Chapter 04: Angels of Death
Chapter 04 of the City Of Gargoyles – the second book of the Light-Father
Chapter 04: Angels of Death
“Brother Spero,” Father Ursaf said to the pilot of Bede Angel Seven. “Father Beorcraft did not believe me but I remain convinced our fugitives are hiding in those buildings below us.”
“How are you feeling, Father? You said you became unwell when we were watching Beorcraft enter that hamlet.”
“I’m not sure what it was but I couldn’t concentrate. You said you felt the same, did you not?”
“Yes,” the pilot nodded. “I had a migraine every time I looked across at the Milverbore. Do you think we were bewitched?”
“No, I think these storms are a more likely explanation. The electric energy in the air has affected us.” Savage downdrafts were hitting both rotorcrafts forcing the portly Father to strap in. “We won’t be able to get back to Bede so once we’ve redeemed them, we’ll set down in those fields over there and ride out this accursed storm. There are trees and stout walls to the west of the field that should protect the Angels from the worst of the wind.” He turned to the co-pilot: “Brother Gudflan, radio Bede Angel Three to follow us in. We’ll strafe those buildings and see what we can flush out of them before we have to set down.”
Brother Spero guided the rotor-craft down in a slow spiral, battling the strengthening cross-winds as the gunner in the nose-cone prepared to fire. An incoming radio transmission crackled through their headphones: “Is that you, Father Beorcraft?” Ursaf snapped. “We are about to redeem the Unworthy!”
Father Beorcraft’s voice was barely audible over the static: “We are under…. Get back to Wealthorpe now! We are…”
Father Ursaf banged the transceiver with a flabby fist and cursed. “Beorcraft? Are you there? Bede Angel Three! Follow us to Wealthorpe. The Naked One and the others are not here but what possible threat could they pose to Beorcraft and his Brothers?”
As the rotorcrafts rose to head back to the hamlet, the gunner pushed himself back on his roller bed from the nose cone into the cabin between Brother Spero and the co-pilot. “Be careful,” he grumbled. “That turbulence nearly cracked my skull.”
“Get back in there, Brother Piamadet,” Brother Ursaf snarled. “Unless you want my Worthy boot to connect with your Unworthy rump! When we get to Wealthorpe, keep your guns trained on all the cottages and the walls that surround them. If Beorcraft and all the Brothers have fallen, Wiccans and Ferals may await us there and maybe that damned Light-Father.”
“By Saint Peter, have some faith in me, Father,” Piamadet said sarcastically before returning to the nose cone. He grasped the gun controls there and Father Ursaf smiled as he saw through the side windows that the barrels of the two chain-guns attached to the landing-struts had begun to spin. These were weapons that could tear through brick and stone but he was chastened to think that Wiccans could knock these powerful machines clean out of the sky as they did in Crawcester and Beorminghas – and, Satan take their souls, destroy them in the Great Abbey itself!
“I would like to redeem these vile sports of Gomorrah as much as you, Father,” Spero fretted as the machine bucked violently in the gusts. “But another five minutes of this devil’s cross-wind and we lose the tail rotor.” He heaved at the levers as the machine was knocked sharply sideways and then downwards. “Get ready, Piamadet, Wealthorpe is on the other side of that ridge!”
Ursaf’s eyes widened as they came to the hamlet and saw its only street littered with corpses. “They’ve been wiped out,” he gasped in disbelief. “All of them!”
“I can’t see the enemy,” Piamadet bellowed into his mike as the Angel hovered over the hamlet. “What do we do, Father? I have nothing to shoot at!”
“They’re not by the shore but there’s a boat now moored against the quay,” Ursaf shouted. “Devil take me for my foolishness: Beorcraft must’ve been attacked simultaneously from both sides. It has only been two minutes since he called us so these abominations must be hiding in the cottages as there’s no cover around this hamlet.” He flicked a switch on the transceiver: “Bede Angel Three, keep parallel to us. Destroy the cottages to the north of the road while we destroy the ones to the south. Now, open fire!”
“Huh?” Harold exclaimed in disbelief as Ursaf’s rotorcraft hovered before him with the chain-gun barrels spinning. “Why aren’t they opening fire on us? They have us cold!”
