Losing a world wasn't much of a sacrifice for a half-breed like Bujilli. The Almas, his mother's people, wouldn't miss him. They were most likely relieved to be rid of him. He clutched the strange green gem tightly in his shaggy fist. It had not been for nothing that he had climbed down from the steep fastnesses of the great range that were believed to be the exposed vertebrae of the world-serpent. The Gem had led him onwards, past shattered and abandoned temples filled with stale whispers and curdled memories, through pleasant-seeming valleys filled with narcotic flowers and dew-leeches, down steep screes and moraines, through the dark woods filled with quill-mice and cruel strixae. He had followed the Gem's instructions, heeded its admonitions, and gave himself up to its promises of adventure and knowledge and power. It wasn't as if he had anyting to lose.
It took close to a year of scavenging, starving, and constant travel but finally Bujilli had reached the Sea of Ebon Tears and for a pouch of mother-chewed turquoise (a princely sum to non-almas), he crossed the dim waters into the grotto-lands of Ponjee where, finally, he found it. Right where the Gem said it would be.
But would he be able to succeed where so many had died terribly before him? Dry, brittle bones cracked and crunched under his feet. A skull leered up at him from amidst the coarse weeds. He wasn't afraid of bones. He had been raised amongst almas. He had learned how to make small animal bones dance before he could walk. He drew his tulwar and took a deep breath before he took that fateful first step inside some structure. His almas-heritage showed itself in his instinctual distrust of unknown caves or other folk's buildings. Especially the heavy old buildings of the low-folk. These were unfavorable places. Hungry ghosts prowled such desolate spaces. And worse things.
For a moment he remembered the mountains of his youth, the murder of his mother by her sorcerer-lover, his father. He tasted the blood-hate that he'd carried all his years and knew that it was time to go. It wasn't as if he had anything to lose. Except maybe a world that didn't want him and a father who would never know him.
He had come too far to balk at moaning ghosts and empty skulls. The Gem assured him that the Synchronocitor was somewhere in this place, this broken-down palace. It was his way out, his way to escape from his people, from his mother's rough cairn, from the shame and the looks of revulsion on the faces of the females when they thought he wasn't looking, from this unkindly world and most of all from his unknown father. At least those were the reasons that he told himself.
Bujilli made the gesture his uncle had taught him and a soft, pearlescent light streamed from his fingers. Torches would have made too much heat, too much light. That would draw predators. And they used up the air in confined places. All almas knew what was the smart way to explore a cave. Their lives depended on it from an early age on.
There. Just past the lichen-crusted boulders carved into squat, unfriendly-looking faces was the entrance to what remained of Zormur's Palace. Once, long ago this was a place of great pomp and circumstance. Nearly a third of the world bowed to the great Zormur. His black dirigibles had carried his fanatical troops across the vast deserts and the Sea of Ebon Tears to wage war upon the kingdoms of the exotic and vaguely mythical Far West. But those things didn't matter. Not right now. The ruins above could wait for eternity until he gave a damn about them. What he wanted, what he needed, what he was after was down below. In the dark, cold places beneath the huge ruined pile that once was a mighty aerial-warlord's palace. There were no dirigibles loaded with bombs left in this place any more. But there were sting-beetles and centipedes, and the winged folk often came here to hunt what game wandered into the place. And if they caught him he'd die horribly, most likely by being nailed to a tree while their womenfolk gnawed his guts. He shuddered. The winged folk were to be avoided at all costs.
A quick look back along the way he had come showed him that the sun would be rising over the mountains behind him in only a few more minutes. Most of the really bad things in these parts tended to sleep during the day. Most of them. Usually. He hoped.
Quickly, quietly, carefully Bujilli climbed down the jumbled and haphazard rubble that nearly choked what was once a grand, statue-flanked ramp-way. It curved back around and under itself, forming a spiral. He followed the spiral ramp downwards into the darkness until he entered a hallway. He paused at the base of the Entrance and took stock of the situation. He was at one end of a 5' wide corridor that ran close to 20' onward into the gloom...
Here is Bujilli's Current Map...
|Map One: The Entrance...|