A Dark Lord's Penance

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Chapter 7: Magic

Nyx bursts through the doors of the large towered building down the street from the adventurer’s guild. The glare of the early afternoon sun bathes the lobby in an orange radiance through the wide-open doorway, beautifully contrasting the blue opulence of the marble floors. As she starts to march into the interior, Ralph follows her in more aloofly, embarrassed by his master’s showy entrance. Startled at this sudden intrusion, the receptionist, a brunette human woman, squeals in surprise, her monotonous paperwork interrupted.

“C-can I help you?” she asks, trying to regain her composure.

“Yes! I would like to speak to the head mage. Is he in today?” Nyx asks, her head barely reaching over the rather tall desk.

“The head? Well, he is in today, but I doubt he could see you on such short notice,” she states. “Or... do you have an appointment?”

“I do not... Would you please be so kind as to check if he’s available?” Nyx responds.

“Well... alright,” she agrees, reaching into a drawer below, pulling out a small stone. Cupping it in her hands, her expression deepens, reflecting a state of deep thought, before shouting “Send!“. After a few moments, she refocuses on the two who have just barged into the guild.

“Ozen believes he should have time to talk with you in about thirty minutes. Please, have a seat over there,” she informs.

“Very well...” Nyx sighs, visibly disappointed at having to wait.

“Thank you for humoring us, miss,” Ralph says, smiling, trying to save face.

Once they’ve sat down, the two take the chance to analyze their surroundings. The mage’s guild is noticeably quieter than the adventurer’s guild. The architecture is gaudy yet graceful, with blue marble floors and columns and intricately stone-worked walls and ceilings. Some scholars, researchers and mages can be seen having academic debates or carrying large sums of scrolls, books and other documents. Occasionally, one of them peers toward the duo, particularly at Nyx, before walking away in disbelief.

“Why do you want to see this guy so badly?” asks Ralph.

“I am hoping he can illuminate an issue from which I am currently suffering,” Nyx responds.

“An issue? Like why you were teleported to the forest?”

“Essentially...” she affirms, skirting the finer details.

“Excuse me... but Ozen is available to speak with you now,” the secretary starts as the two notice a small, purple rabbit hop over to the lobby from the interior of the building. “Please follow this little guy. He’ll show you the way to Ozen’s chamber.”

“Ha! How whimsical...” Nyx remarks, petting and following the bunny.

“Thank you again, miss...” Ralph repeats.

The rabbit leads the duo through the deceptively labyrinthine building, which seems to have twists and turns that would seem impossible for it to have based on its outside construction. Eventually, though, the rabbit stops at an elaborately decorated door, adorned with a plaque bearing the name “Ozen”. Her objective reached, Nyx raps on the door, officially informing the wizard of their arrival at his doorstep.

“Yes! Come in! Come in!” a voice shouts from behind the door.

As Nyx begins to open the door, she peers into the soul of the presence she feels in the room. It appears to be a male halfling, approximately 3′6" tall and 100 or so years old. His physical attributes, other than his dexterity, are a bit to be desired, but his mental attributes, especially his wisdom and intelligence, are impressive. Nyx feels an even greater magic power than she felt from Ashley, believing this hobbit capable of casting at the 7th-level.

“A pleasure to meet you!” he shouts as they enter, his voice high-pitched, almost difficult to take seriously. “I am Ozen, head of this city’s mage’s guild and co-head of the kingdom’s magic society. How may I assist you two? It seems you were quite insistent on speaking with me.”

“Likewise,” Nyx starts. “I would like to seek your counsel, as I have been afflicted by the effects of a certain spell with which I am acutely unfamiliar. I thought that, as the head of a city’s mage’s guild, you may be qualified to speak on the matter.”

“Master, aren’t you being a bit condescending to a guy you’re asking help from...?” Ralph questions.

“No, no, my boy, it’s quite all right! After all... I am but a pup compared to your companion. Such magic power!” Ozen praises.

“I hold no value in flattery, Ozen. Will you accept my request?” Nyx interjects.

“Certainly! Certainly, deep one! Now, let me see...” he says as he opens a drawer at his desk, pulling out a small pearl. “Please, step close enough for me to touch you.” Obliging him, Nyx steps forward, allowing Ozen to touch her shoulder. Popping the pearl into his mouth, much to Ralph’s surprise, he waves his other hand and mumbles “Identify”, causing a magical aura to surround Nyx. Learning what Nyx had learned days earlier, Ozen’s face of excitement turns into one of surprise and contemplation.

