The wind rustled through her hair, making it fly out in wild tendrils and chilling her face. Her legs swung gently over the edge of the small canyon she was sitting on the edge of. If she looked directly down into it, she would get a slightly dizzying feeling, but it was only about five feet deep. She knew that it wasn’t deep for adults. It looked deep to her. Maybe she should jump, just to feel the rush that came with the fall and the bounce that came with landing in the sand
“Does she even pay attention to anything?”
The canyon had been dug out a long time ago. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe one of the adults would know.
Her pink dress lovingly caressed her ankles, making the little elven runes on the seams dance. If she concentrated, she could read it. It was an old poem. A favorite of her mother’s.
“Octavius, be nice.” A gentle, wistful sigh. A sigh of a romantic. “Remember all the games we used to play? She’s just thinking. Remember how we used to see if we could snap her out of it? She loved that game.”
“Oh shut up.” Not the voice of a romantic. “It’s not like Tiasal ever noticed that we were playing with her. She just automatically giggled at everything. Never spoke. Have you ever heard her say anything? I haven’t.”
Tiasal hugged her knees, looking up at the other side of the canyon, staring at the rolling fields. Nothing but grass for miles. And a giant open sky.
It would be nice to fly in it. Just perfect blue.
She looked down at her hands. Blue and pale green worked out together. Pale green and milky white and pink didn’t mix well. She hated looking at her hand on Aunt Haley’s or Uncle Elan’s any other pale human’s or elf’s. It just reminded her of things she didn’t want to remember.
She wanted to know what her father was like. Was he a beast? A gentleman? Something in between?
“Just look at her. Staring at herself. Like she can’t believe she’s what she is. Do you think she even knows? She doesn’t say anything, so who knows how much she understands?”
“Octavius, just stop. You were just talking the other day about how much you love her and how you expect me to team up with you to beat up any and all future boyfriends. She’s our sister.”
“No sister of mine.”
Deathly silence followed. The temperature went down several degrees. Tiasal kept her eyes glued to her hands. They were a little harder than most elves’, but her years of no manual labor had softened them so it was difficult to tell the difference. One would think that she would have calluses—she loved climbing trees—but her skin had been resistant to them.
“She’s a little green girl. Other Parent would’ve never touched some goblin thug. You know she wouldn’t.”
“Will you ever get over it? Other Parent had someone else after she and Parent got divorced. Parent still loves her and we do too.” There was a sigh. “Do we need to go over this again? Say it with me: ‘Other Parent fell in love with a goblin named Redcloak after she left Parent. They had a baby together. That baby’s our little half-sister.’”
“That baby killed Other Parent.”
Tiasal blankly looked up at the fields. Her brothers. Half-brothers. Right behind her.
“Octavius, stop. Now.”
“Oh, getting angry? Who should you be angry at? Your twin brother who’s been with you through everything? Or the little brat who murdered OUR Other Parent?!” There was a horrible sound of snarling. “She had a stupid, raping brute for a father. She’ll turn out just like him, the bastard goblin child.”
She jumped up, her hands curling around a stone, and she spun to face them, hurling the rock towards the two dark-skinned wild elves. The stone hit Octavius point-blank on his temple, sending him back several steps, opening up a gash, and Tiasal ran at him with a roar. She slammed into the teenage elf, grabbing a handful of red hair and scrabbling viciously at every part of him she could get to. His brother, Terentius, immediately jumped to his aide, grasping the green girl by long purple hair, ripping her off of the bigger boy.
Octavius snarled, blood flowing freely from the gash on his temple, and he stood, punching the little girl hard in the stomach. “YOU TOOK OTHER PARENT FROM US!”
“Octavius, stop!” Terentius didn’t let Tiasal go, but he tried dragging her further away from the wrathful teenager. “She’s a kid!”
“She’s a monster, that’s what she is! Look at her! All green! The gods made her kind to kill!” Octavius lunged forward, viciously punching her in the stomach again, provoking a squeal. “How many experience points are you worth, bastard?!”
Tears started flowing freely from Octavius’s dark eyes, mixing up with the blood and giving his chocolate-colored skin a red tint. Tiasal bared her teeth, squirming in Terentius’s grip, growling at Octavius savagely.
