by thefourpartland

Today I’d like to welcome Emma Newman to The Four Part Land. Emma is the brilliant (and English) author of 20 Years Later and The Split Worlds, and an author who is always a joy to read, and to talk to. Two years ago, back when I was first bumbling around Twitter, Emma saved me from many a class of boredom by pointing me towards the first collection of short stories set in The Split Worlds, which I devoured with haste. So it is with great pleasure that I’m able to host one of her Split Word stories here today.

This is the eleventh tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like Emma to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.

The Final Test

Michael came to his conclusion over the chicken soup. It was arguably the most important in his entire apprenticeship and it had killed his appetite.

“Are you feeling ill?” Alfred asked, seated opposite.

Michael looked into the other apprentice’s eyes, bloodshot from too much study. Could he lose his advantage by being open? No, he was years ahead of Alfred, and it could help to review his reasoning out loud.

“I’ve examined the tests we’ve been given over the years,” he said, voice low enough to blend with the general murmur of the dining hall. “I’ve passed every single one and I’ve never failed any assignment over the last decade, but I’m still just an apprentice. Why?”

“That’s for him to know and us to speculate,” Alfred said, dunking his bread.

“No, it’s because there’s a secret test.”

Alfred shook his head. “You sure it’s not your arrogance preventing your elevation?” When Michael started to pick up his bowl, Alfred reached across, pressed his arm down. “I’m sorry. Do you know what the test could be?”

Michael settled again, bit off a chunk of bread and chewed it slowly, giving himself time to consider whether to share. “The door at the end of the corridor in the northern wing,” he finally said. “The one we’re forbidden to open. I think the test is to do just that.”

Alfred’s eyes widened in a most satisfactory manner, giving Michael the sense of superiority he enjoyed so much. “Surely not. It’s one of the first rules of the house.”

“Exactly,” Michael replied. “We were too green to question anything then so we don’t even think about it now. We all know about the room, but no-one goes near it, because that rule was laid down so early.”

“You’re wrong,” Alfred said. “Why not have faith in him knowing when you’re ready?”

“But that’s my point!” Michael stopped himself from banging the table. “What if he’s waiting for the first apprentice to show some initiative? Perhaps he’s been waiting for hundreds of years for just one man to come to this same conclusion.”

“Perhaps he’s waiting for a man who knows as much as you but has kept his humility,” Alfred said, taking up his spoon. “Be patient, this is a way of life not-”

Michael stood, unable to stomach that platitude again, and left his supper on the table, ignoring Alfred’s chuckle. No more languishing amongst the hopefuls, waiting for a moment that might never come. It made perfect sense; why else have a locked and heavily warded door in the same wing of the house that the apprentices studied in? If it contained something genuinely secret or dangerous it would be out of sight, and certainly not pointed out during their first week. Alfred was just another mediocrity, it was time for him to show them what it really took to become a sorcerer.

The northern wing would be empty now, it gave him the perfect opportunity to study the wards and warnings engraved on the door and its frame. He was astounded by how easy it was to deconstruct into component parts, applied his knowledge as Alfred ate his soup and condemned himself to never being anything other than an apprentice.

The gentle hiss as the ward broke told him the room had been kept airtight. Interesting. He opened the door, reaching for the light switch only to find it wasn’t in the usual place. He stepped in, fumbled along the wall as the door shut and sealed itself behind him. Finally his fingers brushed the Bakelite and he flicked the light on.

That’s when he saw the bones.

He could make out three skeletons and the tattered remains of their clothing. The outline of a doorway was being burnt into the opposite wall, an effect he knew well; a Way was being opened. He forced himself to stay calm, the room could have been staged to frighten him, and he mustn’t show it had worked.

The outline became a wooden door which opened. The sorcerer stepped through, clapping slowly, dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. “I knew it would be you Michael.”

Once he’d got past the mundane clothing, Michael saw only pleasure, no anger. His chest swelled. “Thank you master.”

“I always knew you had great potential.” The sorcerer reached into his pocket, pulled out a plain silver band and held it towards him.

It looked identical to the only ring his master wore, was this the subtle mark of one of the elite few? Michael slipped it onto a shaking finger.

“Tell me,” the Sorcerer stuffed his hands in his pockets and leant against the wall, his usual formality gone. “What exactly did you think would happen if you broke the wards on the door?”

