Friday, May 29, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-Six: Truth and Lies

Grayson’s mind was split.

One half of his mind was occupied with the outside world. He knew that the dragons had brought him Dragomir; indeed, he knew they’d brought him Dragomir minutes ago, even though it had, to part of Grayson, seemed like almost a week past. He knew that the Non army was incoming, much faster than expected, yet they still seemed to be days away. He knew that his own army would be ready for them, and that everyone, everyone, would be destroyed at the same instant. And he would have the honour of watching those oil-skinned freaks die personally, rather than seeing them expire via his rats.

This would happen soon. This would happen very soon, whether it happened in Grayson’s paradise or not. And when it did, paradise would be the only thing that existed, the only thing that mattered. Two people, together, forever. Mother and son.


The tiny bit of Grayson’s consciousness pushed that thought away. Again. He’d been forced to shove it aside far too many times. He would deal with Philip. He could deal with Philip, now that he, too, was dead. A ghost could cope with a ghost. Still, that number, that uneven number, simply wouldn’t go away.

But it would. Soon.

The other half of Grayson’s mind didn’t worry about any of this. Or, if it did, it pushed it all into the background as so much flotsam and jetsam. He only needed to concern himself with her. The most important person in existence. It didn’t even matter if life was nothing more than a game, she was more important than anything. The code that bound reality together didn’t hold a candle to Libertine the Carpenter.

If only she would stop hurting herself.

The Graysons - all of them, without exception - winced as they considered their mother’s actions. They knew she loved them, even if her love was hidden under deep layers of hate. They could feel the maternal warmth she’d bestowed upon them still, though it grew fainter with each day. They longed for a return to togetherness. 

That’s why they would give her no choice. It made perfect sense. If their mother could love only one person, then they would force her to love Grayson. Only Grayson. Anyone else was a waste of time.

Balance. Two people.

The Graysons twitched. They could feel the battle beginning outside, the rumble of the Imperium’s cannons as they began their assault on the oncoming Non. The Graysons barely cared if the Imperium succeeded or failed, so long as Dragomir died when he was supposed to die. And he would. He absolutely would, because Philip would see to the death. Grayson had granted the spirit that much.

Everything was assured.

But the Graysons twitched again. And not because of the rumble.

“Something is not quite right,” one of the Graysons said. The others nodded assent.

“Something… is a little off,” another agreed. He scratched his head. The rest followed suit. 

The Graysons joined their thoughts into one. They searched paradise. They looked for the something that was off, the little piece of their precarious balance that seemed to be tipping the scales of sanity too far to the right or to the left. There was something beneath it all, something they’d not noticed because their mother was here, gloriously here, but now that she was confined - 

The door to Libby’s cell clicked open.

The Graysons scattered across paradise looked as one towards her enclosure, whether they were near or far. All of them moved near, appearing as an enormous mob outside the smooth building where they’d imprisoned

housed, no, housed is a much nicer word, or perhaps even enshrined, yes, something regal

their mother. They moved because they were confused, because Libby couldn’t possibly open the door on her own, because someone had to have helped her, and, of course, because they wanted to see her. Being away from her





Libby stepped out of the building, shutting the door behind her. 

The Graysons moved in close. One - he may have been the original, none of them really knew, not anymore - moved in to greet her, as always. The Graysons braced themselves for the iron-grip of their mother’s fingers on the chosen one’s throat. She always went for the throat first. Then the punching. She loved to punch, did their mother, but the throat was a secret favourite.

Libby’s lips moved. Words came out of her mouth, so low and so solemn that even the closest Grayson could not hear her, not even in a paradise of their own making. He moved in close to catch her meaning, smile as happily bland as ever.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Libby whispered, gritting her teeth.

Grayson caught her meaning, or, at the very least, chose to interpret that he’d caught her meaning. “No, mom. You’re staying here. With me. With us.”

Libby closed on the Grayson, arms swiftly enfolding him. He expected a vicious bear hug that would crush his bones and squeeze the life out of his frail, ephemeral body. He didn’t care, either, because he was already dead. What more could she do? But he was surprised, they were all surprised, to find that Libby’s muscles did not compact his bones or crush his spirit, but instead caught him in a fierce, but gentle, hug.

It took the collective Grayson almost a full minute to comprehend that fact.

Tears dribbled down Libby’s cheeks. She clutched to her son, whispering things in his ear, things he’d wanted to hear for two years. His wan grin turned to one of astonishment, mirrored on the face of every Grayson in paradise. Even the parts of Grayson watching the battle outside became unalterably distracted, incapable of seeing anything but what Libby wanted them to see.

“I love you,” Libby whispered, over and over. “I love you, I love you, I love you, you fuckin’ buncha retarded kids, I fuckin’ love you, and I’ll be with you.

Grayson fell for it. He knew it was a trap, but he fell for it anyway. He couldn’t help himself. And in doing so, he removed himself from the war.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-Five: So about your kid...

“Your son died,” July said, shortly. “He died a while ago.”

“I know,” Libby said, honestly unsurprised. Whenever the subject of Grayson came up, a few people in Dragomir’s inner circle were just a little too weird about him - people who shouldn’t have acted strangely. When had Logan ever really interacted with the kid? “But he’s still alive.”

“He’s alive but he’s dead. He’s a ghost with way too much power.” July tapped her chest. “This is his body. I nabbed it a while ago. Hence my bein’ here. That good enough for ye?”

It was. Despite Libby’s dislike of July - How do I know her name is different? Oh, right, she’s a witch, shit making sense doesn’t apply here - she knew the old woman was an ally. Even if she was wearing the skin of Libby’s child. Libby barely considered Grayson to be her kid anymore anyway. He’d committed too many fucked up crimes in his short lifetime. Even before recent events Libby wouldn’t really have cared.

But my son is dead, she thought, and now it’s confirmed. Am I a monster for not carin’? Or just a human for bein’ glad he’s halfway into the grave? 

“I suppose you have a plan for gettin’ outta this shitheap?” Libby pushed against her restraints. They didn’t budge. “Maybe workin’ on these?”

July shook her head. The motion - a little cocky, a little condescending - was a weird combination of Grayson and the old woman, as though they’d always been meant to merge. “Canna do nuthin’ ‘bout those, m’love. If I take ‘em off he’ll start te suspect. They stay. It’s difficult enough te keep this charade up as it is. But aye, I have a plan, of sorts.”

Libby’s face flushed. She didn’t like the way July stood there, half grinning, waiting for Libby to ask. “Okay, what’s the plan, then, you sour bitch?”

July waved a finger. “Tut tut. I see yer mouth hasna changed much in the last year ’n a bit. Truth is, I’d rather ye not know too much ‘bout what I’ve been schemin’. All ye need te know is that ye’ll be playin’ a key part in the drama, ’n you need te stick to your lines at all times. Ye’ve played a part before, haven’t ye?”

Libby struggled with the word ‘part’ until she realized that July was talking about theatre. “The fuck? You want me to act? The hell good is that gonna do me? Look, if we can find a way to fuckin’ take him down - “

“That is up to me,” July insisted quietly. “And I won’t be takin’ him down, per se. Not, ah, directly. Again, though, ye needn’t be worryin’ about that. All you need te do is distract the fuck outta the little brat. Enough that he won’t even consider lookin’ somewheres else for a while.”

Libby’s heart sank, and she stopped struggling to break free. She felt vaguely sick at the word ‘distract’. “Please don’t tell me I’ve gotta…”

July cocked her head. “I didna say anything. Gotta what, eh? Don’t despair too much, lass, or he’ll sense ye and come runnin’.”