Tears splashed on the ground and Octavius grabbed the girl’s hair, using the unwilling Terentius as a restrainer, and slammed a fist into her face. Tiasal shouted in pain, snapping at the teenager’s fingers, and Octavius planted another fist in her stomach. “YOU KILLED OTHER PARENT!” Another punch. “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT THAT SHE’S NOT STILL WITH US!” Another. “I HATE YOU!” Another. “I HATE YOU!” Another. “I HATE YOU!”
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!”
A blur of pale pink tackled Octavius to the ground, morphing into a brown and pink and red and yellow mess wrestling in the ground. Terentius, apparently only just realizing that he had just help beat up his little half-sister, picked Tiasal up and backed away, staring at the fight on the ground.
“Tiasal? Are you okay?”
The girl glared, twisting in the wild elf’s arms.
“Wait, no! You’re not getting in on this too!”
“YOU BASTARD! SHE’S A KID!”
Now a familiar blond human teenager had Octavius pinned on the ground, both of them bruised and bleeding. “SHE’S YOUR LITTLE SISTER!”
“GUYS!” Terentius cradled Tiasal, trying to keep her from getting out of his hold. “Tiasal needs to see someone! She’s bleeding!”
Tiasal twisted viciously, desperate to get at Octavius. Her lips pursed up. Her eyes were practically on fire. She started to scream, furiously starting to bite at Terentius’s arms. In surprise, the elf dropped her. She hit her head on the ground, knocking her head on a rock, and darkness promptly overcame her.
Tiasal looked up at the sky through the trees, squinting against the light and judging it to be noon. She should probably go home. Aunt Haley, Uncle Elan, and Aarindarius would get worried.
She shrugged, shook out her tangled purple hair, and started running through the forest, savoring the feeling of her bare feet against the ground. Her pants and loose shirt were muddied and torn beyond recognition. She’d probably earn an exasperated lecture from Haley for it. Maybe an admonition from Aarindarius. She wasn’t afraid of that. She was more afraid of Elan trying to teach her how to sew the stuff back together. (It usually just devolved into Elan sheepishly going to his wife and asking for something to bandage up his bleeding fingers.)
The sound of water reached her ears. They twitched madly and she let out a happy whoop, running towards the source until she came to a pond, jumping in without stopping to see if it was safe.
Water wrapped around her tightly. Tiasal opened her eyes to watch the bubbles she breathed out float up past her, watching the little pond creatures swim by, flicking her with their little tails. She remembered her brothers once taking her out here. Octavius taught her to swim (“No, Tia, not like that! If you keep flailing, you’ll just get tired and sink like a rock!”) and Terentius told her about the tadpoles and fish that lived in the water (“I remember tadpoles are tadpoles because they look like—” “Octavius!” “…Uh, never mind.”). Were these tadpoles or fish?
Her lungs started to squirm for air. She started to swim up, but she met resistance.
The pressure in her chest to breathe was getting a little uncomfortable.
The girl looked down, making a little sound at the back of her throat, and tried to see what was keeping her from the surface.
Her foot was caught in the crevice of a breaking log.
She needed to breathe. She kicked at the log, starting to thrash, and pain started flaring up from her arms, legs, and torso. The girl savagely started ripping at the wood, fear and panic growing in her chest like a monster, darkness edging her vision, and she opened her mouth to breathe…
A hand pulled her out. Light exploded in her eyes. She fell on the forest floor, scraping up her knees and shaking, coughing and whimpering in fear and pain.
“Can you breathe?”
The voice was unfamiliar. Tiasal had never met someone outside of her field and home, though, so she couldn’t imagine that a stranger could hold ill-will towards her. She nodded, letting her eyes open a crack to look down at her body.
She shrieked. Black things wriggled and stuck to her skin, causing pain even though she didn’t know why. She resisted the urge to thrash in panic, instead trying to shake the things off wildly.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. Calm down. They’re harmless if you get them off, but they can’t be shaken like that.”
Tiasal’s screams subsided into whimpers and she forced herself to stop panicking, hugging herself tightly, trembling, and she glanced up at her benefactor.
He was green like her, only it was a darker shade—emerald. And his skin was different. Scaly. A goblin? A real goblin?
She looked up at his face. There was an eye patch over his left eye and he looked a little like her, but that was probably because he was a goblin. (Was he glowing? Tiasal could swear that he was glowing.) He sat in front of her, smiling encouragingly, and gestured with his hands. She noticed that he had a lot of scars on them. “It’s scary the first time you see them, but they can’t hurt you beyond a bit of a sting. Slip your nails between them and your skin and they’ll be forced to detach.”
