He sat up in the bed. There was only a dim glow seeping in from under the rough door. It was a small room, but a relatively clean one, as far as he could tell. Aside from the bed, there was a chest of drawers, a small table, a ratty old chair with only three legs, and a wash stand with a pitcher and basin. There was a red cloth draped over what he suspected was a mirror and another object, something shrouded with a black hood-like covering. He wasn't sure what that was, but it wasn't moving, so it could wait. Heavy antique draperies hung in front of what he expected to be a window of some sort. The drapes were heavy. They smelled old. The velvet, if it was really velvet they were made from, was coarse, tough, a good insulator. He ran his fingers over the fabric. A tug showed him the edge of a windowsill. A slight draft rolled out from behind the drapes so he let them settle back into position. That material would make a very good vest or jacket. Maybe a cloak. But that could wait. No sense hacking things apart until he knew better what was going on.
He scrutinized his surroundings as if he was in hostile territory. One never knew when things would go bad, allies would become betrayers, cousins decide to be assassins -- Bujilli had been raised to always be on his guard. But this was no hole in the ground. No tomb to be looted at the risk of drastic personal peril. It was a room. Not a bad place, really. He'd slept in far worse accommodations. Recently. Often. Most of his life, really. This was far better than a drafty old yurt. Definitely.
Bujilli sank back into the feather bed. After the last few days, this was a great luxury. Maybe, just maybe, he could get used to this sort of thing.
He sat up suddenly. Wide-eyed. It took a little effort to get extricated from the clutches of the mattress. He nearly slipped on the loose rug on the otherwise bare wood floor. Quickly, quietly, carefully, Bujilli examined the room. He located his pack and checked it for tampering or pilferage. It seemed intact and undisturbed. His tulwar hung from the head-board, well within easy reach, just in case. There was a note or something that looked like writing on a scrap of parchment on the wash-stand.
Bujilli looked at his pack. He considered lighting a torch. But that might not be a good idea. He looked around. No candles. No oil lamps, not even a crappy old pottery and goat-hair-wicked butter-lamp. The dark didn't bother him, not in the least, but it would be difficult to read the note or whatever without some light...and he didn't want to open the door. Not just yet.
He sat in the chair. It only wobbled slightly right when he sat down, but then it settled into a stable position. It was upholstered with threadbare burgundy and mauve fabric. He disliked the pattern. It reminded him of fat, wriggling worms. Yuck.
Worms. Yes. The old man had called this place worm-something. Old man. Gnosiomandus. Yes. He liked Bujilli's samples. Especially the rubbings of the strange glyphs from Zormur's Palace. Bujilli smiled; he now had close to a thousand nickel ducats on account with the old man. Whatever a ducat was worth.
He shook his head. It felt good to be out of that place. He needed the sleep. Spells could restore some semblance of rest, but they still cost something. Vitality was not something to squander recklessly. He'd gotten in over his head. That was what tended to happen when you listened to others and started pursuing someone else's agenda or objective. The Green Gem had only taught him spells that he'd need to survive in a terrible place. But why go to such a wretched domain? He'd followed the urgings and directions of the Gem and it had nearly gotten him killed or worse. As it was he had made a terrible enemy. A Princess of the Zurians. A mad-woman with a grudge. Hopefully she'd be too busy tending to her own affairs to hunt him down. Maybe the only other survivor of her ill-fated band of mercenaries, the Phorain, Makaitakh, would be able to do something. Who knows.
Bujilli reached up and idly examined the black-draped object hanging next to the chair. It was suspended over the little table. A stout cord laced the thing shut. He untied it and peeked inside. A soft, greenish light leaked out. There was a small creature curled-up inside the thing. It was a cage. A cage that held a glowing little animal inside. He snorted, a half-laugh. The creature stirred. More light streamed out. Bujilli pulled back the hood. Soft light filled the room. The little thing sat on a plush cushion and stared at him curiously.
Something about its eyes was slightly disturbing. He looked away. It settled down upon its cushion and seemed to take up a meditative pose. Bujilli shook his head and grabbed the note. He could read it now. As long as it was in a language he knew.
