It was a pity that the day had to be spent punishing kids. It was one of the few times when the entire remainder of the Order and Tiasal’s technical family were together. (Admittedly, the elf twins were spending more and more time there without Inkyrius—maybe a sign of the baker’s declining health?) Blackwing wasn’t so sure about Tiasal’s relationship with Inkyrius, Terentius, and Octavius (what was with the high elves of Ivyleaf and ‘ius’ endings to their names?). Inkyrius was still a little fragile after all these years (Blackwing didn’t think that the baker ever really recovered from the rapid-fire trauma that was suffered) and, while there was an obvious effort to look past Tiasal’s parentage and focus only on the natural love that Inkyrius seemed to hold for all children, it looked to be almost too much. The green skin combined with Vaarsuvius’s eyes—a constant reminder that, even after all those years, Vaarsuvius loved another more. Of course it was painful, and all things considered, Inkyrius did an admirable job of giving the little girl a fair shake. No one thinks that it would have been a good idea to make the baker raise her, though.
Octavius and Terentius were interesting. Terentius was constantly passive, sometimes distant and sometimes affectionate depending on his feelings towards his little sister that day. Octavius alternated violently between hating Tiasal so deeply for being the proof of his Other Parent’s ‘betrayal’ that he was willing to beat her up and loving and protecting her so fiercely that anyone who so much looked at her the wrong way should quickly be praying to their deity of choice that their end be quick.
Octavius seemed to be a violent teenager in general, come to think of it.
Blackwing finished cleaning his wings, jumping and gliding down to the wood ground, pecking at the door to be opened. Elan, the only one to see him doing this, complied and allowed the bird out.
He hopped into the warm living room and marveled at the insulation in the walls and door—the shouts were barely murmurs here.
Tiasal sat in front of the burning hearth, curled up in a blanket and a leaf between two fingers carefully cut free of their claws. Haley had to cut the girl’s nails at least once a week to keep them from getting so sharp that she could hurt herself. The tiny tusks were worrisome enough.
Blackwing hopped closer, noting that the girl seemed to be trying to set the leaf on fire with magic. She was covered with magic’s scent, at least, and the leaf was looking a little scorched.
She did look a little odd, Blackwing had to privately admit. Probably due to her parentage.
Her skin was mint green, but it seemed to be darkening with age. Her tusks had grown until they were just shy of a half inch—not very big for goblins, but it seemed really big on little girls. Her pointy ears peaked out from under her hair, much more prone to twitching, drooping, and generally revealing her mood than Vaarsuvius’s were. Blackwing didn’t think that a day went by when someone didn’t thank a deity for that. Tiasal was many things, but expressive she was not. Her ears and occasionally her face were the only signs of distress or joy that she had.
Her eyes and hair matched her mother’s. Blackwing always found himself playing with purple strands of hair because of it. It reminded him of his old master. That was always a nice feeling.
But at the same time, he was constantly reminded that this girl wasn’t just a little Vaarsuvius with green skin. He didn’t think that he had ever heard Tiasal speak; in fact, he was sure that she was mute. Vaarsuvius never stopped talking.
He missed Vaarsuvius.
“You know, you’re more like your parents than you’d think.”
Tiasal curled up around the fire, gesturing for the bird to fly where she could see him. She had known he was there already. Blackwing complied, flying in between the girl and the fire, giving into temptation and starting to play with errant strands of her hair, quickly falling under the spell of bird-like pastimes. “They both were secretive. I think that’s part of the reason they were initially attracted to each other. They could tell that they had a lot in common, and they both understood the other’s quirks and flaws without needing to observe too closely. It was kind of funny to watch. They were really open about the fact that they would probably need to kill each other eventually, and yet they ended up falling in love anyway.”
The girl’s ears practically swiveled to hear better, twitching faintly, and she slowly put the leaf she had been practicing on down.
Blackwing responded by pulling at a small tendril of royal purple hair. “You’re secretive in your own way. You flat-out say nothing. They were secretive in their own way. Redcloak only said what needed to be said and Vaarsuvius said several things that meant the same, making everyone feel like she was telling them everything when in reality she told them nothing. They were very private people, so I guess that they had to figure out ways to get others off their back fast.”
