Friday, January 30, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Fourteen: The Plan

Ah, thought Daena, and despite the dire peril nipping at her heels she comically scratched her head. That’s a fine name, then. Julius. A pleasure to meet you. Would you be one of the werewolves, Julius? Will you be stripping flesh from my bones in a few minutes?

Despite the yips and yowls and frantic stampeding of feet behind her, Daena heard Julius’s nervous laugh as clear as day. It warmed her heart, even though she didn’t know him, as it was a laugh filled with good intentions and backed by a solid personality. All at once Daena decided that she rather liked Julius, and that he probably was not a werewolf, since they were somewhat less cordial.

No, Julius confirmed a moment later. I’m just bouncing back and forth between them, trying to hang on. I’ve had to do so for months. Normally I cling to their pack leader, as she’s nice and large, but she shook me off when we spotted you.

Ah, well, you must be rather small, then, Julius, Daena thought, throwing another look back at the werewolves, even as her legs went into autopilot mode and sent her soaring over a snow-covered boulder without any mental commands on her part. I should think they might rip anyone who is not a werewolf to teensy tiny bits.

No, they’re actually content to just bite you until you become a werewolf, Julius said, sighing. Their pack numbers are so high because they usually don’t kill people. But, ah, I don’t think you want to be caught by them, at any rate.

Too true, Daena thought, nodding. Too true. They’re rather too bitey for my tastes. I’ve kicked werewolves in the chin before and sent them yelping away, but I’m not in the best position to do so again at the moment. Can you call them off, by any chance? I suspect you can.

Julius hesitated a moment, then his voice came back with a faint mixture of amusement. Do you think I can control them? I doubt we’d be in this mess if I could.

You must be able to, at least to an extent, Daena thought, winking internally to no one in particular. You contacted me immediately after I saw them in a wedge formation. I suspect that was your doing. Or am I wrong?

Julius paused again, though when he came back there was more of a sigh on his voice than humour. You’re not one hundred percent wrong, but you’re not one hundred percent right, either. I can suggest they do things via their pack leader, such as nudge them into an odd formation. I can’t outright force them to do anything. I used to exercise more direct control, but… things… things change. No, I only - oh, dear, look out ahead, will you, Daena?

Her mind on her mind, Daena realized she wasn’t watching where she was going. Her feet had put her on a direct collision course with the side of a barn, and three werewolves were popping out of the barn’s top windows with hearty jumps. The pack behind Daena howled, as if in triumph -

- but Daena simply hopped into the air, extended her right leg, and plowed right through the side of the barn with ease. The wooden wall, already weak from too many summers, winters, autumns and springs, exploded into pieces and flew everywhere. Daena shielded her face, and her nicked winter jacket protected her from the majority of the debris without comment. A thin line of blood seeping down her forehead suggested that she was not as well-protected as she might have liked, but Daena shrugged it off as she kicked her way through the opposite wall as well, only dimly noting the cow corpses on the barn’s bottom floor.

Thank you for that, Daena thought, once she was back in clear terrain and the wolf back was behind her again. I might have broken my skull had you not pointed it out.

Not a problem, Julius replied. At any rate, I only nudged them into that formation to get your attention. What little, ah, magic I have requires a two-way connection. It’s a familiar thing, Daena.

Daena wondered at the word ‘familiar’ but decided she’d leave it for another time. She now at least knew Julius was working with magic, which didn’t surprise her at all. That’s all well and good, but I should like to know how you know my name. Have we met before? I knew a Julius back in school, but I somehow doubt he’s speaking into my mind right now.

Isn’t assuming I’m not that Julius a greater leap of logic? Julius retorted good-naturedly.

It is, since he died of brain polio about ten years ago, Daena thought. I attended the funeral. Very sad.

Ah, my condolences. Yes, I suppose I’m not that Julius, Julius confirmed, though I’d rather save that rather long story for another time, as we’re coming up on our destination, and I need to outline the plan.

Ooooh, there’s a plan, is there? Daena smirked. Does it involve somehow corralling all of these werewolves into a single place and hoping for the best?

Somewhat, Julius admitted. In fact that’s very close to what I had in mind. We have a ready-made pen, after all; we just need to get them back to the city.

The final word in that sentence filled Daena with a strong sense of dread. The city?

As if on cue, Daena caught her first glimpse of ‘the city’ mere moments after the words passed through her head. She crested the top of a hill, passing through a thick heap of snow, and there it was: a semi-circular, flat, relatively bland settlement, perhaps two kilometres away and closing fast. Daena might have dismissed it had she been on the road under normal circumstances, but these circumstances were hardly normal.

Also, the city appeared to be on fire. So there was that.

That’s where this all started, Julius said. That’s also where I’m hoping this will end.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Thirteen: So About That Kangaroo

Daena had hoped, fervently, that the werewolf initially on her tail was alone. Indeed, she’d quite hoped that it was the werewolf she’d long known through association with her son, and not, say, any other werewolf. She was very much wrong.

The first werewolf leaped onto all fours and galloped after Daena with a determined gait the moment she passed the path leading to the farmhouse, kicking up a cloud of snow in its wake. Casting a quick look back Daena determined that it had more or less matched her speed, and was maintaining that speed with every ounce of energy it had. Eventually it would tire, and when it tired the werewolf would lose her.

That’s when the second werewolf leaped out of a field from Daena’s right. It landed in front of her, claws up, mouth open, teeth dripping chilled saliva. It wore a pair of mostly-ripped, leather bib-alls, and patchy, dried blood crusted the fur on its back up into spikes. It lunged at Daena -

- and, without thinking, the ex-queen jumped into the air, performing a fierce round kick. The flat of Daena’s boot sent the werewolf flying out of her way, and though Daena didn’t bother to look back this time, the crash of splintering wood gave her an idea of what happened.

Howls erupted from the fields, a call to arms that chilled Daena more than the weather ever could. Her eyes flicking back and forth as she ran, Daena spotted five… six… eight… no, twelve werewolves, and the chorus of their canine voices hinted at far more than that. The hunched creatures joined the chase, attempting to close in on Daena from all directions, but she was just a bit too quick to be cornered.

“Well,” she whispered to herself, grunting as she leaped over a werewolf that tried to tackle her, “this is quite the fearsome pickle.”

