Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bujilli: Episode 44

Previously...
Accepting a job from a shifty Triloo librarian to scout-out the lower levels of their new-found Keep on an Adjacent World (see Episodes 40 & 41), Bujilli and Leeja were making quick progress in their discrete survey when Bortho, their ostensible 'guide' abandoned them and ran off down a sloping passage after his missing mate. Following Bortho, they quickly caught-up to him and saved his life before he ran head-long into a small group of Grunters. They sent Bortho running back to the Portcullis Station. But Leeja had no intention of running. In fact she quickly dispatched the creatures. Bujilli noticed that the Grunters were infected with a horrific fungal culture. They ran. Bortho was already lowering the Portcullis (see Episode 42). He was out of his mind with panic...and under the psychic domination of the fungi that has infected the Grunters. Acting quickly and decisively, Bujilli and Leeja prevented Bortho from locking them out of the Portcullis Station (see Episode 43). The psychic link to the fungi twisting Bortho's fear-addled mind was severed. Then came the realization of what might be lurking down the sloping passage...

War Bells reverberated from down the opposite sloping passage. They could be a mile or more away, or much closer. The heavy, sonorous things were intended to vibrate deeply and carry far underground. Grunters were an unsubtle folk.

Bujilli looked at the half-lowered Portcullis. He considered their situation. This was supposed to be a simple, easy job. A lucrative side-trek that wouldn't take more than a day or two at most. Ha!

He consulted his Counsel, the machine-spirit etched into his bones by another machine called a Transveyance. It helped him. It could tell him many things. He closed his eyes and communed with the Counsel, allowing it to operate more quickly, more intuitively in anticipation of his needs and requirements. It showed him how the Grunters had split into three groups at the Domed Chamber in order to explore the sloping passages. It also showed him Bortho's mate. She went down one of the passages only hours before the Grunter scouts. He could see the sparkling motes of a minute trail left behind the...pregnant...girl.

Bujilli snapped out of the light trance. Things were getting complicated. It was supposed to be a quick little job. Nothing to it. Ha!

Leeja examined one of the Grunters' crude black-iron javelins she'd recovered from where it had fallen after Bortho had flung it away in disgust. It was coated in the boy's blood.

Bortho groaned and began to struggle back up on his feet. The bandage on his left leg, where the javelin had pierced him, was soaked with blood. It had been a vicious wound. The javelins had multiple sets of blade-like fins and vanes set randomly around the shaft. No two produced similar wounds, for whatever that was worth.

"You think that you have an idea?" Leeja swung the javelin like a shortened staff or jabbing spear. She seemed to know what she was doing. She was trying hard to not sound too petulant. For now.

"Yes." Bujilli went over to Bortho. The boy refused his help.

"Can you walk?" Bujilli stared into Bortho's eyes. The boy grew just a shade paler. He wavered for a second then nodded vigorously. He had no intention of being left behind, not that Bujilli planned anything of the sort.

"Wound closing. I fight." Bortho gritted his teeth. Sweat poured from his forehead and bare skin. His hair was damp with it. Fever. A side-effect of the boy's mutated metabolism. He was healing rapidly. The blood-soaked bandage slid down his thigh and he promptly drew out a knife and cut it away. The wound in his leg was a pinkish patch surrounded by deep purple bruising. Like all his people, the boy healed incredibly fast.

"Good." Bujilli shook his head. Whatever or whomever had given Bortho's people this accelerated healing capacity, and it was clear to him that they were in fact a designed, manipulated people, this 'gift' was something they were intended to put to use, or perhaps it was deemed necessary for them to carry out whatever aims or schemes they were intended to accomplish. That bothered Bujilli. These people were living weapons. Pawns on a game-board. And he didn't recognize the rules, who the players were, nor even what his role might ultimately be; however the stakes were fairly obvious. But even so, there were too many uncomfortable questions and disturbing implications. He wanted some answers. Answers his Counsel could not give him. He wondered how they might get Idvard to confide in them more fully. The devious old Triloo librarian knew a lot more than he'd shared with them so far. Which was to be expected.

