Bujilli stepped back. Leeja's claws were extended like thin but wickedly curved daggers. Unfred was staring at him.
"No. We can't trust her. She was part of the group that just ambushed us. The ones who shot you, Remember?" Leeja was growing hysterical in her incredulity that Bujilli would even consider Sharisse's proposal. He considered the potentially explosive results were he to make any reference to pots and kettles. The very thought of Leeja's response made him wince in anticipated pain. Not a good idea. Not at all.
Sharisse leered at him provocatively.
Leeja hissed in barely controlled frustration.
Unfred continued to stare.
"Why did you attack me?" Bujilli slitted his eyes in concentration as he prepared a spell his uncle had taught him only grudgingly so long ago. It was a sort of mnemonic chant used to focus ones perceptions outside the usual, day-to-day sensory strata, allowing him to consciously discern things most often only detected or sensed by the subconscious processes of his mind, if it was perceptible to him at all.
Sharisse's aura was filthy, sludgy-gray. It writhed as though it had worms within it. the impression was apalling. Disgusting. Wrong.
"I never attacked either of you." wheedled Sharisse as though suddenly she had become a little lost girl.
"Vermscheiss." Roared Unfred.
Everyone turned to look at him.
"You cannot lie to this one. Nor with him, either. He's outside your ken. You'll not get your hooks into him. This is something you've never met nor seen a'fore. Best you be truthful, if you want to go on living."
Sharisse pouted. Unfred glared at her. Bujilli watched the exchange. There were a dozen or more subtle etheric connections between those two. Leeja fumed silently. For now. Bujilli noticed a bright light deep within Leeja's aura. She was hiding something . He realized that she was deliberately exaggerating one side of her nature over the rest of her true being as a sort of defense. but against what he wasn't sure.
Bujilli turned back to Sharisse and Unfred. He realized then that Unfred was talking to the worms inside Sharisse.
She bowed her head as though in prayer or listening to inner voices.
Leeja hissed and moved up behind the girl. Bujilli began to raise his hand to warn her off but one look from her blazing eyes made him reconsider. She had her reasons. If anything, Leeja was being protective of Bujilli. He was not used to such a thing. It felt...odd.
"We were hired to kill the stunted apeling. Kill and dismember him and scatter the pieces so he could not be reassembled by Hedrard or ever full recovered." Sharisse recited the words stiffly, not raising her head, her eyes staring intently at the floor. Shame? Guilt? No. There was precious little of such emotions in her, Bujilli could see that now. Hunger, lust, fear...the girl was driven and ridden by very low-order concerns over personal survival. Everything about her was obsessively focused on her personal survival. Every choice she made, all her decisions, everything was part of her elaborate and constant strategizing to get by a little longer. It had been a long time since Bujilli had looked deeply into the aura of such a being. The last one had been a demi-lichipede who had nearly eviscerated him with a few black words.
Bujilli hated centipedes. He had the violet scars to prove it.
But Sharisse was not a centipede, nor was she undead. yet.
"Who hired you?" He asked calmly.
"Gudrun. She hates you."
"Who is Gudrun?"
"The twin-sister of Gabreel."
"And who is Gabreel?"
"The boy whose room you took over."
"But I was told that he had..."
"Died in the Arena? Yes. He did. She blames you."
"But I have only just arrived in this place..."
"Maybe so, but Sprague doesn't obey the normal rules for how things are supposed to act or happen."
"Sprague? But I have an appointment with him; we haven't met yet."
"Like that matters to an Oneirist. He's already dreamed all about you. He knows things about you that you don't know yet, things you might never know. Damned secret-mongerer."
"But I still don't see what or how that has anything to do with me being responsible for Gabreel's death."
"Sprague learned about the Muck Raker from his dreams of you. He was able to research the things and between him and Hedrard, and your good friend Gnosiomandus, they were able to track down some old samples and start breeding or cultivating or whatever it is you do to raise the monsters."
"What?" Bujilli reeled at the implications.
"Didn't any of them tell you about that yet? Really? Isn't that interesting..." Sharisse grinned wickedly as she looked up at Bujilli. Her eyes held a perpetually-bruised look to them.
"No. I...I confess I am a bit confused about this--"
"I Am Not Lying." yelled Sharisse.
