Shattering glass. Screams. It sounded like the two young women were keeping themselves busy downstairs. Bujilli grinned. Those two had really come into their own. He was thankful for their friendship. It all could have gone so very, very differently. Choices and repercussions. Just like his old Uncle used to yell at him before a beating. He survived all that. And better. Much better. He'd learned the lesson and gone well beyond anything his Uncle could envision or imagine. Then he smelled the vomit. Yeah. Maybe he'd learned a lot, grown a lot, but he still had a long way to go. That's pretty much why he was here.
"You ready for this?" Gnosiomandus rolled his shoulders. Adjusted his grip on the fighting-wand. Glanced at Leeja.
She smiled. He shivered. Bujilli almost laughed.
"As ready as I'm going to be." he shifted the hand-axe into a more comfortable grip. It might have been Stril's a long time ago. It was his weapon now. And speaking of weapons. ///Machine?/// Bujilli tried to internalize his communication with the Counsel etched into his bones.
///Good. Keep an eye on things for me. Especially those things that I can't see so well myself. Let me know if you spot anything I ought to know about.///
Bujilli took a deep breath. Nodded. Stepped forward into the breach his spell had made in the wall. Gestured to Gnosiomandus to bring up the rear. Looked to Leeja, motioned for her to let him go first. she nodded, grudgingly. Then he broke into a run. The By-pass twisted upwards and to the left, then the right, zig-zagging at random for what felt like close to a mile. Bujilli slowed down to a trot. Leeja was keeping up with him easily. They waited for Gnosiomandus to catch-up before going any faster again.
The By-pass wound around, past, over, under and back again, again and again until finally they could see a
deep purple gloom filling the air ahead. At first it had the look of a curtain of mist at the foot of a waterfall. As they drew closer it took on a thicker, heavier appearance. Gelatinous purple light.
It was sluggishly beginning to seep downwards into the breach-path created by Bujilli's spell.
"Analyze faster damn it!" Bujilli hissed. Stopped. Watched the purple stuff.
"What?" Leeja touched his shoulder.
"I'm fine. The machine-spirit is figuring out what this stuff up ahead might be."
"Oh." She looked back at Gnosiomandus; "We should probably let him get caught-up with us again anyhow."
Terminus-Point of Breach-Path Saturated by Stratified Oneiroplasm
"That purply-stuff up ahead is some sort of dreamstuff."
"What did you expect?" Gnosiomandus kept going. Leaving them behind for a change; "It's the stuff that dreams are made of--Sprague's a Master Oneirist. I expected him to be prepared for our little home invasion. I would have been disappointed if he hadn't been..."
"So what do we do now?" Bujilli jogged up beside Gnosiomandus.
"What do you want to do?"
"You're not much of a mentor."
"You're not much of a student," Gnosiomandus laughed; "You haven't even officially attended a single class and you've already picked a fight with one of the senior instructors, not to mention all that business with Hedrard and Mistress Eberhard..."
"I did what I thought was the right thing..."
"No doubt. Then there's Sharisse. And Gudrun. And Leeja, of course...and Unfred..."
"Funny time to start criticizing my decisions--"
"No criticism intended. I'm telling you that you do just fine making your own decisions. I'm not interested in meddling. I'm here to help out as need-be. You're the one who should keep on making the decisions."
"So you approve?"
"Who cares? You don't need my approval, nor anyone else's, at least not until Finals."
"Fine. This stuff, this Oneiroplasm up ahead; I've run into something like this back under Zormur's Palace. I'm going to cast Oneiric Bubble and you both stay close behind me. It should let us move through this dreamstuff a little easier."
He cast the spell effortlessly. It was becoming extremely familiar to him. He'd used it so many times. It was comfortable.
The spell formed a glistening, translucent sphere around all three of them. It rolled forward as they moved. their footsteps echoed strangely inside the bubble.
They moved up to the bleeding edge of the purplish-matter. Bujilli pushed the bubble forward. The Oneiroplasm parted sloppily before the bubble's scintillating outer-surface. He pushed harder. Stepped forward. Kept moving.
The dreamstuff wriggled, squished, gulped, but couldn't--or didn't--restrict their movement.
They entered a boudoir. The walls were hung in black velvet. The bed was huge, carved from exotic woods and luxuriously covered with expensive linens. Very classy. Tasteful. Just as Bujilli had expected. Just like the man asleep on the bed.
"Sprague." Bujilli pushed closer. The Master Oneirist was asleep. His face was anything but peaceful. He was caught in the middle of a silent scream. Trapped. Imprisoned.
The purple Oneiroplasm hardened. Darkened.
Bujilli reached out. Touched the inner surface of the Bubble. He caught flickering impressions of things flashing through the Oneiroplasm. Someone walled-up in a dark and dismal basement. A young girl chained-up inside an attic closet. A boy, his face horribly acid-eaten, bound to his rickety too-small crib with barbed wire. One after another. Dozens. All Dreamers. All prisoners.
Whomever did this was drawing upon the collective nightmares of dozens of prisoners.
The Oneiroplasm darkened. Quivered violently. Bujilli looked out at the room once more, before it got too much darker. There. A mirror. He grabbed Gnosiomandus by the shoulder and pointed.
"Scheiss! That mirror is undraped."
"And how is that significant?" Bujilli started considering his repertoire of spells.
"All mirrors are covered in Wermspittle. It's not just one of the oldest laws, it's a matter of survival. Things come through mirrors..." Leeja stopped in mid explanation. Looked to Gnosiomandus. Closed her eyes. Unsheathed her stilletto.
"Part of what drew the founders of the Academy to this place, all those Adjacent Worlds, especially all the Dead Worlds surrounding Wermspittle, also has some sort of effect on mirrors--"
"These Mirrorborn you said were downstairs?"
"Yes. Warped replicas, simulacras, doubles. There's a whole weird ecology of inverse and perverse things that gain access to this place through mirrors. Not all of them, but enough to make the things dangerous, hence the law."
Gnosiomandus stared down at Sprague's nightmare-trapped form.
"Whomever it was that you've been dealing with...it wasn't Sprague..."
Someone clapped their hands in appreciation. They stood near the door to the boudoir. Golden light streamed in from the room beyond. There was a lovely roaring blaze going in the fireplace. It was fed by scores of old manuscripts, books, portfolios.
"You might say that I'm his replacement. At the risk of sounding immodest, I like to think that I'm something of an improvement." Not-Sprague bowed sarcastically. Blew Leeja a rakish kiss. Smiled devilishly. Gestured.
The Oneiroplasm went black...