Lost daughter of Zelzosh
Lucinda had expected the hovel to be long gone. But there it stood – the wood petrified and grey from the endless cold, adorned by ancient thorns of frost.
An old, nigh-forgotten emotion pricked at her heart, piercing almost as deep as the cold of the storm.
She had not felt fear in so long.
This had been her home two lifetimes ago. It had been a different place, and she a different person. She swallowed, staring at the yawning door, then gathered her strength and entered.
It was so dark.
As a child, the firelight had always been a comfort to her. But there was no fire, at least not now. Black and grey powder in the fireplace assured her that life remained. The old work table was covered in dust and ash, but both lay scattered. The table was still in use. And the user crouched in the darkness.
“What’s this?” rasped an impossibly old voice. “No goblin this time. Who are you – some robber or demon, to rid me of this foul existence? Be quick then. No riches here, just my life to take.”
There was strength of will in that voice, mingled with despair, but undiluted. It was a voice once familiar to her – once adored. Nostalgia tinged with regret twisted in her like a knife in a wound.
She stood to her full height – she was tall for a woman, as tall as a medium-height man – and brushed ash out of her cropped, black hair with a pale hand.
“No bandit this time,” she remarked bitterly. She had her own history with bandits. “But I am no less dangerous.”
“Who’s there?” the man rasped sharply, pressing his back into the wall. He pointed a bony finger toward her, warning, “I swear, woman, if-”
She reached out and snatched his wrist. “It’s Lucinda, old man,” she stated, revelling in the shocked expression on his face. “I’ve come home. Father.”
“The hobgoblins,” the man hissed, as he rocked back and forth in his old chair, which creaked unhappily. “I thought they’d eat you. Or worse.” His head jerked towards her sharply. She’d managed to calm him down, and had spread a blanket on the floor to sit on. He remained in his ancient, petrified chair, atop a large, rough, cushion. They had almost nothing when she had been here before, and with the rest of the village gone, it appeared her father had resigned himself to eternal poverty and misery.
Not that she blamed him. A blind old man crippled by bitterness and regret could only do so much for himself, magic or no. She felt some contempt for what he had become. Her father had been a man of seemingly limitless power and hope, a source of joy for all the children in their humble village. And now..
But this was no social visit. She had very good reasons to be here, and she suspected that he knew as well. For now, she let him release his burdens.
“Worse almost came later,” she assured him at last. “When they thought I was ready. But I was saved.”
“Saved?” he barked suspiciously, his white eyes turning toward her round face. But his suspicions quickly dissolved in his never-drying lake of sorrow. “Of course. Someone saved you. How else could you be here?”
He leaned closer, his breath smelling like decay, and whispered conspiratorially, “I finished it, you know. They killed everyone else in the village. I couldn’t save them. And I couldn’t finish it before you returned. But I did finish it. Our people sacrificed so much for our magic. But it’s done.”
Her heart skipped a beat. This is what she’d come for.
The old man braced a palm on each arm of his chair, and pushed himself to his feet. He raised the worn cushion that he had been sitting on before him. Then, he tore it apart.
Fluff, rags and scraps rained to the ground, but something else fell. Something larger and heavier. She bent over as if to touch her toes, grunting slightly from the effort and retrieved it.
To the eyes of the uninitiated, it was nothing. A child’s toy. A plush bear, like the toys of working class children across the empire. Lucinda was reminded of what she and her father represented.
His spell had protected their village from the cataclysm. It had drawn them in and out of the Material Plane. They had been prisoners beyond time and space, for anyone who passed the outskirt of the village risked being abandoned in the eternal blizzard, forever away from their people – or worse, being cast unprotected into the astral or ethereal plane. Prisoners or no, however, they had been free from death until the spell failed, untold centuries after it was first cast. And the day it failed, a warband of hobgoblins had stumbled upon the village.
The toymaker had been working on his ultimate protection, in hopes of carrying his people through the planes to a new world. But his daughter was taken, the village destroyed. There had been nothing left for him to save but his own despair.
“Now,” her father insisted. “Let me see you.” He fell back into his chair as if spent.
She wanted to shrink away. There was still some remnant of shame for what she had to do. But it would be her last concession to him, before surrendering to her new life.
She got on his knees before him, as his leathery hand stroked her cheek, passing over her forehead, her arm – testing her soft biceps – then cringed when his fingertips pressed into her soft side. “You aren’t starving at least,” he observed with a chuckle. She glared invisibly at him, being conscious of her weight, then gave a soundless sigh as she got to her feet again.
She reached into her pocket, fingering a hard, wooden totem. The spell would be over quickly. He would be dead before-
“I know you’re with them,” the old man stated.
The blood in her veins turned to ice, almost as cold as the winds outside.
Regardless, he continued, “They destroyed our world, yet they find gifted people to join their cause, even amidst its ruins.”
“I’m sorry, Father,” she replied flatly. She wasn’t sure if it was true or not.
“I assume they saved you from the hobgoblins. Raised you, trained you. And sent you here for the mirror ward?” he asked cautiously.
“I volunteered, Father,” she stated. “They’ve done a better job protecting me than you did.”
The old man bowed his head resignedly, in the darkness. “An old, blind tailor can only do so much, even with magic at his disposal. But that is hardly an excuse. You are right, of course.”
He turned his empty eyes toward her. “Promise me this, Lucinda. Promise that it will be quick and clean.”
Inhaling deeply, she replied, “I will.” As she made her first arcane passes in the air, she added, “You tried your best with your family, Father. I can only do the same for mine.”