Friday, December 11, 2015

Be Well To Each Other

Click these big 'ol letters to jump to the final entry.
It’s over.

After four years, and a few extra months on top, it’s finally over.

That statement sounds like a sigh of relief. ‘Jesus, it’s finally over. I can go do something else.’ But it’s not. Not exactly. I mean, yes, there is a sense of relief, but it only stems from finishing the story. The fact that I saw it through to the end, that I gave Dragomir’s Diary the conclusion I’d pictured for so damn long, is the relief. I planned and I schemed, and the result is to my satisfaction. (Mostly.)

But I’ll miss the writing. I’ll miss the characters. I’ll miss forcing myself to work on the plot in the wee hours of the night, only to forget fatigue and quickly get sucked into the world, time and time again. Thinking about a Dragomir entry was a pain; starting it was a pain; actually writing it was a joy. If it wasn’t a joy I would have stopped long ago.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed Dragomir’s Diary as much as I have. The conclusion is ambiguous - deliberately ambiguous, in most respects - but you can fill it in with your own happy ending. I hope you give the cast the respite they deserve, deep in the creative recesses of your own imagination.

If you want a happy ending, stop here. Imagine the credits sequence. It’s short, and it’s mostly my name over and over, but it’s accompanied by some lovely music. It’s the kind of sequence you would expect from a role-playing game, and Dragomir’s Diary is very much patterned after role-playing games.

Happy ending. 


As you may know.

Some role-playing games have multiple endings.

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Finale

When Libby opened the front door of her home, she found a book staring up at her.

Libby took a step back, covering her mouth. She felt oddly embarrassed. She’d spent most of the evening engulfed in a project, her hands stuffed into an oily, makeshift engine block, and her clothes were slathered in splotches of greasy black. It was not an unusual look for her, and even if it was, she wouldn’t normally give a shit what other people thought. Nevertheless, when she saw the little face on the front of the green book staring up at her, a smile forming between the scratches and splotches, she felt incredibly awkward about her appearance.

Because it records everything, she thought, eye twitching. It knows it all. So I’ll look like this forever. Kinda. Something like that. Oh, shit, does that make any sense?

Libby stepped aside, and the diary tottered into the house on its tiny rat legs, pausing only a moment to give Libby an affectionate nudge. Frost and mud encrusted the bottom of the diary, and it was clutching a leaf-covered twig in its tail. It promptly dropped the twig by the front door and walked towards the living room.

“Uh…. hi,” Libby said, kicking the twig out of the house and slowly closing the door. “Ummmm… hey… where are you…? And where did you…? HEY, FYNN, YOU IN HERE?”

Fynn didn’t reply. She suspected he was off in the valley somewhere again, either training his magic with his spider familiar or just enjoying the night air. He seemed to like the cold more than the heat. Libby wondered if it was a Non thing.

Libby followed the diary into the living room, careful to remain staunchly behind it. The book paused at the threshold of the room, looking around until it spotted Traveller on the sofa. It ran to his side, touched his hand, and then glared at Libby until she set the book on his chest.

Traveller was not doing well. In the last day his fever seemed to have expanded, engulfing his body in sweat and sending him into periodic shivering fits. Libby refused to touch the man, so Fynn would occasionally come in to change the wet towel on his head and splash water onto Traveller’s chest. Nothing seemed to cool him so well as opening a window, however, and the whole house froze at night as a result. Nevertheless, he didn’t seem to be getting any better, and Libby wondered if she might have a corpse in her home within a few days.

A corpse… and no answers. Libby watched the diary as it carefully inspected Traveller’s reddened face. And now I need even more. Maybe…

Libby settled onto the ground, snapping her fingers to get the diary’s attention. It turned to her, looking curious, and it cracked itself open to a blank page. There weren’t many left, Libby realized, and she wondered if the book would burst should they try to fit in any more pages. The nature of the little creature was yet another mystery she decided she would never fully solve, and was probably something better left unknown.

“How’d you get here?” Libby folded her hands on her lap, lacing her fingers together. “Did, uh, did… Dragomir… write our new… address, or something… into you…?”

The annoyed expression that appeared on the page said it all, and writing magically appeared in the space beneath the face. “Drags no tell me nuthin’. I come, find Drags. Always have must find Drags. Stupid Drags, don’t you agree, Libbers?”

Libby’s chest tightened. “Stupid Drags. Yeah. But Dragomir’s not here. I thought he was… with you. Looking for Eve.”

The diary paused a moment, eyebrows wriggling comically as it worked on the problem. “No. Drags here. Was there; now here. Walked together, but Drags, he be all ‘Hey, I walk faster, and too lazy to carry, so see ya’. And I follow, ‘cause Drags is no good without I, Diary. Right? Drags stupid, don’t get that.”

“He left you behind?” Libby frowned. “That… doesn’t sound like him.”

“He do the changes.” The diary undulated oddly, shaking its pages, and Libby suspected it was trying to shrug. “Poo-bur-tee. That it what called? I thinks, is yes. Must be, because I, Diary, have said. Right? Right. Or close. Anyway. Rough struggle, almost done.”

The diary snapped shut, and to Libby’s surprise it shoved its tail up Traveller’s nose. She scooted away, revolted but amused, and Traveller snorted loudly at the intrusion. Nevertheless the diary kept its tail in place, seeming to root around in his nostril and search for something. It appeared to find it, because its face lit up, and its tail went completely stiff. Libby could not have concocted a stranger scenario if she’d dreamed it up.

The diary remained that way for several long minutes, its expression vacillating from joy to irritation to almost childish outrage. Then , appearing satisfied, it removed its tail, hopped off of Traveller’s chest, and wandered out of the room. Libby wanted to know what the hell it was up to, but something else had caught her eye first, something that froze her in place.

Traveller’s face, though still slicked with sweat, had cleared. The red in his cheeks faded to his usual sun-soaked ruddiness, and his chest, previously rising and falling fitfully, had fallen into a steady, comfortable rhythm again. A large, dopey smile decorated his sleeping face, belonging as much to the idiot Libby detested as to the man she’d married. That smile whispered things to itself, holding a conversation Libby couldn’t see.

“Left… a bit… enough…” Traveller muttered, his voice dreamy and husky.

“Oh… so… if I… I won’t… be…?” Traveller said.

“You will… but… I’m… we’ll… both of us,” Traveller replied.

“Can… have… with…?” Traveller asked, his grin turning mischievous.

“Up to her… stupid… just… do it…” Traveller responded.

“Okay… but… gotta… promise…” Traveller said, with finality.

Libby got to her feet and stepped back, feeling the power of the moment, despite almost nothing outwardly happening. The man’s eyes fluttered open as she watched, and he unleashed a long, belching yawn as he slid to a sitting position. His head twitched one way, then the other, and then, to Libby’s complete shock, parts of his hair began to shift colours, changing from dirty brown at the roots to a lighter, muddy blonde. Blinking and stretching, he grinned at Libby, and one of his front teeth fell out and plopped onto his lap.

“Oh, shit,” the man said, peering at the tooth. He picked it up and admired it. “I thought I would get to keep those this time. Well, maybe the other one’ll stay in.”

“Are…” Libby swallowed, heart fluttering, stomach roiling. “Are you…?”

The man shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. Can’t tell yet. We’ll find out.”

Libby didn’t say anything else. She couldn’t. Her mind was too wrapped up in possibilities. So when the diary wandered back into the room, a dripping ink quill in its tail, she just stepped aside and let it pass. The man swept up the book, and with a cheerful grin he began to write.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Five

“He was slumped on the path to the house,” Fynn said, panting. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. “Face right in the dirt. Like he’d been walking and decided he’d had enough, and fallen on his nose or something.”

Libby scowled. Traveller was one of the last people she’d hoped would come visit her in her new home, yet here he was, stretched out on her shabby couch, snoring loudly. He was, at least, dressed, which she took as a blessing, but everything else about the man was as detestable as ever, from his wave of greasy brown hair to his hopelessly-smelly armpits. Indeed, she quickly found something even worse about him when she noticed the distinct change in his face. She prodded both of his eyes open just to be sure.

“Shit.” She took a step back, heart thudding. “Shit. What did he do? What did he do?”

“His skin around that one eye looks really pale,” Fynn muttered, almost to himself. “Jeez. I… mom, what’re you…?”

Rage fuelling her, Libby leaned over Traveller and wrapped her fingers around his neck, throttling him. She put her full strength into the gesture at first, but memories of a similar attack abruptly flooded into her brain, an attack that had deprived her of a son, and she consciously eased back enough not to hurt the man. Much, anyway. “Where is he? WHERE IS HE? WAKE UP, YOU FUCK, WHERE IS HE -

“Whoa! Mom! Calm down!” Fynn wrapped his arms around Libby, and they struggled for a moment. He pried her away with gentle strength. “C’mon! We… he’s not even awake! At least let him wake up first!”

Gritting her teeth, Libby allowed herself to be steered away from the couch. Despite the ruckus, Traveller did not wake up.

Traveller’s condition remained the same for the next two days. He snored, farted, and rolled around a bit, but showed no signs of waking from what appeared to be a perfectly healthy coma. Libby begrudgingly agreed to let him remain on the couch, provided they closed the living room off with blankets each night to block out his loud snorting. Fynn watched over Traveller, occasionally forcing water down his throat, and the shaggy man accepted it without complaint.

