A Cursed Eight Short story
Accipiter G. Goshawk
The story picks up where we left it in The Fool’s Death Part I…
In a forgotten alley, a broken corpse gasped back to life.
Pain wracked Laurent Rold’s shivering shape, as the cold night air settled on his skin and crept into his bones. Something was wrong with his back…
“What…,” he croaked drily. He swallowed, trying to prevent his throat from breaking like old parchment.
Slowly he staggered to his feet. The weight of his body was all wrong and there was something sticky all over his back.
“Must be the blood,” he thought to himself as he leaned heavily against a dirty wall. “It’ll take ages to scrub out…oh well; at least it’ll liven up the place.”
He chuckled, his voice sounding alien and a little high-pitched. He calmly stared down at the congealing pool of crimson and absent-mindedly scratched the wounds between his shoulders.
“I’ll have to check for maggots later,” he mused, wiping his hands on the cold bricks. “Every artist should have something eating at his soul, but I wouldn’t want to get too literal…”
His thoughts trailed off and he found himself snickering again, lost in the utter hilarity of the situation. His laughter gradually grew, until he was coughing fitfully, dense tears rolling down his cold white face.
“I mean,” he said to nobody in particular, “that has got to be the worst assassination attempt in history. Ten out of ten for effort, but zero on the delivery, Grujak! I could have probably done the job better myself. No wonder the thieves’ guild didn’t trust him; anyone who handles a dagger that badly should stick to spoons. Or possibly something made of wood.”
He was so lost in his own mind, that at first he didn’t notice the red smoke. It crept along the walls and pavement, filling the alley with otherworldly streaks, slowly moving towards him.
“Well, well, what’s this?” said the jester curiously, glancing with dark sunken eyes at the odd apparition. “A warlock, come to finish the job?”
The smoke seemed to pause.
“You amuse me, clown. Dance.”
The voice was that of a woman; it echoed as if from a long way away.
Laurent bowed and flashed his biggest smile. The effect was spectral, as white teeth were framed by even whiter lips. However, the jester didn’t care and he began to hop and skip on the spot. He did a few summersaults and once pretended to slip, eliciting a peal of dark laughter from around him.
“Yes! I love it I love it!” said the voice in singsong amusement.
Laurent bowed again and this time pulled out a penny, which he promptly made disappear. He found it by sticking his hand into his chest cavity and ripping out his cold heart; the coin was lodged in the left ventricle.
“Bravo! Bravo! Yes, you are perfect!” hissed the thing in the mist.
“Thank you my lady,” answered the clown. “I assume that I have you to thank for my current state of undeath?”
“Indeed. You made me laugh; it is a rare occurrence. I wanted to see you for myself.”
A cold wind blew through Laurent. He felt cold and suddenly his strength failed him. He staggered backwards, finding the wall.
“But, I’m bored now,” said the voice callously. The jester thought he saw a clawed hand twist inside the smoke and a pair of crimson eyes flash briefly.
He was gripped by panic and immediately reacted. With the last of his strength, he grabbed a loose brick and smashed it into his face. His big broken smile elicited another bout of crazed laughter from the mysterious entity. Instantly, he felt his strength return.
He made his pitch.
“My lady, if you let me live, I promise to amuse you for all of eternity. I will devote my life to your service and your pleasure.”
The smoke seemed to hesitate.
“You would wish me to be your patron.” The tone was flat, incredulous. “I wonder mortal, if you realize what you are asking for…”
“I probably don’t,” said Laurent nonchalantly, “but the alternative would be death. And all I ever really wanted was to entertain, so…”
“I accept your service. I give you eternal life. I give you my favour. I give you…”
– the voice paused, as smoke crept towards the jester and entered the wounds in his back –
* * *
“…and then, I stuck him again!”
Grujak roared, as he spilled his drink on the floor of Temperance’s Parlour, startling an elderly gnome who had been finishing his drink at the nearby table.
The crew had entered the inn two hours ago and had since done their very best to be as loud and ill-mannered as possible. Behind the bar, Temperance seethed angrily. From time to time, her hand strayed to the shaft of her old battle-axe, but she always seemed to pull away at the last second. She’d cringed as she’d seen Grujack pull Fiddlesticks out of a dirty bag; the imp had looked scared and lost.
“I told the lad to be careful,” she muttered angrily. Temperance didn’t have many friends nor any family to speak of and mostly, she didn’t care. But she’d always nurtured a soft spot for the thin boy and his imp.
That was why she now found herself stooping to remove a floorboard in the backroom and pouring the contents of the small vial she’d hidden underneath it into a mug of beer.
“Let’s see how you enjoy some black dragon spit,” she hissed as she straightened. Calmly she sauntered over to the orc’s table and placed the frothing mug in front of Grujack himself. She turned to leave.
“What’s this, dwarf?”
She arranged her features and flashed him her best smile.
“On the house, love. A thank-you for being such faithful customers.”
The orc sniffed at the mug and glared at her suspiciously. Then he grinned.
“You drink it.”
Temperance paled visibly and took a step backwards.
Grujack’s smile grew wider.
