dunno what good this’ll do,” she grunted, mostly to herself. Once the diary was out of her hands Libby ran back to her hiding place, adjusting the barrel to better mask her presence.

For almost five minutes, nothing happened. Libby waited, tense, arms and legs sore, still a little flushed from her bizarre, too-nude encounter with Traveller, wondering if she’d ever see the diary again. The sounds of frenzied combat in other parts of the fortress contrasted too keenly with the absence of noise from the command tower.

As Libby was wondering if she should sneak off and find someone to help her lead an assault, though, one of the guards wandered out of the tower’s entrance. His eyes blazed white under his helmet, but the look of vapid confusion on his face - particularly when he collapsed - hinted at some severe crossed signals. It looked to Libby as though his brain had simply decided to give up.

He wasn’t alone. Another soldier, two more, five, seven, twelve soldiers in all emerged from the tower. Each collapsed at roughly the same point, forming a pile of arms, armour, and drooling, useless men. They were joined, perhaps two minutes later, by a line of rats that didn’t look any better off. The rats didn’t collapse, but their unsteady legs as they formed a wobbling pack suggested extreme fatigue.

The diary came last. It, too, looked quite strained, its simple face narrowed in comedic concentration. It didn’t say anything to Libby, apparently preoccupied, though the tiny tip of its spine towards the tower said it all. Confused but thankful, Libby nodded and ran past.

Dragomir, she thought, staring past a room full of scrolls, books, reports, and maps to the stairs at the far end. I’m so sick of chasin’ you down. This is the last time you get outta my fuckin’ sight.

She ran -

- and spiralled upward -

- along stairs she counted -

- to the top.

At the top, set into a simple stone wall and flanked by blue banners, was a door. Libby threw open the door at once, not pausing to catch her breath.

Dragomir was standing inside, eyes focused on a cluster of intermingled rats. The creatures were heaped into a small, writhing mountain, tails twitching gruesomely. A white something floated over the rats, something Libby could not hope to identify or explain, though she thought, she strong suspected, that the something might be a ghost.

“It’s a deal, then,” Dragomir said. “Keep your mouths shut ’n I’ll do it.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Four: This is what happens when you don't pay attention

“What in the ever-loving fuck is this?

Traveller shrugged. His smile stretched from one fuzzy cheek to the other. “It’s pretty funny. That’s what I think it is, Libby.”

Libby goggled. She couldn’t take her eyes off of the spectacle in front of her. Two foxes, four bear cubs, a bullfrog, seven sparrows, and a cantankerous badger had somehow managed to down a fully armed-and-armoured Imperium soldier. He was swatting ineffectually at the sparrows as they pecked at his helmet, and when one of the bear cubs managed to knock his crotch plate aside and paw at his privates, the guard let out a yelp so loud Libby couldn’t help but laugh.

He wasn’t alone, either. The second floor of the stronghold was an ungodly mess. Finding very little of interest on the first floor besides a jail full of empty cells, Libby and Traveller had charged upstairs and discovered an animal-on-soldier fracas of epic proportions. It seemed as though nature, suddenly pissed at the Imperium, had decided to surge out of the wilderness and attack the first stronghold it had come across. It just so happened that the stronghold was the one where she was being held captive.

I run into the weirdest shit, married to that man, Libby thought.

Edging past a guard who was struggling to fend off a swarm of angry bees, Libby ran from one end of the corridor to the other. Traveller loped after her, casually batting one of the soldiers out a window when the man stepped in his way. They rounded the corner, into a commons room - 

- and the first face Libby saw was that of her son.

“MOM!” Fynn cried, a happy smile lighting his face. He was crouched in a corner of the room with Logan, Nagi, and Jeffrey, keeping well away from a battle between at least a dozen raccoons, a small black bear, and two unarmed soldiers. Spotting her, Fynn rose to his feet and waved.

“Fuck me but he’s gotten tall,” Libby muttered, grinning. She waved back. “HANG ON, KID! I’M COMIN’!”

