“That cheeky little bastard lied to me.”
“I told you, didn’t I?”
“Shut up, Necromancer chick. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“What are you planning?”
“Something fun. I’ve been bored.”
“He likes her.”
“Not allowed to touch her.”
“Wants it more.”
“Do it anyway.”
“Tiasal, please wake up… you need to escape…”
Tiasal jerked awake, a headache throbbing against her temple. The walls were made of hard stone, sucking out all the heat around it, as was the floor. The only light came from the giant window she was leaning against. Moonbeams fell on the ground, lighting up the faces of several people discreetly staring at her.
Her arm hurt.
The girl shook her head and lightly slapped herself to make sure she was awake, trying to get reoriented.
A human—she looked like she was ten—slowly walked up and stared down at her, gray eyes calculating. Her belly was swollen and round and her chest had two little bulges barely contained by her new-looking white shirt. Her blond hair was tied in two braids, both resting on her shoulders, and her white skirt swished against her pale ankles, giving her a weirdly fey appearance in the light.
“You are new here.”
Tiasal stared up at the girl blankly, cocking her head curiously. She nodded tentatively, immediately trying to take stock of the situation.
“Okay.” The girl pointed to herself. “My name is Snow.” She then pointed to Tiasal. “I don’t care what you used to be called. You’re now Clash. You’ll respond to that name or you’ll get in trouble.”
Tiasal blinked in confusion, no small amount of indignation gathering in her stomach.
“You see this?” Snow patted her swollen belly. “This means that I’m in charge and you’re going to listen to me. Until you get like this, you’ll listen to all the girls who have.”
She was supposed to listen to the girls because they were fat? What? None of this made sense! It was going too fast!
“You’re not going to touch any of the kids here and they won’t touch you. The only ones who’re allowed to touch any of us are Master, Lord Xykon, and Ms. Tsukiko. No affection, no smiles, no anything.”
Tiasal blinked again, trying to comprehend what was going on. Xykon? Tsukiko? She knew those people!
“No speaking unless spoken to. No resistance if any of the adults tell you to do something. No one wants to hear where you came from or who you were. You don’t want to hear that from anyone else. You’ve started a new life and you can forget everything from before.”
Xykon?! She was captured by Xykon?!
That meant that her parents were near.
Snow turned around at the rows of children—both genders and mostly pure humanoid—and snapped her fingers. “Evening chores. Be back here in an hour. Turtle, Master wants you. Report to him after chores.”
The boy being addressed nodded, frowning tightly, before standing up with the rest of the children. Everyone filed out slowly from the room, two neat lines, one made of boys and one of girls. Snow turned around again, putting her hands on her hips and looking down at Tiasal.
“Clash, you’re going to be cleaning out the torture room. You’ll find the rags you need behind the door there. You’ll notice that you had a magic stone put under your skin—it’ll show you where you need to go.
Tiasal blinked, quickly looking down at her arm where it hurt. There was a bulge where her flesh was stretched over a foreign object. And that object was glowing hard enough to show an arrow pointing towards the door through her skin.
She had a strong urge to rip it out.
“Move or you’ll get punished.” Snow slowly waddled to one of the few beds in the stone room. There were only eight—the rest were just blankets and pillows on the ground.
Tiasal looked down at her arm, tentatively poking the bulge in her skin. There was definitely a stone under there. And it hurt to touch it.
She jerked her hand back when her arm flared with pain.
“Clash! Get moving!”
Tiasal looked up, staring blankly at Snow. “My name isn’t Clash.”
The green girl nodded at the human, soothing the nursed indignation within, and walked out of the room, feet and chest still as bare as when she had been knocked out.
She came out into a weird stone common room. There was a barren rug on the ground, bloodstains rubbed in, with a simple wooden table and an armchair. There was a door across from the one Tiasal had come out of and one adjacent to it.
She shrugged and picked the adjacent one.
There was a stone hallway with torches on the walls. The traditional setting for one of Uncle Elan’s melodramatic stories.
