The coolness of the woman’s hand was a sweet relief, as rough as they were. Clarity was slowly returning. Whatever this mould was, living on the woman, was probably the same as what she had come across next to the runes.

Touching it had been a grave mistake she now realized and regretted. The headaches, the whispers, the secrets… it was all in her mind and now she had been separated from her friends. They WERE her friends after all. And she had thought the worst of them. The effect was potent enough to change her, override her rationality with emotion and paranoia.

She felt even worse now about her attitude toward them, but thankful that she hadn’t gotten into a row with them. The good memories of the natalday celebration came back, untarnished now. She was already missing their true kindness and acceptance… the tender arms of Gonyual.

These mould people had already captured Tarmen and as terrible as the situation may be, she was glad to know he hadn’t abandoned them.

Voah considered the situation they were in. She was certain that she could handle a couple of these people in a fight with a clear head, but it would be no use trying to struggle or escape until she was able to get her bearings and assess the situation. Perhaps the others had been captured as well.

For now she would try to stay as alert as possible and be cooperative. Voah silently examined her surroundings and listened to hear of the captors spoke to one another. She licked her dry lips, trying to get any spare drops of water.

Tarmen couldn’t escape the void for some time it felt, his head swam and any action towards waking brought the pounding back. When it finally cleared, he was aware of being touched, massaged? It reminded him of his favorite woman back home, how she could caress the stress out of every muscle. As fog receded from his mind further, he noted the tighter grip, the calloused skin, and a damp smell.

He stirred at the increasingly foreign sensation of whoever was touching him and even before his eyes opened he was pushing every ounce of his strength to fight against it. When he did fully awaken, he calmed himself and noticed two things immediately.
He was bound and the Arbiter was there.

Looking to the men who were handling him, he felt a deep shame in not having connected the dots sooner. The damn mold, he had fought through enough spore infested caves that he should have considered it before. With this revelation in mind however, it made his previous anger towards the others justified in his mind; they should have left. In his current state though, he could only rest his head onto the cool rocks in futile frustration and see what these people had in store for them.

They were both pulled up to a sitting position, when it was clear they were both awake. Their captors gave them water to drink from a waterskin. They resisted for a bit but were given no chance to refuse. As the cool icy water trickled through their lips, down their parched throats, they felt the cold clear their minds further dulling the headaches to a throb.

Their strange looking captors appeared humanoid, if not for their strange swirling tattoos and the mould covering large patches of skin. They all looked at their prisoners with curiosity.

The woman tending to Voah reached to touch her blonde hair as her eyes widened at its colour. She pulled something from a pouch at her waist and attempted to feed it to the Arbiter.

On the other side of the cave one of the man spoke to his companion who pulled Tarmen to his feet.

Finally able to think properly again, he wasn’t sure what to do. Terrible things could happen once natives find out their captives know each other, depending on the culture. He figured if they went through the trouble of cleaning them, the Arbiter was in no true danger of death, so held back from trying to defend her.

Listening to his handlers dialogue instead, he couldn’t understand anything of it, but there was something to it that sounded familiar. He could almost hear the clansmen’s tongue, but only in pieces. All of this made further sense of their unwillingness to come here.
Seeing their interest in them, he figured there wouldn’t be a better time to see if they understood them. He gestured to the man closest to him.

“What are you doin’ to us?”

Voah automatically turned away from the notion of someone trying to force unknown fare into her face but soon yielded under the woman’s care. The water was cool and refreshing and the food… a bland unleavened bread? They had been beaten, bound, and were now being nursed back. What was the meaning of this? Slaves perhaps. Otherwise they would be dead.

The headaches were now more tolerable, a byproduct of the cleansing, Voah guessed. Having this hindsight, how she would love now to be in the water chamber with the others. Washing away all thoughts of betrayal.

Voah noticed the woman’s interest in her hair. All of the natives in Arcadia had tanned skin and hair on the darker side. It must be strange for them to see such a thing as blonde hair for the first time.

Voah silently stared into the dark eyes of the woman, looking for signs of empathy, or any other insights into her temperament.

Seemingly pleased that her captive had taken the small rations, the woman hefted her spear and pulled Voah to her feet. Likewise Tarmen was being escorted along further into the cave. The Arbiter heard Tarmen try to communicate with the two muscular men but heard no reply.

What both had first thought to be a vast underground gallery, turned out to be a subterranean road. Tarmen and Voah had no way of knowing how long they had been unconscious. Fragments of what might have been bone gravelled their steps. Dust fogged their ankles. They were being escorted deeper and deeper into the earth.

< Prev : The Invitation Next > : Hope Deferred into Darkness