Shael coughed. A trickle of blood rand down her chin where her flesh melted into hazy glass. She struggled to get up off of the couch. Her quilt slipped out of her grasp, fell to the floor. Most of her left side was slowly crystallizing into some weird form of milky-glass. It was as elegantly grotesque as it was painful. And inconvenient. Leeja moved to help her aunt rise to her feet. At first she refused. Then she had to allow her niece to help her up.
"We're not going to get very far this way..." Leeja adjusted her grip.
"No. We're not." Shael closed her eyes as a spasm of pain jolted through her body.
"Before we worry about that...how did these mercenaries get here? I mean, how did they get all the way to Gnosiomandus' rooms without having to fight their way past whatever defenses or guards or wards there might be in this place?"
"Check the officer..." Shael made to gesture but stopped herself. She was already bleeding enough and they hadn't gotten started yet.
Bujilli hunkered down and looked over the corpse of the Tsalalian officer. The heavy over-coat looked shabby and worn in places, badly patched in others. Shael's spell had caved-in his chest, killing him instantly. His trench-pistol lay mere inches from his cold, dead fingers. The strange purplish gills wriggled slightly along the side of his neck. There were more of the growths along portions of his chest that protruded around the tatters of his uniform, harness and armor. It reeked of stale wine and cloves, which was better than the usual bowel contents and blood.
Then Bujilli saw it. A blue-enameled band around the officer's right fore-arm. He used his hand-axe to lift the dead man's arm to show off the device to the others.
"As I suspected; a Transition Mechanism. It was improperly attuned, otherwise they would have barged right into the room from wherever they came from, much as you yourself did when you first arrived." Shael grinned lop-sidedly at Bujilli.
"Can we use this?" He looked more closely at the band. It shimmered.
"Get Back!" Shael yelled hoarsely.
The corpse, most of it, was gone.
"No. I guess not. So do you have any suggestions for how we're supposed to get you to Idvard's place? I don't think that dragging you along on an improvised travois is going to work any too well..."
"No." Shael scowled at the thought of what such a jarring mode of travel might do to her.
"Urmigan. Do you know of a way that we can contact Urmigan?" Bujilli had the beginnings of an idea. It might even work. Maybe.
"Why would you want--"
"I should have some credit on account with Urmigan, if Idvard kept his word*. When I returned the amulet to him that controlled his drones, her promised to have Urmigan set aside a few drones for my use."
Shael started to nod. Stopped herself. Grimaced. Her right hand reached out and performed an almost calligraphic figure in the air before her. Three soft words wheezed from her clenched mouth. An ivory toad plopped onto the ruined carpet from somewhere else. It stared at her with gleaming topaz eyes.
"Take a message to Urmigan. His message." Shael waved to Bujilli; "Then guide them back to us."
The toad hopped in front of Bujilli and stared at him expectantly.
"Tell it what you want it to repeat for you. It will find Urmigan." Shael sank back down onto the couch with Leeja's help. It had been a minor spell, but it still taxed her.
Bujilli thought about what to say then just told the toad that he needed some sturdy drones to carry a grievously wounded friend back to Idvard's place. The toad solemnly nodded once then hopped away through the broken door and was gone.
Leeja and Bujilli set about rigging-together some sort of palanquin for Shael. something that the drones could carry and that would not jar or jostle her too badly.
It was amazing how empty the place was without all the books he remembered being heaped and mounded across the shelves and floors.
Gnosiomandus was gone. Everything had shifted, changed out from under him. He had come here to learn things he needed to know, to study new spells and refine his technique, to become a better spell-caster, a more powerful sorcerer.
He thought that meant enrolling in classes at the Academy.
But now he wasn't so sure.
In all the time he'd been here, he had not attended a single class.
But he had learned a few new spells. Made friends. And enemies.
He'd changed things, met and changed the lives of Sharisse, Gudrun, Idvard, and others...and Leeja. He'd changed himself. And this place, this Wermspittle, had changed as well.
"Scheiss!" Shael sat up abruptly, disregarding how much it hurt, or caused her to bleed; "We need to get out of here--"
"Congratulations. You've breached my defenses. Fat lot of good it will do you!" Gnosiomandus stood in the middle of the room. Lambent orange light smoldered around the edges of the image. It looked younger, better groomed and taller than the original.
Leeja and Bujilli helped Shael get on her feet and the three of them hobbled as fast as they could toward the ruined door.
Golden flames swirled through the room, a turgid tempest of noise and fury signifying the former occupant's indignation at having his privacy violated.
They only just made it out the door before the flames roared forth.
"Putney had spoofed the wards so we could meet here. When he left, it was up to me to maintain the subterfuge, but I let them slip..." Shael looked more miserable than ever.
"We're fine. We got out in time. If anything, this will make it harder for anyone else to get much out of there..."
