Deep within the frigid lochs of the Kingdom Bridgeways stands a fortress upon an islet of rock, named Naith Tuliin. It stands as a single keep, rising sharply from the water, with wall stones mortared smoothly to rock, straight down into the dark waters. The only foothold upon the stones is a pier that lies directly before the fortress gate.
A guardhouse sits on the nearest shore, with a pair of jonboats pulled up on the rocks. On the cliffs surrounding the loch stand stone pedestals holding something covered in sailcloth, the purpose of these platforms is difficult to guess.
Inside the keep is empty with a floor of polished granite. A staircase spirals around the inside wall, leading to a circling stone catwalk which provides access to arrow slits positioned twenty feet up the wall. The single staircase ascends further to a wooden floor thirty feet from the ground. This floor holds a large dim room with a ceiling of stone, spartan furnishings and the fortress's only other exterior door, hanging high above the water.
From the upper door, an exterior stone staircase, without railings, spirals around the outside of the keep, up another twenty feet to the parapet ringing the stone roof.
What lies within the sealed room of stone, forty feet above the rocky islet, is a mystery.
Within the sealed reactor, above the room full of mystics, sweating out their lifeblood to contain her, Irihi seethed. Pressed on all sides by magic-dampening control rods, the Elfwitch strained against the inkblack tatoos which wired her jaw shut, kept her dextrous fingers seized with rigor, and compelled her to dance how and when Lolindir M'lithan demanded.
But her mind was not thusly bound. Trapped within concentric prisons of flesh, tattooed skin, magic, stone, and The Real, she beat against her walls with her hammer of fury and ire.
The Elfwitch had ceased to fear death decades, or aeons ago, depending on how one measured her time. She scoffed at mortals' desperate fingernail clawing at their last slipping moments before she consumed the balance of their years and bent them to her, or her masters' purpose. Irihi had always welcomed death, as ally and friend.
Only she had refused the Un, herself, time and time again. She could not depart this world before she made all of Them leave, first. It did not matter the cost. They might, and had, ripped her eyes from her face. They had taken everything good; twisted and bent it until it was an unspeakable abomination. With every physical insult, with every betrayal, torment, and splintering Irihi had welded her shattered psyche back together with white-hot ire, and forged on. She waded against the tide of fools and cowards who sought to control, destroy, or flee her, and slew them all,
all because she wanted to.
Now, though, she had new purpose.
The new life she was tethered to. The soul she had forged by her brokeness and then had consumed through her repair. He had not passed through the dark gates. The Master Mystic had forced her to eat her child before he was given form. Now he existed only as potential--a dark star of bottomless power from which Greymaster forced her to draw draughts of primal energies for his petty machinations.
Even if Irihi could die, and she did wish for death with every facet of her unbeating coal heart, she would not leave this worlde before she had given her child form.
And murdered every single being who had been touched by, or drunk from his well of power.
A few pebbles bounced down the slick stones of Naith Tuliin, and into the waters below, as the sealed reactor pressed heavier upon the monster within. The heart of another mystic, of the Order of Light, gave out.
Still the Jonboats carried in ancient cordwood grey beards and departed bearing their used-up husks.
Day upon day.
"Impossible!!" The leader of The Order of Light knocked aside the telescope. It tottered then crashed to the flagstones, it's delicate gnome-crafted optics shattering with a chiming tinkle of glass. In a rage, he swept the scrolls and parchments from table to floor, to flutter down around the broken instrument like falling leaves. "It cannot be!!" He shouted.
Below, the skiff, that was the only transport to and from the keep at Naith Tuliin, departed. It carried yet another cloth-shrouded body. Another irreplaceable ancient wizard with his life consumed by trying to maintain control of The Atrocity chained within the tower.
There were fewer and fewer of The Order remaining. She was burning away their lives as if they were thin candles, guttering against the blackness of her hurricane of rage.