More ear swiveling.
“Maybe that stuff’s genetic.” Blackwing started getting tangled up in the hair. “That’s not to say that neither of them had flaws. They had them. They had a lot of them. Redcloak was too focused on his big Plan and was too stuck on cost his own bitterness. Vaarsuvius was arrogant and self-centered as all get out. Both of them ended up giving up their families for what they perceived as the greater good. Both were too logical and prone to denying what feelings they had about anyone or anything. Came back to bite them both more times than I bother to count.”
He tried pulling out of the hair. Tiasal gently helped him untangle. “Well, that’s not to say that they were bad people. They were really something, and I was glad that I was V’s familiar after all was said and done. Both of them were proud, passionate, powerful, and strong. Not only in the physical sense, but in the psychological sense.” Blackwing hopped back out of the hair, but he quickly started playing with it again. “Life beat them both down. They both got up and kept going. It takes guts to do that. They had separate goals and all, but they were very similar.”
Tiasal felt the pockets that Elan had sewn on her dress (after several failed attempts), taking out a string with a perfect sphere made out mirrors fixed on the end. She hung it in front of the raven.
“Is that a bauble on a dangly thing?!”
Blackwing immediately started staring at himself in the mirror, almost hypnotized by the way his reflection was warped. “I love these… anyway, they were admirable. Not good, not bad, not baubles… sorry, but I’m glad I knew them. I have to admit that they were sort of cute together. Once they got past the ‘I really like you but you’re my enemy’ phase, they made each other really happy. They would smile a lot, laugh more, snuggle up, keep each other safe… they were one of those couples that, when they thought they were alone, were so sweet that you would think you’d get diabetes but instead you just felt warm.” He started pecking at the bauble, thoroughly distracted from the situation. Tiasal’s ears twitched hard.
“‘Course, there were a couple species issues to work out. Vaarsuvius never really cared much about distinctions like that—she always considered them arbitrary—but Redcloak had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the suffering of goblins and everyone thought that he raped V when they found out that she was pregnant, mainly because he was an evil goblin. Vaarsuvius was always fast about saying that it had been completely consensual, and Redcloak always pointed out with some exasperation that goblin and evil did not necessarily equal to ‘complete monster.’ It was funny for me to watch them get all flustered over it. It took a bit, but they really smoothed the edges out of each other. Redcloak stopped getting so hung up on the fact that V was an elf and V became more open about emotional intimacy.”
Blackwing jumped at the bauble, pecking at it playfully, a tiny voice in the back of his head trying to point out that he was saying all this stuff to their daughter. He was supposed to be going on about how perfect her dead parents were and how wonderfully smooth their relationship had been. He was too enchanted by the bauble to notice.
Tiasal, for her part, only twitched her ears again and waved the little mirrored ball on string a little more, eliciting a delighted squawk.
“They loved you a lot, you know. V was too delicate to handle anything to do with pregnancy, from abortion to childbirth, but she had a higher chance of living through birth so she tried that.”
The voice of common sense that had been muted by the presence of the mirror squawked loudly, screaming that that was not something you said to a kid! The bauble was too distracting for Blackwing to take note of the common sense that he usually so cherished.
Tiasal’s ears went around in a semi-circle before drooping.
“You should have seen her when she had you, though. She was bleeding everywhere and Redcloak and Durkon were scrambling to get her healed and she still completely perked when she heard you crying. Red and Durkon did what they could and she demanded to see you.” Blackwing hopped in a circle around the mirrored ball, staring at his distorted reflection in every which way.
“Alright, Vaarsuvius. Yer na’ bleedin’ anymore, but ye lost a lot o’ blood and ye c’n start bleedin’ again easily, so don’t move around or exert yerself too much.”
“Yes, yes, I see.” Vaarsuvius impatiently sat up, one arm wrapped tightly around a pained abdomen, and Haley, the only non-mother and non-cleric present in the room, cleared away the bloodied linens silently and with a pale face. “Please let me see the child.”