Michael felt like a five year old again, terrified by the cool intellect of the man who had become his parent, his teacher, his master. It didn’t matter that he was as tall as him now. “I hoped you’d be pleased I’d realised there was no other way to progress, that I found the last test.”

“I am pleased,” his master said. “A sorcerer answers to no-one in his own kingdom, so your instincts were correct to challenge my rules. But the test wasn’t realising thus, nor was it a test of your ability to break the wards, even though I suspect you’re the only apprentice capable of doing so.”

Michael looked at the skeletons, feeling a droplet of sweat trickle down to the small of his back. “Have I passed?”

The sorcerer laughed. “Look behind you. What do you see?”

Michael’s imagination furnished him with a slavering beast, a sword about to run him through, his peers watching and laughing and even one of the Fae themselves as he turned around. Instead, all he saw were formulae. But when he looked closely at the sorcerous markings, he only recognised a small fraction of them.

“Wards,” he guessed, and mercifully, he was correct. “Ah! So the final test is to break these?”

“Almost. You’ve spent practically all your life under my tutelage. All of your training, all of the trials have led to one question Michael, one you’ve already answered without even knowing it: Do you think like a Sorcerer?”

“I do! Otherwise I wouldn’t even be here!”

“Then break the wards.”

“I… I need an artefact from my room, and some time and a-”


At the sorcerer’s command, Michael felt his body become rigid, realised what the ring was there to do.

“You failed. If you truly were ready to be a Sorcerer, you would have brought every artefact, every tome, every tool for any eventuality. But you still think like an apprentice, believing I was waiting to congratulate and elevate you for being brave enough to break a rule. If you’d truly been ready, you’d have been prepared to murder me, to fight for your life or even just break the most complex formulae without a moment’s hesitation. I’ll leave you to contemplate that amongst your peers,” he waved a hand at the bones. “And when you can no longer bear to examine your failure, and instead turn your anger towards me for not giving you a second chance, ask yourself this; when there are seven sorcerers for seven kingdoms, why on earth would we need an eighth?”



by thefourpartland

I can hear the world reach for me. I can feel it claw at my soul. I can sense it as it runs scaly claws down my back. It will not have me.

I could fight. Perhaps. I could resist. It’s a possibility. I could rebel. A failure, certainly. But these are things that take effort, and time. I will take the easy way out, the way that lets me fly far beyond those grasping claws. I will fly.

One day.



by thefourpartland

I write nothing, and no one reads my stories.

I make no sound, and no one hears me speak.

I draw no art, and no one sees me paint.

I am alone.



by thefourpartland

An angel screams. I am told she cries for me, that she takes my pain upon herself. She hopes to save me, it is said. She cares.

It is a sweet gesture, unexpected, kind. But I am long past saving now. I made my pact long ago, and have spent the years since searing my soul, burning it away thoroughly. I do not care.

This angel loved me. Watched me in my crib, caressed my cheek when no mortal hovered over me. All through my childhood, she guarded.

Perhaps too well. Perhaps too poorly. Either way, I turned from her light. Mayhaps my soul broke when I did, but I think it was broken before, and needed only confirmation in fire.

I killed. Men, women, children, animals. They were life. Life ends. After each death, I tapped the gun against my temple, wondering if I had earned my release.

All that, and still she cries. I would comfort her, tell her not to cry, but she cannot hear through her pain. My pain.

She lifts her eyes and looks into mine. I look back, sad. I pity her, that she pledged her life in service of another, only to be rejected. But the life was mine to live, and I did.



by thefourpartland

This is the prologue to a new story that popped into my head. As you can tell from the title, I don’t know what to call it yet, but I do love the main character. Came about from a series of audiobooks I was listening to.

My coming has long been foretold. Or rather, my return. No one predicted my coming the first time. Not very surprising, since I was the orphaned son of farmers. I know, I know, clichéd beginnings and all. Not that my parents died from anything noble. Common pneumonia, caught during a slightly worse than normal winter. And as for the farmer bit, well, there’s a lot more of us farmers than there are nobles. Stands to reason some of us are going to make a go at things.

I did, and a damn good go I made of it too. Looting, pillaging, winning battles, sacking cities, it was a grand old time. I even got given the title Bloodaxe by one of the cities I destroyed. I rather liked the imagery of it, and began to sign it as my name. It was a great piece of propaganda.