Thinking fast, Daena reached into her backpack, remembering her days back at the castle. They’d housed a werewolf, knowing and unknowing, and she’d learned from her son that it - No, Antonia was a she, by gods that werewolf was a she - held a surprising fondness for bread. Gripping a day-old, half-eaten loaf out of her near-frozen stores, Daena lobbed the bread back at the werewolves.

The bread bounced, neglected, off of the lead werewolf’s nose. It swiped the projectile away as though it were a fly and kept coming.

“Hum,” Daena said, scratching her chin. “Well that didn’t work.”

More werewolves joined the pack on Daena’s heels. They erupted out of abandoned homes, sheds, tall grass and copses, each adding their voice to the chorus of snarls as they gunned for Daena’s flesh. As Daena leaped over a fence and beelined through a field, hoping to throw off some of her pursuers in the rougher terrain, she estimated that some fifty wolves were now on her tail.

Running for her life and lacking anything better to do, Daena considered the situation. She wondered why there might be werewolves in this part of the country. Not so long ago she’d been in a part of the Imperium where everyone appeared to be healthy, if not happy. She’d seen no signs of werewolves anywhere, nor even signs that there might be werewolves elsewhere (though she admitted that she might simply have missed a vital clue or two in her forced haste). So… 

Trusting her feet to pilot her safely over - or through - any obstacles, Daena twisted her head to peer back at the pack. The wolves had formed a sloppy but distinct wedge formation, one that seemed designed to penetrate enemy lines in a large-scale battle. Daena had witnessed similar tactics during King Gok’s ‘mock’ battles several years prior, though she didn’t see any benefit to something similar in the wolves. 

Daena squinted, her debacle momentarily forgotten. Yes, that was most definitely a battle formation. But why…?

I believe I’ve caught your attention.

Daena jerked upright and twisted around, looking ahead for the source of the voice. It was slight, calm, and fairly dignified, the sort of voice you’d expect to belong to a philosopher or a poet. There was nothing to project the voice, however, save a lone hawk that happened to be soaring over Daena’s position as she scanned the sky.

“What?” Daena asked, peering around, trying to see through the snow kicking up on both sides of her. “Is… is someone there? IS SOMEWHERE THERE?”

I believe you’re yelling, the voice said, and this time Daena recognized it as coming from within her mind, but I can’t hear what you have to say. Think and I will hear you.

Eyes goggling, Daena looked back at the werewolves. They had resumed a slightly more normal posture, spreading out haphazardly across the farmers’ fields and appearing to be little more than a somewhat-disorganized pack of beasts. As the werewolves spread out Daena caught a quick glimpse of one werewolf that appeared to be much larger than the rest, but as the werewolves weaved and ran it was swallowed back into the pack.

“Where…?” Daena began, then she shook her head and closed her mouth. Where… no, who are you? And I suppose the where is also important.

It is, the voice said back, a little grimly. I’m somewhere in this pack of werewolves. And my name is Julius. If you’re willing to help me, Queen Daena, I think I can help you.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Twelve: Meanwhile...

“Oh, dear,” Daena said, speaking around the biscuit in her mouth. “Blood on my jacket. I hope that poor man is okay.”

The former queen of Castle ________ was currently powering her way up the side of a small mountain, somewhere in the west of the Imperium. She’d been on the constant run for the last five months (give or take a month), her legs utterly incapable of ceasing their movement. Daena had seen more of the countryside than she’d believed possible, and the tour alone made her feel blessed.

Being separated from her friends and family… particularly after they’d been captured by dragons… not so blessed. But she tended to take the good with the bad.

Kicking up huge clouds of snow as she ran, Daena cast a quick look over her shoulder at the village she’d just fled. It looked no less peaceful than it had upon her approach, but she knew that it was, in fact, currently in an uproar. She’d powered through two houses and a swollen marketplace, grabbing any food and supplies she could on her way while attempting to avoid the villagers. She knew she’d blindsided one poor man, and she hoped he’d heard her apology.

Not much choice, Daena thought, chewing. The rest of the biscuits were bouncing about in a covered basket beneath her right arm. I need to keep eating. If I don’t… well, we know what will happen if I don’t. I wonder if my corpse would continue running, though…?

Life had not been kind for Daena since she’d ‘escaped’ from her tree, released by the rats. After smashing through one of the Dauphine’s walls with a hearty kick she’d fled into the desert, unable to stop herself. The rats on their dragons had pursued her for several miles, but they proved too slow and unwieldy to catch up with the sprinting queen. Even the desert hadn’t been hot enough or large enough to get Daena down, and within a day and a half she was galloping across the countryside. Since then existence consisted of attempts to stop running, though they were entirely fruitless.

Scooping to grab at the landscape kicked up by her relentless feet, Daena sucked on a hunk of snow to wash down her too-dry biscuit. Unlike most people she’d taken the coming of winter three weeks prior as a blessing, as the snowfall provided her with ample water. During the autumn she’d been forced to simply hope that water would be forthcoming, and the days without encountering a pond or a village were long and hard. Daena wondered how many water sources she’d simply run right past thanks to her inability to stop and search for a few minutes.

Her meal finished for the moment, Daena pulled the remaining biscuits from the basket, dumped them into her backpack, threw the basket away, and focused on the road. She was up and over the mountain now, her semi-autopilot legs driving Daena towards a long stretch of farmland. Wheat fields covered in snow rose and fell in gentle curves, separated by thin, rough roadways that were probably deserted at this time of year. 

Or maybe time of year has nothing to do with it, Daena thought grimly. The Non may be partially to blame. Oh, I hope the Imperium has kept them at bay… everyone I’ve seen while travelling looks so grim, but that may be my fault, so I really can’t be sure…

Hurtling over a sizeable rock and landing nimbly almost ten meters away, Daena made her way down the mountain and onto the roads. She willed her legs to change direction, so as not to ruin the farmers’ fields, but only succeeded in trampling a fence for a quarter mile. Her powerful kicks sent wooden posts flying in all directions, and Daena’s cheeks glowed red with embarrassment and frustration.

“Dammit all,” she bellowed, raising her arms and shaking her fists at the sky, “can’t you give me a break for just five minutes? Just five?!”