“I don’t understand why he’s fucking here,” Libby muttered during dinner on the first night. “He shouldn’t know we’re here. Nobody told ‘im we were out here. Unless it was Logan, that fuck - “

“It wasn’t King Logan,” Fynn insisted, sipping at a bowl of soup. “He didn’t like Traveller much more than you, mom, and he wanted to leave him with grandm… um, his parents. He seemed happy with them. He probably found his way out here on his own.”

“But how?” Taking a ferocious bite of her ostrich steak, Libby glared at the hallway leading to the living room. Traveller was, as ever, snoring loudly. “He couldn’t’ve found us on his own, we’re, like, five days’ trip away from fuckin’ Pubton by wagon. He’s not a fuckin’ bloodhound.”

Fynn shrugged. “I don’t know. Ever since I found out about… y’know, dad… I’ve never really ‘gotten’ that guy. He’s friendly, but… weird.”

“Understatement of the year, kiddo.” Libby slammed her mugful of milk onto the table. “And that ain’t all. Why the fuck does he suddenly have two eyes? Why the fuck? I thought… I mean, that one’s…”

Fynn shrugged again. It was a hopeless, sad gesture, but one without malice for Libby to latch onto. She had too much trouble remaining angry around her son. In ways, he was the exact opposite of his older brother, and she was thankful for that.

On the third day, Libby thought Traveller woke up. But only briefly.

She was sitting in her study, pouring over one of the technical books Logan had ordered shipped to the house - they were among the only things that pleased her about the dump - when she heard a light murmuring. It was not Fynn’s voice, she knew that at once, and her stomach leaped into her chest as she jumped out of her chair. She realized that she’d tensely been waiting for answers, even if they came from a detestable halfwit like Traveller, and now she was expecting a payoff.

Traveller was not awake when she entered the living room. He was, instead, sweating profusely, his forehead bright red and shiny. He thrashed lightly in a fitful sleep, eyes pinched and tense, and Libby could hear him speaking to himself. Her first instinct was to drape a wet washcloth over his head, perhaps to break the fever… but she settled herself on the ground instead, listening. If he had a fever, it could fuckin’ wait.

Traveller’s mumbling was not coherent, not at first, and not for most of the night. Libby stuck around long enough to know just how little sense he made most of the time. But there was a moment, mere minutes after the fever appeared, where Traveller’s noises turned into actual words, even if they only lasted for two sentences.

“And… and just a… just a little bit… left… on it,” Traveller muttered. His voice was high-pitched, as though he was trying to mimic a woman and doing a rather bad job of faking it. “There… yep… yep… that’ll… that’ll do… yeah. Yeah.”

Libby didn’t know what it meant, of course. But she clung to those words as her only hope, her only clue, until the end of the third day. That’s when she heard a low, dull knock on the front door. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Four

I should’ve throttled that little shit, Libby thought, staring at the floorboards of her kitchen. There was a nail sticking straight up out of one of them, and another that looked poised to do the same. He hired a hack to do this, a regular hack.

“What’re you glaring at, ma?” Fynn asked, ducking into the kitchen. He was three-quarters of his full height, which seemed to make him most comfortable these days, and it took him a moment to locate the source of Libby’s angst. “Oh, c’mon, are you still getting mad at the house? It’s not that bad.”

Libby turned her ire at her youngest son. “Not that bad? The bathroom’s a hole in the floor, the roof looks like shit, the front porch wobbles, there’re nails sticking up everywhere, and the wood they used is some of the worst garbage I’ve seen in ages! Most of it is cracking already! This ‘house’ is gonna fall down in two years, tops!”

“Then… build a new one?” Fynn seated himself on the ground, reaching for a plate of cookies on the kitchen table. He’d made them himself, and carefully nibbled the outer edges of his first cookie. His eating habits seemed to become more and more peculiar the older he got. “You like building. And you probably are better than the guy who made this place. Might as well.”

Libby snorted. They’d arrived at their new home more than a week ago, and she’d complained bitterly about it every day. Every element of the place annoyed her, from the narrow bedrooms to the low, slopping shingles. It was too cold at night, too hot during the day, creaked constantly, and lacked in furniture. She hated the whole thing, and hated whatever bastard had set it up in the first place. If she ever met the guy - and she was certain it was a guy, somehow, just certain - she would slug him one, right in the nose. And cheek. And chest. And genitals.

“I’d have to tear this place down first,” Libby grunted. She seated herself beside her son, sighing as she glared at the cabinets. “Would take ages. Maybe you can do it for me? You’re strong.”

“What, you don’t want to reuse any of this quality wood?” Fynn smirked, gently rapping a knuckle against the table. “Yeah, I can do it if you want, but let’s spend a little while longer in this one, see if it suits us after a while. I don’t think one week is enough time to decide whether it’s awful or not.”

Kid, you’re growing up too fast. Libby cocked her head, observing Fynn. He’d grown from a baby to a not-so-awkward teen in record time, his rounded baby fat replaced by… well, okay, an equally rounded face, but it was a handsome face. He was a rather exotic alternative to the pasty men that usually inhabited the Indy Plains, and Libby knew he’d be beating lusty women off with a sword if he ever moved into a city. Or she’d be beating them off, she wasn’t sure yet.

There was another thought in there, too, a subtle note that she was forced to acknowledge every time she looked into Fynn’s eyes. A familiarity. But it was too sad for the moment, and she pushed it away.

“Where’s that spider of yours?” Libby looked to Fynn’s shoulder, raising an eyebrow. “He off hunting again? I thought you said he was going to make tea.”

Fynn shrugged. “Hunting, I think. There are lots of mice ‘round the house that make for good meals. Bet he finds them a bit dopey at this time of day.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Libby smiled inwardly at the thought of rat cousins being turned into meals. “Though I could’ve sworn someone told me he was a vegetarian. Or something like that.”

Fynn shook his head. “Ahh, what’s it matter. He eats what he eats, ’n that’s good enough.”

Grabbing a cookie for herself, Libby peered through the (crooked, annoyingly crooked) kitchen window. From here she could see only the tips of trees, already coated in the first hints of frost, thrust into a clear blue sky. She wondered at the frost, realizing that the seasons seemed much less abrupt these days. That was a good thought, too - a single, blanket, mass snowfall out of nowhere could very well crush their crappy house, and everything in it. Libby crunched her cookie, considering the weirdness of the world, and how relatively normal she was compared to everything that happened in her life.

He would probably say I’m not normal at all, Libby thought. He’d probably say I’m just as weird as the rest. Then I’d slug him, and we would bitch for a few minutes. Doesn’t seem like much of a normal relationship for a married couple, so… maybe he’s right, in a way.

Lost in her thoughts, Libby barely noticed when Fynn kissed her on the forehead, got to his feet, and ducked out the front door. She assumed he was off to explore the valley again, keen to learn more about this place he now called home. She called for him to put on boots, and he complied, tromping away from the house and off into the distance, the top of his head suddenly much taller and rivalling the trees for space through the kitchen window.

He’s just a giant version of his dad. Libby stared at the remains of her cookie. Just a big, stupid, giant version of that idiot. Almost wish he looked completely different.

Libby wondered where her husband was. She knew, but… she wondered. 

As she wondered, Fynn came charging back to the house, flinging the front door open.

“MOM! C’MERE!” Fynn tromped inside, slammed his head on the door frame in his haste, cursed as the wood split around his forehead, and ran for the living room. “QUICK, QUICK!”

Jolting off of her butt, Libby ran. She dashed out of the room, at full speed but with a sense of slowness, feeling every inch of the passage between the kitchen, the hallway, and the small living room at the side of the house. She had time to carefully inspect the side table in the hallway, the bland painting of the bird hanging on the wall, the stupid woollen carpet she usually tripped on, and the goosebumps rising on her skin. The bumps seemed to appear more quickly than everything else, and her heart thudded, hoping, hoping.

The man she found laying on the couch in the living room, when she finally got there, was not her husband. But he was pretty damned close.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Three

I was meant to come here alone. I always should have come alone.

“You’ve gotten so big, Eve,” Dragomir said. He cupped Eve’s hollow cheeks with both hands, and as he did so, one of his fingers chipped off and fell away. It puffed into a heap of ash at his feet. He barely noticed. “So big.”

Eve shuddered, hunching. Her spine popped liberally at the motion, and she staggered into Dragomir’s arms, seemingly unable to support her weight anymore. He struggled to keep her upright, but his own body was no better off, and they collapsed in a tangle on the floor. The tower creaked, still threatening to fall apart from the hole Traveller had left behind in the wall, but it remained steady.

They breathed. Together, at last, they breathed.

Daddy…” Eve’s voice sounded youthful yet pained, as though she was trying to force the old woman’s rasp out of her tone and was paying for it. “I knew you would… you would be the one… it hurts, daddy, it hurts…

“I know it does, sweetie.” Dragomir smoothed her hair, leaving black streaks from his fingertips in the strands. “I know. But we’re almost done. Heh, sorry, I’m messing up your hair.”

Always… wanted… you to… brush… my hair…” Eve croaked a little laugh. It was the first time Dragomir had ever heard her laugh. “Daddy, it hurts so… so much… please…

Dragomir knew what he had to do. There was a little bit left in him, just enough to get the job done. Then all of the most spectacular threats to the world would be ended. But he wanted just a little more time, just a little more to enjoy this moment, this last moment, this moment he’d yearned for since the beginning of his days. The days he’d recorded -

Something bumped against Dragomir’s foot. 

