Seeking answers from Sharisse has given Bujilli the name of the person behind the recent attack on him and Leeja. Gudrun. A girl he had only met briefly, in passing. She blamed Bujilli for the death of her twin brother. Or at least that was the story Sharisse told. Or was it the worms that spoke through her? A host to peculiar parasites, the girl might only be a puppet. Bujilli realized that he needed to address the worms directly if he was going to get anywhere, or learn anything meaningful...
Golden light rippled outwards from Bujilli's hands, forming a delicate lacework-sphere that slowly intensified with each heartbeat. The Sphere enveloped the screaming girl on the kitchen table. No one heard her screams any longer. The sphere enveloped Bujilli. Then it began to rotate, gracefully, blurring into a solid shell of light that severed all outside observation, connection, or interference.
With a deep breath Bujilli started the second sequence. Cool violet light criss-crossed the kitchen table, forming a mesh of energetic strands that restrained the girl upon the kitchen table.
He began the third sequence. Green lines of light raced out from his finger tips to form a hexagonal framework of sizzling energy, each node where the lines intersected extended a lance-like projection that presented a formidable array of impossibly-sharp objects, each one focused directly at Sharisse.
No. Not quite. Each of the shimmering green projections was focused upon one of the worms within her body. The worms writhed in agitation. The green lances responded, following their every movement.
Bujilli wiped sweat from his face. This was hard work. But he felt it was the only way to get to the bottom of things once and for all.
"Sharisse," he whispered softly; "You can go to sleep. I need to talk to your masters."
"No! It is forbidden. They won't--"
"This has moved beyond all that now. Tell me, before you go to sleep; wouldn't you rather be free of these things?"
"What do you mean?" She slurred. Drool dribbled from her lower lip. Her eyes were glazing over.
"I intend to remove the worms inside you. You do want to be rid of the things?"
"NO! You Can't! You'll kill us all!" Sharisse struggled to get up from the table. The violet web of light held her firmly in place. She thrashed about like a wild animal in a snare.
"Yes. I can remove them. But..." He hesitated. At least I believe I can.
"NO! Don't do it! You'll kill me. I don't want to die--I'll do anything--"
"Why don't you want me to remove the worms Sharisse?"
"I need them." She began to sob wretchedly.
"Why do you need them?"
"To survive. You stupid bastard. To survive. To get through the Winter..." Her voice strained until it came out as a hiss; "When there's no food for people like me."
"What do you mean?"
"The worms feed on White Powder..."
She glared at him. Unwilling to continue.
"So the worms keep you, their host, alive over the course of the winter. How?" Bujilli watched Sharisse intently. He had begun this process determined to clear the parasites from her system, to liberate her body from the insidious influence of the worms...but now he was beginning to doubt the wisdom, the very point of doing that. It could be a waste of time. It could make matters worse.
Sharisse closed her eyes. Glistening black fluid seeped down her cheeks. Tears. Black tears.
"But the worms don't just keep you alive, do they?" He reconsidered his plan. Should he remove the worms? Did he have the right?
She didn't move. Didn't react. Black tears her only response.
"You are their slave." Bujilli spat in disgust.
Sharisse turned her head to face him directly. Her eyes were wet black orbs. they looked like holes. Wounds. Bujilli took an involuntary step back.
"It is an exchange of services."
"So you have decided to talk to me after all." He wasn't sure if this was a good development or not. The way the girl's mouth contorted to form the words dictated to her by the worms was painful to watch. Unsettling. Unnatural. Wrong.
"You leave us no choice--"
"And what choice--what real choice--did this girl have in accepting your offer?"
Bujilli closed his eyes for a moment. He examined the scintillating lines of force that his spell had formed. It was a very symmetrical pattern. Elegant. He hoped it would be effective.
/Machine/ He addressed his Counsel mentally, directly; /What can you show me regarding these worms?/
A terrible inhuman wailing erupted from Sharisse's throat. The worms writhed in agitation beneath her skin.
Bujilli opened his eyes and he could see. Really see. He looked deeply into Sharisse's body, past the rags, the filth, the scars and all too frequently lacerated skin into her flesh, her muscles, down to her bones and into her soul.
The worms looked back. As much as anything eyeless and sightless and blind could be said to look at anything. They perceived Bujilli, in their own way, even as he examined their integration and incorporation into their host's body.
In its own way, the relationship was every bit as elegant and symmetrical as the patter of his spell--
Bujilli shook his head. No.
He realigned the spell's pattern. Then he saw the tenuous tendrils extending outwards from Sharisse's form to himself.
They were insidious things, these worms.
He shifted the spell then readjusted things. The violet light flared to orange. Sharisse collapsed into silence, into a deep sleep.
Bujilli severed the tendrils at their source.
He had to methodically destroy each wriggling tendril one after another until finally his Counsel could no longer detect any lingering traces of the things.
Then he gave the signal. The pattern of his spell shifted once more.
Arcs of sizzling green light speared into the girl's body from every direction.
Each searing lance of energy struck deep. Fast. True.
Bujilli felt each impact. It was the only way.
He guided the green light.
He hunted the worms with green fire.
He burned the worms out of her system. They were reduced to a fine black ash almost instantly. It had taken a while for the spell to calibrate each worm's position and placement, but it had been worth it.
He destroyed the worms.
Systematically. Deliberately. Completely and utterly.
The strain of the process took its toll on Bujilli. He was growing shaky. Thirsty. Exhausted. Nauseous.
But he persisted. He saw the purging through to the very end. He used the green fire to expel the fine black ash out of the girl's body. She sweated a gritty, black oily mess. The last remains of the worms that had once dominated her, subjugated her, kept her alive and cared for her.
