“No, no, it’s like this!”
The half-outsider picked up the pair of dice, letting them both fall on the multi-layered board. “You see? Twelve. That means that I get to move up or down four times.”
“This makes no sense!” Abram shook his head, staring incredulously at the little outsider figurines. “We’ve been at this for two hours—can’t we go outside and play badminton or something?”
Terentius lay on his back with his little sister on his stomach, dark fingers gently running through soft purple hair. “Tia’s fallen asleep.”
“Good. We can wake her when it’s her turn. Two more hours from now,” Octavius grumbled, stretching impatiently.
“It’s a game about basic math and advanced theological philosophy! It’s not that hard! Come on, I’ll explain it again…”
Everyone let out a groan.
Tiasal woke up shaking. She was wrapped up in a blanket, but her core was freezing and her muscles were giving off spasms without reason. Cold sweat rolled down her face, blotches of black invading her eyes, and she could do little more than whimper as aches crawled up and down her bones, locking in with strong arms and sharp teeth. She wanted something. Needed something.
She felt like she was sick again, only worse than the times she had been sick in her field. In her field, Durkon would just cast a spell and she would be better after a day of Aunt Celia giving her soup. This was horrible. This was her own body rebelling, demanding something that she didn’t know how to give. Hallucinations rippled through her senses like water. The sight of thousands of people staring at her. The scent of flowers, wine, honey, and motherhood tickling the tip of her nose. The salty taste of blood coating her teeth. The feel of an adult’s arms wrapped gently around her torso, his body curled protectively against hers. The sound of someone whispering in her ear about how she would be okay, that it was unpleasant but she would be okay…
Someone tied something around her bicep and there was a sharp pain on the inside of her elbow.
The chills left. So did the weird sensations. She was in the stone room and children were milling towards the door, some still in blankets with needles and some on their beds with swollen bellies.
Swift was sitting next to her, a used needle in his hand. He gingerly put it to the side, taking the rubber band off of Tiasal’s arm.
“Ms. Tsukiko told us to make sure you had your braids…” he mumbled softly, avoiding eye contact and picking up a brush he had laid aside.
Tiasal gave a terse nod, frowning curiously at the needle and turning so the boy could fix her hair.
“D-don’t worry. I gave you a low dosage. Keeps the withdrawal symptoms away but doesn’t make you fuzzy. If you’re good for Master, he’ll keep giving you the doses you need. He… he uses it for the kids who misbehave a lot…”
Tiasal’s frown deepened, and she searched her memory for how she started this needle thing. She couldn’t remember. The night before was just a blur.
That did not bode well.
“And… uh, I have a change of clothes for you…”
Tiasal looked down at her clothes in confusion, noting that the seat of her pants had some white stuff on it. That was weird. Was it flour? No, it wasn’t right for flour…
Suspicion was roused within. She didn’t like this.
Swift tightened her hair before pulling it into the restrictive braids, tying them at the end.
“You should change.”
Tiasal glanced back at him, narrowing her eyes before she took the offered clothes, standing up and changing right there.
“You should be happy, you know. He went easy on you.” Swift subconsciously rubbed his bottom gently. “And, um…” he looked away, mumbling, “be careful when you’re outside tending the courtyard. Some people are a little angry that he hasn’t touched you much.”
Tiasal cocked her head in confusion, then shrugged. She didn’t really care. She wasn’t afraid of the servant kids. (She was a little curious about the touching thing, but oh well. He was probably talking about the beatings.)
“Lord Xykon wishes to see you.”
She nodded absently. It was time for her lessons, anyway. He would probably get her to try slaughtering some of the animals on the edges of the forest. He hopefully had enough sense to not send her deep inside—there were seriously high-powered monsters there. Enough to give the woman with the dragon tattoo trouble.
She concentrated for a moment on the glassy surface of the used syringe on the ground, trying to summon the image of what had occurred the night before. The glass remained reflecting the mundane stone ceiling.
“He’s, uh, in the throne room.”
Tiasal nodded and started towards the door.
“Yesterday was the first time you saw your dad, right?”
Tiasal looked back, frowning, but Swift looked just as shocked as she. Yet he didn’t take back his question.
There was a silence.
She nodded slowly.
Swift bit his lip. “What was it like?”
She was quiet for another long moment before shrugging and turning away.
“Oh.” He looked down. “Well, um, I hope it goes better next time.” Tiasal opened the door and Swift seemed to hesitate. “…I hope it goes better, Deirdre.”
Tiasal took only a moment to glance back confusedly before leaving.
In the back of her head, memories stirred, then lay back dormant.