“Fascinating!” he shouts. “I have never heard of such a spell before... and it’s so powerful! It’s almost as if it’s a...”

“10th-level spell?” Nyx says, finishing his thought.

“Precisely! Although their existence is completely possible in theory, they’ve never been able to be reliably crafted or cast in practice... Whoever, or whatever, cast this on you must be incredibly powerful,” Ozen expands. “Furthermore, can it be that you truly hail from a world outside our cosmology?! I would have thought the idea fantastical! But your magic and presence feel so strange, and the spell effect would imply it.”

“You are correct, as much as I hate to admit it,” Nyx replies.

“Another... world?” Ralph asks, confused. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“I didn’t believe it important for you to know, my disciple. I hail from a world similar yet inherently different from this one, summoned here by the effect of a spell that searches for good- aligned creatures of sufficient power. You should be grateful to its caster, for without them I wouldn’t have liberated you from your squalor,” she lectures.

“As crazy as that is... considering who I’m talking to, it makes a sick sort of sense,” he says.

“How amazing!” shouts Ozen. “Deep one, may I be so bold as to ask for a sample of your magic? I would take immense pleasure from its study,” he says, opening an empty spell scroll.

“I do not mind, on the condition that you keep your study of it private and provide me with knowledge of this world’s cosmology,” she deigns, not feeling any ulterior motives in his request.

“Absolutely!” he agrees, giddily watching as Nyx casts a spell into the scroll. “Exquisite... erm... additionally, may I recommend traveling to the city of Bruma in the kingdom of Letum on the northern continent, Aquilo? My teacher, the archmagis Pruino, makes his home there. Although I have improved greatly since my time under his tutelage, he still surpasses me in magical knowledge, but don’t let him know I said that. This is out of my scope! As wise and well-read as I may be, I just don’t have the knowledge required to counsel you on the matter any further...”

“I will take visiting him under consideration. You have my gratitude for your help,” says Nyx, bowing her head slightly.

Leaving the mage’s guild with several books, tomes, and charts, Nyx is content with the visit’s productivity. In addition to having obtained relevant literature for future perusal, she had been given a reliable contact for further investigation. Ralph, following closely behind, seems to be bursting at the seams trying not to ask every question on his mind. Noticing her student’s inquisitiveness, she calls him out on it.

“Is there something you’d like to ask me, Riff-Raph?”

“Well... I’m just wondering how amazing it is for a thing like this to happen. I’ve heard legends and bard songs about different planes for gods and demons and the like, but a completely different world? What was it like? What did you do?” he asks, his eyes sparkling with wonder.

“You’ll have to forgive my own lack of excitement, being stranded in a completely foreign, unknown place, unable to contact anybody I know. It’s quite like this one, really, except with a completely different geography and history. I was a stalwart adventurer of the highest order, traveling around destroying evil wherever and whenever it reared its ugly head. Of course, before that, I was part of that evil. Ha!”

“You, evil, master?” he asks, looking at the cute, petite girl in front of him.

“Despite my appearance, I was once chief warlock to one of the greatest, most profane dark lords in my world’s history. It’s certainly not something I’m proud of, and I must live with the acts of depravity I committed every waking moment of my life. The things I did to you, those bandits and Sylva are mere pittances compared to that which I had unleashed upon my world, thousands of years ago...”

“Well, it’s what you’re doing now that matters, right?”

At this, Nyx – really Nox – takes a long pause, and his thoughts turn to the past, his own world. Nox had been living under Ralph’s assumption for the past 4500 years, during which he tirelessly sought evil to snuff out to the point of insanity. In the beginning, he had made it his personal mission to recover the lands that once comprised his ancient kingdom, Angdor, from the hordes of monsters he had allowed to breed and manifest within its borders as its dark lord as a sort of redemption. Sleeplessly, he haunted the mountainous country, slaughtering every aberration, every monstrosity, every fiend, every evil being that he could find.

