Bujilli fell. His heart raced. The sword streaked forwards. It was unavoidable. A deathstroke.
Leeja lunged. Interposed herself between Bujilli and the blade.
Instinct drove him to reach out. Do something. Anything. Make It Go Away.
He landed hard. Breathless and desperate he rolled to the side. Pushed himself back up to his feet.
Leeja lay sprawled in the grit.
There was no sign of the hunchback.
Translocation Countermeasures Successful
Two Active Portals Detected
The cloud of eyes overhead buzzed like furious insects.
Bujilli had a thought. He called upon his Counsel, the machine etched into his bones.
"Machine--shut down the other portals."
Query: Specify Shut Down Protocol
"I don't know. Just close them down. Clear the Arena. End this. Now."
Grating noises. Hissing. The Pylons descended back below the grit of the Arena floor. The miasmic cloud overhead writhed like a storm on some alternate horizon.
Somewhere, someone was clapping.
The balcony. Eberhard. She was staring down at Bujilli with those soul-full black eyes.
He stood his ground. Leeja got up from the grit. Slowly. She expected to be dead. Wasn't. didn't know quite how to react.
"I say that they have both passed admirably." came another voice from behind them.
Bujilli whirled around, ready to face his next tormenter.
Gnosiomandus smiled at him.
"You have no authority here." hissed Beatrice Eberhard.
"No." Gnosiomandus nodded solemnly; "No. I do not. But neither do you. Really."
"What kind of nonsense is this? What are you up to Gnosiomandus?"
"The Arena was established--"
"As a place for bloodsports. I know the history as well as anyone."
"Ah, but it was built by the Governor-General imposed upon Wermspittle by the Lucian Empire--"
"Krassiom. Yes. I know."
"Ahem. Yes. Krassiom was deposed, overthrown and driven out of the city well over a thousand years ago."
"But his work, his memory lives on--" three conflicting voices spoke at once from Eberhard's tortured throat. Her eyes seemed to be wreathed in dirty, smudgy smoke.
"No. It doesn't. All institutions established by Krassiom were repealed, banned or stricken from the rolls by decree of the Saffron Contessa of Draushalt--"
"That yellow bitch never had any jurisdiction here--"
"No more than Krassiom, no less. One more meddling foreign power who used this place as a dumping ground for lunatics, heretics or worse. You've lost sight of things Beatrice."
"I see more than you'll ever know--"
"Yes. Undoubtedly so. You've seen many dark and terrible things, of that there is no doubt. But you pay a steep price for this vision you relish so very much. So do others. Too many others. It is time this whole sordid business ended."
"By what right do you meddle in My Arena?" boomed a deeply masculine voice that had no place coming from Beatrice Eberhard's lips.
"Yes. We do get down to the crux of the matter now." Gnosiomandus gestured and an oak staff was there. He stamped it down upon the gritty floor three times.
"I am present." screeched Hedrard from the left. She too carried an oak staff.
"As am I" drawled a tall, elegantly dressed man in top hat and tails who looked like he was only partly awake at best.
"You Can NOT DO THIS TO ME!" screamed Eberhard. Her hands flexed like cruel talons. A single tear of blood ran down her left cheek.
"We can..." Gnosiomandus sighed heavily. Looked to each of his colleagues. They both nodded. "...and now we shall. Forgive me old friend." He cleared his throat. Raised the staff. Pointed it directly at Eberhard. The others did likewise. So did the nine others who stood back a respectful distance. Each one carried their own oak staff. No two were exactly alike, but they were unmistakably part of a set that belonged together.
The cloud above surged and thrashed, juddered and lunged about in impotent rage. It could not reach anyone. It could not leave. It was trapped.
"Krassiom Inurexus your time here was over long, long ago. You were banished and allowed to leave on the condition that you never returned. Now, you shall never leave." Gnosiomandus gestured again and a smoldering golden light lanced forth from his fingers to impale the struggling form of Beatrice Eberhard.
