Maladar pulled a face as his wife’s incense drifted past his nose. The heavy scent brought too many memories of pointless bowing and scraping at the local temple and he neither had the time or energy to pay attention while he worked. He tapped his pen against the side of the bowl for a moment, waiting for the smell to pass before he returned to his writing. The tip of his pen hovered over the paper for a moment, a tiny droplet of ink falling to smear the paper. He found his train of thought and focused on the words below. Starting with a floral-laden letter, he wrote quickly in Forest-tongue while he referred to two books written in High Realm and a third in Riverspeak. His eyes teared up from the incense, but he focused on duplicating the spirit of the writings while translating.
In the other room, his wife’s voice rose up into a singsong chant that left him wincing from the pain. On the best of days, her voice could make a Deathlord beg for Oblivion and on the worse, it made even him pray for the river Lethe. He suppressed a shiver, trying not to think about the nearly twenty years they have been married. Two decades of praying for the gods to strike her voice away. Two decades of being disappointed. Carefully, his hand shifted down and he paused at a word, trying to find an appropriate string of words in Forest-tongue. Tapping for a moment, he leaned back and closed his eyes.
“Where is she, Maladar?”
He didn’t even open his eyes, “Probably still at the party, my love.”
It sounded hollow when he spoke, but she didn’t notice.
“How long can it take?”
“She just left.”
“Ten hours ago!”
His wife rose her voice into a shrill scream that brought a spasm to his writing hand. Wincing, he pulled his pen up away from the paper until the echoes faded. Tiredly, he cracked open one eye to look at her.
“And that is probably a good thing. She is at a Dynast affair, a very rich man that is more than capable of giving her a life we could never-”
“But, House Cynis!”
Another shudder of pain. “Love, Cynis is still a Great House and we are not.”
“Any house is better than Cy-”
The front door being slammed open interrupted the shrill lecture and Maladar gave silent thanks to a god of silence. He barely had time to turn in his chair before rapid-fire footsteps flew through the house. He caught a flash of his daughter’s dress, a sapphire blue that fluttered in the air before being sucked out of sight. A second later, another door slammed shut.
His wife gaped for a moment before asking in a quizzical tone.
“Was that Turia?”
Maladar shrugged, “I would assume so, unless someone else is wearing her dress.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know, Galee. I saw the same thing as you.”
“I have to get ready for temple, so go find out!”
He winced at the sound of her voice. For a moment, he wondered if Lethe would be cool or warm to bath in. Then, he set down his pen and carefully pushed his chair back. A pile of research materials shook dangerously for a moment before he set a hand on it to steady it.
Disinterested, he padded down the hall, his bare feet sticking to the tile floors. As he drew closer to his daughter’s bedroom, he heard sobbing from inside. A ghost of a frown furrowed his brow and he slowed down. Standing by the door, he tapped on it lightly.
He leaned against the door, pressing his ear against the cool wood. Inside, his daughter continued to sob violently. Hundreds of possibilities flashed through his mind as he opened the door.
Maladar noticed the rip on her dress as soon as he looked inside. The sapphire dress cost a large portion of his monthly salary and he couldn’t help feeling sorry for Turia once her mother found out. His regret stopped instantly as he focused on his daughter. She sobbed loudly, her head buried in her pillows and a blanket at her feet.
Walking slowly, he entered her room and stepped over small piles of dirty laundry. He ignored the mess and sat down on the edge of her bed with his back to the door. Resting his hand on her shoulder, he spoke with a concerned voice.
“Turia, what’s wrong?”
A muffled response came, too muted to be understood. He cocked his head.
“I can’t hear you, dove.”
She sat up suddenly, turning on him as she grabbed him, hugging him tighter than he ever remembered. Her shoulders and body shook with powerful sobs and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly as she cried into her shoulder. He felt more cuts on her ruined dress, destroying any possibility of using it again. His jaw tightened for a moment before he took a deep breath.
Between the sobs, she managed to gasp tearfully.
“I-I’m a monster.”