Straining, Dragomir looked. The diary was staring at him, a grumpy expression on its cover. There was a small tear in the side of its ‘face’, no doubt from the impact against the wall. It cocked a pencil-thin eyebrow at him, then swung open to a blank page. Words began to appear on the parchment.

“I… thought you ditched me for that other guy, buddy.” Dragomir coughed. “Eheh. Sorry. Eve didn’t mean it, right, honey?”

Eve shook her head, then buried her face in Dragomir’s chest. “Didn’t… mean it… Eve… didn’t…

“She didn’t mean it.” Dragomir stroked her head. “You should go, dude. Get on outta here. I think… I think Dragomir can take care of you from now on.”

The diary wrote something else. The face appeared above the words, frowning at Dragomir, both puzzled and sad. 

“He is. Not me.” Dragomir sighed. “I’m just… I’m just another Non, a guy without a name. ’n we both know it.”

The diary considered that, then snapped shut. It wandered over to Dragomir’s face, observing him carefully, its tail thrashing from side to side. It looked at the hole in the wall, then at the stairs, then at Eve, then back to Dragomir. Then, surprising Dragomir, it snuggled up against his arm, rubbing against him with the affection of a cat, and in that lovely moment Dragomir realized how profoundly he’d wronged the little creature in the last year. 

“I’m sorry,” Dragomir said. He stroked the diary’s spine with a shaky hand. “I really am. Go tell my story, willya? I think some people will wanna hear it.”

Steeling himself, Dragomir grasped the diary by the spine, feeling his bad arm shudder with even this minor exertion. He lifted it, his muscles tearing, and with every ounce of physical strength he had left to him he hurled the diary towards the hole in the wall, where Traveller had fallen. He caught only a faint glimpse of the shock on the diary’s face as it flew, and even that was eclipsed as Dragomir’s arm exploded into ash, showering the floor with sooty black. The book, his book, his friend, sailed out into the open air and disappeared. He hoped it would hit Traveller on the head, but if not, he knew it would be fine anyway.

“Thanks, buddy.” Dragomir swallowed. “Thanks.”

He turned to Eve. She was watching him, her wizened face broken and defenceless, eyes wide, vibrant, and pained. There was an innocence to her, a childish spark that she’d lacked even as a baby, and Dragomir wondered just how lovely and loving a kid she might have been if she’d been given a normal life. He pictured her as an actual four-and-a-half-year-old, her pretty little head awash in unruly blonde curls, standing beside her proud, fierce mama, Libby’s heavy work glove nestled affectionately in her hair. More, he pictured two brothers, on either side of Libby, clutching their mother’s legs and staring up at her reverently.

He stood with them, his diary under one arm. He stood with them as a family, the family he’d always wanted. 

It’s.. time, daddy,” Eve said, coughing loudly. “Please… help… Eve…

“I know.” Dragomir kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Just close your eyes. It’ll be over in a sec.”

Eve nestled her head into Dragomir’s chest again, hiccuping quietly. Dragomir closed his own eyes, breathing deeply, feeling the comfortable weight of his daughter slipping away as his body began to fall apart. His legs slowly crumbled into twin piles of ash, his remaining arm dissolved into the floorboards, his face and his hair transformed into sand. He felt it happening, knowing that if he tried to hold on too long he would lose his chance to free his daughter, and in that moment he realized he was seeing his final glimpse of the future, of a future mere moments ahead of him. He wasn’t sleeping, but Dragomir the Farsighted saw it all anyway, and for once, for once, he struggled to change what might happen.

It was, he realized, very, very easy. He just had to let go.

The final lock on Dragomir’s power fell away, released by his own hands, and the last of the Catastrophe’s might erupted from his decaying body. Swirls of pulsing green pixels exploded outward, engulfing father and daughter in a contained shockwave that rocked the landscape for miles around. The king’s tower would have collapsed under the pressure, but the glittering emerald orb of Dragomir’s final earthly act dissolved the masonry almost down to the base of the tower, leaving the stone that remained behind as smooth as glass. It took almost a day for the orb to dissipate fully, and it left a starry scar in the sky that would never disappear.

Dragomir thought he heard his daughter thank him in the final seconds. He was not, however, sure of it. He thanked her back anyway, and led her into the light.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Et Ascendit in Caelum, Part Two

Dragomir knew it was a bad idea the second he spotted one of The Baron’s little ghosts whipping past his head. He didn’t have enough time to say it, though, before they were launching themselves towards Eve.

“No!” Dragomir reached for one of the ghosts, the last of the ghosts, as it sailed past his head and into the tower. But his arms had lost most of their mobility, and his body was just too weak, and his fingers only brushed the ghost’s streaking tail. The ghost, a miniature The Baron, stuck its tongue out at him -

- and vanished in a quick puff as Eve wrapped a gauntlet around its translucent body. Green steam seeped out between her fingers.

The other ghosts, twelve in all, fared no better. All of them seemed to be aiming for the darkness of Eve’s hood, trying desperately to get at her mouth, perhaps to capitalize on her ragged breathing in a bid to give The Baron control again, but it was no use. Eve plucked each one of them out of the air with frantic ease, turning the inside of the tower a hazy Non-green each time one exploded. The Baron sent another batch from his vantage point in the hallway, and Dragomir could hear him panting heavily at the exertions.

STOP!” Dragomir turned so quickly to yell at The Baron that he felt something tear in his back, and his whole body drooped a little. Pain exploded in his head, and he struggled to figure how the two parts were connected. “S… STOP! LEAVE HER ALONE!

The Baron said nothing. The ghosts kept coming. It sounded as though he was backing down the tower, each laborious step a little softer.

Eve didn’t waste time on the second wave of ghosts. Launching forward so deftly that she almost knocked Dragomir over, she tore into the hallway and down the stairs. Dragomir heard The Baron cry out, and as the swarming ghosts around Dragomir faded from view Eve brought him into the tower, clutching him by the neck. She pinched the fabric of his robe so tightly that it fell away from his mouth, exposing the ragged hole and skeletal jaw The Baron had worked so hard to conceal. The Baron’s face went red, then blue, then purple, as he struggled for breath.

You… hate… you… so… much…” Eve struggled to stand upright, staggering back on her bad foot as she glared up at The Baron, and as she spoke the hood fell away from her own face. “Ruined… my… life…

The breath left Dragomir’s lungs. His daughter, ever the victim of rapid aging, had moved beyond the beautiful womanhood she’d enjoyed for the last two years. Her face wore the ragged, wrinkled expression of an old woman, with vast bags under her eyes and prominent cheekbones poking out of her withered flesh. Her hair, once blonde, then silver, was now as white as Bora’s - though it looked threadbare and coarse, with large, bald patches revealing rapid hair loss. The only things still identifiably Eve were her eyes, a pair of white pinpricks swimming in wonderful seas of vibrant emerald. 

The Baron brushed Eve’s arm with his hand, fingers spasmodic. “E… E… E…”

“Eve, please, put him down,” Dragomir pleaded, stepping towards his elderly child. It was more difficult than ever, and it felt like his leg, the leg Bora had replaced, was starting to fall apart. “Please, Eve, please. Put… put him down.”

He… ruined… me…” Eve licked her thin lips, lapping up the blood dribbling down her chin. “He stole… everything… from me… before I was… daddy, he… now all I can do…

“I know,” Dragomir soothed. He struggled towards Eve, wanting desperately to give her a hug. He hoped his spare arm would hold out that long. “You don’t need to kill him, Eve. Let him go. Let it all go. Daddy’s here, now, so you don’t need to kill anymore. Okay?”

Can’t… can’t…” Eve’s fingers tightened on The Baron’s throat. Foam began to run from his mouth. “Have… this is what… I have…

Reaching his daughter after an agonizing journey across less than ten feet of ragged floorboards, Dragomir touched his daughter’s face, doing his best to ignore the dying man in her hand. He ran a loving finger along her cheek, trying to smooth the wrinkles back into a more familiar expression, and as he did his daughter smiled at him. It was a pained but warm expression, full of joy, the likes of which Dragomir had only truly seen once before.

Dragomir softly touched Eve’s wrist. The moment he did, she released The Baron. He bounced once, leaving a deep crack in the floorboards, and coughed spasmodically as he lay on the ground, clutching his throat. His jawbones clicked loudly with each shuddering heave. Dragomir was surprised that the old man remained conscious, and also grateful.

“Get out of here,” Dragomir insisted, apathetic to The Baron’s struggles. He continued to stroke Eve’s cheek. “You’ve done enough. Go on. Check on Traveller, he’s probably hurt.”

The Baron struggled to right himself, unable to speak. He stretched a hand out to Dragomir, shaking his head, but Dragomir nudged him away with his leg. A small chunk of the leg came loose at the gesture, and with dull, resigned horror Dragomir realized that this was his good leg, not the bad one. It seemed enough for The Baron, and after a moment of struggles the old man got to his feet, stared at Dragomir a moment longer, and made for the stairs.

“Bye,” Dragomir said. “It was fun.”

The look on The Baron’s face as he turned the corner threatened to break Dragomir’s heart, and he couldn’t tell why.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Et Ascendit in Caelum, Part One

The struggle between Eve and Traveller was brief.