Time passed, and after a while I got bored with sacking. You see, the problem is if you sack a city, it gets mostly destroyed, and doesn’t make any money for a long time. But if you capture a city, and tax it, why, it makes money every year. So I overthrew a couple feudal lords, bundled their lands up into a nice little kingdom, and settled in as a monarch.

I never got too settled, of course. Got to keep the neighbours on their toes and weak. But after a while I got a bit older, and decided my son needed seasoning. So he took over the raiding for me. Kid’s got the nickname Forkbeard. Not quite as spectacular as my title, but he does have a damn fine beard. Took after his dad in all kinds of ways, but mostly in the fine family tradition of pillage and plunder.

So, Junior’s taking care of the military, I’m running the place (I named it Rudvic, after my old mum), and some prat shows up and says I’m going to be killed in a coup and return when the kingdom once again needs a great military leader. Me being a kind and gentle monarch, I have one of the guards punt him out the castle gate.

Of course, this silly bugger of a preacher decides he’s going to keep running his mouth about my coming doom. Now, most of the populace has the good sense to treat him like the nutter he was, but some of them actually believed him. Thinking back on it now, I should have had all of that lot slain for being gullible idiots.

I was nice and didn’t, although that was partly because all those gullible idiots started treating me like I was some kind of warrior saint who watched over the kingdom in times of need. I failed to point out that twenty years earlier, the kingdom hadn’t existed, and I had formed it by beating some nobles over the head with my axe until they wrote me into their last will and testament. Which I made sure got executed. Immediately.

Even I have my limits though, and when the prat didn’t shut up after several reminders, I had him nailed to the castle gate. Upside down. Silly bugger kept preaching right up until the moment he died. And given the coup happened about six months after he was killed, and it was Forkbeard who did it, well, maybe I should have listened a little closer. And paid attention to the fact my son really didn’t fall very far at all from the family tree. Took after dear old Dad just a little too closely there.

So, now I’m hanging around, wondering which god it was I nailed to the castle gates, and when he’s going to let me get off my ass and do a little victorious returning. Of course, I’m not sure which kingdom I’m going to be returning to. Mine fell apart in petty squabbles after my son proved he was as crap as a monarch as he was as good as a fighter. And now the lands are all bits and pieces of baronies and earldoms and ducal courts, and there’s fourteen civil wars carried on at any one time and five of them only using assassins and spies.

I thought I was ruthless, but these rulers today? They’ve made punitive taxation into an art form. Even some of the demons I run across around here are impressed. Bringing back my old style of pillage and plunder would probably be a boon to the ordinary peasants. At least I was one once.

Anyway, enough wittering on from this old fart of a warrior king. But you’ll hear from me again. I’ll come back, and when I do there’s going to be a rocking party. I can’t wait.



by thefourpartland

There are times I wish a man well, and times when I wish him poorly. But most days, I do not wish a man anything, for I know him not. Instead, I walk my own way, a way that is solitary, and in that loneliness I find comfort, for I know that no other can be as alone as I am. Thus I am the saddest of my kind, and all others above me.

Yet in that sadness I find company, for many others walk the ways of sadness with me. They do not walk beside me, no, nor do they often cross my path, but I can sense their sadness in the air about me, in the muted ripples of a shallow pond, in the last whisper of a leaf as it falls from the tree. It is a comforting touch, a gift that matches my loneliness stride for stride, and one that I share with others.

For that is the gift of loneliness – it brings sadness, but in that sadness is company and a grace found in no other place. Tragic figures we are called, and pitied by all who bestow glances upon us, but that tragedy gives us meaning, gives us stature. Otherwise, my companions and I, lonely and sad as we are, would have no meaning.

Perhaps we do not, at that. But leave us our illusions. We cherish our only children.



by thefourpartland

A great many things were decided that day. Who would live, who would die, and who could slip away. I was one of the luck ones, those who managed to steal into the night before the decisions were made.

You see, ‘live’ is hardly the term that it should be. Being forced to marry, to have children and then give them up, to live in a tiny cubicle under constant observation… Yeah, barely ‘living’.

Most of us who disappeared wanted to do nothing to help those who’d been stuck. Me? I thought I should, but the only thing I could do was walk in there with a bomb strapped to my chest. Death is a kind of freedom, I suppose.

