Redcloak had almost been scared to go back to the elf’s room. That brief moment of desire, of outright lust, had left him fearful and unsure. The person inside of him insisted that he had only imagined it. He was a goblin and a self-proclaimed species-ist, and had never and never would be attracted to anything but a goblin female. The scientist inside of him just shook his dispassionate head and reminded him that no person was purely one thing (except for maybe Xykon—he was pure evil) and that, seeing as he had felt such lust many times before and had acted on it many times before, he could undoubtedly say that the feeling, no matter how fleeting it was, had been no more imagined than the death of his brother.
At the same time, both of the segments in his head agreed that there were ways this could be explained away. He could have been stressed. His brain could have misfired. It could have been the product of a stray subliminal thought. He could be worrying over nothing.
Or he could be inviting certain disaster by continued interaction with the admittedly fascinating elf.
Either way, he was not one to let emotion get in the way of his work. He didn’t let his eye or face betray anything about him when he opened the door.
The elf was lying face-up on the bed, violet eyes tracing the stones on the ceiling, and glanced at its visitor. It immediately sat up. “R—”
“We don’t need to talk if you don’t want to. Not yet.” Redcloak closed the door and slowly walked to the foot of the bed.
“What will one night do?” Vaarsuvius ran a hand through its hair, staring up at Redcloak with a surprising lack of nervousness. “I want to know what my comrades are doing.”
“Trying to find and save you, I guess.”
“I want to know what you know about them. I want to know if they are okay.”
“They’re okay enough to kill my troops.” Redcloak’s fingers twitched in his lap. “Trance, Vaarsuvius. You’re going to need to be healthy more than ever for tomorrow.”
“Are you going to hurt me?”
Redcloak looked up, gold eye locking with violet.
Redcloak sighed, shaking his head and looking away. “If you don’t cooperate.”
Vaarsuvius pursed its lips. “Then do not be kind to me.”
“Are you that rigid, really?” Redcloak frowned darkly. “You’re so desperate for some sense of order and black and white decisions that you’d turn down help where it’s offered?”
“I am not asking for order and black and white decisions. I am asking what I should think of you as!” Vaarsuvius stood up sharply, knees wobbling a little in protest. “Should I think of you as, if perhaps not a friend, a benefactor? Or should I think of you as my so-called interrogator?”
“Why do you need to label me?” Redcloak stood up slowly, fingers twitching a little, ready to catch the elf if it fell. “I’m not interested in seeing you suffer for the sake of it. I’m not interested in you wasting away. I’m interested in furthering my goals for my species, preferably without unnecessary loss of life. You have information I want. I’m not going to stop myself from hurting you to get it. But if you’re hurt, I will help.”
“There is no label for that!”
“Exactly.” Redcloak sighed. “Don’t bother labeling everything in your life.”
“I know I can’t do that.” Vaarsuvius’s eyes glazed for a very brief moment. “I have been finding that out as of late.” The elf shook off the brief daze. “But please. Don’t put up a front.”
“I’m not putting up a front!” Redcloak frowned darkly. “Don’t assume stuff about people you don’t know. You’re my patient. A patient that I am going to harm, but a patient.”
“I do not need a tormentor’s nursing!”
With that, Vaarsuvius’s knees promptly buckled under the weight they didn’t want to hold. Redcloak caught the tiny elf easily, one arm under its knees and one on its upper back. The elf immediately started squirming, slamming a weak fist against his chest, barely doing anything against the hard scales underneath the cleric’s garb. “Unhand me immediately!”
“By the Dark One, you’re stubborn.”
“If you are my enemy, let me fall!”
“And let you hurt yourself?”
“If you are planning on doing it yourself, I have no idea why you would care at all!”
“You’re my patient!”
“And your prisoner! Let me go or I swear—”
Neither was quite sure what happened. On later reflection, Redcloak figured he may have just been looking for a way to shut Vaarsuvius up and went with an impulse he should have examined before acting on. Impulses, desire, social interaction in stressful or unusual situations… they were all very unpredictable. Neither of them was responsible for trying to deal with these things. Or that could have just been a story he told himself and there was a completely different and more uncomfortable reason. Either way, the result was the same. One moment, they were fighting, the next, they were kissing.