Dragomir didn’t understand what was going on in Traveller’s head. With his eye restored and his body whole again, the man was obviously undergoing some radical changes. ‘Reversions’ was probably a more accurate word, but Dragomir suspected that Traveller’s personality had always been dopey and stupid, even before losing his eye. The Traveller of the last few days, by contrast, was at times sharp, threatening, and too confident. Dragomir couldn’t tell if that was the result of getting his eye back or putting on a facade. Regardless, he didn’t know what possessed Traveller to even imagine that Eve was his daughter.

She wasn’t. She was Dragomir’s daughter. And not the real Dragomir. She was the daughter of a fraud, a phoney, a two-bit replica with little time left to his life. So when Eve attacked, Dragomir felt just the smallest bit of satisfaction. That’s my daughter in there.

Pushing himself up the stairs, Dragomir peered into the circular tower attic, the cracked, barely-roofed space illuminated only by the dying sun. Traveller was trying, and failing, to push off a figure covered in a ragged brown cloak. Dragomir knew Traveller had lost none of his strength when regaining his eye, that was obvious, but he lacked something Eve had always possessed: speed. Eve was as fast as Logan at his prime, and no one else could compare. Speed and strength, that made for the perfect soldier.

Traveller whirled, trying to grab at Eve’s cloak. Eve whipped around him like a tornado, eluding his grasp and striking out at him with lightning speed. Dragomir suspected she could kill him in an instant, but her attacks were too smoothly calculated, with an almost admirable restraint. Within seconds Traveller was incapacitated, his body twitching uselessly as he swayed from one foot to the other. He dropped the diary, and it glared up at Eve.

“Ghhhg…” Traveller’s eyes twitched spasmodically, and Dragomir wondered if the newer addition might pop out and roll around on the floor. “Gaaaahhg…”

“My god, she must have struck every nerve in his body,” The Baron breathed, peering around Dragomir. “Not a bit of blood, either…”

The Baron fell silent as the darkened hood of Eve’s cloak wheeled around to stare at him, and he pulled out of view. Eve hissed, crouched over, and stalked in a circle around Traveller’s body. Her clothes were stained with deep, dark blotches in dozens of places, and blood dripped freely from her face and onto the floor, leaving a trail in her wake. Dragomir’s heart hurt to see her, but he didn’t dare move, because Eve could still easily murder Traveller if antagonized.

Not… my daddy…” Eve ran her fingers along one of Traveller’s arms, grasping him firmly by the wrist. “Don’t even try to be… you… fake…

“Hhhnnnngh,” Traveller gurgled.

Dragomir stepped into the room. It was an unsteady step, a step filled with fear, but not fear for himself. He feared for his daughter. The Eve he knew, when she wasn’t stalking an opponent, was invincible. Eve stood upright. Eve never expressed emotion. Eve spoke in apocalyptic prose, proclaiming the end of everything with casual ease. Eve most certainly never said the word ‘daddy’. This really was Eve, then, but an Eve who was broken, an Eve who’d lost her invincibility, transforming into a skulking, still-deadly creature of the shadows.

Dragomir didn’t care which Eve it was. She was his little girl. “Eve, it’s me. It’s daddy. I’m here.”

Eve’s hood whipped around, and she took two steps towards Dragomir. She sniffed the air, a hound on the trail, and took two more steps, still clutching tight to Traveller’s wrist. Traveller staggered as she tugged him along behind her, the diary whirling around his ankles, smacking itself into his feet in a useless effort to restore him. This apparently annoyed Eve, and with a flicker of movement she kicked the diary into the far wall, dangerously close to a large crack filled with dying sunlight. The face on the cover looked unconscious. Dragomir reached for the diary across the room, eyes wide.

Daaaaaaddyyyyyyy…” Eve’s voice wavered, crackling and foul. “It’s me… that’s you… hi, daddy, you came, daddy…

“I came,” Dragomir said, nodding. “You shouldn’t kick daddy’s things around, Eve. My diary. It’s not nice.”

Sorry… daddy…” Eve pulled herself another step closer to Dragomir. It looked like she was dragging one foot, not that it seemed to matter to her speed. “Eve… isn’t feeling… so… good… does daddy… have… medicine…?

“Yes,” Dragomir promised, a tear welling up in his green eye. “Daddy has medicine for Eve. Let that guy go, sweetie, and I’ll give you medicine.”

Eve nodded, and in an instant Dragomir knew he’d said the wrong thing, wondering simultaneously if there was a right thing to say, then concluding, just as Eve moved her arm, that she was going to do it regardless. With a snap-flick of her wrist Eve launched Traveller’s prone body through a wall, using all her strength to catapult him out of the tower. The break in the wall was so abrupt and so clean that the tower didn’t seem to notice at first, and it took three quiet seconds before the wall started to collapse in on itself, rocking the king’s tower. Dragomir caught only a faint hint of Traveller’s falling form as he plummeted into the ruins of the fortress below, surrounded by tumbling bricks. He looked… surprised.

Dragomir’s eyes widened, and he stood in mute shock as The Baron’s ghosts flooded out of the hallway behind him.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Day Nine-Forty-Two: She speaks

It took Dragomir several minutes to realize, while staring at the corpses of the Non, that Traveller had wandered off somewhere. He knew exactly where to look.

Traveller was standing outside the dilapidated ruins of an old, collapsed, wooden house. It was not a large house, nor particularly grand, yet Traveller seemed enraptured by it, drinking in the details at considerable leisure. He kneeled in the rubble and poked at the rotted wooden remains, his other hand slinking up to pat the guardsman’s cap on his head. He didn’t seem to be conscious of the latter. The diary skittered around his feet, barely giving the ruins a look as it jabbed its quill at Traveller’s hands.

“I’m surprised you didn’t clear this out,” Dragomir muttered. “Most of the rest of the wooden stuff looks like it’s gone.”

“I… made an exception, for a while,” The Baron admitted. He shrugged. “Old times sake.”

Hacking out a cough, Dragomir tapped Traveller on the shoulder. Traveller peered at Dragomir with the slow dopiness of a man caught in a dream, eyes wide and misty. “Hey. We need your help clearin’ some chunks of rock. C’mon.”

Traveller looked back at the remains of the house. He touched the mossy spike of one of the front porch’s railings. “I… did we say goodbye to… to Rob, here…? This… this isn’t where he died, but…”

“I think we talked to him here, ’n he went home,” Dragomir replied, a bitter taste rising in his mouth. “But I don’t remember. Come on, we’re almost done.”

Reluctantly, Traveller turned away from the remains of a home that had never been his, following Dragomir and The Baron to the entrance of the fortress. The majority of the once-great building was now buried in debris, but it looked to Dragomir as though a path had been cleared through it recently, leaving only a few recently-fallen heaps of rock behind to bar their way. Traveller easily shrugged these aside as they picked their way across the ruins, though he always seemed reluctant to get too far ahead.

“I had a nice observatory set up,” The Baron mumbled, a little crossly. He pointed to the east side of the castle. “It was right over there, overlooking the Grand Chasm. Built it out of the remains of the library. I see that damnable penguin had it knocked down.”

“It could have been Eve,” Dragomir said. “Who knows how she was feeling when she got here.”

“No, it was him.” The Baron sighed. “I know it was him. Petulant little brat. Why I thought I could trust him I’ll never know.”

Dragomir considered reproach, but his unsteady, weak legs and hard-beating heart forced him to concentrate on the terrain. He focused most of his attention on sticking to Traveller’s exact footsteps, both admiring and hating the man’s back as he quietly cleared a path through the fortress’s crumbled main hallway towards the only structure really left standing. Traveller seemed hesitant yet confident, radiating a health and wholeness that Dragomir envied more than anything.

I want to steal it, he thought, lip curling. He bit, and some of his ashen black skin flaked away. I want to steal what he’s got. Get it back again. But if I tried - and hell, how would I even do it? - if I tried, he would break me in two. Man, dying sucks so much worse when you know it’s coming.

The king’s tower, previously embedded deep within the fortress, now stood on its own. Looking much more wobbly than before, the tower was a ramshackle mess of repurposed bricks, wooden construction platforms, and half-finished walls. The king’s balcony was gone, Dragomir noticed at once, but the giant hole at the very top of the tower remained. He wondered if Barrel’s bulk would still fit up there, or if the dragon would just bring the whole damned tower down. Dragomir stared at the hole, fixated, knowing.

“She might not be up there,” The Baron said, his voice hollow and fearful. He looked ready to bolt. “She could be somewhere else. She never seemed to like it before when she was living here.”

“She’s there,” Traveller said, more to himself than to The Baron.

“Yeah,” Dragomir agreed, scowling sadly. “Yeah, she is.”

The ascent up the tower was easier than Dragomir remembered, either because he’d lost weight or because he no longer feared heights quite so much. He wasn’t entirely sure which it was. The stairs were ugly, formed from the remains of a dozen different buildings, but they held together nicely. Worse were the occasional blotches of green blood on the walls, hinting at Non who’d tried to flee up the tower and failed.

Dragomir dabbed at a patch of streaky ichor. “Why’d you put this thing back up, anyway? Never got the impression you like the tower much.”

“A reminder,” The Baron replied, stopping to peer over his shoulder as the tower creaked and complained. “Never to let someone like Jeffrey rule our fates again. Jeffrey, or… worse.”

“Most of this wasn’t Jeffrey’s fault,” Dragomir pointed out. “It was yours.”

“I think higher powers had more of a say in it than me.” The Baron coughed politely into his fist. “But point taken.”