I wasn’t looking to die though, so I sat on my hands and waited until a better idea came along. And like all of my brilliant ideas, it came at a bar, on a Saturday, at 2am, with a screwdriver in my hand. Double strength, naturally.

The next morning, after sleeping off my hangover, I set to work. But I needed a few other people for the job. Many hands make light work and all that crap. No, I needed an electronics expert to do some of the soldering. And a couple gunmen, but they were easy to find. They come in lots down at the five and dime.

So, couple weeks go, and we’re ready. Truck’s loaded, gears all in the back. Guess who doesn’t show? Yeah, my little friend with the soldering gun. We give him ten minutes, and then run for it. We all knew he’d turned us in.

Turns out I got the furthest, which was three blocks. Then a tranq dart took me in the right shoulder. Never even felt my jaw break as it hit the pavement.

Stuck in the hospital while I wait for my damn jaw to work again. Really funny that the guy who shot me came by and apologized. Me, a criminal, and him being sorry because he accidentally broke my jaw. This place is too damn nice.

And then I ended up back at the damn baby farm. Forced to marry, and locked in a cubicle. Of course, they didn’t tell me who I was married to, because they were still trying to figure it out themselves.

But then I wake up one day with a cute little Polynesian girl nestled in my arms. Maybe trying to get babies on her won’t be so bad…



by thefourpartland

There is no fight left anymore. No desire to carry on, no will, no strength. Instead, there is but sadness filling the place where there was once courage and love.

A heart beat here, but it has stilled, worn down by hours and days and years of pain. Perhaps there is a flutter of life within this breast, but if so, it is the last grasp of a dying creature.

This heart has fought many battles, lost many wars. Now it is content to lie still, to surrender the field. There is no fight left anymore.



by thefourpartland

Tasala slumped down by the fire, chewing on the burnt leg of week old meat in his hands. Tough, the first hints of rot coming through in the taste. It was nourishment, but only just. His unit had been chased all across the central plains of Karlak, never given time to stop and rest, and was now so battered and bruised that it was at less than half normal strength. Most of the other half, well… the other half was chasing them. Tasala had seen one of his friends kill another, hacking at the head until it had been a pulped smear on the ground. One had been dead then, and both of them were dead now.

The necromancers and channellers who’d risen against the emperor had been waging a war for five years, pushing inward from the northern border, each year another chunk disappearing under their control. This year… this year was the worst of all. The undead were all the way to the fertile plains, and that meant no crop for the kingdom. Another year like this one and they’d lose not to the undead, but to starvation. There had already been circumstances of cannibalism to stay alive, and the coming days promised more.

Troops were free for the necromancers. They dug up graveyards, slaughterhouses, old battlefields, wherever there were dead bodies. The kingdom had been warlike enough to make the supply limitless. Tasala had seen, and smelled, some of the rites to their god, needed to bring the dead to life. The sorcerers liked performing the rites across from the living, letting the human soldiers know that the horde grew every night. The next morning, the channellers would be marching the newest warriors out to fight.

The living had seen every conceivable beast by then, from freshly killed warriors to farmyard animals. Tasala and the troops with him had laughed when they’d first seen the chickens. “We’ve won this war now, they’re reduced to fighting us with food!” Joy became fear once the tactics became apparent. The undead troops would attack, and while the living were occupied with those their own size, the chickens would peck at their feet and legs. The necromancers had pulled out the beaks and replaced them with nails, spikes, bits of broken blade, anything that could wound. Rusty and filthy, anyone injured by one of these weapons would have wounds that festered and rotted, making them a heavy drain on the living’s resources.

Tasala continued to gnaw on the meat, the sour taste overcome by the fear of starvation, the knowledge that the next meal was a day or more away. He and his soldiers had fought today, and lost, again, forced back further across the plains. The generals had thought they could hold the undead cohorts here, for the rotting soldiers moved slowly and disjointedly, the necromancers who kept them mobile unable to control the whole army at once. So, raiding parties had been sent out, Tasala among them, to harass the supplies coming for the living leaders of the dead army.

They had failed. The supply trains were not wagons and mules, but long strings of undead soldiers marching to join their brethren at the front, carrying the supplies with them on crude carts. Once attacked, they dropped the supplies and pulled out weapons, winning the battles by weight of numbers. The deep raiders dwindled, eventually forced to flee by hunting groups of undead or caught and wiped out.

