Tiasal started back to the place she had woken up in, her face splashed gently with cold water and carefully freed of any proof of what she had been doing for the past hour. She was starting to get cold with her lack of shirt or shoes. She didn’t have goose bumps—elves were incapable of them and she seemed to take after her mother—but she had a feeling that she would have had them if she could.
She pushed open the door to the weird little common room that led to the room with all the children’s beds.
It wasn’t empty.
Children, mostly humanoid and all prepubescent, stood straight at the walls, every pair of eyes fixed on her. A weird bundle of brown cloth shifted on the only armchair in the room. It took a moment for Tiasal to realize that it was a person.
The bundle uncurled, looking more and more like a man. He had dark circles under his gray eyes and his skin was pasty, gray hair falling past his ears. He was human. A cleric clothed in a simple brown shirt and brown pants held up by a black belt.
“I checked the torture chamber. You did not clean it, Clash.”
Tiasal shrugged, running a hand through her tangled hair, pulling an errant leaf out of it. She had never had any intention of cleaning this place. And she wasn’t going to do anything for someone who called her ‘Clash.’
“And you’re late.”
She crossed her arms and waited patiently for the man to make his point.
“Take off your pants.”
The little girl blinked.
“Take them off.” The man stood up from his armchair, his legs slightly rickety under him, and he slipped off his belt, doubling it over and rapping it against his palm.
She stared at him blankly, not understanding what was happening. She didn’t want to take the last of her clothes off. Something in her told her not to.
The man made a small gesture to the children. A blue-haired elf girl and a broad-shouldered dwarf boy both came forward, grabbing her shoulders tightly.
Tiasal jerked, twisting wildly, but the elf and the dwarf were bigger and stronger than her. Both of them dragged her to the table, forcing her to bend over on it. The elf leaned forward, grabbing an opportunity to speak, lips almost brushing Tiasal’s earlobe.
“You’re a disgrace to your elven heritage, goblin bastard. Enjoy this—it’s all you deserve.”
Tiasal jerked a little, catching only a glimpse of the elf girl’s furious orange eyes. There was nothing but hate in them, bubbling and flowing over like molten rock. It wasn’t hatred for what she had done. It was hatred for what she was.
The green girl’s eyes widened in surprise. For the first time, she had an inkling of why her family had tucked her away from the world.
She was jolted out of this train of thought when the elf girl pulled down her pants and undergarments, leaving her completely bare. She gave a surprised squeal and tried to squirm away, and then something hit her.
It was sudden and pain ripped through her right to her bones. She let out a surprised and agonized howl and the thing came back down, right on the raw skin. It hurt even more to have it right there, before the pain from the last lash had ended. She arched, held down by the other children, and stars exploded in her eyes. Another blow came down, but she clenched her teeth against crying out, tusks and canines breaking into her skin and making her bleed.
Another blow. Another. Another.
Despite her best efforts, a tear squeezed out of her shut eyes.
She lost count of how many were coming. She could feel herself bleeding. Each time she was hit, more stars burst in her sight, whether or not her eyes were open. She refused to make a sound.
The lashes receded. The elf girl and dwarf boy let her go.
Her knees buckled under her, but she grabbed the edge of the table, forcing herself to stay standing, and she glared at all the people she could see. The children stared back, emotionless, and the blue-haired elf girl’s eyes stayed molten, stayed hateful.
“I hope that a lesson was learned here.” The man slide his belt back, clasping it, and gently stroked Tiasal’s shoulders, sending shivers down her spine. “Do as you’re told and you will be happy. If you don’t, then you won’t.”
His lips brushed the base of her neck. Something deeply instinctive made her squirm away, staring at him warily. He just smiled tightly at her. “I am Master.” He looked at the children at the walls. “Bring her clothes. Get her dressed. Then it will be time to go to bed. Turtle, I’d like to see you.”
A human boy stepped out of the crowd and Tiasal was swept away by children. She was suddenly clothed in rough but simple brown shirt and pants. The raw pain stuck to her like burrs, needling her and laughing at the fact that she wanted to cry but, for her pride’s sake, couldn’t.
Something was choking her when the hatefully blank children threw her to the ground and she had to roll on her belly to keep the cold stone from touching the pain. Her temples pounded with fury. She propped herself up on her fists, nails digging deep into her flesh and her muscles in knots. Anger tasted hot on her tongue, filling up her mouth and heating up her face. Confusion mixed in, coupled with despair.
Everyone except for the boy who had gone with the cleric settled in their blankets, only girls with swollen bellies getting the bed. No one paid mind to the green girl on the floor.
She wanted to know what was happening. She wanted to know what was real. She wanted to know the damn truth and she wanted to get out!
Rage and helplessness tightened around her throat and her eyes filmed over with yellow.