The universe did not reply, and Daena had to work hard to orient herself with the road between fields. Brushing bits of wood out of her hair, she tried to focus her body along a straight line, imagining it as a track that determined her direction. Daena had attempted similar exercises hundreds of times, though they seldom worked to her satisfaction.

As the road rose to a crest and brought Daena over a hill she spotted a sizeable farmhouse on her left. She considered giving it a look, but, thinking of the fence she’d just ruined, she decided not to bring any further woe to its inhabitants. She was about to turn away and look for an adjoining road that would continue carrying her west, hopefully, eventually, to Pubton -

- but a flash of familiar brown fur darting out of the farmhouse, distant though it was, forced Daena to reappraise the building.

And its inhabitant.

Its very wolfish inhabitant.

The same inhabitant that was, currently, watching her, limbs tensed, claws opening and closing.

“Oh, dear,” Daena said, biting her lip. “I do believe that is some form of non-kangaroo.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Eleven: Peace Out

Nothing?” Logan rasped, fingers so tight that he thought he might crush his own bones. “What do you mean, nothing?

“You heard me.” Libby crossed her arms. “Nothin’. We’re gonna carry on like this didn’t happen. Captain’s orders.”

Even Dragomir seemed dumbfounded by her pronouncement, though not necessarily unhappy. “Uhhh… Libby, are you seriously just…?”

Libby stepped over to her husband, and before he could cringe away she gave him a swift - but light - punch to the gut. Dragomir doubled over, more out of instinct than actual hurt, and as he curled Libby swept her arms around him, giving him a fierce hug.

“You’re still my fuckin’ husband, far as I can tell,” Libby said. She was half smiling. “You’re a big ‘ol pansy who’s pretty bad about lying to me. Seems classic Dragomir. Doesn’t matter if some fuckin’ one-eyed retard is the real Dragomir; to me you’re the real Dragomir. Understand?”

Eyes clenched shut, Dragomir nodded quickly. He was smiling.

Logan was not. “Th… this is bullshit! You can’t… how can you… how can you just trust him so blindly - “

“Gouging the eyes from a foe’s skulls is true blindness,” Eve quipped.

Shut up you weird freak,” Logan demanded, though Eve’s glare put his heart in his stomach. “Gods… I… this… I can’t just accept this! What the fuck! He’s… it’s not even a fucking human, Libby! How can we trust it? Let alone have it lead a fucking army?”

“Because,” Libby insisted. She kissed Dragomir on the head.

“But - “

BE-FUCKING-CAUSE, LOGAN,” Libby shouted. Her hands balled into tight fists. “I… I have a feeling… and I know it’s right. This is my husband, and he’s no less trustworthy than he was when this whole fuckin’ mess started. Besides, we probably need him if we can stay on the rats’ side in this stupid-ass war. They made a deal with him, not us.”

“That’s bullshit,” Logan insisted. “Complete bullshit. The rats want the Non gone whether we’ve got this thing or not. Hell, we can keep it - “

HIM,” Libby demanded.

“Him,” Logan gritted through his teeth. “We can keep him under wraps, and have, I dunno, Pagan lead the war instead. People like Pagan well enough, ’n he’s smarter than this guy anyway.”

Libby shook her head, but she didn’t say anything else. Disgusted, Logan stalked towards the door - and, to his surprise, Fynn began to follow. He looked at the giant boy quizzically, then, seeing the expression on Fynn’s anguished face, understood completely. They were both going through exactly the same thing, though Fynn’s pain was on a much deeper level.

“Fynn?” Libby asked, her voice full of genuine confusion. “Where’re you goin’? We’re not done talkin’.”

“I am,” Fynn said. His defiance seemed to shock the room, given his usual good cheer and pleasant manner. “I gotta get outta here ’n think about this.”

“You can think here,” Libby said. She released Dragomir and took several steps towards her son. 

Fynn didn’t let her approach. Rising to his full height - or as full as he could get in the cabin - he closed his eyes and appeared to concentrate. Perplexed, Logan wondered what was happening… until he realized that Fynn was, somehow, beginning to shrink. His oversized limbs and massive torso seemed to melt away, bringing him down from a massive eleven-foot something to, eventually, a much-more-manageable six-foot-two. A tall boy for his age, but normal.

In the silence that followed, Logan tapped Fynn’s arm experimentally. It was hard as rock. “Wow. That’s… yikes. Like you sucked it all in, kid.”

“Yeah,” Fynn said. “That’s exactly what I did. ’n I’m gonna take all this outta here. Take me scouting, Logan. We gotta make sure no Non are wandering around.”

“Fynn,” Libby cut in, anger stirring in her tone. “You aren’t going anywhere - “

Fynn did something Logan never would have expected. Extending his arms, he reached across the entirety of the room and grasped Dragomir by the shoulders. His arms stretched as though made out of putty, turning almost completely black at the elbows. Dragomir cried out as he was manhandled into the air, and he transformed back into a Non, but he didn’t fight his son. Logan wondered if he even could.

When did this whole crew of people turn into freaks? Logan wondered, holding his breath. I used to be the freakish one. Now I’m kinda small fry.

“I’m goin’ anywhere this guy is not,” Fynn said. He waved Dragomir gently in the air. “I… dad, I don’t… I don’t hate you, or… nothing… I just can’t be here. I can’t. I want to get so mad at you, but… more ’n that… I just wanna leave. Do… do you…?”

Hanging limp, Dragomir nodded. “Yeah. I get it, son. I get it.”

Fynn dropped Dragomir, the latter landing nimbly on the deck. Fynn’s arms retracted, and with a weird pop returned to normal. Shuddering, offering a small wave to his mother, he turned and walked out the door. Eve, still seated on the ground, surprised Logan by offering her brother a little wave in return.

Libby’s face was beet red, but she didn’t follow her son. Instead, she turned her glare on Logan. “Don’t tell anybody ‘bout this. No one.

Logan wanted to defy her, but he knew better. He didn’t fear Libby in this - for all her bluster and arm power, she was a fairly normal woman by the Sky Bitch’s standards - but he did fear the abrupt repercussions of revealing Dragomir’s true nature. “I won’t.”

The door clicked shut. Staring at the ruined command deck, Logan stalked away before he could hear Libby’s short, angry cries from inside the cabin. He shuddered, as much at her distress as his own shattered trust in a man he’d loved so well for so long.