The worms were destroyed. All traces of them were removed. Expunged.
He used the green fire to gather-up the black ashes and compacted, compressed them into a tight little sphere. A shimmering black pearl. He wrapped the pearl in a loose rag and tucked it into his belt-pouch.
Then the real work began.
Bujilli's dangerous gamble.
He worked with Counsel's guidance to rebuild the girl's shattered and tattered humanity.
It was not enough to remove the worms. Things had gone too far for that to be even close to enough.
Bujilli needed to completely reconstruct her biology; he revised things, using the codes etched into his own bones as a sort of template or guide. He called upon everything he had learned about the White Powder. His memories of being inextricably intermingled with Lemuel. White Powder poisoning. Dissolving into protoplasm. Melting. Recovering his own sense of self. rebuilding his own body. He recalled it all and used every bit of his experience to carry out his plan. He sculpted, shaped and molded things until at last Counsel indicated that the changes were stable, active and viable.
He was ready to collapse. But he pushed himself on.
He wasn't sure if it would work or not.
But he continued until he was finished.
He had done all that he could.
The rest now was up to the girl herself.
It wasn't freedom, that he'd given her. Not really.
But it was a third option. A different path to take. One that led beyond the confines of anything and everything that the girl had ever known before. There were still restrictions, there always were, but those restrictions were radically different now.
He hoped that he had done enough.
He relinquished the pattern of his spell.
The light faded.
Leeja caught him before he collapsed to the dirty floor.
"What happened? What did you do?" she sounded genuinely concerned. Her hair smelled like copal. It was a good scent.
Bujilli fought to remain awake.
"Did it work?"
"I don't know. I mean I guess so..." He wobbled. Righted himself. Leaned on the kitchen table.
Sharisse was staring at him.
She sat up.
"I...remember...everything..." She began to sob. Clean, proper tears streaked down her face.
Bujilli nodded; "Your memories are a source of strength. You need to remember what has been. What has been done. That way you can make your own choice. Go your own way from this point."
"I don't understand..."
"The worms are gone--" Bujilli began to explain.
"Yes. You took them away. How will I survive now?" Sharisse was growing increasingly agitated.
"They can never return. Your body will never support them now. Your blood is a deadly poison to them. and to anyone infested with them."
"You attacked me, us, while you were under the control of those things. I have removed them. You are your own master now. You'll never be a slave to the worms ever again."
"But I'll starve before the next Winter is passed." She sagged in despair.
"Perhaps. But not because of anything I just did."
"Look. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I need a drink. So do you, no doubt." Bujilli stretched his arms and yawned; "I revised your biology. You don't need the worms to process the White Powder any more."
"Have you made her immune to the stuff?"
"No. Nothing that lives is going to ever be 'immune' to the White Powder. It is a powerfully transformative substance, it dissolves old structures and allows for the creation of new ones...so I used it to create something new. Sharisse can use the White Powder to digest nearly anything organic. She can live off of just about anything she cares to consume." He looked back at the girl leaning against the table; "You'll only ever starve if you choose to."
"But..." Sharisse looked confused. Her unease and uncertainty shifted into a coquettish pose. A defense mechanism that remained from her past.
"No more worms. No more starving. Now get out of here and I suggest that you beware your old friends. you're a threat to them now. You'll need to make new friends now." Bujilli leaned against the table. He was exhausted. His patience was spent.
"I'd like to be your--" She started to purr in a manner that she had learned was oh so seductive to certain sorts of potential marks. Old habits die hard.
Bujilli raised his hand abruptly. "No. You don't even exist yet--all you have to work with are the memories of your time as a slave to the worms, and as a starving child before that. There is no 'you,' not yet. not until you get out there and get on with your life. It isn't the life that the worms cheated you out of, nor the life you might have lived had you been born anywhere else, but it is your life now. So go live it."
"But..." the girl pouted. She began to consider what it would take to get past this guy's defenses. She was good at that sort of thing. Damned good.
"I did not release you from one master to give you another. You're free now. Make a life for yourself. But do it out there, on your own, not as a minion or a slave."
"But..." She scrunched her face up in disbelief. Understanding began to trickle into her consciousness. All those words the hairy little man had been spouting at her started to click together like a puzzle. Sharisse wasn't stupid. Stupid people rarely survive the Winter.
"You heard him; get out of here." Leeja raked her claws along the table top meaningfully.
Sharisse looked from Leeja to Bujilli to Leeja then with a small yelp of realization, or possibly a newly restored sense of self preservation, to get moving. Fast.
The outer door slammed shut behind the girl.
Bujilli slumped down onto the floor. He propped himself up against the side of the butcher's table.
"Are you able to move?" Leeja asked softly. Her white, white hair wavered and fluttered as if it were in a slight breeze. Which was funny. There wasn't any sort of breeze in the kitchen. If anything the air was close. Rank. It stank sweetly of corruption. Rot. Decay.
"I'm tired. That took a lot out of me." Bujilli couldn't quite get his fingers to close around the handle of his tulwar. He was so tired. So very tired.
"I can see that." Leeja whispered huskily as she moved alongside him.
What should Bujilli do now?
What is Leeja up to?
Whose side is she on, really?
Whose side is she on, really?
What is behind Door Number Two?
(Is Unfred still back there?)
(Is Unfred still back there?)
Where will Sharisse go now?
How will the worms respond to
this blatant provocation?
this blatant provocation?
Will Bujilli get a chance to take a nap...possibly permanently?