Denim and airship fabric. The new trousers wouldn't wear out any time soon. A fresh undershirt. White cotton? Maybe not. It felt good. Didn't make his skin itch, like the last one. He pulled on the dark violet leather lorica. The edges were finished with some yellow metal alloy. Each panel was backed with cobalt blue foil. Each panel was primed with green brass and some sort of purple stuff, probably some kind of amber. that stuff made each panel able to receive the imprint of a defensive glyph. He could feel it. The bottom three rows were already set-up with some basic wards. He could see Hedrard's mark, Eberhard's mark, Gnosiomandus' mark and a few others already embedded in the armor. another symbol, a jagged white spiral surrounding an empty hand might be Leeja's mark. Maybe. He knew a few glyphs, Gloomlight was one of the first such things he'd learned long ago. Now he wanted t learn more wards and the like. He'd need to make time to finish the job, once he learned what glyphs he wanted to use. He had a lot to learn. good thing he was back at the Academy.
The boots were slightly heavier than his old ones. More ankle support. The greave-plates clicked into place over his jeans. He tucked the new gloves into his belt. Reached for his tulwar. It was gone. Oh.
After so many years. So many battles. The old tulwar was gone now.
He still had Stril's hand-axe. Three slim knives slipped onto his belt. One for fighting, two for throwing. A wand? Yes. It was black, gnarled and twisted iron and wood. It had a sheath so he added it to his belt across from the knives. He'd ask about it later. There was a strange gonne in the satchel Mistress Eberhard had brought. Bujilli pulled the thing out. Looked it over. He knew next to nothing about gonnes other than that they were loud. He had the instinctive Almas distrust of loud things. But he appreciated what fire-arms were capable of doing. It had an extravagantly-tooled mechanism. Some sort of wheel-lock or other clockwork-inspired workings back above the trigger-part. The wooden parts were hand-carved from ebony and teak. It was sturdy. Solid. This was a grim and no-nonsense sort of pistol. Meant to be used one-handed. The grip curved elegantly into a hideously carved snarling club-face with three rows of iron teeth.
Manticore. Bujilli snorted. Laughed. Handed the thing over to Leeja.
She reached to take the weapon from his hand. It snarled. Snapped at her.
The gonne belonged to him. No one else.
So he pulled the bandolier with the tools, shot, powder capsules, and all the other gonne-stuff over his shoulder and slid the gonne into its holster. He looked over at his short bow. He much preferred the bow. It was quiet. He was accurate. They worked well together. Bujilli reached--
"Oh do make up your mind!" hissed a voice off to his left.
It was cold. He was standing in three inches of snow. The wind was picking up. Clouds were rolling in from the...west. Yes. He could see the sun. Barely. Then clouds obscured it. Storm clouds. heavy and ponderous with bad intent.
Bujilli turned to face the voice.
The man was over-dressed for the occasion. Violet-tinted glasses. Top hat. Elegant coat. Black gloves chased with seven kinds of metal. Walking stick, not the heavy oak staff he had carried last time.
"Indeed." The man bowed sarcastically. His flourish was supple, yet sinister.
"I'm not interested." Bujilli went to spit, but caught himself. He smiled instead. He was still getting used to doing things differently.
"Ah but I am most definitely interested."
"Your initial offer was an insult and a trap." Bujilli strung his bow. It felt good in his hands. He'd missed it.
"But of course. That's the way of the world. Nothing personal. Just business. My voucher is still there in Room 303, in the East Wing, ready for your signature."
"I don't need it. I made a better deal."
"Yes. With Hedrard. So I've been told. that was some nasty business there with poor Lemuel, don't you think?"
"And hijacking me from my room. Is that business also?" Bujilli looked out across the rocks and ice, through black spruce heavy with snow. Nasty red thorns jutted from beneath the trees, through the snow. They were up in the mountains. One of the three peaks that broke up the ten thousand plateaus East of Wermspittle. Were there really ten thousand plateaus out there? It sounded impossible...
"Negotiation. We need to talk. Privately. Without distractions."
