V’neef Cardassian Marak had gone dark.
Cathak Haral stood before the open window at Cydonia, staring down at the ancient stone courtyard. Below, his people worked like bees. They had set up running water, gotten the kitchens going, and started farming on the rooftops to supplement supply trains and supply runs. If they could get traders in here it would be a proper city soon, the very keystone of the kingdom he was hoping to build. He had no ambitions to be Emporer, but King was a nice step above Satrap.
He very much doubted anyone would be Emporer or Empress, ever again. Though he supposed Mnemon might eventually take up the title, ruling over a very much reduced section of territory.
The letters he had just burned threatened to change all of that.
Haral was no fool. He had relied on far more than the bounty hunter to track the movements of the Anathema who had left his employ. Just because a mere human wasn’t equipped to fight the man did not mean that they did not have eyes, and ears. He made use of those with hefty salaries, and had a network of agents across the Scavenger Lands and well into the east and south for as long and as far as he could insert them.
It had taken him some time, however, to trace the identity of the ship’s captain who his wayward, possessed slave had taken refuge with. And when he had, and had further read the reports that his bastard daughter—Dragons above, what had the name of the kitchen maid who had birthed her been? It had been too long for him to remember now—Desdemona had also shown signs of the Anathema curse…well.
A cold sensation had struck him to the core, twisting his stomach in knots. He already had that damnable representative of the Immaculate Order here, sniffing around, all but openly accusing him of treason. His men were in a state of uneasiness and unrest that only Jarak’s steady hand had managed to calm. The only reason Haral’s own men weren’t dragging him back to the capitol in chains was due to the fact that the monk had no evidence.
He had never had much use for monks. There was one little temple in Greyfalls, but they had mostly stayed out of his way. He hadn’t encouraged any greater participation, and had made it as easy as possible for people to seek civil ceremonies for marriages, funerals, and all manner of other rites.
But the monk was out for blood, and his darling wife had probably fucked him senseless to make sure it was not her blood that he came for.
But if this got out—if others made the same connection—the monk wouldn’t need anything else. He’d be branded a heretic, perhaps called Anathema himself, and that would be the end of him.
But it wasn’t just him. The backlash would strike his brother, one of the few people who had ever had his back. Every one of his men would find their military careers and their lives cut short with new assignments to the front lines. His kingdom would fall apart. His nephew would probably find himself sent to the coldest hell. His little niece, so sweet and frail? Her marriage to the sorcerer would fall apart, and, with no other prospects, she would probably be disowned probably to make absolutely sure that the Tepet distanced themselves as far from that possible trouble as they possibly could.
Dragons help him, his heart even demanded that he spare a thought for his wife. He hated her sometimes. He’d wanted to kill her before. But the little fool would be mistaken if she thought for one moment that this wouldn’t backlash on her, too. He entertained a brief fantasy that this could bring them closer together somehow—that in mutual persecution she would have no choice but to turn to him, and work side by side with him, in a situation that was still as dangerous for her as it was for him. She did want to be Queen, he knew. Perhaps not with him…but perhaps that could be dealt with.
And perhaps Jezmin would stick a bloody knife in his back and twist it while laughing at his screams. No, best not to involve her.
He clasped his hands behind his back, white knuckled. No. He was going to have to deal with this. The only hope would be if he took them and killed them. Though a more interesting possibility had wormed its way into his head. If they had the powers to sway entire crowds of people he could perhaps use them to strengthen his hold and his kingdom. Sway the hearts of the people back to him, destroy or exile the Immaculates in a swift pogram—or rewrite their religion altogether—and challenge the empire with such allies at his side. Because if the secret got out later it wouldn’t even matter if he killed them! Desdemona was his daughter, and the belief would be that he killed her, not to spare the world from ravaging by a dangerous Anathema, but to hide the secret.
Which was in fact why he did want to kill her.
His own daughter.
Dangerous thoughts. A dangerous situation. But nobody ever made it to monarchy without danger.
He would have to decide later. First, he had to get to them. He had to be the first to get to them. He had to see to it that the monk could not accompany them for any reason, but he thought he had a solution there. He’d tell the monk that V’neef had gone dark, and that V’neef had evidence that would exonerate him. That would send the bloodthirsty bastard after V’neef to kill him before any such evidence could come to light. By the time he got back, Haral would have his most loyal men on the move. A Dragon of Calvary could make the trip in good time.
At least he knew where to go. A single member of the crew had talked to one of his agents. Pillow talk. The man was conflicted about traveling with a bunch of Anathema, and had been full of complaints about the lot of them. He hadn’t been sure where their next port of call was, but he’d said that Desdemona had perked in interest when a Lookshy patrol had mentioned some other Anathema (dear Dragons, the Scavenger Lands were crawling with them!) and Denasdor. What anyone could want with the Empty City was beyond him, but the complainer had also been angry about certain artifice retrofits that had been made to the ship, artifice that could make it fly over land. The agent had planted the notion of a bit of sabotage if it looked like they were going to leave there very soon.
Which meant he could safely plan on them being there.
Picking up a pen, Cathak Haral began writing up his orders.