Friday, December 11, 2015

Be Well To Each Other

Click these big 'ol letters to jump to the final entry.
It’s over.

After four years, and a few extra months on top, it’s finally over.

That statement sounds like a sigh of relief. ‘Jesus, it’s finally over. I can go do something else.’ But it’s not. Not exactly. I mean, yes, there is a sense of relief, but it only stems from finishing the story. The fact that I saw it through to the end, that I gave Dragomir’s Diary the conclusion I’d pictured for so damn long, is the relief. I planned and I schemed, and the result is to my satisfaction. (Mostly.)

But I’ll miss the writing. I’ll miss the characters. I’ll miss forcing myself to work on the plot in the wee hours of the night, only to forget fatigue and quickly get sucked into the world, time and time again. Thinking about a Dragomir entry was a pain; starting it was a pain; actually writing it was a joy. If it wasn’t a joy I would have stopped long ago.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed Dragomir’s Diary as much as I have. The conclusion is ambiguous - deliberately ambiguous, in most respects - but you can fill it in with your own happy ending. I hope you give the cast the respite they deserve, deep in the creative recesses of your own imagination.

If you want a happy ending, stop here. Imagine the credits sequence. It’s short, and it’s mostly my name over and over, but it’s accompanied by some lovely music. It’s the kind of sequence you would expect from a role-playing game, and Dragomir’s Diary is very much patterned after role-playing games.

Happy ending. 


As you may know.

Some role-playing games have multiple endings.

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Finale

When Libby opened the front door of her home, she found a book staring up at her.

Libby took a step back, covering her mouth. She felt oddly embarrassed. She’d spent most of the evening engulfed in a project, her hands stuffed into an oily, makeshift engine block, and her clothes were slathered in splotches of greasy black. It was not an unusual look for her, and even if it was, she wouldn’t normally give a shit what other people thought. Nevertheless, when she saw the little face on the front of the green book staring up at her, a smile forming between the scratches and splotches, she felt incredibly awkward about her appearance.

Because it records everything, she thought, eye twitching. It knows it all. So I’ll look like this forever. Kinda. Something like that. Oh, shit, does that make any sense?

Libby stepped aside, and the diary tottered into the house on its tiny rat legs, pausing only a moment to give Libby an affectionate nudge. Frost and mud encrusted the bottom of the diary, and it was clutching a leaf-covered twig in its tail. It promptly dropped the twig by the front door and walked towards the living room.

“Uh…. hi,” Libby said, kicking the twig out of the house and slowly closing the door. “Ummmm… hey… where are you…? And where did you…? HEY, FYNN, YOU IN HERE?”

Fynn didn’t reply. She suspected he was off in the valley somewhere again, either training his magic with his spider familiar or just enjoying the night air. He seemed to like the cold more than the heat. Libby wondered if it was a Non thing.

Libby followed the diary into the living room, careful to remain staunchly behind it. The book paused at the threshold of the room, looking around until it spotted Traveller on the sofa. It ran to his side, touched his hand, and then glared at Libby until she set the book on his chest.

Traveller was not doing well. In the last day his fever seemed to have expanded, engulfing his body in sweat and sending him into periodic shivering fits. Libby refused to touch the man, so Fynn would occasionally come in to change the wet towel on his head and splash water onto Traveller’s chest. Nothing seemed to cool him so well as opening a window, however, and the whole house froze at night as a result. Nevertheless, he didn’t seem to be getting any better, and Libby wondered if she might have a corpse in her home within a few days.

A corpse… and no answers. Libby watched the diary as it carefully inspected Traveller’s reddened face. And now I need even more. Maybe…

Libby settled onto the ground, snapping her fingers to get the diary’s attention. It turned to her, looking curious, and it cracked itself open to a blank page. There weren’t many left, Libby realized, and she wondered if the book would burst should they try to fit in any more pages. The nature of the little creature was yet another mystery she decided she would never fully solve, and was probably something better left unknown.

“How’d you get here?” Libby folded her hands on her lap, lacing her fingers together. “Did, uh, did… Dragomir… write our new… address, or something… into you…?”

