The gonnes were coming closer. No doubt about it now. There were at least two of them. Bujilli wasn't sure if they were shooting at one another, Unfred or both. The travois fell away from Unfred's hands. They were gooey and strips of melting flesh stuck to the poles like warm string cheese.
Bujilli looked at Unfred. Really looked. The big man was sweating profusely, even more than his labors should have caused, outrageously more. The sweat was becoming milky. His skin glistened and was growing translucent. Greasy. Liquifying.
It reminded him of how Lemuel had transformed* due to his abuse of the Hard Candy.
Unfred lurched forwards from the impact of the shot. A large section of his back began to slowly peel away from his ribs and spine. He wheezed wetly and bent down to retrieve one of the travois poles. With a vicious jerk he tore the pole loose and snapped off the end to make a crude weapon. His eyes burned with baleful malice as he came at Bujilli.
Hand on tulwar, Bujilli quickly looked around the alley. It was narrow. Strewn with garbage. The walls on either side were rough and irregular, easy to climb, if he had half a chance. He flexed his arm. The wound was healing fast. There was only a slight stiffness and that would pass. He'd had worse. Recently. He considered his spells. Just trying to inventory his options gave him a splitting headache. He could force it, cast something low, mean and messy...but it would cost him dearly and he did not like the idea of passing out or seriously injuring himself this close to a Butcher Shop, especially with a running gonne fight going on around him.
He looked at Unfred. The big man was beyond the point of no return. He was transforming into a Loathsome Mass. It was just a matter of time. And not much of it either.
Bujilli smirked. Rose from his crouch. Flexed his muscles to test things out quickly, then he broke into a run. Straight at Unfred. At the last moment he ducked, tumbled and brought himself up behind the lumbering hulk of rapidly dissolving brutishness. Unfred turned to face Bujilli. His left leg stayed stuck in-place. Unfred didn't seem to notice.
Not much point in jabbing, stabbing or hacking someone who doesn't notice when they've lost a leg. He took his hand off the tulwar. It wasn't going to be much use. Blocking or parrying the pole would be a big mistake--Unfred had too much muscle mass. Contact of any sort would be a mistake. Bujilli had no intention of getting entangled with Unfred...his memory of what had happened with Lemuel was still vividly fresh in his mind. Like a still-bleeding wound. For a moment he thought he could almost hear Lemuel crying.
The good thing was that Unfred was now between Bujilli and the shooters.
The bad thing was Bujilli was now between Unfred and the door of the Butcher Shop.
He avoided Unfred's increasingly clumsy swipes, swings and stabs with the snapped-off pole.
/Machine/ He called upon his Counsel; /What is my best way out of this alley? Which way should I go?/
In response to his direct query, the Counsel overlaid a panoramic display of the immediate area over his normal vision. There were at least three moving objects coming around the corner, blocking off the other end of the alley. He couldn't tell where the other shooter, the one up along the rooftops, had gotten to--
Unfred nearly gutted Bujilli with a wild lunge.
He back-stepped and just barely managed to avoid the splintery end of the pole.
For a moment he considered running up to one of the few doorways along either side of the alley and trying to force the lock. But this was Wermspittle. Anyone who kept a door onto an alley this close to a Butcher Shop either had incredibly strong locks, wards or other defenses...or they didn't need them. Not the best option.
Bujilli spat in disgust. Then he leaped to grab ahold of the first projection he thought might hold his weight. And he climbed. He climbed fast. The way that only a starved and desperate half-almas can climb when sufficiently motivated.
The pole split down the middle. It missed Bujilli's leg by only a fraction of an inch. He could feel the splinters flying off of the thing as it broke.
Six stories up.
He found the eaves clotted with rotting filth and muck, but they held as he clambered up and over. The slates were rough, pitted and scored but stable.
Bujilli sprawled for just a moment. To catch his breath. The climb had not been particularly demanding, but his system was still fighting off some sort of infection or poison.
In mute confirmation the Counsel etched into his bones showed him the image of his bloodstream and tiny white particles that were being enveloped and expelled from his body one after another. His body was learning to resist and reject the effects of White Powder...and all the myriad distillation and derivatives of the nasty stuff. He knew now that he had been poisoned. Most of the effect was in his lungs. something he had breathed-in. Some sort of vapor or gas or dust.
Yes. He remembered talking to Leeja, then a cloud. A billowing white cloud. It had filled the room. Unfred had ambushed them with the stuff. But somehow he had either miscalculated or botched the job and dosed himself even more than anything he had managed to inflict upon them. A serious, costly mistake.