Redcloak took off his bloody shirt, breathing heavily, and placed his hand on his chest. “Cure Serious Wounds.”
As his injuries healed up, he pulled on a different shirt, slipping on his armor over it and clasping his cloak around his neck. He should have expected that Xykon would want him to level-grind after such a long death, but this was a lot for a newly brought-back body to deal with.
Luckily, he was back in his study and was only expected to do paperwork now. Admittedly extremely hard paperwork that included research about how to control a being of pure chaos, but still, papers usually didn’t grow claws and rip people apart. Usually.
He sat down slowly at his desk, frowning at the papers already strewn across it. He had to admit that their ‘host’s’ library was surprisingly expansive—he wondered how books of such rarity came here—but the mere thought of being grateful to the child-raping bastard for anything made his blood boil.
Vaarsuvius, had the elf been there, would have simply blasted the monster, picked up Tiasal, and run away. Redcloak wished he could do that, but he was too caught up with the consequences. Xykon wouldn’t let them get away. Tiasal would be hurt. His daughter would be hurt.
He had to do his best to make sure that that never happened.
Redcloak frowned at the papers, lightly pulling one of them from the pile and scanning it for relevancy. It was about epic-level spells. It was possible that there was something he could use.
He didn’t know how long he was looking through those papers for when he heard someone open the door behind him. He ignored it, figuring it to be Tsukiko and expecting some jibes.
Someone came up on his blind side and set a tray of food carefully on one of the paperless spots. Redcloak shied away in surprise—after all this time working with it, he hated people coming up on his right side—and turned his head to compensate for the lost half of his vision.
Tiasal looked up at him, gave a small nod, and turned to leave. He was shocked into stillness so long that she was almost gone.
She paused and Redcloak jumped up, his heart pounding in his ears and words tumbling out without thought behind them. “Is there anyone waiting for you?”
She hesitated, then made a small ‘I’ve got a minute’ gesture.
Redcloak had no idea what to say, but he kept talking anyway. He wanted her to stay. He wanted to know everything about her life. He didn’t want his baby to leave again. “Have they hurt you?”
Tiasal shrugged and he knelt down slowly, tentatively putting his hands on her little shoulders. She felt so fragile, as if the smallest bit of pressure from him could break her bones to pieces. He wanted to hug her. He wanted to pick her up, put her in his lap, and talk as though he had been there her whole life. He wanted to have those fifteen years with his family that Xykon had stolen.
He couldn’t have that.
“Does it hurt to talk?”
Her voice sounded a little like sandpaper, but his heart swelled nonetheless, ears perking to listen harder. It didn’t sound like she spoke a lot. If she used it more often, he didn’t have a doubt that her voice would be beautiful.
“I don’t talk a lot.”
Redcloak nodded, frowning, at a loss for what to say. “Why not?”
She shifted, clasping her hands in front of her. “…” She shrugged. “…I don’t like it when people lie.”
Redcloak cocked his head, a smile flickering over his lips, and he blurted out the first thing to come to his mind. “You sound like your mother.”
Her ears twitched, perking, and swiveled so that they faced him.
“She hated it when people were dishonest. Especially if she couldn’t tell the difference.” Redcloak slowly sat down in a more comfortable position and the little girl crept forward, ears twitching. “It used to drive her crazy when we first met that I treated her civilly while still being an enemy. She thought that I wasn’t making myself easy to categorize.”
Tiasal crept closer.
Redcloak looked her up and down, memories of Vaarsuvius and that one snatch of time he had had with his newborn running through his head. The only two women who had been able to make him cry in his entire adult life.
“I don’t think you like it either. Not being able to categorize me, I mean. You’re like your mother.”
Tiasal sat slowly in his lap, ears swiveling to hear him better. Redcloak’s heart swelled and he loosely wrapped his arms around the little girl, noting that she was tense, but not as tense as she was the moment before.
“Who have you been raised by all these years?”
The girl rolled her shoulders, pulling at her braids uncomfortably. “The Order.”
He nodded slowly. Three humans, a dwarf, and a psychopathic halfling. Not ideal, but definitely better than the alternatives. For non-goblins, they were okay.
He absently pulled her braids loose, letting her hair out in its fluffy glory and running his fingers through it. It was just as soft and fine as Vaarsuvius’s. He missed his wife.
She seemed relieved to have her hair loose again.
“Do they treat you well?”
Tiasal hesitated, studying him, and slowly nodded. “Your eye…”
“Oh, that.” Redcloak turned his head a little so the patch was harder to see. “Don’t worry. I had it before I died. Xykon wanted me to have it again.”