Harassing attacks on the main army had served no better. Through long experience, the living knew that ruining the head or chest of an undead destroyed the store of magical energy that kept it powered. The first two raids had gone well enough, only a few men lost to infrequent resistance, and large numbers of the undead smashed by bullets from the slings and crossbows the cavalry now carried.

After those first two, the dead had come back with their own counter: rotting corpses of swift animals. Horses, deer, even birds were seen among the undead ranks. Those large enough carried riders with bows and arrows or javelins, matching cavalry to cavalry. All of the animals had their front legs and forward torso studded with spikes, crushed glass, or blades. Those carrying no rider simply picked a living cavalryman and ran into him, impaling man and mount. These wounds didn’t kill unless the dead had gotten lucky, but they crippled, removing any hit from the field of battle for months, maybe forever.

Tasala’s legion had been one of these raiding parties. They’d had a successful raid today, cutting a great swath through the flank of their enemy, but as they rode away a pack of these devilbeasts, hidden in a thicket along the route home, had swarmed into the cavalry, leaving almost a third of the raiding force as casualties. After that débâcle, his cavalry unit had only four of every ten men healthy for duty, barely enough for them to remain operational. It was a ratio that was sure to get worse.



by thefourpartland

This story was co-written by E. P. Marcellin for a fun little contest we came up with, and I think she did a brilliant job of it.

I’d be interested if anyone could tell where one of us stopped writing and the other picked up.

Rupert was affronted. His neighbours had no manners at all. They plucked his opulent blooms right out of his garden, never mind the picket fence! When he complained, they had the audacity to imply it was his own fault they picked his flowers. “If your repugnant odour were not so overpowering, we would have no need to bury our noses as we passed by,” they would holler at him from the lane, pilfered blooms unabashedly in hand.

Repugnant odour, indeed! Rupert could not believe that elves, even wood elves, could be so rude. A mountain elf himself, he should have been cool, icy calm. He was not. Crouched behind the glazed glass of his window, peering out at the thieving wood elves, he seethed inside, anger twisting him into untangleable knots. Narrowing his eyes in hate, he bit ruthlessly into a garlic bulb, enjoying the satisfying crunch and subsequent burst of sharp flavour, barely noticing the intense aroma that made his eyes sting. How could they say he smelled anything but pleasant, surrounded by flowers as he was?

Then one day, as Rupert watched from the shadows, a statuesque elf snapped off his biggest, most beautiful begonia. He did not notice the pleasure the bloom gave her, the way it lit up her gorgeous face, how she tenderly carried it home. All he saw was the naked stem, and a terrible rage gripped him. If his neighbours were going to act like goblins, snatching up beauty and sneering at him, then goblins they should be!

Stony-faced and silent, Rupert donned a light cloak and disappeared into the night, slipping away from the elf village. Filled with malicious intent, it was no great difficulty to find those of like mind, the dark elves who thrive on hatred. They danced under the glaring eye of the moon, capering to a drumbeat that matched the rhythm of Rupert’s heart.

“What do you here?” demanded an old elf who watched from the verge as Rupert approached. She looked like weathered wood, spindly branches for limbs, fingers like twigs that reached for him.

“I wish to cast a spell,” he said, shrinking back slightly from her knobby, grasping fingers. Ignoring his movement, she caught hold of his face, turning it this way and that, studying him in the moonlight.

“Your heart is twisted and dark,” she muttered. “This is magic we can work. But all spells come with a price.”

“Name it.”

“I couldn’t say,” the old elf cackled. “The price names itself! What spell would you cast?”

“I wish to curse the village of wood elves. Turn them all into the goblins they are at heart!”

“Dear boy, that is a simple matter,” she said, spindly fingers digging into his arm as she led him into the cavorting circle of dark elves. They ceased as the wizened elf held up her hands. “Children,” she called, “we have a spell to cast!” Looks of glee danced from face to face as the other elves bared their sharp teeth in feral grins.  They joined hands in a long line, then twisted into a spiral with Rupert and the aged elf at the center, chanting and swaying as she turned her face to the rotund moon. Her skin, like translucent parchment, seemed to take on the moon’s glow as she gathered power, lank hair suddenly turning to silken tresses. The wrinkled skin that hung on her bones smoothed to perfect alabaster. Fresh pink, like rose petals, infused her cheeks; her lips, red as spilled blood, continued the chant. Soon a vision stood before Rupert, a startling combination of pale skin and jet hair, eyes black pools he could drown in.