Libby couldn’t help it. She knew, almost immediately, what July had in mind, even if the crone hadn’t bothered to spit it out yet. She wanted Libby to do the one thing Libby couldn’t do anymore, to do what Libby hadn’t willingly done for almost two years. She couldn’t, because doing it would absolutely disgust her - and it might tear her heart out a second time. She didn’t know if she could commit to that.

“Ye’re nay stupid,” July declared, grin stretching. Grayson’s stitched face almost resembled the witch’s original mug, wrinkled and crazy. “Say it. Then ye can start committin’ to it. Time works oddly here, so if ye need a few days, ye have ‘em. Just don’t take too long with the lad or all the time in the world won’t matter.”

Libby took a breath, held it, let it go, took in another. She held the second longer, as if testing her resolve. She held it for five seconds - exactly five, she’d counted - before letting it go again. A word lingered behind her breaths, waiting to emerge, held back by the iron clad bars of Libby’s anger, anxiety, and outright fear.

The word never did come out. But Libby was committed anyway, and both of them knew it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-Four: Hiding in Plain Sight

Libby was not enjoying herself in paradise. She would never even have called it ‘paradise’, though she knew that’s what Grayson had intended to create for her. He was a good son like that. He was also a miserable, horrifying monster, and her perception of him as such somewhat fouled his intentions.

Once Libby had calmed down enough to not maul herself - a habit even she was at a loss to properly explain, though she supposed she had to maul someone - the Graysons let her roam freely again, away from her room. She had to admit, despite her hatred for her son, that he truly had crafted a paradise, one that grew whenever Libby expressed a desire for anything at all.

“We created a restaurant for you, mom,” one of the Graysons said, motioning towards an opulent building that hadn’t been there before. “It serves pizza. Just like you wanted. Would you care for a slice?”

Libby most certainly would not care for a slice. She’d strangled the Grayson for invading her mind again. She also went on another rampage when she stormed into the restaurant… and discovered that the chef was not another Grayson, but a wavering, spectral image of Robert, her dead brother-in-law. It took twelve Graysons to subdue her that time, and she never saw another familiar face - besides Grayson’s - again. Apparently he’d learned his lesson.

Libby received no word from the outside world, or even about the outside world. The Graysons were perpetually all smiles and sunshine, even as she beat them to death, one-by-one. She knew it wouldn’t do her any good to kill them, but the action was nevertheless mildly cathartic. Despite their reluctance to speak to Libby about outside goings-on, however, the Graysons occasionally betrayed themselves through shared grimaces and darkened glares.

Things were not going according to plan. Libby knew it. She felt it. Yet she couldn’t tell what was going wrong, and that frustrated her. 

Even worse was the amount of time spent here. Judging by Grayson’s occasional reactions, Libby knew his plan was far from complete - but by her reckoning, she’d been here at least three weeks. The fake sun and the fake moon rose at irregular intervals, usually according to Libby’s current desires, and she had to time her days based on her own, internal clock. She knew that couldn’t be correct, however, because things in Grayson’s illusory worlds seldom were correct. Clearly he’d slowed down time - she just had no idea how much he’d slowed it down.

When she tried to ask him, Grayson had supplied a creepy, cryptic answer, with too many references to ‘forever’, ‘eternity’, and ‘together’. She’d smashed his face in with no small amount of relish… though the following rampage had forced the Graysons to, again, subdue her in her room. The fingernail streaks on her face were a little too prominent for their liking.

It was on this occasion of solitary confinement - It’s for your own good, mom, your own good, I’m telling you it’s for your own good - that one of the Graysons came to visit her. This was unusual, as they typically left Libby alone to stew after one of her ventures of deadly self-abuse, and would only speak to her again after they’d released her from her bonds.

Libby knew this Grayson was different the moment he stepped in the door, because he had scars on his face. Faint scars, mind, and barely noticeable to anyone else, but they stood out to Libby. She’d spent way too much time staring at Grayson’s bland face not to notice differences.

“Hi, mom,” the Grayson said, clicking the door to her room shut. “Sorry ‘bout that, but I didna want ye to wreck the place up too much. I spent a lot of time settin’ it up for ye, eh?”

Libby glared at the Grayson, wishing she could project venomous bolts at him through her eyeballs. “Get fucked, you lil’ shit. ’n get outta here. I don’t wanna lookit your face anymore.”

Grayson shrugged, a pained, but most definitely affected, expression souring his features. “Aye, you’re so mean t’me, ma! Don’t make my heart keen so piteously for yer affections!”

Libby didn’t respond at once. The boy standing by her bed looked like Grayson and sounded like Grayson, but he didn’t speak like Grayson. And the way he stood… Grayson typically wandered about as though he had an officious stick up his bum, spine always straight and at attention, hands either dangling at his side or clasped behind his back. This Grayson was leaning against a bedpost.

“You pretendin’ to be a fuckin’ goblin or something?” Libby asked, cocking one eyebrow. “Not funny, shitface. Already told you, get lost.

The Grayson shook his head. “But I worked so hard te secure a moment alone, didn’t I? Had te play the part so vigorously te make sure they wouldn’t be starin’ in at you, every moment ‘o the day. Ye’re an ungrateful sod, you are.”

Libby blinked. Her anger was rapidly fading, replaced by curiosity, albeit a very irritated curiosity. “The hell’s up with you? This is - “

The Grayson smiled, then, extending his hands, he began to change. His legs grew, his arms grew, his hair grew, even his face grew. The small, almost insignificant scars on his face began to cobweb downward, stretching beneath the folds of his shirt, and stitches laced themselves into his skin from nowhere. Within moments he was a full grown man, just as he’d been a year previous, though his old wounds made him look sickly and grotesque.

The usual white fire did not burn in his eyes. Instead, they glowed a vibrant, pulsing orange.

“Oh, shit,” Libby mumbled.

“Oh shit indeed, lassie,” July mumbled back. “Best ye not shriek too loud, aye? We don’t wanna give ourselves away here.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-Three: Pretty simple, really

As the Non army marched on the tower, The Baron wondered if ‘the plan’ was such a good idea after all. Anything that put him in the direct line of fire was not, in his head, a good idea.

But he’d gone along with it anyway. He wondered what that said about his intelligence.

The debate over Titan Blue’s presence was short. Cedric vouched for her personality, especially compared to her boss, and Antonio had an odd penchant for voting the same way as Cedric these days. Eve didn’t kill the Non, and after a few minutes The Baron couldn’t even feel his former general straining to end Titan Blue’s life, which he took as acceptance of her presence. Traveller hit on her, though confusedly, and declared that all women were ‘awesome’.

“Unless they have white hair and steal my eye,” he amended, shuddering. The Baron twiddled his thumbs, knowing all too well who Traveller meant - not to mention his own complicity in Traveller’s bias.

The debate regarding July’s plan, as The Baron explained it to them all, took a while longer. Eve actually smiled, ever so slightly, when The Baron went into the details. The smirk was gone as soon as it had come. Traveller seemed to like it, too, as much as he’d enjoyed doing something similar during the capture of Pubton. Antonio was less enthused, and Cedric even more so.

Titan Blue remained quiet as Cedric launched into his rant, her legs carefully folded. Even at half her size she still dwarfed the rest of them. Nevertheless, she seemed rather meek, given the circumstances.

“This is fuckin’ insane!” Cedric bellowed, pointing at the tower in the distance. “Fuckin’ insane! We should be tryin’ to rescue Dragomir ’n whatserface, not… not fuckin’ killin’ ‘em!”

