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Surrounded by your embrace

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Taiba waited for death patiently.

When the walls began to shake and the corridor started falling apart, she didn’t panic. She was far too weak and tired for that.

Her only regret was not having the opportunity to kill Ctuchik. But maybe if the whole mountain collapses, it crushes him too. Still, Taiba wished she could see his end. She wished she could have been his end.

Now, she could only solace herself with the thought that, hopefully, he’s rotting in Hell by now and she’ll get to see her daughters again very soon.

The Marag smiled sadly. Short though their lives were, her daughters brightened up her days in Rak Cthol a little bit. Aya and Tessa, she called them. Not that names mattered much among the slaves. They all were usually referred to as ‘hey, you’ anyway. But she wanted her girls to have proper names, just like her mother wanted for her. As if they would be able to use them some day.

When they were taken away from her mere few weeks ago, Taiba knew that they eventually ended up in a better place and were now happier than they could have ever been while living with her as slaves. Their deaths gave her a purpose – to kill the man responsible for this or die trying and this thought was the only thing that kept her going.

A sad smirk appeared on Taiba’s face. Die trying.

Alright, so be it. She didn’t fear death. Especially that the one coming for her was far better and dignified than she could have hoped for at the slave pens.

The woman briefly wondered what happened to the odd group that visited her earlier. If it weren't for the glowing powder and the warm cloak she got from them, Taiba would think they may have as well been a delusion.

The Marag closed her eyes. Maybe if she just fell asleep, she wouldn’t even notice when death takes her. And when she wakes up, she’ll see her mother and her girls again.

Minutes passed and neither sleep nor death came.

Suddenly, Taiba heard something. A sound of hushed footsteps was coming from nearby rubble that used to be a wall of the corridor. The woman watched as the stones seemed to split and a man walked out. A man in black, Murgo robes that were too familiar a sight for her.

Taiba gasped and sprang to her feet, supporting herself against the wall with one hand. The other one, with the knife, she held in front of her. The woollen cloak dropped from her body.

“Come closer, if you dare” she drawled.

Taiba was fully aware that she barely had the strength to hold the knife and that her legs were shaking, ready to give up under her any second. If she were to fight that Murgo... well, it would be a very short fight.

Taiba smiled grimly. Die trying. This man wasn’t Ctuchik but she’d be glad to die in a fight with any Murgo.

The man cautiously stepped closer, looking at her with both confusion and anxiety. Taiba recognized him. He was one of the people who came here earlier. The one who didn’t want to look at her, but also gave her the light. His pale skin illuminated by the glowing powder almost shined in the dark corridor.

“It’s you” she said.

“We have to go” he responded in a harsh tone “The caves are collapsing”

Taiba frowned. Go where?

“We really do not have much time” the man added.

While talking, he was visibly doing his best to avoid looking at her, which gave a rather amusing effect.

Taiba took a step towards him, but as soon as she stopped steadying herself against the rock, her legs gave up and she fell.

The man caught her, shivering as he touched her bare skin. He also incidentally looked at her and his eyes widened in horror.

Taiba frowned, glancing at her body and the rags that used to be her clothes. Nothing special about them, except that her so called clothes were barely there and her body was almost entirely exposed now that she wasn’t covered by the coat. But, of all the reactions to that view she could expect from a man, horror certainly wasn’t one of them. She bluntly recalled how he seemed to mind it the first time they met as well.

The pale man was still supporting her, though Taiba could feel his hands were clenched into fists as if to minimalize the contact with her skin.

“How do you plan to get out?” she asked “The way is blocked”

“It doesn’t matter” the man replied through gritted teeth.

Still holding the Marag, he leaned down to pick up her coat. Taiba wrapped it around herself, once again admiring how warm it was. She couldn't remember the last time she had some proper, warm clothes on her.

The man led her towards the wall that he’d emerged from.

“I think it’s better if I carry you” he said reluctantly.

He lifted the surprised woman off the ground, placing one arm under her back and supporting her legs with the other one.

“This won’t be pleasant” the man said silently and Taiba wasn’t sure whether he was talking to himself or to her.

“What are you…” she wanted to ask, but before she could finish the sentence, the man stepped into the stone wall.

Taiba gasped in surprise at the awful sensation of rocks moving through her body. They didn’t hurt her, they didn’t even feel hard or solid, but she could feel them. The woman was overwhelmed by the sensation of narrowness and darkness pressing at her from all around. Inadvertently, Taiba wrapped her arms tightly around the man’s neck and buried her face in his shoulder, gritting her teeth.

To her surprise – as if Taiba could still be surprised by something – moving trough rock happened in complete silence. After all, the rocks stayed where they were – it was them who moved.

But because of that silence, she could clearly hear the man breathing heavily and at some moments muttering to himself in a lamentable manner. She could also hear silent weeping and at some point Taiba realized it was her.

The woman caught herself praying – praying! As if someone out there would listen – for this to end. A silent ‘please, please, please, please, please…’ echoed inside her head as they moved through layer after layer of solid rock, which didn’t seem to end. Taiba was on the verge of wishing the man left her here to be crushed under the mountain. Anything seemed better than this.

She desperately attempted to fight this feeling of despair. Instead of the awful sensation, she forced herself to focus on the man – the only thing near her that felt right and safe and good. Taiba focused on the scratchy fabric of his robe that smelled of burned wood and blood. She assumed its previous owner must have forfeited his life and she felt happy for it.

Underneath the robe Taiba felt something inflexible and firm and she could hear metallic clinks. The man was probably wearing armour. The Marag tried to recall their last meeting once more. She could barely remember anything from it and, besides, she didn’t get a good look at the man back then. Maybe he was wearing armour.

The Marag focused on his cold hands on her skin. The coat slid off her arms and back and because her rags consisted mostly of holes and the fabric itself wasn’t thick enough to block out the feeling, Taiba could tell exactly where his skin met hers. It wasn’t unpleasant.

Taiba desperately searched for more. She could feel something spiky on her arm that was pressed against the man’s jaw and guessed he mustn’t have shaved for a few days, though the stubble wasn’t very visible. It’s probably as light as his hair, virtually colourless, Taiba assumed, focusing solely on that thought.

The Marag realized that the man was pressing her to his body more and more tightly, though anything but brutally. She didn’t mind – the more intense their touch got, the less aware of the rocks penetrating through her body she was. The man wasn’t of impressive height, but his strength left nothing to be desired. After all, Taiba wasn’t a feather and even though she ate less than poorly for the past few days she was still quite curvy. She focused on his body. On his muscles; on how she could feel them flexing under her.

And suddenly Taiba realized they’ve stopped moving and that around them was empty space. The woman opened her eyes, which she kept tightly shut for the past few minutes.

She saw a dark corridor and figures of people in it, illuminated by the familiar pale glow.

They made it. They got out. It was over.

But the man was still tightly pressing her to himself. It wasn’t until their breaths calmed when he carefully put Taiba on the ground, not letting go of her, as if to make sure she won’t fall.

Taiba looked at the man and saw tears running down his face.

“Are you alright?” she asked quietly, gently stroking his face to soothe him.

The man flinched, blinking rapidly, and stepped away from her.

Taiba frowned, but before she could do anything, someone else held her. The tall woman with the white wisp.

Taiba leaned against her gratefully, still glancing at the curious, pale man, who brought her here.