“They can’t see us!” Fern gasped. “I am in their minds: they cannot see us but only for a few seconds – my strength is spent. They will fire upon the cottages so we need to run along the road beneath them, across the rail line and into the woods.” She turned to the others and shouted: “Run! Run towards the woods under the Angels! Hurry! I cannot disguise us for long. They are going to destroy the cottages so if we don’t move now, we will all die!” She clutched at his arm. “You must carry me, Light-Father,” she panted, the sweat pouring from her brow. “I can’t do this and run at the same time! One mistake and we’re all dead.”
Harold sheathed his sword and swept her from her feet and staggered towards the rotorcraft as they took station on either side of the street. As soon as they had all passed beneath the bellies of the machines, there was a flash of lightning almost overhead and the thunder melded with the roar of the chain-guns as the Angels moved slowly westwards. The heavy calibre bullets smashed every roof tile and beam into fragments and tore the very dry-stone walls apart as if a Norse god was dragging giant hammers through the humble dwellings one after another until all lay in ruins.
Fern let out a shuddering cry as they reached the safety of the trees: “Ah, I am done! I must rest. I must rest!”
Shield put her hand on the Wiccan’s shoulder after Harold had, somewhat reluctantly, set her upright again. “You must tell me how you did that, Mother Fern. Teach me the geiss that blinds!”
“It’s a little more complicated… hah!… than that!” Fern gasped, drawing in lungfuls of air. She gazed through the trees as the two Angels finished their destruction. “Devices fit for the children of devils!” she spat. “I weep for the honest masons and their wives and children who lived in those homes before the plague. Not even their memory is sacred to those beasts!”
“I weep too,” Shield agreed, baring her teeth. “Hoi! Look at the Angels struggle in this wind! They almost collided.”
Harold grabbed Fern as she sagged against him. “The ground around the village is too uneven to land rotorcraft,” he noted. “So we might get lucky. Either they land elsewhere or they outrun the storm.” He looked up the nearby firs, oaks and ashes about them as the boughs creaked ominously above their heads; the wind rising to a fitful roar that tugged at their clothes and hair.
Saul stepped forward and took Harold’s sword out of the scabbard. “Never, ever sheathe a bloodied sword, Light-Father! You will have to oil this when we get back and flush the scabbard out and dry it. You spit on the soul of the swordsmith, my father used to say, when you do this. He had many friends amongst the Japanese Empire traders who told him: ‘honoh kiyen noh sama see-oh son-cheun seku dasai’ – I think it means you must respect the spirit of the sword.” He bowed formally and presented the cleaned katana to him. “We fought well for ‘kids’, did we not?”
Harold was taken aback as he accepted and re-sheathed his sword. “Yes, you did, but those bloody Angels distracted me. I am amazed you even noticed what I did with the sword.”
Ibrahim laughed as he cleaned his axe heads with a bloodied rag. “Mother Moss trained us well. ‘When in battle: eyes, ears and mind must all stay open’ she used to say. We have practiced hard for six years and fought many battles even before you came.” He flinched as a lightning bolt struck a tree overhanging the railway line. “Ha, look, Light-Father! The Angels flee before a storm sent to protect us by God Himself.”
“Now they’re gone, Mother Fern, how will we find the little ones?” Bas demanded as she checked her arrows and quiver.
Harold was astounded to see that, despite the clattering presence of the Angels twenty metres above them, Shield and Bas had both had the presence of mind to pluck several of their bolts and arrows from the corpses as they ran beneath both rotorcrafts. He realised how little he knew of the true abilities of these Children of Exodus but God only knew what price they and their children would pay in the future because of their doctored genes.
Bas actually hissed and shuddered as the first large raindrops splattered down upon her head before Fern refocused and answered her: “I can’t see her in my mind but I know Surl’s prescience will guide them to us. I am too exhausted to scry for any more Brothers in these woods but I can ‘feel’ there are many to the east searching the villages.” She leant against Harold for support. “We must find some shelter from this rain and wait for the little ones as close to this road as we can. We must hide ourselves well.”
