Dragomir expected an evasive answer. Something cryptic, and vague, and elusive, and perhaps even grandiose. ‘You are a means to an end,’ ‘You are the beginnings of empire,’ ‘You are the tool that pries open the door to darkness’. Shit like that. He was, therefore, a little surprised when The Baron provided a nice, straightforward response - though, given The Baron’s middle-management personality, Dragomir supposed he ought not to have been surprised at all.
“You’re a Non-human hybrid that I used to create a general for my people,” The Baron replied evenly. He tried to steeple his fingers, then winced when he remembered what had happened to them. “You’re also a part of Litobora the Many, a segment that has far exceeded her expectations. Or mine. Though I suppose that’s what happens when you give free will a chance to blossom.”
Dragomir rocked back on his legs, suddenly fidgety. Up to this point he’d felt in control of the situation. Abruptly, though, The Baron’s answer had robbed him of his advantage, and his emotions threatened to turn him back into a Non. He fought the slippery slope. “Uhhh…”
The Baron smiled, though it was a guarded expression, his tension evident even beneath his cloak. “I take it you’re used to hearing only half of the tale. I’ll admit I’m guilty of keeping secrets, but there’s no point in doing it now. That’s what you are, Dragomir. You were a step along the path to creating Eve. Where is Eve, anyway?”
Dragomir rested his chin on his fist, staring at the floor. “Outside somewhere. I think. Last I saw, Jeffrey was trying to coax her onto the ship. Don’t think he got very far.”
“Jeffrey?” The Baron whistled. “King Jeffrey? You’re joking. I’m surprised you’d even allow him to travel with you, Dragomir.”
Dragomir shook his head. “He’s… changed. We all have. None of that, though. Why did you need to make Eve? There’re plenty of Non strong enough to be a general, from what I’ve seen.”
Sighing, The Baron leaned against the wall of his cell, trying - and failing - to make himself comfortable. “Strong, yes. But not quite what I was looking for. I needed strong. Ungodly strong. The kind of strong that, oh, could haul massive rocks out of the ground while still in infancy. The kind of strong with seemingly no limits.”
“Like the real Dragomir,” Dragomir murmured.
The Baron nodded reluctantly. “Yes, like… him. I heard a number of rumours about the boy while everything was still in the planning stages. I knew I would need a human to create my general; I decided I might as well use a freak of nature. So I, ah, may have arranged a marriage. I don’t suppose…?”
“He’s in Pubton,” Dragomir said bluntly. “I didn’t need him knocking the ship out of the sky. He’s probably busy having fun with his family. Somehow all of ‘em are stupid enough not to realize who he is. At least in his case I can understand why he doesn’t recognize his parents. He’s a fuckin’ numbskull.”
“Er… yes.” The Baron’s eyebrows drifted downward in sad arcs. “I’m sorry, Dragomir. I don’t know what to say.”
“Answer my question,” Dragomir insisted. “Why did you need a human? I know you see what I’m gettin’ at. You’re a lot of things, but you’re not stupid.”
“No, I suppose not.” Rubbing his neck, perhaps predicting another through-the-bars outburst if he kept talking, The Baron joined Dragomir in staring at the floor. “Believe it or not, Dragomir, but I always planned to coexist with the world. I intended to go to war - but I only wanted the former lands of the Non back under our control. Namely our former homelands, held in bondage by the locks, and… the Indy Plains. They were ours long before they belonged to other races.”
“Once we’d recaptured our territory, I… well, frankly, I wanted to establish a dialogue with the other races.” The Baron coughed lightly. “I had hoped that creating a Non-human hybrid would prove that our two species could, in fact, co-mingle. Eve would serve as the face of the Non, as well as a powerful deterrent should anybody try to go to war with us again. I only got half of what I wanted, in the end…”
Dragomir considered the idea. There was some merit to it, even if it seemed overly-idealistic. Races spurned would not forgive just because of a pretty new face. “Say I buy that. Which I’m not sure I do. Why concoct such a weird-ass plan for making a hybrid? If humans ’n Non can reproduce, which I’m pretty sure they can, why didn’t you just marry some human girl and get your kid that way? Sounds like you had enough years to brush up on your wooin’ skills.”
