Here Be Dragons

by Helen

The document tentatively entitled “Here Be Dragons”, Also known as “Frozen, Flayed, Impaled, Possessed, Betrayed, And Not Necessarily In That Order”, Composed of extracts from the diary of one Kit Fisable, Fellow of the Cartography Department of the White City's College of the Thousand Arts, And self-proclaimed Expert in Dragons.

Day 1

Outside the White City: Damp. Dear Diary,

It's cold, I'm wet and I want to go home.

Why, yes, it must be another expedition. This time funded by the esteemed Lord Toquell Velasquez, magician, warrior and all-round dodgy bastard. I don't particularly trust the man, but poverty makes for strange bedfellows, and he came through for us in the end on the Breathing Isle - even if a man who refuses to kneel to a God might not be the best choice for negotiating with dragons.

Set out from the White City this morning with Sirius, Vincenzi and our Fearless Leader in low spirits. The weather is abominable, and the sky has that look that says it's just settled in for six weeks' worth of freezing drizzle. Recent financial difficulties mean that I've had to spend most of the advance for this expedition on restocking my supplies; I'm broke, and my left boot is beginning to leak. It's a long way to the City of Silk with wet feet and a malfunctioning crossbow.

In addition, it seems our Fearless Leader has been somewhat economical with the truth. I was under the impression this was a dragon-hunting expedition; Vincenzi was under the impression that this mission was specifically to destroy an artefact his brother carries with him, known as the Waterfire (and here was me thinking that was an urban myth); I'm not entirely sure what impression Sirius was under, but he seems surprised by both of these tidbits. Holding out on us already, Toquell…?



Day 4

Outside the Watchtowers: Nervous.

Attacked by bandits this morning. Sirius and I made short work of them, though they did seem unusually interested in Fearless Leader. Either someone's out to prevent him destroying that artefact, or one of his old enemies has caught up with him. He had the one we kept alive for questioning killed quickly - suspiciously quickly. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Day 5

The City of Silk: Irritated Reached the City mid-afternoon. Toquell greeted warmly by gate guards (I'm worried) and given personal escort on orders of Servant (I'm more worried). Rooms are on expenses, but I'm sharing with Fearless Leader. Will restrain self from commenting on odour of Fearless Leader's socks. Personal escort is lurking somewhere outside the rooms; have piled furniture in front of the door, etc., etc.. Oh, lovely, I've just heard a scream coming from Sirius' room. Barmaid or would-be assassin? We could open the door and find out, but-


Swift and invigorating fight with cultists (apparently serving Bound Ones) out to keep the Waterfire from destruction. Toquell apparently unimpressed with my performance in guarding his room; if he wants a bodyguard, next time he can share a bed with Sirius. Doubt I'll sleep well (dreams were pretty bad in the Forest - kept waking up thinking I was still being hunted), but I'll rest my eyes for a bit…

Day 11

Somewhere deep in the Western Forest: Suspicious

The Forest is letting us know it's still awake. Not that I particularly mind the Things one finds in these woods (I used to worship the Lady myself), but it would be nice to think I could go a week in the wilds without having to scrub blood and ichor out of my ink-pots. Something very strange happened when Toquell spilled some of the Waterfire halfway through a skirmish, and I'm going to do my best to forget that in a hurry; now at least I know he has a decent excuse for hiding at the back during fights…

The directions are sketchy; we've had to retrace our steps a few times (Fearless Leader becoming increasingly exasperated with me) but I think we should reach the lair of Amadeus' dragon tomorrow, or the day after. New crossbow all-but-useless in this damp - Fury's Balls, but I hate the weather out here!

There's a fight going on between the ones who want me to kill them all while they sleep and the ones who want me to wait and watch what sort of terrible tortures they inflict upon themselves just by being human. I get the feeling that if it wasn't quite so immediate, I might find it amusing. It's going on in my head. I don't find it funny at all.

Almost two weeks in and I haven't yet had cause to shout “I'm not being paid enough for this shit!” at Toquell. This is unexpected. I'm worried…

Day 12

Somewhere Deeper in the Western Forest: Hopeful

I'm not being paid enough for this shit!

Amadeus' dragon still lairing where it was all those years ago, deep in an unpleasant marsh, guarded by wolves and calling itself Inskuldraes the Shapeless Worm. Or it was still there until Toquell turned up and scared it off. What sort of man thinks that magicking a demigod blind is “diplomatic”?

On the bright side, Sirius got savaged by a pack of giant wolves, Vincenzi owes me ten Hexa and I've got proof not only of the existence of Serpentmen, but of the shapeshifting nature of dragons. Looks like we're onto Plan B - this supposed city of Dragonspawn up in the north. Though the Serpentmen, in their efforts to make us leave their father alone, told us of a third dragon - Toramaes - higher up in the Northern mountains, we'll leave him till last.