“That’s what I thought. Angry about your little friend getting stuck up like a pincushion? I guess it’s only fair…but I don’t like people trying to kill me. So, I’ll say it once more: drink, dwarf.”
The old woman was about to make a run for the bar, but suddenly two of the orc’s men had her by the arms and were dragging her towards the table.
“Open wide,” growled Grujack, as he moved towards Temperance’s struggling form.
“That looks positively to die for. Mind if I take a sip?”
The orc glanced down in time to see the drink disappear from his hands, snatched away by the owner of the oddly grating voice. He turned, his knife already out and ready to stab the creature that had dared rob him of his fun.
He took two steps back, his face turning grey.
There was a jester standing in the middle of the bar, chugging away at the poisoned beer without a care in the world. Grujack had now doubts that this was the same man that he’d left bleeding in the gutter not three hours ago.
Somehow, he looked different. His clothes were new, carefully crafted in colourful fabrics and adorned with gold buttons. His boots were black leather and he wore spotless white gloves. What was most disturbing was the mask: it covered his face, and was split down the middle, one half white and the other black. The eye-slits were lined in red and shadows seemed to coalesce around them, effectively hiding the clown’s irises from view. A jester’s hat completed the ensemble, sitting on his dark head, tinkling as he moved.
“Well, that was good; did I detect a pinch of black dragon in that, my dear?” he said turning towards Temperance. She nodded dumbly and he immediately burped loudly.
“Sorry about that. I’m afraid that I’m slightly intolerant; it brings out my acid reflux,” came the inevitable joke.
He turned towards Grujack’s crew and immediately belched out an unnaturally large stream of acid. The odd mixture of criminals and rejects howled in pain and horror as they fell backwards, slowly dissolving into a small pile of mush.
“Oops. I really have the worst table manners. Let me clean that up for you.”
With unnatural speed, the jester grabbed a mop lying in the corner and effortlessly impaled one of the few crewmembers that had managed to escape. He then proceeded to use the horrific assemblage in a twisted imitation of someone cleaning up a spillage. The result was that the screaming half-elf at the end of the pole slowly succumbed to his wound and the effects of the acid slowly tearing away at his body.
“Oh dear…they really don’t make brooms like they used to. Sorry Temperance; some filth is really hard to clean up.”
The rest of Grujack’s crew by now had fled. Only the orc remained.
Not out of choice of course. Ever since the ghastly apparition had finished drinking the beer, the murderer had tried to run for the door. Unfortunately, it seemed that his feet always took him back to the same spot he’d been standing in.
The dread jester turned towards him.
“Please, I didn’t know! I swear, I’ll pay you back! I’ll do anything!” he squealed piteously as the smiling creature drew closer.
“Tell me Grujack,” said the voice behind the mask, drawing the orc’s knife from its sheath, “do you think you have a relatively sharp mind?”
The orc trembled, eyeing the wicked blade.
“I-I don’t know! Please, let me go!”
“Answer the question!” snarled the jester dangerously.
“I-I think so…,”
“Oh dear, that won’t do at all! Does that seem the answer of a sharp mind to you? No, no, no…,” he said, tossing the knife away and moving towards the bar. He rummaged in the drawers and cabinets until finally he emerged triumphant.
“Here we go Grujack, this will help!” he said, waving a whetstone the size of an egg in front of the terrified orc.
“Let’s sharpen you up, then shall we?” cackled the clown maniacally and with one careless motion smashed the small object into the side of the orc’s head, embedding it completely. Grujack’s eyes glazed over and he slowly crumbled to the ground.
“Strange,” said the clown extracting the stone from the dead murderer’s skull, “I thought that would work…oh well, I was never cut out for psychology.”
He turned to face Temperance, who hadn’t moved since the beginning of the massacre.
“L-Laurent?” she said hesitantly. “Is it you?”
“L-Laurent is gone I’m afraid,” answered the clown jovially, “but he sends his love. He also asked me to pass on a message; he’d like you to take care of his imp. Also, he suggests you leave town before sundown. For some reason, he seems to think Nosdok is about to become a tad…what’s the word…unstable.”
She shivered, but didn’t hesitate. It only took her ten minutes to put together a few possessions and lift her axe from its place on the wall. She walked past the jester, picked up Fiddlesticks and left her inn.
She never returned to Nosdok.
* * *
It had taken only a day to lay waste to the city.
The jester sat on the ruins of the city garrison, looking at the sunrise as the plumes of dark smoke twisted towards the sky.
Someone spoke to him from between the cracks of existence.
“What shall you do now, my fool?”
He thought for a while.
“I’ve always wanted to travel,” he said after a while, “so many places to see; so many people to meet…” He grinned underneath the mask.
“Go then, Laurent; find new ways to entertain me.”
The presence faded and he was alone again. He got up, dusted himself off and wondered off, muttering to himself.
“Laurent…not sure I really like that name. I need something shorter, something punchier. Hmm…I think…yes! Drello! The Amazing Drello!” He travelled onward and mayhem followed, along with a hint of red smoke and the sound of mad laughter.-