There was a knock at the door. He was on the twenty seventh page. They knocked again. He considered giving whomever it was a taste of the Red Light of Kulva...but that would be stupid. Besides he was ravenously hungry.
"Yes?" he waited to hear their response before opening the door.
He pulled out his hand-axe. Just in case. Then Bujilli unlocked the door and pushed it open just a small bit.
There was a tray on the floor beside the door. Food. He leaned out and looked along the hallway in both directions.
He slipped his hand-axe back in his belt-loop then picked-up the tray.
The soup smelled good. He placed it on the table and turned back to close the door.
"What have you done with Leeja?" screeched the green-toothed bar-maid. She had a cleaver in one had and a pistol of some sort in the other. The cleaver jittered in her shaking hand. The pistol was aimed right at his chest, for the most part.
Bujilli distrusted firearms. They were too damn loud. They also seemed to grant idiots far more courage than was usually healthy. Perhaps it was some sort of talismanic effect.
He lunged for the door and slammed it hard on the startled bar-maid's arm. Her pistol clattered to the floor. Triddel screamed. Bujilli let up the pressure then slammed it down again to make sure she wasn't going to forget what happened when she tried to ambush him.
"Let me go damn you!" Triddel screeched in six voices at once.
Then he knew.
She was werm-ridden.
One of the Host.
The faction that had once enslaved Sharisse**...until Bujili had restored her humanity.
The Wermic Host hated him for what he had done.
"Too bad your masters have decided to attack me--"
"No! NO! I did not attack you! I'm not here to hurt anyone!"
"Pointing a pistol at me? Waving a cleaver around? Sure. You just wanted to talk. Right." he considered breaking her arm or using a spell on her.
"No! You've got it all wrong. I needed to make sure that you'd listen--"
"You're not coming in. If you have something to say, get on with it or else I intend to make you--and your masters--regret this unwelcome intrusion."
"No! No offense was meant. My masters...they want to reach an understanding with you...they want to make a deal."
"Deal? What kind of deal?" Bujilli watched Triddel's arm writhe bonelessly. She was far-gone. He doubted he could break her arm by simply jamming the door on it; her bones were mostly some sort of wermic-cartilage now.
He almost laughed. Instead he stepped back from the door. She retracted her arm. He nudged it open. She had dropped her cleaver.
"A truce? What kind of truce?" Bujilli was incredulous. He did not trust these things.
"We would let you live in peace for so long as you left us in peace. Fairly simple, nothing onerous, and certainly nothing to compromise your personal principles." The chorus of wermic-voices sent a shiver down his spine.
Bujilli bowed his head ever so slightly so he could check on Leeja--she was still asleep. He looked closely at Triddel. Her skin was wrinkled and sagged awkwardly where werms crawled underneath. Whatever looked at him from behind those eyes, the no-longer-young bar-maid was little more than a prisoner trapped within her outrageously parasitized body.
For a moment, a brief shining moment, he considered attempting to free her of the werms as he had done for Sharisse.
But she was too far gone.
The werms owned Triddel body and soul.
He hated them for that.
Pulpy white werm-bits and brain-matter spattered across the wall.
"Death to tyrants." Bujilli called-up the Purging Green Flame he had used to drive the werms from Sharisse*** and used them to do what he could for Triddel. At least she could be free in death.
The green flames reduced the screeching mass of werms and what little was left of the bar-maid's body to a fine white ash.
Bujilli stood there for quite a while, just staring at the ash as it swirled and settled on the carpeting. It left a bitter taste in his mouth in more ways than one.
He needed some way to respond to the werms that wasn't simply destroying them and their hosts. He had been able to salvage Sharisse from their clutches...but she had been young and only recently taken over.
How could he drive these things out without killing or further harming the hosts?
Was such a thing even possible?
If old men could lob exploding orbs of fire at one another and a few words and a gesture could let him breathe in a place without air then anything was possible. He just needed to learn more. Dig deeper.
Bujilli closed the door on Triddel's ashes.
He ignored the soup.
It was time to get serious about these spells in his father's Little Brown Journal. He re-opened the little booklet at the beginning and began to read in earnest. The first few entries were anecdotal jottings concerned with his father's exploration of an abandoned mountain redoubt where he discovered what was left of a once great library of metallic scrolls and whispering tablets. It was there that Lyhydris had transcribed his notes regarding the Twenty Deadly Planes. Bujilli read through his father's notes eagerly. Some sections required re-reading a few times to get them worked-out in his head, but it all made sense; it all was workable. He would need to attempt an attunement to test things out. But that he could do. Eventually. The Six Low Forms fit with what his uncle had taught him and gave him ideas for how he might modify some of the spells he already knew quite well. The Higher Forms could wait, for now. He needed to build a good foundation before rushing into things he wasn't ready to handle just yet.
He committed several new spells to his repertoire, transcribing them into his own spell-book and impressing them onto his brain through the usual mnemonic processes. Time meant nothing. He lost himself in his studies.