His scryings had not been wrong. He had checked and rechecked the scrolls. The wandering stars had promised she would be contained for a thousand years, that Liathilador would reign supreme for a millennia, that he would rule the world; as its hidden hand for the rest of his life.
The zodiac had lied. In a millennia of tracking them, never had the order of the planets changed. Never had his foretellings failed to come to pass as precisely, as accurately, as he engineered them.
It had started out nearly unnoticeable. A comet a few hours early, a dim minor planet where there should have been void. Ever attentive, the Master Mystic had reworked his painstaking calculations. A millennia became nine hundred and ninety-nine years and six months. A minor deviation.
More mystics. More control rods. Increase the schedule of venting her dark energies. These measures restored the heavens' promise of a thousand years of dominance. For a time.
More portants appeared. A star died. A major planet was dragged from its orbit. A comet shone years before it's time. Five hundred years of containment.
A nebula vanished, the moon turned red out of season. More mystics died. Two hundred years.
The heavens were in chaos. Portents of doom shone in the daytime sky for them who knew where and when to look. One year.
"A day." Lolindir sank into his chair. He had never imagined that the portents could change, that the gravity of The Atrocity sealed away beneath him could drag the celestial pillars askew.
But there it lay, plain as day in the scribings upon the scattered parchments. Liathilador would end tomorrow, his nascent reign over Rondor and Elderwood, barely formed, would be broken. Lolindir scoffed. "The worlde…" he did not even yet reign over Ufaeria, and his doom was written in the stars with such certainty that even the dullest astrologer could scry it.
"Master! No!" The head wizard called out from where he hunched, dripping a sweat of blood onto the mandala he traced. “We will lose another--!” Greymaster paid no heed as he summoned the stones to rise from the floor and bear him up to the ceiling of the reactor. The great granite slabs slid apart, the noise of their grinding in disharmony with the groans of the mystics welded to their stations by the portions of her ire they each tried to control. The Master Mystic disappeared into the darkly pulsing heart of the reactor.
Lolindir waved an arm, and the massive control rods floated back, ceasing to press the woman within their crushing closeness. Pale violet irises stenciled with inkblack caught the reflection of the Leader of the Order of Light, glowing white against the purplish miasma of her necromancy.
The Master Mystic regarded the thing suspended in the center of the chamber. She had been a beauty once, and that was reflected in the body that hung pierced by hook and wrapped in tight cruel chain. But the Wizard could see beyond the physical manifestation of pale flesh, to the great streamers of rage and pain that twisted and writhed against the magery woven by the dying sorcerers below. Irihi's presence was like great looping bolts of cloth, lifted and billowing in an unfelt wind, or perhaps an immense writhing serpent, pinned at the head where the Inkblack tattoos affixed her to both the physical plane, and to do his bidding.
“Hear me, Irihi!” Lolindir spoke to the restrained necromancer. “Yew who have corrupted the heavens and earth with your evil! Speak as I compel yew!” The master mystic put both compulsion and magickal command into his voice. “How does Liathilador survive yew? What compels yew to cease these struggles? SHOW ME!" His staff flared bright in the corrupted dimness of the reactor.
The stones of the walls, floor, ceiling all dissolved away as a vision poured, unbidden, from The Atrocity bound before the Greymaster. Liathilador sat beneath the burnished sun, shining with the splendor befitting the capital of the worlde. The glistening tower of the Order of Light shone with the glory of total dominion over all the lands.
The peaceful, powerful scene lasted only a moment before great clouds of corruption boiled over the peaks of the Orodor, sweeping down upon the capital. Where the grey and purple clouds touched the trees of the Lesser Falcon forest, the foliage burst into intense conflagrations of purple fire. A great wailing could be heard as the cloud suffused the city. Granite dissolved as sand in water under the onslaught. The great dome of the citadel collapsed inward upon itself as the city was wiped away, along with every soul dwelling therein.
Irihi laughed, reveling in the dark glory of the mad chaos that would soon befall Greyhaven, even though the defiant gesture saw her black blood drawn by her tattoos as those below struggled to reestablish control. The immense chains binding the slip of an elfmaid creaked and groaned as she surged forward.
