Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Three: Graysons

Unlike Philip, the Graysons were not made of clouds. When Libby slugged the first Grayson in the face, she felt a very real, very satisfying crunch.

The Grayson fell back, collapsing onto the grass. Libby gave him a swift kick to the side, then turned and punched another Grayson in the throat. He, too, went down, gurgling happily. More Graysons fell as Libby pressed her attack, and more pushed in to replace the fallen boys - but they never fought back, never resisted, never even stopped smiling as Libby beat them to a pulp.

This isn’t real, Libby insisted to no one in particular. She was throttling one of the Graysons This isn’t. It’s not. We… I… he… IT’S NOT REAL!

“It is and it isn’t,” said the nearest Grayson, drawing Libby’s wrath. He barely had time to finish his sentence before Libby uppercutted him. “We’ve been working hard to combine the two - urk!”

Libby pressed her attack for a long time. She couldn’t master her angry impulses, not now. There was too much blood on her hands, too many tears on her face, and too many grass stains on her legs to stop. She punched, and punched, and punched, and the Graysons continued to fall, and though their bodies soon littered the landscape, their numbers never dwindled. They seemed to be growing, if anything.

Eventually, exhausted, Libby fell to her knees. Killing her middle child had lost its flavour.

“Sorry, mom.” One of the Graysons leaned over Libby, patting her gently on the back. “I figured you would be upset. This seemed the best way to let you release some tension. Do you feel any better?”

Libby laughed. It came out as a half snarl. “Oh, fuck, yeah! I love… I love beating the shit out of… my son… ugh…”

Three of the Graysons gathered around Libby, trying to hug her. She elbowed them away and stood, though her legs were shaky. She backed away slowly, circling to watch all of the Graysons, until she felt her back press against a building. It gave her some small measure of comfort knowing that they were no longer behind her where she couldn’t see them.

“Where…” Libby sniffed, struggling to pull herself together. This was too much, even for her. “Where the fuck… are…”

The majority of the Graysons stepped back, giving Libby some space. Only one remained near her, their apparent spokesmen. “We’re in the bridge between your world and codespace. The realm of the rats. I’m sorry for what they tried to do to you earlier in the year, by the way - I wasn’t in full control, then. They paid for that.”

Mental images of Traveller, a naked Traveller, jumped to mind. Libby shivered. “That… that doesn’t explain… shit. I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about.”

“I suppose not.” Grayson shrugged. “There are a lot of complexities that need to be explained. For now, think of this place as your new home.”

Libby laughed again. The presumption in his voice brought back some of her anger. “Oh… oh yeah…? Not Pubton, or… or the Sky Bitch… this fuckin’ place is… home, now, eh…?”

Grayson nodded. “It will have to be. But don’t worry, mom. You’ll love it here. I can give you absolutely anything you want. For example…”

The Graysons waved their hands to the sky, their movements so eerily in tune as to seem choreographed. Libby looked up, following the mass gesture, and spotted a massive airship rumbling along. It looked only half completed, and the analytical sections of her brain immediately spotted dozens of improvements that could be made… with a little tinkering.

The lead Grayson smiled deeply. “I knew you would like that. I can give you as many airships to work on as you like. Or you can create all new inventions, things you’ve never dreamed of before. Perhaps you’d like a starship? Trust me, I can make it happen for you. And I’ll help you build, like I used to. Just ask.”

Libby trembled. Grayson’s offer - and she knew it wasn’t really an offer - seemed so attractive as to be repellant. She didn’t want it at all, because she knew she’d have to spend her time here with him, and though she loved her son… though she loved him…

“You’ll come to love me again,” Grayson murmured. He took a step forward. “In time, mom. You’ll learn. You… won’t have much choice.”

Libby blinked, fury mounting in her again. “Gonna force me, eh? Gonna push me into it? Gonna brainwash me again? You just try it - “

Grayson shook his head. “No. No more brainwashing. I want to earn your love this time, no matter how long it takes. I simply meant, that… if you reject me, well, there won’t be anyone else to turn to. You’ll be alone here.”

The tone of Grayson’s voice, mournful yet happy, chilled Libby. She pushed herself against the building - it’s the stable, she thought, probably full of the prettiest fucking horses I’ve ever seen - and wished she could sink into the wall. “Talk… plain, you little bastard.”

Grayson clapped his hands together. A little smile formed on his face, the same cruel expression she’d finally, finally seen on that last day together in Pubton, when she’d finally realized what her son really was. “Very well. You’ll have to love me, mom, because everyone else on this planet - everyone else - will be dead. I’m going to kill them all, and your… husband… is going to help me.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Two: Paradise Revisited

Libby awoke in the most comfortable bed she’d ever slept in. It was so comfortable that she wasn’t even sure that she was awake, and when she registered that, yes, she was not currently asleep, she decided to go back to sleep, just because she’d never rested in so plush, so soft, and so marshmallowy a bed. It took her almost an hour to remember that she’d been kidnapped, and even that was not quite enough to dispel her sleepiness.

Not right away, anyway.

Sitting up in bed (a difficult task, given the sheer softness of the thing), Libby wiped the fatigue out of her eyes and looked around. She appeared to be in a white room of substantial size, though aside from the canopy bed (Oh my lords, she thought, it has a canopy) there wasn’t a whole lot to see: a side table, a chair, and a door. The furniture seemed to radiate a subtle glow, as if possessed by fireflies, and everything felt warm to the touch. 

Libby rubbed her head. Ugh. A… dragon… yeah, right, those fuckers… turned on us, and… one grabbed me… Pagan tried to help, but… fuck, where am I?

Grunting, Libby hopped out of bed. She noticed immediately that she was not wearing her usual work boots, as the warmth of the floor felt nice on her toes. She further noticed that she was not wearing her captain’s uniform, nor anything else that might feel familiar. She was, instead, wearing an elegant noblewoman’s dress, made of a satin so delightfully blue that Libby thought she might puke.

The fuck is this? Libby pulled at the sleeves of the dress, half wanting to rip it off. There was not, however, a ready substitute for the dress and she left it where it was. So somebody stripped and re-dressed me? The shit? Why’s everybody always tryin’ ta pull this bull with me?

Growling, Libby stalked across the room, making for the door. She was now more angry than bewildered, and she wanted to confront whomever’d put her through such a disorienting kidnapping and reawakening. She was just beginning to process the list of potential captors as she threw the door to her room open -

- and found herself standing in some sort of paradise. 

Libby’s room - actually a small, glass cabin - appeared to be part of a larger building compound. The remaining buildings were much more opulent: a majestic, almost dainty castle, a low-set but sprawling stable, an open patio filled with chairs and tables, an eatery that smelled good even at a distance, a garage absolutely brimming with tools… more buildings seemed to pop up as Libby wandered slowly along the grounds, each more interesting and tempting than the last. The grounds themselves were also a paradise of sorts, sporting a thin, winding stream, thousands of beautiful flowers, an assortment of inoffensive animals, and pliable grass that crunched deliciously between Libby’s toes.

A puppy ran up to Libby and began licking her ankles. She kicked it away with a scowl, and it vanished into a puff of clouds, evaporating as happily as it had come. 

“Well, shit all over me,” Libby announced rather loudly. “Ain’t this lovely! Ain’t this just fuckin’ lovely! Now, maybe somebody can show himself so we can get this bullcrap over with, ’n I can punch him in the face, ’n I can get outta here!”

“If you want.”

Libby spun. The voice came from behind her, though when she looked there was no one to see. She glared at the absence of life. “Don’t fuck with me. Don’t.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the voice said. This time it came from Libby’s right, though, surprise surprise, no one was attached. “This ain’t my doing, lady. I’m not that interested in you. Gave you a wedgie, sure, but I was givin’ everybody wedgies back then.”

A wedgie? Libby’s lip curled. She thought back to all the people who had given her a wedgie in her lifetime. There were only two names on the list: her father, once, while they were sawing down trees… and a rampaging, mischievous ghost.

