Noir is such a bastard. And Rakoto's thread - which is darker, so much easier to write than Aurelia's relatively light (for now) thread.
In an effort to actually get the story going somewhere, I skipped back to Rakoto and his new tutor, the sadistic Hunter, Noir. Noir has been charged in training Rakoto (whom he now calls Ombra) and takes great pleasure in hurting him - both emotionally and physically. He is, as you can see, trying to break Rakoto's will.
In this passage, his fellow hunters have captured the one armed sifaka, Eloise, who befriended Rakoto earlier in the story. He gave her a gift - a jewelled collar, which she attempted to trade for medicines - as her and her fellow orphans are sick and hungry, and pretty jewellery is of no use to them (Rakoto didn't think, when he bought them). Unfortunately, the hunters that saw her thought she must have stolen the collar, and dragged her to their Alpha for judgement. Noir, in an attempt to break Rakoto's spirit, has brought the youngster to the sentencing. Upon realising that the two knew each other, Noir was very, very pleased, for here was a new tool in his "breaking Rakoto" arsenal:
Noir smacked him across the back of the head, making his ears ring. “Of course he would. And thus, your little friend,” he spat out the word, and glared at Eloise, “is guilty of receiving stolen goods, or at least goods acquired by foul means. Therefore, she must be punished. Now, I see we cannot take her arm – because she has already lost it. But we could take her other arm.”
“No!” Exclaimed Rakoto. Horror flooded through him. “Can you not punish me instead? I am the one that purchased the collar in the first place.”
“Oh,” Noir purred, “but you had faith in your tutor, and took the saphira in ignorance and innocence. Besides, you are of noble blood, and she is nothing.”
There is no logic to be argued here, Rakoto realised. He is not doing it to punish her, so much as to torture me. Oh, he will hurt her, I do not doubt that, but the more I protest, the more he will understand how it hurts me to see her hurt, and thus the more he shall hurt her to hurt me. The thoughts were painful and complicated, and Rakoto felt sick to the very pit of his stomach. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to just close his eyes and have this nightmare end. But that, of course, could never be. He hung his head and averted his eyes from Eloise.
“So,” said Noir with a devilish grin. “How would you see her punished?”
Rakoto felt like he had swallowed a rock. He knew how Noir worked. A few days ago, the black sifaka had caught a bird and asked the youngster what he should do with it. When Rakoto had replied, “set it free,” he had snapped its neck and declared that “you, Ombra, are a snivelling coward,” slapping him in response to his cries of protest and adding, “now it is as free as it can be.”
He gulped, considering. He had to come up with something dire enough to satisfy Noir's sadistic streak, but not so severe as to result in Eloise's deminse. Of course, there was no predicting how Noir would react, or whether he would pay any heed to Rakoto's words, but he had to try. He glanced around the clearing, seeking inspiration and his eyes alighted on one of the bamboo cages.
“She should be incarcerated,” he said, “overnight, for her main crime is ignorance and trust, and one should not be maimed for that.”
Noir studied him for a long moment, so long that Rakoto felt his knees go weak and wondered if he might faint. What if he doesn't accept that punishment? What if he kills her anyway?
“Very well,” Noir said, after a long, painful moment. “Incarceration shall be her punishment.”
Rakoto almost collapsed with relief.
“However,” added the black sifaka, “she shall be incarcerated for three nights, and the little finger of her remaining hand removed, as a reminder to her that as a lowly urchin, she should never accept gifts – nor the gift of friendship, from those of higher worth.”
Eloise gave a little squeak of alarm at her sentence, and would have tried to run, but for the rope about her neck, holding her in place. She locked her eyes onto Rakoto, and he could feel her gaze boring into him, even though he dared not meet it.
She made no sound as she was dragged across to the cage, her good hand spread out over the bars. Noir took his slender, sharp blade and pressed it against the knuckle and, with a deft slice, severed her finger. She gasped then, swaying and almost fainting with the pain. The two Hunters, who had both looked away as Noir made the incision, heaved her up into the cage, and one of them handed her a wad of cloth.
“To staunch the bleeding,” he said, “press it against the wound. We cannot have you dying on us.”
“Not before your three nights are up, at least,” Noir added, tossing the severed finger in the air and catching it. He shot a grin at Rakoto. “Another for my collection, Ombra. See, it is not only the ones I've killed. I am not entirely heartless."