“We’re,” Traveller added. “Two of us.”

“Shut up,” Libby retorted. “C’mon. Don’t get in the way.”

Staying on the edge of the room, Libby sprinted towards her friends. She dropped to a knee when a dozy-looking dragon poked its head through one of the windows, crushing some of the masonry, but got back up again when the dragon grabbed one of the soldiers and pulled it out the window. The remaining soldier didn’t stand a chance, and was soon enveloped in a heap of fur and claws.

“Where ya been?” Logan raised an eyebrow as she and Traveller sidled up. “Thought you’d slept in.”

Libby smacked him lightly on the cheek, then wrapped her arms fiercely around Fynn. “Smartass. The hell is going on?”

“Some kinda apocalypse, I think,” Nagi said. “Nature seems pissed.”

“We figure it has something to do with that.” Raising a hand, Jeffrey pointed at the black bear, which was standing to the side of the pile of raccoons.

Libby followed his finger, thinking at first that the black bear was, for whatever reason, the ringleader. It seemed silly, considering a dragon was in on the action. But then she looked a little more closely, and, noticing a wobbly green rectangle on the bear’s back, she inhaled. “Is… is that his…?”

“Yep.” Logan shook his head. “Life gets a little weirder every day.”

The diary was dancing on the bear’s back, bopping from one set of feet to the other, its thin tail curling and straightening. A huge, gay smile radiated satisfaction on its cover, and a pair of beady black eyes greeted her from across the room. It raised one of its tiny legs and waved happily at Libby, then went back to egging on its raccoon troops as they tore the armour from their captive’s helpless body.

Libby bit her lip so hard it bled. “Um. So. Um… uhhhhh…”

Jeffrey worked his jaw. “Yeeeeeeeah…”

Nagi stared at the floor. “You people are straaaaange…”

Logan watched the diary celebrate. “I used to write in that thing…”

Fynn scratched his head. “Did it always have a face…?”

Traveller danced. “I like its jig! Yeeeee!”

Perhaps sensing their stares, bear and diary alike turned and padded towards the group. Logan raised a sword in warning, but Libby, feeling oddly nostalgic, urged him to put it down. Swallowing, she stood and approached the bear, more intimidated by its cheery passenger than by claws and teeth.

The diary winked, then swung open. Words appeared on a blank page. “Libbers! Hiya! I, diary, am come! Rescue yooooou! Heeeee! So awesomesauce!”

Libby’s jaw dropped a few inches. It can speak? Holy fuck. I must have smoked some heavy shit while I was possessed. “Uh… uh…”

“Be no afraids of teh bare, Libbers.” The diary bounced, and its tail curled to poke at the bear’s fur. The big creature snorted, but otherwise didn’t seem to care. “See? Sooooo awesooooomesaaaaaauceeeeee!”

Libby twitched. She had to twitch. There was no reaction more appropriate to the situation. It somehow made her feel better to look a little crazy for a moment. “Wh… wh… okay. Whatever. Who cares. You’re a book that talks. I can work with that. Do, uh, um, do you know where… your… master… is…?”

The diary seemed to huff at that, then it spun in a circle on one tiny foot. “I’s own master. No more the Iko, because the Iko is a booger. Diary is FREEEEEEEEE! WEEEEEEE!” 

Sighing and slapping her cheeks, Libby tried again. “Okay. Okay. Um. Do you know where Dragomir is? Do you know his name?”

The diary closed for two seconds, showing an ecstatic grin. Then it flipped open again. “DRAGS?! I KNOW DRAGS TOWER DRAGS TOWER! I DIARY WILL BEAT HIM OUT OF TOWER DRAGS TOWER DRAGS! ALMIGHTY DIARY ARMYYYYYYYY!”

Monday, September 8, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Three: In summary

As Plato cried, as Fynn revealed his true nature, as Traveller attempted to hug Libby, and as Dragomir began to strike a deal with the regulators, a dragon crashed through a wall.

