by Than Pence
King Sylvester and Tuette, a Cursed sorceress, must save Decennia from Count Roose!
|In the tower, Count Roose watched the sun set, the area below him, everything. He saw the denizens of Boost as nothing but chattel, a pool of resources for him to despoil in the form of test subjects and servants. Puze knew best about how the count treated his servants, being his oldest one by far. He had been with Roose for ages, now. At least it felt that way to him.
Puze was a selbee, a descendant of the selanimals that made up warrior-mounts during the fierce Dissociative Wars hundreds of years ago. His initial ancestors had been drafted as spies for the Gronketials of the south. They were simple bees before Mages began experimenting with Soul Grafting, the art of replacing an animal’s spirit with a human’s soul. Bees were not the only subjects: various types of birds, jungle felines, mountain canines, horrid bears, all in the name of soldiering Magik.
Once the soul’s were trapped inside the animals, their offspring were born with souls originally destined for human bodies. With them came the ability to reason, the think, and to communicate. These new breeds were commonly known as selanimals. For species like the selbees, communication came on a purely Magikal level: whatever they wished to say, the sound was produced as if coming from a person. Though he had no human mouth to speak of, Puze could speak better than most humans he met.
His speaking ability was what had landed him in the permanent employ of Count Roose.
During one spritely day, Puze had decided to tease a man that he thought had a ridiculous appearance. In those days, the selbee had felt brave enough to taunt humans from a distance as a way to pass the time. But the count was quick to respond, as is he had been prepared for the chance encounter. He had deftly snatched the selbee out of the air and plucked his wings. Pain tore through the souled insect, making him feel both sick and scared. Roose moved quickly to add the selbee’s wings to a vial he carried strapped against the inside of his coat.
After the vial disappeared back into the coat, the count smiled cruelly down on Puze. In sheer desperation, he stung the man with what little strength he had left. The count slammed his hand upon the selbee…
…and Puze instantly found himself in a dark place. His wings were intact, the pain gone. He felt rejuvenated. Beside him stood the man he had heckled moments before. “You think I look silly, do you, selbee?” Puze did not answer. His feeling quickly transformed to fear again: the man had a quality to his voice that inspired yellow emotions. “Now you will have whole lifetimes ahead to see how silly I look. We are now in the cellar or my home. You have brought us here with your death.”
Count Roose explained that when he snatched Puze’s wings, he placed a Curse on the selbee: the Curse of Undeath. Having never heard of it, Puze was even more afraid of what it meant. The count explained that no matter what happened to Puze, he would never truly die. He would expire and then instantly appear at a predisposed location.
“But how are you here, too?” asked Puze.
“This Curse works on whatever else you may be in contact with when your die. In essence, you will bring with you what might have killed you. Hence,” he gestured to the dark space around them, “you and me in my cellar.” He chuckled then and Puze asked about the joke he missed. “You don’t understand? This isn’t some Curse that has been floating around for millennia, passing back and forth between Mages and their enemies alike. This is a brand new Curse! One that actually works as teleportation Magik!”
The significance had been lost on Puze then.
* ~ * ~ *
The enormity of Count Roose’s statement – that he had generated a new, powerful Curse – now held meaning for the Cursed selbee. Everyday, he wished he had not cast insults down onto Count Roose all those years ago. No matter how far the selbee flew, he always suffered a fate worse than death: constant life at the side of a wicked human. Over time, he came to accept that the count would eventually die and Puze would be free of his Curse of Undeath. Count Roost explained otherwise, thought.
“If I die, young bee, you will constantly be regenerating next to my corpse for eternity. The Curse of Undeath is new to this world. I created it and I didn’t have to use the same constraints shared by other Curses.” That statement echoed through Puze’s mind endlessly, and he wondered if Roose spoke the truth on such matters or if it was a huge bluff to get the selbee to do what the count wanted. “I promise you, like Puze, that you’ll be free of your Curse one day. When I am through with you.” The cruel smile he used to produce those words were what drove Puze to intercept the would-be assassins that had come for the count, and in researching Curses with Mages from around the kingdom – those that did not shy away from the now-rare selbees – Puze learned that Curses were bits of ancient Magik and only a couple dozen were in play.
When he learned that, he knew he was stuck with the count until his business with Decennia was done. It was business that had been in the works for years. “You haven’t been with me for years,” stated Roose in his rude way. “I Cursed you a spattering of months ago, you silly bee!” That knowledge had come to Puze like tug on his wings. Time with the count, it seemed, passed far too slowly.
* ~ * ~ *
“Count Roose, sire, is everything moving in the right direction?”
“It will be, Puze. You said the king has left his mountaintop to play with the children below, yes? Well, he’ll soon make his way toward Gale Marsht. Most likely. The maperryta will refuse to give up any of his precious birds and Sylvester will begin to distrust Magikals and all they stand for.”
Puke said, “I would think –”
Roose slammed his palm against the table, rattling empty vials and making the selbee nervous for a moment: it reminded him of the first time he ever witnessed the man slam his hands together around Puze. “You are not here for thinking,” he growled. “You are here to fetch things. You are my little female fig when it comes to that. You are barely a descendant of the proud selanimals that fought in those meaningless wars hundreds of years ago. You are just another servant.” Exasperated, the count walked away, leaving Puze feeling stung.
Thoughts of instant vengeance clouded Puze’s mind. He knew he could easily bring the sour stench of Voidet far below to the count by stinging the sickly old man and transporting the frail body. But he knew that was not wise. Angering Count Roose never resulted with just desserts. Continued suffering was the man’s repertoire. Puze flew out of the tower’s tallest window and down into the one that led to Roose’s work station.
The count was often hard at work here, experimenting with arcane forms of Magik that only he seemed to be conscious of. The selbee landed on the talk plant in the middle of the room and stared at the glass cage on the workbench. The dead man was still in there. Puze knew that with the Curse of Death, the assassin would not decompose or change. The count explained it to Puze. The Curse of Death did kill the body in that the soul was driven away and the shell left behind could be susceptible to malice, to harm. Otherwise, the body stayed in one piece, unmoving, unaware of its surroundings. Puze envied the strange man in the glass cage, but he also had questions that the count never entertained.
Puze wondered why an assassin would be sent to kill a man like Count Roost, a man that was Cursed and that could quickly fight back with his own Curses. The assassin had clearly been sent in response to the Decennian Curse – the others had started showing up after the count sent word to Gale Marsht up in Whismerl about the Curse. Did they not understand the dangers that the count could place upon a grown man? Or did they value their precious chickens more than the lives of second-rate assassins? These were notions Puze pondered when he had trouble wrapping his head around the intricacies laid out by Count Roose.
To distract himself, Puze decided to have a little fun with the count. He flew out the window and headed straight for Toppe in the immediate northeast. In the dead of night, he was sure to find a nocturnal tigra lei that might enjoy a tour of the castle.