Sunday, November 29, 2015

Et Ascendit in Caelum, Part One

The struggle between Eve and Traveller was brief.

Dragomir didn’t understand what was going on in Traveller’s head. With his eye restored and his body whole again, the man was obviously undergoing some radical changes. ‘Reversions’ was probably a more accurate word, but Dragomir suspected that Traveller’s personality had always been dopey and stupid, even before losing his eye. The Traveller of the last few days, by contrast, was at times sharp, threatening, and too confident. Dragomir couldn’t tell if that was the result of getting his eye back or putting on a facade. Regardless, he didn’t know what possessed Traveller to even imagine that Eve was his daughter.

She wasn’t. She was Dragomir’s daughter. And not the real Dragomir. She was the daughter of a fraud, a phoney, a two-bit replica with little time left to his life. So when Eve attacked, Dragomir felt just the smallest bit of satisfaction. That’s my daughter in there.

Pushing himself up the stairs, Dragomir peered into the circular tower attic, the cracked, barely-roofed space illuminated only by the dying sun. Traveller was trying, and failing, to push off a figure covered in a ragged brown cloak. Dragomir knew Traveller had lost none of his strength when regaining his eye, that was obvious, but he lacked something Eve had always possessed: speed. Eve was as fast as Logan at his prime, and no one else could compare. Speed and strength, that made for the perfect soldier.

Traveller whirled, trying to grab at Eve’s cloak. Eve whipped around him like a tornado, eluding his grasp and striking out at him with lightning speed. Dragomir suspected she could kill him in an instant, but her attacks were too smoothly calculated, with an almost admirable restraint. Within seconds Traveller was incapacitated, his body twitching uselessly as he swayed from one foot to the other. He dropped the diary, and it glared up at Eve.

“Ghhhg…” Traveller’s eyes twitched spasmodically, and Dragomir wondered if the newer addition might pop out and roll around on the floor. “Gaaaahhg…”

“My god, she must have struck every nerve in his body,” The Baron breathed, peering around Dragomir. “Not a bit of blood, either…”

The Baron fell silent as the darkened hood of Eve’s cloak wheeled around to stare at him, and he pulled out of view. Eve hissed, crouched over, and stalked in a circle around Traveller’s body. Her clothes were stained with deep, dark blotches in dozens of places, and blood dripped freely from her face and onto the floor, leaving a trail in her wake. Dragomir’s heart hurt to see her, but he didn’t dare move, because Eve could still easily murder Traveller if antagonized.

Not… my daddy…” Eve ran her fingers along one of Traveller’s arms, grasping him firmly by the wrist. “Don’t even try to be… you… fake…

“Hhhnnnngh,” Traveller gurgled.

Dragomir stepped into the room. It was an unsteady step, a step filled with fear, but not fear for himself. He feared for his daughter. The Eve he knew, when she wasn’t stalking an opponent, was invincible. Eve stood upright. Eve never expressed emotion. Eve spoke in apocalyptic prose, proclaiming the end of everything with casual ease. Eve most certainly never said the word ‘daddy’. This really was Eve, then, but an Eve who was broken, an Eve who’d lost her invincibility, transforming into a skulking, still-deadly creature of the shadows.

Dragomir didn’t care which Eve it was. She was his little girl. “Eve, it’s me. It’s daddy. I’m here.”

Eve’s hood whipped around, and she took two steps towards Dragomir. She sniffed the air, a hound on the trail, and took two more steps, still clutching tight to Traveller’s wrist. Traveller staggered as she tugged him along behind her, the diary whirling around his ankles, smacking itself into his feet in a useless effort to restore him. This apparently annoyed Eve, and with a flicker of movement she kicked the diary into the far wall, dangerously close to a large crack filled with dying sunlight. The face on the cover looked unconscious. Dragomir reached for the diary across the room, eyes wide.

Daaaaaaddyyyyyyy…” Eve’s voice wavered, crackling and foul. “It’s me… that’s you… hi, daddy, you came, daddy…

“I came,” Dragomir said, nodding. “You shouldn’t kick daddy’s things around, Eve. My diary. It’s not nice.”

Sorry… daddy…” Eve pulled herself another step closer to Dragomir. It looked like she was dragging one foot, not that it seemed to matter to her speed. “Eve… isn’t feeling… so… good… does daddy… have… medicine…?

“Yes,” Dragomir promised, a tear welling up in his green eye. “Daddy has medicine for Eve. Let that guy go, sweetie, and I’ll give you medicine.”

Eve nodded, and in an instant Dragomir knew he’d said the wrong thing, wondering simultaneously if there was a right thing to say, then concluding, just as Eve moved her arm, that she was going to do it regardless. With a snap-flick of her wrist Eve launched Traveller’s prone body through a wall, using all her strength to catapult him out of the tower. The break in the wall was so abrupt and so clean that the tower didn’t seem to notice at first, and it took three quiet seconds before the wall started to collapse in on itself, rocking the king’s tower. Dragomir caught only a faint hint of Traveller’s falling form as he plummeted into the ruins of the fortress below, surrounded by tumbling bricks. He looked… surprised.

Dragomir’s eyes widened, and he stood in mute shock as The Baron’s ghosts flooded out of the hallway behind him.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Day Nine-Forty-Two: She speaks

It took Dragomir several minutes to realize, while staring at the corpses of the Non, that Traveller had wandered off somewhere. He knew exactly where to look.

Traveller was standing outside the dilapidated ruins of an old, collapsed, wooden house. It was not a large house, nor particularly grand, yet Traveller seemed enraptured by it, drinking in the details at considerable leisure. He kneeled in the rubble and poked at the rotted wooden remains, his other hand slinking up to pat the guardsman’s cap on his head. He didn’t seem to be conscious of the latter. The diary skittered around his feet, barely giving the ruins a look as it jabbed its quill at Traveller’s hands.

“I’m surprised you didn’t clear this out,” Dragomir muttered. “Most of the rest of the wooden stuff looks like it’s gone.”

“I… made an exception, for a while,” The Baron admitted. He shrugged. “Old times sake.”

Hacking out a cough, Dragomir tapped Traveller on the shoulder. Traveller peered at Dragomir with the slow dopiness of a man caught in a dream, eyes wide and misty. “Hey. We need your help clearin’ some chunks of rock. C’mon.”

Traveller looked back at the remains of the house. He touched the mossy spike of one of the front porch’s railings. “I… did we say goodbye to… to Rob, here…? This… this isn’t where he died, but…”

“I think we talked to him here, ’n he went home,” Dragomir replied, a bitter taste rising in his mouth. “But I don’t remember. Come on, we’re almost done.”

Reluctantly, Traveller turned away from the remains of a home that had never been his, following Dragomir and The Baron to the entrance of the fortress. The majority of the once-great building was now buried in debris, but it looked to Dragomir as though a path had been cleared through it recently, leaving only a few recently-fallen heaps of rock behind to bar their way. Traveller easily shrugged these aside as they picked their way across the ruins, though he always seemed reluctant to get too far ahead.

“I had a nice observatory set up,” The Baron mumbled, a little crossly. He pointed to the east side of the castle. “It was right over there, overlooking the Grand Chasm. Built it out of the remains of the library. I see that damnable penguin had it knocked down.”

“It could have been Eve,” Dragomir said. “Who knows how she was feeling when she got here.”

“No, it was him.” The Baron sighed. “I know it was him. Petulant little brat. Why I thought I could trust him I’ll never know.”

Dragomir considered reproach, but his unsteady, weak legs and hard-beating heart forced him to concentrate on the terrain. He focused most of his attention on sticking to Traveller’s exact footsteps, both admiring and hating the man’s back as he quietly cleared a path through the fortress’s crumbled main hallway towards the only structure really left standing. Traveller seemed hesitant yet confident, radiating a health and wholeness that Dragomir envied more than anything.

I want to steal it, he thought, lip curling. He bit, and some of his ashen black skin flaked away. I want to steal what he’s got. Get it back again. But if I tried - and hell, how would I even do it? - if I tried, he would break me in two. Man, dying sucks so much worse when you know it’s coming.

The king’s tower, previously embedded deep within the fortress, now stood on its own. Looking much more wobbly than before, the tower was a ramshackle mess of repurposed bricks, wooden construction platforms, and half-finished walls. The king’s balcony was gone, Dragomir noticed at once, but the giant hole at the very top of the tower remained. He wondered if Barrel’s bulk would still fit up there, or if the dragon would just bring the whole damned tower down. Dragomir stared at the hole, fixated, knowing.

“She might not be up there,” The Baron said, his voice hollow and fearful. He looked ready to bolt. “She could be somewhere else. She never seemed to like it before when she was living here.”

“She’s there,” Traveller said, more to himself than to The Baron.

“Yeah,” Dragomir agreed, scowling sadly. “Yeah, she is.”

The ascent up the tower was easier than Dragomir remembered, either because he’d lost weight or because he no longer feared heights quite so much. He wasn’t entirely sure which it was. The stairs were ugly, formed from the remains of a dozen different buildings, but they held together nicely. Worse were the occasional blotches of green blood on the walls, hinting at Non who’d tried to flee up the tower and failed.

Dragomir dabbed at a patch of streaky ichor. “Why’d you put this thing back up, anyway? Never got the impression you like the tower much.”

“A reminder,” The Baron replied, stopping to peer over his shoulder as the tower creaked and complained. “Never to let someone like Jeffrey rule our fates again. Jeffrey, or… worse.”

“Most of this wasn’t Jeffrey’s fault,” Dragomir pointed out. “It was yours.”

“I think higher powers had more of a say in it than me.” The Baron coughed politely into his fist. “But point taken.”