Disturbed, Lolindir loosed his anger to flow through his staff of The Order. His wizardry flared brighter and brighter until it washed away the tragic scene unfolding around them. "LIES!" He thundered, anger at his own impotence raging through the hands that held the staffed. "There is a way. SHOW ME, WITCH!" A lightning bolt of purest white flagellated the restrained necromancer.
In the chamber below, one of the ancient mystics burst into flames, even while still welded to his station. The attendents' desperate efforts to aid him did nothing to quench the necromantic fire that melted his flesh and bone into the throne where he died.
"no. ways." The Atrocity's lips thinned as a rictus shark grin overspread her inked face.
Lolindir's magical tantrum subsided. He knew she had, even bound as she was, bent his own power, twisted it until it killed one containing her. More of that, and the portents would be made wrong once more; Liathilador would not last out the day.
"Then tell me…" the Master Mystic's voice was low and deadly. There was no more facade of goodness and purity, only his core laid bare as the elfwitch bound before him. Beneath the spiked butt of his staff, a dark star of primal necromancy twinkled. With teeth bared in an animalistic grimace, Lolindir bore down upon it. Like a crystal globe, the star cracked.
The vision of destruction vanished. The billowing shrouds of ire and Magick vanished into the sorceress as a single sharp inhaled gasp. All of it, the resistance, the murderous intent, the sobbing laughter was drawn into a single witheld beat of her cracked coal heart.
"Do I now, at long last, have yer attention?" Lolindir hissed. He knew, if he pressed even an iota more of Magick into the fragile dark star, it would detonate, bringing about worse destruction to Liathilador than Irihi's vision. Of that cataclysm, she would be the only, desolate, survivor, once the shockwaves of the potential soul of her never born child dissipated in the tumbling down Orodor and the boiling western seas.
"Good." Lolindir's mad anger had scoured away his veneer of control. What remained was the corrupted center, and the only question he truly held in his shriveled heart. "Then how do I save myself?"
This time The Atrocity did not struggle against the compulsion of the runes. She drew in a long unneeded breath and, releasing it, allowed the terrible visions of those bloodsoaked days to pour forth. This was the genesis pain held so long, so near her core. It was what she feared most in the worlde.
Save one thing.
Lolindir was not himself. His arms were svelte with fine-fingered dextrous hands, so talented. So capable of the supple cupping and wending of the Magicks of lives sacrificed. They were also soaked in elfblood, each one, to the elbow. The vitae of her victims dripped from the sharp athane clutched in his nerveless fingers, from the coal black strands come loose, in the violence, from her tightly bound tresses.
Another mother stood before him. So fertile, so rife with life, vitality, and potential. She was swollen with her pregnancy, her doe-eyed daughter clutching her hand and hiding behind the swell of incipient child.
Just one more.
One more to complete the barrage that would force the unstoppable daemon back into the abyss.
He knew from her experience, only one blow would be necessary, so tightly bound were all three souls. Mother doing what must needs be done to save a thousand more just like her, holding one life within her and the absolute frightened trust of another in her hand, pressing against her side.
Not again and again and again and again and again.
It was a mercy.
If she did not sacrifice them their deaths were still assured. They would be legion, the passing through the dark gates would be accompanied by unspeakable pain and horrors.
She would give them sanctuary in death.
All her coven had balked, some earlier, some later, but not Irihi. She had honored their requests and taken their lives, too, to be flung against the greater fiends, so they would no longer have to kill the resolute, the resigned, the crying, the fearful and the enraged. But most most most of all no more mothers and their frightened children.
Lolindir was the last alive in the town. Surrounded by bodies, he was a black-haired waif of a filter, sorting the quick and the dead. None quick, all their mortal coils laying where she had struck them down.
Save these three. Save these last, for whom there was no question as to what the Necromancer would do to them.
No. She could not.