"No. You're not. I can see that clear enough. But you also don't know the whole story, so what you're telling me isn't the whole truth either." Bujilli released the spell. He'd seen enough to know that he'd only get bogged down in detestable minutiae and contestable trivia now. More questions. Always there were more questions. It was as if every answer was infested with questions like rancid meat riddled with maggots.
"I don't trust her." whispered Leeja to no one in particular.
"Neither do I." Bujilli looked into Leeja's eyes. It felt like they had both gained some critical insight into the intrinsic nature of the other.
"What will you do with her then?" rumbled Unfred.
"What are the local laws or prevailing customs for this sort of thing?" Bujilli looked directly at Unfred.
"Most would as soon cut her throat or sell her for mea--it's not Winter any more, so you would be within your rights to kill her, send her off to the Arenas, sell her to a body-house or indenture her to your service. If you set her loose, you forfeit any claims against the rest of those who attacked you, until or unless they actively attempt to strike again."
"I do not want her as a slave or servant."
"You do not need her at all." sneered Leeja.
"True enough." He considered the situation; "But I cannot allow people to attack me because they see me as being a weakling." Bujilli stared at Sharisse. An example needed to be made. Whatever he did now, it would define his reputation in Wermspittle and either deter further attackers or bring them on in hordes.
"You are not weak," Unfred grumbled; "They shot you. Yet you live. Your wound healed of itself. The Achromic Powder in the Salted Shot did not affect you--"
"Oh it affected me, only I was able to overcome it." This time, he thought to himself.
"If only more of us were so fortunate." Spat Sharisse.
"Fortune. Yes. I can see that you've had more than your share of misfortune, haven't you Sharisse? You're quite the victim, aren't you?" Bujilli gripped his tulwar with white knuckles.
"We're all victims in this damned place--"
"No. You're not. If anything you're accomplices, aiders and abetters. You collaborate with your abusers. You perpetuate the situation and make it worse, not better. You accept things as they are and reinforce them with every bad decision, poor choice, wrong action and negative word you utter."
"Do I disgust you so much then?"
"You? No. This situation? Yes."
Sharisse glared at him dangerously.
"What do you mean?"
"You are a symptom, Sharisse. Your mind, body and soul is stunted, shriveled and infested with parasitical influences. You haven't had a clear, real thought or untainted emotion of your own in years. Even if I wanted to indenture you in retaliation for your part in attacking us, I can't, not really--you're already enslaved by those worms you carry. You already have your masters." He felt sad for her, but then caught himself. These creatures were insidious that way. They preyed upon the gullible and vulnerable just like some amoral scribes toyed with would-be spell-casters by embedding cruel tricks and deceitful clauses into their treatises.
"What will you do?" Unfred growled.
"I have an idea. It will take some effort, but I want to try something. It will be dangerous." Bujilli mentally ran over his repertoire of spells.
"Dangerous? How?" Unfred scowled.
"As I see it, the worms within Sharisse are the real problem in this particular situation. They control her. Any quarrel I have with her is really a matter between myself and those worms, not her. So I intend to address the matter with these parasites directly. Personally."
"I will not be part of this." Unfred grew pale and clomped off to the doorway that led further inwards to his sleeping quarters. He quickly made a gesture of warding and locked the door behind him.
Bujilli looked to Leeja.
"I stand beside you. I'll watch your back. Do what needs to be done." She grabbed Sharisse and pushed her down on the table as though preparing her for a bit of impromptu field surgery.
Sharisse lay very still. Her eyes closed.
"Thank you." Bujilli almost smiled. Then he got to work.
/Machine/ He used his internal voice to confer with his Counsel. /Can you help me?/ He visualized his intentions.
In response the Counsel overlaid his visualization with glyphic schematics of each spell he had in mind and step-by-step he was able to revise each spell so that they would operate as a coordinated suite. He combined the Zone of Normality and an almost inverted and re-tuned version of Protection From Aethyrial Intrusion, both of which he had learned from the Green Gem while he was still listening to its mind-whisperings about Zalchis. He drew upon a few other spells and reworked them into the visualized structure. Sweat poured off of his brow. He was growing feverish. The strain of re-working so many spells was diminishing his ability to stave off the effects of the White Powder that permeated the room. It was all around him. The walls were saturated with it. He could smell the sweet corruption coming from behind the locked door to wherever Unfred had gone.
Things clicked into place.
The spell was ready.
Bujilli began to cast his newly hacked spell.