Monday, March 30, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Nine: Blue Blues

“Above! Above! Eyes to the skies!”

Titan Blue didn’t have time, at least for three seconds, to look up. She was too busy sweeping a gaggle of Imperium troops away from her stumpy feet. She regretted the action when a dragon bathed her head in flame.

Screeching out a pained battle roar, Blue stomped the ground hard enough that the soldiers jabbing spears into her legs collapsed. Then, turning her attention skyward, she raised one thick arm and held it in front of her face as the incoming dragon spat gout after gout of deadly flame. Blue’s skin thickened into a tight shield, blocking out the licking orange and yellow heat - though a shield made of skin was, still, skin.

Fuck me, this hurts, she thought, grunting. Wait for it, though, wait… wait for…

One soldier, recovering from the buffet to the ground, nearly broke Blue’s concentration by jabbing a spear into her thigh. She ignored him -

- until the dragon came into range. He didn’t live much longer than that.

As soon as she felt the whoosh of the dragon’s wings, Blue reformed her shield into an oversized, pistoning hand. It flew into the air, stifled the dragon’s flame, and grabbed the creature by the face. Wrenching downward with all her might Blue smashed the dragon into the ground, squeezing as she did. The combined effort broke the beast’s neck, and though it continued to reflexively spit dying fire into her palm, the dragon went limp.

Taking a step back, Blue dropped the dragon onto the soldiers. Most of them died, including her attacker. 

Panting hard, Blue checked the battlefield for allies. A cluster of Non ground troops were assaulting a tight knot of nearby Imperium troops, their shields up and their spears poised to penetrate anything that dared to approach. A long line of Imperium artillery waited in the distance, but airborne Non were keeping them busy with rocks dropped from above. And beside her -

A big hand gently slapped Blue’s shoulder. It belonged to Thomas, another juggernaut-sized Non, though a little smaller than herself. “Hey, you okay? Took one hell of a wallop there.”

Blue shook her head. Shoving Thomas aside, she raised her hands and clapped them together, fusing her skin into a single, thick funnel. The funnel caught a volley of five cannonballs that were zipping towards Thomas. They disappeared into her arms, rebounded, and flew back the way they’d come. Blue felt the holes they’d left tear a little, and she winced as her Non body struggled to reform.

“Pay attention,” Blue grunted, smacking Thomas. “On your six! Hands up! Stones!”

Thomas whirled around, following Blue’s orders, and she joined him. The Imperium had unleashed another volley, but this time the projectiles were enormous, flaming rocks, launched from trebuchets. Acting almost instinctively, the two Non knitted their trunk-like arms together, expanding their skins to form a huge, powerful net. The three incoming boulders hit the nets, singing their flesh, and flew back towards the Imperium soldiers…

… with much great effect. Rather than leaving small dents in the battlefield, like the cannonballs, the boulders exploded upon impact, scattering fiery debris amongst the Imperium’s lines. Soldiers and engineers screamed and fled as their siege engines burned to the ground. The sight sobered Blue, even as it made her cheer inwardly.

Thomas offered Blue a brief high five. “Atta girl. We’re a helluva a team, you know it? We’ll send these little fleshies runnin’ for their mommas fore ya know it. Not much longer.”

“Yeah, that’s what whatsisface keeps sayin’,” Blue grunted, rolling her eyes. She tried to shake the pain out of her hands, but it just wouldn’t dissipate. “C’mon. Let’s rush ‘em while they’re down.”

Nodding eagerly, Thomas joined Blue in a mad dash towards the Imperium’s remaining siege weapons. She’d made similar rushes a hundred times in the last month, and she knew she’d make a hundred more. She was made to rush the enemy, to take all of their abuse and pour it back with little damage to herself. She was born for this role.

But she didn’t like it. Oh, lord above, did it ever hurt to be a weapon.

The Imperium’s lines were, eventually, forced into retreat, allowing the Non to regroup with the bulk of Kierkegaard’s sweeping army. The offensive continued, westward, towards Rodentia, along an inexorable track that Blue couldn’t help but view as too repetitive to be anything but a damned trap.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Eight: Fuzzbrain

Traveller had never been punched in the face before.

Well, okay. That was a lie. He’d been punched in the face plenty of times. But never by one of his friends.

… all right. That, too, is a lie. He’d been slugged by friends, associates, and distant relations on several occasions. But never once had he been punched by someone he’d punched first, and put into a coma. That was most certainly true.

Well, there was that one time…

Traveller was, as soon as Dragomir’s fist hit his face, dimly aware that he was being dealt an injustice. He did not deserve to be struck, because he was a broken man, and broken men are not necessarily responsible for their actions. It took a while for this thought to coalesce into a solid mass, however, and Dragomir was already long gone when Traveller snapped back to his senses.

“He hit me,” Traveller mumbled, as his mother cleaned stale bun bits out of his hair. He didn’t know why he thought of Martha as his mother, but he knew that she was his mother. “He hit me right in the cheek.”

“Oh, lords, I’m sorry for him, he’s under a lot of pressure.” The last of the bread gone, Martha began brushing Traveller’s hair with a comb. “He’s not usually like this. You shoulda met him a few years ago, I bet you’d’ve gotten on famously.”

Of course we would, Traveller thought, the fog in his brain parting entirely for one very brief moment. He’s me. But what does that mean? I dunno. Some soul mate stuff, I guess.

“I’m gonna go for a walk,” Traveller said, standing up. “Don’t let Robert eat my cookies, he’s always eating my cookies.”

Martha took a step back, mouth falling halfway open. “Wh… what did you say…?”

Traveller shook his head. He left without another word. 

Bare-footed - he was always bare-footed, these days, despite an obsessive quest with finding new boots - Traveller wandered through Pubton without a clear sense of purpose, drawing cautionary glances wherever he went. Many people had watched him tip King Gok’s tower during the recapture of the city, and most knew his destructive power. Some had even witnessed it elsewhere, having fled from the Imperium, and Traveller’s reputation around the city was not great. He couldn’t even get work telling stories, as most everyone avoided him.

I need the voice in my head back, Traveller thought, peering into the yellow-lit windows of a pub. It always let me know what to do. Now I keep thinking things that aren’t really making sense. Like that time dad and I went fishing, ’n we got halfway through prep, ’n dad was all ‘Well, shit, son, I just realized there’s nowhere to fish ‘round here, guess we’ll have to fish for the eels - ‘

A vicious headache abruptly wracked Traveller’s head, and he fell to his knees, groaning - but moments later he was up again, walking and clutching at his temples. He had no idea where his body was driving him, but the image of his father, Oswald, yep, he’s daddy, made his mind hurt so much.

“Hey, c’mon, try a bit of this,” Robert said, shoving a spoon of green goop in Traveller’s face. “C’mon. It’s real good. Made it m’self.”

“You need to stop wearing through your clothes so fast!” Traveller’s mother grabbed at the hem of his shirt, tutting loudly. “We’re not rich, y’know! I’m running out of thread! Honestly, you boys…”

“That one there, boy,” Traveller’s father said, pointing. Then he pointed again, with his other arm. Two arms. “’n that one. Don’t know where these bloody stones come from all the time, but best y’get both right now. C’mon, lift like ya mean it!”

Why don’t they recognize me? Traveller thought, even pleaded, to himself. Why don’t they know who I am? I mean, sure, I don’t know who I am, but you’d think, after all this time, they’d still know their own son. I mean, look at the hair. The hair doesn’t even fit.

The hair just doesn’t fit at all.

Maybe I should get a haircut?

Traveller was standing outside Dragomir’s house.