There was no longer a door at the top of the tower, so the trio paused just short of the final doorway to catch their breaths. Only The Baron really needed the pause, huffing as he was, but Dragomir didn’t mind stopping either, because for the last dozen steps he’d become aware, rather painfully aware, that four people were breathing over their exertions, not three, and the fourth was not the tiny diary Traveller cradled in his arms. It took Traveller and The Baron a few moments to notice the breathing, and they, too, stopped to listen.

“That’s…” The Baron swallowed loudly, then flinched as the breathing from the top of the tower changed its pace.

“Yeah,” Dragomir confirmed. He tried to push past Traveller. “Eve? Sweetie? You up - ”

“No,” Traveller said flatly. With a firm flick of his hand he knocked Dragomir back. “I’ll do it. Eve? Are you in here?”

Dragomir’s heart began to beat more rapidly. Staggering against a wall, only supported from falling down the stairs by The Baron, he hissed a warning and a threat - but Traveller was already stepping into the tower, shoulders squared, footsteps strong and confident. A surprised rasp of female breath hissed out of the tower’s darkened innards, and Traveller’s expression pinched as he looked inside.

“Eve,” he murmured, sliding his hand against the ramshackle doorframe. “Is that really - “

He didn’t finish his sentence. A pair of gauntlets reached through the door, grabbed Traveller by the chest, and pulled him violently inside. He yelped, his apparent confidence replaced by the Traveller Dragomir knew of old, but the yelp was eclipsed by a snarling, hollow sentence, issued from a sandpaper throat with more hatred than Dragomir could imagine. Dragomir considered returning to his old habit of peeing himself, but he knew that hatred wasn’t directed at him, and that knowledge helped.

You’re not my daddy,” Eve insisted, drawing Traveller into the darkness. Seconds later, he screamed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day Nine-Forty-One: Castle _______

The castle did not look as Dragomir remembered, but at the same time it was exactly the same.

It took the wagon and its occupants until evening to reach the rolling plains surrounding Castle FinalDestination, and when the crumbled walls finally came into view they were bathed in golden orange sunlight. Most of the castle, Dragomir could tell from a distance, had fallen into disarray or ruin: much of the main fortress had crumbled in on itself, the walls bore huge holes in places, and the Neck no longer appeared to exist. Even the king’s tower looked like a shaky ghost of its former self, only restored after an epic collapse. The castle was a corpse, but a familiar corpse, and Dragomir removed his helmet in silent reverence.

“We tried to fix it up,” The Baron murmured at Dragomir’s side, “but it didn’t do much good. The foundations were badly shaken by the opening of the door, and when our homeland reappeared they were weakened even more. Between the retaking of the Indy Plains and Kierkegaard’s campaign against the Imperium, I imagine this place has little more than a skeleton staff at its disposal.”

“And if Eve is here, they’re probably literally skeletons by now,” Dragomir muttered back. “Er. Sorry. I guess that was… insensitive, or… something…”

The Baron shook his head. “I think we can dispense with niceties by now. You’re probably right. Ah, I had such aspirations for this place… I was going to build it into a grand, central authority for the Non… now we’ll be lucky if the remaining Non ever see it again…”

Dragomir patted The Baron on the shoulder, despite himself. Part of him loathed the Non for what they’d done to his life, whether it was a bid for freedom against an unjust, tyrannical police state or not. They’d taken his simplicity of mind and shredded it to pieces. Another part of him stood firmly with his brethren, however, and he wondered if the future would be kind to them or not. At least if they’d remained trapped beneath the earth, or stuck in codespace, or wherever they’d been imprisoned, they would have remained alive.

The wagon rumbled to a stop at the remains of the barbican, its portcullis long ago ripped away from the stonework and thrown into the moat. The Neck was indeed gone, the deadly trap Jeffrey used to kill unwary travellers a discarded memory, but two ramshackle wooden bridges connected the land to the insides of the castle. Dragomir eyed the boards with suspicion, memories of moat monsters jumping to mind.

The Baron raised an eyebrow. “They’re all gone, you know. Cleared out a long time ago. I didn’t ascribe to Jeffrey’s methods of defending the castle. If you fell in now you would only find water.”

“Yeah, well, old habits,” Dragomir muttered. “I guess we can’t go in through the secret tunnel dealie?”

“It was filled in when we got rid of the moat monsters.” The Baron offered Dragomir a tight grin under his cloak. “Go on, you big - “

The Baron stopped speaking as Traveller, who’d been uncharacteristically silent for over an hour, slipped between the two men. He set one foot on the ramshackle bridge, then another, and walked confidently across without a word. Dragomir and The Baron watched him go, Dragomir staring at the diary under Traveller’s arm, The Baron admiring Traveller’s squared shoulders. It took Dragomir a few moments to notice the spiked helmet on Traveller’s head, and The Baron even longer.

“W… wait,” The Baron sputtered, pointing. He turned to glance at Dragomir, noticing that his shaggy black hair was on full display. “When did he take it…?”

Dragomir shrugged, arms limp. His heart hurt as much as the rest of his body, and he tried to cover his expression by ducking his head into the back of the wagon to check on Bora. She was asleep, as always. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. C’mon, let’s go.”

The bailies of Castle FinalDestination seemed to be twin reflections of one another, robbed of the distinct buildings that once set them apart. Dragomir spied the remains of a few familiar destinations - the barracks seemed to almost be intact, and a few taller walls hinted at the apartments where he’d once lived - but virtually all of the wooden structures were gone, either ripped apart or worn down by disaster, weather, and negligence. Dragomir spotted ample signs of Non inhabitation, but even these seemed to be destroyed - many of them recently.

It didn’t take long to find the first of the bodies. Or what was left of it.

“My god,” The Baron said, staring up at the corpse. “She… I suppose she did this…”

“No doubt.” Dragomir swallowed. “My little girl.”

The Non was hanging from the highest remaining wall of the fortress’s outer shell, its dim emerald eyes staring sightlessly at the horizon. Its lower half was gone, probably contributing to the spray of black on the ground below, while its upper half dangled, arms down, from a rough spike of stone. Eve had tied its pale green guts around the spike, then used its blood to write an enormous message on the lower half of the wall. The message was surrounded by the rest of the bodies, half buried in debris.

“‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it,’” The Baron read. He covered his mouth in horror and looked away. “My god. This… this is…”

“This is the bed you created, old man.” Dragomir cleared his throat, refusing to avert his eyes. “Sleep in it.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Day Nine-Hundred-Forty: One final rest

“She’s not going to wake up, Dragomir.”

Dragomir nudged Bora anyway. The white-capped lump of a woman did not respond beyond a gentle, gurgling snore. Her face looked horribly withered by daylight, a sharp contrast to her usual, exotic beauty. She’d aged a hundred years overnight, and would probably continue to age until her body crumbled away into dust. It seemed the inevitable fate.

Dragomir glanced at The Baron. The older man’s eyes looked puffy behind his thick glasses, either from crying or a lack of sleep. Dragomir could relate. He hadn’t slept overnight either, too busy exploring his fragile new limbs, watching the unsteady rise and fall of Bora’s blanket, and wondering how long his newfound, precarious health would last. He thought he might just crumble away himself if he dared fall asleep, a heap of tar-black ashes no different from the residue left behind by their campfire. A bit greener, perhaps.

Only Traveller had slept. After a few minutes of careful, wondrous exploration he’d dropped onto the ground and snored loudly for almost seven hours, the diary curled up beside him. Dragomir had expected Traveller to get up and walk away at some point, his purpose fulfilled and his body restored, but he was still in camp come daybreak. His two human eyes blinked at Dragomir now, too perfectly symmetrical for Dragomir’s liking.

But then, Dragomir thought, scratching his oily head, I wonder if I should even be calling him that anymore. Traveller, y’know. He’s not. He’s just Dragomir again. Which means I’m… I dunno. Maybe I’m the Traveller, now. Nameless, aimless, and… well, not near as strong, can’t even shift forms anymore… but… yeah, the theme fits. Fuck me, the theme fits.

“Help me get her in the back of the cart,” Dragomir insisted. Settling on his knees, he slid his hands under Bora’s head. She didn’t respond to his touch, though her breathing lightened a little.

“But - “

Now,” Dragomir insisted. The harshness of his voice hurt his ears, but he maintained his tone. “Come on. We don’t have much time. This… whatever it is she gave me… won’t last long. I’ve gotta see Eve before it happens.”

The Baron nodded his head sadly, and he moved to lift Bora’s feet - but Traveller stopped him. Stooping, the bare-chested man gently tugged Bora up into his arms, without Dragomir’s aid, and lifted her easily off of the ground. Dragomir suspected he still had his incredible strength - not that Bora’s emaciated form would be difficult for anyone to lift anymore. She appeared, too, to have lost almost a third of her bodyweight overnight.

He could crush her, Dragomir thought, watching Traveller set her down in the back of the cart. I thought he would. She ruined his life. He was terrified of her. By all rights he should just squash her flat. He doesn’t know she’ll never recover from this. Unless…

Traveller cut into Dragomir’s thoughts by turning to The Baron. He cocked his head to one side, then, without speaking, he opened his mouth - and unleashed an earth-shaking belch. The Baron, surprised, staggered backward so awkwardly that he hit the ground. Dragomir was tempted, rather violently, to turn away - until he noticed green fumes wafting out of Traveller’s mouth. They swirled around his lips for a moment and disappeared into the sky.

