The fist, all scarred and mottled with strange purplish stains withdrew into the darkness.
Bujilli was completely alert. On his feet. Ready to fight. Only he wasn't quite. Awake. His Uncle only ever landed one blow. Never a second one. Never.
He shook his head. Why were his eyes so blurry? His mouth tasted of blood and dust and something foul. A peculiar sweetness tinged the air. Was he near a bloated corpse? No. There was a puddle of iridescent fluid oozing out from under him. He could see the tiny ripples from the dribbling liquid coming from his pack.
His water-skin that the Dreamsnail blood* had contaminated. It was leaking. The fluid had given him nightmares. (* see Episode 10.)
Dreams of his childhood. Growing up in the yurt of his Mother's Brother. Of learning how to defend himself at an early age from the drunken bouts of violence that served as nurturing in his Uncle's home.
Bujilli shook the syrupy fluid from his hand. He dragged his pack out of the worst of the puddle and removed the leaking skin. He had no wax or much of anything else suitable to work-up some sort of a seal. The thing was ruined. Too dangerous to carry.
Smirking mirthlessly, Bujilli snapped off the leaking plug and poured the polluted water into a smaller puddle right in front of the portcullis closing-off the passage back the way he had come from previously. How long ago? how many minutes, hours, days? He tossed the wrecked water-skin aside. He had no way of knowing how much time had passed. The nightmares had distorted his sense of the passage of time. But aside from the lingering memories of raw old things, Bujilli felt better. He had gotten some sleep. His nose wasn't bleeding any more. It was stuffed-up. Congested. Probably blocked with dried blood.
That'd mess up his sense of smell.
It also restricted his breathing.
Raised in the great heights, thin air and forced to delve down into places notorious for pockets of poisonous gas, Bujilli was acutely aware of his breathing. It was something that he preferred to continue doing. Anything that curtailed his lung power was potentially dangerous. It could get him killed far more quickly than just blundering around smacking everything in sight with a length of rough-cut wood.
But staying in this place was not such a great option.
He wasn't too fond of the hovering brain-thing. All the burn-marks, holes and sorcerous damage--and the repairs someone had done to restore the place such as it was, all made him nervous. He had originally come here searching for something. So had the Zurian Princess. So, very likely had others. Who knew how many people had come here looking for the Green Gem, the Synchronocitor, or how many would be coming along any time now.
Bujilli lugged his pack over across the floor to the North. He wanted to position himself closer to the Transveyance, and in between it and the ring that he suspected as being a closed gate.
It seemed the best thing to do--put some distance between him and the tainted water, if nothing else.
He also wanted to examine the Transveyance. That meant getting close to it. He also needed time to gather his wits, rest some more and decide what to do next. It was time to take the initiative again, not just react to circumstance.
Bujilli pulled-out his meager rations and nibbled some pemmican as he took stock of his situation.
He had enough food for one more day, possibly a little longer. Water was getting stale, liquor was running low. He'd gotten beaten up pretty bad, but was on the mend. A bath would be very welcome, but wasn't likely in this place. It could wait until he got back to civilization. Assuming he was going back.
Bujilli looked at the Transveyance along the West wall**.
(** Transveyance 2 on the Current Map.)
There was another of the things over against the East wall.
Directly across from each other. Both flanking what looked like a gate, even if it was not rotating or open. Gates could be closed. Shut down. Sealed. It was difficult, dangerous stuff to attempt, but it could be done.
But the ring looked like the kind of thing one would expect to see slowly rotating around the stabilized aperture of a Fixed Gate.
Transveyances and a Fixed Gate. Hidden below these old ruins. Known only to those sorts of people who'd blast the walls with sorcery and strange energies. Like the Zurian Princess.
This was a place people like the Princess would seek out.
It was a dangerous place to linger.
He considered the Transveyance.
Unlike Fixed Gates that connected two points in space-time to one another in a constantly open, permanent two-way aperture, these things were more like transmitters. They could send the user to just about any destination there was a recognizable coordinate for...or you could just enter something at random or let the machine decide for you and end up anywhere. But it was usually a one-way trip, unless someone remained behind or the machine was programmed for retrieval.
This was only the second time that Bujilli had encountered such mechanisms. His Uncle had sold the details regarding the first such machine Bujilli had discovered to a group of adventurers who made a section of a mountainside disappear and them along with it. The machine had either been damaged, corrupted or they had done something spectacularly unwise. His Uncle had laughed himself to sleep that night, drunker than usual. Bujilli picked through everything he could find in his Uncle's untidy collection of books, papers, manuscripts, scroll and folios until he found a treatise that dealt with 'transveyances.' This had been before he found the Green Gem. Before he had ever heard of a 'synchronocitor.'
Usually such devices were used to traverse distances well beyond a few meters or miles. These machines gave access to worlds far, far away. They were ancient things. Powerful. Prone to mishandling and disastrous consequences for the ill-informed or the illiterate.
Bujilli looked at the elegantly contoured machine. It reminded him of a gaping maw, just waiting to gobble-up whomever was foolish enough to step across its threshold. and end up...where?
Cool. Quiet. As though sleeping. Bujilli looked at the Transveyance warily. It could take him away from this world. Wasn't that what he wanted? Isn't that why he had come down into these ruins in the first place?
A one way trip.
One chance to make a leap out into the vast reaches of time and space.
But to go where?
Bujilli slumped down against the scored and scorched North wall and pondered the Transveyance as though it were some sort of shew-stone or crystal ball.
Ah but it was, wasn't it, after a fashion? Yes. He recalled the treatise explaining how these machines were not just the means to go unto new locales, but to first explore them visually, to investigate far distant places before making the transition.
These things were used to explore other worlds, to collect information, to determine where to place a gate.
Yes. This Transveyance might allow him to sift through the myriads of worlds out there like so many grains of sands until finally finding a nugget of gold. Perhaps. Knowing that a machine is capable of something is not the same thing as getting it to do that thing.
Bujilli rested his head on his knees. He was tired. His options were draining away like the strange water had leaked out of his damaged water-skin.
He looked back at the Portcullis. He could go back. There were other passages that he had not examined.
He looked at the Transveyance. He could attempt to awaken the spirit within the thing and see where it might take him. It would be a gamble, but it would be a way out.
He looked at the inert Fixed Gate. He could try to wake the thing up, maybe.
He looked at the hovering brain in its encased shell, probably dreaming its own nightmares in this place. Bujilli wondered what it was doing here. Why it drifted there, unconscious, unaware.
He could feel himself falling asleep. He was exhausted. Emotionally drained, if not completely physically wore out. He cast the increasingly familiar Oneiric Bubble spell one more time and slipped back into the arms of oblivion.