Traveller blinked. He’d known, dimly, that his body was driving him somewhere, forcing him onto autopilot. He’d not had a clue what his destination was - yet now he’d arrived, and this was, unmistakably, Dragomir’s home. He could see a light inside, through the front window, and the man’s silhouette was thrown against the wall. Dragomir appeared to be gesticulating wildly, almost violently.

Without thought, Traveller pushed the door open.

Dragomir was sitting in his living room, though he was half in, half out of his chair. His diary - I should’ve kept a diary, too, Traveller thought - was on the table before him, its pages open. Dragomir appeared to be arguing with it, but not with it, as a pair of rats were also on the table. One was staring at Dragomir; the other whipped around to glare at Traveller. He instantly, immediately, and irrevocably blamed it for at least half of his woes.

Dragomir whipped around too, whatever he’d been saying wiped away by shock. “Wh… what the fuck… what do you want? You broke my damned door!

Traveller didn’t respond. Again acting on impulse, he took ten steps forward - exactly ten, because that’s how many he needed to take to reach the table - and picked up the diary. The rats chittered at him, the fur on their backs standing up, and he chittered back. Dragomir watched the act with a mixture of anger, horror, and odd amusement.

Traveller had never learned how to read. Had he made it to his final destination years before, a man named Robert may have taught him the intricacies of the written word. But Traveller could understand some words, and he found that proximity to Dragomir - yes, it was proximity, it was most definitely proximity - helped him along. So he read as much as was written down in the diary as he could.

“What,” he eventually asked, “is an ex-ee-coo-chun?”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Seven: Bam

“Not so fancy,” Dragomir grumbled, leaning against the doorframe. “My parents live here.”

“And me!” Traveller exclaimed, patting Dragomir on the shoulder. It appeared to be a light gesture, but it was strong enough to knock Dragomir onto the floor. “We’re like brothers!”

Face buried in carpet, Dragomir swore loudly. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees, shot Traveller a dirty look, and passed it on to his parents. His face softened - but only a little. “I… had a brother. He ain’t you. Why is he still living here?”

Martha set the dishes she’d picked up back onto the dinner table and helped Dragomir to his feet. “He had nowhere to go! You know that. We’re just bein’ decent. Besides, he gets along so well with your father.”

“He’s a right retard,” Oswald agreed, grinning. “Headbutt!”

Smiling broadly, Traveller charged across the room, head lowered. Oswald lowered his own dome just quickly enough to intercept the hit - and laughed painfully as Traveller knocked him onto the floor. Martha scolded them both loudly, though Oswald earned more serious remarks. He knew, after all, that Traveller could crack his head wide open were the two not careful.

Dragomir eventually joined his family around the table, grabbing the last bun and chewing on it grimly. When Traveller sat down beside him, Dragomir made a point to move to the other side of the table. When Traveller got a mischievous look on his face and moved again, Dragomir stood up and leaned against the door again. When Traveller sat at his feet, Dragomir smashed the remains of his bun into Traveller’s hair. The jolly cyclops began picking crumbs out of his hair and eating them, piece by piece. That seemed enough to content Traveller, and Dragomir sat down beside Pagan.

“Fuckin’ idiot,” Dragomir muttered. He turned to his advisor. “What’re you doing here? I thought you were meeting with Gok. And the zombie chief. What’s his name?”

“Garlic.” Pagan wrinkled his nose. He couldn’t understand how someone could name themselves after foodstuffs. “I’ve met with both. And attended several training sessions for new recruits. And listened to the ranting of a dragon, come back from patrols to the west. I’ve been more than busy enough to take some time off.”

Dragomir scowled. “We don’t have time to take time off - “

“When you reach my age,” Pagan said coldly, cutting Dragomir off, “you make time. I refuse to spend all of my remaining life at war, little boy. I suggest you learn the same lesson before you’re driven to premature senility.”

Dragomir huffed, turned away, and grabbed at a hunk of meat from a nearby bowl. The room descended into moody silence, broken only by Traveller’s happy munching. Even Oswald, usually a boor in social situations, seemed uncannily aware of his son’s foul mood.

Martha eventually broke the tension by stepping up behind Dragomir, giving him a tight hug, and offering him a gentle shoulder rub. “Haven’t seen you much, kiddo. What’s new?”

Dragomir flinched away for a second, but he quickly gave in, leaning back in his chair. “Oh, gods, lotsa stuff. Lotsa stuff. Troop movements, arguments between allies, Non invading the Imperium, rats being assholes, near-suicidal missions from said assholes - “

“Don’t talk too loud or they’ll hear ya,” Oswald said, looking around. “We see them assholes all the time, stupid. Like to hide in the walls.”

Dragomir apparently didn’t care. “ - some shitty, useless communiques about dwindling defences, and a wife who won’t talk to me outside a meeting. ‘less we’re yelling, anyway. So I guess that ain’t talking. Huzzah, eh? Huzzah.”

Martha patted her son on the head as Dragomir lowered his brow to the tabletop. “Surely it ain’t all that bad.”

“I can’t speak as to the relationship situation,” Pagan murmured, “but he’s not wrong about the rats. They keep sending us on wild goose chases that are whittling down our numbers. Not at an awful rate, mind, but their strategic decisions are awful. It’s only thanks to the decisions of some of our commanders that our ‘missions’ haven’t turned into horrifying routs.”

“If your wife’d hurry up with m’arms ’n legs I could help ya mash those inky bastards,” Oswald piped up. “Man, I can’t wait - “

“She’s busy,” Dragomir shot back. “She’s onea the people keepin’ us going without too many casualties. Cut her some slack.”

Traveller jumped to his feet, shaking crumbs onto Dragomir’s shoulders. “Yeah! And she’s really hot, so - “

The touch of Traveller’s hand seemed to scald like a brand on Dragomir’s skin, and as soon as Traveller uttered the word ‘hot’ Dragomir lurched out of his chair, pulled his fist back, and punched the hairy man in the face. Traveller fell back a step, a shocked shout forming on his lips even though he was clearly unhurt.

The room went silent again, Traveller’s shocked breaths aside.

Oswald broken the silence, voice a tad awed. “Guess his balls finally dropped. Wow.”

“Oh my gods,” Martha whispered. “Dragomir the Guard, what is - “

Dragomir didn’t respond. Instead, eyes blazing, he charged out of the room, and out of the house. No one noticed that his face was oily black, save for two green pinpricks and twin tracks of tears. He was forced to cover his head with a cloak - he always wore a cloak, now - to avoid the curious looks of passers-by.

He did not revert to normal for almost an hour, within the safety of his home. Only the rats who came to visit him ever spotted the abnormality.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Six: Oh, right, that main character and his family are still a thing

Knock, knock, knock.

“I’ll get it!”

“No, please, sweetie, don’t, you’re gonna - “

“Too late!”

In his enthusiasm to see who’d come to visit, Traveller ripped the door from the hinges. Again. Surprisingly, the old man standing on the other side, waiting on the front porch, barely even flinched at this display of jovial violence.

“Hello, Traveller,” Pagan said, raising one eyebrow. “I thought you’d been banned from opening the door.”

“I did it anyway!” Traveller proclaimed, beaming. He stepped aside to let Pagan in. “You’re really old, did ya know?”

“Yes,” Pagan replied dryly, shaking his head. “A little bit older than the last time I saw you, even. That tends to happen to people.”

Traveller’s eyes goggled at the information, yet they goggled a little less with every second that it took to process what Pagan was saying. It sometimes took his brain a while to remember that it possessed common tidbits of knowledge such as the passage of time. In this case, it was long enough for Pagan to knock the dirt off of his greaves and enter the house.

Martha the Farmer was waiting for him in the living room, a tray of fresh breaded treats already making the descent to the table. Oswald was strapped to the couch, and his spindly wooden arms snaked out to grab at the treats without pause. Martha’s attempts to push them away did not dissuade the burly torso, and soon he’d stuffed two rolls in his mouth - and left a splinter blazing in his cheek.