I’m probably being stupid, Logan thought, joining Fynn as he stared at a huge heap of snow. But this is too much. This is too damned much.

“I need to get further than this,” Fynn said, voice tight. “I need to get out of here.”

Logan punched the boy on the arm, instantly regretting his decision. Fynn’s skin was impossibly tough when he was this small. “Then let’s get outta here. ‘least for a while.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Ten: What Are You?

“Change,” Libby demanded. 

“What?” Dragomir said, standing on the opposite side of the cabin from everyone else. “Libby, we don’t have time for this. The ship just went down, Morris is dead, a lot of people are probably - “

“Change right now, or we’re through,” Libby insisted, hands on her hips. “Fucking change right now or I’ll come at you with a knife and do my best to fuckin’ gut you. I’m not kidding around, Dragomir.”

Logan tensed. He was already pretty tense, but this small exchange somehow made him feel even worse. He’d long regarded Dragomir as something of a father figure, and Libby was, at the very least, a good friend by this point. Her affection for Logan’s mother assured her that much. A battle between these two…

“Are you sure you want this?” Dragomir whispered, staring down at his hands.

Do it,” Libby hissed.

“Yeah, dad,” Fynn piped in, voice mournful and low. “Show us.”

Dragomir shuddered. Then, raising his hands, he began to change. The tips of his zombie-given general’s uniform began to warp and twist, curling into his arms and disappearing entirely. The folds of his pants shuddered and merged with his legs, leaving behind lean, well-muscles calves and thighs. His jacket sank into his chest, his neck, even the underside of his chin. Dragomir’s eyes sank into a black quagmire, then peered out at everyone again as a pair of plain, dazzling green pinpricks of light.

A Non stood before them after less than a minute of transformation. It shrugged a very Dragomir shrug and sank against the cabin’s far wall, as though fearing the lash of a whip.

“So I wasn’t just seein’ things,” Libby said, hand over her mouth. “I… oh, fuck, I wasn’t just…”

“That explains us, then, I guess,” Fynn said, crouched so low that he had his arms crossed over his knees. He looked at his sister, who glared right back. “We’re, I dunno, half… things…”

“The world is full of blood and despair,” Eve pointed out. “And I am the executor.”

“I hear ya, sis,” Fynn said, sighing.

“You’re a spy,” Logan said, repeating his half-formed argument from before. “You’re a fuckin’ spy. You’ve, you’ve, you must’ve been passing on info all this time. You - “

“I’m not a spy!” Dragomir insisted, clawed hands up. “I swear! No! I’m, I’m… I’m… I’m still the same guy I was… yesterday…”

Libby took several steps towards her husband, less cautious than Logan might have imagined. “No. You’re not. You’ve been different since you went into that fuckin’ desert. Too willin’ to do shit you’d have hated before. This is why, innit? Did this happen to you there?”

Dragomir shook his head… but hesitantly. “No. But… yes, kinda, at the same time. I… learned stuff, while I was there. A lot of stuff. A lot of really bad stuff. And, uh, I don’t… I don’t know how much of it is true, but… this… I think…”

“You’re not making any sense. Make sense,” Logan demanded, one hand on the hilt of his sword. “Or we’re gonna be upset, and we’re probably gonna do things. You won’t like ‘em.”

The room fell into silence as Dragomir, or what currently passed for Dragomir, thought his predicament over. The tense quiet was partially broken by the soft pad of footsteps as Eve walked away from her brother, gently elbowed past her mother, and approached her father. Dragomir cringed, but he didn’t flee as Eve stepped up beside him.

“Hi, honey,” Dragomir said meekly. 

“Tell a story of blood and fire,” Eve said, offering her father no consolation. “Speak of the darkest tidings. Spare no detail of sweat or gore. I demand it be so.”

Dragomir peered at his daughter for a moment, the shine in his eyes dulling enough that Logan could see the pupils beneath the green. They looked contemplative and sad, and for a moment Logan forgot his rage. But only for a moment. He refused to let it go entirely, because as much as he liked Dragomir, he couldn’t forgive something like this without a really good reason.

“Okay, Eve,” Dragomir said, breathing. “Let’s talk. I’ll make it quick.”

Speaking through the sounds of door knocks, terrible groans, and work underway from the command deck, Dragomir told a quick version of his story. He spoke of Iko’s revelations, of his supposed origins, of Traveller’s true identity, and of his deal with the rats. He also spoke of the Catastrophe, describing the pain of using the blade, and of his hope to have it removed - along with whatever Non influence lingered in his body. The story took several long minutes, but no one interrupted him.

When Dragomir finished he was smaller than ever, almost hiding behind Libby’s desk in the cabin, his listeners leering at him from all sides. For once it was Eve who offered no hint of antagonism, as she was seated a short distance from her father, simply staring at the ceiling. Logan assumed she knew a lot of what was going on already anyway.

“Well,” Libby said when Dragomir concluded his tale. “That’s… something. That’s really something.”

“Yeah,” Fynn agreed.

“Something,” Logan muttered.

Dragomir covered his face, which, by now, was looking much more human again. “So… yeah… that's that… what’re you gonna do…? I guess… I guess you’ll wanna kill - “

“Nothing,” Libby said flatly. “We’re not gonna do a damned thing.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Nine: Family Meeting

Thanks to a not-too-steep approach vector, the Sky Bitch hit the ground at a skid rather than a full-on plummet. This did not make the crash any less painful for its inhabitants, but it did ensure their survival.

Those who were not already laying on the ground and praying for their lives were swiftly thrown to the deck as the Sky Bitch skidded over a hill and hopped back up into the air by about twelve feet. The motion hurled two sky dwarves into the gears of engineering, crushing their bodies to a pulp. Jeffrey and Cedric, still quite concentrated on their quarry, used the opportunity to dash about engineering and dispatch the few remaining dwarves. Their reckless bravery earned them both a painful trip into a wall, leaving Jeffrey unconscious and Cedric annoyed.

Up on the bridge, watching snow flood onto the deck, Logan clung to a bannister as the Sky Bitch went down. His insane reflexes saved him from any injury whatsoever, but the thundering roar of complaining engines and whooshing wind stung his ears. He wondered if his sister’s last moments had been anything like this, in the final seconds before millions of tonnes of metal crushed the life from her body.

