Alani didn’t think to question what the blond human man was doing in the center of Overwatch Keep. If he were here, he must be a guest of the Prince. He approached her several times while she was going about her business. She wouldn’t speak to him, so he followed her down the stairs to the central courtyard. She finally turned to him with a retort on her lips when something hard hit the back of her head. She fell into darkness.
She woke to pain and light and a deep grinding sound of machines. She tried to open her eyes but it made the throbbing in her head stronger. She couldn’t move. so she turned her head to the side and hoped that darkness would find her again.
Something tickled her face. Alani tried to raise her hand to brush it away, but her hand was trapped or tangled. She opened her eyes and wanted to move her left arm but it was equally bound. A long, thin tendril brushed her face. A strand of fiber, purple and green and slick with slime retracted, then dipped back down to brush her face, almost as if it were tasting her.
Alani lurched her head to one side with a grunt of disgust. The throbbing pain resumed in the back of her head and she cried out. To her left, the heart of a huge machine spewed a tongue of molten metal into a vast system of pipes. To her right, a doorway framed a candle-lit room. Above her, a spreading mass of mold dripped ichor and long thin strands of mucus that reached down towards her like greedy hands.
She was bound to a slanted wooden table. A shirt had been thrown over her body, but her armor was nowhere to be seen.
“Good morning, pretty.”
She twisted her head to the right and gasped in shock. A woman stood there where no one had been before. Her eyes were huge, sparkling blue, set in a face the color of aged mahogany. Dark hair framed her striking features. A creature made of bone and steel stood behind her.
A necromancer, she thought, I’ve been captured by the Endless Court.
The dark-skinned woman reached toward her face and she flinched away instinctively. The woman laughed.
“What is your name, pretty elf?” Her voice sweet, a smile on her full, brown lips.
“Nayali” She lied.
“You’ll do just fine, won’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Alani narrowed her eyes and tried to pull her head back. “What are you going to do to me?”
“Oh, Pretty.” Her languid voice cut through the din of the machine. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Her gloved fingertips touched Alani’s cheek, traced down her jawline, and gently brushed her lips.
“I’m not afraid of you” Alani muttered.
The necromancer hummed a soft sigh, pulled her hand away and removed her glove. She caressed Alani’s cheek with a cold, bare hand, turning Alani’s head and bending close to her face. The woman’s breath smelled of mint and honey.
“Pity.” Her eyes flared with blue light.
The woman vanished just as suddenly as she had appeared. Alani looked down at her body on the table and realized that the shirt was gone and she was nude. Her stomach rumbled with hunger.
“Aelfwar.” The necromancer’s voice echoed in the room but she wasn’t there.
Her stomach lurched again, more insistent. How long had it been since she’d eaten? A sudden cramp made her look back down at her bare stomach. The skin bumped and rolled as if something were inside of her. Horrified, she screamed.
“You stink of Greenscale’s blight.” The voice whispered.
Pain tore her in two as the first tentacle pushed its way out of her stomach, splitting the skin from her navel to her rib cage. The slimy green growth wormed its way up her chest as another pulsing vine burst from her body to curl down the side of the table, growing and spreading, feeding on her flesh. She screamed until she could no longer draw breath.
Writhing vines tore out of her in a bloody wave of pain. Thorns pierced her thighs, pulling them apart until her feet were broken in the shackles. The wood of the table sprang to life, driving branches through her arms. These branches sprouted new green leaves, growing until her own limbs were torn apart at the joints. She could feel every pinprick of pain, every leaf that unfolded, every thick and pulsing vine that buried itself inside her body like a profane mockery of sex.
She begged for death but no sound would come.
The pain would not relent even as she felt her legs pull free from her hips with a sickening, sucking pop of bone and tendons releasing their hold. A vine forced itself down her throat, gagging her. She bit down hard and choked as blood filled her mouth.
Finally, the darkness came.
Cool water washed down her throat but something was wrong. She coughed, sputtering. Her mouth too big; her tongue a bloody stump. The necromancer stood next to her, a wooden dipper of water in her hand. She set it aside and ran her gloved hand over Alani’s forehead.
“Poor Nayali. Why did you do this to yourself?” The necromancer sounded mournful, her face held sadness, pity.
Alani opened her mouth to speak but choked out a rough, guttural noise that might have been words if she had a tongue.
“You fell into a fever, bit your tongue. Now you have no words, so you have no name.” The woman caressed her face tenderly, trying to soothe her, the soft leather of her gloves smooth on her forehead.
“It’s all right, you’ll be fine. I’ll just call you ‘Pretty’ for now.” The necromancer used her teeth to pull the glove away, finger by finger. “Shhh, have another sip of water and sleep now. Rest. You’ll feel better soon.”
She lifted the dipper of water to Pretty’s lips and urged her to drink, managing to get most of it down her throat. She laid her bare hand across the Aelfwar’s forehead and felt her stiffen and tremble as the Nightmare slipped back inside the woman’s mind to feed on what it found there.
The necromancer whispered, “I won’t hurt you, Pretty. By the time I begin my work you will be beyond pain. There will be no more fear, no more screams, no suffering.” She bent to the elven woman’s lips. At the touch of her kiss, Pretty arched her back in agony, a moan from her cracked and broken mouth echoed the dreamer’s howls of terror.
The necromancer smiled.