"And it ought to make following us a bit more difficult, at least remotely." Leeja quickly glanced down the hallway in both directions before nudging them forward in the direction of the Main Hall.
"Remotely?" Bujilli considered the prospect of being spied-upon at a distance. His Uncle had used several different such spells to explore deep dark places Bujilli could not reach easily as a child. He had used a spell that let him see what was happening miles away and across the great black sea, even on another world. All were based on Extra-Sensory Perception or some form of Clairvoyance. He himself knew the most basic form of a spell for both, but he'd not yet learned the more advanced forms his Uncle used. His hand slipped to his collar. Hedrard's Amulet**.
Did he want the hag knowing where he was, where he was going? They were...what? Friends? Allies? He wasn't entirely sure, not after their time in the Gormenstille and the drastic transformation Hedrard had undergone. She was an enigma to him now, floating inside a big red cocoon and attended by a tribe of Morons, some of whom spoke on Her behalf as though she were some little tyrant-goddess.
Perhaps she was. Now. Maybe she always had been and he never realized it.
There was a lot about this place he did not know.
They reached a marble staircase and Bujilli was jarred from his thoughts as they focused on assisting Shael down one painful step after another.
It wasn't ideal, not by a long shot, but they all three felt the need to keep moving.
The Main Hall was empty.
Their steps echoed.
"Where is everyone?" He was taken aback. He only ever saw this place when it had been packed with people hustling and bustling past one another on their way to classrooms, lecture halls or wherever.
"Ah. Fresh meat." A Morlock in antique banded-mail dropped down in front of them. He wielded a jagged-edged hacker's blade, some sort of basket-less airship-men's cutlass in his right-hand and a toothsome lash in his off-hand.
The lash bit Bujilli on the cheek, drawing blood.
"We have no argument with you--"
"Piss off pretty-pretty. My children are hungry and with Winter coming in early and sharp, a father's got to do what needs to be done to provide for them."
Bujilli tugged at his hand-axe--TTTTHHHHWWWIIIIIIIPT!
The lash stung his hand. He jerked it away. Blood spattered onto the marble floors.
Leeja pulled Shael back to give Bujilli more room. Shael groaned in agony.
"Shame you haven't much meat on you hairy-barry. But you'll do for a start." The lash streaked out once more. Bujilli almost ducked aside. Instead he grabbed the lash. Teeth interspersed along the length of the thing bit into his hand. More blood flew from his punctured flesh. He gritted his own teeth against the pain--it was intense--and drew forth his hand-axe.
The Morlock slyly loosened the lash, flipped it to one side, rudely jerked it back nearly taking off one or more of Bujilli's fingers with it.
"Stop this. Don't you know who this is?" Leeja pointed at Shael incredulously.
"Do you interview the cattle you eat? I don't much care if it's that bitch Shael herself--you're all three meat for the pot."
"Idiot! This IS Shael."
The Morlock held back his next strike of the lash to look more closely at Shael.
Bujilli split his skull with the hand-axe.
"In the flesh." He wrenched his weapon free from the Morlock's head.
"The Old Covenants are null and void until someone takes my place and renews the pacts and restores things..."
"And someone has been chosen to handle this matter, right?"
"I...do not know. After the Privy Council punished me, I was sent away. I have no idea of what happened afterward, nor what the Regents, those left of them, are doing or have opted to do. The Senior Staff are scattered, some dead or imprisoned, others have left..."
"So everything goes down in flames while you all bicker and argue?"
"For the most part, the answer is yes.Maybe one of them will play the violin..." Shael sagged and would have fallen to the floor if Leeja hadn't steadied her.
"That's not entirely true and you know it." A voice roared from above.
"Ulricht. You are still here?" Shael sounded incredulous. It was some sort of hunchback or dwarf in chain-mail riding on a Dodo. Both sported elaborately plumed head-gear, but only the bird's included a bit fitted to its beak and reins.
"I remain. I endure much. The old pacts are not so fragile as you would believe." The figure spurred the plump bird forward and it hopped atop a rail then jumped down before them, its silver-shod talons scittering slightly across the marble tiles before it regained its balance.
"But...I have been removed from my position--"
"Really? Truly? And yet I remain. How is that possible, hmmm?"
"The Privy Council--"
"Have no real authority in this place." He nodded to emphasize his disdain for such interlopers.
"Don't dwell on it over-much madam." A tall, thin figure wrapped head-to-toe in cerulean blue velvet and black silk stepped out from a section of wall that held no door. "It was merely a simple oversight. One I am here to correct."
The ivory toad burbled something untranslatable from atop the rail. There were some spindly-looking drones stood in a line directly behind it waiting for orders...
What should Bujilli & Leeja do next?
* See Episode 49.
**Presented to Bujilli in Episode 26.