Redcloak frowned at the table, staring at the shadows made by the people sitting around it and the firelight. He didn’t really need to keep listening. He knew what Jirix was telling him, Tsukiko, and most importantly, Xykon.
The phylactery still wasn’t found, and the preliminary tunnel had already been searched by hand three times over by an entire small army’s worth of hobgoblins. That left the sewage treatment plant, the labyrinth, and the… ocean.
He could feel Xykon slowly heating up in pure, unadulterated fury at the head of the table.
Redcloak inwardly sighed, cursing his vow to protect all goblin kind.
“That’s enough, Jirix.” Redcloak stood up, giving Jirix a small glare, trying to communicate the fact that he had to get out of the room as fast as possible. “Organize teams of our most trusted soldiers and start by searching the treatment plant.”
Jirix got the unspoken message loud and clear. He immediately grabbed the reports he had lain out in front of himself, not bothering to take the time to sort them, and zipped out of the room.
“So. We still don’t have my phylactery, Redcloak.”
Xykon’s voice was dangerously soft. Redcloak’s eyes remained fixed on the table. Tsukiko shifted nervously, standing from her chair and backing up slowly from the table.
There weren’t any windows in this dark stone room. The only light came from the torches on the wall. Redcloak had a feeling that it used to be a dungeon.
Why did he concentrate on architecture when he was probably about to be killed?
“That’s what he just said.”
Xykon’s empty eye sockets stared darkly at Redcloak. Heat was gathering, the lich its crux. “This is because of your ‘sources of information.’”
“You can’t kill them. They’re the only ones who we have that can tell us anything about the locations of the next gates.”
“Oh yeah.” Xykon sneered. “Like that’s what you want. We’ve had the damn paladin for months and we have nothing. And I’ve noticed the nights you’ve gone missing to the elf.”
Redcloak frowned, a weird shock of surprised cold stabbing through his chest. “What are you implying?”
“Implying nothing. I’m saying that you’re sleeping with the damn thing.”
Redcloak shook his head, rubbing his temples. Of course that was where Xykon’s mind would go. Oh well. It wasn’t important. “Xykon, we’re doing all we can to find the phylactery. Try to be patient just a lit—”
“I’M DONE BEING PATIENT!”
Redcloak was blown back along with the table. He found himself with what felt like twelve tons of stone table crushing his ribs and squeezing the life out of his organs. His eyesight exploded in red, and he couldn’t feel his arms…
“IT’S BECAUSE OF YOUR FRICKING PRISONERS!”
A spell—Redcloak didn’t have the time to see what—slammed into his face, cracking his head against the floor and eliciting a weird popping sound from his neck. He felt blood going down his face, and he had a feeling that some of his scales had been blown off.
He was having trouble breathing and blinding, excruciating pain was bulleting through his ribs. The table was on them. They were breaking and bursting or collapsing his lungs. He needed to be healed quickly.
“Oh, you want me to stop?”
Nothing felt as cold as the lich hand grabbing his head firmly.
“Let me tell you, Reddy—we’ve barely gotten started.”
Tsukiko scrambled out as soon as Xykon was too distracted to somehow randomly shift his fury onto her.
She closed the door behind her, breathing a soft sigh of relief. Jirix was standing there, his papers clutched to his chest, his eyes wide. The sound of Redcloak’s beating was bouncing off the walls, no doubt striking the fear of the twelve gods in the hobgoblin’s heart.
“Is there a reason you’re still here?”
Jirix looked up quickly, trying to shake off the nervousness that generally arose when one heard one’s Supreme Leader being beaten to a bloody pulp in the next room. “I… had a message for the Supreme Leader.”
“Give it over to me.” Tsukiko started walking jauntily through the hall towards the spiral staircase. “Looks like I’m taking over Reddy’s job for the next… month it’ll take for him to heal up from this. Not like Xykon’s going to let him just heal himself.”
Jirix frowned, but followed her slowly with his papers clutched. “Then I’ll handle the paperwork, but you should know that the elven prisoner refuses to sleep.”
The theurge glanced back at Jirix, a slight smirk playing across her face. “Awww, she misses Reddy?” She shrugged. “Why are you telling me this? Figure it out for yourself.”
“The Supreme Leader likes to handle the prisoners personally.”
“I’m sure he does. I don’t know, go give her warm water with orange or something. That’s what Granny always did for me.”
“Warm orange water?”
“Or drug her. Or give her a glass of scotch. Or just not bother with it.” Tsukiko shrugged and started climbing the stairs. “Forget about the sleep thing and concentrate on finding Xykon’s phylactery. If the prisoner wants to exhaust herself, let her.” She paused on one of the steps. “Do you know if she’s a she or a he?”
