Once Upon a Time – Chap. 15.4

Meanwhile…

The decision to set traps about the house in case of additional intruders proved to be a grand idea on Uncle Albert’s part. Granted, he hadn’t planned on using all traps at once but the rope and mechanisms by which they operated were simple enough materials to set back up quickly if needed. For now he regarded his four uninvited guests.

Three hung upside down by the rafters of his ceiling, the loops of rope they’d unknowingly stepped into now securely tied around their ankles. Two of these were some type of henchmen decked out in frumpy cloaks while the third happened to be the Bastiick fellow he remembered meeting during Sylvia’s visit. The fourth man evaded his traps but managed to render himself an non issue after tripping over a warped board in the floor and landing head first into the adjacent wall. Albert checked to make sure the slumped over fellow lying on the floor was only unconscious, though he certainly wouldn’t complain if he found himself in the company of another zombie instead of yet another trespasser.

I seem to be quite the popular one lately,” he spoke to the two cloaked men. No doubt they were more aware of the general plan as Bastiick was clearly the victim of either some potion or spell and only happily rattled off something about keepers. “Now what do you want and where’s my niece?”

Silence followed, except for grunts and a slight creaking from the rafters as the hapless minions tried to free themselves from the rope. Bastiick was also now quiet and seemed content to swing about upside down with a foolishly large grin on his face.

Albert lowered the rope slightly on the rafter bearing the fattest member of his hanging intruders until they were within arm’s reach. Grabbing one of their swords that had fallen to the floor during the commotion, he stepped closer to rest the blade against the man’s neck. “This is when you should say something.” It was a rather mute action considering he would likely eat both of them anyway but he was fairly certain neither had much of a clue about that just yet.

We’ve come here on the authority of the Keepers to take the puzzle shard and gain your secrets of how to travel to the other realm.” The man spoke with such authority, it was a wonder if he remembered he was the one captured and hanging upside down.

Albert lowered the sword while raising his brow. “By puzzle shard, I assume you mean that supposedly magical rock. You’re a little late. Someone else already murdered me and ran off with it. As for this other realm, I don’t have the foggiest clue what you’re talking about.”

Your darling niece told us your family is from another world.” The man took a moment to indulge another failed attempt of freeing himself before continuing. “Surely you must know something about it.” He paused again, this time frozen with confusion. “Did you say someone already murdered you?”

Um, Arden-” the skinnier and more observant henchman clamped his mouth shut at Albert’s amused side glance.

Answer my question first.” Albert returned his attention to man hanging in front of him. “Where is my niece?”

She’s safe enough, being held at the Keepers’ castle,” Arden replied dryly. “Soon, they will give her the choice of whether or not to follow them. If she chooses correctly, she’ll remain safe.”

I’m surprised they didn’t just make that choice for her like they did this poor lad.” Albert swung an arm toward Bastiick, still lost in his own little world of contentment.

She’s resistant to their spell,” said Arden. “But the Keepers will eventually rule every living thing in the land.”

Albert shrugged. “Guess that means I don’t have to worry about them much then.”

Arden chuckled and sneered back. “Did you not hear what I just said? The Keepers are powerful magicians, more powerful than anything you could ever-”

Both the man’s arrogance and voice seemed to become lost in a single gulp of air as he became fixated on something under him. Albert stared at the man, utterly perplexed until he looked down and saw his pinky finger lying in the floor.

Oh blast it all!” Albert inspected his right hand, the one he slung in Bastiick’s direction just a moment ago, and found it did indeed only bare four digits now. “Serves me right for trying to used these rigid things too much while working on that project earlier.” He kicked the stray finger across the floor. “At least I can do without that one.”

You just lost your finger!” Arden pointed at Albert as though he’d done it to personally offend him. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Well it probably would if I was still alive.” Albert crossed his arms. “And I’ve suffered worse enough wounds that I should be dead but I believe your precious Keepers and their magic decided otherwise.”

Arden reeled his hand back. “But you can’t be a zombie. You’re thinking and carrying on a conversation.”

That I am.” Albert agreed. “And I’m also a zombie.”

But you-” Arden seemed to be trying to climb his way up the rope he was tied to now, “-you don’t eat people like other zombies, do you?”

Albert casually strolled over to lower the man’s rope a bit more. “Only people who intrude upon my home with intent to rob or murder me.”

Oh no, no, you misunderstand!” Arden’s companion squealed out. “We weren’t trying to intrude!”

Albert lowered his rope down a little as well. “And yet you somehow succeeded. Amazing.”

What Nicolai means is we had no intention of harming anyone.” Arden shot his comrade a look. “We were going to simply ask if you happened to know anything about the other realm and would interested in selling the puzzle shard.”

Ah, I see,” said Albert with mock understanding. He turned to the only person hanging about and not hugging themselves in fear at the moment. “Bastiick, my friend, did these good fellows let you in at all on what their plans were for this visit?”

Oh sure! Break into the house, steal the shard, kill the girl’s uncle!” Bastiick’s gleeful desire to provide information proved to have no regard for frantically shaking upside down heads. “Go back to Keepers and help Keepers rule the world!”

Thank you, Bastiick, very good.” Albert spoke to him with the approval a teacher might give their prized student. And as is usually the case with teacher’s pets, the rest of the class was none too happy.

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