The diary did not have a particular plan in mind beyond ‘Find Dragomir’. It was not much for cerebral considerations above and beyond the most simple of concepts, and in this it matched its owner’s original temperament rather nicely. Dragomir may have changed, but his early optimism and devil-may-care approach to life lived on in his diary. So, when it spotted the regulator stronghold and sensed Dragomir inside, its only order of instruction to Goranth was CHAAAAAAAAAARGE. And Goranth did as he was told.

The dragon struck the west wing of the Imperium stronghold of Brickrite at approximately 1 am in the morning. The attendant regulators had sensed its presence fifteen minutes earlier and frantically sent out a summons for reinforcements, but the rest of Barrel’s possessed aerie was too far away to reach Brickrite in time to stop Goranth’s near-suicidal charge. Knocked out cold by the impact, the dragon’s head flopped through the hole it had made, its body drooped from the second floor of the stronghold, and its tongue made a nice ramp for the diary to descend to the floor. 

Goranth’s body also made a handy ladder for the hundreds of raccoons, foxes, weasels, opossums, and other assorted animals the diary had summoned along the way. They surged into the stronghold in the diary’s wake, forming a protective wall around the mouldy book that no Imperium guard could hope to penetrate. Eventually, shaking away a massive headache, Goranth joined their ranks, blowing fire through arrow slits and hurling unlucky soldiers from the ramparts with gusts of wind from his wings.

When the diary smashed through the wall, Fynn and Logan - still shocked by the revelation of Fynn’s apparent Non heritage - quickly took advantage of the clamour on the upper floor. Unwilling to cast any more magic, Fynn set about bending back iron bars and releasing the sleepy crew of the Dauphine with his hands. Logan, not nearly so strong but significantly quicker, slipped into an adjacent storage room, took out a pair of bewildered guards whose eyes were plastered to the shaking ceiling, and retrieved his gear. Soon the crew was rearmed and ready to go, their fatigue and stiff bones forgotten, and with Logan in the lead they stormed up to the second floor.

Consequently, Logan saw the sea of animals first. It was one of the few times in his life where he was completely and utterly without comment. His bewilderment only grew when the diary sailed past atop a small black bear, a cheery smile on its face. It waved a leg at him and disappeared around a corner.

The sounds of the animals milling about two floors above also got the attention of Libby and Traveller, who, garbed in some old rags they’d found in a back room (Libby was very much relieved to be freed of Traveller’s running commentary on the quality of her backside), were searching frantically for stairs to an upper level. They, too, had heard Goranth’s epic entrance, and they, too, wanted in on a potential prison break. 

Battle was waged. The Imperium’s guards, tired from a long day of relentlessly obeying the will of their regulator masters, did their best to hold back the tide of chaos threatening to envelop their little stronghold. The rats fought back as well, using their collective’s magic to make their soldiers stronger, tougher, faster, better. But their white magic did not work, and soon they were pushed back to the fourth floor, and then, to the tower. The seat of regulator power in the stronghold.

Dragomir waited in the tower. He learned things, things he may have suspected. But he never knew, not exactly, to whom he was speaking. That oversight would come back to bite him in the ass.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-Two: The Worst Sexy Time


He was back in the meadow again. It looked just as bounteous and beautiful as ever.


He recognized the voice. He didn’t turn to it, though, because he was confused. Confused, and fearful, and half-paralyzed by memories. The fact that he’d slept for several days, a sleep so unnatural that even Traveller realized it was wrong, didn’t help.

“I love you, Traveller…”

Traveller tucked his head between his legs and rocked back and forth. The gap in his skull where his eye used to be hurt. He rubbed at his scalp, frustrated, tearing out a large clump of unruly brown hair. New hair sprouted in place of the old almost immediately.

“I want you, Traveller… please…”

No you don’t, he thought. You don’t.

