Ismat didn't put up any resistance, alrough she violently shook, as if a large splinter was being removed.
Afterwards, with the monolith in Tahira's grasp, the lithe thing just continued staring at her own empty hands, wide eyed.
They felt... infected somehow. Tarnished. Wrong.
"...Ah... It's... T-t-tah.... It doesn't..." Vague, hushed sounds were made, and little else. "...I-it was... n-n-nothing.... of c-......"
Tahira brushed Ismat's cheek with the hand not holding the monolith, then raised the tiefling's head to look at her. She rested one hand on Ismat's collarbone, leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. She stayed still for a second after pulling away, then whispered in the tiefling's ear, "Be brave."
Stashing the monolith in one of the numerous pouches on her belt, Tahira stood up, blinked a few times at the wall, and turned back to the rest of the group. She didn't look directly at any of them and avoided their eyes. Instead she looked over their shoulders.
"We are fine. Let's go."
The baroque thing bundled her arms inwards in order to resist, but was defused by the sudden, soft moment of intimacy. Only after the act did she find the strength to docilely push Tahira away, tears and agitation brewing in her eyes. Immediately, she stood up and faced the other direction to hide the show of genuine emotion...
"Don't... don't touch me... please..." Evidently, Ismat had rarely experienced such things in the past. Moreover, the fact that it was the cleric who reached such soft spots only made her more uncomfortable.
But she was on her feet now, so that probably counted for something.
Cautiously, she reviewed the stairway back up to the main deck, and ambled up it the moment she had gained the smallest spark of confidence.
Would the real world be there to greet her on the other side?...
The trip back to al-Uzza was mostly done in silence.
As the four camped for the night, Tahira and Ismat shared the same dream, not that they knew, as neither girl saw fit to describe their nightmares.
They were alone, in an endless black abyss. Alone in the cold, and the dark. And it was dark. Dark as it gets. And the loneliness was crushing, suffocating, them.
And it was like that.
As the quartet entered the madrasah and were escorted to Viktor's office. Viktor was leaning back in his chair behind his desk, two (relatively speaking) small Iron Golem on either side of him.
"Ah, I see you are alive. That is indeed most fortunate." He said with his usual bored, dismissive, tone, "I was very nearly about to put out the call for another group of adventurers to procure my artifact for me."
Wizards are assholes.
"Yeah, well they woulda hadda a hard time if we went ahead and sold it." Ismat bared her teeth agitatedly, even through she didn't really expect Victor to take the threat seriously. The tiefling had been the same ever since they had left the ship; Still typifying her usual sarcastic humor, but also snapping at the slightest bit of pressure. It was probably the first time she had been within the wizards office without rearranging all of the furniture. "You have any nice presents for us, seeing as we are such nice charming employees?"
Blatantly and making no attempt to hide it, her hand snooped across the table and picked up a little humanoid onyx totem, then placed it directly down the front of her blouse.
Ode sat down and carefully smoothed her skirts with shaking hands. "As predicted, the monolith wasn't even mildly harmless." She fixed her dark eyes on Viktor's coldly. "I'm not sure if you take pleasure in acting like an idiot or if you just truly are as stupid as you look, but inadequately warning people you want to collect an artefact for you of the artefacts properties is so staggeringly devoid of any forethought it manages to fall below the abilities of even the most witless Gnoll."
She paused and then added as an afterthought, "Oh, and I think we might have broken your silly little cleric."
"You know Ismat is right it was really grim on that ship and there was freaky stuff everywhere like dead people and blood and stuff and I mean there were like random visions of nasty stuff so why didn't you warn us about that anyway it was terrible and you aren't a nice person for sending us in without warning when lots of other people have uh vanished in there."
Tahira seemed to be back to her usual chirpy self; you could barely understand what she was saying, and her limbs flailed about as she spoke.
On the other hand, you'd heard faint sobbing from her tent the previous night...
"I told you the monolith was harmless and here you all are, unharmed." Viktor said dryly. "I don't see what the problem is." Oh, Viktor.
"I thought Horned Society operatives, Badawi nomads, and Assassins were made of sterner stuff." He said with the slightest of smiles before waving a hand dismissively, motioning one of the Iron Golems forward, towards Tahira, it's hands open, obviously wanting the monolith.
Ismat visibly twitched at the implication of her working for the horned society, which then spurred her ontop of the desk so that she could stare Viktor down at close range. On all fours, both her head and her tail writhed slowly and rhythmically with brooding rage. Her eyes jabbed at the wizard just as accusingly as her horns.
"N-n-no damage? Tahira is totally in a state! You tithead!" The tiefling rasped angrily, apparently either suddenly very protective of the girl, or at least very comfortable with weaponizing what had happened to her. Well, she certainly wasn't going to bring up the nightmares that she'd been having.... "I'm serious! I want a bonus!"
Ode rose and moved to stand beside Ismat, her expression hard and cold. "Are we to honestly believe that you don't understand how mental stress works? I understand that you're emotionally lobotomised and therefore somewhat intellectually stunted, but surely even you understand that minds can only stretch so far before they snap. Something you would think a wizard of all people would be able to wrap his pretty little head around."
Nuru slithered to her side and she lay a hand upon his cool head, her gaze sweeping disinterestedly over the golems. "And don't try to be cute Viktor, evidently you understand there is some risk in touching the monoliths. Why else would you bother with the constructed ones?"