EXCERPT FROM THE DRAFT OF THE MARVELOUS ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN SMITH: BOOK TWO: IN THE DUNGEONS OF CASTLE GALLIFRAX
In which Sebastian meets Gazzletini and Sack.
Several blissful minutes passed in which Sebastian had only the company of his meal to worry about. He let himself bask in the welcome silence, somehow glad to have five whole minutes to himself. The first indication that he had that the next strangeness had begun was when a single curl of pale smoke wafted past his face, and a voice followed it, flowing like thick honey into everything from Sebastian’s ears to the cracks in the floorboards, “Oh, sweetheart. Why, you’ve never been beautiful a day in your entire life have you?”
Sebastian’s jaw froze, and he could feel slick gravy dripping from his chin down his neck as he followed that looping trail of haze back to the glowing end of a very slender black smoking stick, which was clasped gingerly between a pair of broad green lips. Somehow, without making a sound, the most skeletal man he had ever seen had entered the room and propped himself against the doorjamb with casual indifference, one bony knee cocked high.
Except he wasn’t a man at all; his entire head seemed to be a ball made from green leather into which were set two wide, wet eyes and two sail-like ears which jutted at a rather dramatic angle from either side of his skull. One of those thick, dark lips curled and released another voluminous cloud of smoke as those huge eyes trained on Sebastian. The boy felt positively dissected as those enormous oculars roamed his hunched body. Finally the green man uncoiled himself from the door and slunk further into the room on his impossibly long legs, folding his arms across what was a comparatively squat, thick torso. He was dressed in black suit which even Sebastian could see was exquisitely fitted, and yet as Sebastian watched the bizarre man move, he could swear that at times the black fabric seemed to shimmer with a blue or a red sheen which always disappeared when he tried to look closer at it.
As Sebastian opened his mouth to speak he was surprised when the green man held up a hand to silence him, and lazily rolled his head away from the door and towards the window. He uttered a small almost piteous sigh which let a single word slip away from his lips, “Sack.”
Sebastian was surprised by a sudden bustle of movement in the doorway, as a young man, perhaps only a few years older than himself, but tall with broad shoulders and a short shock of ruffled bright blonde hair scurried into the room. Sebastian might not have been as stunned as he was by the sheer physical perfection of the young man if the youth had been wearing anything more than a small piece of brown burlap sack, tied loosely at his waist with a fraying rope cord, which left Sebastian with little else to notice but the strangers stunning physique. Sebastian had to admit that the youth would have been strikingly, perhaps even overwhelmingly, handsome were it not for his shabby attire, and as he watched, the young man bowed low to the green man and said crisply, “Yes, Gazzletini!”
Without turning his eyes from the window, the creature called Gazzletini pressed one of his crossed arms further towards the sack-clad teenager, the arm holding the long smoking stick, and as Sebastian watched with some horror, the youth automatically cupped his hands beneath the glowing cherry-red end and caught a shower of ashes which were lazily flicked from the end of the apparatus by slender green fingers. To Sebastian’s increasing shock, the youth not only bowed once more but actually took his hands and vigorously rubbed the gray soot into the sack covering his body, which left a whitish smear across his chest and abdomen.
The green man took another deep drag off the smoke stick, and spoke with smoke rings looping through what Sebastian thought were alarmingly pointed teeth, “Sack. Look at this creature. Observe how ridiculous he looks. I might just change your name to ‘Smock’ after seeing what passes for outerwear in this healing…shack.” The remaining smoke was exhaled noisily, “But. Sack. Look at his eyes. This shabby attire does not reach his eyes. He is not his clothing, Sack. Learn.”
Sebastian listened to this bizarre intruder casually lecturing his…sack-slave while talking about Sebastian himself as if he weren’t even in the room. Quickly he choked down the forgotten food which had sat in his mouth throughout the entire experience so far and said, “Hey! Just who do you think you are?”
