The Ivory Toad burbled something untranslatable from atop the rail. There were some spindly-looking drones standing in a line directly behind it. Two had wicked blades affixed to their insectile fore-limbs. The other two were cobbled together from broken crates and other things, bound in wire and wrapped with blood-soaked rags--Pruztian battlefield constructs. Stretcher-bearers. Each one stood blankly waiting for orders.
Bujilli wrenched his hand-axe free of the Morlock's skull with a gout of foul-smelling blood. He yelled at the drones the Toad had led back to him; "Get down here and make yourselves useful."
He re-drew the glyph for calling forth the Ivory Toad in his mind's eye. The creature croaked in approval. He smiled; it might be a minor casting, but it could come in handy someday.
Leeja drew out her stiletto as she tried to pull Shael back and away from the figure in cerulean velvet and black silk wrappings. For her part the supposedly Ex-Headmistress stared at the hunchback-in-chainmail who sat astride his well-barded Dodo with silver-shod talons grinning wolfishly in expectation of impending mischief and mayhem.
"No Authority?" She mouthed the words over and over again to herself in shock. Ulricht nodded his extravagantly-plumed head, waiting for the truth to finally soak in past her skull and her scars. It sometimes took mortals oh so long to realize such simple things.
The tall, thin figure drew forth a narrow-bladed long sword notched the entire length by slightly tilted W-shaped double-indents making it look fiercely toothsome, even manxome. It's almond-shaped eyes glared with baleful, pentoxulent malevolence as it regarded its given prey; Shael.
"As I said; the old pacts are not so fragile as some would have it. Some of us still keep the Old Ways." Ulricht shifted in his ornate saddle and addressed the Gauntling raising its snickering sword; "Avaunt Horror. Your masters have no say over this place and you are unwelcome in my presence. Your sickly countenance offends my delicate sensibilities. Begone."
"You have no authority over me--"
"Milady Headmistress, might I prevail upon you for your kind permission to dispatch this offal-chewing corpse on your behalf?"
"Yes." Shael struggled to stand upright; "Yes! By the Old Pacts Yes! Drive this thing from our Academy Ulricht!"
Ulricht smiled three-times as wide as was possible then goaded his mount into motion with his spurs.
"Not enough clean meat left on you to catch the point of a good spear, nor would a sword be particularly satisfying as it would merely cleave you into disparate pieces your masters would only stitch back together again. No, that will not do. Not at all. I suppose there's nothing for it then." He sighed as he reached forth with his mail-gloved hand, gestured, and brought forth a heavy three-headed flail. Each head sculpted into the shrieking visage of a hideous figure drooling deep red flames.
"I have no quarrel with--"
Ulricht drove home his spurs. The Dodo leaped. The flail smoldered and roared as it crashed down upon the Gauntlim.
The snarling, snickering sword howled as it swirled through the air.
The flail came back with a jerk only to snap forward and down again and again.
Ulricht laughed heartily.
The flail screamed as it slipped out of existence once again. He dismounted and began to pick through the brittle, blasted remains of the Gauntlim, setting the choicest bits into a small pile.
"With your leave; the spoils go to the victor."
Shael nodded once, wincing in great pain from the notions; "As it is written of old. Thank you Ulricht." The hunchback bound-up the carefully chosen fragments of his dispatched foe in the rags left from its own wrappings which he wound tighter and tighter, crushing it all down into a sort of lumpy ball that he then slipped into a saddle-bad on the dodo.
"No need to thank me Lady Shael. I was only doing my appointed task. But, of course, it is always nice to be appreciated. Shall I accompany you? There is much turmoil within the place of late. Many outsiders. Too much conniving and meddling. You really ought to clean house." He let a look of anger and disappointment slip across his countenance then resumed his grinning mien.
"Yes. You are right. Too right. I will...I would greatly appreciate your help in doing what is necessary and needful Ulricht..."
"Then you shall have it, as it is in the nature of the Pact that binds me to this place. And what of these two stalwart youths? I can see that you both are marked as students, so I will instruct you in something you might have use of later. Observe." Ulricht strode over to the section of wall where the Gauntlim had entered the hallway. The wall still fluctuated softly, slowly, like a rippling pond of thick syrup.
"You," he pointed to Bujilli; "Young Man, you know of a spell that might be made more useful in addressing intrusive phenomena of just this sort. I can see it glimmering in your brain. Do you have some idea of which spell I am referring?"
Bujilli considered his repertoire. One spell made more sense than the others, though for a moment he considered suggesting a variation on 'Listen to the Walls,'
"Protection From Aethyrial Intrusion?" He wasn't keen on finding out what Oneiric Bubble would do in this situation based on his previous experience back under Zormur's Palace.* His attempt at modifying that spell under those circumstances had yielded some rather spectacular and quite unforeseen results. He had been fortunate to escape the worst of it.
"Good. Very good. Cast it, if you will."
"What? Now? Here?"
"Yes. Now. There." Ulricht pointed to the spatial instability in the wall as it slowly congealing closed.
Bujilli nodded. Closed his eyes. Adjusted his breathing. Prepared himself. Cast the spell.
"Now open your eyes and pay strict attention--we do not want to spoil this opportunity."
