A Shard of Darkness, Part 1

In a small, dark, cluttered room in a palatial manor in the city of Heretoral, Shala Votalin sat, stared out the window, and waited. It was raining outside, which was normal on the planet of Infanalis. Shala liked rain. Something about the dreary gloominess of rain made her feel like the dreary gloominess in her heart was normal. For two hours now, she had been sitting in her roo and waiting. She wondered if a normal person would be bored in this situation. Not her. This was relaxing to her. If she was just sitting and looking out a window, it meant that worse things weren’t happening to her.

Of course, it had been three years those worse things had happened, but old habits died hard. Ever since she was a child, her father had raped her regularly. It had been, sadly, normal for her, and if she didn’t enjoy it at all, it had been so engrained in her regular routine that she didn’t overly hate it either. But once she had been married off to an allied House, her husband had gotten wind of her father’s habits, and put a stop to them. That had surprised Shala, and she still wasn’t sure what to think about it. Nor was she convinced that her father had given up on her. But for three years, she had gotten a respite, and that was better than nothing.

That respite was likely to end soon. Her father, Erelesk Votalin, more commonly known now as Emperor Neminatrix IV, had requested the presence of herself and her husband, Lorgad Hemetal, at the capital, Trisitania. Lorgad had replied that he was more than happy to visit the capital, but that Shala wasn’t feeling well and wished to stay on Infanalis. The Emperor’s reply was expected today, and it was what Shala was waiting for.

Deep in her heart of hearts, Shala hoped and prayed that her father was done with her, that the reply would come, and he would say that it was okay for her to stay on Infanalis. But she knew that was a false hope. Her father would never be done with her. His soul was too sick and twisted to ever let her be free of him. She didn’t know why, but something about Erelesk Votalin was so broken and warped that he couldn’t be happy unless his only daughter was miserable.

Shala gave a start as the door of her room opened, and for a brief moment, there was a strange lightness in her heart that made her think the news would be good. But one look at her husband’s face told her that her hope was misplaced.

“Well?” she said faintly, hope warring with despair in her voice. Lorgad just shook his head sadly.

“I’m afraid the Emperor was disinclined to acquiesce to our request,” he said in a sorrowful voice. She sighed deeply and turned back to the window.

“It’s no more than I expected,” she said, trying, and failing, to sound strong.

“Shala,” said Lorgad, kneeling down beside her, “you are not going to Trisitania.” She turned to him with a quizzical expression on her face.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Of course I am! I mean, I don’t want to, but I can’t cross my father’s will.”

“You won’t be,” Lorgad said firmly. “I will. I will go to Trisitania without you, and I will face the consequences of that action.”

“Lorgad,” she said softly, shaking her head, “you can’t do that. If you defy him, he will destroy you and your entire House. He’s not just the head of House Votalin anymore. He’s the Emperor. I know House Hemetal is powerful, but compared to the might of the whole Empire, you won’t hold out long.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said emphatically. “I’ve sworn to uphold the honor and prosperity of my House, but my own personal oath has always been to do the right thing. And handing you over to your father is absolutely not the right thing. And if that means the destruction of House Hemetal, then so be it.”

“Lorgad,” she said quietly, tears welling up in her eyes, “thank you. I don’t think anyone has ever been nice to me before you. It’s…a strange feeling, but…I…I think I like it.”

“Oh, Shala,” Lorgad said with a wistful smile, “if life was in any way fair, you would have been my daughter, not Erelesk’s. I’m sorry that it took me so long to stand up for you. I should have adopted you when you were little.”

“You didn’t know,” Shala said sadly, turning back to the window. “Nobody knew.”

“You give me too much credit,” Lorgad said angrily, shaking his head. “I’ve always had a pretty good idea what kind of person Erelesk is. I just didn’t care. As long as he stayed away from my children, I wasn’t going to be bothered with what he did with his own.”

“But you changed, didn’t you?” Shala said. “You and Ilena have done so much more for me than anyone else ever has. Whatever your failings in the past, you’ve more than made up for them now.”

“Thank you, Shala,” Lorgad said, clearing his throat and blinking. He took a deep breath, then stood up and said, “In any case, I need to get ready for my trip to Trisitania. Please let me know if you need anything from me before I go.”

“I will do that, Lorgad,” Shala replied. She didn’t look as he left the room. It was a strange thing, having somebody care about you. Even though she was legally considered Lorgad’s wife, in a very real sense, she was more like his daughter. As much as she wished to have a knight in shining armor to love her and cherish her, having a father who treated her like a person was almost as good. She was almost in a good mood, but then she remembered that her real father was still out there, and he still desired to get his twisted claws on her again.

A plaintive sigh escaped her lips as she gazed at the streets below. People were running to and fro, trying to finish their business and get out of the rain. How many of them wished that they were a princess, daughter of the Emperor, married to a powerful lord? But she would have given up all of her wealth and status for the freedom of being a regular person, where nobody paid any attention to her, and no one cared who she was.

To be continued…

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