Those enormous eyes, which had been hovering somewhere around Sebastian’s midriff jumped up to the boy’s face in what was the only sharp movement Gazzletini had made since he arrived. One lip curled, though Sebastian couldn’t tell whether it was half a smile or half a sneer, and that honeyed, lazy voice spilled out once more, “Who am I? Darling, I’m your salvation.” Gazzletini paused to take another breath of smoke into his lungs and exhaled it through his pointed nose, “Bea wasn’t kidding when she said challenge. No use wasting time I suppose. Sack, strip him.”
Sebastian had about a hundred questions for this so-called savior, which immediately disappeared as the ever-dutiful Sack ambled over from across the room and reached out towards him. He recoiled and almost knocked the tray off the bed, but found that Sack caught it nimbly and placed it harmlessly on the floor, after which those same dexterous fingers found the lower hem of the oversized shirt Sebastian wore and took hold of it firmly. Sebastian began to protest loudly, and tried his best to scoot away from the determined looking youth. Yet, as he propped his foot on the edge of the bed to push away he found it slipped unexpectedly and sent his right heel smashing swiftly into Sack’s left eye.
As he realized he had just kicked the most attractive man he had ever seen right in his eye socket, Sebastian’s once frantic struggle to pull away turned into a gasping lean forward as he exclaimed, “Oh gosh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to do that! Are you ok?”
However, rather than a reassurance of non-injury, what Sebastian found was cool air once again brushing his naked skin, as Sack used the momentary outpouring of concern to complete the green-man’s imperious and rather rude command. Sebastian was so embarrassed he thought he felt his belly-button blush, and as he snatched the pillow from the bed and held it defensively in front of his curled nudity, as he cried, “What are you doing?! Why am I…er…why did you…I’m naked!”
Watching Sebastian squirm on the bed with passive interest, Gazzletini exhaled a large cloud of smoke and said, almost to himself, “Oh. He changes colors. That complicates things.” Sebastian glared at the strange and very judgmental creature. However, still displaying not the slightest reaction to Sebastian’s clear frustration and confusion, the green man unrolled a thick purple tongue and twirled the smokestick so the glowing end was pointed towards his mouth. With a tiny hiss the cigarette was extinguished on that wet purple cushion, and then almost quicker that Sebastian could follow, the stick disappeared into Gazzletini’s jacket.
Watching the tongue trick left Sebastian again swinging into stunned paralysis from hopping outrage, and he gave a startled jump when the green man clapped his slender hands together and said, “Alright. Now…before we get you dressed, I’ll need to know about any other pesky fashion damaging powers you may have. First off, is that pale pink the only shade you can turn?” As Gazzletini stalked closer to the boy, Sebastian felt even more heat building in his body, which prompted the strange man to remark, “Oh. I see you do a very splotchy purple too. Marvelous. Now, do you have any auras you can project? Any protrusions your body produces? Other than the normal human and male ones, I mean. You aren’t a zoanthrope are you? That would definitely be something to consider when choosing materials…”
Sebastian just stared at the man mutely, until Sack finally cleared his throat and straightened up to his full height, exclaiming, “The great Gazzletini asked you a question!”
Sebastian thought it was one of the most unnerving sights he had ever seen when Gazzletini’s enormous eyes rolled to their left and fixated on Sack without the weird bulbous head moving an inch, (and he was including watching the Halkar’s dismembered by Dalen). With a calm that set Sebastian’s teeth on edge, Gazzletini’s said, “Sack, did I ask for help asking simple questions?”
Sack recoiled as if struck, “N-no, great Gazzletini.”
“Well Sack, did you maybe think that I needed help asking simple questions?”
Sack bobbed his head as if ducking a physical blow, “No! Gazzletini never!”
Sebastian felt a different sort of heat rise up in him and he leapt to his feet, one hand still clutching the pillow over his hips as he scowled at the imperious green man, “Hey! Leave…um…Sack alone! He’s just trying to be helpful! Why are you so mean?!”
Those wet looking eyes rolled back to Sebastian and the boy himself withdrew a step on the squishy mattress, suddenly struggling to keep both his balance and his modesty. But Gazzletini smiled and said, “Interesting. Very interesting. I think I see why Princess Beatrix seems to think you warrant some notice, I see no reason not to grant your request. However, I politely disagree. If…Sack…wanted to be helpful, Sack would be setting up the Reflector and fetching the Wesee. Wouldn’t he?”