There was no longer a door at the top of the tower, so the trio paused just short of the final doorway to catch their breaths. Only The Baron really needed the pause, huffing as he was, but Dragomir didn’t mind stopping either, because for the last dozen steps he’d become aware, rather painfully aware, that four people were breathing over their exertions, not three, and the fourth was not the tiny diary Traveller cradled in his arms. It took Traveller and The Baron a few moments to notice the breathing, and they, too, stopped to listen.

“That’s…” The Baron swallowed loudly, then flinched as the breathing from the top of the tower changed its pace.

“Yeah,” Dragomir confirmed. He tried to push past Traveller. “Eve? Sweetie? You up - ”

“No,” Traveller said flatly. With a firm flick of his hand he knocked Dragomir back. “I’ll do it. Eve? Are you in here?”

Dragomir’s heart began to beat more rapidly. Staggering against a wall, only supported from falling down the stairs by The Baron, he hissed a warning and a threat - but Traveller was already stepping into the tower, shoulders squared, footsteps strong and confident. A surprised rasp of female breath hissed out of the tower’s darkened innards, and Traveller’s expression pinched as he looked inside.

“Eve,” he murmured, sliding his hand against the ramshackle doorframe. “Is that really - “

He didn’t finish his sentence. A pair of gauntlets reached through the door, grabbed Traveller by the chest, and pulled him violently inside. He yelped, his apparent confidence replaced by the Traveller Dragomir knew of old, but the yelp was eclipsed by a snarling, hollow sentence, issued from a sandpaper throat with more hatred than Dragomir could imagine. Dragomir considered returning to his old habit of peeing himself, but he knew that hatred wasn’t directed at him, and that knowledge helped.

You’re not my daddy,” Eve insisted, drawing Traveller into the darkness. Seconds later, he screamed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day Nine-Forty-One: Castle _______

The castle did not look as Dragomir remembered, but at the same time it was exactly the same.

It took the wagon and its occupants until evening to reach the rolling plains surrounding Castle FinalDestination, and when the crumbled walls finally came into view they were bathed in golden orange sunlight. Most of the castle, Dragomir could tell from a distance, had fallen into disarray or ruin: much of the main fortress had crumbled in on itself, the walls bore huge holes in places, and the Neck no longer appeared to exist. Even the king’s tower looked like a shaky ghost of its former self, only restored after an epic collapse. The castle was a corpse, but a familiar corpse, and Dragomir removed his helmet in silent reverence.

“We tried to fix it up,” The Baron murmured at Dragomir’s side, “but it didn’t do much good. The foundations were badly shaken by the opening of the door, and when our homeland reappeared they were weakened even more. Between the retaking of the Indy Plains and Kierkegaard’s campaign against the Imperium, I imagine this place has little more than a skeleton staff at its disposal.”

“And if Eve is here, they’re probably literally skeletons by now,” Dragomir muttered back. “Er. Sorry. I guess that was… insensitive, or… something…”

The Baron shook his head. “I think we can dispense with niceties by now. You’re probably right. Ah, I had such aspirations for this place… I was going to build it into a grand, central authority for the Non… now we’ll be lucky if the remaining Non ever see it again…”

Dragomir patted The Baron on the shoulder, despite himself. Part of him loathed the Non for what they’d done to his life, whether it was a bid for freedom against an unjust, tyrannical police state or not. They’d taken his simplicity of mind and shredded it to pieces. Another part of him stood firmly with his brethren, however, and he wondered if the future would be kind to them or not. At least if they’d remained trapped beneath the earth, or stuck in codespace, or wherever they’d been imprisoned, they would have remained alive.

The wagon rumbled to a stop at the remains of the barbican, its portcullis long ago ripped away from the stonework and thrown into the moat. The Neck was indeed gone, the deadly trap Jeffrey used to kill unwary travellers a discarded memory, but two ramshackle wooden bridges connected the land to the insides of the castle. Dragomir eyed the boards with suspicion, memories of moat monsters jumping to mind.

The Baron raised an eyebrow. “They’re all gone, you know. Cleared out a long time ago. I didn’t ascribe to Jeffrey’s methods of defending the castle. If you fell in now you would only find water.”

“Yeah, well, old habits,” Dragomir muttered. “I guess we can’t go in through the secret tunnel dealie?”

“It was filled in when we got rid of the moat monsters.” The Baron offered Dragomir a tight grin under his cloak. “Go on, you big - “

The Baron stopped speaking as Traveller, who’d been uncharacteristically silent for over an hour, slipped between the two men. He set one foot on the ramshackle bridge, then another, and walked confidently across without a word. Dragomir and The Baron watched him go, Dragomir staring at the diary under Traveller’s arm, The Baron admiring Traveller’s squared shoulders. It took Dragomir a few moments to notice the spiked helmet on Traveller’s head, and The Baron even longer.

“W… wait,” The Baron sputtered, pointing. He turned to glance at Dragomir, noticing that his shaggy black hair was on full display. “When did he take it…?”

Dragomir shrugged, arms limp. His heart hurt as much as the rest of his body, and he tried to cover his expression by ducking his head into the back of the wagon to check on Bora. She was asleep, as always. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. C’mon, let’s go.”

The bailies of Castle FinalDestination seemed to be twin reflections of one another, robbed of the distinct buildings that once set them apart. Dragomir spied the remains of a few familiar destinations - the barracks seemed to almost be intact, and a few taller walls hinted at the apartments where he’d once lived - but virtually all of the wooden structures were gone, either ripped apart or worn down by disaster, weather, and negligence. Dragomir spotted ample signs of Non inhabitation, but even these seemed to be destroyed - many of them recently.

It didn’t take long to find the first of the bodies. Or what was left of it.

“My god,” The Baron said, staring up at the corpse. “She… I suppose she did this…”

“No doubt.” Dragomir swallowed. “My little girl.”

The Non was hanging from the highest remaining wall of the fortress’s outer shell, its dim emerald eyes staring sightlessly at the horizon. Its lower half was gone, probably contributing to the spray of black on the ground below, while its upper half dangled, arms down, from a rough spike of stone. Eve had tied its pale green guts around the spike, then used its blood to write an enormous message on the lower half of the wall. The message was surrounded by the rest of the bodies, half buried in debris.

“‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it,’” The Baron read. He covered his mouth in horror and looked away. “My god. This… this is…”

“This is the bed you created, old man.” Dragomir cleared his throat, refusing to avert his eyes. “Sleep in it.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Day Nine-Hundred-Forty: One final rest

“She’s not going to wake up, Dragomir.”

Dragomir nudged Bora anyway. The white-capped lump of a woman did not respond beyond a gentle, gurgling snore. Her face looked horribly withered by daylight, a sharp contrast to her usual, exotic beauty. She’d aged a hundred years overnight, and would probably continue to age until her body crumbled away into dust. It seemed the inevitable fate.

Dragomir glanced at The Baron. The older man’s eyes looked puffy behind his thick glasses, either from crying or a lack of sleep. Dragomir could relate. He hadn’t slept overnight either, too busy exploring his fragile new limbs, watching the unsteady rise and fall of Bora’s blanket, and wondering how long his newfound, precarious health would last. He thought he might just crumble away himself if he dared fall asleep, a heap of tar-black ashes no different from the residue left behind by their campfire. A bit greener, perhaps.

Only Traveller had slept. After a few minutes of careful, wondrous exploration he’d dropped onto the ground and snored loudly for almost seven hours, the diary curled up beside him. Dragomir had expected Traveller to get up and walk away at some point, his purpose fulfilled and his body restored, but he was still in camp come daybreak. His two human eyes blinked at Dragomir now, too perfectly symmetrical for Dragomir’s liking.

But then, Dragomir thought, scratching his oily head, I wonder if I should even be calling him that anymore. Traveller, y’know. He’s not. He’s just Dragomir again. Which means I’m… I dunno. Maybe I’m the Traveller, now. Nameless, aimless, and… well, not near as strong, can’t even shift forms anymore… but… yeah, the theme fits. Fuck me, the theme fits.

“Help me get her in the back of the cart,” Dragomir insisted. Settling on his knees, he slid his hands under Bora’s head. She didn’t respond to his touch, though her breathing lightened a little.

“But - “

Now,” Dragomir insisted. The harshness of his voice hurt his ears, but he maintained his tone. “Come on. We don’t have much time. This… whatever it is she gave me… won’t last long. I’ve gotta see Eve before it happens.”

The Baron nodded his head sadly, and he moved to lift Bora’s feet - but Traveller stopped him. Stooping, the bare-chested man gently tugged Bora up into his arms, without Dragomir’s aid, and lifted her easily off of the ground. Dragomir suspected he still had his incredible strength - not that Bora’s emaciated form would be difficult for anyone to lift anymore. She appeared, too, to have lost almost a third of her bodyweight overnight.

He could crush her, Dragomir thought, watching Traveller set her down in the back of the cart. I thought he would. She ruined his life. He was terrified of her. By all rights he should just squash her flat. He doesn’t know she’ll never recover from this. Unless…

Traveller cut into Dragomir’s thoughts by turning to The Baron. He cocked his head to one side, then, without speaking, he opened his mouth - and unleashed an earth-shaking belch. The Baron, surprised, staggered backward so awkwardly that he hit the ground. Dragomir was tempted, rather violently, to turn away - until he noticed green fumes wafting out of Traveller’s mouth. They swirled around his lips for a moment and disappeared into the sky.

“Don’t put a ghost in me again,” Traveller said to The Baron, helping the older man back to his feet. “It kept me in place, so thanks, I guess. But don’t do it again. I don’t like people controllin’ me anymore. It sucks. I’ll punch you in the nose.”

So that’s how they did it. Dragomir thought back to the previous night. He’d never noticed The Baron implanting one of his ghostly controllers into Traveller’s mouth. During story time, maybe? Doesn’t matter. Guess if one of those is good enough to hold Eve it can do the same to this guy, though.

The Baron’s pale cheeks flushed a sickly red, and he turned away. “S… sorry. She asked. Last favours, I guess. I won’t do it again. Probably to anyone. I don’t like it very much. They do strange things to people.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Dragomir commented wryly.

