Traveller grabbed Dragomir by the cheek. His grip was strong, forceful, and somehow gentle. “It was always meant to be this way.”
Before the sky could turn blood red, before their hands could stick together and hold fast, before Dragomir could be dragged, kicking and screaming into the widening hole in Traveller’s chest, Dragomir forced himself awake. He’d done it enough times that he was, now, more or less an expert in escaping dreams.
Sheets sticky with sweat, Dragomir sat abruptly upright in his bed. His breaths came in pitched, laboured gasps, as though he’d just run a marathon. He clutched his head, trembling, and reached for the tankard of water beside his bed. His fumbling fingers knocked the half-filled vessel the ground, however, and Dragomir was forced to lick his own skin to clear his head. The salty taste of his oil-black hide did very little to alleviate the dryness of his mouth, and it did absolutely nothing to halt the pounding pain in his head.
Pulling back the curtains, his head slowly changing to a more human huge, Dragomir pulled back the blinds and looked out the window. The sight of Pubton that greeted him was one of a still-sleepy city, the buildings bathed in darkness. Only the light of a distant sentry patrolling the city’s walls provided any illumination. For a moment Dragomir remembered his own, long-gone days as a guard, though he dismissed them rather quickly - his experiences as a night guard were few and far between. He usually slept through the night shifts, curled up in a water barrel.
Dragomir stepped out of bed, snugging his feet into a pair of slippers, and walked to the bathroom. He filled a chamber pot, and, still watching the city, he casually dumped it through the window and into the alley beside his house. This was against city ordinances - all chamber pots were supposed to be dumped in the burgeoning sewer system on the outskirts of town - but Dragomir loathed the idea of carrying a filled chamber pot through the streets. Most people did. It was a terrible process.
At least I don’t piss myself anymore, Dragomir thought. It was one of the few advantages of his current situation. Haven’t done that in quite a while. Wonder why.
Still standing in the bathroom, Dragomir lit a candle. It was too dark to see his reflection in the mirror, but he felt a sudden urge to look at himself. The candle flared to life with the flick of a match, and as Dragomir raised the flame to the room’s cracked mirror he caught sight of a cobweb of green-red blood streaming down his face. Without much thought he wiped the blood away from his cheeks and nose. He woke up most mornings with a bloody nose, now. He’d ruined many pillow cases.
The man who stared back at Dragomir in the reflection looked gaunt, his eye sockets hollow, his cheeks sallow and sagging. His pupils still bore the strong green flavouring of a Non, and it took some mental coaxing to turn the irises back to his original brown. He’d played with his eye colour often - as a Non he could look pretty much however he liked - but the people under his command would no doubt react badly if he showed up for work with eyes of a different colour. Especially if they were Non-green.
Traveller’s irises are brown, Dragomir thought. Or, uh, his iris. Guess… guess I’m staring at the other one. I wonder why it can change shape like everything else? Far as I know it’s the only human part of me. Weird, that. Guess it became Non when Bora… y’know… shaped me. Or whatever you wanna call it. Funny, the things you think of -
The rapid tap-tap-tap of knocking at the front door interrupted Dragomir’s train of thought, and he dropped the candle from surprise. It managed to burn his hand as it tumbled to the ground. Cursing, Dragomir grabbed the waxy stick, licked his fingers, and snuffed the flame. The knocking continued, almost unabated, and Dragomir was pretty sure who’d come to his door. Few people in Pubton were quite so panicky as that guy. He grabbed for a robe.
“Harold, what the hell? I’m tryin’ to sleep,” Dragomir grunted, brushing imaginary sleep out of his eyes as he stood at his front door. He was, after all, already wide awake, and had no intention of returning to his dreams.
Harold, too, was dressed in his night clothes, though to his credit he was at least wearing a pair of knee-high boots over his jammies. He’d also grabbed his silly mayor’s hat, and was wringing the floppy cap in his hands. “Dr… Drag… Dragomir… we’ve… you’ve… your wife…”
Dragomir’s eyes widened, and he grabbed Harold by the arms. Libby was off on a test flight in Non territory, something Dragomir had not condoned but about which he’d been given very little choice. “Libby? What? What about her? What happened? Was there an accident? Tell me!”
Shaken, his words emerging in a babbled torrent, Harold did his best to point towards the centre of town - towards the Sky Bitch’s official landing pad. They’d built it in the same spot as Gok’s old tower, which, to the goblin king’s chagrin, they’d dismantled and used to reinforce Pubton’s outer defences. Dragomir didn’t wait for an explanation, and putting on a burst of Non-born speed he tore out into the streets, dimly aware that he’d left his front door open. He didn’t much care, either. Harold would probably lock up for him.
Libby, Dragomir thought. The hell trouble have you gotten into now?
Libby was no stranger to peril. She’d gotten into more fights than Dragomir could count, and she’d been kidnapped as many times as Dragomir himself. Perhaps more. She could often extricate herself from the trouble, granted, but… not always… not always…
I can’t lose someone else. Not again. Not her.
Nose again flowing freely, streaks of blood decorating his face like uneven war paint, Dragomir wished he’d bothered to ask what was up. It would have taken two seconds.
The Sky Bitch was sitting on the landing pad, its rotors slowly spinning to a halt, and the first person Dragomir spotted, to his eternal relief, was Libby. She was standing beside Evangelina, the two women apparently absorbed in discussion. Evangelina had a large, white medical patch on her head, but they appeared to be otherwise uninjured. Evangelina pointed at a massive, indistinct, black lump beside the ship, but Dragomir didn’t bother to look at the thing. He was too busy rushing towards his wife, arms outstretched, heart full of love for the burly woman.
Libby smacked his affection away with an off-handed shove. She did, however, offer him a smile - but it only lasted for a second. It was enough.
“Libby,” Dragomir breathed, doubled over, only now aware that he’d run full-speed across the city to find her. “I… ah… ah… hey… I… Harold… he…”
“Gee, thanks, I’m glad to see you too,” Evangelina said, rolling her eyes. She rubbed the medical patch, scowling. “I’m fine and everything.”
“Wipe your damned nose. Did you run into a flagpole or somethin’? You’re a mess.” Libby shook her head. “No time for hugs. We’ve got a problem. Look.”
Wiping the blood off on his sleeve - Huh, I look good in red - Dragomir followed Libby’s outstretched hand. She was pointing at the giant, black mass they’d been discussing earlier. It was wrapped in netting, apparently attached to the bottom of the Sky Bitch, and covered in the same white medical bandages as Evangelina… though these were almost universally stained a dark green. It was also, Dragomir realized with some shock, moving, probably breathing. And the darkness beneath the netting… that black, unmistakable hide…
“You… you caught one?” Dragomir breathed, lungs still half bogged down with fatigue. “You… what the hell…”
“Not quite,” Evangelina corrected. “We saved one. And she wants to talk to you.”