Movements Both Subtle and Malevolent
Bujilli took stock of his surroundings. He wiped the last of the Dreamsnail's blood off of his hand axe and then pulled a water-skin off of his pack in order to wash the sticky, oily residue off his hands. The water-skin was strangely discolored in places. The seams along one side looked bloated, swollen. He sniffed it. Dreamsnail blood had spattered the water-skin. It looked like it was contaminated. For a moment Bujilli stared at the thing, then he shrugged pragmatically and washed his hands. There was a distinctive rainbowy effect where the light coming off of the entrapped monster on the dais shimmered across the water. It was definitely contaminated.
His hands as clean as they were likely to get, Bujilli re-sealed the water-skin and considered his options. There was a chance that this stuff might be useful, in the right circumstances. The Dreamsnail had emerged from an Oneiric Vortex...it was only partly real. that meant that the water was now not quite factual or actual itself any more. There were people who explored such profound philosophical distinctions through magic and other disciplines. The strange new fluid within his tainted water-skin might fetch a decent price, should he find a suitable buyer. Grinning like a small child, Bujilli marked the tainted water-skin and replaced it to the back-most grommet on his pack's frame. Just to be sure, he doubly-bound the top-plug so he didn't accidentally drink from it.
Things were looking up. If he ever got out of this place alive, there were some good things to peddle or barter. His Uncle would have been satisfied. Instead of the customary beating, he'd very likely have gotten a bowl of gruel, maybe even some weak beer or vinegary wine to sip. Bujilli held no illusions about his upbringing--it had been hard, brutal and treacherous, but it had prepared him for a life his Uncle could never lead and adventures none of his kin could even imagine.
Something was wriggling in the mud towards the Eastern passageway.
Bujilli snapped out of his reverie--the juices from the Dreamsnail seemed to have had a slight dazing effect after all. He felt like he had just woken up. He pulled free his tulwar and and examined the mud half-way across the room from him. tiny sparkles glistened within the mud, as though a great quantity of metal filings were mixed into the sticky mire. It had an oily consistency, thick and glutinous, very unappealing, unsavory.
Wriggling. He could detect a slight wriggling movement close by the entrance to the passage leading Eastwards and slight upwards. The shimmering light given off by the Thing That Watches showed that the passage went on for a good ways before anything noticeable from this position intersected with it.
Another wriggling movement. this one was much closer. It reminded him of eels. Squirming eels wriggling in the viscous mud. A terrible smell began to roll out from the Eastern passage. Bad gas. It made Bujilli's eyes water and his nostrils burn. Something must have just recently stirred up a lot of rancid, rotting muck and mud back there. The smell was fetid and foul and incredibly strong, which made him think it was a fresh development. Something was going on over there, and it involved or at least affected the 'eels,' whatever they might really be.
The notion of wading into the mud to fight eels while slipping around or falling just didn't appeal to Bujilli. He withdrew away from the edge of the mud and took another look back South, towards the way he entered this chamber, and the Thought Wall that he had left in-place to guard against the mind-numbing effects of the Oneiric Vortex.
He recalled the empty room and the other space, the one that had a tunnel or burrow of sorts dug right into the spot where the wall and floor met, as though the angle of that junction was somehow essential to the thing that dug its way into that room. Whatever it had been, the stale ophidian scent that came from the hole was not terribly appealing. Bujilli had seen gluttonous pythons gobble-up three or more Almas at a time as they tried to wriggle through the reptile's own narrow passages. With a shiver Bujilli once more thanked the spirits that he was blessed with a talent for finding things that his Uncle valued so that he wasn't forced into hunting pythons in their own dens any more than he had already done. It still made him uncomfortable. It was like deliberately crawling right down the gullet of a waiting beast. Once, it had turned out to be just that. But Bujilli had earned his tulwar by then, and he had butchered the huge serpent from within. He hadn't had a nightmare of being swallowed whole for three years now. The hand-tooled python-hide belt he wore now helped.
No. He wasn't inclined to go mucking around in snake dens any more than he was interested in mud-wrestling with unseen eels. Neither option made much of an impression on him.
The way behind seemed clear. All was fairly quiet. He watched his breath come out like little puffs of steam in the cold air. There was still a slight wriggling motion over in the mud, but it seemed non-threatening, for now.
He had asked three questions of the green Gem that he carried. It had been that same green Gem that had whispered to Bujilli in his dreams of whole other worlds, and grand adventures beyond the rootless wanderings of an illiterate vagabond. The Gem had helped Bujilli to read the scrolls he stole from his Uncle's collection, and those that he had found and never turned over to his Uncle as well. The Gem had changed Bujilli's life in many ways, but the most dramatic was how it had opened his eyes to the possibilities so few of his mother's people would or could ever imagine. He was a dreamer, and the Gem had used that to motivate and manipulate Bujilli into pursuing its alien agenda.
Bujilli was going along with the plan, for now.
