It might be possible to sneak past this barrier. He'd done it before. These sorts of things were usually set in place to deter or destroy groups like the small cadre that was under the control of the Zurian Princess behind him. For all he knew, the portcullis had been built by some dead old Zurian. It might not stop her.
Still invisible thanks to his spell, Bujilli looked back up the sloping passage he had just run down. He had thought to escape, to run away, but that looked like it might be too risky. He recalled the look on the Princess' face, the glare of madness in those eyes. She knew about the Gem. She was after the Gem, or at least she clearly wanted it. Perhaps it was of some use to her...
There was a lot that Bujilli did not know. He had no idea where the Gem was from, nor who had created it. He wasn't even sure what it was intended for, exactly. He had some half-formed thoughts, a sort-of theory that he'd so-far left nebulous and unexamined. In some respects he was unsure just how wise it would be to look too closely into the mystery of the Gem. It had taught him spells. It had led him here. It whispered of a way for him to escape this world, to go to other worlds. Until now, that had been enough.
This clearly was not the place to interrogate a glowing green Gem.
Not with the Princess and what remained of her entourage sure to be following him down the ramp.
It was a tight spot.
There were too many variables. Things needed to be simplified.
The Princess was just too dangerous to leave at his back. It left him too vulnerable, too likely to get caught in a real rock and a hard place situation. Like this one. Here. Now.
An ambush. It would have to be some sort of ambush. But what could he do?
He hated the thought of killing. He'd done his share, certainly, but always in self defense. He was no warrior, and certainly not an assassin. But he had been hunted by cunning beasts in dismal tunnels, and he'd managed to turn the tables on more than one unscrupulous loot-jumper out to score an easy haul.
He needed some way to turn things to his advantage, to use the Princess' power and arrogance against her somehow.
Bujilli went to the wall and examined it closely. It was cracked and pitted, even scored in places where strange weapons or spells had burned or melted or fractured sections of the surface into lacy masses of fractalized matter slowly slipping into an unreal state. He took a step back, away from the wall. It still reverberated with intense energies. There had been a great fight here. A terrible battle.
For a moment Bujilli wondered which side had won.
Everything was stabilized, for now. Someone had sorted things out after the fact. Yes. The more that Bujilli concentrated, he could just barely discern the glimmerings of embedded wards. Some things can't be un-done, but they can sometimes be deferred or held in abeyance.
Like the Thing that Watches.
A nasty thought occurred to Bujilli. It could work. Possibly. It was certainly dangerous. But the situation was desperate enough, and he had to make whatever he did right now count for everything he could bring to bear. There would be no second chance. Not with the Princess. He might have been able to connive some sort of contractual renegotiation with the Rhinocerenary, but they were dead. Killed out of hand by their employer...or was she their employer? Perhaps She, too, served someone else. If so, there might be some way to work out an arrangement with the Phorain...but it was highly unlikely that he'd ever get such an opportunity. But then, he never expected to ever find such a thing as the Gem either.
Bujilli took a deep breath and extended the area of effect of his Invisibility spell like blowing a bubble, a full-body bubble outwards just enough to give him some room within which to work. He removed his pack and dug out the Little Brown Journals that he'd 'liberated' from his Uncle's yurt. There were spells in these little booklets; old, odd and obscure spells that he hoped were outside the expertise and experience of the Princess.
His hands shook slightly. He disliked burning a page from one of these Journals in order to cast an un-learned, un-practised spell, but he didn't see much in the way of an alternative. Running wasn't going to work. His tulwar would prove no match for the Phorain, nor for the scimitar wielded by the Princess, and she clearly still had spells to bring to bear. This was not a time to present his backside to an opponent who could probably scald him to death from the inside if he was merely within line of sight. Too many things favored the Princess. He needed some way to alter that.