If I get out of this, Logan thought, leaping nimbly upward to avoid a command console that had flown loose of its nails, I’m gonna have to put getting her back higher on my to-do list. Somewhere ‘round the same place as asking Dragomir why he’s a Non. Those are top-of-the-list entries, doods.

It took a minute and a half - a proper eternity to anyone on board - for the Sky Bitch to shudder to a complete stop. It listed to one side, threatening to flop to port, but by some miracle it managed to inch up beside a fairly substantial cliff edge. That fact, along with the sheer amount of snow now decorating the ground, provided the Sky Bitch with a nice, furrowed cradle, and it moved no longer.

Logan didn’t open his eyes for several seconds. When he did he found himself staring across the ruined command deck at Eve and Fynn, the latter of which was standing perfectly upright with the former held limp under one arm. Despite a nasty gash on her forehead from one of Kierkegaard’s attacks, Eve looked relatively unconcerned by it all. The massive boy she was holding did not seem to share her apathy, and his face sported more than a few tears.

The siblings both had shining green eyes, though Fynn’s were fading. Yet neither looked quite so demonic as their father.

Though fading back to normal at a rate of roughly one inch a second, Dragomir looked as Non as he had moments before. His legs were clad in baggy pants, but his arms, stomach, pectorals, and head still consisted of thin, black tissue, as deeply black as a starless sky. With Libby clutched in a tight hug he turned to look around the command deck, and though a pair of very human eyes eventually fell on Logan, they were tinted a faint green - and framed from above by a fringe of oozing black hair.

“Well,” Dragomir said eventually, releasing his wife. “This is… this is something.”

Libby stumbled away from Dragomir, seeming to instinctively fall to Logan’s side. Her gaze flicked from her husband, to her son, and to the rat on her shoulder, ever suspicious and comprehending. Logan followed her flicks of attention, because he, too, was probably just as thoroughly confused as her - though, for once, the anger was not on Libby’s face, but his own.

“You’re a spy,” Logan concluded, fists tightening. “You’re not Dragomir. He’s dead after all, isn’t he? Eve killed him - “

“No, it’s me.” Dragomir sighed, shrugging. “Or, uh, it’s kinda me. It’s… it’s a long story.”

Struggling free of his sister, Fynn stood tall over everyone else. He paused to check his eyes in the remains of the glass canopy. “Start talking, dad.”

Now more or less back to normal, Dragomir opened his mouth - but he was interrupted by the pound of footsteps trudging up the stairs to the command deck. Evangelina appeared at the top in short order, and Pagan stomped up behind her, breathing hard. Both looked shaken and bruised, but not badly hurt.

“What the hell happened?” Evangelina asked. She appeared to be half-clad in bits of protective wood, no doubt pulled magically from the Sky Bitch’s furniture. “Is… are there any more sky dwarves?”

“Yes, let’s hear a report,” Pagan asked, shaking his head. Both of his cheeks were forming bruises. “Ugh. I haven’t gone through that much of a tumble in a long time.”

Libby grabbed at Dragomir’s hand. He looked at her, surprised, but didn’t pull away. “Is Kierkegaard still aboard?”

Of all people, it was Eve who ultimately shook her head. “His remains are splattered across the landscape. Yours shall follow.”

“Fuck you, too, kiddo,” Libby countered. “And I doubt he’s dead. Probably got shoved out by the fuckin’ snow. Anyway, if he ain’t here, ’n if we ain’t in trouble, we need to have a family chat. C’mon, Dragomir, Fynn, yes, even the bitchface. You, too, Logan. You’re practically family.”

Libby pointed towards the captain’s cabin, the door of which seemed intact. Resigned, Dragomir began to march. Eve quietly fell in behind him, and Fynn awkwardly joined. Evangelina protested, and Pagan demanded to be privy to the conversation, but Libby’s icy chill silenced their objections. Logan didn’t have to be told twice to get his butt into the cabin.

“Check the ship for, uh… damage,” Libby said before closing and bolting the door. She plucked the rat that was clinging to her shoulder away, gave it an odd look, and handed it to Pagan. “Put this thing somewhere. And send out scouts to make sure there ain’t any Non hereabouts. And make sure everyone’s alright, I guess, before… sending… the scouts. They need to be conscious to do scouting shit. And, um, try to… fuckin’… well, just stay outta our hair, right? Okay. Have fun.”

Logan suspected the conversation to come would be anything but fun. He was right.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Eight: That Fine Day

“You didn’t even wear a hat while travelling? That’s a fuckin’ dumb thing to do, this time of year.”

Dragomir scratched his head, reaching vaguely up into his hair and tousling it for a few seconds. “Uh… well, I think I had one, but… I dunno where it is, now…”

Libby rolled her eyes. “Don’t matter, I guess. C’mon.”

The freshly-married couple mounted the stairs and climbed to the second floor of the apartment complex, Dragomir struggling to keep up with Libby’s two-steps-at-a-time pace. She rolled her eyes at that, too, and at the thinness of his arms and legs. He seemed nothing like the strong, dependable farm boy promised by the letters to her father.

“I didn’t agree to this, y’know,” Libby snorted halfway up. “Didn’t wanna marry fuckin’ anybody. My daddy insisted. So don’t think you’ll be likin’ this marriage anytime soon, hear? Sure as hell ain’t gonna be gettin’ up in my loins none.”

Dragomir’s jaw dropped open, and he nearly missed a step. “L… lions? You have lions?”

Libby stopped on the nearest landing, turning to stare incredulously at her new husband. “Lions? Loins, ya fuckhead, loins. The things ‘twixt my legs. You know what loins are, don’t you? You’ve got your own.”

“Oh.” Shifting his backpack from one arm to the other, Dragomir peered into his pants. “Y’mean this tube thinger? Have you got one too?”

“FUCK!” Libby smacked him in the face, adding a fresh bruise to the earlier blemish. “My gods, what’s wrong with you?! I don’t wanna see that! Learn some fuckin’ manners!”

