Tiasal shrieked. Fire roared up, licking her face and arms, biting at her like a rabid dog. She threw down her burning shirt, screaming and trying to back away from the hungry flames.
Uncle Elan jumped in front of her, curling around her protectively and picking her up, sprinting away from the blaze. "AARINDARIUS!" The fire jumped forward like bloodhounds. "AARINDARIUS!"
Aarindarius seemed to materialize next to them and he held out a hand, the fire immediately ceasing to be. Elan skidded to a stop, gulping for air, and the wizard took a moment to make sure they were both okay.
Tiasal whimpered softly in fear and pain, the black burns marring her skin throbbing. Elan sighed in relief, burying his face in her wild purple hair and murmuring something unintelligible. White magic left his fingers in tendrils, healing her burns.
Aarindarius frowned, walking forward through the wreckage the fire had left and frowning at the lake, noting the weird soot patterns climbing from the shore to the scorched trees surrounding it. "The fire was magical. It started on the surface of the water."
The smell of smoke slowly rose and Tiasal whimpered softly in Elan's arms. The bard kept on muttering things like 'Thank the gods you're okay,' 'Why were you in the middle of a fire?' and 'I love you, I love you, I love you…'
Tiasal trembled, snuggling closer to her uncle. "I… I only meant to make the leaves on the lake burn a little… to see if the fire would go out…"
Aarindarius looked over at her, frowning. Something flickered in his face. Something akin to worry and fear.
It was gone in a moment.
"This was not your doing, little one. I haven't taught you anything that could cause this."
She could see in his eyes that he was thinking. He was hiding something.
"And you can't use any magic outside of what you learn."
"By the Dark One, I'm going to be sick."
The youngest brother turned away from the scrying pool, slamming his hand against the floor, body shaking with fury. "Damn it! This is all my fault! Tiasal's at the mercy of a pedophile and Big Brother is Xykon's slave! This is all my fault!"
"Calm down for a second. Let me think." The eldest brother averted his eyes from the pool, trying to keep from seeing his younger brother being silently mutilated. His hands clenched, claws digging into his palms. "Little Brother is forced to listen to that bastard because Sister's soul is locked in a sapphire and-"
Youngest brother looked up, body still shaking slightly. "Sister is up here with us."
"No, I mean Vaarsuvius. She and Little Brother are practically married, which means she's practically our sister." He looked down at the ground, scowling. "I figured I should get used to the idea before I accidentally screw up my relationship with another family member." Eldest brother turned away from the scrying pool completely, unable to handle the images shown even in his peripheral vision. "Anyway, she's trapped in a sapphire and our niece is in trouble, on top of the fact that she's a manipulative little girl."
The youngest brother frowned darkly. "Don't insult her, Eldest Brother. She's misguided." He clenched his fists. "Just misguided."
"Yeah, I know. I'm not about to blame little kids for being angry when they overhear their whole dead family calling them disgusting for being half-and-half." He took a moment to look off to the side awkwardly, shame-faced. "But you have to admit, Youngest Brother-it's a little scary how well she already knows how to manipulate people. She's got a high Charisma score. That, and she went over to Xykon a little too enthusiastically." He was quiet for a long time. "I don't want to see any more of my family members killing each other."
Youngest brother fidgeted, looking away. "Neither do I." He sighed softly, struggling to calm himself. He couldn't help his niece or his brother if he was debilitated by his fury at himself. "So what are we going to do?"
Eldest brother took a deep breath, holding it for a moment, then breathed out. Technically, he didn't have to breathe, but he found that it helped him think. "I think I may have an idea, but we need to make sure we're backed up. Our niece hates us both right now, but that doesn't mean that she won't be willing to listen to reason." He looked over at his youngest brother. "Get Uncle. Not Dad-he and Mom are still having trouble with the elf thing-but Uncle understands. And do you think Ali and Ridi are up for a hike to the mortal planes?"
"I'll ask." He glanced down again. "After I check on Tiasal. Maybe she'll be willing to let me show myself this time and I'll be able to get her to see sense." He was gone.
Xykon pulled back his phalanges, sticky with blood, and a chuckle reverberated inside his ribcage. Redcloak gingerly wiped the blood from his face, careful to keep from touching the wound the lich had left, stifling the sounds growing in his throat at the pain.