Maladar frowned, “A monster, no, no, you aren’t-”
She pulled back, staring at him with her bright blue eyes swimming in tears. He felt his heart lurch for a moment, then his gaze moved up to her forehead. To his surprise, he saw a flickering golden disk on her brow, sparkling with an unearthly light. Despite his best efforts, he found his mouth opening in surprise as the teachings of the Immaculate Order came rushing back to him.
Only Anathema had golden signs on their forehead. The same Anathema that destroyed Creation until the Dragon-Blooded rose up in revolt. He began to shake as his daughter, now one of the cursed, let out another wracking sob. Reflexively, he pulled her back into a tight hug even as his mind raced with fear and surprise. Cold shivers ran down his spine, prickling his skin as his mind raced.
As he held his only daughter, he heard his wife walking down the hall.
“Turia, you better not have upset House Cynis…”
A long shocked silence followed and both Maladar and Turia tensed up for the inevitable. Then Galee let out a terrible screech deafened him.
Galee stumbled down the hall, smacking against the walls as she sprinted for the front door, screaming “Anathema!” at the top of her lungs. Her heels twisted as she fell down hard enough to shake the walls. Maladar winced first at the thud, then at the continued gasping screams of his wife as she crawled across the floor.
Maladar worked his daughter’s arms away from him and stood up. Turia looked up with fear, her lower lip trembling.
To his surprise, Maladar’s voice sounded dispassionate as he backed toward the door.
“I have to stop her.”
Turia reached out for him, her tears brimming in her eyes but he forced himself to turn around and walk quickly down the hall, after his wife. The sight of his daughter, tears in her eyes and the golden light on her brow, haunted him as he entered into the main room. Galee had fallen in the hallway and crawled across the floor, her fingernails digging into the tiles as she reached for the front door. Her voice, shrill and breaking, continued to repeated “Anathema.” Maladar stopped next to her and helped her up. Galee leaned against him and he saw fear in her wide eyes. He tried to quiet her.
“Galee, Galee, please not so loud.”
She turned toward him, uncomprehendingly.
“Not so loud?” She repeated herself louder, “Not so loud!?”
Her shrill voice battered him, “There is an Anathema in our house!”
“She is your daughter!”
“Not anymore! She’s a monster! I-I read the books, I know what it can do!”
Galee beat on his chest with her fists and he struggled with her, trying to protect himself from her blows and silence her at the same time. Their fighting froze as a heavy pounding filled the room, the front door shaking as someone knocked on it. Galee kicked him in the knee and Maladar dropped to the ground. Unable to stop her, he could only watch as his wife raced to the door and yanked it open.
Outside, in the darkness of the early evening, three guards stood anxiously outside. The lead one, a burly man with a mailed gauntlet, stepped away from the door.
“Is there a prob-”
“Anathema! There is an Anathema in my house!”
All three guards stepped back, but Maladar couldn’t tell if it was from the shock of an Anathema or being the brunt of his wife’s voice. She flung herself at the lead guard who grabbed her. The guard’s eyes rose up to Maladar’s.
Maladar felt his life at a crux, a decision of a hair’s breadth. It felt enormous, a weight that bore down on his shoulders. Galee stared at him in shock.
“Tell him, Maladar! Tell him!”
At his hesitation, the lead guard stepped forward. His hand dropped down to his hilt, drawing a sword out a few inches. Maladar swallowed hard, stepping back in fright. The guard took another step, over the threshold of his home. Sudden tears burned his eyes as he tore his own heart in two and nodded in agreement. One shaking hand reached up and pointed down the hall, toward his daughter’s bedroom.
As one, the three guards drew their weapons. Their boots rocked the house as they rushed down the hallway. Turia’s bedroom door shattered as they burst through it and Maladar winced at her surprised scream. He closed his eyes tightly as they struggled with her, then dragged her out of the room, kicking and screaming.
“Papa! Don’t let them take me, papa!”
