Friday, July 31, 2015

Day Eight-Ninety-Three: Normal

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day Eight-Ninety-Two: Let it wash away

“He came to me… oh… twelve years ago, I guess it was.”

“The Baron?”

“The one and only. ’n he had a plan. ‘We’ll get everybody out,’ he kept saying. ‘We’ll take back what’s ours, ’n then we’ll keep our borders safe.’ He was obsessed with retaking territory. Guess a thousand years of wandering will make anybody obsessive for the good ol’ days, though.”

“The good ol’ days of war, you mean.”

“Yeah. Somethin’ like that.”

Dragomir took a liberal sip of his drink, trying to suppress a wince. They were sitting at the bar again, an appreciable distance between their stools, five candles lighting the space. Dragomir had filched them from the pub’s back room, and though he felt a little bad about stealing, he decided the pub’s owner probably wouldn’t begrudge Pubton’s former mayor a few minor items. He’d already broken in and stolen booze without paying anyway.

“I don’t know why you bother,” Bora commented. She’d replaced her own drink with a glass of water. “I told you, it’s a physiology thing. Non can’t get drunk. We process the alcohol too efficiently. You’d have to imbibe, hell… probably more liquid than your body can ever hold, before you’d even feel a mild buzz.”

“Well aren’t you just the scientist,” Dragomir growled. “Forget that. I asked you a question.”

“Yeah, you did.” Bora sighed. “He wanted a general. Again, obsession. Couldn’t let the idea go. Kept saying the Non needed a champion. Someone around whom they could rally. Not only that, he wanted a bridge between Non ’n humans, ‘cause not only do humans comprise a big part of the Imperium, they’re almost exclusively the rulers of the Indy Plains’ various kingdoms. Ex-kingdoms, anyway. They’re pretty much all gone now. Point is, if he wanted to try the negotiation route, he wanted a proper human face to do the negotiating.”

Dragomir considered The Baron’s ‘champion’. “Eve’s about as diplomatic as a tiger on drugs.”

“Yep!” Bora raised her glass. “I warned him that he, she, it, whatever resulted from you, might not be so great in that sphere. Fighting strength I could guarantee, thanks to Dra… Traveller; people skills, not so much. I suggested we just try and use you, but, ah, he wanted a genuine hybrid. Didn’t help that you you couldn’t access Traveller’s ridiculous muscles, for whatever reason. Alas, genetics…”

Dragomir reflected over the plan for a few quiet moments. He took one more drink from his cask, winced, and set it aside. Whatever comfort normal people derived from booze, he was apparently exempt for life. “Kind of a stupid plan, when you think about it.”

“It was smart and it was stupid. I agree, though, that there were better ways of doin’ things.” Bora shrugged. “But he wanted it done, and I confess that I was… curious. Curious and amoral. It’s funny how your scruples can disappear after a millennia of fucking around with nature.”

Dragomir grimaced. “Why, what else have you done?”

“Oh, lotsa things.” Bora tapped her cheek thoughtfully, then winced when she realized she’d touched the slice in the skin from Dragomir’s Catastrophe. “Spliced poodles together with spiders about seven hundred years ago. That was fun. You might, ah, have come across ‘em before… yeah… anyway… and this one time I created a biiiiig orbular monster that was basically the fusion of a balloon and a colony of chipmunks… lived for about a decade, just floating around, ’til some hotshot in the Imperium blew it outta the sky… what did they call it again…? Something weird, I recall.”

“No doubt.” Dragomir didn’t even want to begin trying to picture the thing.

“Oh!” Bora brightened. “One of my favourites was pretty recent. Remember the moat monsters back at your old castle?”

Dragomir grimaced. “Hard to forget. I had to watch those fuckers feed on body parts a couple times a week.”

“Ha ha, well, I was one of those fuckers,” Bora proclaimed proudly. “Or all of them. While you were off wanderin’ the world I may have paid a little visit to your castle ’n gotten myself, y’know, executed. Part of me, anyway. And when they dumped my avatar’s bits into the moat I ‘infected’ all the moat monsters. Got to control the things by remote, more or less. Shit, there was this one time, when I was a spider, and the castle was coming apart around me - “

Dragomir cut her story off with a curt shake of his head. “Ugh! This is fuckin’ foul! How many of you are there?”

Wrinkling her nose at the interruption, Bora furrowed her brow in thought. Her eyes glowed the faintest tinge of green before dulling to white again. “Right now, only four. One’s here, talkin’ to you. One’s in the Imperium, keeping an eye on their senate. The third’s somewhere along the southern coast. Used to be five, but, ah, I… kinda… had to dissolve one of ‘em. Remember Tobo?”

“The mailman,” Dragomri confirmed. “Yeah. I wondered. Great. So that’s three. Where’s number four?”

Bora’s smile - Dragomir realized it had been growing over the course of the conversation - disappeared. She looked away, suddenly shy, and clicked the heels of her boots together. Rather than responding she took a long sip from her water, too long to be anything but calculated. She looked as though she wanted to shrink into a corner and vanish entirely, but something - obligation to finally tell the truth, perhaps? - kept her rooted to her barstool.

Dragomir knew the answer regardless. “… me. It’s me, isn’t it? I’m number four.”

Bora nodded slowly. “Yeah. Technically. I don’t control you like the others, but… you’re also me.”

Those three words - ‘You’re also me’ - filled Dragomir with an abrupt rage and despair that he couldn’t fight. He’d been holding them back or so long that that the floodgates burst, releasing all of the emotions he’d internalized since returning from Iko’s underground sanctuary. He slammed his head into the bar, against Bora’s shocked protests, smacking it against the wood again and again until blood ran freely from the broken skin. He barely noticed the pain, however, as it mingled with his constant headaches, seeming almost unimportant by contrast. He howled, and when Bora reached over to touch his shoulder he pulled away so violently that he fell off of his stool and hit the ground.

“Dragomir - !”

Stay away from me!” he insisted, tears now pouring down his cheeks. “YOU MADE ME THIS WAY SO YOU JUST STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME! I… I… I… I just… I JUST WANTED A NORMAL LIFE, AND… JUST and… and… and… and now I don’t even… I’m not even real, I’m just a piece of you…”

Shaking her head, Bora dropped onto the ground beside him. Dragomir skittered away as though she were on fire. “But you are real! You’re a person! You’re still a person, dammit!”

I’m a clone!” Dragomir yelled, curling into a foetal position. “A copy! A duplicate! A trace! A… a doppel-fuckin’-ganger! That… that other… that moron who’s out… partying… right now… he’s…

Bora kept her distance, but she spread her hands, as if inviting Dragomir to a hug. “But he’s not you. I mean… yeah… he’s Dragomir… but you’re Dragomir, too. You’re different from anybody. You’ve got the same shaggy hair, maybe, and that same dopey smile, and the same lanky build, but he’s not half as smart as you. You’re… okay, maybe you’re a little naive, sometimes, but he’s a straight-up idiot. And, fuck, that guy’s a horndog. A nice horndog, but a hardcore pervert, just like his dad. You’re… you’re too sweet, too polite, too damned decent to act the way he does.”

Dragomir peered between his arms to glare at her. He didn’t say anything.

Bora dropped onto her knees. She was staring at the floorboards in the dim candlelight, hands folded on her lap. She looked like a nun at prayer. “He could never have built a town like this. He could never have led an expedition, a successful expedition, from one end of the world to the other. He could never inspire people the way you do. He… well, let’s just say it, Libby never would have fallen in love with him. If you want a difference you can believe, there’s a big one for you.”

Dragomir unfolded, though he continued to clutch his knees, rocking gently to calm himself. Glimmers of red and green brushed harmlessly against his skin, circling his wrists. He held one arm up and pointed at the faint hints of the Catastrophe. “Yeah. Sure. And he doesn’t… he doesn’t have this.”

Bora frowned. Dragomir had never seen her look so profoundly unhappy. “No. He doesn’t have that.”

Dragomir shuddered a sigh. Bora scooted closer, moving in increments until she was sitting beside him. Slowly, tentatively, she rested her head on his shoulder, and he allowed her. He didn’t have the strength to push her away anymore.

“It hurts,” he admitted, poking a finger into his forehead. “It hurts all the time.”

“I know,” Bora said, resting her hand on his. “I can feel it, too. Only a little bit, but enough. I’m so sorry.”