The Baron nodded, but he also shrugged. “I happen to agree. But we don’t know if they’re in that tower or not. None of us actually saw that dragon fly there. We were buried at the time.”

Cedric stomped hard enough that the ground shook. The Baron was glad he’d not possessed such strength while still working as a captain of the guard. Imagine the damage reports.

“That’s bullshit ’n you know it,” Cedric raged. “You fuckin’ know it. We ought to be sneakin’ into that thing, not - “

“And how do you propose that?” The Baron took a quick glance at the tower’s pristine, coiling form. “It only has one entrance. That goblin… what was his name, again… told us as much. It’s also surrounded by an army. Do you think they’ll allow us to simply walk in the front door?”

“We can climb the fuckin’ walls to a balcony,” Cedric persisted, claws clenching. “There’s tons of ‘em. Things practically made of balconies.”

“And then what? Look around until we get caught? It’s enormous. We’d be detected long before we found anything.” The Baron shook his head. “If July is correct, the Imperium’s forces will be thoroughly distracted within the next two hours. But that still won’t be enough time to get inside and poke around unless we give them an advantage. This plan… much as I dislike it… will throw the Imperium’s ranks into utter chaos. It may even break Grayson’s hold on them. We can only hope.”

Cedric huffed. His face was as pale as ever - The Baron wondered if he could ever be red-faced again, caught as he was in his zombified shape - but he was plainly furious. He swiped at the air with one clawed hand, then another, then, turning, he glared at The Baron again. “’n what if she’s lying and we kill Dragomir by doin’ this? You want that on your head, m’lord?”

The Baron did not. Had not. But, if things did not go to plan, Dragomir’s death would loom over him for the rest of The Baron’s unnatural life, much as it had the first time the young man had died. That short time had been bad enough - and this time, The Baron had no idea if Dragomir was stowed away in a save file. 

Nevertheless, here he was, standing in the shadow of the tower (which was, of course, only a saying, as the tower glowed brightly even during the day), listening to the sounds of shouts and screams and canon fire to the east, watching a wing of dragons in the sky divert to intercept the shrieking hooks of one of Kierkegaard’s Nothings. The rear guard of the Imperium’s army was quickly moving to intercept the approaching Non threat, leaving the tower’s rear almost undefended.

Cedric, crouched nearby, gritted his teeth. “You better be right about this, old man. You just better be right.”

The Baron shot a venomous look at his former subordinate. “If you have a better idea, captain, I am all ears.”

Cedric opened his mouth to proclaim that, yes, he had a pretty damned fucking awesome idea in mind, you bet, but a light touch from Antonio shut it again. Cedric glared at the orc, but said nothing. The Baron wondered - not for the first time, not even for the fourth or fifth - if there was something between the two, deeper than simple camaraderie, that had developed in the last few weeks. If so, he admired them for their slightly-more-open honesty. If nothing else, it helped keep Cedric quiet.

The tower loomed in the distance, its ghostly skin seeming to waver as battle waged near its base. It looked taller than anything The Baron had ever seen before, taller than the sky itself.

He made a big fuckin’ mistake, July had said, tittering. ‘e never shoulda made it corporeal. He’s no clue how dumb that was. Take advantage o’ that, ye fallen lord.

Eve and Traveller were, The Baron had no doubt, two of the strongest creatures on the planet. They could rival a sloth in pure arm strength. Titan Blue was monstrously strong thanks to the form of her Non heritage, and Cedric could probably match her, thanks to Emmett’s tinkering. Antonio was more than capable of defending them, and The Baron could pitch in at least a little bit.

Heave ho, heave ho, little Baron. July had laughed at his wince when she left out the closest thing to a first name he possessed. Push it down. Push it aaaaaall the way down.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-Two: Manipulated Maybe?

The Baron only recognized the Non’s dome-like head through association with another, smaller Non, one he didn’t like at all. It therefore didn’t surprise him when he yelled “Grab her!” without a moment’s hesitation.

The remains of his team - and it was, he supposed, his team, at least for the moment - leaped into action immediately. Antonio and Cedric jumped back and out of the cave, flanking the Non on both sides. Eve soared into the air and landed behind the Non so quickly that The Baron hadn’t a chance in hell of seeing her move. And Traveller, well, Traveller asked the Non if he should hit on her, which was a form of action.

None of this surprised The Baron. What surprised him was the Non’s reaction, which was to do absolutely nothing to defend herself. She shrank, lay down, put her arms behind her head, and exposed herself to the tender mercies of her attackers. Given that Eve was a member of said attackers, The Baron suspected that there would be no mercy at all, but even Eve seemed surprised enough that she didn’t immediately rip into the Non.

“I’m here to talk,” the Non mumbled through dirt, a distinctly feminine rumble. Her face was shoved into the lip of the cave’s remains, Eve standing on the back of her head. “Mmmmph. Peath geth off me.”

Eve didn’t move until The Baron tugged on the part of himself that kept her in check. She scowled at him - her usual expression, mind, but she could direct her dissatisfaction quite well - and grudgingly stepped onto the Non’s shoulders. The Baron supposed he wouldn’t get much better than that, and didn’t press the matter.

“You’re one of Commander Emmett’s lackeys,” The Baron said, shielding the sun out of his eyes. It was rising fast. “You helped escort me back to Kierkegaard. Or you tried. What was your name again?”

“Titan Blue,” Cedric answered for the Non. The Baron was surprised not to hear loathing in his face. “Get off her, Eve. She ain’t so bad.”

Eve didn’t budge. The Baron suspected she wouldn’t willingly move for anyone less than her father.

“This is fine,” Blue insisted, though she shifted uncomfortably under Eve’s metal boots. “Er. Hi, Cedric. You’re looking… well?”

“Been worse,” Cedric admitted, folding his arms. “Whaddya want, Blue? This mean your fuckin’ boss is around? Love to have a word with ‘im.”

“Wouldn’t, if I were you. He might take you over again.” Blue shrugged, and Eve rode the wave of her rubbery shoulders easily. “But he’s not here. He’s off… fucking… with nature, I guess? What else is new. Gotta love that prick.”

The Baron thought back to the few experiments he’d seen conducted by Emmett, during the short time he’d lived in Castle FreakShow. They were typically a mixture of cruel and unusual, and never to The Baron’s liking. He’d sent the little creep off to spy on Pubton with relish - though the pint-sized doctor’s interest in Dragomir had made The Baron regret that decision rather a lot when he’d discovered Emmett’s desire to conduct ‘invasive surgeries’.

“Zen you have a mezzage?” Antonio asked, stepping up beside Blue’s head and kneeling. “Your bozzez want to foizt off more bull about a truze?”

Blue sighed. “Not quite. I won’t bother mincing words: I got sent out here to find, uh… what’s her name… Dragomir’s wife. What is her name again?”

“Libby?” Traveller abruptly joined the conversation, his eyes lighting up at the sound of Libby’s name. “You wanna find her? Us too! I’m going to have sex with her some day, y’know. But only if they let me.”

The whole group turned to look at Traveller, expressions ranging from irritated to disgusted. As little as The Baron liked Libby, and he had a very good reason not to like Libby, he wouldn’t wish Traveller’s weird, innocent perversions on anyone.

“Lemme guess, he’s still pissed she blew him out of a cannon,” Cedric said, shaking his head. “Guy doesn’t know when to give up.”

