The reaction had not been one she expected. The first part had seen it act as though she had insulted it, as though it actually was bothered by the meaning. Having grown used to dealing with the soft-skins, and the few manglers of her tongue, the insult was barely noticeable to her any more. Those who called her it certainly did not recognize it any more than they could tell the difference between a jungle and a swamp dweller.
Then the second part had seen a return to the higher, lighter pitch, the laughter fading from her mind as the creature made a snorting chuff sound aloud. Its mood had swung from horror to disgust, to absolute rage then kowtowing, then back to insane joy. It was hard not to recognize the emotions as its tones perfectly reflected them, likely due to the same effect that allowed it to know her name was an insult, though one that suited her well.
She was forced to send Cai’n out of the room, the ghaenelt repeatedly flapping his paper thin wings and moving to stand between them, clicking the whole while. Was this its plan? Fake madness until she had removed the plague bearer, then strike her down?
NO! Mother, dear mother, this pathetic one would never-
The voice startled her out of her thoughts, and she did her best to hide them away as the crossbreed pledged its eternal love and service to her. There was no easy way to test something that could skim the surface of her mind, no way to know what information it had picked off of her while she tried to fix its self-inflicted damage. No way at all, until she paid attention to the tone in her head that went from insulted that it might ever hurt her to amused by it, to trying to tell a joke involving the horrors of the sickness. Ah, that.
She knew how weak it had been during the sickness, could hear it tell her that only she had kept it going throughout it. Well, of course she had, for the sickness paired with the wounds would have killed it, but she did not allow these to rise to the surface. Instead, she did two things. For the first, she admitted that Cai’n had infected the beast at her request, and that she could have had it cured at any time with the aid of the equillion, the shape of the creature in her mind a twin of the one that fled the room earlier.
The creature was still silent as she told it the second part, a part she was tempted to keep if only to not have to deal with its blathering. A choice. She would untie it, sell it to whoever was interested in it and it could live with them under the open sky, free to do whatever it wished, though it would never see her again. A warning, not thought directly but implied about possible retribution if it tried to take vengeance.
Or it could stay in the cage to serve her, to remain chained eternally and made sick to amuse her, and in that way it could serve her and remain.
It was a painfully obvious choice, one that she knew it would choose. She told it that she had no use beyond it being a joke, a fool to entertain her, the last part thrown in as its reaction had been so strong earlier. That it could be free by the end of the day, paired with some weak soft-skin that would let it do whatever it liked, perhaps even aiding it against her should it seek vengeance anyways. She thought of the sky, the outside and the life it could live, and left it to stew in its own memories for what the plague had been like. It would never even need to see her, or the cage, or feel the effects of the sickness again.
A simple offer, one that she expected to receive the obvious answer in a few beats of the heart. It was recovered now, and she had read the paper, knew what to expect of the creature. That it had waited to let her finish instead of trying to kill her, something that the bars would hopefully change from fatal to merely maiming, was strange.
Stranger still was its answer, still full of the same ridiculous whimsy it seemed to have a never ending supply of. Mother, I- A break there, as if the creature could not finish the thought, then it plowed on. Mother, if it makes you laugh, if it brings my dear mother joy, it dropped to the floor of the cage as it had been while sick, letting its head rest on the ground. Then make me sick, ill, dying, dead even! To leave YOU, to leave my dear Mother without joy, would be far worse.
It lay there, waiting. She called in the ghaenelt, waving him closer to the cage, making it clear that he would be free to infect the creature once more. It did not bother more than a quick look into its mind, the slightest contact informing it of how glad it would be to see it with eyes of maggots and spiders on its bones.
From its mother, its sweet, dear mother, it failed to feel much joy at all. It was saddened by this, hoping to have at least felt her laughter before the foul breath of the creature dragged it back into the near-death state it had been trapped in. Perhaps she would laugh later, breaking down into hysterics as it tried and failed to stand. Surely that would be worth a small chuckle.
And then the plague was on it, sapping its strength as it inhaled the poisons deeply. It had to get good and sick to please her, and it would not fail to do so.
She watched the crossbreed in disbelief. For the past few hours she had briefly stopped by to repeat a revised version of the offer, this one including a healing from Styx as the equillion tried to hide in the hallway. Sometimes she had turned the lights on to their maximum setting, listening to its pitiful cries, other times she turned them off completely before entering to make the offer. Each time, the crossbreed refused.
No matter how dazed, how it writhed in agony without the suppressants she had treated it with earlier, the crossbreed refused to accept the offer for wellness and freedom. Its mockery had instead taken a new turn, one that saw it try to stand, only to fail and land awkwardly with a cry of pain.
Hurt-Is good? Please? Laugh?
In its own way, it was stranger than dealing with the nullified tat-lung. It begged her to laugh, and the one time she had as it wore the rotting remains of the grubble as a hat, it had seemed oddly happy.
Was it more mockery? The notes had not spoken of the crossbreeds capability of it, only that it was proud. But what sort of proud creature, especially one claiming to be nearly kin with dragons, would degrade itself so?