Life hadn’t been like this a few months ago. Life had been so easy when his mind was blank. But then Traveller met Iko, and Iko wanted him to be something, and then Traveller met Libby, and when Libby came ‘round Traveller just wanted to be with her so much, and he couldn’t figure out why -

she was my girlfriend first we were supposed to be married but she took me eye and then he got in the way and then they sent me away and I walked and I walked and now I’m just a Traveller, I don’t stay anywhere, I’m just a Traveller with no home and no wife and nobody

Fingers grazed Traveller’s shoulder. His eye socket blazed beneath its bandages, and Traveller rolled away from the touch, somehow aware that it was real, but unwilling to let it get close to him. He scooted across the meadow, grass burning - and not burning - his thighs.

“Traveller… don’t leave me… I need you…”

Traveller got to his feet and ran. He crossed the meadow, a world of corn fields, a barren wasteland, a sea, the oceans of time and space, running, running, running. But her voice followed him wherever he went, because the world kept folding in on itself behind him, and no matter how far he went or how hard he ran she was always right behind him, walking softly and asking, asking, asking.

“Traveller… you’re my husband, Traveller… please…”

Traveller fell to his knees, panting but not tired, tired but not panting. He pounded the ground and wailed, annoyed by the complexity of his emotions, but eventually, eventually, he knew he couldn’t run anymore. So, standing, sobbing a little, he turned.

Libby waited there, waiting for him. For a moment she was sailing on a sea of stars, but they quickly faded back to the green of the meadow. She stood as nakedly as Traveller, smiling, pointing to the cabin in the near distance.

“That’s our home, Traveller,” Libby said. She opened her arms. “Come on. Let’s go in there. You want to, don’t you? You want to take me and make me your wife?”

Traveller staggered forward, drooling. Yes, he wanted that. Yes, he wanted her. These things were not at all complex. If he took just a few more steps he could even have her, lifting her into his arms and carrying her away, to a happy new life of blissful sex and sleep, sleep and sex. They might even have children together. They could build a family, and then have more sex, and build an even bigger family.

I don’t need to be a Traveller anymore, he thought. I could be Mr. Libby instead of the old Mr. Libby. I’m better than him anyway. I… I could be… Dragomir - 

Traveller stumbled, wailing. His head hurt so badly that he thought someone had dashed it open with a club. Libby knelt beside him, soothing him, pulling him close and cradling his head in her lap.

“Shhhhh. Don’t think.” She rubbed his chest. “You don’t have to think. You just need to be with me. That’s all. You want to be, don’t you?”

“Y… “

She smiled sweetly, face obscured by the glare of the midday sun above. “Go on. Say it.”

“Y…” Traveller gulped. “Yes…”

That answer seemed to satisfy her. Breathing deep, Libby laid Traveller’s quaking head on the grass. Then, sliding down the length of his body, she straddled him. Kneeling in close, she puckered her lips and kissed him.

Traveller’s fortitude, a fortitude he couldn’t even understand, collapsed. He kissed her back. He accepted everything, and in that moment the grass against his back felt so vibrantly real that it almost stung. The wind prickled his skin, and the press of Libby’s thighs, oh, that heat, that glorious heat… 

“I’ve wanted this for a long time,” she confessed. “I’ve wanted you.”

Traveller plunged headfirst into his passion, drunk on ecstasy. He kissed her with slobbery fervour, kissed her again and again, caressing her skin and loving her love. The moment felt so utterly unreal, so heavenly, that Traveller almost couldn’t believe it was happening, and so, as Libby lowered and Traveller’s excitement grew to a peak, he opened his eye to behold his goddess. He couldn’t not open his eye. 

Though she was kissing him, though she was smiling, Libby’s eyes were also open. They glowed a bright, false white, obscuring her pupils. Tears leaked out of one, then the other.

Ecstasy turned to ash in an instant. Traveller faltered. She’s…

“I want you,” Libby whispered into his ear. Her eyes closed, and she licked at his neck.


“Trust me.” The weight, the heat, pressed against Traveller. “You just have to obey.”


When a teardrop hit Traveller’s skin, his world exploded.

