“An adventurer party is passing through the field? Seriously? There’s nothing here!”
“Nothing except easy passage to some of the more active adventuring areas. And Tiasal…” A frustrated sigh. “Belkar, you know what it’s like. You know what we need to do. You see green skin and you immediately think ‘XP.’ You don’t think about whether or not it’s a kid. You don’t think about whether or not there’s a threat.”
“I don’t see the problem here.”
“Adventurers who don’t seem too sympathetic towards goblins want to shack up in our place tonight. Roy, Durkon, and Elan have already gone to see if they can pick up any sign of Xykon in the last city he was seen in. You, Abram, Aarindarius, and I are the only ones here who don’t look like walking XP. I’m not letting my son get involved with this, so that leaves you, Aarindarius, and me. They’re going to treat Tia like they treat any other goblin, Belkar.”
“Well we can fix that easily. I’ve been needing a new chip bowl.”
“Belkar!” A frustrated growling and teeth-grinding noise. “No killing random adventurers! Besides, they’re mid-level. We can handle them easily, sure, but they’re still a threat. They want to stay here for the night, and they’re apparently working for some king or other. If they disappear mysteriously before meeting up with the entourage waiting for them in the mountains, the king will get suspicious and we’ll be investigated. We can make this easy. You’re going to make sure that Tia stays in bed and no one goes into her room. Aarindarius is going to act as my husband. Abram is going to be a boy we hired to help take care of the place.”
“This seems needlessly complicated.”
“When you’re hiding things, the more lies you tell, the better. Rule of thumb in the rogue’s handbook.” Her voice dropped to an annoyed growl. “And besides: they seem to keep much better control of their hands when my ‘husband’ is in the room.” Her voice went up again. “Can I trust you to take care of Tia?”
“I still don’t see the point to this.”
“Belkar, she’s not an adventurer. She’s a little kid with green skin. I don’t want her hurt.”
“You think I do?” There was a shuffling sound. “Keep your pants on. I’ll make sure she stays intact.”
Her door creaked open, then shut quietly. Tiasal pretended she was asleep. There were the gentle taps of bare feet against the wooden floor. A hand, so light that she could have imagined it, brushed against her shoulder. The chair under her window groaned as someone sat in it, and through the cracks between her eyelids, she saw a blade gleam in her uncle’s lap, his hand loosely wrapped around the hilt. He maintained his vigil all night.
Molten gold eyes snapped open for the first time in nearly sixteen years. Lungs inflated with stale dungeon air, shuddering with coughs. The aged human cleric stepped away slowly from the bed, hobbling just a little, then dipped his head to Xykon. “I must attend to my children, my lord.”
“Sure, sure, whatever.”
Xykon leaned forward, ignoring the frozen Teevo screen and just staring at the disoriented goblin on the bed as the aged cleric left the room.
“Welcome back to the land of the living and unliving.”
Redcloak looked up blindly at Xykon, eyes wide, mouth opened slightly as if to speak. “…!”
“What, cat got your tongue? Did you miss me, Reddy? Aw, I knew you cared.”
Redcloak swallowed, blinking and rubbing his eyes hard.
“Are you going to talk? Because I’m seriously starting to think that there is something up with your genes. Is muteness inherited? Well, actually, that would mean that you’ve always been mute. Alright, then. Maybe it’s a recessive gene? Or maybe you inherit it retroactively from your kids.”
“Xykon… why am I here?”
Redcloak rubbed his temples, sitting forward slowly, his bones letting out audible cracks with this new movement. He turned a little, his eyes focusing on the lich, the lich that had taken his niece, nephews, sister-in-law, brother, wife, daughter, and life from him.
His face took on an ugly look of hatred.
“Why am I here, Xykon?”
“Ooh, looks like I got Daddy angry. I’d better blame the mess on the dog.” Xykon stood up, a smirk radiating from his frozen face, and sauntered closer to the newly-resurrected goblin. “Oh, Reddy. Can’t I resurrect you just to get caught up on old times? And, you know, have a high-level cleric hanging around who knows some ancient rituals I need to have in order to get control of a deicidal abomination?”
“I don’t work with you anymore.” Redcloak stood up sharply from his bed, knees buckling slightly, but he was able to lean his weight on the wall easily. He closed his eyes, face creasing with inner frustration and pain. “I should have cut you off long ago. Too many people have been lost because of me not being able to face the meaninglessness of their deaths. Too many people I love are gone. But Vaarsuvius…” His shoulders tensed, red magic flaring at his hands. “Vaarsuvius. Vaarsuvius was the last straw. There’s nothing more to take away, Xykon. You’ve done everything you can do. Soulbind me again if you want. The rifts aren’t there anymore. You can’t hold Vaarsuvius’s soul or my own over my head.”
He opened molten eyes again. “There’s nothing more.”
Xykon took a moment to contemplate the goblin in front of him, his head tilted slightly. “Oh, Reddy. It’s only a failure of imagination on your part to say that I can’t do anything more.”
His frozen grin seemed to stretch. “Sure, you’re speeches are overwrought and self-righteous as ever, but I gotta say, that whore’s death made you grow a pair big time. Or maybe it was something else that did that. Hey, how much do you remember from being stuck in my bauble?”
Redcloak’s angry expression morphed into one of confusion. He had expected a reminder of his brother. Maybe an empty threat towards Vaarsuvius. Not total flippancy. “…Just that it’s been a very long time.”
“Okay. Come on upstairs—the Necromancer chick is still around. And she still hates you. I love conflict! But you two are going to have to keep a lid on it until after we talk about everything you missed.”