“Hello, Lord Pagan,” Martha said in greeting, bowing cordially. “What brings you ‘long today?”

“Oh, just a visit between campaign stops,” Pagan said, nodding his own greeting. “And just Pagan will do, Martha. We’ve seen each other often enough by now.”

Martha shook her head. “Nope. Nobles get the noble treatment s’long as they deserve it, and anybody who runs a gosh-darned rebellion deserves it. Have a seat. Would y’like some tea?”

“Please. And a smidge of honey, if you don’t mind. I feel a little under the weather.”

“Well, you are pretty fuckin’ old,” Oswald grunted, though he smiled. It faded as he scowled at Traveller, who’d just entered the room with the front door still clutched in one hand. “Y’damned idiot, will you put that back already? How many times y’gonna break the fuckin’ thing?”

“Probably a bunch more!” Traveller admitted. He wandered away to re-affix the door to its hinges, a practice that he’d quickly grown to enjoy.

“‘least he’s honest.” Oswald sighed, stuffing another bun in his mouth. “Ah fink ‘e’s pwetty wetawded up tawp, though. Mmm, tasty shit.”

Pagan tutted at the spray of bread crumbs from Oswald’s mouth. “You could be twins.”

“They do look alike, don’t they?” Martha reentered, a steaming cup of tea in her hands. She handed it to Pagan, laughing. “I swear, that boy’s just like Dragomir was when he was young. Stronger, give ‘im that, but every bit as charming.”

Dropping into a chair, Pagan peered down the hallway. Traveller was busy shifting the door back into place, hands clumsily reattaching the hinges. Pagan was surprised that the hinges were still capable of being reattached. “Yes. Charming. Sure. I thought you were going to find him a new place to live? Dragomir seemed rather put out by your, ah, ‘adoption’ of him.”

“He’s good ‘round the house,” Oswald said, brushing crumbs from his beard with little success. “Well, outside it, anyway. Good fer tendin’ the field if ya need to uproot a rock or somethin’. Can’t do that so much myself anymore. Keeps the goblins out, too, which is a blessin’. Little bastards keep tryin’ to steal my squid.”

Pagan bristled. He hated the taste of calamari. “Lovely. Still, Dragomir…?”

“Oh, he’s a fusspot,” Martha said, sitting beside her stump of a husband. She sipped from her own mug of tea. “Ever since he came home he’s been so moody. I know he has a lot on his mind, what with his war and all, but you think he might be more polite to his parents. We’ve barely seen him since you got back a few days ago. I bet you’ve seen more of ‘im than us.”

“We have a lot of late night planning sessions, which is probably why I’m feeling rather foul,” Pagan admitted. He coughed and stirred his tea, watching the glob of honey in it slowly dissolve and wondering how thick it must have been in the first place. “He’s a newcomer to military strategy. I’m trying to teach him the basics while I attend to the details, but he’s not grasping it all that well. I think that’s frustrating him.”

“That ’n not gettin’ laid, I bet,” Oswald grunted, chortling. “Make any guy testy.”

“Os! Hush!” Martha swatted him with a pillow. It bounced uselessly off of his head. “But, ah, he doesn’t… talk about Libby, does he…?”

“She attends the meetings, too.” Pagan watched Traveller enter the room and plop, cross-legged, onto the floor. “There’s tension. But they still share a bed, as far as I know. I’m sure they get into plenty of arguments over Fynn.”

“Not Eve, though, I bet,” Oswald said. “Always liked her better. More my style.”

“Eve has nice boobies,” Traveller interjected. “Why do I feel gross saying that, anyway? Anybody know?”

Conversation continued, hopping from one banal subject to another, and Pagan quickly realized that he’d come here completely without purpose beyond idle chitchat. Give his itinerary these days, that was an extreme oddity: if he wasn’t consulting with Dragomir, or trying to teach him the intricacies of maintaining a fledgling military, he was usually dealing with The Baron or the leaders of the factions that made up said military. It was exhausting work, and left little time for niceties such as visiting friends.

When Martha decided that Pagan ‘simply must’ stay for dinner, Pagan decided that, yes, these folks were friends. Even if he was having second thoughts about their son.

The second knock on the door did not come until Martha was sweeping the first round of emptied plates off of the table, and, as always, Traveller was the first to dash for the intercept. His gleeful charge into the hallway took a small chunk out of the left wall, and the lurch of the door - as well as the scream of metal - hinted at more lasting damage than normal.

“Trav, you fuckin’ oaf!” Oswald yelled, slamming his wooden fist on the table somewhat impotently. Apparently annoyed by the resulting clatter, he satisfied himself by headbutting the table instead, which was much louder. “Watch the door! Or buy us a new one!”

Traveller shouted an apology, but he was not the first person to enter the dining room. They were instead greeted by a surly, gap-toothed expression, plastered onto a wide face that Pagan knew all too well. He spent so much time in its company that he was quite sick of it by now.

“Hello, Dragomir,” Pagan said, raising a hand in greeting nevertheless. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Five: Arise

Arabella’s sixty-three years of life had taught her that good times passed in a heartbeat, and bad times lasted an eon. The opposite was true, however, when one was progressing towards something bad - and so her two-week trip across the war-torn lands of the Imperium, towards the summon of her masters, seemed to take almost no time at all. This proved all the more remarkable since she appeared to have been silently stripped of all responsibilities along the way.

The same was true of General Landry. His troops no longer listened to anything he had to say, no matter how much he screamed. He and Arabella eventually gave up on attempting to order the white-eyes soldiers about, and simply played board games in Arabella’s coach. By the time they arrived, he had won forty-five games of Chess to Arabella’s thirty-seven.

“You know,” Arabella commented during one of the later games, a particularly gruelling session that took two hours to finish, “there aren’t many board game creators anymore. I haven’t played anything new in years.”

“Chess is the epitome of strategic gaming anyway,” Landry replied, refusing to take his eyes off of his rook. “Why would you want anything else?”

“Variety,” Arabella murmured. She stared absently out of the coach, watching three soldiers on horseback as they padded slowly across the thawing terrain.

“Try the Indy Plains, if they ever get sorted,” Landry growled. He moved his rook across the board. “Maybe some idiot out there has concocted a heap of bullshit rules you can call a game. ’til then, I’m fine with Chess. Check.”

They spoke seldom about their summons to the northwest of the Imperium. There was, after all, little to say - and the masters had proven their ability to listen in on any conversation they damn well pleased. Arabella supposed she would learn what was waiting for them once they got where they were going.

When the coach finally stopped, and Arabella extracted herself from her uncomfortable cot, she realized that she hadn’t looked out her window for almost ten hours. She’d fallen asleep reading. That, it seemed, was more than enough time to miss one of the largest structures ever built by a living creature - assuming such a feat of architecture could be accomplished by mortal hands.

“Sweet gods,” Arabella breathed, stepping out of her coach and craning her neck skywards. “That’s… it’s almost pearlescent…”

“And translucent,” Landry whispered beside her. He’d been sleeping in Arabella’s coach. “I… I think I can see a cloud through it…”

“We’re finished, aren’t we?” Arabella said, extending a hand. She was dimly aware of soldiers approaching from behind.

“If ever there was a view of the afterlife, my dear, I’d say this’s it,” Landry grunted. He took her hand and squeezed gently.