The meadow fell apart. Big clumps of grass withered and died, revealing a ground both cold and unnatural. The sky crumbled, replaced by sterile stone and faint lamplight. The fresh breeze of the outdoors turned into the semi-noxious odour of a dungeon. Traveller’s head ached, pressed as it was against an uncomfortable pillow. The only constant was Libby, Libby’s weight, Libby’s tears, hovering mere inches above Traveller.

Gritting his teeth, Traveller pushed Libby away. She rolled onto the floor, looking confused, face still awash with white light. A pair of rats clung to her shoulders, their tails intertwined behind her neck.

Traveller roared. Jumping to his feet, he dove forward and flicked the rats off of Libby’s skin, leaving faint, bloody prick marks where their claws had been. Propelled by Traveller’s titanic strength, the rats left two dribbling smears on the wall.

The haze in Libby’s eyes disappeared at once. Shaking her head she stared around the room, now a different kind of confused. Then, spotting Traveller in all his nude and attentive glory, she covered herself and began to scream obscenities. Traveller smiled broadly, relieved, and he tried to hug Libby. The gesture did not help matters one bit.

And that’s when a dragon crashed through the wall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day Seven-Fifty-One: Fetch the right one

The first signs of trouble did not emerge for three weeks.

“Say, where’s Libby?”

No one answered, but the rat hiding twenty feet away from Traveller tensed. It poked its head out of the grass for a closer look at Traveller.

Traveller was sitting in the middle of a pond. After a long, playful fit of splashing about with a young brunette he’d fallen asleep, head half-submerged and blowing some powerful bubbles. The thought had apparently been strong enough to bring him back to the land of the living, however, and he was sitting alertly upright, looking around the meadow in confusion.

“Libby,” he repeated, swinging his one good eye this way and that. “Libby? Is Libby here? Anybody seen Libbyyyyyyyy?”

The rat, watching both from its hiding spot and from an invisible vantage point far above that Traveller could not see, cringed. It knew the name from the collective’s original briefing, and knew, too, that Traveller should not be concerned with his former comrades. Especially not the one who’d been used to birth one of the collective’s greatest failures.

Traveller rose, water cascading down his hairy body. He set off at a brisk jog, shouting for Libby as he moved from hill to hill. At first his calls were merely curious, but soon they turned to genuine panic.

Emergency, the rat decided. Distract him. Fulfill his needs.

Traveller skidded to a sudden stop as a gorgeous twenty-something emerged from a copse on his left. She threw her hair back and beckoned him to her, swaying gently from side to side to better display her ample assets.

At first Traveller’s face broke into a wide grin, and, prepared, he took several steps towards the woman. Soon he faltered, however, and he stopped short, hands reaching but not grabbing at anything. He stared down at his boots instead. “You’re not Libby. Libby has black hair.”

Why is he doing this now? The rat reached into the threads of its contained world, tweaking and twisting. It called up a picture of Libertine from its mind and changed the woman’s hair accordingly, tying the strands back in a ponytail. That had best do.

It did, for a second. Smile reasserting itself, Traveller bounded forward and embraced the woman, planting a heavy, slobbery kiss on her lips. She returned the favour, pressing up against him -

- and, without warning, he shoved her away. Indeed, he shoved her so hard that she flew into the copse, hit a tree, and broke her neck. The rat waited for Traveller to look away before it turned the crumpled woman’s body back into a cloud of code.

“Not Libby! Not Libby! Fake!” Traveller wailed and shrieked, tearing at his hair. “Wh… where am I…? Where’s my girlfriend?  LIBBY! SHE WAS MY GIRLFRIEND FIRST, DRAGOMIR! COME ON, LIBBY!”

Dear gods. The rat felt a twinge of fear. I’m losing control. What in the hells is happening? I must subdue him -

Traveller collapsed, writhing. He kicked at the air, and his feet seemed to catch on the canvas of blue above him, ripping it away and exposing an inky blackness spotted with specks of white. The verdant green of the meadow turned instantly monochrome, the colour flooding through the hole in existence itself.

