The Ivory Toad watched patiently as the Stretcher-bearer drones adjusted Shael's make-shift travois into something a bit more stable before lifting her off of the floor. The other two drones, both equipped with narrow, rapier-style blades took up positions in front and behind their fellow drones.
"So do we head for this Fountain or leave through the Caves?" Leeja inquire of no one in particular.
Shael didn't hear her. The pain of her accursed condition had grown nearly unbearable from all the movement and strain she'd undergone. Her physical discomfort was nothing compared to her inner turmoil. Ulricht's words had gotten her to question things she had all too readily and easily accepted. Things that need not be so.
Bujilli considered picking up the Morlock's toothsome lash, but it hissed softly and slithered away from his fingers. It clearly wanted nothing to do with him, for whatever reason. Instead he strode over to the Snickering Sword the Gauntlim had dropped. It gleamed and glittered along its razor-notched edge. He had not really replaced the old tulwar he had wielded for nearly a decade...not after it had been ruined in the battle between his mother's geist and his father*. This blade was exceptionally well-crafted, but it reminded him of another such weapon; a scimitar that had tried to wheedle its way into his hands after the defeat of its previous mistress, a mad Princess from some weird city-state out past the seething wastes of the Kalaramar Drifts**. Bujilli hesitated. Caught himself. Withdrew his hand. Stepped away from the sword.
Ulricht laughed; "You seem concerned about the nature of the weapon before you young one. Do you sense some malignant presence lurking within the folded-steel, some vengeful geist looking for a chance to obsess or possess an unwary wielder?"
"I have encountered such things before..."
"Excellent! And now you show a healthy respect and judicious bit of caution when confronted by such a thing. Many never really learn that particular lesson. Greed often overcomes good sense."
"I came here to this place to learn--"
"The exact purpose for which it was first established, thus you are indeed in the correct place. Mind you, your timing could be better."
"What might you tell me about this sword?" Bujilli looked at it once more. It was too good a thing to leave lying around. If it could not be put to use, it would have to be disposed of...somehow.
"Tell you? Very little. But I might tell your fellow student a few significant things."
"Yes?" Leeja came over beside Bujilli and looked at the gleaming sword; "Like what?"
"Examine the pommel-stone if you would."
Leeja knelt down. The pommel was set with a glossy black stone of some sort. The stone was faceted. It had twelve sides. Each face was carved with uncouth dagger-like wedges of cuneiform characters. Even as she looked upon it the stone rotated, tumbled in its setting to reveal a different array of faces.
"Ixaxar!" hissed Leeja as she lurched back and away from the sword.
"Yes. Indeed. You recognize it, as I suspected one of your bearing and blood might. You could wield this weapon, should you wish to do so, but not your friend here. The Pallid are quite particular as to who and what they allow to make use of their things. To them your Almas-blood would render you far removed from what they recognize or accept as human."
"But I am not entirely of the Pallid..."
"No. Indeed. Never the less you have what it takes to wield the blade. If anything, you might wield it far more effectively than its previous master even could. He was not of Deep Dendo and only barely managed to convince the thing to serve him, and then only in so far as he might lead it to a more suitable master. Like yourself."
"Do you advise me to take up this sword?" Leeja turned to gaze skeptically on Ulricht as if somehow not quite trusting him.
"No. I merely point out an opportunity unique to this situation that might be of interest to yourself. Whether or not you avail yourself of it is entirely up to you. I am only acting in an advisory capacity." Ulricht re-mounted his War Dodo.
Leeja looked back on the sword.
"The blade is ancient. Vinksome in nature, if I am not mistaken. A real head-taker. Originally it was created for the old warlord of Vadomar who had acquired quite a reputation as a monster-slayer before he was deposed by outcasts from Clovia. But all that was long ago and there are no legitimate heirs or claimants to the sword, so it is yours, if you wish to take it."
Leeja looked back at Ulricht; "Will it serve me do you think?"
"As well as anything from your ancestral lands."
"That is an evasion. Not an answer." She glared at Ulricht.
"The blade will serve you, until it finds a more suitable host, as is its nature."
"A treacherous thing. I dislike leaving it behind. It could be a source of much mischief." She scooped the manxome sword up from the floor. It slipped into her hand perfectly, snarled softly, then glittered quietly. Content for the moment. She could feel a pent-up malevolence in her hand, ancient and wicked and perfectly happy to serve her. For now.
"Which way do we go?" Leeja asked Bujilli.
"I say we--"
"We've delayed too long; the Fountain of Darkjean is cut-off from us at this time." Ulricht nudged his odd mount into motion. He hoped they would take the hint. There were far worse things than Morlocks or Gauntlim in the vicinity.
"Let's head to these Caves you mentioned. Are they far?"
"Not when you're traveling with me!" Ulricht spurred his War Dodo forward with a graceful lurch.
Bujilli motioned to the drones and they followed Ulricht. He adjusted his grip on his hand-axe and tried not to worry overmuch about Leeja's new sword. She kept pace with him. The sword snickered softly to itself.