“Can…” Abandoning the cynicism he’d embraced over the past year for just a moment, Dragomir asked a question he knew would fail him with the genuine hope that he might be wrong. “Can you do anything about it?”

Bora could have offered a highly scientific explanation as to why she couldn’t. She could have detailed exactly how Dragomir had come to be saddled with such a terrible glitch, even if most of her description was hobbled by guesswork and hypotheses. She could have taken a more humanist approach and tried to soothe Dragomir with honeyed words and vague promises of a better future to come. She offered none of that, though, and simply stroked his hand. He started to cry again, but he felt all of his hatred of the woman wash away in an instant, replaced by bitter gratitude. At least she hadn’t pandered to vain hopes. He wondered if he’d ever really hated Bora, if he’d always been hiding behind the shame of what he was… or perhaps the shame of what he’d briefly wanted her to be.

“So I’m going to die,” Dragomir said.

“Yes,” Bora admitted.

“And some magic blue fireball isn’t gonna save me this time. Even if I went out and found one.”


Dragomir thought about that for several quiet minutes before speaking again. He decided to settle for humour. It felt like an eon since he’d tried to joke about anything.

“I… man, everyone’s gonna be pissed that they’ll… y’know… have to have another funeral for me,” he said, struggling to smile past his sniffs and snorts. “Probably just… think it’s a… y’know, like, it’ll be boring, compared to the first one, if they even had one. I don’t know. But I bet it’ll be… really dull, like. They’ll… they’ll probably skimp on all the cool stuff you usually… usually get at funerals. And only the… only the close people’ll bother coming. Everyone else’ll be all ‘Oh, well, he’ll probably be back in a couple days, so why bother?’ Bet I’ll only get… um… Libby… ’n Fynn… maybe Eve… dad, probably not, he’s an ass, but mom - ”

“If it makes you feel any better,” Bora cut in, voice hoarse and thick, “you’ll have two moms in attendance. Though I might be in the box next to yours.”

They cried together for a long time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day Eight-Ninety-One: Is it me you're looking for

For one terrible second, Dragomir didn’t know what to say, what to feel, or what to think. He was utterly without expression, an inanimate object, devoid of life. Then, as though the flood gates of his soul had burst opened, rage seeped uncontrollably into his veins.

You,” he rasped again, fingers clenching into blackened claws. Half of his face melted into oily darkness.

“Yep.” Bora took a sip from her glass, wincing as she did. “Y’know, I always had to fake liking this swill. Not what I’ve got here, specifically, but alcohol. Tough to be a barmaid if you don’t show at least a little bit of an inclination - “

Bora stopped short as Dragomir stumbled off of his stool. Limbs swaying weirdly, he allowed his head to droop, chin striking his chest. His whole body was turning black, now, his clothes disappearing into a smoothed, muscled surface that grew and grew as his madness swelled. Soon he was towering over Bora, almost ten feet tall, and both figures disappeared into the darkness as one of Dragomir’s claws brushed the bar’s single candle and snuffed it. Only Dragomir’s glowing green eyes, almost violently green, illuminated the gloom.

“I guess,” Bora whispered, taking another sip, “this’s one way it could go down.”

Sweeping one arm sideways with a strength he didn’t know he possessed, Dragomir knocked Bora from her stool. Growling, he stooped over her, pinning her in place with a knee to her stomach. She grunted loudly, coughing up something liquidy, and Dragomir leered in at her, his face as inhuman as anything he’d ever fought in the past four years. He opened his mouth and roared at Bora, the shrill caw of an enraged, unearthly eagle.

Bora flinched away, or as far away as she could get. But she didn’t struggle, didn’t change forms, didn’t try to free herself. She closed her eyes and waited, shaking slightly, either from fear or the pressure on her belly.

Die,” Dragomir hissed, hovering one clawed hand in front of her face. “Die, damn your fuckin’ black soul.

“If… mine’s… bl… bla…” Bora tried to speak, but Dragomir pressed his knee even harder into her belly. She settled for a weak flick of her wrist, from herself to Dragomir.

He got the implication. “Then mine is too, I guess? Fine. That’ll make this easier.

Dragomir’s spindly fingers spread, and with unruly concentration he pulled the Catastrophe to life, ignoring the blossom of pain in his temples. Green pixels swirled around his fingers, at first a small circle, soon a blossoming cloud. They arced and flowed inches above Bora’s face, and when one dipped low enough to cut her cheek, she yelped - but nothing more. Her eyes remained firmly shut.

Dragomir hissed again, hand shaking. For a reason he didn’t immediately understand he held the Catastrophe back, one metaphorical hand on the switch that activated the weapon in his brain. The pixels shuddered at the pressure, but they maintained their unsteady orbit. “You feelin’ too fuckin’ guilty to fight back, bitch?

Bora shook her head. Dragomir noticed dully that her hair had grown back, and it was almost eclipsing the sides of her face. For a time he thought he’d loved that face, that hair, that exotic brown skin, that… everything. But the love had been a lie, half concocted by his son and half by this thing, and now all those wonderful attributes were mere artifice for an ugly, ugly creature hiding beneath. And yet… yet

SAY SOMETHING,” he demanded.

Choking, Bora pointed to the knee on her stomach. Grudgingly, Dragomir replaced the knee with a claw. His fingers grew so long and thin that he wondered how they held such incredible strength as to pin a grown woman, well, single-handedly. The fact that she didn’t seem to want to fight back probably helped.

Coughing loudly, Bora took a moment to compose herself. Then, her voice phlegmy, she spoke. “You don’t… augh, fuck, that hurt… you… you don’t have it… in you… to kill me…”

Anger and irritation bloomed in Dragomir a second time, and he lowered his tone an octave. The Catastrophe grew enough that two of the swirling pixels sliced strands of hair from her bangs. “You wanna bet on that? You just fuckin’ wanna bet?

“I already… did…” Bora pointed out, cringing. “Besides… I… I honestly… don’t know… what’ll happen to you… if you… you… kill me…”

That bit of logic gave Dragomir pause, and his anger subsided a notch or two. He considered the story he’d been told, of his connection to Bora, how he’d been a part of her at one point, and wondered what exactly would happen if he gave in to the delicious impulse to put the Catastrophe through her face. Would his body give in and immediately collapse? Would the Non part of him shrivel up and leave behind a perfectly normal human being? Would he remain exactly as he was now? Or would something he could never even begin to imagine or fathom happen instead?

Bora waited. She’d opened her eyes again and she was watching him, wincing at the intense glow of his own gaze. He wondered if she had similar eyes, or if she’d given up her own, normal Non form long ago in order to appear as the bug-like monstrosity he’d witnessed when last they’d met.

“You can’t… kill me,” Bora said, after several taut moments of silence, “because you’re too… good… for that.”

Fuck you,” Dragomir replied.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Ninety: Hi

The bar, through some miracle, was empty.

Dragomir wasn’t too surprised. The parties of Pubton seemed to be raging almost exclusively in the streets, the product of good weather and a desire for the entire city - or as much of the city seemed amenable - to get in on the act. Not everyone could cram themselves into this small hole-in-the-wall - nor were they likely to, as Pubton had two other, larger, cleaner venues to choose from as well. The Hog’s Arse was not a terribly auspicious choice. Still, it seemed strange that even the proprietor wasn’t in the pub, cleaning up after the dinner crowd.

Don’t worry about that none, Dragomir thought, pushing the door open, the city’s skeleton key in his hand. He’d stolen it from Harold’s office. Get a drink. Get. A. Drink.

Closing the door behind him, Dragomir took a quick look around. The pub was enshrouded in darkness and silence, an alcohol-smelling tomb of the foulest kind. Most of the chairs were tipped over; your shoes stuck to the floor whenever you took a step; the countertop, and indeed most of the tables, was coated in a sickly mess of who-knows-what; and the only source of illumination was a single, burning candle, apparently ignored by the owner. Dragomir scowled, thinking of the fire codes he’d tried to institute as mayor.

The thought gave him pause once the rage had subsided. “Mayor,” he murmured, voice dry and rattling. It seemed so long ago, his time as mayor. The long days of toiling to build a community from the ground up. Created from a single pub. (And a much better one than this.) What an accomplishment! Back then he’d known exactly what he needed to do, because the people constantly told him what needed to be done, and he could see exactly what their demands entailed. Somebody needs water? Fine! You dig a damned well. Easy-peasy.