Initially, he took great joy and pride in this work, often laughing sadistically as he massacred the products of his downfall. Eventually, though, he began to see the parallels between his slaughter of the innocent and his cleansing of the damned, and after making this comparison, the work became far more difficult for him to complete, more akin to self-flagellation. For every goblin he impaled, he saw himself behead an innocent child. For every demon he exorcised, he remembered a cleric he had burned at the stake. For every death knight he slew, he relived disgracing a proud fighter or paladin in a one-sided duel. He became a nervous wreck.

Hearing of her manxome foe’s attempt at redemption, the warrior who had hindered him so that her fellows may succeed to destroy his master, the then hero Eowyn, went to see it for herself. What she found was a shell of the nightmare she had fought, of the calamity she had nearly sacrificed her life to merely delay. He trembled every time he slew a goblin, nearly threw up when he immolated an orc, apologized to some unknown person after bisecting every fell beast. It instilled a seething rage within her. This was the monster who had overseen the extortion, suffering, torture and slaughter of countless innocent lives, the bastard who had murdered her kinfolk. He had no right to a luxury like guilt, like remorse, like melancholy.

Approaching him, indignant, she tore him apart both verbally and physically while he simply stood and endured it. She rent every part of his body with her magic blade, leaving him useless on the ground in a bloody heap. Not satisfied, she knelt down, leaning her tearful face into his nearly lifeless one, and listed every last atrocity – personal or otherwise – she knew him to have wrought, which took hours with her added exposition. Her throat beginning to bleed from constant shouting and her face drenched with tears, she remained there with him, whose only response to her intervention was a simple, whimpered “I’m sorry”, for a while before departing without another word. Soon, though, she returned and helped him in his personal hell, almost never speaking a word to him. But, as Nox’s thoughts began to continue the story, they were interrupted.

“Um... master, are you alright?” asks Ralph, worried over the lack of response and the deep look of thought in his teacher’s eyes, waving his hand in front of her eyes.

“Perfectly fine, Ralphy,” she recovers, jarred awake by his gesticulations. “I certainly hope you’re right about that... but we don’t have time to think about it now. We’re going to begin whipping you into proper shape. As you are now, you’re not fit to be a student of mine.”

“I’ll do anything to improve! No matter what you want to throw at me, I can take it!” he answers.

“I certainly hope you don’t come to regret such a statement... Let’s see if that guard, Pascal, will let us make use of the training grounds,” she proposes.

“You... wanna use the grounds?” asks Pascal, not expecting to see the two who had rent one of the strongest fighters he has ever seen asunder.

“Yes, if you’ll allow it. My protégé here requires training to become even able-bodied, and I’d rather not have to find a suitable place elsewhere when I know this is here,” she responds.

“I mean... nobody’s supposed to be using it today, and Sylva seems to like you well enough... Ah, hell wit’ it. Go ahead. Just don’t break anything, or my cap’n’ll have my head. Both of them!” he says, waving them through the door.

“Thanks, Pascal! We owe you one!” says Ralph, happy to get his instruction started.

Situating themselves in the training grounds, Nyx makes use of assorted logs and dummies to create setups for sword drills before approaching her student with a borrowed rapier.

“Before anything else, the basics and fundamentals are crucial for anyone hoping to claim the title of swordsman. It’s important to understand the type of sword, or other weapon, you have strong affinities towards. In your case, Ralphmeister, I think that the rapier may suit you well, but you’re free to choose another type of weapon, if you so desire. As a warlock of the Hexblade Order, you’ll eventually be able to conjure nearly any kind of weapon, if you live long enough, so don’t feel limited. Tell me, in which do you seek instruction?” Nyx inquires.

“I’ve been thinking...” he begins. “After seeing you use that halberd in the exam with Grond, how you completely controlled his movement and used every part of it to your advantage... I was wondering if you could teach me how to use one. I know I might be better suited for lighter weapons, but I also think that a reach weapon could suit me well, too, since I can’t take many hits.”

“Ha! Very well, if that is what you desire, I will instruct you in the halberd. However, I will also instruct you in a type of sword, as a reach weapon becomes cumbersome in closed-in spaces, which you may find yourself in on goblin hunts. Since wielding a halberd as your primary weapon will make using a shield impractical, I recommend a longsword, as you’ll be able to launch more powerful strikes than with a rapier. It will also give you practice fighting without a shield. Be warned, however, that you will be unable to designate a halberd as your pact weapon at your current skill level, so I highly recommend only using a longsword outside of practice for the time being.”

“In that case, I’ll accept your recommendations, master.”