He backed away from her pleadings, squeezing his eyes tightly as he listened to the guards pulled her out the front door. At the last moment, he cracked open one eye and caught a single look of his daughter, pleading eyes dripping with tears and the sapphire dress fluttering with each kick.
That single image burned into his mind as the guards took his daughter away, disappearing into the darkness of the night. Galee stood there, on the doorstep. As he watched, she spat in the direction of her daughter and stormed back into the house.
“I have to get ready for temple. They’ll never believe this.”
Maladar gaped at the sudden and brutal change of emotions in his wife. He turned to watch her as she bustled into the bedroom. Stunned, he returned back to his books and sat down heavily in his chair. The smell of his wife’s incense haunted him as he listened to her finish dressing and left for the temple.
He let out a long shuddering sigh and picked up his pen. The tip hovered once again over the paper and he watched as a droplet of ink once again splashed down on the rough paper. However, this time, it felt different. It felt wrong.
He stared at the books for his research and struggled to find his place. He found it, then started to draw the first word. The shaking of his hands ruined the letter but he forced himself to continue writing. He barely made it to the end of the sentence before he lifted up the pen again. Black smears and a barely legible sentence. He groaned and tried again, tried to find the words to translate the High Realm into Forest-tongue.
Hours later, he still struggled with the same sentence. He let out a disgusted sigh and finally set down his pen. The formerly articulated page, filled with elegant translations of the Immaculate texts had turned to into a smeared mess of words, crossed out letters, and devastated thoughts. He sighed and threw the book across the room.
“Damn it. Damn her to Underworld!”
His book shook as he buried his face in his hands, his elbows rapping on the table. He sighed and let a sob shake his shoulders. He tried to cry, but the haunting memory of his daughter being dragged away kept rising up into his thoughts.
Swearing to himself, he peered out over the table. He listlessly dragged the nearest book to him and started to flip through it. One of many Immaculate texts, it was also where he remembered reading about the Anathema. He flipped through it until he found the passages, reading them through blurry eyes. Maladar read about destruction and wars, violations of the natural order, and the Dragon-Blooded’s war against them. He shook his head as he spoke.
“No, no. This isn’t my daughter.”
He slammed the book shut and grabbed the next one, frantically flipping through it to find more passages. Finding them, he continued to read about an epic battle with the cursed Anathema.
A third book said the same, then a fourth. He found himself denying it until he finally shoved all the books off the stable and stood up, anger and frustration. He whispered as he felt emotions storming through him.
“That is not my Turia!”
In that brief moment, standing over the scattered books of the Immaculate Order, Maladar made a decision. Not even sure how he would save her, he rushed into his bedroom, separate from Galee’s, and quickly dressed. Grabbing his coat, he stepped out into the night.
He stopped at his doorstep, his plans suddenly halted. He looked around.
“Where is she?”
He looked helplessly down the street he lived on. For a moment, he almost turned back in, then stopped. His eyes focused on a house further down.
“Kerna would know.”
He walked quickly down the street to Kerna’s house. Another deep breath and he knocked loudly on the man’s door. When he heard no answer, he pounded on it with his fist. A few minutes later, he heard shuffling inside and the door creaked open. Kerna spoke in an exhausted voice, his gray hair sticking in all directions as he peered up at Maladar.
“What? Maladar? What’s wrong?”
“Um, I need a favor.”
Kerna yawned, “What?”
“We had a problem tonight… and… well, they took my girl away.”
Kerna frowned, then his eyes narrowed suspiciously, “You mean Galee’s yelling?”
Maladar hesitated, then nodded. Kerna opened the door slightly more and Maladar spotted the older man’s hand on a sword just inside the door.
“I heard that.”
Thinking rapidly, Maladar shook his head, “No, that was just Galee having one of her fits. Turia ripped that new dress of hers and she threw a fit.”
Kerna relaxed slightly, “That pretty one? Oh, that is a shame. Galee really called the guards on her?”
Maladar sighed, despite the fact he felt terrible lying to the old man. Kerna sighed and looked around.