Bujilli felt his spell transform itself before him as Ulricht reconfigured it, transformed it, modified it to sieze upon the flickering liminal edges of the instability and interpose itself between the HereNow and the ThereThen. It held the thing open, formed a transitional space that could easily be adjusted and pushed outwards to form a passage...or...with a twist the whole thing could be set into motion to form a vortex that would either wind itself down into a miniscule point before slipping out of existence or conversely it could be set going in the opposite direction, fed more and more power until it broke down the barriers and boundaries it was anchored within...a dozen more permutations and elaborations flashed through Bujilli's mind.
"There. That gives you some idea of what can be done. I'll leave it to your imagination and ingenuity to investigate the possibilities for yourself." Ulricht nodded in approval then strode over to Shael and offered her his arm for support. She reached out and her pain eased as he propped her up.
"Thank you Ulricht." Bujilli felt dozens of connections and new direction suggesting themselves to him, each spell he knew led to dozens more that he could learn, could discover if he only applied himself, explored his own repertoire. It was a heady, invigorating realization that blew away the last few lingering vestiges of his Uncle's sabotage and deliberately cultivated bad habits intended to weaken him and make him a better servitor, a more useful slave.
"But of course young sir--you came here seeking knowledge. It is the sacred responsibility of all who serve, who are bound, who hold office in this place to assist in the ongoing process of instruction, revelation and exploration. To do anything less is to dishonor the institution and all those affiliated with it." Ulricht stared directly into Shael's eyes even as he was addressing Bujilli.
"Ahem. Now your turn young lady. I see that you know the root-spell for ghoulish aspiration--Charnel Breath. that particular spell we won't be using today as it would open the way to a rather undesirable place and draw unwanted attention. Likewise your Pale Shelter spell would only delay us and not serve our interests quite so well at this time, however in the future know that it can be modified to provide refuge from all manner of unfriendly and untoward forces with but a modicum of reworking or revision on your part. But for today, let us make use of your Protection From Shadows spell, if you please."
Leeja looked to Shael who grinned assent. She stepped away from her Aunt and moved into place before the sorcerous breech in the wall and cast her spell.
"Ah good. You see how it draws the edges back like eddies of ink within a pool of wermoil? That is where your spell and theirs both come into contact, a sort of interference layer. Perhaps it is not dissimilar to some forms of weather, but that is something I'll leave for you to reflect upon in-between your studies."
Another Gauntlim moved into the breech. And another. Another. Eight of the dry, vengeful things were entering into the breech.
"And now we shift things like so. What do you see now young lady?"
The breech was sealed. No. Not so much sealed as closed-over, trapping the Gauntlims in-transit.
"Shadows are negative spaces created by the passage of opaque objects through the light. Affecting the absence of something implies some measure of identification with the thing itself, after a fashion. Enough to extrapolate from and in the case of subjects who voluntary allow themselves to enter into your frame of reference...well...I'll let you ponder that for another day as well."
"Thank you." Leeja felt her spell fade, the residual shrieks of the entrapped Gauntlim echoed across her mind only momentarily before they too faded into oblivion.
"Now. Where were you headed Milady Shael?" Ulricht set her gently down onto the stretcher strung between the two constructs. He made a small gesture and imparted a small spell to the rough canvas that it might ease its passenger's discomfort.
"We are on our way to see an ally. We need to leave by the nearest exit, preferably one near the Burned Over District on this side of the Film Repository."
"It is good to have allies in this place. I know of three such exits that might serve you; One is nearest the Fountain of Darkjean, one is at the very threshold of the Red Tentacle Inn, and one is well within the Caves where culinary mushrooms are raised by the Vesgal, who also still keep the Old Pacts."
"I do not know these places, at least not by those names..." Bujilli looked to Leeja--she'd been in the place longer than him and knew her way around far better than he did.
"The fountain is the closest. I'd as soon avoid the Caves if we can. There's just the two of us, and the drones, and I'd rather not risk running into a pack of Voormis or worse down there just now."
"But the Caves would take us near more allies..." Shael considered her options.
"Do we still want to go to Idvard at this time? If there are more like Ulricht here at the Academy, perhaps we should round them up, remind them of their Pacts and get them to help us restore order..."
"A tempting thought. One that has occurred to myself as well. But alas, no matter how many of the Pacts we raise...we're woefully outnumbered and out-maneuvered by the Privy Council and their allies. For now."
"Return when you are ready. In the meantime I and my compatriots and colleagues will make the intruders regret their folly and remember just why this place has endured for so long as a beacon in the midst of horror and apocalypse. We have been invaded and subverted before. We know what to do and we'll do it. Now that we have a Headmistress again."
"I am ashamed--"
"Hush Milady. You were lulled into vulnerability, misled and subverted by pleasant, well-measured words. The enemies of this place are legion and some are far more patient and subtle than others. Your vigilance could only endure so long. It was inevitable that you or one of your successors would fail, that is the nature of mortals and that is exactly why the Old Pacts were established. We'll buy you time enough to attend to your needs and prepare yourself and whatever forces you intend to call upon to re-take your rightful place. These are the worst of times for you, but they are the best of times for myself!"
"So do we head for this Fountain or leave through the Caves?" Bujilli considered picking up the Morlock's toothsome lash, but it hissed softly and slithered away from his fingers.
"I say we--"
What should Bujilli & Leeja do next?
* See Episode 6.