“Don’t put a ghost in me again,” Traveller said to The Baron, helping the older man back to his feet. “It kept me in place, so thanks, I guess. But don’t do it again. I don’t like people controllin’ me anymore. It sucks. I’ll punch you in the nose.”

So that’s how they did it. Dragomir thought back to the previous night. He’d never noticed The Baron implanting one of his ghostly controllers into Traveller’s mouth. During story time, maybe? Doesn’t matter. Guess if one of those is good enough to hold Eve it can do the same to this guy, though.

The Baron’s pale cheeks flushed a sickly red, and he turned away. “S… sorry. She asked. Last favours, I guess. I won’t do it again. Probably to anyone. I don’t like it very much. They do strange things to people.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Dragomir commented wryly.

They set off half an hour later, Dragomir and The Baron up front, Traveller in the back with Bora and the diary. At some point after lunch Traveller began to tell stories to Bora, though she didn’t respond, and it took Dragomir almost an hour to realize Traveller was reading out of the diary. Paraphrasing in many spots, perhaps, but Dragomir recognized it as a series of entries from his time in Pubton, during the trial of Former-King Jeffrey.

Man. Dragomir looked up at the sky, imagining the past on its blank blue canvas. I thought I had it bad back then. Leading a community so split by shit like that was rough, even when it seemed like everybody wanted the same thing. Daena sure didn’t. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into past that point, did I? Thought I’d seen the worst, but… hrm. Everything always seems to roll further and further downhill for me, to the point that shit like that… just doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

“Dragomir,” The Baron muttered, tapping Dragomir lightly on his arm. A tiny bit of Dragomir’s clothes, which were now solely a part of his body, flaked away like dried mud. “Oh. Shit. Um, sorry.”

Dragomir waved his hand gingerly. “Who cares. Doesn’t hurt. What is it?”

The Baron flushed regardless. “You were telling Traveller a story last night, right?”

“Yeah. What, did you hear through your little ghostie? You weren’t even there.”

“I did. And it was… well, it was a familiar tale,” The Baron admitted. “But you started by asking Traveller something. Do you remember what?”

“Can you read?” Dragomir asked.

Traveller cocked his head to one side. “No. Mom ’n dad didn’t know how to read, and… that other guy… well, I think he knew, but maybe I don’t remember…? I think he liked to eat more.”

Dragomir’s mouth went dry as he listened to Traveller reciting from the diary. The words, though often truncated and commented upon by the mind of a dullard, were definitely Dragomir’s.

“Yeah,” Dragomir admitted. “I remember.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Nine: Dragomir

Dragomir thought Traveller was going to leap off of the ground and punch Bora hard enough that her head flew from her body and sailed across the countryside. He had good reasons if he decided to do so, and he certainly had the strength to make it happen. Dragomir wondered what would happen to himself if Bora were to be killed, given their connection. But the battered man barely moved beyond lifting his hand to point at Bora and quivering from head to toe, looking for all purposes to be frozen in a single moment of exquisite horror.

Bora shook her head. “I’m not gonna hurt ya. I just wanted to stop… stop… ach…”

Bora leaned forward, seized by a sudden coughing fit. She rasped discomfort, spitting blood onto the ground and into the fire, and Dragomir realized with no small sense of panic that he was caught in the same fit. They struggled almost in unison, she doubled over in pain, he using his one arm so inefficiently that he sprawled onto his side. Traveller watched them both, face pale.

“Are you sure you don’t need me?” a voice called out from the darkness surrounding the campsite. “I… are you sure?”

“Nah… n… nah!” Bora struggled back into a sitting position, clutching her chest. She wiped her hands on her pants, spat twice, and waved away the suggestion. “You… you stay out there, ol’ boy… we’re good.”

Dragomir didn’t bother to right himself. He remained on his side, breathing a little better but still coughing every now and then, mostly staring into the beady eyes of the diary. He’d tipped it off of his lap during his fit. The frown on its face was heartbreaking, and he tried a little smile, but that didn’t seem to cheer the book. It poked lightly at his face with its tail.

“So anyway,” Bora said, sniffling, “that was a pleasant start to the conversation, wasn’t it? Glad I didn’t do that while tendin’ bar. I’d have driven off every paying customer within twenty miles.”

“You took my eye,” Traveller mumbled. He shifted his pointed finger to Dragomir. “You took my eye - “

“Yes, I surely did, ’n we all know it.” Bora struggled to straighten her hair. It was matted and unruly, a far cry from her usual, stylish ‘do. “And I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. ’n I’m here to rectify that a touch, if I may. It needs to be rectified.”

Dragomir froze, the unease in his chest travelling down into his stomach. He was glad to see Bora - they’d parted on good terms a few months ago, and he knew she’d show up again before the end, like she’d promised - but those last two sentences… they sounded bad. They sounded downright terrifying, in fact, and he couldn’t tell why, suspecting that Bora’s intentions were travelling across their unique bond in a way he couldn’t yet grasp.

Bora reached around the fire and gently pushed Traveller’s hand into his lap. He looked like he might spring up and bolt from the campsite at any moment, but he didn’t move, and his arm yielded to her pressure. 

“I’ve done a lot of thinkin’,” Bora went on. “Even when you were tellin’ your little story, Dragomir, I was thinkin’. And researchin’. You wouldn’t tell it from my job choices in the past, but I’m a scientist, y’know? I figure stuff out. And I figured out something that I wish I’d figured out a while ago. Might’ve saved some pain.”

“What’s that?” Dragomir asked, the words emerging from his mouth in a dribble. Despite his fear he also felt exhausted, as if Bora’s presence had given him license not to fear Traveller, and he wanted to sleep. He wouldn’t, but he wanted to.

“Doesn’t matter right now.” Bora shook her head. “You’ll puzzle it out. Point is, I wronged you, Dragomir. Both of you. Stole the life from one, fabricated the life of the other. That damned fool in the woods might’ve been to blame, too, but the one who pulled the trigger has to take the responsibility. I’ve been good at ducking responsibility for the shit I pull for way too long.”

Bora staggered to her feet. Traveller flinched back, almost toppling over, but she wasn’t moving towards him. She plodded over to Dragomir and knelt over him, stroking his stump of a shoulder, and Dragomir’s fear subsided a bit… until she grabbed at his prosthetic arm and wrenched it from the socket, eyes flashing green as she did. Dragomir howled in pain at the sudden violence - and his howls redoubled as she did the same to Dragomir’s false leg. She threw both pieces of wood and metal into the fire.

“Why… why…” Dragomir hiccuped through his cries, tears flowing liberally. He could feel blood dribbling out of both of his stumps. “W… wh… why… I th… I thought…”

“I’m not bein’ mean, my boy,” Bora insisted. Dragomir tried to push her away, but his attempts were feeble, and she rolled him onto his back. “You keep having bad dreams. I know, because I have ‘em too. That lunkhead over there wants something back. Well, let’s give it back to him.”

Mouth quivering, Dragomir understood. His eyes flew wide open, and he tried to struggle in earnest, realizing the depths of Bora’s actions, knowing that she was going to take something vital from him, something he’d never given much thought to, but something that made him Dragomir. He needed to fight it, but he couldn’t, because, oh, she’d done something, she’d done something to herself to rob him of what little strength he had left, perhaps drugged herself, and though she could fight those effects he couldn’t, and now… he was… he couldn’t…

Dragomir blinked. I’m going away now, aren’t I? I’m going away.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea!” The voice from the darkness sounded panicky and fearful, and much closer than before.

“You stay out of this, Baron, m’lad! Get the hell away from the fire, and keep the other one pinned in place!” Bora’s features seemed to be changing, her face growing and turning grotesque as her muscles grew. She looked almost like a spider in the firelight, but one with greyish skin and a mop of white hair. “Fuck… you… you’re pretty strong even like this… mama’s proud of you… now just be quiet…”

Pinning Dragomir’s head to the ground by his neck, Bora hovered over him, her wide, emerald eyes weeping yet determined. Her long, leathery fingers swept across his face and pried his eyelids open, and as they did Dragomir unleashed a drunken, horrified scream. Traveller joined him, but Dragomir didn’t hear his doppelganger run, and as Bora did her work Dragomir decided he wasn’t able to notice much of anything besides the horrible sensation of departure.

To his surprise, beyond the iron grip of Bora’s hand on his neck, it didn’t hurt at all. He screamed anyway, but the lack of pain was almost as stunning as the fact that she’d just removed his eye.

Bora released Dragomir, and he rolled onto his side, gibbering incoherently, eyelids pinched shut. His skull felt vacant, robbed of something vital, and he clutched at his forehead with frantic fervour. There was a burning in his brain, as painful as his usual headaches but somehow different, as though his body was struggling to do something, to create something, but in its weakened state it couldn’t quite muster the effort needed to get it done.

Dragomir barely noticed that Bora was undoing the bandages on Traveller’s face. He, too, was screaming, but he didn’t move, allowing himself to be laid onto the ground. Bora’s lumpy body dangled over him, a fleshy shadow on spindly legs, half woman and half monster. It all seemed like a nightmare, but Dragomir knew he wouldn’t be sleeping again, so it couldn’t be a nightmare. It couldn’t be.

“And just a little bit left on it,” Bora murmured to herself. Dragomir suspected her heard her in his mind as much as with his ears. “There. Yep, that’ll… that’ll do. Yeah. Yeah.”