Exchanging the rapier for a longsword, Nyx begins Ralph’s instruction in the way of the sword, as she herself had done thousands of years ago. Teaching him the five basic stances for a longsword, named “Ox”, “Plow”, “Fool”, “Roof” and “Ward”, she demonstrates each for him, teasing him as he struggles to properly set himself and summoning a spectral hand to poke him into proper position, eliciting winces from Ralph whenever the hand strikes him in a ticklish or sensitive spot.

Once his stances are deemed satisfactory, Nyx moves him to the logs and dummies she had set up earlier, making him practice striking from these positions to varied success. Ralph, despite having little prior experience, is incredibly eager and receptive, so, despite his initial shortcomings, he makes quick progress in his drills. Satisfied with his progress, Nyx grabs another longsword from a large weapons rack and haughtily approaches her student.

“You’re doing well so far, Ray-Ray, but let’s see how you fare with a live combatant,” she says as she enters the “Fool” stance, a deceptive posture that allows fluid movement for counterstrikes. “Attempt to strike me. Do not hold back.”

“Alright!” he shouts, entering the “Plow” stance, a stance that allows for both offense and defense, the handle at one’s midsection, the blade pointed at one’s enemy. After a few seconds, he shifts himself, executing a quick upward thrust aimed at his master’s chest, which she parries with a quick counter. Instinctively, Ralph transitions into a quick slice at her throat, momentarily entering the “Ox” position, a mainly offensive position with the handle at one’s head, the blade pointed at the enemy’s head or throat, before the strike. This she catches with her own blade, locking swords with him.

“You’ll have to try harder than that, Ralphykins,” she provokes, beginning to pressure him with her deceptively immense strength. Reacting to her words, he quickly breaks from the sword lock, nimbly rolling backwards to disengage from her. Swiftly erecting himself, he intuitively enters the “Ward” stance, an offensive stance meant for upward strikes, the handle at one’s hips, the blade pointed diagonally down, and attempts an upward slice at her midsection.

Unimpressed, she shifts her sword to block the attack, surprised when Ralph uses the upward momentum and leverage from her sword to raise his sword higher and bring himself into the “Roof” stance, an inverted and raised “Ox” stance meant for downward strikes. Bringing down his sword in a fell chop, Nyx exerts a bit more energy than was previously necessary to expertly parry the blow, disarming Ralph in the process. Not expecting his clever trick to be foiled so easily, he attempts to roll away again to pick up his sword, but his teacher doesn’t allow it, tripping him up before he can perform the maneuver and pointing her blade at his throat once he’s prone on the ground.

“Not bad for your first spar, Ralphy boy. Not bad at all,” she praises, lowering her weapon and reaching out her hand to pick him up from the ground. “But you’ll need more than a parlor trick to deceive me.”

“Haha... I thought I might’ve had you there...” he laments, accepting her reach. Once back on his feet, Nyx goes over to the weapon’s rack, picks up a halberd and brings it to her student. Much like with the longsword, she shows him how to properly wield it, how to maintain a proper balance with its unorthodox center of gravity. Demonstrating how to stab, slice and bludgeon with the weapon’s axe, spear, spiked hammer, and butt-end, she is pleased to see Ralph successfully mirror her movements, even though they’re far less refined. Soon after, she once again trounces him in a sparring match.

After a long, grueling nine hours of training, Pascal enters the grounds to inform them that he needs to lock up the place for the night. Heeding this, they depart from the grounds, Ralph addled by strain on both his body and mind. Soon, they make their way back to the shop, entering with the key that Sylva had gifted them this morning.

Opening the door to the apartment, the duo finds Sylva asleep on the couch, cutely hugging one of its end pillows. The aroma of a homemade meal, a humble but welcome beef stew, pervades the apartment, and the stomachs of both master and student grumble in response. They realize that, despite her continued exhaustion, she must have labored to make it for them when they returned and fallen asleep due to their extended bout of training in the grounds, bringing a visible smile to Ralph’s face and an internal one to Nyx’s face as they make their way to the kitchen table to enjoy their food. Once finished, Ralph picks up the tuckered elf, placing her on her bed and tucking her into it. Much like the night before, he notices that his master has already taken up residence on the couch upon his return, causing him to chuckle to himself as he watches the insanely powerful warlock stretch out and imbibe in its plushness.

