Idvard has retaken his Keep. With a little help by Bujilli and Leeja. Disgraced and defeated, Niobe has left the building and the Pallid troops have been neutralized, disarmed and relocated by Idvard's small army of combat-drones. On the otherside of the Weak Point. Somewhere back in Wermspittle...
"It is good to be back."
Bujilli watched the skeletal-insect-looking drones carry away the unconscious Pallid troops. One by one they were removed from the Observatory Chamber where Idvard once again held court. The drones were taking the troops past the shreds of writhing, curling Yellow Wallpaper. Through the Weak Point. To Wermspittle.
There was the way back.
But to what?
Did he really want to go back?
To the Academy? To Wermspittle?
His back ached. His armor scratched him as he moved. His temporary fix wasn't working-out so well. He was stiff and sore.
He glanced at Leeja. There was no sign of her tears now. She stood beside him. Tall, lithe, pale...mostly clad in filthy rags. That wouldn't do.
"Have a seat. Both of you." Idvard's drones brought up chairs for them at his large old trestle table. He hovered at the head of it like a three-eyed potentate. He was wearing new robes. Richly embroidered. Custom tailored no doubt.
Bujilli nodded to Leeja and they sat down in the provided seats. Big,overstuffed, nicely upholstered chairs like the one Gnosiomandus had in his personal study. Gnosiomandus. Bujilli's sponsor and patron back in Wermspittle.
He sagged into the chair. His skin felt itchy. He needed a bath. They both did.
"Thank you for your timely assistance. You were most helpful. I am very pleased that we did not have to ruin this rug. As it is, the drones will be scrubbing the scent of Pallid blood off of the floor tiles for a week or longer. That stuff lingers worse than bad perfume."
Idvard fixed each of them with one eye simultaneously. The middle one stared off into the distance. No. Not that. It was looking directly at the Weak Point.
"You are welcome." Bujilli scratched his chin.
"I take it your efforts Below us were successful?" Idvard leaned forward in anticipation. He was eager to learn about what was going on directly beneath them in the lower levels of his newly claimed Keep. His anxiety was palpable. Even through the lingering stink of Ajjmae's blood.
"Yes." Leeja leaned back in her chair. Closed her green-gold eyes. Her white hair flicked and tossed like a bored cat's tail.
"Care to tell me about it?"
Bujilli laughed softly. More of a chuckle, less of a bark. He heaved a sigh of resignation and proceeded to tell Idvard what they had found down below. What they had encountered. Seen. Heard. What they had done.
Idvard hovered perfectly still. Listening intently. Grim. A general on the eve of his first big battle.
"The fungus will be a problem, but I do believe we can either work something out to our mutual advantage or else I'll bring in a specialist. They are fairly vulnerable things, if one knows how to handle them. The Grunters I knew about, of course, based upon the stories I've been given by Bortho's people. I'm not sure if they are heading to this location specifically, or if they are merely looking for an opportunity. In any case I'll send down a few score drones to reinforce those Portcullises and to keep a watch on both my neighbors."
"That's probably a good idea. We eliminated the Grunter scouts. At least the ones we knew about. How long have they been down there?"
"Very prudent. Good thinking. As to just how long the Grunters have been in the area...I do not know. The stories are all mixed-up, jumbled. One account does not line up with the next. It could be only a few weeks, or it might have been years."
"So are they just confused...or simply lying?" Leeja looked about the room, "Bortho has certainly been exceptionally quiet now that he's retrieved his mate and his new daughter."
Bortho looked up from his family. He grinned broadly. Nodded. His attention focused upon his newborn child. His mate was asleep in another one of the big comfy chairs.
"You found his mate. And his...child. I didn't know that Zutissa was pregnant..."
"That's her name?" Leeja asked.
"Yes. Didn't you know?"
"Ah no. We never got around to asking..." Bujilli looked down at the elegant carpet. The drones had missed spot of pinkish blood.
"Oh. I see." Idvard changed the subject; "I think that Bortho's people have a very...peculiar...perception of time. It might be related to the deep revision their genome has undergone. Or maybe it is an unplanned mutation. In any case, they don't experience time the same way most others do. They're very malleable, permeable...flexible...in how they relate to time."
"What does that mean? Do they suffer from some form of dementia?"
"No. Not really. Not in terms of their memories. It is more of a physical thing. Tell me; where was Bortho and his mate during the stand off with the Pallid troops?"
Bujilli and Leeja looked at one another. Scowling. They looked at Bortho. He didn't look up from his squirming child.
"They slipped forwards in time."
"You were right here. They followed you up here. then they were gone. Then they were back."
Bujilli stared at Idvard. Leeja glared at Bortho.
"I believe it is an involuntary ability. Some sort of defense mechanism, perhaps. I'm not really sure. It needs to be studied."
