Friday, September 4, 2015

Day Nine-Hundred-Eight: The Package

It took three weeks of waiting before the chance to strike came.

Logan eventually agreed to Dragomir’s plan, and Blue, too, was on board - though it took some coaxing to convince her to go back. Dragomir supposed that she needed the backing of an entire army to persuade her people that they were following the wrong person. The rest of Dragomir’s hodge-podge alliance needed less convincing, as everyone was pretty damned tired of the war. Still, they needed for Kierkegaard’s army to stop moving, and that moment came after a sizeable encounter with the Imperium on the outskirts of the still-smouldering remains of Rodentia.

The news came to Dragomir not as he’d expected it - a messenger bursting into his room, brimming with excitement - but as a quiet note, passed to him by Evangelina in the middle of a meeting. He used it as an excuse to leave, as he’d wanted to take off anyway. The urge to cough up blood was strong, and he didn’t want to show it in front of the commanders of his rag-tag army. The chief of the zombies at the very least would think him a wuss for wanting to politely cough up his lungs in private.

Now, feeling much relived, he was standing on the deck of the Sky Bitch, listening to the clatter of mechanics below the floorboards. They were still refining the great machine, now at a frenzied pace, and Dragomir could hear his wife barking orders at her techs with a mixture of anger and utter glee. Libby had almost completely withdrawn into her old mechanics habits since the death of Grayson. Dragomir couldn’t blame her - the spot in his heart torn open by Grayson’s loss was still raw, especially since this was the second, far more final time it had happened. There would be no ghostly return this time.


Dragomir’s was so absorbed in the sounds of the ship and the view of the setting sun through the bubble covering the bridge that he didn’t notice the soft pad of feet coming up the stairs. Even if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have noticed that there were two sets of feet, not one, and he jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. He spun around, swore, and twitched when he caught sight of the person behind him.

“Hello, Dragomir,” The Baron said, looking pensive behind his thick glasses. Eve was standing behind him, expressionless as ever. “I’m not interrupting you, am I?”

Dragomir narrowed his eyes, wondering if he should reprove the older man, but he eventually shook his head. He’d given up on hating The Baron a while ago. There was too much hate in the world already, and the guy hadn’t done anything really bad in ages. “Meh. What’s up?”

The Baron stepped up beside him, Eve staying behind the two men. He clasped his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth on his heels. “Just wanted to admire the view. It’s quite beautiful outside, don’t you think? The orange of the land and the yellow of the sun mix wonderfully with one another. Nature is never garish, you must admit.”

Dragomir shook his head. “It can be. But yeah, it’s pretty. Very... artsy. I always forget you used to draw. Still keep up with it at all?”

The Baron sighed. “No. Not as much as I would like. The guards seldom provide me with pen and paper. I can move more or less as I please, but written correspondence is a no-no. I don’t suppose you could loosen the rules in that regard…? I have drawn you some wonderful pictures in the past, after all.”

“What, you mean that picture of a dodo?” Dragomir barked a laugh. “Y’know, I tried to draw my own dodo, once. Probably in the diary somewheres. Looked like crap.”

“I’m sure it looked just fine. I do have over a thousand years of experience by contrast, after all.” The Baron paused. “I also drew you, Dragomir. Don’t forget. I, ah, may have made additional sketches of you in my time, as well, though that’s beside the point… could you…?”

Dragomir cocked an eyebrow at ‘additional sketches’, but he let the matter lie. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Turning to his daughter, Dragomir offered Eve a small smile. She didn’t respond in kind. “And what about you, kiddo? You, uh, you need anything? I know we haven’t talked much - “

It was at this point that Dragomir noticed Eve was carrying a package. It was a brown parcel, wrapped tightly in twine and covered in small rips and unsightly stains. He’d seen it dozens of times, usually held in the crook of Eve’s arm as she moved about her business, though occasionally sitting around the Sky Bitch unattended. No one dared touch it, because it belonged to Eve, but now she was giving it to him. The vaguest hint of a blush crossed her face as she shoved the package into Dragomir’s hands, so vague that could have been the cast of the fading sunlight outside the ship.

Dragomir blinked. He turned the package over, inspecting its many flaws with careful consideration. It was heavy, but a familiar, almost friendly sort of heavy. He shook it, and something inside rattled around. Dragomir looked up to thank Eve, but she’d already gone back belowdecks, slinking away as quietly as a panther on the prowl.

That,” The Baron said, “is actually my gift to you. I carried that around for more than a year before Eve stole it from me. So, ah, I suppose you can say it comes from both of us. We were waiting for the right moment to give it to you, and this seems as good as any.”

Dragomir looked at the man skeptically. The Baron smiled, nodding towards the package and rubbing his hands together beneath his cloak. Lips pursed, Dragomir tugged at the strings binding the package together, and the disgusting brown paper surrounding the gift fell away to reveal a cleaner, but still battered, wooden box. It was covered nicks and scratches from what looked like a lifetime of travel, and Dragomir had no doubt that it had been more places and seen more things than the average peasant.

“Go on,” The Baron whispered, smiler broader than ever. Dragomir suspected it to be somehow malevolent, but the expression on the old man’s face was kindly. “I’ve been waiting to give this back to you for three years, almost to the day.”

Dragomir pried the box open, letting the lid fall to the ground as soon as he caught sight of the box’s contents. Reaching one trembling hand inside, he gripped the sharpened edge of a horn, nicely-cleaned and shining brightly in the sunlight. Without thinking Dragomir reached up and brushed his general’s hat away - so generic that he barely ever gave it a thought - and set a familiar friend in its place. The smile on his face rivalled The Baron’s in sheer delight as the old weight of his guardsman’s helmet squashed his unruly hair flat against his skull.

“My… my helmet…” Dragomir sniffed. “You… you kept it…”

“It was the only thing left of you when you vanished,” The Baron said. “I guess if I’d left it on your body it would have gone with you. I, ah, as soon as I heard you were alive, I knew I had to get it back to you somehow. Does it feel right - “

Dragomir cut The Baron off with a gesture neither man could have expected: a quick, happy bear hug. The Baron grunted as Dragomir lifted him almost an inch off of the floor, Non strength asserting itself at random, but he didn’t object. He seemed to relish the moment, despite an obvious shortness of breath, and he blushed fiercely when Dragomir planted a quick kiss on his pudgy cheek.

Eventually, after one quick swing, Dragomir let him go. Gleeful, Dragomir knocked his knuckles off of the helmet, revelling in the metallic thunks. It was it was helmet, it really was, and no one could convince him otherwise. “Damn. Damn. This… oh damn, man, this is so awesome. Thank you so much. It almost… well… hell, forget that. Thank you.”

It was The Baron’s turn to sniff, and he wiped a tear away quickly. “You’re welcome. Now, will you wear it?”

“You kidding? This thing’s not even coming off for bed. I don’t wanna lose it again.” Dragomir nevertheless took the helmet off to inspect it, though it was back on his head within moments. “Oh man oh man oh man. Wait ’til Libby sees. She hates this stupid general’s hat. Or I think she does. I assume she does. She’d better, ‘cause I’m gonna lob it into the chest in my quarters and never look at it again. Never.”

“I’m glad.” The Baron forced a more serious face, though he was still smiling. “I’m glad, because that should be one of the last things Kierkegaard ever sees before you stop him. I think that is only fair.”

And Dragomir, brought back to the situation but still gleeful, agreed. He didn’t say so, but he agreed.

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