They set off half an hour later, Dragomir and The Baron up front, Traveller in the back with Bora and the diary. At some point after lunch Traveller began to tell stories to Bora, though she didn’t respond, and it took Dragomir almost an hour to realize Traveller was reading out of the diary. Paraphrasing in many spots, perhaps, but Dragomir recognized it as a series of entries from his time in Pubton, during the trial of Former-King Jeffrey.

Man. Dragomir looked up at the sky, imagining the past on its blank blue canvas. I thought I had it bad back then. Leading a community so split by shit like that was rough, even when it seemed like everybody wanted the same thing. Daena sure didn’t. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into past that point, did I? Thought I’d seen the worst, but… hrm. Everything always seems to roll further and further downhill for me, to the point that shit like that… just doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

“Dragomir,” The Baron muttered, tapping Dragomir lightly on his arm. A tiny bit of Dragomir’s clothes, which were now solely a part of his body, flaked away like dried mud. “Oh. Shit. Um, sorry.”

Dragomir waved his hand gingerly. “Who cares. Doesn’t hurt. What is it?”

The Baron flushed regardless. “You were telling Traveller a story last night, right?”

“Yeah. What, did you hear through your little ghostie? You weren’t even there.”

“I did. And it was… well, it was a familiar tale,” The Baron admitted. “But you started by asking Traveller something. Do you remember what?”

“Can you read?” Dragomir asked.

Traveller cocked his head to one side. “No. Mom ’n dad didn’t know how to read, and… that other guy… well, I think he knew, but maybe I don’t remember…? I think he liked to eat more.”

Dragomir’s mouth went dry as he listened to Traveller reciting from the diary. The words, though often truncated and commented upon by the mind of a dullard, were definitely Dragomir’s.

“Yeah,” Dragomir admitted. “I remember.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Nine: Dragomir

Dragomir thought Traveller was going to leap off of the ground and punch Bora hard enough that her head flew from her body and sailed across the countryside. He had good reasons if he decided to do so, and he certainly had the strength to make it happen. Dragomir wondered what would happen to himself if Bora were to be killed, given their connection. But the battered man barely moved beyond lifting his hand to point at Bora and quivering from head to toe, looking for all purposes to be frozen in a single moment of exquisite horror.

Bora shook her head. “I’m not gonna hurt ya. I just wanted to stop… stop… ach…”

Bora leaned forward, seized by a sudden coughing fit. She rasped discomfort, spitting blood onto the ground and into the fire, and Dragomir realized with no small sense of panic that he was caught in the same fit. They struggled almost in unison, she doubled over in pain, he using his one arm so inefficiently that he sprawled onto his side. Traveller watched them both, face pale.

“Are you sure you don’t need me?” a voice called out from the darkness surrounding the campsite. “I… are you sure?”

“Nah… n… nah!” Bora struggled back into a sitting position, clutching her chest. She wiped her hands on her pants, spat twice, and waved away the suggestion. “You… you stay out there, ol’ boy… we’re good.”

Dragomir didn’t bother to right himself. He remained on his side, breathing a little better but still coughing every now and then, mostly staring into the beady eyes of the diary. He’d tipped it off of his lap during his fit. The frown on its face was heartbreaking, and he tried a little smile, but that didn’t seem to cheer the book. It poked lightly at his face with its tail.

“So anyway,” Bora said, sniffling, “that was a pleasant start to the conversation, wasn’t it? Glad I didn’t do that while tendin’ bar. I’d have driven off every paying customer within twenty miles.”

“You took my eye,” Traveller mumbled. He shifted his pointed finger to Dragomir. “You took my eye - “

“Yes, I surely did, ’n we all know it.” Bora struggled to straighten her hair. It was matted and unruly, a far cry from her usual, stylish ‘do. “And I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. ’n I’m here to rectify that a touch, if I may. It needs to be rectified.”

Dragomir froze, the unease in his chest travelling down into his stomach. He was glad to see Bora - they’d parted on good terms a few months ago, and he knew she’d show up again before the end, like she’d promised - but those last two sentences… they sounded bad. They sounded downright terrifying, in fact, and he couldn’t tell why, suspecting that Bora’s intentions were travelling across their unique bond in a way he couldn’t yet grasp.

Bora reached around the fire and gently pushed Traveller’s hand into his lap. He looked like he might spring up and bolt from the campsite at any moment, but he didn’t move, and his arm yielded to her pressure. 

“I’ve done a lot of thinkin’,” Bora went on. “Even when you were tellin’ your little story, Dragomir, I was thinkin’. And researchin’. You wouldn’t tell it from my job choices in the past, but I’m a scientist, y’know? I figure stuff out. And I figured out something that I wish I’d figured out a while ago. Might’ve saved some pain.”

“What’s that?” Dragomir asked, the words emerging from his mouth in a dribble. Despite his fear he also felt exhausted, as if Bora’s presence had given him license not to fear Traveller, and he wanted to sleep. He wouldn’t, but he wanted to.

“Doesn’t matter right now.” Bora shook her head. “You’ll puzzle it out. Point is, I wronged you, Dragomir. Both of you. Stole the life from one, fabricated the life of the other. That damned fool in the woods might’ve been to blame, too, but the one who pulled the trigger has to take the responsibility. I’ve been good at ducking responsibility for the shit I pull for way too long.”

Bora staggered to her feet. Traveller flinched back, almost toppling over, but she wasn’t moving towards him. She plodded over to Dragomir and knelt over him, stroking his stump of a shoulder, and Dragomir’s fear subsided a bit… until she grabbed at his prosthetic arm and wrenched it from the socket, eyes flashing green as she did. Dragomir howled in pain at the sudden violence - and his howls redoubled as she did the same to Dragomir’s false leg. She threw both pieces of wood and metal into the fire.

“Why… why…” Dragomir hiccuped through his cries, tears flowing liberally. He could feel blood dribbling out of both of his stumps. “W… wh… why… I th… I thought…”

“I’m not bein’ mean, my boy,” Bora insisted. Dragomir tried to push her away, but his attempts were feeble, and she rolled him onto his back. “You keep having bad dreams. I know, because I have ‘em too. That lunkhead over there wants something back. Well, let’s give it back to him.”

Mouth quivering, Dragomir understood. His eyes flew wide open, and he tried to struggle in earnest, realizing the depths of Bora’s actions, knowing that she was going to take something vital from him, something he’d never given much thought to, but something that made him Dragomir. He needed to fight it, but he couldn’t, because, oh, she’d done something, she’d done something to herself to rob him of what little strength he had left, perhaps drugged herself, and though she could fight those effects he couldn’t, and now… he was… he couldn’t…

Dragomir blinked. I’m going away now, aren’t I? I’m going away.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea!” The voice from the darkness sounded panicky and fearful, and much closer than before.

“You stay out of this, Baron, m’lad! Get the hell away from the fire, and keep the other one pinned in place!” Bora’s features seemed to be changing, her face growing and turning grotesque as her muscles grew. She looked almost like a spider in the firelight, but one with greyish skin and a mop of white hair. “Fuck… you… you’re pretty strong even like this… mama’s proud of you… now just be quiet…”

Pinning Dragomir’s head to the ground by his neck, Bora hovered over him, her wide, emerald eyes weeping yet determined. Her long, leathery fingers swept across his face and pried his eyelids open, and as they did Dragomir unleashed a drunken, horrified scream. Traveller joined him, but Dragomir didn’t hear his doppelganger run, and as Bora did her work Dragomir decided he wasn’t able to notice much of anything besides the horrible sensation of departure.

To his surprise, beyond the iron grip of Bora’s hand on his neck, it didn’t hurt at all. He screamed anyway, but the lack of pain was almost as stunning as the fact that she’d just removed his eye.

Bora released Dragomir, and he rolled onto his side, gibbering incoherently, eyelids pinched shut. His skull felt vacant, robbed of something vital, and he clutched at his forehead with frantic fervour. There was a burning in his brain, as painful as his usual headaches but somehow different, as though his body was struggling to do something, to create something, but in its weakened state it couldn’t quite muster the effort needed to get it done.

Dragomir barely noticed that Bora was undoing the bandages on Traveller’s face. He, too, was screaming, but he didn’t move, allowing himself to be laid onto the ground. Bora’s lumpy body dangled over him, a fleshy shadow on spindly legs, half woman and half monster. It all seemed like a nightmare, but Dragomir knew he wouldn’t be sleeping again, so it couldn’t be a nightmare. It couldn’t be.

“And just a little bit left on it,” Bora murmured to herself. Dragomir suspected her heard her in his mind as much as with his ears. “There. Yep, that’ll… that’ll do. Yeah. Yeah.”

Time passed. Things happened. And when Dragomir opened his eyes, he was staring into the face of The Baron. The old man was hunched over him, a hand on Dragomir’s shoulder, shaking him lightly but firmly. He was saying something… but Dragomir couldn’t tell what it was. His ears, along with all of his other sensory organs, seemed attuned to only one fact: he’d expected The Baron to look different. Someone with only one eye should be a little… off-centre. But the man looked the same as he’d always looked.

Dragomir reached up and touched his face. He still had two eyes. Then he realized that he’d touched his face with an arm he thought he’d lost, and he wondered over that, too. His wonderment spread to his leg, because it was back in place. Both limbs felt tender and weak, as though they might burst into dust and flutter away at any moment, but they existed.

Dragomir sat up gingerly, helped by The Baron. He spotted Bora at once, laying off to the side of the fire pit. She was still a mass of greyish skin and otherworldly horror, but that horror was quickly folding in on itself, the flesh collapsing back into her human arms and human legs… and, just as quickly, robbing her of one of her arms and one of her legs. The truth was obvious enough, and Dragomir didn’t feel the need to ask any questions as he hobbled to her side.