The athane dropped from his frozen hand, the ancient land of D’Or Oolim vanished, replaced by the stones of the reactor, which parted before the fleeing Master of the Order of Light. Behind him, the control rods pressed in close upon The Atrocity once more.
Greymaster passed the smoldering wrecks of two more mystics in the smokey cooked-flesh control room of death. The door to the outside of the keep banged open as he fled to the top of the tower all while trying not to look as though he now ran from that vision of existential horror experienced within the reactor core. Yet, even as he fled, the kernel he had sought seated itself firmly within his mind. At long last, he knew what he must do to survive the cataclysm to come, when Irihi Spokelse broke her bonds.
From: The Syltumel Estate
Within the reactor opened a portal to elsewhere, and from this portal emerged the Master Mystic and his one-handed captive elfmaid. To Eddellwyn the Mystic did not speak. He ignored any shouts, screams, entreaties, or insults she might direct at him. To Greymaster, this elfmaid was merely a chess piece to be positioned as he saw fit, with no regard for even informing her of her role, and certainly no consideration for her own desires.
The wizard opened a trapdoor stairway in the floor of the reactor, leaving Eddellwyn suspended within his ensnaring magick until he had descended and the great slabs of granite had resealed the doorless and windowless chamber.
When he had departed, the magick holding the elfmaid captive dissipated slowly, lowering her to the floor and leaving her free to wander the reactor room.
There was quite a large space here, despite the enormous shifting mass of stone that comprised the core of the reactor. There was easily twenty feet of space all around the core, between it and the walls--all of it smoothly mortared stone without a single stick of furniture or decoration.
The core itself was a large amorphous pile of long stone polyhedral blocks that shifted slightly with the muted grinding of stone-on stone. There were small gaps between the blocks that appeared and disappeared, giving Eddellwyn a view into the center. Enormous chains, with links the size of a Uman head draped from the inner sides of the control rods. As the rods shifted, the chains clinked with deep quiet reverberations. At the ends of the chains were equally-enormous shackles, shackles suffused with long cruel hooked spikes. This great assemblage of iron all but hid the figure pinned at the ends of those hooks. Only glimpses could be seen, when the gaps aligned, of pale flesh stenciled with black tatoos and pierced by iron, or perhaps a lock of midnight black mane.
Whomever was caught within the restraints, sized for titans, was but a slip of a person--close in stature to the one-handed elfmaid--yet the blocks and chains moved and strained as if they hummed with only-just-barely-contained violence.
[OOC: from Hidden Garden Clearing [Estate Grounds - North]]
The effect of stepping through the portal gate was instantaneous and the transition from the Estate gardens to stone dungeon was jarring. The sounds from the masquerade and demon fight disappeared behind them as the portal closed, replaced by the deep reverberating grind of stone against stone. The entire process of her capture had taken only moments and was effortless, leaving very little to indicate what had happened. If Travion hadn’t been there as a witness, she wasn’t certain she would’ve been immediately missed, Daeth might have assumed she’d chased after another threat.
The wizard had said nothing more after his command to go with him and for her part, Wynterleaf said nothing either, what little energy she had recouped since fighting the fallen angel had been depleted with her mental shout of warning. Black threatened again at the edges of her vision and she was dimly aware of the white-haired elf disappearing beneath the floor of the room, pulling slabs of stone closed behind him as he left. Her eyelids shuttered only to flicker open again as the bonds of magick that had held her suspended dissolved and she was lowered to the floor. No longer held in the bubble of artificial gravity, she wasn’t strong enough to fight the pull of the earth and continued down to the floor onto her knees, passing out cold for the second time that night.
