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Too Many Curses

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Too Many Curses

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Author: A. Lee Martinez
Publisher: Tor, 2008

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The wizard Margle the Horrendous takes special pride in never killing his enemies. Instead, he transforms them into various accursed forms and locks them away in his castle. His halls are filled with his collection of fallen heroes and defeated villains, along with a few ordinary folk who were just unfortunate enough to draw Margle’s attention.

It’s Nessy’s duty to tend this castle. It’s a lot of work, but she manages, taking pride in housekeeping talents that keep the castle from collapsing into chaos. But when Margle suddenly dies, everything begins to unravel. Nessy finds herself surrounded by monsters, curses, a door that should never be opened, and one very deadly dark wizardess.

Nessy doesn’t have might or magic on her side; she’s just a kobold: short, furry, and sensible. Her allies aren’t much better: a voice without a body, an angry fruit bat, a monster under her bed, a wizard in a jar (or some of him, anyway), and a one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple, people eater. It would be smarter to walk away, but taking care of the castle is Nessy’s job, and that’s just what she intends to do.

If only she could find time to polish the silver while beating back the forces of darkness.


Chapter One

Margle the Horrendous had a habit of collecting things. There were his books on various subjects of study arcane and lore obscure. His castle was filled with various monsters, or pieces of monsters, for purposes only wizards might fathom. Other chambers were filled with jewels, enchanted knickknacks, gold and other precious things, and all the peculiar odds and ends that ultimately meant little to wizards yet which they insisted on hoarding. He also had a great assortment of enemies who he had gathered over the years. Margle rarely killed his foes. Death rarely amused him. Instead, he kept them close, a grand collection of old rivals and fallen heroes. And as with all his collections, it was Nessy’s task to take care of them.

Margle was an exceptionally generous master, meaning that he was generally too busy to bother yelling at her, and when he did, he usually threw things not dangerously hard or sharp and missed more often than not. And Margle was frequently absent from the castle, leaving Nessy the run of the place— or at least the rooms that weren’t forbidden to her, where she wasn’t interested in going anyway because there were certainly many horrors waiting in Margle’s castle. There were even one or two rooms the wizard himself never went into. And one place, The Door At The End Of The Hall, that even he avoided going anywhere near.

Nessy enjoyed maintaining Margle’s vast library. And if she should take a peek at a secret volume or two while alphabetizing the shelves, Margle had yet to notice or care. She’d even picked up a handful of magic tricks. Nothing serious, but small spells of practical use. Feeding the horrors in the bestiary was the worst of her tasks, but even that she did without complaint. It was honest work and gave her a roof over her head and food in her belly, and though she knew that one day Margle would certainly kill her in a fit of rage or for some fiendish experiment or maybe just because it would amuse him to do so, she was glad to have it.

Except for the occasional overly chatty gargoyle.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I slew three ogres while armed with only a wet towel?" Gareth asked.

"Yes." Nessy polished his stone head with a rag as the gargoyle continued.

"Well, it was a terrible struggle. . . ." He blathered on for some time, and Nessy nodded as if listening. She pitied the poor soul trapped in a stone demon perched over an archway. Such was the fate of Margle’s enemies. At least this particular enemy.

"Are you listening?" Gareth sighed.

"No." Nessy was ruthlessly honest, not so much because she valued the virtue as because she seldom considered lying before she spoke.

"I was a great hero, you know."

"I know." She spat in his eye and wiped away the dust.

"I hate when you do that."

"Would you rather have dirt in your eyes?"


"Well then . . ." She nimbly climbed onto his back and shined his horns. Gareth didn’t move, couldn’t move. He could only talk, and talk a lot. And stare down the corridor at The Door At The End Of The Hall.

"Ever wonder what’s in there?" he asked as he always did when being polished.

"Best not to imagine."

"Maybe for you. That’s all I can do."

"Well, maybe if you were quieter you’d get more visitors." Gareth grumbled, "The others are just jealous of my legendary feats."

A disembodied voice spoke up. "Ah, yes, that’s it. Certainly nothing to do with your personality. Or lack thereof."

"Hello, Echo," said Nessy. Margle had taken away everything but Echo’s voice. While she lacked anything in form, she was at least free to roam the castle.

"He’s back."

Nessy’s tall, fuzzy ears cocked. She heard the distant thunder that always signaled her master’s return. "Thank you, Echo."

The voice didn’t reply. Or she was gone. It was impossible to know, but one was never really alone in Margle’s castle. Nessy jumped to the floor.

"You aren’t finished," protested Gareth.

"I’ll be back. And you can tell me all about that time you died and had to wrestle the lords of the underworld to return from the grave."

"That is a good one. See, I’d just been slain while fighting an army of lizard men. I’d defeated them, but at the cost of my very life. . . ."