Though Gazzletini never let his eyes stray to Sack again, Sebastian saw the badgered young man bow quickly and scuttle out of the room at top speed. He continued to scowl at Gazzletini though, who spread his hands in a universal gesture of peace, “Sugarlump, I know how it must look to you. And believe me, I appreciate what you’re trying to do for him, but it isn’t what you think. Sack doesn’t need saving. He was saved already.”
Sebastian narrowed his eyes, “Saved? How? The way you treat him…it’s…well…I mean…what in the world did you save him from then?”
Gazzletini raised one hand and said simply, “Beauty, sweetness. Sack is freed from the prison of beauty.” Gazzletini paused and then curled his lips back to expose every single pristinely white and unnervingly sharp tooth in his massive head. Sebastian though it was meant to be a winning smile.
Sebastian wanted to ask Gazzletini more questions, to accuse him of gross abuses, but Sack now came back into the room carrying an armload of what looked like sticks. He hurried to Gazzletini, holding out a small golden metal loop to the man. He waited patiently until those slender green fingers took it from him, and then turned immediately away and bustled towards the far wall of the room. Sack froze, though, as Gazzletini, looked directly at Sebastian and said, “Thank you Sack. I appreciate your help.”
The large wooden rods Sack was carrying clattered to the ground as he fell to his knees and crawled towards Gazzletini, wailing, “No! No great Gazzletini! I have so much more to learn! Don’t release me from the Sack yet! Please, you can’t! I…I’ll do better! Do you want me to scar my face? I’ll scar my face! I’ll learn faster that way! Just…just don’t make me go back to the way it was!”
Sebastian could never recall having heard such distress in a human voice before, and he felt like squirming as he watched the youth prostrate himself in a puddle around Gazzletini’s feet. Gazzletini’s eyes never left Sebastian though, even as Sack began to wail, his body wracked with deep sobs. Finally the strange man spoke, “Well, you see Sack, I have no intention of making you go back. But. Our…client…would like a greater sense of…manners while we’re in his presence.”
Sebastian was shocked when Sack’s face, livid with genuine anger turned towards him, and the young man spoke so sharply that spittle flew from his mouth, “Manners? What good is politeness if it imprisons you? Oh great Gazzletini, please don’t delay my training even a minute!”
Gazzletini looked down to the frantic Sack and then back up to Sebastian, and shrugged his slender shoulders, “Well, you know it isn’t my policy to disappoint a client Sack. I’m afraid it’s up to him. I do thank you for your dedication though.”
At Gazzletini’s further praise, Sack writhed on the ground as though in physical pain and jumped to his feet suddenly, stomping towards Sebastian. Sebastian backed up until his shoulder blades pressed into the wall against which his bed sat as Sack knelt, hands clasped together and said, “Oh please don’t make Gazzletini delay my training any longer! Please! Oh please…”
Sebastian looked back and forth with a horrified expression between the strange green-man and his companion and chewed on his bottom lip before finally saying, “W-well…I guess. If it is training. I-I mean, who am I to say no? So. Yes…I guess. Go ahead?”
Sebastian had no time to feel oddly about the words that just crossed his lips though as Sack suddenly leapt upon the bed, took him by the shoulders and kissed both his cheeks, which melted Sebastian’s objections and brought another deep blush from him. Then Sack was gone, bounding across the room to reclaim his dropped sticks. As Sebastian struggled to regain what little composure he could muster, he saw that Sack quickly placed the four sticks on the wall, where they seemed to hang with no aid whatsoever. He saw that together they formed a vertical rectangle.
With a flickering movement, Gazzletini shot one of his arms out and his slender fingers snapped sharply. As Sebastian watched the portion of the wall now framed by the sticks began to ripple, slowly at first, and them more rapidly, until the wood seemed to glimmer like water. The ripples began to stick to the side of the rectangle until soon there was a quivering film stretched like a membrane on all four sides of the frame. Abruptly the membrane stiffened and Sebastian realized he was staring at himself, staring at the wall, looking dumbstruck by what he had just seen. Sack turned and saluted Gazzletini, “Reflector active, Gazzletini!”