The Journal opened to a page with a peculiar rune impressed into the parchment. Bujilli felt the raised surface with his finger tip. It slithered. Slightly. The spell it marked as something translated from the Aklo as 'Malign and Particular Suspension of Natural Law.' The commentary scribbled in the margin by his Uncle only noted that this spell changes everything within the area of effect and that it is one of the preliminaries used in certain rituals. The black Tsannic mark was scorched into the page as though with a branding iron. It was an interesting spell to be sur---
"Come out, come out little Almas. We merely wish to talk." Came the sweetly venomous voice that he knew had to be the Princess.
CrunCH!He could smell the foullness he knew as the scent of the Muck Raker. It was overpowering and seemed to be coming closer.
Sparks sprung from the wall across from him. A heavy blade. A powerful blow. At about Almas-head height.
It was the Phorain. Invisible and far too close for comfort.
Bujilli cast the Tsannic spell. Crude syllables of gutteral Aklo barked out in rapid succession. His voice became a stream of green mist, his words vibrated into orange paroxysms of smoldering luminance that curled and swirled about Bujilli like a thousand burning amber snakes. Then all went silent.
He looked outwards from the eye of a shining, blazing hurricane of rich ochre and saffron and vermillion.
The Phorain stood before him, revealed and limned with a lambent yellow haze.
"I have no grudge against you--"
"I am commanded to kill you, but otherwise, I bear you no malice." The Phorain raised its mighty two-handed sword.
Bujilli instinctively pushed against the swirling, churning energies surrounding him.
The Phorain slid backwards several sword-lengths out of reach.
"Kill Him Fool!" Shrieked the Princess.
Bujilli looked up the sloping corridor to see her standing there, glaring hatefully at him.
There was fear in her eyes. Even at that distance Bujilli was certain that he could see the distinctive look of dread. She was afraid of him...no...not him, but what he had done, what he could do next.
Bujilli smiled. He could feel the energies coursing about him. It was time to put this spell to work.
He closed his eyes and extended his awareness out through the spell's area of effect, as his Uncle had taught him to do as a child, when he was just learning how to master recalcitrant cantrips and surly spells that had their own ideas about who ought to do what for whom.
With a flick of his wrist Bujilli sent the Phorain sprawling back into the chamber with the Thing That Watches. He only barely missed crashing into his mistress. She wore some sort of ward. But no matter.
Bujilli reached out to the embedded wards in the walls, ceiling and floor. He wrapped each one in vague orange tendrils of smoky luminosity and peeled each one out of their position, crushing them and casting the aethyric debris aside like so much garbage.
The Princess screamed.
"You Fool! You'll kill us all!"
Bujilli laughed. He extended his hands like the talons of a mountain harpy and began to rip apart the ceiling between the Princess and himself.
Debris began to rain down all around her.
She brought up her scimitar to effect some sort of defensive shield and then began to work on a reprisal casting of her own. It was exactly what Bujilli had been hoping would happen.
Venomous green light began to collect around the Princess's extended finger-tips. It was a potent, vicious spell--Bujilli could feel the malice vibrating within the aethyric packet that served as the energetic palimpsest for the configuration she was attempting to use against him.
But time was flowing on Bujilli's terms now, and matter responded to his whims, even as energy coursed and flickered at his behest. It was intoxicating. Transcendent. Beautiful. Terrible. It was like being on the very threshold of god-like power. It would be simplicity itself to erase her. To expunge her from reality itself. He had the power. He--
Bujilli shook his head. He focused on the task at hand. Hand. The spell coiling about the Princess's hand like a serpent about to strike. With a gesture Bujilli snapped the swirling energies he commanded like a whip and the toxic spell ruptured. The Princess howled in agony and collapsed to her knees. Her hand was gone. Most of her arm was gone. A faint smudge of smoke drifted away from the cauterized stump.
The Princess toppled forward.
Behind her stood the Phorain. It spat on the ground, only barely missing the prone figure of its mistress.
The Terror-Bird centaur looked right into Bujilli's eyes. It snorted. Shrugged. Replaced its sword.
"If you meant to destroy us, we'd be scattered atoms smeared across the walls. Since neither of us have any reason to bear any ill-will to one another, I propose a truce."