The map I have of the second dragon's city only shows the route from the City of Silk, but I think we can cut across country and shave at least a week off the journey - it means going through the deep forest, but I doubt there's anything in there Vincenzi can't handle. In my experience, the stories about the terrible things that happen if one strays into the Deep Forest are just that - stories. More importantly, that area hasn't been mapped yet, and I'm broke.

Forehead itching like a bastard. Probably just psychosomatic - doesn't make it any less irritating. Keep wondering if I'm praying by accident. Also worried about falling asleep in case I'm not me when I wake up. That's silly, right…?

PS: Dragonspawn are fire-breathing - remember to tell faculty.

PPS: Left boot now has hole the size of my thumbnail in the sole.

Day 17

The North of the Western Forest Painful to write in much detail. Painful to write at all - skin still healing, despite Toquell's strange magics. Have informed Vincenzi that I will kill him when this mission is over. He hasn't tried to apologise, at least. Don't know that I could cope if he did. Don't particularly blame him - not much you can do about a direct command from your God. And the Lady was merciful - She had every right to have me killed as an apostate then and there. I wish she had.

Think I may have told Vincenzi I'll let him live if he kills Bartholomew for me. Not sure where that came from. Not entirely sure who's in control anymore. There's a lot of different voices arguing with each other and I really can't tell which one's mine-

Everything's gone a bit blurry. (Mercifully so.) There are fragments, little shards that stick in my memory and won't fade into the background, disjointed and out of order… Sirius hitting the ground with a crash of bent plate mail - I think he was trying to help me; Vincenzi refusing to knock me unconscious, and one of the Vine-Children who was holding me down making me drink something that prevented me from even fainting; a bloody rag burning over one of the campfires, and me thinking funny, that looks just like a human skin; someone shouting, someone else screaming - I think it was me; that sickening look in Vincenzi's eyes that said It's for your own good, the look I'd hoped never to see again after I escaped the Port; Toquell and the Lady facing each other over a bowl of wine, and Her eyes catching fire.

I should have bled to death. He must have kept me alive with his own magic. There are deep cuts in his arms, and though he's bloody to the elbows I don't think all of it's mine.

I have no idea what Toquell did to me afterwards, but for the moment all that matters is that I'm healed. Mostly. The mark came back, and now it's bleeding and burning by turns - something in my head's still screaming and I can't get it to shut up.

I won't sleep, but if I pretend to be dead maybe the others will stop looking at me like that.

Day 19

Foothills of the Northern Mountains: Numb Getting colder as we go further North. Healing - slowly. Pair of bloody great lizards tried to eat us earlier today; Fearless Leader did something cunning and the one ended up killing the other. We left them to it. Should reach the city soon. Had a chance to shoot Vincenzi in the back earlier and plead a misfire, but I didn't. Not sure why.

Day 20

Near the City of Serpentmen: Enlightened Barameus the God-King (modest fellow, this dragon) at least didn't run away, but he didn't seem particularly pleased with us either.

Toquell seems to have got it into his head that it's generally a good idea to kneel when meeting a god or demigod. Finally. Rumours about their father being a Wind-Prince (The Frost-Prince? Fearless Leader seems intrigued) and their mother the Lady of All Serpents are apparently true - or at least Barameus thought so. Talkative fellow, once we started flattering him. We were advised to seek the Heart of Fire in the Battlefields to the East - for a minute I thought Fearless Leader was going to go along with it and all this would have been for nothing, but he stayed true in the end.

City of lizard-people fascinating. Architecture crude but unusual. Further evidence of power of the Waterfire also given - Fearless Leader's intent is now slightly clearer; he seems to wish to drain the fire from dragonsblood in order to destroy the artefact - I'm a bit hazy on the details, but then the Bound Ones aren't really my speciality. Have obtained a full Dragonspawn skin for exhibition at the college (they seem to shed them much like snakes, and believe me, it's not easy ignoring the parallels) when we return.

Onwards and Northwards, then, to Toramaes, the third dragon - and perhaps the final one, since we have no clues as to the location of the remaining two. We have only the sketchiest directions as to his location, and “somewhere in the mountains” isn't exactly a small search area. I have a feeling that it's going to get a great deal colder in the coming days. Left boot hanging on by a thread.

Day 27

Halfway Up A Mountain: Cold I'm thinking of publishing when I get back. “Notes from the Middle of Nowhere”. It's really really cold, I'm covered in snow and I want to go home.

Today we encountered things that Sirius called “Snow Riders”, creatures of frost that condensed into razor-sharp whirlwinds and tried to kill us. This could be the Frost-Prince's way of telling us to go away, or it could just be a friendly “hello”.