"What do we have to negotiate about?"
"You possess a specimen that I very much would like to acquire. At a fair and reasonable price, of course."
"The Dream-snail shells. I still have a few pieces left." Bujilli nodded to himself. He remembered that Sprague was in charge of the Oneirical Studies Section. Of course he wanted the Dream-Snail shells.
"No. As much as I would like to examine those, personally, I'm not here to bargain on my own behalf. I represent other interested parties--"
"Who? Who are these 'interested parties,' and what do they want?"
"I am not at liberty to reveal their identities. Nor their ultimate intentions."
"What do they want?" He casually drew an arrow from the quiver dangling on its strap from his bow-hand and inspected it. One of the arrows from Idvard's Keep. The yellow metal flange-fletchings quivered slightly. He wasn't sure, but it looked like there was greenish metal at the core of the shaft; he could see it glinting through the spots where the wood was flaking away. Old stuff. But it still worked. Well enough.
"You captured a freshly-hatched miasmagaster."
"So what?" Bujilli saw no reason to volunteer any information.
"They want it."
"Will you give it to them?"
"I haven't heard their offer."
"I am prepared to offer you three grimoires, containing no fewer than a dozen unique spells each, as well as my personal tutelage in the Oneiric Arts for one year and a day, if you surrender the miasmagaster immediately."
"That's the best you can do?"
"No. But it is as much as I am willing to offer at this time. It's a good deal. Really. I'm taking quite a loss in all due honesty."
"Three old books. You'd fob me off with some moldy-old crapulous creeds and spurious nonsense?"
"These are quality grimoires--"
"Spare me. I grew up reading the grimoires my Uncle bartered for--they're mostly rubbish, when they aren't sheer shit. Most sorcerers are frustrated poets with delusions of talent. Besides, how do I know that your books will be in a language I can even read? They're not enciphered are they? I hate cipher manuscripts."
"No ciphers. No codes or anagrams or other tricks. Just the working journals of a combat mage, a wand fighter, one who spent some time studying abroad...in Tsan Yian."
"Really?" Bujilli could feel the hook waiting for him there in the oh-so-tempting bait. Then it hit him: someone had been watching him, keeping track of him. Whether it was Sprague or his mysterious masters didn't matter. The fact that someone was able to monitor him at a distance without him knowing about it inspired a fresh sense of anger in him. He let the arrow slip forward, caught it under his fore-finger so he could hold arrow, bow and quiver-strap in one hand. Then he cast Thought Wall. He held Zone of Normality ready to go if necessary. He'd learned his lessons from the Green Gem. And his Uncle.
"There's no need to get defensive--"
"The spell only responds to what it recognizes as an attack. So, if you're not up to anything untoward, it isn't going to affect things."
"Ah. Well. It is good to know ones limitations."
"That's what my Uncle always said."
"He sounds like a wise man."
"Not really. These grimoires you are offering do interest me. Of course you already knew that they would."
"No sense in offering you something you've no interest in, is there?"
"Like your tutelage? I already have a mentor--"
"That old bastard? He's a professor of Unnatural Philosophy, a hunter after cryptozoic aberrations and weird antiques, someone who pokes around in old ruins, tombs and other filthy holes in the ground looking for obscure trash no one really wants any more. Haven't you gotten tired of picking through old tombs and robbing graves?"
Bujilli looked out to the tree-line. Scanning for Yeren-sign. An old habit. What Sprague was saying hit home. For years now he had complained and grumbled about being stuck down in some pit, to root about like a trained truffle-pig, scavenging obscure loot from forgotten catacombs. Years. So many years. He grew up scrambling through tight, dark spaces clutching strange treasures, avoiding things that prowled in the deeps. Sneaking his way past them. Or fighting. When he had no other choice.
It was a far more tempting offer than he would have ever suspected. Before. The death of his Uncle had changed things. No. Not changed. It had crystallized something deep down. Brought it into the light.
Bujilli had learned a lot about who and what he truly was in the course of the last few days.
He had an idea.
A counter proposal of sorts...