It felt like one of her surreal dreams. Estel struggled all the way to Tazok's tent, accompanied by the jibes and leering of the whole camp: she wasn't the first elf they saw dragged in by their leader, nor the first woman. For all her fears and doubts and Xan's doomsaying, she'd never imagined it would all end this way. Of course, Jaheira and the Flaming Fist were on their way, but exactly how long would it take for Estel to end up like Deheriana? The jumble of painful memories she glimpsed in Kivan's mind were painting the picture of her immediate future – the picture that simply could not be true, because that was not how these stories went. The heroine did not get captured in the middle of her first real adventure to be raped and tortured by mundane bandits. Then again, the logical part of her mind supplied, that was exactly why those stories weren't written down. Nobody returned to tell the tale. Nobody wanted to read about countless young adventurers who left their homes only to disappear without a trace save perhaps for a pile of bones somewhere in the woods and an engraved ring in some shady store, at any rate.
Tazok pushed her into a smaller cage in his tent and locked it. After that he simply turned away, went to his table and started writing. Estel propped herself up and looked at her captor in disbelief.
"What do you want with me?" she asked defiantly, somewhat reassured that Jaheira might, after all, make it in time. Maybe the half-ogre would need time with the longer words…
"So many things," the half-ogre took a moment to size her up with the horrible orange-teethed grin of his that suggested that being eaten was the easy option and then went back to his writing, satisfied that the grin had the desired effect. Estel shriveled up despite herself, pressing her back painfully into the farthest side of the cage. "But Sarevok wants you for himself, birdie."
"And who's that, your boss?" He wasn't going to touch her. He wasn't going to touch her. The thought pulsed in Estel's mind, almost making her smile in relief. She painfully, muscle by muscle, rearranged her face into a defiant expression. Jaheira might just get to her in time, this Sarevok didn't seem to be here yet. Maybe, if Estel learned something about their enemy, Jaheira wouldn't be so angry with her when she'd have to save her? After all, they couldn't keep relying on the bad guys leaving their private correspondence for them to find.
"Sarevok is my god." Tazok took a long look at her, noting the completely blank stare the elven girl gave him in return. Then he laughed incredulously. "You really don't know, do you?"
Estel raked her brain for any mention of a god by that name. There were some new gods who manifested after the Time of Troubles, perhaps one of them...? Was she going to be sacrificed in some dark ritual? That was hardly an improvement over being raped, mutilated and killed. Maybe she and Deheriana could get together in Arvaneith and compare notes. Estel shook her head. That was uncalled for. She couldn't really hold Kivan responsible for her current situation, not after what she had seen and felt that night. "No, I don't think I remember any god by that name."
"Soon you will, birdie," Tazok promised, attaching the message to a pigeon. Done with that, he walked out to release it.
Estel looked about the tent frantically, searching for anything that might help her escape. It was one of those big tents that had separate rooms for sleeping and working, complete with furniture and chests that probably were full of loot, and an unsurprising amount of various rubbish. But it was all cleaned out around the cage, so that there wasn't anything a prisoner could reach. She tried to loosen the rope around her wrists, but was met with another disappointment. If she got out of this... predicament, she was going to start practicing getting out of bonds every evening. That way, if adventuring didn't fall through for her, she could always fall back to a career in the circus.
"Oh come on, there is no such god!" she called out to Tazok as soon as the half-ogre was back. "This is all about the bounty, isn't it?"
"Why haven't I killed you yet, then, birdie?" he squatted in front of the cage to bring their faces to the same level. He didn't seem so big when he sat by his desk, but now he was close enough to fill Estel's entire field of view. Her courage waned considerably in sight of bulging muscles sliding under his greenish skin. His arms easily seemed bigger than her waist and were probably quite capable of snapping her in two. Being bigger than most people he encountered probably made it easy to develop a kind of bully's confidence. "All I need is to deliver your pretty head to Sarevok, eh? I don't need the rest of you to get my money. Maybe I would do just that, if I were just another thug for hire."
"Aren't you?" Estel shot back.
Tazok grinned in that predatory way that made Estel's blood freeze in her veins, but there was something, some thought screaming in the back of her head, straining to be heard. "Well, maybe he will to let me keep your ears for my collection after he's done with you. Of course, I already have a set of brown elvish ears…"
Deheriana. He was teasing her with the same fate. A part of her shamefully wanted to think that it would be a heavy blow for Kivan if she died the same way his wife did. A larger, though no less shameful part bitterly retorted that he wouldn't really care whom he trampled on the way to his vengeance. She knew that it was wrong for her to think both ways, that Kivan's wounds were too deep for him to be held accountable, that she might act the same way when she encountered her father's murderer, but it was difficult to be reasonable and forgiving while sitting in a cage.