Redcloak didn’t really seem up to talking. His skin had paled several shades over the course of the birthing. He stood at the head of the bed, stroking Vaarsuvius’s hair half-consciously, staring at Durkon. The dwarf gently wrapped the softly crying baby in a blanket that the townspeople had generously provided, looking up and smiling at the couple. “She’s a girl.”
He slowly gave the baby to Redcloak. The goblin automatically knew how to hold her correctly, remembering holding his little brother and sister when they were infants.
He tentatively looked down at the baby’s face.
The goblin’s chest heaved gently, something that only Vaarsuvius was observant enough to notice. His only seeing eye went wide with an odd combination of love and pain. He opened his mouth to speak, but then he closed it, realizing that he didn’t possess words anymore.
The little light green child stopped crying, instead yawning and squinting in the bright light, the tiny buds of tusks starting to grow. Redcloak ran a finger along the girl’s soft cheek, completely aware of the fact that he may never see her again after this and that he was actively working on something that could unmake her and her world entirely. That knowledge combined with the feeling that had bloomed inside of him at the sight of his daughter threatened to rip him apart entirely.
He swallowed hard and slowly sat beside Vaarsuvius, slipping the baby into the elf’s arms.
Redcloak wrapped an arm around the elf, understanding fully when Vaarsuvius’s eyes went wide and glassy. The mage cradled the child tenderly, hands shaking very slightly, and the elf lovingly brushed warm lips against the baby’s forehead.
“What are we going to name her?” Redcloak asked, voice barely strong enough to classify as a whisper.
Redcloak nodded, resting one arm on the elf’s shoulders and keeping the other around his daughter, savoring the last moments of closeness he knew for sure that he would enjoy with them.
Haley and Durkon both glanced at each other, realizing that they were intruding on something personal. They backed up, making themselves as little as possible, and allowed the family to savor what would turn out to be the last time any of them would be with another.
“Durkon gave you to Redcloak first. You should have seen his face! It was so odd, but sweet at the same time. He had snuck away from Xykon and their crazy Theurge, Tsukiko, to see you and make sure the birth went smoothly.” Well, he failed at that. “He was going to have to go on with this Plan of his and Xykon’s and it was likely that he’d never see you again. Before when he was talking with V about it, you could see that he knew it would be painful, but the love and pain in his face when he held you for the first time…”
Blackwing pecked at the mirror, letting out a soft warble. “You could see all of his so-called grand-scheme-plans for the greater good dissolving. I bet he would’ve quit the whole thing right there if he could’ve.”
Tiasal’s ears moved from drooping to erect in quick succession, unsure of how they should position themselves, and her eyes became glassy.
“He gave you to V and, by the gods, I never thought that she could look so emotional. I think I know her pretty well, what with an empathetic link and all, and when I say that she loved you, I mean she loved you. It was just instant. I didn’t think that that could happen, but there you are.”
Tiasal’s ears decided that they should be quivering.
“Well, I guess that the gods just didn’t feel like letting them be happy that day. Xykon burst in with Tsukiko at his heels. I think that he had caught on that Redcloak was thinking of withdrawing from the whole Plan now that he had a child and someone who was practically his wife to think about. He couldn’t possibly unmake all of creation if that meant the unmaking of you and Vaarsuvius. It’s easy to do stuff like that when you only have an idea to live for. Now he had people.”
Xykon leered down with a dark grin from the giant hole he made in the side of the building. His hands were glowing with pure magic. The gems fixed in his eyes were bright to the point of making his entire sockets glow red. Tsukiko, looking considerably less intimidating, floated under him, a smile plastered all over her face and mismatched eyes flashing out of sync with each other.
The rest of the Order, banished to the hallway, burst in with their weapons drawn. Vaarsuvius quickly hid the still-silent baby from view, eyes wide with a fear that no one but a parent was capable of. “Redcloak, he won’t spare her.”
“I know. Make sure Xykon doesn’t see her.”
Roy swung his sword, walking forward with the stride of a true warrior who knew what he was dealing with. “Get out of here, Xykon. Usually, I’d be happy with a chance to kill you again, but this isn’t the time or place to fight.”