She was quiet, eyes studious.
“Don’t think about it. He just likes being cruel.” Redcloak stroked her hair, running it in between his fingers. It was so soft. Just like her mother’s.
“Who are you?”
Redcloak paused, then blinked in confusion. “I’m… I’m your father.”
“No. Who are you? Not what.”
The goblin frowned thoughtfully, running his fingers through the little girl’s hair.
“The Order never told me.”
Redcloak nodded slowly, trying to think of what to say.
Well, he wasn’t about to lie to his own daughter. He had gotten her in this situation. He owed her the truth. “They probably didn’t want you to think badly of your own father.”
Her ears perked slowly.
“How much did they tell you?”
The door swung open and Tiasal jerked in surprise, Redcloak instinctively tightening his grip firmly around the little girl and looking up, frowning darkly.
His expression got positively vicious when he saw who ambled in slowly.
“Clash, you are slacking.”
Tiasal winced, subconsciously burrowing into Redcloak’s chest and letting out a soft whimper without meaning to. Master leaned on a cane he seemed to have picked up somewhere, frowning disapprovingly at her. “You don’t want to be slacking, do you?”
Redcloak heard the threat in the old man’s voice, a growl beginning deep in his chest.
But he couldn’t do anything. He would scare his daughter and Xykon would set the cleric on her.
Only one thing to do.
He forced a smile, still running his fingers lovingly through purple strands. “I’m sorry, this was my fault. I got a little greedy about spending time with her and wouldn’t let her go. I’m sure that she’ll be excused from any punishment.”
He put an underlying threat to his tone, making sure that the cleric knew that he wasn’t the only one who had power. Redcloak gently brushed his lips against his daughter’s hairline. “Alright, Tiasal. We’ll continue this conversation later, okay?”
She looked up at him, for once not having that studious expression. She blinked her thanks and gave him a tentative smile. “Okay… Dad.”
He bit his lip and ruffled her hair, allowing her to get up and scamper out of the room.
His heart ached and he fought the urge to call her back. He could have all the time he wanted with his little girl when he had figured out how to release Vaarsuvius and escape with her. He had to focus on keeping her safe. He could be separated from her if it meant his baby was safe.
Master turned to go.
“I need to talk to you for a moment.”
The cleric looked at the goblin, frowning, as Redcloak stood up and brushed himself off. The only indicator of Redcloak’s feelings was a hard expression. “Close the door. I don’t want my daughter or any of the children here listening to this.”
The cleric narrowed his eyes, but slowly did as was told, pushing the door closed. “You seemed a little snuggled with her.” A smirk carved itself into his face. “She’s a pretty little girl. Do what you know you want to. Every good father does.”
Redcloak resisted the urge to slash the monster across the face, and instead, he just sneered. “You’re a sick bastard who just deludes himself into thinking that everyone is just as twisted as you.” He crossed his arms, one eye narrowed into a gold chip. “The only reason I’m not going to kill you where you stand is because Xykon would hurt my daughter if I did. But, even with my lengthy death, I’m still a much higher level than you. If you touch her, I will guarantee that you will sincerely regret it.”
The cleric paused, quietly contemplating his cane. For a moment, Redcloak didn’t think he would respond. “She’s a very pretty little girl. Very quiet, though.” He rubbed his chin and the goblin tensed, anticipating something he would get angry at. “The little ones always bleed the first time. Most scream. I don’t think that she will scream. She’ll stay silent and then cry later.” The cleric stroked his cane, beady eyes distant. “She’ll be interesting to break.”
The cleric found himself slammed against the wall and then thrown to the floor, claws slashing straight through his face. He shouted in pain, covering his face but unwilling to heal it just yet for fear of getting his attacker angrier. Redcloak loomed over him, eye glowing furiously and claws dripping with his blood.
“Stay the hell away from my daughter.”
Redcloak slashed with his other hand, crisscrossing his last cuts. The cleric let out a warbling shout, holding his hands to his face and trying to stop the bleeding.
The goblin growled, clamping his hand around the man’s throat and forcing him to stand. “If you touch her, then I will make you pay in blood. Got it?”
Sticky red dripped down the cleric’s face, staining his clothes in macabre punctuation of the real threat the goblin was dealing.
Redcloak threw the cleric down. “Get yourself cleaned up. Those kids suffer enough without seeing your bloodied mug looking like it just came out of a horror show.”
He stalked out.
It took a while for the cleric to do the same.
Tiasal frowned at the shovel in her hand, then at the giant snow-covered courtyard before dropping her tool. The stone paths were already shoveled, especially around the fountain, and the cleric probably wouldn’t notice if she didn’t do anything.