“I’m going to retire for the night, Ralfo. As much as I’d love to repartee with you, I’m afraid that my abundance of vapid conversations today has left me quite drained, and I’d like to get another early start tomorrow morning. Tell me, where must you go for your quest?” Nyx asks.

“In the forest, actually pretty close to the old hideout. We had had occasional run-ins with goblins, but we never tried to really do anything about them, since more often than not they’d just do some of our work for us when they tried to rob people on the paths.”

“Then that is where we shall go, after I make a quick detour to the merchant’s guild. I want to measure how unscrupulous it truly is. But, if you’ll excuse me, I have urgent business to attend to,” she says as she nestles herself into the same end pillow as Sylva had.

“Good night, master,” Ralph says, making himself comfortable in the larger living room chair, eventually drifting off to sleep.

Ralph sits upon his throne, annoyedly tapping its arm as he waits for the audience he has been informed to expect by the undead attendant at his side. The perimeter guard of his castle has intercepted a group of infiltrators. How long they were present before being captured is currently unknown. Soon, a large, well-equipped male orc enters the reception hall and kneels before Ralph upon reaching the steps that ascend to the throne.

“My lord...” the orc begins in a language that Ralph has never heard yet somehow understands perfectly. “We have captured this group of five swine who were snooping about the perimeter. We suspect they are spies sent to gather information on the defenses and forces of your castle,” he says, pointing back to the chamber doors as a platoon of orcs herds in five prisoners, bloodied and chained to each other.

As they approach, they’re kicked to the ground and forced to their bellies in a horizontal line behind the speaking orc. Once they are close enough, Ralph can intimately feel their presence, their very life essence. The sensation is completely foreign to him, and he finds it extremely uncomfortable, especially as information on them and their feelings rushes into his mind.

Farthest to the left are two elves, one male and one female. The male is about six feet tall, perhaps around 250 years of age. He is physically and mentally strong, with his dexterity being very impressive, and the way he’s equipped suggests he’s an elven ranger. Ralph can feel hatred for both his captors and himself as well as an intense worry for the she-elf to his left. The she-elf is around the same age and a couple inches shorter, and she has similar strengths to her male counterpart, likely a ranger as well. She’s afraid, not for her own life but for the lives of her comrades.

The next in line is a grizzled human man, around 6′4" and 45 years old. He’s physically impeccable but mentally weak, save his charisma, which is slightly above average. His only desire seems to be the slaughter of every enemy in the room, despite his current situation. Next is a female halfling, approximately 3′6" and 60 years old. She absolutely reeks of powerful divine magic, specifically the magic of Lux, the sun god, who Ralph somehow knows, despite never once hearing of him. Her feelings seem to be turning to devotion to her god. Perhaps she’s praying for her and her companions’ salvation after their inevitable deaths. The last prisoner is a large dragonborn male, around 6′7" and 35 years old. The distinct aura of sorcerous arcane magic pervades him, and he seems to have resigned himself to his fate, a sort of defeated satisfaction rooting within him.

“We do not know how successful they were, if they were able to relay any information. I humbly seek your guidance as to how they should be... processed, my lord,” the orc continues. In response, Ralph begins to involuntarily speak.

"Snake... why is it that you seem so satisfied with yourself? May I take this as a sign of success in your mission, whatever that might have been? Tell me... and your punishment shall be lessened,” he commands in a haunting, chilling, echoing voice. Ralph notes that it’s somehow familiar, but he can’t quite place why.

“I have nothing to say to you, wretched one...” the dragonborn responds with a calm grin. Honesty fills his words, as does resolve in his spirit. Following his comment, a boot swiftly stomps on his prostrated head.

“You worm! To address the lord with such impertinence!” shouts the orc captain as he tramps on the sorcerer’s head. “Shall we torture them, my liege? Perhaps pain will dull their worthless resistance...”

“Ha! Be my guest, Pigug, but don’t kill them. If you are unable to break them yourself, inform me. I will personally continue their torment thereafter. Know this, insects: If I must visit you, you will wish you had never crawled from your mothers’ blackened wombs.”

“Nothing will make us squeal, wraith!” shouts the human man. “We will all gladly die before we benefit you in any way!”

“We shall see...” Ralph chuckles, noticing twinges of doubt in the male elf’s soul. “Do what you will with them, Pigug. Again, do not kill them, or you will be the one who I punish.”

