The vaulted and sun-dappled meeting room echoed with dozens of conversations as the ruling council and the recently-arrived band of heroes deliberated. They argued over the best way to rescue a comrade captured by the dark Azothic Empire during the heroes’ reconnaissance into their constant attempts at assaulting the floating city of Brighthaven.
“We were sent in underinformed and unprepared,” stormed the heroic pyromancer as he pounded the chamber table. “You asked us to observe and report, with the understanding that the enemy wouldn’t expect our arrival. Your lack of transparency has lead to this, not any lack of ability on our part.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” worried the mech pilot, her battle robot recharging outside in the midday sun. “Can we even hope to get him back? From everything we’ve heard—” her gaze flitted to the grizzled and scarred councilor of war, “they’ll just torture him until they get everything they want and then kill him without a second thought.”
The group’s resident mystic responded comfortingly. “He’s a smart kid, and while he may not be as tough as some, he’ll figure out a way to hold on long enough for us to rescue him.”
“Maybe he’ll BS himself into their good graces,” the pyromancer chuckled without mirth before turning to the large holographic map on the table, trying to strategize.
“Another glass of wine?” the would-be torturer asked his prisoner.
“Oh certainly; this is much better than the swill they serve up in Brighthaven.”
“My assistants tell me you’ve been most forthcoming,” the gristled pain-monger stated with a raised eyebrow. “Moreso than we expected.”
“I get it,” the captured hero said with an accepting shrug. “Why would I come in here and start blabbing secrets about your age-old foes? I’m supposed to be all high and mighty and principled and defiant to the last; is that the kind of prisoner you’re used to?”
The older man nodded silently.
“For all their lofty ideals, the sages in their floating tower are kind of dicks,” he continued. “A bit too restrictive for my tastes and while my friends may eat that kind of stuff up, I have more practical concerns than saving empires or toppling dictators.”
“Yeah, like my own survival. You had what looked like a small army out there that managed to capture me. A big, ruthless bunch of goons that were obviously under orders to bring one of us back alive. I figure I’m either walking out of here or I’m not, and I can either make my last hours on the planet comfortable or miserable. I have to admit; I’m no fan of being hurt.”
“You’ve given us the passphrases to allow our forces to use the skybridge, effectively opening the floodgates for our armies to storm the city. That seems out of character for one such as yourself.”
The hero shrugged again, taking a sip of the flavorful wine. “Again, self-preservation. If I lie and you find out, I’m not only going to be killed, I’m going to have a miserable time all the way down. If I tell the truth and you verify it, maybe that buys me some more time; maybe it buys me a free pass. After all you don’t care about me, you care about the ruling council of Brighthaven.”
“You realize that our assault will likely result in thousands of deaths, don’t you?” the torturer pressed, trying to sense any hint of deception.
“But you know what it hopefully won’t result in? My own demise.” He waved off a refill of his glass. “My friends are largely motivated by noble causes and sympathetic stories. I just see a string of people, organizations, and feudal societies using us as a weapon against their enemies. Everyone hates someone, and we end up working for whoever has the best salesman. A little change in marketing and we could have been working for you instead.”
“You don’t have any stock in this war which will determine the fate of millions?” a hooded figure across the table boomed, finally entering the conversation.
“Not really,” the prisoner admitted with a noncommittal hand-wave. “I don’t trust anyone who can be sold on an ideology at the drop of a hat; nobody’s yet made a compelling case why I should actually care what happens here.”
“And I presume you want something in return for all of this strategic information,” the shadowed man continued. “Riches or titles or slaves of your own or the like.”
“Nah,” the hero replied with an air of casualness which surprised his captors. “I figure my death or survival won’t impact your war either way; drop me off in some part of your jungle when you find my information’s good and I’ll be on my way.”
“And what about your friends?”
“I’m sure I’ll find them eventually, long after this little skirmish is over. I’ll give them some harrowing story of how I endured great pain and unthinkable torture but managed to escape, sadly too late to affect the battle. We’ll group back up and continue moving on to wherever the next crisis pops up. I doubt in a year any of them will have more than a passing thought of their time working for Brighthaven. They’re kind of assholes like that.”
“You make an interesting proposition.” The man said, causing the torturer to look over for direction. “Give him a room upstairs. I’m sure we can work something out.”
“My lords and ladies!” the courier breathlessly called out as he burst into the council chamber. “The Azoths have somehow gotten through the sky bridge! They’re pouring into the city’s lower floors as we speak, rampaging their way to the spire!”
“My gods,” the mech pilot cried. “They killed him! They tortured him until he broke and they killed him!”
“We will mourn our friend and companion later,” the pyromancer stated grimly. “Today we go to war.”
This story stems from an old RIFTS campaign I played with buddies in high school; rather than try to withstand terrible torture at the hands of ruthless foes, my character (well-known to the group to be selfish and focused on self-preservation above all things) simply gave up the passphrases and secrets which protected a magical shining city from attack. My fellow players were horrified at how easily I gave up the “good guys,” and it remains a formative moment in my gaming career—as the poet Maya Angelou famously quipped, “when people show you who they are, believe them.”
The retelling of this story was also inspired by hilarious the Key and Peele sketch, “The Tell-Tale Signs that Someone’s a Snitch.” Header image created by Aaron Salter, inspired by the works of Mai Anh Tran and Park Jong Won.