Sweating profusely, her matted hair swept over one empty eye socket, Bora smiled up at him. The tusks protruding from her cheeks slid back into her face just quickly enough for the smile to be adorable. “I… ah… I set… I set it… right… didn’t… didn’t I…?”

Dragomir wasn’t sure if he should nod or not. He stammered a few nonsensical words instead.

“Are you certain this is what you want?” The Baron asked, straightening his glasses. He tried to help Bora into a more comfortable position, but she looked like any position would be uncomfortable to her. “Or… well, I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore, but…”

“Yep… bit… late…” Bora tried to reach up and stroke Dragomir’s cheek, but her remaining hand couldn’t make the trip. He helped her along, realizing as he did that he looked like a Non again, every bit of his skin oily black. “Now… you fellas… ought to keep goin’… it’s late, but… she’s… waiting for ya…”

“You’re hurt,” Dragomir said stupidly.

“I’ll live… s’long… as you… live…” Bora closed her remaining eye. “Just… get… that damned… fool… to bury us… together… if he can… he’s… he can do it… easy… now that… he’s…”

Bora’s hand slipped out of Dragomir’s grip. Breathing uneasily, she fell unconscious. Dragomir knelt beside her and touched his head to hers, still feeling wobbly on his new leg. But he couldn’t stay that way for long. He had to look. He had to see. He couldn’t avoid him forever. And so, forcing himself away from both Bora and The Baron, the latter of whom had knitted his fingers together in silent penance, Dragomir straightened… and looked to the other side of the fire.

Traveller was standing tall on the edge of the campsite, the sweat on his skin glistening in the moonlight. He was looking at his arms as though they were something new and unexpected, a surprise so surprising that he didn’t know what to do. He raised a hand and peered at it, then the other. Dragomir couldn’t see Traveller’s grinning expression through the curtain of hair around his face, but it was there, no doubt about it. Dragomir had no doubt that the wonder came from seeing the world with two eyes again. That, and the feeling of completeness.

The diary stood at Traveller’s feet, staring up at him. It held a quill in its tail, and it was thrusting the quill towards Traveller. Dragomir’s heart broke.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Eight: Of days past

Oh, what the hell. Maybe if I talk he’ll stay on the other side of the fire.

Dragomir reached into his bag and pulled out the diary. It stared up at him, huffy and expectant, and for the first time in a long time he gave it a little smile. The diary seemed to consider this, then flipped open at his touch. A feather quill was clutched in its coiled rat tail, and it slid up to him; he brushed the quill aside. He could feel the diary shudder with discontent, but he brushed that aside, too, flipping idly through the pages.

“Can you read?” Dragomir asked.

Traveller cocked his head to one side. “No. Mom ’n dad didn’t know how to read, and… that other guy… well, I think he knew, but maybe I don’t remember…? I think he liked to eat more.”

Dragomir pursed his lips. “Yeah. Yeah, he liked to eat more. Okay, so much for Plan A. I’ll do vocals.”

Traveller cocked his head to the other side. “Vocals? You gonna sing?” 

“No, no, you… ugh. Stupid.” Dragomir straightened as best he could and cleared his throat. “Once upon a time, there was a man.”

Traveller’s demeanour changed instantly. The vague threat in his voice disappeared as he whooped, and he threw his hands into the air, flopping onto the ground with the enthusiasm of a rowdy puppy. His glee was so great that he almost set his long hair on fire, and Dragomir had to stop his story short, on the first sentence, to yell at Traveller to watch out. 

“Once upon a time,” Dragomir began again, scowling, “there was a man. ’n he got a job at a castle. He was a guard.”

“You don’t have to tell me like this, y’know,” Traveller mumbled, but he looked thoroughly engrossed nonetheless. “You can just say it straight, or… something.”

It’s like he’s one part grown-ass man and one part four-year-old. “He got the job because his parents arranged for him to get the job. He wasn’t sure if somebody else had a hand in it, too, and he didn’t really care. It meant leaving the farm, and though that frightened him, he was okay with it. He wanted to try something else. Something different.”

“And he had a wife, right?” Travelled kicked at the dirt with enough vigour to leave deep gouges in the ground. “A really hot wife? Did they do it? Tell me they did it.”

And he liked his job well enough,” Dragomir gritted out, ignoring the sexual comments as best he could. “He was lazy, but he did his job, and he was the worst one at it, but that was okay. And, yes, he had a wife, and a year later he had a daughter. A really tiny daughter, who was quiet, and thoughtful, and who liked to… uh… anyway. She was nice in her own way.”

Traveller pointed into the distance, seeming almost unaware that he’d done so. Dragomir had no doubt that he was pointing straight at the ruins of Castle FinalDestination.

“He had adventures.” Dragomir continued to flip through the diary, staring down at the scrawls of handwriting within. There were so many different styles, from so many different people. “He went to a kingdom full of goblins, a kingdom that’s now long gone. He got stuck in a swamp. He found an underground city, a really small but really big city, and discovered… things. Things he didn’t want to know, because they made his simple life less simple.”

“Oh, I know what that’s like,” Traveller cut in, sitting up. “This one time I was all ‘I wonder what happens if I touch the dangly thing at the back of my throat?’ And then I did, and the stuff that came out of me - “

Dragomir ignored Traveller. He realized, dimly, that he was starting to tell the story to himself, to relive all the things he’d done since the beginning of… everything. “There were werewolves. And boxing. And a dragon, a really friendly dragon that could change shape. And his daughter got engaged to a little boy, a wicked, clever little boy… and the kingdom celebrated, I suppose, by digging a big hole. Or maybe the hole was happening regardless. The man didn’t know, exactly - he just knew that something bad was going down, and he got scared. He got really scared.”

“Really scared?” Traveller shuffled a little closer.

“Really scared.” Dragomir shuffled further away, around the fire. “But, on the… eve… of his daughter’s wedding, or, uh… actually, I guess it was the day after, but… anyway… he entered the hole. He went down the hole, into the centre of the Earth, practically. And then he did the bravest thing he’d ever done, facing down a big… door… a really big door… and it got him killed.”

Dragomir’s stomach began to hurt. Most of his body hurt these days, of course, but this sensation was not the dull ache he’d grown to associate with his failing form. It was an acute sensation, a burning, twisting sting, as though an enormous wasp had happened on their campfire and lodged its stinger in his gut. But this wasp had blonde hair, and narrowed eyes, and a suit of armour, and when it looked at him it offered the most loving smile he’d ever seen in his life. Dragomir’s stomach hurt, but it was an ache filled with love, a gesture meant to save, and he hugged himself. It was not easy, having only one arm, but he tried anyway.

“He doesn’t look killed.” Traveller’s enthusiasm seemed to die a little, his voice hollow and shocked.

“He was. Trust me.”

Dragomir’s eyes flew open, and he turned. There was a third person by the fire, sitting cross-legged on a hunk of wood and staring at Traveller. Her dark skin glowed a muddy orange in the firelight, and her white hair, more scraggly and unkempt than Dragomir remembered, identified her at once. Traveller looked at her, eye widening, and with one shaky hand he pointed at her, mouth working silently on words it couldn’t pronounce.

“Hi, fellas.” Bora coughed into her hand, and Dragomir noticed a thin trail of dull green dripping down her fingers when she spoke again. “Hope you don’t mind if a girl gatecrashes your all-boys club.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Seven: Tell me

The trip took three more days from the point that Traveller joined Dragomir and The Baron. By the end of it Dragomir’s eyes were puffy and red, utterly bloated from a lack of sleep - yet, somehow, he stayed awake. He couldn’t help himself, because he feared that Traveller might pluck out his eyeball if he dared to close it.

The trip, already awkward, became even more awkward. Unlike Dragomir and The Baron, who understood social niceties enough to remain silent, Traveller babbled constantly. He made note of everything: the blue of the sky, the heady, sometimes overwhelming scent of the trees, the passing migrations of reindeer, even the way the clouds looked like misshapen breasts, both male and female. Dragomir wanted sorely to punch Traveller whenever he mentioned Libby, and it happened often, but he felt too weak and too frail to put up even a token fight. He let the comments slide, and, eventually, elected to ignore Traveller.

“You aren’t talking to me anymore,” Traveller said, perhaps an hour after Dragomir had taken an internal vow of silence. “This is boring. Talk to me or I’ll get even more bored, y’know? Tell me about our family.”

Dragomir snorted. “Don’t have to. Don’t want to. And it’s not our family, it’s my family.”

“Nuh uh,” Traveller insisted, head cocked. Even he looked confused, but he kept talking anyway. “It’s both ours. How else could whatserface be so strong? What’s our daughter’s name again? Evelyn? I think it’s Evelyn. I mean, obviously she belongs to both of us, so - “

Dragomir punched Traveller. Or he tried, anyway. His fist rebounded uselessly off of Traveller’s jaw, knuckles bruised. Traveller barely seemed to notice. Dragomir tried again, with similar results, and gave up. He’d never been a strong puncher, for sure, but missing two of his limbs made him even weaker than he’d expected. He sighed, and Traveller gabbed, and they wandered onward, three fellows jammed into one tiny cart. Only the giant toads leading the way seemed unaffected by the awkwardness.

The trip to Castle FinalDestination seemed to take a fraction of the time it had taken to travel to what would become Pubton, and that made little sense to Dragomir. True, he’d never gone this route before, and true, he was in a cart, not on foot, but he’d still expected a journey that would last several weeks. Perhaps even a month, given how often Traveller had to stop their trip for pee breaks. Yet the world seemed utterly bent on dragging Dragomir to his destination as quickly as possible, compressing itself in such a way that mountains became hills, valleys became potholes, dirt roads became tiny footpaths. Within a week and a half they arrived in familiar lands, and Dragomir knew, just by scanning the horizon, that the castle was only a few hours away.