She rose into the air above her seat in the Governor's Balcony.
Vile, greasy smog oozed from her pores, curled from her gaping mouth and nostrils.
Black drops spattered from her razor-sharp fingers.
"Come forth you coward." growled Gnosiomandus.
Eberhard slumped, doll-like, broken, life-less.
A heavy-set man extricated himself from her body. His form was translucent. Mostly ectoplasmic. He took sinister glee in wringing every last bit of despair and hurt from Eberhard as he left her behind, as used-up and defiled as he could manage.
Krassiom gloated over his ruination of the proud woman-warrior. He laughed.
This was not a simple ghost. Bujilli watched intently. This was something deeper, much more dangerous than some spirit driven to gnaw upon the living, or to haunt their dreams. Insidious, vile, it was palpably evil in a way that even the werms couldn't match.
"I am here." mocked the former Governor-General with a half-bow.
"And here you will remain." Gnosiomandus stamped his staff into the grit. The echo rolled about the Arena.
Hedrard grounded her staff. The echo grew louder.
Sprague brought his staff down with a sense of finality and panache. The echo rolled around the domed space like grumbling thunder.
The fourth staff struck the floor directly behind the unclean spirit.
Beatrice Eberhard stood. A staff in her bloodied right hand. Her eyes were surrounded with blood, but they were clear. Painfully purged.
A fifth staff struck.
Krassiom screamed, but it did no good; he lacked enough physicality to make the air vibrate any more.
A sixth staff struck.
Krassiom collapsed in upon himself. Shrivelling horribly. It was a grotesque spectacle; Bujilli could not turn away.
A seventh staff struck. All went silent.
Everyone paused. Gnosiomandus blanched. They had only required three to challenge, four to settle the matter. He had been surprised that the other two had showed up after all. But now...
"As Headmistress of this Academy I pronounce sanction upon this trespasser-revenant and endorse the sentence suggested by senior academician Gnosiomandus." She spoke from the shadows of a gothic archway that had not been there only a moment ago, but quickly passed out of the shadows into the light of the Arena. The false-sun overhead shifted to a more agreeable blue light in Her presence.
Bujilli gaped. Leeja clutched his hand.
The Headmistress had writhing white hair.
She reached upwards. Gestured and drew down a torrent of clicking, whining blackness from the cloud of twinkling things that had swirled and writhed and watched from above for so very long.
The torrent solidified into an icicle of shimmering black ice. Directly over Krassiom's imploding spirit-form. The cloud was gone. Completely absorbed and compressed into the gleaming black spike. With a nod the stake descended, transfixing Krassiom's now shapeless mass of residue.
The spike clattered to the floor. Crackling with frost. Echoing strangely.
"Lemuel. Come forward."
Thick-skinned and far heavier than he had been as a child, Lemuel walked out from the arch and kneeled before his mistress.
"Take this...thing...to your mentor Zirl. As our Keeper and Curator of Atrocities he may find it of some minor personal interest, and I can think of no one better suited to its safe-keeping. Unless you would care to make a counter-suggestion, Gnosiomandus?"
"No. Zirl is the best suited of all of us for watching over such a thing."
"I am most gratified that you approve of some of my decisions at least."
"I meant no offense..." Gnosiomandus faltered.
"We did what needed doing. No more, no less." Hedrard rasped as she came up to his side. There was a bandage on her throat. Someone had nearly torn her throat out.
"We were in the right to act. Our fault, as much as yours, lies in how long it took us to finally act." Sprague relinquished his oak staff and walked out through a violet-and-mauve paneled door that faded as it closed behind him.
"I agree." growled a red-robed man with a shaggy beard.
"As do I." purred a gold-skinned woman who may or may not have been naked or clothed, depending upon how her robes slithered about her.
"I..." Beatrice Eberhard collapsed.
"Ack! you fools--Lemuel bit her when she attacked me under Krassiom's influence..." she looked at Leeja; "...with the new teeth I gave him."