Later, some familiar faces turned up; a small patrol from the Black Sword of Hope, those dangerous bastards we met last time I ventured into these mountains. Same sergeant, as well, though he's captain now - apparently their previous leader died in a horrible accident in a vale a little way downhill from here. Fearless Leader says that vale's our next destination after we reach the top of the mountain. (Not sure precisely why we're attempting to reach the top - suspect he wants to communicate with the Frost Prince, but what will he say? You'd think he'd have learned his lesson about staying away from gods by now.) No signs of Innocence herself, for which I'm grateful. I have enough gods warring over my affections as it is, and the last thing I need is more strange dreams. The ones I'm already getting are bad enough.

Left foot turning an interesting shade of grey.

Day 29

Three-Quarters of the way up the Same Mountain: Very Cold Had to break ice on ink-pot this evening. Attempting to start small campfire in lee of Sirius. On cliff-edge; must be three hundred foot down one side and the same up the other. Bloody freezing. Found some spirits (Fears-of-Falling, Sirius thinks) - they seemed to go down a lot easier than I'm used to… I didn't even need Vincenzi's help. Then again, it didn't really feel like it was me fighting them. I'm going to try not to think about that.

Day 30

Near the Peak: Freezing Well, Toquell found his god, and he even knelt to it. I'm amazed. We ran into a Rosemary Maid on the way up, and though I've never seen one before it didn't hang around long enough for me to take notes - Sirius knocked it right off the edge. An embarrassing incident further up, near the peak - another one of the Fears got me, and I was gone for a while until Vincenzi waded in. Grateful to the man, and particularly for his steelsilk rope… I wouldn't be here now if we hadn't been roped up. I'm still going to kill him, but I might make it quick.

The Frost Prince himself was certainly… impressive. If we hadn't had Sirius to hang onto, we might well have been swept off the edge of his plateau; as it was, he gave Toquell his blessing and told us to bugger off. A few more snow-riders on the way down, and tomorrow we're going to investigate this alleged third dragon. I think I've fixed the leak in my left boot. Now my gloves are starting to come out at the thumbs.

Day 33

Halfway Down a Mountain: Betrayed I'm not sure I understood most of what happened today, but I do know that I trust Toquell even less now than I did before this entire ridiculous escapade started. We are now carrying around a bowl which, rather than being full of a mysterious material which shouldn't be spilled, is spouting a six-foot column of flame. Our chances of moving anywhere with stealth and speed have sunk to nothing - on the other hand, it's nice and warm, so we no longer have to consider how long Sirius would burn for in an emergency.

During long and suspicious negotiations with dragon, the Fearless Bastard put a sword through my gut to prove a point. Healed me afterwards, but with impaling as with nameday presents, it's the thought that counts. Sirius and I agree that Toquell's jargon about “restoring” the Waterfire in order to destroy it sounds far too suspicious to let lie - we're making quiet plans as to whether or not we're going to let him reach the White City alive. We may have to hold off for the moment - I'm concerned that Vincenzi has bought Fearless Bastard's line, and even if he was with us he lost too much blood today to be of any use for a while yet.

We freed a dragon today.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if she ever wakes up, the Lady of All Serpents is going to be very, very angry with us.

But I think it was worth it. I never did much like seeing anyone's wings clipped.

Day 43

The White City: Rushed Not much time to write - Fearless Bastard may make his move at any moment, and we'll have to move fast if we're to follow him. Came back to City by quickest route, skirting Palace - usual undead trouble. Nice reminder that there are at least some gods and monsters out there only casually interested in me. Always find hacking bits off living corpses cathartic for some reason - anyway it's practically a religious observance. Further trouble with cultists - or there would have been if Fearless Bastard hadn't taken them off to one side and said something that had them treating him like an old friend. If we needed a reason to be more suspicious…

News from the front - looks like F.B.'s enquiring into hiring a ship to go South. And I know just the man for the job…

Day 50

In the Hold of a Ship, Somewhere South of the Coast: Cramped Lovely fellow that Sirius is, and loath to comment on a former business partner's personal hygiene as I am, his armour and his person don't half stink of rust and dead goats after a week in a confined space.

Sebastian, bless him, has followed his instructions to the letter - hired a ship out to Fearless Bastard and brother and given us a spot in the hold. Fearless Bastard appears to be heading for the deepest spot in the ocean he can find. If the Waterfire is destroyed, all well and good - it's another week in this cramped hellhole and nobody ever need be the wiser. If not…

Day 52

On Deck, Heading North: Satisfied That would be a “not”, then.

I won't go into details, but it was as I suspected; he'd been playing us all along.

We cut his burning body into four pieces and buried it on an island, the location of which is to remain a secret. Sebastian suggests calling it the Burning Isle. Now we're back to the City to find some of the more adventurous members of the Cloistered Brotherhood, and a Priest of the Light or six, to ensure he's really dead.

Day 66

The Burning Isle: Scared The body's gone. There's only fused sand and glass where the pieces used to be.

I'm going home to update my will.

misc/fiction/hbd.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/27 19:10 by osj01
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