War did not work the same way. War dealt with possibilities. War was a gamble. Building a city was the same, but the results were often more predictable. Constructing that same well typically resulted in benefits. Everybody needs water. But sending a contingent soldiers off to fight a battalion of Non… sometimes they would win, sometimes they would not. When they did not win, they usually died. No doubt their odds could be stacked through proper implementation of strategy, tactics, and all that bullshit, but Dragomir had never properly learned how to act the commander.

That was your job, old man. You barely got me started on the basics.

Dragomir shook his head. Thinking about the past hurt too much. Why was he considering this shit in the first place? He’d come here to forget, not to remember.

Creeping across the pub - even though he’d thoroughly checked from the outside to make sure no one was lingering here - Dragomir made for the bar. He’d spent incredibly little time in any pub of Pubton since the beginning of the campaign against the Non. Indeed, he’d spent little time in Pubton itself. Still, he knew he would find the alcohol beneath the lip of the bar, and after one final sweeping confirmation that he was alone he craned over the bar and grabbed for any bottle he could find. It didn’t take long to find a particularly odorific cask filled with sloshing amber liquid.

I wonder if Grayson ever got drunk while he was on the road, Dragomir thought, staring at the bottle in the dim candlelight. Bet that June bitch got ‘im sloshed a few times. Just for laughs. Well, they’re both gone, now, so… guess it’s moot…

Dragomir shook his head. More strange thoughts. What did Grayson have to do with anything? He was dead. He was gone. Officially, this time. Good riddance. Fuck ‘im.


Gone, along with… so many other people.

Dragomir plopped down onto a stool. He yanked at the cork in the bottle, and it came free with a gentle pop. As he raised the cask to his lips - Gods, that fuckin’ smell, that’s foul - the names of the fallen dead zipped through his mind, unbidden, unwanted, unneeded. Robert. Edmund. Grylock. Pagan. Celine. Morris. Hell, even Bernard. And now… Dragomir’s own son… his son -

Dragomir took a deep swig. The alcohol flowed liberally into his mouth, sloshing from one cheek to the other, burning all the way down his throat. He choked on the first big gulp, pitching forward as burning fumes snorted out his nostrils. He braced himself, pounding the table with one hand, and, after a moment’s reprise, took another, smaller drink. It burned no less than the first, and he gagged on the terrible taste.

“Ugh, what is this shit?” Dragomir grunted, twisting the bottle to see the name in the candlelight. It was too dim, however, and he had to practically shove the bottle into the flame to discover that it was a mystery liquid, with no label. He could have been drinking turpentine, for all he -

“It’s Demitre ’64,” a familiar voice said from behind the bar. “Not a good year. Demitre didn’t know shit about making booze. Though you’d find just about any alcohol foul, kiddo. It’s a physiology thing.”

Dragomir jolted to a halt. The bottle tumbled from his fingers, hit the ground, rolled, and emptied the remaining liquid onto the floorboards. The burning sensation that tickled the back of Dragomir’s throat froze, as though someone had shoved a block of ice into his mouth, and his eyes took turns twitching. His mouth worked in strained spasms, trying to utter a word he didn’t want to say. A name.

Eventually, after several pregnant seconds of silence, he managed a raspy “You.”

“Me,” Litobora the Many replied from the other end of the bar. She raised a glass. “Cheers.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Nine: I have a problem

Despite the joy of the evening, Dragomir had no intention of joining in.

The people of Pubton were out in droves. Robbed of good news for months, the humans, goblins, orcs, and snake people had congregated in the streets to welcome the heroes of the campaign against the Non. Most of the heroes were sleeping by now, granted, but that didn’t stop anyone from having a party. It was an unusual display of solidarity in a town often split between goblins and everyone else, and racial tensions were set aside for a few hours. No one remarked on the fact that they’d been united by a common hatred of yet another race, as that would no doubt put a damper on the festivities.

Dragomir wanted to avoid it all. He knew if he was spotted that he would be hailed as some sort of savior. He was, after all, the most visible leader of the war effort against the Non - or at least he was here.

Risking a transformation into his Non form, Dragomir took to the rooftops of Pubton, hopping stealthily from one home to another, hiding behind cobblestone chimneys and tall weathervanes whenever someone came into view on the streets below. Everyone was very drunk, so it wasn’t too difficult for a shadow to go unseen amongst shadows. Dragomir watched the party-goers with glittering green eyes, a mixture of contempt and longing swirling beneath his eyelids.

Yet, he mused, leaping from the roof of a smithy to the town barracks, that ain’t really what’s bothering me. I shouldn’t give two craps ‘bout these people. They aren’t at fault. That prize goes to someone -

Sparks erupted from Dragomir’s fingers as he landed, swirling around his hand at a frenetic pace. Dragomir gasped, nearly losing his footing as he landed on the edge of the barracks, and he slumped forward to avoid spilling into the street. The sudden, pixelated storm chewed at the roofing, ripping gashes in the wood, and Dragomir forced his arm into the air with a pained grunt. His vision, normally a faint tinge of green as a Non, nearly whited out entirely. He gasped, concentrating on consciousness. How would he explain skulking about on rooftops the next day, after all? He needed to stay awake.

Focus kept him awake. Focus allowed him to shut down the coruscating Catastrophe after several moments of strain. Focus forced Dragomir back onto this feet, panting, glaring at anything and everything that could serve as a source of blame for his current condition. A wad of dried dove poo atop the barracks did the job.

I hate you, Dragomir thought, glaring at the poo. Lemme think about that for a moment. I hate the shit out of you, ’n that’s why I need to keep it together.

The poo did not respond to Dragomir’s mental hatred. it did not seem to have much of an opinion about anything.

After a few seconds of concentrated dislike, Dragomir sighed, shoulders sagging. The pain in his head subsided a little, and the tingling sensation in his arm faded. The sparks of the Catastrophe took several more seconds to disappear entirely, but they stopped ripping away at reality itself, and Dragomir contented himself with the fact.

“Gotta stop doin’ that,” he said, quietly, to the poo. “’s gonna kill me, if I keep using that thing. Whether I mean to or not.”

The poo neither validated or refuted Dragomir’s beliefs on the subject. It was, he thought, a good listener. He liked that, because people seemed too bent on offering opinions and ideas these days.

Why don’t we send this contingent of zombies east? They could cut off the Non supply lines. We know they have at least a minimal supply line.

Why not send people off to find the dragons? Maybe they’ll fight for us again. Freely, this time.

What if we gathered up a bunch of rats? Sure, they aren’t smart anymore, but maybe they still have some power in ‘em. We could use that. Maybe.

I still think we should levy some sort of mercenaries’ fee on our services. Bill it to the Imperium. I mean, hell, we barely get paid as it is - 

The ship is a mess. Repairs, that’s what’s needed. And some upgrades! Upgrades would be great on this tub. I’d like a sun room, personally -

If we borrowed some cannons, we could really -

Maybe we should get a -

Hey, look, listen to this -

Are you listening?

Dragomir, I - 

What -

I think we need rocks. Big rocks. We could throw the rocks.

Dragomir stopped. His hands had been shaking hard, the tremor growing with the memories of each suggestion that had passed his ear in the last week, but they died as soon as that last one came to mind. It was stupid, it was ridiculous, it was inane, and it was spoken in a voice that sounded way too familiar, a voice that grated at Dragomir’s brain and set his teeth together in a clenched line. It was his voice.

The Catastrophe erupted again, this time much stronger and larger than before. The sparks flew out of both of Dragomir’s hands, curving around his arms in arcs that became looser and looser with every second. The jagged squares sizzled in the air, leaving behind the vague scent of sulphur every time they struck the roof of the barracks. Realizing far too late just how agitated he’d become, Dragomir leaped, trying to keep the murderous pixels away from anyone and everyone - 

- and, hanging in midair, peering down, he realized two things: one, he’d jumped almost twenty feet into the air, and two, he’d left a huge hole in the roof of the barracks. He could see training equipment through the enormous, collapsing scar. The wonderment inherent in both of these acts killed the Catastrophe, but not before Dragomir had spent several long seconds suspended in limbo, surrounded by flecks of deadly red and green. He was the world’s deadliest firework, and through some miracle no one in the city had noticed him.

