Tiasal gasped in awe at the sprawling landscape that was her field, keeping her arms tight around her aunt’s neck and picking out all of the little landmarks she knew by heart. “Aunt Celia…”
“You see? I told you you would like it! Like it enough to talk, even!” her cousin chirped happily, his little wings beating hard next to her. “Have I ever been wrong, Mommy?”
“You don’t want me to answer that, you little panda.” Aunt Celia smiled, her braid blowing gently in the wind, and she kept Tiasal cradled to her breast. “You should listen to your sister more, you know. She’s older. And she’s the one who’s usually right.”
Tiasal peered out far. “Auntie! There’s a town past the woods!”
Tiasal felt her aunt tense a little. She wondered for a moment and hoped that her auntie’s reaction was only due to the fact that she was talking more than usual.
“Yes, there is.”
“Why haven’t I ever been there?”
Her auntie was quiet for a while, and Tiasal didn’t need to be told that she was about to be lied to.
“Well, we just figure that you’d be happiest here. Towns are very uncomfortable—everyone’s all hustle and bustle and no one cares what happens to you.” She lightly brushed her lips against the green girl’s hairline. “Let’s go back inside. Your Uncle Elan is working on something special for dinner and he may need help.”
They swooped down to the ground.
Tiasal didn’t ask anymore questions.
“Alright, then. You have a few minutes, then the kid needs to get to bed.” Xykon sat in his armchair and picked up a magazine from the table, looking at it in a bored manner and waiting impatiently.
Redcloak was barely listening to him. He had eyes only for one person at the moment.
The little girl was expressionless, but her posture was a little guarded. Her eyes had a carefully studious look, the same look Vaarsuvius had always had in the beginning of their relationship when the elf was trying to categorize Redcloak. He supposed that his daughter was trying to do the same. (By the Dark One, please say that their flaws weren’t genetic!)
He could understand that reaction. Fifteen years. By the Dark One, he had missed the first fifteen years of his only daughter’s life.
He knelt down slowly, almost afraid to look at her. What must she think of him? Getting her mother pregnant, a condition that she wouldn’t survive without the help of clerics, then waltzing off to destroy the world and be killed in the process? Leaving her to be raised by people who were of no relation to her? Giving her the skin and features that would guarantee a hard life and not bothering to stay around to support her through it? If he were in her position, he would have a much worse reaction to his father. It felt as though he should be asking for her forgiveness. It wasn’t right to look her in the eye as though he hadn’t done anything wrong.
By the Dark One, she looked so much like Vaarsuvius. It made his heart ache horribly. Her hair was purple and pulled into tight, restrictive braids. Her features were just as delicate as the ones he had touched and kissed. Her eyes were violet, the elf’s color, but something in them shattered the illusion of Vaarsuvius. Whereas his wife’s eyes were always flaming with uncompromising pride and showed exactly what the elf thought of whoever they landed on, his daughter’s eyes were more subtle and difficult to read. They were veiled, calculating, deceptive. She knew that knowledge was power, so she guarded it carefully. Where Vaarsuvius would march up to a problem and blast it, the girl before him would subversively and quietly solve it or take it out.
His daughter’s eyes may have had the same color as his wife’s, but they were more his own than Vaarsuvius’s.
“I…” He trailed off, swallowing hard. The little girl patiently waited for him to start speaking. It looked like someone had cut her claws—Redcloak prayed to the Dark One fervently that they would grow back before she needed them—but her tiny tusks were perfectly intact and bright white. Goblin, yes, but elven as well. Had he seen her before he fell in love with Vaarsuvius, he would have been disgusted. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be.
She was his. She was beautiful.
Her ears—an odd cross between a goblin’s and an elf’s (he briefly wondered if they were sensitive)—perked up at the mention of her name, and she slowly nodded.