Tiasal nodded, sniffing, and obediently did as the older goblin told. With a weird pop, one of the first black creatures fell off. She was bleeding where it had been. She was bleeding much more than she should have.
She let out a fearful whimper.
“Don’t worry. It’s something they do—make you bleed a little more. You’ll be better soon. Just try to get them off.”
Tiasal bobbed her head, sniffing again and starting to work on getting the things off. The adult murmured soft words of encouragement all the while, making tiny motions with his hands as if he intended to hold or help her, but then stopping with sad realization on his face. Tiasal never spoke.
Finally, green skin was only stained red without blotches of black. The things were gone, wriggling on the ground and crawling back into the murky pond.
She looked up, biting her lip gently enough so that her sharp tusks didn’t break the skin, and cocked her head curiously, silently questioning the other goblin.
He stood up, a sad smile playing across his lips. “I wish I could bring you to your home or wrap up your cuts, but I can’t do that. You’ll understand when you’re older, I hope.”
The girl looked up at the shout from her aunt.
“It looks like someone’s looking for you. Hurry and tell her that you got bit by leeches. She’ll know what to do.”
Tiasal looked up at the goblin again, question more insistent in her face.
The goblin hesitated briefly. “Just call me Uncle, if you want a name.” He smiled, a hint of playfulness mixed with wistfulness sparking in his eyes. “I’m probably going to get in trouble by coming out like this, but I think it was worth it to meet you.”
Tiasal’s face was the picture of a question mark. Then Haley stumbled into the clearing, letting out a shout. “Tiasal! What did you do to yourself?!”
The girl looked at her aunt blankly, then glanced back at the goblin. He wasn’t there anymore.
The shouting was much too loud, but it was completely deserved. Beating up your little sister? Really? When she was less than a third your age?
Terentius stared at his shoes as Inkyrius shouted at him about ‘a sense of responsibility’ and ‘realizing that some people need his protection more than his brother.’ Octavius actually looked genuinely guilty. He knew that he had let his anger out on the wrong person, and Tiasal was probably in for one hell of an apology and really nice treatment after this was over. A blond human teenager with big blue eyes and a wiry build, Haley and Elan’s son, Abram, looked thoroughly indignant that he had to be shouted at too, sometimes giving a bitter mutter about ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’
The beaten and bloody boys stood in one straight line in front of the kitchen counter. Durkon, looking disappointed, made his rounds through them, healing up all the cuts and bruises they had received in the scuffle. Belkar sat on the kitchen counter, a disapproving scowl on his face. He probably would have high-fived each of the boys if they had just been fighting with each other, but even he seemed to draw the line at ganging up on little girls. Inkyrius and Haley stood shoulder-to-shoulder, raining hell on their children, and Elan stood to the side, content in letting his wife handle the discipline. Blackwing glared down from his perch on the fridge like an omen of death. The only reason Roy and Aarindarius weren’t there was because of the fact that no one had informed them of what had happened. Aarindarius was probably contentedly reading up in his tower and Roy was probably in the fields, training with his sword.
Blackwing let out a sigh and started cleaning his feathers, too tired to deal with this. Ravens weren’t supposed to live so long. It was only by virtue of magic that the bird was still young, and he had to admit it: ever since Vaarsuvius died, he had been rather listless. He did his best with his late master’s kids, though. That’s what they all were trying.
“Vaarsuvius is dead?”
Aarindarius stared at the humans before him in shock, slowly lowering himself into a chair so he could be at eye-level. “No… she couldn’t be… She can be revived! She is much too young to have died of old age.”
Roy and Elan, the only two Order members with a high enough Charisma score to be trusted with this, both exchanged glances nervously. Elan fidgeted, sniffing and eyes getting glassy, and quickly looked down at his knees from his seat on the couch. Roy touched his shoulder gently before looking back up at the elven wizard.
“That would be true, yes. But a lich named Xykon bound Vaarsuvius’s soul before we could do any revival. We’re looking for the sapphire he used, but we need to find him first. That may take a long time.”
Aarindarius bit his knuckle, closing his eyes silently. One jewel in the hands of one epic-level lich. It could be discarded or carried anywhere.
He had a feeling that it would be a very long time until he saw Vaarsuvius again.
“I’m sorry.” Roy looked down, rubbing his hands together. “Do you know where Vaarsuvius’s ex-spouse lives?”