But he had no illusions about this whispering green Gem--it was an alien intelligence and it was only helping him in so far as it would help it. The Gem had dreams of its own, ambitions and schemes that it wanted Bujilli to take part in. So far, it had been worth it. So far. Listening to the Gem had worked out fairly well. So far. Bujilli had learned several useful new spells. He had learned a number of strange secrets and gained the use of a number of languages he otherwise would never have learned from his Uncle. But most of all, Bujilli had learned how to question everything, and not just how he was raised or the cruel ways of his Uncle, but to ask questions of everything, including the aims and goals of the green Gem.
The Gem had advised him to go 'Forwards. Onwards. Downwards.'
So be it.
Bujilli adjusted his pack, gripped his tulwar----
Sounds of violence explode from the Southern passage.
Something huge and heavy just struck the walls behind Bujilli. Dust was sifting down from the ceiling. He strained to listen closely. There was some sort of movement or commotion going on back in the room with the burrowed hole in the floor. Something was going on back there. Whatever made that massive thud had to have been much bigger than any Almas-gobbling python Bujilli ever ran into as a child.
For an instant Bujilli hesitated -- should he go and check out the noise behind him or should he move on, perhaps place the translucent, slightly out-of-phase portcullis between him and whatever made all that racket?
People who make loud noises in places like this tended to travel in groups. At least as a rule of thumb. Bujilli had been raised to sneak in, grab a few things, and sneak back out without disturbing traps or attracting undue notice. Low-landers and Yeren were notorious for marching in like soldiers on leave and just smashing things until they found gold or jewels or good things to eat.
Bujilli padded over to the Northern passage as quietly, yet quickly as he could move. He positioned himself in front of the portcullis in the North, with the Thing That Watches squarely at his back to obscure him from sight should anyone enter the room from the South.
He sighed, letting a billowy cloud of breath curl upwards from his lips. The portcullis was translucent, almost transparent. It was slightly mottled in places with patches of corrosion that seemed to almost clutch at thin air. He had seen things like this before. It meant that the weird energies surrounding the imprisoned creature at the center of this room had been subtly affecting the metal of the portcullis for a very, very long time.
Bujilli observed the translucent bars as they cycled in and out of phase rhythmically. It wasn't so much like a heart beat as it was more akin to waves washing upon a beach, like the Bitter Sea that his Uncle liked to skry through his obsidian shewstone that had been mounted within a clockwork-orrery of delicately nested gold and platinum hoops and rings.
One distinct advantage of being scrawny like Bujilli was that he could usually fit through a lot of tight spaces that burlier, bulkier robbers and desecraters couldn't get past.
But this time it wasn't going to work. The bars were just a little too close together and he did not trust touching them. Things that cycled in and out of phase like that could drag along portions of whatever came into contact with them, or they could trap him within a specially-prepared anteplane. He'd grown up pilfering trinkets and treasures from the ancient tombs of dead sorcerers. He knew some of the old tricks these vile old spell casters had used to confound and kill off trespassers, rivals and even their own descendants.
He wasn't completely sure, but the portcullis seemed to be sliding along the Aethyrial axis, which was a far more common gambit than any of the more exotic options. If he was right, then he had a spell that just might do the trick. If he was wrong...it could get ugly...but it still beat hanging around to get jumped by a bunch of yahoos with delusions of dungeon delving.
Bujilli centered himself and cast the Protection From Aethyrial Intrusions spell. It was another spell that the Gem had taught him, but it seemed to be the best option he had available. The spell enfolded Bujilli in a sphere of scintillating light. things got quiet. softer. Indistinct and smoother. He reached out to the portcullis and prepared himself to jump across and through the barrier in one strong, decisive leap. It would either work or it'd probably kill him. But the Gem wouldn't tell him to go 'forwards' if it didn't think he had the means to make the assay. Or at least so he hoped.
One cycle. Two. Thr--
Bujilli jumped for all he was worth.
He rolled back to his feet on the other side of the barrier.
It had worked.
He had beaten the old portcullis.
Now all he had to do was follow the corridor onwards. Downwards. Northwards.
He tried to suppress a giggle when he heard the screams and shouts of three or four different voices and the tell-tale squealching noise of a group of heavily encumbered people slipping and sliding around in thick mud.
Those weren't eels after all. Those were tentacles. Ropy, fungoid limbs. Bujilli knew he had made the right decision once he heard the distinctive raspy-gasping belching and grunting of a Var'Quom, what the Low-landers called a 'muck raker.' Whomever it was that had come in after Bujilli was in a lot of trouble. Those fungal creatures were ferocious and much feared among his fellow crypt-kids.
With a shiver of distaste and the lingering taste of bad memories of being chased through night-black mazes by grumbling, grunting fungal things, Bujilli picked-up his pace and headed onwards. Downwards. Northwards. away from the mud the blood and the fear that filled the room behind him.
Whomever they were back there, he wished them luck...