Bujilli looked out upon the clearing, churned to mud and soon to be saturated with blood in the prosecution of some sad, sick operatic paroxysm of meaningless destruction. It was grim. Desperate times led to desperate measures. The chain of escalating reactions was dragging everything--and everyone--down into chaos, death and ruin. It had the aspect of some sort of call and response; someone nameless and unknown called a tune and everyone either joined in the unthinking idiot-dance or hummed along in a toxic loop of ever-escalating feedback. It all seemed so futile. Pointless.
Or was it so pointless? A disturbing thought wriggled into his brain, something his Uncle had asked him repeatedly and often during his earliest and most brutal 'lessons' in sorcery; 'Who benefited from things being this way?'
There was much shouting, yelling, orders and commands; it seemed that the battle had already begun, rather it had always been there among them, a lingering foulness poisoning them all from within their own ranks. Stoic soldiers took their positions and readied the engines of war, the well-oiled and maintained tools of their traditional trade. Sad-eyed and resigned midwives trampled the delicate blue grass as they went from one group to the next muttering trite homilies and performing small mercies, comforting those whose nerves were already fraying and tending to the small wounds and injuries stirred-up by all the helter-skelter movement. They were all prepared for the inevitable confrontation they all seemed hell-bent to rush into yet another drastic confrontation pell-mell. Impending violence crackled through everything like static electricity.
"So are you in, or are you out? Times a'wating and a lot of us have some dying to do..." Grompf signaled to one of his couriers.
Bujilli could feel more than one set of eyes focused on him. Leeja's hand was firmly wrapped around his own. Whatever happened next, they were going to face it together as partners. And more. He wondered if it would be enough.
"Your war is never going to be over, is it?" Bujilli closed his eyes for a brief moment, the better to focus on the swirling pattern of glyphs and icons dancing in his field of vision as Counsel mapped out the probabilities and likelihoods of thousands of permutations of choices, decisions and actions...and their reactions. There was a strange symmetry to it all, except for a thread of darkness that wound its way through and around and between everything like a slithering black serpent. A serpent with more than one head. Yes. He could see the shape of it now.
Secret Masters moving about behind the scenes, tugging at strings like puppet-masters. Conspiracies within conspiracies, wheels within wheels; the real enemy was--
Blood spattered Bujilli's face. A soldier hacked in two. Another. Another. Red and black robes did nothing to hide the malevolent form of a Manshonyagger hacking its way through the ranks of Grompfs' forces to reach Bujilli. The deadly manschine wielded a wickedly sharp two-handed sword it used to devastating effect. Sergeants began to bark orders and troops fell back, gave the killing machine a clear path. Officers conferred with one another and loudly considered a variety of options and responses while waiting for orders from higher up the command food-chain that would absolve them of ordering anything that could unduly impair their chances of advancement. Stretcher-bearers built from sticks and straw rushed in to retrieve the wounded and recover the remains of the dead.
Bujilli drew out his hand-axe, prepared a spell. Leeja looked into his eyes--she was afraid of this ancient horror from a long dead time and place--but she was determined to back him up whatever the cost.
IT IS THE TIME AS FORESEEN. The machine declared as it stopped right before Bujilli.
Grompf made to issue some orders but Bujilli gestured him to silence. They locked eyes for an uneasy moment, but the old commander relented. He recognized the futility of fighting something his troops were not ready to face. With a nod he turned away from Bujilli and began whispering orders to his couriers and runners. This thing might have surprised them, but the Sewer Militia had a few surprises of their own.
"You have come for me, I presume?" Bujilli examined the machine-thing. It had a deadly elegance to it; a killing mechanism clothed in sanctified robes, a triangle-headed golden key hung about its metal neck on a chain of alternating sunbursts and moons.
YOU ARE SUMMONED.
"By whom am I summoned? To what end?" He wished that he had been able to spend more time studying the Twenty Deadly Planes and attuning himself to at least one of them so he could call upon those techniques...he had a sinking feeling they might be needed sooner rather than later.
SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED.
Bujilli stifled a laugh; "Why must they be obeyed?"
SHE WHO BECAME DEATH, THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS, TO PRESERVE LIFE.
The smirk left his lips. The pattern in his field of vision coalesced into a twisted web leading to a central golden nexus and this killing machine was the key he hadn't realized he had been looking for until that very moment.
It was time to go.
Whatever it might cost.
The Manshonyagger held out the golden key. The way opened up before him. A Portal through darkness.
Bujilli glanced over to Leeja. She smiled. He laughed. Hand-in-hand they leaped through the Portal.
The Portal went opaque as the sword-bearing machine took up its station; it guarded the threshold.