When she woke next, not much appeared to have changed. She was still in the same room they’d arrived in, a windowless stone enclosure, the center of which was filled with a shifting core of living stone that was creating the muted grinding noise. Wynterleaf lifted her head from where it rested on the floor and glanced at her surroundings, noting she was alone before using her right arm to push herself into a sitting position. The movement pulled at her collarbone sending a pulsing throb of pain through her body and she grimaced in response. With a grunt, she fumbled with the improvised sling and after a minute of struggle, finally managed to get the belt over her head and unbound from her wrist. She gave the strip of leather a look of disgust before carelessly dropping it to the floor. If she had only waited for someone to properly attend to her injury inside the mansion, she might still have had her sword or even her pouch of meager belongings. But she had been impatient, too independent, and had to look after her injuries before leaving the gardens.
Wynterleaf gained her feet, cradling her left arm against her body as she cautiously moved about the room, careful to keep her distance from the moving rocks but after walking the perimeter of the room and finding nothing of interest, she began to drift closer to examine the core. At first glance, she had assumed the moving stone was part of an anomalous engine, the bits of chain she could glimpse between the gaps all part of a huge machine powering something beyond her comprehension. Though, as she focused intently on the permutable stone she caught flashes of skin and hair, each realignment of rock filling in more of the mental impression she was forming of a slender figure hung from the hooks at the very center of the core.
A prisoner like herself? Is that what the wizard intended to do with her? Or was it someone there willingly? Another wizard?
Dread chilled in her veins and the muscles in her body locked, as the suspicion formed that in either case, the figure was the one powering the apparatus. She had no idea what its purpose could be but given she’d just been kidnapped and was being held against her will, she didn't believe the machine was being used for anything good. For a moment, she wondered if this wizard was familiar with the Stone and Edradul mage who’d attempted to sacrifice her soul into the gem and decided to complete the act himself. Except that made no sense, the Stone had been destroyed and the mage dead in the incident that cost her Wynter and her hand.
No. It made more sense that this wizard was part of the group she had been hunting in the Bridgeways, one of the Mystics that she had been repeatedly warned about since coming to the area. She wasn’t certain how she caught their attention, she hadn’t been very overt in her search and questioning, but she wouldn’t be surprised to find someone had tipped off the sect - a bit of warning would be worth a lot to the wizards.
Wynterleaf took a step back and then another, while every fiber of her being screamed at her to throw herself at the stone and destroy it. To shatter and ruin the wizards and power they held in their possession had been her sole driving force for too long now - years. Her jaw clenched. Even if that power was a living being.
Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to break the stone, to stop the rotation of the core while it was active and reach the center. Backing up until she felt the wall at her back, she slid down it to crouch on the floor, watching and waiting, either for an opportunity to escape or to destroy the machine. A grim smile played about her mouth. The wizard had made a mistake bringing her to their stronghold, it was only a matter of time before they learned that for themselves.
From: Didn’t really go anywhere. Never go anywhere, anymore.
The voice from within the core of the shifting blocks was quiet and indistinct. The grinding of the massive stones made the words impossible to make out, even for elven hearing. Even were Eddellyn paying close attention, the voice within would seem to say: “Your boyfriend smells dumb, dear heart.” Of course that couldn’t be right. But there was someone within the stone core of the room, and she was speaking to the one-handed elf.
Irihi was not really sure how to feel about her master dumping the injured woman into the reactor with her. Unsurprised, she supposed. In his centuries of life, it seemed that the Master Mystic had never bothered to polish--let alone “master”--the art of interpersonal relationships.
Of course, Irihi should talk.
But, still. “That wizard expects us to make friends, I think,” Having no reason not to speak to the newcomer--her first non-bearded visitor in… ever… Irihi decided to give voice to her thoughts. This one she called loudly enough for Eddellyn to hear clearly. “like we’re two-month-old puppies or something.”
Well, loudly enough for the elfmaid to hear, if she could hear Irihi. In the past most people had been unable to hear her voice when she was not wearing the long-lost Ring of Form Stability. But she was now wearing a shu-ton of iron “jewelry”--most of it spiked painfully through her flesh--so who knew? Maybe even mundane Elfmaids (at least, she seemed ordinary from what little Irihi could see) could hear her voice now. “What an idiot,” she called, "wanna help me murder him?” Irihi suggested, nonchalantly, though it was playing right into Greymaster's hands.