You've arrived just in time for the last few days of the Spring Revels. The clocks won't be re-wound and set back into working order until after things settle down a bit. Your room will remain vacant, and thus yours to use, for a while yet. The apprentice originally assigned to it was killed in the arena two nights ago. Nasty business. We should be able to get you sorted out before anyone is re-assigned.
I have contacted my associates and colleagues on your behalf, as we discussed. Eberhard is in room 101; they'll run you through the preliminaries and get you registered for the Entrance Exams. There's still time before the roster completely fills-up, so make the most of your opportunity, if you still wish to attend school this season. Be sure to prepare your most tactical spells and don't forget to arm yourself. You'll have need of that tulwar.
As I surmised, Hedrard is interested in your samples and she'll be available in her office in the sub-mezzanine right next to the menagerie and the holding-pens for the Arena for most of today if you'd care to negotiate a price. I suggest accepting no less than eight-hundred ducats, unless she offers you silver marks--then six-hundred ought to be a good price. It being spring, you're only going to get foreign currency, but if you cared to work out some sort of arrangement, Hedrard is a trustworthy sort, if eccentric, and she can post your bond for the Entrance Exam or you could have her sponsor you for the Arena, if that's more to your liking.
Sprague is busy, but his assistant has made a preliminary offer for a few fragments of dreamsnail shell and the material they were wrapped in. Nothing is firm or decided yet, as he's unavailable, but he should be conscious and available within a few days if you'd care to wait. There's a voucher for you, if you're interested. The voucher will waive your library fees and allow you access to the Oneirical Studies Section as a guest, but you'll need to drop by room 303 in the East Wing to pick that up when/if you have the time.
I will be off-campus for the next couple of days. Urgent business. I suggest you get yourself through the Entrance Exams, set your affairs in order, and we'll talk more when I return. Unless you've decided to take your money and run. It is Spring and the Revels are in full-swing right now, so I wouldn't blame you one bit. Just keep in mind that this is Wermspittle. Winter is coming. It's never far enough away. Things are easy now, but that never lasts.
If you do decide to go out to sample the Revels, which is your right of course, I would caution you not to accept candy from strangers, especially not that terrible white stuff they pass out to the more gullible and vulnerable children.
Bujilli read the note three times. Once committed to memory, he folded it and placed it into his belt pouch. Then he washed his face and hands in the basin and got dressed. There was a jumble of random clothes stuffed into the dresser. All different shapes, colors and sizes. He pulled out a decent looking home-spun shirt, a pair of denims and some fresh underwear. Then he inspected his harness and armor, tightened-up the lacings and made sure it was in good order. Once that was all adjusted and in-place, he pulled on his lucky vest and tried out the heavy boots he found next to the dresser. The boots were a tad loose, but a good pair of wool socks made them fit snug. He laced them tight. They were thick leather, but with panels of some smooth, chitiny-stuff worked into it, and roughed-up considerably. The soles looked like good climbing surfaces. They would grip whatever footholds he could fit the things into. There was also a set of shin-guards that snapped into place, slotted into grooves and snaps on the boots, allowing him to move freely while wearing them. The guards were a little big on him, coming up over his knees, but that just gave him more protection, so he buckled them on as well. Then he arranged his belt, slung his tulwar, and considered what to take with him from his pack.
Bujilli considered his situation. Should he go to Room 101 right away, or go to 303 and work things out with Sprague's assistant first? Or maybe he had best go see Hedrard over by the Arena first? For a moment he hesitated. His Uncle had not taught him very many tactical spells. Most of what he knew were ways to get in, get out, or to find out things. He could try to pick something out from one of the Little Brown Journals he'd brought with him from his Uncle's yurt, but would that be the best use of his time?
Where to begin?
Where to begin?
What should Bujilli do next?
Go to Room 101?
Go to Room 303?
Go look for Hedrard's office over by the Arena?
He's on his own for a little while;
so what should he do with his time?
A New Map is in the works...