Memories, dreams, recollections--they all flowed through Bujilli's mind as they ran along the dirty streets. The air was fresh from the recent rain. They stuck to the clearer sections, avoiding the jumbled piles of trash and rubble. Gang barricades. Burnt-out shells of once fashionable shops. Collapsed buildings. This was a Burned Over District. Hard hit by the Collapse and the chaos that followed and never quite left. Unpatrolled, unmonitored, lawless and wild; these sections of the Old City were cordoned-off and abandoned.
Jog left. Turn right. Go back to the last intersection--the street ahead had ruptured from another gas explosion. Left. They ran.
They stopped. Barnabas Street was sparkling. Leeja shuddered in revulsion...or was it something else? Bujilli reached out to steady her. Counsel showed him a red warning icon. Leeja's wound was more dangerous than either of them had suspected.
He nodded. Quietly asked for his Counsel to examine the wound.
The machine etched into Bujilli's bones revealed three maggoty-teeth slowly burrowing deeply into Leeja's flesh. Each one exuded a powerful anesthetic. She would not suffer. Not immediately. The teeth were working their way towards the bones of her hand. They worked slowly. Leaving no sign of an infection or intrusion. The entry wound would heal over without a trace. No hint of the vile things would be immediately visible.
Until it was too late.
Bujilli looked around. Then he spotted it. He laughed. They had gone in jagged, loopy circles around and around this area for a while now. He was unfamiliar with most of Wermspittle. Leeja was his guide. But she was in a bad way. Her eyes were unfocused. The teeth were affecting her strangely. Dangerously.
He considered his options. this was no place to be lingering about. He might be able to adapt the Green Fire Purge spell to remove the teeth...but it would take time and leave them both vulnerable. They were only four or five blocks out from the Film Repository at best. Maybe not even as far as that. Those Not-Kids would be looking for them both.
They needed to get out of here.
They needed help.
The amulet pulsed.
Bujilli started. Looked down. Touched the hag-gift. Hedrard had given him the amulet as part of their arrangement. That and the Voucher. Fees were to be waived. Access granted. Access.
He closed his hand over the amulet. It was warm again. It pulsed once more.
"Hedrard?" he whispered.
"You were expecting someone else?" cackled the hag.
It was good to hear her scratchy voice, which was in itself slightly disturbing.
"We're in a bit of trouble..."
"Yes. You are. I lost track of you for a while...but everything is working again*. You're not far from one of the old gates. Which is fortunate."
"Which way do we go?"
"Can you fight?"
Bujilli looked at Leeja. She was quiet, staring blankly, just moving as he directed. He spat in disgust. The baby-teeth in her wound were making her delirious.
"Not effectively. Leeja's hurt. Something in the wound--she was bitten--it's affecting her mind..."
"Hmmpph. I won't ask. You'll need to be quick and quiet. Do you see the small square off to the East from your position? It has a statue in the center.
He had no idea which way was East. No compass. His sense of direction was confused. This was an entirely other world from the one were he had grown up. He was still getting used to this place. If one ever could get used to Wermspittle. There. He saw a statue. In a square.
Bujilli led Leeja across the street and rapidly down the alley towards the square.
"We're nearly there."
"The statue faces the main entrance for the old Heldraw Hall. It's technically part of the Campus, but it was shut down and abandoned ages ago. Do Not Touch The Front Gate. Go to the wall, to the right, there's an alcove of sorts, a place for guards to look decorative. Do you still have the voucher I gave you?"
"Press it to the back of the alcove. There should be a spot cleaner than the surrounding tiles."
He dug out the Voucher. Pressed it to the cleanest spot on the back wall.
An opening appeared. Bujilli led Leeja inside. The opening closed behind them.
They were in a hallway. Richly paneled with dark wood. Dust caked everything like a light drift of colorless snow. Indistinct portraits hung at regular intervals. A few coats-of-arms. Tiny shelves of bric-a-brac festooned specific sections of certain walls. A few display cases for wired-together hominid skeletons, intricately curling masses of pseudo-sea shells or other samples. A suit of armor was mounted on display--the right side was spotless, gleaming, translucent as though transformed into glass by some bizarre mishap. The plaque set before the armor was faded. He didn't feel like brushing off the dust to read it.
Bujilli smiled. This looked like what a museum ought to look like. He'd heard all about such places from a thief in Zandrume. At least he always thought they were a thief. Museums were excellent places for acquiring valuable things...if one knew what to take and whom to take it to...he wondered about old man Schroedinger and his curio shop. Maybe there were other peddlers or dealers who'd be interested in a few items liberated from this dusty, mostly forgotten place. He'd have to ask Leeja if she knew of anyone like that. After they got her wound tended to and those nasty teeth pulled.
A soft golden glow leaked out of a dusty lamp lying next to the wall. It woke up. Responded to the Voucher. Took up position hovering just in front of them both. A self-carrying torch that didn't set things on fire. Bujilli smiled. This was a thoroughly useful thing. His Uncle would have been very pleased to have had him return with such a wondrous thing. Probably wouldn't have beaten him. Might have given him an extra portion of stew. Or not.
"I've sent along Sritta to come collect you and bring you here to my office."
"Thank you." Bujilli led Leeja down the hallway. The wall behind him was blank. Clean. All the dust and cobwebs had fallen away when it had opened to admit them.
The hallway led to a four-way intersection where another hallway crossed this one. Going back was fairly pointless. Boring. The intersection was rounded-out a bit to form a sort of special space. A raised section in the center served as the base for four statues. Four old men in lab coats. Each one situated at a corner of the heavy, precisely-square pedestal. Sharp-edged. Dusty, but obviously all of one piece. It was probably some kind of basalt, or so he guessed. He'd seen more than his fair share of ancient basalt daises and monoliths and the like over the years. The statues were marble. Travertine marble, if he wasn't mistaken. The figures were very realistic, aside from being over-sized.
As they came closer a fountain shimmered into view at the center of the platform. It was positioned so as to be directly overseen by the proprietary scientist-guardians. Water tinkled softly. Bujilli started to look away. Then he noticed. Looking at the fountain. Looking through the water. Everything was different on the other side. Lush green foliage showed through the water. Not in the hallway, but somehow behind the water of the fountain itself. There was a garden over there. Overgrown. Rampant. Ferociously alive.
Not like this place.
She was swaying loosely. Weak. Her eyes were mostly closed. Her skin was waxy. Her hair hung limp and all but lifeless. Merely a twitch along the ends. She was in a bad way.
Bujilli steadied her. Supported her. Turned away from the fountain and the garden that hid behind it. Picked a direction and started walking. Whomever Sritta was, they were following the amulet to locate him and Leeja. So he kept moving. It helped to keep his mind off of what was happening. At least a little.
They walked onward.
Sritta found them an hour or so later.
Leeja was unconscious by then.
Bujilli carried her.
Her hand was turning black...
*Idvard temporarily suspended the amulet's functionality in Episode 39.