The Marks of Sin

Part I: Past the Limit

Chapter One: The City of Danae

The First Law: He who commits a Sin against God must bear a mark of black on his left hand. Once twenty marked Sins have been committed, he who committed them must be put to death by order of the Priests of Danae, acting in accordance with the wishes of the Lord God Almighty.

The old City of Danae has many rules. Many that no man will understand, or even try to contemplate. They ways of the people of Danae have been set for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Tradition and religion have been the foundation of everything from the stones that lay in the very walls and building of the city, to the system of government and the daily lives of the guilders. These ways have gone untouched since the beginning of the city. Isolation from the outside world has been in place since the great Wall, upon which the sins of every person are counted, and the worth of each guild measured. The priests have lived in power over law and God since the first bells tolled form the clock tower in the first hour of the first day of the city. Every citizen has been awarded their own place, their specific niche in the workings of the city since before the first Mark of Sin had been placed on the hand of the first sinner. The ways of Danae have been set as the stones of its foundation for so long that none that live can even remember one who knew the story from their grandparents of the placement of the Laws. Old knowledge has been lost. Old reasoning forgotten. Old troubles rectified and placed in the dustiest books and scrolls of the grand libraries. All that remains of the old times are the ways of the people, and without the reason behind these customs, the customs themselves will be destroyed.

Adrian was born on a morning when there was no sun. The sky was blackened by heavy clouds, and rain poured over the city. Adrian, of course, did not remember this. He was told by his mother at the age of six when she was quite exasperated with him. It was no wonder, she had said. It was a bad omen to be born on a rainy day. It was a joke then, but later in Adrian's life it had ceased to hold its humor.

There are those who believe that in order to fall into the dark corners of life one must have an unhappy childhood. With Adrian, this was not so. He was the second child, and his older brother was good and patient and strong; just as an older brother should be. Adrian's family was not rich, but they were not destitute either. His mother was an embroiderer, and her handiwork adorned the rooms of their modest home situated on a clean, cheerful street. Adrian's father was a weaver, and clothed his family well. Both were proud and prominent members in their guild, and raised their sons to be the same.

In her spare time, Adrian's mother grew flowers in window boxes. When he was not busy, Adrian's father took the boys shopping in the markets; teaching them how to haggle and what prices were fair. Adrian's parents loved him very much, and Adrian returned their affection. He understood his place in the world, and that though his brother would receive the family profit, he too could make a decent future for himself.

When Adrian was eight, his world was changed. Meghan was born. Meghan was a beautiful child; with soft blue eyes and wisps of blondish hair, she captured the hearts of everyone who looked at her. Adrian loved her dearly, but for some reason the presence of a third child changed his parents. They became more somber, and seemed worried and scared almost constantly. Just before he turned nine, Adrian found out why.

It was raining when the priests came. They were dressed all in red. Though they were considered beautiful and reassuring, their hollow eyes and swirling tattoos frightened Adrian. Their hands were naked and unmarked. Adrian had never before seen an adult without a single mark. Even his parents, who were considered good and righteous, each had four. Adrian did not understand much of what the priests had said that night. He did understand the tears on his mother's cheeks and the fury and shame in his father's eyes. He understood the way his mother held him tightly and kissed his cheek more tenderly than normal as she tucked him into bed that night.

Adrian lay awake for quite some time. He heard the door open and close as his brother came home from his work as an apprentice. He heard murmurs of voices in the kitchen. He heard his brother's exclamation of "No!" He heard his mother weeping. There was nothing to be done. His father had tried to explain. There were laws. They must be followed. Adrian's parents' place in their guild refused them the liberty of many children. Adrian's brother was already apprenticed, and Meghan was too young. They would take Adrian. They promised he could be happy. There was no other way. Adrian's father had started to cry. And Adrian still did not understand. He was little, he said. His brother always teased him about being small for his age. He didn't need much food. He could share a room with Meghan. They could make due. No. The priests would not allow it. Their word was law. Their command unquestioned. They spoke for God, and God was not to be ignored.

It was still raining the next morning when the priest came to take him away. There was only one this time. He said not a word, simply stood in the small entryway, his hollow eyes radiating displeasure and power. He declined the tea that Adrian's mother offered. He declined a chair. Adrian wished that the priest would decline him.

Adrian packed his things. He didn't have much; the only thing he treasured was a small, carved statue his brother had made the summer before. This he wrapped carefully inside one of his shirts before tucking it inside his sack. The priest said nothing to him, only opened the door and stepped into the rain. He gestured for Adrian to follow.

"Where are we going?" the priest awarded the question with silence.

Adrian turned to his mother. He said something. His mother took him in her arms and held him closely. He could feel her tears fall onto his cheeks, and the trembling of her hands as she held him. His father opened his moth to say something. No sound came out. He shook his head and clasped Adrian's shoulder. Adrian's brother stood in the corner of the room. His arms were crossed and his brows knit angrily together. His eyes glistened, but he was close to manhood and did not allow himself to cry. He looked away, refusing to admit that his brother was being taken. He did not say goodbye. In the other room, Meghan was wailing. Adrian wanted to go and see her, but his mother held him back. He had to go. Now.

Adrian followed to priest into the rain. A large black carriage waited on the street outside. A few of the neighbors peered out between their curtains. Adrian could see their mouths moving in whispers as they spoke to other people inside their houses.

The priest entered the carriage and closed the door behind him. The driver motioned for Adrian to sit on the ledge on the back. He perched between the massive back wheels, one hand clutching the ledge so he would not fall, the other hand clutching his belongings. He didn't know what was coming. He didn't understand what had passed. He didn't know if his face was wet with tears or with rain.

His mother's face appeared in the window. She waved slightly, and said something. She willed him to be brave with her unheard voice. She told him he was loved with her shaking smile. Adrian waved back, accepting this last bit of kindness in what would be a very hard life.

He never saw his family again. Slowly he began to forget his childhood; the look of his house, his favorite food, the games he played with his brother. He forgot even his brother's name. He forgot everything but Meghan, and the sadness and love in his mother's eyes as the carriage lurched down the street towards his future.

Adrian was taken to a tall, sad building amid several other tall, sad buildings. This, he was told by the carriage driver, would be his home. It did not look like a home. There were no window boxes. There was a hush over the entire street. Adrian clutched his satchel close to his body. This would be where he would stay.

This was where everything was taken from him. When he entered the foyer a severe-looking man wrote his name in a large, worn black book. The man took his pack. Adrian cried out and tried to hold it close to himself, but was awarded with a hard strike on his cheek for his efforts. This was to be his life for the next year.

This was what he dreamed about while he sat close to death in prison.