Staggering back several paces, Dragomir laced his pants and bowed deeply. “Sorry! Sorry! Agh, sorry! I’m, I’m, I’m just… kinda… well, you know, this is a new place, ’n I just, I, well, I’m, like, I’m married now, and it’s - “

Libby wasn’t interested. Flexing out her disapproval, she continued up the stairs to her apartment. Dragomir struggled to keep up, wailing apologies the whole way.

Their apartment was, in fact, little more than a walk-in closet, though nicely appointed with furniture Libby had carved for herself the previous day. The dominant feature was their bed, one Libby had crafted to be more than large enough for two people. She didn’t intend to spend more time in the room than was absolutely necessary - and she prayed the same went for her husband.

Watching Dragomir meekly set his backpack to one side, Libby’s scowl deepened. She looked him over, head to toe, and found very little to like. He was not an especially attractive man, though more on the plain side than outright ugly, and his lanky physique left little doubt as to his level of fitness. His clothes appeared to be shabby beyond the rigours of travel, and a faint, pissy odour wafted from his person at regular intervals. Libby wondered if he wet the bed.

If he wets the bed, Libby thought, staring at the small hole in the wall that passed for a window, I’ll throw him through that. Dad won’t get word that I’ve killed my husband for at least five months. I can handle five months of quiet.

“I’m one of the head carpenters,” Libby said, crossing her arms. “Once that old pinhead Pinter croaks I’ll be head carpenter. I work all fuckin’ day. When I come home I want some quiet. You work night shift a lot, right? ‘cause you’re a guard?”

Dragomir shuffled his feet. “Well, I think so, but I haven’t checked in yet so I’m not really - “

“Figure it out,” Libby demanded. She pointed to the bed. “They wouldn’t gimme a bigger room, so we’ve gotta share this. It’s an awesome bed, because I made it, and I’m pretty fuckin’ awesome at my job. When I’m in this bed, and you’re in this bed, we don’t touch. You don’t make a noise. We sleep. That’s it. You get me?”

Dragomir nodded quickly. “Yes’m.”

“Good.” Libby hopped onto the bed, bounced once, and reached for a pair of scissors on a side table. “Go check in, or whatever. I expect you to work damned hard.”

Dragomir nodded again, slouching towards the door. “Yes’m.”

Libby’s scowl deepened for a third time. The man was clearly a pushover, and while she valued getting her way, she also didn’t much admire pushovers. She preferred people with a spine. The thought made her scowl so deeply and so thoroughly that she didn’t pay much attention to what she was doing, and she pinched her finger with the scissors as she tried to trim one of her nails. 

Her yelp drew Dragomir back. “Ahh! What? What happened? What’s wrong?”

Shaking her hand, Libby snorted. “Fuck! Ow. Nothing. Cut myself. Go, do your shit. I got this.”

To Libby’s surprise, however, Dragomir did not leave. Instead, he swiftly ripped a small piece of the bottom of his shirt away, hopped onto the bed, and reached for Libby’s hand. She pulled away, aghast and confused. “The hell you doin’? Freaking pervert!” 

“I dunno what that is,” Dragomir admitted, tense but persistent. “C’mon. Lemme see that. Please?”

Though irritated, as much by the cut as Dragomir’s cavalier attitude, Libby extended her bleeding finger. With a tiny, tight smile, Dragomir wrapped the strip of cloth from his shirt around the wound, tying it tight. The satisfied grin lit his face, and for the tiniest second Libby thought he could almost, with about a thousand renovations, appear handsome.

“There,” he said, tugging on the neat bow he’d made. “All better. Does it hurt?”

“No,” Libby insisted. “Don’t be stupid. Here, put these over there. I’ll cut m’damned fingernails later.”

Libby handed Dragomir the scissors. They touched his hand and abruptly slid out of his fingers. Frowning, he tried to grab them from the bed, but they slid out of his grip again and again. Each soft plop onto the coverlet increased Libby’s puzzlement. “The hell? Pick ‘em up. Why aren’t you picking them up?”

“I’m trying,” Dragomir said, grunting. “But… they just… won’t… bah! They must be covered in oil ‘re somethin’.”

Libby plucked the scissors from the bed with one swift gesture. “If they are, it’s Anti-Dragomir oil. Or somethin’. See? Maybe you just suck at life.”

“Ha ha! Uh, maybe.” Dragomir blushed. He poked Libby’s shoulder tentatively, looking as though he feared violent reprisal. “Well, um… I guess… maybe… I can’t touch dangerous stuff? But, see, I can touch you, so I guess… you’re not… dangerous? Yeah, ha ha, right?”

Libby punched him in the arm. “Think again, douche.”

Rubbing his shoulder, Dragomir smirked. “You’re the douche. Douche.”

“Get outta here, douche.” For the first time that day, Libby allowed herself a little smile.

His hands were always so warm, Libby thought. Didn’t matter what was comin’ out of his stupid mouth, his hands were always so warm.

The claw hovered in front of Libby, reaching for her through the snow. It was black as oil, sharp and inhuman… but as the tip of one indistinct fingernail brushed Libby’s cheek, she felt that warmth.

“Don’t do it,” the rat hissed. “He’s not the one for you. I am.”

We were forced to get married, Libby thought. But I grew into it.

Libby took her husband’s hand, and as the world whirled and crashed, he pulled her into his shadowy embrace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Seven: The Internal Struggles of Libby the Lumberjack/Carpenter/Mechanic/Captain

Libby had constructed an enormous, deployable covering for the Sky Bitch, knowing full well that the ship would get buffeted by snow eventually. She’d feared that it would fall while the ship was in flight, and had hoped to be on the ground when it did. But the Sky Bitch was not on the ground, and when the wave of crystallized water fell from above, neither was Libby. Consequently, the deployable covering remained safely inside its housing.

The snow flooded into the holes in the Sky Bitch’s glass canopy, oozing into the ship in vast amounts and tugging the hull violently downward. Libby sprawled backward, propelled into the snow by gravity, and she screamed obscenities as the airship tilted towards the ground. She’d spent enough time in flight to know that they were hurtling towards the earth.

Yet that fact seemed to pale in comparison to what she’d seen. Indeed, despite the fear of death, the fright of watching her husband turn into a tar-filled monster cut so much deeper.