“You know, it’s stuff like that that annoy me. Arbitrary distinctions.” Xykon’s mouth went into an odd grin and he turned his eyes to Redcloak. “You know. One place is more appropriate to fight in than another because one happens to be someplace where kids are being born. One person is more important than another because they happen to have not crossed their legs when they should’ve and now they’re carrying around your baby.” He made a gesture around the room, sending a blast of energy into the ground dangerously close to Redcloak, forcing the goblin to recoil. “Well, I guess not carrying it around anymore. The point is, we have more important stuff to do. I thought Reddy knew that, but I guess he needs a reminder.”
“Not while I’m around!” Roy lunged forward and jumped up, planting his glowing sword into the lich’s side. Xykon let out an indignant shout, saying something along the lines of ‘watch where you’re swinging that thing’ and twirling out of the way, his attention diverted. Tsukiko immediately tackled the chance to fight and went for Belkar, eager for revenge after the cat incident. Battle had broken out.
Redcloak and Vaarsuvius looked at each other, both immediately knowing what their partner was thinking. “Redcloak, they won’t survive if I do not help.”
“You won’t survive trying to fight!”
“If they do not live, Tiasal and I have no hope of it.” The elf gently placed the baby in Redcloak’s arms. “Please make sure she is safe.”
The goblin cradled the baby close, staring at the elf in horror. “Vaarsuvius, please don’t do this…”
“Durkon and you are here. You both can heal me. If I still die, there is always resurrection.” The elf went on tiptoes and kissed Redcloak tenderly. “I love you. Simply remember that if nothing else.”
The goblin kissed back, a pit in his stomach telling him that this would be the last kiss he’d share with the elf. “I love you too.” He meant it.
Redcloak knew when he couldn’t dissuade Vaarsuvius from something. He backed away, forcing himself to come to terms with what was happening and grateful that the Order was distracting his ‘colleagues’ long enough for them to get their bearings. “I promised you that we would be okay. I intend to keep that promise.”
The elf nodded, smiling, and in looking up at the lich who dared to threaten the newborn child, the violet eyes lit on fire. Redcloak carefully put the newborn in a cross between a bed and a rolling tray that she was supposed to have gone on to see a nurse, covering her with blankets and rolling her in a protected corner, both parents stationing themselves so that they could protect their hidden child with their lives.
Blackwing fluffed up his feathers, freezing up, staring at the swinging mirrored ball and pausing in his story.
“So Vaarsuvius started to fight to protect you and the Order. She knew what she was doing to herself. The bleeding started up again.”
“Oh come on! Can’t a whore who just gave birth put up a better fight than that?!”
Tsukiko cackled, holding up a hand and sending a wave towards Vaarsuvius. The elf sharply dodged, blood starting to pool at small feet, raising up delicate hands and frowning grimly. “Disintegrate.” The spell hit Tsukiko point-blank. She fell to the ground like a rock, alive but thoroughly dispatched.
Xykon twirled out of the reach of the rest of the Order, twisting to avoid Haley’s arrows, and pointed his hand towards the elf. “Meteor Swarm.”
The flaming rocks hit home. With a soft grunt, the elf fell to the ground, blood starting to pool at a worryingly fast rate. Vaarsuvius shook, skin becoming increasingly pale, and violet eyes glazed slowly. “No, I…” The blood kept running down pale legs, staining the white ground red. The little body hadn’t had a chance to replenish the blood it had already lost. It was losing the last of what it had.
Redcloak was at the mage’s side in a flash, putting his hands on small shoulders.
“Redcloak, I’ve lost too much blood.” Vaarsuvius leaned against the goblin, eyes closing halfway, hand lightly brushing the cleric’s. “I love you. Please remember that…”
The blood bloomed in a dark red flower, staining the floor.
“Cure Critical Wounds!”
Nothing happened. There was nothing divine magic could do. The elf was already gone.
A raven that had been perched invisibly on the elf’s shoulder let out a wail, flying up into the rafters and out of sight. There were furious shouts from the rest of the Order. All of them were too wrapped up in the fight to come.