The green man sighed, “Took you long enough. Now, you, kindly remove the obstruction so we can begin.”
Sebastian realized the last sentence was directed at him, and he looked around to see what Gazzletini was talking about. He then followed the train of those enormous eyes and he knew the obstruction Gazzletini wanted him to remove was the pillow. He frowned, “W-why? What has this got to do with anything?”
Gazzletini was gingerly affixing the small golden ring into his left eyesocket, so that it encircled his wide eye, and without missing a beat he said, “Because that obstruction will prevent you from seeing my work, and more importantly, it will prevent me from seeing you see my work.”
As Sebastian watched, the green man blinked twice and the golden ring, which he assumed was the Wesee which Gazzletini had requested along with the Reflector, seemed to undergo a similar process of shimmering, and a field of changing colors spread over the hoop. With trembling hands, Sebastian let out a shaky sigh and lowered the pillow, closing his eyes in humiliation. He heard Gazzletini clear his throat and say, “Well Sack. You surprised me. The Wesee is still calibrated even though you touched it.”
As Sebastian opened one eye, he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Though he still felt naked as the day he was born, in the mirror he was dressed in a snug fitting plain white undergarment. He looked down, and saw that the illusion was as true on his body as it was in the Reflector. Quickly spinning around, looking at his own backside, he tripped in the bedclothes and tumbled to the bed. He looked up and said, “But…how? How am I…you know…dressed?”
Gazzletini rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his chest, tapping one foot impatiently, “You aren’t. You just look that way. We all see it because of the Wesee. We see whatever it sees. And what it sees is what I imagine. I can’t very well design you a party ensemble fit for a hero if I can’t see what it will look like beforehand can I? We don’t have time for mistakes. Now, sweetie, if you’re all done being coy, will you please plant those feet on the ground and stand up straight so I can see what we’re working with?”
Sebastian nodded his head sheepishly, feeling foolish for all the assumptions he had made about this strange creature, and he slipped off the bed and tried to square his shoulders as he stood up tall (which wasn’t, actually, very tall at all). As Gazzletini examined him, a flick of his fingers brought that smokestick back into his hands. He quickly removed the spent cigarette and flicked it into the air. Predictably Sack rushed to catch it, as Gazzletini produced a small silver case, extracted a replacement, and tamped it into the wooden pole.
Gazzletini made a series of what Sebastian thought were very thoughtful noises, and Sebastian tried his best to hold still and look serious. However, his expression once again meltied into disgust as Gazzletini reached up and inserted one of his slender fingers daintily into one of his own sail like ears, which twitched as he pushed the digit further and further in. When that finger was finally extracted, Sebastian saw that it held a yellow clump of wax on the end of its perfectly manicured nail. Still with a thoughtful look of consideration, and an unwavering gaze fixed on his subject, Gazzletini put the same finger into his nose, swirled it around twice, and quickly withdrew it. Sebastian saw that the resulting mixture of ear and nose gunk began immediately smoking, and almost instantly burst into a small green flame. Placing the long smokestick back into his mouth, Gazzletini brought the burning concoction to the other end, and Sebastian felt a small bit of bile rise up in his throat as the bizarre ritual concluded in the lighting of the cigarette from the earwax-booger fingernail candle.
As Gazzletini took the first noisy drag off his newly lit smokestick, he flicked the still flaming bit of gunk onto the floor. Quickly, Sack rushed over and stamped out the smoldering pile, and then produced a clean white handkerchief from somewhere on his person and wiped away the evidence of Gazzletini’s flammable habit. Despite his morbid fascination with the flaming body ooze, Sebastian’s attention was called back to the designer himself when that molasses voice asked through the waves of slender, sweet smelling smoke now washing around that bulbous head, “So is that expression your hero face?”
Sebastian stammered, “W-wha…? N-no! I’m sorry. I just…umm…I was only…how do we get started?”
Gazzletini puffed on his smokestick and said, “We already have, sugar.”
