First the roof collapsed, then the floor collapsed beneath the new sky-light. Leeja was down, seriously wounded. Bujilli was on the verge of collapse himself, pushing past the limits of his physical reserves, mostly by main force. The Four Students from the floor below came running to Idvard's request for assistance, leaving Bujilli behind. But things were not quite so simple. The students had been up to no good and the Crystal Skull they had been attempting to meddle with arose from the floor to pursue them with implacable vengeance. It dissolved the leader of the Four Students with a violet ray. She died at Bujilli's feet. The Skull intended to go on a rampage, but Bujilli was able to ambush the horrid thing, smashing it to pieces from behind. His clever victory was short-lived as he was nearly incinerated by an ambush by one of the Three remaining students...who turned out to be a werm-host. Singed, bloodied and at his limit, Bujilli fell to his knees in exhaustion. He saw Leeja sleeping peacefully next to him. Then he crashed into oblivion right by her side...
BANG! Bang! baNG! Hammers were pounding inside and outside of Bujilli's skull. He groaned and rolled over. Something hissed in his ear and he rolled to his feet with tulwar drawn. A slasher-spawnling only six inches tall regarded him quizzically from atop Leeja's shoulder. She was still asleep. Deeply asleep. Bujilli could feel the cool caress of shimmering strands of sorcery delicately swirling around her body, keeping her pleasantly suspended in a healing slumber while the intricate tendrils of the spell worked to repair her grievous wounds. He sat down against the wall and observed the spell. It was elegant, beautiful. He'd never seen anything like it before. Most of the spells that Bujilli carried were things his uncle permitted him or that he'd managed to steal in secret from old books, or the few things that the Green Gem of Muktra had taught him in his dreams while it was trying to convince him to return it to Zalchis.
Bujilli sighed and wiped the crumbly-bits from his eyes. That all felt like such a long time ago. A life-time past. Things were so much different now. So much had changed since he decided to leave his uncle's yurt and make his way around the world of his birth...and to end up here, in Wermspittle of all places.
Maybe there were petty and meddling godlings running around the polyverse tampering with everyone's fate or destiny. Or perhaps the root-bound monks of Kalvidra were right and it was all the outcome of blind gods playing at dice they couldn't read.
Bujilli snorted. Philosophy was for drinking, not for taking seriously. An old sailor had taught him that on the long voyage across the Sea of Tears.
So long ago.
He watched the spell run its course until he fell asleep. Even with the hammers. Saws. Curses and shouts. All the noise of the work-crew repairing Idvard's roof and floor.
Bujilli snapped awake. He flexed his fingers. A quick check revealed nothing untoward. Not noticeably.
He got up. His joints creaked. He was still tired, but much better off than when he had collapsed earlier. He could feel the tingling waves of vibration emanating from his very bones. For a moment he saw the patterns of golden energy working outwards from deep within his flesh in stark contrast to the silvery energy working itself inwards through the flesh of Leeja. It was almost a mirror reflection of sorts, only not. Not quite.
Bujilli crouched down and brushed a strand of hair away from Leeja's face. She looked more at peace than he'd seen her so far. She was striking. Her features had the stamp of something feral, something alien that bordered upon both the incredibly seductive and ultimately repulsive. Her body radiated fertility in a way that unsettled him, challenged him...confused him. Terrified him. Yet he knew, somehow, deep down, that she was a friend. An ally. They were Partners now...whatever that meant. He wasn't sure what exactly they had gotten themselves into by agreeing to work together. So much went unsaid, unrevealed, yet very much present and insistent in their every interaction. He'd never met someone who carried nightmares behind their eyes like he did. They both carried scars the other knew all too well. They both were outcast, unwanted, the products of unhappy unions through no fault of their own. They more clearly understood one another than anyone else ever could...or should. The sympathy that was growing between them was almost intoxicating in itself. They both had strong feelings for one another. The significance of this realization left him dazed. That it was a mutual experience, something they shared with one another, made it precious beyond all measure. And fragile. For a moment Bujilli considered running away.
Sparks stuttered from his aura, criss-crossing with more sparks coming from the spell surrounding Leeja.
Bujilli drew himself back. All was normal again. Such as it ever was.
He reached out again. Sparks danced and pirouetted between the gold and the silver spell-patterns again. It did not hurt. He placed his hand on Leeja's hand. Something shifted. The two patterns of energy meshed. Bujilli watched the energies intermingle, joining into a stately dance of complimentary forces that knitted a cocoon over them both.
He dreamed. Nightmares drained back into the darkness, for now. Whispers trailed off. Distractions faded.
Suspended in a dark, warm place of comfort he discussed the future with a golden-voiced being who knew him better than he could ever know himself.
He extended his hand. A golden flower. The scent of copal and blood. And hair. White hair that writhed.
Bang! BANG! BanG! Went the hammers.
