They threw Nott into the cell in a tangle of rags and limbs.
She squealed, scrabbling to her feet and sprinting for the door, but was kicked back by a heavy boot to her stomach. She wheezed as her breath was knocked out of her. The door slammed closed in her face, leaving Nott to pound her fists into the unyielding stone.
She turned around, overlarge yellow eyes looking around fearfully. The cell was dark and cramped, with only a small window set high in the wall. Slime dripped down the cold wall. It was freezing, causing goosebumps to rise on her skinny arms.
Her cellmate was curled in such a tight ball it took a moment for Nott to see him. He sat in the corner, watching her with piercing blue eyes through his tangled mat of hair. His clothes were filthy and the smell coming from him was disgusting. He looked surprised and afraid at having a goblin chucked into his cell.
Nott decided to ignore him. She knew full well what humans thought of her. She pulled her hood over her head, pressing her ears down flat, and curled into the corner opposite him. The man kept watching her for a while, then must have realised she wasn't here to hurt him. He rested his head on his knees.
They spent the rest of the day huddled in two bundles, separate in their shared misery. Nott was starting to feel the effects of not drinking. She was twitchy and her head pounded. She must have slept a little, but it wasn't long before the churning in her stomach woke her.
She was feeling a bit better when the human fell asleep, so she went through his pockets, holding her breath against the smell. He had nothing. They must have taken everything from him as well. She did steal every button on his jacket, but half of them were already missing.
The guards arrived early in the morning, carrying their one meal of the day. They ignored the human, but enjoying kicking Nott to hear her scream. They spilt her water on her, then tipped it all out when they saw her terrified reaction. When they left she curled up on the hard ground, clutching her bloodied arm to herself and crying quietly.
The human moved for the first time, picking at his food slowly. He glanced at his water, then shoved it towards Nott. Nott glared at him suspiciously.
"What’s in that?"
He ignored her and continued to eat.
"Is that for me?"
When he didn't answer she grabbed for it, hugging it close to her chest, waiting to see if he would attack her for it. He didn't, so she gulped down about half of it and poured the rest on her arm, cleaning off the blood. She wrapped her bandages back around the wound.
She kept the cup, secreting it away inside her clothes. She couldn't think of a use for it right now, but it felt nice just to have something to hold. Something that was hers.
Nott's hangover was over today and she wasn't as good as keeping still. She bounced off the walls, pacing the cell. She scratched the door with her claws impatiently. Nothing made the human do anything.
That night, Nott had finally drifted off to sleep when she was woken up by a solitary, heart-wrenching scream. The human's hands were clutched in a death grip on his filthy rags. His face was a picture of terror.
"Don't make me…" he muttered, eyes screwed shut. "I'm sorry…"
Nott crept over to him, putting one hand gently on his shoulder. He was shaking like a leaf, tear tracks clear on his face. His face was vulnerable and frightened as he sobbed. For a moment, Veth was reminded of a certain baby halfling and before she could think Nott had pulled him into a hug.
He woke in her arms with a start, pushing her away. Fire spurted out of his hands, narrowly missing Nott. She stared at him. His shocked expression must have been mirrored on her face.
"You can do magic?" she said in shock.
"You were trying to help me?" he replied. His voice was accented and rough from disuse.
Nott looked away, rubbing her clawed hands together. "Yeah," she admitted, waiting for his disgust and rejection.
When he grabbed her shirt she flinched, expecting him to hit her. Instead, he pulled her in towards him, burying his head in her shoulder. His sobs racked his entire body as he clung to her. Nott wrapped her hands around his head, stroking his hair and holding him close to her.
"There, there. It's ok," she soothed him mindlessly.
Eventually he cried himself into sleeping, so she drew him down and let him rest his head on her lap. She was so small his head basically covered her entire legs. She smoothed his hair away from his face, studying his features. He was more handsome then she had thought.
A magic user? Nott didn’t have much experience with mages, but she knew they were very powerful. What if he could change- no, she couldn't even allow herself to consider it. She just stuck to running her hand through his hair, watching over the mage as he slept.
At some point she must have fallen asleep, since they were both woken by the guards kicking open the door. They laughed when they saw the two of them nestled together, quickly pulling the human off her.
"So desperate you'd fuck a goblin, Caleb?" one of them asked.
He struggled against the one holding him, showing more signs of life then Nott had ever seen from him, but was far too weak to escape. Another guard grabbed her, dumping water over her again. Nott yowled and struggled as hard as she could, fighting the panic that rose within her.
Luckily they seemed content with that today and left, throwing Caleb roughly to the ground. He looked up at the soaked goblin he was sharing a cell with.
"Last night-" he propped himself unsteadily in his usual corner.
"What about it?" Nott muttered, dragging her hand across her front in a fruitless attempt to clean herself.
"Were you trying to help me?"
"You were having a nightmare."
"But… but you are a goblin."
Nott wondered when those words would stop hurting. She really needed a drink. "That's what I am."
"I think I shot fire at you."
She folded her arms crossly. "Yeah, thanks for that."
"I am sorry," he said formally, reaching forward to extend his hand. "What is your name?"
