"What will you do with him?" whispered Leeja.
Her voice was husky. Smoky. A serpent's kiss.
Bujilli looked down on the prone body before him. Rags. Tatters. Someone's belt that had been crudely re-tooled to fit the scrawny child's all-too-narrow abdomen.
He felt the blood running down his arm. It dribbled off of the tip of his tulwar.
It was all over the floor of the pen.
Bujilli grabbed hold of his would-be ambusher and dragged them out of the pen. He wasn't particularly rough. But he wasn't gentle, either. A trail of blood led back into the pen. Where it mingled. With Bujilli's blood.
He rolled the body over.
She was barely fourteen, from the look of her. Dirty. Bedraggled. Hungry. Oh so pale.
Pox marks dotted her neck.
She carried scars across her left cheek.
A survivor of poor fortunes. So far.
Bujilli shook his head. The tulwar felt like a burning torch in his hand. He considered cleansing himself of this unfortunate piece of human trash.
"You're bleeding." Leeja reminded him.
"So is she." He felt faint for a moment.
Not again. He could feel the onset of fever. The same fever he experienced in his efforts to salvage Lemuel from the Vile Transformation. The shot. It was tainted. Tampered with. Deliberately packed with White Powder or some derivative.
Immunological Counter-Measures Initiated
"Thank you machine." He whispered to his Counsel.
Bujilli slumped to his knees as his body fought off the poison.
"Are you..." Leeja's hand went stiff on his shoulder. Withdrawn. He heard her gasp like a shocked catfish yanked unceremoniously from a deep well.
"I...will...be...fine..." He hissed through clenched teeth. The pain was less. This time. Perhaps he was getting used to the stuff. He prayed not.
"And this one?" Leeja nudged the girl's body with her boot.
"Can she be saved?"
"You would do that?"
"I want answers. I want to know why she and her two friends attacked me. I want to end this once and for all."
"Ah. You wish for revenge--"
"No. Revenge is sterile. A barren reward at best. Worthless. I want knowledge. I need to know, to understand why they attacked me. What did they seek to gain? Were they acting on their own, or did someone else put them up to it? If so; who? I want answers. Not riddles. Not blood. Answers. Now."
"Hmmm...I will bind her wound. She's lost a lot of blood. Unf--" Leeja hoisted the girl to her feet, "We need to get moving. It's too quiet. Too many eyes watching."
"Machine--can you tell me if there are others close by, hostile lurkers, possible attackers?"
Initiating Scan Within Stated Parameters
Three Potential Attackers Detected
Query: Initiate Pursuit Deterrence Protocol
"We have at least three others out there. Why haven't they attacked already?" Bujilli rose into a fighting crouch. A partly squashed lead ball clinked to the floor. He could feel the fever draining away. His muscles ached to run, to jump, to slash and whirl and fight. Fight. FIGHT.
"Follow me." Leeja carried the unconscious girl in her arms like a rag doll and ran.
Bujilli followed. His every step was exhilarating. Intoxicating.
"Machine--what do you mean by 'Pursuit Deterrence'?" He whispered to his Counsel.
A series of images flashed through his mind's eye. The third image in particular brought a smile to his crooked lips.
"Yes. The third option. That should do the trick."
Initiating Pursuit Deterrence Protocol Three
Golden mist seeped from Bujilli's pores as he ran after Leeja.
Golden motes danced in his wake briefly, then coalesced, then rippled and set off back towards the pen.
A cloud, after a fashion, descended upon the spattered blood Bujilli had left behind.
The drops and splashes of blood formed a pattern across the floor. Outlined in golden light.
Then it all went black.
A scent of ashes filled the air.
Sooty particles erupted from the floor. Everywhere Bujilli had bled poured forth a fountain of black specks.
A dark cloud rose from the floor.
It swirled gratingly, wavered, pulsed, then lunged even as it split into three masses.
Each of the three potential attackers found themselves facing into a swirling cloud of sticky black not-snow.
The stuff clung to them. Stained their clothes and skin. Obscured their field of vision. Used-up their oxygen and forced them, choking and coughing, to back off or suffocate. They fled as they were flushed from their positions of hiding, wheezing and half-blinded, mucous trailing from their tortured sinuses. Their work done, the clouds collapsed into dead ashes. But not before transmitting an image of each of the three directly to Bujilli.
One was a boy with green eyes and a nasty smirk whom Bujilli had never seen before. The second was dressed in baggy, shapeless stuff and wore a crude mask. Another unknown. But the third one. Yes. He'd seen her before. She had luminous opal eyes. The crying girl he had run into almost immediately after first leaving his room. She was involved with the kids who had tried to kill him. But why? What could he have possibly done to offend her? 'Lost and clueless.' She had said that, accused him, really. She had been right.
Leeja rounded a corner then stopped abruptly.
Unfred stood there. Ponderous. Ominous. A hulking obstacle before them both.
"Get in here!" He bawled...