Bujilli sat up. He was rested. Refreshed. For the first time in...how long? Hours? Days? He couldn't recall how long it had been since he left his room at the Academy to go exploring a bit. His Counsel noted the passage of sixty-two standard hours, thirty-six hours as he reckoned their passage.
Leeja sighed softly. She opened her cloudy-gold eyes. Her smile grew wider as her claws retracted.
"About time you two woke up--" Idvard loomed over them both. The tiny Slasher snicked its legs at the impatient Librarian.
He stared at Leeja. Then at Bujilli. At them both with all three eyes as only a Triloo can.
"How?" Idvard was shocked.
"What?" Bujilli asked as he stood up and extended his hand to help Leeja.
"You're both...the spell I used was old, from a scroll dragged up from beneath the ruins of Old Aldriss six pars over...it was only a cursory healing. It was to effect a surgical repair, not a full restoration. Not of you both..."
Bujilli smiled. He glanced over at Leeja. She smiled back at him. They both turned appropriately sphinx-like countenances towards their somewhat stymied host.
"Yes. Well...never mind...it's no matter. No werms, that much I can tell for certain."
"No. No werms. We're not on the best of terms with them..."
"I'm aware of that. Quite. That fact alone made me inclined to overlook your unanticipated intrusion upon my domicile."
"And for that I...we..." He looked back to Leeja, "We wish to apologize. It was never our intention to trespass. We were headed off to sell some things at a local curio store when the roof gave out from beneath us..."
"Yes. They do have a habit of doing that, especially here in the Burned Over District. No one maintains things any more. Not like in the old days. Not hardly. Hmmph." Idvard shook his head ruefully.
"Thank you for your help." Leeja nodded her head. Her hair shimmered like pale flames about her as it settled down into a configuration that best accentuated her features.
"Yes. Thank you." Bujilli bowed slightly out of respect, as one would do to a peer or fellow student back home, according to the one book on etiquette he'd only partly skimmed at a young age.
"It is I who needs to be thanking you, Bujilli--you single-handedly demolished that Crystal Skull before it could become much more of a menace; you eliminated the leader of the local harpy coven; and you managed to reveal a werm-host who'd been living directly beneath my quarters, abusing my hospitality and playing dangerous games well beyond their ability or capacity...not to mention the lovely blackmail material you've handed over to me from out of all this--my boy; you may have just given me the means to finance my library once and for all, and to do it properly now!" Idvard extended his hand and Bujilli shook it.
"I seem to have missed quite a bit." Leeja purred.
"Indeed. Lucky you are to even be alive. And now, no doubt you both could use some sustenance. So if you'll follow me..." Idvard floated off through a doorway. Back towards the Weak Point. His back-up location.
"I'm starved." Leeja put out a hand to steady herself. She gripped Bujilli's arm. Tenderly. No claws.
"So am I." He nodded and took her arm in his as though attending a formal ball and led her past the work-crew, through the Weak Point and on into the room beyond where Idvard led them to a trestle-table laden with food.
Seven different fire-arms were stacked at the foot of the table. The filthy arquebus on top of the pile was the one that Bujilli had seen a harpy futilely attempting to re-load in the rain.
The food was good, hot and plentiful. All the meats were obviously whatever they were as they needed to carve them off of the roasted carcasses of various birds, shell-fish or a smallish pig. There were no sausages at the table. Idvard made a point of explaining everything to Leeja and asked at least twice as many questions as he answered. They watched a massive thunderstorm from beneath a sturdily constructed greenhouse-like observatory dome built directly into the heavily reinforced roof of the building on the otherside of the Weak-Point. It resembled a thick-walled keep more than a run-down tenement. Just as the area surrounding it resembled a burned-out and blasted war-zone more than a ruined slum.
"Where are we?" asked Leeja as she sliced more smoked rabbit for herself.
"One of the Dead Worlds on the otherside of a Weak-Point. Here the entire world, such as it is, beyond this version of Wermspittle has been devastated by a run-away war. Fewer than one percent of the original populations survived and those that have are quickly dying-out due to disease, and other factors."
"Yes?" Idvard patiently hovered at the head of the table.
"This is still Wermspittle?"
"Yes. Yes and no. It is Wermspittle, but a slightly different version, part of an Adjacent World, a place and time subtly different and slightly out of step with the one we know and you take for granted."
"Isn't it dangerous to come here?"
"It's all relative, really. Back there," Idvard hooked his thumb towards the Weak-Point and the rooms full of Urmigan's work-crew busily repairing the roof and floor; "things are plenty dangerous. People just fall in through the roof. Harpies are trying to spoil all my books. The wermic host is out to...whatever. My point is, yes, this is a dangerous location, but so is where we've just come from. It's not about the danger, one takes steps to address those things, I'm not a fool; but rather it is about the opportunities."
"Opportunities?" Leeja raised one eyebrow as she sampled the mashed potatoes.
"Yes. This world is practically abandoned. There are no claims against it, so it's wide-open to me, pardon; to us. So long as we keep quiet about things and don't go inviting trouble or claim-jumpers."