The tower jutted out of the ground with the fluid rigidity of a whip, both fantastically solid and infinitely pliable. Though deeply rooted into the landscape by a ring of enormous, ivory claws, the tower also seemed to sway, its hundreds of circular balconies never quite in joint with one another as they climbed steadily into the heavens. It reminded Arabella of the great Stalk of Rodentia, only this tower was very much not a natural formation -

- nor, indeed, did it end abruptly inside a bank of cumulus nimbus. The tower instead appeared to have crashed through the sky itself, rending the blue and opening a vast, dark hole. Faint twinkles of starlight peeked through the hole, though Arabella knew, even felt, that she was not looking at the night sky. Only beyond the hole did the tower appear to terminate, though its apex was a light so bright as to outshine the sun.

Welcome, the tower said into Arabella’s mind, its voice so familiar as to be indistinguishable from that of her masters. This is where the war will end. You will protect the tower with the forces we provide, until such a time that I am prepared to bring the enemy to their knees. You may do whatsoever you wish, so long as you keep the enemy away from the tower. All forces will be put under your personal authority. Do you understand our command, General Landry?

“Yes,” Landry whispered, his usual bravado sapped by the terrifying beauty of the tower. “I… I get it.”

And you, the tower said, turning its attention to Arabella, will conduct a ceremony that is long overdue. In one week’s time, in full view of the enemy army, you will oversee the execution of two traitors to the balance of this world.

Arabella swallowed, her tongue thick and dry - and it only got worse as the tower changed before her eyes, the base of the great monument shifting and sculpting itself into a pair of haggard, shining faces. One was a rat; the other, a platypus.

Do you understand my command, Arabella the Councillor?

Arabella thought of her grandsons. Their shining, innocent faces weren’t quite enough to dispel the horrible image of the tower, which seemed to dominate her every thought, no matter how viciously she tried to push it away. 

“Yes,” Arabella whispered, only dimly noting the tower’s constant shifting of pronouns. “I understand.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Four: Me/We

Two days after the massacre at Dodoshire, Arabella the Councillor met with General Landry, one of the heads of the Imperium’s military forces. He was not happy.

“They’re idiots,” Landry scoffed, turning so quickly to face Arabella that the medals adorning his golden armour jingled. “Bloody idiots. Their strategies have us running blind half the time. We’ve wasted more resources ’n I ever care to think.”

Arabella cringed. They were sitting in Landry’s command centre at Ironwill Outpost, a spartan room he assured her was free of the prying ears of their masters. Arabella had long ago given up on the notion that she was ever completely alone - the nagging voice of the rats could slip into her mind even in her dreams, and she was helpless to do anything but obey - and Landry’s insistence that he’d installed magical devices to block out their probes did not assuage Arabella’s fears.

“Look here,” Landry insisted, sweeping one beefy hand towards a war map so large that most of it was draped over the edges of his desk. Wooden miniatures representing battalions decorated its spotted surfaces. “If our intel is correct - I damned well hope it isn’t - the little bastards have divided the army in two, and there’s a huge gap in-between with no pickets to stall enemy incursions. They could change direction tomorrow ’n cut us down the middle, ’n we wouldn’t know it ’til we were too late.”

“Surely their dragons could address any problems on that front,” Arabella countered, though weakly. Military strategy was not her forte.

Landry snorted. “Dragons are all well ’n good when you set ‘em loose without a mission, but they’re shit at orders. Or at least they are with vermin in charge of their brains. I’d say four times out of five the rats will send them on some wild manticore chase that’ll ruin an otherwise fine battle plan. I wouldn’t put any stock in ‘em.”

Arabella studied the battle map quietly. Landry was not wrong: the rats appeared to have divided the bulk of the Imperium’s forces rather sloppily down the middle, allowing the enemy almost unimpeded passage into the west. She might normally have thought they were attempting to flank the Non on both sides, but the Imperium battalions were still too scattered for a large scale operation, and they’d received no orders hinting at a counteroffensive.

“I don’t recall having such difficulties in the beginning,” Arabella murmured, trying to remain neutral.

Landry planted his hands on his hips, shaking his head. “That’s part of what has me so damned flummoxed. We weren’t havin’ trouble at the beginning. I mean, yeah, there was a bit of a stalemate at the borders, and the Nothings showing up caused us trouble, but… hell, the Non should never have penetrated as far west as they have. Their numbers’re considerable, but our attempts to drive ‘em out have been, well, inept. Barely put a dent in the bastards.”

Arabella clucked her tongue. Scanning the map, she noticed that there were three miniature colours on the map: blue for the Imperium, black for the Non, and a few mystery reds. “What are these red battalions? They appear to be inside Non territory.”

Scowling, Landry shook his head again. “Allies of the Imperium. Some private army, I think. Don’t know much. The rats give me details on their movements, but they’re as inept as we are. Worse, even, I think. They keep throwin’ themselves at the Non in the stupidest ways ’n gettin’ their asses handed to ‘em. No backup from us, either. I’m surprised I still have to use their minis.”

“I see.” Arabella allowed her eyes to stray from the map to the window, as if the world beyond might be more instructive for their predicament. “Have you raised these concerns with the masters?”

Landry shrugged, then raised his fingers and placed them over his eyes, miming what appeared to be a pair of goggles. Arabella got the message instantly, wondering, not for the first time, how often her own eyes had shone white when she thought she was in control of herself.

Standing, Arabella walked to the window, pressing a hand against the grimy glass. A pair of recruits - Too young, she thought, young enough to be Dedric and Payne - were sparring inelegantly outside. They were nowhere near ready to face live opponents, let alone the Non, yet she knew they would probably be dying on a battlefield within the month. Their opponents would not be wielding wooden swords.

To think that a species which could appear like a blasted platypus could cause so much trouble, Arabella thought, fingers clenching into a fist against the glass. Or a penguin, for that matter. 

Behind her, Landry sighed. “I’ll get to the point of this meeting, since I’m sure you’ve got lots to do, councillor. At the rate we’re going, we aren’t going to win this war. We outnumber the Non, and their tactics are a bit… sloppy… but ours are far sloppier. It’s almost as if the masters want to lose - ”

Landry did not finish his sentence, as the room was suddenly filled with the jarring sound of four distinct pops, each a cannon blast in miniature. Arabella’s heart leaped as she stepped away from the window, half crouching, and Landry pulled his sword from his scabbard, eyes wide. The command centre filled with purple smoke -

- and though it did not clear for some time, Arabella immediately realized that two objects had rolled near her feet. One tapped lightly against her shoe, abruptly warming her toes. She jumped away with a little shriek.

Landry stooped nearby, soldier’s instincts forcing him to move cautiously. He touched something, and the faint sound of rolling metal bounced off the distinct clunk of his heavy gauntlets. He swore, shaking his hand. “Oh, blast, that’s hot. And… problematic.”

“Problematic?” Arabella asked, waving the smoke away from her face with virtually no success. “Define ‘problematic’, general…”

“Er…” Landry stood, kicking at the object in front of him. It rolled away. “Those, uh, magical devices… I installed… might be a little broken.”

Arabella’s mouth went dry. She stood stiff and at attention, feeling like a new recruit being dressed down by a drill sergeant. Worse, feeling like a child caught by a parent with one hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and no lie ready to save her from the jaws of fierce punishment.

The smoke did not clear for almost five minutes. When it did, Landry found a piece of parchment pinned to his war map. It provided new orders for both of them - namely, a summons to coordinates in the west. Also included was a single, scribbled sentence that made Arabella’s blood run cold: “You can’t hide from me, so don’t try.”

Arabella stared at the note, fixated on that final sentence. “Interesting.”

“That’s an odd way to phrase it,” Landry replied. His normally-flush face looked pallid and taut, the complexion of a man who has just discovered a terminal illness swimming in his bowels. “‘Interesting’. I’m lucky I’m not decoratin’ the spaces between a dragon’s teeth right now.”