“I will scout along the road,” Bas volunteered eagerly and she vanished into the gathering murk beneath the trees.
Ibrahim smiled despite the rain now soaking through their clothes: something he was used to as in Britannia it had rained continuously for over six years. “She is hoping to come across Brothers to kill by herself,” he said, shaking his head. “I fear her bloodlust has increased tenfold since our battle at the Great Abbey. She no longer files her teeth and claws as she did at the Keep. I am concerned for her, Light-Father.”
“As am I,” Harold assured him. “I’ve been too wrapped up in my guilt over losing the little ones these past three weeks that I’ve barely spent any time with her or with any of you for that matter apart from when we managed to eat together.”
“We know you tortured yourself as Mother Fern does,” Ibrahim said kindly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You must remember that we love you, Light-Father. You took us in and you got us out and you stood before the Fallen Angel and Schimrian. We fight to honour Fierce’s memory as much as we do for revenge and we fight because you have given us hope.” He patted his broad chest. “My inner demon also rejoices in that battle we just fought,” he laughed then stopped at a glare from Fern. “But now he is very small demon,” he grinned sheepishly, pinching his right thumb and forefinger together. “He is now a mere imp, Mother Fern.”
“Good, I have no desire to chastise thee,” Fern smiled icily. “Or remind you of our conversations on the matter of taking pleasure in killing your enemies. You children have suffered much so the Light-Father and I fear for how you will fare when we are free of this madness and Gaia smiles upon us all once more.”
“Better vile dreams than a vile reality,” Shield said coldly. She started as lightning struck close by in the woods to the north of them. “We are not safe amongst the trees,” she added nervously after the deafening peal of thunder had subsided. “I am now as wet as we were in the Keep. I really feel cold now.”
“The Tower of the Sun has made us as soft as kittens,” Saul said kindly. “Even though Mother Fern and Mother Ivy made us practice at our weapons every day. But even so, Light-Father, I had hoped that the snake would have died once the head was removed but now that demon, Schimrian, rises from the dead.”
“As far as I can tell from the mind of Father Ursaf,” Fern assured him. She looked at this tall youth and appraised him again. He had a lean face with an intense gaze that met hers as an equal, the scar to the chin, his long black hair tied back and braided by Shield but what impressed her most was the sheer speed and skill of his swordsmanship and she wished, not for the first time, that she could have been in the Great Cathedral to witness his momentous battle against Abbot Pious, the deadliest member of the Order.
“Are you reading my mind?” he inquired suspiciously.
“A little, dear heart,” she smiled. “I see your memories as you recall your conflict with Pious and again I fear a magic that raises and animates corpses. I hope that he remains dead and is now suffering as a tortured soul in the depths of Hell.”
“With Azrael dead, he moved no more,” Saul agreed. “But in my heart, I now fear that undead creature more than all the Tally-men and all the Abbots in the world combined.”
“As do I,” said Shield, grasping his arm and ignoring Ibrahim’s muttered jealousies. “But with Mother Fern and our Light-Father, we will defeat the Gross Thousands and free these Isles.”
“Dream of Paradise, if you must,” Ibrahim said sourly, folding his powerful arms. “But this is our reality,” he added indicating the flickering heavens above. “But my inner demon is at peace because he knows we have so many Fathers and Brothers yet to kill. There is always something to look forward to.”
He whirled and drew his axe at a soft thud behind him only to find Bas grinning at him. “You’re letting your guard down too easily, brother,” she teased. “Our enemy could have been in the branches above your head as I was.”
“Did you find anything, Bas?” Harold demanded. He estimated that she’d jumped at least five metres to the ground with no apparent exertion. Her cold, calculating father would have been immensely proud of his achievement in creating this hybrid child had he not been betrayed by the Order he had served so well.
“Yes, Light-Father, about one dozen chains from here is a wood-master’s cottage set off the road and completely hidden from view. The roof is intact and it is dry enough inside apart from all the cobwebs. Follow me and keep off the road – I am sure I heard half-tracks but this thunder is making me deaf.”
