Green light faded, a blurry visual echo seeping into the rough-hewn walls of the cave. His Uncle's Voorish Sign had done its intended job. Bujilli glared at his Uncle. The old bastard grinned at him, pointed to the entrance, to the Yeren. There wasn't time to deal with the rotten old sorcerer. Not yet.
Bujilli faced the incoming Yeren. It was like old times. He could sense none of the usual tell-tales of a shaman or other spell-caster among them so he used Julindi's Darts* to demolish the lead Yeren's face. That bought him time enough to draw both tulwar and hand-axe, and to choose his next target.
The lead Yeren screamed in rage and pain. Dropped it's axe. Clutched it's face as steaming blood gouted forth. The other three shoved him aside. Either he recovered, or he'd be meat later. Yeren were a hard people, extremely practical in such matters. Meat was meat.
The Cave of the Centipedes had been expanded and reinforced by Almas. It was scaled for much shorter humanoids. It wasn't the best place for trying to swing a heavy axe around. If anything, it favored Bujilli who knew the place all too well.
Slash! A wound blossomed on the shaggy forearm of one Yeren. Hack! Bujilli's hand-axe bit deep into the shoulder of another. The third Yeren growled in frustration--the others blocked it from making any sort of attack.
Bujilli yanked loose his hand-axe, spun and drove it square into the chest of the second Yeren. His tulwar slashed across the eyes of the first one. He stepped back. Ripped the axe free again. The cave echoed with the growls of the Yeren. One could barely hold its axe any more. Its partner couldn't see clearly. The one in back was getting impatient, anxious to get into the fight.
The Yeren with the ruined face roared in blind rage. It was charging. Regardless of its fellows.
The one in back cut it down with a heavy chop of its axe.
Bujilli dodged a back-handed swipe. He slid in after the axe. Struck the Yeren in the upper arm with both blades. The arm was ruined. Only a few tendons kept it from falling free. Its axe fell to the floor of the cave.
Too bad it had been the already blinded one.
The other Yeren chopped at Bujilli's legs. He barely avoided the blow. Almost lost his footing. The floor was slick with Yeren blood.
Bujilli withdrew farther back into the cave. The space got narrower as it went back, making it more awkward for his opponents.
One slipped. He lunged. Scored a wicked strike alongside the Yeren's outstretched arm. Followed up with a heavy blow to the foul-smelling thing's thigh. It dropped to its knees. It's companion leaped forward, axe raised high and howling a war-cry.
The axe struck the ceiling. Sparks flew. Bujilli gutted the Yeren.
Another axe nearly took Bujilli's head.
He rolled. His right ear was bleeding. He continued the roll then sprung upwards right at the axe-wielder, skewering them through the throat with his tulwar.
The tulwar stuck.
Bujilli let it go and moved back before a Yeren's axe nearly caught him.
Then an axe crashed into the cave wall less than an inch from his own face. He lashed out with his hand-axe. It bit deep into the attacker's shoulder. It too was pulled from his hand.
He shuffled backwards. Deeper still into the cave.
There wasn't time to get fancy. No spells. The Yeren would sense his sorcery and strike him down before he could do anything worth casting. They were well used to killing sorcerers. He knew better than to attempt to use his short bow--he'd never get it strung in time. But an arrow. That he could use. It was certainly better than nothing.
He slid out one of the barbed cold-iron arrows he had taken from Idvard's Keep. The Yeren grunted mockingly. He could feel it's hot breath as the filthy thing came at him.
Timing. It's everything. Especially in an apparently uneven fight.
Bujilli watched the axe descend. Then he jumped forward. Jammed the arrow upwards into the soft part under the Yeren's lower jaw. It sunk into the thing's flesh. He rammed it upwards. Hard.
The axe clattered to the floor.
Bujilli dodged to the side.
The Yeren stood gasping. Staring bulgy-eyed and startled.
Bujilli retrieved his hand-axe. One quick blow to its knees and the surprised Yeren fell forwards, driving the arrow out through its skull.
He didn't bother retrieving his tulwar until all four heads were lined-up just outside the entrance.
The arrow was broken. Irretrievable.
So it goes.
If he was staying, he'd cut some saplings into stakes and mount the heads. That was what the Yeren did. What they expected. Tradition. It marked a spot as being deadly to the kin and kind whose heads had been taken. It was the only ward that anyone knew for holding back the Yeren. A crude cultural taboo. It didn't always take a spell.
He wiped his weapons clean using the matted hair of the dead Yeren. They didn't wear a whole lot. Mostly some bones, vertebrae and teeth tied into their filthy hair. One had a blue-green rag, a silken scarf of some sort, bound around it's left ankle. Another wore half of an ill-fitting bronze vambrace that had been crudely re-worked to almost fit its fore-arm. He knew better than to look for anything useful on the Yeren corpses. If they'd have had anything worthwhile, they wouldn't have been prowling around in these woods so far from their usual hunting grounds.
No matter; he had no intention of sticking around.
He looked down upon the decapitated bodies of the Yeren. The old hate hadn't come to him. Not like it used to. Not like he was used to.
He didn't need it.