The annoyed expression that appeared on the page said it all, and writing magically appeared in the space beneath the face. “Drags no tell me nuthin’. I come, find Drags. Always have must find Drags. Stupid Drags, don’t you agree, Libbers?”

Libby’s chest tightened. “Stupid Drags. Yeah. But Dragomir’s not here. I thought he was… with you. Looking for Eve.”

The diary paused a moment, eyebrows wriggling comically as it worked on the problem. “No. Drags here. Was there; now here. Walked together, but Drags, he be all ‘Hey, I walk faster, and too lazy to carry, so see ya’. And I follow, ‘cause Drags is no good without I, Diary. Right? Drags stupid, don’t get that.”

“He left you behind?” Libby frowned. “That… doesn’t sound like him.”

“He do the changes.” The diary undulated oddly, shaking its pages, and Libby suspected it was trying to shrug. “Poo-bur-tee. That it what called? I thinks, is yes. Must be, because I, Diary, have said. Right? Right. Or close. Anyway. Rough struggle, almost done.”

The diary snapped shut, and to Libby’s surprise it shoved its tail up Traveller’s nose. She scooted away, revolted but amused, and Traveller snorted loudly at the intrusion. Nevertheless the diary kept its tail in place, seeming to root around in his nostril and search for something. It appeared to find it, because its face lit up, and its tail went completely stiff. Libby could not have concocted a stranger scenario if she’d dreamed it up.

The diary remained that way for several long minutes, its expression vacillating from joy to irritation to almost childish outrage. Then , appearing satisfied, it removed its tail, hopped off of Traveller’s chest, and wandered out of the room. Libby wanted to know what the hell it was up to, but something else had caught her eye first, something that froze her in place.

Traveller’s face, though still slicked with sweat, had cleared. The red in his cheeks faded to his usual sun-soaked ruddiness, and his chest, previously rising and falling fitfully, had fallen into a steady, comfortable rhythm again. A large, dopey smile decorated his sleeping face, belonging as much to the idiot Libby detested as to the man she’d married. That smile whispered things to itself, holding a conversation Libby couldn’t see.

“Left… a bit… enough…” Traveller muttered, his voice dreamy and husky.

“Oh… so… if I… I won’t… be…?” Traveller said.

“You will… but… I’m… we’ll… both of us,” Traveller replied.

“Can… have… with…?” Traveller asked, his grin turning mischievous.

“Up to her… stupid… just… do it…” Traveller responded.

“Okay… but… gotta… promise…” Traveller said, with finality.

Libby got to her feet and stepped back, feeling the power of the moment, despite almost nothing outwardly happening. The man’s eyes fluttered open as she watched, and he unleashed a long, belching yawn as he slid to a sitting position. His head twitched one way, then the other, and then, to Libby’s complete shock, parts of his hair began to shift colours, changing from dirty brown at the roots to a lighter, muddy blonde. Blinking and stretching, he grinned at Libby, and one of his front teeth fell out and plopped onto his lap.

“Oh, shit,” the man said, peering at the tooth. He picked it up and admired it. “I thought I would get to keep those this time. Well, maybe the other one’ll stay in.”

“Are…” Libby swallowed, heart fluttering, stomach roiling. “Are you…?”

The man shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. Can’t tell yet. We’ll find out.”

Libby didn’t say anything else. She couldn’t. Her mind was too wrapped up in possibilities. So when the diary wandered back into the room, a dripping ink quill in its tail, she just stepped aside and let it pass. The man swept up the book, and with a cheerful grin he began to write.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Five

“He was slumped on the path to the house,” Fynn said, panting. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. “Face right in the dirt. Like he’d been walking and decided he’d had enough, and fallen on his nose or something.”

Libby scowled. Traveller was one of the last people she’d hoped would come visit her in her new home, yet here he was, stretched out on her shabby couch, snoring loudly. He was, at least, dressed, which she took as a blessing, but everything else about the man was as detestable as ever, from his wave of greasy brown hair to his hopelessly-smelly armpits. Indeed, she quickly found something even worse about him when she noticed the distinct change in his face. She prodded both of his eyes open just to be sure.