There was the sound of heartbroken sobbing. Tiasal sat up, strangely devoid of the pain that had kept her from sitting before, and saw that she was in a wood brown hallway. There was an uncomfortable tingling behind her eyes, a feeling of cold running through her veins, but she didn’t understand why. She tentatively stood up, walking towards the sound of crying.
“Mom, you haven’t been keeping track of this?”
The crying person wailed from behind the wall. “I stopped watching when I saw one of my sons kill the other!”
Tiasal’s ears perked and she slowly crept to the end of the corridor, pushing the door open only a crack and peeking inside.
Goblins. A lot of them. A woman with white hair piled on her head was sitting at a round kitchen table, her face in her hands and her shoulders hitching gently. There was another goblin—perhaps nineteen and with brown hair—sitting across from her, frowning in concern and stroking an ax in his lap agitatedly, obviously wanting to do something, though Tiasal wasn’t sure what. Another older goblin man sat next to the crying goblin woman, one hand on her shoulder. A little goblin girl with earlobe-length brown hair sat in the corner, playing with dolls.
Uncle was pacing the room.
Tiasal knew who these goblins were. She had no idea how she had gotten there, but she knew who they were.
“That was a long time ago, Mom. I’ve moved past it, so you should too. Big brother has been dead and soul bound for fifteen years! You haven’t checked on the plane of the living once in all that time?”
Uncle kept pacing around the room, obviously itching to go out, and the goblin woman with white hair looked up from her hands. “Oh, he will find his way out of that gemstone. Eternity is a long time—it’ll eventually be smashed, and he’s such a clever boy.”
“Wait, you’re not crying about that?” Uncle looked back at the goblin woman, confused. “Then what are you… oh, right.”
“An elf?! An elf?!”
Tiasal’s air caught in her throat. What was wrong with an elf?
“You’re a disgrace to your elven heritage, goblin bastard.”
Uncle threw his hands in the air. “Mom, I know that it wasn’t the best choice, but Vaarsuvius—that’s her name, by the way—has done him good. I mean, sure, it would have been better if she were a goblin, but that’s not the point…”
“Not the point?!” The white-haired goblin woman sat up sharply, eyes fierce. “Your father and half my family were killed by elves! I would sooner die than have one come into the family!”
“Mom, I hate to say this…”
“You know what I mean, young man!”
“Mom, we don’t have time to dwell on species right now!” Uncle held out his hands, keeping the attention of all the other adult goblins in the room. “Don’t you see?! This is perfect! He loves Vaarsuvius, and Tiasal—”
“Tiasal?” The woman with the white hair frowned in confusion. “Who’s Tiasal?”
“…You haven’t gotten up to that part in the TeeVo recording?”
The oldest goblin in the room—the one next to the woman—stiffened slightly, exchanging glances with an equally distressed-looking Uncle.
“Uh, well, you’ve noticed how I’m sometimes allowed to go to the mortal plane as a ghost, right?”
“Why are you nervous?” The woman’s hackles were rising. “Have you been keeping something from your mother?”
“I thought you already knew!” Uncle backed up defensively, obviously submissive before his mother, a flush coming to his cheeks. “I, uh, I didn’t really want to watch anything when big brother and his elf got, um, intimate, but apparently, a protection spell failed and, well, now we have a new member to our family!”
The brown-haired goblin jerked, almost cutting himself with his ax in surprise, making a slight choking sound. The woman stared in shock. The goblin next to the woman patted her shoulder calmingly, apparently the only other who had a vague understanding of what was going on in the land of the living.
The little girl in the corner looked up and smiled. “Cool!” She quickly went back to her dolls.
“Oh come on! Seriously?! I’m the only one who knew this?!”
The white haired goblin woman burst into tears again. “An elf! An elf!”
“That’s disgusting!” The goblin with the ax jumped up, reflexively throwing his ax at the wall, embedding it deep in the wood.
Tiasal remained very, very quiet, her ears still.
“Mom, eldest brother, calm down! Don’t you see? This is great!”
“Great?!” The white-haired goblin’s gaze shot up. “My son has sired an illegitimate half-breed with some elven tramp!”
Tiasal jerked slightly, teeth clenching.
“He is such a talented young man! He could have had any goblin girl he wanted! That nice girl in the hut next to us, or little Ali’s cousin…”
Uncle swept his arms around the room. “Guys, don’t you see? I know that it’s gross and that it would have been better if his child was pure goblin—” Tiasal took in a sharp intake of air, eyes already glowing yellow intensifying, “—but he has a kid and a kinda-sorta wife to live for now!”
He pressed his hands to his chest, smiling. “I was already old and involved with Xykon. We both expected that I would die, but not exactly in the way I did. His daughter and elf aren’t old, and his daughter was dragged into this just by merit of her parentage. She’s innocent.”
The goblin next to the white-haired woman, silent until now, gestured for the agitated ax-wielding brown-haired goblin to sit down. “I’m not sure where you’re trying to get at, kid. He killed you, his baby brother, so he wouldn’t have to face the fact that it was his fault that all those goblins died. Now he has your death hanging over his head to keep from being worth nothing. Do you think that killing his child and partner is so far-fetched? Wouldn’t it cheapen your death if he didn’t kill them?”