Blue nodded. “That’s the way. He wants to, um, ‘Pull her apart and use her ribs as a drying rack’. Among other things. He’s such a charming boss, y’know? But, uh, truthfully, I’m not here for that either.”

“Zen vat?” Antonio asked. He absently poked at the side of her head, his inscrutable smile unwavering as he watched her skin bounce back into shape.

“I’m here… stop that… ‘cause I was lost,” Blue admitted. “And something, or I guess somebody, told me I ought to come this way if I wanted to be useful. In my head, like.”

The Baron stiffened. He’d not encountered Dragomir’s son personally as of yet - and despite his proximity to the glowing tower to the west, he still hoped to avoid that honour - but he knew that the kid enjoyed speaking to people through their minds. He was about to point out the obvious possibility of a trap in all this when a very different voice interrupted his internal monologue and caught his attention.

“Don’t worry,” July cackled, and though The Baron had never heard her real voice, he knew it was her. “It’s all part of the plan, aye?”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day Eight-Sixty-One: Ow

The Baron hurt. In many places. He did not like this fact. There were many facts already that he didn’t like - being buried, from a geographical standpoint, was quite shitty - but hurting seemed to possess an immediacy that the other facts lacked.

He was not buried for long. But he was hurting for a while.

The boulder pinning The Baron’s left leg pulled away, and he winced at the sudden onrush of light hitting his face. He instinctively checked his glasses - Good, still intact, amazingly not cracked for once - and peered up at the bulky silhouette of his rescuer. The man looked like a shaggy angel, and The Baron knew why, though he would never admit it to anyone.

“Thanks,” he grunted, extending a hand. “Help an old man up?”

Rather than take the hand, Traveller pointed. “Your leg doesn’t look right. It’s kinda funny.”

The Baron rolled his eyes, brushed a thick layer of pebbles off of his cloak, and checked his leg. It was indeed at a funny angle, bent abruptly upward. Clearly broken. He winced, gritted his teeth, and flexed his Non flesh until it was looking normal again. Traveller watched it bend with grim curiosity, even comically biting his nails at one point. The Baron almost laughed, despite the pain.

“There,” The Baron said, lifting his tender leg and bending it twice. “Good as not-so-new. Help an old man up?”

Traveller hefted The Baron off of the ground with enough zeal to send his chubby legs zipping into the air, and he yelped, fearing that Traveller might send him soaring into the stratosphere. The descent was, fortunately, far gentler than that, and Traveller patted The Baron on the shoulder when he touched ground again. The Baron felt restrained power in Traveller’s hand, a power rivalled only by the girl he’d helped create.

I chose well with him, The Baron thought. He looked around for Eve, but she was nowhere to be found in the remains of the cave. Maybe a bit too well.

What remained of their hiding place was little more than a rocky covering, largely exposed to the sky and filled with chunks of dirt and stone. Cedric was nearby, sitting in a broody hunch, and Antonio stood beside him, surveying the landscape. Their goblin scout’s grave - The Baron had already forgotten his name - lay at the rear of the cave’s remains, formed of fallen rocks. At least, The Baron assumed it belonged to the goblin. It had to belong to the goblin.

He pointed at the grave. “That’s the goblin’s, right?”

Traveller scratched his head. “Uh. No. I don’t think so. I think it belonged to… a pink… elephant… with a slender moustache…”

“So, yes, the goblin’s,” The Baron said, nodding with satisfaction. He didn’t like goblins much anyway. “Where’s Eve?”

“Scouting,” Cedric muttered. He grabbed a stone and threw it so hard that it pinged off a boulder and disappeared into the sky. “I thought you could figure that shit out on your own, m’lord.

“Oh.” The Baron shifted his glasses. “I… knew that. But, ah, I wanted to see if you… knew. Um.”

“You smacked your head hard, I guess,” Cedric said, chuckling a little. “n before you ask, yeah, Dragomir’s gone. Fuckin’ dragon airlifted him outta here. Seems t’be a trend with his damned family.”

The Baron sagged. He knew it already, had seen Dragomir’s legs disappearing into the sky as the dragon’s scaly body expanded - Was that Jeffrey’s dragon? I thought I saw scars - but Cedric’s confirmation somehow made it so much worse. The Baron scanned the skyline, as if he could possibly see Dragomir, but all he saw now was the shimmering form of the regulator’s blasted tower, outshining the early morning sun.

“Well, this couldn’t get much worse,” he mumbled bitterly.

And, in truth, it didn’t, even though a massive Non head abruptly poked its head into the remains of the cave.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Sixty: Not this place again

Dragomir abruptly found himself standing guard over the Neck. 

He shook his head, confused. The bridge to Castle WhatIsGoingOn looked as it ever had: a little rusty, a little bloody, a little twitchy. So too did the castle behind it, with all the same adjectives applied, just in different ways. Yet the Neck looked too luminescent, the castle too radiant, and the sky… the sky was just a bit too white.

There was a big lever in front of Dragomir. Beside it sat a lumpy burlap sack. Dragomir knew there was a head inside the sack, and a small, very tired part of him wanted to cry when he saw the tip of a dread lock protruding from the sack’s drooping mouth. The rest of him, however, simply got angry.

“I’ve already done this,” he proclaimed, quite angrily. “I’ve already done this shit. You aren’t tricking me again, you little asshole.”

The air to Dragomir’s right warped and twisted, popping loudly. He refused to look at it. He’d be staring at a face he didn’t want to see, a face of tricks, lies, and wifely thievery. He was especially tired of the thievery part.

“I wasn’t trying that hard to trick you,” Grayson admitted. “I just wanted to give you something familiar to look at while we chatted. It’s been a long time since we chatted.”

“Gee, whose fault is that?” Dragomir barked. He spat over the edge of the ramparts, watching his spectral spittle as it fell towards the water and disappeared with a vague ‘plop’. “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who fucked us all over ’n took off, Grayson. Not me.”

The air twisted again, moving. Dragomir moved with it, away from it, refusing to stare his first borne son’s floating head in the eye. 

Grayson chuckled at his not-father’s defiance. “Won’t look at me? You’re a child, Dragomir. A child. And not the kind she deserves. She deserves a good son. And she’s got one. I’m going to look after her for an eternity.”

“You’re fucked up, kid,” Dragomir hissed. He stepped to the opposite side of the ramparts and looked at Grayson’s version of the Indy Plains. They were, like the real thing, flat and unremarkable.

“Maybe. But I’m holding all the power right now. And, ah, I wasn’t stupid enough to go and get myself caught, now was I? That was all you, dad.”

The Plains shifted, twirling in on themselves in a visual lurch that made Dragomir sick to his stomach. He clenched his eyes closed until they settled again… and when they did, he found himself staring at a vast, white, latticed wall. A black blob with an odd protrusion on the front of its head and a rat dangled from the latticework, their arms bound by the walls, both looking unbelievably tired. A woman Dragomir did not recognize sat a few feet away from them, her arms cradling her knees.

“Say hello to your cellmates,” Grayson whispered into Dragomir’s ear, his voice fading. “They’re the last friendly faces you’ll ever get to see. One of them’s even a freak, like you. Ta.”

Grayson’s pressing presence faded out of Dragomir’s head, and he took a deep breath as some of the pressure behind his headache - but not all of it, never all of it - faded as well. He forced a yawn, as if to look casual, though he wasn’t sure why he bothered, because the situation was anything but casual.

“Hey, guys,” Dragomir said, knowing who the blob and the rat were. He recognized Plato’s drooping tail anywhere, even if it did look like a liquid frying pan at the moment. ”Long time. You look like hell, Plato. My son been treating you well?”