“No doubt,” Arabella said. She pointed at the message. “Notice anything odd?”

Landry shook his head. “Should I?”

“Probably.” Arabella swallowed hard. “Every message I’ve received in the last year has been pluralized. So who is ‘me’?”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Three: Oh, right, there's a war going on

Arabella the Councillor did not eat quite so well as Eve, however. She always lost her appetite when surveying combat from afar.

Standing in the command centre of one of the Imperium’s mobile fortresses - little more than a brick structure on giant wheels, really, though Arabella thought that was an impressive enough feat - the councillor watched as a dragon came to blows with one of the enormous, hulking Non that comprised the enemy’s siege forces. The dragon’s fiery breath turned the Non’s head to cinders as they wrestled…

… but not before the Non could throttle the life out of the dragon with its huge hands. The two titans collapsed into a heap, almost immediately forgotten as smaller Non soldiers streamed over the pile and assaulted a cluster of Imperium soldiers on the other side. This second battle was more one-sided in the end.

Arabella shook her head. She’d observed the battle for the better part of two hours, now, watching as the Non slowly pushed the Imperium lines back towards a city they’d been protecting. The soldiers were doing their best, but even with half a dozen dragons for support the Non were simply too powerful. It wouldn’t be much longer before the Imperium’s forces had to retreat, and once they did…

Arabella looked to a mechanic standing off to one side. “How far is the Nothing?”

The mechanic paused, consulting with one of his junior officers. “About five minutes off, m’lady. Maybe less. Our last intelligence had it struggling to cross a ravine. I doubt that will keep it for long. We will have to leave soon.”

Arabella grimaced. The Imperium had managed to stave off everything the Non threw at them, albeit with difficulty, through sheer force of arms. The dragons in particular had made some of their battles easy, for though the masters employed fewer dragons than the Non had sieging bruisers, they were still more than enough to protect the Imperium’s borders. The Nothings, however, were another matter, and not once had Imperium forces managed to bring one down.

“Just a little bit longer,” Arabella commanded, though her mouth was dry. “I haven’t seen one yet. Once I do, and can report its capabilities to the rest of the council, we can leave.”

The mechanic nodded and left, barking orders to his assistants as he brushed past a cluster of officers. More orders flooded the area once he was gone, with commands to reorganize troops, assault enemy flanks, and prepare for evacuation. The flurry of words left Arabella with a slight headache, though it was nothing compared to some of the debates back in Rodentia’s Sphere of Councillors. Here, at least, they were getting results.

Arabella looked to the city the Imperium army was protecting. The buildings were still a ways off, covered in brilliant blue banners with images of dodos. She knew it to be Dodoshire, one of the greatest cultivators of dodos in the world. She also knew it would, within the day, be nothing more than rubble.

This war is ending us, she thought, flexing her wrists and listening to the pop of old bones. We’ve been around for too long. Now we’re being pushed out. What will remain?

The mobile fortress - Arabella thought its name was the Dauntless, but she wasn’t certain of that - abruptly purred to life beneath her feet, deckboards rattling. Arabella glared up at the nearest mechanic, a junior who surely had no say in the matter. “I said not to move until we got sight of the Nothing.”

The mechanic was not looking at Arabella, however. He raised a single, quavering finger, pointing at the battlefield. “It took less time… than we thought, m’lady…”

Arabella whipped her head around again, and this time, no longer distracted by the thought of Dodoshire’s soon-to-be-burning streets, she saw the impossibly black orb rumbling across the landscape, its massive mechanical legs methodically pounding the ground. Two dragons wheeled around to meet it, their jaws opening to unleash huge gouts of flame -

- but they were stopped short as dozens of spiked tendrils flew from the Nothing, catching both dragons in the mouth with startling precision. The shrieks of the dying dragons were immediately drowned out by the scream of the Nothing’s projectiles, floating eerily across the plains as the Nothing began picking off soldiers on the ground.

Gods, Arabella thought, all thought of command leaving her. She suddenly felt every year of her age, and then some. Nothing will remain of us. Nothing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-Two: She should have come along after all

After Eve finished eating her werewolf, she had a nap. Her half-Non biology prevented the lycanthropy in the werewolf’s body from converting her into one of the flock.

After Eve’s nap was finished, she went for a walk. Another werewolf made the mistake of trying to attack her, so she ripped its head off, ate its body, and had another nap.

After Eve’s second nap she went for another walk, which was, now that she’d remembered her brother, more of a series of high-flying bounds across the landscape. The scent of fires on the wind drew her towards Foregone.

When she found Foregone, Eve discovered that it was covered by a thin, green energy barrier, a dome similar to one her other brother had helped create in a town called Pubton. The barrier was in her way, so she ripped through it, crashed through a wall, and entered the city.

The city was filled with roiling black smoke. Eve drew in a deep breath and ignored the smoke, wading through the haze with a drunken-looking stagger. Anything she met along the way she batted aside.

Eve found all of this vaguely annoying. Not as annoying as her inability to truly control herself - coming here had been the greatest act of defiance she’d ever committed against the fat man, and it was not nearly enough to satisfy her - but the combination of barrier, lack of breath, and zero visibility made the young woman irritable.

That and the pain in her side. Her left kidney was beginning to fail. She suspected it would be a withered husk by the end of the month. That didn’t bother Eve overly much - she had two, after all - but anything that impeded her ability to function irritated her.

Eve possessed virtually zero magical power. She’d known from birth that she was a fighter, her physical abilities maximized far beyond that of any normal human, and she further knew that this fact would never change. She would never know the touch of magic. This didn’t bother Eve a bit, as she could easily murder any magic user (besides the fat man) bother they could hope to get off a spell.

Yet her connection to her brother could not be described as anything but magical. She therefore blamed Fynn for somehow forging the connection, and for giving her the ability to know where he was at all times. This connection - now, for some reason, tinged with the smell of spider - led Eve through the smoke and straight to her brother.

Eve also had a connection with her other brother, whom she’d only met once. He was somewhere else. Somewhere high. Somewhere she could never reach on her own. Yet, recently, he’d been so close, despite maintaining his distance…

Eve considered that for a moment. She’d tried to puzzle out the problem several times today, without success. She was not made for such cerebral pursuits, and thinking made her brain sore. Thinking made her lose focus -

- and when she lost focus, she sometimes wandered into mobs of werewolves. It wasn’t the first time she’d done so.

The shield above had dissipated, its grip on Foregone broken by Eve’s tearing hands. The smoke from the extinguished fires was rapidly fleeing into the air, fading away and revealing an enormous crowd of lumpen, furry shapes. Most appeared to still be breathing, and some were even rising out of their stupors, clutching their heads and growling weakly.

Eve let out her breath, held for fifteen minutes, and took another. It was smoky and unpleasant, but Eve decided she wouldn’t mind.

“Oh shit,” a voice said from Eve’s left. She turned to see her former husband-to-be standing at the base of a stone tower, staring at her from within a green bubble that was fitted over his head. He gulped. “Uh. Hi… Eve…”

Eve blinked. Then she turned her head skyward, watching her brother descend shakily from his perch, where, she assumed, he’d created the barrier. He carefully raised a hand to her; she did not return it. Instead, she wondered how the arachnid on his shoulder tasted.

Probably like chicken. Everything Eve could not classify tasted like chicken.

The werewolves were beginning to stir in greater numbers, now, rising to their haunches by the dozens. Logan began to wave Fynn down the stone wall, then, seeming to change his mind, he waved for Fynn to go the opposite direction. They began to argue, panicking.

A huge, hulking werewolf, one that Eve vaguely recalled, got to its feet near Eve. Shaking its head, it loomed over her and growled, coughing several times. Its claws clenched and opened as it struggled to look intimidating.