“No, it wouldn’t. That’s the point.” Uncle held out his hands, one eye sparkling. “You’re looking at it like he has to choose between me and his current family in regards to death—that if he isn’t willing to kill them, then I’m worth less. It’s not like that. The deaths are compounding. He knows that Xykon isn’t above making him kill family, that Vaarsuvius has already been killed once, that he’s already lost me, and that his daughter is now in trouble. His relationship with Vaarsuvius has been changing him for the better, and he’s got a lot of issues over my death, and he knows that he won’t be able to handle too many more lost loved ones. And a daughter! I’m not going to discount the love of brothers, but the love for your kid is something in an entirely different class! This is what we needed to make him give up on the Plan and on Xykon. This kid can save him.”
Tiasal’s fists clenched.
“Even if something is wrong and he can’t look past the half-elf thing and love her, he’s still going to feel responsible for her welfare and defy Xykon to get her safe. He’s too Lawful to do otherwise.”
Hot tears gathered in her eyes.
“This can work for us.”
The little girl in the corner looked up, blinking, as though she sensed something happening. Her eyes went to the door, her gaze locking with the burning one of the only living girl in the home.
“Mommy? Uncle? Brother? Eldest brother?”
They all glanced down at her.
The little girl frowned in confusion, the scent of licorice and rosemary suddenly thick in the room. “Didn’t you tell me that it was bad to say mean things about people when they were there?”
All of the adults frowned in confusion. “Yeah… why?”
She slowly raised her hand and pointed at the slightly opened door. “Then why are you talking about big brother’s daughter when she’s right there?”
There was a beat, then the adults, Uncle—no, Right-Eye—especially, all paled several shades. Right-Eye glanced at the door, only just realizing that it was ajar, but at an angle where he could not see anything behind it. He tentatively moved forward, opening it wide.
Tiasal saw how the adults recoiled at the sight of her. Beneath their shock and fear, she could see the disgust. And with her new clear eyes, she could see the disgust in Right-Eye’s face too. Because she was half-elf. She was hated by her family, both adopted and blood. Hated for being part goblin. Hated for being part elf. Hated for existing. Hated for inconveniencing her parents. Hated for being the cause of her mother’s death. Hated for being the proof of her parents’ relationship.
Hated for all the things she couldn’t help. All the things that were decided before she was born.
It all became clear. No one loved her. No one loved her at all. The mother of her father spurned her for being part elf. Her father’s eldest brother was openly disgusted by her. Her father’s uncle wanted her to be killed by the man who sired her. The brother her father murdered saw her as nothing more than a tool for her father’s redemption.
Her teacher and instructor saw her as a replacement for her mother. Her mother’s old spouse hated her for being the evidence of an affair that everyone agreed should have never happened. Her brothers hated her for being the reason her mother was dead and wasn’t alive to remarry her old spouse and take care of them. The Order hated her for being conceived when she was and effectively causing Vaarsuvius’s death while being the child of a sworn enemy.
Half the world hated her for being goblin. The other half hated her for being elven.
Her mother hated her for coming when she did. Her father hated her for her species.
Hate. Hate. Hate.
She saw it now. She thought that it was just a guilty handful of thoughts, but no. It was always hate. Hate for existing. She should have never existed and they all hated her for it.
She was always the hated.
But now, she was the one who would do the hating.
Right-Eye was shocked into silence by the sheer venom in the normally silent girl’s voice.
“Don’t. Treat me like a tool if that is how you see me. Don’t make me think different.”
Right-Eye desperately started forward. “Tiasal, no, that’s not how it is! You’re not just a tool! I lo—”
He flinched, shocked, as though the mere use of that name was a slap to the face. She supposed it was. She had called him ‘Uncle’ up until now, and knowing goblin names, she doubted that his real name was Right-Eye.
Tiasal glared at the family, yellow glow growing in her hands. “Never. Never again. Don’t appear to me again, Right-Eye.” The glow streaked from her eyes and fingers, voice deceptively calm and soft. “My family has used me. Xykon is the only one who has been honest.” The glow flared, raspy voice dropping to a whisper. “I won’t be fooled again.”
Then she was gone, her soul returning to her body on the mortal planes.
Everyone stared at the place she had just been in shock, Right-Eye completely frozen and eyes round with too many emotions to identify. Even the girl in the corner put her dolls down and stared. Silence reigned.
“…Did we just send little brother’s daughter running to Xykon?”
No one bothered looking at the brown-haired goblin speaking.
“I… think we did,” the eldest male goblin murmured beside the white-haired woman.
The little girl picked up her doll again. “That could have gone better.” She started to run her fingers through the doll’s hair, unaware of the magnitude of what had happened.
Maybe it was best that way.