The prisoner struggled in his bonds but all he got for his trouble was another jolt of electricity. He whimpered and shyed back into the darkness. Cold, wet air closed in around him. The very walls themselves threatened to crush him.
A warm hand found his. He reached out to take it but the shackles pinned him to the chair, wrists and fingers. He struggled to see through the dark, stripped of his magic, his wards, his defences, and his pride. The hand held his cheek. A familiar voice floated to him, slowly, as though the weight of the air acted on it to.
“I am so, so sorry” he sucked in a pained breath, drowned out by the shattering of the bones in his hand, “But this is for your own good”
“Gods, he looks awful” the professor grimaced and took another sip of her coffee, “How long has he been like this?”
Jane pulled back from her reverie. “Since he got here. Dean Fogg thought you might like a look at him. Perhaps succeed where we couldn’t”
“I’m touched you have such faith in my research Jane”
The red headed woman favored her companion with a smile, “your thesis on magic’s connection to the psyche struck a chord”. She returned to watching the prisoner hanging limp in his chair, too starved and tired to struggle. “What are your thoughts?”
“At a glance? Imprisonment isn’t doing him any favors” she studied the outline of the man, all they could see of him shrouded in darkness, “Afflicted, certainly. And powerful in the extreme. Do recall any mention of ambience?”
“Regrettably no. Inform me?”
“It’s a magicians external psyche. A sort of second skin for the mind” with a few deft movements she cast a filter over their viewing window. A dull glow surrounded the prisoner, cracked and torn in innumerable places.
The professor indicated a particular tear, “That there is an old trauma, too big to be sudden and growing. A fear of confinement maybe, perhaps the broken hands. That smaller one just there, I imagine you have something to do with that. His ambience has more damage than whole space. That dark spot in his middle is my main concern. He may be cursed or something worse. Remarkably, he’s mostly mentally intact”
“Professor, is that a note of disapproval I hear?”
“It is. Forgive me Jane, I see that you read my studies but if you had understood them we would have a very different scene in front of us”
She tensed visibly, then relaxed just as suddenly, “I understood just fine. Some cases, however, are beyond help”
The professor replied cooly, “Some may be, but in my time I’ve never seen one. And here I thought you called me in to help you make up your mind. Shall we have a closer look at this monster of yours?”
“Hello Martin. I’m Doctor Virgil Flicker, you can call me Virgil or Flick if you like, most do. I have some questions for you, but there’s one thing to do before we get to those. First, may I have your permission to touch you. Just your hands that is. I’d like to give you something for the pain”
She could feel Jane’s gaze boring holes in the back of her neck even as Martin looked as though he had just seen the strangest beast of his life. “I… yes” then more meekly, “please”
She applied a salve and a spell and within moments he could feel the pain subside. He sighed, marginally more comfortable than he had been before.
“Is that better?”
He nodded. The sleepless shadows beneath his eyes were visible even in the low light, the hollows of his cheeks spoke of the long time that had passed since his last meal. For all the tragedy of his appearance, they remained a glimmer of defiance.
“Can you tell me how long you’ve been here?”. He shook his head. “How about why you’re here?” he shook his head again.
“D’you… d’you work with the watcherwoman?” he managed.
“The watcherwoman? I’m afraid I don’t know who that is”
“It’s her. Behind you. Don’t play me for a fool” he scoffed, “I’d know that hood anywhere”
Virgil quirked an eyebrow and made a note to ask Jane about it later. “So be it. But I do not work for her. May I examine you? I’d like to know the extent of your injuries. Know that you can ask me to stop any time and I will”
“You’re a very strange doctor”
“You’re a very strange patient”
He gave her a humorless laugh, “go on then. Have an inventory” he said listlessly.
Martin sat quietly, save for the occasional grunt or repressed whine, while she examined his wounds. She took a full stock, not just of the physical, but the magical injuries as well. Physically, his hands were the worst of his problems. Painful but with the potential to heal cleanly. His magical injuries, however, were extensive. Now she was near him she could feel the fever heat coming of off him, the shakiness of his magic, and, most notably, the amputation of his shade.
“Oh, that’s fascinating….Martin, I need to check something. I need to place my hand just above your stomach. Is that alright?”
“I’d rather you didn’t. It hurts”
“I see. That’ll be all then. Is there anything you need before I go?” she asked. His face registered no change as he shook his head, but a thrum of dismay came off of him loud and clear.
“I’m disappointed Jane. Torture is below you. I presume you’re this.... watcherwoman?”
She crossed her arms, “He’s dangerous. The watcherwoman is someone who haunted us in Fillory, dead a long time now. He’s delusional”
“If you want me to help you, don’t lie to me” Virgil said, “I may not be able to see specifics but I’d have seen a delusion if he had any and I assure you he doesn’t. In fact, that’s one of the most fascinating things about him. He should be mentally shattered, but he’s quite intact. He’d make a fascinating case study”
Jane sighed, “You want honesty? Fine. He’s hopeless. Fascinating or not, there’s no fixing him. I only need your agreement on that so Dean Fogg will agree to have him put down”
“You won’t be getting it”
Virgil rounded on Jane, “I disagree. I think there’s hope. Small, faint hope perhaps but not hopeless. Help me understand Jane, why is it you hate him so much?”
“I don’t hate him he’s a monster” she seethed.
“Really? Because most people, save for sociopaths, would feel empathy for someone in his current position but you don’t. I know you well enough to know that you’ve got a good heart, definitely not a sociopath at the very least. You broke his hands and starved him when the dampening room should have been easily enough. You wouldn’t do any of this unless you hated him in a personal way”
Jane drummed her fingers on the table, shaking her head. “It’s for his own good. He captured and tortured the man who cared for him, who loved him dearly. He abused the wellspring of magic. He killed one of the gods of Fillory. He’s a danger to himself and to others”
“Why would he do that?”
“If you can get a better answer from him than I did, more power to you. He refused to answer me. I can only assume that he doesn’t have a good reason” she shook her head again. “Believe me, I don’t hate him. I only want to stop him from turning into the Beast”
Virgil sighed, “and that’s admirable, but in my experience abuse is what turns men into beasts in the first place. If you have ever loved him, at least let me try. Something is very magically wrong here and if you don’t at least give him a chance, you’re murdering an innocent man. You’re better than that”
Jane scoffed, “He’s no innocent” but then her expression softened, “you think you can fix him?”
“I can certainly try”