It was many hours until Miaynore awakened, during which time Cartiala did not move from her side. She had briefly examined what she could of the girl’s wounds without disturbing her, ensuring none were life threatening or at risk of infection. From what she could see the girl was fine, or at least not about to drop dead.
After that Cartiala sat there, staring into space, with only the occasional visual sweep of the room. Time flew past in a blur. At one stage a boy entered the room, breaking Cartiala’s dedication to her thoughtless haze. He brought with him a tray of food and water and had refused to look at either of the women as he individually slid the food contents through the bars. Then the boy hastily left, clutching the tray close as it were his lifeline. He had seemed nervous; probably forbidden from acknowledging the ‘prisoners’. Cartiala had remained silent, her mind too scrambled to call out, and so she just watched. In hindsight perhaps it would have been better to question the boy, maybe coerced some information out of him. At the time though, the task seemed impossible. At least he had brought food.
Once he had left Cartiala eventually made her way over to the tray. It was simply dried bread, days old and stale, but to Cartiala it was a banquet. She hadn’t realised how hungry she was, and found herself wondering how long it had been now since she last ate. It took a battle of wills to stop herself devouring the entire meal, such was her hunger. In the end she managed to save half for Miaynore, a feat she prided herself on, considering her ravenous yearning for food.
As thirsty as Cartiala was, she left the water. It was clear that, out of the two of them, Miaynore would need it more. Cartiala toyed with the idea of using it clean her ear wounds, but –not knowing how sanitary it would be –approached the idea with apprehension.
Miaynore’s sleep had been restless. She had twisted her limbs and murmured, occasionally shrieking out elven words that Cartiala could not understand. Sweat drenched the woman’s brow. And her eyes fitted under her lids, reeling from horrors unseen.
When Miaynore did wake, she woke in a panic. Sitting bolt upright with a shriek her arms flailed. The motion had been sudden, and startled Cartiala out of another bought of hazy inattention. Luckily she recovered quickly enough to catch the frightened girl’s stray hand, which had flown wildly towards her face, driven by a dark confusion.
‘Calm down,’ Cartiala said firmly. Her grasp on the girl’s wrist tightened as she felt her shake.
Miaynore’s body tensed at her touch, as her eyes stared, wide-eyed and terrified. Recognition eventually dawned on her face she wrenched her wrist back. She then curled into a ball, hugging her knees tightly.
She mumbled softly in elven before adding in plain-speak, ‘s-sorry.’
Cartila could offer nothing but a blink in response. Her head, although numbed of its pain, was still struggling to process things. What had they done to her? To both of them? The questions burned her with a striking mixture of fear and curiosity. But as much as she wanted to fling question after question at the girl, she was clearly in no state for an interrogation. Cartiala would get her answers in time, caring for an ally was always the first priority. And they were allies- were they not?
After some time Cartiala felt herself slowly relax. She drew a deep breath.
‘It’s okay...’ Cartiala replied. ‘Are… you hungry?’
She motioned towards the food the boy had brought. Miaynore followed her outstretched hand with her violet eyes, still widened in fear. Unsurprisingly, she shook her head.
Cartiala’s brow knotted in concern, though she had expected as much. The girl’s body was probably too stressed to realise it was hungry.
Her eyes hovered over the girl’s thin frame. It was almost skeletal and her blue skin paled, even for an elf. If the girl started her sentence at a healthy weight it was telling at how long she had been here. It was too long, that much was obvious; long enough for her to end up in such a unhealthy state. It would do her no good to be undernourished in such a situation. She vowed to encourage the girl to eat later.
They sat in silence, examining one another slowly. Cartiala was unperturbed by the girl’s wondering eyes, just as she –in turn- was unperturbed by Cartiala. It wasn’t the look of one woman judging the other- as you often got in high society- rather an unashamed and blatant curiosity. It was the first time Cartiala was truly observing an elven woman close up, as it was undoubtedly the first time she had seen a female human. Or at least one she felt comfortable observing. Cartiala briefly wondered how strange she must look to her. …If only she could see herself through the elven girl’s eyes.