“Speak your curse,” she said, her voice the whisper of the wind through the trees.

“Wood elves, tremble, for your doom is upon you,” he said, chest puffed out in a theatrical gesture. “You think yourselves garden goblins, so you shall become. As you stole beauty, so it shall be stolen from you. I curse you!” The dark elves groaned in unison as power was released from their leader, a shockwave that swept through the forest, bending the protesting trees before it.

“It is done,” the leader said, wrapping her soft arms around Rupert’s neck. Leaning in, she kissed him, slow and lingering. Her ruby lips tasted of honeysuckle; her body, pressed against his, banished thought of all else. Gathering her in his arms, he would gladly have stayed in that moment for eternity. And then she shrank back to a bag of bones, the skin pulling back from her teeth against his lips. Revolted, he pulled away.

“So the price has been named,” she said with a half-smile. “Your seed shall dry up and never be planted in fertile womb. No woman will come to your bed, you half man. You wished to pay the price? Well, live you now in celibacy.”

Walking away from the chuckling circle of dark elves, Rupert was not certain he had gotten the better end of that deal.

For the next several days, he sat and watched from his garden. No visitors! No thieves! He capered and danced and spun, until he fell down dizzy. Those silly little wood elves, acting like goblins. Why, now they were goblins, and they would bother him no more!

Rupert slept that night with a grin. After eating a garlic and black bean dinner, of course. He loved the way the tastes comingled in his mouth and roiled in his gut. Such a sensation! He’d mailed the recipe off to the best chefs in the land, hoping to sell it. The responses he had received had all been rude. Tasteless philistines.

Morning came, and Rupert rush to his window, peering out over his garden. His blooms, they were intact. Intact intact intact. The old crone really had worked her magic. He must send them a gift of radishes dipped in cayenne powder. Then again, maybe he should wait until a woman came to his bed. If not, he’d probably paid quite enough.

“Wait…” Rupert pressed his nose to the window. “I see a small red cap growing from the bush. A mushroom? I don’t grow mushrooms there! My mushrooms are round the back, in a tasteful little circle around the old tree stump.” Stomping out to remove the offending mushroom, Rupert recoiled in horror.

“A gnome! There is a garden gnome! Eek!” Rupert hid behind the nearest tree, shivering. He hated gnomes and their bulbous noses and red peaked caps. He peered closer. Oh, a statue of a garden gnome. How cute.

Those elves must have pranked him in the night! That’s where the statue came from. Glaring horribly, he picked up the gnome by its silly red cap and threw it over his picturesque white picket fence. “And stay out!” Rupert yelled in satisfaction. Now to tend the poison ivy garden.

The next morning, he woke with a smile. The ragweed should be blooming, and the begonia might have another blossom. He peered. “Is that, is that!” Not one, but two garden gnomes sat right out in the open, on the little stone pathway! Why those cursed little demon elves, playing twisted jokes.

Although when Rupert thought about it, none of them had walked past his front door since the curse. Curious. Still, there were those stupid garden gnomes to get rid of. He threw them over the fence.

A nice walk in the woods would calm him. And he could pick some of those lovely little berries off the bushes, the ones that dyed your pee purple. That was always good for a laugh.

Rupert came back to a garden covered in gnomes. Hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of gnomes. They’d covered every inch of his beautiful flower beds except the stone path, and he swore their perky red caps turned to face him when he arrived.

Rupert ran down the path and cowered inside his house, barricading the door and peering out the window. No movement. But gnomes, oh the gnomes. He slammed the shutters. They’d be gone in the morning, right? Right. Of course they would.

He fixed himself a casserole of pepper, avocado and forest mice and went straight to bed.

“So, Rupert, how do you like your garden goblins?”

He opened his eyes to find the crone perched on the end of his bed, a stormcrow of doom in her image.

“Wha… wha.. what are you doing here?!”

She cracked the knuckles in her hands. “Your curse wasn’t strong enough, and a wood elf came to me and asked what I could do, and I offered him the same services that you engaged.” Her voice rasped across his ears, bones tumbling against one another.

“You cursed me? What? How?!”

“May you be lusted after by a thousand virile male gnomes!”

She flung open the door, and in poured the garden statues.