Dragomir landed smoothly on the far edge of the barracks. He didn’t turn to look at the hole he’d created. He refused to acknowledge the roiling pain in his noggin, now so intense that he suspected his ears were bleeding. And he most certainly ignored the face that kept surfacing in his thoughts, a vapid expression so gleeful and hated that Dragomir knew he might put a dagger through it if he met the man on the streets tonight. The fact that he probably still couldn’t carry a weapon didn’t matter, he would find a way to murder the guy.

He really needed a drink.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Eight: A clear message

The Sky Bitch landed outside Pubton a day after Logan and Dragomir’s short meeting. 

The great flying machine’s chugging, graceless descent from the sky was enough to stop a few hearts, both aboard the ship and on the walls surrounding the city. Though it made it to Pubton well enough - a bit slow, perhaps, but well enough - the Sky Bitch teetered precipitously as it hit the ground, one of its landing struts failing to extend. The hull listed dangerously to one side, and the squealing groan of stressed metal convinced at least one person that this was the end.

It was not, of course, the end. The Sky Bitch lolled to one side, threatened to roll, and then stopped. Everyone got off. Injuries were minor. (Eve stubbed her toe. She didn’t tell anyone.)

Celebrations were had. The war-weary enjoyed a massive feast in their honour, thrown by King Gok, of all people. And as great heaps of steaming, greasy food appeared on tables and disappeared down gullets, people raised their glasses to the fallen. To the soldiers of the Imperium, to the people of the Imperium, even to the werewolves who had died in the course of stopping the Non. A few people wondered why they’d been forced to go to such incredible lengths for an empty spit of land, but a major victory against the Non was, still, a major victory against the Non. No one begrudged that.

To everyone’s surprise, King Gok led a toast to Pagan. Everyone participating in the feast joined in. More than a few wondered if Pagan’s ‘slaves’, now officially freed by Pagan’s death, would be excited by the news - yet their drooping heads and watery eyes betrayed them as the saddest of all.

The revellers revelled long into the night, not dispersing until the wee hours of the morning. Few things happened beyond the scope of the party during that time. Antonio went to visit his sister, who, with her pack, was prowling outside Pubton; Evangelina processed several documents in her small apartment, keenly aware of how unwelcome she now was in any party situation; Libby tinkered with the Sky Bitch’s navigation systems; Eve ate a rat.

Dragomir dreamed.

Despite the awful content of Dragomir’s dreams, he’d never given up on sleep. He enjoyed the act of casting aside waking life too much to abandon going to bed every night, even if it meant suffering through horrible visions of a future that could be, that might be. Yet ever since the fall of the tower and the unleashing of the Catastrophe’s energies Dragomir had found himself without dreams, and the inky absence seemed to exhaust him more and more every day, regardless of the number of hours he spent with his head shoved into a pillow.

His dream on this particular night at first came as welcome relief. Some of the fatigue that had been slipping into Dragomir’s body immediately drained, and he could tell that the dream was, somehow, responsible. But then the dream got into full swing, and Dragomir was far less thankful, because Traveller was the first person he saw.

“Hi,” Traveller said. He was not wearing an eyepatch, and his hair was much shorter than normal. “You have something that belongs to me.”

“Yeah,” Dragomir replied, pulling back. “Gonna keep it, too, if you don’t mind.”

“But I do,” Traveller insisted. He took three steps forward. “I’d like it back. I’d like it all back.”

“Tough.” Dragomir retreated just as many paces. “You can’t have it. It’s mine. I’ll… I’ll kill you if you come any closer.”

Traveller smiled, the expression both understanding and sad. He continued to stalk forward, his usual, clumsy gait replaced by the lithe pacing of a predatory animal. Dragomir turned away and began to run, flying across the green dreamscape of his mind as he dropped to all fours, skin an oily black. But his flight wasn’t good enough, and somehow, somehow, casually-strolling Traveller caught up. Nothing Dragomir did could pull him away from his grisly fate, and as he rose up to claw at Traveller’s face, perhaps to pull out his good eye, Traveller swatted him to the ground.

Towering over Dragomir, Traveller tapped his empty eye socket. “You didn’t do this. I know that. Which is why I’ve decided that we can share. Don’t worry about it too much.”

Dragomir raised his hands, trying to fight off the inevitable, but Traveller fell upon him, the unstoppable power of his muscles easily pinning Dragomir. Both men screamed -

- and Dragomir woke up in his bed, a similar scream passing his lips. Sweat poured down his skin in thick sheets, and a chilled shiver coursed through his body.

It took Dragomir almost a minute to pull himself together. He mopped the sweat from his brow with his blanket as he got out of bed, staggering slightly from the combination of a dull headache and being jolted out of sleep. He felt vaguely nauseous, wondering, in all the horror of the vision, what time it was, and he staggered to the window to peer at the sky. The room was darker than when he’d gone to sleep, so it must be -

“Back,” a muffled voice insisted through the window pane.

Dragomir fell on his ass with another scream, another thrill of absolute terror sweeping along his veins. Traveller, shaggy, one-eyed Traveller was staring through the window at him, one hand pressed against the glass. Dragomir could only see the faintest silhouette from a light across the street, yet he knew this was Traveller, knew as thoroughly as he knew that he owed the scraggly man something he could never properly replace.

“You’re naked,” Traveller noted, voice just barely audible through the glass. “I think I gave you that, didn’t I?”

Dragomir puffed, pulling his blanket from the bed and covering himself. “Get… get the fuck out of here…”

Traveller grinned. His fingers tightened slightly, and as they did the glass beneath them creaked. A spiderweb of cracks shot across the pane, but it did not break. “You should go get yourself a drink. Yep, that sounds about right.”

Get out of here,” Dragomir hissed. He staggered to his feet, struggling to remain covered as he ran for the door. “I’ll call the fucking guards - “

Traveller smashed through the wall of Dragomir’s house with the ease of a child ripping apart paper, smiling ghoulishly all the while. His arms reached for Dragomir, stretching to impossible lengths for a human, and Dragomir wondered, even as he tried to run, whether or not Traveller was as much a freak as himself. Dragomir stretched his own legs, trying to force himself into a leaping bound, but Traveller caught him, he chuckled and caught Dragomir, and with a satisfied grunt Traveller dragged Dragomir to his chest - and both men screamed -

- and Dragomir woke up in his bed, a similar scream passing his lips. Sweat poured down his skin in thick sheets, and a chilled shiver coursed through his body.

He needed a drink.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Seven: Give it to me

“Man. You guys have it easy.”

Plato shot Dragomir an ugly look, though there was little malice in the expression. “Do you call being imprisoned for months ‘easy’, then?”

Dragomir flicked a hunk of debris off of the Sky Bitch’s small observation deck. It was a new addition, and construction was still underway, but he enjoyed the feel of the wind on his face. “Well, you didn’t have to think about a whole lot at the time, did ya? Just kinda went with the flow.”

Plato snorted. The rat snorted, too, perched atop Plato’s head. “Take our place ’n maybe you’d think otherwise. Your son was kind of, um, a jerk.”

Dragomir smiled sadly. “You can call him worse than that, if you want. I won’t take offence.”

“Okay.” Plato cleared his throat, tail slapping against the floorboards as he did. “He was a bit of a bastard.”

“Just a bit?”

“Well, maybe more than a bit.”

The rat nodded.

“Yeah, I know.” Dragomir sighed. “He was our bastard, though. Wish we’d, I dunno, worked it out of him. Or something. How do you work bastardry out of a person when they’re a child? I still don’t know. My kids don’t remain kids long enough for us to properly raise ‘em.”

Plato shrugged. “Non stay kids for a lot longer than humans. I was a child for, uh… twenty years, I think. So the rearing bits last a while. I’ve got a different perspective.”

“But…” Dragomir bit his lip, not sure if Plato knew or not. “I’m a Non, though, at least partly, ’n it sounds like I was never a kid. I don’t think.”

“Explains why you’re a bit of a bastard, then,” Plato quacked.

“I liked you more when you didn’t talk.”

A not-so-quiet footstep on the deck behind them cut off their brief repartee. Dragomir glanced over his shoulder to see his son, his younger son, staring at him. Dragomir quickly realized that Julius was not on Fynn’s shoulder, for once, which he found odd mainly because he hadn’t realized just how omnipresent the spider now was in Fynn’s life.