“Shit.” She took a step back, heart thudding. “Shit. What did he do? What did he do?”

“His skin around that one eye looks really pale,” Fynn muttered, almost to himself. “Jeez. I… mom, what’re you…?”

Rage fuelling her, Libby leaned over Traveller and wrapped her fingers around his neck, throttling him. She put her full strength into the gesture at first, but memories of a similar attack abruptly flooded into her brain, an attack that had deprived her of a son, and she consciously eased back enough not to hurt the man. Much, anyway. “Where is he? WHERE IS HE? WAKE UP, YOU FUCK, WHERE IS HE -

“Whoa! Mom! Calm down!” Fynn wrapped his arms around Libby, and they struggled for a moment. He pried her away with gentle strength. “C’mon! We… he’s not even awake! At least let him wake up first!”

Gritting her teeth, Libby allowed herself to be steered away from the couch. Despite the ruckus, Traveller did not wake up.

Traveller’s condition remained the same for the next two days. He snored, farted, and rolled around a bit, but showed no signs of waking from what appeared to be a perfectly healthy coma. Libby begrudgingly agreed to let him remain on the couch, provided they closed the living room off with blankets each night to block out his loud snorting. Fynn watched over Traveller, occasionally forcing water down his throat, and the shaggy man accepted it without complaint.

“I don’t understand why he’s fucking here,” Libby muttered during dinner on the first night. “He shouldn’t know we’re here. Nobody told ‘im we were out here. Unless it was Logan, that fuck - “

“It wasn’t King Logan,” Fynn insisted, sipping at a bowl of soup. “He didn’t like Traveller much more than you, mom, and he wanted to leave him with grandm… um, his parents. He seemed happy with them. He probably found his way out here on his own.”

“But how?” Taking a ferocious bite of her ostrich steak, Libby glared at the hallway leading to the living room. Traveller was, as ever, snoring loudly. “He couldn’t’ve found us on his own, we’re, like, five days’ trip away from fuckin’ Pubton by wagon. He’s not a fuckin’ bloodhound.”

Fynn shrugged. “I don’t know. Ever since I found out about… y’know, dad… I’ve never really ‘gotten’ that guy. He’s friendly, but… weird.”

“Understatement of the year, kiddo.” Libby slammed her mugful of milk onto the table. “And that ain’t all. Why the fuck does he suddenly have two eyes? Why the fuck? I thought… I mean, that one’s…”

Fynn shrugged again. It was a hopeless, sad gesture, but one without malice for Libby to latch onto. She had too much trouble remaining angry around her son. In ways, he was the exact opposite of his older brother, and she was thankful for that.

On the third day, Libby thought Traveller woke up. But only briefly.

She was sitting in her study, pouring over one of the technical books Logan had ordered shipped to the house - they were among the only things that pleased her about the dump - when she heard a light murmuring. It was not Fynn’s voice, she knew that at once, and her stomach leaped into her chest as she jumped out of her chair. She realized that she’d tensely been waiting for answers, even if they came from a detestable halfwit like Traveller, and now she was expecting a payoff.

Traveller was not awake when she entered the living room. He was, instead, sweating profusely, his forehead bright red and shiny. He thrashed lightly in a fitful sleep, eyes pinched and tense, and Libby could hear him speaking to himself. Her first instinct was to drape a wet washcloth over his head, perhaps to break the fever… but she settled herself on the ground instead, listening. If he had a fever, it could fuckin’ wait.

Traveller’s mumbling was not coherent, not at first, and not for most of the night. Libby stuck around long enough to know just how little sense he made most of the time. But there was a moment, mere minutes after the fever appeared, where Traveller’s noises turned into actual words, even if they only lasted for two sentences.

“And… and just a… just a little bit… left… on it,” Traveller muttered. His voice was high-pitched, as though he was trying to mimic a woman and doing a rather bad job of faking it. “There… yep… yep… that’ll… that’ll do… yeah. Yeah.”

