Cold wind shrieked past them. Rain mingled with hail pelted them, made the surface of the tower slippery. Bujilli struggled to maintain his spell and to keep everyone together and moving. The rain was coming in more briskly now. It wouldn't be long before the run-off from above became torrential and washed them right off of the tower surface.
They were nearly to the second mile down the side of the tower when a group of guards and a second custodian thought to look over the edge. They couldn't see anything through the rain and darkness, but Bujilli could see their auras flickering faintly beneath the turbulent violet clouds. He relaxed a tiny bit; there wouldn't be any immediate threat from the keepers of this place. Not yet.
He kept everyone moving forward and downward, constantly trying to pick out the best route down the side of the tower, avoiding obvious hazards and looking for some sort of balcony or landing or something to use to gain access to the tower. Bujilli had no illusions about maintaining his spell long enough to make it all the way to the ground level. It was miles and miles to the surface below. Even without the rain, on a clear day and all alone it would be a difficult challenge. He tried to extend his perceptions downwards, hoping to discern some means of entry, some sort of shelter from out of the treacherous water flows and shrieking wind; a window, a door, a balcony or something.
Thunder shook the tower. The rain began to fall harder and harder. The storm was upon them. Grotesque gargoyles spouted streams of water out and away from turreted and peaked roofs clad in shale, lead or other things. The farther down they went the more Tower spread out, thickened, extruded sub-towers and minarets, flying buttresses and ornate cornices, false parapets and elaborate facades. Windows were barred, balded or spiked; a few were covered with fine meshes of metal or webbed-over suspiciously. The cold, driving rain prevented them from having to face the swarms of vermin whose hives and nests they quickly moved past.
The cavalry-officer cursed and swore vehemently in six languages; her foot had gotten stuck in a crack. Bujilli held the Zone in-place and waited for her to extricate herself. She yelled and threatened anyone who attempted to assist her. A section of the wall shifted. Crumbled. Bujilli nearly lost his hold on the spell as he and the rest of the group slid down the tower. The wall gave-way. She fell into the Tower, into a space carved or tunneled-out within the outer wall. Rubble skittered and slipped in the rain, slid down from the fissure along the surface of the Tower towards the group. Bujilli's spell kept the broken bits of stone from flying off and striking them or bouncing into them, but it also meant that the debris was coming at them at about ankle-height. He tried to get everyone moving towards the right-hand side, it seemed to be less treacherous, partly covered by an overhanging brace of some sort that jutted out into the darkness.
Leeja slipped. They could not move fast enough to avoid all of the sliding debris. One of the prisoners nearly slid outside the area of effect for the spell. They needed to get out of the rain before they all slipped and fell to their deaths.
Just ahead, below their current position, was an arch that connected to a smaller, secondary tower that flanked the one they were walking down. Not far below that bridge-like arch was a series of balconies. Most of the balconies were empty. Two of the closest ones were overgrown; one with Red Weeds, the other with dense green vines and ferns.
Bujilli wasn't sure if he could get the group to either balcony. He was soaked through to the skin and the spell was growing increasingly difficult to maintain. He opted for the archway. It seemed like it might provide suitable shelter, at least long enough to take stock of their situation, perhaps get some rest, before heading blindly into whatever was ahead.
The Arch was as massive as it was magnificent, a colossal flying buttress that connected to a secondary tower. There was a bridge-like passageway built inside the span of stone. It had shuttered windows all along its entire length. Locked and barred shuttered windows.
Leeja examined the windows. Bujilli trembled with the first indications of impending spell-failure. His calves ached. It was difficult to remain upright. He rallied as best he could.
The Eloi roof-runner tried to help Leeja. The Blue-Blood in the Iron Mask stood their propping-up both Hedrard and Lemuel, despite his gene-warped right arm and heavy iron mask. The custodian glared at Leeja venomously--she had gagged him with a few strands of her writhing white hair, just as she had bound his hands behind his back as a precaution.
Even if he had the strength to shout, his voice wouldn't carry through the howling wind, so Bujilli focused on his spell and tried to keep them all from falling or getting carried off of the wall. He was having an increasingly difficult time keeping things re-oriented within the spherical Zone of the spell. Keeping gravity at a 45-degree angle to the norm was taxing.