He called for a halt. The Baron complied quietly, tugging at the reins of the toads to stop. Dragomir expected either resistance or questions from Traveller, but the cyclopian nuisance simply smiled cheerfully and hopped off of the cart, exclaiming as he did that the flowers in these parts looked absolutely stunning. Then he ate several, and Dragomir’s scowl grew as he rubbed his tired eyes.

The Baron set up a campfire. He also offered to go looking for wood in a nearby forest, insisting - unnecessarily - that he would be safe on his own. Dragomir waved him away, curled himself up in a blanket, grabbed a branch from the ground, and poked at the fire in gloomy silence. He only dared crack a tiny grin when Traveller tried to grab at the fire and it burnt his hand, but the grin vanished quickly, quelled by unease and dislike. Dragomir wasn’t sure if - or when - Traveller might make a forceful grab for his lost eye, and he wasn’t sure how much he cared anymore, either. Dragomir was a dead man either way.

He only kept going because his daughter needed him. Nothing else.

“I always wanted to be a guard,” Traveller mumured.

Dragomir’s head shot up. He stared through the licking flames of the campfire, drinking in the expression of the man seated across from him. Traveller seemed to have dropped his spastic routine, folding himself into an awkward crouch, his two strong arms folded across his legs. His one eye calmly studied the flames, not seeming to see them, but something in them, something beyond. Dragomir supposed he was staring into his past.

“That rat… kept me confused… for a long time,” Traveller continued. He reached out to the flames again, far less comically, and didn’t pull away as a stray flame kissed the tip of his finger. He held it in place for several seconds before slowly pulling it back and sticking it in his mouth. “It hid in my hair. Made me forget… a lot of things. All those rats did that to me, you know? So I forgot. I got all messed up. But I’m remembering a lot, now.”

Dragomir swallowed. He pulled his blanket around his shoulders more tightly, hoping it might swallow him up and send him somewhere completely different. The early October wind howled around him, and despite the warmth of the fire, Dragomir shivered. It was too cold out here for this conversation, far too cold.

“But I don’t… remember… everything.” Traveller touched his eyepatch. “Enough, but not everything. So… I’d like if you… told me. You need to tell me what I missed. Because I always wanted to be a guard, but I never could. You took that away from me. So you owe me.”

“I didn’t take anything away from you,” Dragomir muttered. “Other people did. They took just as much away from me.”

“Maybe,” Traveller replied, after a moment of consideration. “But maybe I don’t care. So start talking, please. Tell me everything. Please.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Six: No more dreaming

Dragomir screamed, and rightfully so. A hairy man was touching his face. Most people would scream.

The Baron leaped to his feet so violently that he almost burned down his small tent, and narrowly avoided tragedy by kicking his spilled lantern out of the tent at the last second. His haste to reach Dragomir was so violent that he tripped, brought the tent down around him, yelled for help, and was generally ineffective at doing anything to save his companion. And in the meantime, Dragomir continued to scream.

Traveller clamped a hand over Dragomir’s mouth. It was iron-tight, and Dragomir didn’t bother to try and remove it. “Shhh. You’re loud. It’s late. You’ll wake up all the chipmunks. I think there’re chipmunks here, aren’t there?”

Dragomir’s eyes twitched, and when Traveller loosened his grip Dragomir immediately pulled away. They were standing in a small clearing, perhaps fifty feet away from the campsite, in the shade of a tree. Dragomir assumed he’d sleepwalked out here, because he was most definitely not asleep now, and he reinforced this belief by smacking his head on a cluster of branches as he tripped backward and fell on his ass. The branches hurt too much for this to be a dream.

Grinning, Traveller helped Dragomir up, grasping his pseudo-twin’s good arm and yanking Dragomir to his feet. Dragomir backed away again, a little more carefully this time, and pressed his hand to his chest. His heart hurt from the excitement.

“You… you fuck…” Dragomir gasped for breath. It was a while in coming, and he coughed several times before he got another proper word out. “You… you fucking… good gods, Traveller… why the fuck are you…?”

“‘cause I’m supposed to be,” Traveller replied simply. He scratched his chin. “This looks an awful lot like that place where I lost my eye. How’d I lose it again? Hm. Wonder if it’s around here, somewheres… or is it in your head? Yeah, maybe that was it. I couldn’t have it back, by any chance, could I? Kinda miss having two eyes! It’s like missing my boots all the time - “

Dragomir turned away, the sweat on his forehead redoubled. Looking for any excuse he could get, he trampled away from Traveller, towards the wagon. The giant toads were croaking loudly, joining The Baron in his distress as he struggled to extricate himself from his mess of a tent. He calmed down when Dragomir approached and announced himself, though getting him out of the tent was no mean feat with Dragomir’s one good arm.

Traveller didn’t help. He simply watched, leaning against the wagon, smiling a little. He clapped when The Baron finally popped free of his enclosure, and his smile grew by leaps when a dismayed expression spread across The Baron’s face.

“I… I take it… he’s responsible?” The Baron grabbed at his glasses and cleaned them furiously, revealing, if only for a second, twin pinpricks of Non-green pupils in the darkness. “What is he doing here? I thought we were…”

“Yeah, me too,” Dragomir agreed, sneering. He turned to Traveller, unwilling to show his back to the man. “You! Really, what the hell are you doing here? Did you follow us?”

“Kinda!” Traveller plopped down on the ground, sitting with his legs crossed, like a child. He pointed up at the stars. “Something told me you’d be out here. Something up there? Maybe? I dunno. Or maybe it was just my eyeball, calling for me. I’m not sure, eh? Not sure of a lot of things. Either way, I’m supposed to be here, so I am! Libby didn’t come with you, did she? Does she wanna have sex yet?”

Dragomir’s sneer grew. He wanted to reach across the campsite and slap Traveller, but he suspected doing so might break his hand. He settled for jabbing a finger imperiously towards Traveller instead. “You should be in freakin’ Pubton! I don’t care about your… delusions… or whatever… you don’t belong here! Now go away, or we’ll make you leave!”

Dragomir knew he had no way of enforcing his words. He was weaker now - unable to transform, missing an arm and a leg, dying from the effects of the Catastrophe, and afraid to trigger the weapon - than he’d ever been, even back during his days as Castle CurrentDestination’s worst guard. But he had a stronger voice, and he knew how to give orders, and he hoped the power of his convictions would send demented Traveller scurrying into the night from whence he came.

Traveller did not such thing. Instead, pulling on his feet, Traveller grinned so broadly that it looked like his face might split in half. He rocked back and forth on his butt, looking as though he might laugh, but he barely made a sound. It was a disconcerting display, and Dragomir’s gesture faltered. He looked at The Baron, and The Baron looked back, and they both shrugged uselessly.

“I think I’m going,” Traveller eventually said, still rocking creepily, “because our daughter’s gonna be there. And I know I asked if she was available a long time ago, but now I’m pretty sure she’s kinda my daughter, and I wanna help her, because she’s in pain. I can feel it, and I wanna help her work through it until she dies. And if you wanna stop me, well, you’ll have to trade something for me to go away.”

“What’s that?” Dragomir asked, mouth dry. 

“Your eyeball,” Traveller said at once. He pointed at his face. “‘cause if I get that back then I think I’ll be me again, which means I won’t be Traveller, which means I can go wherever I want, whether we made a deal or not. Because, you know, you made the deal with me, and not me. So it’s, um… a win-win? I think it’s called a win-win. Would you say it’s a win-win, old guy?”

“It’s a win-win,” The Baron sputtered, shuffling uncomfortably.

Traveller raised his hands to the stars, shaking them victoriously as he cheered, and the moment he did so he joined the party. Nothing Dragomir did or said or threatened could make him leave, and every time Dragomir tried to get him to go away, Traveller’s rejoinders became more specific and more threatening. He only lapsed into his childish, irritating personality when Dragomir gave up and let him have his way, and by then they were all so awake that they hit the road.

Dragomir did not sleep again for the duration of their trip. He was too busy living his nightmare.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Five: You forgot someone

Dragomir opened his eyes to a light in his face.

It was not a particularly strong light, and it took him a few seconds to even register that it was there, and not just a figment of his imagination. It did not blind him after a night of darkness, did not startle him into abruptly sitting up, did not frighten him into wondering if, perhaps, the rats had somehow come back, and were shining their brilliant white judgment down into his face. It was just there, and when Dragomir felt like it, he responded.

The light was accompanied by a familiar face. It was the face of a friend.

“Hello, my earnest, earliest, greatest comrade in harms,” Edmund said, smiling gently down at Dragomir. “I see thou hast misplaced one of your arms?”

Dragomir sniffed, mirroring Edmund’s rueful grin as he sat up, propped against one side of the wagon. “Aw, shit. Hi, Ed. Yep, lost it in a bar fight, or something like that. You know how it is. Am I dreaming?”

Edmund shrugged. “Only in part, my erstwhile chum, / So out of that wagon you had better come.”

Edmund helped Dragomir to his feet and out the back of the wagon. They were still parked in the same place where the wagon had stopped the night before, only now the landscape was bathed in a subtle golden glow, one so soothing that Dragomir felt like going back to sleep. But he couldn’t sleep within a dream, and it was the first pleasant dream he’d had in a long time, so he coaxed himself to remain awake. It was a bit easier to do when Dragomir stumbled on his flimsy prosthetic leg.

“Man, I can’t get used to this thing,” Dragomir complained. “I’d get Libby to make me something better, but I’m not gonna see her again, so… anyway. Happy thoughts, right? What’ve you been up to, Ed?”

“Whatever goblins do in goblin hell, I guess,” Grylock replied. He seemed to consider peeing on Dragomir’s fake leg, but, mercifully, decided against it. “Somethin’ shitty, aye? Somethin’ shitty. Watch your step, Mr. Mayor.”