Two robed figures approached from out of the darkness in-between sets of Gothic arches that seemed to extend for miles and miles. One wore densely green-black robes with a distinctly bluish sheen like fish-scales and a silver mask trimmed in lapis and azure; it bore a simple white cup in its left hand. The other wore dark, heavy crimson robes with tiny, gleaming threads of luminous red squiggling through the fabric like sparks; it wore a mask of gold chased with red and a scattering of rubies and it bore a censer filled with smoldering coals and flickering flames. The two figures remained utterly silent as they walked around Bujilli and Leeja three times, sprinkling them with water and wafting incense-smoke upon them with each stately step. Then they stopped across from one another and stepped back. They each wore an ornate mantle or collar-thing set with glimmering opals.
"The forms have been observed. All is in readiness."
A third figure approached bearing a lantern that drowned-out all sight outside the radius of its radiance. More robes; this time one side was stark white, the other ashen-black. A mask of bronze or some other alloy, set with pearls and nodules of various sorts in recursive, spiraling swirls. A chain of alternating sunburst and moons, similar but fancier than the one the Manshonyagger had worn, was artfully draped across their shoulders. Dozens of plump, gleaming opals dangled from the larger chain on tiny little chains of their own. In its gauntleted right hand was a wand that it raised overhead.
"All is rightly warded and properly defended."
The figure turned, shining its light back along the way it had come, revealing a winding metal ribbon that lead directly into the midst of a vast, circular chamber with a ponderous basalt cube hovering in the center. The red and blue figures took up positions directly opposite one another. In-between them was a figure in white dimming to dove-gray flanked by a pair of pillars, one black, the other white, and before them was another, larger hovering cube. Opposite them was a throne and upon it sat a Queen. She was breathtakingly beautiful and She wore hundreds of opals worked into her elaborate headdress, mantle and train of gold.
"Your soul has wandered long in the darkness of ignorance; constant prey to blind, imbalanced forces. Would you pledge yourself to my service if I were to bring you into the light of understanding? I wonder..."
"Who?" Bujilli choked out the one-word. His throat was constricted with shock and awe. He had expected many thing, all of them dark, foreboding and gratuitously dangerous...nothing quite like this, certainly nothing quite so overwhelmingly exquisite and radiant.
"Do not toy with the young man--he is no longer a boy." Another woman stepped out of the encircling shadows to playfully chastise the Queen. This one wore no robes, only a sort of tunic bound at the waist with a heavy war-girdle girt with a slender scarlet sword in a transparent scabbard. She wore only one opal that dangled on a silver chain between her breasts. Her features flowed and changed with each step she took towards the throne. Her voice echoed softly with multitudes of overlapping whispers.
"We are the Soulless. We are the ones you've been looking for, though you never realized it until our sentinel awoke from its long slumber at the right moment to conduct you thither."
"Why am I here? What do you want with us?" Bujilli wondered at the bizarre tableau set before him. This was not what he had expected. At all.
"We are part of a Triumvirate great grand daughter. The others--"
"--Are Not Here! This is My Domain. I am Queen in this place."
"And yet I remain. I was queen before you; I can be Queen again. If need be."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"I have dared much. It was I who crushed a universe--"
"--and nought remains. Yes. We all know; and we grow weary of your re-telling of it. Yes, you saved us all and we're ever so grateful, but that was another time and another place; what have you done for us lately great grandmother?"
"For one thing I made sure that the Star-Begotten and the Children of Earth were made present for this meeting."
"How Dare You!" Screamed the Queen from Her throne.
"Utopia has fallen. Paradise is lost. Yet we remain." A large Morlock in blackened half-plate armor lurched into the light of the chamber to take his place beside the Queen's rebellious grandmother.
"We have not forgotten, nor have we abandoned our kith and kin." A tall, slender man flanked by three armored blobs mounted atop ridiculously delicate-seeming tripods slipped through the air to take up his spot on the other side of woman girt with a scarlet sword. His skin was translucent, his skull over-large and his fingers were so multiply-jointed as to be more like tentacles. He had softly luminous liquid gold-green eyes when he looked towards Leeja that took on a warm ochre and gold cast as he glanced at Bujilli, that shifted to dark violet irises as he faced the Queen.
The old morlock cleared his throat and began to recite; "We were the inheritors of a dying world, when your mother called upon us to quit the Nightlands, to seek the extended light of day--"
"Blah, blah, blah; we all know the litany--"
"Not all. They might like to hear it."
"I fail to see the point--"
"Exactly. You in your prescience did not foresee my actions, nor have you been able to ascertain how the things these two have set into motion will play out. We have reached the end of the line, daughter."
"We the living sought to escape a dead and dying place. We had run out of time." The tall man gestured expansively with his too-flexible fingers.
The morlock-elder grumbled over-loudly; "Not true. We still had plenty of time; we had run out of--"
"Enough! If you squabble through this we'll never get to the end, let alone anything resembling a point!"