"What changed your mind?"
"Like I said; personally, I bear you no malice. If anything, it was your assistance that allowed me to kill that...thing...and..." they lifted up the severed head of the Rhinocerenary, "...and it was clearly treachery that killed my partner, not some cowardly assassin's blade."
"I saw her," Bujilli pointed to the Princess, "cut your friend down in cold blood, while he was struggling with the Muck Raker."
"You swear this?"
"Certainly. I have no reason to lie.Your mistress is not only capricious, she is mad."
"Wretched trollop." The Phorain spat on the floor in disgust. "So many dead, and for what? Bah."
"What was she looking for, if I might ask?"
"A mechanism of some kind. An ancient and dangerous device that she claimed would give her father the means to extend his empire beyond walls of Ylgreve. She said it would give them the means to take control of the cyclic wandering of their city-state, that it would somehow let them steer the wandering city to destinations of their choosing."
"Ylgreve? The Flicker-Flame Domain? One of the Phantomopoli, a Wandering City of the Kalaramar Drifts?"
"I have heard some few fragmentary tales of this strange place. Is it truly unfixed in its location and mutable, even inconstant with regard to time?"
"As with all the Wandering Cities. Yes. This means something to you then?"
Bujilli closed his eyes and considered his situation. Had things been handled differently, he and the Princess might have been, could have been, should have been allies. But that was impossible now. One did not maim and disgrace such a creature as this unhinged Princess without incurring their wrath. There might be a vendetta, her family might put a bounty on his head.
"Once. Long ago, now, or so it seems, such a place would have been the very stuff of my dreams. But alas, I fear I would not be very welcome in Ylgreve were I to appear there after this unfortunate encounter."
"Perhaps. If you'll let us pass, I will remove Janildra from this place and with any luck you can continue on your way without further interference, at least until she recovers and is made to answer for her incompetence."
"And then? What? Her family will want revenge, will they not? Assassins and vendettas do not appeal to me." Bujilli considered his options. It would be simplicity itself to dissolve the Princess into a frothy scrum of unraveled matter. He had the means in his hands right now to disassemble her down to the most elementary components and embed them or disperse them so that they could never fully be recovered.
"It could be a very long while before she has the means to pursue any sort of vendetta...and she'll do so without my service, and most likely her family will want to distance themselves from any taint of failure, let alone dishonor. She is ruined. Politically as much as physically."
Bujilli stared at the unconscious Princess. Orange tendrils slowly pulsed and squirmed ever closer to her prone form. The Tsannic spell was beginning to act as though it had a will of its own. Either he disintegrated her, or he let her go. He had to make a decision. Now. Before the spell subverted him. There were those spells that desired nothing so much as an opportunity to become the caster instead of that which was cast.
"Go. Take her from my sight. Leave this place and I'll not hinder your escape."
The Phorain bowed slightly. Then it scooped-up the Princess, turned away and began walking out of the place.
"But what about her sword?" he called after the mercenary.
"She lost it. I have no desire to help her save face in this matter. If she wishes the blade restored to her, let her come retrieve it on her own. Unless you wish to claim it?"
"No. It can stay where it is for all I care. I do not trust it..."
"A prudent choice. It is possessed by one of her ancestors. Losing it will go very badly for her. It will also give her family something to consider before they start ranting and raving about any vendetta."
"Thank you. that is very kind of you."
"Hah! Hardly. I expect it to destroy her credibility. It will be one more item on the ledger allowing me to re-negotiate our contract, though I am now the sole survivor of our company. I'll be needing lawyers and accountants now, more than swords or spells. A fine kettle of fish for a poor mercenary like myself to fall into indeed."
"I wish you well..."
"Mak-Ait-akh." Belched the Phorain.
"I am Bujilli."
"Well-met Bujilli. I shall take Janildra home now. I would wish you safe journeys, but I think that you are not looking for safe things, are you?"
"No. I guess not."