Libby didn’t know what it meant, of course. But she clung to those words as her only hope, her only clue, until the end of the third day. That’s when she heard a low, dull knock on the front door. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Four

I should’ve throttled that little shit, Libby thought, staring at the floorboards of her kitchen. There was a nail sticking straight up out of one of them, and another that looked poised to do the same. He hired a hack to do this, a regular hack.

“What’re you glaring at, ma?” Fynn asked, ducking into the kitchen. He was three-quarters of his full height, which seemed to make him most comfortable these days, and it took him a moment to locate the source of Libby’s angst. “Oh, c’mon, are you still getting mad at the house? It’s not that bad.”

Libby turned her ire at her youngest son. “Not that bad? The bathroom’s a hole in the floor, the roof looks like shit, the front porch wobbles, there’re nails sticking up everywhere, and the wood they used is some of the worst garbage I’ve seen in ages! Most of it is cracking already! This ‘house’ is gonna fall down in two years, tops!”

“Then… build a new one?” Fynn seated himself on the ground, reaching for a plate of cookies on the kitchen table. He’d made them himself, and carefully nibbled the outer edges of his first cookie. His eating habits seemed to become more and more peculiar the older he got. “You like building. And you probably are better than the guy who made this place. Might as well.”

Libby snorted. They’d arrived at their new home more than a week ago, and she’d complained bitterly about it every day. Every element of the place annoyed her, from the narrow bedrooms to the low, slopping shingles. It was too cold at night, too hot during the day, creaked constantly, and lacked in furniture. She hated the whole thing, and hated whatever bastard had set it up in the first place. If she ever met the guy - and she was certain it was a guy, somehow, just certain - she would slug him one, right in the nose. And cheek. And chest. And genitals.

“I’d have to tear this place down first,” Libby grunted. She seated herself beside her son, sighing as she glared at the cabinets. “Would take ages. Maybe you can do it for me? You’re strong.”

“What, you don’t want to reuse any of this quality wood?” Fynn smirked, gently rapping a knuckle against the table. “Yeah, I can do it if you want, but let’s spend a little while longer in this one, see if it suits us after a while. I don’t think one week is enough time to decide whether it’s awful or not.”

Kid, you’re growing up too fast. Libby cocked her head, observing Fynn. He’d grown from a baby to a not-so-awkward teen in record time, his rounded baby fat replaced by… well, okay, an equally rounded face, but it was a handsome face. He was a rather exotic alternative to the pasty men that usually inhabited the Indy Plains, and Libby knew he’d be beating lusty women off with a sword if he ever moved into a city. Or she’d be beating them off, she wasn’t sure yet.

There was another thought in there, too, a subtle note that she was forced to acknowledge every time she looked into Fynn’s eyes. A familiarity. But it was too sad for the moment, and she pushed it away.

“Where’s that spider of yours?” Libby looked to Fynn’s shoulder, raising an eyebrow. “He off hunting again? I thought you said he was going to make tea.”

Fynn shrugged. “Hunting, I think. There are lots of mice ‘round the house that make for good meals. Bet he finds them a bit dopey at this time of day.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Libby smiled inwardly at the thought of rat cousins being turned into meals. “Though I could’ve sworn someone told me he was a vegetarian. Or something like that.”

Fynn shook his head. “Ahh, what’s it matter. He eats what he eats, ’n that’s good enough.”

Grabbing a cookie for herself, Libby peered through the (crooked, annoyingly crooked) kitchen window. From here she could see only the tips of trees, already coated in the first hints of frost, thrust into a clear blue sky. She wondered at the frost, realizing that the seasons seemed much less abrupt these days. That was a good thought, too - a single, blanket, mass snowfall out of nowhere could very well crush their crappy house, and everything in it. Libby crunched her cookie, considering the weirdness of the world, and how relatively normal she was compared to everything that happened in her life.

He would probably say I’m not normal at all, Libby thought. He’d probably say I’m just as weird as the rest. Then I’d slug him, and we would bitch for a few minutes. Doesn’t seem like much of a normal relationship for a married couple, so… maybe he’s right, in a way.