“Philip?” Libby’s fists clenched. “Philip?

The ground in front of Libby bubbled abruptly, and she stepped back. The grass and the plants began to merge and grow, rising up to form feet, legs, arms, a torso, a head, and a familiar guardsman’s cap. He was as ivory as a rat’s eyes when he was fully formed, but it was Philip, no doubt.

“Hey,” Philip said, tossing Libby a small salute. “Been a while. You look healthy. Though I guess anything is healthier than dead, right?”

Taking a quick step, Libby swung her right fist into Philip’s face. The punch passed through his skin as though he was no more substantial than air, and his jaw quickly reformed once Libby was stumbling away. Philip smiled and tutted as Libby gave it another try, delivering an uppercut to his stomach that was no more useful than the first blow. He waggled a finger as Libby stepped away, her face red and angry.

“Sorry, babe, won’t cut it here.” Philip looked to the sky, a rounded, flat bowl with no obvious end in sight. “I ain’t in charge of this particular section of paradise, but I can do enough to keep ya from beating me down. Pretty simple for a dude who’s been a ghost the last four years, am I right?”

Libby stomped the ground, growling loudly. She knew the display was nothing more than posturing, however, and she felt like a sulky teenager by the time she stopped. “Fuck you.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, these days.” Philip shrugged. His head twitched to one side, abruptly, and he smiled. “Don’t have to worry ‘bout me. I’ve done my job. You have other shit t’worry ‘bout.”

“Oh yeah?” Frustrated, Libby sat down and began picking at the grass, throwing big handfuls of it up into the air. “Do tell, motherfucker. Do tell.

“You’ll see in a moment.”

Twitching again - indeed, all of limbs seemed to be gyrating subtly now, a motion Libby found rather disturbing - Philip sank back into the ground. Libby kicked at the spot where he’d vanished, but the ground didn’t seem to care.

Enraged, Libby continued to pick at the grass, flinging it around the space with gusto. When she cleared one patch, she moved to another. There seemed to be no end to the stuff, and the grass she picked appeared to re-form whenever she turned her back for more than a second. This aggravated Libby enough that picking grass became an obsession, and she spent a good five minutes at the task. If nothing else, the crunch of the grass between her fingers was satisfying…

… though it almost distracted her away from the sound of approaching footsteps. 

“Whaddya want now, asshat?” Libby growled, not bothering to turn. She gathered up a big fistful of grass, determined to throw it in Philip’s face.

“Only to be with you, mom,” a very different voice replied.

Libby stiffened, eyes wide. The grass slipped out of her fingers, forgotten. She couldn’t bring herself to turn around, now, because she knew that voice, she knew it so well, so damned intimately, and she didn’t want anything to do with it. A wide ache opened in Libby’s guts, one she’d constantly had to hide from herself. 

A hand fell on Libby’s right shoulder, then another on her left. “Please look at me, mom. Please.”

Chilled to the core, Libby turned. Grayson was watching her, her Grayson, all shining eyes and shining smiles, as young and trim and beautiful as he’d been when they were living together in Pubton. Before she’d learned that he was a monster. She was so enraptured and horrified by Grayson’s face that Libby didn’t immediately realize the two hands on her shoulders belonged to two different Graysons…

… and that the two Graysons were actually four. Or eight. Or sixteen. Libby quickly lost track as more Graysons joined the throng, emerging from buildings on all sides. They congregated around Libby, all reverentially silent and beaming.

“Welcome home, mom,” the Graysons intoned as one. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-One: Quiet in the storm

Arabella was not chastised for looking at the top of the tower. Her masters did not express even the slightest bit of discontent over her act of rebellion, which, to her, made sense. They’d never told anyone not to look at the top of the tower. The counsellor was nevertheless imprisoned for her indiscretion, and when she woke up - still blind, of course, always blind - she was inside the tower. Arabella didn’t know how she knew, she just… knew.

You will remain here until the execution, the voice of her masters, once again harmonized, commanded inside Arabella’s head. Use the time to learn more about the sentenced. You will quickly discover what kind of scum they truly are.

The voice did not speak again, though Arabella gave it a respectful amount of time to contemplate continued discussion before she dared to move. Still unaccustomed to life as a blind person, she groped uselessly at her surroundings on her hands and knees, trying to get some sense of where she was. All she discerned was the texture of the tower: smooth, glassy, and… pointy. Many sharp edges.

That seems appropriate, Arabella thought, wincing at her subtle critique of her masters. She knew such thoughts could be punished. Especially here, in the centre of -


The quacking gurgle caught Arabella by surprise, and she fell back onto her butt with a small shriek. Then, remembering her masters’ words - Use the time to learn more about the sentenced - she realized where she must be.

Forcing composure, Arabella folded her legs and sat properly. “I… hello. I believe I recognize that voice. Plato the Platypus, is it?”

Plato coughed. It was a dry, almost dusty sound, as though he were a thousand-year-old mummy. Arabella wondered, based on her knowledge of history, if that count might actually be accurate.

“You… aren’t looking at me,” Plato muttered. “Could you look… look at me, please? At us?”

Cheeks flushing, Arabella turned towards Plato’s voice. it took three fidgets until she was satisfied with her positioning. “Apologies. I, ah, I’m blind, you see. Heh, what an odd thing to say.”

“I can see, though,” Plato admitted. He still sounded unaccustomed to standard speech, and every word emerged from his bill as an inelegant croak. “Your eyes… no, your pupils… they’re… um… faded. White, but… not… rat… white.”

Something beside Plato squeaked. Plato clapped his bill in apparently irritation. “I can so call… ach… call that a colour. You shush.”

Settling down, Arabella thought back to her arrival at the tower. She’d seen Plato’s face emerge from the base of the tower, and he’d always been the obvious victim of her masters’ planned execution… but, yes, there was someone else, as well. A rat had appeared along with Plato’s face, a rat as plainly vilified as the platypus himself.

I suppose we’re in a dungeon, then. Well, it wouldn’t be my first time. “How long have, erm, you two been here?”

A rustle of fabric hinted at a shake of the head. “I… don’t know. I’ve been… in and out of it… for a while, now. He keeps… knocking me out… torturing… it’s difficult…”

The rat squeaked, and its chittering silenced Plato. Arabella listened, fascinated, though she obviously had no idea what the rat was saying. Unlike the rest of her masters, it apparently could not speak directly into her mind.

“Three months?” Plato tutted. “N… no, that can’t be right. I’m positive… we started out in some, some, some castle thing, and, um… that was maybe a few weeks… well, I suppose - “

The rat chittered again. It sounded pained, yet oddly indignant.

“Yes, I know you haven’t been out as long, but… no… no! Will you… stop talking…” Plato drooped. Arabella thought he drooped, anyway. He sounded droopy. “I’m… ah, I’m sorry, I guess… he thinks we’ve been here a while.”

Arabella waved the apology away. Something else had caught her interest anyway, and she wanted to pursue it. “You two seem to be on friendly terms. I am addressing the rat who is to be terminated, correct?”

The rat squeaked an affirmative. 

“Yes,” Plato provided unnecessarily. “He, um… well, come now, stop talking a second… he says that, if you’re going to have him… killed… oh, no, I can’t say that, don’t talk like - “

“Please translate for him,” Arabella prompted, smiling. “I don’t mind.”

“ - he says you can just go to hell,” Plato finished. Arabella imagined a deep blush on his tar-black face, assuming the platypus still couldn’t hold his normal shape properly. “Uh. Sorry. He’s rather rude to people when he’s mad. I… erm… I put up with a lot… travelling with this guy.”

“Really,” Arabella said. “So you’ve known one another for a while?”

The rat squeaked another affirmative, this one rather dry. Plato didn’t bother to interpret.

