Bujilli released the door handle. Heavy black wood. No rich, lustrous butter-colored...then it shifted again. The door was a mutable thing. The handle shifted too, only more slowly, as though the metal was resistant to the morphing effect. Perhaps it possessed a type of inertia?
"So let me guess. This door. It's not quite 'real' is it?"
Gnosiomandus smiled broadly. Nodded. "Correct. Sprague's an Oneirist. Nothing you see in this place is necessarily what you think it is. Everything here is subject to reinterpretation."
"Very good. You've been reading."
"I grew up reading a lot of crappy books. Nice one of them proved useful, finally."
"Ah but that's the thing with books, isn't it? You never know which ones will be useful or relevant in some cases until years after reading them. They're all messages we set adrift in a current, never knowing who will pluck them out of the stream, who will actually read them, understand them, reinterpret them, or just chuck them back into the current...or burn the things."
"You've written a book?"
"Should I read your books?"
"Only if you're having trouble sleeping."
"Ahem." Leeja gestured to the door. Pointedly.
"Of course. Yes. This door is dreaming, so it will open onto a different destination based upon how it is opened or passed. If we knew Sprague's password, we could go right to where he's at, no doubt. But alas, I do not have that...Bujilli? What's wrong?"
Bujilli shivered. Closed his eyes. Remembered. The snow. When he was drawn off to meet with Sprague in the dreamstate. His conversation with Sprague. The voucher. He laughed.
"There's a Voucher waiting for me here..."
"Well, yes, of course there is, but I thought you declined Sprague's offer?"
"Yes. I did. But the voucher might still be useful."
"Only if you sign it."
"Oh. Well, there goes one bright idea."
"Just kick in the door." hissed Sharisse.
"Or I can try to pick the lock..." Offered Leeja.
"Neither one is a good idea, really. The door shifts too much, as does the locking mechanism. We have no way to make it open up where we want to go. Hmmm. Or do we?" Bujilli considered the arcane geometry of the spell embedded in the wall, floor and ceiling before him. It was elegant, sinister in its symmetry, clean and precise, not all loopy and sloppy like most sorcerers tend to do things. It was intriguing to see how the spell's very structure was built up from layers of reflected and refracted variations, all very subtle in and of themselves, all nested and arranged like a musical score to produce something quite complex and harmonious through the interaction of all the various parts. This was a real spell. Magic as an Art.
"This is nothing like the spells I've gotten used to...it's incredible..."
"You've learned a lot of the common spells that get peddled about cheaply among hedge-witches and small-time sorcerers. Those sorts of things can be fairly effective, even powerful, but real magic is personal, the way great art is personal; copyists and plagiarists can't pour their soul into work that is not their own. The forms and schema can be reproduced, even reverse-engineered or hacked, but to truly create something new, not just cobble together fragments of other people's work, that's what distinguishes a master from an apprentice more than anything."
"Yes. Things like 'Light,' for example. there are hundreds of variations available, some produce differently tinted illumination, others simulate fire or glowing-eels, or whatever. Each one is a training tool, a practical exercise to hone and develop the user's inner discipline, visualization and capability, so that they can, eventually, move past rote memorization and static forms to directly, immediately, personally interacting with things. But one dismisses grammar at their peril. There are those who have raised this approach to things to a high art unto itself. But then you'll find poetry in every idiom, every form of communication and expression."
"Grammar?" Leeja tilted her head. Perhaps she heard something. Behind them.
"Poetry?" Gudrun scoffed. Drew out her scalpel.
"We have no time for lessons, old man--we need to get moving." Sharisse re-checked her gonne as she moved quietly back towards the stairwell.
"I knew we should have smashed those mirrors..." Muttered Gudrun as she took up a position across from Sharisse.
"You really don't think that would have helped, do you?" Leeja shook her head. She'd dealt with Mirror-born before. The Pallid, her Father's people, considered it a test of fitness to pit one's heirs against their own reflections. She had survived. But it had always nagged at her; which one was the 'real' her? She hated that sort of crap. That's why she had failed her first semester of combat semiotics.
