Well, I couldn't hold it back until the weekend. This entry is still Sigils and Unions of a sort, but it belongs to a different universe. Not the Mirror Universe, but one we caught a glimpse of in a different episode...I'm going to call it the Catacombs of Oralius universe. (Oralius being the Cardassian religion as shown in the DS9 relaunch novels) Rated PG-13 for a rough sexual situation alluded to, not directly portrayed. ============ The Cardassian man shivered inside the coldbox, helpless to stop the increasingly violent, increasingly futile contortions as he instinctively cradled his legs up against his chest, curling himself into a tighter and tighter ball as he leaned up against that freezing wall. His microscales had already tightened against the lower layers of his skin as much as they could, but the heat still leached out from his core faster than his daughter’s more resilient metabolism could replenish. The girl—just become a woman, he reminded himself—shivered, still conscious, her body retaining a precious degree or two more than his. As for him…a false warmth crept into his limbs, the cloying sense of imagined safety that every Cardassian was raised to know was instead the herald of death. His consciousness was slipping, and he knew then: just as she had stood watch over him times of madness, his pure Cardassian constitution would force her to stand watch over him while he preceded her in death. She embraced him as tightly as she could. In this moment, when all his trials would soon come to an end, his only regret was that after all their years on the run, of sleeping amidst the dust and rocks of occupied Cardassia, of countless raids against the invaders who descended upon them in wave after wave of holy zeal, that now his daughter would see him die before she too walked with Oralius. That faith had enraged the Bajorans who first came to Cardassia Prime—first in their deceptively beautiful sunships, later in monstrous military dreadnoughts that even the prototypical Gălor-class design could never have overcome. That the Cardassians were heretics against the True Prophets—the Pah-Wraiths, as the Cardassians called them was bad enough. That the alien invaders’ rapid conquest of their planet had only intensified the Cardassians’ embrace of the faith of their Hebitian ancestors infuriated them further. The believers in the Oralian Way had grown complacent after their faith successfully weathered the terrible climactic shift five hundred years ago, and in the days just before the invasion. They had begun to take their belief for granted and there had been corruption among the Guides that in a few generations he suspected would have undone the faith entirely. But now—forced to defend themselves against the devil-worshippers that called them “heretics”…if the Oralian Way died with the last Cardassian, it would do so with the highest honors. Not that everyone who called themselves believers prevailed. He’d seen it often enough: how they brought out those damned glowing red trinkets of theirs, those so-called Orbs that promised instant connection to the world of the gods, tempting Cardassian believers with a cheap path to the spiritual plane instead of the prayer, fasting, the trials of faith, the times when it felt like Oralius’ spirit would never come, those things that truly forged the spirit into her likeness. And the punishments they dealt out to those who stood fast…it was the fortunate ones who were lined up and shot on the spot. As for him, that first time they had caught up with him eighteen years ago…one of the devil-clerics had selected him as “consort.” That witch had known how to trigger one of his manias, known how to warp the ensuing madness to her benefit…even known how to make him respond to her against his will in that most intimate of ways. The shame of his body’s betrayal had crushed him immediately after the manic fog cleared, and it had only been the thought of the child to come that kept him from hurling himself from the roof of that palatial prison during the subsequent depression. His daughter was the only good to have come from that accursed woman. Duty to Cardassia and to newborn family had sustained him for the next few months: he could not allow that witch to raise his new daughter to loathe the land of her father, to loathe the embrace of Oralius. He could not allow the girl to become like her. He had waited just long enough for the hybrid infant to gain strength that the long journey back to Cardassia Prime would require, then stolen away in the night with his beautiful daughter wrapped in blankets against the cold no one else on that soul-chilled planet ever seemed to feel. Oh, how beautiful she had grown—though he wondered how many others could see that beauty through the bony frailness forced on them by the rationing, and the Bajoran ridges on her nose. He had reminded them often enough that the girl loved Oralius just as much as the next Cardassian, that she would never bend to the false allure of the Pah-Wraiths. Not this beloved girl, who stood steadfastly by her father whenever the Resistance couldn’t steal enough of the right medication from the Bajorans to keep his mind clear, knowing she was the only anchor that could keep the mania from overtaking him completely, the only one that could keep him from slipping under the sea when the mania gave way to the dread lassitude. No—not one who could serve Oralius by caring for the man who should have always been capable of caring for her…she would never give way. And when the Bajoran forces had overtaken them on that final raid of the station—the Eye of the True Prophets that glared down upon desert Cardassia from on high—she, like him, did not forsake Oralius, not when they beat him, not when they pried off the macroscales of his neck and chest ridges in front of her and tazed him in the exposed spots over and over again, not even when they announced the final penalty of death in the coldbox for them both. Not even when the lead torturer entered the room after her underlings’ dirty work, and revealed herself as that one in whose womb she matured to term. She’d taken great delight in announcing herself to the girl’s father and former consort. Won’t you think of our daughter? she’d pleaded with mock softness. You drag her through bramble and mud for your heresy—look at her; she’s half-starved and covered in dirt! She’ll never want for a thing with me. Just like I ‘never wanted for a thing,’ is that it? he had snapped with a sardonic smirk. You can take that proposition and cast it to the eternal tundra where it belongs! He didn’t regret it; he’d seen the contempt in his daughter’s eyes as they stood together facing the Bajoran woman. He had never hid the truth of her parentage from her, always careful to remind her time and time again that it mattered not if half her genetic code came from that woman: he loved her for the beauty of that Oralius-breathed spirit within her and that was all he’d ever need. Just that last year, though, she had seen the haunted look in his eyes and asked, as she always did, what had happened to him during that captivity. She’d been old enough then…though he spared her the most sordid details, he had finally admitted to her just how she had used him. He had died inside at the humiliating confession—but just as she embraced him in madness, she had embraced him then, too, ever loving, never pitying… But in the presence of his tormentor, her rage had burst forth into a bloodcurdling scream. You can’t have him—never, ever again! I won’t let you hurt him! You won’t let me? Let me do what? Really, child—you couldn’t have bought that tired old lie of his. If you hadn’t done anything, you wouldn’t be so worried what he’d say. They say confession's good for the souls and you certainly have some sins to confess! she’d retorted in the same snide tone as her father. Then her features grew deadly serious. I won’t forsake my father, and I damned well won’t forsake Oralius! The devil-cleric's rage had been too much then; she’d thrown them both naked into the coldbox. The voices of memory were too clear now. He cradled his daughter close as he prayed for final deliverance for them both. Tears slipped free, caught on the ridges encircling his eyes, but he was far beyond the effort of stopping them now. He knew he was blessed to be one of those selected to give his life for the sake of his faith, but he wished his daughter hadn’t had to suffer for it as well. His lips voicelessly formed the words and he prayed to Oralius she understood. I’m sorry, Ziyal. She stroked his long, unkempt black hair just the way she always did when the illness took him. “It’s going to be okay, Daddy.” And in that moment, the light played at the edges of his vision and his mind cleared beyond sanity—and in this superlucidity every remaining doubt in his mind surrendered to the overwhelming embrace of a love beyond anything he’d ever felt. He needed no prayer mask now as it moved through him, laid each fear to rest one by one. The man they called the Glinn, who now led the resistance in his stead, would someday free his people. And soon, very soon, he and his daughter would be together forever in the warmth… The dying Cardassian’s lips pulled into one final smile. The light overtook him and he gained that which had so often eluded his troubled mind in life. Skrain Dukat finally had peace.