After all, what else were friends for?
Wynterleaf sat with her back against the wall, her gaze warily alert despite the fatigue and pain that pulled at her entire body. She cradled her left arm to her chest, the ache in her collarbone a steady throb that hadn’t changed for better or worse in the intervening hours since waking in the Syltamul gardens. In the absence of a healer, rest would be the only thing to help but she wouldn’t find that here, not the kind she needed at least. The floor beneath her was hard granite, the entirety of the dungeon that surrounded her was similarly made of stone, she could feel the weight of it pressing in from all sides. There was nothing that felt connected to the worlde in this room and Eddellyn felt caged in a way she hadn’t in a long while; she wished that there had at least been a window in the room, if only for the taste of fresh air.
Her head ached as too many questions swirled through her head, the events of everything leading from arrival at the masquerade to her capture moving through her mind unfiltered. The time before the Aegis and everything that had been said, that had happened inside, was still too fresh to absorb. It brought too many feelings to the fore that she was unprepared to untangle just yet. So, she turned her thoughts to worry over Travion being safe, that the wizard didn’t do anything to him. Wondered too if Daeth rid the estate of Maarazaar; she felt certain in his ability to deal with the apostle but he still could have suffered an injury. A second, fiercer thought intruded, followed by a flare of anger, what if Slaan had reappeared? The threat the vithing witch had presented had been more than physical. She ground the heels of her boots into the floor clamping down on that train of thought before it swept her away.
There was no measure for how slowly, or quickly, time moved. The dull grind of stone was a continuous rhythmic sound that lulled her into a trance, so she almost missed the voice when it came. It was a minor disruption to the metronomic cadence of shifting stone and Wynterleaf only noticed it because she had been listening for any change in sound. Her breathing stilled, straining to make out the words that were just beyond her range of hearing, all she could tell was that it came from the center of the core. It had to come from the figure that had been suspended by the chains, there could be no other source. Uncertain if it was a trap, she slowly rose to her feet, using the fall to help her stand and she edged forward a foot to the center of the room, no more.
The words continued, the sound hushed and she struggled to piece together the sentiment.
"...wizard expects us to make friends."
Unlikely. Wynterleaf did not have friends, those that she had she could count on one hand. She flinched at the unintentional wordplay - she could only count on one hand, a reminder from the last time she had been involved in a wizard's scheme. She pressed her lips flat and tucked her arms closer to her front, using her right to support her left.
The next words were clearer, not because the voice had grown in volume but because she found herself unconsciously standing at the perimeter of the core. Close enough that she could feel the draft from the moving rocks brush against her face.
“What an idiot” On that, she agreed. “Wanna help me murder him?”
Wynterleaf laughed, a harsh, brittle sound, like glass breaking. She had to admit if this was a trap, this was a new tactic. Her lips peeled back from her teeth in a sneer, “Why stop at him, what’s to keep me from killing you as well?”
Eyes the color of storm clouds narrowed as she tried to catch a glimpse of the face within the core. Her features hardened. Not one to trust easily at the best of times, there was nothing in this situation to take at face value and she was unwilling to let her guard ease, even for a second. She sorted and discarded through a dozen questions that came to mind, settling at last on the one that might get her something akin to a candid response.
“What are you doing in there?”
“Just hangin’.” The elfwitch answered wryly. Ooh, Irihi liked this plucky pregnant little meat shield and her oversized attitude. She must be frightened, indeed, to make such bold threats, injured and utterly helpless as she was. Irihi felt her congealed diamond heart shedding coal dust as it gave a little flutter.
Stop it. Remember Khalhyxx. The arachnoid had been full of fear and bravado as well. And legs and legs and legs. Yes, but remember how it hurt when she ran and ran and ran.
Still, Irihi wanted to see. Because the first thing Eddellwyn had said to her had been so hopeful, so thrilling that she'd had to bite her tongue rather than gasp "oh, would you, dearheart?"