Jirix made a small shrug.
“Huh. I’ll ask Reddy at some point.”
With that, Tsukiko started up the stairs again.
It was freezing. That was all Redcloak knew. He didn’t feel pain, just cold.
None of the fires were burning. Xykon was gone. He wasn’t quite sure how long had passed, but it must have been at least a day. And he was having severe hypothermia. One of the major disadvantages of having cold blood.
He was probably seriously hurt.
His fingers were numb. He lightly ran the tips of his claws over his body, feeling for any holes or abnormalities. Instead of feeling his scales, he found the hard surface of the table.
Redcloak weakly pushed it off. Blood drained back to his body, but the lack of feeling didn’t lift. He struggled to breathe. It felt like there were a bunch of important things broken inside of him. He was too cold to really feel the pain that must have been screaming from everywhere.
He ran his claws lightly down his body again, looking for something life-threatening, and one of them snagged on a post-it note. He groaned softly and brought it up to his eyes, concentrating until his temples started pulsing with pain, trying to make out what was written in the lack of light.
‘If you do anything but the healing you need to live through tomorrow, I’ll make sure you don’t even see tomorrow.’
Redcloak pulled the paper off his claw, letting it flitter to the ground. He gingerly put his hands on his stomach, struggling to breathe. “Cure Minor Wounds.”
This pain got through the hypothermia. He threw his head back, cracking it on the ground, and screamed as his ribs turned to molten bone and reformed partially and his organs started trying to rearrange themselves correctly. His own voice bounced off the stone, deafening him, but he had to keep going.
“Cure Minor Wounds!”
He could taste blood in his mouth, rolling inside his throat. His eyes were boiling in their sockets. His body was bucking against him, screaming to make the pain stop.
“Cure Minor Wounds!”
His body gave one last mighty roar and then slipped into the blissful numbness of hypothermia.
Redcloak let his arms fall limp on the cold stone ground, his claws letting out loud clacking sounds. His scales were moist. His breath was hot. His blood was everywhere…
He needed to snap out of it and get to his study. It was the closest room where he could lick his wounds for a bit.
He reached out and scrabbled at the ground, trying to find some purchase, and his claws latched on to the seams in between the stones. He pulled himself forward slowly, dragging against the floor, and slowly slipped away from the blood and overturned table. He dragged himself to the wall and laboriously got to his knees.
Despite common sense, he praised the Dark One for the existence of hypothermia. It relieved what he was sure would have been horrible pain otherwise.
He struggled with the door for a moment before opening it up and dragging himself to his feet. Slowly, painstakingly slowly, he staggered into the hall, holding his ribs gingerly, and slowly walked to his study.
Redcloak had never felt as grateful as when he could sit down at his chair in front of his desk.
He sat there for a while, letting the hotter temperature provided by the fire on the walls and in the hearth banish the numbness, gritting his teeth against the wave of pain that washed over him.
Pain had a tendency to make time fade away. Redcloak had no idea how long he was just sitting there, wondering whether or not it would be worth it to ‘accidentally’ fall on the ground and re-break one of his ribs to make it stab his heart or something. Slowly, he swiveled his head to make up for his lost eye and glanced at the clock.
Either it had gone back in time or it was at least twenty-four hours since his beating.
Redcloak would say that he had been out for about two days, judging by the condition his body was in. He tentatively prodded himself everywhere, stifling soft groans of pain and trying to accurately decide how much damage he’d taken.
His final analysis was ‘enough.’
He glanced up at the clock again, automatically remembering that it was almost time for him to go to the elf or it wouldn’t sleep. He stood up slowly, testing out his legs before putting too much weight on them and deciding that they could deal with walking. He slowly padded into the next room, which was his personal kitchen for the late nights he’d have researching and he wanted tea. On autopilot, he checked the small fridge tucked into the corner that he supplied himself with and grabbed a small tea kettle from on top of it, pouring milk into it slowly before setting it on the stove and turning on the flame.
Still not quite sure why he was doing that or if his brain had finally decided to quit and was just giving out random electrical impulses in its death throws, he closed the fridge door and walked into the bathroom, slowly stripping off the bloody clothing.
He was careful to make sure that the shower water was lukewarm. He didn’t want to kill off his body tissue with a violent swing from hypothermia to scalding water. Redcloak used his claws to wash out the blood clotted and congealed between scales, careful to keep from hurting himself more, and checked his open wounds a little more closely. None of them were still bleeding and he didn’t think that most of them were really deep. He would live. It’d hurt, but he’d live. The worst he had at the moment were bruised ribs and pain.