She took it tentatively, her green claw a strange contrast with his smooth, pale hand. "Nott. Nott the Brave."
"I am Caleb Widogast. Thank you for helping me last night."
His eyes were startlingly blue. Nott found herself a bit lost in them and held onto his hand for a beat too long. He was looking deeply confused by the time she pulled away.
Nott pulled her hood up again. "So you can talk after all."
"Ah, yes." Caleb still looked uncomfortable, sitting back down in his corner.
"You're a mage?"
"I am a wizard," he picked at the hem of his shirt. "But I am not very good at it."
"That's alright. I'm not a very good goblin."
He looked at her and there was something considering in his eyes. "No. You are not."
Caleb still wasn't talkative, but he opened up a bit over the next few days as they sat together in their cell. He had nightmares and panic attacks a lot and Nott took to sitting next to him so that she could comfort him when he cried. She didn't ask him what happened. She knew it had something to do with his fire, which terrified him as much as she hated water.
The guards brought food once a day, and every day they took pleasure in their power over the prisoners, beating them at least a little. Nott tried everything. She begged at first, pathetically promising anything she could give if they would stop. Then she tried fighting them, then she tried running. No matter what she did, every visit ended with her soaked to the bone and snivelling into her ruined clothes, nursing some new injury.
Caleb tried nothing. Every day he just hung limply from their grip, taking whatever abuse they gave him without complaint. Maybe because of that, or because he was human, he wasn't hurt as badly as Nott. Sometimes he asked them to hit him instead of Nott or tried to draw their attention to him, but that rarely worked.
At the end of the day he helped her wrap up her wounds and looked at her without pity or contempt, and that was enough for Nott to love him.
Caleb was a beautiful boy in Nott's eyes, but it took a while for her to see him as anything more then that. It wasn't until one night, when she woke up to find him staring out their window, watching the stars. The dim light illuminated his pensive face. Nott was curled up next to him, her head resting on his leg.
He was gorgeous. For a moment, Nott wanted to reach out to him, to take his hand in hers. But then she saw her outstretched hand and reality came crashing back.
In her mind, Nott still had a soft brown halfling hand with a simple gold ring on it. But that was gone, her ring crushed into the dirt or stolen by the other goblins. Her hand was hideous, green, twisted and clawed. She let it fall silently in the dirt.
Technically she was married anyway. Sure, married. To a husband who would run and scream if he saw her, try to protect her own son from her. Her marriage was probably the one thing that wasn't a problem for her. For their sakes, Nott would never see her family again.
Nott knew that she would never be loved again. Who would love a goblin? She had nothing now, was nothing. That's why she had this name, a reminder of everything she was not.
Caleb must have sensed her stirring, since he glanced down at her, a half-smile creasing his face.
"Hello, Nott." Even his accent was somehow charming.
Nott sat up, pulling her hood down further as if it could truly drown out her face. "I want a drink, Caleb."
She really, really did. Drinking was the only thing that helped to drown out the self-loathing. When she was drunk enough that she could look in a mirror and just see a blur. That's when she was happy.
He looked slightly concerned. "You can drink when we get out of here."
"Well, I'm never getting out of here."
"What do you mean?"
Nott shook her head. Caleb could be completely obtuse sometimes. "They'll kill me! They beat me literally every day. It's only a matter of time."
He grabbed her arm, so hard that Nott winced. "No! I won't let them do that."
"Feel free to stop them if you can," she grinned at him with sharp teeth.
He let her go, staring at his hands. "My magic…"
"You're too scared to use it," Nott huffed.
"Ja, mostly. But not all of it."
He clicked his fingers. Nott squealed in surprise as a small orange cat appeared in Caleb's lap. The animal rubbed his head against Caleb's hand. Caleb laughed, stroking the fur on the cat's back.
"He looks nice," Nott said.
"Would you like to hold him?" Caleb offered the cat to Nott, talking to him absently. "Don't worry, Frumpkin, she's a friend."
Nott took the small thing in her arms. He purred slightly, kneading Nott's skinny leg with his paws. She patted him anxiously, worried about hurting him.
"He likes you," Caleb said.
He had a real smile on his face, a dorky grin. It was rare to see him not dwelling on whatever he faced in his mind. Nott smiled as well, just seeing it.
"He's my familiar," Caleb told her.
"He's cute!" Nott cocked her head, considering. "Can he help us?"
Caleb nodded eagerly. "I can see through his eyes and he can try to steal the keys for us."
Nott put up a hand, vetoing the idea. "No, that's too risky. Just some wire, a bit of copper wire would work. I can pick the lock if we get that."
Caleb agreed, so after that the only thing to do was to wait for the guard's daily visit. Caleb sat back against the wall, stroking Frumpkin.
"Can I ask something?" Nott said.
"You've had Frumpkin the whole time. Why haven't you tried to escape before?"
"I don't deserve to leave. I deserve to die here. But I don't think you do, so I will get out of here for you."
"Oh." Nott wasn't really sure what to say to that. She wasn't good with emotions.