"Go put on something to cover that thing up. Can't have you scaring the runts. I'm pretty sure someone left your eye patch in your pocket or something…"
Redcloak slowly reached in his pocket, pulling out a familiar black patch. He put it on obediently, trying to wipe away the last of the blood.
"Your room's down the hall to the left. You're going to start researching spells tomorrow."
The goblin nodded, standing up shakily and stealing one last look at the lich's necklace before leaving. Vaarsuvius. He missed his elf so much…
Fifteen years. Fifteen years away from his wife and daughter. Vaarsuvius was still trapped in that little stone.
There was the shuffle of feet and a stifled yelp of surprise. Redcloak had to turn his head to compensate for his lost eye and see a terrified little human boy, a bucket held tightly in his hands, his eyes wide and fixed on the goblin. One of the servant kids.
The goblin couldn't stop the sour taste in his mouth. He had started this. He had never meant for kids to get involved. Where were that boy's parents? Were they worried about him?
For once, the goblin could actually understand that fear.
He made a silent gesture down the hall, for want of anything else to do. "Hurry to bed."
The little boy obliged, his bucket rattling in his hands and the water held within sloshing. Redcloak started towards the direction Xykon had told him to go again.
Redcloak didn't remember his time in the sapphire very well-the most he got when thinking about it were vague impressions and a snatched indistinct moment or two. But he did know that he was fully aware while in there. Was Vaarsuvius fully aware? Fifteen years… Was Vaarsuvius changed? Damaged? He prayed to the Dark One that his wife be okay. His elf had suffered through so much… don't make Vaarsuvius suffer insanity too.
He slipped into the room Xykon had indicated silently, closing the door behind him. He only took the time to take off his armor before he went into the bed.
There was an achingly empty spot next to him.
"Vaarsuvius…" Redcloak closed his remaining eye, curling up to stay warm. He sent up a fervent prayer to the Dark One that his daughter be safe and his wife be unharmed. He wouldn't be able to survive losing another person he loved. That pain he felt the day Vaarsuvius died and he had to leave Tiasal… it was still raw in his heart. His only consolation was that his daughter was alive and Vaarsuvius could be resurrected.
"I love you. Please remember that…"
He let out a soft whimper, holding onto those words and trying to use them to fill the hole that Vaarsuvius's death had left inside. If only he had been faster… If only he had been cleverer… If only he had never made that thrice-damned deal with Xykon in the first place…
But 'if only' wouldn't help anyone anymore.
He would just need to figure out how to save his wife's soul and his child's innocence. He would do it somehow. He refused to accept the alternative.
He fell asleep praying.
"Tiasal, I'm sorry that I haven't been here. I'm going to try to make it up to you, okay? Somehow."
He had been earnest. She didn't see any intent to deceive in his eyes, and though it was obvious that he knew how to hide how he felt, he didn't seem to be trying, save for the transparent attempt to hide the tears. Had she made a premature judgment because of what Xykon said? Neither of them were lying. One of them had to be.
She had met her father for the first time that day. He said her name. He promised to make up those fifteen years.
He said goodnight to her for the first time.
Tiasal turned around sharply, staring at the newly-arrived Xykon, her hand only brushing against the doorknob that led to the children's common room.
"Nice job with Reddy, but we're not done yet." Xykon crossed his arms, eyes glowing bright. "You need to try to stay sympathetic for him to stay obedient. He's going to want to meet with you a lot. Now, your crazy cleric doesn't want you and him to bond too much, so let's keep this our little secret."
He leaned forward until their faces were inches from each other. "You're going to figure out someway of making contact with him. He'll jump at the opportunity to talk with you. Keep meeting up with him 'in secret' and make sure he knows you're a vulnerable little girl who needs his help. You'll have him on strings."
Tiasal frowned, averting her gaze.
"Oh, you think he actually was feeling something with that whole display he made?" Xykon drew away. "If you want to keep up your fantasies, fine. Don't let them get in the way of what's important. You have nowhere to go. Goblin and elf hybrids don't have a place in the world." He started away. "Give him a note or something tomorrow."
"Clash. I want you to stay out here. Leaves, go to my room. The rest of you, have a good night's sleep."
