Chapter 35: The Great Cathedral
Chapter 35 of the Light-Father: Harold’s Army launch their suicidal attack and Harold finally confronts Schimrian and Pious in the Great Cathedral itself…
“Fern, what the hell is Ivy doing?” Harold whispered urgently as the four Ferals slowly ascended the ivy that smothered the ancient stonework of the tower. There were no trees at the base and the Wiccan was standing in the open with her palms pressed to the thickest of the ivy stems. “If they look down they’ll see her.”
“If they do look down, they won’t see her or the Ferals,” Fern panted, sweat beading her brow. “And if any guard looks this way from the West Gate Tower, Nightshade will block their vision as well. It’s the same as with the train illusion but this is much easier as we can see them and we haven’t got that vile devil, Pious, to deceive. Now behold the craft of Mother Ivy!”
Harold grabbed Saul’s field glasses and watched in disbelief as two thick stems near the parapet detached and coiled like snakes behind the backs of the two unsuspecting Brothers. “Jesus, that’s amazing – a type of telekinesis transmitted through the ivy itself. Ach! They’re being strangled,” he shuddered. The two Brothers were hauled backwards over the parapet and flung to the ground below. “The Ferals are going in to tackle the Tally-Men…” He paused as the two Tally-men also plummeted silently to their deaths. “Whoa, those kids are good but…”
“But what, Light-Father?” Fern reproved archly. “You can’t be squeamish about one cruel necessity when you consider what these ‘kids’ have lost and what they’ve suffered. I pray that they take no pleasure from such deaths but they’ve had their childhood, their humanity and their families stolen from them and there is nobody left alive to sit in judgement upon us. Now it’s your turn, Light-Father. Veneris and Rosemary are ready to commence their attack and we need you to get us through those platform doors.”
He nodded and took the lead with Kai who was armed with one of Amos’s spare sledgehammers and two long knives that Fria had given him from her prized collection. “I know Brother Ignatius well,” Kai whispered as they crept forward. “Watch the window overlooking the platform, Shield, and fire the second he shows his face. Don’t miss – you won’t get a second chance.”
“Don’t worry,” she said grimly. “I won’t miss.”
“I hope you do,” Ibrahim hissed through clenched teeth as a powerful longing for blood and battle surged through his veins. “This is what my so-called father bred me for!”
In the stupefying heat, they scurried along the track then swept up like a wave onto the platform to gather beneath the awnings. Brother Ignatius did not appear at the windows so Ivy despatched her four Ferals to scale the western wall of the Angel compound to lay their charges amongst the stores of aviation fuel.
Harold located the keypad that opened the metal-reinforced wooden doors and soon had the cover off to connect several wires to his code-breaker. Saul and Ibrahim watched in fascination as he worked; the numbers flickering on his screen and locking. “Thank God, I got the voltage and current right first time,” he whispered to them gratefully. “And now… open sesame!”
The bolts withdrew electronically and he slowly pushed open one of the heavy doors and cautiously peered around it. To his left lay the great white-painted quadrangle of the Order libraries and to his right stood the towering walls of the Sisters’ Enclave. Between them lay the wide avenue known as the Sisters’ Processional which was dominated by the immense Gothic bulk of the Great Cathedral. “Christ, it’s freaking huge!” he gasped.
“We’re not tourists, Light-Father,” Kai said pointedly as he squeezed past. “We need to take care of the station-master.”
“I’ll deal with him,” Ibrahim said, hefting his axe.
“As you wish,” Kai replied reluctantly. “But please don’t kill Brother Ignatius if you can help it. He is the only man in this hell-hole with a soul – which is why he’s drunk all the time. He’s always been kind to me and the rest of the postulants and novices.”
Ibrahim fixed him with a flat stare. “If he resists, I’ll kill him. He’s of the Order and therefore beyond salvation.”
“As am I,” Kai said dejectedly. “It’s better then if you deal with him as I’d only show a kind old man mercy.”
Within seconds, Ibrahim emerged through the tower door and nodded at Fern rather than Kai. “Gagged and bound. My inner demon wanted him dead but I could not kill a defenceless man.”
“Good for you,” Harold approved. “It’s unlikely he would ever be a threat to us in any case. Now where are my diversions?”
As if in reply to his question, there were two enormous explosions – the largest to the north followed by a massive fireball rising up into the sky then another much closer one as the fuel supplies in the Angel compound ignited spraying burning diesel over two of the hangers. “Knock, knock,” he grunted with grim satisfaction as he led his little army through the doors and into the large open space between the libraries and the Sisters’ Enclave. “Nightshade, Ivy – there’s the tunnel. You’ll have to move quickly or your four Ferals on the other side of the wall will be killed and the Brothers will come through to cut us off from the platform.”