“Well, if they believe all that Anathema stuff, they would take her down to the south gate cells. They are supposed to be blessed. We had a couple scares like that a few years back.”
“The monks came the next morning and we never saw them again.”
Fear prickled his skin. Maladar bowed slightly.
“Thank you, Kerna.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Maladar. She is in the gods’ hands now.”
Maladar stepped back, then hurried down the street, heading to the south gate. He avoided the main streets, slipping down alleys and winding his way until he found himself at the entrance of an alley, staring intently at the guard tower.
Short and squat, it had three floors. From what he remembered, the top two floors would be barracks, offices, and weapon lockers. The basement had the cells… and his daughter.
Kerna’s words rose up in memory and Maladar repeated them.
“She is in the gods’ hands now.”
He took a deep breath.
“Who is the god of the Anathema?”
Maladar tried to remember, but he couldn’t. He sat on the edge, watching the nearly empty street. His foot tapped against the cobblestone. He stepped back away.
“What am I doing?”
Memories of his daughter drew him back to alley’s entrance. He shook his head sadly.
“I… I can’t.”
He worried his bottom lip. Slowly, he turned around and stepped back into the alley.
“She’s in the gods’ hands now.”
The hallow sound of his voice echoed in the alley. He stopped at the far end and leaned tiredly against the wall. Fresh tears rose up in his eyes and he wiped them away angrily. The night air felt cool against his skin and he shivered at the thought. He tried to take one more step, but froze.
Purposefully, he turned back around.
“How can I trust a god I don’t know.”
His footsteps echoed against the walls and he returned to his point, just inside the alley, glaring at the guard tower. He considered rush in, but the thought of going up against a half dozen guards left him cold.
The door swung open and he watched four guards walk out with a purpose. They headed down the street away from them and Maladar realized they were leaving for their patrols.
Giving thanks to any god which listened, he waited as long as he could, then stepped out into the street. His heart pounded heavily in his chest and he forced himself to calm down and take a deep breath. Conviction burned inside him as he walked up to the guard tower and knocked on the door.
A red-haired guard answered, looking him over before pulling his hand away from his hilt.
Thankful it wasn’t one of the three that took his daughter away, Maladar gestured inside.
“I would like to talk to my daughter.”
“You’re daughter,” the guard paused and teased the tip of his hilt, “You mean the girl?”
“Yes, I’d like to talk to her,” said Maladar.
“Please? They are going to take her away, just a few minutes?”
He looked pleadingly at the guard. After an endless moment, the guard glanced back, then held out his hand. Surprised, Maladar dug into his pocket and pulled out all the jade coins he found. Without counting them, he dumped them into the guard’s hand.
The guard shoved the coins into his pocket and stepped back. Maladar followed him, looking around curiously. A second guard sat at a table, flipping cards over with obvious boredom. He looked up and grunted at Maladar before return to his game of solitaire.
The first guard gestured for Maladar to follow and he did. Taking a short stairs down into the basement, Maladar got his first look at the prison cells. There were only three of them, but his eyes were drawn to the inscribed runes and blessings of the Immaculate Order. Jade sparkled from the corners and he was briefly impressed.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped up to the cell with his daughter, her sapphire dress visible even in the dim light. The guard unlocked it, then locked it behind him as Maladar sat down next to her. He rested one hand on her shoulder.
Turia looked up with a start, “Papa?”
He smiled, tears in his eyes as he looked at her red-rimmed eyes and the trembling lip.
“Yes, dove, I’m here.”
She flung herself up, wrapping her arms around him, holding him tightly as if he would disappear as soon as he let go.
Maladar glanced over his shoulder at the guard. The guard rolled his eyes and turned away, fingering the hilt to his short sword. Maladar felt a shiver down his spine and looked away, stroking his hands along her hair. Sobs wracked her body as she clung to him.
“Don’t let me go… please don’t let them take me.”
Hot tears splashed down on her hair. He kissed the top of her head.
“I have to, honey. I have to.”
“No! Please don’t. I swear… I’m not a monster.”