Time passed. Things happened. And when Dragomir opened his eyes, he was staring into the face of The Baron. The old man was hunched over him, a hand on Dragomir’s shoulder, shaking him lightly but firmly. He was saying something… but Dragomir couldn’t tell what it was. His ears, along with all of his other sensory organs, seemed attuned to only one fact: he’d expected The Baron to look different. Someone with only one eye should be a little… off-centre. But the man looked the same as he’d always looked.

Dragomir reached up and touched his face. He still had two eyes. Then he realized that he’d touched his face with an arm he thought he’d lost, and he wondered over that, too. His wonderment spread to his leg, because it was back in place. Both limbs felt tender and weak, as though they might burst into dust and flutter away at any moment, but they existed.

Dragomir sat up gingerly, helped by The Baron. He spotted Bora at once, laying off to the side of the fire pit. She was still a mass of greyish skin and otherworldly horror, but that horror was quickly folding in on itself, the flesh collapsing back into her human arms and human legs… and, just as quickly, robbing her of one of her arms and one of her legs. The truth was obvious enough, and Dragomir didn’t feel the need to ask any questions as he hobbled to her side.

Sweating profusely, her matted hair swept over one empty eye socket, Bora smiled up at him. The tusks protruding from her cheeks slid back into her face just quickly enough for the smile to be adorable. “I… ah… I set… I set it… right… didn’t… didn’t I…?”

Dragomir wasn’t sure if he should nod or not. He stammered a few nonsensical words instead.

“Are you certain this is what you want?” The Baron asked, straightening his glasses. He tried to help Bora into a more comfortable position, but she looked like any position would be uncomfortable to her. “Or… well, I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore, but…”

“Yep… bit… late…” Bora tried to reach up and stroke Dragomir’s cheek, but her remaining hand couldn’t make the trip. He helped her along, realizing as he did that he looked like a Non again, every bit of his skin oily black. “Now… you fellas… ought to keep goin’… it’s late, but… she’s… waiting for ya…”

“You’re hurt,” Dragomir said stupidly.

“I’ll live… s’long… as you… live…” Bora closed her remaining eye. “Just… get… that damned… fool… to bury us… together… if he can… he’s… he can do it… easy… now that… he’s…”

Bora’s hand slipped out of Dragomir’s grip. Breathing uneasily, she fell unconscious. Dragomir knelt beside her and touched his head to hers, still feeling wobbly on his new leg. But he couldn’t stay that way for long. He had to look. He had to see. He couldn’t avoid him forever. And so, forcing himself away from both Bora and The Baron, the latter of whom had knitted his fingers together in silent penance, Dragomir straightened… and looked to the other side of the fire.

Traveller was standing tall on the edge of the campsite, the sweat on his skin glistening in the moonlight. He was looking at his arms as though they were something new and unexpected, a surprise so surprising that he didn’t know what to do. He raised a hand and peered at it, then the other. Dragomir couldn’t see Traveller’s grinning expression through the curtain of hair around his face, but it was there, no doubt about it. Dragomir had no doubt that the wonder came from seeing the world with two eyes again. That, and the feeling of completeness.

The diary stood at Traveller’s feet, staring up at him. It held a quill in its tail, and it was thrusting the quill towards Traveller. Dragomir’s heart broke.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Eight: Of days past

Oh, what the hell. Maybe if I talk he’ll stay on the other side of the fire.

Dragomir reached into his bag and pulled out the diary. It stared up at him, huffy and expectant, and for the first time in a long time he gave it a little smile. The diary seemed to consider this, then flipped open at his touch. A feather quill was clutched in its coiled rat tail, and it slid up to him; he brushed the quill aside. He could feel the diary shudder with discontent, but he brushed that aside, too, flipping idly through the pages.

“Can you read?” Dragomir asked.

Traveller cocked his head to one side. “No. Mom ’n dad didn’t know how to read, and… that other guy… well, I think he knew, but maybe I don’t remember…? I think he liked to eat more.”

Dragomir pursed his lips. “Yeah. Yeah, he liked to eat more. Okay, so much for Plan A. I’ll do vocals.”

Traveller cocked his head to the other side. “Vocals? You gonna sing?” 

“No, no, you… ugh. Stupid.” Dragomir straightened as best he could and cleared his throat. “Once upon a time, there was a man.”

Traveller’s demeanour changed instantly. The vague threat in his voice disappeared as he whooped, and he threw his hands into the air, flopping onto the ground with the enthusiasm of a rowdy puppy. His glee was so great that he almost set his long hair on fire, and Dragomir had to stop his story short, on the first sentence, to yell at Traveller to watch out. 

“Once upon a time,” Dragomir began again, scowling, “there was a man. ’n he got a job at a castle. He was a guard.”

“You don’t have to tell me like this, y’know,” Traveller mumbled, but he looked thoroughly engrossed nonetheless. “You can just say it straight, or… something.”

It’s like he’s one part grown-ass man and one part four-year-old. “He got the job because his parents arranged for him to get the job. He wasn’t sure if somebody else had a hand in it, too, and he didn’t really care. It meant leaving the farm, and though that frightened him, he was okay with it. He wanted to try something else. Something different.”

“And he had a wife, right?” Travelled kicked at the dirt with enough vigour to leave deep gouges in the ground. “A really hot wife? Did they do it? Tell me they did it.”

And he liked his job well enough,” Dragomir gritted out, ignoring the sexual comments as best he could. “He was lazy, but he did his job, and he was the worst one at it, but that was okay. And, yes, he had a wife, and a year later he had a daughter. A really tiny daughter, who was quiet, and thoughtful, and who liked to… uh… anyway. She was nice in her own way.”

Traveller pointed into the distance, seeming almost unaware that he’d done so. Dragomir had no doubt that he was pointing straight at the ruins of Castle FinalDestination.

“He had adventures.” Dragomir continued to flip through the diary, staring down at the scrawls of handwriting within. There were so many different styles, from so many different people. “He went to a kingdom full of goblins, a kingdom that’s now long gone. He got stuck in a swamp. He found an underground city, a really small but really big city, and discovered… things. Things he didn’t want to know, because they made his simple life less simple.”

“Oh, I know what that’s like,” Traveller cut in, sitting up. “This one time I was all ‘I wonder what happens if I touch the dangly thing at the back of my throat?’ And then I did, and the stuff that came out of me - “

Dragomir ignored Traveller. He realized, dimly, that he was starting to tell the story to himself, to relive all the things he’d done since the beginning of… everything. “There were werewolves. And boxing. And a dragon, a really friendly dragon that could change shape. And his daughter got engaged to a little boy, a wicked, clever little boy… and the kingdom celebrated, I suppose, by digging a big hole. Or maybe the hole was happening regardless. The man didn’t know, exactly - he just knew that something bad was going down, and he got scared. He got really scared.”

“Really scared?” Traveller shuffled a little closer.

“Really scared.” Dragomir shuffled further away, around the fire. “But, on the… eve… of his daughter’s wedding, or, uh… actually, I guess it was the day after, but… anyway… he entered the hole. He went down the hole, into the centre of the Earth, practically. And then he did the bravest thing he’d ever done, facing down a big… door… a really big door… and it got him killed.”

Dragomir’s stomach began to hurt. Most of his body hurt these days, of course, but this sensation was not the dull ache he’d grown to associate with his failing form. It was an acute sensation, a burning, twisting sting, as though an enormous wasp had happened on their campfire and lodged its stinger in his gut. But this wasp had blonde hair, and narrowed eyes, and a suit of armour, and when it looked at him it offered the most loving smile he’d ever seen in his life. Dragomir’s stomach hurt, but it was an ache filled with love, a gesture meant to save, and he hugged himself. It was not easy, having only one arm, but he tried anyway.

“He doesn’t look killed.” Traveller’s enthusiasm seemed to die a little, his voice hollow and shocked.

“He was. Trust me.”

Dragomir’s eyes flew open, and he turned. There was a third person by the fire, sitting cross-legged on a hunk of wood and staring at Traveller. Her dark skin glowed a muddy orange in the firelight, and her white hair, more scraggly and unkempt than Dragomir remembered, identified her at once. Traveller looked at her, eye widening, and with one shaky hand he pointed at her, mouth working silently on words it couldn’t pronounce.

“Hi, fellas.” Bora coughed into her hand, and Dragomir noticed a thin trail of dull green dripping down her fingers when she spoke again. “Hope you don’t mind if a girl gatecrashes your all-boys club.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Seven: Tell me

The trip took three more days from the point that Traveller joined Dragomir and The Baron. By the end of it Dragomir’s eyes were puffy and red, utterly bloated from a lack of sleep - yet, somehow, he stayed awake. He couldn’t help himself, because he feared that Traveller might pluck out his eyeball if he dared to close it.

The trip, already awkward, became even more awkward. Unlike Dragomir and The Baron, who understood social niceties enough to remain silent, Traveller babbled constantly. He made note of everything: the blue of the sky, the heady, sometimes overwhelming scent of the trees, the passing migrations of reindeer, even the way the clouds looked like misshapen breasts, both male and female. Dragomir wanted sorely to punch Traveller whenever he mentioned Libby, and it happened often, but he felt too weak and too frail to put up even a token fight. He let the comments slide, and, eventually, elected to ignore Traveller.

“You aren’t talking to me anymore,” Traveller said, perhaps an hour after Dragomir had taken an internal vow of silence. “This is boring. Talk to me or I’ll get even more bored, y’know? Tell me about our family.”