Redcloak’s hand shook as he checked his lover’s pulse. It confirmed what he already knew.
Grief and rage tore at him. The person within wailed and threatened to consume him entirely. Vaarsuvius was dead. Xykon killed the elf he loved. Xykon had killed mother of his child. Xykon had taken her from him!
His chest heaved. Every fiber of his being told him to destroy the lich he had created. He wanted revenge. First his brother’s family, then his brother, and now Vaarsuvius. Everyone he loved, the lich had destroyed. He could already see a film of red coming over his sight.
But then the scientist reminded him softly of his daughter. He still had to protect her. She was completely defenseless against Xykon’s wrath and Tsukiko’s sadism. No matter what, he couldn’t abandon her.
For once, in regards to his lover, he listened to the scientist.
Redcloak gently rested the body on the ground with reluctance, kissing a cooling forehead before standing and slipping quietly to the bed he had put the baby in, making sure that Xykon was distracted by enraged adventurers before picking up his daughter.
The little girl looked up at him, eyes holding nothing but love and trust, and his heart ached at the sight of it. The love was so strong that it hurt. He knew what Xykon was doing. It was too late for now to save Vaarsuvius, but his daughter could still be spared.
He knelt to the ground, feeling the floorboards for one loose one that he had noticed earlier. These houses had been built by the families of pirates. The homes had been designed to hide illicit material. And people. Finding what he was looking for, he bent the floorboard back just enough for his purposes.
“Stay quiet until the skeleton is gone. Then cry as loudly as you can.”
He didn’t know why he was trying to reason with a baby, but it was all he could think to do. The little girl reached out for him, violet eyes wide.
His heart started to ache again. He didn’t want to let her go.
“I love you. You won’t remember it, but I hope I’ll be able to say it to you again soon.”
Redcloak gently slipped the girl under the floor, making sure that she was only resting on the insulation before placing the board loosely over her. The good thing about places like this was the fact that there was actually enough space between boards and insulation to hide something up to the size of a small child or a couple bars of stolen gold. In all the years Redcloak knew Xykon, he’d always torn things apart to find what he wanted, but he usually left the walls and floors alone. He was depending on the lich’s lack of thoroughness now.
He stood up quickly, praying to the Dark One with every ounce of his being for his daughter’s safety, and he looked to the battle.
Xykon was standing over Vaarsuvius’s body, surrounded by the unconscious or barely alive bodies of the Order, grinning with an unfamiliar necklace in his hands. The necklace was fixed with three black sapphires.
Redcloak’s heart sank.
“Alright, Reddy. Where’s your little squalling bastard?”
The goblin felt a growl rise in his chest but he forced it down. If he had any hope of keeping his daughter alive and saving Vaarsuvius’s soul, he had to think fast.
“Where is the little half-breed?”
“She was stillborn.” Redcloak forced himself to look down and played the part of a grieving father the best he could. He had been able to pull off acting to fool Xykon about matters before. He gave another prayer to his god for this to work.
Xykon clapped his phalanges together, slowly putting the necklace around his neck. “Then I’m sure you won’t mind me doing this. Meteor Swarm.”
Redcloak flinched in surprise when the medical bed the birthing had occurred on flew into the wall, crushing the baby bed that his daughter had been in mere moments before. “She was stillborn, Xykon. Vaarsuvius’s body couldn’t provide enough for her. We’ve already disposed of the body.”
Xykon paused, searching Redcloak’s face slowly. He seemed satisfied with what he saw, brightening up exceptionally. “Good. Baby souls are hell trying to bind—they don’t have any levels so you have to do the spell really fast. Well, I still have your whore’s soul. Just in case you were thinking of going turncoat on us. Go and pick up the necromancer chick—we’re out of here.”
Redcloak didn’t risk so much as a glance towards the place he hid his child. He lightly touched his dead lover’s hair, the last touch he believed that he would ever have, and quickly scooped up Tsukiko, reining in his emotions and following the lich out.
The bird slowly lapsed into silence, eyes glazed with memory. He rocked back and forth, falling back under the spell of the bauble, his eyes practically glowing with the light of it. Recounting his master’s death hurt.
