Redcloak spun around from staring out at the Snarl, frowning a little at the hobgoblin addressing him. “Yes?”
The hobgoblin put his hands behind his back and tilted backward and forward nervously. “The prisoner isn’t eating or trancing. She says that she’s not hungry or tired.”
Redcloak rolled his eyes to the sky, caught between being annoyed that he’d have to deal with this and being really grateful to have a chance to take his anger out on someone without looking like Xykon in his own… eye.
“I’ll handle it. How’s the search for Xykon’s phylactery?”
“The troops haven’t found it so far.”
Redcloak sighed, shaking his head and starting towards the door. “Wonderful. I bet Xykon’s in a great mood about that.”
He went into the staircase again, claws scraping against the stone, and scowled until the elf’s door was in sight. He clacked his claws together, eager to take his anger out and trying to ignore the growing disgust at himself.
Just because he was taking joy in the pain of another didn’t mean that he was becoming like Xykon. It was a wretched little elf who had probably killed tons of his kind. It was perfectly reasonable to like hurting it.
He pulled open the door, allowing light to leak into the room outside of the soft glow of the Snarl. The elf, lying on the bed, immediately covered its eyes for them to adjust.
“What’d I say about eating and trancing?”
“I…” the elf squinted a little in the light, “I am not hungry nor am I tired.”
“Save the lying for interrogation.” Redcloak pushed the door closed behind him. His goblin eyes were able to see fine in the low light, but the elf was probably half-blind at the moment. Redcloak glanced at the desk, picking up the uneaten stew left there, and walked to the bed. “Enjoy the food while you can. This is the best you’re going to get—after you’re healthy, you’ll be living off gruel.”
“That seems to defeat the purpose of making me healthy.” The elf scooted up until it was thoroughly pressed in the corner, tiny limbs trembling with obvious exhaustion.
“You’d think so.” Redcloak’s eyes narrowed a little. “Alright, I don’t want to force-feed any elves. It’s gross. So you can eat and make at least one of us happy, or you can still resist and make both of us unhappier than we already are.”
The elf looked like it was going to resist for a moment. Redcloak gave a frustrated sigh and grabbed the spoon.
“That is quite alright!”
The elf flinched back and held out a lightly trembling hand. “Do not insult me. I can feed myself.”
“Pride is all you have left, elf.” Redcloak gave the spoon to the elf and put the pot on the bed. The elf’s hand was trembling slightly. If Redcloak let it be, it would spill all the stew without even trying. “So much for that, I suppose.”
He reached out with a clawed hand and rested it lightly on the elf’s frail and bony one, steadying the tremors. The elf scowled but didn’t try to shake the goblin off. The elf was very silent, ears drooping pitifully, as it ate, not bothering with words. Redcloak kept his hand on the elf’s at all times, making sure it wouldn’t shake.
“Why would you do this personally?”
The question surprised Redcloak. It was simple and curious—two things he didn’t expect from anyone in the situation the elf was currently in.
“I’m a hands-on leader, I guess.” He checked to see that the stew was finished before taking the pot and spoon away, standing and putting them next to the door. “Besides, your presence is not exactly something I want every foot soldier to know about.”
The elf nodded slowly, looking away.
“This is the part where I ‘convince’ you to trance.”
“I am not tired.”
“I know that you’re a big bad elf mage and I’m just a lowly goblin cleric, but I can tell the different between ‘exhausted’ and ‘not tired,’” Redcloak sneered slightly, walking back to the bed. “I also have the ability to regenerate lost limbs. You want to see how many times you can deal with your fingers being ripped off?”
The elf glared, squeezing back into the corner a little more. “I am not tired. Bring any barbaric torture you wish—I shall not trance.”
Redcloak paused, realization slowly dawning in his mind. If the elf had wanted to be rebellious, it would have done it by refusing to eat, even when Redcloak tried to force it. The trance thing wasn’t rebellion. The elf actually felt that trance was worse than anything Redcloak could do.
Well, trance was the replay of memories in one’s mind over and over, if Redcloak’s research told him anything. That could lead to bad things if the given elf had gone through an incident that would warrant something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or whatever. That was perfectly possible, especially with an elf looking as twitchy as the one in front of him. It reminded Redcloak of a really sad chipmunk hopped up on drugs and coffee. When someone was being compared to a depressed, hyper and stoned chipmunk, one knew that there was a problem.
Redcloak could understand nightmares. He understood the demons of one’s past grabbing them at night and ribbing them apart. He knew what that was like.
His experience gave him unwanted empathy for the little creature in front of him.
“What’s your name?”
The elf looked up in surprise, lips slightly parted, bloodshot violet eyes gleaming softly with wariness, hands clenched into fists on tattered and faded robes to stop their trembling. The veins under the elf’s skin were still gray and well-defined, hair still wild and ragged, and its waist was dangerously slim. Redcloak had the feeling that if he had been sick enough to rip open the creature’s robe, he would be able to count the ribs underneath a thin layer of skin. It was odd. Elves were, as a species, supposed to be very attractive. (Redcloak personally never understood it—he was a little hung up on the lack of tusks.) He doubted that even one of those horny human teenagers would find this sickly elf good-looking. Grief, anger, remorse, fear, shame, loneliness… Redcloak was so well-versed with the feelings that he was surprised that he hadn’t seen them written in the elf’s rather youthful face. Those were the feelings that drained beauty and health. Those were the feelings that made people, no matter their species, stay up at night and replay their lives before their eyes, thinking of all the ways they could have acted differently. Redcloak shuddered to think of how he himself would have fared if his dreams were composed entirely of crystal-clear replays of memories.
