Crash! The logs in the huge bonfire shifted. Settled. Sparks fluttered up into the encroaching gloom.
The walls reeked of centuries and wood smoke, Yeren blood and bowel contents. The central courtyard was a mess. Bodies strewn everywhere. Dozens of dead Yeren. No one else.
Bujilli closed his eyes. Consulted his Counsel. It revealed three Yeren. Up on the mezzanine. To the left of the fire. It could detect nothing else. Something blocked it. The Monastery was still warded, in places. The entire lower section was sealed off to extra sensory perception. The Antazzic Order, the heretical sect of monks from the South who'd built the place, were very serious about their privacy. those who trafficked in demonology and worse had good reason to block prying eyes.
His Uncle still slept soundly. Bujilli re-checked his bonds. Re-examined the spell. Reassured himself that his Uncle was not faking. He considered rifling the old bastard's belt pouch. Thought better of it. He'd nearly lost two fingers when he'd tried that as a child. Not worth it.
Tulwar in one hand, his hand-axe in the other, Bujilli closed his eyes and cast Listen to the Walls.
"You!" Hissed the right wall.
"Again?" Whispered the left wall.
"What do you want?" Demanded the wall before him. It's voice shook the burning logs leaning against it. One rolled down off of the collapsing mound. It smoldered on the cobbles less than three feet from Bujilli. He didn't flinch. He did open his eyes and kept watch on the railing by where he calculated the surviving Yeren were huddled. They could feel his spell. They could smell him. Even through the smoke. How long until they stirred, until they came after him? He was ready.
"The moon is rising. I don't know what phase it is in--"
"The Moon will be two nights away from Full this evening."
"That will have to suffice. What happened here?"
"Many things best not discussed outside of the Order."
"No. I mean recently. Who built this fire? who killed all these Yeren?"
"The beasts brought in the wood and set fire to it in hopes of smoking-out whomever they believed was hiding in the Southern Cloister and the Moon Pool. These were killed by the Guardians. As is only right."
The Guardians. Unsleeping, Unliving things. He remembered them all too well.
"Where are the guardians now?"
"Destroyed. They were ultimately overwhelmed by the beasts you call Yeren. There are no Guardians left in this place any longer...unless you would--"
"I am not here to take up service to the Order." How many times he'd had to utter those words on moonlit nights...it felt strange that the old ghost wasn't there to talk with him any more. Bujilli never had many friends growing up. The grandmaster's ghost might not have been exactly what anyone would call a friend, but he had become sort of fond of the wizened old shade. They had an arrangement. An understanding. It had been enough. For both of them.
"Then what business do you have in such a desolate place? Cannot you leave us to collapse into ruins in peace now that all our Order is dead and we stand defenseless before the beasts of this world?"
"How many Yeren survived?" He wanted to test his Counsel against the testimony of the walls, or perhaps it was the other way around?
"Few. Three linger still in this place. Several fled. They seemed to lose interest. Perhaps their orders were too vague."
Just as Counsel had told him. It was good to get independent verification. Still no sign of the Yeren. Maybe the other two were more seriously wounded than he'd suspected. Or they were being exceptionally cautious. Having seen the Guardians of this place dismember dozens of their fellows might have taught them a lesson in circumspection. but he doubted it.
"Orders?" He scratched his chin with the back of his left hand. He didn't much like the sound of that.
"Yes. The Yeren were of no less than three packs, each led by one who bore the mark of Lyhydriss, a sorcerer of the Western Fjords."
Lyhydriss. The very name he had come here to utter as part of a summons. His father's name.
"You remember who I am?"
"Yes. You are no longer a cub. You have grown strong. The Order would have welcomed you--"
"The Grandmaster did welcome me. Do you remember?"
"Yes. We are broken, bereft and mired in despair. We are not stupid. You are welcome here Bujilli."
"Good. May I have permission to visit the Lower Levels?"
"We see no reason to deny you entry. Not any longer. Do as you would. We shall not hinder you."
"Best not thank us quite so quickly. You would not be going down there unless it were for a definite reason. especially in your case. You know some of what is down there."
"Can you tell me more about what is down there?"
"It is forbidden. Hence the wardings. Were you to seek entry into the Order..."
"No. Thank you. that is not why I came here tonight."
"As you will."
The spell faded. Perhaps the walls had said all they intended to say.
It would have to be enough.
The Yeren made their move. Frothing with fear and covered in gore. One died as it ran at him, its guts splattered out across its legs and tripping it. The other two weren't much better off. The first one to reach him received a slash across it's snout from the tulwar. He took its partner in the belly with his hand-axe. He let go of the axe. Spun. Lopped off its head. Blocked the axe of the remaining Yeren. The tulwar jerked as it struck the Yeren's vertebrae. They lay dead on the cobbles in three quick breaths. Bujilli retrieved his hand-axe. Then he headed towards the stairs down to the Lower Levels.
Three flights down. He cast Gloomlight.