Lost in her thoughts, Libby barely noticed when Fynn kissed her on the forehead, got to his feet, and ducked out the front door. She assumed he was off to explore the valley again, keen to learn more about this place he now called home. She called for him to put on boots, and he complied, tromping away from the house and off into the distance, the top of his head suddenly much taller and rivalling the trees for space through the kitchen window.

He’s just a giant version of his dad. Libby stared at the remains of her cookie. Just a big, stupid, giant version of that idiot. Almost wish he looked completely different.

Libby wondered where her husband was. She knew, but… she wondered. 

As she wondered, Fynn came charging back to the house, flinging the front door open.

“MOM! C’MERE!” Fynn tromped inside, slammed his head on the door frame in his haste, cursed as the wood split around his forehead, and ran for the living room. “QUICK, QUICK!”

Jolting off of her butt, Libby ran. She dashed out of the room, at full speed but with a sense of slowness, feeling every inch of the passage between the kitchen, the hallway, and the small living room at the side of the house. She had time to carefully inspect the side table in the hallway, the bland painting of the bird hanging on the wall, the stupid woollen carpet she usually tripped on, and the goosebumps rising on her skin. The bumps seemed to appear more quickly than everything else, and her heart thudded, hoping, hoping.

The man she found laying on the couch in the living room, when she finally got there, was not her husband. But he was pretty damned close.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Et Ascendit In Caelum, Part Three

I was meant to come here alone. I always should have come alone.

“You’ve gotten so big, Eve,” Dragomir said. He cupped Eve’s hollow cheeks with both hands, and as he did so, one of his fingers chipped off and fell away. It puffed into a heap of ash at his feet. He barely noticed. “So big.”

Eve shuddered, hunching. Her spine popped liberally at the motion, and she staggered into Dragomir’s arms, seemingly unable to support her weight anymore. He struggled to keep her upright, but his own body was no better off, and they collapsed in a tangle on the floor. The tower creaked, still threatening to fall apart from the hole Traveller had left behind in the wall, but it remained steady.

They breathed. Together, at last, they breathed.

Daddy…” Eve’s voice sounded youthful yet pained, as though she was trying to force the old woman’s rasp out of her tone and was paying for it. “I knew you would… you would be the one… it hurts, daddy, it hurts…

“I know it does, sweetie.” Dragomir smoothed her hair, leaving black streaks from his fingertips in the strands. “I know. But we’re almost done. Heh, sorry, I’m messing up your hair.”

Always… wanted… you to… brush… my hair…” Eve croaked a little laugh. It was the first time Dragomir had ever heard her laugh. “Daddy, it hurts so… so much… please…

Dragomir knew what he had to do. There was a little bit left in him, just enough to get the job done. Then all of the most spectacular threats to the world would be ended. But he wanted just a little more time, just a little more to enjoy this moment, this last moment, this moment he’d yearned for since the beginning of his days. The days he’d recorded -

Something bumped against Dragomir’s foot. 

Straining, Dragomir looked. The diary was staring at him, a grumpy expression on its cover. There was a small tear in the side of its ‘face’, no doubt from the impact against the wall. It cocked a pencil-thin eyebrow at him, then swung open to a blank page. Words began to appear on the parchment.

“I… thought you ditched me for that other guy, buddy.” Dragomir coughed. “Eheh. Sorry. Eve didn’t mean it, right, honey?”

Eve shook her head, then buried her face in Dragomir’s chest. “Didn’t… mean it… Eve… didn’t…

“She didn’t mean it.” Dragomir stroked her head. “You should go, dude. Get on outta here. I think… I think Dragomir can take care of you from now on.”

The diary wrote something else. The face appeared above the words, frowning at Dragomir, both puzzled and sad. 

“He is. Not me.” Dragomir sighed. “I’m just… I’m just another Non, a guy without a name. ’n we both know it.”

The diary considered that, then snapped shut. It wandered over to Dragomir’s face, observing him carefully, its tail thrashing from side to side. It looked at the hole in the wall, then at the stairs, then at Eve, then back to Dragomir. Then, surprising Dragomir, it snuggled up against his arm, rubbing against him with the affection of a cat, and in that lovely moment Dragomir realized how profoundly he’d wronged the little creature in the last year. 