Eve did not find the beast to be intimidating. She thought it was pathetic. She simply looked back…

… and once Logan was climbing the wall of the tower towards Fynn, Eve seated herself at the bottom, waiting for one of the werewolves to try and get at her.

One did. She smacked it aside. 

Another gave it a shot. She put her fist through its stomach and sent it flying.

The big one tried. Eve calmly smashed it into the wall, then flung it across the street. It landed hard on its back.

Three more werewolves leaped for Eve. All three died. And when other werewolves tried to get at the opposite side of the tower, Eve detected them, spun around to meet them, and spilled their blood out onto the street. It didn’t take long for the werewolves to realize their predicament.

Stalemate. Of a sorts.

Julius eventually had an idea. But it took two days for the idea to form, and another to put it into play. By then, over two hundred werewolves lay dead in the streets of Foregone. Given what would happen to the rest of the werewolves in the days to come, this was, perhaps, a blessing.

Eve ate well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day Eight-Thirty-One: It all comes together

The plan did not, however, go quite as planned.

After a few minutes of brief consultation between Fynn and his newfound familiar - a familiar with whom he was already quite, well, familiar, thanks to their bond - Fynn confirmed that he could make a shield sufficient for their needs. It would not be easy, however, and it would take time. Time that Fynn would not have if the werewolves were dogging his every move.

Logan had a solution for that. It would leave his unconscious - and, surprisingly, immobile - mother undefended, but it would do in a pinch. 

When the pair set out into Foregone they found the majority of the city to be engulfed in flame, heating and evaporating the snow. The fires, either through their own volition or Daena’s quick work, had somehow spread to virtually every building. Even the sturdiest stone structures were now heartily ablaze, and Fynn struggled to locate a tall enough building that was not on fire too much. He eventually settled for a guard tower on the north side of Foregone, and Julius’s powers helped the lad clamber to the roof.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Fynn asked timidly as he studied the warming stone walls, his hands coated in an almost gelatinous green magical field that made climbing a cinch. “Eugh, there’s so much smoke now.”

“Yeah,” Logan said, though he didn’t feel okay about the plan at all. “If mom could do it for… however long she did… I can. Gimme my air.”

Fynn grimaced, but nodded. Raising a finger, he pointed at Logan. A bubble the size of a fishbowl appeared around Logan’s head. His vision was tinged green on all sides, an effect Logan found rather eerie - I wonder if this is what it’s like when they’re looking through their normal eyes - but his eyesight was not at all impeded, and the air inside the bubble was clean and smoke-free.

“Be careful,” Fynn said, trembling. Julius, perched on his shoulder, patted the boy comfortingly. “You remember where we’re meetin’?”

“Duh. I left my mom there. I’m not stupid, kid.” Logan turned, shooting Fynn a quick thumbs up over his shoulder. “Go. I’ve got this.”

Fynn, nodding, went. And so did Logan.

The first batch of werewolves Logan found was lingering near the ruined remains of the only gate Daena hadn’t personally closed. It appeared to have caved in on itself, the masonry blown apart by a concussive blast from within. Logan assumed that a gunpowder cache inside the walls had been set on fire, bringing the portcullis down. He gave a quick, thankful prayer to small miracles of luck.

Rebounding off of a balcony and landing on the street - it was filled with slush, the snow quickly melting from the heat of the fires - Logan watched the werewolves claw fearfully at the gate, trying desperately to escape. Several were attempting to climb the heap of stone at the side of the gate, but the bricks kept slipping under their paws - and their frequent, wolfish coughing fits from the smoke didn’t help matters. Logan pitied them.

They’re just people, he thought, reaching into the slush to form a sopping snowball. He took careful aim at the nearest werewolf, trying not to peg it on one of the frayed patches of its fur. It looked to have been caught in a fire not too long ago, and was suffering a burn. Just people. Remember not to blame ‘em, old boy.

The snowball flew. The werewolf, its fear turning to animalistic anger and confusion, spun to stare at him. Logan yelled. Abruptly, as if spreading the lycanthropy virus overrode common sense, the chase was on. And it didn’t take too much howling for more werewolves to join in.

Within ten minutes of careful running - it was difficult not to get burned, even with Logan’s reflexes, and he was forced to ditch his simmering cloak at one point - the prince had well over a hundred werewolves on his tail, chasing him as doggedly as they’d chased his mother. Their chorus of song-like bellows kept bringing more and more werewolves into the chase, though they found him to be a more difficult target, as he kept leaping from building to building with supernatural grace rather than running on the streets. He nevertheless remained within sight, watching the pack grow below.

Eventually, looking incensed from her earlier failure, Antonia joined the pack. She emerged from an alleyway, brayed up at Logan with clenched claws, and took the lead of her werewolves, knocking three would-be alphas out of her way as she did. Logan smiled sadly as he watched her lope towards him, thinking of the old days.

She was a good pet, he thought, jumping out of the path of the werewolves and landing atop the only part of a postal office that wasn’t on fire. I mean, sure, she bit a dude’s piece off, but you can’t judge an animal by one little accident, right? Most of the time she was downright civil. In a boxery sorta way.

Logan looked skyward. Fain glimmers of green were stretching in a vast bowl shape over Foregone from a central point, slowly settling towards the ground. Logan had no idea how much longer it would take, but he suspected that Fynn needed at least a few more minutes to complete his work - and perhaps another hour to hold the ghostly, but solid, barrier in place. Julius would help keep him steady.

Rushing the base of the postal office, coughing and whining as much as they snarled, the werewolves began to climb towards Logan. He jumped easily away. They were still active, ready and eager to fight…

… but once the remaining air burned away and the bubble around Foregone filled with smoke, Logan knew the beasts would quickly lose their zest for the chase.

Bye, old girl, Logan thought, brushing away a tear. You were one of a kind.

And things might have ended that way, with a regretful mass genocide…

… if a certain someone hadn’t decided to join the party.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Thirty: I Spy(der)

At some point - whether from fear, or exhaustion, or a lack of magical energy, or a desire to simply do something else - Julius fell asleep.

He dreamed, but his dreams were so vivid as to be real. The colours, the textures, the emotions, the sensations, everything seemed just a bit too there for Julius to accept it all as an everyday dream. The crisp winter air on his fur kept hinting that he was, in fact, in extreme bodily danger, and the distant heat of fire, growing closer by the second, said basically the same.

Yet it was a dream. Because Julius was asleep. He knew he was asleep. So he couldn’t reconcile the fact that he was asleep, yet witnessing everything. Eventually he decided that it must be part of his life as a familiar, and let well enough be well enough.

A man came to their rescue in Julius’s dream. He was rugged but young, his face lined with the worries of youth rather than the toil of old age. The great, crouching wolf, once focused on easier prey, immediately jumped for the young man, and the pair danced a deadly, high-speed minuet that both appeared to have practiced a thousand times. Julius could barely follow their progress as they leaped from building to building, the wolf lunging to grab the man.

Despite himself, the man smiled from time to time. Julius wondered why. He knew he would have to ask if he survived the dream.

The man and the wolf floated away, and for an interminable time Julius was left to dream on his own, the only other participant an ex-monarch who was too damned unconscious to join in. Julius felt vaguely annoyed by that. He wanted someone to talk to. Yet no gentle dream prods or soft, non-venomous dream nips could awaken Daena.

That’s quite a bump on her face, Julius thought, peering dozily at the goose egg sprouting beneath Daena’s left eye. She’s going to be sore when she wakes up. But when she does, will she be in my dream? Or will she bypass it and leap straight to consciousness? The latter would be quite rude, I think.

Daena had no opinion on that.

