The Lost Daughter
Brenna R. Singman
Angelica hated to visit the temple after dark, but she also hated feeling trapped in her room back at the Goddess' tower-if one could call it a room. It gave just enough space to let her toes wiggle against the stone wall, suitable for an infant, not a young woman, but there was only so much room to expand. Those wooden walls and doors let in terrible drafts in the cold season, which began a month ago. All of the blankets in the tower weren't enough to keep out the chill, and, to her parents' dismay, she didn't have the righteous warmth from the Goddess to keep herself comfortable. Yet. Angelica didn't understand why she couldn't call upon the Divine Light the way her parents could. Perhaps it was their age and experience, both well into their graying years, while their daughter was still considered a babe, a mere fourteen years old.
"A miracle brought you to us," her mother always told her. "And the Goddess will bring you Light."
Angelica spat into the dirt from anger, but then she cringed. She smoothed over the dirt with her satin slipper and hoped the Goddess would forgive. Past the iron gates and along the stepping stones through the courtyard, Angelica found herself at the faceted glass doors of a towering stone structure, almost tall enough to block the full moon that sat high in the sky. A cool gust whipped around her, and Angelica shuddered, drawing her midnight blue cloak tightly about her wool nightdress. She didn't dare hesitate longer, and she slipped through the doors.
Overheard in the vast entrance hall of white stone were hundreds of darkened prayer room windows, each level having several arched doorways at the platforms of a continuously winding stone stair. Only four stairwells on the ground level led down. Of those four, Angelica followed the eastern facing path. The Divine Light emanating from the stone entry only reached a few feet deep before torches set in sconces took over in the winding corridor. Angelica tread lightly as if she needed to fear awakening any temple priests, but she knew they had all retired to the Goddess' Tower for the night. Angelica paused on the bottom step. She looked out at the shadowy cavern, only lit in its heart by a single stone block of the same Divine energy. A song of light, peace, and protection rang out in a hum that even an empty vessel like Angelica could hear. It soothed her enough to step forward.
The moment her foot touched the ground, immense sorrow blotted out the Goddess' song. Terrible, roiling aches dragged Angelica to her knees, and tears spilled down her cheeks. She didn't understand why the loneliness felt so familiar. Yes, she stood out in being so late to bloom with Divinity compared to her parents, uncles, and cousins. The entire Temple staff were her family, and the chambers her birthright.
They are not yours, claimed a bell-like chime in her heart. Angelica gasped. It was precisely how her mother told her the Goddess would sound-like a decorative web of symbols hanging in the doorway on the eve of a storm. These halls are not yours, but you may worship.
Angelica's insides froze as everything became clear. The words felt like a slap to the face even as they were laced in kindness. There was pity in the allowance for her to stay within the halls she would never truly guard. Her heart begged to know why.
We are not your kin.
"I truly am alone." Her voice shuddered. Angelica crawled towards the light, wishing it would warm her, just once, just to know what it felt like to have blood family around her. She prayed for the guiding Light, and her heart song had never rang out so loudly. Suddenly the air felt as though it were sucked out of the room. The song and light from the center pillar was instantly overwhelmed by quiet and darkness. Veins of blue-white light pulsed as they attempted one last fight for freedom, but soon they were gone, and Angelica hugged her knees and wished to unplug her ears.
You are not alone, a new, grating voice said as it filled her heart. It didn't bring the terror of sorrow, but rather the joy of community-of family. The stone floor shook, and pieces crumbled as ivory picks broke through. It didn't take long for Angelica to realize that the sharp points were bone attached to rotted tendons and then more length of bone until she recognized a full arm and shoulder leaving the ground. Scores of skeletal bodies surrounded her, evacuating the layers of dirt below the temple and crawling towards her with shivering limbs and red, glowing eye sockets. Your family has finally found you.
Angelica's lips quivered as the undead creatures approached and then stopped in a circle of audience around her. A pale haze fell over the crowd, pinching off from the mass that settled in the air and forming around each bony figure. One sheathed a creature in the ghostly image of an old man with a beard down to his toes. Another was a plump woman tidying her apron from some ancient use. Some others were children bouncing with glee.
"You found us, Angelica!" one little girl cried. "You brought us home!"
"Now Thevina," the plump woman scolded, "She's returning home. Home is where family is. Scythinz be praised." The woman looked at Angelica with a toothy smile. "The clerics can't deter our Patron's will any longer, love. You're back under Its watchful eye as you were meant to be. Now be a dear and help us through so we can begin our revenge. Stealing a child. Simply damnable."
Angelica looked back at the pillar that continued to drown in darkness. Then she looked back at her family-her true family-and smiled, for she had never felt more at peace than sitting there in the Dark.