“Uncle, why can’t you touch me?”
Uncle looked up at the little girl straddling a tree branch several feet off the ground, frowning a little with his arms crossed. “I don’t need to touch you to say that you’re going too high on that tree for my liking.”
“That didn’t answer my question.” Nonetheless, Tiasal obliged and slipped to a lower branch.
“Would you believe me if I said that I was a ghost?” Uncle leaned against the tree, staying watchful for any sign that Tiasal would fall.
He tilted his head to the side, a smile flickering over his lips. “Then I am.”
She looked down at him, shimmying up the branch to the trunk of the tree. “I don’t want you to be dead.”
Frankly, Uncle was surprised that she was still talking, but he gladly took it in stride. “Well, it happened a long time ago. I was a little bitter about it at first, but you come to terms with stuff like that. I’m with most of my family now. All I have to worry about is my family still down here, like you and my brother.”
“Why do you worry about me?” Tiasal slipped to another lower branch, her claws dragging in the wood and keeping her steps secure.
“You’re my niece. Family.” He smiled, a playful twinkle in his eye. “It was about time that I got a niece or nephew anyway. I had to wait nearly half a century for it. It’s supposed to be my job to spoil you rotten while my brother scolds me and tries to bring you up right.” There was a pause. “I love you, you know. Just incase I haven’t said that before.”
Tiasal looked down at his face, and slowly, a smile broke, her eyes looking just a little more glassy than usual. “I love you too, Uncle.”
He dipped his head, smiling but embarrassed. “Come on down here before you give me a heart attack. I already died once—I don’t want to do it again.”
She smiled and nodded, sliding down the tree and landing gently on the ground. She didn’t talk again that day. All that she had needed said had been said.
She was happy.
Tiasal stayed on her knees, careful to keep from sitting down on the pain that had come back in full force, and scrubbed the hot tears off of her face. Betrayal cut far too deep. How could Un… Right-Eye do this to her? She thought that she could read people. She thought that he loved her. She thought that he didn’t care that she was a hybrid.
She was wrong.
Was she just as wrong about everyone else? Abram? Terentius? Octavius? Haley? Elan? Aarindarius? All of her guardians?
Of course she was just as wrong.
They all hated her.
The idea of being hated for her species was so abstract a few mere hours ago. Besides a couple of racist comments from Octavius, she never really understood that there was even an issue about it.
Now it was her very blood that turned her father’s family away from her. She could only assume that it was the same for her mother’s family.
The pain in her heart was much sharper and longer-lasting than any physical wound the so-called ‘Master’ could inflict. She would never let this happen to her again. Never.
And she knew the one person who wouldn’t do it to her.
She shakily stood up, leaning on the wall for support and stifling soft pained whimpers, ignoring the sleeping children around her. She could feel the eyes of those few awake following her. She didn’t care. Impulse had grasped her tightly, and she wasn’t going to struggle against it.
Tiasal staggered quietly to the door, pushing it open. The cleric’s beatings must have inspired deep fear in the children. He had left the door unlocked.
There were weird sounds coming from the door across the common room, presumably the cleric’s room. Groans, cries, and whimpers came from it. Besides a curious glance, she paid it no mind. She walked out of the common room into the hallway.
Her eyes started to glow a soft yellow again. She didn’t know why, but she had an inkling.
The glow suddenly made finding her goal easier. It was still difficult to walk—her movement seemed to have irritated the pain—but she didn’t give any indication of it. She walked down the corridor and pushed a door, emanating soft light in her new sight, open.
“Huh? Hey, isn’t it past your bedtime, you little brat?”
The woman that had kidnapped Tiasal and the lich were sitting across from each other in comfortable arm chairs, holding cards in their hands and a pile between them. The woman’s hair was just as lank and black as before, but now that Tiasal had a chance to look closer, she saw that the woman had a tattoo of a skeletal dragon running up the side of her face.
The lich slowly put his cards on the table face-down. “Your eyes are glowing, by the way.”
Tiasal shook her head, blinking, and the glow disappeared. The world became dull again.
“You’re a sorcerer.”
She nodded tentatively, vague about the definition of a sorcerer. Aarindarius had only said that a sorcerer was someone who was born with magic and didn’t need to learn it.
She didn’t know if she was a sorcerer for sure, but she figured that Xykon would know better than she did.
“Huh. Well, at least you’re not a snobby prick like your mom.”
The woman scowled, leaning forward and glaring at the girl. “Hey, bastard child, go back to bed before I decide that I should pay you back for the ‘nearly biting half my arm off’ incident.”