Ten minutes later they were safely seated on assorted chairs in a spacious and musty kitchen listening to the rain intensifying and hammering on the roof tiles. “I’ll watch the road,” Harold said, risking a little light from a pocket-torch.
“There are candles aplenty,” Shield observed. If we cover the windows thoroughly we need not sit in the dark all night.”
“At least there is no chance of Tally-men operating in such a downpour,” Fern noted. “We will light a candle but ensure no chink of light passes the drapes or we will be lost.”
“I made that mistake in Crawcester,” Shield said grimly. “But for Mother Moss we would have lost our lives. I still have nightmares about that Father Alban and his accursed whip. If I’d had a demon inside me then,” she added, glancing at Ibrahim. “She would have been howling with joy when he was torn apart by that vortex and the rain turned red.”
They lit the candle and enjoyed its welcome light. Harold readied his sword and opened the door. “It’s turned pitch black out there now the sun has set but first I’ll check that the light doesn’t get past this door and the windows.” He turned and his heart almost failed as he beheld a large, cowled figure, silhouetted by lightning flashes, in the doorway.
Had the figure been holding a scythe, he could easily have passed for a manifestation of Death. Instead he raised a gloved hand. “Ah, Light-Father, well met. I mean you no harm. I have someone here who would like to speak with you.”
From behind him, a small, bald, drenched figure emerged and stepped timidly into the candle-light.
“Surl!” Harold exclaimed and rushed forward to embrace the child. “I thought you were dead. I can’t believe you are alive!” To his horror, tears coursed down his cheeks. “I am so happy you’re alive. I just… couldn’t… find you! I am so sorry!”
He looked up at Michael but could not see his face as it was shrouded in the deep shadow beneath the cowl. “Thank you for saving them, Abbot Michael,” he said simply.
“How could you possibly know my name?” Michael exclaimed then he noticed Fern. “Ah, the dark arts of the Wiccans, I see. The reading of minds is but a minor slight in God’s eye I am told when compared to the arcane devilry of their witchcraft.”
Fern rose to her feet and brandished her staff. “Be civil, monster, lest I cast thee screaming from this world.” She indicated the drawn weapons of the four youngsters. “Or perhaps I should allow these children to pry open the gates of Hell for you.”
“Bear with me,” he apologised, bowing. “A lifetime of prejudice will not fade in such little time as I have spent with this remarkable child.” He went outside and ushered in the others and soon the kitchen was crowded as more candles were lit.
Fern had to use her ‘voice’ to prevent Saul, Bas and Ibrahim immediately attacking Michael, dressed as he was in the attire of the Order – the murderers of their families and all humanity.
Shield tried to talk to the five emaciated victims of the Order who were all in their early twenties having evaded capture for six years possessing a rare natural immunity to the plague. They had been destined for a living death as Tally-Men but here they were; huddled in a corner, staring dumbstruck at the candles as if seeing their welcome warmth and light for the first time in their lives and thus they barely acknowledged her presence.
Michael closed the door after Harold had gone out into the rain to check for any treacherous glow then keep watch on the road. He stood and watched silently as Pup, Rabbit, Surl and Peter were swamped in endless hugs and kisses from their Elders. As the joyous reunions progressed and the babble grew, Fern approached Michael with a frown on her face.
“I cannot read why you saved these little ones, Abbot Michael,” she said, conscious of Saul and Ibrahim glaring at the cleric.
“Because they saved me, Wiccan,” he whispered into her ear. “I was about to be killed as an abomination by another abomination so they freed me from my cell and found me these robes. They are remarkable. They have been my epiphany; my true awakening for all my new-found and detestable immortality.”
“I know the virus makes you immortal so I want to know why you now decry the Order whom you’ve willingly followed unto the ruin of mankind. Tell me, monster, why I should believe you?”
“Because the Order reviles me as the Naked One.”
“What do they mean by that? Are you naked because you’ve finally cast off the mantle of death and poisonous deceit?”
“Oh, it’s far more literal than you could ever imagine,” he said quietly. He unfastened his sodden robes, pulled back the cowl and let his clothing fall to the floor. He then pulled aside the bandages about his face “Behold.”
Saul had to leap forward to catch her as she fainted.