He could easily imagine preferring torture over such a sleep.
It took him a moment to remember that he had asked the elf a question that had still not received an answer. “What’s your name? Is this a difficult question?”
“I am rather surprised that you care.” The elf’s tiny body was shaking. It tried to hide it, another sign of the pride that Redcloak had a feeling used to burn so brightly within this mage, but it couldn’t be hidden.
“Filing issues. I can’t exactly call you ‘the elf’ in any records when I start interrogating you. We’re inevitably going to get a few other prisoners that fit that description.”
“Perhaps the elf that helped lose your master’s phylactery?”
The elf’s eyes lit up with defiance and the pride was rekindled if only briefly. The skin glowed softly with inner health and the shaking stopped. Its shoulders squared and its lips went into a grim, determined line.
For a weird moment, Redcloak found himself glancing into a snatch of the past and present, looking into a puddle that he thought was shallow and only comprised of now, but reaching in and finding that he couldn’t even touch the bottom. “Just give me your name. It’s not like I can do much with it.”
“I would prefer to know who I am speaking to first,” the elf said, voice steely.
“Just call me Redcloak. Everyone else does.”
The elf paused briefly, holding Redcloak’s gaze. “My name is Vaarsuvius.”
The defiance bled out. The elf’s skin was ashen again. The shaking started again. The shoulders slumped slightly. The ears drooped slightly. The elf… Vaarsuvius… looked away, shrinking slightly, and closed violet eyes. “I am not tired.”
Redcloak scowled a little. He was in a dilemma, and he hated dilemmas. He could go the most satisfying route and just start dismembering and breaking the elf’s fingers until it decided that enough pain made it sleepy enough to brave nightmares, or do what would actually work and try to figure some way past the nightmares.
Why was he so concerned about the prisoner’s health again? Oh yeah. It wouldn’t be able to sustain the torture of interrogation, much less Xykon’s revenge and boredom, if it wasn’t coddled at first.
He hated being the only logical one.
Redcloak sighed in frustration, and despite himself, he was already dissecting what little of the elf’s behavior he had experienced and deciding how best to handle the situation. Pride? Defiance? He could deal with that. Didn’t mean he’d enjoy it.
Redcloak made himself comfortable on the foot of the bed, patting down his clothes until he found a small book in one of his pockets, leaning against the wall and flicking open the pages delicately.
“What are you doing?”
“If I’m staying here, I’m going to have something to entertain myself. I’m not going to depend on you for that.”
The elf frowned, shrinking a little more into the corner. “Why are you staying here?”
Redcloak sighed again in exasperation. “It turns out that torture can only do so much, and forcing someone to sleep isn’t included. So I’m staying here until you trance.”
“You speak Common, right?” Redcloak rolled his eyes and kept reading. “Just sit there if you like. I’m not leaving until you get at least eight hours of trance. I know that my… associates don’t seem like it, but there are some people here that have more patience than that of a toddler.”
The elf looked wary.
“Don’t flatter yourself or insult me. I’m not like Xykon. I’m not going to hurt you when you’re asleep. Especially in…” Redcloak couldn’t stop a small sound of disgust in the back of his throat, “that way.”
The elf looked a little pacified but still wary. The elf hugged its knees and rested its forehead against them, one violet eye fixed on Redcloak, and the shaking receded slightly, gaze filming over slowly. It wasn’t an ideal trance. It probably wouldn’t be very restful. It probably wouldn’t even help.
But it lasted longer than eight hours. There were a couple twitches, some whimpers, but no awakening. Redcloak stayed the whole time.
When the elf woke up with the softest gasp, it glanced up at Redcloak with a very confused expression on its face. Royal purple eyebrows were furrowed slightly, crawling up to meet gently as if the elf were trying to figure out a difficult logic problem. Without a word, Redcloak closed his book and walked out of the room.
Redcloak looked up from the various papers he had dug up from the Azure City’s royal library. The glow from the Snarl overcast everything, tinting the world in purple. The paladin was on the ground, his knees too weak to stand after Xykon’s last game, and his eyes were fixed in a glare at Redcloak. Probably still sore about the elf. The monster inside the cage’s eyes were still glowing cheerfully. Jirix was standing straight, scratching at an orange hand and shifting nervously.
“The prisoner refuses to sleep.”
Redcloak stood up, sorting through the papers and putting them in a neat pile. “I’ll handle it. Get these back to the library.”
Jirix nodded and obediently picked up the papers while Redcloak walked out of the room, feet almost automatically navigating the stairs to get to the big stone door with a gold ring. He pulled at the ring, opening the door, and he closed it when he walked in.
Vaarsuvius looked up, violet eyes a little brighter than the day before, and the only thing that illuminated the dark room was the light of the Snarl. No sun. No moon. The stars were too weak to reach the window.
Redcloak walked up to the bed and sat at the foot again, taking a new small book out of his pocket and flipping it open. There weren’t words this time. Vaarsuvius crossed its legs and tentatively closed its eyes, slipping into a trance.
From then on, Redcloak came back with a new book every evening and only left in the morning.