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.”

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