Plato raised his head, and Dragomir expected the platypus-Non’s usual singsong language to emerge from his bill. He was, instead, surprised to hear the flat quack of a relatively normal voice. “Your… your son is mean, Drago… Dragomir.”

Though shocked by Plato’s apparent discovery of English, Dragomir took it in stride. He swallowed and nodded. “Ain’t that the truth, pal. Ain’t that the truth.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Nine: You need a better hiding spot

“You shouldn’t have come here, Dragomir,” a tiny voice whispered in his mind. “Not like this.”

“Why?” he replied, groggily. He was, after all, asleep.

“Because it’s what he wanted. He knew you’d come. He planned for it. You made it even easier than he expected.”

“You mean Grayson, right?”


“Well, he can go fuck ‘imself. I’m gonna rescue my wife.”

“Not,” the voice said sadly, “if we have anything to do with it. Wake up.”

Dragomir had just enough time to curse dreams in general - he’d been plagued, lately, by visions of werewolves with bulging yellow eyes, ripping into his flesh - when a severe headache brought him back to the light of day. And, it turned out, to a trap.

Gortrap had led Dragomir’s party into a small cave the previous day, one the goblin confessed to finding on a long-range scouting trip many years prior. He’d assured them that no one would find it, as it was secreted beneath a cluster of grassy boulders and filled with cobwebs that hinted at a lack of intelligent life. The ladybug in Cedric’s hair - now in Dragomir’s - saw to it that this would not be the case.

The first quarter-sized dragon crept into the cave on Gortrap’s watch, at roughly three in the morning. The goblin, ever quick on his feet, shouted a warning - and was promptly impaled on the dragon’s sharpened tail. This was nevertheless enough to waken the party, and the fight was on.

“What? What?” Traveller yelled, hopping to his feet. He was, predictably, buck naked, and the hairy vision of his scarred body may have saved him from a fireball to the face as an oncoming dragon averted its eyes. “Oh, those? Uh oh! Punch!”

Traveller punched. The dragon’s head rocked to one side, smacking off the side of the cave. Traveller apologized - but Cedric did not as he smashed the dragon’s head into a stone, breaking its neck. The Baron then promptly animated its corpse using his puppetry powers, forcing it to leap at one of its fellows, also skulking into the cave.

“Secure the entrance!” The Baron bellowed, his voice fearful. “Block them out!”

Antonio, shaking away his fatigue, moved to comply. He shoved his fist into the muzzle of a third dragon, then sidestepped as a fourth’s head rocketed through the cave entrance and snapped at open air. Traveller tried to bat it away, again with an apology, but the dragon slapped him aside with a deft twist of its sinuous neck. The Baron’s puppet dragon leaped at it clumsily.

Dragomir watched his party battle back the dragons from the rear of the cave, knowing he should do something but uncertain how he should react. They seemed to have things well in hand, and the headache in his head - as well as the burning sensation in his palms - suggested he might do well to just remain quiet. But another, more pessimistic part of his brain told him that it didn’t matter what he did.

“I’m already caught, aren’t I?” Dragomir thought.

“Yes,” the voice admitted. “I’ll try to be gentle. Sorry, man.”

Erupting out of his ladybug form atop Dragomir, Barrel exploded to half his normal size, bringing the ceiling down onto his back. His wings expanded with a mighty push, casting aside hundreds of pounds of earth and rock with little effort as he rose onto his rear legs, Dragomir struggling to free himself from a tight bear hug. Barrel’s sweeping tail knocked everyone but The Baron off their feet, and he fell down anyway when a rock smacked him in the head.

“You… don’t have to do… this…” Dragomir yelled, twisting in Barrel’s grasp. He nearly got loose when he changed into his slippery Non form, but Barrel re-formed his arms into a pair of iron-tight bands that even a Non could not escape. “C’mon… urgh…”

Barrel did not reply, but the white of his eyes suggested he had no choice in the matter whatsoever. The rats twitching away on his shoulders more or less said the same.

Barrel flew free of the collapsing cave, and the dragons at the front abandoned their assault as soon as the entrance started to come down. What happened to Dragomir’s party, he did not know, as he soon blacked out from the extreme tightness of Barrel’s grip.

When Dragomir woke up, everything was white. He was not the least bit surprised.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Eight: Make Haste

‘Dear DragoFuck,

The rats are up to some shit. My guys spotted a tear in the sky. They think it’s bad. So do I. I’m calling a truce with you for now because I don’t want to deal with you nibbling at my tail feathers. Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.

Yes, I know you work for them. Yes, I know you think this is bullshit. But it’s not. I have a bad feeling. The only person who makes portals is me. I don’t want other fuckers horning in on my turf. Besides, portals aren’t supposed to just sit there. That makes shit in the world unstable. I’m not done killing people, so instability doesn’t work for me.

I’m not asking you to fight alongside me. Just stay out of my hair for a while. Do that and I promise to leave Pubton alone for half a year. I’d say forever, but I know you wouldn’t believe me. Imagine what you can do with six months of free time. Maybe you can even give me a good fight once I purge the planet of these rat motherfuckers. They’re worse than I am, and that’s saying a lot, I know.

Truce, Dragofuck. kthnks? kthnks.

Kierkegaard the Omnipotent’

Dragomir read the letter over again as he walked, lip curling each time Kierkegaard called him ‘Dragofuck’. He still wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Was it a play for time? An attempt to stop two fronts from attacking Kierkegaard’s army? An admission of fear over the werewolves now in Dragomir’s army? Or an honest attempt to stop Grayson from doing… something?

“It vill not change iv you read it a thouzend timez,” a voice said from beside Dragomir.

He jumped. Antonio was walking beside him, a pack slung over the orc’s shoulder. Antonio was staring straight ahead, smiling as enigmatically as ever. Scowling, Dragomir stuffed the letter into his pocket.

“Just thinkin’ about it,” Dragomir grumbled. “Might not change, but my interpretation of it might.”

Antonio thought about that, then grinned broadly, nodding. “Ya, ya, true. Iz wize. Maybe you are well in charge.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Not that a declaration of a truce really mattered. Dragomir’s group had moved quite tirelessly for three days, now, swiftly crossing the western lands at a tireless pace, and they’d gotten into skirmishes with Non scouts on several occasions. Apparently they hadn’t received word of Kierkegaard’s ‘truce’, and needed to be destroyed or driven off. Dragomir’s group had nevertheless made excellent time… especially when they’d spotted the glowing tower in the distance, as sure a sign of their destination as anything. Even The Baron, the slowest of the party, seemed to pick up his pace at the sight.

Now they were a day from the tower. Perhaps less. It was a horrifying thing, a pearlescent, twining shaft into the heavens that made Dragomir’s skin crawl. The tower was somehow worse than the blackened puncture it had left in the sky, perhaps because Dragomir had already seen codespace before.

My son did that, Dragomir thought, peering at the fringes of the bright light that seemed to pulsate at the tower’s apex. My son. Gods, my gene pool is fucked up.

“We should move more slowly from here on,” hissed Gortrap, the goblin scout leading their party across the landscape. He paused to pick something out of his nose, a habit he exercised often and without shame. “Ye’re all fuckin’ large. Ye’ll be spotted a mile away if ye just traipse up.”

“We don’t have time to move more slowly,” Dragomir grunted. “We have to get there now.”

Eve, walking nearby with a brown parcel under her arm, nodded silent agreement. Traveller ignored the minor debate altogether, focusing instead on his bare toes and looking sad. The rest of the party seemed to grumble disagreement.