"Your Plan?" Leeja prodded.

"There were Grunter scouts sent down each of the other three sloping passages that run off from the Domed Chamber. We've eliminated one group. We can cut-off the scouts that went down the other two passages by dropping and locking the Portcullis at those Stations. The War Bells will cover the noise, I think. Then we can either try to lock the Grunter Horde out or we can head back and warn Idvard that things are far from safe down here."

"I'm not thrilled with leaving the place open to that Horde. Especially when they could send more scouts or skirmishers through at any moment. Behind us. Not a good option."

"I know--"

"FOOLS!" burbled the severed head on the floor.

All three turned to stare at the thing. It regarded them with baleful, piggish eyes and snorted derisively.

"YOU HAVE RUINED EVERYTHING!"

"We don't have time--"

"KILL THE SCOUTS! I WILL DEAL WITH THE HORDE!"

"What?!" Leeja stepped up before the sizzling Grunter-head.

"GO! KILL SCOUTS! MY PLAN STILL GOOD! BEHOLD!"

-Squinch-

A headless Grunter shambled past the half-lowered Portcullis. Livid purple growths protruded from gaping splits in its horribly abused flesh even as orange pus dribbled down to leave a fetid trail back to where it and its companions had been abandoned.

-Squelch-

Another, then another of the fungi-infested corpses staggered past the Porcullis. Bortho stood dumbfounded.

"GO! NOW!" howled the head as its skin flaked away in ashes. It's eyes ruptured. A lambent green flame flickered out from the back of it where the skull split asunder due to the intense heat and pressure from the burning brain. In seconds the talking head was reduced to ashes.

Bujilli looked into Leeja's simmering gold-green eyes. She smiled sweetly. He nodded. They began to jog back to the Domed Chamber. Bujilli grabbed Bortho by the arm and got him to follow along.

They went back along their trail and stopped to watch the shambling cadavers move past them and down the sloping passage towards the War Bells and the Grunter Horde. The grotesque things moved far more quickly than any of them were comfortable with, and they left behind a foul trail of smeared fluids certain to be rife with toxic spores. But somethings can't be helped.

"Which way do we go?" Leeja watched the last of the fungi-possessed corpses go down the passage back to its people. A scout bearing far worse than bad news.

Bujilli waited for the last headless Grunter to move past. He considered dropping the Portcullis to block off the fungus colony...but what good was a bunch of heavy metal bars against something that could spew a cloud of spores--he froze. Ventilation. Why didn't the fungi make use of the Keep's ventilation system to by-pass the Portcullis? He ran back into the Station. There. Along the ceiling, at even intervals all along the upper surface of the walls were gill-like slits. All of them closed tightly. He focused on the Portcullis itself. It was hardened against spells and blocked aethyrial and other forms of intrusion. He could discern layer upon layer of embedded and immersed ward and guarding protocol. Then he saw it. It only made sense.

"What are you doing?" Leeja whispered harshly in his ear.

"What needs to be done." He dropped the Portcullis the rest of the way. It locked into place. The vent-slits above flared open and fresh air streamed into the space.

Leeja looked up at the source of the sudden breeze. She smiled in approval. The fungus was locked out, at least the main-mass was--the infected corpses had left behind a sickening trail that would need to be dealt with, but that was far less hazardous than a full-blown Fungal Tyrant having free and full access to the place while they were busy dealing with the Grunter scouts.

Bortho scowled at them both. He resented their doing what they had stopped him from doing. no matter he might well have trapped them both on the wrong side of the barrier.

"Now."

"We hunt." nodded Bortho.

"See if you can keep up." Leeja taunted them both.

"This way." Bujilli barked. He knew that they needed to reach Bortho's mate, but she had a lead of several hours. He also knew from his Counsel that she had not been abducted. She had passed through this place on her own. That made him nervous. It smelled like a trap.

They reached the next Portcullis Station and dropped the barrier to the outer passage. It locked down cleanly.

