"Get in here!" Unfred barked. His breath reeked of onions.
Leeja looked at Bujilli.
The girl needed tending to. She wasn't going to make it if they didn't get her some help right away. Bujilli wanted answers...preferably without having to interrogate the dead to get them. He disliked necromancy. He distrusted the dead. For good reason.
Unfred slammed the heavy door and threw the bolt.
"On the table." He pointed.
Leeja slid the unconscious girl onto the work table. She backed up apprehensively. Almost skittish. Her weird eyes never once wavered or left Unfred. Her claws were out.
Unfred ignored the Un-girl and started examining his impromptu patient.
Bujilli watched the big man attend to the wounded girl. He was gentle. Deft. Well-used to such things.
"She's lost a lot of blood, but she'll have a good chance of making it. No thanks to your blade." Unfred scowled, "What are your intentions?"
"I want answers."
"Oh do you now?" Unfred reared back from the table. His spine cracked thrice. A nasty grin split his scarred, pocked face.
"Yes. I want to know why she..." he pointed to the girl "...attacked us out there."
"She attacked you?" Unfred wavered momentarily.
"Yes. Her friend shot me. There were three of them. They had another three friends backing them up."
"And they are?" Unfred perched his meaty fists upon his ample thighs.
"One lies headless next to his fire-arm."
"I dealt with the other one." Hissed Leeja.
"And I dissuaded the other three from pursuing us."
"You dissuaded them? How?"
"I have my ways."
Unfred stared into Bujilli's eyes.
Finally the tension broke.
"Don't we all? Fine. Trade secret. I understand. Used to belong to a guild before I bought my way out. Like that did me much good. Hah."
"Who is this girl? What can you tell me about her?"
"She's another one of the bitter dregs left-over from the Winter. Like your--"
"Her name was Sharisse. She was lodging in the dorm next to mine."
"You knew her then?" Bujilli turned to Leeja. His fingers flexed instinctively. Spells gleamed and glittered in the back of his mind, each one nudging him like a pack of greyhounds eager to get released.
"No. Not really. We both worked the pens. We both..."
"They both survived the Winter. No little thing. Especially since neither of you had any money or much luck, eh Leeja?"
"I'm no whore!" Leeja shrilled.
"Not that anyone is tossing coins about girl--some as don't have your particular talents have to find some way to get by, don't they? Not everyone makes the best choices. Especially when they're hungry and scared." Unfred looked down on the girl laid out on his work table. He shook his head ever so slightly.
"Why would Sharisse and her friends attack me? Us?" He gestured to include Leeja, "I fail to understand what they thought they were going to gain." Bujilli stared at the girl.
"Gain? Hah. Not all who attack are out to gain. Some just as soon kill or maim as spout uncouth words. You've not endured a Winter in this place. It is harsh. Unforgiving. Not all who come through it really survive, not as such. Some come into Spring damaged, ruined. Not just tainted or befouled with the White Powder. There are those who go feral. Wild. some began with far less to lose than the rest, making it a short trip indeed. Like this one."
"I can understand that." Bujilli closed his eyes for just a moment. Just long enough to push away unwonted memories.
"Yes. I believe you do, don't you?" Unfred growled sympathetically.
"So why did she attack him?" Leeja scratched a deep furrow in the table next to the girl's arm.
"Why do you think? Stupid girl." He shook his head slowly. Sadly. "She wanted more than she had. She was terrified of facing another Winter without some sort of an edge. Without friends. Without hope."
"What do you mean?" Bujilli placed his hand on Leeja's shoulder to forestall any outburst. She shivered like a wet cat. But she didn't shrug off his touch.
"Look at her." Unfred bowed his head. In shame?
Bujilli stepped over to the table and took a better look at the girl. She was filthy. Rags. Everything she wore was cast-off or cobbled-together from disparate pieces and broken parts. Her scars held a weird, slightly quicksilver sheen to them--"
"Yes. You've noticed." Unfred drew his blunt finger along the edge of the scar that twisted around Sharisse's right wrist. Like a throbbing eel the scar bulged and writhed. Alive. Parasitical.
"What...is...it?" Bujilli gripped the handle of his tulwar and caught himself before fully making the Voorish Sign.
"Worms?" Bujilli's voice squeaked comically.
"Yes. There's a few vermin-peddlers and wermifices who know how to raise small batches of Gore Worms that they feed a solution containing a good amount of refined White Powder."
"But why? These...things...are alive and under her skin--" Pieces began to click into place for Bujilli. It was not a pretty picture. Not at all.
"Of course. They wouldn't do her much good otherwise."
"What do you mean?" He closed his eyes, knowing he already suspected the answer and dreading confirmation of his suspicions.
"The worms are parasites. They process all White Powder derivatives in her bloodstream."
"Process? How? Why?"
"It's a way to get through the hard times. The worms work to help their host survive, at least physically. For the most part. They aren't too finicky about whether you're still alive or undead, so long as the blood flows and they get their fix."
"So these worms help keep her alive?" Bujilli could barely keep the revulsion he felt from his voice.
"They're the only thing that have kept her alive. Here. Let me show you." Unfred snatched-up a knife and busied himself removing the make-shift bandages around her abdomen. "Here. Take a look at your handiwork."
Bujilli moved around to Unfred's side. He looked down on the section of the girl's exposed belly. The wound was sealed with pulsing, glistening wermskin.
Sharisse opened her eyes. Her irises were pools of blood, vivid red and unsettling with the desperate, insatiable hunger they radiated.
Leeja held her half-extended claws right before the girl's face.
She didn't scream.
She didn't flinch.
She didn't say a word.
Bujilli stepped back. He wasn't quite so hungry any more.
Unfred brought over a ladle dripping cool well-water and handed it to the girl.
She looked at Leeja.
Leeja withdrew her hand. The girl sat up and took the ladle from Unfred so she could sip the water quietly.
Unfred took the empty ladle and quietly retreated to the back of the kitchen. He began peeling tiny rutabegas.
"You -- and your friends -- attacked me -- us -- I want to know why."
Sharisse laughed. It was an unpleasant sound. It reminded Bujilli of a screech owl. An owl trapped in a deep well.
"I don't have friends."
"Why did you attack him?" demanded Leeja.
"You do have friends, don't you?" Sharisse smiled nastily. She stretched. Her limbs were long, lithe and only slightly unnaturally narrow. A poet would describe her as being coltish. If he was drunk, blind and ignorant of the things writhing about beneath her scarred and pocked skin.
"Yes. I do." Bujilli thought of Gnosiomandus, Hedard, Beatrice Eberhard...they had all been decent to him, after their own fashion. Maybe they were his friends? He wasn't sure. He'd never had friends before...
"Would you like for me to be your friend too?" Sharisse licked her lips hungrily...