Three passages, four doorways, a hallway, two vaulted corridors and they arrived at the double-wide doors at the entrance to a spiral-rampway leading down to the Caves.
Ulricht sat astride his beast and made sure everyone was past the doors before he motioned to Bujilli.
"I suggest that you close and bar these doors. As a precaution."
Bujilli nodded. Padded over and closed the doors. They were ponderous things, but well-balanced on their hinges. He saw something moving down the corridor they had just crossed. It was large and shaggy and he slammed the bars into place in all three sets of brackets to hold the doors fast.
"Gnoph-vir or some similar horrid thing. Many such things have been set loose in the last few days. Your friend will very likely find her new sword coming in handy all too soon."
"No doubt." Bujilli jogged alongside Ulricht to the head of their little group.
"So long as we remain within the Green Zone we'll only encounter edible, culinary fungi. It's when we cross over into the Blue Zone and then the Yellow Zone that we'll run afoul of anything particularly dangerous."
"Such as a Fungal Tyrant?"
"Perhaps. You have encountered such things previously?" Ulricht regarded him more seriously.
"Yes. We both have." Bujilli watched as one set of cylindrical quartz-lamps flickered then radiated a soft, warm light as they passed, slipping back into shadow once they had all moved on.
"Remarkable. Neither of you bear the marks of assimilation or infection." He was certain of it.
"We escaped." Bujilli did not want to elaborate. The situation had been most peculiar and he did not want to admit that they made a deal with the thing, even if it was in the face of an even worse enemy.
"Many do not. You've both done well." Ulricht seemed satisfied.
"Perhaps. We are heading back to a place where a Fungal Tyrant might very well still be rooted and waiting for us..."
"Ah. Then you will the fractured Trapezoid of Black Attush far more useful to you than the Smoldering White Jelly of Selinoth Yr."+++
"But I am not attuned..."
"No one is, except perhaps for the mad and the dead. You know the basic forms used in accessing Selinoth Yr. It's a simple enough matter to shift your point of access down the plenal scale to Attush. You might benefit from the niceties and intricacies involved in the established methodologies, but you know enough now to make it work for you. If you dare." Ulricht looked into his eyes as if to more closely examine his very soul.
"But it is dangerous, isn't it?"
"Of course it is--it's sorcery."
The rampway ended at an arch beyond which was only darkness.
"You, of course, know of some simple means to illuminate your way ahead?" Ulricht took up position at the threshold. He seemed uninterested in continuing further.
"Yes." Bujilli made a Gloomglyph with his left hand and pushed it out ahead of them all. This time he made it a smoldering orange hue and kept it a good twenty feet forward of his position.
"Excellent. I had planned on accompanying you farther, but that would be most unwise at this juncture."
"As you can hear for yourself. The doors will hold...but eventually that...thing...will get past. I intend to be waiting for it. It shall not follow you."
"But we do not know the way--"
"I promised to serve as a guide. Doing so does not require my immediate presence." Ulricht held forth his right hand, turned it palm-upward and a violet light swirled into a glowing orb that floated out past the archway to dance around the Gloomglyph.
"Follow the orb. It will lead you where you want to go and it should discourage most of the things likely to prove bothersome in the Blue Zone."
"What of the Yellow Zone?" Bujilli demanded.
"Best you avoid anything that might be interested in you there. If you do find yourself in trouble, consider it an excellent opportunity to practice your use of the second glyph. Just remember to relinquish the connection before dismissing the glyph or else you'll do as much harm to yourself as to your foes." Ulricht smiled broadly, bowed slightly towards Leeja and Shael, then rode off back up the ramp to await whatever was trying to break through the great doors behind them.
"Best we get moving then." Bujilli motioned to the drones to follow him. Leeja remained for a little while longer, watching after Ulricht. He wasn't sure if she regretted his departure or if she was relieved.
The violet orb shimmered and pulsed and led them onward into the darkness. They passed many bales and boxes and barrels. Store-rooms. Shelves. Growing-chambers. The air remained cool, but became increasingly yeasty and their skin took on a grittiness from all the spores swirling in the dark.
The floor was damp and slippery, despite gratings and drains and other improvements.
They traveled down a sloping, curving passage then slogged through a partly flooded chamber, up a slight incline and past several very rough, barely-worked chambers where clumps of dripping yellow-green ooze gave off a sickly phlegmic light. The violet orb followed a set of rusted metal rails across a bridge or aquaduct of some sort that spanned a deep, dismal gorge.
Abruptly the Gloomglyph popped. The violet orb faded out.
"Who Goes There!" barked a Corporal's voice as four galvanic lantern-lances clicked on, flooding the section of the bridge they were on with a harsh actinic radiance.
"Scheiss!" grumbled Leeja; "It's the fucking Sewer Militia."
What should Bujilli & Leeja do next?
* A climactic show-down that took place in Episode 67.
** Who could forget the insane Princess Jamildra from Episode 14?
+++ See Twenty Deadly Planes.