"Um . . ." I couldn't think how to begin. Toarna could see the extent of my uncertainty. The ability to fully communicate with looks and movements almost to the point of telepathy is inherent to the nature of strytes. "How was your childhood?"
That didn't tell me much. My stryte worldbuilding is almost nonexistent.
"What kind of house did you live in?"
"A mountain home, carved out of rock. It was small and bare."
So Toarna hadn't always lived in the lap of luxury. "Did you have any Mer slaves?"
"A few. We mostly worked them in the coal mine." Toarna was very matter-of-fact about this.
"Did you ever feel any remorse for enslaving rational beings?"
Toarna's eyes flashed indignation at the thought. "Why should I? They are one of the lesser races. Their limitation to audible speech clearly displays that."
It was true, unadulterated racism. I should have expected as much from a stryte, after all, I am the one who decided the strytes had a feeling of superiority toward the other races, but I still didn't understand it in the least.
"Was your childhood rough?" I asked.
"All life in Chalton is rough," Toarna replied. "We have nothing but coal and fish. We had been driven out of the frugal lands generations before my time."
"Do you think maybe that was partly the strytes' fault?" I said. "Maybe if you lived in peace with the humans, elves, and kalicans, they wouldn't have gone to war against you."
"Live in peace with such uncivilized barbarians?"
I had a differing opinion as to the true identity of the barbarians, but I kept it to myself.
"They are little higher than animals," Toarna continued. "Why should they be treated as more than such?"
"I'm human," I said.
Her eyes narrowed at me. Time for another subject.
"How did you meet your husband Mudan?"
Toarna's face softened. She wasn't entirely devoid of tender feeling.
"Mudan was a commanding officer in Chalton's army. His regiment was stationed near my home. I was a girl then, and ready for the right man to come along. There he was, near my home, ready and waiting."
"And you married, and he went off to conquer Calhortz and enslave the people, never questioning if it was wrong."
Toarna narrowed her eyes again. "So the author does know some of my story. You gave the impression it was all up to me."
"Villains are hard for me to figure out," I admitted. "I just don't understand you."
"I the villain?" Toarna rose from her seat. "Mudan and I ruled our people well. Calhortz is a happy, prosperous land. We don't worry for food as we did in Chalton. We don't have to work ourselves to the bone to survive. We don't have to rely on trade from irresponsible humans for our sustenance. We are in control of our lives at long last. And you, author, had to send children from your world here to destroy our happiness. They cost Mudan his life."
"Technically, they're not from my world," I corrected. "They're from a fictional version of my world."
"It matters not to me if they are fiction to you," Toarna said. "They are real to me."
As I digested Toarna's speech in my mind, something stuck out to me. "Humans still provide you sustenance," I said. "You just control them now."
"As you would own an animal," Toarna countered.
"The only animal I own is my dog, and she doesn't really earn her keep," I said. "Humans are more than animals. And in your world, so are merfolk, kalicans, and elves. They are rational creatures, and they have souls. It's just the same as enslaving strytes."
"If you insist on granting them rationality, then I will argue this: they deserve this condition after all the suffering they caused my race." Toarna was seated again.
"These people had nothing to do with it," I insisted. "It was many stryte generations ago, and so at least four times that for the humans. Besides, I maintain that the strytes caused their own expulsion from the better lands of Calhortea."
"You don't know the history of those times."
"But I'm the author. I decide what it was. I just haven't had an idea for it yet. You're lucky to have the history and worldbuilding you do."
"I still believe they deserve it."
"Do they deserve to be forced to fight as gladiators?" I asked.
"Yes," Toarna insisted. "And it is enjoyable."
"How can you think so?"
"Does not everyone enjoy a good fight?"
"Not a real one," I said. "And even make-believe ones are hard for me to watch."
"Humans," Toarna snorted.
"I believe every life has value," I responded, "and it shouldn't be thrown away for no reason."
"What value is there to life besides the present?"
"You mean, 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die'?" I asked.
"Is that not true?"
"You don't believe in God, then?"
"Why should I?" was her nonchalant answer.
The root of the problem. Toarna didn't believe there was anything else to life than living for one's present pleasure. But if I got her to truly understand, I would lose my main villain. And she wasn't really real, so it wasn't as if I was condemning a soul by not explaining myself.
"I think I have a decent grasp on who you are," I told Toarna. "You may return to your story." With a wave of my hand, she vanished from sight.