The torch fell from Dackson's hand, less because of Molaan's instruction than because the roots tightening against his arm had forced him to open his hand to try to break them.  Black smoke plumed in the air as the torch fell, and it landed on the leaf litter at his feet without going out.  For agonizing seconds it seemed as though nothing was happening: the roots continued to twine around him, cutting into exposed flesh now.  The girl had ceased screaming and her face had almost disappeared beneath a writhing mask of woody tissue.  Molaan, frustratingly, still stood where he was, doing nothing.

The smell of smoke grew stronger, and the writhing of the roots slowed, and then stopped.  Dackson heard the crackle of fire, and then the roots were sliding off him, pulling back in on themselves and retreating away from both him and the girl again.  As the pressure lessened against his legs he wobbled, and staggered back out of the Tangleroot patch.

"Get her!" shouted Molaan, finally stepping smartly forward to the insidious root.  He was stamping hard on the ground and pulling his hooded cloak off.  Dackson shuddered, and looked around.  The girl was now free of the roots but was kneeling on the ground staring vacantly around her.  He tried to run but his calves cramped immediately, so he hobbled to her as fast as he could, and grabbed her hand.  He pulled, and she fell forwards, face down onto the ground.

"Damn it, get her away from here!" shouted Molaan, sounding angry.  He had righted the torch and stuck it into the ground and thrown his cloak down over the leaf litter and was stamping hard all around it.

"Easy to say," muttered Dackson with a savage edge to his voice.  Ignoring the pain shooting up and down his legs he bodily pulled the girl up and into his arms and dragged her with him away from the Tangleroot patch.

When Molaan was convinced that he'd stamped out the fire that the torch had set he retrieved his cloak, checked the ground beneath it, and then rejoined Dackson and the young girl.  She continued to stare vacantly ahead of her, and made no movement, nor attempted to speak.

"She doesn't blink," said Dackson quietly.

"You should have been more careful.  Tangleroot is rife in the Solemnwood."  Molaan glared at Dackson.  "Or is dying nobly still firstmost in your mind?"

"I couldn't have left her..." Dackson's shoulders shivered and a liquid brightness shimmered in his eyes.  Molaan paused, biting back the harsh words he'd prepared while stamping out the fire.

"It was still a foolish thing to do," he said at last, resting an arm on Dackson's back, wary for the man leaning into him again.  He looked at the girl, who still showed no recognition of her situation.

"She doesn't blink," said Dackson again.  "She doesn't answer when I talk to her, I had to drag her out of the Tangleroot -- it's like she's not there."

"Mindrape," whispered Molaan.  He spat.  "What filth dares to bring that vile practise within the Solemnwood?  When I find who's responsible I'll gut them like a yearling lamb."

"What is it?"  Dackson leant in slightly to Molaan who pulled away, maintaining a distance between them.

"Mindrape is evil.  It takes a necromancer, for it harnesses the spiritual darkness, who rips apart a mind taking thoughts and memories.  The necromancer can use the stolen anima then to create haunts, lost spirits that set upon any who approach and psychically assault them hunting for their lost memories.  Or it can be used as punishment, to destroy a mind and leave a body that will have to be cared for until it dies."

"Then she...?"

"She is as good as dead."  Molaan's voice was neutral.  "We can take her to Alysse, she will... she will find a home for her."

Dackson sighed and rubbed at his calves.  Welts were rising on the skin where the Tangleroot had taken hold.

"I don't much like what you're not saying about Alysse," he said, "I've heard the tales.  But I can't leave her here unable to fend for herself."

"We go to Alysse then," said Molaan.  "And then we find whoever did this."

The End

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