The False Sprague rose from his sarcastic bow with a fluid grace no body made of meat and gristle could hope to emulate. He, it, literally flowed as it moved. There were faint after-images in the wake of each movement. He was clearly amused by Leeja's reaction to his pantomime flirtation. He reached forth. Moved his left hand through a series of languid motions. A gesture that crackled and sizzled with growing power...
Leeja snarled. Extended the claws of her left hand. Gripped the crystal stiletto in her right. Glanced at Bujilli...
Bujilli instinctively shifted his perceptions, immediately alert and aware of the energies surrounding him, the echoing pulses and fluxes within the oneiroplasm. Like his Uncle taught him. Hostile spaces. Dangerous places. Pay attention to the traces. It was a handy mnemonic. He sensed the malevolence emanating from Not-Sprague's hand like ripples of scalding bleach. Bujilli reached out...
Gnosiomandus stared down at the trapped form of his colleague in stunned disbelief. It was a bad habit. One that had already almost gotten him killed multiple times this last year. It was something of a hazard of his profession. Perhaps. He hadn't been sleeping very well for some time now...
The Oneiroplasm went black.
Not-Sprague laughed. His voice echoed weirdly through the gelatinous, miasmic oneiroplasm.
Leeja lunged. The blade of her stiletto sparkled as it sliced through the blackened oneiroplasm. The laughter stopped abruptly. Everything went red...
Bujilli pushed away the little spells surrounding Sprague. They were old, frail, run-down and buzzing about like so many blind moths. A twist, a gesture, several of them collapsed into static and evaporating figments. Low-level spells could be renewed, but each time ran a risk of degrading their structure. They weren't meant to be maintained for weeks, months, at a time. Doing so tended to make them fragile. Brittle. Corrupt.
Gnosiomandus watched Bujilli brush away the accumulated debris of over-extended spells. It reminded him of dandruff...
The oneiroplasm surrounding them quaked. Shivered. It began to flow back towards the other room. No. It wasn't flowing out of the room. It was accumulating around Not-Sprague. Thickening. Dark scarlet matter that resembled coagulating blood.
Not-Sprague lost his attack spell when Leeja stabbed him. Now he was concentrating on pushing Leeja back by a brute-force manipulation of the oneiroplasm in the room. Fear curdled his sweaty features. His eyes glimmered like faceted black stones. The resemblance to Sprague was slipping. The entry-way Bujilli's spell had formed flickered then collapsed in a slow-motion vortex. Tendrils of oneiric matter connected it to the stuff flowing towards Not-Sprague. Perhaps he was somehow forcing the collapse.
Whoever, whatever this thing was; it exerted considerable control over oneiroplasm. Bujilli wondered if it wasn't some sort of rogue figment or ambient nightmare escaped from the mind of some spell-caster or scholar.
She was hurled back towards the bed before she could register what had happened.
She only barely retained her grip on the blade.
Gnosiomandus stopped her. Not by any flashy maneuver. He looked up as she rammed into him.
They fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs that only just missed snagging Bujilli as they went.
Bujilli began to cast Zone of Normality.
Not-Sprague sagged against the lintel. Mauve ichor running down from his wounds.
Leeja untangled herself from the old man. Gnosiomandus helped the young lady to her feet.
He shook his head. Something hovered just on the edge of his recollection. It felt like his brain had been removed and packed in thick swaddling folds of gauze like one of the mummies he'd discovered in Parjang--
"Scheiss!" Gnosiomandus looked directly at Not-Sprague. Three quick little spells rolled across his field of vision in rapid succession followed by a torrential horizontal geyser of smoldering green mud that struck Not-Sprague full-on before he could recover enough to begin casting any more of his own spells. Gnosiomandus hadn't used that particular wand in decades. He wished he hadn't been forced to use it this time. It was messier than he liked.
The green mud destroyed all the oneiroplasm it touched.
Not-Sprague gurgled and gasped fitfully as the torrent unleashed by Gnosiomandus' wand carried him backwards, out of the room, burying him under close to a ton of super-heated green mud. The carpets were ruined. So was the wand. That had been the last charge.
Gnosiomandus turned to see what Bujilli was doing. Caught himself mid-spell. Waited.
Leeja moved toward the doorway. She intended to stab Not-Sprague if the mud hadn't finished him off.
The Zone of Normality shimmered into place. Bujilli expunged the lingering traces of the contaminated oneiroplasm. He forced it to evaporate, leaving behind an oily blotchy film on the furniture, walls and ceiling. The once-sumptuous room was a disaster.
Bujilli ignored the room's distress. Focused on Sprague. The sorcerous bonds on the instructor were subtle, clever and insidious. He would almost have sworn it was the work of his Uncle. Black barbed-chains of shadowy non-matter were run through the back of Sprague's skull, through the so-called 'Medium's Door,' and entwined about his brain. Another series of similarly twisted chains ran around his heart. Both sets extended deep across the Lower Oneiric, into regions far more nightmarish than wondrous. Dark, ponderous regions resonant and pregnant with terrors too well imagined.
He looked at Gnosiomandus; "No one gets this entangled..."
The old man nodded.
"...without some level of cooperation in the process."
"What are you saying? Did Sprague do this to himself?" Leeja glared at Gnosiomandus briefly, then turned back to keep an eye on the other room.
"No. He did it for a reason." Gnosiomandus cursed himself for a fool, for not realizing the extent of things before now. He felt old. So very, very old.
"But why would anyone do such a thing?" Leeja asked without turning back.
"Power. Revenge. Some sick thrill..." Bujilli started to run off the list of usual motivations for a sorcerer.
"Really?" Leeja scoffed.
"Yes." Gnosiomandus reached out. Placed his hand on his former friend's arm. If only. If only so many, many things. He shook his head as the regrets flooded past. Truth could grow toxic if it remained bottled-up by denial and silence.
"Fine. For whatever reason this senior instructor has allowed himself to be imprisoned and replaced. For quite some time now, as I interpret the impressions coming off of these deeply invasive, deeply embedded spells."
"How long?" Leeja asked.
"Months. Nearly a year, possibly longer. All the oneiroplasm that had been allowed to settle and curdle in this room has corrupted things drastically--" Bujilli stopped. His eyes widened in shock.
"Yes. you sense it now, don't you?"
"No. We have an option."
"This room is teetering on the very brink of Unreality. We have to get out of here before it falls out of synch with anything we know or recognize--"
The mirror cracked. Shards cascading to the floor.
The walls pulsed. Throbbed languidly.
"No. We have time. If we move quickly."
"What do you have in mind?"
"We follow the chains back to their source."
"But then we'd be trapped. Dragged into the Unreal when this room goes--"
"We can't leave him like...this."
"Like hell I can't." Leeja scoffed. "Oh scheiss."
"What now?" Bujilli reinforced the Zone of Normality's outer perimeter.
"All the green mud that buried the fake Sprague is congealing, hardening. If we're going to go this way, we'd better get going right now. Even so, I'm not sure we can force the door as it is..."
Bujilli considered the room full of steaming mud, the shattered mirror, the black chains leading down into darkness of the worst sort.
"Whatever we're going to do--we need to do it quickly!"