Bujilli caught himself before he fell out of the chair. His neck was stiff. He'd fallen asleep studying the Little Brown Journal again. His eyes were blurry from long and weary contemplation of obscure trivia and esoteric formulas. The room was stuffy. He could use a bath. The candle had burned itself out. It must be late at night.
He rolled to his feet. Hand-axe at the ready. A Gestural Glob on the very verge of forming around his left hand. Perhaps he'd get a chance to test this new spell out...
The window. Something was tap, tap, tapping at the window. He went over and pulled wide the heavy drapes, raised the armored blinds and cranked open the shutters. Slowly. He wanted to see what was out there, but he wasn't about to let it break into the room either.
A flat paper packet of some sort. Two packets. Both shoved past the shutters toward the glass by a smallish, hairy paw.
Bujilli cranked the shutters open farther. A winged monkey wearing the uniform tunic of the Night Mail latched onto the extended window sill and held the letters up against the window.
It took a moment to figure out how to open the window. The winged monkey waited patiently.
The window rose grudgingly; no one had opened it in ages. The winged monkey hopped to the edge of the window and proffered the two letters to Bujilli. He could see that they were marked. Graceful handwriting. His name in flowing, looping Franzik if he wasn't mistaken. The other one was marked in blocky, gothic Pruztian characters. It was for Leeja.
Bujilli reached out and took the letters from the winged monkey. It tipped his little hat and flew off, a satchel of letters and parcels dangling and swaying as it fluttered along its route to the next customer.
There were heavy clouds overhead. Another thunder storm was approaching. He watched the clouds move in front of the bright crescent moon. Just as the moonlight failed he spotted one, no two, three Tripods stalking through the Farm Market. Smoke curled up from the burning stalls and wagons. Somewhere nearby he could hear a Black Smoke alarm clanging away.
He closed the window. Cranked the shutters closed. Went to the door and listened. Nothing. Whatever was going on, it was far enough away that they had time to decide what to do next.
Bujilli checked on Leeja. She stirred in her sleep. Restless. Uneasy. Agitated. He sat down on the bed next to her and considered the two letters.
He cast Gloomlight, letting the little glyph float close enough to the letter to not disturb Leeja too much. He had read through a section of the Little Brown Journal that expanded upon the basic framework of the old Lurmish spell and now he now knew six ways to modify it to better suit his needs.
He set Leeja's letter down, examined the one addressed to him. It carried the faint scent of something vaguely familiar. Exotic. Feminine? It felt so. But he couldn't place it. The black wax seal bubbled and evaporated as he went to scrape it off. The evaporating wax left the impression of a very ornate letter 'Y' on the envelope. One sheet of crisp gray werm-vellum slid out smoothly into his hand:
There was a glyph of some sort embedded within the werm-vellum. It glinted like oily metal in the Gloomlight. He could feel it tug at his hand ever so slightly. It was some sort of spell-cyst. Or perhaps it was a glyph-map. It might be a apport-junction. He examined it with his sorcerer's vision--faint lines of force curled around the thing, but nothing led outwards, nothing obvious, nothing he could detect. It was not a ley-line nexus...unless Yushgra knew some way to suppress the connections far more deeply than he could see...and that was unlikely. It just didn't radiate that kind of signature. It was certainly compressed, but it was also keyed to him--personally--the reaction to his aura was unmistakable. Whatever it was, it was meant for him. Personally.
He wasn't sure what he thought of that.
Yushgra had made him uncomfortable. She was one of the Perdu. Born invisible, their ancestors had been exposed to hazardous chemicals and then subjected to medical experiments by defrocked pharmacists and other quacks. The Perdu, and their offspring the Abseen, were notorious thieves and scholars lauded for their acute perceptions even as they were reviled for their duplicitous schemes and opaque manipulations, they were considered both native to Wermspittle and a fitting punishment or pox on the place.
The assassins who had struck Mama Rudta's alley-camp* had been Abseen. Invisible kin to the Perdu.
He wasn't sure what to think, let alone believe.
Leeja stirred. He shifted position so as not to disturb her farther. He felt he should stay close to her. Something about her expression troubled him.
Someone was at the door.
He got up from the chair. Stretched the stiffness out as best he could. Drew out his hand-axe--like an idiot he had not re-loaded his pistol.
"Yes?" He called through the door.
"I haven't much time..." grumbled a familiar voice.
Bujilli opened the door. His mentor and sponsor at the Academy, Gnosiomandus, shuffled into the room and shut the door behind him.
"I brought you something." The old man held out a heavily-wrapped parcel. It looked like three old books.
"You came here seeking knowledge you were not going to get anywhere else. I promised to help you in that pursuit and I intend to keep my promise."