They moved on to the next Station, the one where the sloping outer passage led to the Grunter Horde. The War Bells vibrated through the floor. Bortho struggled to stick with them and not run away. They dropped the Portcullis. It locked. The War Bells became a faint background noise.

Leeja led the way to the last Station. She went to the Control Pedestal. Paused.

Bujilli drew out his hand-axe. She grinned at him. Bortho barreled past at full-speed down the sloping passage. He was going to rescue his mate.

They followed.

The passage ran on and on for more than a mile.

Two miles.

Three.

Bortho slackened his pace.

The air grew humid. Warm. Pungent with strange smells, not just rot and mold.

They heard the rumble of waterfalls ahead.

A cavern opened-up before them. The passage debouched onto a walled and fortified platform. Three overturned carts were shoved up against the left wall, just visible in the soft gloom of the place. Off to the right a cluster of angular crystals gave off a sharp blue light. Grunter tracks went off past the crystal-cluster. So did the trail of Bortho's mate.

They followed.

The fortified platform was some sort of depot. It was arranged as a set of three nested octagons. Each narrow-topped gate was wide open before them. More clusters of the angular blue crystals flanked each gate and were spaced along each wall at regular intervals. There was a skeleton embedded on barbed spikes incompletely withdrawn into the wall before the second gate. The place was deserted. Abandoned.

Bortho grabbed-up a section of one of the crystal-clusters as they went past. It came away easily. A translucent blue metal shaft was mounted at the base of the thing. A torch of sorts. He grinned as he pulled two more torches from their resting place and handed them to his companions.

The blue light was sharp. Actinic. Cold. It seemed hot at first, but the crystals were cold. The light provided no warmth. It lit up the immediate area as well as any smoldering stick, but without wavering or using up precious oxygen. Or igniting pockets of volatile gas.

A rounded plaza-like space awaited them past the outermost gate. Three switchback roads wound their way down the steep sides of the cavern.

The right one led down about half-way to the oily black river below before it passed behind a gate-house set into the side of the cavern.

The left road led down less far than the one on the right and continued along a ridge for a considerable distance, possibly half a mile or more until it disappeared at what might be another gate-house. It was too far to see clearly in the gloom.

The middle road led down to the river and what looked like a modest set of three stone piers that jutted out into a cove set off from the river proper. Four or five old hulks, boats that had once plied the dark waters of this river long ago, sat jumbled together, scuttled or their bottoms rotted-out. Except for one.

Bujilli squatted down and brought his crystal-torch close to the ground. He counted six Grunters, two went down along each of the three roads. His Counsel showed the faint sparkly trail left behind by Bortho's mate. It led down to the cove. The piers. The boat.

A squeal of shock came from below. It was cut short abruptly.

A splash. A second splash.

The boat was leaving...


What now?

Run after the boat before it can get up to speed?

What should they do about the Grunter scouts?

Turn back?

Which way should they go?

What should they do now?

You Decide!


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Series Indexes
One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six


About Bujilli (What is This?) | Who is Bujilli? | How to Play

Bujilli's Spells | Little Brown Journals | Loot Tally | House Rules

Episode Guides
Series One (Episodes 1-19)
Series Two (Episode 20-36)
Series Three (Episodes 37-49)
Series Four (Episodes 50-68)
Series Five (Episodes 69-99)
Series Six(Episodes 100-ongoing)

Labyrinth Lord   |   Advanced Edition Companion

9 comments:

  1. Run for the boat, I say!

    This was a good entry--well written. I mean, they always are, but this one grabbed me particularly.

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    1. Glad to hear that you liked this episode. The regular discipline of writing a new episode from scratch every Thursday morning based off of reader feedback has been an interesting challenge and it has helped me improve as a writer better than reading any six or seven books on writing technique. Though I am really intrigued with Jeff Vandermeer's use of fragments in Finch. I wish that I'd discovered his work earlier. If I recall correctly, it was you and Mr. Till who recommended him/his work to me.

      Delete
  2. I'd say run for the boat to see what's up, to avoid missing useful information at least.