In her life Cartiala had really only seen elves from a distance, and almost always in shackles. Her family had grown up in a small town near the border. Which meant the guards caught a lot of rogue elves trying to cross over to human lands.
As a child she was strictly told to stay away from the captives, though the orders always fell on deaf ears. She was a particularly disobedient and rebellious child, her uncontrollable antics often due to her stubborn curiosity and a dislike of being told what to do- traits which contrasted greatly with that of her sisters. Still, despite her many attempts she had never gotten too close. Not like now.
All of the captives she had seen had been adult males, and very similar to one another in terms of appearance. They all had the violet coloured eyes, and blue tinged skin, though so slight that –from a distance- they simply looked pale. Their ears were the biggest give away, pointed into spear tips. They rivalled human height, but were built considerably thinner. Cartiala had noted that, in terms of appearance, they did not tend to widely differ from one another. Though, that was just her seeing the elf through ‘human’ eyes; perhaps –to her- Cartiala looked the same as other human’s too.
There were obvious similarities between the elves Cartiala had seen before and Miaynore, but looking closer Cartiala saw past the outstanding elven features. Miaynore’s eyes were large and rounded, with long lashes. They’d be considered very pretty if they weren’t so sunken and bruised.
Would that happen to me?
Cartiala shuddered at the thought and her chest tightened. Fear once again began to nibble away at her. It was no use; waiting for answers was cruelly testing her courage.
After a long silence Cartiala spoke, the hoarseness of her voice surprising her.
‘W-where are we?’
At her words the Miaynore’s eyes widened again, and she hugged her knees tightly once more. She let her hair fall messily over her face, placing a barrier between her and the outside world. It took a few moments for her to answer, and when she did she spoke barely above a whisper.
‘Your lands,’ she said in an undertone. ‘Human lands.’
That, at least, was a step in the right direction. It was a good thing for Cartiala, as it placed her closer to home. Still though… They were where she suspected…
She had to know more.
‘In the liches tower?’ She pushed, trying her best to be gentle.
The girl nodded ‘the Visharn... The human guardians.’ –she paused briefly, her eyes trailing, as if searching for the right words- ‘close to home.’
Close to home? Did that mean the border? …The tower where the lich had disappeared?
Cartiala silently cursed, realising how far she had travelled from her last memory. If that was true, she was now in Freydell, the closest territory to the human-elf border. And if they were indeed in the tower, they were just next to the elven lands -A very long way from home.
Once again she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember something- anything. Still, she could recall nothing. It was a pointless attempt. Why couldn’t she remember?!
Sorry Greyden. Eyes still firmly shut; she let out a heavy sigh, thinking of her worrisome husband.
She wondered what he was doing right now. Was he troubled by her failure to yet return? Ah, what was she saying -of course he was. If there was one thing her husband liked to do it was take on burdens and concerns. He was one of the strongest men she knew, but even that couldn’t save him from himself.
Cartiala quickly pushed the thought from her mind before it took hold. Still, she was left with a lingering notion of regret. He had never voiced it, but Greyden had never been comfortable with the nature of her job. His distrust of the liches was obvious, and Cartiala herself didn’t totally disagree. He had given up his position partially for her; perhaps she should have done the same? Still- it was a problem for later.
Cartiala opened her eyes to find the elf girl staring. She said nothing, but her expression seemed an ambivalent mixture of fear and curiosity.
‘I apologise,’ Cartiala tried, ‘my mind is not fully… attentive.’
The girl still said nothing, but at least she no longer shook or cowered. She appeared more relaxed, and had even loosened the grip on her curled up legs.
Though she could understand why the girl wouldn’t be totally trusting or conservational, Cartiala wondered if she could understand her. Her mainlander or ‘plain-speak’ had been steady thus far, but she had really only said one or two things- common words at that.
Still, it was certainly worth a try.
Cartiala made to question the girl further, but stopped as Miaynore’s expression suddenly changed.
The girl’s eyes widened, and she stopped dead. Her neck snapped towards the door.