“I would love to hear,” Arabella confessed, “how two mortal enemies became such good friends. If you don’t mind talking to me for a little while.”

“We’re not that good of friends,” Plato insisted.

“I doubt that.” Arabella leaned back on the palms of her hands. “Please. We don’t have much else to do.”

That much was true, and, after some prompting, Plato began to tell a long, silly story that Arabella enjoyed very much. Had she known that a dragon was merging with the tentacular ball of regulator light at the top of the tower as the platypus spoke, however, she might have considered changing the subject.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Fifty: The flock comes out to play

Five hours later, long after the werewolves had been explained away, Grand Vizier Kierkegaard received word of a squadron of dragons making their way to the west. He received them in typical Kierkegaard fashion.

“FIRE!” the penguin screamed, standing atop one of his Nothings. “BRING “EM ALL DOWN!”

The Nothings, clustered in a star pattern at the very tip of Kierkegaard’s army, did not hesitate in their duty. Since bonding themselves to Kierkegaard they’d become his greatest soldiers, incapable of even questioning his commands. All five began to whistle as they unleashed a massive barrage of jagged harpoons at the dragons flying overhead, bringing two of the great beasts down in seconds. 

The dragons responded in kind. Wheeling about, they unleashed a massive torrent of fire on the Nothings. Kierkegaard dipped into one of his portals and zipped away as flame bathed the oily surface of the Nothings, causing only token amounts of return damage. Kierkegaard reappeared at the feet of one of the Nothings, though when he stepped out of his portal he was at full size. He didn’t want the two-legged orb to accidentally step on him if it shifted places to get a better aim. Kierkegaard concentrated, willing a larger portal to appear above the dragons - 

“Sir! From the west! More!”

Kierkegaard whipped around at the voice of one of his soldiers, in the process catching sight of the incoming dragons. The bulk of Kierkegaard’s army was already moving to intercept the creatures, their fliers taking wing with clusters of supporting sky dwarves. Neither sky dwarves nor even Non fliers could compete with dragons, but they could slow ‘em down long enough for the Nothings to come in and land a kill.

Kierkegaard paused a moment, counting. “Ten, twelve… fifteen… no, that’s twenty. Twenty dragons… fuck me, they got somethin’ planned?”

Shaking his head, the Non commander created a portal over the head of one of the larger dragons and reached inside. His claws appeared above the dragon’s wings and raked through the membranous leather keeping the dragon aloft, and as Kierkegaard cackled the dragon streaked out of the sky and thumped painfully into the landscape. Kierkegaard’s army swarmed over it like bugs on a dead dog.

“Sir! More! Coming from the south!”

What the shit? Kierkegaard turned, glaring through the vacant eye sockets of his bleached avian skull. There was indeed another squadron of incoming dragons, this far larger than the previous two. The dragons swooped low to the ground, breathing flame on the Non columns as they approached the Nothings. This’s… weird… something ain’t right…

Disregarding the battle - his forces still had the upper hand by a large margin - Kierkegaard stepped into a portal and jumped to his command tent. His aide Shuster was waiting, picking his nose, and the younger Non jumped as Kierkegaard stepped out of his portal. The rumble of Kierkegaard’s feet reminded him of his size, and he returned the majority of his bulk to his personal portal. 

“C-c-c-commander!” Shuster saluted. “Er, um, I mean, Grand, uh, Viz… uh… Vizier - “

“Shut up for a minute,” Kierkegaard snapped. “I need info. How many dragons have we fought at once? Gimme an estimate.”

Shuster stammered, fumbling for an answer he didn’t seem to have. “Uh… uh… uh…”

Snorting, Kierkegaard retrieved one of his hands from his portal and used the massive claws to pin Shuster to the ground. He felt the gentle warmth of urine against his palm as Shuster’s fear got the better of him. If nothing else, though, the action stopped Shuster’s grovelling. 

Kierkegaard loomed over his subordinate, one arm elbow-deep in a portal. “Give me an answer or I’ll scarf you down, y’little fuck, piss and all. How many dragons have we fought at once? In the same damned battle? BEST FUCKING ESTIMATE, TWERP.


Sneering at the answer, Kierkegaard released Shuster and looked up into the sky. The dragons were continuing their assault on the Nothings in the distance… and more were joining them, this time from the north. 

“Fifty,” Kierkegaard growled. “So far. That’s too fuckin’ many. The hell are those rats playin’ at?”

Kierkegaard’s forces were so busy battling off the dragons - and they were, despite some heavy losses, successful in killing every one of the great lizards - that they completely missed number fifty-one as it flitted past the fringes of the battle, heading west. Its irate load remained thoroughly unconscious.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Eight: Howdy there, long time no see

Not for the first time, Jeffrey wondered why in the hell he’d asked to join the ground battle.

Since Logan’s departure, Jeffrey had felt adrift in a sea not of his own making. Wife, missing; daughter, dead; son, fled; arguable best friend, swiftly turning into a power-hungry douche. Or so it seemed to Jeffrey, himself a former power-hungry douche. Jeffrey barely knew what was going on anymore, or for whom he was fighting, and so he decided to get right into the thick of things. He didn’t want to be on the airship with The Baron anymore anyway.

I think I’ve changed my mind, Jeffrey thought. I think I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things.

The Non swept at Jeffrey with impressive speed, its claws raking at his nose. He yelped and took a step back, fists coming up in a standard boxing pose. The Non lashed out again and again, and Jeffrey just barely avoided its swipes. He swept forward with a strike of his own, but it was too uncertain, too hesitant, and the Non brushed it aside with a flick of its wrist. Another flick sent Jeffrey to the ground. He raised his arms defensively -

- and lowered them again as Antonio leaped to his aid. The bulky orc brought one fist around in a swift blow to the Non’s pliable chest. The ebon creature fell back two steps and collapsed into a crouch, hissing curses Jeffrey couldn’t understand. Antonio launched another punch at it, but the Non jumped out of the way -

- and straight into Cedric’s waiting hands. Miming Antonio’s boxing posture - Right, I forgot he used to box, Jeffrey thought - Cedric slammed into the Non’s head with his werewolf arm. The sheer strength of Cedric’s undead limbs splattered the Non’s face, and it collapsed into an ugly heap.

“Zat iz imprezzive ztrength,” Antonio commented, stepping up beside Cedric. They shielded Jeffrey from the battle raging around them as he got sheepishly to his feet. “You are a boxer too, ya?”

“I used ta practice a bit,” Cedric admitted. He took a swing at a nearby Non, but seeing what happened to its friend, it got skittish and bounded away. “Nuthin’ huge. You the one who beefed up Jeff-o back there? Looks like ya did a shitty job with his technique.”

“Hey, c’mon, I’m… still learning,” Jeffrey insisted, raising his fists as two more Non bounded into range. “Incoming!”

The three boxers battled the Non ferociously, Cedric and Antonio aiding Jeffrey whenever he got into trouble - which was often. The former king’s fear was swiftly giving way to irritation as he realized his impotence, and he forced himself into several dangerous scrapes. Again, Cedric and Antonio had to go to his rescue, irritating Jeffrey even more.

“I can handle it!” Jeffrey yelled hotly, after a close shave with a sky dwarf. “Gods damn it all, you guys aren’t the only fighters around here!”

“True, but you ain’t in that number yet, guy,” Cedric said, sneering. “Sorry. ‘M’lord.’ Y’should get back to the airship when you get the chance, you’re just gonna get pasted out - “

Cedric didn’t finish his sentence. He was abruptly drowned out by the haunting AWOOOO of a wolf, and the sound sent chills up Jeffrey’s spine. Turning away from a Non that Antonio admittedly had covered, he peered across the battlefield -

- and spotted the incoming wave of werewolves. They bounded across the field of Non in a vicious torrent, scattering the lanky warriors and punching a huge hole in the enemy lines. Jeffrey didn’t realize the strategic value of the werewolves, of course, because from his vantage point they appeared to be nothing more than impending death.