The Sky Bitch shuddered and wobbled, its propellors clogged with thick reams of snow, its balloon abruptly weighted down by several hundred pounds of beautiful white, and it veered off and away from the confused Non army waiting far below. Libby could feel the ship attempting to right itself, the helium in its balloon straining to rise, but the weight of the accumulated snow proved too great, and the Sky Bitch began to spin. 

Buried in the snow, struggling to dig herself free, Libby felt her stomach churn. She wanted to vomit. She also dared not, because there was too much snow in her face, and she needed to breathe, oh, she needed to 

I married a thing.

feel the warmth of the overhead lamps again, to grab the wheel of the Sky Bitch and set it to rights, because, by the gods, she was the captain of the fucking ship, and so she dug, and so more snow fell in around her, and so, slowly, she was, rather than freed, buried.

It was never my fault, Libby thought, her arms too sore from exertion and the pinch of Kierkegaard’s horrifying grip to move any further. It was him. He made the freaks. He’s the reason Eve… and Fynn… and… oh, gods, the other one - 

“I will save you,” a tiny voice whispered in Libby’s ear. “Don’t worry. I’m here. You’ll be fine.”

Crushed in place, the world a whirling dervish, Libby took no comfort in the hissing of the rat, which had somehow managed to clutch to her shoulder. Its tone was cold but delighted, the sizzle of frostbite laying thick on the skin. Libby shuddered.

Maybe I don’t want to be saved, she thought. Visions of herself, holding a knife to her oversized belly, floated to mind. If I’m saved I’m gonna have to look for answers to questions. I’m gonna have to figure out why my husband is not really my husband, because I’m not married to a thing. I’m not.

“Of course you’re not,” the rat cooed, its tiny voice muffled by the snow packing in around Libby’s head. “You’re too good for that. Just wait, I have something waiting - “

The rat said no more. Packed tightly in snow though she was, Libby had nevertheless kept her eyes open. She was somehow unable to close them, despite the danger of crushing white on her face. So when a ray of light abruptly broke through the darkness, a light that gave Libby a glimpse of the command deck and forced her eyeballs to realize that they were caught in the sickening spin that the pit of her stomach had already grasped, the first thing she noticed was the hand.

The clawed hand. The black hand. The hand of her husband, reaching desperately out to grab for her.

The hand of a monster.

“Don’t take it,” the rat whispered. “You don’t need him. He’s a thing. I can give you so much better.”

Green eyes leered at Libby, half shrouded by oily locks of spiky, unruly hair. And in those eyes, Libby saw -

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Six: So it was a video game all along...?

Raymond McDowell, of Hamilton, Ontario, grew up loving video games. It had never, therefore, been a question of if he would work on video games as an adult, but when. He would simply make it happen, and that’s exactly what he did.

Raymond - better known to his friends online as ‘RayGunz’ - started with a small, peaceful little game called Village Life. The objective of Village Life was nice and simple: lead your village through the rigours of winter, micromanaging their actions to maximize survivability, until spring comes. The game was lauded as a mild success on the indie scene, with most players particularly enjoying Raymond’s avalanche animations.

Less popular was Raymond’s choice to take cannibalism out of the finished product. Nobody’s perfect.

Village Life caught the attention of a local gaming developer, and they pulled Raymond in for an interview. They found his personality to be bland yet intriguing, as his seeming dullness of wit belied his strong sense of creativity. After an intensive ten minute interview Raymond found himself with a job at a small, but determined, gaming studio. He could not have been happier.

Raymond was not the man to suggest the gaming company lift the idea of an open world castle simulator from another developer. He did, however, jump into the project with great gusto, as he thought the plan was altogether quite brilliant. He was also responsible for the final name of the game: Tales of Elsewhere, aka T.O.E.

T.O.E. proved a challenge for the developer. The plan was to take the original concept - create, staff, and defend a castle - and expand it exponentially, incorporating as many seemingly-disparate gaming genres as possible. This proved difficult to implement, and T.O.E. spent five tedious years in development, placed on the back burner several times while other, easier, more lucrative games got rolled out. Raymond’s focus on T.O.E. never shifted, however, and the game’s logo was ever on his desktop.

It was during one such period of downtime that Raymond received an idea from his wife. The crew of the Sky Bitch would rue that suggestion for several painful moments as their ship crashed to the ground.

Raymond was married to a healthy young woman named Sally-May. Contrary to what you may immediately think based on her name, Sally-May was not born in the extreme south. She did not grow up on a farm. Her kin did not strike it rich on oil and move to California. Sally-May was simply the product of parents who loved the countryside, and they planned to, one day, have a large estate on the edge of several wheat fields. The fact that neither parent knew a thing about farming didn’t seem to dissuade them from their dream at all.

Sally-May was a fervent supporter of Raymond’s ambitions to be a world-class developer. She also took a personal interest in his games, and often provided suggestions that wound up being implemented in his projects. For example, she suggested that the plants in T.O.E. work on more complex timers that changed throughout the seasons rather than shifting abruptly from one season to the next, and this made it into the final product. Most of her ideas were intelligent and well-thought-out.

The idea to make vast quantities of snow plummet from the sky during winter, similar to Raymond’s avalanches in Village Life, was not well-thought-out. It was, in fact, blurted from her lips after drinking too much tequila. Nevertheless, Raymond thought the idea was hilarious, and very much in step with his tongue-in-cheek philosophies. He made for a bland conversation, but Raymond enjoyed himself a solid joke.

It took a solid week of coding, adjusting, and problem solving to change T.O.E.’s seasonal shift from a mere palette swap to huge blankets of snow descending upon the land, simultaneously, at the official onset of winter. Raymond found the joke quite satisfactory, and his fellow developers agreed - though his boss forced Raymond to include an option to disable the falling snow, as it occasionally killed in-game characters. Raymond agreed.

Roughly half of T.O.E. players disabled the falling snow. The owner of Dragomir’s copy of T.O.E. did not.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Five: Unexpected Viewership

(Author's Note: One week hiatus coming up. Won't be any longer, I promise.)

Unnoticed by all, July watched the battle on the command deck from the comfort of her home, sipping tea from a cup and grinning fiendishly.

“You’re enjoying this too much, old bag.”