‘It’s coming!’ Her voice was suddenly gripped with panic as she squeaked in alarm. Cartiala watched as the girl scrambled backwards, stumbling over her own feet. She stopped only when she had forcibly flattened herself against the back wall, her face now a mask of horror.
Cartiala jerked her ear towards the door, straining hard. She could hear nothing, though Cartiala had heard stories of the elves heightened hearing.
‘What’s coming?’ Cartiala frowned.
The girl just shook her head, and began to mumble to herself. Her tongue lashed at the air as the elven words rolled from her lips. To Cartiala it sounded like a prayer- no- a plead.
What was coming?
Cartiala watched as tears began rolling down Miaynore’s gaunt face. Her incoherent rambling continued, now broken by intermittent sobs. She felt one part confused, two parts horrified at fear induced behaviour. Clearly whatever approached had a large hand in the torture of the girl during her stay here. The ring leader perhaps? Or…
With a sharp intake of breath Cartiala spun on her heel to face the door. Subconsciously her arms flew protectively in front of her. Once again the nakedness of her attire became painfully apparent. It left her feeling very vulnerable, weak. Despite this she moved closer to the door, one foot in front of the other, her actions pushed by a determination to beat her fears, to never waver, even in the most frightening of horrors. Once she was pressed up against the bars, and could continue no further, she stopped.
She fixated her eyes upon the door, forcing her expression to remain stoic. Her heart thundered in her chest.
Another creak sounded, louder this time, closer. Miaynore let out a whimper, but Cartiala kept her eyes on the door, waiting.
Cartiala gritted her teeth and tried to force herself to breathe.
The door swung open.
From the darkness of the void outside a pair of blackened eyes locked stares with Cartiala, looking right passed her and into her soul. The eyes approached, dragging with them the familiar body of decaying grey. Cartiala knew it only too well, as her nightmare came to life.
She should have been prepared for the feeling, the true wrath of the liches aura. She had learnt to resist it in the past, now though, without her mental defences in place, it came at her in full force. Blinding terror bubbled up side her, clawing at her insides, and she was powerless to stop it. Her body gave a spasmodic jerk, as her heart came to a screeching stop. Her control was slipping. She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t run. She was frozen in place, her legs sporadically fitting in place.
And so, for the first time since she was a child, the stubbornly strong woman felt her knees buckle and collapse beneath her.
Her eyes free flowing and her expression sheer terror, she fell to her knees, not once breaking eye contact with the object of her terror. She couldn’t- its gaze had her locked.
All she could do was cower and watching the creature approach. Its black eyes reflected her terror, revealing her cowardice.
At the back of her mind her rational thoughts called to her, telling her to run, to stand. But they were distant- muffled. They couldn’t brake through the barrier of fear. She was trapped, alone, and the world was suddenly dark with despair.
Surely she was about to die… surely. Under the creature’s festering influence she could think of no other outcome, she almost wished it.
Then the creature stopped.
It turned its gaze away, glancing off at something or someone unseen. Cartiala couldn’t be sure, her gaze was stuck fast.
‘The time is now,’ the creature said. As it spoke time seemed to stop. All other sound; all other ambience dissipated. There was nothing but the spine tingling echo resonating throughout the room, bouncing off the stone. It was everywhere and everything, crushing Cartiala’s senses, freezing her core.
It then looked back at her, its caustic glare piercing her, as if surveying her very soul. Cartiala was naked under the intensity of the fixed stare, more vulnerable than she had ever been in her life.
Then it spoke the words Cartiala had been waiting for. It marked the beginning of her nightmare. And nothing could have prepared her for the sheer terror those words evoked once spoken.
Two territories away, Greyden watched over head as a raven flew off into the dusk. In its claws- Greyden’s heart on paper.
He watched until the bird was long out of sight, his face a mask. Part of him knew that the letter would never reach its intended recipient. Still, he hoped. It was all he could do.
Greyden was late.
He gave one more scan of the horizon before returning his eyes to his surroundings; His situation; His reality.
With a sigh he ran a hand through his hair, pulling it roughly, revelling in the sensation. Then he let his feet carry him once more, letting them take on his duties, as his mind wandered.