It took both of them a good minute to process what was happening. They were acting without thought, only instinct that was deeply ingrained in every single sapient species. A stray thought, yet the most immediate one, informed Redcloak that the elf was very warm. It wasn’t an overwhelming heat, like direct sunlight hitting the same place for hours, but it was more like warmth from the sun that peaked briefly from between clouds during an otherwise cold day. Soft. Steady. Pleasant. Far from golblinoid.
The elf made small fists against the goblin’s chest, navigating past the tusks with slight difficulty but slipping into a position that allowed better access. Redcloak’s brain started catching on to what was happening slowly, trying to hold on to the edge of his sanity and drag it back to the forefront, trying to impart that this wasn’t a really, really crazy dream.
The elf made a gentle sound in the back of its throat. Maybe it was supposed to be a word. The Dark One only knew. Redcloak felt awareness slowly filtering back in his brain. He was kissing an elf. He was kissing Vaarsuvius. He should stop. He should really stop. He didn’t want to do this.
“Stop,” Vaarsuvius said softly, parting their lips. It was the first to pull away, eyes wide. With that little word, the spell broke.
Redcloak stiffened, gold eyes glowing a little brighter. Vaarsuvius averted its gaze, silenced for once. A weird sense of awkwardness, fear, and something neither were brave enough to try to name hung in the air. Redcloak slowly put the elf on the bed and turned away. Claws scraping against the ground, he left.
He didn’t come back that night.
Jirix looked up from staring out of the giant hole in the tower, turning to see Redcloak, obviously back from appraising the troops. “Have either of the parties gotten through the illusions?”
“Not yet, sir. They’re all completely lost. But the spell caster in the elven party is catching on and starting to try to undo the spells and it looks like the adventurers are trying to think of ways to see past the illusions.”
“Good.” Redcloak stared up at the dark night sky through the giant gap, frowning, the gentle glow of the Snarl tinting the very air.
“Sir, the prisoner should be interrogated soon, if you don’t mind my saying.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Would you like me to do it, sir?”
Jirix didn’t press the point. Anyone who knew about the presence of the elf knew that their Supreme Leader had been sleeping with her (or was it a he?) since she had been captured. Jirix wasn’t quite sure how comfortable he was with the idea that his leader was sleeping with an elven prisoner, and even less so when the possibility of force or coercion was put into play, but he wasn’t one to judge. If his leader didn’t want to interrogate his lover, it was perfectly understandable.
But Jirix couldn’t help but admire the fact that his leader was willing to face the situation he had knowingly put himself in.
“Savages. Dishonorable… please, let me take the elf’s place,” the paladin said for perhaps the millionth time since they took the elf away. No one had probably told him that he was in much worse shape accommodations-wise than the elf.
“Will you stop that? It’s really starting to get old.” Redcloak distractedly waved a hand. “Jirix, get as many more illusions out there as you can. Make mazes, make monsters, make rabbits, I don’t care. Just as long as it’ll slow them down.”
“If you can capture any of the elves or an adventurer that looks like he’s be a little looser-tongued, keep them in the dungeon and tell me. I’ll handle it.” Redcloak paused for a moment. “And don’t bother me while I’m interrogating. I have a feeling that this is going to take a while.” He turned around, gaze still rather distant, and left the room, going immediately to the door with the gold ring.
Vaarsuvius looked up sharply, a raven on the tiny shoulder—the elf’s familiar—popping out of view with an angry caw.
Redcloak was tempted to avert his eye, but he kept his gaze steady. He pulled up a chair to the bed slowly, sitting down and crossing his legs. “We’re going to start this slowly.”
The elf stared at him, millions of emotions flashing through big violet eyes.
“Where is your village?”
“I…” Vaarsuvius still looked rather distracted and conflicted. “I would prefer not imparting that information.”
“I won’t tell Xykon. Your home will be safe for now.”
“You wouldn’t know it. It is secluded in the elven forests—few elven allies even know of it.”