Grylock led Dragomir away from the wagon and onto a forest path, and Dragomir considered protesting the abrupt change in company. He’d liked Grylock well enough, but he liked Edmund more. But he was too calm, and feeling too polite, and Grylock was already dead, so he decided not to complain. Instead he looked back at the wagon, watching as it receded out of sight, lost in a glittering mist. The toads at the head of the wagon disappeared first, and Dragomir noticed that both were sound asleep.

“Aye, don’t worry ‘bout them, they’ll still be there,” Grylock insisted. He pulled Dragomir along. “C’mon. Got a surprise for ye.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Dragomir wanted to rub his hands together, but he only had one, so that didn’t get very far. He settled for scratching his chest instead. “Some kinda present?”

“Some kinda,” Bernard replied. “Come on.”

The path narrowed, and widened, and narrowed again, twisting and turning in random directions. Several times Dragomir wondered if he wasn’t just going to pop out beside the wagon again, but every time the path turned it seemed to take him deeper into the undergrowth, further away from whatever destination he’d been travelling towards the past three days. It almost didn’t matter, because he knew he’d end up in this place soon anyway, so why delay? Why not just continue on with this odd, ever-changing parade? Surely he’d been here before anyway, though he didn’t remember the experience.

“No, you’ve still got something to do,” Evangelina said. Her fingers tightened around Dragomir’s good hand. “You’re going back. But you need to look here, first. Just for a moment.”

Dragomir’s chin drooped. A tear welled up in the corner of one eye. “Damn. So… so you are gone, then, Eva…?”

Evangelina nodded. She pointed, too, through the trees, and a stern-faced man peered back at them through the brush. Then he was gone, his clean, pale face looking both proud and happy. “Don’t worry. I’ve got good company. Even if he doesn’t feel like speaking right now.”

“Ah, that’s too bad,” Dragomir replied, and to his surprise he was telling the truth. 

They came to a clearing after either a microsecond or an eternity of walking, Dragomir couldn’t tell which it was. In the middle of the clearing was a tall tree, so vibrantly golden that it reminded Dragomir of Pubton, and it took him a moment to remember the town’s own golden tree, a shining beacon on even the darkest nights. Yet that tree had held secrets, terrible secrets, and the thought of its destruction - and what lay in its roots - gave Dragomir sudden pause. He looked at Evangelina, hoping she would lead him back the way they’d come.

“Go on, bro,” Robert said, his tall chef’s hat drooped over one eye. He pushed Dragomir towards the tree. “Get it over with. Y’get to rest soon, I promise.”

Dragomir staggered, and he turned back, hoping to catch another glimpse of his brother. But Robert was already gone, fading as quickly as memory, and the path they’d taken together had closed. Now there was only the clearing, large yet oppressively small, and Dragomir trembled as he looked to the trunk of the golden tree. Its glow had dimmed noticeably, looking almost bronze, and the canopy of branches and leaves over his head crunched together into a solid ceiling.

Something was laying on the other side of the golden tree. No, rather, someone was laying on the other side of the golden tree, their arms and legs spread, as though trying to create an angel imprint in the forest floor. 

No, Dragomir thought. No, no, no, I left you behind, I left you the fuck behind.

“No, you didn’t,” the man explained, rising to his feet. “You only get one dream from now on, remember? Only one. ’n it’s one where I get me some food.”

Dragomir stumbled back against the closed trees, searching desperately for a way out of the clearing, even as it closed in around him, bringing the man to him. In seconds Dragomir was caught in a space no larger than his bathroom in Pubton, trapped with another, larger man, with broad shoulders and hairy arms, and a mane of hair so long and unruly that it couldn’t possibly have belonged to someone else. The man opened his mouth, salivating, and his right hand travelled to Dragomir’s face, brushing his helmet from his head and caressing the skin around his right eye. 

“Better wake up, stupid,” Traveller said, “‘cause this isn’t a dream. Not this time.”

Dragomir did wake up, his body covered in a cold sweat. And, unlike every other time he’d pried himself from a nightmare in the last year, Traveller did not disappear. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Four: Strange Non-Bedfellows

The trip home was easily one of the most awkward times of Dragomir’s life.

He wished he’d been allowed to make the journey alone. Eve was his daughter, after all, and his alone, to the point that she wasn’t even really Libby’s daughter. The two had no true connection, never would have a true connection, never even could have a true connection. For that reason, Dragomir suspected, just as Logan had suspected, that Libby would die if she went anywhere near Eve in her current state. If Eve’s own mother wasn’t safe, no one could be. 

But Dragomir couldn’t travel on his own. Despite Libby’s technical prowess, she didn’t have the resources to make a functioning replacement arm for her husband. Not cooped up in jail, anyway. The leg had already been a stretch, and that, too, kept Dragomir from going it alone. He needed someone to come with him, and the only person qualified, the only person who might make a difference in stopping Eve, was The Baron. The man who’d controlled her in the first place.

So here they were. Travelling. Seldom saying anything, beyond casual niceties and occasional comments about the landscape. And, oh boy, was it awkward.

Dragomir couldn’t even say exactly why it was awkward. He’d known The Baron for a long time, now, virtually his entire lifespan (assuming Dragomir was only five or six years old, despite how he looked and felt). The man was, in a subtle way, Dragomir’s father. He was most definitely the reason Dragomir existed, which made him a fatherly figure of sorts. Dragomir had never enjoyed the company of a proper, caring father, and The Baron was certainly nicer than Oswald the Farmer. But still… the awkwardness… it didn’t feel to Dragomir like the kind of awkwardness a son and a father might share.

No. It was something else. Something weirder. Something Dragomir didn’t even want to consider. So he brushed it aside, and held his tongue, and read his diary, and remained awkward. The Baron reciprocated, deepening the awkwardness.

Their trip, Dragomir discovered, was initially much easier than the journey he’d made into the lands that would later become property of Pubton. Before they’d been forced to ford through open fields and thickly-treed forests, compressing their wagons into tight spaces that should never have permitted entry to a caravan of settlers. Now, though, the trees had been cleared in many places, and hints of worn dirt peeked through the grass, the ghosts of trade routes carved by the earliest of Pubton’s pioneers. They hadn’t been used in a while, not since the Non had moved into the Imperium, but the tracks made travel swifter.

Without really thinking about it, Dragomir flipped back to those days in his diary, shuffling through the entries immediately after his return to life. He shut the book with a sharp snap, however, when he reached the day of Grayson’s birth, and the diary gave him a reproachful stare as he shoved it back into his bag. It was still grumpy that he’d refused to write in it for over a year, and he supposed he couldn’t blame it on that score. He wasn’t in a writing mood anymore.

“Unhappy reminiscing?” The Baron murmured at Dragomir’s side, eyes travelling to the bag. The diary was worming its way upright, trying to get out and largely failing.

“You could say that,” Dragomir admitted. He reached into the wagon’s darkened innards and retrieved a canteen. It was a trick to get it open with one hand, but he’d gotten the hang of it, and he took a deep swig of water. “There was a lot to be unhappy about.”

“Ah, yes, I suppose so.” The Baron clenched the reins of the wagon, eyes on the backs of the two giant toads leading them along. They glistened orange in the setting sun. “I’ve always wanted to peek into that book. It seems everyone you know has read it but me.”

“You’re not missing much.” Dragomir took another swig of water, spitting half of it onto the grass beside the cart. Splotches of red marred the foamy spit. “A lot of bitching about nonsense. Real waste of time, that diary.”

“Surely it doesn’t think so,” The Baron protested. He gently pried the top of the bag loose, and the diary glared up at him. “Though it does seem to be upset about something. Perhaps, ah, you… aren’t… feeding it properly…?”

Dragomir snorted. The diary snapped its two-dimensional, silent teeth at The Baron, and he closed the bag again.

They stopped for the night an hour later, just as the sun completed its tired trek below the horizon, and The Baron began to set up his small tent while Dragomir prepped his sleeping bag. They’d established separate bedding on the first night, almost without prior comment, and the arrangement suited Dragomir just fine. The wagon got a little drafty, even with the coverings closed, but he liked having the space to himself. He also reasoned that The Baron could better defend himself if something nasty appeared in the night and tried to drag him out of the tent - Dragomir would just make a sizeable, fairly helpless meal.

“Good night,” The Baron called, lifting a hand. He lit a lantern with the other and popped open the front of the tent. “Do, um, do you need anything before I go…?”

Dragomir waved him away. “No. I’m good. See you tomorrow.”

The Baron crawled into his tent, but the lantern remained on, and Dragomir listened to the rustling of the old man’s rucksack as he searched for a book to read. Dragomir sighed and struggled to close the coverings of the wagon, not feeling particularly tired, but not wanting to travel at night either. Their little campsite at the side of the road would do well enough for now.

Laying down on the floor of the wagon’s interior, surrounded by bags brimming with supplies and listening to the sleepy croaks of the giant toads outside, Dragomir stared at the ceiling. He imagined the wagon’s ribbed bonnet as the night sky, picturing each darkened imperfection in the fabric as another shining star. He tried to form constellations out of those stars, but he knew so little of the universe beyond his own world that they were nothing more than senseless pinpricks, no more important to his life than the flicker of a candle.

Dragomir coughed. His head spun. Eventually, he fell asleep.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Three: And they lived happily ever something

Dragomir discovered that he’d lost control of his transformative abilities when he tried to dress himself.

For the last year, ever since learning that he was at least part Non, Dragomir had enjoyed the ability to shift his clothes to look however he liked. It was convenient, because he no longer needed anyone to clean said clothes for him, nor did he have to do so himself. He could be the general of an army one minute and a pyjama man the next. But when he tried to shift into his guardsman’s uniform he found himself in agony so exquisite that his skin crawled, and the fake leg fitted to his stump promptly snapped free of its moorings. He struggled uselessly on the ground for ten minutes before Libby found him.

“You’re a fuckin’ mess,” she said, helping Dragomir change into travelling clothes. She plopped his helmet onto his head so hard that it bent his ears.

