Telling Tales 134
So… How’d You Die?
Arnau turned to see the man his dogs had slain pulling himself off the ground. The corpse’s wound were caked with dried blood and part of the reason his voice sounded off was that his throat had a large hole in it. The count waited for the body to stand upright. It seemed the polite thing to do. “You’re the first like me I’ve ever encountered,” he finally said.
The body of the man looked at Arnau and then back at what was left of himself. “I wouldn’t say we’re so much alike right now. You’re an insubstantial ghost and you seem to be fading with every minute. I’m a bloody mess.”
The count gave a wry smile. “You have a sense of humor. Perhaps you haven’t been cursed so long that you’ve forgotten how to laugh. Or perhaps you have been cursed so long that you have re-discovered it.”
“I knew a trapped spirit that threatened to kill me for having freed it,” said the body, “but it turned out it was only joking. What makes you think I’m cursed?”
“You’re still alive.”
The body raised one mangled hand before its face and turned it from side to side. Then it ran its fingers along one open wound. “That hurts,” it noted. “A lot.”
The ghostly figure opposite him waited while the storm outside pressed on.
“Do you smell something?” asked the corpse. “Is that me?”
“Too soon for you to rot. I rather think my pursuers outside have encountered a skunk and it has vexed them no end.”
The corpse thought about sighing, decided against it, and shook its ugly head instead. “So much for that plan.”
Count Arnau continued to wait.
The body tilted to one side and took a quick step to prevent itself from falling, leaning against the rock. “First, a misconception. Forgive me, but I’m working from memory. I don’t believe that I was actually alive in the first place when your dogs went at me. The women who saved me told me that they had, and this is where I’m a little fuzzy on the details, ‘returned me to life.’ You see, I’ve been dead and I’m currently without my breath. But I’m not sure I’m precisely alive, if you see what I mean.”
The phantasm blinked its milky eyes at the revenant. “That may be a further argument for you being cursed.”
“It’s true that a great deal of strange things have happened to me, but this is the most pressing. Before this it was all rescuing princesses and facing dragons, which was actually much less dramatic than it sounds. Can you tell me anything about the creatures that chase you?”
“To know them is to know the nature of my curse.” Arnau’s words were a solemn pronouncement, not an agreement to explain.
“Okay,” said the body. “Sure.”
Arnau was silent again, but in the face of the bloody revenant’s equal silence, he eventually resumed. “They are demons. The nature of my curse is that I am to reap the souls of evil men. If I can claim five hundred between new moon and new moon, I will be free to die once and for all.”
“What happens at the new moon?”
“My strength grows and fades with the moon. I am strongest at the full, when I capture the most. If I have not succeeded, when I am at my weakest, the demons fall upon me and tear me apart and I must begin anew.”
“That must be terrible for you, being torn apart,” said the torn-apart body.