Sebastian looked reflexively at the reflector and leapt in surprise at the sight which greeted him. What he noticed first was the headdress. He didn’t know what else to call the black angular sheets of…something…that jutted from his head, and were fastened to his jaw by leather straps. He couldn’t feel the garments of course, but even the sight of the enormous and ridiculous head covering was enough to make him want to fall sideways. The rest of the outfit consisted of what looked like a dark black, form fitting garment of some kind, which sported gloves and socks which had strange talon like protrusions from them. His face was smeared with a tar like make-up, and his eyes were covered by a pair of spectacles with bright red lenses.
As the confused boy gazed at himself in the reflector, he made a choking sound as he realized he was dressed like a miniature and rather ridiculous looking Halkar. He immediately moved to wrench the ostentatious head gear off his head, but found that his hands, predictably, passed directly through illusion. He shot Gazzletini a dire look, and found the green-man already holding up his hands defensively. As the fashion ambusher gave the eye bearing the Wesee a rather exaggerated blink, he said calmly, “Alright, alright. It was just a warm up. Bea did say the words Halkar Hero…didn’t she, Sack?”
Sack bobbed his head in automatic agreement, while Sebastian looked to see that he was once more in his underwear, and further realized that he was very happy to be in nothing but his underwear. He threw up his hands in frustration and said, “Look, I’m no hero ok? I don’t know where the Princess got that idea, but I was just trying to survive, ok?”
Gazzletini swirled the smokestick around in his fingers, and stroked his chin thoughtfully with his free hand. After a few moments, he clenched his cigarette firmly, drew a heavy, smoke-laden breath and blinked the Wesee eye once more, exclaiming, “The humble hero, alone in the strange wilderness, seeks only the means to survive!”
Sebastian look into the Reflector again, and saw that this time he was dressed in what seemed to be a bright red gown, all swooping neck lines and billowing thin skirts, and from his shoulders, a massive, black and white protrusion of some sort swirled around his neck, and dangled two thick straps down over his chest. His hair was swept back entirely to the left, as if frozen there by an unending wind. He held his arms out, elbows to the ceiling and wailed, “This is a DRESS Gazzletini! I’m a boy!”
Gazzletini tilted his head to the side and quirked on slender brow, “Yes…I remember seeing proof of that earlier. What does that have to do with dresses?”
Sebastian felt one corner of his lip curling incredulously, “Boys don’t wear dresses!”
Gazzletini’s expression mirrored Sebastian’s, “Excuse you. Why not?”
Sebastian opened his mouth to reply, but paused, suddenly stumped. He worked his jaw a few times and the folded his arms over his red-covered chest, “Well…because! It’s just the rule.”
Gazzletini waved his hand dismissively, “I’d ask you where you learned that rule, but it was probably where you grew up, and Bea tells me you can’t remember where that is. I felt bad for you until now. But. Sweetkins. Trust me and be grateful you’ve forgetten all about that place. Anywhere with rules that boring doesn’t deserve to be remembered. Now, you just shush up and let me work. You’re very distracting for a hero.”
Sebastian felt irritated and more than a little sore as Gazzletini dismissed his opinions about his own fashion future, but he found he couldn’t think of anything to say in response anyway, so he grit his teeth and resolved to try and make this whole process go as fast as he could. As he watched, Gazzletini once more extinguished his smokestick on his purple tongue and folded his arms tightly about his squat torso. He took in a quick but deep breath through his mouth, and then slowly exhaled through his nose. Just when Sebastian thought there couldn’t possibly be any more air inside the green man, Gazzletini’s eyes widened even larger than they had been, and the eye bearing the Wesee began to blink, slowly at first and then picking up speed.
Turning his gaze to the Reflector, Sebastian saw that with each blink of the Wesee, his entire appearance changed. At first, he could make out the outfits, though they changed quickly. There were brown pants, and black skirts, and lace tops, and green jackets, and top hats, and makeup, and capes. Eventually though, he began to get dizzy, and his image began to flicker so quickly that only colors seemed visible; bright pink, canary yellow, black, gray, blue, red, brown, green, and a host of other colors Sebastian could never even remember seeing before. Standing to the right of the mirror, Sebastian saw Sack bring his hands to cover his mouth, and after just a few minutes of the dizzying wardrobe changes, he thought he saw tears streaming down the youth’s handsome face.