You have no idea, darlin’, he thought. Don’t think a ‘save point’, or whatever those things are, is gonna save me this time.

The barracks were empty when Dragomir and Libby left their unlocked cell. Logan had assured them that he would tie up the guards in other matters, and a convenient holiday for the nobles working in the offices left the place bereft of life. Even the few prisoners of Pubton’s small prison had been somehow removed, off serving time as menial labourers. Dragomir decided not to ask any questions as he plodded his way to the receiving area, supported by Libby.

“The people hate you now, man,” Logan had said. “It doesn’t matter what you did for ‘em. Not enough people living in Pubton now remember how you set this place up. There are too many refugees from places destroyed by the Non. We can’t let the most publicly-known Non of all time stay here.”

“There can’t be that many people who know,” Dragomir said. 

Logan responded by handing Dragomir a public petition, signed by well over a thousand people. The petition was for Dragomir’s head, separated from his body in a public forum. He got the message.

Logan was waiting for them in the receiving area, standing next to a cart. He was dressed in his old clothes, so reminiscent of Dragomir’s guardsman uniform, but the white gloves on his hands reminded Dragomir of Logan’s official position at once. He wondered, not for the first time, how the hell Logan had managed to wrangle control of a city for himself in such a short time, and, again, decided it wasn’t worth the effort to consider.

Logan was not alone.

“Oh, you two,” Daena cried. She rushed forward to hug Libby, then did the same for Dragomir, careful not to squish his left side too vigorously. “Oh, gods, I’m so sorry for all of this. You have no idea how much.”

“Ain’t your fault,” Libby said, hugging Daena again. She cast a glare at Daena’s son, who matched Libby’s gaze evenly. “You better come out and visit us, okay? I’m gonna need more company than just these two idiots, y’know.”

“Of course, of course.” Daena brushed a tear from her face. “Once Logan is all set up here, you may get some new neighbours. I would love to live in the countryside.”

Jeffrey, looking so muscular that his blue uniform didn’t seem to fit very well, stepped forward. He offered Dragomir his left hand, then awkwardly pulled it back and extended his right. “Oh. Um. Sorry.”

Dragomir shook his hand. “Don’t worry. I’m still gettin’ used to having one arm too. It’s a raw deal.”

“I bet.” Jeffrey sniffed. “I… listen. Thanks. You pulled me out of some terrible situations. I owe you a lot, and I’m still planning to repay you. Neighbours sounds like a good idea.”

Dragomir smiled. Yet again, someone who didn’t know better. That made sense, though - Dragomir hadn’t even told his wife what was happening to his body. “Yeah. Neighbours. Sounds great, Jeff. Take care of your kid ’til then, yeah? He needs help.”

Jeffrey fiddled with the bright, bronzed badge on his tunic. “Don’t worry. I’ll advise him as well as I can. I won’t let the power go to his head, like… some people I’ve known.”

Dragomir started to laugh, but he was cut off when his mother, unable to restrain herself any longer, rushed forward to embrace him. This surprised him - not only had he not seen her, he never thought she would show up. She didn’t know the whole story, but she must surely have concluded that, as a Non, he couldn’t possibly be her son. Knowing that and still being embraced made Dragomir want to cry.

“Oh, honey,” she said, weeping openly. “This… all of this… you’ve done too much for these ungrateful people. I’ve tried to yell at them for you, but… nobody will listen… I’m proud of you, at any rate, and I always will be, you hear? You send me letters whenever you can. You’d better, or I’ll find your new house and swat you on the bum.”

“Y… yes, ma.” Dragomir brushed away a grateful tear, and was momentarily panicked when he noticed that there were tiny swirls of greenish blood in the tear. “Is… is dad here…?”

Dragomir’s mother rolled her eyes. “No, he said he was busy. Too busy to see his son off. More like he’s too embarrassed to look sad. I suspect he’s at a bar, tromping around in that big wooden suit Libby built him, getting plastered. That’ll have to be his way of saying goodbye, dear. I hope you’re not mad?”

Dragomir shook his head. That sounded like his father, all right. It was the best goodbye he could’ve hoped for, their history considered. He hoped both of his parents would enjoy life with their actual son, whether they knew he was or not.

Hobbling to the rear of the cart, Dragomir peered inside. Its occupants stared back. There was little else to be said.

The cart set out from Pubton an hour later, just as dusk was settling in, with Fynn guiding a pair of stately giant toads from the front seat. As Logan’s former-second-in-command Fynn had no trouble getting through Pubton’s front gates, and the men on guard wished Fynn a good journey and a speedy return. Fynn swallowed and said little, for which Dragomir, hunched in the back, was grateful - he knew his son was not a good liar. The less said, the better.

Dragomir watched Pubton recede in the distance with a mixture of sadness and apathy. He would never see the city he’d started again. Yet this Pubton, tripled in size and filled with strangers, was not his Pubton, and he suspected its coming days would never be quite so bright and cheerful as its beginnings.

They met another cart two hours out from Pubton. Logan sat at the reins. Dragomir was surprised to see the king of Pubton was allowed to go off on his own - yet even with half a leg missing, Logan could clearly do just about anything he liked, including dodge his own guards. Dragomir didn’t envy them the task of trying to protect a king capable of leaping entire buildings whenever he damn well pleased.

Stepping down from the cart, Logan offered Libby the reins, and she took them with a fierce tug. He shrugged, turned away from her as she stepped up onto her cart, and walked towards Dragomir. Fynn passed him as he got into his mother’s cart, and the pair hugged briefly before separating. Dragomir wondered how difficult it had been for Fynn to leave Logan’s side, as they’d grown close over the last few months, ever since the debacle with the werewolves.

Logan offered Dragomir his hand. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

Dragomir took the hand. For a second, in the setting sun, he saw Logan as a little boy again, the prominent, stately, black curl back on his forehead. “Yeah. Yeah, it has.”

Hesitating for a moment, Logan pulled Dragomir into a hug. His voice shuddered as he spoke into Dragomir’s ear. “I haven’t trusted you for a long time, man. A really long time. And I hate that. It tears me up inside, ‘cause you’re as much my dad as that idiot back in Pubton. I’m only king now because I don’t think I can trust anyone else doing the job, and that includes you, much as you’d probably be okay at it. I don’t want to not trust you anymore. So can I offer you some advice? You made me head of intelligence, and I sucked at that, but I can tell you something small, at least. You okay with that? You okay with some advice?”

“Sure,” Dragomir replied.

“Don’t die,” Logan said flatly. “I’m only askin’ you to do this ‘cause I know you’d do it anyway. But I can tack something extra on as well. Whether you find Eve alive or dead, whether you save her or bury her, just… don’t die.”

“Okay,” Dragomir lied. He patted Logan on the back.

Logan disappeared into the darkness, striding away without saying a word to the first cart’s other occupant. Dragomir heard a small sigh float out of the cart, and despite himself he felt bad for the man.

Libby left in the second cart without a word, but the look in her eyes told Dragomir everything he needed to know: she wanted him to come find her once it was all over. He knew where to go. He knew what lay ahead of them. It would be a happy life, so long as he came back. He lied to her, too, and unlike Logan, he suspected that she saw through his tiny, silent nod. No one could fool her. She left anyway, and Fynn waved to his father from the rear of the cart. Dragomir hoped he would see them again, but he doubted it would ever happen.

Dragomir climbed into the front of the cart. He struggled with the reins temporarily, trying to right himself, wishing he’d asked Libby to come along after all. But he was too afraid that Eve might try to kill her mother, or her brother, and he couldn’t allow that. He couldn’t.

A pair of gloved hands offered to take the reins instead, and a bulky, robed body climbed onto the front seat alongside Dragomir. Sighing, Dragomir handed the reins over, and moments later they were on the road, propelled by a pair of hopping toads. It was a smooth drive, and a nice night for a trip, under a blanket of stars.

“So,” The Baron said, clearing his throat awkwardly, “what should we talk about?”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Two: And so am I

“You can’t possibly know that for sure,” Dragomir said. He rubbed his temple, feeling a headache coming on. “You… I mean, how could you know?

“We’ve been following her movements,” Logan replied. “I’ve had scouts watching her for a while, ever since she lost it. Look.”

Logan reached into a pocket and retrieved a parchment map, sliding it through the bars. Libby snatched it up, and Dragomir had a look. The map of the world was covered in scribbled notes, all of them arrayed along a single, straight line from Rodentia and bound for the east. The line was not complete, but it was plainly plotted towards a single destination, with virtually no deviations. Dragomir swallowed, recognizing the territory of his old home.

“That comes from two-dozen reports over the last two weeks,” Logan said. “She’s headed to the castle, no doubt about it. A bit slow, for some reason, but there you go. I originally brought you here as a countermeasure, to make sure she wouldn’t come after us, but Eve doesn’t seem to give two figs about Pubton. Can I have that back, please?”

“A countermeasure,” Dragomir mumbled, flipping the folded map through the bars. “What, you think my being here would save this city? Fat chance.”

“You’d think so, but you’re alive,” Logan said. He shrugged. “Only Cedric, Antonio, Plato, and yourself survived close contact with Eve the day she lost it, and from what I hear Eve tried to kill Cedric and Antonio. Cedric only lived ‘cause he’s already kinda dead, and Antonio’s arms… well, they’re fucked. Not sure if he’ll be a boxer again, but at least he’s alive. Plato’s fine, ‘cause Eve stopped to wreck up the Sky Bitch. Gave him time to run.”

“My poor ship,” Libby muttered. “Your daughter is a cunt, you know that? How many times do I have to fix the things I build?

Dragomir laid his hand on his wife’s shoulder, but she batted it away. “She’s yours too, you know.”

Libby sniffed. “Pfft, my evil kid was Grayson. Yours is Eve. Let’s not pretend that ain’t the case.”