Redcloak paused, frowning a little. “We’ll get back to this.” He tapped his claws together, making a small clicking sound. Vaarsuvius frowned suspiciously. “I want to see your familiar.”
The raven remained invisible and Vaarsuvius only narrowed violet eyes stubbornly. “I am not about to let you hurt him.”
Redcloak stayed leaning back, gold eye resting coolly on the elf. “I won’t hurt him. If anything, I’ll hurt you.”
Vaarsuvius stifled a small flinch, glare darkening and lips pursing.
“Vaarsuvius, I don’t want to cut you again. Show your familiar and let him decide, if you want.”
The elf held Redcloak’s gaze grimly, eyes flicking down very briefly to see the goblin claws gleaming. “…Very well.”
A raven popped into view on the elf’s shoulder, making little sounds at the back of its throat.
Redcloak slowly held out a clawed hand, clicking his nails together. “Well, then. You can either fly to me and this will go smoothly, or you can try to fly into the corner or something and I will be forced to hurt your master until you come down.”
The bird didn’t hesitate.
The familiar—Blackwing—completely ignored his master and flew to Redcloak’s hand, glaring in a way only ravens could. Vaarsuvius stiffened but didn’t move to touch Redcloak.
Redcloak raised one hand and ran a claw down the raven’s wing, examining him closely for any signs of trying to break through his boundary spells. A few feathers were slightly singed—obviously, he had tried—but none were burnt enough to say the he had been able to actually get through them. Satisfied, Redcloak made a slight gesture with his hand and the raven flew off, disappearing again.
“Why have you not hurt me yet?”
“I’m not going to be eager to slap you around.” Redcloak looked the elf up and down, avoiding its eyes. It was obvious that it hadn’t tranced the night before.
“Why won’t you present yourself in a consistent manner?!” Vaarsuvius’s fists curled up tightly and the violet eyes blazed defiantly.
“This is an interrogation. Act like it or I’ll force you to calm down.” Redcloak shifted and tapped his claws together. “I’m going to ask you about the Order of the Stick. This time, I’m not going to leave it up to my claws to do the hurting.”
Vaarsuvius glared darkly, staying sullenly silent for a few seconds. “I will not betray them.”
“I don’t expect you to. I expect you to feed me a bunch of bogus information, then eventually give me as little hard truth as possible when I call you out on your lies and torture you even more because you, like every other wizard, probably used Charisma as a dump stat.”
Vaarsuvius was silent.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Vaarsuvius. I will if I have to.”
“Then please try to explain something to me.”
Redcloak frowned, shifting uncomfortably, instinctively knowing what subject was about to come up. “Yes?”
“As embarrassing as it is for both of us, it happened. Why?”
Redcloak had no problem understanding the elf. He also recognized the obvious stalling tactic—Vaarsuvius was probably even less eager to acknowledge it than he was—but he went along with it. “I don’t know.”
“One of us must! People don’t do things for no reason!”
“One of these days, you’re going to have to accept that not everything is logical.” Redcloak averted his gaze. “Just pretend that it didn’t happen.”
“But it did happen.”
“I know. You know. Doesn’t mean we need to acknowledge it.”
“But you…” Vaarsuvius shook its head, hair looking a little more wild than usual. “First, you carry me to make sure I do not get hurt. Then you threaten me. Then you make sure I eat, and you start sleeping in my room to make sure I can trance. Then you give me milk to help my disturbances, completely without solicitation. You show compassion and kindness. Then you hurl me against the wall, slap me numerous times, and make me bleed. Then you heal me. Then you tell me that you will hurt me again. Then you kiss me. Tell me what I am supposed to make of you!” Vaarsuvius stood up from the bed, muscles tense, legs wobbling a little.
“Get back into your bed or I’ll have to catch you again, and the Dark One knows what will happen this time.”
Vaarsuvius quickly sat back down. “I need to know what to make of you.”
“I don’t know what to make of myself.” Redcloak rubbed his temples. “Look, don’t do this. I’m about to get very violent with you and I’d prefer not to get into this kind of conversation beforehand.”
“If I can deal with this confusion, you can deal with guilt!”