"Things are going from bad to worse and I'm not inclined to stick around for the inevitable pogroms and executions and all that scheiss all over again. I'm leaving. My things have already been shipped-out to three different destinations and before I head off across the mountains I want to give you these," Gnosiomandus foisted the books on Bujilli.
"The Blue Grimoire is a compendium of the more common sorts of spells and their most well-known variants you'll find in Wermspittle. There is an annual supplement that I used to help put together that was available by subscription. I put you in for a subscription and paid for it for the next ten years when I cashed-out my accounts. So if it manages to continue, you'll have that to look forward to. The Red Bestiary is an incomplete copy of my working manuscript. I don't know now if I'll ever get a chance to finish it, but it might come in handy whether you stick around here or head off for somewhere else. The Yellow Pages is another grimoire, taken from Secondspittle, Yellowholm, whatever they're calling the ruined place on the otherside of the Eastern Gate of the Inner Ramparts. A group of us recovered this grimoire from the wreckage of the parallel city over there. Half of us died from fungal infections or worse before we realized what was happening. If you want to get to the root of why Wermspittle is the way it is, you'll find answers there, if you survive. It's a perilous, harrowing place. Make damned sure you don't go alone. Take flame-throwers if you can. I suggest talking to the Middle-Sized Bear if you plan on going over there. Leeja has already met them. You might find yourself with another friend if you're lucky. She has a fondness for honey-taffy. Ever since she stopped drinking, that's her only weakness; but I didn't say anything. I think the Voormis might have an easier time relating to you than your partner there, now that they think she's some sort of demoness."
"No need to thank me lad. Consider it my gift to you, at least the Red Bestiary; that I haven't shared with too many people as yet, being a work-in-progress. I ought to have gotten you a copy of the Blue Grimoire right away, but I just assumed you were like every other student and would have a copy in-hand already. A grievous oversight, I know, but I have rectified it now. The other one there...well...it's a dangerous, damnable thing...but I have the impression that you know your way around such stuff fairly well, based on your heritage and what I know of your upbringing. I only hope it doesn't prove a let-down after studying Tsannic Rites, amorphic wards, geist-kills and the more tactical forms you've been examining."
"You know what I've been doing?"
"Of course! I've done my level best to keep an eye on you both. If I hadn't been ambushed by the Faceless or nearly skewered by a Wretched Lord's ahlspeiss, I would have gotten to you sooner. Oh, before I forget, here--" He handed-over another, smaller bundle; "This is for Leeja when she wakes up. Hedrard sends her blessing and wants to let you know that she's reachable via that amulet she gave you, if you ever decide to re-open the link. Eberhard is going to be busy for the next while, but she remains your friend and ally and you might consider lending her a hand if you get ambitious. She's going to need all the help she can get!"
Two books, one dark violet, the other some sort of field journal, and a disk of carved jade, all wrapped-up like his bundle. It was a strange sort of peace-offering. The old man looked almost guilty as he handed it over.
Bujilli set both bundles down on the table.
When he turned back, Gnosiomandus was gone.
Leeja sighed deeply. Sat up. Stared right at him; "We need to go."
"Go? Go where?"
"Sprague is waiting for us--"
"Sprague?!? Why would he be waiting for us? Where?" Bujilli wasn't sure he wanted to go running off just yet. There was a lot more to learn, to study, to master.
"No time to explain. We have to--"
Bam! Bam! Bam! Someone else was at the door.
Bujilli slid out his hand-axe. The door opened. Vushka entered, nearly breathless and bloodied.
"Here!" She tossed a package towards Leeja. It was the replacement armor she had gone after.
"There are Tripods out there--"
"I saw them." Bujilli nodded.
"We don't have time for this!" Leeja made a gesture. An oval of purplish mist formed before her. It shimmered into place. Bujilli could see trees on the other side, some kind of a forest. A Purple Forest.
Leeja scooped up the armor. Nodded to her friend. Grabbed Bujilli by the hand.
"We need to go n--"
The outside wall flashed red. Stone screamed and wood charred into ashes that reminded him of Triddel.
Vushka turned and ran.
What should Bujill do next?
* The attack on Mama Rudta's alley-camp took place in Episode 89.
** Sharisse was part of the group that ambushed Bujilli and Leeja back in Episode 29, was captured by Bujilli in Episode 30, was revealed to be Werm-Ridden in Episode 31.
***Sharisse had the werms removed in Episode 32 and Episode 33, (it was in Episode 33 that Bujilli put together his spell of Purging Green Flames, one of the new spells to be featured in our forthcoming grimoire), and Sharisse was then sent on her way. She re-connected with Gudrun, who was being manipulated to wrongly blame Bujilli for the death of her brother and ever since then Sharisse and Gudrun have become friends and followers of Bujilli. Both young girls were featured in the short story Of a Feather. Sharisse and Gudrun were both involved in the battle with the MirrorBorn back at Sprague's offices in the East Wing of the Academy that kicked off around Episode 74. We'll be seeing more of Sharisse soon...