The heavy bronze valves of the entrance stood closed before him. He examined the raised hieroglyphics cast directly into the frame. If he still had the black seal that the Grandmaster's ghost had led him to, it might fit into one of the round niches along the circumference of the frame. But his Uncle had confiscated the seal. Long, long ago. The old bastard had probably sold it to some wretched bone-carver or more likely he bartered it for more worthless old journals or sketchbooks. his Uncle liked to look at the pictures. Especially the dirty ones.
Bujilli cast Knock.
He cast it again.
Sacrificing another, better spell, he cast Knock a third time.
The bronze valve twisted open slowly. Grudgingly.
The valve twisted closed behind him.
He'd be here until he could cast Knock again.
The walls were rough stone. The ceiling a smooth black mirror surface. The floor was three inches deep in chalky, off-white sand. Featureless. Perfectly level. It seemed almost a shame to disturb it.
He didn't come here to admire the sand.
The chamber he was interested in lay approximately seven hundred paces ahead. Past another bronze portal. this one was wide open. Until he went through it. then it twisted shut behind him.
Bujilli walked to the center of the chamber. This was far easier said than done. The walls and floor and ceiling swirled and shimmered, coiled and fluctuated all around him. Each step he took carried him out into the heart of a sphere of writhing, rippling stuff. It reminded him of a seashore, rolled back upon itself to form an inside-out bubble. Or not. He knew better than to try to hang words on something he was woefully ill-equipped to describe accurately. This was a summoning chamber. One that the monks of the Antazzic Order had used for centuries in their explorations of the realms beyond mortal ken.
"So you've returned my young friend."
Bujilli started. The old ghost was there. The Grandmaster.
"You haven't changed a bit." Bujilli lied. The ghost was much more translucent than it ever had been before. It's extremities faded into obscurity as though eroded away by the relentless crashing waves of time.
"Alas if only that were true. What grim purpose brings you back to this place?"
"You once said that I was welcome here--"
"Due to your service to our Order. Yes. Even now. such as it is, the Order stands in your debt. How might we serve you in order to discharge our debt?"
"I wish to summon forth my father."
"He is no demon..."
"No. Much worse; he's a man."
"And you would bring him forth unto this place for some sort of reunion...or is it a reckoning you are after?"
"That may depend upon what his plans are. How he responds to my summoning him."
"He wields power, else you wouldn't be here. He poses a threat to you, else you would to be about to take such a drastic action. He has left you with no alternative, no other way to contact him?"
"No." Bujilli looked down at the floor. He never knew his father. He didn't even know what the bastard looked like.
"And you have come here to do this thing. Why?"
"My father is the one known as Lyhydriss." The name curled off of his tongue in a serpentine manner.
"The despoiler who sent the beasts into our monastery to pollute it with their blood and foullness?"
"I shall allow this. It is a fit and proper thing for us to assist you in this matter. But it shall be we who summon your father to this place. You will do well enough to confront him. Prepare yourself. When you are ready, we shall bring him here."
He considered his spells. What he could still reasonably cast right now. Confusion and Haste. Shield or Julidi's Darts*. Those seemed like the best options. Dispel Magic might come in handy, but he didn't want to get caught-up in a feed-back loop, or a contest of counter-spelling. He didn't know what to expect from his father. All he knew was that Lyhydris was dangerous. A sorcerer. A man devoted to cultivating knowledge and power. Not someone to trifle with by any means.
Bujili swung his tulwar back and forth. Shifted his grip. Hefted his hand-axe. Adjusted his posture, his stance.
As ready as he ever would be, he nodded to the ghost.
The chamber went silent. Bujilli couldn't hear his own breathing.
Light streamed out from along the edges of a circle with Bujilli at the center. Symbols sculpted from primal energies cascaded back into alignment with this plane of existence. Some shifted position. Others spun along various axes. The ghost reached out to Bujilli.
"Your bond is one of blood, is it not?"
"You know the price of this thing then."
Bujilli nodded. Stretched out his left arm. Dragged the tulwar's edge across it. The blade moaned disconcertingly. He nearly dropped the blade. It had never done such a thing ever before.
Blood seeped from the shallow wound.
The ghost reached forth and gathered what it needed.
With a gesture the Grandmaster cast the blood out across the Circle. It flashed like liquid fire. Settled down around and between the various glowing symbols and secondary figures slowly rotating around the Circle.
Another gesture and a second geometrical form spun into view at one of the cardinal points of the Circle Bujilli was standing within. At first it was a Triangle. A Square. Pentagon. Hexagon. It cycled through the series of different shapes one after another.
The ghost reached forth and took more blood from Bujilli. This time he flung it into the center of the fluctuating shape before them. The blood crackled like grease in a frying pan. It infused the shimmering, simmering light of the smaller Circle. There were other figures within the second Circle, but they were all formed of blood and shadow. Bujilli couldn't quiet make out what the series of shapes inside the other Circle were. He had to trust to the grandmaster's judgment in this matter. Having freely given his blood to a ghost. His Uncle would have beaten him within an inch of his life when he was a child for doing something so patently stupid. But this time, it was what needed to be done. The price required.
"Make the Call, my young friend."
"LYHYDRIS!" Bujilli's voice thundered through the chamber and beyond.
His father heard him.
Heard him and answered the summons...
*Julidi's Darts is a variant form of Magic Missile.