“I’m sorry,” Dragomir said. He stroked the diary’s spine with a shaky hand. “I really am. Go tell my story, willya? I think some people will wanna hear it.”

Steeling himself, Dragomir grasped the diary by the spine, feeling his bad arm shudder with even this minor exertion. He lifted it, his muscles tearing, and with every ounce of physical strength he had left to him he hurled the diary towards the hole in the wall, where Traveller had fallen. He caught only a faint glimpse of the shock on the diary’s face as it flew, and even that was eclipsed as Dragomir’s arm exploded into ash, showering the floor with sooty black. The book, his book, his friend, sailed out into the open air and disappeared. He hoped it would hit Traveller on the head, but if not, he knew it would be fine anyway.

“Thanks, buddy.” Dragomir swallowed. “Thanks.”

He turned to Eve. She was watching him, her wizened face broken and defenceless, eyes wide, vibrant, and pained. There was an innocence to her, a childish spark that she’d lacked even as a baby, and Dragomir wondered just how lovely and loving a kid she might have been if she’d been given a normal life. He pictured her as an actual four-and-a-half-year-old, her pretty little head awash in unruly blonde curls, standing beside her proud, fierce mama, Libby’s heavy work glove nestled affectionately in her hair. More, he pictured two brothers, on either side of Libby, clutching their mother’s legs and staring up at her reverently.

He stood with them, his diary under one arm. He stood with them as a family, the family he’d always wanted. 

It’s.. time, daddy,” Eve said, coughing loudly. “Please… help… Eve…

“I know.” Dragomir kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Just close your eyes. It’ll be over in a sec.”

Eve nestled her head into Dragomir’s chest again, hiccuping quietly. Dragomir closed his own eyes, breathing deeply, feeling the comfortable weight of his daughter slipping away as his body began to fall apart. His legs slowly crumbled into twin piles of ash, his remaining arm dissolved into the floorboards, his face and his hair transformed into sand. He felt it happening, knowing that if he tried to hold on too long he would lose his chance to free his daughter, and in that moment he realized he was seeing his final glimpse of the future, of a future mere moments ahead of him. He wasn’t sleeping, but Dragomir the Farsighted saw it all anyway, and for once, for once, he struggled to change what might happen.

It was, he realized, very, very easy. He just had to let go.

The final lock on Dragomir’s power fell away, released by his own hands, and the last of the Catastrophe’s might erupted from his decaying body. Swirls of pulsing green pixels exploded outward, engulfing father and daughter in a contained shockwave that rocked the landscape for miles around. The king’s tower would have collapsed under the pressure, but the glittering emerald orb of Dragomir’s final earthly act dissolved the masonry almost down to the base of the tower, leaving the stone that remained behind as smooth as glass. It took almost a day for the orb to dissipate fully, and it left a starry scar in the sky that would never disappear.

Dragomir thought he heard his daughter thank him in the final seconds. He was not, however, sure of it. He thanked her back anyway, and led her into the light.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Et Ascendit in Caelum, Part Two

Dragomir knew it was a bad idea the second he spotted one of The Baron’s little ghosts whipping past his head. He didn’t have enough time to say it, though, before they were launching themselves towards Eve.

“No!” Dragomir reached for one of the ghosts, the last of the ghosts, as it sailed past his head and into the tower. But his arms had lost most of their mobility, and his body was just too weak, and his fingers only brushed the ghost’s streaking tail. The ghost, a miniature The Baron, stuck its tongue out at him -

- and vanished in a quick puff as Eve wrapped a gauntlet around its translucent body. Green steam seeped out between her fingers.

The other ghosts, twelve in all, fared no better. All of them seemed to be aiming for the darkness of Eve’s hood, trying desperately to get at her mouth, perhaps to capitalize on her ragged breathing in a bid to give The Baron control again, but it was no use. Eve plucked each one of them out of the air with frantic ease, turning the inside of the tower a hazy Non-green each time one exploded. The Baron sent another batch from his vantage point in the hallway, and Dragomir could hear him panting heavily at the exertions.

