Dragomir and Bora sat together in The Hog’s Arse until 3 am.
Most of the time they were silent, simply enjoying one another’s company. At other times they told short, bittersweet stories, most of which Bora already knew. She’d followed Dragomir ever since her flight from Traveller almost a year past, it turned out, and didn’t need to be appraised of current events. Dragomir wondered how she’d kept up with the Dauphine, and considering her grotesque spider form, he decided not to ask.
That aside, Dragomir learned much about his ‘mother’. She’d grown up in the river countries to the south of Castle LongGone, the same region that would later spawn Libby the Carpenter. She’d been a biology teacher at the same academy where The Baron and his brother, Iko, taught. She’d given Kierkegaard detention on no less than sixteen occasions, for offences ranging from firing spitballs through rolled parchment to eating the class hamster. After the fall and imprisonment of the Non she’d split off from her fellow Non and wandered, indulging her scientific whims to the point that she didn’t realize she’d lost her sense of morality somewhere along the way. And she didn’t get it back until she started living in Pubton.
“Those were some of my happiest days,” she confessed, smoothing her hair absently. “A hell of a lot simpler than mucking about in a backpack laboratory, and maybe less satisfying, but… happy.”
“You liked getting hit on constantly by my dad?” Dragomir grunted. “I didn’t think any woman, ‘sides maybe my mom, would like somethin’ like that. I don’t even get why she enjoys it. Gross.”
Bora laughed. “He was… the low point of my days, I s’ppose. Him and some of the other twats who came into the bar. Most of the time I was serving food to decent people, though, ’n I enjoyed that just fine. Gave me a sense of community that I thought I’d given up for good. Know what I mean?”
Dragomir nodded. “Yeah. Pubton was great for me, too. The castle was gone by then, but… building that place… well, this place, I guess… building it up was great. Hard work, but good memories.”
“To memories,” Bora said, smiling. She raised her glass of water.
“Memories,” Dragomir replied, raising his own with a clink. They drank. “That’s good stuff. Maybe this dump isn’t so bad after all. So, like, are you planning to stick around after this…?”
Bora lowered her eyes, her smile turning bittersweet. “I doubt it. The last most people ‘round here remember of me is turning into a bloated grey monster and skittering off. Not great for public relations.”
“I could talk to everybody for you,” Dragomir said, straightening. Considering his earlier hatred of Bora, he found this abrupt reversal surprising - yet it felt perfectly natural to him. She was, after all, family. “Could make ‘em understand. It wouldn’t be that hard.”
“Libby might not be too happy,” Bora pointed out. “And Traveller, well, as long as he’s here, I can’t be. I did steal his eye, after all. Tough to forgive that.”
“Meh, he’s an idiot. You said so yourself. Lots of times.” Dragomir waved a hand. “Forget him. Forget ‘em all. Just stay here. They’ll come around. I’m the boss, so I say they’ll come around.”
Bora rose, setting her water glass aside. She pulled Dragomir up with her and gave him a tight hug. A little surprised, he hugged her back, for the first time really understanding the affection he’d felt for her two years past. It was not a romantic bond - gods, how had he ever thought it was romantic, no wonder their kiss had tasted like dog vomit - but familial. She really was his mother, or, at the very least, some kind of sister.
“You’re sweet,” she said, “but I have things to do. They’re not here. Even if you let me stay I’d be gone within a few hours.”
Dragomir frowned. “So you’re leaving again? That… kinda sucks.”
“This coming from the guy who wanted to drive his claws through my face,” Bora pointed out wryly.
“I, uh, didn’t have all the facts.” Dragomir tugged on his collar. “So why’d you come? You said you were followin’ us. Aren’t you gonna keep followin’ us?”
Bora pulled away from the hug. “I have… things… to set in order. Like I said. So no, I won’t be followin’ you for a while. I’m mainly here to warn you ‘bout something that none of you have noticed.”
“And to have a gushy emotion-y moment with me,” Dragomir snorted, though he felt a faint chill go up his back at her words.