Leaves looked down and shuffled quietly to the cleric's room. Tiasal fidgeted in place as all the other children brushed past each other and filed into the bedroom, still thinking too hard to really pay attention. Soon, she was alone with the cleric. Had she been a little less innocent, or had Aarindarius been teaching her for a few more years, she would have known why this was a bad thing. But she didn't.
The cleric stood up from his chair slowly, his joints popping audibly, and walked to the cabinet kept under the table. He took out a small key from his pocket, opening the doors, revealing rows and rows of… syringes?
"Sit down, little one." He picked up one of the needles, holding it up and checking for air bubbles. "This will only take a moment."
Tiasal's eyes went wide, her thoughts and doubts being whisked up in her mind to be reviewed at a safer time, and she slowly backed away.
"Clash, do not make me ask you again."
A warning throb of imaginary pain shot through the little girl, reminding her of the reason why she so often couldn't sit down properly. She hadn't completely healed from the beating she had gotten two days ago-she didn't want another one.
She tentatively went down on her knees on the ground, staring at the older man warily. She wondered what her father would do if he were here. Would he stop the cleric and hold her like her aunts and uncles always did and kiss her hair like Aarindarius? Would he tell her to stay still for the needle? Would he be silent?
Who was this man that she was supposed to manipulate?
Did she even want to use him anymore?
Xykon may not have always been kind to her, but he had always been honest. For now, she trusted his word more than her father's. He and her mother had only been a glorified sperm donor and incubator unit so far in her life, and while it wasn't completely their fault that that was true, it didn't give her reason to trust anything they said.
Her rationalizations were cut short when the cleric pulled out a strip of thin rubber, tying it around her bicep tightly. Tiasal squirmed, frowning in confusion.
"I just need it to find a vein. It will only take a moment."
Tiasal squirmed, trying to stifle whimpers of fear when he brandished the needle, an unknown yellow liquid within. Her veins were popping out like the paths on a map. Her skin was getting a weird brown-red hue. Something in her head was screaming for her to leave immediately.
He curled his fingers around her wrist and jabbed the needle in one of the popped-up paths, squeezing out all the liquid the syringe had inside.
He pulled the needle out and undid the rubber tourniquet, smiling. "Only a moment."
Tiasal jerked away, looking down at her arm at the little marble of blood that was welling up. She licked it gently, trying to stop the bleeding for want of a Band-Aid. What had he put in her? She wanted to know, but doubted that she would get an honest answer.
He turned away and opened the door of the cabinet next to the one with full syringes, revealing a disposal for used ones. He put the needle he just used in there. "I only use it for the little boys and girls who misbehave." He closed the cabinet door, looking up and smiling. "Be a good girl and don't struggle and I'll give you another dose in the morning."
Tiasal frowned in confusion.
That was when her brain was sent into a tailspin.
Thought was gone, what little left disconnected. She was enveloped in a cloud. Happy. So happy. Happier than ever. More scared than ever.
Coppery taste bloomed on tongue, filling mouth with iron. Smiling face of cleric swam over vision. Hands picking her up. World floating away. Didn't care what he did. So wonderful. Couldn't control self. Couldn't control thought. No control…
What was happening?
Cleric sat down.
Put on his lap.
Lights shined brighter, colors obvious in them. No physical discomfort available. All gone.
Blood dribbled from needle mark. Didn't care. Didn't care about anything.
Started to be rubbed against something hard. Huh. Didn't know what it could be.
"By the Dark One… Tiasal!"
World tinted yellow. Fingers on waist bruising. Person standing in front. Hands clenched. Claws digging in skin. Eye blazing. Knew him. Knew him.
"YOU HUMAN BASTARD!"
Why was he angry? There was nothing to be angry about.
Clawed hand swiped at cleric's face. Hand went through it. Incorporeal. Can't do anything. Why was he angry?
More harmless swipes. "DAMN YOU TO HELL! LET HER GO!"
Looked up. Smiled. Reached for him. "Uncle, why are you so angry?"
He kneels down. Cups her face. Gold eye go wide. "My God… your eyes… what did he do to you?!"
Touching. Could feel his hands. Was she dying? That was okay. She was okay with dying.
Gold eye flick down. Focus on blood on arm. "He drugged you?!"