Tiasal prodded the stone under her skin again, wincing in pain and starting off in a random direction down the hall. Where was she? What was going on? The last she remembered, that weird woman had knocked her unconscious.
Had Aarindarius, Uncle Elan, and Abram really…?
No. They hadn’t. The weird woman probably had just knocked them unconscious too. She hoped that they were still safely in the field.
“One of these days, you will learn, Tiasal,” Aarindarius sighed, smiling fondly and reaching up to pluck the stuck girl from the tree. “You should not leave your uncle like that. Elan was worried sick about you.”
Tiasal smiled sheepishly, ears twitching.
Aarindarius lovingly pulled sticks from her hair, careful to not hurt her, and cradled her close. “You are an active young elf, aren’t you?” He brushed his lips lightly against her temple. “Well, you are only young once. Let us take you back to be cleaned up.”
Her family hadn’t died.
She ran her fingers along the walls, trying to find an exit. If she got out, then she could find her family and tell them where Xykon was. Her ears twitched wildly. She had no intention of staying here longer than she had to.
She found a door—finally!—at the end of the hall and she pushed it open gratefully, only to regret it a moment later.
A lich sat on one of two armchairs in front of a fire, staring into it with his skull propped up on a fisted phalange. Robes hung over his frame, wrapped tightly around nothing but bones, and a simple silver necklace with three black gems placed on it gleamed in the flickering light.
Tiasal knew the significance of those gems.
She knew who the lich was.
The lich slowly looked up from the fire, red jewels fixed in his eye sockets glowing softly. “I didn’t think I’d see you so soon.”
Tiasal froze up, swallowing hard and narrowing her eyes warily.
“You’d think that that cleric freak would have more control over his servant kids.” The lich slowly stood up. “But Reddy and his whore always did have an annoying tendency to not do what they were told, so I guess that’s genetic.”
The girl’s eyes remained narrowed and she slowly edged towards the door.
“You’re funny when you’re scared.” The lich’s face didn’t move, but he seemed to be smirking. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead. Go on if you want. The cleric freak is probably going to get all angry if you don’t do whatever he tells those servant kids of his to do.” He made a small dismissive motion and sat back on his armchair, staring at the fire.
…Now Tiasal was curious.
The girl tentatively edged along the wall, her ears so tense that they quivered, her eyes staying narrow and sharp. She couldn’t move her gaze from the black sapphires flashing in the light. They looked so innocent. So irrelevant.
Her parents were in there.
“Didn’t your mother teach you that it was rude to stare?”
The lich looked back up at the girl, mouth frozen in a grin. “Well, I guess not since I killed her and all. Still, you should have learned that by now.”
Tiasal stayed silent.
“If you’re going to stay here, at least sit down so I don’t have to twist to look at you.”
The girl hesitated, unsure, then tentatively crept to the armchair adjacent to the lich, having to climb to sit down properly on the soft but worn red seat.
“You’re quiet. Like, insanely quiet. Reddy talked a lot—I usually tuned him out because it was always about strategy or something equally nerdy—but that whore of his just never shut up.”
Tiasal wasn’t sure how she should react to this. On one hand, she was getting a new and obviously candid perspective on her parents, but on the other hand, she still didn’t know how truthful this was and it was needlessly critical.
Her ears twitched and she leaned forward a little.
“Got your attention?” The lich leaned back, smirking at the fire, the gems in his eyes glowing and the sapphires at his neck flickering. “Personally, I think you should be happy that I’ve swept them up for you. Reddy isn’t exactly father material and his whore would’ve probably dumped you in the nearest trashcan faster than a teen mom on prom night.”
She cocked her head, eyebrow raised skeptically.
“Don’t believe me?” The lich let out a deep chuckle from inside its hollow ribcage. “I didn’t expect you to. You’ve probably been fed the same ‘they were perfect angels’ crap your whole life. What can you do? You haven’t met them. All you have is what everyone else says.”