“By the Dark One…”
What was he supposed to do? Her eyes were picking him apart and studying him, piece by piece, as one would a confusing logic problem. He wanted to hug her tightly and tell her that he loved her and promise that he would find a way to take her away from Xykon and anyone else who would make her unhappy, but somehow, it seemed that that would be coming on a little strong. He had to remind himself that he was a stranger to her. It hurt, but it was true. He quietly promised to find some way to be a proper father—no one should have to grow up for fifteen years without their parents.
“Do you mind if I touch you?”
The little girl hesitated briefly, then gave a small shake of her head.
Redcloak tentatively slipped his arms around her waist, trying to gauge if he was scaring her or not, before he hugged her tightly. “By the Dark One…!”
He was holding his daughter. His Tiasal. For the first time in fifteen years, he was with his child.
Hot tears gathered in his eyes, but he did his best to blink them away for his daughter’s sake. He wasn’t going to scare her. She was probably scared enough as it stood.
He wanted nothing more than to take away all her fear and pain.
He pulled away, discreetly wiping his eyes and letting out a sad chuckle. “I’m sorry. Fifteen years without a word and the first thing I do is swear by my god and hug you.” He tentatively touched her cheek, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “By the Dark One, you’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you. You know who I am, right?”
She nodded slowly, eyes still not betraying a thought.
“Tiasal. There’s so much I want to ask and say… I don’t know where to begin.”
“You’re going to have to finish up fast. I’m bored.”
Redcloak tensed a little at Xykon’s voice, but he didn’t protest. He was treading on thin ice and he didn’t want his daughter hurt.
He tried to hide the tell-tale tremble in his hand as he lightly stroked his daughter’s head, wishing for nothing more than to have those fifteen years back with his child and wife.
“Tiasal, I’m sorry that I haven’t been here.” He clasped her shoulders desperately, trying to gauge how much more time he was allowed. He decided that Xykon would tolerate a minute or two. But, by the looks of the subtle warning leer, Redcloak knew that saying those three words he wanted nothing more than to say to his daughter would be one of the worst moves he could make. Xykon didn’t understand love, and he was trying to hurt Redcloak in every way possible.
He was being denied the ability to tell his own daughter that he loved her.
“I’m going to try to make it up to you, okay? Somehow.” He hesitated, then impulse won over and he gently brushed his lips against her forehead. “But right now, I think that our time’s up. Keep safe, and have sweet dreams.”
The little girl bobbed her head slowly. Redcloak smiled for her sake, glancing discreetly at Xykon to get a sense of the lich’s thinning patience before gesturing her towards the door. “I’ll try to see you again soon. Good night, Tiasal.”
She must have heard the strain of fear in his voice. She backed up towards the door, eyes still fixed on him. “…Good night.”
He frowned at the abnormal rasp in her voice, but she turned around, her braids bouncing on her back, and slipped out the door like a ghost. His daughter was gone again.
Gone. Just like when she was a baby.
Xykon put his magazine aside. “I swear, if you’re crying, I’m going to have to throw up. Despite being physically unable to.”
“I’m not crying.” Redcloak angrily wiped his eyes. “That was cruel, Xykon. I haven’t seen my daughter since the day of her birth.” He swallowed hard, furious at his own inability to hide his feelings from the lich. “I’d… I would like a chance to spend time with her…”
“She doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Anyway, get up. The Necromancer chick and the new guy are coming over to get you caught up with what’s been going on for the past fifteen years.”
Redcloak slowly stood up, wiping his eyes and trying to get control of himself. He wanted his daughter back. He wanted Vaarsuvius. He wanted to tackle Xykon to the ground and rip him apart bone by bone to make sure that he would never ever terrorize Redcloak’s family again.
His daughter was trapped, scared, and in danger. His wife was locked away in a sapphire.
And there was nothing he could do.
He clenched his fists and silently promised Vaarsuvius and Tiasal that he would find a way to get them out of this disaster he had started. He was not going to lose anymore family for this.