“Leave it to us,” Nightshade promised as Ivy led the Ferals down the steps and into the foetid darkness of the unlit tunnel. She grabbed Fern’s hands. “Be careful, Sister, it seems that you and the Light-Father are the ones destined to face Schimrian and that which lies behind him. May the Triple Goddess protect you and the Children of Exodus – they’re our only hope for the future.”
Fern watched her descend the steps as sirens began to sound throughout the complex. “Now it begins,” she sighed.
“What do mean their train vanished into thin air?” Schimrian demanded with an icy edge to his voice. “How can a locomotive and three carriages simply disappear from right under your nose? You’re one of my most skilled Inquisitors!”
The loudspeaker crackled with faint static for a while before Pious replied. “We were deceived by some form of mass hypnotic suggestion into thinking that the train was fleeing towards the Southern Cities. The line divided before Milverburg and the other branch heads east which would take them through the university towns and straight on towards the Great Abbey.”
“What!” Schimrian exploded in black fury. “This mystery man from Crawcester has the satanic gall to bring a dozen Unworthy whelps, a handful of harlots of Satan and their Feral pets here to challenge me? What arrogance!”
“A few brats and witches should pose you no serious problems, Eminence, as long as you get everyone ready to welcome them. We are heading towards you with all due speed but I would suggest that you open the armoury and distribute begiullers and firearms to the Brothers in case the threat cannot be contained.”
“Why should the Brothers need guns, old friend?” Schimrian said sharply. “Are you planning something untoward, my son?”
“Paranoia in a crisis does not become you, Eminence,” Pious retorted archly. “You know well my feelings on the matter. I and my Inquisitors are heavily armed and we will attack this blight in God’s eye the moment we arrive. Remember, there are three carriages full of Ferals who could pose a serious nuisance if we allow them to run free inside the Abbey walls.”
The transmission from the Angel was not good and Pious’s face kept dissolving into the static snow upon the screen but there was no doubting his sincerity: “My loyalty is to you, Eminence. If you cannot suffer the Brothers to be so armed then we must hope that the hundred Tally-men and the few Fathers and Brothers-martial you allow to remain at the Great Abbey can handle a horde of untamed Ferals being led by these witches and this herald of the Devil. I am looking forward to Inquiring of him in some depth after losing Bucheort and no less than six Angels.”
“This man is known as the Light-Father,” Schimrian smiled, steepling his fingers. “This Father of Lies is no warrior but a skilled technician from another plane and one whom our mutual ‘friend’ would like to study as much as we want to Redeem him.”
“Our mutual friend needs to embrace caution,” Pious scowled. “Um, how did you discern his title, Eminence?”
Schimrian turned the camera on David who was standing to attention with his spear at the ready by the door with his eyes and face completely expressionless. “This Tally-man was once a Child of Exodus. It fought alongside Bucheort and has since watched them for us. I had a Crawcester half-track bring it to me when it found some computer chips which were clearly alien.”
“If that was one of Bucheort’s drones,” Pious said, staring into the screen. “How did it survive when Bucheort was tortured and killed by the Wiccans? Why did it not protect him?”
“It was defective so it couldn’t save Bucheort but the Great Computer managed to regain control of it and we sent it on scouting missions into the rail-yard,” Schimrian explained, turning the camera back. He held a chip in front of the lens. “This is one of the chips – is it not exquisite? The Great Computer suggests that this technology may be of immense use to us in our new home. This chip is capable of interfacing a human brain directly into a computer. Can you imagine what we could do with this technology once we build and inhabit our New Jerusalem?”
“Be that as it may, Eminence, my immediate concern is for your safety,” Pious said bluntly. “Along with hundreds of Ferals, five Mothers could cause untold damage if they breach the walls. We’ll be there in six or seven minutes. We won’t bother with the bays in the Angel compound – we’ll land on one of the flat roofs to the west of the great Cathedral. What’s the matter? Is there something wrong, Eminence? What’s happening?”
“Ah, the alarm is being sounded,” Schimrian noted with some amusement. He stood up and drew aside his robe to reveal the purple field-habit of the most powerful cleric on Earth. On one hip was a holster with a hand-gun and on the other was a sheath containing a sharp Austro-German sword. “I knew this day would come as soon as the Great Computer detected that anomaly in Crawcester,” he explained. “Make haste, my friend – you’re the only one I can truly trust as Camus and Michael are all but useless in battle. I presume the Great Computer and I are the targets so I shall head for the Great Annex. The only weak spot in its defences lies in its connecting doors to the nave so I will await them there with as many Brothers and Tally-men as I can muster.”