“Of course, my lord. I will not “kill” them,” he says as he sadistically licks his lips and orders them to be taken to the castle dungeon.

As the prisoners are escorted out of the throne room, Ralph suddenly finds himself in an atrium, standing before a crystal ball in its center. Within the ball he sees a roiling, malevolent fog, and he can hear a muffled voice emanate from it. He can’t quite make out the words, though.

“It will be done,” his mouth utters to the ball before the fog departs from the orb. Almost immediately after, he hears a knock on a door behind him. “Enter,” he commands, the door creaking open after the order.

“Pardon the intrusion, my lord,” Pigug begins as he enters the room. “As you requested, I have come to inform you of the progress of our prisoners’ interrogations. We have exposed them to the most painful non-lethal methods available to us, yet they remain... stubborn. They have revealed nothing of importance to me.”

“How disappointing... do any of them show signs of breaking?” Ralph asks, expecting the male elf to be a part of his captain’s response.

“The elf, the male, he worries greatly for his female, more so than his other partners. We tried to egg him into talking by forcing him to watch us ravage and mutilate her, but his lips remain sealed. You can tell he is in great mental pain.”

“Excellent... I absolve you from this task henceforth, captain. I will continue their torture myself,” Ralph sneers as he approaches the door.

Making his way downstairs, Ralph notices innumerable orcs, goblins, trolls, undead, fell beasts, etc., creatures he’s somehow intimately knowledgeable of yet has only heard stories of, populating the castle. As he makes his way into the castle dungeon, he can hear terrible, pained screams emanating from its many rooms. He desperately wants to cover his ears, but his body refuses to allow him the luxury. Continuing down the hall until he comes to five doors that contain familiar presences, he first enters the room of the dragonborn who defied him, finding him sans one arm, riddled with scars all along his now naked body and unceremoniously tied to a barbed pole.

“I trust that your lodgings are adequate, my guest?” Ralph mocks.

“Save your sarcasm, dark one. Why do you curse me with your presence?” the lizard asks, wheezing intermittently.

“It is the duty of the host to entertain his guests to their satisfaction, dear lizard, but I’m afraid you have begun to overstay your welcome. Before I send you away, though, you will tell me what your mission was,” Ralph demands, placing his right hand upon the dragonborn’s head, a ring on his middle finger glowing.

Ralph begins to feel more detailed emotions and thoughts from the man, mostly consisting of debilitating anguish and seething hatred for Ralph. Hidden beyond those, however, is a cool resolve, accompanied by a mild satisfaction. Probing deeper, Ralph finds his guest’s thoughts drifting to a meeting held with both his comrades and military leaders, with its subject being...

"No!" the snake shouts in defiance, breaking Ralph’s concentration. “I will not allow it! You will get nothing from me, at the very least!”

“How admirable...” Ralph condescends. “I will return to you if your compatriots yield as little fruit as you have. But as a parting gift until we meet again...” he says as he casts a spell. Immediately, the look of defiance on the dragonborn’s face turns to that of horror.

“No... it’s impossible... you can’t be alive! Stay back! Torment me no longer!" he shouts, wriggling in his chains in a futile attempt to escape some unseen force.

“Enjoy...” Ralph mocks, leaving the room with a sickening smile on his face as his victim begins to scream in agony.

Ralph, despite hating the sights and sounds he is suffering, experiences a deep feeling of merciless, sadistic joy -- bordering on sexual euphoria -- resonate within himself as he moves on to another of the five rooms. Entering, he finds the halfling cleric, her feet and head chained to the wall, cauterized stumps where her hands once stemmed from her arms. Her face is empty, her eyes glazed over in hopelessness. The sight makes Ralph want to puke.

“How uncouth of my soldiers... robbing you of your ability to properly pray,” derides Ralph. His comment yields no response. The hobbit merely weakly looks up at him.

“You did quite well to keep yourself from betraying your comrades, cleric. Your devotion must be great. Lux is lucky to have a priest of your caliber. Oh, have my servants been feeding you well?” he says, noticing how emaciated she looks. “Would you like some food or drink? Perhaps we can have a friendly chat over some tea.”

After saying this, Ralph feels a dull feeling of anger and sadness within the prisoner, quickly replaced by the void of emotion he felt before within her.

