CHAPTER 9- The first spore
The atmosphere was alive, crackling in its intensity, making Cartiala’s hair stand on end. Her heart was in her throat, as she gasped and panted, emitting pathetic coughs. Her body was once again on fire; her arms and legs tightly bound, and her back forced up against a partially elevated board.
She had awoken in such a situation, the last thing in her mind- the putrid, withering hand of the lich reaching out to her, before feeling herself collapse into darkness. Then she had awoken here, alone, but tightly bound.
Her surroundings did nothing to lift her spirits. The room she was in was roughly the same size as the one she had first awoken in. The walls and floors were the same rock type, and the ceiling ascended just as high. The difference though, was the room’s contents. It was practically empty, with little more than the tilted board she resided on and a desk full of notes, which sat opposite a heavy metal door. Both the door and desk sat either side of her position, leaving her with the uncomfortable feeling of being flanked.
Runes once again littered the walls. Worryingly enough, some were active, glowing a bright iridescent blue. Cartiala contributed them to the electric feel of the room, and wondered fearfully what their true purpose was.
She struggled, as she had since she had awoken, against her bindings. A waste of energy- some would say- but she was determined not to stop until she was free. So she continued to pull her limbs against the bondages, not even stopping at the sound of the big metal door swinging open. It emitted an eerie squeal as it swung on its hinges, which turned into the makings of a scream as the sound resonated through the room.
Cartiala turned her head to spy the heavily scarred man from her encounter before, and another man she had yet to encounter. He appeared middle aged or at least experienced, with a set jaw and confident stance. The lines on his face weren’t indicative of that. Admittedly a distance away, Cartiala could not see a single mark or blemish intruding on his complexion, though he did appear unusually pale. The insipid colour of his skin contrasted with long flowing dark hair, as black as the Midnight Crows of Southern Tol, and an expensive looking velvet robe, trimmed with royal purple. Unlike the scarred man –whose face turned into a malicious sneer upon eye contact- the long haired man’s expression remained stoic. He looked at her briefly, with eyes colder than the Frostback Mountains, before scribbling something furiously on a pad. He harshly dotted the paper to finalise his scrawl before once again locking eyes with Cartiala.
The fiery woman held him with a determined glare, despite the fear and apprehension which was slowly poisoning her courage. She continued to struggle against her bindings, gasping with the effort, but not taking her eyes from his. She wanted to show him -to show them all- that she would fight them. She was stronger than them, and never would they be allowed to see her fear- not again. Against her behest flashes of those final moments before she passed out invaded her thoughts, filling her mind with the rotten appearance of decaying grey…
Her heartbeat quickened and her breath momentarily caught in her throat. Cartiala looked away.
Just as she did, her attention was recaptured by the scarred man as he approached, his face twisting into irritation, each footstep matching the hastened beat of her heart.
‘Stop that!’ He snarled, moving to tighten her bonds.
His hand grasped tightly at her wrist as he fastened the first bond, the touch was unpleasant. It was rough and she found herself unnerved by his proximity. Her body tensed involuntarily, her instincts wanting her to attack, to flee -something, anything. The contact antagonised her, and in her vulnerable position she felt violated.
Thinking with a mind fed on nothing but fear and resentment Cartiala breathed in sharply, and then did the unthinkable... She spat at him.
The airborne mass of spittle sailed through the air, and –as if in slow motion- landed right on the scarred man’s forehead.
He roared in anger, removing his hand from her wrist and stumbled backwards. Furiously, he wiped the saliva off with the back of his hand, before glaring back at her, his eyes filled with murderous rage.
‘Do you have a DEATH WISH bitch?’
The long haired, stoic, man began to make his way towards them. But the scarred man wasn’t listening. He balled his fist, arching it back, ready to spring. Cartiala knew what was coming, and in that split second tried her very best to break free once more. From her peripheral she saw the robed man quicken his pace.