A wolf howled in the distance, its voice made tinny and ridiculous by the dream. Julius thought the sound to be quite rude, as well, though he couldn’t say why. Perhaps he’d always thought of howling as rude, and he’d only just realized as such. Anything was possible. Julius waved his forelegs in irritation, as though swatting away flies, but the howling persisted.

The man returned. The wolf was not with him. Julius was quite happy to see that it was not. He’d decided that wolves - No, no, old chap, they’re werewolves - yes, he’d decided that werewolves could go throw themselves off a bridge somewhere, what with all their howling and running about, trying to kill people. They could just hang, for all he cared.

The man lifted Daena from the ground, taking Julius with her. Her body rocked in the man’s grasp, Julius nestled against her stomach, and the spider felt quite contented by it all. He wondered if his mother had ever rocked him in the same way, trying to comfort a spiderling temper tantrum in the dead of night.

No, probably not, Julius thought. She probably tried to eat me. How uncouth.

The wavering, purple-and-brown-and-mauve-and-fire-coloured dream streets vanished, ripped away from existence itself like gaudy wallpaper, and the scene that replaced it was much more boring: a house. It appeared to not be on fire at all. Julius disapproved of this, because he found fire to be rather pretty.

June always had a fire in her fireplace, Julius remembered. The old turd. She left me behind to die on a werewolf. But she always had a fire in her fireplace. I guess I’ll give her that much, even if she was a devil.

June was not standing over Julius now. Nor, indeed, was the man, or Daena. It was, instead, a gangly, tall youth, dark-skinned and uncertain. Julius suspected that he’d met this boy once, or at least heard about him. The face, if nothing else, reminded Julius… of… someone.

Julius waved. He hoped to beckon the boy into his dream realm. He wanted company. The dream was, after all, more pleasant than reality. He refused to be a party to reality any longer. It always proved too painful.

The boy reached for Julius, flattening his palm. Hunched on a table, legs quavering - the table seemed to be undergoing an earthquake, or perhaps it was pitching about on the high seas - Julius crawled into the boy’s hand. Electricity pricked at Julius’s legs -

- and all at once, he came awake. Entirely, utterly, fantastically awake.

Though he’d touched the souls of others many times, Julius had only ever retained a single master as a familiar: June. He could claim no other master, as forcibly breaking the connection with her would, very literally, shatter his soul. She’d invested too much magic in him for it not to be so. Nevertheless, their long absence from one another had gradually eroded their connection to the point of collapse -

- and when Julius came in contact with another magic user, one more powerful than June, he instinctively cast aside the tattered remains of the now-powerless connection… and forged a new one.

Brilliant green light flooded the room, pouring out of the eyes of Julius and his master. The boy - Fynn, Julius thought, his name is Fynn - struggled to control his energies, and Julius, much more practiced at the art of magic, had to focus his being into settling Fynn’s destructive capacities back into the lad’s skin. The room shook for a long minute, the structural integrity of the building almost faltering, before it came to an uneasy rest.

Backed against a bed, one arm protectively slung over his mother, Logan stared at the Non and his new familiar. “W… what in the hell was that?

Fynn didn’t answer immediately. Instead, with Julius on his shoulder, he raised a hand into the air experimentally. Green-and-white energy poured out of his fingertips, pooling together and forming a shield around his entire body. He closed his glowing eyes, concentrating -

- and Julius, assisting, concentrated as well -

- and the shield trebled in size, almost ramming Logan into a wall. The older man goggled, surprised, furious, and oddly amused.

Fynn dropped the shield, blushing apologetically. He hadn’t broken a sweat. “Uh, I think the plan might work now.” 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Nine: Smackdown

- and so did Antonia, in her wolfish way, as Julius sank his fangs into her flesh.

The great werewolf reared back in mid-pounce, more in surprise than pain, and her claws darted up to the back of her neck, frantically searching for the source of the bite. Julius skittered away from her probing grasp with only a second to spare, then gave Antonia another vicious bite for good measure. The werewolf howled again -

- and this time, her claws found Julius. He sighed as he was hefted into the air, not even bothering to try and anchor himself to Antonia. If nothing else, this would give Daena the few seconds she needed to free herself, and, hopefully, escape.

But Antonia didn’t crush Julius as he’d predicted. Instead, swinging her arm forward, she hurled the tarantula down the alleyway… and right onto Daena.

As he was spinning through the air, observing Daena’s horrified face as she realized what was hurtling towards her, Julius felt time slow just enough to get his bearings. He only had a split second with which to act, meaning he had time for, essentially, a single action. If he chose poorly, he might still suffer the horrifying, squelching slap that he’d feared from Antonia, only now it would come from Daena. One action, and no more.

Julius chose. As he closed in on Daena, he used his magical instincts - not his magic, that was gone, but his ability to reach out and touch magic - to draw power out of Daena. Everyone in the world had at least a little bit of magic, and Julius found just enough in the screaming queen to reach out and connect with her. It was not a sensation he enjoyed, stealing her magic, but it needed to be done.

The spider on your leg is me, he immediately assured her as he landed, scrabbling to climb Daena’s pants. It’s me it’s me it’s me, please don’t kill me, Daena, please.

Her scream cut short, Daena’s hand was already up in a sweeping motion… but it didn’t sweep. Instead she looked down at Julius in fascination, her fear tempered by curiosity for just long enough to save Julius’s life. He repeated the message, staring up at Daena imploringly, trying to appear as cute as he possible could. Being a spider, though, Julius knew she probably didn’t think he was too cute.

“Oh,” Daena replied, one eye twitching. “Oh.

Their little moment didn’t last long. Antonia snarled deeply, dropping onto all fours and bunching her body up so she could move as freely as possible in the narrow alley. one clawed hand kept slinking up to her neck, though, and Julius assumed that the venom in his fangs was doing its work to irritate her. 

Move, Julius insisted, scuttling up Daena’s leg for greater purchase. Move move move.

Daena obeyed. Forcing her injured leg to work, gritting her teeth all the while, Daena stumbled to her feet and down the alley, wading through surprisingly deep snow. Antonia made a leap for the queen, but the werewolf was just a bit too slow - or Daena too fast - and Daena’s boot caught her attacker in the jaw. Antonia flew back several feet and landed in snow, but was back on her feet in short order, angrier than ever.

“I… haven’t lost the reflexes… entirely… ow…” Daena swallowed, blinking back a tear. “Where… where do we go… now…?”

Clinging to Daena’s coat like a baby monkey, Julius buried his eyes in the fabric. I have no idea. You just have to run for now. We’ll figure the rest -

That was all Julius managed. The remainder was drowned out by Antonia’s roaring howl. Springing to her feet again, the werewolf lunged deeper into the alley, bouncing into the air in a tucked spin that looked almost calculated. A furry projectile of incredible speed, she came hurtling down towards Daena, landed in front of the surprised queen -

- and punched her in the face, close-fisted.

Rocked backward, Daena went flying. She hit the ground, bounced, and landed, unconscious, several feet away from the alley’s exit. Julius flew with her, smacking Daena in the cheek as he landed in the snow beside her left pigtail. The world wobbled badly, but Julius had the wherewithal to climb onto Daena’s shoulder and stare at Antonia.

That’s… she looks like a boxer, Julius thought, watching the werewolf pull back her clenched hand, an expression of almost comical confusion in her eyes. Was she one before? I honestly can’t… well, I suppose it hardly matters, at this point.

The confusion didn’t last for long. Antonia’s upright posture waned, replaced by the usual, hunched, bestial slouch she’d adopted years ago. The werewolf, wiping blood from its muzzle, emerged from the alley and loomed over Daena, a fuzzy, spectral vision of impending disaster.

Julius buried his eyes again. Will you get it over with, already?