What did that mean? Oh well. There wasn't anything to be sad about anymore. Nothing to be angry about, nothing to be scared about, nothing to be upset about…
"And I can't do anything! DAMN IT!" Hands clench. Shoulders shake. "Damn it…"
Little hands reach out. Cup dark green face gently. Kiss his forehead sweetly. "It's okay, Uncle. Nothing to be angry about anymore."
Gold eye focuses on her face. Looks hopeless. Closes. "Tia… it's not fair… why you?"
Emerald hand rests on back of little head. Draws her close. Lets her rest face in green neck. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that he's doing this to you, and I can't stop him. I'm sorry that I used you. I'm sorry that I hurt you. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to do much of anything to help you all this time… You're a kid. You need your only family to love you without ulterior motives." Strokes her hair. Low growl in chest. "I promise that Brother and I will make this human pay for what he's doing. And I promise to treat you how you should be treated from now on." Kisses her head. "I love you."
Smiles. Why was he apologizing? Was she angry at him? If she was, she didn't remember why.
Nuzzles neck. "Love you too, Uncle."
His chest hitched.
Cleric made odd sound.
Hard thing gone. Clothes a little wet. Taken off lap. "Go to bed, little one. I think it best that Xykon doesn't find out about this."
Stumbles a little. Almost fell over once or twice. Sense of balance gone. Uncle takes hand and leads her to door. Didn't fall with him.
Stumbles to blankets. Uncle disappears.
"You are learning fast, little one."
Tiasal looked up from the Go board, smiling at the familiar scarred face of one of her family's oldest friends. One of the only people that made her like to talk. "Thank you."
"It does not surprise me. Your mother was quite intelligent, as was your father."
O-Chul looked down at the board thoughtfully, figuring out his next move.
"O-Chul, what was my mother like?"
The paladin arched an eyebrow, putting down one white piece. He smiled under his beard. "You have asked me this question many times, and I have always given you the same answer, little one."
Tiasal shrugged, grinning with an almost impish quality and putting down one of her own pieces. "What was she like?"
"She was a proud warrior." O-Chul gave her a once-over with his eyes. "You look very much like her. Far from a copy, but I see her in you. She had the power to defend an entire Azure City wall, nearly single-handedly, for almost the entirety of the Battle for Azure City. She then managed to hide Xykon's phylactery with me after being forced to endure one of the most savage beatings I have ever witnessed. And she continued to adventure and fight, even while pregnant with you, Tiasal-chan. She was strong, proud, and noble." O-Chul gave a small smile. "And she was clever. Were it not for her, I would not be alive today and Xykon may have been the ruler of the world." He put down his piece. "I regret that I did not know her better."
"Did you know my father?"
O-Chul paused. "…You have not asked that particular question before."
Tiasal's eyes narrowed only slightly as she put down her piece, looking up at the paladin and smiling. "Did you?"
"…" O-Chul studied the game board. "Not well. We were on opposite sides of the conflict."
"But you knew him. He had you prisoner, didn't he?"
O-Chul looked up, frowning, unwilling to speak ill of the dead, especially to the child. "How do you know that, Tiasal-chan? I have never told you."
"You don't need to be told stuff to know." Tiasal cocked her head expectantly.
O-Chul stared at her for a moment, then sighed softly, putting a piece down. "He… Your father did have me as a prisoner, yes. We conversed, but it was mostly about his wanting information he thought I had. I cannot say that I know him enough to describe him." …in positive terms.
Tiasal's eyes ran along the scars all over the paladin's face. She had seen a picture of him in the Sapphire Guard a few months before the Battle for Azure City. He had only had one scar there. Were all those scars her father's doing?
She put a piece down.
"Would I be proud to be his daughter?"
There was a pause. "Tiasal-chan, love and family should not be about alignment. He loved your mother. He loved you. If he were alive today, I do not have a doubt in my mind that he would be happy that he was your father and would be making every effort to be a good one. Whatever I may think of him, he was a clever and determined man, and though he was very Lawful, he was passionate." O-Chul smiled ruefully, lightly tousling the little girl's hair. "I think that it's not a matter of pride but of love. And you would have loved him."
He put down his piece. "You allowed yourself to be surrounded."
He took her pieces in one hand and put down his own.