On Life, Death, and All Manner of States in Between (Part 2)

Michael O. Varhola

Read Part 1  of "On Life, Death, and All Manner of States in Between"

Selenius did not pause in his gravening to mumble, "One coming up on the side there." The old man was correct, and Arabasz could see movement — a pale yet befouled humanoid figure appeared over a pile of broken masonry, walking in the quick, rattle-step way that some undead seemed to prefer, hoping to come up on them quickly enough to perhaps eat one or both of them. Now that the wizard had mastered the Black Emerald he was far more attentive to his surroundings. Over the past few weeks it had become a standing wager between them that Arabasz would attempt to sneak close enough to tap him on the back — day or night, whenever the mood or opportunity allowed. Since Selenius had installed the gem, however, Arabasz had gotten within three strides of him only once, and that was while the elder slept off a drunk induced by the better part of three jugs of the finest Corcyraean red, a wonderful, full-bodied vintage that reminded Arabasz inexplicably of a dusky houri he had known in the palace days of long ago. Arabasz silenced his thoughts, nocked, drew, loosed and dispatched the fast walker in one fluid motion.

The wizard was much improved physically as well. He could walk, discourse, or engrave, for hours, as he had done in this case, to Arabasz's displeasure and boredom. It had occurred to him that the Black Emerald must be responsible, that it had given Selenius renewed vigour and awareness — enough, perhaps, that he no longer needed his bodyguard. Arabasz kept these thoughts to himself, lest he put the thought into his master’s mind if it had not already found its way there of its own accord. In fact, bodyguarding was all Arabasz really knew how to do, and it was pleasant enough work if one had the stomach for it, and could find the right body to guard. In the past, he had guarded more regal bodies, and more luscious, occasionally at the same time, rarely in the same person. But he liked Selenius, and that counted for something too. It never occurred to Arabasz that Selenius might like him.

This time, he did not need the wizard to warn him of an approaching something. He could see it moving up the middle thoroughfare