Redcloak blinked, unsure if he should be indignant or confused and settling on a combination of both. “Xykon, did you hear a word I just said?”
“Oh, yeah. But I don’t think that you meant any of it. That’d just be stupid of you.”
The goblin’s brow furrowed, muscles tightening in fury. “I don’t work f—”
“I have your daughter.”
Redcloak froze mid-word.
“She’s surprisingly animate for a stillborn.”
There was a long silence. Redcloak jerked slightly, shaking his head and frowning. “Xykon, she was stillborn. I know you’re trying to see if I lied to you, but I was honest when I said that.”
His ears were stiff his face imperceptibly grim. He was gambling in hope.
Xykon’s frozen grin darkened. “You have some serious balls to be lying to me now, bitch.”
“I’m not lying.” But Redcloak’s complexion paled considerably. This wasn’t a trick. He knew it wasn’t.
“Either you’re lying or we stumbled on some other green-skinned, purple-haired, purple-eyed half-breed who knows who you, your whore, and I are.” He crossed his arms, shrugging. “But whatever. If she’s not yours, then I’m sure you won’t mind me locking her outside and watching her freeze to death. I’ve been wondering what color goblin half-breeds turn when they get cold.”
Redcloak’s breath caught in his throat. Xykon leaned forward, their faces a mere hair apart. “So, Reddy, was your kid stillborn?”
“…” Redcloak swallowed hard, eyes wide. “Please don’t hurt her.”
“Oh, Reddy. You’re so spineless.” Xykon straightened, glare boring deep into the goblin to the point that Redcloak could actually feel heat from it. “You cheeky little bastard. You thought that I wouldn’t find out about your little brat? I’ll admit that those adventurer guys were effective at hiding her for a while, but we both have time to find out secrets, don’t we?”
“Have you done something to my daughter?”
Xykon leaned forward again, hot red gems inches away from gold eyes. “What if I did?”
Redcloak’s eyes became molten. His muscles went tight. His sharp teeth were bared. His claws stretched out. “I swear, if you’ve hurt her at all, I’m going to—”
“What? You’re going to what?” Xykon placed his hands firmly on the goblin’s chest, careful to not touch bare skin—it wouldn’t do for Redcloak to be paralyzed—and shoved him back on the bed with bruising force, almost breaking the furniture and the goblin’s bones. “Guess what, bitch—you’re just as powerless now as ever.”
The lich let out a hollow laugh. “What are you going to try to do? Try to kill me with your lack of spells and levels? Go on another one of your whiny, self-righteous tirades? You have nothing. No power, no knowledge, and no leverage. I have everything. I have epic levels, countless minions swarming this tower, and your little brat. I’m sure Tsukiko wouldn’t mind being put in charge of the kid’s care.”
Redcloak paled again.
“And here you are, willing to stand up to me for the sake of some little brat that you haven’t seen in fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years?” Redcloak’s face paled further, eyes going wide. “My daughter’s fifteen years old?”
“Oh gods, spare me the annoying parental angst.” Xykon threw up his hands. “Yes, she’s fifteen years old. The nifty thing about having elf blood is that you age really freaking slowly, apparently. She looks like she’s eight. Doesn’t act like it, though. It’s kind of creepy, if you ask me. I’m not complaining, but she’s one frikkin’ creepy kid. Are we going to go and get you caught up on what you need to do now that you’re alive again now?”
Redcloak’s eyes drifted down to the necklace still worn by the lich, fixated on the sparkling sapphires taunting him. He took a tight grip of the fear within, drawing on the surety that his elf was near. He could be brave for his daughter’s sake. “I want to see Tiasal. I want to see my daughter.”
Xykon slowly straightened again, backing away, his frozen expression turning back into a macabre smile and a hollow chuckle reverberating from his empty ribcage. “Yeah. You want to see your daughter. You might not like what you see, Reddy. Or vice-versa.”
Redcloak swallowed hard, finally dropping any pretense that he had a choice in this matter. He let his eyes linger on the sapphire holding the soul of Vaarsuvius, giving a silent apology. He would find a way to be with his lover again, but he had to admit that it would still be a long time until he could figure out how to do that while keeping Tiasal safe. His heart ached for the familiar elven presence, the delicate fingers intertwined with his. He wanted Vaarsuvius back. He wanted Tiasal back. He just wanted to be allowed to have his family and for Xykon to never threaten them again.
But that wasn’t possible.
“I want to see my daughter, Lord Xykon. Please.”
Xykon paused, then relaxed, mollified by the obvious admission of defeat. “Well, who am I to deny a deadbeat dad the right to see his little love child? We’ll make an event of it—we got a new hire while you went missing who I’m sure you’ll be really interested in meeting. And the Necromancer chick’s gotten older. Maybe you can start sleeping with her or something; she’s a better pick than your whore at any rate.”
Redcloak stifled his bristling at the insult towards his absent wife. (Wife? Well, they hadn’t married, but it felt like they had all the same.) “I doubt it, Lord Xykon.”
“You’re probably right. You had a better chance as a skeleton.” Xykon pointed at the door. “I’ll go tell the Necromancer chick to get everyone upstairs. Hurry up—wouldn’t want to keep your little girl up past her bedtime, would you?”
Redcloak could hear an underlying threat there, but he wasn’t quite sure what Xykon was threatening. He had no intention of trying to find out, though.
He quietly prayed to the Dark One for his daughter’s and lover’s safety and quietly followed his leader out the door.