July turned one eye to her son. Driscol, armless and helpless, was pinned against the wall of July’s hut by three bands of twisted vines, each protruding from the wood at Driscol’s back. Though he was as captive as any person could be, July had decided not to take any risks with the lad. So long as he was alive, Driscol could be dangerous.

“You know it, kiddo.” July lifted her cup in mock salute, then pressed it to Grayson’s split lips and sipped. “When ya reach my age, you take what pleasures you c’n get.”

“Acting the voyeur is a twisted pleasure,” Driscol pointed out.

“So dramatic,” July sighed. “It’s not like I’ve been watchin’ ‘em fuck or anythin’. Though I can relocate to Dragomir’s cabin, if ye like. Maybe you’d fancy the rise ’n fall of his pale ass as he - “

“I get it,” Driscol sighed forcefully. “Shutting up.”

Rolling her eyes, July turned back to the door of her home. It had expanded to twice its normal size, and beyond and beneath it lay the Sky Bitch’s sprawling command deck, large as life. July knew that her door was no bigger than a pinhole to the occupants of the ship at the moment, concealing her place aboard the Sky Bitch, and she marvelled again at the strange effects of Grayson’s body on her powers. It made them no stronger, not in the ways she desired, but any little surprise was welcome.

“Keep an eye on Dragomir,” July said, her own eyes narrowed. “Bet he’s about to do somethin’ crazy.”

“What, that beam sword isn’t crazy enough?” Driscol countered.

July thought back to her discovery almost two years prior, when she’d examined Dragomir’s code in her mountain lair while hiding from human and Non alike. “Just wait.”

Dragomir was currently backed up against the Sky Bitch’s steering wheel, and he was doing little to nothing to right the ship as it spun out of control. Even Libby, who had her fingers wrapped limply around the wheel’s spokes, seemed too shocked to keep the Sky Bitch aloft. Fynn stood near his father, apparently casting buffing spell after buffing spell on his sister as she attempted to grab Kierkegaard. The penguin proved too quick, however, and continually popped from portal to portal, evading Eve’s iron grip.

“They’re going to crash, at this rate,” Driscol pointed out. He shuffled slightly under his restraints, which was apparently the only sign of nervousness he would show to his mother. “We’re going to crash.”

July shook her head. “I won’t let us, if it comes t’that. What, you afraid you’re gonna die, my wee boy?”

Driscol snorted. “Death means as little to me as a used snot rag.”

“Then why so fidgety? Hmmm?” July added a merry lilt to her words.

“I’m not fidgety,” Driscol said, tilting his head into the air as though he’d caught a foul scent on a breeze. 

“Uh huh.” July winced as one of Kierkegaard’s oversized hands slammed Eve to one side, sending her through the glass canopy and out into the night. She rebounded back into the ship, lunging for the hand, but it was already gone. “Shut your gob, I’m tryin’ to enjoy this.”

The fight continued to intensify as Dragomir jumped back into the fray, brandishing the Catastrophe as he battled gravity and the lean of the ship. Fynn, one moment standing tall and muttering incantations, was hurtled backward the next minute, slamming his head against the canopy’s port side and shouting. His pain seemed to bring Libby back to her senses, and she struggled to right the ship while calling for her son. Kierkegaard’s leering face appeared in front of her for a brief second, and she had just enough time to swing at his beak before he vanished into a portal.

That’s when Libby vanished into a portal, too. It appeared beneath her feet and dragged her in.

“Ah,” July breathed, shaking her head. She’d always liked Libby. “Here we go. Watch close, boy of my loins.”

Dragomir screamed, watching as Libby’s head dropped into the deck and disappeared. Kierkegaard’s ghostly cackle floated out of a dozen portals at once, and his bone-white beak and too-large head flitted from opening to opening, taunting his opponents. Eve came closest to catching him, her gauntleted fingers closing on the tip of his beak, but it crumbled in her hands as he pulled away, turning into a thick, black ooze that stained her fingers.

When Libby reappeared, she was suspended three feet above the deck, her arms held tight in the grip of Kierkegaard’s massive claws. Her face looked uncharacteristically pale, as though she’d seen a lifetime of horrors inside Kierkegaard’s pocket dimension.

“LIKE PLUCKIN’ WINGS OFF A FLY,” Kierkegaard screeched, his voice tinny through the distortion of July’s door. “SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR SWEET ’N CUDDLY, DRAGOMIR!”

“Yep,” July said, sitting back in her armchair and sipping. “Here we go.”

Dragomir’s staggering attacks came to an abrupt halt. Despite the tilt of the deck he stood stock-still, the twin tips of the Catastrophe dipping towards the ground. His chin dropped, as though he was staring at something with drunken interest -

- but the ungodly howl he let out next hinted at anything but drunkenness. It was, instead, a thing of inhuman rage, and as it grew in pitch and anger Dragomir’s entire body seemed to twist and gyrate, growing and thinning and darkening into a slim creature of emerald and tar. Sharp claws grew out of Dragomir’s boots, replacing them, and they clamped into the deck to keep Dragomir upright.

“Sweet gods above,” Driscol said, his usual sourness replaced by genuine shock. “He’s… he’s one of them…?”

July cackled. “That ’n more, I think, my boy. Shame I couldn’t find much use for ‘im beyond mayorin’, ‘cause he’s a hell of a gem.”

His head twitching violently, Dragomir lunged towards his wife, her face so ashen that it could have been monochrome. The thrumming green blade in his hands rose, as if to cut his wife in two, as if he’d gone insane -

- but instead, Dragomir swiped downward, at thin air, almost five feet short of Libby’s dangling legs. July blinked, wondering if he’d simply lost it… but then an enormous whoosh of wind assaulted her ears as a massive gash appeared in the air in front of Dragomir. July caught a faint glimpse of starlight from within -

- starlight that was blocked as Dragomir tried to climb into the hole -

- but was tossed aside by his daughter, who climbed in instead -

- and, as Kierkegaard began to scream, dropping Libby, the whole of the Sky Bitch abruptly tilted toward the ground, giving July a too-clear view of the Non army far below. Yet the teeming masses of shadowy figures were similarly obscured, these by a sheet of white, and July no longer had any clue what was going on.

“Oh well,” she said, content that her own pocket dimension would protect her from harm. “At least I got to see Libby’s reaction. And that young man standing at the stairs. Priceless, both.”