Instead, she just crawled next to Caleb and laid her head on his arm, hoping that it would provide him some comfort. So Caleb would have just let himself rot in this cell without her. She knew he didn't think much of himself, but that was a lot. She glanced up at him. He looked heart-breakingly vulnerable to her, in need of protection.
Nott shook it off. She had more important things to do. Protecting herself, for one.
"When I go into Frumpkin's body, I will become unresponsive," Caleb said.
"I'll tell them you're sleeping." It wasn't the best plan, but Nott couldn't think of anything better.
Right before he cast the spell, Caleb lay down and closed his eyes. After a moment of not moving, Nott hesitantly lifted one of his eyelids. His unmoving eye stared back at her sightlessly. Nott was kind of scared for a moment until Frumpkin came and rubbed his head along her side. His continued existence in this realm was proof Caleb wasn't dead.
Frumpkin hid behind the door as the guards kicked it open. They spotted Caleb almost immediately, and pulled Nott away from him.
"What's wrong with him, then?" One of the guards asked in a guttural tone. "Did'ya finally get round to killin' him, goblin?"
"He's just sleeping, I didn't do anything!" Nott sobbed pathetically, putting on a show as she dangled between two men. "Don't hurt me!"
Nott's job was to cause a distraction, which she did as much as she could. She screamed, kicked the guards holding her, cried and begged them to spare her as dramatically as she could. Luckily, she was able to get them to leave Caleb alone and focus on her.
Once they were gone, Nott swiped the blood off her split lip and crawled over to Caleb's body. Frumpkin was gone from the cell. She could only hope that the cat was finding them a way out.
Nott was halfway through wolfing down her food when she heard a scratching at the door. She scampered over there, knelt on the ground and peered through the small gap between the door and the floor. On the other side, Frumpkin pushed a thin piece of wire towards her. Nott grabbed it.
Caleb sucked in a breath and opened his eyes, abandoning his cat's body. He pushed himself up slowly.
"Can you do it?"
Nott folded the wire in half, testing it. It held, so she stuck it in the lock and shifted it around a little. She pressed her ear to the door, listening for it to click into place.
"Aha!" she muttered as she heard the lock give. "Door's open."
"Ah, it's probably better to not just walk out. I think- I think I can use magic."
Nott glanced back. "Like doing what?"
"Um, I could set the prison on fire. Then the guards will leave and we can escape."
This was also kind of a bad plan, but Nott was so desperate for a drink she didn't really care. "Do it."
Caleb stuck his hand out the door. He took a deep breath, screwing his eyes shut, and shot a fireball down the hall. Then he withdrew his hand.
Both of them started wailing and screaming about fire, hammering on the door. They heard the sound of heavy boots running past and guards shouting. After a while, they only heard silence.
Caleb opened the door. Nott recoiled automatically at the heat which radiated from Caleb's fire.
"Can you get rid of it?" she squealed, coughing.
They stared at each other. Nott shrugged. "Ok. Let's run for it."
The fire had not yet reached their cell, but it was close, so Nott and Caleb sprinted through the prison as though their lives depending on it. This made sense, since they absolutely did.
At first Nott was in the lead, but it quickly became clear that Caleb's height gave him an advantage. He scooped her up and she clung to him like a backpack, claws digging into his shoulders as he fled.
"Do you know the way out of here?" she shrieked in his ear.
"Ja, I think so!" he responded, his accent thickened by stress.
They did find the heavy exterior door to the prison, but when Caleb tried the handle it was locked.
"They must have gone out a back way!" he shouted. "Can you pick it?"
Nott scanned the room. They were on the ground floor, in a large room lined with windows.
She jumped down from Caleb's back, grabbed a chair and flung it at a window as hard as she could. The glass shattered and Nott quickly followed the chair, pulling her hood up to protect her head. Caleb looked reluctant, but he wrapped his arms around his head and jumped out too.
The pair hit the cobblestones hard, Nott rolling over before scrambling to her feet. She sucked in deep breaths of the fresh air. Caleb was still sitting on the ground, staring at the slowly burning prison.
"We did it!" Nott celebrated.
Caleb gingerly got to his feet, shaking broken glass out of his shaggy hair. He didn't take his eyes of the flames.
"Hey, are you alright?" Nott was getting concerned.
He took his eyes off the fire to look down at her, smiling weakly. "Ja, I will be fine." To her surprise, he extended a hand towards her. "Nott, do you want to travel together? It will be safer that way."
Nott hesitated, shocked at the offer. He actually wanted to travel with a goblin? Was this a trick? Her first paranoid, skittish instinct was to refuse, but then she saw the broken expression on his face. She understood that what he really meant was that he didn’t want to be alone.
"It's not going to be easy, travelling with a goblin," she said hesitantly.
"I am not easy either. It doesn't matter to me." He still didn't look at her, but didn't withdraw his hand.
No matter what had happened to her, in her heart Veth was first and foremost a mother, and Caleb very badly needed one. If she could help Caleb, maybe Caleb could help her in return. She took his hand, slipping her green claws in between his fingers. He clutched at her as if he was drowning.
"Safer together," she agreed.