“Dad?” Fynn said softly, though not so softly that his voice was drowned out by the hum of the air flowing past the ship. “Logan wants to see you now.”

“Oh, gee, does he,” Dragomir muttered. “Glad I could fit into his majesty’s schedule.”

Plato shrugged, and his rat did, too. Dragomir vowed to ask, one day, just how the rat had avoided losing its sentience like the rest of its kin. And his diary, for that matter - the little thing was still dancing around his feet as vigorously as ever, and he knew it would skitter after him when he left the deck. “Fine. C’mon. Let’s go talk to Logan.”

Fynn quietly led his father through the ship and back to the meeting room, neither of them speaking. Dragomir watched his son’s hunched back as they walked, both a little annoyed and a little guilty at his son. Fynn had more or less become Logan’s right-hand man, the de facto commander of Logan’s werewolf troupe, and in doing so he seemed to have arrayed himself on the opposite side of a struggle Dragomir had only just realized existed. At the same time, though, Dragomir realized that Fynn was the neglected son, the guy in the family that drew less attention than his brother and sister, even when one of them was dead.

Dragomir felt bad for that. He felt really bad for that.

“How you holding up, kiddo?” Dragomir asked, partway along the trip.”

“I’m fine,” Fynn replied shortly.

“Uh… anything new?” Dragomir pressed. “Anything cool happen to you?”

Fynn’s back muscles stiffened visibly beneath his shirt, but he shook his shaggy head. “Not really.”

Dragomir sighed. Apparently Fynn realized that he was the neglected son these days, too.

Logan was waiting for Dragomir where he’d been sitting earlier, at the head of the ovular table in the captain’s quarters. There was no head, normally, but as Dragomir surveyed the room he gained the distinct impression that anywhere Logan sat was automatically the focal point of the discussion. Logan was reading over reports - reports that might normally have come to Dragomir, though he’d admittedly foisted off such responsibilities the last few days - and he cocked an eyebrow as Fynn entered.

“See ya,” Fynn said, and disappeared past Dragomir. He slid through the door with an oil agility that belied his size.

Dragomir waved his son away, then turned to Logan. “You wanted t’see me, boss man?”

Logan cringed, scratching his fuzzy chin. “Uh, yeah. Sorta. Have a seat.”

“I’ll stand.” Dragomir pushed the door shut and leaned on it. “Care to jump right to it ’n skip formalities?”

Logan pushed his papers aside and tried to sit up as straight as he could. Lacking proper legs, he seemed to find this rather difficult, and slid back to his previous semi-hunch. “Bah. Okay, fine. Yeah, I’m kinda moving into a leadership something-or-other. Don’t like it, but nobody else I trust wants it. That what you wanted to hear?”

The headache already roiling in Dragomir’s brain grew one size, then receded back to its usual ache. He always seemed to have a headache, these days. Made him quite irritable. “So you don’t trust me anymore, then.”

“Nope.” Logan steepled his fingers. “Sorry. But it’s true. And I know it ain’t your fault. That’s just the way things are.”

“Plato’s a Non. You don’t seem to distrust him.”

Logan took a breath. “It’s not just that you’re a Non. You’re also some kinda weapon. You’re meant to do work for them. And for the rats, apparently, wherever they are now. Plus you helped birth another, possibly more dangerous weapon. As well as a maniac who nearly destroyed the world. And there’s - “

“We don’t think Grayson was ever my kid,” Dragomir murmured darkly.

Logan waved the implications away. “And there’s the Catastrophe. Or Crimson Catastrophe. Or Green Catastrophe. Or whatever the hell you’re callin’ it these days. You still have that thing, right? It’s still in you?”

Dragomir winced at the mention of his weapon. By way of response he held out a hand, and a flurry of red-and-green, block sparks coalesced around his fingertips. They did not solidify as they used to, however, and instead swirled chaotically around his arm. One of the sparks flew so far from his body that it touched the edge of the table, tearing a chunk out of the wood. As Logan pulled away - though he was in no real danger - Dragomir deactivated the power as best he could, temples raging with pain.

“That’s… that’s about it, these days…” Dragomir gasped. “Whatever… augh… whatever happened… back there… kinda… fucked it up…”

“So I see,” Logan said, voice almost spiteful. “That’s… somehow even worse ’n what it was before. You didn’t look like you were much in control of that.”

Dragomir shook his head. “I… kinda wasn’t.”

“And what if you can’t control it during a fight?” Logan pounded one fist against the table. “What if you try ’n use it and our own guys pay the price? Hell, what if you do use it properly, but it puts you down for the count and we don’t have leadership? That isn’t gonna work, Dragomir. You’ve gotta let me take over. Even if it’s just behind the scenes.”

Pushing himself back into a standing position, Dragomir breathed hard until the agony raging in his skull abated a little. He forced Logan to wait just as long before responding. “I… hell, kid, when did you… when did you get so power-hungry?”

“I’m not,” Logan insisted. “Losing a sister changed my priorities a little. That, ’n… other things.”

Other things.

Dragomir turned away and popped open the door. “It’s still my army for now, kid. You do what you gotta do.”

“I will,” Logan promised behind him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Six: The 'ol Heave-Ho

“This is far from over.”

Dragomir cracked his knuckles, mainly because he didn’t know what else to do. “Yeah, I know. Pretty obvious it’s not over. What are you getting at?”

General Landry scowled. He rubbed the stump of his left arm with his right hand. It was still heavily bandaged. “I’m saying that you can’t be leavin’. Not now. We need your help out here. They’re runnin’ roughshod over our lands, ’n you have an obligation to stop ‘em.”

“I’m not sure I see how,” Logan cut in. He was sitting across the table from the two older men, fingers steepled. Dragomir could barely tell that he had no legs below the knees. “We came in and saved your butts. We don’t have an obligation t’do anything. Can’t you handle the rest yourselves?”

Landry shook his head, huffing. He looked to Dragomir as though he was having trouble containing his irritation. “Without the masters… wherever they went… we’re lackin’ in coordination, all of a sudden. The lack ‘o dragons doesn’t help matters much, either. We’re hurtin’ bad, and we need help to keep those bastards contained. You’re the only ones we can ask. As for obligation…”

Reaching beneath the meeting table - it was still a struggle, Dragomir could tell, for the general to live with only one arm - Landry grabbed at a sack. Hefting it onto the table, he rooted through it, producing a small bundle of papers. It took Landry only a moment to sift through the papers and find what he was looking for.

“‘The ‘Non’, as we have learned they are called, originate from a small, independent castle with an ever-changing name,” Landry said, his slight country drawl disappearing as he read from the parchment. “‘We have determined that they were released from some form of captivity vis a vie the actions of the castle’s administrative staff, as well as the Non’s current leader, the penguin Kierkegaard. The extent of human culpability in the appearance of the Non is, as of this time, unknown, though the king is suspected to be involved.’”

A loud silence followed. No one quite looked at Jeffrey - he was sitting in a chair, off to one side of Logan - but everybody seemed to be observing him, all the same.

“I take it you don’t deny these reports, then?” Landry eventually asked, waving his papers. “They’re pretty reliable, far as I know. M’men aren’t usually wrong. Besides, the masters… er, sorry, the rats… kinda hinted at traitors being responsible for the release of the Non.”

“It’s not completely wrong, I guess,” Dragomir admitted, biting his lip. He wondered how long there had been Imperium spies among his people, and who they might be. He supposed it didn’t really matter, though. “Still, you’re asking a lot, here. Everything we’ve got? We need to protect Pubton, too…”

Tossing the parchments aside, Landry slammed his fist down on the table. “T’hell with one city! It’s not even under siege! Kierkegaard’s entire damned army is strollin’ ‘round the Imperium like they own the damned place, and if we let ‘em continue they may just get their way! Hell, given what I’ve heard ‘bout that penguin, there might not be an Imperium left by the time they’re done their grand tour! You stand to lose just as much as us by holdin’ back! I don’t know why we’re arguin’ over this!”