Dragomir expected mild frustration. What he got was, instead, a full-blown blush on The Baron’s face. He raised his hands, as if to somehow physically ward off the idea that he might strike up a romance with a woman. “Ah… ah… um, no, uh, no, that… that wouldn’t… um… uhhhhhh…”
Dragomir straightened, his grim mood lightening ever so slightly. He’d seen The Baron flustered before, usually when the old man was trying to get Logan to attend to his lessons, but this… this was somehow different. He looked far too embarrassed. “The hell’s wrong with you?”
The Baron’s green eyes bulged behind his glasses. “No! No! Nothing! I, ah, I, ah, um, I, ah… I… well, you see, there’s… uh… um…”
A thought popped into Dragomir’s head, a silly, vicious thought, one his slight sense of social decorum would normally brush gently under a rug and ignore completely. Given the circumstances, however… “You’ve… you’ve never done it before, have you? With… with your thinger?”
“DON’T… BE…” The Baron’s head sank almost entirely into his cloak, the tips of his snow-white hair poking out of the purple fabric like a pair of shy mountains. “Don’t… ridiculous! My… my, my, my GOD, why are… why is this… why, why… I mean, of course, but, oh, um…”
“You’ve never done it!” Standing, Dragomir pointed at The Baron with all the tact of a schoolyard bully. “You’ve never done it with your thinger!”
“Of course I have! Don’t be stupid!” The Baron’s glasses emerged halfway from his cloak to glare at Dragomir. “That… is… that… of course I have! I have so… I mean… uh… my god, when did this conversation become so crude…“
Dragomir mocked The Baron a few minutes longer, enjoying the moment. He knew it was not the best way to entertain himself - he usually didn’t hold with making fun of other people so mercilessly - but the fact that it was The Baron, architect of so much misery, kept Dragomir on the offensive to the point of childishness. He only settled down when the engines of the Sky Bitch began to sputter, sounding as though they might suddenly die down and reveal his taunting laughter to the rest of the ship.
“I think I know enough for now,” Dragomir concluded, standing by the door of the jail. He wiped a few jolly tears from his eyes. “I’ll send somebody down with food, or… something. Don’t expect much.”
Before Dragomir could open the door to leave, The Baron called out. “W… wait! You… that’s it? You just wanted to talk, and… now… what? You’re going to leave me here? What’s going to happen to me?”
Dragomir paused to consider that, though he’d already made his mind up before entering the jail. He’d wondered, well before the conversation, if he might just strangle The Baron, rendering Pagan’s suggestion moot; but the man was still alive, and the suggestion was still valid.
“You’re gonna be onea my advisors,” Dragomir said, smirking. “You were my boss, and now I’m your boss. You’ll be my resident expert on the Non. You do what I want and maybe I won’t hand you over to the regulators at the end of this stupid war.”
The blush faded completely from The Baron’s pale cheeks. If anything he was even paler than usual, his pallid skin tight against his skull. He looked incredibly old. “An… advisor…? I…”
Dragomir turned back to The Baron. Raising one hand, he focused his rage into his fingers. Slowly but surely, coils of pixelated light erupted out of his fingertips and swirled around his palm, eventually settling into the blazing, two-pronged form of the Catastrophe. It was a brilliant red, but tiny flecks of Non green danced along the edges. Dragomir fought to speak past the pain pummelling his temples.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he warned, levelling the tip of the Catastrophe at The Baron’s chest. “We’re not buddies. I hate your fuckin’ guts. You didn’t just ruin my life, you fat fuck, you made it a lie. I am a thing thanks to you. And if you step out of line once - once - I will cut your head off and put it on my shelf with your brother’s. You get one chance. You understand that?”
The Baron’s shaky nod was answer enough.
The Catastrophe vanished. Turning, Dragomir popped open the door without another word. He managed to maintain his composure until he left the jail, The Baron’s raspy fear shut out by the clank of metal on metal. Then, the door closed, Dragomir collapsed to the deck plates, the pain in his chest so bad that he thought he might vomit.