Part Seven – My Dark Destiny
My training in the healing arts at the hands of the old masters was a difficult and arduous experience lasting a full year. Every single day was dedicated to both practical and theoretical study, and every night was spent in reviewing what was learned during the day. I did not see Ieya nearly as often as I would have liked, but the moments we could both steal away from our work were made all the more precious by their rarity. Ieya's excavations were both fruitful and infuriatingly slow. Carving out the age-old mud slide and preserving the statues buried within was a project involving both heavy labour, and painstaking care. Picks and shovels broke up the heavy sediment, while Ieya's task involved tiny brushes and needles, clearing away the smallest particles. There was a lot of work also required in the Sirrus library archives, discerning the identities of the figures carved in stone, and writing detailed reports of each day's work.
In our moments alone, we would listen to the minstrels in the taverns, or explore the caves outside the working excavations. We were in love in a manner both confusing and comforting. Our biological differences precluded the usual relationship activities, a quaestera and an eesheeya, cannot have children together, and yet our love was both passionate and electric. So, we entertained our love with stories and songs and adventures, with jokes and gifts and silly games.
Though our unspoken doubts about our potential future together might have caused us the odd moment of concern, we were too young to really think about the consequences, and instead we simply enjoyed the present moment. Knowing that it would one day come to an end made each moment together all the more intense. It is true that a person meets their destiny on the road they take to avoid it. It was one of our distracted wanderings in an empty cave that set in stone the path of the rest of my life. Living within the protection of the Brightsong for our entire lives had dulled our instincts for danger, and so when we heard voices echoing from deep within the mountain we went in search of whoever might be down there, expecting to find more students. The price of love is pain, so say the poets, and they say it is a fair price. Deep underground, our way lit by the tiny magical lights Ieya could summon with her magic, we found cave paintings that were totally foreign, and the ruined remnants of carved stone houses, cut from the rock walls. They were very low-ceilinged, and with small doors, too small for cornar or sindipar, and pressed into the age old grime we even saw strange crooked fingerprints. If we had not both been raised within the comforting protection of the Brightsong, we might have recognised the danger we were in, but instead, we followed the sounds of voices deeper.
When the goblins ambushed us we had neither time to cry out or to struggle before we were both gagged and bound and carried like meat through the darkness to their subterranean camp. Our captors were horribly disfigured by the Gloom, their skin stained and their features bulging, we had never seen creatures so hideous save in the old history books and bestiaries. When we were brought before their chieftain, we both expected to be either eaten or taken into slavery, but the creature sat upon the throne defied all our expectations.
The goblin lord was not a goblin at all, but a living shade, a pale and translucent white Shade with long hair and a crown of woven thorns adorned with tall animal tusks and horns. It was cornar-like, but not cornar, a creature of impossible energy, whose unnatural existence seemed sustained by the power of the Gloom itself. It was upon seeing this evil creature's cruel sneer that I realised that we had come too deep, and had unknowingly crossed beyond the boundary of the Brightsong.
From here, my memory is blurred and confused by fear and anguish. The goblins treated us terribly, and their cruelty seemed to please their ghostly overlord, whose insubstantial body glowed and brightened with each new pain Ieya and I were forced to endure. We were kept prisoner for days; many times I fell asleep and woke again in darkness, only to be hurt again and again both by the direct torture of my goblin captors, and by being forced to watch as Ieya was hurt.
I do not know why, but the goblins eventually let me go, and at knife-point, they forced me to abandon Ieya, who cried out for me to save myself as I, with my vision blurred by tears, escaped the monsters den, and returned to the surface world.
When I was later found by a rescue team, I was kept for days in recovery, barely able to walk, while squads of Wardens were sent in search of Ieya.
But she was never found.