"So now we have a way up." Leeja watched as more pigeons descended from above to alight upon various shoots, twigs and branches of the rapidly curling and sprawling Red Weeds growing up all over the place. Already a dim violet glow suffused everything underneath the gurgly, blood-colored vegetation.
"Yes. We do. Shall we get going before one or another of the old leaders' rivals decides to start making speeches?" Hedrard wasn't smiling. She wasn't joking. There was a harsh, raw edge to her now. She was a hag. This was a side of her they knew they should have expected, but it shocked them both just the same.
Bujilli did not respond. He was busy examining the mosaic-covered panels of the dome overhead. Hundreds of precisely formed and elegantly crafted panels supported by a vast network of golden threads, wires, bristles cilia (?) were slowly, continually sliding over and around one another in an almost hypnotic dance of celestial figures. Astronomy and astrology were combined into a highly developed aesthetic and realized by a mastery of the mechanical arts he'd never witnessed before. It was beautiful. Obviously the work of vast, coll and unsympathetic intellects; it was an implacable work of practicality completely devoid of sentimentality. As lovely as the individual pieces may be, this was a working mechanism, it was a machine with a purpose. He just had to be clever enough to spot it, to discern it in the details, to deduct it from the clues he could observe...as his Uncle had taught him with the liberal use of a stiff cane along his backside if he showed signs of dithering or second-guessing himself.
The he saw it.
Mars. It had to be the planet Mars. He carefully examined the panels surrounding the red planet, traced the delicate filaments suspended within the dome from major points of interest to other locations...and it had to be Mars. Not the least for all the golden filaments linking across the empty space to another planet on another panel. The third planet out from the great old sun.
Yes. He knew the fundamentals of applied astrology from reading his Agrippa and other treatises and manuscripts that his Uncle had pointedly denied him access. He stole them and read them to spite the old bastard...which now he knew had been the old sorcerer's plan all along. The entire dome was a sort of observatory, one that continually updated itself with the current positions of the known planetary and other bodies kept track of by astronomers or sailors and mythologized by astrologers and poets. And it was still working. This was precisely the kind of place where someone could slowly and surely, calmly and methodically plot out grand designs and solar-system-scale schemes.
There along the edges of timeless Yellow Metal, picked-out in gold and lapis lazuli, mauve gems and flesh-colored stones were the sculpted forms of Mucoids capering, squiggling about in front of a border design made up of overlapping tripods.
The distinct green smoke given off by their machines sizzled and shimmered just barely visible at the very bottom edge of the whole dome assembly--some sort of ventilation carried it out and away from the chamber. The central shaft overhead. The shaft overhead would be suffused with the Green Smoke.
"Bujilli?" Leeja placed her hand on his shoulder. Her voice carried a heavy load of concern. She feared mind control and related things for very good--or very bad--reasons, depending on your opinion regarding her background growing up in Aman Utal.
"This place was built by Mucoids..."
"No. It was built For them by their servants. These people.Their ancestors, actually." Hedrard raised her left hand and called forth:
"Ulla! Ulla! ULLA!"
Like sheep they all looked up from what they were doing and stared at Hedrard. There was a strange expectation radiating from them. A hunger occupied their eyes in a way no sane, no rational human being could conceive. They were free and wild and beyond good and evil., they had long ago thrown away laws and morals, they lived in a perpetually reactive mob-mentality and would gleefully shout and kill and revel in joy like ecstatic maenads completely devoid of conscience or guilt or troubling questions. Bujilli had been raised in a rude sorcerer's yurt surrounded by demons, shades, geists and other foul things, but these people frightened him.
Four women approached Hedrard with expressions of blood-thirsty adoration on their faces. Their fingernails were long and tapered to razor-sharp points and glossy red with the same kind of enamel that they also used on their teeth, which were filed into very sharp points. Each one of the women carried a knotted string of ornately-carved bones and twisted bundles of sinew and rough chunks of glass and metal painstakingly hacked out of old machines. They grovelled at Hedrard's feet until granted permission to rise with a simple grunt. One after the other they placed the clicking, clacking strings of grisly and grimy trinkets over her head to rest on her shoulders like wreaths or the gold-chains of a rich merchant of Drun-Garlo. Once they had placed their garlands upon the hag, each woman withdrew back into the whispering, sussurrent mob eagerly awaiting her divine proclamation.
"I am now She Who Must Be Obeyed. These people will do as I command. What would you have me tell them?"
"Can they really help us to get out of this place? If they do know how to get out...why are they still here?" Leeja was skeptical of the value of dallying any longer than absolutely necessary among these feral degenerates. She clearly did not trust them.
"This is where they live. Where their ancestors lived. They know of nowhere else."
"There is a lot that we just simply do not know..."
"Exactly. That is how life works dear. So what would you like for the un-nice people to do for us now?"
Bujilli opened his mouth. Closed it. He had far too many questions, but once he started asking them, they'd never get going and he had a definite dread of spending any longer than necessary in this place, among these people who looked like simple sheep but were really more akin to ravening beasts all red in tooth and claw.
"Let's see if they know of a relatively safe route to the roof-tops. If they can help us reach the roof-line, we can test the Synchronocitor and see if it will take us home...or if we have to take the long way back..."
Hedrard smirked slightly at Bujilli's reference to 'home.' She had been right about him.
"Yux-galla Omon dilig vilik kov!"
Shouting and babbling the Morons scampered and stalked all around their nest that was now more some sort of bower at the center of a massive growth of Red Weeds. They took-up handfuls of slender javelins, slathered some sort of ceremonial red paste across themselves in a frenzy of ritualistic preparation then practically stampeded up the ramp farthest across the nest-area from where Hedrard, Bujilli and Leeja stood watching.
The four women took up positions before the six hunters who served as Hedrard's honor-guard. The women clucked and scolded and gesticulated towards the direction everyone else was going.
What else was there to do?
Bujilli wished he could examine the sliding panels of the observatory in more detail, but it would take weeks, months of his time to do it justice. These people would never allow that. He marveled at how someone could manage to build something as intricate and as wonderfully durable as this installation without the use of wheels of any kind or sort.
He stopped. Looked back at the damaged orrery dangling from an asterisk of intersecting beams. Cables. Rods. Gears? But Mucoids did not use such things as gears.
He looked more closely. There were signs of intense heat-damage. Whoever had set-up the orrery, they had come into this place after it was already built and in operation. He could just see where the beams had been forced into place as a crude after-thought, a sort of metallic tumor, one that someone else had excised incompletely with Mucoid-style weaponry. Heat rays.
"What is it?" Leeja had her hand-axe and stiletto both out.
"We need to get moving before--"
Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam-vam-Vam
Bodies really did explode when subjected to intense heat. Especially those far enough back from the ones instantly vaporized into ash that the heat was somewhat dissipated.
The masters had returned. Three Mucoids astride tripodal chariot-constructs strode down the ramp-way leading off to their left. They were burning down the Red Weeds, the Morons and anything else that got in their way. They very clearly intended to kill the intruders who had subverted their herd.
What should Bujilli, Leeja and Hedrard do next?