“Wonderful, Eminence,” Pious beamed. “I feared you’d grown soft over the years. This is a good day – to join my Great-Abbot for one of the greatest Inquisitions in the Order’s history! Please don’t Redeem them all before I get there,” he said hungrily. “Leave some of the Unworthy alive for my Inquisitors to play with. The Italian states were not entertaining at all in that respect. Pious out.”
The Abbot faded from the screen to be replaced by an image of a humble angel bearing a broadsword. “Be careful, Father,” Azrael said in an unusually human voice. “The security cameras reveal that this Light-Father has planned his assault well. It’s a classic three-pronged attack with two spectacular diversions – one in the north aimed at the armoury and one in the southern compound aimed at disabling the Angels. Both are designed to draw defenders away and leave the Great Cathedral exposed.”
“So he does have some military experience,” Schimrian nodded. “He’s doing exactly what I would do in his place. I’ve decided to deprive Pious of the pleasure of disembowelling this upstart spawn of Satan. How dare he sully our Great Abbey with his filth! Alert the Brothers and Tally-men in the Cathedral to defend the nave then command the Brothers and Tally-men in the eastern lodges to defend the exteriors of the Annex and the Manse.”
The angel on the screen bowed. “As you wish. Abbot Michael, two Fathers and ten Brothers are in the Annex already but Abbot Michael is distracted by my latest invention because of those alien chips I installed into the device. You and he will find the results of this holy union of technologies most informative.”
“Yes, Azrael, you can show me your clever invention later but first we have this distraction to deal with,” Schimrian said impatiently. “I’ll be most interested in learning what you have discovered about this alien science afterwards.”
“You will find the results most intriguing, Father.”
“Yes, yes, I expect no less,” Schimrian said then he went up to David to stare into his blank face at close range. “I want you to watch my back as we confront this so-called Light-Father and his abominations. He may regard himself as an omen of the Order’s destruction but I intend to make him a very dead omen.”
He left the office followed closely by David but his screen remained active. The angel’s face was disfigured by a leer as it spoke: “The Light-Father is indeed an omen, Father – an omen that will see your true desires fulfilled.”
“This is one weird entrance,” Harold gasped after they had run into the Sisters’ Lobby at the rear of the Great Apse. He’d felt dwarfed by the sheer scale of the building which had seemed to get no closer for most of the lengthy processional avenue. “There’s no door in the centre just stairs either side of that mural of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. What’s going on here?”
“The Order restricts access to the Cathedral by the Sisters so they have to use the stairs,” Kai explained. “They lead up to the ambulatory that encircles the Great Apse and the Sisters’ choir stalls on either side of the altar. It’s to prevent lowly females from overly ‘contaminating’ the Great Cathedral.”
“No wonder the Mothers have hated them for centuries,” Harold said, shaking his head. “You can’t get more sexist than this.”
More explosions could be heard as the group split into two and ascended the stairs with Saul and Ibrahim leading on the left side and Fern and Harold leading on the right. “Veneris and Rosemary are battling Tally-men and Brothers,” Fern reported as they reached the ambulatory “They destroyed the armoury but two Fathers are there with rifles and they’re killing Ferals. Ah, no! One Father has a begiuller!” she groaned, clutching at her head in despair.
“Damn it, focus, Fern! What about Ivy and Nightshade?”
“They’ve set charges in the Angels and the Ferals have killed all the technicians in the hangars without resistance but there is now a large force of Brothers led by an Abbot confronting them by the dormitory. Ivy thinks it shouldn’t take long to defeat them.”
“Thank God for that,” Harold sighed with relief. “Get them to send as many Ferals as they can spare to help Veneris and Rosemary once they’ve done with those Brothers. I hope those two can hang on until then.”
“As do I, Light-Father,” Fern said passionately. “But they’ll be helpless unless the Ferals can destroy the begiuller.”
“Saul, Ibrahim!” he shouted over the heads of the Ferals now crammed into the narrow curved ambulatory. “Take your half to the right and we’ll take ours to the left. The doors to the Annex are about two thirds of the way along the nave on the right. Everyone ready?” he yelled as Angels clattered overhead. “We got inside just in time. Fern, warn the others about the rotor-craft.”
“I’m trying,” Fern gasped as she ran alongside him with Shield, Fierce and Mouse at their heels. “But I can’t get through.”
Peter, Surl, Pup and Rabbit had stayed at the back as they were told and found themselves alone in the ambulatory by the stairs.
“What shall we do now?” Rabbit demanded, brandishing her hand-axes. “I want to fight the Brothers!”
Surl shook her head fearfully, her eyes unfocussed.
“Are you having a vision?” Peter demanded anxiously.