Bujilli blanched. His hand shot up to the amulet Hedrard had given to him.
"No worries Bujilli--I took the liberty to suspending the operation of Hedrard's little watcher. And I've sent her a polite note explaining the situation adequately to her; you are my guests and she is quite well aware of my preference for privacy. In fact, sending along that note has given me an 'in' with Hedrard that I'd not been able to attain previously. It will be handy to discuss certain matters of mutual interest and concern with her very soon. Again, I am very much pleased to have made your acquaintance, however unorthodox your entrance may have been..."
"I'm sorry about that. Sorry about your students as well." Bujilli regretted the death of the two students, even if the tall boy had been a werm-host, whatever that actually meant. He got the impression that it was a bit more involved, more pernicious and voluntarily wicked than what he had encountered with Sharisse.
"Oh they were never my students. Dear me no. Not hardly. Yulisse was the one who originally contacted me. She wanted a quiet, out of the way place where she could do some ritual work. Discretely. She paid me a rather steep price without even blinking. It was enough to make it tentatively worth my while. So I let her set up her work-space on the floor below me and allowed her to be shielded by my wards and what-not. But I kept an eye on her and her little group. I also notified her sponsor back at the Academy. We're old friends Ezgalar and I. Old friends. Not dear ones by any means, but old ones, certainly. We have an understanding betwixt us."
"So you knew what they were up to?" Bujilli set down his spoon. The lentil and carrot soup was excellent.
"More or less. Unfortunately quite a bit less, as it turns out--I've been a bit pre-occupied ever since that lack-wit illiterate bastard blabbed his mouth to the harpies and got them riled-up about all the books I had sitting around right under their fetid little tails. Filthy things. Stupid, hateful destroyers of knowledge. Worse than plagiarists, really."
"So you bear us no grudge for the demise of Yulisse and..." Bujilli paused. He couldn't recall the tall boy's name.
"Korran. His name was Korran. He used to be a Butcher Boy, but no one is supposed to know that, of course. Partly why they wear the masks and all that."
"Korran. He nearly burned me down with that weapon of his..."
"A modified galvanic-torch. Stolen from a Sewer Militia arsenal no doubt. It's a special weapon, not much use outside of a squad of trained exterminators. There's a reward for returning it, I'm sure. I can arrange for that if you like, unless you'd prefer to keep the thing for sentimental reasons?"
"No. no. Give it back to the rightful owners. I can't see much use for it...outside of what has already been done."
"As you wish."
"Why didn't it start the whole place on fire?" Bujilli sat back in his chair. Leeja dropped a forkful of ham.
"Only now does this occur to you?" Idvard laughed heartily.
Bujilli pushed away his bowl. He'd lost his appetite.
"Do you think that I would store my books in a fire-trap? I've worked hard to keep that place safe from random arsonists, book-burners, Puritans and the rest. The floors are fire-proofed, as are the walls, the ceiling panels and most of the support timbers. But I can let all that lapse now. We'll move the lot over here and set up the library within these walls, like I had hoped to be able to afford to do when I first discovered the Weak-Point, just as soon as Bucephigon has my new set of minions ready. It was expensive making it a rush order, but that can't be helped. Time is of the essence now that so much that has been pent-up for so long has finally broken loose once and for good."
"Time? Essence? Minions?" Leeja echoed Bujilli's thoughts; "What exactly is going on here, Idvard?"
"I'm glad you asked. You see, I have a business arrangement that I'd like to discuss with you two--you're not under any contractual obligations are you? I know that Bujilli here is sponsored by Gnosiomandus and has earned the support of Beatrice Eberhard and Hedrard; quite an impressive accomplishment for someone only admitted to the Academy less than three days ago."
Leeja looked over at Bujilli. He looked back into those golden-green eyes. In unison they both smiled; "Tell us more..."
Idvard has a plan.
But do Bujilli and Leeja want to get involved in it?
Should they stay, or should they go?
Either way there's sure to be trouble.
(What sort of minions is Idvard buying in bulk?)
Should they go explore the war-zone, or go back to the burned-out slums?
Do they want to enter into a business deal with Idvard?
What would he want from a pair of adventurers like these two?
Do they still want to sell-off their loot at the Curio Shop?
Does Leeja still have room for dessert?
Shouldn't Bujilli be getting back to the Academy fairly soon?
And what will he tell Hedrard?
Should Bujilli act as a go-between for Idvard and Hedrard?
Has Bujilli had enough soup?
Perhaps he would like some roast turnips? Jellied snails?
What about the Two Students who survived the Skull/Harpy/Wermic-host ambush-o-rama?
How deeply do Bujilli and Leeja want to get embroiled in Idvard's schemes?
Blackmailing Ezgalar might not be in their best interests...
They've already made a few enemies...
Maybe they ought to consider just what they want to do about the Crying Girl. She's the one who sent those gonners after Bujilli previously...