Irihi could not do much, suspended, bound, pierced, and inked as she was, but she could push. So push she did, and the tremendous control rods ground together noisily as her aura seethed against them. Slowly a gap in the stone opened wide enough for pale violet irises to peer through.
Even as the stones were pushed away the hooks and chains constricted enough to draw a distressed moan from Irihi's inked throat.
Yah know, it's been over a year of this shu and I'm still not into it. Lumen had been, and seeing that has made Irihi curious. She was curious no longer. It just hurts. I don't see the draw.
Oh she is cute! She wasn't showing yet, in fact that other life was only days, maybe just hours old. Graymaster was taking a big risk placing her so close to Irihi. Sure, her temporally-disruptive presence would dramatically speed the pregnancy, but it might also accidentally snuff it out.
How into your boyfriend are yo--stop it! But, she did want to know. There were, of course, more important considerations. For instance; of all the elven mothers to hide behind, why had Lolindir chosen one attached to that… whatever he was. It had been hard to sense him through the TonDen. The worlde, through the ashen lens, was about as colorful and detailed as her own physical manifestation when she was forced to astral project in that manner. Whatever that being had been, though, he was no ordinary man, and he was somehow bonded to… oh! Introductions!
“My name is Irihi Spokelse, by the way, dearheart.” The elfwitch introduced herself. “I would shake your hand but, as you can see, I’m a little tied up at the moment.” Irihi deadpanned rather unoriginally.
There was not even a flicker of amusement on Wynterleaf’s face at the wry response to her question.
Foolish. Why would I expect a helpful answer? I probably would have said the same.
The rocks ground together, breaking rhythm, before they parted to create a gap through to the center, enough to allow her to make clear eye contact with the figure that hung from the chains. It was an elf, skin bordering on colorless and marked with dark tattoos, with a face framed in a mane of black hair - not unlike herself. A visceral shock rippled through Wynterleaf’s body, the fleeting resemblance in their appearances triggering repressed memories of the time she had been held in Tenara. Her throat suddenly tight, she swallowed heavily as she felt a sense of empathy stirring in her belly.
Large eyes, the color a violet so pale it reminded her of the mists that hugged Aniada’s northern coast, dominated the delicate features of the female’s face. Like the mists, they appeared enigmatic and dangerous. The elf stared back, assessing her from head to toe with a speculative, assessing look and Wynterleaf did likewise.
Irihi Spokelse, she had said.
A muscle in her jaw twitched, still not appreciating Irihi’s dry humor and the introduction hung in the air for a long beat, until it seemed that she wasn’t going to respond at all. She continued to prickle like a hedgehog pulled from their den, having no desire to be friendly toward anyone in a place she had been brought to against her will but curiosity waged war with wariness, along with that damned seed of empathy.
Finally, she broke eye contact and said almost dismissively, “I’m Wynterleaf.”
After she had concluded the elven female was trapped in her bonds, at least for the moment, she turned her back to the suspended Irihi and stalked the perimeter of the room again. Instinct and training kept Wynterleaf from opening her mind to catch any wayward thoughts that might have escaped Irihi, she knew from first-hand experience that telepathy could be easily detected by anyone that practiced the arts and the less anyone knew about her limited abilities, the better. That meant to understand anything about the situation, she had to talk, to ask questions but it also meant she had to be willing to answer questions too.
The dark slashes of her brows angled downward, pulling together at the center.
“I have no idea knowledge where I am or why I’m here. I was at a masquerade ball before being unceremoniously “escorted” to this place.” She began to methodically list the facts of her current state, speaking aloud to both herself and Irihi, pacing the full circuit of the room as she did so. “My collarbone is most likely broken, an incident preceding my capture, rendering my one hand near useless.”
“But it matters little. Every piece of my gear was left behind and the only thing left in my possession is a belt.” She had come to where her belt lay on the floor and ground her boot down on the strip of leather as she contemplated it. Her pacing around the core completed, she stopped again at the gap in the stones and tipped her chin upward to glare at Irihi.