“If we get caught it won’t matter how fuckin’ fast we went,” Gortrap insisted. “We need time to survey the landscape ’n make sure they aren’t on te us, ye ken?”

“My name’s not Ken,” Dragomir retorted. “Shut up. We move normally. Double time, if we have to.”

“Iz not good,” Antonio muttered. “Hazte zometimez makez wazte, ya? Perhapz I retract what I zay before.”

“Retract whatever you want,” Dragomir countered sourly. “I’m in charge here. Let’s get a fuckin’ move on.”

The party moved on, their footsteps swift and reckless. They moved so quickly that none of them noticed the dragon riding in Cedric’s hair, posing as a ladybug, and so none of them appreciated that the entire conversation was moot either way.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Seven: Select a Party

This feels a little deja vu, Dragomir thought. And I barely understand the meaning of the term.

Logan glowered at Dragomir. Jeffrey focused on his wife more than he focused on Dragomir. Eve blinked at Dragomir. The Baron pretended not to look at Dragomir. Fynn averted his eyes from Dragomir, though understandably so, as he was busy controlling a legion of werewolves far below. Cedric scratched his chin at Dragomir, and Antonio, though lacking stubble, did the same. Traveller, mind errant as ever, decided to watch the clouds flit by outside the Sky Bitch’s half-repaired canopy, ignoring Dragomir completely.

“At least I’ve got lots of people to pick from,” Dragomir grumbled. “Okay, guys. You heard the plan. Get in, recon, hopefully grab Libby, get out again. I need five people, ’n I’ve already got a goblin scout helpin’ us. Any volunteers for the other four?”

To Dragomir’s irritation, no one raised their hand. His eye twitched involuntarily.

“C’mon, guys, no one? Do I have to go picking?” Dragomir growled. “This is my wife, here. Your mom, Fynn. And, uh, Eve, I guess.”

Eve blinked again, but remained silent. Fynn filled the silence. “Sorry, dad, but I can’t. If I leave the werewolves’ll go nuts. Gotta stay here. But, um, please, get mom back…”

For some reason, despite the utter logic behind Fynn’s words, Dragomir felt a spasm of anger run from one temple to the other. He knew it was borne of emotion rather than reason, but it irked him anyway, and he gritted his teeth. “Fine. Whatever. Eve?”

Eve cocked her head to one side. “The world will not end should all of the bitches die. Let their blood flow freely.”

Dragomir started forward, despite the very real danger of getting violent with his daughter - again, emotion got the better of him, and he would later wonder how he could be violent with Eve anyway, given his incredible love for her - but Fynn quickly held him back. “Dad, she said yes. That was a yes. Uh, despite… despite how it sounded.”

“Really.” Dragomir drew back warily. “Eve?”

This time, his daughter simply nodded, eyes darting away from his. She looked as ashamed as she was ever apt to be, which was barely at all. Dragomir felt his heart warm the tiniest bit. “Okay. That’s one. Anybody else?”

The warmth faded substantially when Logan shook his head. “I’m stayin’ here. Somebody’s gotta keep an eye on everything. Figure it should be me.”

“You?” Dragomir cocked an eyebrow. “But you’re perfect for this sorta thing. Sneaking about, like. I need someone like that.”

“You have a goblin,” Logan replied, almost under his breath. “That’ll do.”

That’ll do. Dragomir felt insulted by those two words. That’ll do to rescue your wife. That’ll do to save the world from your freak of a child. That’ll do to keep your skin intact, ‘cause I have better things to do. The hell happened to you while you were away, Logan? When did keeping one ass cheek in the command chair become so important?

Dragomir wanted to argue, but he shrugged instead. Every moment spent arguing was a moment wasted. “Fine. Guess you wanna keep your daddy nearby, as well?”

Jeffrey bristled. “I can make my own decisions, thanks. I don’t think I’d be much help, so I’ll stay. I, uh, need more practice… boxing.”

Yeah, sure, has nothing to do with having your wife back, Dragomir thought. Be nice to get mine back too, ya fuckhead.

“We’ll go,” Cedric cut in. He clapped a hand on Antonio’s shoulder. “Both better ’n this pansy-ass at fighting, for sure.”

“Hey,” Jeffrey retorted, but he didn’t get any further than that. 

Cedric sneered at his former liege, then turned back to Dragomir. “Your Libby’s a douche, but I always kinda liked that ‘bout her. ‘sides, it’ll give me ’n excuse to get the fuck outta this tin can for a while. Makes my dead insides kinda queasy, like.”

“Who zaid I vuld go?” Antonio countered, though his imperceptible orcish smile never faltered. “I did not volunteer. You zhould not volunteer people for zuch thingz vithout askink.”

“You stay behind ’n you’re a big pansy,” Cedric countered. He squeezed Antonio’s shoulder a little more tightly. “C’mon. Be a man, or some shit.”

“I have read your poetry. I am already more ze man.”

“Wait, when the fuck - “

Enough,” Dragomir cut in. “We’re running out of time. You two’ll do, ’n… hell, The Baron, you’re comin’ ‘cause I say you’re comin’. It’s your fault I’m running off on this errand in the first place the way I am.”

The Baron paled, but he said nothing. His feet shuffled nervously beneath his robes. He seemed the least likely person to survive a recon mission into enemy territory… which, Dragomir reflected, was part of the point. He wondered what would happen to Eve if The Baron died, as the two seemed to share a connection the fat man still hadn’t explained. Would she be… normal, maybe?

That’ll be four, Dragomir thought. Thank gods. “Okay. That does it. You guys comin’ with me, follow me downstairs - “

“I’m coming too.”

Dragomir winced. He cupped one ear, almost comically, hoping he’d simply misinterpreted the words, or perhaps even the person who’d spoke. Traveller had been oddly quiet this entire trip, after all, not even participating in the battle. Dragomir found the silence quite refreshing, even if Traveller had proven utterly useless in keeping Libby safe. An oddity, that, considering his oft-professed affection for her body parts.

“Say that again?”

“I’m coming too,” Traveller repeated. He pointed out the canopy, at the dwindling sunlight. “See? Can anyone else see?”

Dragomir scowled deeply. “I’ve got enough people already. You’ll just fuck everything up, so I think you’re gonna stay right here - “

Dragomir just barely got through his sentiment before a metal canister crashed through the Sky Bitch’s canopy, or, rather, the boards that served as a poor patch job for the Sky Bitch. The canister hit the deck hard, bounced twice, and came to a rest in Eve’s quick hands. Wind whistled into the Sky Bitch, and one of the deck hands ran to patch the hole before it could expand.

Eyes wide, Dragomir peered around the wooden barricade, to the sky in front of the Sky Bitch. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw a vast, shadowy shape slipping into the clouds.

“See?” Traveller proclaimed, pointing at the canister. “I told you I saw somethin’.”

“You did not!” Dragomir fumed, jabbing a finger at the canister. “You did fucking not! You just said you were comin’ with us to get Libby! That’s all!”

Traveller tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Oh yeah? Did I?”

The assembled group nodded.

“Oh.” Traveller shrugged. “Well. I meant I saw something. But I’m comin’ with you, too, so that’s kinda convenient, right?”