Tazok leered at her from the other side of the bars, enjoying the turmoil his words were causing. Let him leer. Jaheira was coming for them. She just needed a little more time, and he was giving it to them. All the rest, all the threats and cruel games didn't matter. Except for one… "So Sarevok is the one who put that price on my head," she looked searchingly at the half-ogre. "The one who killed my father."
"Oh the old fool would be fine if you didn't hide behind him like the little shit that you are," Tazok grinned again when Estel jerked as if she was slapped. The words were almost as good as real torture, but he still preferred the latter. "If you just came with us like a good girl, your daddy would be alive and well, birdie."
He wouldn't be. He really wouldn't be, she knew that in her mind. Men like Tazok and this Sarevok could never be trusted when they said things like 'just give us all your money and you can go'. They were the kind to take what they wanted and then proceed to chop you into pieces for their own enjoyment without fear that the thing they wanted would get spoiled in the process. She knew that. But it did nothing to drive away the overwhelming feeling of guilt. It overflowed, filling her eyes with tears, no matter how much she wished not to give the monster before her the satisfaction of seeing her so affected by his mere words.
"Not going to cry now, are you, birdie?"
"What does he want from me?!" Estel lashed out, throwing herself at her torturer. The bars between them connected painfully with her shoulder, but the pain only served to fuel her rage. Her fists clenched, knuckles white with effort as she struggled to free herself.
"You mean you don't know?" Tazok backed away a bit, not to avoid her but to give himself better view. He chucked, amused. "Well, you have plenty of time to think about that, birdie."
The atmosphere in the cave wasn't much better. On the whole, it wouldn't be so bad: no one came to torture them yet, their hands were unbound, and the Flaming Fist was probably not that far away. But one of their own was taken and they had no way of knowing what was happening to her. They could well imagine, however. Coran was quickly apprised of Kivan's history with Tazok so that his imagination too had some food.
Endar wasn't impressed with his rescuers. At least it wasn't boring now that he wasn't alone in his cage, but that didn't mean he was inclined to stay. The elf fiddled with the lock, annoyed at the absence of any suitable tools, but not discouraged.
"So how did you end up here?" Imoen asked after finishing the tale of their adventures. She and Coran huddled together, finding comfort in each other's warmth. It was nice. It made the thought of Estel being at the mercy of that creature just a little less frightening, though not by much. She needed to keep talking. Talking and Coran's arm around her shoulders distracted her from her own helplessness.
"Funny story." Endar muttered something in Elvish under his breath when the lock refused to open yet again. Given the circumstances, Imoen assumed that was swearing, but even elvish swearing sounded like music. Elves were annoying that way.
"You certainly know your way around locks," Coran commented idly. He hadn't spent enough time with this company to get emotionally invested in the pretty elven girl who liked to pretend she was an elven boy. It was terrible that she was taken away, of course, but what could they do? Fight through the whole camp to save her? That's how they got into their current situation in the first place. He was quite content to wait for the Flaming Fist to crush the party.
"So does your lady here," Endar shrugged, not embarrassed in the slightest. "Yes, I'm a thief. From the Gate."
"That's a long way to go just to steal from bandits." Imoen watched Kivan warily. They elf hadn't said a word ever since Estel was taken away. He just sat in the corner, staring into nothing. Served him right, of course, but still…
"That's the thing, I didn't steal from any bandits," Endar turned to her with a gleam in his eye that suggested he had some wild theory about the reason for his abduction. "These guys? Black Talons and Chill. They don't go into the cities. I listened to them talking, and they think their leaders take orders from the Zhents. But I can tell you, I didn't cross no Zhentarim."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I pick my enemies," the thief explained eagerly. "There's only one group who'd want me out of the way, and that's the Iron Throne. And here I am, a prisoner of the bandit's who'd been plying the trade roots for months. Interesting, don't you think?"
"What's the Iron Throne?" Imoen asked. Estel would already be reciting some article from that library in her head. Imoen pressed closer to Coran, trying not to think about what was happening to her friend. The elf gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze.
"Merchants. Or so they like to introduce themselves. They don't shy from extortions, assassinations and pretty much anything that can serve to fill their pockets, but right now they're pretty popular with the Dukes."
"Why is that?"
"Because they are the only ones who still sell iron," Endar looked at the cave entrance thoughtfully. "And now I can see why."
"So they poisoned the Nashkel mines and hired the bandits to stop all iron going into the city so that they could get rich, setting their own prices! Why didn't we make that connection?" Imoen frowned.
"You're not from the Gate, dove," Coran said. "You know only what's been going on out here."
"Well now we're with someone who knows what's going on in there!"
"A lot of good it does us," Endar gestured significantly at their surroundings.
"Oh don't worry, we're going to get out of here soon," Imoen leaned forward conspiratorially and lowered her voice. "Someone is coming for us."
"Because it worked so well last time," Endar rolled his eyes and went back to struggling with the lock.