“That monster, Pious, is here,” she shuddered. “The Light-Father’s in terrible trouble. They all are – and something really horrible is waking up in the Great Annex – something so evil and so powerful that they can’t possibly hope to win against it. Everyone will die unless we save them – it’s up to us.”
“What can we do against Brothers, Fathers and Tally-men?” Pup wailed. “They’re all big and we’re all small.”
“Mother Fern and the Light-Father told us to stay here out of harm’s way,” Rabbit added anxiously.
A death’s–head moth settled on Surl’s outstretched hand before fluttering away to her right. “Come with me,” she smiled, drawing her machete. “Sometimes small is good.”
They crept along the ambulatory then peeped from behind a choir stall to see the huge stand-off in the nave. They saw Schimrian and twenty Brothers and Fathers with sixty Tally-men arraigned behind them. Harold and Fern were at the front with the Scatterlings and one hundred and twenty Ferals lined up behind them. “They don’t stand a chance,” Peter whispered miserably. “What can the Ferals do against guns and spears?”
“Have faith in Mother Fern and the Light-Father,” Surl said quietly. “Now follow me and keep low. Don’t let them see us.”
Surl led them down the staircase behind the stall and onto the nave floor. They were crawling along the eastern wall, using the rows of pews as cover, when Pious and his Inquisitors burst through a western door and marched over to join Schimrian.
“He’s carrying a begiuller,” Rabbit whispered, peering over a pew. “We have to stop him.”
“We can’t do anything,” Surl said firmly as she dragged her then Pup and Peter into a robe-chamber. It had a high ceiling but it was dank and musty and Rabbit whimpered with fright amongst the racks of ceremonial robes. Surl quickly found another door on their left. “Stop making that noise, Rabbit. We have to go this way,” she hissed, opening the door and peering down a long corridor.
“But they’ll be fighting soon,” Rabbit protested.
“We can’t help them,” Surl repeated angrily.
“But we have to try,” Peter urged.
“No, we’ll just get in the way,” Surl replied adamantly. “I can feel that doing this is how we’ll help them the most. Kai’s map shows that corridor this leads to the surgery units and through them into the Redemption Cells. What say we set the prisoners free?”
“Yes!” said Pup, his eyes alight. “We can be heroes and rescue them then they can all fight the Brothers for us.”
“Kai said they will have all been tortured for a long time,” Peter reminded them as they walked as quietly as they could along the dimly-lit corridor. “They won’t be able to fight.”
“But we have to try,” Surl said, cradling her machete. “It’s what Mother Moss would expect of us. Remember how she used to say that even the smallest flame can set the world on fire?”
“This is sacrilege!” Schimrian yelled at Harold, breaking the silence in the nave. “How dare you defile the Cathedral of Christ the Healer like this! I shall…”
“Repent?” Harold interrupted loudly. “Before God, I lay upon you the sin of slaughtering billions for no other reason than arrogance and a warped interpretation of the Bible! Who said you could sit in judgement of humanity? Who said you could bring about the End of Days? We shall Redeem you instead, you twisted son of a bitch, and destroy that damned computer of yours!”
The Great Cathedral fell silent again apart from Pious bursting into incredulous laughter: “Bless my soul, you’re going to Redeem us?” he mocked. “With five witches, a handful of snot-nosed brats and a pack of half-beasts? Eminence, Satan has sent us not an omen but some mole-brained harlequin to entertain us!”
“So it would seem,” Schimrian said through clenched teeth. “But I fail to find any humour in his hell-bred blasphemy…”
“This Order shall be laid low!” Fern declared, her strident voice echoing from the vaulted roof and the mighty columns and buttresses as she brandished her staff. “Hark! This cursed cathedral is full of the innocent souls of billions crying out to God for justice and for your darkness to be lifted from the face of Gaia!”
“You know nothing about God, witch!” Schimrian screeched, his face purpling and the spittle flying from his lips. “We shall live forever at the feet of the Lamb; we shall be born anew and we shall see our New Jerusalem descend from Heaven to crush your Babylon beneath her holy foundations! All Twelve Tribes of the Worthy shall live as one in that holy city free from temptation and free from your worldly passions, you harlot of Satan!”
Fern raised her staff and brought the end down upon the flagstones before Pious could fire his begiuller. Nearly everyone lost their footing as a powerful shockwave emanated from the point of impact. The imposing statue of Christ the Healer at the northern end of the nave toppled forward and Schimrian’s face turned bright crimson with fury as it shattered into fragments.
He drew his sword and launched himself at Harold. “Redeem these blasphemers!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Show no mercy! Redeem every last witch, beast and child!”
(c) Paul D E Mitchell 2013 – copyright protected