STOP!” Dragomir turned so quickly to yell at The Baron that he felt something tear in his back, and his whole body drooped a little. Pain exploded in his head, and he struggled to figure how the two parts were connected. “S… STOP! LEAVE HER ALONE!

The Baron said nothing. The ghosts kept coming. It sounded as though he was backing down the tower, each laborious step a little softer.

Eve didn’t waste time on the second wave of ghosts. Launching forward so deftly that she almost knocked Dragomir over, she tore into the hallway and down the stairs. Dragomir heard The Baron cry out, and as the swarming ghosts around Dragomir faded from view Eve brought him into the tower, clutching him by the neck. She pinched the fabric of his robe so tightly that it fell away from his mouth, exposing the ragged hole and skeletal jaw The Baron had worked so hard to conceal. The Baron’s face went red, then blue, then purple, as he struggled for breath.

You… hate… you… so… much…” Eve struggled to stand upright, staggering back on her bad foot as she glared up at The Baron, and as she spoke the hood fell away from her own face. “Ruined… my… life…

The breath left Dragomir’s lungs. His daughter, ever the victim of rapid aging, had moved beyond the beautiful womanhood she’d enjoyed for the last two years. Her face wore the ragged, wrinkled expression of an old woman, with vast bags under her eyes and prominent cheekbones poking out of her withered flesh. Her hair, once blonde, then silver, was now as white as Bora’s - though it looked threadbare and coarse, with large, bald patches revealing rapid hair loss. The only things still identifiably Eve were her eyes, a pair of white pinpricks swimming in wonderful seas of vibrant emerald. 

The Baron brushed Eve’s arm with his hand, fingers spasmodic. “E… E… E…”

“Eve, please, put him down,” Dragomir pleaded, stepping towards his elderly child. It was more difficult than ever, and it felt like his leg, the leg Bora had replaced, was starting to fall apart. “Please, Eve, please. Put… put him down.”

He… ruined… me…” Eve licked her thin lips, lapping up the blood dribbling down her chin. “He stole… everything… from me… before I was… daddy, he… now all I can do…

“I know,” Dragomir soothed. He struggled towards Eve, wanting desperately to give her a hug. He hoped his spare arm would hold out that long. “You don’t need to kill him, Eve. Let him go. Let it all go. Daddy’s here, now, so you don’t need to kill anymore. Okay?”

Can’t… can’t…” Eve’s fingers tightened on The Baron’s throat. Foam began to run from his mouth. “Have… this is what… I have…

Reaching his daughter after an agonizing journey across less than ten feet of ragged floorboards, Dragomir touched his daughter’s face, doing his best to ignore the dying man in her hand. He ran a loving finger along her cheek, trying to smooth the wrinkles back into a more familiar expression, and as he did his daughter smiled at him. It was a pained but warm expression, full of joy, the likes of which Dragomir had only truly seen once before.

Dragomir softly touched Eve’s wrist. The moment he did, she released The Baron. He bounced once, leaving a deep crack in the floorboards, and coughed spasmodically as he lay on the ground, clutching his throat. His jawbones clicked loudly with each shuddering heave. Dragomir was surprised that the old man remained conscious, and also grateful.

“Get out of here,” Dragomir insisted, apathetic to The Baron’s struggles. He continued to stroke Eve’s cheek. “You’ve done enough. Go on. Check on Traveller, he’s probably hurt.”

The Baron struggled to right himself, unable to speak. He stretched a hand out to Dragomir, shaking his head, but Dragomir nudged him away with his leg. A small chunk of the leg came loose at the gesture, and with dull, resigned horror Dragomir realized that this was his good leg, not the bad one. It seemed enough for The Baron, and after a moment of struggles the old man got to his feet, stared at Dragomir a moment longer, and made for the stairs.

“Bye,” Dragomir said. “It was fun.”

The look on The Baron’s face as he turned the corner threatened to break Dragomir’s heart, and he couldn’t tell why.