“Hey," a familiar voice said, from several feet away. "Long time no see. You look like ass, old girl.”

Oh, for pity’s sake, Julius thought, leaving his eyes covered. I’ll just stay like this until someone decides that it’s time for me to die, then.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Eight: Coping

I can’t run why can’t I run

The apartments blurred past, mere window decorations that offered no hope of escape.

I mean I can run but what happened why can’t I run I can’t run

The fear was so great and so omnipresent that she launched herself across an alleyway, grabbed onto a balcony, and pulled herself into an adjacent building without so much of a thought as to how far down she could have fallen had she slipped on any ice. She was now three storeys off of the ground, a lethal height for any adult.

my legs oh my precious lovely legs you need to get going you need to do what you always do because something is wrong and I’m getting tired and I never get tired and I never thought I would curse this but you need to RUN

But her legs, her powerful, muscular, ever-moving legs refused to be anything other than normal. They no longer had a mind of their own, and because of that, Queen Daena wanted to throttle Julius, wherever and whomever he was.

The stinging odour of burning wood in her nose and the crackle of fire in her ears, Daena kicked down a door leading to a stairwell and threw herself at the stairs with reckless abandon. She came perilously close to tripping and tumbling down the stairs, but her sense of self-preservation seemed to keep the former queen healthy enough to descend without injury.

Above, something huge burst into the stairwell and hurtled down the stairs at a breakneck speed, apparently just as apathetic to the danger as Daena herself. It howled frustration, the sound of its throaty bellow the stuff of nightmares.

Emerging onto the street several blocks from the gate where her life had abruptly changed forever, Daena cursed - and revelled in - her ability to stop for a second and take stock of her situation, skidding to a halt on the building’s front porch. The opposite side of the street was now engulfed in flames, and the heat billowing down and out of the entrance at Daena’s back hinted at more fires from where she’d come. There were, for once, no werewolves in sight, though Daena suspected that was a temporary thing only.

She chanced a look at her legs. They did not fly up to greet her, robbed of those frantic kicks that had made Daena such a curio for so long a time. That in and of itself was a greater curiosity than the kicks had ever been in the first place. Or maybe she’d just forgotten -

The angered howl from inside the building snapped Daena back to reality. Forcing her aching legs back into motion - they seemed to want to rest rather badly, after so many years of relentless kicking - she headed for the nearest alleyway that was not currently adjacent to a burning building. That was, exactly, one alleyway, and it was a little too far down the street for Daena’s liking.

The triumphant bellow that sounded behind Daena as she slid into cover suggested that her pursuer, on the other hand, was quite content for Daena to remain within sight.

The alleyway proved much darker than Daena had anticipated, cut off as it was from the sun by two large buildings on both sides. Panting hard she started down it - and, in her haste, and thanks to a quick look back over her shoulder, Daena missed the heap of garbage piled in the middle of the alley. She tripped over the lumpy snowbank, revealing a frozen, mostly-ruined bed frame as snow sprayed into the air around her.

By the time Daena recovered, limping badly from a twisted ankle - Gods, what happened to my legs, they used to be so strong - she was face-to-face with the alpha female of the werewolves.

Antonia - because it could be only Antonia, Daena knew - was twice the size of the average werewolf, her shoulders so boxy and wide that she had to turn sideways to fit into the alley. Unfathomable amounts of muscle knotted her arms and legs, and a nasty red gleam lingered in Antonia’s lupine eyes. Thick strands of drool plummeted from her muzzle as she advanced on Daena.

“Please,” Daena pleaded, dread welling up in her as she struggled to get away. The pain in her ankle seemed to have robbed her of her bravery. “If you ever… if there’s aopnything left of my son’s kangaroo in there, please…”

The werewolf didn’t hear Daena, or if it did, it didn’t care, and just as Daena was realizing that she’d reclassified she as it, Antonia pounced, teeth poised to pump Daena full of a lethal dose of lycanthropy.

Daena screamed -

Monday, March 2, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Seven: Boom

The explosion jolted Fynn out of his attempt at concentration so viciously that his hands flew up to his ears, rebounded off of the shield surrounding his body, and smacked him in the chest.

Seated several feet away, looking at a map he’d found in one of Foregone’s houses - houses, he was realizing, which were quickly burning to cinders, much more quickly than he’d realized - Logan looked out a window, mouth dropping open. There was nothing to see outside besides plumes of smoke in the near-distance, however, and he turned his gaze to Fynn instead.

“What in the hell was that?” Logan asked, rolling the map into a tight scroll and jumping to his feet. “Did you hear that?”

“How could I not hear that?” Fynn grumbled, dropping his shield. He rubbed his head. “It was… it sounded like something blew up. Like when we use cannons on the Sky Badword, only… louder. A lot louder.”

Nodding agreement, Logan slipped through the window and leaped nimbly onto the roof of their house, hoping to get a better look at Foregone. It was, however, a fruitless enterprise, as the city was quickly becoming enveloped in black smoke. Waves of heat reached Logan from several blocks away, and the sting of ash made his eyes water. He quickly retreated.

“I wonder if there’s a powder keg somewhere’s here that went up,” Logan mused grimly. “Shit. I hope mom’s okay. Anyway, we’re runnin’ out of time. How’s the shield work goin’? Any better?”

Shrugging helplessly, Fynn cast his spell again. The green energy of his shield shimmered to life around him, expanding out of his skin and forming a tight shield around the upper half of his body, fading to nothing as it approached his thighs. Fynn gritted his teeth and concentrated, and the bubble expanded, forcing Logan to take several steps back -

- but it was no use. When the bubble hit a diameter of ten feet it abruptly popped, showering the room in brilliant, ethereal, harmless shards of twinkling light. The motes faded quietly from sight, leaving Fynn both defenceless and frustrated.

“That’s… that’s the best I can do,” Fynn muttered. “If I take it slow I can maybe double it, but I’d need, like, an hour. I think. I’d need time to test it.”

“Just said we were runnin’ out of time,” Logan said, scratching his chin, “and twenty feet wouldn’t do jack anyway. If I’m readin’ this map correctly, Foregone’s at least three kilometres from side to side. Probably longer. Hell, this could even be an older map, which means it might’ve expanded since then.”

“So it won’t work.” Fynn tried to sound downcast, but a tiny, grim smile appeared on his face. “That’s… that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, I bet you think so,” Logan said, rolling his eyes. “Shit. We might have to go get Eve after all. Assumin’ she didn’t just take off after her meal. But if she gets bitten while she’s takin’ the werewolves down…”

Pausing, Logan imagined a werewolf with Eve’s strength, speed, and propensity for vicious action. This mental picture was shortly paired with a quick scene of Pubton, under siege by an enormous legion of furry beasts and led by a green-eyed lupine capable of jumping right over defensive walls… or simply tearing them down with her bare hands.

“… yeah, forget Eve. Bad idea.” Logan shook his head. “Well, maybe if we get all of the gates closed - “

Logan didn’t finish his sentence. A high, piercing, terrified shriek suddenly filled the room, blasting through the open window with the volume - if not the shuddering impact - of the earlier explosion. Logan recognized the scream’s owner at once, and without a word he leaped out of the window and into the smoky streets. Fynn just barely caught sight of Logan’s hand dipping to his sheathed sword before the prince vanished.

“Oh,” Fynn said dumbly. “Uh… I guess… that’s his mom… then. Yeah.”

No one was around to verify Fynn’s guess, and, eventually, knowing he would just get lost in the streets of Foregone and fall prey to either the werewolves or the spreading fires, he went back to practicing his magic. Each shield was ever so slightly larger than the last, though Fynn didn’t know it…

… and, eventually, someone else in Foregone abruptly caught wind of Fynn’s magic potential.