Bujilli considered the room full of steaming green mud beyond the door, the shattered mirror surrounded by jagged shards like glittering teeth, the black chains leading down into darkness of the worst sort. Not one good choice among them. Typical.
"Whatever we're going to do--we need to do it quickly!"
"What do you mean by this 'Unreality' you're so worried about?" Leeja distrusted Sprague intensely. Even more so now that he was apparently trapped in some dream-state.
"There isn't time to discuss paradigmatic inertia or how the spectrum of consciousness interacts with the fundamental basis of manifest reality and imagination--"
"Save the lecture for class. We need to leave this place. The way we came in is blocked. The only real option before us is to follow these black chains down into wherever it is that Sprague's soul or whatever has been taken. I don't like it. I don't pretend to understand it. But I also do not see any alternative. Do either of you?" Bujilli could feel the hairs on his arms and legs bristle from a peculiar fluctuation of static electricity. The walls were growing translucent.
"No." Leeja stared down at Sprague. For a moment Bujilli thought that she might cut his throat.
"No." sighed Gnosiomandus; "I fear that this really was more of a trap than I anticipated."
"Fine. It's a trap. Let's break it. Turn it against whoever is behind this business."
Gnosiomandus nodded solemnly. He had misjudged this young half-breed. He'd misjudged quite a bit lately. It couldn't all be from getting old. But this wasn't the time or place to address that.
The old scholar cast spell. A scintillating, billowing curtain of mauve light flowed around all three of them and Sprague upon his bed. The light corruscated through deep purples and rippled into a swirling barrier of violet luminosity.
Bujilli felt his ears pop even as his own spell ceased to operate. Whatever Gnosiomandus had cast, it cancelled-out his Zone of Normality. He'd never encountered anything quite like that before. It was slightly disturbing. But then quite a lot of what he'd recently discovered was drenched with upsetting ramifications. Nothing was ever very simple around this Sprague person.
"You didn't want to lave his body behind, so how are we supposed to follow these chains and keep him with us?" Leeja sheathed her stilletto. Reluctantly.
"Ah. No worries. We're already underway."
"What?" Bujilli realized even as he spoke that they were in motion. He wasn't sure how it worked. Then he looked at the black chains. They were piling up on the bed next to Sprague.
"Where?" Leeja hissed.
"A very, very bad place, I'm afraid."
"You live in Wermpsittle." Leeja scoffed.
"Not by choice." Gnosiomandus looked away.
The black chains spilled off of the bed with an incredible racket. Sprague didn't move. No reaction. Just barely breathing. Dreaming.
Bujilli shivered. His breath billowed out in puffs of white. It was growing colder. Much colder.
He looked at the ever more rapidly accumulating black chains. They were wet. Glistening. Traces of frost were crackling across them.
The violet light snuffed out.
Leeja shrieked in rage.
"I'm sorry." Gnosiomandus patted Bujilli on the shoulder. It cleared the nausea.
Mist filled the air. A thousand distorted shadows slunk and slipped about just on the very periphery of perception. faint echoes pulsed and rippled through the floor...the ground...a gritty gray courtyard of some sort. Walls of pitted and streaked stone were quickly swallowed-up by unrelenting blackness.
Sprague's senseless body sprawled on the grit. A thin trail of white mist showed that he was still breathing. Shallowly.
Bujilli looked up. Quickly looked away. He could feel his soul almost fall out of him. At least that was what it felt like. The darkness above nearly had him in that one careless moment.
He grabbed hold of Leeja. Shook her. Forced her to look into his eyes; "Whatever you do; do not look up!"
She pulled herself free. Shook out her white hair. Nodded. Her claws were fully extended. He could feel the anger boiling behind her gold-green eyes.
Betrayal didn't suit either of them very well.
Clusters of scraggly, scabbed-over and leafless white trees, wretched things, poked up from the gray grit. Reaching upward to the devouring darkness. Blood red leaves covered the grounds nearest to the writhing whit trees. The whole place reeked. It reminded Bujilli of when his distant relations back in the mountains made candles from rendered fat.
There were four double-arched doorways. Past the sparse clusters of trees. One double arch in each of the decayed and crumbling walls. The stones were scored. Scorched. Broken in places. All the doors were split asunder, the locks ruined. The very air appeared cracked in places. Strange colors seeped through unlikely and incongruous gaps in the stones of the walls.
A single, drawn-out scream barely registered.
It started to snow. Each flake razor-edged. One after another raising tiny welts. A dozen cuts would quickly escalate to scores, to hundreds...
Gnosiomandus stood just ahead of them both. Back to them. His head bowed. Tears.
Smooth, translucent anemone-things swarmed into the dim courtyard from one of the shattered doorways. Pale colors flowed and sloshed through their elegantly tapering limbs as they floated closer. Closer.
"There was no other way..." Gnosiomandus called out as he ran towards the anemone-things. Teal-blue flames swirling around his right hand as he struck out at the servitors...