The thought of his friends and family unattended in Pubton made Dragomir want to speak up. Landry was asking for virtually every single fighting man and woman at Dragomir’s disposal to come out and battle the Non. The general’s argument would indeed leave Pubton utterly undefended, as every guardsman in the place - and there were already too few - would get shipped out to join the war effort. He was on the verge of stepping up and speaking, too, but weighing the general’s position against his own tripped up Dragomir’s mind…

… and Logan beat him to the punch. “We’re not saying we want to withdraw, general. But it’s unreasonable for us to commit everything we have to you. We need t’hold some back, in case of emergencies.”

Landry rolled his eyes. “I’d say the state of the Imperium qualifies as an emergency right now, lad. Last I checked, the Non have sacked twenty-two communities, ’n they’re on their way towards twenty-three as we speak. We’re runnin’ out of places to live.”

People are going to die, Dragomir thought. And that’s the way war works. “Uh, I’d like to add - “

Logan held up a hand to stop Dragomir. “One second. I’d like to add that we have our own issues that could pull us out of helping you period. There’s a power-hungry goblin king sitting in Pubton right now, for example, who would probably make a grab for control of the city if all our guards up and left. There’s also several zombie clan leaders in the city, and if they, er, died… you know what I mean… their troops might squabble over leadership status and give up on us. We’re already having to hide the fact that the rats are out of the picture, and I’d rather not make that situation even worse until we know where the rats went.”

Dragomir winced. He knew exactly where the rats had gone, and Logan, though he didn’t remember the fall of the tower, more or less understood the facts through post-battle briefings. The rats were just rats again. Clearly no one had told Landry yet. “I guess we could bring up the fact - “

Logan threw Dragomir a warning glance and shook his head sharply. “The only fact we need to bring up is the fact that we’re hurting from that last battle. Our werewolves got out in one piece, more or less, but we lost a lotta zombies during the Non retreat. They rammed right into our net of the guys ’n decimated most of ‘em. We’ll need time to get more from the eastern lands.”

Landry cocked an eyebrow, looking from Logan to Dragomir. “I thought you were in charge, ‘ere. The masters always called your lot ‘Dragomir’s army’. Were they wrong?”

Dragomir pursed his lips. “I’m not sure I know any- “

“Don’t change the subject,” Logan pressed. He was leaning forward on his elbows, now, concentrating fully on the general. “You’re asking for almost seven thousand soldiers. We don’t have that many. You also want Eve - “

“Yes, I’d like her,” Landry pressed, turning back to Logan. “She’d be an asset. Though I’m concerned - “

“I appreciate that,” Logan countered, “but we can’t - “

“Well, then,” Landry shot back, “maybe you - “

“No, that’s impossible - “

“But - “

“If we - “

Dragomir quickly lost track of the conversation. Eventually, virtually unnoticed, he got up and left the meeting. Only Jeffrey noticed, and even he missed the slight slump in Dragomir’s shoulders.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Five: Aftermath

“He’s not going to walk again, the way he is.”

The words smacked Dragomir like a boot to the face. He covered his eyes and groaned, from headache and news alike.

“Sh… shit,” he stuttered, crossing his legs beneath his sheets and sitting up. “That’s… oh, man. Ow. Fuck me.”

Dragomir was laying in one of the Sky Bitch’s tiny cabins, though not his own. He’d given it up to Logan, not necessarily of his own will. He’d slept for almost twenty hours before waking up, according to his wife, though it felt like he’d gotten maybe two hours of sleep. Three at the most. He hadn’t dreamed, at least, which was something of a tender mercy.

Libby nodded, head drooping. “Yeah. Well. ‘least the cut was clean. Severed ‘im at the knees. He’s stumpy, like your, uh, dad.”

Dragomir shook his head. “He’s not… augh, my head… he’s not that stumpy. Dad’s still got it… worse…”

Cooing with uncharacteristic gentleness, Libby rubbed Dragomir’s spine. She wasn’t very gentle - Dragomir wondered if her exploratory knuckles were better or worse for his condition - but he let her continue anyway. “I might be able t’do something about it. We’ll see. Almost done with your dad’s harness; can probably fix somethin’ up for Logan, too. Doubt he’ll be a speed demon anymore, tho. That’ll hurt.”

“No doubt.” Dragomir winced, rubbing his temples. “Hand… hand me some water…?”

Libby did, frowning. Ever since he’d awoken Dragomir had suffered from intense migraines above and beyond what he’d endured previously, his complaints sufficient to annoy the crewmen in the next cabin over. Libby assumed that Dragomir’s suffering during the events of the last few days had taken a severe toll on his mind, and she could only hope that he would, somehow, eventually, recover. A doctor would no doubt help on that score.

Sighing, still roughly rubbing Dragomir’s spine, Libby glanced out the small window of their cabin. The Sky Bitch was shuddering along above a thin, sun-baked mountain range, perhaps four hours out from Pubton. Libby had to assume they were that close to Pubton, because she really couldn’t tell. Her ol’ tub wasn’t doing so well, given the dragon attack and subsequent battle, and she knew she’d have to give the SOB one hell of a repair job when they got home.

Repairs. Yes. Those would distract her. Those would do quite nicely.

“Tell me how well we did,” Dragomir asked, laying back, arm over his face. “Distract me.”

Libby rolled her eyes. “We’ve gone over this, for fuck’s sake. I have to tell you again?”

“C’mon.” Dragomir sniffed loudly. “Help… ow… help a guy out. Or… get me a wet towel… for my head. One or t’other.”

Not wanting to move, Libby started to talk.

The war between the Imperium, the Non, and Logan’s last-minute forces had gone rather well, all things told. The Imperium had suffered the most grievous losses, with over a thousand soldiers killed, three times as many wounded, and a significant portion of their armaments destroyed. The Non’s losses were much more difficult to calculate, given their penchant for dissolving into goop after death, but the loss of one of their Nothings - brought down by a powerful flurry of dragon blasts early in the battle - could be counted as quite significant. Logan’s strike force of werewolves fared the best, with only forty of the beasts killed and a hundred or so wounded.

And the Non had retreated. By the gods, they had retreated.

Dragomir thought about that silently for a while, despite the draining effect of using his brain for anything. It was the first real defeat they’d handed to the Non yet, or at least the Non as a collective. The creatures had enjoyed an unparalleled rampage across the Imperium thus far, and it was nice to see Kierkegaard and his cronies kicked off of their high-horses and sent packing. Even if ‘packing’ was simply relocation to other portions of the Imperium that were still filled with innocent bystanders.

Dragomir had done virtually nothing to aid in the defeat of the Non. Despite being chosen by the rats to lead their war against the shadow creatures, all Dragomir had done was… destroy the world. It had gotten better, but still.

Dragomir couldn’t bring himself to discuss the sensation of acting as a device of armageddon. He couldn’t properly process the idea that he had destroyed everything, at least after a fashion. Even if life itself had given him a take-back, he knew he would have to forever live with the idea that he’d eradicated existence for at least a couple of seconds. The idea made him chilly, and weak, and oddly giddy, because the power was still inside him, and he knew it could all happen again, under the proper circumstances. The wrong circumstances.

Libby watched Dragomir silently, not bothering to distract him from his thoughts. She’d stopped talking several minutes ago, because she was too busy realizing just how similar Dragomir was to her dead son. She let the dull ache of his death fester, not allowing his murder to depart from her psyche.

If I reached out and strangled Dragomir, she thought, his throat would turn all black ’n rubbery. Bet I wouldn’t even be able to do it properly. Guess I got that much goin’ for me.

It was the first quiet moment husband and wife had really shared together in a long time. They didn’t enjoy it at all.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Four: Locomotion

It was not slow. It was, in fact, very quick. Though Logan was not spared pain in the process.

Blood dribbling freely down his legs, Logan gasped. He’d never felt such exquisite agony in his lower extremities before. More, though, he’d never been so thoroughly robbed of locomotion, and in its own way that was more torturous than the nails biting his flesh. He yearned, instantly, for the ability to run, to leap, to fly as he’d ever flown. He realized that what he did was flying, perhaps for the first time, and in that moment of restrained clarity he suddenly felt sorry for the rest of the world. They didn’t know what it was like to be him.

Panting laughter, Kierkegaard twitched each of his fingers. It was a small, almost gentle motion, but even the slightest gesture from the penguin tore into Logan’s leg muscles. The prince screamed freely, clutching at his thighs, trying in vain to free them from Kierkegaard’s grasp. He was swift, not strong, and no human - save perhaps Eve and Traveller - stood a chance of overpowering Kierkegaard anyway. 