Leeja and the Eloi disappeared inside the span. Bujilli slipped to one knee. The Ignoble slid three feet down the wall before Bujilli could stop them.
Bujilli forcibly moved everyone who was still out in the pouring rain towards the entrance to the span. Leeja quickly re-appeared and helped pull Hedrard and Lemuel inside. The Ignoble struggled to get their over-sized head-gear through the opening. Leeja was ungentle in helping the custodian inside and he landed flat on his back.
She reached out--
Bujilli slipped. He lost the spell.
He relaxed into the fall; he was too exhausted to fight it.
Something had him. Strands of stickiness. some sort of net...or web.
The wind slammed him into the wall.
The web held. He dangled off of the side of the Tower as Leeja struggled to drag him back up to the window she had opened.
He tried to help.
Thunder roared and rumbled overhead.
Somewhere someone was screaming his name.
He was tired.
The web was fraying. Breaking. Without warning Bujilli was violently doubled over by the vicious wind.
The rain was making it hard to breath. He shifted. Lightning streaked overhead. Hot green scribbles of light carved out of the darkness beneath boiling purple clouds...like the storm that had enveloped the world where Idvard had found his Keep.
Bujilli slipped from their grasp. Struck his head against the wet, cold stone wall. Someone slipped, lost their grip. He nearly fell.
He did fall.
Leeja dragged him farther into the passage, away from the opening she and the Roof-Runner had forced through the window. Most of the shattered glass was already kicked or pushed out of the way.
Bujilli passed out as she tended to his wounds. He was bleeding from his head for some reason. He was so cold. So very, very wet. And tired.
He wasn't sure how long he had slept. His muscles were sore, his back bruised and his head bandaged. His clothes were still very wet. It was painful, but he forced himself to sit up, propping his back against a support stanchion.
"You need to rest--"
"No. We need to get somewhere safe. Then I can get some rest. Where are we?"
"Nowhere any good." Grumbled Hedrard. She was awake again.
"Incredible. You do not know where you are?" The Ignoble sat holding their heavy iron mask in both hands, despite the deliberate disfigurement that made a claw out of their right arm and hand as some form of punishment. But for what sort of offence or infraction?
"New Chillon. We are trapped within the Bastighast, or some call it the Gormenstille. Especially the Franzikaners who have condemned a multitude of nonpersons and inconvenient bastards to this place. Though the Pruztians have certainly made their own contributions as well."
"Gormenstille? Is this a palace or a prison then?" Leeja examined Bujilli's bandage.
"Yes." The Ignoble laughed bitterly behind their iron mask.
"This is a place of bastards and illegitimate bloodlines, cast-offs and caitiffs, criminals and deposed heirs alike, all sent here in secret and left to rot, only they didn't all rot. They have their own lineages here, as well established and documented as any in the outer regions of the known worlds; only they are Ignobles in New Chillon, within the walls of the Gormenstille; all of them vying for power or prestige and squabbling among one another over obscure points of genealogy, precedence or their personal entry in the Red Book." Hedrard shook her head in disgust.
"An outsider, like yourself, could never appreciate the nuances--"
Leeja stalked over to the Ignoble and began to examine the thing's catches, hinges and locking mechanisms.
"What are you doing?"
"What needs doing. Now be still and let me work, or else I won't be able to guarantee your safety."
"But the blades!"
The helmet-like iron mask clunked to the floor. Leeja wiped her hands on her thighs as she straightened up. The Ignoble wept, unsure what to do now that they were no longer bound by the iron mask.
"The way down is clear enough, as far as I could check. Do you want me to check the other direction?" The Roof-runner knelt down to readjust her boots.
"I'm not sure." Leeja looked at Bujilli; "I know next to nothing about this place. I don't know if we're better off going down to the secondary tower, or heading back inside the central one. Or maybe we should rest here, wait for the rain to run its course, then head down along the outside surface again."
"We have the custodian. They might be inclined to offer us some information. If asked nicely. Maybe Lemuel can get them talking?" Bujilli watched as the boy rose from beside Hedrard and walked over to the custodian. Leeja released the gag. He spat out the wriggling hair.