Sensing danger, the rat pulled back from Traveller’s world and plunged itself into Traveller’s source code. The code was a twisted tangle of hardwired variables the rat couldn’t hope to change, but it could flick one or two of those variables to bring Traveller to heel. It did so, putting Traveller in ‘SLEEP’ mode. His eyes abruptly closed, and he collapsed in a twitching heap.

The meadow collapsed. Traveller’s body lifted and twisted, suddenly clothed, and seated itself in a chair. Heavy metal straps bound him in place, though they looked strained and on the verge of breaking. Reality reasserted itself, and the rat, perched on a table near Traveller, breathed deeply.

This will not do, it thought. The collective needs him. I cannot create so specific a woman with my powers, but the collective needs him. 

Dipping its mind into the deep pool of the regulators, hopping along tenuous connections to reach the source of its people, the rat made a request for a prisoner transfer. It took an unusually long time to go through, but, eventually, the request was granted.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day Seven-Hundred-Fifty: The Good Life

Traveller lived the sweet life.

He didn’t remember what had happened to bring him to the meadow. One moment he’d been sleeping in a heap of sand, and the next, poof! His face was buried in the bosom of a comely country lass with creamy blonde hair. She was not screaming at him, either, which was for Traveller a fantastic change of pace. They made love, and Traveller slept the sleep of the stupid.

The next day, when Traveller awoke, the creamy-blonde was gone. In her place lay a redhead. Traveller repeated the process, though this time he did not fall asleep when the lovemaking was done. Instead he rose from his grassy bed, occasionally staring down at the redhead’s luxurious body, and took a look around.

The meadow was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever visited, and Traveller had visited a lot of lovely places. Stretching further than the horizon and sporting only the most attractive clouds, its endless grasslands dotted with billions of vibrant flowers, the meadow seemed a dream come true. It was never too hot nor too cold, food seemed to rise unbidden from the ground whenever Traveller wanted it, and a lovely log cabin waited nearby to provide him with comfortable shelter. The cabin followed Traveller’s wanderings, never more than a hundred feet away - though he could never catch it on the move.

Home, he thought. This is a great home. I like it. This is what I wanted. Or… well, wait, it’s missing something…

As if pulled straight from his mind, a raven-haired temptress appeared behind Traveller and stroked his back. When he turned, Traveller noticed that she was nude, save for a pair of oversized boots on her legs. He took them from her, kissing her legs as he did, and strapped them on himself.

Perfect. Just perfect.

Day and night, night and day, Traveller made love, ate, exercised, and fell asleep under the stars. When it rained - and it only rained because Traveller wanted it to rain - he retreated to his cabin, watching water droplets spill from the canopy as he sipped beer from a mug made out of bacon. His was a simple life, and he revelled in it for what he considered to be an eternity. He’d never been so happy.

Wherever Traveller went, and whatever Traveller did, things watched him. They hid in the meadow, under trees and in tufts of grass, and unlike the other doe-eyed animals populating the place, their expressions were neither joyful nor vapid.

He is ours, one said. It had watched over Traveller since the beginning. Necessary adjustments are minimal. Controlling him is easy.

Good, the other replied, a new arrival. He will make a fine breeder. Our army will be unstoppable. Balance is inevitable.

Has the collective come to a consensus on the effects of his double being a Non? 

It should not make a difference. They have no connection beyond causality. 

Indeed. The first paused, watching Traveller skip through a waterfall that had sprouted out of the ground. Its water fell upward, splashing Traveller in the face. What of his overseer?

The second bristled. It failed in its task. It will be executed with its Non conspirator. We do not know why you even ask such a question.

The first sighed, twitching its whiskers. Do not forget, I have been controlling the mind of a moron for weeks. It is a trying experience. No small wonder his previous overseer lost its mind.

Perhaps you should be relieved for a time. There must be no failures. We cannot let this one slip from our grasp again. He is too powerful.

Agreed. Call for a replacement and I shall reintegrate with the collective. 

The rats watched Traveller frolic. He would not have suspected anything had he noticed them anyway.