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New Moon Illusions

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Commander Gren’s always put up a sort of mask between himself and the world- people have remarked on how good an actor he is, but they have no idea how far it goes. He adopts whatever expression Amaya has while translating, trying his best to get the message across perfectly because it’s the least he can do for his general- his best friend. Then in danger or combat he acts almost fiercely cheerful, trying to help the others- and himself- get through a hard battle without breaking down. (It’s all he can do, sometimes. Did you know Sunfire blades seal wounds? All that’s left after they’re are long burn scars across dead bodies.)

    It shouldn’t be a surprise he puts it up with Lord Viren, getting more and more cheerful as desperation sets in.

                ---

    Runaan is supposed to be perfect, and he takes it to heart. To be a perfect Moonshadow elf, you have to master the art of illusions. Show no fear. Emotion is weakness. He wants so, so, badly to be perfect, and so he covers himself up in layers and lets the illusion set his features calm, cold, threatening. The Moon is not warm- why should he, a perfect Moonshadow elf, appear so?

    Runaan knows better than most about illusions, and how they can interchange with reality. His face and heart are cold when he threatens to kill Rayla, and attempts to carry it out. Below the layers, he’s wondering if Rayla is too large a price to pay for perfection- but he covers the worrying up in illusions of betrayal, and ignores it.

                ---

    Gren can sense the lies and the elf’s tense fear in every line the Moonshadow elf hisses out to Viren. Like knows like, even if the Moonshadow elf is more dependent on his illusions than Gren will ever be. Which makes sense, he’s a human and morally superior, after all. (Underneath that a small voice whispers maybe that is wrong, and elves and humans aren’t so different. Gren tries to tune it out, but pauses.)

    Against his better judgement, the commander calls out. “Hello?” He waits for a second, then tries again. “Look, I know you don’t know me, that humans and elves can’t get along- but well, if we don’t cooperate with each, we might be stuck here a lot longer than either of us want.”

    (His kindness and friendliness have always been a constant, no matter what mask he is wearing. Amaya says it’ll get him killed one day, but she says it with affection.)

                ---

    Runaan pretends he doesn’t hear the human’s calls, repeating mantras in his head instead. I cannot show fear. I cannot betray Xadia. I am already dead.

    Viren brings out the coins, and he strengthens his front illusions but feels the trapped faces on them pierce him to the core. Dark mages truly are the most evil of beings.

    “What’d he show you? I’ve never heard of coins that weren’t a bribe,” the human asks, still blatantly eavesdropping on Runaan’s conversations with the brutish human darkmage.

    “Nothing,” Runaan throws back, his barriers prickly, then regrets it when the human exalts, “You talk!”

    “No, I don’t.”

    The human half-laughs. “So, why are you in here? I’ve been guessing you’re an elf, but I haven’t actually seen you, so… and if Viren dislikes you you’re probably not as bad as it seems, right?”

    Runaan falls back into silence. So this human didn’t know nearly as much as he thought, then. He’d kill Runaan in a heartbeat if he could, just like all the others.

        --

    Gren’s not sure when it is when he tries to talk to the elf again. (He’s thought of keeping a tally, but that’s kind of cliche, and anyway he can’t really tell the day from night down here.) He knows he’s really tired, though. He hasn’t slept since he’s been down here, on tight alert learned from years of being a soldier (albeit in a diplomatic role). He needs a distraction. And he’s not the type to give up on people- the elf wasn’t a person, though. He was, well, an elf. A monster. (Gren fully knew the elf’s name was Runaan, but chose not to use it. Just another illusion between him and the elf- between him and Runaan.)

    “Are you still there? Are you okay?” He swallows. “I’m, uh, sorry for prying. We don’t have to talk about that if you don’t want to. I’d just really like some company down here.”

    A long pause, in which he gives up hope of the elf ever responding and starts to tap his fingers against the wall like he’s been doing, checking up on his hands. (It hurts, this time, but it’s not like he’s going to cry out.)

    He’s started idly whistling when he hears a response.

    “I’ve never known a human to apologize before.”

            ---

    Runaan doesn’t know what he’s doing, talking to the human. Perhaps he needs a distraction and company as much as the human does. No, Moonshadow elves are supposed to be solitary, so he cuts that thought out of his mind. He’s only humoring the human. He needs him to escape.

    The human’s response now is more muted, more practiced.

    “Well, elves and humans don’t talk much.” His chains jangle, and Runaan can’t help but wonder where he is- he assumes in one of the other cells, but the sound doesn’t work for that. It sounds as if the human is on the other end of the hallway, though that makes no sense.

    “I’m Gren,” the human says. “You?”

    “You’ve been eavesdropping every time the mage talks to me,” Runaan says. “You know my name.”

    Another rattle of the chains. “That may be so, but it’s called being polite.”

    They lapse into another silence, but this time it’s less pronounced and more… awkward. Runaan has not been awkward in at least five years. He doesn’t like it.

    The human apparently doesn’t care, though, because he attempts to cast out into the silence.

    “Elf, do you ever think about how your skeleton is always wet? Even your teeth…”

    Runaan doesn’t feel like dignifying that with a reply. This doesn’t dissuade the human, though.

    “Do they have memes in Xadia?” is his next question.

    “Why are you like this.”

    “We’ve only been talking for like, five minutes.”

    “Exactly!” Runaan says. The human laughs.

            ---

    Gren has known the elf for exactly one day, but they feel more familiar than that, even though he’s avoiding using the elf’s real name- a halfhearted illusion, when they’re in friendly conversation. Perhaps, none of the illusions are true, after all. Not that he’s going to let his guard down anytime soon. But if Runaan’s chained up, he can’t hurt Gren.

    What happens if we get out of here, then?

        ---

    The human’s thinking of something, Runaan can tell. He’s about to ask what it is- no, why do I care about Gren now, I’m barely supposed to care about anyone, much less a human- he’s about to ask what it is when Gren asks his most personal question since his first attempt at communication.

    “What are you going to do if we get out?”

    “None of your business,” Runaan hisses, because he doesn’t know. (Probably go back to Tinker. But with the mess with Rayla, he’s unsure how he’ll be received.)

    The human goes quiet. Runaan is going to ask what’s wrong, but then he remembers he doesn’t like the human and goes silent as well.

        ---

    There is a mirror, and coins, and Runaan lifts his chin and makes a choice. Perfect to the last.

        ---

    It was always if they got out, not when- still, Viren’s words and casual angling of the coin feel like a punch to Gren’s gut.

    “I’ll get you out,” he promises. “Runaan.” There’s no point for illusions anymore, after all.