“You… scream well, y’little brat,” Kierkegaard hissed, the poison flowing through his skin causing him just as much pain - though he was better tempered, more capable of ignoring the waves of itchy heat. “I… wanna… hear… more…”

Kierkegaard twitched again. Logan tried to hold back his yells, but he only succeeded in biting his tongue so hard that he drew blood. Copper flooded his mouth, and his head filled with haze. He stood on the brink of unconsciousness, begging to be plunged into the black depths. There was no more hurt in the depths. There was only bliss.

But Logan was not drawn into the depths he wanted. He was, instead, pulled into the ground.

Logan did not realize his legs were sinking until he was up to his knees in dirt. Yet the dirt did not touch him, did not so much as soil his pants, as it was pouring in around him, slipping into the widening portal Kierkegaard had created beneath Logan. Some stupid part of Logan’s brain felt thankful for this, because his mother always scolded him when he messed up his pants. He was supposed to keep them nice and tidy.

Always gotta be tidy in case some dumb noble shows up lookin’ for a spectacle, Logan thought, quivering, eyesight going in and out in spasmodic waves. Always gotta be tidy. Can’t have messy pants. Or shirt. Or cravat. Or cape. Or crown.

“I can’t… wait… to hear you squeal, little boy,” Kierkegaard rasped, voice almost drowned out by the sound of cannon fire in the not-too-distance. “It’s gonna… be… so… sweeeee - “

Kierkegaard couldn’t finish the sentence. A fresh cannon blast, much closer this time, swallowed his words - and the cannonball itself blasted through his left shoulder. Kierkegaard yowled and straightened, glaring at the spatter of green-and-black ooze creeping out of the sizeable wound. His left arm slumped, and three of the fingers fell away from Logan’s legs, dragged back into the abyss of his personal codespace.

WHO THE… FUCK…?” Kierkegaard roared, raising his head to the skies. “WHO - “

Another cannon blast. This Kierkegaard caught in time, triggering a portal in front of his face to send the ball flying harmlessly into codespace. The penguin craned his head - 

- and immediately caught sight of the airship hovering nearby. It looked rickety, but its cannons seemed to be working just fine - and three of them on the port side were aimed right at him. Three more reports, three more cannonballs, one more portal to stop them all.

LET GO… LET GO OF… MY SON, YOU FREAK!” A voice echoed down from the airship, tinny over the craft’s crude loudspeaker. “I’LL BLOW YOUR… YOUR… YOUR FUCKING… HEAD… RIGHT OFF…”

Kierkegaard grimaced. He recognized the voice, and yelled back the loudest response he could manage. “‘ZAT… YOU, JEFFO? SHOULDA KNOWN… YOU’D BE… HIDING! ALWAYS THE… BRAVE… BRAVE ONE, Y’WERE!”

The cannons bellowed again. His vision still hazy from the poison, Kierkegaard tracked all three shots - but only managed to catch two. The third slammed into his chest, leaving a huge indent in the skin. Kierkegaard woofed as the sphere rebounded off of his rubbery hide, the air knocked out of his lungs. It didn’t penetrate - his skin was incredibly thick there - but the pain… Kierkegaard was struggling to stay awake…

LET HIM GO!” Jeffrey repeated, the quaver in his voice less pronounced now that he’d landed a direct hit. “OR WE’VE GOT MORE FOR YOU!

Green eyes glinting dangerously, Kierkegaard coughed up a thick stream of blood and dropped his beak to the ground. The indent in his chest was slow to reform properly, and the effort of repairing both it and the hole in his shoulder was taxing Kierkegaard to his limit. He was in a bad situation, a really bad situation, and it would take a more-or-less full retreat to escape. No more fighting today for his imperial penguin majesty. And if Kierkegaard went, his army would have to follow. Kierkegaard could admit defeat, of course, but…

But maybe I can do one last nasty thing ‘fore I go.

Kierkegaard couldn’t speak, so he weakly raised his free hand in a gesture of defeat. Moving slowly, he loosened his grip on Logan’s legs, preparing to expel the prince and shunt the portal surrounding his calves over. It was the best way to flee the airship, and he could do it instantly… though it would be his final teleportation for the day. Wouldn’t get him too far away, either.

But it would be far enough. Far enough that Kierkegaard could escape repercussion.


Kierkegaard waved again. His grip on Logan’s legs gave way, and he gingerly extracted his fingernails from Logan’s skin. Grunting, the youth buckled, slumping forward. He was obviously unconscious, the pain too much for his fragile human senses. Kierkegaard decided he might as well end the fight for the kid. He’d fought well… and warriors always deserved battle scars.

Kierkegaard closed the portal enveloping Logan’s calves. In doing so, he severed Logan’s legs at the knees. And as the prince hit the dirt face-first, before the airship could open fire again, Kierkegaard sank into the ground.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Three: You deserve slow

Kierkegaard had never felt so alive.

Growing up, he’d experienced few true battles. Yes, he’d occasionally joined mercenary bands and feudal kingdoms during his time as a lowly court jester, but not once in a thousand years had he been given the opportunity to really scrap. Not with his powers fully unfurled. But when the werewolves appeared… oh, when the werewolves appeared…

Dismissing the notion that something was ever so slightly wrong with his worldview, Kierkegaard leaped out of his portal, expanded to his full size, and waded into the battleground. Almost as large as the Nothings at his back, Kierkegaard stood head-and-shoulders above the other Non, the sunlight casting an orangey hue on his roiling black muscles. He knew that he looked like a god to everyone else, and he revelled in the glory of his unveiled form.

It didn’t scare the werewolves away, of course. But he’d anticipated as much.

Slavering, Kierkegaard charged through the Non lines, smacking dozens of his own troops aside as he made for the werewolves. They slavered back by the dozens, no, by the hundreds, loping eagerly towards him at a ferocious pace. Their attack was so concentrated - perhaps the battle cry he’d screamed was a bit too much - that Kierkegaard abruptly realized that he was, just this once, a wee bit outnumbered. But he could deal with that. Indeed, he’d been counting on this.

Continuing his charge, Kierkegaard drew upon his power and dipped his fingers into dozens of portals, each floating at the ends of his fingernails. They emerged beside the werewolves, expertly flicking the beasts aside at random. He didn’t kill any of the creatures, of course, because his flicks were too controlled… and he’d been counting on that, too, because he needed to experiment. He needed to see.

Or, rather, Emmett needed to see. But he was too much of a pansy to come out onto the battlefield again, even with his fancy new body. Kierkegaard was fine with that. Emmett was a scientist. He belonged in his fleshy lab. He did his best work there, and tended to screw up everything when he went anywhere else. Kierkegaard could perform the field testing.

With each flick a werewolf went flying. One, two, four, six, eight, a dozen, three dozen. Possibly a hundred. Kierkegaard knew he was causing domino effects with each attack, knocking lupine into lupine at subduing speed. But there were still many, so many, where he bowled through the final wall of troops and met the werewolves face-to-face.

Kierkegaard expected at least one of them to try and lunge at his face. He did not expect a scraggly young man to do it instead.

Logan zipped at Kierkegaard’s exposed bird skull from above, one leg extended in a nimble kick. His boot caught Kierkegaard in his left eye, and large though it was, it was far from heavily-armoured. Kierkegaard howled as pain blossomed in his head, and he reached up to swipe at the tiny prince even as he clutched his eye socket. Logan merely rebounded off of Kierkegaard’s enormous arm and hit the dirt, unfazed.

“You fucking BRAT!” Kierkegaard howled, rising to his full height and eclipsing both Logan and the tide of werewolves - werewolves that were steering around his ankles to get at the rest of his army. “GAH! FUCK YOU!

Far below, Logan offered the penguin a slight smile. “You were a shitty jester, man! I’m just payin’ you back for all your crap jokes!”

Snarling, Kierkegaard raised one titanic fist and brought it down onto the dirt. Logan dodged to one side, drawing a lengthy bamboo tube from a strap on his back. Kierkegaard tried to drag Logan into a portal, creating a circle of blackness at the young man’s feet, but Logan was too fast for that, too, and as he leaped into the air he fired something at Kierkegaard. It hit -

- and intense, stabbing pain erupted in Kierkegaard’s now-not-so-good eye. The penguin yowled again, triggering a mild earthquake as he staggered back and forth. He blindly triggered a dozen portals immediately in front of him, angrily hoping Logan might fall in one, but as his left eye blearily recovered he saw the prince land safely almost a hundred feet away.