Dragomir snorted. “Don’t have to. Don’t want to. And it’s not our family, it’s my family.”

“Nuh uh,” Traveller insisted, head cocked. Even he looked confused, but he kept talking anyway. “It’s both ours. How else could whatserface be so strong? What’s our daughter’s name again? Evelyn? I think it’s Evelyn. I mean, obviously she belongs to both of us, so - “

Dragomir punched Traveller. Or he tried, anyway. His fist rebounded uselessly off of Traveller’s jaw, knuckles bruised. Traveller barely seemed to notice. Dragomir tried again, with similar results, and gave up. He’d never been a strong puncher, for sure, but missing two of his limbs made him even weaker than he’d expected. He sighed, and Traveller gabbed, and they wandered onward, three fellows jammed into one tiny cart. Only the giant toads leading the way seemed unaffected by the awkwardness.

The trip to Castle FinalDestination seemed to take a fraction of the time it had taken to travel to what would become Pubton, and that made little sense to Dragomir. True, he’d never gone this route before, and true, he was in a cart, not on foot, but he’d still expected a journey that would last several weeks. Perhaps even a month, given how often Traveller had to stop their trip for pee breaks. Yet the world seemed utterly bent on dragging Dragomir to his destination as quickly as possible, compressing itself in such a way that mountains became hills, valleys became potholes, dirt roads became tiny footpaths. Within a week and a half they arrived in familiar lands, and Dragomir knew, just by scanning the horizon, that the castle was only a few hours away.

He called for a halt. The Baron complied quietly, tugging at the reins of the toads to stop. Dragomir expected either resistance or questions from Traveller, but the cyclopian nuisance simply smiled cheerfully and hopped off of the cart, exclaiming as he did that the flowers in these parts looked absolutely stunning. Then he ate several, and Dragomir’s scowl grew as he rubbed his tired eyes.

The Baron set up a campfire. He also offered to go looking for wood in a nearby forest, insisting - unnecessarily - that he would be safe on his own. Dragomir waved him away, curled himself up in a blanket, grabbed a branch from the ground, and poked at the fire in gloomy silence. He only dared crack a tiny grin when Traveller tried to grab at the fire and it burnt his hand, but the grin vanished quickly, quelled by unease and dislike. Dragomir wasn’t sure if - or when - Traveller might make a forceful grab for his lost eye, and he wasn’t sure how much he cared anymore, either. Dragomir was a dead man either way.

He only kept going because his daughter needed him. Nothing else.

“I always wanted to be a guard,” Traveller mumured.

Dragomir’s head shot up. He stared through the licking flames of the campfire, drinking in the expression of the man seated across from him. Traveller seemed to have dropped his spastic routine, folding himself into an awkward crouch, his two strong arms folded across his legs. His one eye calmly studied the flames, not seeming to see them, but something in them, something beyond. Dragomir supposed he was staring into his past.

“That rat… kept me confused… for a long time,” Traveller continued. He reached out to the flames again, far less comically, and didn’t pull away as a stray flame kissed the tip of his finger. He held it in place for several seconds before slowly pulling it back and sticking it in his mouth. “It hid in my hair. Made me forget… a lot of things. All those rats did that to me, you know? So I forgot. I got all messed up. But I’m remembering a lot, now.”

Dragomir swallowed. He pulled his blanket around his shoulders more tightly, hoping it might swallow him up and send him somewhere completely different. The early October wind howled around him, and despite the warmth of the fire, Dragomir shivered. It was too cold out here for this conversation, far too cold.

“But I don’t… remember… everything.” Traveller touched his eyepatch. “Enough, but not everything. So… I’d like if you… told me. You need to tell me what I missed. Because I always wanted to be a guard, but I never could. You took that away from me. So you owe me.”

“I didn’t take anything away from you,” Dragomir muttered. “Other people did. They took just as much away from me.”

“Maybe,” Traveller replied, after a moment of consideration. “But maybe I don’t care. So start talking, please. Tell me everything. Please.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Six: No more dreaming

Dragomir screamed, and rightfully so. A hairy man was touching his face. Most people would scream.

The Baron leaped to his feet so violently that he almost burned down his small tent, and narrowly avoided tragedy by kicking his spilled lantern out of the tent at the last second. His haste to reach Dragomir was so violent that he tripped, brought the tent down around him, yelled for help, and was generally ineffective at doing anything to save his companion. And in the meantime, Dragomir continued to scream.

Traveller clamped a hand over Dragomir’s mouth. It was iron-tight, and Dragomir didn’t bother to try and remove it. “Shhh. You’re loud. It’s late. You’ll wake up all the chipmunks. I think there’re chipmunks here, aren’t there?”

Dragomir’s eyes twitched, and when Traveller loosened his grip Dragomir immediately pulled away. They were standing in a small clearing, perhaps fifty feet away from the campsite, in the shade of a tree. Dragomir assumed he’d sleepwalked out here, because he was most definitely not asleep now, and he reinforced this belief by smacking his head on a cluster of branches as he tripped backward and fell on his ass. The branches hurt too much for this to be a dream.

Grinning, Traveller helped Dragomir up, grasping his pseudo-twin’s good arm and yanking Dragomir to his feet. Dragomir backed away again, a little more carefully this time, and pressed his hand to his chest. His heart hurt from the excitement.

“You… you fuck…” Dragomir gasped for breath. It was a while in coming, and he coughed several times before he got another proper word out. “You… you fucking… good gods, Traveller… why the fuck are you…?”

“‘cause I’m supposed to be,” Traveller replied simply. He scratched his chin. “This looks an awful lot like that place where I lost my eye. How’d I lose it again? Hm. Wonder if it’s around here, somewheres… or is it in your head? Yeah, maybe that was it. I couldn’t have it back, by any chance, could I? Kinda miss having two eyes! It’s like missing my boots all the time - “

Dragomir turned away, the sweat on his forehead redoubled. Looking for any excuse he could get, he trampled away from Traveller, towards the wagon. The giant toads were croaking loudly, joining The Baron in his distress as he struggled to extricate himself from his mess of a tent. He calmed down when Dragomir approached and announced himself, though getting him out of the tent was no mean feat with Dragomir’s one good arm.

Traveller didn’t help. He simply watched, leaning against the wagon, smiling a little. He clapped when The Baron finally popped free of his enclosure, and his smile grew by leaps when a dismayed expression spread across The Baron’s face.

“I… I take it… he’s responsible?” The Baron grabbed at his glasses and cleaned them furiously, revealing, if only for a second, twin pinpricks of Non-green pupils in the darkness. “What is he doing here? I thought we were…”

“Yeah, me too,” Dragomir agreed, sneering. He turned to Traveller, unwilling to show his back to the man. “You! Really, what the hell are you doing here? Did you follow us?”

“Kinda!” Traveller plopped down on the ground, sitting with his legs crossed, like a child. He pointed up at the stars. “Something told me you’d be out here. Something up there? Maybe? I dunno. Or maybe it was just my eyeball, calling for me. I’m not sure, eh? Not sure of a lot of things. Either way, I’m supposed to be here, so I am! Libby didn’t come with you, did she? Does she wanna have sex yet?”

Dragomir’s sneer grew. He wanted to reach across the campsite and slap Traveller, but he suspected doing so might break his hand. He settled for jabbing a finger imperiously towards Traveller instead. “You should be in freakin’ Pubton! I don’t care about your… delusions… or whatever… you don’t belong here! Now go away, or we’ll make you leave!”

Dragomir knew he had no way of enforcing his words. He was weaker now - unable to transform, missing an arm and a leg, dying from the effects of the Catastrophe, and afraid to trigger the weapon - than he’d ever been, even back during his days as Castle CurrentDestination’s worst guard. But he had a stronger voice, and he knew how to give orders, and he hoped the power of his convictions would send demented Traveller scurrying into the night from whence he came.

Traveller did not such thing. Instead, pulling on his feet, Traveller grinned so broadly that it looked like his face might split in half. He rocked back and forth on his butt, looking as though he might laugh, but he barely made a sound. It was a disconcerting display, and Dragomir’s gesture faltered. He looked at The Baron, and The Baron looked back, and they both shrugged uselessly.

“I think I’m going,” Traveller eventually said, still rocking creepily, “because our daughter’s gonna be there. And I know I asked if she was available a long time ago, but now I’m pretty sure she’s kinda my daughter, and I wanna help her, because she’s in pain. I can feel it, and I wanna help her work through it until she dies. And if you wanna stop me, well, you’ll have to trade something for me to go away.”

“What’s that?” Dragomir asked, mouth dry. 

“Your eyeball,” Traveller said at once. He pointed at his face. “‘cause if I get that back then I think I’ll be me again, which means I won’t be Traveller, which means I can go wherever I want, whether we made a deal or not. Because, you know, you made the deal with me, and not me. So it’s, um… a win-win? I think it’s called a win-win. Would you say it’s a win-win, old guy?”

“It’s a win-win,” The Baron sputtered, shuffling uncomfortably.

Traveller raised his hands to the stars, shaking them victoriously as he cheered, and the moment he did so he joined the party. Nothing Dragomir did or said or threatened could make him leave, and every time Dragomir tried to get him to go away, Traveller’s rejoinders became more specific and more threatening. He only lapsed into his childish, irritating personality when Dragomir gave up and let him have his way, and by then they were all so awake that they hit the road.

Dragomir did not sleep again for the duration of their trip. He was too busy living his nightmare.