“So how are you enjoying your new quarters, my dear?” asked Amfortas, his tone its usual cloying politeness.
Elaine glanced up from the small stool at which she was seated in what she hoped was an attitude of measured defiance. To her surprise, rather than bringing her back to the Palace of Repentance, she’d been brought to a large tower in a rather grander palace--one that actually seemed to be a palace. But there were still bars on the window, even if the view was significantly nicer. And that was the important thing.
“Stop it,” she said calmly. “I’m not playing your game any more.”
She regarded Amfortas for a moment, hoping to find some trace of annoyance on the man. There wasn’t any. Not that she was surprised. Underneath it all, Amfortas seemed to lack any emotions save a vague desire to see others suffer. As everything he felt was just an illusion, why should he waste time pretending weaknesses he didn’t have? He might talk about his cause and the Light, but if she’d gotten away, he’d have doubtless been just as satisfied in torturing another fly.
“My game?” said Amfortas, smiling at her. “And what is that, may I ask?”
“Breaking me, bit by bit,” said Elaine. “It won’t work anymore. I’ve figured out the trick, Amfortas. You want me thinking you hold all the cards. That I am simply waiting at your mercy. But I know that isn’t true. My family is out there, ‘Your Highness’. They are coming for me, and they will tear you and your little band of sanctimonious lunatics apart. And there is nothing you can do about it.”
Amfortas raised an eyebrow, while fiddling idly with a stray lock. “I could kill you.”
“But you won’t,” said Elaine. “Because that’s your weakness, Amfortas. You just have to have everything your way. You want me to be another pathetic, crawling thing that’s been twisted into worshiping you and your vicious majesty. And that’s not going to happen.” She leaned forward. “The game is over. You lost.”
Amfortas regarded her for a moment. And then he began to laugh. Elaine frowned in disgust. Amfortas’ laugh was just like the rest of him--a very fine imitation of what others did, with a very cold heart. “Ahh, youth,” he said at last. “You really imagine this is all about you.”
Elaine simply stared at him. “I told you I’m done…”
Amfortas gave a dismissive wave. “Yes, yes, I know…” He cocked his head at her for a moment, and then he swiftly darted forward. Suddenly, the Prince-Regent was holding her head in his hands. “You have the most bewitching eyes, do you realize that?”
Elaine gulped. All at once, Amfortas was frightening again. She sputtered and try to think of a reply. As she did so, Amfortas’ thumbs trailed over her cheeks, till they rested under her eyes.
“It’s almost a crime that you should have eyes so pretty,” declared Amfortas pleasantly, his thumbs tickling her eyelids. “I really will have to do something about them, later. But not now. Now, I need you to keep them. So you can see what I am going to show you.” And with that, the Prince stepped back, releasing her from his grip, and gestured to the window behind her.
Elaine turned and looked at the courtyard below. A group of men stood at attention there, clad in dark cloaks, with hoods and helmets that disguised their faces. One bore a staff with a pendant that depicted a large stone tower. “Those are the Stylites,” said Amfortas. “The Holy Knights of the Tower, trained in how to fight Darkness with its own weapons. They have been in waiting in secret outside Joyeuse, for my signal. Tonight I gave it. And they came.”
Elaine stared at the men, who stood ramrod straight without the least sign of tiring. “But why would you do…?”
“Come now, my dear,” said Amfortas, smiling gently. “Surely you see it now? Why were you held in the Palace of Repentance--where we keep common criminals? Why were your guards no more than a smattering of squires from the Eremites and the Sacristans? Why did we trust that the daughter of the Badb could be held without spells and without charms?” Amfortas’ smile broadened. “You were meant to escape, child. Meant to go back and tell the Dark Lords how open--how weak--our defenses were. All to bait the trap.” Elaine was speechless. Amfortas raised a hand, his expression kind. “Don’t imagine you’ve ruined all my plans by not escaping, of course. I did hope that we could keep you in our clutches, after all. To make your mother and her husband--properly motivated.” He stepped forward and patted her affectionately on the cheek. “And of course, you did so, by letting us capture you. Very, very generous of you. You have my thanks.”
“And what if I hadn’t escaped?” Elaine asked quietly.
Amfortas shrugged. “Then I would have killed you, eventually. And your friends. And the world would be short one Nightborn obscenity and several traitors. And my plans would continue.” He shook his head. “I always have more plans child.” He stepped back towards the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must prepare for your family, who, as you have said, are going to be here soon. Adieu.”
Elaine watched him step out of the room, the iron door cracking open ever so slightly behind him, and then slamming shut once he was through. She turned to look out the window again. It dawned on her that she had imagined things were ending. And yet if what even half of what Amfortas said was true--they were only starting.