For the first time in my life, I thought I was going to die.
It was horrific, I can hardly write. I still feel sick, and I'm having terrible nightmares! A chaos cult, right here in the King's city. Maybe if I process it all, I can move forward, but it's going to be hard.
It started with an audience with the King. El and I made sure to coach up Sharn so she wouldn't end up getting us all in prison from a royal faux-pas - these hierarchical folk are so quaint with their need for pomp and circumstance.
It turns out that there is another orc in town. “Prince” Tog seems to think he's some sort of philosopher king (though without power, yet - reading between the lines, it sounded like his father doesn't share his open-minded sentiments). I do respect Tog's understanding of mythopoeic language and his attempts to collect and synthesize diverse cultural expressions - I think he's from the historical-comparative school of thought. (I just realized, Daideó, that you are probably the only one with whom I could have a conversation about this - I tend to try hard to “fit in” with my language around others to meet their expectations, but I really miss our philosophical chats!)
Anyway, this Tog thinks we're approaching Apocalypse - and that the ancient battle between good and evil (hah - I wish it were so cut and dry!) is about to occur here on this continent. He doesn't know exactly what this looks like, and wants the king's help to figure this out.
And THEN, El went into a sort of trance again, and started describing a “great battle across the seas” with “ships burning, falling from the skies, creatures with hunger for blood, death and destruction.” Oh my, I just realized she also referred to a sacrificial cult - I'll have to talk to her about this when I'm done writing.
In any case, her “prophecy/recollection” caused a stir, and it was enough evidence for the King to spring into action. Actually, for him to essentially beg us to spring into action for him - he doesn't want to dirty his hands or work up a sweat himself, apparently. I suppose he has the orcish invasion to deal with, and I do admit, we had decided we were going to investigate the North anyway, so I may have taken advantage of the situation and pretended to be reluctant about this quest. We really needed the money, and that means with our performance profits maybe we can set up a bit of a home base here and an income stream or three before leaving.
The Abbot was part of this discussion, too. I think he felt bad about ignoring us earlier, though I don't really appreciate his concern for us that much. He insisted someone from the Church of Valour go with us, “a MAN to keep us safe.” Hah. Maybe a zealous spy. Then again, if we can befriend the poor fellow, maybe we can make use of him - after all, this culture seems to think women are brainless and helpless, and I know that there is a huge advantage when enemies underestimate me…
One more thing I haven't mentioned. Aeowyn. Another woman enslaved by orcs, who was with us on the ship happened to be attending Tog. She seemed to cast some harsh glances at Sharn in particular - apparently Sharn had a chance to release her and left her behind on the beach way back on the night of our escape. Anyway, that's for them to resolve - she seems to have done well for herself in the meanwhile, and Tog asked her to stay with us while he went off to convince his father to ally with the humans. I'm not holding my breath…
In any case, we left the audience in a good mood, and it made me careless. We stopped by Hugo's instrument shop - a person I had trusted and who crafts decent instruments. Hugo was all excited about something new he had in the back room, not unusual - why should I have suspected anything? I stepped through the back door, and everything went black.
When I woke, I found myself gagged and tied to a stone altar. Maimeó would have been proud of me - I calmly gathered my wits, kept my breathing slow and even, and swallowed down the rising panic. I pretended to remain unconscious, and scanned my surroundings through mostly-closed eyelids.
The room was dimly lit by a torch or two, and the stone altar was covered in blood. My beautiful cloak is stained from it - I hope Sharn knows how to mix up some special concoction to remove the blood. There were some sort of herbs being burnt as incense. I couldn't recognize the smell - Maimeó tended to avoid hallucinogens - so I knew I wouldn't have much time to escape. I felt terribly vulnerable, and my creative mind would have spiralled out of control quickly if I didn't stay calm. I NEVER want to be in that position again - the ropes, the helplessness…
And then the horrible cultist came into view. He was carving a ritualistic totem, and his mask… That's where the nightmares are still haunting me. Horns, four eyes, grinning maliciously. The drugs made the mask come alive, but I kept my cool.
I owe my life to Maimeó, and to the rats that inhabited this dark dungeon. I entered the Teanga Ainmithe state again, this time more powerful than ever. I spoke to them, Daideó, and I could understand their response. Rats aren't particularly intelligent, but they are clever and nimble. They told me that we were deep below the earth, but not much more than that, and I squeaked at them, urging them to nibble away my bonds with the promise of providing them with a feast later. I ignored the thought that if things went poorly, they might be feasting on me.
Unfortunately the squeaking did not go unnoticed - though I'm sure the masked cultist believed I was panicking. To be fair, at that point, I was slightly. He started talking - somehow he knew that I needed my voice to activate my powers. I have no idea HOW he knew that, since I hadn't once used the Spellsong while on this side of the mountains even. Is there some sort of way other magic users might divine this sort of thing?
The incense was getting to my head at this point, and the mask itself began moving, talking, and the carved eyes had a life of their own.
I began humming - Augment, knowing that with the gag I wasn't going to be able to influence anything beyond my own aura. The rats finished chewing the ropes, and I managed to grab a cleaver that had been laid too closely to my hands. The next time the mask appeared, I swung at it, missing entirely. The drugs were clearly throwing off my senses, and the room swirled.
He countered with his dagger, and realizing I needed to get free, I fended him off with one arm while cutting my leg bonds free with the cleaver. He hit me hard - my arm was throbbing, and I knew I had one chance. I ripped off my gag, and started screaming Curse at him. Maimeó would have approved - this was life or death.
It turned out that this was some sort of mage, too - he tried his own Curse, in some sort of Arcane manner, but my trained lungs were far too strong for his mere sorcery. I still maintain that the physiological nature of my gift has a tangible advantage over the metaphysical disciplines. I can scream loud enough without Spellsong to make a man's ears bleed!
Without my lute, however, I was a bit handicapped. I called out in my mind for Scáthfile, for my friends, knowing that they couldn't possibly know where I was. I was desperate - I tried throwing a candelabra at the cultist, and I think I started a fire, but I didn't seem to harm him. He countered with some sort of shadow projection - it dissolved through my skin and bit into my soul, and I added pain into my screams.
I wasn't sure what to do - I could not possibly win in a physical fight with a full grown human, and he didn't seem to be in the mood for conversation in which I could trick him, and this magic user knew about my Spellsong. Without my lute, if even one more cultist entered the room I knew I had no chance.
And then the door flew open.
Scáthfile lunged through the door, viciously pouncing on the evil cultist, and ripped his hand clean off.. Fresh air poured into the room, but I couldn't stand much longer. The last thing I saw before I collapsed onto the floor was my dear friend Sharn, popping off the arm of the shocked cultist. Serves him right.
I vaguely recall Aeowyn splinting my arm - it sounds like she understands healing arts, and I was grateful. Sharn made me drink some sort of bubbly potion - it burned as it went down, but cleared my head. I think we captured one of the cultists alive, but I was in rough shape. My friends dropped me off at our boarding house, and I've been resting here ever since. Trying to process this terrible nightmare.
I'm not sure I'm ready to face the world. I'm afraid again, like when I was only a child, and I HATE that feeling. Maimeó always said that I needed to look forward, imagine the myriad possibilities, and change my world. I need to hear her say that again, I miss her so much. I miss my parents, too. I wish I could take back my last words to them - I thought I'd see them again after my Envoy mission. I guess life doesn't always work that way.
I love you, Daideó, and Ma & Da, too. Please give them a giant hug from me, if I can ever send this letter and by some miracle it arrives.