Bujilli slumped back on his make-shift stretcher-cot. He was still tired. He'd only managed a couple hours of sleep before having to deal with the Irrlicht that had taken-over the Eloi and almost drained Leeja to death.
They'd re-built their defenses, such as they could, but it was a shabby bit of work. It would be laughable...if it wasn't him and his friends in this situation. Vampires and pustule-bubbling fungi on one side, a vast labyrinth of twisting passages and countless empty rooms arranged by mad men and degenerates all around them. Only an idiot willingly breaks into a prison. Especially such a prison as this one.
The others referred to it as the Gormenstille. A place of secrets, hidden and denied things, troublesome things, buried things...it was as much a catacomb as a labyrinth, a prison of lost souls where even death was no release. This was no place to linger.
"How well defended or guarded are these archives?" Bujilli looked about himself, carefully examining the defenses they were able to rig-up with available materials. It wouldn't hold against an dim-witted Almas child looking for shiny-bits, let alone any of the nasty things Hedrard claimed were likely to be lurking hereabouts.
"The Central Archive is out of the question. It's one of the reasonably 'safe' places, so it's heavily protected. But there are sub-divisions and secondary, even tertiary caches, vaults, and other places filled with things that are meant to be held apart of the rest of stuff relegated to this place. We could probably gain access to one of the locked rooms, or a sealed library no one has checked in decades, possibly centuries. There are all sorts of secret chambers and shielded or warded spaces scattered throughout this entire place..."
"This is a fool's errand," scoffed the Ignoble; "You cannot seriously be contemplating wandering around the peripheral sectors of the Gormenstille looking for some random collection of illicit papers or dubious documents just to satisfy some perverse streak of curiosity!"
"I admit that I am curious about what all is secreted away in this place...but I am more interested in getting us all out of here. Sooner rather than later. Look at this place--a child would be embarrassed by such a flimsy fort. We need to find a better place if we're going to get any rest." He looked over at Leeja. She was still asleep. The Oneiric Bubble spell he had cast over her and Hedrard had faded-out. It had helped, but it wasn't enough. They had at least another 19 hours before the Synchronocitor was recharged...and then he would find out if it would operate properly inside the walls of this place. If it functioned normally they'd go onward to some other place...but if it did not work...they might be stuck here a while. He did not like their prospects in this current location. Not with vampires, insidious fungi and weirdlight-things prowling through the area.
"They will be waking up soon. We need to decide what we are going to do next."
"I say we sit tight and wait for whatever you expect to happen in the next however many hours to take place. Why go around stirring up more trouble or drawing attention to ourselves?"
"Coward." The roof-runner glared at the Ignoble. Two broken non-people poised on the brink of destruction at every side; it was incredible that they weren't both--
"Insane! This is thoroughly and completely mad!" The Ignoble's eyes were wide with mounting panic.
"You two might lower your voices before you wake the dead with your pointless arguing." Hedrard groaned as she sat up on her cot. "Both of you ought to know better than to waste breath arguing like that. Neither of you is complete, whatever sense of identity you have now is not at all who you once were. Whomever you might have been is irrelevant now. What lives you might have led previously do not matter now. That was all taken away from you, for whatever reasons, for whatever sins or crimes or offenses. You were rendered blank slates...and instead of making use of this opportunity, you both squandered it, wasted it, wallowing in fear and the dim distorted reflections of memories you'll never fully recover no matter how hard you try."
The Eloi and the Ignoble both stared at Hedrard. The Eloi grew thoughtful, the Ignoble balled up their fists and struggled to make words form, words that wouldn't come no matter how hard they tried. Finally their throat constricted from the strain and they choked. Coughed. Sat down with their head in their hands and cried.
"What was done to these two, and hundreds, thousands of others, was cruel and disgusting; extravagantly pointless, much like this whole place." Hedrard slowly, stiffly rose to her feet. She looked impossibly frail and ancient. Her eyes glimmered with deep red highlights. She began to gather-up her iron-gray hair and twist it into some sort of knot at her back.
Leeja stirred, awoke with a start. Her hair flared about her like a white hot corona then her green gold eyes fixed on Bujilli and she smiled.
"I thank you for releasing us from our would-be executioners up above."
"You are both welcome, all of you, actually..."
"But you were a fool to rush into such a place as this all unawares." Hedrard shook her head ruefully.
"What were you both doing in this prison?"
