“Went down your—” Lloyd began to say.
“And that is all I’m going to say about it,” Matt cut him off flatly.
“Whatever,” said Lloyd, looking at Matt’s weasel-inflicted wounds critically, “You should probably go get Janine to heal you.”
“Can’t paladins heal?” Matt asked, not sure where Janine was and in no mood to search for her while every scratch on his body was still smarting.
“The technique’s called ‘Lay on Hands’,” Lloyd replied neutrally.
“Oh,” said Matt. A few seconds of silence passed. “This sucks,” he added in a grumble.
“More than max security?” Lloyd asked as a reminder.
“No,” said Matt darkly, staring broodingly into the middle distance.
It was two years ago, back when he was just learning how to get away with things and had recently tried to put a red streak in his hair. The hair was a minor fiasco—he’d bleached first and the red dye wasn’t strong enough, leaving the streak an embarrassingly pretty purplish pink; maybe he should try blue next time—but he was getting to be a really good rogue. Or so he thought.
In retrospect he realized that he probably shouldn’t have been so cocky—after all it was already the sixth time he’d been caught stealing and he’d only been at it a few months—but back in those days he’d felt like he could do anything, like he was untouchable. Sure, he’d gotten thrown in the local jailhouse once or twice, but those cells were a joke; he watched a party full of Level 2 adventures with not a rogue among them break out in ten minutes flat once. Of course, those were the lowest security cells, not max. He didn’t know yet that when they threw you in max, you weren’t getting yourself out any time soon unless you were epic level or something.
That day, the day he got caught for the sixth time, they threw him in max.
“I really am sorry, kid,” the warden had told him grimly, “But today we got three adventuring parties filled with chaotic types who thought they’d found the second easiest way to get some extra gps; the cells are packed, so you’re going to have to go in max.”
“Whatever,” Matt muttered.
A little annoyed by the boy’s indifference, the warden added, “Just so you know, your cell mate got life for massacring a relatively peaceful group of kobold merchants for the XP and…” He gulped. “Accessorizing opportunities.”
“Whatever,” Matt repeated. Wait a minute, what about accessorizing?
“He gets violent when we try to remove things from his cell,” he went on, now honestly angered by the boy’s lack of interest, “Such as the beheaded corpses of former cell mates…”
“What do you mean—” Matt began to ask, a little panicked, before regaining his cool. “You’re making that up just to scare me.”
“If only,” the warden said with a sigh, “I suggest you just try to have a conversation with him; some say the solitude’s made him snap. Ah, here we are.”
At first Matt thought his cellmate was a kobold. Then, gagging, he realized what the warden had meant by “accessorizing opportunities”.
“How’s it going, Killer?” the warden asked with false joviality.
Clutching a human skull pointed at the warden, the filthy Halfling shrieked, “Fireball! Fireball now, or I’ll give you something to Fear you worthless undead piece of crap!”
“This is your new roomie!” the warden continued, forcing himself to smile in the hope that the Halfling would calm down, “His name is Matthew Silver.”
Matt was too terrified to correct him.
While the Halfling did something partially hidden but, Matt feared, definitely obscene to the skull that wouldn’t obey his commands, the warden very quickly unlocked the cell, shoved Matt in, and relocked it.
“I really am sorry,” the warden told Matt again, “If one of those parties breaks out, I’ll get you out of here pronto, but…” He glanced at the Halfling. “It’d be a lie to tell you anything but this: From here it can only get worse.”
He left Matt alone with this thought. And the delusional, psychopathic Halfling.
It took several minutes for the Halfling to get bored with… what he was doing with the skull, but once he did, he took an immediate interest in Matt.
“You don’t look like max security material,” he told the boy smugly, “I guess without the Belkster out there to show ‘em how it’s done, the standards are dropping.”
Matt could manage nothing but a deer-in-the-headlights expression. At this point he was so scared he was barely even breathing.
To his wide-eyed horror, the Halfling began to approach him, picking up a severed head that was lying on the floor by its silvery hair on the way.
“Let’s get a few things straight,” the murderer said, “When they bring the grub in, your plate goes to Mr. Scruffy.” He began stroking the hair on the head affectionately. “Of course none of the stuff here’s good enough for his carnivore tastes, but he’s gotta eat eventually, and when he finally gets hungry enough, he is not going to starve on your account. Got it, wuss?”
Matt managed a nod. Living to see suppertime would be blessing enough. Glances around the room had let him count six different heads, and worryingly he’d only been able to spot four of the respective bodies…
“You really are a wuss, you know? You really shouldn’t be here…” As if too distracted by this revelation to hold his concentration on other things, the Halfling dropped the head known as “Mr. Scruffy.” He stared at Matt. For a long time.
“Aha!” Before Matt had time to realize anything was happening, the Halfling had him pinned to the ground and was yanking on a lock of his hair.
“Thought you could get a way with that?” the Halfling raved. The hand that wasn’t gripping Matt’s hair began fishing around in his grubby pockets for something. “Oh… I’ll do you for that, you androgynous twit…”
“Wh-what?!” Matt sputtered. Through the haze of pain the hair-pulling was spreading through his skull, he thought that the victimized hair might be that stupid attempt at a red streak, not that that was even remotely important right now…
“Come off it, Ears,” the lunatic snapped, yanking what appeared to be a sharpened spoon out of his pocket, “Your friggin’ lame disguise has failed epicly.” His eyes gleamed. “Then again, you always were one for epic failure, weren’t ya, pal?”
“What are you talking about?” Matt asked desperately. And, what did he mean by “Ears”? His voice now laced with disgust, he added, “You think I’m an elf?”
“I said come off it,” the Halfling repeated sharply. Then, to Matt’s surprise, he let go of his hair and his expression softened. “I guess I should’ve stopped bringing it up, after you told us everything that happened, but it was just too good; you finally admitted you screwed up.”
“Oh, I see,” Matt snarled, “An arrogant prick of an elf. Why you—”
“It was worth it, too,” the Halfling continued, now mostly ignoring Matt, “When you just kept blowing stuff up, especially when Roy was throwing hissy fits all the time because we wouldn’t knock it off. But then,” now his face flushed with rage, “You frickin’ set me up in this dump of a town with a frickin’ epic level prison!” He refocused his gaze on Matt. “And of course you had to come back and gloat,” he added, his voice cold.
“Dude,” said Matt, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about, and I’m not an elf! I hate elves!”
“Nice try, Ears,” said the Halfling, “But you really should have chosen a disguise that looked like it actually belonged in max security.” With a disturbing suddenness, the Halfling grinned. “Since you obviously can’t break out of this cell anymore than I can… Do you know what they do to pretty, purple-haired little elf-boys like you in prison, Vaarsuvius?”
“It’s Matt,” Matt spat, but his face was paling.
Brandishing the lethally sharp spoon, the madman said, “Because I’m about to show you.”
One of the adventuring parties did break out eventually, and the warden came to move Matt to another cell as he promised, in the nick of time, at that. Whenever Matt looked back on the whole incident (usually after waking up from a graphic nightmare) he shuddered to think what might have happened had he been left in there longer, but nonetheless wished that he could have been moved sooner.
In the weeks following his stay in prison Matt improved as a rogue very quickly. Before it’d been all about the loot but now he’d learned to focus on not getting caught. He decided he was never going to prison again and would do whatever it took to stay out of maximum security.
“Did you just have a flashback?” Lloyd asked Matt accusingly.
“Yeah,” said Matt, “Got a problem with that?”
“I’m the main character and I’ve already hinted at a dark and interesting backstory,” Lloyd said hotly, “I’m supposed to get the first flashback!”
Matt smirked. From here it could only get better.