Well, I guess I’ve been pretty suicidal in the past, Jeffrey thought, closing his eyes. Didn’t figure this was how I’d go, though.

The werewolves paid no heed to Jeffrey, however, and as he reviewed the happiest moments of his life, Jeffrey felt the coarse fur of dozens of werewolves passing right by him, as though he were of no more consequence than a gnat. This incensed him as much as his inability to rumble, and he considered attacking one of the werewolves, just so he could claim to have participated when he found himself in hell.

He was not, however, facing a werewolf when he opened his eyes. Instead, the most beautiful woman in the world was standing in front of Jeffrey. And, yes, she was standing, not running.

“Hi,” Daena said, her smile vast and lovely. She pointed at her legs. “Look, I can walk normally now. Are you impressed?”

Dumbfounded, his dread and irritation receding, Jeffrey fumbled for words. “Y… wh… you… uh… hi… uh… um…”

Daena stepped forward and kissed her husband. He kissed her back. Then a Non tackled them both, and they spent a cordial moment together, beating the snot out of the poor fellow. Jeffrey didn’t hold back one bit.

Neither of them noticed the dragon soaring overhead, heading west.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Seven: Farewell, old man

When she learned that Fynn was in the army below the Sky Bitch, helping decimate the Non, Libby immediately commanded her crew to land the airship. She didn’t give a damn if the fight wasn’t over. She wanted to see her son.

Pagan only argued with her for a moment. There wasn’t much more time to say anything before the dragon slammed into the side of the ship.

The Sky Bitch tilted abruptly to aft, its rotors whining as they struggled to keep the airship moving in a straight line. The crew, almost as one, collapsed to the deck and slid to one side. Only Libby managed to remain upright, clutching to the wheel for dear life. One of her booted feet kicked Pagan’s helmet from his head as he fell into a wall.

Oh dear, the knight thought. This isn’t good at all.

The Sky Bitch slowly righted itself - or at least it tried. The dragon slammed into the ship a second time, then a third, knocking the people inside around like dice in a cup. Pagan avoided further buffetings by clinging to a control console, an action that he found altogether miraculous. The world seemed too apocalyptic for an old man such as himself to last so long.

Images of his resurrection, from long ago, flitted to mind. They were filtered a soft blue. He shook them away, knowing that he wouldn’t receive another such miracle.

The dragon planted itself on the front of the Sky Bitch, tilting the ship towards the earth. Libby screamed obscenities at the thing, her enraged voice only mildly tinged with fear. Pagan pulled himself to his feet as best he could, admiring Libby’s gusto as he reached for the sword cane at his side. He knew drawing it was a worthless gesture, but he did it anyway.

“W… what are you planning to do, exactly?” a panicked voice asked from behind Pagan. “Tumble… tumble at it and hope you… puncture a soft spot…?”

Pagan turned to glare at the speaker. The Baron glared back, his glasses cracked, skeletal mouth exposed.

“Something like that,” Pagan grumbled. “Why don’t you do something, you useless - “

Pagan’s rejoinder was cut off as the glass canopy protecting the bridge exploded. Eyes blazing white, the dragon plunged its cerulean head into the Sky Bitch, half collapsing the deck as its front legs fell onto the wood. It snarled -

- and, abruptly, shrank to half its normal size. The rapid loss of mass brought the Sky Bitch back up into the sky, away from the ground, and every member of the crew bounced in response. Pagan managed to land neatly on the deck without injury, but the loud WHACK and the yelp of pain behind him hinted at The Baron’s fate. 

“Well, never mind, then,” Pagan muttered, looking back at The Baron. He appeared to be out cold. “A shame, you might have actually been useful.”

A lithe, almost slinky beast, the dragon hissed as it advanced on Libby, though the sound was almost drowned out by the rush of air from the open canopy. Though cut in half, the dragon nevertheless towered over Libby, the tips of its black horns scraping along the tallest point of the Sky Bitch’s curved roof. 

Libby’s fists clenched, and she struck a combat pose. “You want me? You want me, you giant fuck? You just come get me - “ 

The dragon came. Dipping low, it raised its front legs - now arms, Pagan noticed, as muscles in the dragon’s shoulders abruptly and grotesquely readjusted themselves - and charged at Libby, stampeding over the bodies of several unfortunate crewers. Libby only had time for one useless punch before the beast caught her and lifted her off of the deck, wriggling and shouting but unharmed.

Pagan looked at his sword cane. Well, I guess I have a use for this thing now.

The dragon was turning to leave, its tail casually destroying several control consoles, when Pagan leaped to the offensive. He twirled his sword once, twice, three times, expertly slicing at the dragon’s left leg and biting into the fleshy crevices between its plated skin. Blood flew, the dragon roared, and its tail whipped around to lash him. Pagan ducked beneath the strike, and it left a deep scar in the wall behind him instead.

Don’t get hit by that, he thought, grimacing. Gotcha. One hit and I’m a dead man.

Watching the tail carefully, Pagan slid in front of the dragon and jabbed at a weak point on its elbow. The dragon attempted to kick him away, still advancing towards the hole in the canopy, but Pagan slid to one side and avoided the stomp. The ship shuddered in response, but Pagan kept his balance as he lashed out again, driving his sword into the same point on the dragon’s elbow. The pained roar was much louder this time -

- and when the dragon flinched in pain, Libby found the purchase she needed to drive her leg up into the dragon’s neck. It didn’t do much, but the dragon dropped her anyway, obviously surprised.

“GET OUT OF THERE!” Pagan danced aside as the dragon’s tail came at him again, the tip leaving a delicate, white-hot streak on the front of his armour. “GRAB THE WHEEL! WE’RE GONNA GO DOWN IF - “

Pagan’s order was cut off by a sudden blossom of pain in his right ear. Reflexively grabbing at his head, he found a small, grubby thing clinging to the side of his face, apparently unnoticed in the fracas. He tore it away… and found himself staring at a blood-soaked rat. It convulsed as it smiled ghoulishly up at him.

They really do want us to lose, Pagan thought, reaching beneath his cape to grab at a second rat that was climbing up his back. He flung the first away, noticing in the act that more rats were climbing up his legs. Did we have this many bloody rats on the ship?

Pagan’s hesitation was enough for the dragon. Reaching down, it grabbed Libby a second time and swatted her head lightly, almost apologetically. She went limp as the dragon stomped towards the exit, and its wings expanded as it prepared to take to the skies. Its tail snaked tantalizingly in its wake -

- and when the dragon hunched over to leap into the abyss, Pagan leaped with it.

Pagan had always prided himself on his penchant for cold analysis. He seldom allowed emotion to override his common sense. He’d known, during the Battle of Grand Lake, to leave his friend Duke to die, rather than allow General Tartasky to escape. He’d known, during the Siege of Limberhost, to raze the residential section of the city, even though it was filled with as many innocents as freedom fighters. He’d known to enslave his servants, despite the social stigma of such an action, because doing so would cut down on the levies paid to his former lord. Such was the duty of the head of an expensive manor.

Emotion told him to grab onto the dragon’s tail. Logic told him to give up on Libby, because she would obviously survive. She was being kidnapped, not dragged away to murder. That was obvious. Yet Pagan dove for the tail anyway, and grabbed on, and was hurtled out of the Sky Bitch when the dragon took flight. 

Pagan gasped as his boots left the floor. This wasn’t his first flight on a dragon, but last time… last time he’d been on its back. This was quite different.

Yes, said Pagan’s sense of logic. Yes, this is very different. This is a mistake. You’re going to pay for it, old man.

Probably, Pagan thought back. Fighting the wind, his weary muscles straining, he began pulling himself up the dragon’s tail, hand over hand. But I’ve lived long enough anyway. I’d rather go out with an interesting story to tell.