Fear tightened Tiasal’s chest. Common sense told her to at least try to sleep on her feelings before doing something rash like this. She should turn around. Sleep. Wait for someone to save her.
She mentally replayed the scene she had just witnessed in the other planes.
Her resolve hardened in her stomach.
“I’m not interested in talking to you,” Tiasal murmured softly, voice raspy and harsh. The woman jerked a little in surprise and the little green girl looked up at the lich. “I want to talk to Xykon.”
“She speaks!” The lich held his arms up dramatically, ignoring the infuriated Theurge across from him. “I was beginning to wonder if that crazy cleric decided to cut out your tongue or something. Actually, that wouldn’t be so surprising. He’s a little sick in the head, if you know what I mean.” The lich slowly got up from his seat, the black sapphires on his neck twinkling in the firelight. His red eyes bored into her, mouth frozen in a grin, and Tiasal suddenly realized that he had known what she was going to do from the moment he saw her.
The revelation left her a little unnerved, but there was no turning back.
“Necromancer chick, I think you should go to bed.”
The woman looked up, her mouth moving to protest, but she stayed silent, her eyes fixed on the little girl and lich. She saw that they already had a connection that she would never have with the object of her affections. Within two days, a little upstart goblin had become the favorite again. It was Redcloak all over.
The bastard had stolen her lich again.
She clenched her fists and stalked out.
The lich slowly crossed his arms, still staring at the little girl. “You know, your father made a deal with me. He regretted it.”
“He trusted you to stay in his control.” Tiasal tilted her head to the side, keeping eye-contact. “I trust you to be honest.”
The lich smirked, letting out a soft hollow chuckle. “You’re so cute. Playing around with fire when you should still just be playing with toy blocks, just like your dad.” He slowly knelt down in front of her so their eyes were level, one phalange coming up and grabbing a handful of her tangled hair. “So, what do you want?”
Tiasal steadied her erratic heartbeat, keeping her eyes free of fear and ignoring the pain in her scalp. She replayed her so-called ‘family’s words over and over in her head until it became a mantra. No turning back now. “I want to work for you.”
He let out a hollow laugh. “Oh really?” He untangled his hand from her hair. “You’re too low a level for me to use as anymore than cannon fodder. But you’re Reddy’s kid and you’re a sorcerer, so I think I can use you.”
He leaned forward, perpetually grinning mouth just next to her rigid pointy ear. “What do you think that you’d do for me?”
She calmed her heartbeat.
“This can work for us.”
“He’ll always hate you.”
“You want me around to hurt my father. To show him his own flaws and racism. And you want me to be a tool to control him.” Tiasal turned her head slightly to see the lich’s eye sockets, staying calm. “I can do that.”
The black sapphires gleamed teasingly. The lich cocked his head, staring at the girl, then let out a chuckle. “Huh. Can’t put one past you, can I?” He ran a bony finger through her hair, forcing her to stifle shivers. “So you would help me tie your father’s hands and bend him to my will. Why?”
“You told the truth.”
The lich… Xykon… slowly straightened, frozen grin thrown in relief from the fire. “You’re a cold little brat, aren’t you? Turning on your father because I was the only one to say that he hated you?”
“He sired me. He saved me from you the day I was born.” She crossed her arms slowly, steeling herself. There was no turning back. There had been no turning back from the moment her father made the first deal with Xykon. “I don’t owe him anything past that.”
Xykon let his arms hang loosely at his sides, a smirk emanating from his frozen face. “I like you.”
Her eyes remained cool. “The feeling isn’t mutual.”
“I didn’t think it was.” Xykon gestured to the door. “Go and get some sleep. Now that your magic has started acting up, you’ll notice little bursts. I’m sure you can figure it out on your own.” His grin seemed to grow. “I did.”
He went back to his chair. “I’ll teach you a few tricks. The idea of a kid being able to blast people with fireballs and lightning bolts is too funny to pass up. Come here around noon tomorrow. Oh, and if the crazy cleric tries to do anything to your ‘special place,’ I suggest biting him.”
She blinked in confusion.
“You’ll understand at some point. Go to bed.”
Tiasal hesitated, fully realizing the magnitude of the supposedly innocuous conversation she had just had, before she turned around and left.
She didn’t owe anything to Redcloak, Vaarsuvius, or Right-Eye. They owed her for leaving her in the situation she was in.
With that thought, she locked away her fear and shame.