"What will a Knock spell do?"
"Open the door. Of course."
"But will it be the right door, to the right destination?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Meaning it's worthless. Fine. This door is probably trapped. It's too obvious and it feels like bait. Something shiny to catch our attention and lead us in the wrong direction."
"That would be Sprague's way." Nodded Gudrun.
"I could look for a window. Climb around outside?" Leeja offered.
"Waste of time;" harrumphed Gnosiomandus; "The windows on the outside do not necessarily correspond to the spaces on the inside. You'd probably get lost or ambushed, and we'd never be able to find you or reach you in time."
"We're wasting time now."
"It's a door. Either open it or move on."
"You led us here. So Sprague is here? Right?" Bujilli cracked his knuckles.
"And this door leads to him."
Bujilli grinned. He examined the door again. The walls. The ceiling. The floor. Yes. It might work.
"Not every spell I know is necessarily 'common,' you know." He visualized his repertoire of spells. He engaged his Counsel to assist him. Glyphs danced in tiny circles or more oblong orbits around a tree-like central structure that represented his knowledge, his experience and ability. There. Green. Opalescent. Yes. He reached into the glyph, copied it, replaced the primary representation, then peeled back the outer layers of the copy. Purple. Not the spiral. The Lozenge. Yes. That one as well. The Amber Cube as well. He connected each of them, one after the other, with coiling filaments of inky light that swirled and tried to bleed away unless he maintained his focus on what he was doing. Portions of the spells flowed from one glyph to another. Strata built-up. Layers closed-up over one another. Bujilli opened his eyes. It had gone a lot more quickly this time, but his alterations were simpler, more direct, mostly some reversals of significant sub-sections and some minor adjustments to avoid scalding everyone to death within the area of effect.
He made the preliminary gesture. Held the Aklo verb in his throat. The blacklight shimmered across his lightly furred arms. Growling sinisterly, Bujilli cast his modified Zone of Normality as a shell that encapsulated his friends as well as a large section of the adjoining wall. When that spell gelled into place, he cast a slightly modified Oneiric Bubble within it, using the first spell as a guide for the second. Then he vibrated the Aklo verb, the only fragment he still retained from his once and only casting of the Tsannic spell Malign and Particular Suspension of Natural Law. He hated to crash Sprague's beautiful door. He wished he had some other option, rather than to destroy something so beautiful, but there was no time.
The Door stood locked and firm. The wall next to it collapsed screaming into a dire green void. A Vortex spun within the emptiness. It threatened to become a maelstrom. Bujilli barked three syllables, not Aklo, but something from the Naacal he had gleaned form reading moldy old books in his Uncle's yurt by the flickering, fuzzy yellow glow of a fat-lamp.
The spell terminated. The wall was now a passage-way, a ramp sloped inward, to the left and upwards.
It felt weird to not have a nose-bleed after using something Tsannic. But then his stomach lurched. Heaved.
"Are you serious?" Scolded Gudrun.
Bujilli spat. Wiped vomit from his facial fur. Steadied himself. The nausea passed.
"Someone's coming." Hissed Sharisse.
"I imagine so," Gnosiomandus shook his head. "You used Aklo. That will rile-up the Mirror-born..."
Sharisse fired her gonne. Began to reload.
"You best get moving. We'll deal with these things!" Gudrun grinned. Replaced her scalpel. pulled on her black gloves. Drew out a hammer. A nicked and rusted ball-peen hammer. Turned to face the stairs.
"We've got this." Sharisse fired again. There was a wet, shattering sound this time. She leaned forward to better judge the effect of her shot, then flipped her gonne to use it as a club.
The two women looked at one another. Nodded. Ran down the stairs.
"Shall we?" Gnosiomandus bowed slightly, gestured to the passageway created by Bujilli's modified spell.
"Yes. Let's. I haven't killed anything in a while." Leeja purred sweetly beside Bujilli.
They went to go see Sprague...