The dragon’s tail began to expand as the creature returned to its full size, forcing Pagan to widen his grip. He slipped backward a foot, heart beating wildly, but maintained his purchase and continued his steady trek towards the dragon’s body. A rat, somehow not dislodged by the leap, nibbled on his neck; Pagan ignored it.

You dropped your sword back in the ship, logic pointed out. What do you plan on doing when you reach the neck? Will you bite it?

Something like that, Pagan thought. 

Doubtless sensing the extra load clinging to its backside, the dragon whipped its tail from one side to the other, cracking the air with its extreme speed. Pagan managed to hang on with each lash - but he soon found himself spinning beneath the tail, forced to stare at the landscape far below. A sea of werewolves promised a furry, if pointy, landing should he fall.

You’ve doomed yourself, you stupid old fuck, logic bit out viciously. We can’t wait to see the results of your foolishness.

I suppose it was a little silly, Pagan admitted, face pressed to the underside the dragon’s tail. But Libby’s a nice enough firebrand, and… I suppose… wait. What do you mean by ‘we’? My brain isn’t a ‘we’.

True, said logic. But, then, you’re not talking to your brain right now, are you?

The rat on Pagan’s neck bit into his tendon so viciously that the old man cried out. He shook his head, and the rat fell away… but another, creeping up Pagan’s armour, took its place on the other side of Pagan’s neck, and a third crawled into his breastplate to chomp at the flesh beneath his armpit.

‘If we go, you die,’ said logic, words rushing through Pagan’s head in a confusing torrent. Some of my first words, and some of my finest. This manic flight is hardly the ‘pleasant obscurity’ you said you wanted back then, but I suppose I knew you were lying. Knights always want to go out in a blaze of ridiculous glory. You want glory, you old fuck? Here’s some glory for you. 

Pagan couldn’t hold on any longer, and as the rat at his armpit took another deep bite the old soldier released the dragon’s tail. The last thing Pagan saw of the dragon - and, given the circumstances, he supposed it might have been a hallucination - was what appeared to be a tattoo of a wooden door on the dragon’s underbelly.

One last thing, logic added. Though Pagan knew logic had nothing to do with this particular little boy who’d grown up just a little too quickly. I stole your poisonheart. It was fun. I’d do it again. Think about that while you fall.

Pagan fell. He thought of something else, as the poisonheart had been a mere bauble. Whatever crossed his mind made the old man smile, moments before he hit the ground.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Six: Go forth

Arabella was awoken abruptly by a bright burst of light. That was saying a lot, since she was wearing a sleeping mask and had the blinds in her carriage drawn.

Bursting out of her cot - she really couldn’t describe the action as anything other than ‘bursting’, given the explosion of blankets and pillows - she bolted for the door of the carriage, joints creaking. She wasn’t made for such abrupt movements, not at her age, but the buzzing in her mind demanded immediate attention. They demanded attention.

Something is wrong, Arabella thought. Something is very wrong. His… his plans are not… something is wrong.

The light pouring out of the tower dazzled Arabella the moment she stepped out of her carriage, and shielding her eyes did nothing to abate the harshness of the sight. She was forced to her knees almost instantly, as if bowing to the tower, though her action came from pain rather than subservience.

She was not the only one on her knees. Virtually every human within sight of the tower was doubled over in agony, either clutching the sides of their heads, burying their faces in the dirt, or trying to look away. Arabella detected vomiting on all sides of her, but she’d not eaten enough to feel the stirrings of sickness in her own stomach. It was all in her head, and it was very vocal indeed.

THE SON OF A BITCH HAS INFILTRATED US, the voice of Arabella’s masters screamed, a pair of adult male tones contending for space in a single sentence. HE HAS USED HIS BASTARD BOOK TO SEE ME. HE KNOWS. HE KNOWS! WE CANNOT HIDE ANYMORE!









The voices began to pull apart and break down, and their disjointed chatter made Arabella’s head hurt all the more. She opened her eyes, however, when she realized that the tower was now waxing in intensity, appearing again as a near-insubstantial thing of glimmering beauty… but different.

No, she thought. Not beauty. It’s horrible.

Arabella forced herself to her feet. Looking around, she saw that the accumulated armies of the Imperium - more had been gathering here daily - were, as one, incapacitated. Soldiers lay in crumpled heaps in the massive barricade surrounding the tower, their armaments cast aside with utter disregard for military decorum. Very few appeared to be standing, from what Arabella could see, and those on their feet were staggering drunkenly.

Arabella didn’t know what to do. She’d seldom felt so purposeless in life, so thoroughly attached to the puppet strings of someone else. She’d always controlled and been controlled - that was simply part of being a politician in the Imperium - but her body no longer felt like it belonged to her. It was, instead, a single, superfluous body part on some vast, grotesque beast, one that she could only watch from up close.

She didn’t know what to do. So she stared up at the tower.

Upon arrival three days before, Arabella had made a point never to look all the way up the tower. It was incredibly tall, for starters, and the light at the top of the tower was so brilliantly bright that she would be courting blindness if she tried. Everyone else in the army - General Landry, his subordinates, his soldiers, his support staff, everyone - had apparently come to the same conclusion. No one ever spoke of what might be at the top of the tower, beyond that gaping chasm in the sky; they simply ignored it.

But Arabella looked anyway. She didn’t know what else to do, after all, and this tiny act of rebellion seemed so gratifying in the midst of what would probably be the final few days of her life.

As Arabella - or anyone - might have predicted, the light blinded the counsellor, burning out her corneas. She never saw again. But she did get a quick look at the horror waiting at the top of the tower, and it burned her soul more thoroughly than simple blindness ever could.

At the top of the tower - It’s called the RCU, Arabella thought absently, though she had no idea why - floated a vast, orbular creature. As purely white as anything could ever claim to be, the creature was utterly, horrendously featureless, save for millions of strand-like tentacles that drooped out and away from its surface like poorly-combed hair. The tentacles seemed to terminate partway down the tower, only Arabella knew that they were still there, invisibly connected to a corresponding number of rats all across the planet. Its eyes and ears.

So white, Arabella thought, eyes sizzling. So white that I swear I see something purple right in the middle.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Five: System Update

[Tales of Elsewhere v. 10.3.3]

[Regulator Command Unit Stability Report]

Administrator’s eyes only

Priority message - Unauthorized mods active - requesting report delivery to command server for further instructions and software update





Failed to connect to TOE command server… attempting to reconnect in 3… 2… 1…





Failed to connect to TOE command server - Error code 51330

Report logged 09/08/2011

[World Overview] -

File created 01/08/2011

File last modified 09/08/2011

Software stability - 44.22% - save file corrupted, possible malware intrusion
Graphical stability - 91.55% - minor sprite corruption
Timeline stability - 100.00% - no corruption of events detected
Geographic stability - 53.25% - severe mapping anomalies detected
Population stability - 54.98% - severe character anomalies detected
Statistical stability - 45.86% - severe statistical anomalies detected
Balance of Power - 23.67% - additional factions detemothcted and/or factions merged

[Additional abnormalities detected]

Line 108
Line 233
Line 235
Line 298
Line 489
Line 1227
Line 1689
Line 6233
Line 6234
Line 6235
Line 6236
Line 62mot40
Line 730#
Line 7&*2
L93) (^@#
*(&@# 32382









Recommend software update to purge abnormamotherlities

Employing Regulator balancing subroutine until system restoration to prevent crash - maximum aggression

Additional notes:



Additional notes:

Oh. I see.

I suppose we’ll have to expedite matters a bit. He won’t come otherwise.

We guess that’s okay. That means we’ll be together all the quicker.

I’m sorry if the dragons scare you, mother. I didn’t want to do it that way.

But it’s for the best.

Just two people, alone, together, forever.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Four: Comeback

Miraculously, the Non did not all die. But the majority fell.