“Well, Xykon had V’s soul hanging over his head, so Redcloak was forced to finish whatever was going on with the gates and the Snarl. Xykon would’ve used you against him too, but he had been able to make sure that you at least had some hope of getting out of this unscathed.”
Blackwing started hopping about the bauble again. Tiasal’s ears twitched madly.
“Durkon found you. Things were looking pretty dim, but he gave you to a nursemaid to take care of while he and the rest of the Order ran off to stop Xykon and find V’s soul. I wasn’t any use to them without Vaarsuvius, so I stuck with you to make sure you were okay. I don’t think I’ve ever been around such a quiet baby! Your nursemaid—Mary, I think—couldn’t get over the fact that she was actually getting a full night’s sleep even when she was taking care of you.”
It was a little awkward when Durkon and Redcloak ran into each other in Kraagor’s dungeon.
Both quickly glanced around to see if there was a lich or Theurge to keep tabs on the goblin before Redcloak quickly walked forward, one eye wide and openly afraid. “My daughter. Tiasal. Is she safe? Did you find her?”
“Aye. Ye were smart t’ hide ‘er like ye did, though I gotta say, if she dinnae cry, we woulda ‘ad trouble findin’ ‘er. She’s back in town wit’ Blackwing an’ a nursemaid.” Durkon smiled sadly. “She’s a healthy baby. Yer goin’ t’ be back wit’ ‘er soon.”
“I hope you’re right. I doubt you are.” Nonetheless, Redcloak looked greatly relieved. “Xykon has the necklace he bound Vaarsuvius in around his neck all the time now. You’ll be able to see it easily next time you see him. We should hurry up and get as far away from each other as possible—I’m not risking Vaarsuvius’s soul, and the first thing Xykon would want me to do is destroy and torture you. Not necessarily in that order.”
“Dinnae worry. I understand.” They quickly parted.
“When the Order came back, they had good and bad news. They had managed to stop Xykon and Redcloak had helped them, but Xykon killed Red and bound him in a sapphire before flying off with V’s and his gems.”
Blackwing pecked the mirror again. “And we’re still looking for him. Things are looking up since Roy, Durkon, Haley, and Belkar are going to travel to the Oracle again to get more specific information about where Xykon is and where the stones are.” The raven started flapping. “We might be able to have them revived within two years. They’ll be surprised when they see you. It could be one happy family soon.”
The bauble dropped to the ground. With that, Blackwing suddenly realized all the things he had said and the grave mistake he had made.
Everyone had gone out of their way to paint the most flattering picture possible of Redcloak and Vaarsuvius and the circumstances of Tiasal’s birth to her. They had also abstained from mentioning the whole ‘her parents are imprisoned in separate stones that could be anywhere and they’re not in any afterlife’ thing. And the ‘everyone thought that Redcloak was a rapist’ thing. And the ‘her father was prepared to destroy the world’ thing… and especially the ‘her mother meant to abort her’ thing!
Tiasal didn’t burst into tears like Blackwing expected. Her ears stopped moving. Her eyes were serene. Her mouth slowly bloomed into a smile.
She stood up and walked to the kitchen, leaving a gaping raven in her wake.
Everyone looked up from the shouting session when Tiasal bounced in, smiling widely and practically twirling where she stepped. She stopped in front of Abram, giving him a big hug, then twirled to Terentius, holding up her arms for him to pick her up.
The green-haired elf blinked in surprise, picking up his little sister silently. She hugged him around his neck, careful to not hug too tightly. “Tia, I’m so—”
Tiasal shook her head at Terentius and looked to Octavius, reaching for his face.
“Tiasal, I’m sorry for wh—”
The girl grinned, shook her head, and pulled his face closer, kissing the tip of his nose sweetly. “That’s okay. She loved us all.” She let him go and smiled. “Want to play hide and seek?”
All three teenagers looked at each other in shock, anything and everything they were going to say dying on their lips. The adults in the room went deathly silent.
Tiasal had spoken for the first time in six years.
Terentius bounced the girl a little in his arms and the kids filed out of the kitchen, leaving thoroughly baffled adults behind.