Eventually, as the swirling images began to make him nauseous, Sebastian simply dropped his arms passively to his side and closed his eyes. The room was completely silent, though Sebastian sometimes imagined he could hear the wet sound of Gazzletini’s frantic blinking. He wasn’t sure how long he hid in the blackness behind his own eyelids, but the sudden gasp which came from Sack caused him to open his eyes in surprise. He saw that Sack was looking at him with a look of awe, and nervously, he looked at the Reflector.
The outfit he was wearing was static now, unmoving, and Sebastian felt his eyes widen and his mouth open at what he saw. He was wearing a bright white, long sleeved shirt with flared cuffs at his wrists, and a high angled collar. His chest was wrapped in a snug, charcoal gray vest with three shining brass buttons, which gave his torso a dynamic line. He had on dark brown pants which flowed easily around the supple leather of tan rounded boots. The part which caught his eye the most though was the splash of bright red fabric which was wrapped, as a scarf, around his neck, and whose color seemed to glow in his cheeks like the embers of a fire. Something about that flounced red neck-warmer made his heart ache, and the corners of his lips turn up in an unconscious smile. Even though he knew it was an illusion, he couldn’t help raising his fingers to stroke the illusory material.
He smelled the sweet smoke of Gazzletini’s cigarette once more, and he turned to look at the strange man as if for the first time. His green lips bore a grim smile, as he clutched the smokestick between them and gingerly peeled the Wesee out of his bloodshot left eye. Sack was instantly at his side to take the golden ring from the weary looking designer, who walked a few paces to the wall and planted his shoulder blades squarely against it, leaning back and sighing, “Ah…I see you approve.”
Sebastian looked down and realized that with the Wesee now being cleaned, the group of “we” present in the room was no longer seeing anything at all: which was precisely what he was once again wearing. Quickly he snatched up the oversized nightshirt and wiggled awkwardly into it. However, even his embarrassment could not stifle his awe, “G-gazzletini…that was…that was incredible! I-I didn’t know that clothes could…I dunno…do that stuff. You know, make you feel that way!”
Gazzletini, who had now closed his left eye entirely, let his right one wander lazily over to Sebastian. He chuckled a little and said, “Sweetheart, I know you didn’t know. I said so when I walked in. You had the feeling of someone who had never once in their life looked like themselves. That’s what took so long. You didn’t know yourself, so we had to try, well, everything. And despite that, we’ll still have your clothes to you by sundown.” He paused and took another deep drag from his smokestick, and then looked to Sack, “Well, Sack, don’t just stand there looking stupefied. Break it all down, and make sure Olog has the patterns. Or did you hide some extra daylight hours in that burlap?”
Sack bowed so low Sebastian thought he might hit his head on the floor and quickly scurried to disassemble the Reflector, but only after he tapped on the surface three times, sending tiny ripples across its mirrored surface, and paused just long enough for three more ripples to appear spontaneously. Sebastian wondered what that could mean, but had little time to question it, as Sack efficiently packed up the four rods, and bustled out of the room.
Once his assistant was gone, Gazzletini pushed himself off the wall with a slow stretch and began to pad lazily towards the door. He paused though and looked back at Sebastian with those wide wet eyes for just a moment too long for comfort and then said, “That scarf which I notice you love so much…we won’t have to make that part will we? You’ve already got one.”
Sebastian nodded and then glanced to his small bedside table where the red scarf Dusk had given him to hide his neck bruising was folded in the single drawer. He bit his lip, “Y-yes…I have one. But how did you…?”
Gazzletini held up his hand again and sighed, “That piece is a signature for you. It’s the very closest to who you really are inside Sebastian. But you should wear that color carefully. I don’t know what it means where you are from, but in this part of the world only heroes wear that color. And I know you aren’t a hero right? You’re just here to survive.”
Without another word, the strange, skinny, little force of nature that was Gazzletini disappeared from the room, the only evidence of his visit a single fading ring of sweet smelling smoke and the memory of the color red.