He was tired. Bujilli closed his eyes. Just for a moment.
It would be so easy to just lie there and sleep. And die.
Bujilli rolled into a prone position. Quickly he spotted some likely looking cover, a crumbling chimney, and slithered over to it quickly, quietly, carefully.
Someone screamed. It sounded like they were falling. It ended abruptly.
Something slid messily down a steep section of the roof-top only a few yards away from Bujilli. It left a streak of blood behind as it slipped over the edge and fell to the alley below.
/Machine,/ Bujilli began to ask Counsel for some idea of what was going on around him. Then he spotted another climber. They were coming up after him.
He wished now that he had brought along his bow after all. Again.
Instead he would have to improvise. He drew out his phurba. Usually, he tried to carry a pair of disposable daggers that could be used-up at any moment, either as impromptu traps or to jam a door or whatever. But he did not have any extra daggers. He had hoped to pick a couple up from a local merchant, but never had the chance. Another mistake.
He looked at the phurba in the soft moonlight. It was a beautiful bit of workmanship. Hand-forged. Inlaid with topaz and turquoise. It was a shame to throw it away. but it would be a bigger shame to carry it into death without using it. He had learned a harsh lesson from having been overly attached to his very first knife. It had been a crude piece of silver tableware that he had stolen from his uncle and hand-sharpened on a rock in secret. That knife had very nearly gotten him killed. But it had taught him the value of non-attachment to objects.
The would-be attacker heaved themself over the eaves. It was a gangly boy with matted hair and too-long nails. He locked eyes with Bujilli. Red depths of hunger and desperation and something else...something even more disturbing than simple madness swirled and crashed like waves in that boy's eyes.
Bujilli threw his phurba.
The boy lurched. Slid. His face a mask of puzzlement, he lost his grip and fell off of the roof.
He landed badly. But there would be no vengeful spirit. Only the lingering memory of those too-red eyes.
Bujilli sank back against the chimney. He disliked killing. But he had an even deeper aversion to being killed.
Showing compassion in this place had opened him up to attacks, but had he not done what he had done, he would not have made the friends he had made, nor been granted entrance to the Academy. Anyone could kill or be killed, but in Wermspittle very few people ever tried to do the right thing any more. It was such a radical concept that it had earned him no few enemies. but he was learning how to deal with that sort of thing as well.
He quickly surveyed the area around him. Someone was approaching. they were trying to be stealthy, but broken slates, sagging timbers and other things like that made it difficult to remain completely silent.
Bujilli considered his options. He was still not ready to cast a spell, unless absolutely necessary. He loosened the tulwar. He might not get a chance to get close enough to use the blade, but then that was probably the very thought going through the mind of his remaining would-be attacker. Bujilli smiled grimly. He knew a few tricks. He might yet get out of this situation. He'd faced gonnes and those who fought behind them before. They could be beaten. He'd done it.
Leeja. It was Leeja.
His heart skipped a beat.
Was she friend or foe?
What was she doing here?
The wriggly strands of white hair wrapped around his fingers tugged lightly. Insistently.
He took a gamble.
"I'm here." He waited. Poised to move, to attempt to run to the next outcropping, that other chimney or to leap across the alley. He thought he could make it. Maybe.
"You got the last one. We can go now."
"Don't you remember?" Leeja was walking confidently across the roof-tiles directly towards him now.
"Only vaguely. Unfred...he poisoned me, us."
"Yes. He did. but neither of us are cut-out for White Powder addicts, are we Bujilli?" He recalled her golden irises, her billowing white hair, her talons. Leeja was not just some girl who had come to this place to get away from whatever she had left behind her. She was something...different.
"I guess not. Are you immune to the stuff?" Bujilli gripped the tulwar. He considered which spells he might be able to cast without too severe a strain. He remembered that Voorish Sign hurt Leeja before. He might be able to cast that with enough force to break free. Maybe. But he was out on the rooftops, gods only knew where in Wermspittle and he had no idea how to get back to the Academy.
"No. It just doesn't bother me overly much is all. I blame my mother." Her voice hissed. Anger? Disgust? Something else?
"So you are unharmed?" He examined the tiles around him. The ones to the right looked fractured, weakened. He'd prefer to avoid placing his weight on them. If possible.
"For the most part. I'm famished, tired and one of the bastards shot me in the leg, but I'll be fine. After I eat."