The Queen clapped her perfect hands together three times;
"Gazbonti! Jester--attend me! Your Queen so commands!"
A very large green finch landed before the throne. Astride it sat a bow-legged, hunchbacked man in motley.
"I hear and obey, oh my Queen!" and with a sly flourish of his tri-horned head-dress Gazbonti tumbled off of the huge green finch, rolled to his feet and took a bow.
No one clapped. Leeja stifled a girlish giggle, for which the clever jester was quite grateful.
"You have the space of one hundred words to explain things to these two. Do so adequately and you may keep your head. For a bit longer."
The jester bowed solemnly to his Queen then turned to face Bujilli and Leeja.
"All things grow old and eventually perish; even Immortals must bow to Time's tyranny, if only slightly, or else become timeless and lose the ability to operate effectively within our shared frame of experience. Very nearly at the end of one universe that was collapsing into oblivion, an engine was built--"
"By our ancestors!" roared the morlock.
"By our designs!" hissed the translucent-skinned man.
"By our command!" chuckled the Queen's Grandmother; She who had given that very order.
"Yes, well,, let me begin again. To make a long story short, the Triumvirate you see represented here," his hand swept out to include the three principles standing before the throne; "tried to escape their fate. They managed to twist their world out of its universe into another...but only after they sacrificed another world, one just on the very brink of burgeoning life...by transposing one world for the other. Their world, this one, took up position in an unspoiled timeline...the other world was cast into the ruined waste of their previous existence where it became the seed for something none of them had expected. They call it Zalchis."
"Zalchis?!" Bujilli felt his blood go ice cold.
"Yes. You've heard of it?" Gazbonti grinned sheepishly.
"I've heard of it." He nodded.
"Have you then? How?" Demanded the Queen.
"I once carried the Gem of Muktra*. It whispered to me of Zalchis. Among other things."
"No doubt. Did it guide you to the Nameless City, or did it lead you into the Blade Mazes of Kalkendru** instead?"
"I was led into Kalkendru..."
"And yet you survived. Was this one with you at the time?" The Queen gestured dismissively towards Leeja.
"No. I was alone. Save for the Gem."
"Impressive. Where is the Gem of Muktra now?"
"I neither know, nor care. I left it behind, before I reached Wermspittle."
"Pity. It might have proven quite useful."
The entire chamber rocked slightly. The lambent blue flames of the censers at each of the four cardinal directions cut out with a collective whuff.
"What was that?"
The translucent man bowed slightly from the waist; "I do believe it is time to be going."
The Tripod-mounted blob-things skittered around him in a defensive pattern as he retraced his steps to the passageway by which he had entered the throne chamber.
"Time to adapt or die, daughter." The scarlet sword snicked free of its scabbard.
"Our part of the bargain is fulfilled. There is no going back now." The old morlock made a familiar gesture and an ashwood staff festooned with a number of clacking bones slipped back into his grip from somewhere else.
"What is the meaning of this?!" The Queen rose from Her throne in quivering outrage.
"I am third eldest of our kind. I am pre-eminent among our kind by virtue of having destroyed my elders and eliminating any who oppose me--"
"We don't have time for this. We need to get the Engine ready. You'll have plenty of time to address old grievances and quarrels afterwards." The old morlock shambled over towards the hovering black cube across from the throne.
"I'm reclaiming what is mine."
The scarlet blade scraped across the throne, leaving a deep rut.
The Queen was retreating to the passage-way behind the throne.
Gazbonti attempted to placate the Queen's Grandmother.
His head flew from his shoulders.
The green finch squawked in alarm and fluttered up into the elaborately arched ceiling to hide from the sizzling red sword.
The woman with the sword ran to her morlock conspirator and began to help him set the cubic engine to working.
Gazbonti's body picked-up his severed head and walked up to Bujilli;
"You'd probably best get going as well. She's obviously in a foul mood. It's only going to get worse once they discover how I sabotaged things."
"Follow me." Gazbonti led them over to the central cube hovering inches above the smooth floor. It was almost altar-like and there was a cloth draped across the top of it.
The headless jester grabbed the cloth and dragged it off of the cube to reveal a strange staff-like object...
"Well yes. You were expecting a jar of peanut butter instead?"
"No. I don't know what I was expecting."
"Good. Better to not get disappointed as much that way."
"Looking a gift-horse in the mouth, eh?"
"Let's get out of here!" Hissed Leeja.
What should Bujill do next?
*The Gem of Muktra was with Bujilli from Episode One until he left it behind in the underworld below Zormur's Palace in Episode Fifteen. The Gem has since found a new companion...
** We learned a little bit of Bujilli's time in Kalkendru in Episode 41.