“You wound me deeply... to not even respond to me, who has so graciously come to visit you, my honored guest. Well... if you will not talk, I will simply take what I need from your mind... Why did you five come here?” he says as he places his right hand on her, as he did the previous prisoner.

Her surface thoughts are filled solely with weak prayers to her god, but probing deeper, he finds the conversation hinted at by the dragonborn’s thoughts. They were told to come to the castle, to investigate it thoroughly... Suddenly, her thoughts are filled only with pure anguish. Investigating the cause of this, Ralph finds that the cleric has deeply bitten her own tongue to prevent further probing into her thoughts, and in her soul, he finds a small bit of humor and pride.

“Ha! How noble of you... As a show of respect, I shall end your current suffering,” he says as he conjures a pike in his hand, plunging it through the halfling’s head, causing a sickening splat to echo through the room. After this, he makes a few arcane gestures and watches as a specter, which bears a haunting resemblance to the cleric, appears above the halfling’s corpse. “And welcome you to your new form of suffering,” he snickers. In the next room over, he feels a deep feeling of malice radiate from the human man and hears the clatter of chains.

“It seems your friend may have overheard our conversation... I would like you to comfort him, as lovingly as you can.” After he says this, the specter exits the room, fazing through the wall into the next, followed by pained screams and sobbing from the man.

"I’ll kill you! Mark my words, I’ll tear you apart!” he screams.

Unfazed by the threat, Ralph moves on to another room, where he finds the she-elf, tied to a barbed pole. Her body is riddled with scars and burns, some of her fingers and toes appear to be missing, and dried blood covers her thighs. A look of pure terror covers her face at Ralph’s entrance.

“Stay back... please... what more could you possibly do to me?” she weakly asks, tears forming in her eyes.

“You would be surprised at the depths of my imagination, harlot. If you divulge your secrets to me now, I shall grant you a swift release,” Ralph’s mouth coldly states as he approaches her.

"Never...” she feebly refuses, turning her head away in desperate defiance.

“Then let us see what I may glean without your permission,” he says, probing her mind. Her surface thoughts are filled with horror and hatred, but he finds the conversation he’s only obtained snippets of in her mind. Their orders were to thoroughly investigate the castle, its troop count, its weaknesses, its layout, everything possible, and relay the information back to a command center.

“Were you successful in relaying the information? How much did you see?” he asks, seeing a plethora of information on the castle in her mind. Suddenly, though, her mind is closed to him.

“You will get no more from me, monster...” she defies.

“Not from you, no...” he says, placing his hand on her head and casting a spell. Her body suddenly tenses up before relaxing once more. From a bag beneath his cloak, he produces a clean set of clothes and armor, a jug of water, and a dagger. “Clean and equip yourself,” he commands, freeing her from her chains.

“Of course,” she agrees, doing as she was told. Once she has completed her orders, Ralph issues another command.

“You will go to the room left diagonal of this one, where your male elf friend resides. You will feign an escape attempt, reassuring him that you were able to free yourself when the guards let their guard down. You will ask him if he’s sure that the information was successfully relayed to your superiors. After he answers, with a response you deem to be truthful, you will kill him immediately. Then, report back to me.”

“It will be done,” she responds, exiting the room.

Ralph, turning himself invisible, follows her into the room. He watches as the male elf, also tied to a barbed pole, missing an eye, and obviously mentally fractured, whispers to his fellow elf in surprise, lulled into a false sense of security by the reassurances of his female counterpart. Once freed of his bondage, he embraces her, passionately kissing her, which she reciprocates. After disengaging from each other, she asks him about the success of their mission, to which he responds that he’s sure that the sorcerer was able to send the message, turning his back to her as he opens the door to check for guards. He never expects the dagger that slits his throat only moments later, his face looking at his lover in shock, searching for explanation from her as she stomps his head into the stone floor, not stopping until grey matter covers her boots. When Ralph appears before her, she reports what the elf had told her.

“Excellent work, my pet,” he begins. “As a reward, I will grant you one wish.”

“Please, allow me to kill myself, master,” she asks, tears overflowing.

“You may, after you tell me where you sent the message.”

“The Enno fortress,” she says, slitting her throat immediately after telling him, falling in a heap upon her dead comrade.

“Ha! It would appear I must take a vacation to Enno...” he coldly states, beginning to cackle as he steps over the departed lovers.

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