Once Upon a Time – Chap. 41.2

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“Those words,” Albert made a circle with his finger to trace the arc of glowing letters on the stone, “why didn’t my invention show any this? All I saw were glowing flecks in the rock.”

“Your stone was one of the smaller ones, I think it was this one here?” Gwendoloena pointed at a jagged fragment in the top middle portion of the puzzle and continued after he nodded. “That portion doesn’t have any of the letters on it, so you wouldn’t have seen anything but the tiny flecks.”

“But why is that nonsense engraved on any of those pieces?” The zombie backed away a few steps as though he feared the words might begin doing something more dreadful than glow. “For what purpose?”

“In the hands of this item’s original owners, to make creatures such as you and me.” Gwendoloena pointed again, this time at the puzzle’s lower left corner. “Hunger, death, foolishness. These are the most basic attributes of a monster that is neither living nor aware of its situation and yet suffers an insatiable desire to devour.” She nodded toward him. “Zombies, but like the ones you and Seth were before regaining your self awareness.” The vampire moved her finger up to the top right corner. “Wisdom, life, thirst. For a monster that maintains its intelligence and gains what others might hail as immortality but,” she let out a long sigh as though she would prefer Albert’s state, “is tormented by its own grim desire throughout those unending years.”

“But what about love and hate?” He flung a hand up toward the puzzle while squinting at the last two glowing words. “Zombies don’t feel either towards anyone, they’re barely even aware of the fact that what they chase after as a snack happens to be people. The best I can attribute the experience to is stumbling around drunk in a dream.” Albert glanced up at her. “Is that part intended just for you vampires then?”

“I don’t think so.” Gwendoloena placed the stone puzzle back on the table. “To be honest, this is more of a mystery to me now that it’s completed than when I had a few pieces to ponder the meaning of.” She opened the window shutters to let the day’s light stream in again and turned to pout at him. “I’m so sorry, Albert, you came in here needing my help with something and I’ve completely dominated conversation with my own troubles.”

The zombie shook his head, hobbling over to join her the window. “No need to apologize, I’m the one who interrupted your work. And truth be told, it’s not myself I came to see you about but Sylvia.” Albert leaned on the ledge, looking out. “If we truly defeat these Keeper fellows and their many curses on the land can be removed, I have no fear of death for obviously I shouldn’t even still be flapping my lips about now.” He turned back to her. “But you mentioned earlier that all vampires may simply change back to their former selves?”

“I wish I could say I was certain of that outcome but I’m still not sure. However, changing back does hold possibility.”

“If that ends up being the case and my niece does have the chance to live out her days as a normal girl, I fear that with myself and the rest of her family likely gone,” Albert held his jaw open for a moment as if considering whether to continue, “she’ll find herself an orphan. Luckily my sister raised her to be self sufficient but she’s also quite stubborn and headstrong.” He shook his head disdainfully at the floor. “And she thinks she knows everything there is to know about the world and that her little magic tricks can get her of out any trouble she makes for herself. But where will she run to when that happens? For that matter, who will guide her as she continues growing from a child to the young woman she’s already becoming?” His eyes rose back up to her. “It is no small request to make, but would you be willing to watch over her if she does indeed find herself alone in this world? Perhaps even consider her like your own daughter or niece?”

“Albert, that is the absolute sweetest request I think a zombie has ever made to anyone.”

Albert chuckled. “Sweet, well, I’m not sure that my kind tends to make many requests at all, sweet or otherwise. We’re typically a single-minded sort.”

“You’re far from typical. And I will gladly give Sylvia as much help as she needs, she is always welcome here. Annnd,” Gwendoloena smiled at him. “I believe you may have just demonstrated how love belongs on our stone puzzle.” She whirled around to look out the window upon a strange chorus of birdlike chirps filling the sky. Frowning, the vampire slammed the shutters shut and locked them as an enormous flock of nearly identical black birds swarmed overhead. “However, I’m afraid we have visitors close approaching who wish to demonstrate the other remaining word.”

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