An explosion of pain surged through Cartiala’s face as the man’s fist connected forcefully with her nose. She let out a shriek, and tried to pull back, but the board stopped her progress. The back of her head collided with it, emitting a sickening thud. Her vision blurred with the impact.
A flow of warmth ran down her face, mixing with the automatic tears which sprung into her eyes. In her mouth, Cartiala tasted blood. Spots erupted in her line of vision, as she gave a nasally gasp. Her chest heaved and her teeth gritted in pain.
Through her hazy vision she saw the man raise his fist again, preparing to strike her once more.
The long haired man suddenly appeared at the scarred man’s side. He said something, but it was soft, inaudible to Cartiala, who struggled against the pounding in her ears. Whatever he said though instantly made the man pale. He lowered his fist and backed away, moving to stand near the door.
With the issue handled, the long haired man turned to Cartiala his expression still as stone as a statue.
‘Madame Ambassador’ he said, an odd note of respect in his voice, ‘I am Terril Euphamius, and my associate over there is Merrik Reinhold. We are going to be working with you during your stay here. We have a little time, and I expect you have questions so here’s an ultimatum: if you stop struggling we’ll answer some for you.’
Cartiala was momentarily taken aback. What was this? Some trick? Working with her? What? Confusion clouded Cartiala’s thoughts. She desperately tried to make sense of it, but it was already a mountainous task, her head spinning as it was. Despite his mask, his voice was kind, almost gentle. It was bizarre to hear, considering what she had first woken up to, or expected.
Despite the swim of her vision, and the blood radically converging over the lower half of her face, Cartiala stood resolute. She glared up at the man known as ‘Euphamius’, making sure to look him full in the eye. She followed up with an angry silence.
At her muteness, Euphamius gave a frustrated sighed, though his brow creased in concern rather than anger. He approached slowly, though stopped at an appropriate distance. Cartiala found herself inappropriately appreciative of the gesture.
‘Look,’ he began, ‘I’m a magi, a researcher. I’m not here to cause you unnecessary harm.’
Cartiala frowned, and motioned as best she could to her bloodied and obviously broken nose, straining her hand against her bondage to do so.
‘That… was a bad start,’ Euphamius said with a nod, ‘I am offering you an opportunity not offered lightly. If you wish to know anything, ask. If you do not, stay silent. Just know, that there are obviously certain things I cannot tell you.’
Seeing that she was at a loss Cartiala wasted no time. First asking the question at the forefront of her mind.
‘Where am I?’
Cartiala’s voice was a low rasp, it was foreign to her. She choked on blood, coughing.
Euphamius smiled lightly. But it was faint, almost non-existent on his naturally cold face.
‘We are in the Freydell tower.’
Just as Cartiala had suspected; now it was confirmed. The idea gave her no comfort.
‘I… can’t answer that.’
Cartiala would have snorted if she had the ability. Of course he couldn’t.
‘But don’t worry. Our job is to do everything in our power to make sure you remain alive.’
He shot the scarred man –Reinhold- an undecipherable look.
Cartiala blinked. What was she supposed to make of that? It was far from reassuring, if anything it gave her chills. Was there anything they could tell her?
‘How many other people do you have held captive here?’
Euphamius clicked his tongue in a moment’s thought.
‘Besides you and the elven girl there are currently eight others.’
‘That’s enough!’ Reinhold left his spot on the wall to approach, ‘we were told to make her comfortable, not to tell her everything!’
‘Well things changed when you decided to break her nose,’ Euphamius shot back.
‘She spat at me!’ Reinhold roared, indignation heavy in his tone.
‘Probably deserved it…’ Euphamius mumbled, moving over to the desk.
Reinhold either didn’t hear his comment, or pretended not to. He instead glared at Cartiala, his eyes narrowed. In a moment of immature defiance, Cartiala felt the urge to spit at him again. Sensibility held her back. To attempt such a thing for the second time would be beyond stupid.
Their stare down continued until Euphamius returned. He had reobtained his notepad, but in the other hand held an antique looking golden dagger. It was exquisite to look at, with an exotic curved handle and a clean shining blade. Runes ran from the blade up to the very tip of the handle.