Disgusted and irritated, Dragomir eventually got around to opening the canister, and reading the scrawl of parchment resting inside. It took several minutes for his irritation to subside sufficiently to process the message’s importance, however, and in that time Traveller managed to irritate him again by asking where he could find the lavatory. The message from the canister said many things, but it boiled down to one important concept:

“A truce?” Dragomir fumbled with the parchment, more than half disbelieving. “A freakin’ truce?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Six: Strategical Stuff

Dragomir stormed out of the meeting with Logan. He was, as the previous verb implied, rather miffed with the results.

“”’Hang back’, he says!” Dragomir ranted to no one in particular, though there were plenty of people around him who were privy to his words. “‘Don’t get involved! Let ‘em destroy each other!’ Oh, yeah, that’s great, Logan! ’n let my wife get killed, too, I guess, eh? Fuckin’ great!”

Casting one quick look at the poorly-repaired hole in the Sky Bitch’s glass canopy - They stole her through that, he thought, plucked her right the fuck out - he went belowdecks. He knew the ship’s crewers were watching him with some apprehension, knew there was a decent hunk of mistrust in there eyes, and he didn’t care. He didn’t have time enough to care.

“SOMEBODY GET THIS TUB MOVING WEST!” Dragomir yelled back up the stairs. “EVERYBODY ELSE’LL FOLLOW!”

A few confused ‘Yessirs’ floated back down the stairs towards him. Dragomir rolled his eyes and kept going.

He didn’t know where he was going, exactly, as the Sky Bitch shakily rumbled to life and took to the skies. He had a general course - west - and a few scattered reports of some brightly-lit, white thing in the far distance, brought back by goblin scouts. Something told him - experience, perhaps? - that the thing would be Grayson’s seat of power. White was very much the colour of the rats, after all.

Spying a half-dead rat in one of the corridors, Dragomir took the opportunity to kick it against the wall. The rat flopped feebly, twitched twice, and fell, panting, against the floor. Dragomir wanted to crush its little guts out with the heel of his boot, but he didn’t have the unction to take a life, even one so utterly detestable as that of a rat.

He kicked the wall a few times instead. Indeed, he booted the wood so vigorously that he left a sizeable dent in the wood - and the fabric of his pants began to sink into his inky black leg. He failed to notice this, and only lucked out because the first person to spot him already knew what he was.

“You may want to rein yourself in,” a voice murmured from the other end of the corridor, barely audible over the rumble of the charging airship engines. “People will learn your secret rather speedily if you don’t.”

Dragomir whipped around, glaring at The Baron. The old man had an ice pack pressed against a nasty red welt on his head. He’d held it during the meeting with Logan and several of the commanders, as well, though this was the first time today that Dragomir had heard The Baron open his mouth.

“Thanks for the advice,” Dragomir grunted back, voice thick with sarcasm. He nevertheless willed his leg to return to normal, and after a few seconds of shifting it did. “Can you tell me how to change my wardrobe so I’m not always wearing these shitty pants? Maybe then people won’t argue with me so much.”

The Baron chuckled. “Yes, Logan rather got into it with you, didn’t he? He always had quite the tongue. It appears holding sway over a small army of werewolves has emboldened him a tad.”

Dragomir clenched his fists. “My son is owner of that army, thanks.”

“Mmm. True. But…” The Baron scratched his cloaked chin thoughtfully. “I recall him standing on the other side of the table. Don’t you?”

Dragomir did. He scowled deeply at the mental image of Fynn at Logan’s right shoulder, his face gaunt, his eyes alternating between green and orange. “Guess he doesn’t mind his mom’s missing. Great to see both of my sons are a bit shitty. And the guy who said he wished he was my son. Lemme guess, you wanna abandon Libby, too?”

“Oh, no one said anything of the sort,” The Baron said, wincing at the pain in his head. “Ow. Remind me not to be on this ship during a battle again. Anyway, there wasn’t a person in that room who didn’t want Libby back. Everyone simply urged you not to take the entire army after her. You heard it as well as I did.”

“A few people ain’t gonna cut it!” Dragomir growled. He was irritated enough that his hands began to shimmer ever so slightly green, though he willed that away, too, wincing as a deadly headache formed around his temples. “We… have to all go. We can cut in while the Non are goin’ after the rats, blindside ‘em both, and - “

“Assuming that is how the situation will unfold, yes, we could do that,” The Baron conceded, though Dragomir knew he had much more to say. “But we have no idea what Kierkegaard has planned. He may avoid whatever force your son has assembled altogether. That would leave us in the disadvantageous position of moving on the Imperium’s assembled armies alone, assuming what little intel we have about their positioning is true. Given our current, ramshackle state, and lack of dragon support…”

The Baron shrugged. “Thus far you have operated as support for the rats. Your army has been theirs. Now that they’ve abandoned you… and assuming that your son is in control of their operations - “

“He is,” Dragomir insisted. “Absolutely.”

“ - then I think a much smaller force is a wiser course of action,” The Baron concluded. “A pack of werewolves will not guarantee you a victory, Dragomir, not under these circumstances. Not even Eve’s presence can do that, though both will certainly help. Rushing into a major battle, particularly without a strong military commander, is extremely ill-advised.”

Dragomir winced. He thought again of Pagan’s lonely, unmarked grave, soon to be left behind.

“No one else pointed this out,” The Baron added, “but you’ll move much faster with smaller numbers. You want to get to Libby quickly, yes? An army is not always the best solution.”

Dragomir punched the wall again, though with less force this time. His hand nevertheless flashed black, and his fingers sprouted into claws. He didn’t bother to will his hand back into its usual human facade for some time, instead drawing it into his sleeve. He had no idea why he did this.

“The hell good is an army if you can’t use it to do shit?” Dragomir complained. “I want, I dunno, a fuckin’ refund. Or something.”

“And I want to go back in time and expel a certain penguin from my classes,” The Baron replied. “But we don’t always get what we want.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Five: Calm Before Storm

Dragomir decided that Pagan would have rather liked his grave.

The battlefield upon which Dragomir’s forces had repulsed the Non - with, admittedly, some help - still bore the unmistakable signs of war. Bits of zombies lay strewn absolutely everywhere, baking in the sun and unmourned by their fellows, and the occasional oozy Non body sizzled and liquefied like spilled oil on the trampled grass and dirt. There were no werewolves to be seen, Dragomir noticed, and he wondered if they simply changed back to humans when they died.

None of these bodies would ever be buried. The army had to move on too quickly to give anyone a proper funeral. Even Pagan, who was the sole exception, received only this short vigil.

Pagan had not hit anyone on the way down. His descent to the ground had been undisturbed, and almost completely ignored by everyone around him. There was too much mayhem during the fight for anybody to notice an old man plummeting out of the sky. Yet his body had also been avoided by the fracas entirely, through some odd miracle, and he’d still looked quite dignified when he went into the ground on the same spot where he’d landed.

A single, simple, stone marker showed where he’d died. Dragomir suspected that Pagan would’ve preferred to be returned to his ruined estate, but a battlefield would do just as well. He hoped, anyway.

“You had so much more to teach me, old man,” Dragomir murmured, staring at the innocuous lump of dirt in front of the marker. “I don’t know shit ‘bout leading an army. You knew all the important stuff. Now what am I supposed to do?”

The grave didn’t respond. Nor, indeed, did the milling remains of Dragomir’s army on all sides of him, the zombies collecting their discarded body parts and the werewolves prowling restlessly, Fynn’s magic keeping their primal urges at bay. Dragomir wondered how taxing that must be for his son, realizing with a twinge of guilt that he’d barely spoken to Fynn since the arrival of the werewolves on the battlefield.