The door swung open.
“Hey! The rest of the party has arrived!”
Redcloak looked up, frowning darkly and eyes zeroing in on a familiar woman. Her hair was longer, loose, and she was definitely older. She had a tattoo crawling across her face—Redcloak hadn’t expected it, but he wasn’t surprised.
He recognized her easily.
“Reddy.” Tsukiko sauntered forward, smirking, the bone dragon moving with her changing expression. “Have you seen your brat yet?”
Redcloak struggled to keep his face and voice neutral. He couldn’t deal with Tsukiko’s jibes just then, especially if they had something to do with his daughter or wife. He had barely come to terms with the circumstances himself.
He looked down to get control, but his eyes landed on an odd lop-sided scar on her forearm. It was a bite mark. A bite mark from someone who really ripped in. A bite mark from someone without a fully-developed set of adult teeth and with long canines and tusks.
Warmth flooded in his chest and his mouth went up slowly in a smirk. “I take it that my daughter put up a struggle?”
Tsukiko frowned darkly, pulling her sleeve over her scar. “Shut up.”
Tiasal had fought back.
He felt some of his fear melting away. His daughter wasn’t fearfully crouched in a corner and waiting for someone to swoop in and save her. She was making her own way out. Just like her mother.
If Tiasal had Vaarsuvius’s spirit, she would be okay.
Redcloak leaned back, still smirking proudly, and crossed his arms. “Let’s get this over with. You were talking about the Snarl as if we could still get to it, Lord Xykon. Why?”
Tsukiko scowled at him, impatiently tracing the scar on her forearm, and an old human hobbled into the room, sitting down in an armchair. Xykon stretched out a phalange, grin frozen wide on his skull. “Because we can. The rifts just have new nifty gates on them. And guess what, Reddy? We both have all the time we want. I say we try taking over the world again.”
Redcloak frowned slowly, keeping his arms crossed. “The rifts are changing positions, then, aren’t they? That’s the new defense mechanism to keep anyone from finding them.”
“Magic is the answer to everything! You and I team up and make one of the rifts stand still long enough to put a leash on it. You get to make goblins the dominant species and I get to take over the world. Everyone wins.”
Redcloak hesitated, tensing a little. The rifts were still within his grasp. The Plan…
The combined voices of his little brother, his wife, and his daughter all shouted in his head to stop right there. He had been fine about abandoning the Plan in favor of his family a few minutes ago.
But that was before he knew there was still hope for it. What if he could still make all the death worth it? What if he could make a world where his daughter could grow up without being abused by wretched humanoids that couldn’t look past her green skin and pointed teeth…?
What abuse had she already suffered because of her goblin heritage? What abuse will she suffer? He’d done so many things wrong by her—what did his blood make her endure? What if he could…
No. The voices of his loved ones were all screaming in his head to stop going down this train of thought.
He pushed it all away. He didn’t have a choice in the matter anyway. Xykon had his daughter and Vaarsuvius’s soul. He’d already lost everyone else—he couldn’t survive losing them.
“You should not look at me like that.” Vaarsuvius smiled, kissing Redcloak gently and snuggling close to his bare body. “We are not supposed to love each other, remember.”
Redcloak lovingly stroked his lover’s noticeably swollen belly, brushing his lips against it before straightening to kiss the elf’s lips. “Not supposed to, but I love you.”
“I love you too, Redcloak.”
The goblin let out a low purring deep in his chest, and his heart swelled when his lover let out a happy ‘hmm’ and there was the slight thump of kicking in the slender abdomen. Vaarsuvius took his hand and gently pressed it against the kicks, wincing only a little but still smiling.
Their family was together.
Redcloak was happy.
He couldn’t survive losing them.
“I’m taking this long silence as a ‘sure, Lord Xykon, let’s do it!’” Xykon made a vague gesture towards the old man in the armchair. “Reddy, this guy is the crazy cleric who owns this place and all the little runts you’ll see doing stuff for us.”