Nessy walked away. He continued. Gareth enjoyed hearing his stories more than anyone else. An audience was mostly a technicality.

"What a bore," said Echo, somewhere over Nessy’s right shoulder.

"You could listen to him occasionally," Nessy said. "He gets lonely."

"Oh, I do. I’ll ask him about one of his tales of adventure, and then I’ll go find something to amuse myself, leaving him to prattle."

"That’s not very nice."

"Well, I’m invisible. You only know I’m around when I’m talking, and he never lets anyone else speak. So he never knows. Sometimes, I come back later, and he’s still going on. Then I pretend I’ve been listening the whole time. If I do it right, I can keep him amused for days without ever really having to listen to him."

This struck Nessy as a touch unethical even if she couldn’t see the harm. But she had to admit that she didn’t polish the gargoyle as much as she should because there were times she wasn’t in the mood.

A small bat swept down and landed on her shoulder. "Are ye lasses speaking of the old gray blowhard? Can’t stand the lad meself. His stories are all fuss and bluster."

"Hello, Thedeus," said Echo.

"Sir Thedeus!" squealed the four-inch bat.

Like all the castle’s fallen heroes, he was stubborn about letting go of his greatness. They were all alike. Gareth was only a little worse.

The hallway torches flared. Margle liked a bright castle. It was expected that Nessy be in the tower to greet him on his arrival. If not, he’d threaten to shave her fur or throw her into the bottomless pit in the castle bowels. He wouldn’t do it. Probably wouldn’t, she corrected, knowing that he would kill her one day. She also knew that when he did, it would have little to do with anything she’d done. But there was no sense in making him mad. Her stubby kobold legs gave her a slow walk. She dropped to all fours and scampered at a brisk trot.

Sir Thedeus disliked the bumpy ride and took flight. "Given any thought to me suggestion, lass?"

"Not that again," said Echo. For a bodiless voice, she sounded curiously out of breath.

"Aye, it’s high time we kill that evil bastard."

"And how exactly do we do that?" asked Echo.

"All I need is an opening, a moment of weakness. Then I pounce from the shadows and rip out his throat."

"You’re a fruit bat."

"I’ve still teeth, lass."

"Nessy has to peel oranges before she gives them to you."

"Ach, have ye ever tried nipping an orange rind?" said Sir Thedeus. "I’m telling ye, it canna be done."

"Nessy does it."

"Fine. She can rip out the foul bastard’s throat then. I don’t care. As long as he dies and the spell is broken. Don’t ye want to be a person again?"

Nessy pulled farther ahead. At full speed, she could outrun Echo and Sir Thedeus. She darted through the labyrinth of corridors. Margle was close, but she took the long way. She wasn’t worried enough to go near the Wailing Woman today.

A clap of thunder told her that Margle’s arrival was imminent. She bolted up the stairs, having lost Echo and Thedeus somewhere along the way.

An apparition rattled his chains at her. He howled pitifully.

"Not now, Richard."

She ran through him without pausing and reached the top of the tower not a moment too soon.

A great, black bird flew through the tower window. It clutched a stone the size of a kobold’s head in one talon. It glared at Nessy with burning red eyes and shrank into Margle’s shape. He was tall and thin, rather bony even for a wizard. His billowing robes only made him look more fragile. In Nessy’s experience, a wizard’s mystical powers were inversely proportional to his physical presence. Margle was a powerful wizard and a slight man. Sir Thedeus’s teeth might just be able to bite the scrawny wizard’s head off if the bat put his mind to it.

Margle’s glare strengthened. "Where’s my wine, dog?"

Nessy lowered her head, covered her muzzle with her hands, and tucked her tail between her legs. "I’m sorry, master."

He wrung his hands. His stringy forearms tightened. "And I thought I told you I wanted this floor polished."

"I did polish it, master."

He sneered. "Don’t contradict me, beast."

"No, master. But the stones are slick, and I thought they might be too slippery."

"Ah, there you go again. Thinking is not your purpose."

"No, master." She licked her lips. "Yes, master. Sorry, master."

"I should boil you alive for eternity."

"Yes, master."

Margle gritted his sharp teeth. "You’re fortunate, dog, that I’m in a good mood."

Nessy peered at the stone in his hand. The shape, color, and markings showed it to be a nurgax seed. She’d read of them in Margle’s books but didn’t mention that to the master. Nurgaxes were rare beasts, valued by wizards more for their rarity than their power. Nessy remembered the passage in the book. When the seed was broken, the nurgax would spring full grown and devour the first living creature it saw. It would then imprint on the second living creature it saw, forming a bond that could only be severed by death.

"Shall I put that away for you, master?"

His sneer deepened. "Beast, you’re never to touch this. Do so and I’ll ? ay you."

"Yes, master."

"Layer by layer by layer."

"Yes, ma...

Copyright © 2008 by A. Lee Martinez


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