Instead, she walked into the woods.
Snow clung to the evergreens, and she had to be careful to walk quietly. Extremely high level monsters lurked in the woods, and she had no desire to be eviscerated. It was stupid that she was out here, but she didn’t care. Something was pulling her along.
She came to the edge of a pond, a thin layer of ice on the edges and a thicker layer at the center. She sat at the edge, resting her hand lightly on the top of the thin ice. “Burning Hands.”
Her hands melted through the ice and rested on top of the freezing water in little hand-shaped holes.
“I’m scared to go in.”
The two boys dived under the water, and Tiasal was afraid for a moment that they had drowned, but both came up quickly, flipping their wet hair out of their eyes. Sun filtered through the leaves and lit up the mildly murky water, making her brothers’ chocolate-colored skin glimmer.
“Don’t worry, Tia,” Terentius said, swimming slowly to the edge of the pool and smiling at her. “We won’t let you drown.” He held out a wet hand for his tiny sister to take.
Tiasal hesitated, then slowly pulled off her clothes, letting them drop to the ground, and took her brother’s hand. “What about if you’re not nearby when I’m drowning?”
Octavius backstroked to the middle of the pond, grinning. “We’re your big brothers, you little Oompa Loompa. No matter what mess you get yourself into, we’ll always pull you out.”
Terentius’s eyes sparkled in the sun and he tightened his grip on her hand. “We promise.”
She wasn’t going to see her brothers again.
The wizard looked up from his book, eyes surprised, at the little girl at his door. She was clothed in a thin lavender nightgown—far too thin for the winter weather—and her ankles were scratched and bleeding from walking in the field barefoot. Tangled purple hair hung ragged around her face, and little dark circles were forming under her eyes.
“It is past midnight, child. You were put to bed over five hours ago.” Aarindarius stood up, frowning. “Why have you come here?”
“…” The little girl shifted, looking at the wall. “…Nightmare.”
The wizard was quiet.
“Oh.” He paused, then gestured her closer. “Well, come sit here.”
She obediently came forward, holding out her arms. The wizard gently picked her up, sitting at his armchair and putting her on his lap. He brushed his lips lightly against the little girl’s green forehead, adjusting so they both were comfortable. “You are safe here.”
Tiasal nodded, resting her head on the wizard’s shoulder and taking a breath of his scent. She knew.
She dozed off in his arms.
When she woke up, she was curled up against her teacher in his bed, and the gentle blush of dawn was only just brushing the sky.
Aarindarius was dead.
“Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…”
“Sweetie, Tiasal is twelve years old. I think it’s a little late for nursery rhymes.”
Uncle Elan’s eyes were practically glowing. “It’s never too late for song, as my mom always said! Look, she loves it!”
Tiasal smiled endearingly and sat back, waiting for her uncle to sing about the diamonds in the sky.
Uncle Elan was dead.
“You don’t know how to play the lute?”
Tiasal stared at the instrument as if it had grown four legs, then shook her head, looking up at her ten-year-old cousin with a quizzical expression on her face.
“Neither do I. Don’t tell Dad.” Abram made an exaggerated shushing motion, then looked around secretively. “Hey, let’s go make some cookies. I’ll let you eat the dough if you don’t tell Mom about how much I eat.”
Tiasal nodded eagerly and grabbed her cousin’s hand. Abram brightened, glancing around mischievously before leaning down and kissing her cheek. “When you’re all grown up, I’ll keep you hidden up in Aarindarius’s tower, where you’ll have all the cookie dough you can eat. And no one can have you unless they climb the tower.” He pulled her into the kitchen. “And then you’ll marry the first guy that can do that.”
Tiasal grinned. In her youthful mind, little girls grew up to marry their fathers, brothers or cousins. She would be happy if she could marry any of them.
She quietly daydreamed about which of the men she loved would climb the tower first as Abram searched for ingredients.
Abram was dead.
She wouldn’t see Auntie Haley.
Wouldn’t see Uncle Roy.
Not Aunt Celia, not her cousins, not Uncle Belkar, not Uncle Durkon, not Inkyrius, not Blackwing, not O-Chul or Hinjo or Lien …
They were all gone. Well and truly gone.
And she never got to say goodbye.
For a moment, she forgot that they hated her. She forgot the resentment, the comments, and the regret. She only remembered the smiles, the love, the warmth, and the kindness.
Tiasal hugged her knees and started to cry, and one by one, she let her family sink into the pond to disappear under the ice.
All the while, a little girl that only Tiasal could see watched and shook her head.