Part 3, section 1 - Transformed

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For a moment I watched, slack-jawed. My mind just wouldn't comprehend, in this setting, the transformation taking place before me.

Paolo had his share of character challenges to be sure, but epilepsy wasn't one of them that I knew. In fact, until the last few moments I had thought his physical mastery super-human, if not coupled with reason and foresight.

His body was heaving, as if trying to be sick when, with a tremendous spasm, his features pulled wide in a rictus grin and began stretching around some horrific appendage emerging from deep in his throat. All at once, the face split noisily, his face literally tearing asunder at the joint in his jaw.

I backed away in horror as his convulsions grew, and all around the garden the crowd of onlookers cried out in bewilderment and terror. Many began to run. Others screamed—either at me in some supposition that I had bewitched my opponent, or simply in stark, mad terror.

"Pertuli..." I rasped. I had a really bad feeling about this; which, given that my hangover had not improved and that I was rapidly bleeding out through an improper tourniquet tied with my teeth, was saying something.

The black formation pushing up through Paolo's face resolved into an obscene, scaled muzzle of some sort, with twin rows of its own pointed, slavering teeth. It pushed forward through cracked and bleeding gums until an evil set of red, glaring eyes were just visible in what had once been Paolo's mouth. The beast looked for all the realm like a puppeteer's hand had pushed up through the Faranado and was wearing him like a boneless costume.

In the distance, a woman screamed over the rest of the panicking mob; a primal, horrible scream. I thought it might have been the Maid of Orluz.

"Oh gods!" Glassier groaned, somewhere behind me.

"Pertuli!" I cried again, hoping I would be heard. I am not proud to say that my voice lifted half an octave in nearly concealed horror. "He's cheating you see this? I said he's cheating!" I scrambled backwards on unsteady legs, unable to avert my eyes.

"I see, I see!" Pertuli agreed in stunned amazement, suddenly at my side. He seemed to feel that the duel was over, because he hoisted my good arm over his head, ready to drag me away from Paolo. "Any idea what's happening?"

"Looks like shape-changing, maybe," I gasped, leaning onto Pertuli's shoulder but keeping my sword awkwardly between me and what used to be Paolo. "A curse? Possession? Whatever it is, it's not pretty."

Demis Faranado rushed toward his brother, concern prompting him to do the opposite of what any sane man might. "Poison!" He cried, yanking his own steel free and glaring murder at me. "Clasicant has poisoned Paolo!"

He tried to wrap an arm around his convulsing brother, but just as he came close Paolo flung an arm out in blind instinct and batted him away. The blow sent Demis sprawling on the paving stones several paces away, his sword and one boot landing a moment later. He didn't get up.

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