Eve’s arrival on the battlefield was a windfall for Dragomir’s forces. Knocking zombies aside she leaped at the Non, slashing mercilessly at her fellow Non with her battle axe. The axe itself was no big deal - it was, instead, Eve’s speed and ferocity that felled her foes, and within a minute of her arrival she’d gutted four smaller Non and decapitated one of the larger guardians. More would follow, even after Eve’s axe crumbled away in her hands.

The werewolves, therefore, were simply overkill. Swarming over the Non ranks, their savage claws and merciless ferocity drove the enemy steadily backward, never quite enough to overwhelm the Non but certainly enough to force them into retreat. In many cases they served as barriers for the Non, giving Eve time enough to turn her attention to key sections of the battlefield and swoop down upon her targets.

The Non on the ground did not last long. The Non in the air, safe from Eve and the werewolves, flitted away without a word. As their darkened forms swooped away from the battlefield, Logan came across Dragomir.

The older man was watching the battle from atop what appeared to be a half-crumbled plateau, one hand over his eyes to block out the sun. His diary was hopping about at Dragomir’s feet, smacking into his ankles. Dragomir was motionless and silent, though he offered Logan a small nod. “Hey. Surprise surprise, meetin’ you here.”

Logan joined Dragomir in watching the rout-in-progress, though he concentrated on the Sky Bitch as it soared above the plains, taking potshots at the fleeing Non fliers. “Yeah. Fancy that. Your little girl brought us, as surely as if she was a freakin’ bloodhound.”

“Huh.” Dragomir half smiled. “Well. That’s… well. Makes me a bit warm inside. Nice to know she still cares.”

“She does. In her weird way.” Logan cocked his head. “Onea the only people who hasn’t changed a hell of a lot since I met her. Nice to have some continuity.”

If he got the jibe, Dragomir didn’t acknowledge it. He immediately changed the conversation. “Those’re werewolves.”

“Yep, sure are. Don’t worry, they’re on my side.” Logan coughed. “Fynn might be controlling ‘em.”

Dragomir raised his eyebrows. “Really. That’s… something. How long can he control ‘em for?”

Shrugging, Logan hunted for the tall boy in the crowd. He spotted Fynn’s over-large frame amid a cluster of werewolves, a shimmering veil of green surrounding the whole group. “Doesn’t seem to have a limit. His new partner’s kinda practiced at this sorta thing.”


“It’s a long story.” Logan smiled. “Your kid’s grown up, man. You should be proud.”

“I don’t think he’s even two yet,” Dragomir grumbled. “But never mind that. We have bigger problems.”

Logan narrowed his eyes at Dragomir’s somewhat dismissive attitude towards his own son. They narrowed further yet when Dragomir raised his left hand, which, Logan realized, was holding something: the fat, unmoving body of a rat. It was suspended by its tail, and its eyes looked flat and vacant, a marked contrast from the usual shrewd expression carried by the creatures.

“Is it dead?” Logan poked at the rat. “Y’know, even though we fed dead rats to the live ones back home I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rat corpse.”

“It’s not dead,” Dragomir replied. “Well. Might be brain dead. But its body still works. It went kinda flopsy during the fight, useless bastard. Gave me a chance to try somethin’ I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”

Setting the rat on the ground, Dragomir motioned for the diary. It skittered over to his hands, a quill whipping excitedly in its tail. Dragomir ignored the quill, however, and popped the diary open without any apparent desire to write in the thing. Logan sympathized with the creature - its desires were so simple as to be pathetic.

“I guess it’s ‘cause it’s made out of rat skin,” Dragomir said, “but this diary’s obviously connected to the rats in a big way. They use it to talk to me all the time, ’n it has the same animal controlling powery bullshit the rats have. So for a long time now I’ve been wonderin’ if the diary can connect to the rats like the rats can connect to it. Didn’t wanna test it with a live rat, though.”

Logan shook his head. “You sure your, uh, diary, can do something like that? It’s just a book…”

Flipping closed for a moment, the diary offered Logan a silent raspberry, its face puckering up. He wondered again how he’d never noticed its eccentricities before.

“I know it can,” Dragomir continued, “because we already tried. A couple minutes ‘fore you showed up. Didn’t seem like there was anything I could do ‘bout the battle; figured I would give it a try. Now I’m regrettin’ it.”

Dragomir flipped through the diary idly. He seemed to Logan to be avoiding one particular page, flitting back and forth through entries almost a year old. “Didn’t have to do much. All I asked was ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong with the rats?’ ‘cause they’re definitely fucked up these days. It went rigid for a sec, ’n I thought maybe I’d, I dunno, broken it…”

Dragomir took a breath. “… but I hadn’t. It just needed a second to process, I guess. But it walked right over to the rat, ’n their tails wrapped together, and, well, shit. Then it started drawing in itself.”

Logan stepped in close as Dragomir opened the diary to the page he’d obviously been avoiding. On it was a meticulous, damn near beautiful sketch of a tower, one so oddly sculpted that Logan knew he’d never seen its like in real life. Around the tower floated dozens of small, yet instantly-identifiable rats, their tails connected to the base of the tower. Hovering at the top of the tower was a face of a young man, one Logan recognized at once. He had, after all, watched the young man die.

“Aw, hell, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” Logan moaned. The symbolism was obvious enough. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Nope.” Dragomir shook his head. “Grayson strikes again. We’ve been workin’ for him this whole time, the little bastard.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Three: Save the day

Despite leading from the rear, Dragomir nearly lost his life when a hefty Non hefted a hefty rock a hefty half a kilometre in his direction. 

The rock appeared in the sky like a looming, yet almost peaceful, spectre. It arced up and over the battle below, spinning silently as it grew larger and larger. Dragomir lost all sense of the melee raging between zombies and Non as he watched the rock come, and he wondered if he should just remain where he was and let it squash him flat. That would be the simplest answer to all of his problems.

Dragomir’s body pushed that idea out of the way as it catapulted him aside, moments before the rock flattened the plateau where he’d been standing. The zombie commander who’d been standing with him, commenting gaily about the weather, had not been so lucky, and when Dragomir recovered himself he decided that it must be the zombie’s blood decorating his shoes.

Shielding his eyes from the sudden cloud of dust kicked up by the boulder’s landing, Dragomir watched the plateau drop away and form a simple cliff edge. With a simple exertion of willpower - a surprisingly small amount, considering - Dragomir pushed his near death out of his mind and hopped his way down the cliff, skipping from foothold to foothold with ease. He seldom had to put any thought into his Non-ness, these days - it just came naturally.

So long as he was careful, anyway. So long as he didn’t go too far, in front of too many people. A pair of armies certainly constituted a lot of bodies, but he figured - correctly - that the combatants on both sides were too busy to pay him any attention.

The battle was heating up on the ground. Though their numbers were considerable, the unarmed (sometimes literally) zombies were little match for the Non. The polite, civilized masses of stately undead did their best to swarm onto each Non, heedless of their un-lives, but the Non were either too quick, too large, or too well-organized to be overcome. Forming a compact phalanx and bolstered by considerable air support, the Non were swiftly retreating.

Sneering, Dragomir sought a hiding place behind some debris, kneeled, and pushed his backpack onto the ground. His diary hopped out, smiling widely and brandishing a quill in its mouth -

- and with it came a lithe, cautious rat. It peered at the battlefield, then looked to Dragomir. One of its eyes twitched, though Dragomir chalked the motion up to dust in the air.

“This is retarded,” Dragomir snarled, popping open the diary and setting it in front of the rat. “Retarded. All we’re doing is wasting zombies. Even I know that. Do you guys give even the slightest shit about winning?”

The rat watched Dragomir. He pointed at the open diary, expecting words to appear on the parchment. But the rat did not oblige, and in the end all they had was an an intense staring contest.

“You guys are real bitches, you know that?” Dragomir shook his head. “At least before you made sense. Now you act like you’re spiting me. Do you want me to lead your stupid war or not?”