As beautiful as it was, the sight filled Cartiala’s heart with terror. Were they going to use it on her? And what did those runes represent?
‘W-what is that for?’ Cartiala gasped, her eyes following the dagger meticulously.
‘Shut up,’ Reinhold snarled.
Euphamius ignored him and answered her question.
‘We have to carve a rune.’
Carve a rune? Where? On her? Cartiala’s eyes widened at the thought, as her heart quickened in pace.
‘Don’t worry,’ Euphamius said quickly, ‘we needn’t cut deep. Just enough to ensure the wound will scar.’
The man was spouting nonsense! Enough to make her scar? That was deep!
Cartiala began to struggle against her bonds once again, ignoring the pain in her face. Anger and fear mixed up in a swirl of panic in the pit of her stomach. Her wall of strength cracked, and the terror flooded in, as the reality of her situation threatened to crush her.
‘Please remain still,’ Euphamius requested calmly.
But words were now beyond the fiery red head. All comprehension was lost on the sea, as Cartiala’s wide eyes fixated on the ever approaching dagger.
‘Get that thing the fuck away from me!’
She desperately tried to scramble away, but the bonds held fast. She was vulnerable, so vulnerable… A trembling baby rabbit before a hunters bow.
No! Cartiala scolded herself harshly. She may be a baby rabbit, but she was a baby rabbit with the sharpest teeth and the willpower of twenty. And may the hells be rained upon before she would allow that hunters bow to be drawn before she at least tried for his throat!
In one last driven attempt Cartiala pulled against her bonds, with every bit of strength she could muster. She screamed in pain, panic and fury, pulling against each crying muscle, her chest heaving with the effort. Then with a shudder of the board and a shocked gasp Cartiala felt the impossible happen…
Her leg broke free.
It was one leg only. But it was enough to inspire hope and determination. Cartiala threw herself into the struggle once more.
‘Madame Deseme,’ Euphamius said sternly, his brow knotting, ‘stop. This is necessary.’
‘This is wasting time!’ came the irritated voice of Reinhold, ‘why don’t you just use that thing again. Like you did with the other one.’
‘But I…’ Euphamius trailed off, with what seemed like a sigh. His expression appeared to drop from its icy marble to genuine disappointment. ‘Okay.’
He retreated briefly to his desk, before returning with a rounded object. Though Cartiala’s vision was still slightly blurred, she had enough sense to ascertain that it was a rune stone. Recognising the threat she kicked out with her free leg, trying to stay Euphamius’ approach.
To Cartiala’s satisfaction he paused just inches from the arch of her kick, and eyed her warily.
Suddenly there was Reinhold. With strength far greater than her own he pressed down on her free leg, grasping her thigh tightly and restraining her once more. His face rested inches from hers, and he smiled cruelly at her.
‘Isn’t this fun?’
He gave her thinly clothed thigh a painful squeeze, evoking an angered cry from Cartiala. Once again she attempted to spit at him, but missed as he quickly pulled his face back.
‘None of that, you psychotic little whore,’ he said with a sadistic laugh. He turned his head a little to look at Euphamius, who appeared to be frozen solid. He shot him a glare. ‘Are you going to do this or what?’
Euphamius blinked, as if woken from a stupor. Without a word he strode forward, eyes locked with Cartialas. She glared at him, shooting him the fiercest expression she could muster, and honestly, Cartiala could have sworn that she saw the subtle swim of fear invade his eyes. Before she could process it however he was in front of her, holding out the rune. He pressed it to her forehead and closed his eyes. Cartiala watched him, unblinking.
Then he spoke, loudly, crisply and clearly, yet –somehow- inaudibly.
Instantaneously, Cartiala felt herself slump as her body lost control. Each of her limbs suddenly relaxed, and her clenched fists released. Her head lolled as her neck gave out, too weak to hold up something suddenly so heavy. As frightening a sensation as it was, she barely had time to process it, as the inevitable wave of darkness took her.