Tiasal shifted, eyes fixed on the lich’s face, gaze tracing the macabre crevices of the bare bone. The shadows from the fire threw them into sharp relief. Fear closed up the girl’s throat and tightened her chest, but curiosity and desire kept her rooted where she was.
“They were total pricks. Both of them.” The lich leaned back a little further, his bones creaking with the movement. “The purple-haired whore? Snobby and arrogant as hell. She made a deal with fiends. Did anyone tell you that?”
No. No one had.
“Yeah. It was a deal for ultimate power.” Another weird hollow chuckle in the lich’s ribcage. “Didn’t work out so well for her. She thought she could beat me! Heh. I should have killed her, but of course, Reddy started pulling the ‘we need information on the gates!’ card and convinced me to keep her as a prisoner. You know, if I had killed her, she and Reddy would have never started their weird thing together.” The lich’s gem eyes slowly fixed on Tiasal. “And you would have never existed. Probably best for all involved.”
Her ears twitched, trying to hide their drooping.
“But I guess I’m not supposed to say that to half-breed bastards.” The lich looked back at the fire. “You were only born, what, a year and a couple months after those two met? They were enemies. The whore was to thin and power-hungry to deal with it. Reddy was all focused on the Plan for his god and had already picked his Plan over his family. You had two half-wit parents who didn’t love each other or you. The whore would have dumped you on someone’s doorstep and Reddy would have killed you for me just like he did with his brother.”
Tiasal’s ears stilled. She stopped moving.
“Oh, no one told you about that either? I guess they wouldn’t know.” The lich started to chuckle again. “Funny story. You see, Reddy and his brother, Right-Eye, were the ones who got me going on this whole ‘world domination’ shtick, and after a bit, Right-Eye figured that he preferred raising a family over helping Reddy out with this whole ‘equality for goblins’ thing. And he tried to kill me. Reddy loyalty to me was stronger than his love for his brother, so he killed him first.” The lich kept staring with red lights. “He would have done it to you too.”
The girl was silent.
The lich casually undid his necklace, holding it out and letting the firelight gleam against the gems. “Here. Try this on.”
His phalanges were cold against her bare skin as he slowly slipped the chain around her neck. The jewelry was heavy on her chest, almost crushing it, and it felt like it was made of frost, making her start to shiver. She could feel tangible electricity from the stones. It hurt. There was loneliness, fear, regret, anger, and in the middle stone, there was peace and love and helplessness. The feelings were pulling at her, clawing and trying to convince her to give into release. Her head started getting dizzy. Her body started to tremble. Someone was reaching further and further…
She sharply took the jewelry off. The lich cocked his head, obviously surprised, but there was a weird gleam in his eyes hinting at knowledge he wasn’t sharing. “That’s not the reaction I was expecting.”
“It hurts. The stones hurt.”
The lich’s head remained cocked, but he slowly took the necklace back. “They shouldn’t do that to you.” He shrugged, smirking a little as if he knew a secret that she didn’t, and put the necklace back on. The stones flashed in the light. “What’s your name?”
Tiasal looked up at him blankly.
“Don’t make me repeat myself.”
The girl cocked her head, violet eyes fixed on red. “Tiasal.”
“Heh. Elven. I’m surprised Reddy went with that.” The lich chuckled lowly. “You’re going to suffer your whole life if you leave this place. People will hate you, call you a rape-baby and a savage, because of the fact that your mom had pointy ears and your dad was green. And Reddy always hated anything that wasn’t pure goblin. A self-proclaimed speciesist. He convinced himself that he had made exceptions, but he never did. You could see it in the way he withdrew, the way he’d always be at home with goblins and all tense and combative around humanoids and anyone with a drop of humanoid blood in them. He hated me. He hated the Necromancer chick. He hated the elf.” The lich leaned back, his eyes glowing darkly, and somewhere in them, Tiasal could see the truth. “He’ll always hate you.”
The little girl was very quiet.
“Get to wherever you’re supposed to and do what the crazy cleric tells you to. I doubt you’ll want to be punished.”
Tiasal stood up and scurried out of the room, wiping her eyes so no one would know that she was crying.