“‘The little runts’…?”
The old man shifted slowly in his armchair. “The people of the village down the mountain are rather poor, so I take care of their little ones here and, in exchange for the children’s help in maintaining my tower and other such jobs, I give their families free healing and a small sum of money annually.”
Tsukiko frowned, arching an eyebrow and tracing her scar. “You pay them so you can…? Never mind. I really don’t want to know.”
Redcloak fidgeted, looking at the man and sizing him up warily. “Would I be right to assume that my daughter is under your care, then?”
“Yes.” The old man bobbed his head slowly, something gleaming in his eyes that deeply unsettled the goblin for no apparent reason. “She is quite a beautiful girl. Quiet, though.”
The goblin frowned, reluctant to let a complete stranger—worse, a complete stranger that happened to be human and work for Xykon—have control over his daughter, but he had little choice in the matter.
“Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be reading those brats a bedtime story? Or tucking them in or something? And you, Necromancer chick, go make sure that all our anti-divination spells are up or something.”
Tsukiko and the old man exchanged glances, picking up on the not-so-subtle hint and leaving the room.
Redcloak prepared himself for a short lecture. Maybe a threat. Maybe a reminder of how much Xykon controlled him and his family.
He wasn’t prepared.
Xykon sauntered forward slowly, frozen grin leering down at the goblin. The scent of licorice was absent from the air, but Redcloak could feel the tension in the air crackle like electricity. The light persona the lich sometimes took on was dropped.
Redcloak frowned grimly and waited.
“Hey, I know that you probably plan on betraying me at some point.” The lich crossed his arms slowly. “Whether you’ll betray me for your cause or for you, your brat, and your whore’s freedom is up to you, but you’re a deceitful little son of a bitch so you’ll do it for any reason. I should probably tell you something, Reddy: killing and soul-binding your brat’s not the only thing I can do.”
Redcloak’s skin paled several shades.
“That crazy cleric? He likes her. A lot.” The lich slowly sat down next to Redcloak, red gems glowing bright and black sapphires gleaming teasingly. “I likes all the kids he’s got, but the exotic ones… well, he has a taste for them.”
Redcloak’s throat closed up. “You’re not saying…”
“It’s been a little grating on him that he’s not allowed to do anything with the pretty little green-skinned, purple-eyed, purple-haired half-breed girl. But I know that you wouldn’t like anything going on, so I’m giving you a deal.” The lich smirked. He had all the cards, and they both knew it. “You’ll be totally loyal. As long as you’re that, all clothes are staying on. But I don’t know—if you make a stupid mistake, maybe she’ll wake up one day without her shirt. Next time you do it, maybe her pants will come off too. Maybe the time after that, she won’t be the only one naked.”
Redcloak trembled, his eyes fixed on his hands, and the lich slowly drew away. “So when you’re planning out what to do and what your or our next move is, there’s something to take into consideration.”
There was a long silence.
“So let’s get on the same page: what do you plan on doing, Reddy?”
Redcloak was very quiet.
The goblin slowly hung his head. He saw how much the lich controlled him—he had thought that Xykon had only one ace in the hole: Tiasal’s life. He had hoped that he could work a way out to save them as long as the small transgressions Xykon caught weren’t too big to throw away the only leverage against him.
This new element wasn’t something that could only be used once. The sickening realization dawned that this was something Xykon could use over and over and over again. For every mistake, every small defiance, that monster would take out his sick fantasies on Tiasal. His Tiasal.
He would never risk his daughter being violated like that.
“I’m loyal to you, Lord Xykon. I always have been and I always will be.”
Xykon crossed his arms, coming closer to the defeated goblin. “You always will be, Reddy. And your first order of your new life is to not scream.” The frozen grin grew. “You have one eye too many.”
Redcloak obediently didn’t scream when the problem was fixed.