Ponderous iron-gray clouds curdled into immense, dark clots overhead. Brooding things. Truculent and treacherous. The snow storm outside was getting worse. But at least the wind seemed to be dying down. The trees groaned and creaked under the heavy, wet whiteness. It was definitely Yeren weather. Bujilli spat in disgust. He'd spent several winters of his youth fighting the Yeren. It had made his reputation, once he was too big to go dangling down into the dark spaces below to loot old graves, tombs and crypts. He had earned his keep by bringing home Yeren heads in the winter. He'd gotten good at it. Too good. The Yeren weren't fools. They came to know him, to recognize him. They had a talent for smelling or sensing sorcery. They were innately capable to disrupting or countering spells, unless you caught them off-guard or by surprise. You could often catch one with an under-handed spell, like Julidi's Darts, but you wouldn't often get a second such chance. Once was usually enough.
Bujilli watched the snow falling. It was coming down heavier than before. Visibility was severely limited. He could barely make out the black pines less than a bow-shot away. He knew that the Yeren would most likely sense him, or rather the spells he carried. They certainly sniff out his Uncle. He might have the stink of magick on him, his Uncle fairly reeked of it. He knew of no spell to obscure the Yeren's senses, not that would help them.
He considered going back to Wermspittle. It was possible. He'd consulted with his Counsel, aided and abetted with unwelcome asides and observations from his Uncle. He could open the way back...but that would still leave him vulnerable to his father's summons.
Bujilli spat again.
Yanked away from his partner and mentor, away from a place he was starting to feel like he belonged, here he was, back in the Cavern of the Centipedes. Back where it all started. Back with his Uncle. At least Ahtriska would never bother him again. One demon laid to rest. One less burden to carry. One more scar healed-over.
"You called me back to this place to deal with my father. You claim that he intends me harm. After all these years. Why?"
"Think boy. Think! He's a sorcerer. You carry his blood in your veins. A measure of it, in any case. Enough to forge a link, to reach him through you. All sorcerers have enemies. His enemies could use you to attack him. That makes you a direct threat to him."
"But why wait for so long? Why didn't he kill me while I was still an infant? Why now?" Bujilli stared hard at his Uncle. It didn't add-up right. But everything was starting to take on a shape he could just about wrap his mind around. He didn't much like what he was starting to suspect.
"Out with it old man. I want to know. Now."
"You see...well...ahem...your mother..."
"What about her?"
"You do know that she herself was a sorceress--"
"No. I did not know that. Nor much of anything else. Thanks to you." Bitterness steamed off of his words. Resentment curled his lips into a sneer. Bujilli tasted hatred just behind his teeth. It was a bitter thing.
"Be that as it may, she was a spell-caster in her own right. A great talent. That was what drew your father to her."
"I thought he had a thing for hairy females." Bujilli had grown up thinking his father had appalling taste in mates. It didn't help his self esteem any, but it allowed him to laugh sometimes.
"That too, I suppose. Almas don't often inter-marry with the other kinds. We're capable, obviously, but it isn't something our people tend to accept..."
"You're telling me?"
"Yes. You know all too well what I'm saying. Your parents marriage was not well-received by your mother's kin, nor by your father's. In fact, I was the only one who witnessed their betrothal."
"You? Why you?"
"I arranged it."
"You. Arranged. My Mother's marriage. To this...human sorcerer?"
"What does any sorcerer want?"
"Power and knowledge." Bujilli nodded. The two real treasures, the only two things his Uncle valued. He'd grown up learning all about such matters, from the old grimoires he'd slipped from his Uncle's stockpile, from Ahtrishka's sultry whispers of secret spells and forbidden secrets, from his Uncle's dealings. All the while, all through his childhood and beyond he knew that his Uncle was a fool. Neither power nor knowledge meant a damn if one was not free to use them as they wished. Freedom was more precious than anything, but it took power and knowledge to gain freedom, to claim it and to retain it.
"Exactly." His Uncle tilted his head. Perhaps the old bastard was peering into his thoughts? He could do that sometimes. Bujilli made a quick, furtive gesture, a mnemonic technique for clouding his thoughts. An old trick that had saved him from more than a few beatings growing up.
"And did it get you all that you wanted?" Bujilli sneered. His utter disrespect shining forth like a basilisk's baleful gaze.
"It brought me you."
Bujilli stood there. Stunned into silence. The words struck him like an accusation cast in cold, hard lead. The words hurt. He wasn't really sure why...
His Uncle had used-up practically everything Bujilli had left behind to summon him here. His old blanket. The exhumed and half-animate corpse of his mother. Ahtriska. All those things that held any sort of a tie or link back to him. The things he'd left behind. The things that still had a connection to him. All gone. He was cut loose in a way he never knew was possible, let alone essential to his continuing along the path of a sorcerer.
And he intended to continue on that path.
But not on his Uncle's terms.
There was no sense in seeking liberation only to accept shackles and expectations, other people's conditions. That wasn't freedom. He had not climbed out of hell only to be like anyone else, nor to bow before anyone else's vision of what was or could ever be. He was no one's slave. He was an independent agent.
"Ah...the light dawns..." the old Almas nodded sourly. His voice carried as much regret as it did resignation.
"You planned this." Bujilli hissed through clenched teeth. The old anger boiled up from deep below.
"I fear you give me far too much credit..."
"No. You planned all of it; my birth was a part of your plans. You expected me to serve as your weapon. Everything you did was aimed at making me the instrument of your will. Just another piece in some inscrutable game being played-out between you and my father. I'm not interested in being anyone's pawn."
"Then what will you do? He'll kill you whether you oppose him or not. It's gone too far to turn back now--"
"Too far. That's as good a confession as I can expect from you, I suppose. You've pushed matters to a head. You've forced the issue. Your meddling--"
"You involve me in this scheme of yours without the slightest regard for my wishes..." Bujilli drew his tulwar and began to polish it with a rag. The blade glistened with an oily sheen it only ever displayed around his Uncle.
"My plans were well underway long before you were even conceived--" His Uncle sputtered in barely retrained rage.
"Your plans. I piss on your plans old man."
"I damn well dare. Like you said: I'm a sorcerer. This is about my life, even more than it is anything about you."
"Then what do you intend to do about your father?"
"First I intend to pick out the place where I intend to contact him. Then..."
"Then you'll die screaming."
"I won't be the one screaming. Not this time. But I also don't intend to face him here. Not here."
"But it is perfect--you spent a lot of time in this place as a child..."
"Exactly why I have no intention of facing my father here at all. He has no claim on my childhood. He forfeited anything like that long ago. No, not here...but what about the old monastery?"
"It's burning, in case you've forgotten."
"Yes. That's perfect."
"For what? Getting singed?"
"It was abandoned. The Yeren sometimes seek shelter there. Everyone else avoids it."
"With good reason."
"Except sometimes, when the moon was full, I would sneak down there."
"I know that place. It knows me. that is where I'll face my father."
"Then you don't need me any more--"
The old Almas collapsed. The flat of the blade had caught him alongside his temple just like how Bujilli had seen unwary sailors get 'recruited' by the press-gangs in Kandjuzza. A quick spell and his Uncle was locked deep in slumber. Then he rigged-up a travois from a pair of sapling-poles, some rope and an old tarpaulin. He also bound his Uncle's hands and ankles. Then he gagged him. Just in case.
It wasn't ideal, but it would have to work.
If he ran into Yeren, he'd drop the travois and deal with them.
He dragged his Uncle out into the falling snow and headed off towards the old monastery.
He almost hoped some Yeren would be stupid enough to get in his way...