With a snarl, she wrote a note and pinned some credits to it, making sure to open a few of the cages. She nearly dragged Styx back to the room, ignoring the crossbreed’s disjointed nonsense that appeared to be a joke with an ever changing punchline, and cured it.
Then, the equillion vanishing before she could finish turning the lock, she opened the cage. She opened its bindings, ignoring its questions as it feigned more confusion, then stepped back out of the cage. Having made it that far, she sagged downwards, staring at the extremely dangerous creature before her. Perhaps the labs had crafted some manner of safety switch after all. She thought at it as she spoke, telling it to get out, that some soft-skin or ranger would see to it, that its relative freedom was only a few hallways and doors away.
She kept the thought on repeat as she left, not caring what route it took. The other cages were resealed, and every second she expected to hear the boom of something forcing its way through the entrance, or feel the sensation of claws ripping through her back.
She went back to the cage a few hours later thinking to give it one last cleaning.
It was still in there, perking up from its cramped position in the cage. The shackles rested on its limbs, deep grooves cut into the metal where claws had tried, and failed, to open them. It collapsed a second later, letting out a small cough as it did so, but its eyes lacked any similarity to the dull, glazed look they took when it was infected. Its eyes practically sparkled, and she snorted at the obvious lie.
It laughed then, a chuffing for her ears and a feeling that buzzed against the edges of her mind. Moooother the word appearing in her mind as she stared at it, the sheer glee behind it making it almost painful to not-hear. I am sick. Oh, how terrible for poor me. Another laugh.
Though, it paused, tilting its head to the side with a chuff to look at the chains draped over its feet, I will need help with the shackles.
It was broken. The attack it had launched against itself when she had left it alone and sick must have damaged something within it. She had heard of similar things happening before, seen the result of a true incident when a ssashirk that had once been a clever hunter decided it was kin to the scale wasps. The hit had been taken in an ambush gone wrong, the ssashirk left unconscious for hours after a strike from a weapon as thick as her arm. Later, her screams had not been enough to placate the insects, nor was the pain they delivered enough for her to stop insisting that she was their queen.
And now she had a creature that, despite being infused with useless pride, despite fully knowing that she was the one responsible for the state it had found itself in after its delivery, despite being given the chance to go free that was not entirely a trap, wanted to stay.
There would be no fixing mind problems, no more than she could mend a lost limb. Nor did she particularly want to deal with the beast that the description matched. Instead, she walked up to the creature as it continued to feign illness, though the laughter and its glittering eyes easily proved that to be a lie. She looked it over for some binding she had missed, making a circuit around the cage but never entering it. She paused at the open mouth of the cage, staring at the apparently undamaged crossbreed, and asking a question that made it lift up its head.
I can’t leave. What would you do for joy if I weren’t here? It seemed genuinely puzzled, a feeling that Haix matched. As she could not imagine someone-something willingly staying to suffer, it could not think of abandoning her. Leave her to the tattered one, who felt nothing but hate for all and was so dreadfully serious? He would not know a joke if it stabbed him in the tail.
Though it had few things to compare itself with, it knew if was also far handsomer than any of the things mother had allowed to linger near her. That prey thing that ran around on legs that it could snap like a bone, the tattered thing with its dull, grey color that it could simply step on. Oh, it had been tempted to leave the cage, but not to leave. It would never leave the mother, no, but it might have accidentally gutted the tattered one and wore its head on top of its own. A dreadful thing, nowhere near as majestic as itself, but it remembered the way she laughed with the corpse of the gift. And, of course, that would have meant that she would have lost the favored, and who better to take that place?
Itself, of course. The clever and witty, the one who knew of humor and would not randomly flee and leave her.
But no, it had not dared. What if she had come back while it was out, desperately in need of some good cheer? Without it sprawled about on the floor of the cage, would she think it had abandoned her, leaving her to suffer with the boring other two? No, it could not allow that. So it had done its best to re-chain itself to the ground, claws scratching at the smooth metal loops as it tried to open them, finally giving up and draping them over its limbs. It could pretend for her and perhaps she would find it even funnier if she had nothing to do with its imprisonment.
It would take the favored position from the tattered beast through simply being better until she tired of him, and then it would aid him in providing as much entertainment as possible for its mother. It enjoyed thinking of the many ways it could do that, surprising itself with its own inventiveness.
She knew none of this, for it knew that, in her eyes, it was the unproven while the tattered one was favored. It did not wish to make her unhappy with it.
Instead, there was a short conversation between the two, the longest one yet as it went one for several minutes. For Haix, it was headache inducing. It seemed too happy, bursting with a glee that she would have taken as mocking, then would be sulking a heartbeat later with a drooped head and exaggerated penitence. The anger it had shown earlier returned only once, the pitch dropping as it mentioned the grey tattered beast that she took to be Cai’n, but then it was back to the same light-hearted tone as if it had been only a cloud in front of the sun.
She had thought convincing it to leave the cage might be difficult, as it seemed so dead set in staying within it, but it practically leaped out when she did nothing beyond mentioning she wanted it out for a better look. Well, at least it did not seem like getting it to the training yard would be too difficult. ((Crossbreed-14.0 Haix-211.3))