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.

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