“So, Ir-ih-i Spok-e-lese,” Wynterleaf enunciated the syllable individually, “if you are serious in wanting to murder the wizard, how do you propose we go about it? How do we get out of here?”
“When the time comes, just hold very still, dearheart.” Irihi answered. “Try not to wriggle around too much.”
The low grinding of the stones caging Irihi filled the silence that fell after the Elfwitch’s words.
“I must say, I am so pleased you can hear me.” Irihi changed the subject. If her statement had disquieted Eddellwyn, she seemed blithely unaware of it. “Not many can, and they are usually huge bores, or incorrigible delinquents.” She sighed. “Speaking of which, here comes…”
Nothing about the suspended elfwitch changed. It was not allowed to. Every bit of her flesh was wired or stenciled into place. Even her facial expressions and lips were stapled to the will of the Master Mystic. She could speak to Eddellwyn only because Lolindir willed it--wanted her to establish a rapport with the woman.
Even so, even compelled to be frozen in space and time as she was, something about Irihi changed when she spoke of the Master Mystic. The grinding of the control rods increased in volume and intensity. Granite dust filtered down from between their smooth surfaces. The enormous chains attached to the titanic shackles creaked and groaned with some unseen and unfelt strain.
“W a t c h t h i s.” Irihi’s teeth were not allowed to grit until they chipped and their roots loosened. Her fingers were not allowed to curl and cut bloodless trenches into her palms, yet something’s fangs did grind and splinter. Something’s claws flexed and dug furrows in the fabric of the worlde.
Again the seamless stones of the floor of the chamber rearranged themselves into a gateway to the room below. Again, the white hair of the aged mystic appeared as he ascended a magically-levitated stairway of marble. And again, Eddellwyn would find herself physically transfixed by an offhanded dismissive gesture of the mystic.
What was different this time--though perhaps it was not different, perhaps she had simply not noticed in the confusion and distress of her abduction--was how the worlde bent and changed around the Mystic. The room’s sourceless ambient light darkened, reddened. The calm quiet of the chamber was suffused with a thrumming and straining felt in the bones, but inaudible to the ears--as if the core of the worlde were being hauled askew by some immense and awful gravity.
There was a smell too, the sickening salt and savor of overcooked flesh, burned hair, and charred cloth. It followed and clung to the Master Mystic like tobacco smoke. At first, one might think it originated with him, that he carried these harbingers of doom with him from his own wicked intent and infernal machinations.
Until one glimpsed his eyes--his sunken haunted eyes--and realized that the master mystic was not the source of the end of the worlde,
he was fleeing it,
and it wasn’t real.
If Edde happened to look to the transfixed Elfwitch, Irihi would not so much as twitch an eyebrow, but the elfmaid would have the distinct impression in her mind of a finger held to pale pursed lips.
The Master Mystic did not deign to even look at either woman, and should Eddellwyn address him, he would over-speak her with complete disregard for her threats, entreaties, or questions. “You are healed.” The magick which set and welded Eddellwyn’s collarbone closed was not a healer’s touch; it was the wizardry of someone who had long mastered--and become apathetic to--building and unbuilding bodies, regardless of the pain such machinations caused. The repair--for it could not be called healing--was quick and brutal.
The conjuring of a single bench and a table set with unappealing sustenance and water was likewise brusque. “Eat and drink this. It will sustain you and help protect you from her.” The mystic said shortly.
There was flatware on the table but it was metal, as were the pitcher of water and cup. There were no utensils. The table, however, might--with some work be disassembled into components which could act as weapons. The bench was just long and broad enough to lay upon, and this seemed as though it might be intentional.
Having delivered the bare minimum of essentials to Eddellwyn’s prison, the wizard turned to leave. There might be time for an entreaty or curse before he left and resealed the floor, though he seemed unlikely to be moved by words.
When Lolindir departed, so too would depart the aura of impending doom that ensconced him.