She looked up at him, tears rolling down her cheeks. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. His lips worked silently and he felt more tears soaking his face.
“I… I’m sorry, honey.”
His body shaking, he brought his hands up to her face, holding them tenderly. His heart pounded painfully in his ribs as he pulled her close to kiss her on the forehead, right where the cursed mark had shown, then down on her nose. His lips worked silently for a moment before he spoke in the softest, cracked whisper he could.
“W-When you can,” he blinked back hot tears, “I want you to run.”
Her lower lip trembled and her eyes widened.
Maladar shook his head once, “No, just listen. Don’t… don’t look back… just run.”
Realization burned in her eyes and she shook her head. Her whisper broke on the words, her body shaking violently.
“Yes, dove, you need,” he had to swallow hard to whisper again, “to run as fast as you can. Don’t stop, don’t look back.”
Her fingers clutched at him as he stood up. Wiping the tears from his face, he backed away from her. Taking one long shuddering breath, he turned his back on his daughter and winced at her sob. He saw the guard watching him, amused and disgusted at the same time.
The guard grunted, but unlocked the cell. Holding it open, he watched as Maladar stepped out. Maladar’s body felt disconnected as he stepped through the bars. The entire world slowed down for him, a moment between heartbeats when he suddenly spun on his heels and slammed the door open. Surprised, the guard fell back and slammed his head against the cell bars behind him. Maladar let out a scream of rage as he grabbed the cell door and slammed it again against the guard. The guard managed to get an inarticulate bellow out and Maladar tried to punch him. Behind him, he spotted a flash of sapphire as his daughter sprinted for the stairs.
The guard kicked him through the door, spoiling Maladar’s punch. Adrenaline poured through Maladar’s body as he threw another punch. It connected hard with the guard’s chin. The guard’s head snapped back and Maladar saw the whites of his eyes rolling up and fell back with a gasp. Without waiting for the guard to slump down, he stumbled toward the stairs and climbed them as fast as he could.
In the entry, the other guard managed to get out of his chair in time to stop Turia. They struggled right next to the door leading outside. Maladar stumbled forward, then threw himself across the room. He grabbed the guard and yanked back, trying to pull him away from his daughter. Muscles screamed with effort, but he refused to give up. Letting out a scream, he twisted as he jerked as violently as he could. The guard twisted in his grip, fighting against Maladar’s efforts. The sound of the sapphire dress ripping drove him to fight harder, trying to separate the man from his daughter. The guard swung powerfully and his punch caught Maladar right under the chin.
Stars exploded in his vision, blinding him, but Maladar just pulled even harder, feeling the guard lose grip on his daughter. Her dress ripped loudly, but he felt her finally slip free. He tried to yell out to her, commanding her to run, but he couldn’t as he found himself being kicked hard between the legs.
In his pain, the guard almost slipped out. Maladar bit back the pain, bitting his tongue and wrapped his arms around the guard. Hot tears burned his cheeks as he clung on as tightly as he could, refusing to let go. Screaming wordlessly, he twisted violently and heard his back crack from the effort. Both he and the guard fell heavily to the ground. As he felt, Maladar caught a sight of the open door to the guard tower, and the fluttering sapphire of his daughter disappearing into the darkness.
He grinned triumphantly as he hit the ground. As fast as he could, he tried to scramble to his feet. When his entire body shuddered violently, he froze. He felt a strange tightness in his chest and looked down to see a length of steel piercing through his ribs. Shakily, he turned to see the first guard standing over him, his sword buried into Maladar’s back. One hand shook free of the second guard to feel the blade, the hot steel that dripped with his life’s fluids. The tears came back, tears of joy his daughter’s escape and pain of his sacrifice. His fingers released the sharpened steel and his arm slumped to the ground.
With agony tearing through every nerve of his body, Maladar finally remembered the god of the Anathema. As the pain consumed his thoughts, he coughed violently and struggled into a kneeling position. He used to the last of his strength to whisper out a blood-stained prayer for the Unconquered Sun to take care of his little girl, his dove.