Bujilli disliked making deals with treacherous sorcerers out in the snow. He disliked treacherous sorcerers in general. Childhood memories will do that.
He started walking. Toward the distant tree-line slightly below this spot. Tall, black conifers. Laden with snow. Recent snow. A good spot for Yeren to set an ambush or to rig-up a trap. Walking gave him a chance to sling his quiver. Adjust the short bow. Break things up a bit. Change the cadence. Consider his options.
"You offer me a baited hook. I'm not interested in the hook. The musty old books are of some small interest, but honestly, I grew up reading all my uncle's moldy old books and grimoires. I'm kind of tired of it. Most of those things are badly plagiarized from three other manuscripts, often gaining more errors and distortions with each pass. Too much bad poetry and bad scholarship, sprinkled with lies and wish-fulfillment. They are not worth what you are asking--and you know it."
"But I did not only offer you those grimoires..."
Bujilli laughed. Full, rich, hearty and deep. He dropped the arrow. Plink. He dropped the bow. Thunk. He closed the gap between them. His hand-axe -- Stril's hand-axe -- was at Sprague's throat before either of them were aware of the motion.
"I've taken scores of Yeren heads. I began when I was in my sixth winter. Perhaps I should ask what you'd offer me to not take your head now?" He lowered the hand-axe. Stepped back. Slid the weapon back into place. Retrieved his arrow, his bow. Wiped the snow off of it. He stood watching Sprague closely. There was some sort of conflict going on inside. Bujilli meant to see what he could learn. There was an opportunity here. He meant to seize it.
"I do not take kindly to--"
"I am not some weak, vulnerable child for you to exploit like you did with Gudrun or the others. Save your threats. If I wanted your head, we would not be having this conversation." He unstrung the bow. Slipped it into it's place. Returned the arrow to the quiver. He wouldn't need them. He had a better idea.
"Then what do you want Bujilli?" Sprague was growing exasperated. He wasn't used to having the tables turned on him. It rankled.
"I'm not the one who wanted to make any sort of deal. You brought me here. So make me an offer I can't refuse."
"They want the miasmagaster spawn--"
"No. That's off the table. If you would have dealt with me fairly and honestly up front, I might have considered it. you failed your masters in that task. What else do you have to offer me?" Bujilli grinned wickedly. He rarely lied. But this time it felt appropriate. He had no intention of surrendering the miasmagaster spawnling. Not to Sprague. Not to unknown secret masters. He didn't know what he would do with it. But he wasn't trading it to these people. Whomever they might be. Whatever they might offer.
"Frankly, I piss on your 'tutorship.' I'm not anyone's apprentice. Not any more. You traffic in dreams and unconscious-things. I grew up surrounded by nightmares you have yet to even suspect exist. I was raised by a sorcerer who screamed themselves to sleep every night, usually in multiple voices. We had a demon trapped in a seven-metal cage in the yurt. You are not the first to try to tempt me...but really...you're doing a rotten job of it. Perhaps your heart isn't in it. Maybe you should get out of the way and let your masters try to negotiate for whatever it is that they are really after for themselves. They couldn't do much worse than you've already done."
"I will not stand here and be insulted--"
"So sit. I don't much care what you will or won't do, expect or want. You called me here. You are wasting my time."
"Sprague. My uncle had a saying; 'Shit or get off the pot.' Pitch your deal, or let your masters make their offer, or get out of my way." Bujilli resumed walking. He resisted the temptation to count the steps.
"Wait." Sprague showed signs of some internal struggle.
"I would ask you, for myself, on my own behalf. Would you consider exchanging a favor for a favor? An equitable trade. Something we could both agree upon?"
"I'm open to considering it. But you have not done anything to inspire my confidence in anything you might propose."
"They made me...I was...coerced...manipulated...into doing what I did to Gudrun. I didn't mean it--"
"Try apologizing to her. That ought to go well. I'd like to watch that. So you were forced into being a duplicitous, back-stabbing asshole by your secret masters, is that it? They somehow made you try to kill me by proxy, through deceit and cruelly manipulating a young girl's grief over the death of her brother whom you also managed to get killed because of your meddling around with a Muck-Raker. Right. How long have you been watching over me Sprague?"
"You brought a Muck-Raker into the Arenas. That was told to me early on. Gudrun blamed me for her brother's death in part because you discovered the creature from watching me. She told me that herself. But you didn't get the thing from under Zormur's Palace, did you Sprague?" Bujilli could feel it -- he was incredibly close to something important. Something that Sprague desperately didn't want to admit or reveal. He had visibly flinched at Bujilli's mention of Zormur's Palace. But what could it be about that dismal place that would make a master Oneirist flinch?
"No. You saw the one I barely escaped from the first time. The one that took my monkey. Swallowed it right in front of me. I''l never forget the sound it made. I dug through my uncle's library to find out anything I could about those things. I learned how to fight them. How to kill them. I've killed three so far. But you probably know all about that. Don't you Sprague?"
"You've been watching me for a long time. Or you've been looking into my past. Either way, I have to wonder why you'd be doing that Sprague. I'm not particularly pretty. Do you find my childhood amusing Sprague? Sick bastard." Bujilli stopped himself from spitting in disgust. Barely.
Bujilli felt a tug on his hand. The ring of writhing white hair. Leeja.
He woke in his bed.
The fever had broke.
Bujilli laughed. He had fallen back into bed with his new trousers only half-way on. Sprague had literally caught him with his pants down. Leeja couldn't get him to stop laughing and tell her what was so funny for several minutes.
She didn't think it was so funny.
Neither did Gnosiomandus.
Then the screaming started.
Blood spread out from under the door.
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