Drying off is always easy with scales and no hair. Redcloak pulled on a clean cleric’s outfit before limping back to the kitchen, pouring the now-boiling milk into a thermos. He added a little honey and cinnamon to it, making sure to stir before closing it up. He quickly bandaged a few of the worst of his injuries to make sure they wouldn’t reopen before picking up the thermos and a book and walking out of his chambers back into the hall.
He wasn’t paying much attention while he walked through the hallway and climbed the stairs. He was too preoccupied with the pain in his torso. It was only when he saw the stone door with the gold ring that he remembered why he was up there.
Redcloak wondered briefly why the prisoner was still a priority right after he wakes up. He was probably getting a touch desperate for company that wouldn’t be snarky, break his ribs, or constantly call him ‘Supreme Leader.’
Should he be angry at the prisoner for his current condition? After all, the elf was the reason he was punished.
He entertained the idea for a moment. Anger was always so satisfying. Blame was always so sweet.
But he shrugged it off soon enough. He was too mature and intelligent to allow himself to submit to such a base instinct. He could be angry at the elf for being an elf. He could be angry at the elf for the undoubtedly dozens of goblins it had wantonly killed. He could be angry at the elf for the privileges it had just because everyone, even the gods, had arbitrarily decided that its species was a good one. And he was angry.
He just wasn’t angry at the elf for workings for survival or fighting for its beliefs.
He rubbed his bruised ribs one last time before opening the door and stepping inside, closing it behind him as usual.
There was a soft rustle and Redcloak glanced up to see Vaarsuvius sitting up quickly on the bed, eyes wide to compensate for the low light.
Redcloak nodded, trying to disguise his limp as he walked to the bed and holding out the thermos. “This is supposed to help with sleep. And it’s good for elves. Don’t worry—I didn’t drug it.”
Vaarsuvius nodded slowly and took it between significantly more steady hands, apparently deciding that it could trust the drink and taking a small sip. “…Thank you.”
Redcloak gave a small nod and leaned against the wall while sitting at the foot of the bed, savoring the feeling of cold against his back privately. He glanced at Vaarsuvius’s face, noting that the dark circles under violet eyes, gentle tremors, and general signs of exhaustion had returned.
“You haven’t been trancing.”
Vaarsuvius took another sip, violet eyes fixed on Redcloak.
“You weren’t here yesterday or the day before.”
Redcloak gave a small one-arm shrug.
“What gave you that idea?”
Vaarsuvius scowled, ears twitching, and crossed its bony arms. “Treat me as a prisoner if you wish, but do not insult my intelligence. You were limping when you came in, areas of your body are bulging slightly under your clothes—probably bandages—and you have a contusion along with a deep abrasion on the back of your head, among other things.” The elf cocked its head, arching an eyebrow imperiously. “It did not take much deduction.”
Redcloak couldn’t stop a small smirk, looking away from Vaarsuvius’s face. “What can I say? You know, if I were in your shoes, I’d watch what I was saying a little more closely.” He rubbed his ribs gently. “Trance. Your healing’s probably been set back a few days.”
“When are you going to treat me as you have obviously treated the paladin?”
Redcloak paused, staring at the stone floor and rubbing his claws together slowly. He flicked up his gold eyes, staring at the elf and frowning. “When you’re healthy.”
“That seems like a poor incentive to help myself.”
“But you’ll do it anyway.” Redcloak shrugged. “Xykon won’t be patient. He’ll eventually get tired of taking his frustration out on me and move on to you and our other prisoner. At least this way, you might survive.”
“So you are looking out for my welfare?”
Redcloak shrugged. “Sure, if you want to look at it that way. I need to keep you alive.” He glanced at Vaarsuvius. “Drink more of the milk. It helps with nightmares.”
Vaarsuvius stiffened, violet eyes wide, and sputtered for a moment. “I…! How did you know about those?!”
“You somehow felt that having your fingers removed would be better than trancing and you refuse to trance unless someone is with you.” Redcloak gave a small smirk. “It did not take much deduction.”
Vaarsuvius looked slightly miffed for its own line to be turned around on it. “I…”
“Don’t worry about it.” Redcloak shrugged. “We’ve all messed up badly at some point or another or gone through something that made nightmares. It’s worse if your sleep’s just made up of memories. Just keep drinking or trance.”
Vaarsuvius paused, then nodded slowly and finished the milk. “Very well.”
The elf put the thermos down and slowly crossed its legs, slipping into a slow trance. It didn’t take Redcloak too long to fall asleep himself.