The rat’s left ear pricked. It turned to look at the sky, its expression oddly dopey. Not animal-like, but.. absent.

Dragomir hissed. “Fuck me. I bet you guys aren’t even gonna get rid of this shit in me, are you? Seems like you can’t do anything right anymore - “

Dragomir was interrupted by an enormous boom that sounded far too close for comfort. The ground reverberated with an enormous impact, and Dragomir whipped around just in time to see an enormous, flying Non landing beside him, eclipsing him with its shadow. One of its wings was half gone, and it screeched a foul swear word as it dipped in to chomp Dragomir, its tone a mixture of pain, fury, and tactical triumph.

Dragomir swallowed. Tactical triumph? That’s an odd tone, innit? Oh well. Guess being eaten by a giant bird ain’t so bad. 

Knowing he didn’t have enough time to leap aside, Dragomir closed his eyes. He prayed that the Non would eat the rat, too. But it did not.

The Non’s chomp never landed. Instead, the inky bird reared back, the mixture of emotions in its scream replaced fully by pain as a lithe, hairy shape descended onto its neck. Another latched onto one of its wings, and another went for its stubby legs. It collapsed backward, writhing and shrieking as three full-grown werewolves tore it to pieces.

When Dragomir realized what had saved him, he didn’t feel terribly reassured. Not until he saw his daughter rushing past the fracas and into the greater battle, a chipped battle axe in one hand. She uttered no battle cry, but Dragomir knew that her appearance would nevertheless fill the enemy with dread. They had, after all, seen her in combat enough times.

They’re all dead, Dragomir thought. All of them. Every fucking one.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-Two: Tactics

Port guns, FIRE!

The port guns fired.

“Bring us ‘round to bear on that cluster of sky dwarves! Block ‘em from moving! They’ll try and join up with that eastbound group!”

The great ship lumbered to intercept.

“And the Non on the ground - “

“Leave them be, Libby.”

The quiet voice at Libby’s elbow brought her out of her battle rage, if only for a moment. She turned to glare at Pagan, who, as usual, was standing a little too close for comfort. She didn’t mind the old man under normal circumstances, but his penchant for getting in her way during skirmishes irked Libby.

“My ship,” she gritted through her clenched teeth. “I give the orders, dammit. The Non - “

“ - are a problem for the zombies. You know it.” Pagan’s lip curled. “Our role is to keep the fliers occupied. Don’t divert us from that. We don’t have enough dragons in the battle to keep Dragomir and his group safe otherwise.”

Libby’s heart clenched at the sound of her husband’s name. Right now, far below, Dragomir was leading - From the rear, she reminded herself, the rear - a large contingent of zombies into battle against a strike force of Non warriors. She suspected that her half-human commander could fight with the best of them, but he nevertheless remained safely out of harm’s way, so as not to reveal himself.

“I know that,” Libby muttered. “Stop with the advice, old man.”

Pagan smiled, bowed, and took a step back. Libby knew he’d return with more advice within a minute or two. That knowledge was less grating than the fact that Pagan’s advice was almost always spot-on. He should be in command, not Dragomir.

Libby turned back to the battle, barking orders to fire on a swooping squadron of Non fliers as they cut across the battlefield. The Sky Bitch’s guns erupted on the pitch-black demons, tearing one to shreds and knocking another out of the sky. The rest blasted towards a tight knot of dragons coming from the opposite direction, and the two groups collided and clashed. Robbed of her targets, Libby turned her attention to the sky dwarves from earlier.

I’m not a soldier, Libby reminded herself. It was a strange litany that always rang through her head in the middle of combat. I’m a carpenter. I make chairs, fer fuck’s sake. How’d I wind up in this weird-ass situation? I’m not a soldier, I’m not.

Yet Libby couldn’t help but grin wolfishly as a large number of sky dwarves disappeared from view. She imagined them as a piece on a Chess board, abruptly removed from play by a deft move.

I’m not a soldier, she thought again. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t really fun.

Once the sky dwarves were out of the way and the skies were somewhat clear, Libby elbowed past one of her crewers to stare down at the battlefield. Dragomir’s zombies and the Non were clashing fiercely below, the numerically-superior undead attempting to overwhelm their opponents with sheer numbers. Judging by what little Libby could see, they appeared to suck at their job.

“This is not going so well.”

Sneering, Libby spun ‘round to give Pagan a scornful rebuff - and stopped short when she noticed that Pagan had apparently lost much of his hair and donned a pair of glasses. Then reality kicked in. “Don’t need your commentary, Baron.”

The older man sniffed. “It’s ‘The’ Baron, thank you. And whether you want it or not, it’s true. Those zombies aren’t made for combat of this calibre.”

Libby wanted to argue the point, but The Baron was right. The zombies were best at urban warfare, using their sheer numbers to clog enemy lines and cut off their opponents. They held no such advantages in the open field, and even with their massive numbers the undead could not hold strong against the much-tougher Non.

“They’ll make do,” Libby insisted. “They have to.”

“We’re going to lose this battle,” The Baron sighed. He shook his head. “Unless we run headlong into a miracle, we’ll be forced back. The Non lines will get away, with few casualties to show for our efforts. Another stupid call by those ridiculous rats.”

“The ‘ridiculous rats’ have made you a prisoner,” Libby pointed out. “Norm, bring us in low. We can provide some cover fire for Dragomir. Get us down there!”

Norm nodded, swinging the Sky Bitch’s huge wheel around. Pagan shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“I might be a prisoner,” The Baron murmured, “but I’m not the only one.”

Though she understood the sentiment, and even agreed with it, Libby decided she would argue with The Baron. She was feeling quite irritated by an awful lot of things these days - the crew’s occasional lapses in discipline, the constant losses on the battlefield, her husband’s willingness to allow their one-year-old son to wander off and get lost in the world - and the battle itself wasn’t doing enough to improve her mood. A biting comment began to form on her tongue.

It never made it to the front lines of her temper, however. Libby was abruptly preoccupied by a new sight, appearing on the ground to the south: a large, roiling mass of brown.

The Baron’s head jolted up abruptly. He looked in the same direction as Libby, a small, rueful smile forming under his cloak. “Ah. I suppose they’re done with their holiday, then. My, but she’s in a bad mood.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Day Eight-Forty-One: Get me the fuck outta here

Blue had to cut her size down by half to even consider fitting into Emmett’s tent. Even then her head was scraping the top of the canvas, forcing her to kneel. Her commander seemed amused by that - but then, Emmett seemed amused by a lot of things these days.

During his time as a fixture of Blue’s belly, Emmett had treated everyone and everything with bitter scorn. He’d always been that way, of course, but his cruelty had grown with his poor temper, leading him to bitch about life even more than usual. Apparently being fixed to a monstrous amalgam of animal body parts had restored him to his good humour, and then some - though Blue was not happy to see the results of his happiness. If anything, she’d have been willing to keep him attached to her stomach to prevent the horrors she witnessed inside Emmett’s tent.

The tent appeared to be an animal in its own right, wearing its beige fabric shroud to cover the horrors within. Pulsing, meaty pillars raised the tent into the air, each protruding from a squishy blanket of purple-and-grey stitched flesh. It was pliable and oozing, Blue noticed, and squished with each of her heavy steps. The tent seemed to shudder beneath her, as much from its walking as from Blue’s weight, and she wondered if it was intelligent enough to know how much of a monstrosity it was. She wondered - and then decided not to investigate - how in the hell Emmett had created the thing.

But the tent itself was not the worst thing. Not by far.

Scuttling to the centre of his enclosure, Emmett gestured Blue towards a crooked glass enclosure that was jutting out of the tent’s flesh. She crept cautiously over to it, flinching at Emmett’s growing smile as she got closer. The enclosure appeared to be full of swirling yellow liquid, not quite clear enough to be water but too dense to be the oily slime Emmett usually used for his experiments.

