"There are no vampires in Wermspittle--"
"A common misconception. The electric pentacles mounted on the galvanic streetlamps drove off those that were not destroyed in the campaign of retaliation against the Eldest by the Sewer Militia, or at least that is what the papers printed and the Council let people believe." Hedrard slumped against the wall. Her skin had a swirling yellow-green Vinksome sheen to it from the barely contained toxins she was struggling to drive out of her body.
"Are we still in Wermspittle?" Bujilli recalled something he had read about the Eight Known Worlds...even though there were nine glyphs associated with them in his father Little Brown Journal.
"We're in an Adjacent World now, one of the Adjacent Cities, another version of Wermspittle...one where there are still vampires. Old vampires. Very, very old ones. The Sewer Milita has no jurisdiction in this place." Hedrard leaned heavily on Lenuel. She turned to keep an eye on the calotte-passage leading down toward the Secondary Tower. The hag had always struck Bujilli as formidable, since he met her on his first day at the Academy.* It made him uneasy to see how much she dreaded whatever lurked and lorded over the Secondary Tower at the end of this passage.
He looked out the window. The storm was assaulting the ramparts and buttresses of the Gormenstille with incredible fury and force. Driving rain, sleet and hail made it impossible to see anything through the dusty, grimy panes.
The window Leeja and the Eloi roof-runner had broken to get them all in from the rain was closing-up; the glass flowing back into place as each shard wriggled back into place like a swarm of glistening, transparent slugs.
Bujilli turned away from the windows and looked at the rest of the group. The Ignoble sat against the outer wall in shock. The removal of their mask had proven more traumatic than he thought was possible. The Roof-runner seemed ready to run off the moment they figured out which way might be the best chance for escape. The custodian lay there waiting for the inevitable with a fatalism even a Pruztian Nekrokommando might find disconcerting.
Fatalism. Bujilli nearly spat in disgust. He'd seen how that could get twisted and used to excuse some terrible things. People gave up and let everything go to hell. He considered it cowardly. Weak.
He looked more closely at the custodian. They were a creature of the dim spaces and walled-in places with pale, fungous-splotched skin with a rancid, cheesy quality to it. Their eyes glimmered with the piss-yellow gleam of a dog. Their aura...was equal parts gray and brown, with a few red sparks here and there...and it showed extensive, invasive meddling in their brain, their nerves, their entire being. He looked away just before he was wracked with nausea.
The custodian wasn't weak, not in the usual sense of the word. They were deeply manipulated, constrained, directed and controlled...it shocked Bujilli that anyone could live like that. He'd rather be dead.
He wanted to do something. But he was tired. Maintaining the Zone of Normality so they could all walk more than two miles down the face of the Gormenstille's central tower had taken a toll on his strength. He needed to rest, to recover. They all did. But they had to find someplace relatively safe.
"Going farther down this passage," he waved towards the downward-sloping direction of the calotte-passage; "probably isn't a good idea. We're in no shape to deal with undead things, let alone vampires or whatever minions they have working for them. We're also not going to make it very much farther if we don't get a chance to rest-up a bit. I need to sleep, as do most of you, I would guess." Bujilli forced himself up onto his feet. Leeja pulled his arm over her shoulder and helped prop him up. He was too tired to argue or resist. His head-wound was bleeding again.
"You," He gestured to the Eloi; "Can you scout ahead a bit? Look for someplace--"
"Where will you go? I told you no one patrols these passages. Just Baron Bannerworth's hunters and scouts...and a few little spiders." The custodian cackled loudly until Leeja kicked them in the head to shut them up. Too hard; or rather too soft--the custodian's skull popped like a rotten egg, splashing grisly yellow-orange slop against the wall.
"Scheiss!" Bujilli pulled Leeja back from the gory mess. They tripped one another up. He went to his knees. She fell backwards.
"Wash off your boots! Do it now!" He recognized the noxious, odious fluids. The custodian was not just a simple minion, they were colonized by a Fungal Tyrant...or something very similar.
Leeja went over to the puddles below the window they had used to gain entry and scuffed her boots against the rough stone wall. Thankfully most of the nasty goo came off in the cold water quickly and easily.
"It isn't acid--"
"No. It usually isn't."
"What is this stuff? Why was the custodian full of all this reeking pus?"
"Another Tyrant. That's my guess." Bujilli shivered involuntarily at the memory of the last Fungal Tyrant they had encountered beneath Idvard's Keep.
"Oh great." She began to really scrub and scrape her boots in the rainwater.
"We have to get moving. This mess is only going to get worse, though we may have a little while before it gets dangerous. Maybe it will inconvenience or discourage the things prowling around from below."
"If we're lucky." Hedrard nodded.
Bujilli waved the Eloi on ahead of the group. Leeja, satisfied that her boots were as clean as she was going to get them, resumed her place beside Bujilli and they started walking up the sloping passage, towards the Central Tower. Lemuel helped Hedrard along. The morose Ignoble cradled their un-wearable iron mask in their arms as they shuffled along at the back of the group.
There were plenty of niches, crannies and structural supports to hide behind, but no real cover aside from that. They were considering one such spot when the Roof-runner came back in a hurry.
"I found a good place for us!"
"Where is it?"
"What is it like?"
"There is a corridor up ahead, one that curves along the outer wall of the main tower and connects to all the other passages like this one, at least those at this level. There are plenty of rooms and such all along the corridor."
"Any sign of recent use?"
"No. It's very dusty, with debris mounded-up in some places. I think the custodian was telling the truth about this section being abandoned or cordoned-off."
"That sounds better than trying to camp-out here in a passage that we know is now infested with nasty fungus..."
Bujilli nodded. The Eloi grinned, turned around and led the way forward. The group followed.
The third door they tried opened stiffly, but was still structurally sound. It was some sort of triage area. Stretchers were propped against the walls or set across makeshift supports like crates or barrels or boxes. Bloody gauze was tossed all about the place, usually in tatters. All the smaller boxes and packages they could find were opened, empty and often smeared with blood or other fluids.
The next room was stripped bare. The one beyond that was heavily scorched and seared by intense flames and blasting spells. They decided not to go past that point and instead barricaded the doors of the two rooms between them and that space as best as they could manage.
Five stretchers were cleared-off and dragged into place near the door by which they had entered the room. Leeja cast Pale Shelter and Bujilli fell asleep as a delicate white sea shell made of soft moonlight shimmered all around the group. The spell was gentle and kind and relaxing.
He awoke with a start a few hours later. The storm had run its course. He could feel it. The deep purple animosity of the storm was moving away. He wasn't sure if the thunderstorm had been some sort of a Purple Cloud or not, but even if it had been, it had not noticed him. This time.
Bujilli sat up on the stretcher. Swung his legs over the side and squinted at the darkness. He could hear the others breathing, snoring, sleeping fitfully. Leeja was like a pale white flame flickering through the dark.
But that wasn't Leeja...
What should Bujill do next?
*Hedrard first appeared in Episode 23, where she was asked to save Lemuel's life after his fight with Bujilli in Episodes 21 and 22..