“And that,” Bora confessed, though her smile quickly faded. “But this is important. Truth is, Kierkegaard isn’t the most dangerous person you’ve gotta worry about right now. He’s only number two.”
“And number one is…?”
Bora bit her lip. “Emmett. Though you call him Doc, more often ’n not. I know my geniuses, and even though he’s an idiot, he’s a genius when it comes to biology. Perhaps even more ’n I am, pardon the flattery. I’ve been keeping tabs on him as much as I can these last few months, and I’m positive he’s created something to tip the scales in the war. Knowing him - not that I know him too well, ‘cause he’s a creepy fuck I’d rather avoid - it’s something that will let him take over from Kierkegaard, as well.”
Dragomir stroked his chin. He could buy that. “But you don’t know what?”
Bora sagged, eyes narrowed. “No. All I can tell is that he’s had a large number of animals from a variety of different species delivered to his laboratory, whatever and wherever that might be. I get the feeling he’s doin’ something to weaponize beasties, but I don’t know what. Creating his own army, maybe? Not sure. Either way, you need to take him down, and take him down quickly. He’s dangerous enough that even if I’m wrong now, he’ll doubtless try some manner of scientific fuckery in the future.”
Dragomir nodded. Much though he disliked killing things, he had no problem ordering troops to go after Doc. The little bastard was almost as bad as Kierkegaard, in his way. “I’ll work out something with the Imperium. We’ll hunt for him. I promise. Gok’s goblins can find him if the Imperium can’t.”
“Good.” Bora smiled. “You delegated that pretty quick. You really are some kinda leader, aren’t you?”
“Sometimes,” Dragomir admitted, shrugging. “Guess I can blame that on you. You made me this way, lady.”
Bora laughed sadly. Giving Dragomir another hug, she turned to leave… though she offered the bar behind him one last, lingering look. “I’m gonna miss these things. I doubt I’ll ever get behind one again.”
“The offer still stands to let you stay here,” Dragomir persisted, heart jumping a little. “If you want I can persuade the owner of this place to let you work here. Or you can get a job back at the original pub, where you started out. Or - “
Bora shook her head. “I’m done with that. It was fun playing barmaid for a while… but I’m a teacher. It’s way past time I helped teach my students which path is the right one. One of ‘em has strayed so far from that I doubt he’ll ever come back. Hard to tell if he was ever on it in the first place.”
Dragomir frowned. Shuffling his feet and sighing, he crossed his hands behind his back. “Is this war gonna end the way people keep sayin’ it will? Us killing them, or them killing us? Those the only ways it can end?
Bora considered the question, then shook her head. “If the rats were still around… and I know they aren’t… then maybe. But you have other options available to you now. I think you have it in you to find some other way to stop it all.”
Me. “Man. I wish this didn’t always come down to me. I just - “
“ - wanted a normal life.” Bora shook her head. “I know. Deep down I think most people want a normal life. Doesn’t always happen. But ending this all, however it goes down, is the best way to get back on the track towards whatever you consider normal. And when you’re done, you’ll have plenty of stories to tell your grandkids.”
“Pfft. I could’ve just made up stories instead. I’m good at that.” Dragomir was all too aware that he might not be around for grandkids, but he shuffled the comment out of his throat and back into his psyche.
Bora smiled. Kissing Dragomir on the forehead, she turned, waved, and strode silently out of the pub, disappearing into the darkness beyond. Dragomir couldn’t even hear her footsteps, they were so light, and if it weren’t for a water glass with faint lip stains there would have been no evidence that she’d been there at all. With her she dragged away the airiness of the meeting, and Dragomir felt a dark cloud settling over his head again. He wanted to beat that cloud away with sticks, or clubs, or the trunks of mammoths. It was a shitty cloud, one that had developed slowly over the last two years and engulfed his happy little world.
He didn’t like that cloud. In fact, he hated that cloud. He hated it so much that he suddenly realized what normal meant to him. And he vowed, with unusual stridence, not to let it engulf him again.