Bujilli lurched up off of his bed. Pulled up his britches. Got himself in order. Blood seeped under the door.
Gnosiomandus gestured and brought a gnarled old wand into his hand from somewhere else. The old man looked downright grim. There was a darkness behind his eyes that made Bujilli wonder what was going on with him.
He got his boot laced. Looked over at Leeja. She was watching over him. Gold-green eyes sparkling. Her hand on his shoulder. He would walk through another seven Hells for her...and she would do the same for him. It was a disturbing realization. Not entirely new. But shocking every time he got close to it. For both of them. Their rapport was deepening, strengthening. They smiled simultaneously. Nervously. Shyly.
Then the screaming raised in pitch. Inhuman. Wet. Blood-curdling. They couldn't just leave Gudrun and Sharisse out there much longer.
Bujilli consider what spells to get ready. He took quick stock of his weapons. The short-bow was un-slung and in it's sheath alongside the quiver. On his back. As it was in his dream. No. Sprague's dream. He had been pulled into Sprague's dream. But Sprague had been far less suave, much less persuasive than he was normally. The Master Oneirist was disturbed. Conflicted. Distracted.
Bujilli had let himself get distracted. He had allowed himself to go running about this place with one of his best resources shut down. His Counsel was operating on 'Oneiromorphic Interface.' Oneiromorphic. Dream-stuff. Someone had convinced him to switch his Counsel over to some sort of unconscious link, some sort of dream-based link. It didn't take a genius to figure out who would do that. Sprague. It fit. What a sneaky, conniving rotten--
"Machine." Bujilli whispered.
"What's out there? how many of them are there?"
Initiating Scan Extrapolating From Stated Parameters
Seven Active Aggressors Detected - Five Incapacitated Aggressors Indicated
Aggressors of Unknown Type
Query: Initiate Background Analysis of Aggressors of Unknown Type
Blood spread out from under the door. It was time to act. Bujilli gave the machine inscribed on his bones a silent affirmative. He looked to Leeja. At Gnosiomandus. Nodded.
As one unit they moved. Leeja opened the door and slipped past in a white blur. Bujilli followed. Gnosiomandus brought up the rear.
Tall, spindling not-people things, distorted mockeries of humanoid forms, all root-like and wrinkled, trailing tendrils and rootlets. Bujilli saw Gudrun sever the fore-limb on one. Sharisse snapped the legs of another. Blood--a sticky red sap really--covered the floor. The girls were lacerated from the plant-thing's lashing and flailing tendrils.
"Mandrakes!" Growled Gnosiomandus.
"Why would Sprague send these things at us?" Bujilli paused at the door.
"Sprague? No. These are Midwife servants. Not anything Sprague would use. Why would he be attacking you? What else have I missed while I was away?"
"Probably a lot. I don't know any Midwives--"
"You certainly know Hedrard."
"No. These are not hers."
"They're plants, right?"
"Yes. Mostly. Sort of..."
"Good enough." Bujilli cast Confusion on the Mandrakes nearest him. When those two paused in their shrieking, slashing scampering about he waded in with his hand-axe. He'd faced an uppity tree-thing once. These were just bloated roots, really. Then he saw their teeth. He started hacking away.
"About time you all got out here." Taunted Gudrun.
"We were doing fine." Sharisse twisted out of the way of a tangled swiping mass of tendrils, spun back around, grabbed the mass and somersaulted back over the Mandrake. The tendrils snapped. She had fought in the Arena, before getting caught-up with the Corruption Trade. And the Werms. This was a chance for some pay-back. She was grinning broadly as she lunged right into the path of the next Mandrake.
"Show-off!" Gudrun chopped into another joint. Chopped again. Again. The limb fell free. She went to work on another limb. Methodical. Calm. She dismantled her opponents with the precision of a surgeon. Her scalpel was in her left hand, a bone-saw or something similar in her right.
The floor was littered with still-twitching bits and pieces of the Mandrakes. The whole place reeked of ginseng and radishes. The sap-blood was starting to congeal underfoot.
It was over.
"At least they're quiet now." Leeja joked.
"But why did they attack?" Bujilli pulled out the amulet he'd received from Hedrard. It was lukewarm. Covered with black vine-things that snaked around the disk like a tiny living cage. Bujilli Dispelled the blocking spell. The snaky-vines dribbled off of the amulet to stain the carpet at his feet.
"Someone blocked my connection to Hedrard." He looked at Gnosiomandus.
"These Mandrakes. They are out of season for feral ones. They're too spindly. Malnourished. Blood-starved. Too similar. One crop. Very unhealthy. These things were raised deliberately, wrongly, in some sort of secret plot or herbarium." Gnosiomandus slipped his wand back into somewhere else as he walked around the dismembered pieces of plant-things. Then he knelt down. Picked-up a pseudo-hand wreathed in the stumps of scores of severed tendrils. The pulpy fingers twitched and grabbed at him like starving grubs.
"Not one of these things has the Blue Mark on them. This was no legitimate Midwife's doing."
"Nothing from Hedrard." Bujilli let the amulet drop back down his collar.
"You only dispelled one end of the connection. If they're blocking your end, they're probably blocking hers as well." Gnosiomandus stood up. Rolled the severed plant-hand in a strip of gray fabric, then slipped it into his shoulder-bag. Always collecting samples.
"Why?" Leeja was carefully moving the various fragments away from each other. She'd seen, and faced, opponents that could re-connect themselves back into a working whole if the hacked-apart pieces were allowed to touch long enough.
"When Sprague pulled me into some sort of dream-contact, he was preoccupied. He botched the whole thing. He was supposed to make me some sort of offer, on behalf of his masters--"
"Sprague has no master save himself. The man's ego is his only master."
"You are wrong. He told me out-right that he served secret masters--"
"Rubbish and nonsense. I've known the man for decades. He'd never willingly..."
"Scheiss." They all said it at once.
"What the hell kind of mess have you made while I was gone, you young rascal?"
"What the hell sort of mess did you drag me into old man?"
"So who do we go after first? Sprague, Hedrard, or whomever sent these...things...after us?"