"I'll not talk to the likes--"
Lemuel smiled. It was a beatific smile. Very toothsome. Glossy and proper. It stretched from ear to ear and as he approached the custodian the teeth wriggled disconcertingly. Baby-Teeth. A whole mouthful of the sharp, glistening things, each one budded and grown from the three that had nearly killed Leeja*.
The custodian was familiar with Baby Teeth. His resolve evaporated immediately.
"A great lot of this part of things are closed-off and abandoned. Not as many inmates arriving through the Mazeways or Hedgepaths, let alone the main gate. Then there's the plague..."
"Clueless as clueless can be; how did you ever get up there at the top-most platform? Do you have an airship? I've always wanted to see one of those..."
"Let's just say that we have our ways. What is this about a plague?"
"Half the Central Tower is cordoned-off, quarantined. The lower levels are becoming ossuaries and catacombs; there's nowhere to put all the bones of those we can't just burn. At least the ashes make decent mortar and some of those inmates finally prove useful for the first time in their lives."
"What have we gotten ourselves into this time?" Leeja shivered.
"Are there patrols? Will they begin looking for you once they realize you are missing?"
"Where do you think you are? No one bothers to patrol anything--there's no damn point. No one gives us a damn in this place, custodians, guards, inmates--we're all pretty much all the same to the outsiders as much as we are to the Faceless Lords." The custodian struggled to get some distance between him and Lemuel. The gellid boy quivered in amusement, licked his lips.
"Faceless Lords?" Leeja asked.
"They rule this world; they are the secret masters of this place."
"I thought secret masters ought to remain secret?"
"Everyone has a title here. Especially the Morons. That sort of thing is important to nobles and politicians. They like to use words like 'cachots,' in place of dungeons, they need everything to have a grand and pointless title. It appeals to their vanity or something. The Faceless Lords rule here and they deal with the royalty, nobility and upper echelons of every nation, state and principality of the known worlds, but always in secret, behind closed doors and in the shadows."
"But why? To what purpose?" Bujilli was legitimately confounded by it all. This place made no sense to him. It was completely, utterly alien to his upbringing and experience.
"New Chillon is a name that's used on the secret maps and black keys that get handed out behind the scenes by chamberlains and viziers and all that sort of folk. Those who have the most to gain from having secret access to such a place. Think of it as a trash heap for those who can't be allowed to go free, but ought not to be killed outright because of all the weird little laws, by-laws, rules and regulations surrounding primogeniture, inheritance, rank and all that scheiss." Hedrard scowled at the custodian thoughtfully.
"You talk too much. You're stalling. What is waiting for us if we go down to the secondary tower?" Leeja's hair swished and swayed as she fixed the custodian with a baleful glare.
"We abandoned that place to the inmates a long time ago. It is under the control of Baron Bannerworth and his coven."
"Never heard of him..."
"I have. We should go back. If it isn't already too late." Hedrard struggled to get back upright. Lemuel went over and helped her, leaving the custodian.
"Why?" Bujilli tried to get up. Slipped back down. Nearly threw up.
"Bannerworth is a vampire. One of the worst."
"There are no vampires in Wermspittle--"
"A few. Most were wiped-out, but not all. We're in an Adjacent World now, one of the Adjacent Cities, another version of Wermspittle...one where there are still vampires. Old vampires. Very, very old ones." Hedrard leaned heavily on Lenuel. She turned to keep an eye on the calotte-passage leading down toward the Secondary Tower.
Bujilli leaned on Leeja. He looked at the rest of the group. The Ignoble sat against the outer wall in shock. The Roof-runner seemed ready to run off the moment they figured out which way might be the best chance for escape. The custodian lay there waiting for the inevitable with a fatalism even a Pruztian Nekrokommando might find disconcerting.
What should Bujill do next?
*Leeja was bitten by a Feral Child who left behind three 'Baby Teeth' in the wound in Episode 52. Hedrard removed the nasty things in Episode 54. Hedrard then implanted the teeth in Lemuel so he'd have some sort of means of self-defense, since he was too clumsy to wield most melee weapons due to the restrictive nature of the wermhide truss that held his mostly gelatinous body together.