posted by jillyfae
In the darkness, Naessa struggled to wake, her head throbbing in time to her heart, her limbs strangely unresponsive as she attempted to flail herself up and out of… not a bedroll. No blankets? Was that a rock under her shoulder?
She moaned, and tried to roll, squinting her eyes against flaming shadows that she was starting to realize were coming from her sore head rather than her dark and musty surroundings. She could just barely hear quiet crying and shifting around her, and smelled the unpleasant tang of too many bodies enclosed for too many hours into a small tent. There was a nasty aftertaste in her mouth, green and bitter, that she was trying to place when the voice came again, this time with the feel of two hands shaking her shoulder as well.
“Finally! Naessa, can you hear me?”
“Wha-?” Naessa tried to get her mind to focus, to force her voice to respond as more than a croak. Last she remembered, she’d agreed to help Mihalia out on a day trip with a group of young girls. Not usually her strong suit, but she knew most of the berries and flowers in the area, and could help the little ones find pretty plants to dry for making beads and jewelry, a favorite pastime at a long encampment. Not that the charm bracelets, necklaces, or tiaras ever lasted for very long, but that never seemed to discourage them. They’d settled down to eat their picnic lunch, and then? Angry shadows fogged her thoughts, followed by an unpleasantly empty darkness.
“You have to wake up, you have to help us!”
Struggling to curl around her stomach as it clenched tightly, Naessa licked her lips and attempted to swallow her voice back into her throat. “Drug?” was the best she could manage.
“Yes!” Despite Naessa’s lack of coherence, Mihalia sounded relieved to have gotten a question out of her, as if that helped return her world to something she knew how to handle. “I think the water was drugged, as the scouts’ bottles were filled the same time ours were, and there’s no other reason they’d have let us be taken.”
Naessa’s whirling mind had trouble following that sentence, but grasping desperately at that final word, managed to keep going. “Who? Taken?”
“All of the girls are still with us. I did a head count as quietly as I could in the dark last night, and again tonight. I’m trying to keep them as calm and settled as possible, which isn’t hard as they’re really groggy, and barely wake up enough to eat and use the buckets in the corner. They had to give you a double dose of the drugs, though, so it must not work as well on adults, and they really didn’t want you to wake up.”
“They?” It was getting easier to follow Mihalia’s worried outbursts. She was obviously relieved to finally have someone over the age of twelve to help with the situation.
“The dusters. I recognized them when…” her voice trailed off, then continued resolutely. “It sounds like they’re tired of waiting, and took advantage of the Keeper’s absence to start their own wild clan.” With that last bitter sentence, Mihalia fell silent, but Naessa could feel her shaking next to her in the dark.
The spinning in her stomach and head started to slow, and she managed to shove herself to her side, and then sit up. Her wrists were wrapped in twisted leather cords, explaining her difficulty moving. She peered through the shadows, her eyes finding Mihalia’s kneeling form looking at her. In the slight gleam of firelight glowing through the seams in the tents walls, she noticed similar ties, followed by the sight of bruising on Mihalia’s face and rips in her clothing.
“What did they…” Naessa’s first successful whisper trailed off. The fog was lifting from her brain, and she realized she didn’t need to ask. It was unfortunately all too clear. The type of men who would kidnap a dozen young girls had obviously already started breaking them into their new lives by raping the pretty young teacher who watched over them. Instinctively, Naessa started to reach for magic, to try and heal her companion, but was blocked by a spinning vortex within her own mind, and she fell back onto the hard ground, convulsing and spitting in pain.
“Naessa!” Mihalia forgot to whisper, and her shocked cry echoed through the tent, and out into the night surrounding them.
“Fen’Harel take their balls!” Mihalia leaned back in shock at the blasphemous curse Naessa growled out as she rolled painfully back up into a sitting position. “Night’s Tears. From the Wilds. It makes a sleeping draught that blocks dreams. It helps keep us docile, since our sleep isn’t properly restful without dreams. Always wondered how the dwarves managed without them.” She spit on the floor in disgust, unable to resist trying to get the last of the green taste out of her mouth now that she’d finally figured out what it was. “Plus, if you get enough into a Mage, it prevents all access to the Fade. No Fade, no magic, and no worrying about the young magic user you have tied up in your tent.”
Mihalia stared at Naessa in horror, hope and energy draining from her battered body as she realized that letting the young apprentice wake up hadn’t been a mistake of careless captors. The elves had known she was no danger any longer, and had stopped worrying about keeping her asleep.
Before Naessa could try an awkward reassurance, two dark shadows ripped the tent flap open, daggers visibly pointed in the direction of the scared young girls, just in case they were more alert than expected. A third shape leaned past with an unpleasant laugh, grabbing Mihalia by the arm and dragging her towards the opening, ignoring her yells and avoiding her attempts to kick at him.
Naessa lunged at him, and managed to get her head into his gut before losing control over her queasy stomach and heaving bile on his boots. He just laughed again, stepped back to watch her fall, and kicked her aside with a leather boot to her ribs. Mihalia took advantage of the distraction and pushed herself away from the rogue dalish with her feet. He staggered back towards Naessa, who scrabbled desperately at his leather leggings with her tied hands, and tried to find something, anything, her slippery mind could hold onto. She couldn’t manage a spell, but she smelled a well of light somewhere just below the Veil, so she howled, and pulled with intangible muscles, and blew all the light she could reach at the man in front of her.
With a flare of pain and heat, she heard Mihalia’s shout, and the man’s nasty scream, and her mind fell again, struggling against the darkness.