Dragomir shrugged. She was quite right on that count. “Okay. Doesn’t mean my being here would save anybody.”

“Couldn’t hurt, either. Plus I needed to lock you up.” Logan stared at the floor. “Sorry. Didn’t have much choice. They made me do it. I figured I’d at least stow you away on my own terms.”

They?” Dragomir raised an eyebrow. “Who’s ‘they’?”

“The Imperium, obviously.” Logan traced loops in the dirt on the ground with a bright white glove. It was a very un-kingly thing to do. “Once they found out you were a Non they wanted your head. Figured you’d tricked ‘em. Might’ve been wiser to keep your identity a secret like you’d been doin’, boss. Now you’re a pariah, and everybody knows it. Public wants you gone, one way or another.”

“But I had to out myself,” Dragomir insisted. “If we wanted to avoid killing all of the Non - “

“And force me to put ‘em in a camp? Yeah, sure, that worked great.” Logan sneered. “They’re all being treated like dirt, Dragomir, and I don’t have any choice but to treat ‘em that way. Might’ve been better to let them die in a battle rather ’n trying to recruit the lot. What, did you think we could open relations with them or something? That’s pretty naive, considering what they’ve done.”

“Then let them go home,” Dragomir pressed. He clenched his fist. “They won’t do anything else. They’re tired. Probably scared, too. Make the whole eastern continent that reappeared their camp, if you want. Set up checkpoints, or - “

Logan waved a hand. “This is all beside the point, man. Don’t worry about the Non, I’ll keep them alive somehow. I’ve stopped blaming ‘em for what that fucking penguin did, ‘cause it’s pretty clear that Kierkegaard was responsible for a lot. Him dying was a good piece of news, at least, though I wish you guys had waited for me to show up and help out. My dad was itching to nail Kierkegaard with a cannonball or two. At any rate, I’ve been waiting for you to wake up so I could give you a little proposition, if you’re willing to talk.”

Dragomir narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t sure that Logan actually would have supported the attack on Kierkegaard, just as he was unsure that the prince-turned-thief-turned-king would abide by any proposition he made. The fact that Logan now apparently ruled a city he’d barely lived in, one that had already been the domain of a king, a king who was still alive, made Dragomir rather edgy about the whole situation. It was too complex, and he was getting pretty damned tired of complex. 

Dragomir coughed into his hand. He noticed a spatter of blood on his palm, and quickly moved to wipe it on his side. “Propose away. Don’t think I have much choice, being stuck in here.”

Logan smiled. It was so close to the grin of the mischievous boy Dragomir had long considered a friend that Dragomir’s heart almost broke. “Okay. W00t. Right to the point, then. I want you out of Pubton, and I want you out as soon as possible. I’ll make it happen. In exchange, you’re going to do something for me.”

“That doesn’t sound like a fair trade at all,” Libby snapped. “You locked us up in the first place.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard you speak without swearing,” Logan replied.

“Fuck your chubby cunt face, twat-boy.” Libby smiled sweetly, then dropped back into moody silence.

“Thaaaaat’s more like it.” Logan smiled.

“Enough squabbling.” Dragomir coughed again. More blood. He blinked, feeling very tired. “What do I have to do for you to get out of here, Logan?”

“Pretty simple, really.” Logan shrugged. “Go home. Check on your daughter. Stop her. That’s all.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-One: She's going home

I’m going to stop asking politely soon. Give it back.

I’m so sick of this dream. Get it over with.

Okay. Om nom nom!

Dragomir was devoured. Then, inexplicably, he woke up.

Dragomir was laying in a bed. It was not an especially comfortable bed, but it was still a bed, and he liked that. As a general rule he preferred beds to rocky terrain. Blinking as much of the sleep out of his eyes as he could, he looked around the room, and he was confused when the first thing he noticed was a set of prison bars. He was even more confused when he noticed that he was on the bad side of those bars.

Dragomir's groaning earned him some attention, and he noticed that he was sharing a cell with his wife. Libby was sitting on a cot on the other side of a room, a technical manual in her hands, and she set it down when she heard her husband. She rushed to his side and gave him a sharp - but gentle - swat to the arm.

“Fuck, that took long enough,” she hissed. “Sorry. But you’ve been out for two weeks, and I’m bored in this shithole. You had it coming.”

Libby helped Dragomir into a sitting position. He noticed that she’d outfitted him with a wobbly prosthetic leg, built out of some low-quality wood. It didn’t seem to hold up very well when he planted his normal foot on the ground, but he could, at least, hobble around the cell. He thanked her, because he knew only Libby would be up to making something like this.

“Ugh… where are we?” Dragomir peered through the bars of the cell, focusing on a torch on the wall. There didn’t appear to be anyone outside. “Where… what are we doing in a cell?”

“Being prisoners, I guess,” Libby said. She snorted. “We’re in Pubton. That little fuck Logan shoved us in here. He took over, y’know. I wondered if he would, ’n he did. Gods-be-damned ungrateful brat.”

“But… why?” Dragomir staggered against the bars, trying to look through. “Hey! What the hell? Get us outta here! We didn’t do anything!”

“Don’t bother.” Libby dropped onto Dragomir’s bed with a growl. “They only show up at feeding time, ’n then it’s some fuckin’ guy I’ve never met before. Guess they have a new rotation of guards here, now that Evangelina’s not in charge of ‘em anymore. Bet Logan had that planned out in advance.”

Sighing, Dragomir joined her on the bed. He stared at his stump of a left arm. There was nothing left from his shoulder down, but the wound, at least, looked clean. “Tell me everything. Don’t leave anything out.”

Libby’s words were limited, as she’d been locked up here for a week, but there was still plenty to tell. After the battle in Rodentia Logan had immediately declared the war over, and set himself up as the leader of Pubton. This news took Dragomir by surprise, as he’d never pegged Logan for wanting to be a ruler, but it seemed to be a fact regardless. Forming an alliance with the battle-battered Imperium, Logan had set about forming a sort of concentration camp for the Non prisoners they’d taken before Kierkegaard went on his rampage. The Non hadn’t resisted, though there was word of Plato and Titan Blue arguing against their incarceration. They had a perfectly good, perfectly empty homeland in the far east, and should be sent there instead.

Not that arguing meant a whole lot. Not with a new, much more immediate threat.

“Eve,” Dragomir said, knowing Libby had deliberately skirted around the topic. “What happened to Eve?”

Libby swallowed. “You sure you want to know?”

Dragomir nodded.

One of Logan’s first acts as king of Pubton was to declare Eve a ‘natural disaster’, as she’d promptly gone on a rampage. Taking the fight to Rodentia, she’d slaughtered almost every soldier defending the battered city, demolishing the final remnants of the Imperium’s once-great army. Then she’d turned on the city, still a ruin from the sloth attack the year before, and spent half a day hunting down every living being she could find. Given Eve’s keen senses, few were spared her onslaught. She’d apparently grown bored of that after a while, though, and turned to the east, carving a senseless, ceaseless path of destruction across the countryside. 

As Eve’s parents, Dragomir and Libby had been promptly arrested when they arrived in Pubton on the Imperium’s sole remaining battle platform. Fynn had been spared the same fate, but only because he was already Logan’s right-hand-man in most matters. Dragomir felt a little betrayed at that fact, but he assumed Fynn wasn’t too happy with their imprisonment either, and he tried to reserve judgement.

“Okay,” Dragomir said, taking a moment to digest all of Libby’s information. “Okay. And… where’s she going? Or is it random?”

“No,” Libby admitted. She bit her lip and looked at their cell’s only window. It looked out on a tree, and thus provided very little by way of entertainment. “Not random at all. She’s going in a straight line. Straight home.”

“Straight home?” Dragomir sat up in bed. “You mean here? Then shouldn’t we be getting the hell out of here - “

“No,” a voice cut in. “Not here.”

Dragomir and Libby turned to the room beyond the bars. Standing there was a tall young man with neatly-trimmed brown hair, a cluster of stubble around his frowning mouth, and burgundy clothes that appeared both regal and functional. A bronze crown sat upon the man’s head, much less opulent than Dragomir might have expected of a king, yet despite that Dragomir thought for one fleeting moment that he was staring at King Jeffrey again, and he wondered if Eve’s mighty throw had sent him spiralling through time.

Libby launched herself at the bars, spitting at the man. He sidestepped the projectile. “You fucking twat. Get us out of here!

King Logan shook his head. “Nope. You’re safer in there, trust me. I thought the manuals would keep you busy for a while, Libby?”

“They’re for fuckin’ babies!” Libby grabbed one of the technical manuals from the cot - Dragomir noticed there was a small stack of the things - and hurled it through the bars. It was no more successful at hitting Logan than her spit. “After all we’ve been through, you stick a fucking knife in our backs - “

Dragomir thought Logan would do his best to keep away from Libby, but he was wrong. Surprising them both, Logan stepped towards the bars, well within reach of Libby’s grasp, and though she fumbled at first it didn’t take long for her strong hands to grab Logan by the throat. She began to throttle him, cursing him… and he stared back at her with measured, almost friendly defiance. He’d only just began to choke when Libby let him go and pushed him away.

Logan rubbed his neck, wincing. “F… fuck, lady, you’re stronger ’n I thought. That… that was probably a dumb idea… on my part…”

“Some king you are,” Libby snorted. She dropped onto the bed beside Dragomir again. “You here to say something, or you just spying on us, you weird pervert?”

Logan rolled his eyes and seated himself on the floor outside the cell, mindless of the dirt. He continued to soothe his neck, coughing up a bit of blood. His voice sounded hoarse for the rest of the conversation. “I’m… ach… I’m here to answer Dragomir’s question. That… that okay, or should I go?”

Libby snorted again. Dragomir nodded.

“Okay.” Logan took a breath. “She’s goin’ home, Dragomir. She’s going back to our old castle.”