"Like at the Academy in Wermspittle?" Bujilli thought he could see where this was going to lead.
"No. Absolutely not."
"Oh? Why not?" Leeja turned back to regard Idvard with suspiciously slitted eyes.
"This is potentially quite a disruptive new development. It wouldn't do to just lob it into the middle of things like a petard. No. What I hope to do is to solicit the assistance of someone with experience in such matters, someone discrete, someone I can trust. Perhaps your friend Gnosiomandus might be persuaded to come here. I'm sure he'd be interested."
Bujilli closed his eyes. So now it was on the table at last. Idvard wanted to take advantage of Bujilli's connection to Gnosiomandus.
"Perhaps. But before we discuss anything along those lines, there is the matter of our compensation--"
"But of course. As we agreed in our contract. I believe it was 'one spell, six pounds of pink salt, and 120 silver coins apiece,' was it not?"
"Graciously bestowed upon each of the intrepid adventurers. That includes Bortho, his mate, and his child." Leeja sat up in her chair.
"But of course. The child may not have wielded a weapon, but she contributed to the mission in a significant and meaningful manner, at tremendous personal risk, and frankly, if it had not been for this child, her mother might not have left, Bortho would not have followed, and I very well might not have learned about the small sheltered harbor down there. At least not without having to send another party down there. No. I agree whole-heartedly. The little tyke has saved me a good bit of time, effort and wages. It is a bargain I happily accept."
Leeja sat back in her chair flabbergasted. This was not what she was expecting at all.
"Ahem. The bonus?"
"Oh yes. Indeed. You both, all five of you, have earned the bonus as well. You are all welcome to spend what time you'd like in my new library, study any of the books available, and transcribe what spells or rites you'd care to copy freely and without restriction for the rest of your lives."
"Including the child?"
"A very generous bonus..." Bujilli drawled. He was thinking back upon how his uncle, a fairly competent Almas sorcerer, always hoarded his spells very jealously. Bujilli had to steal his first few spells. It felt strange to have this kind of access. It wasn't what he was used to at all.
"Of course things are in a bit of a shambles right now. So many repairs to be made. But we'll get the place back in working order soon enough. Sooner if you'd be willing to return my labor-drones..."
Bujilli grasped the amulet he had taken from around Ajjame's neck. It controlled the worker-drones. He looked the drones just standing there. Each one holding a hammer, mallet, make-shift club. He laughed. They made far better carpenters than warriors. He took the amulet from around his neck. Held it in front of him.
"I confess; I have little use for these carpenters. For now. And you certainly could put them to good use. But it occurs to me that there could come a time when I, we, might have use for a few of these drones--"
"But of course! I will personally put in a good word with Urmigan and arrange for him to set aside a score of drones for you. On my account. Would you prefer combat-drones? Scouts? Laborers? Some of each?"
"Could we decide that later? I'm unclear as to what we are likely to find useful, so it might be better to keep our options open for now, if that's acceptable?"
"Very understandable. Consider it done. I'll send along a drone to Urmigan immediately. You can use this..." Idvard removed a triple-banded ring of black and yellow striped metal from his left hand. The ring floated over to Bujilli, "...as a token of our arrangement. Urmigan can be a stickler about such things."
There was a slight tug on the amulet. Bujilli released it. Like the ring, it floated across the table to Idvard. He pulled it over his head. The worker-drones quickly scattered as they went back to their respective tasks, making repairs, clearing away debris, and so forth.
"I will have the drones prepare a room for you both. You must be tired. You'll want to rest a bit before heading back to Wermspittle--"
"Are we going back to Wermspittle?" Asked Leeja.
"Yes. We need some things, we have a few errands to take care of, and we both need to register for our classes--"
"Both?" Leeja flinched.
"But...Unfred is dead, or worse. I can't afford..."
"We're partners. You go where I go. Unless you want to go after your sister Niobe?"
"That would not...be...wise. You mean it then? Honestly? You would have me come with you?"
He thought he saw a tear, but she looked away before he was sure.
"It's settled then. Good. Good. You both are very welcome here. I want you both to consider this your home away from Wermspittle. Come make use of my library...once we get it rebuilt and transferred over from the old location...any time you like. Perhaps I can engage your services again. Later on. To take care of a few small matters. I do hope that you'll not forget me when you go back. And perhaps you'll consider carrying along a letter of introduction to your patron for me? Hmm?"
He was going back to Wermspittle...
Back to Wermspittle it is...
But once they go through the Weak Point...
Where should they go first?
Schroedinger & Cave's shop to dispose of the bundle of gonnes they confiscated back around Episode 35.
The Pissing Wyvern Tavern for some Gutter Mussel Stew?
Back to the Academy to get registered?
Go see Sprague about his offer from Episode 20?
or something else?