    But if they do, Bujilli should crank the Counsel up in case they'll be running into trouble, and they shouldn't do any jumping or leaping out unless it's clear they might have to - for the girl for example - and that they're all going to make it.

    Unless of course the one or two of them that are in a position to jump think they could a) actually make it, b) do any necessary overpowering and c) get the vessel back without drawing attention from other parts of the cavern.

    If there are other vessels, they might just be able to follow at a distance.

    Am I right in remembering Bujilli found another bow? If he did and he has arrows to go with it, one or two well-placed could be useful.

    Looking at the spells, Invisibility, Haste and Hold Person could all be useful, depending on how the run pans out.

    Enough from me for now - I'll let others give some thoughts and feedback and check back later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another vote for running to the boat.

      You outline a basically sound plan. I wonder if anyone else has other ideas or refinements to toss into the mix?

      RE: Other vessels. Yes. Several. Most are derelicts. There is a chance that one might be semi-operable or potentially salvageable with time and effort, lots of both.

      RE: New Bow. Yes. Bujilli did retrieve a fresh new short-bow and six iron-headed arrows in Episode 41.

      RE: Spells. All good options. Leeja also has a few spells available.

      Oh and we could use a D20 roll to help determine a bit more about this 'drawing attention from other parts of the cavern' thing...

      Delete
  3. Three votes for the boat! :)

    If I'm reading the description above correctly, there are two Grunters going after or already in the boat, two in or on their way to the gate-house to the right, and two in or on their way to a potential gate-house to the left.

    The Grunters on the left will be above Bujilli and crew and probably in a good position to launch a ranged attack that Bujilli and Leeja need to watch for. Bortho seems to like to take a more straightforward approach.

    Does the gate-house to the right look like it is, or was at any point, fortified? As they move toward the pier does the river itself have any kind of gate / portcullis-type fixtures?

    Can Counsel tell how far into her pregnancy Bortho's mate is, and what their typical gestation period might be? My thought is that if these people have been designed for quick healing (demonstrated by Bortho already) and hazardous work and / or environments, they might also have been designed with an accelerated gestation period (days or weeks instead of months) and possibly an accelerated maturation cycle as well. It might impact their rescue and return plans to know if it'll be one slightly pregnant woman, one very pregnant woman, a mother and child, or two adults.

    Does Bortho know she's pregnant?

    As far as spells go Bujilli might want to consider Confusion as well and Leeja's Pale Shelter might come in handy.

    I rolled 5d20s on the Dice Roller page above and got 16, 15, 20, 17, 14.

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    1. Looks like the boat it is.

      Yes, there are 2 Grunters who went to the boat, 2 went to the gate-house to the right, and two down along the road-way to the left. And yes, there are potentially two of them in position to attack from above with those javelins they carry.

      The gate-house is fortified.

      The river goes off into the dimness and there does seem to be some sort of structure built-up and fortified around the spot where the river leaves this cavern complex.

      Bortho's mate is well along, now. As you guessed, her pregnancy is a bit accelerated. Gestation for her people tends to be on the order of 2-3 months with rest and lots of food. It accelerates even faster under stress, but that can often lead to some negative complications.

      Bortho's people live fast and die young. He's not that old.

      You're looking at a very pregnant mother...but you could have an infant on your hands if things take very much longer.

      Bortho suspects, but does not know for sure. His intuition is working over-time.

      As to the spells, both could be useful...

      Thanks for the D20 rolls!
      I'll put them to good use...

      Delete
  4. I'm back, but I can't add anything worthwhile to that. Good stuff.

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  5. Wup, hello there! The link to the next part of the tale seems to be bugged and just links back to this one again! It tripped me up a little, it might trip other people up. Really enjoying this!

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    1. Oops. Thought we had all the links working--I'll get that fixed once we get back to the house--we're on the road for most of today. Thanks for catching that and letting us know! It's much appreciated; and we're glad to hear that you are enjoying the story. There's a lot more Bujilli, Leeja, Wermspittle, and related stuff on the way!

      Delete

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