Aarindarius looked up, taking his knuckle out of his mouth and placing his hand firmly on his knee. “Inkyrius? I think I should be the one to break the news. Kyrie has been rather fragile as of late.” Well, an attack from a dragon quickly followed by a divorce would do that to an elf.
“We don’t ask because of the news.” Roy took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “Vaarsuvius died of childbirth.” V didn’t help it by fighting right afterwards, but then again, there had been little choice. “It’s a girl.”
Aarindarius froze, staring, lavender eyes wide and back stiff. “Excuse me?”
“She had a daughter.” Roy looked up, gaze steady. “We know what we’re asking is huge, but none of us knew where else to turn. The father…” there was an awkward pause as the fighter searched for the words, “the father is in just as much a state to handle this as Vaarsuvius is, and he didn’t exactly leave any family for us to go to.”
Aarindarius nodded numbly, questions bubbling but mind too tired and grief-stricken to care. “I don’t think that Inkyrius is a good choice.” He slowly laced his fingers, staring at his palms. “Kyrie will accept responsibility no matter what the situation and parentage, but the child won’t be supported properly. Inkyrius doesn’t have the emotional, physical, or financial resources to care for a third child right now.” It was generally a bad idea to give the child of an ex-spouse to an elf that could barely afford the therapy already needed for its entire family. “It would be the end of everything.”
Elan looked up, struggling to smile and hide the tears he had rubbed away. “Th-Then maybe Haley and I can try to take care of her. Haley’s pregnant, so we’re going to have a family soon anyway.”
Aarindarius roused himself from the vague daze he had fallen into, looking up at the blond. “With all due respect, the ability to have children does not equal the emotional maturity to raise them.” He kept his hands clasped, shaking with the effort to keep the rising grief from meeting the surface. “Vaarsuvius, in all senses of the word, was like a daughter to me. I do not have what is needed to raise a child alone, but I would be able to help you if you allowed me to stay with you. Because of my love for Vaarsuvius, I ask that you allow me to help take care of her daughter.”
Aarindarius expected to meet some resistance. He didn’t. Roy and Elan both looked at each other as though a miracle had occurred. “Of course you may!” Roy smiled gratefully. “None of us really know the first thing about raising kids, and we owe it to V to do our best.”
“I am glad for your loyalty to her.” The wizard nodded, unable to really smile, standing up slowly. “Where is the child?”
“She’s with the rest of our party downstairs. Here, we’ll show you.”
The humans went down the stairs first. Aarindarius’s pace was more sedate. His own body felt too heavy to carry. Vaarsuvius was dead. The little elf that he had practically raised, watched grow, and eventually sent into the world was gone.
Was it his fault that she was dead? Should he have never forced her out of the tower? He had a feeling that the question would plague him for a long time.
When he was down, Roy had taken a little bundle from a red-headed girl’s arms, surprisingly skilled at holding her and slowly giving her to Aarindarius.
The wizard took her slowly, wondering if he should risk looking at her or not. He did.
The little baby in his arms had mint green skin and teeny tiny tusks, hinting at goblinoid ancestry, but that didn’t bother Aarindarius at the moment. He was too tired to care at all just then. She had wisps of purple hair on her head, the delicate features of an elf under the roundness of babes, and deep violet eyes. The marks of her mother.
Tenderness grew in the shadow of the wizard’s heartbreak. The baby smiled silently, reaching out and grasping one of his fingers in a green little fist, skin smooth against his. Just like the first time he held Suvie.
He placed a very gentle kiss on the girl’s forehead, giving her a silent blessing before he realized that he had forgotten to ask an important question—the one question he really had the strength to know the answer to.
“What is her name?”
Everyone in the rag-tag team he saw before him glanced at each other.
“…Well, V and the father called her Tiasal. That’s elven, right?”
Aarindarius’s face broke in a sad smile.
“Tiasal. It means ‘child of sweet dreams.’” Aarindarius rocked the baby in his arms gently. “Vaarsuvius, if she realized what it meant, loved her and the father dearly. ‘Sweet dreams’ translates from Ancient Elven to Modern Elven as an idiom for a short love affair that will never be regretted, even if it ends badly, because the love will always remain. It can also be translated to mean ‘beloved,’ so she declared her love for the father and the child at the same time.” Aarindarius looked down at the baby, noting that she was falling asleep. His eyes reflected the light unusually well, even with all his blinking. “Vaarsuvius always was fond of meaningful names.”
The baby remained asleep.