Redcloak scowled a little at the snappish retort.
“If you are going to hurt me, at least do me the courtesy of being consistent! I do not know if you are kind, cruel, or… or something else that I cannot think of a word for at the moment!”
“You’re getting flustered.”
“Of course I’m flustered! In the last few days, you have alternated dramatically between helping me fall asleep, beating me until I bleed, and… and kissing me all in quick succession!”
Redcloak sighed softly in his head. He might as well get the elf to stop talking. It wasn’t as if any more damage could possibly be done.
“I need you to—”
Vaarsuvius didn’t complete its sentence. The likely reason was because it was difficult to keep speaking when lips were pressed against its own.
Redcloak pulled away before going far, leaving Vaarsuvius effectively mute. He was glad to note that he didn’t feel anything from the peck. He could use it as a tool if he needed to. “Alright, then. I’m going to ask you about your party. You’re going to answer my questions.”
Vaarsuvius nodded numbly.
“I want to know their full names.”
“You know most of them. The others are travelers and you would therefore gain nothing from their names.”
“Very well. You wish to know their names and that is useless information. That is my answer.”
Redcloak paused for a moment. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I have given you my answer.”
Redcloak raised his hand, spreading his fingers and brandishing his shining claws. Vaarsuvius leaned forward, taking his face in cool pale hands, and kissed him softly.
Redcloak promptly froze, slowly lowering his hand and resting it lightly on the elf’s waist. The kiss was polite, chaste, warm. Redcloak’s throat closed up a little. A weird mix of fear and something else he didn’t care to name clenched his chest. For some weird reason, he was more shocked by this than any other time. The first could be explained away as impulse. The second time it was a tool he used. This time, it was a tool being used against him. And it was working.
Alright, then. This was the part where he closed the door they had opened up.
“Stop it.” Redcloak pushed Vaarsuvius away, frowning darkly. “I don’t appreciate being manipulated.”
“Neither do I and yet you did the same.” Vaarsuvius scowled a little and crossed its arms.
“Then we both should stop. I’m your jailer and you’re my prisoner, or I’m your medic and you’re my patient, or whatever our relationship is classified as at this point. Either way, the power balance is unequal and physical relations are completely inappropriate.”
“I agree.” Vaarsuvius arched an eyebrow. “I also think that it is inappropriate for a medic to beat their patient or a jailer to nurse their prisoner.”
“Here we go again.” Redcloak shook his head. “Look, stop trying to distract me. I need this information and you have it. Accept that I’m going to hurt you to get it.”
“I will accept it if you promise to act purely as my jailer and tormenter from then on.”
“You’d drop dead from exhaustion if I didn’t come here for you to trance.”
“You shouldn’t care.”
“I’m not giving you a choice in how I treat you.”
“Then I suppose that you will have to accept that, if you let this relationship remain uncategorized, it will get more disorderly and convoluted with inappropriate lines being crossed,” Vaarsuvius said dryly.
Redcloak looked up at the ceiling. “Have I told you that you’re stubborn?”
Redcloak shook his head, remembering himself. “The names of your comrades. I want them.”
“I won’t give them.”
“Damn it, Vaarsuvius!”
Redcloak stood up sharply, grabbing Vaarsuvius’s arms tightly, claws digging deep into the delicate flesh, eliciting a hastily stifled wince. “I can find out in other ways! They’re in the city! They’re not subtle in the least! Then you’ll be hurt and I’ll have the information anyway!”
He pulled on the elf so roughly that it was forced to stand up from the bed, its only support the claws stuck in its skin, blood trickling out from the edges of the wounds they were causing.
“Don’t be stupid about this. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Why?! Why don’t you want to hurt me?!” Vaarsuvius squirmed, eyes burning hot with defiance. “I’m a prisoner!”
“People aren’t cans! Relationships aren’t boxes!” Redcloak shook the elf violently. “They can’t be labeled clearly all the time!”
“But they can some of the time!” Vaarsuvius glared, chin turned up proudly. “I will not have my emotions played with and batted around as if they were a feline’s toy!”