"We were not 'in' prison. Not exactly. We were both captives of the Purple Horde. They took us to one of the roof-top sanctuaries built by one or another of the cultists cast down into this place by whichever rivals or ecclessiastical authorities had access to a Black Key or made a deal with one of the Faceless...or the Soulless...or the Nameless..."
"But why did they bring you here?"
"They intended to sacrifice us to a Purple Cloud in a ritual they expected to give them power in this place." Hedrard looked about the room they were in. She clearly did not approve of their present accommodations.
"Them again?" Bujilli still wasn't entirely sure why the Desert Fathers of the Purple Horde had some sort of vendetta against him, but now he decided it was well past time he found out.
Leeja struggled to rise from her stretcher-cot. She was still wobbly, weak from the Irrlicht's draining attack.
"They've certainly taken an interest in you, but they're far more interested in something...or someone...locked-away within this place. They took advantage of the turmoil and chaos in Wermspittle to nab poor Lemuel and myself and bring us here. At first I thought they were only going to try to use us against the Academy, there is a long history of antagonism between them and the various schools, colleges and institutes gathered together under the banner of the Academy. Diametrically opposed forces. We are dedicated to learning, knowledge, rekindling what meager light we can in the midst of such overwhelming darkness and destruction; while they are barbarians, ignorant locusts who plunder cities left stripped of life by their masters, those aerial horrors that have killed entire worlds one after another, extinguishing all life save those few who become their slaves and servants..."
"Why haven't they overrun Wermspittle already?" Leeja sat back down.
"The Academy wasn't always a great power in its own right, not like the Medical School or the Unthedral. The Academy grew out of the old Institute for Apocalyptic Studies. They came to Wermspittle for the same reason most others shunned or avoided it--the place is surrounded by myriads of dead worlds. However anyone tried, whatever means was used, the overwhelming majority of the worlds accessible from this place were--are--dead. and not just simply devoid of life. No. They were once living worlds, populous worlds filled with living, breathing beings...before something happened, something terrible."
"The Clouds? Did they kill everyone off?"
"No. The Purple Clouds were all but unknown up to three hundred years ago. They were considered works of fiction. Then one all but killed off the Fourth World, the Adjacent World accessed from the South East Gate of the Inner Ramparts. We drove off the Purple Cloud, or at least we thought we had. The Privy Council and the rest hid behind propaganda and political wrangling, as always. Vigilance waned, budgets were cut, the old horrors were forgotten in the face of fresh terrors, immediate concerns and the ongoing mess we've made of the place...and in the meantime the Clouds have returned to Wermspittle..."
Bujilli remembered the Smog Shelter he and Leeja had taken refuge in, the Leech-monger who had saved her life even if he had stolen her tainted blood doing it.*
"How? How could it get like--"
"We can debate that until the vampires round us up like cattle. Or we can discuss things when we're somewhere more defensible, more survivable."
"These two have been telling us about the Archives--"
"The Central Archives are heavily defended..."
"Yes. So they've said; but there are less well defended secondary sites that we might be able to use--"
"Fine. Do you have a better suggestion? Any alternative?"
"Then we ought to get moving before whatever lurks or prowls through this section notices us, or the scouts from below catch our scent. I have no interest in being taken by Bannerworth and his Comprachico friends, not to mention the fungal colony you left behind us in the Calotte-Passage."**
"Do either of you know which way to go?" Leeja got back on her feet.
"Certainly not." Huffed the Ignoble as though offended at the very thought.
"I have an idea, if you're willing to try something unorthodox..."
"We go back upstairs--"
"Absolutely not!" The Ignoble dropped their Iron Mask and slumped against the wall in terror.
"Your mechanism-thing brought you here at that spot. We don't know if it will work deep inside the walls of the Gormenstille...this being the kind of place that it is, I'm nervous about testing the defenses when we don't need to do that. We go up, not all the way back to the specific place where you let us go necessarily, maybe we can find another spot similar to that one, someplace less likely to be watched over by cultists or whatever."
"Makes sense to me." Leeja sighed, already exhausted from the thought of retracing their steps back up to the rooftop.
"Well young man? Do we look for a way up or down? Unless you have a third option?"
What should Bujilli and company do next?
* Bujilli & Leeja took refuge in a Smog Shelter in Episode 95 where they met the Leech-Monger who did save Leeja's life, even if he did steal the tainted blood for so-far unknown reasons...
** The Custodian turned out to be an infested-minion of some sort of fungus-creature, possibly a Fungal Tyrant in Episode 103.