“Look inside,” Emmett cooed. “Go on. I’ve, ah, I’ve been waiting so long, ah, heh heh, so long to show this off.”

Hunching over, glaring suspiciously at Emmett, Blue peered into the container. The liquid burbled audibly, sloshing with the motion of the tent -

- and then, abruptly, a face appeared at the glass, and two rolling eyes stared out at Blue. She yelped and jumped back, even though she knew she could flatten the thing with one pound of her foot at full height. The face mimicked her yelp, though it giggled a few seconds later, the phantom sound apparently not swallowed up by the liquid.

“A beauty, isn’t she?” Emmett caressed the glass with three hands, rubbing his cheek against it. “Mmmm, I love her. She is my new favourite toy. Ohh, I can’t wait to see what happens, ah, what will happen, when I shove one of her into that fucking hybrid’s wife. Ahhhhhh, the look on his face.

Recovering herself, Blue took a closer look at the face in the container. It was attached to a dark, wispy body, and it whirled playfully through the liquid, seeming to merge and disappear into the ochre ooze. it took Blue a few moments to recognize the thing’s crazed features. “Isn’t that the girl you used to track their transport last year? I thought she was destroyed.”

Emmett frowned, his scorpion tail thrashing angrily. “Yes, yes, that was a part of her. Just a piece. The rest went with those stupid bounty hunters, I think. But, ah, you see, I kept a bit of her, stashed in my brain, just sewn onto the edge of my cerebral cortex. She was in you as much as she was in me.”

“Oh.” Blue’s eyes twitched. “That’s… fantastic. Thanks for telling me.”

Emmett waved away her irritation. Pushing the top of the container aside, he dipped one arm into the yellow liquid. The thing crawled onto his greyish skin, looping around his elbow and snuggling up to his bicep. Thick mucus dripped onto Emmett’s carpet of legs, but he didn’t seem to care.

Pausing to stroke the creature’s head for a moment, Emmett tapped his tail against the floor. It burbled sickly, then, as Emmett turned, a large, green pustule emerged from the flesh, bringing with it a wriggling form. Blue winced away, wanting to cover her eyes… but unable to divert herself from the sight of a sickly, malformed rabbit, apparently birthed from Emmett’s horrible tent. It flopped onto the flesh as the pustule popped, panting weakly.

“Ahh, yes, there we are.” Emmett reached down and plucked the rabbit from the floor. Cooing at the yellow creature clinging to his arm, he said one word: “Inhabit.”

The gleeful little-girl-thing slipped around Emmett’s chest and dove at the rabbit. Into the rabbit. At this point Blue did cover her eyes, but she couldn’t avoid the horrifying, squelching sound as the two creatures became one, the rabbit’s cries twisting into a cruel mockery of nature as they became a weird, warbling laugh. When Blue dared to look at the rabbit again, she found a much larger beast staring back, its yellowed features grim yet jolly. 

“Now that is what I call a hybrid,” Emmett proclaimed proudly. “Your mission is to get me more test subjects. Proper test subjects. Maybe the one that reduced me to a gods-damned head. Yes, I think that would do quite nicely, don’t you?”

Blue nodded, remaining silent. She watched the rabbit hop away from Emmett, propelled on too-thick legs, its gleeful little girl eyes scanning for a meal. It eventually settled on the surface of the tent, and with enormous incisors it bit into the flesh, chomping down with relish.

That’s it, Blue thought, rubbing her arm. That’s it. I fucking quit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Forty: Getting ahead in life

“We make a pretty solid team.”

Blue rolled her eyes, but she didn’t aim them at Thomas. She already knew where he was going with this. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” the Non said. They were sitting back-to-back, one watching the east, one watching the west. They had another hour left before someone else would have to take up guard duty. “Pretty solid. We watch each other’s backs, y’know?”

“Aren’t doing that now,” Blue commented. Opening her wide mouth, she bit into a cow’s leg she’d ‘liberated’ from an abandoned slaughterhouse. It tasted old and rotten, but her Non physiology didn’t really care, and she was hungry.

“Well, kinda gotta keep eyes forward,” Thomas countered. “Still, y’know… maybe we should… make it a little more…?”

Blue was saved from an awkward rejection by a sudden yell from the bottom of the hill. Both titanic Non peered down to the base of the hill, where they spotted a small, jogging, jittery Non with flailing limbs. Thomas growled his irritation, but Blue could’ve hugged the little messenger - had he not been bearing this particular message, of course.

“Word for you, ma’am!” the messenger cried, spindly arms waving madly. “Word! Word! You’ve gotta head to the front! Commander Emmett needs you!”

Blue grimaced deeply. “Oh, fuck me, I thought I was rid of the little shit. What does he want?”

The messenger shook his head. “I don’t know, ma’am! Please, though, be quick! He sounded impatient!”

“He’s impatient ‘bout everything.” Blue stood, dusted dirt from her behind, and cuffed Thomas lightly on the back of the head. “Don’t fuck up the flank while I’m away, hear? Keep us defended.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Thomas rubbed his arm. It was a weirdly vulnerable gesture, given his size. “When ya come back we’ll finish talkin’, right? I’ve, um, got more t’say.”

Blue didn’t respond. Verbally. Her answer to that, contained within the safety of her brain, was unflattering and final. The chances of her ‘pairing up’ with Thomas were about as good as slipping her body into the dress of a tiny human princess. Shape changing could only perform so many miracles for a Non of her size, especially without a magical helmet to help the process along.

Quickly ditched by the diminutive messenger, Blue stomped across the landscape for two days and two nights, wandering between the two lines of Non warriors that comprised the shaft of Kierkegaard’s spearpoint jab into the Imperium. They were travelling speedily westward, into the Imperium, and the army was growing ever thinner as the amount of occupied land increased. Blue’s position in the thrust wasn’t too far from the front, but it was far enough to force some travel time.

Blue tried not to communicate with many Non along the way, only letting everyone who questioned her know that, yes, she was travelling on orders. Emmett’s name was usually enough to drive away further inquiry. He was not as feared among the Non as Kierkegaard himself, but stories of his experiments travelled briskly enough to strike uncertainty and dread into the hearts of even the most hardened warriors. Blue wished she could brush the tales aside as hyperbole, but she knew her former CO was twisted enough to outpace even the wildest rumours.

She was not surprised, therefore, when she arrived at the front and found Emmett waiting with orders for a bizarre new project.

The front of Kierkegaard’s army consisted of an enormous wave of battle-bedraggled Non, a greater concentration than Blue had ever seen. Forming a massive wedge with five Nothings at its tip, the front marched by day and by night, resting only in the aftermath of particularly brutal battles. Kierkegaard himself typically remained with the Nothings, apparently gleeful in his direction of the titanous constructs. Blue found their shrieking harpoons to be utterly chilling.

Emmett waited for Blue in the midst of the cluster, riding in what appeared to be a large, moving tent. Blue noted the cluster of crustacean legs keeping the tent aloft, and quickly decided not to ask any questions. Thoughts of meandering inhabitations quickly fled her mind anyway when Doc emerged from the tent.

“Eh heh, hiya, roomie,” hissed Doc, head cocked to one side. “Ah, did ya miss me?”

The last time Blue had seen Emmett, shortly after their (quite literal) flight from the zombie camps, he was nothing more than a head, an unsightly pimple plucked off of her stomach. He appeared to have recovered some of his self-mobility since then, however, that same head now being welded onto a chimeric frame. He had the neck of a giraffe, the body of a rhino, the legs of a giant centipede, the tail of a giant scorpion, and the arms of men, eight in all. Most of the colour had drained out of Emmett’s parts, leaving him a faded, dusky grey. Everything appeared to be held together by glowing purple veins and a thousand unsightly stitches. 

“Oh, yeah,” Blue muttered. She was still bigger than Emmett, but for the first time he actually seemed somewhat intimidating. “Missed you so much, boss.”