And now his mom’s gone, Dragomir thought. Taken. Again. By his older brother. And Eve, well, hell, she’s ‘round here somewheres, I think. I don’t even know anymore. My gods, but this family is a mess.


The voice from behind tugged Dragomir’s attention away from Pagan’s grave, and he turned to see Daena. She was smiling, though gravely, and bags under her eyes hinted at a few sleepless nights.

“Hi, Daena,” Dragomir said, shuffling his feet. “You’re lookin’ really… um… stationary, these days. Good to have you back.”

“Thank you.” Daena brushed the bangs out of her face. Dragomir wondered if she’d been crying, but decided she probably hadn’t. Daena was pretty tough like that. “Logan was wondering if we’re getting underway soon. And our planned course of action.”

Dragomir scowled, though he did his best to hide it. In the short few hours since his return Logan had become remarkably demanding, always wanting answers to tactical questions. Dragomir had few answers that would please Logan, especially now that Pagan, his most useful advisor had bitten the dust. Logan seemed to expect Dragomir to have some grand, epic plan for driving out the Non and stopping Grayson, and Dragomir had no such thing. He just wanted to get his wife back.

“Does he still want a meeting?” Dragomir asked.

“I think so.” Daena laced her fingers together. “I’m surprised. He’s not usually so… pushy, about these sorts of things. Official action, you know.”

“I know.” Dragomir peered back at the grave. “Sure, why not. Let’s have a meeting. Go tell ‘im I’ll be on the Sky Bitch in ten minutes.”

“Alright.” Daena lingered for a moment. She, too, regarded the grave, though her expression while doing so was much more honest than Dragomir’s. “I never liked him. I suppose I respected him, but I never liked him. He was too grim. I’m sorry for that.”

Dragomir shook his head, surprised that he was unsurprised by Daena’s frankness. “That’s okay. I don’t think Pagan cared much about bein’ liked. Though I think dad’s gonna get hit pretty hard when he finds out.”

“People keep dying,” Daena said, almost whispering. The bags under her eyes seemed to deepen. “It feels like we’ve already lost.”

Dragomir wanted to offer some optimistic reassurance to Daena. He wanted to tell her that this war, now, was meant to prevent anyone else from dying. That he, personally, would ensure that the rest of them would stay alive. That Kierkegaard and Grayson wouldn’t hurt anyone else, not while Dragomir the General was on the watch. He wanted to say all of those things, and plenty else, because Daena had already lost enough - A daughter, my god, her daughter is dead, and only another one of our enemies can possibly bring her back - and Daena was too good of a woman to hear anything less than optimism.

“Let’s go set up that meeting,” Dragomir said instead, turning away from the grave. “Let’s… let’s go.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Day Eight-Fifty-Four: Let's Start Over, 'kay?

Libby was too taken aback to respond. Grayson apparently took this as a sign to explain.

“The regulators - you know them better as the rats, I suppose - were so interested in Dragomir because he possessed an incredible power, one they thought they could use to ‘break the rules’, so to speak.” Grayson’s lip twisted. “You know he’s part Non, right?”

Libby nodded, mouth dry.

Grayson sighed, head dipping. The other Graysons mimicked the gesture perfectly. “I wanted to let you know myself, but I couldn’t find the proper moment. It needed to be… I don’t know… operatic. Something with flair. Just coming up to you and telling you wasn’t appropriate. Oh, well… wasted opportunities…”

Libby wanted to kill Grayson again. She couldn’t bring herself to move, however, so she remained shoved against the side of the stable, feeling more cornered than she’d ever been in her life.

“The Non are a cancer,” Grayson continued. “They aren’t supposed to exist. They break the rules constantly. So the rats, who are bound to rules at all times, knew they’d need some outside help. They immediately recognized that Dragomir’s bizarre ‘birth’, which was anything but normal, could give them the tools they needed to properly fight the Non.”

“And in a way,” Grayson tittered, “they were right. But now their tools are mine. Do you know what a glitch is, mom?”

It took Libby almost a full minute to realize that Grayson was waiting for a response. She slowly shook her head.

“A glitch is an error. It’s a thing that was not intended by the, ah, ‘architects’ of this world. In some cases a glitch is harmless; in others, a glitch can be… eheh… catastrophic. Dragomir, who was created through means not intended, most definitely falls into the latter category.”

Stop talking about him as though he’s a thing, Libby thought, fists clenching. He’s not a thing. He’s your father, and he’s -


Grayson’s sudden, violent pronouncement caused Libby to flinch away, and she fell to the grass. The air seemed to grow both hot and cold, as though a sudden, perplexing wind current was passing through the area. The Graysons huffed, their shoulders tensed, their eyes pinched and angry. It took several tense moments for their emotions to cool again, and once they had, every Grayson offered Libby an apologetic smile.

“Sorry,” Grayson said, “but he’s not. He never was. Perhaps we’ll talk about that more, sometime. At any rate…”

The lead Grayson raised one hand, and a hunk of the landscape rose out of the ground and hovered over his fingers. White dirt and white grass quickly reformed itself into an image of Dragomir, though it was an ugly and malformed Dragomir, his features exaggerated and cruel.

“When Dragomir was born,” Grayson explained, “he created - inadvertently, I suppose, I can’t blame him for everything - a substantial coding glitch. It gave him access to what he thought was a weapon of incredible power, though in truth it’s closer to matter manipulation. By unmaking one thing, he remakes another. It’s utterly unique, and truly remarkable.”

Libby said nothing. She barely understood anything coming out of her son’s mouth. She got the words well enough, but the sentiment behind them… nothing.

“The rats have been scanning him for the majority of the year, trying to learn more about his glitch. They intended, as I said, to properly weaponize it. They were going to pull it out of Dragomir and use it against the Non in a condensed form. As some sort of beam I suppose it could be utterly devastating. I don’t know, and frankly I’m not that interested.”

That would have killed him, Libby thought, with utter certainty. He would have died again.

“Yes,” Grayson admitted. He smiled cruelly. “He almost certainly would have died, despite what they promised him. And he still will, because what I have in mind is even worse.”

The Graysons pointed to the sky, and Libby followed their fingers. The airship that had been puttering along was now gone, leaving the white bowl beyond quite empty. Yet Libby could tell that there was something beyond the bowl, something almost unbearably bright, at the apex of whatever bizarre structure they were in.

“The real me is up there, mom.” Grayson clucked his tongue. “I’m attached to the thing that is the rat hive mind. I control it, and because of that, I’m connected to the entire planet. Imagine what would happen if I were to siphon Dragomir’s glitch into the hive mind… and let it run rampant? Imagine what would happen to the world?”

Libby blinked. She had no idea what her son was talking about, but the general aim was obvious enough. She spoke audibly for the first time in several long minutes. “… everyone… will die?”

Grayson’s smile grew, the edges curling upward to a degree reserved for madmen. “But not us. We’ll survive. Just us, mom. Just us. Forever.”

The word forever snapped Libby’s fear. She leaped at the lead Grayson, wrapping her fingers around his thin neck so hard that it snapped almost immediately. She screamed at his grinning corpse as she throttled it, expressing in no uncertain terms just how much she hated her son. The corpse did not reply, and the other Graysons simply watched, smiling.

They did not intervene until Libby began clawing at her own face. It took seven Graysons to pull Libby away from her bloody cheeks, and five more to drag her away to her room. They strapped her to her bed, her plush, comfortable bed, and left her alone to calm down.

“Don’t worry,” said the final Grayson, who, Libby noticed, bore faint scars on his face. He spoke as he was closing the door. “It’s all going to be okay.”