His Uncle stepped out of the shadows towards the back of the cave.
Bujilli simply stared at the old sorcerer. He considered cutting his throat, if only for old time's sake or on general principles, but decided to give him a chance to say his piece beforehand, just in case there was a good reason to not end things then and there.
His Uncle glared back at Bujilli.
They both stood there. Eyes locked. Neither budging.
Finally the Uncle looked away. Spat on the floor in disgust.
"Fine. Yes. I admit it; I drew the Yeren to us."
Bujilli stared at the old Almas. He felt cold. Clean. Empty. Ready to do anything.
"I needed to know for certain if you could stand up to them..."
"Wermscheiss!" Bujilli laughed. He'd spent too long in Wermspittle. He swore like someone from there now.
His Uncle cringed visibly. Some part of him seemed to cave in upon itself. He didn't look all that threatening any more. Not like he used to, like when he terrorized and brutalized a small boy. Those days were gone now.
"One Reason." Bujilli growled.
"Give me one good reason not to kill you right where you stand."
His Uncle cringed visibly. Looked down at the cave floor. Heaved a heavy sigh.
"I helped you destroy Ahtrishka--"
"After consorting and conspiring with her to summon me here in the first place."
"I had no choice--"
"We're sorcerers--we always have a choice. You taught me that."
"Then for that reason alone you might spare my life."
"Why did you bring me here?"
"I need your help..."
"So you colluded with that demon-bitch Ahtrishka to bring me back? Not the best way to inspire me to be particularly helpful..."
"I wasn't worried about her. I summoned her up in the first place. I built the cage she used to be locked-up inside...until someone released her."
"I considered it a parting gift."
"Ungrateful, reckless scoundrel. You cost me a great deal in your leaving."
"Do you truly wish for a full accounting between us old man? Grateful? You would have me thank you for your beatings, your continual abuse, your forcing me to go down into dark places in search of salable trinkets without so much as a knife to defend myself with--"
"Until you stole one."
"Like I had a choice."
"You did. You made it. You took what you needed."
"I was a child."
"And you survived. You became one of the best danglers ever, until you got too big to squeeze into the deepest nooks and crannies."
"It certainly wasn't from growing fat on the scraps you begrudgingly left for me."
"You needed to be hungry so that you'd come back. It was motivation to find something worthwhile."
"Like my tulwar."
"Exactly. You still owe me my fair share for letting you keep it--"
"Hah! Take it if you dare. We both remember what happened last time you tried to claim it."
"Damned thing nearly took my head off. It's your blade now, whomever forged it or wielded it long ago, it belongs to you now. But I am still owed my due as your sponsor and legal guardian--"
"I owe you nothing."
"Not true. Who taught you spell-casting?"
"Hah--I taught myself far more than anything you ever tried to teach me--"
"And who taught you how to read? How to open your first grimoire?"
"Every spell I learned during my time with you I had to steal from behind your back."
"Of course; a sorcerer capable of trapping and binding a demon such as Ahtrishka would be so easily fooled by such a clever little boy like yourself. Fool. I allowed you to 'steal' those books, to study those spells."
"Why?" Bujilli shifted on his feet. He had always thought that he had gotten away with something. Now he doubted. He considered how things had happened. It had been far too convenient. It was distressing to feel a long cherished illusion get dashed into bits, to discover that he was not quite as clever as he had always imagined himself.
"Why? You dolt! You were never going to bring back the really valuable stuff unless you could find it, and survive long enough to return with it."
"But why not just teach me what I needed to know?"
"You hated me. You would never trust me. Besides, you had a better idea of what you needed or could use than anything I might consider appropriate or useful. Better you learned to fend for yourself than rely upon me or anyone else. Especially in terms of learning the art and science of sorcery. Believe it or not, I gave you the greatest gift of all by not making you an apprentice and binding you to me--I allowed you to retain your freedom."
"One cannot give what is not their's in the first place."
"No. But I could have demanded your servitude--"
"You treated me like a slave--"
"I made you strong. I made you a sorcerer."
"You stole my childhood. Beat me. Bullied me. Forced me into the deep, dark places in order to scrape out some bit of over-looked loot or buried trinket. You made me rob old forgotten graves and tombs so you could grow rich and fat."
"Yes. I was hard on you. Yes. I did terrible things. I am an Almas. I am a sorcerer. I never wanted you. Never asked for you. But when my sister was abandoned by your sire it was left to me to tend to her. When he tired of her and murdered her, I was left with her half-breed child."
"I never asked for you to take me in."
"No. But I did. I made many mistakes, but I am a sorcerer, not a wet-nurse or a parent. I was ill equipped to raise such a willful mongrel."
"You never did anything that wasn't to your benefit somehow, someway."
"Like I said: I am a sorcerer."
"Enough. What is done is done. I'm not a child any more. I have my own life now. Why did you call me back here?"
"What about him?"
"He has returned."
"So what is that to me?"
"He intends to call you to him, even as I did, only he intends to destroy you, even as he destroyed your mother."
"And you summoned me here ahead of him? Why?"
"I want your help to destroy him. Before he destroys us both."