Wincing, Kierkegaard triggered a portal directly in front of his right eye. Whatever had been stuck in it - a dart? - vanished into it, along with a microscopically-thin layer of Kierkegaard’s oily-green cornea. Kierkegaard’s Non heritage immediately repaired the damage, though it hurt like a bitch… and the pain continued to intensify, enough that something in Kierkegaard’s head began to burn.

“What… what the fuck…“ Kierkegaard glared, ivory beak snapping open and shut with each word. “WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU… AUGH…”

“Necromonk poison!” Logan shouted, holding the bamboo tube triumphantly over his head. He struggled to remain upright as werewolf after werewolf charged past him on both sides, many of them freshly recovered from being knocked about by Kierkegaard. “Stole it off some schmuck! Worth a fortune! Good for killin’ people, I hear! How’s it feel?”

Kierkegaard responded, not with words, but with action. Roaring, he opened two huge portals, one for each arm, and triggered fresh portals on both sides of Logan. His claws flew towards the prince -

- and slapped off of one another fruitlessly as Logan skipped away, looking almost merry. As Kierkegaard tried to disentangle his claws Logan raised the tube again and fired another dart, catching Kierkegaard in the neck. Fresh fire surged through Kierkegaard’s veins, and he fell to one knee, breathing hard. Extricating his arms and closing the portals, he braced himself on his fists, leaving huge furrows in the dirt.

“You… you little shit…” Kierkegaard panted, the world before his maimed eyes spinning. The right eye was still painted black against his eyesight, and he pinched it shut. “We… we had a fuckin’ truce…”

“As if!” Logan snorted. “You sent us one damned letter and gave us no chance to respond! Wasn’t even a point to it! Why the hell would we help you against our allies? Some military genius you turned out t’be!”

Despite the ache in his head and the fury in his heart, Logan’s comment gave Kierkegaard temporary pause. Why had he sent out the truce request again? What was the point? Had he suspected something might happen that required his undivided attention? It was too much to consider, what with the pain, and the… the impertinence

“I’m gonna…” Despite himself, Kierkegaard began to chortle, breaking out into a full, gleeful laugh. “I’m gonna love nibbling the meat from your fuckin’ bones, human! You look goddanmed tasty! And your ma and pa, hell, they’ll be so damned fine - “

A blur of motion, Logan raised the tube a third time and fired. The dart hit Kierkegaard’s forehead, just below the brim of his hat. The penguin doubled over, his entire head awash with agony. He howled and hit the ground, crumpling over on his arms, burying his beak in the dirt, one thought ever in his head: One hundred feet. One hundred feet. One hundred feet.

“We’re takin’ you out now, you punk!” Logan yelled, voice raised. He almost sounded inspirational. The thought made Kierkegaard vaguely queasy. “You’re not goin’ any further, you hear me?! We have a shitload of people to ave - “

Logan didn’t get any further in his speech. Still focusing on that one, precious thought, doing his best to ignore the wildfire bouncing off the sides of his skull, Kierkegaard created ten finger-sized portals in the dirt beneath his bulk, where Logan couldn’t see them. That had been his problem before… but not anymore.

Jutting out of the ground, Kierkegaard’s fingernails slid up, around, and into Logan’s legs, piercing the flesh with ease. Now it was Logan’s turn to scream, and as he did so he wobbled, inflicting more damage as his wounds tore on Kierkegaard’s jagged nails.

Resisting his own injuries, his fingers carefully implanted in the ground, Kierkegaard rose to his knees. He lifted a shaky head to glare at Logan, and he was quite satisfied to see that the prince’s cocky smirk was now gone. He’d always hated that fucking smirk, even if Logan had been sick most of the time Kierkegaard was around. Kierkegaard was the only one allowed to smirk.

“Let’s… make this… slow,” the penguin panted, his voice a deep, hollow boom. “You… deserve… slow.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Day Eight-Eighty-Two: Distractions abound

With distractions abounding from the west, Logan’s forces had no trouble sneaking up on the Non from the east.

Standing tall on the deck of the Sky Bitch, puttering along weakly though it was, Logan watched the wall of werewolves on the ground tear towards the Non’s rear lines. He’d been waiting for this opportunity for several hours, now, his force slyly stalking the Non for the better part of a day, goblin scouts returning report after report on their position. Most importantly, he’d been waiting for the Nothings to be too occupied with Imperium soldiers to counter their werewolves -

- and such was now the case, as the Nothings were riiiiight at the front of the action. Perfect timing.

“Might want to go after that smaller cluster on the right,” Logan murmured to Fynn, who was standing off to one side, his tarantula familiar on his shoulder. “Looks pretty thin. Be a good place to bust through.”

Fynn nodded. Sweat beading down his forehead, eyes blazing green, he turned his head slightly and furrowed his brow. The wave of werewolves below the ship immediately changed course, falling upon the small Non figures and engulfing them in a wave of brown. Logan thought he spotted Antonia’s massive back humping along in their midst, but he wasn’t sure.

Logan turned to his father, who was sitting at the comm station. “Any sign of the zombies? They pulling it up?”

Jeffrey shrugged. “Not yet. You know they’re slow. By the time they get here the battle will probably be over. I told you they’d be better as defenders than attackers.”

Logan mirrored the shrug. “We don’t need defenders right now, though. Guess we’ll just have to hope some of the Non decide to retreat in that direction.”

“You seem to think they will retreat.” Jeffrey craned his neck to peer out the cracked viewport. “We’re still kinda outnumbered, you know. And outgunned.”

Logan grimaced. It was true, unfortunately. Though the Non were caught between two forces, the pitch-black creatures appeared to still largely hold the advantage. Their forces were still incredibly strong and cohesive, and had bowled through and parted the Imperium’s army quite effectively. Logan wasn’t sure why so many of the Imperium’s troops were out here, but the fact didn’t seem to be making much of a difference - especially now that the dragons seemed to have departed from the battlefield.

“Well, we’d better change that.” Logan grimaced, then turned to Fynn. “Can you spare some time for a rumble, kiddo?”

Fynn shook his head. The voice that came out of his throat, Logan could tell immediately, did not belong to him. “We’re a little busy. If we try to go down there now we’ll lose control of the werewolves. Sending them out like this already has us walking a knife’s edge.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Logan patted Fynn’s free shoulder. He had to stretch his arm to reach it, as Fynn had apparently decided to be tall today. “Tell Fynn we’re gonna get his mom back. No problem.”

Fynn hesitated, eyes twitching. “But… why is she out here, again?”

Logan opened his mouth, then closed it again. His hand fell away. He thought about the question for a second, almost formulated an answer, and then gave up. “I, uh… well, she’s just out here, is all. We know she is. That’s good enough. We’ll get ‘er back. And… Fynn’s dad, wherever he - “

“Sighting confirmed!” one of the crew yelled, staring out the viewport with wide eyes. “There he is! He’s going after the werewolves!”

Logan spun around, following the tech’s extended finger. Logan almost immediately spotted the bulky form of Kierkegaard, his usual jaunty top hat back on his skeletal head, pushing his way through his troops. He was heading towards the werewolves, a hungry expression evident on his face from even this distance. Logan wondered why the Non wasn’t bothering to teleport - he seemed to enjoy using his portals most of the time - but quickly shrugged it off. That didn’t matter right now.

“Shit.” Logan bit his thumb, thinking quickly. “He’s gonna fuck them up, isn’t he? I was hopin’ he wouldn’t notice.”

“Pr… probably.” Even from several feet away, Logan could tell that his father had begun to shiver. “He’s… he likes that sorta thing. One-track mind - “

Turning, Logan ordered the crew of the Sky Bitch to keep the ship out of the fracas. It was still damaged, and wouldn’t do too well in a fight without extensive repairs from Libby. The crew seemed quite happy to remain on the fringes. Logan strode towards the stairs to the guts of the airship.

“Where are you going?” Jeffrey said, cutting himself off and standing. “Aren’t… I thought you were - “

They need a distraction to do their work,” Logan insisted as he ran down the stairs, a weight in the pit of his stomach. “That’s just about the only thing I’m good at, old man!”