“Will you just cooperate for once?!” Redcloak threw the elf down on the bed roughly, glaring. “You’re still delicate! I could kill you during interrogation if I’m not careful! Why don’t you just shove your loyalty and confusion and pride in some dark corner for once?!”
“That is all I have here!” Vaarsuvius’s fists clenched on the bed and its eyes narrowed furiously. “I have made many mistakes, Redcloak. I will not add to it by betraying my comrades, even if my health or my life is on the line.”
“We’ve all made mistakes!” Redcloak leaned down, propping himself up by his hands on either side of the elf and leaning in to glare. “Get over it and try to save yourself while you can.”
Magic, long stagnant within the elf’s body, started shifting tangibly without form. It felt like a small tugging in Redcloak’s stomach, the scent of thyme and rosewood, magic, heavy in the air. He wasn’t worried. It was only a sign that the elf was angry and determined—harmless.
“I refuse, Redcloak. Hurt me if you wish.”
Redcloak’s eye flashed and he slapped the elf hard, claws ripping through the fragile skin. Vaarsuvius stifled a cry, turning its face back and glowering at Redcloak.
“Their names. Give them to me.”
“And allow you to use them to track down any possible family members of theirs?! I’d sooner die!”
“Then you will!” Redcloak grabbed Vaarsuvius and tightened his grip on the elf’s arms, tearing through flesh and making blood flow. “Inflict critical wounds.”
Vaarsuvius promptly started to scream, trying and failing to stifle it. Bones cracked inside of the tiny body. Giant wounds ripped open all over it, blood blossoming and flowing without warning. The arm that Redcloak had healed on the first night twisted and snapped in two, eliciting a shout, and the bed was stained red.
“Give me their names!”
At this point, Vaarsuvius seemed to decide that it was impossible to stop the screams and just focused on keeping the tears of pain in check. The elf gasped, trying to get air into lungs threatened by ribs snapping like toothpicks, and coughed, eliciting another shout of pain. It grit its teeth furiously, forcing its eyes open, and through the blood and sweat and pain, it glowered rebelliously.
Vaarsuvius was beautiful.
“I shall die before I betray them,” Vaarsuvius hissed, venom dripping from its voice.
Redcloak reached out, eye cold, and gripped the broken arm, eliciting a stifled cry of pain. “I’ll give you one last chance. I want their names and any other information you can provide that would help fighting them.”
Vaarsuvius’s glare didn’t waver. “Do what you want.”
Redcloak’s grip tightened on the break. Vaarsuvius’s teeth clenched and its eyes flared with pain, but the defiance and pride didn’t leave.
All at once, Redcloak closed his eye and looked up at the ceiling. “I’ve been too soft. Cure critical wounds.”
Vaarsuvius stifled a soft groan of pain as the spell went quickly to work in fixing everything the last spell had broken, healing over the gashes, regenerating blood, and mending the snapped bones within. Redcloak let the elf’s arm go, absently running a claw through its royal purple hair. “I’ve gotten soft.”
“Please stop confusing me.”
“I’m confusing myself.”
Vaarsuvius winced and there was a soft clicking sound in its torso. “You can’t toy with me and my emotions like this.”
“It was never my intention.”
“Your intentions are meaningless! Your actions—”
“You’re one to talk.” Redcloak rolled his eye. “Just shut up for once.”
Vaarsuvius stiffened and fell into a flustered silence.
Redcloak looked out the window, noting how dark it was. “It’s late.” He lightly ran a claw down the healing elf’s face. “Trance.”
“I don’t know what to think anymore. I am tired of trying to make sense of it.”
“You’ll feel better in the morning if you trance.”
Vaarsuvius looked up at Redcloak with a weird mixture of wariness and fatigue and pride in big violet eyes, straightening out torn and bloody robes. “Are you going to leave tonight?”
“No. You have my word.”
“Are you going to hurt me again?”
“Not this time.”
Vaarsuvius was quiet for a moment. “If nothing, you have been honest with me.” The elf slowly backed into the corner, closing its eyes and slipping into a trance. Finally, thoroughly exhausted, Redcloak fell asleep as well.