Lotus: My Only Friend

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“Can we go again?”

“Again? But we just got back!”

“Not now, but someday. Someday after you beat the bad men in the west.”

“Someday, yes.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Cross your heart? And we can visit with the man who owns the water?”

“Liked the place? Yes, sweetheart. You can stay with him.”

“… Where are we going?”

“To get you your last present.”

“But you already got me a present in Can….”

“Khand, sweetheart. And it’s better than the trinkets and robes.”

“Really? Thank you, Daddy!”

“Thank me in a few years, little tiger.”

“Is… Is it a tiger?!”

“No, Inaris. It is better than a tiger.”

Oh….”

“Look. See, up there? It’s your mother.”

“I see her!”

“You should wave to her.”

“Is she coming with us?”

“Good girl. No, she will not be.”

“But I want to show her my present.”

“She already knows what it is.”

“Is it something I can share? Then I could share it with her and my friends.”

“Yes and no. Here we are.”

“But… I’m not allowed in this door… Did I say something wrong?”

“No, little tiger. Before we go in, you need to listen to me.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Remember what I told you before?”

“You told me a lot of things.”

“About friends.”

“That you’re my only friend?”

“That’s it. People will be nice to you only as long as they need to use you. Never have any other friends. They will always betray you.”

“… O-okay, Daddy.”

“Good, Inaris. Now, let’s get your present.”

“Are… you sure? Do I have to go in there? The Mistress said –”

“You trust me, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, go in.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The brand behind her ear was hot and raw to the touch. The ache kept her migraine from subsiding, and each throb of pain felt like iron nails scraping against her skull. Thankfully the haze of the past few hours had finally begun to lift. With a soft grunt in effort, Jade righted herself to lean back against the bookshelf.

“I was beginning to wonder if he’d gone too far and finally beaten you.”

Jade tested opening her eyes ever so carefully, only to find that the world was still tinted red, and warm pools of moisture lazily began coursing down over the sides of her pallid cheeks. Then it all came flooding back. Talagol relaxing in a chair in the little, empty apartment as Eglathor drug her in. Why she was there. Why she hurt everywhere.

“Hold still,” said Talagol as he crouched down beside her and removed the wad of cloth that served as a gag from her mouth. While years had seen his olive skin grow darker and heavy from wind and sun, they had done little to soften the man’s angular jaw and high cheekbones. How long has he been in Bree?

Don’t touch me,” Jade hissed, her mouth unbearably dry, jerking her head away. The sharp motion served only to make her headache worse. After a decade of wishing for just one chance to meet him again so she could see the life drain from his eyes he was here, and by the cords that bound her wrists she wondered if he knew just how much she hated him.

Talagol slapped her across the face, and the room spun. “Hold still,” he repeated, his voice no more severe than before as he pulled out a kerchief. “You will heal soon enough but it won’t do to have people see you with blood in those lovely eyes.”

You watched. Watched and did nothing! You vile bastard, you — “Where is the sorcerer?”

Talagol’s stern expression shifted into a dangerous glare as he carefully wiped the crimson tears from the corners of her eyes. “Eglathor has gone to collect his things from the inn. But I want to know something.”

Jade glared right back at him, not responding, nor drawing back again.

“Why did you betray our people?”

“‘Our people” is a very broad term to you, isn’t it?”

Talagol frowned. He was angry, yes, but it seem to be driven more out of disappointment than anything else. “In an hour you will be putting this pitiful place behind you. You should thank Eglathor for making sure you will not be executed upon our return.”

“Well, isn’t he the sweetest,” she cooed, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Don’t expect to get too far.”

Talagol’s harsh features illuminated by the firelight were accentuated by a wry smirk not all that dissimilar from his daughter’s. “We will see. Do you think this Breeish husband of yours will come? If he cannot be satisfied by being reimbursed, well…. Farmers and peasants are fodder for our friend, dear daughter.”

Jade sneered. You had better hope I get free and deal with you before he catches up. “Eglathor may be yours, but as far as you are concerned, I have no friends, remember?”

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