Chapter 04: Angels of Death
Chapter 04 of the City Of Gargoyles – the second book of the Light-Father
Angels of Death
“I understand your concern, my son,” Father Ursaf said to Brother Spero, the pilot of Bede Angel Seven. “We know the fugitives were in the Forest of Weal but I’m convinced they did not get as far as Wealthorpe as Father Beorcraft believes. I don’t think they’re in the woods to the west either: they need food and water and the only likely place to find that is in that farm below.”
“Are you sure, Father? You became confused and disoriented as Father Beorcraft and his Brothers entered Wealthorpe.”
“I felt something affecting my thoughts, my son, but my mind is clear now. You said you felt it too, did you not?”
“Yes,” the pilot nodded. “A migraine struck me every time I looked towards the Milverbore. Perhaps a Wiccan bewitched us into wasting our time searching these fields. Don’t forget: Pious and all the Angel crews were sent southwards chasing illusions and phantasms while this Light-Father and his Wiccans rode a train eastwards to desecrate the Great Abbey.”
“These approaching storms are a more likely explanation for our malaise. Abbot Pious was greatly overrated, my son. No Wiccan can bedazzle a sound scientific mind like mine but electrical energy in the air preceding a storm can affect a man’s senses so that he may think he’s under their malign influence.”
Spero looked profoundly sceptical as he struggled to keep the rotorcraft steady then a savage downdraft caused both machines to drop fifty feet or so without warning. “One thing is certain, Father,” he declared, beads of nervous sweat forming upon his brow. “Look at the height of those thunderheads! This is just the leading edge of that storm system: we won’t be able to keep the Angels aloft once these storms reach us.” He banked slightly and indicated the farm buildings. “Perhaps we should just strafe the farm and return to support Father Beorcraft. We can set down in the open spaces north of Wealthorpe and ride out the tempest there.”
Ursaf shook his head slowly, deep in thought. “No, we cannot waste ammunition after losing all our Brothers-Technician at the Brigstowe armouries.” He turned to the navigator: “Brother Gudflan, radio Bede Angel Three and instruct them to follow us down to get a closer look at those buildings. Tell them to keep their chain guns trained on the farmhouse: there could be Unworthy souls waiting to ambush us.”
Spero guided the rotorcraft down in a slow spiral, battling the strengthening cross-winds to allow the gunner in the nose-cone to keep his guns on target as did Bede Angel Three behind them. Suddenly, a brief radio transmission crackled through their headphones: “We’re under attack! Get back…”
Ursaf glared at Spero who had given him a knowing look. “By Saint Peter’s teeth, I am naught but Tythe’s Blind Jester in this!” he conceded with ill grace. He jabbed the transceiver’s send switch. “Bede Angel Three! Return to Wealthorpe! The Light-Father must be attacking Beorcraft and be careful: there must be Wiccans there to have sent us on such a damned fool’s errand!”
As both rotorcraft ascended to head back to the hamlet, the gunner pushed himself back on his roller bed from the nose cone into the cabin between Spero and Gudflan. “Have a care,” he grumbled. “That turbulence nearly cracked my skull open.”
“Get back in there, Brother Piamadet,” Ursaf snarled. “When we get to Wealthorpe, keep your guns trained on those cottages. If Beorcraft and his Brothers have fallen, the Wiccans and Ferals will be there along with their damned Light-Father.”
Spero paled visibly: “He destroyed Schimrian’s monster and the Great Computer with just his bare hands I’m told. Will we be able to take them out with just our two Angels?”
“By the Trinity, have some faith in me, Spero,” Piamadet said sarcastically before returning to his station. He grasped the gun controls and Ursaf smiled with pleasure as he saw the barrels of the two chain-guns attached to the landing-struts begin to spin. These terrifying weapons could tear through brick and stone like tissue-paper but he was chastened to think that Wiccans could knock such powerful machines clean out of the sky as they had done in both Crawcester and Beorminghas.
“I would like to redeem these vile sports of Gomorrah as much as you, Father,” Spero fretted as the Angel bucked violently in the increasingly strong gusts. “But another five minutes of these Satan-farts and we’ll lose the tail rotor.” He heaved at the levers as the Angels were hit with another downdraft. “Get ready, Piamadet,” he shouted. “Wealthorpe is on the other side of those trees!”
Ursaf’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped as the hamlet came into view and he saw in the fading light that the main street was littered with corpses. “Sweet Lord Jesus, they’ve been wiped out,” he gasped in disbelief. “Every single one of them!”
“I can’t see the enemy!” Piamadet yelled as the Angel hovered to the east of the hamlet, the panic evident in his voice. “What now, Father? I have nothing down there to shoot at! Where in St Luke’s burning bones are these Wiccans?”
“They’re not by the shore but there’s a boat moored against the quay!” Ursaf bellowed back at him. “The Whores of Satan must have blinded us to its approach so they could launch a surprise attack on poor Beorcraft. It’s been less than two minutes since they alerted us so the abominations must be hiding in those cottages – there’s no cover between here and the woods.”
He pressed the send switch on the transceiver: “Bede Angel Three: keep parallel to us. Destroy the cottages to the north of the street while we destroy the ones to the south. Use every bullet if you have to – there are Mothers down there!”
“Huh?” Harold exclaimed in disbelief as Ursaf’s rotorcraft hovered before them with their chain guns searching for targets. “What are they waiting for? They have us cold!”
“They can’t see us!” Fern gasped. “I’m in their minds: they’re blind to us but only for a few seconds – my strength is all but spent! We must run beneath them, across the railway and into the woods.” She turned to the others and shouted: “Run! I cannot hide us for long. They’re going to destroy the cottages so if we don’t move now, we’ll die!” She clutched at his arm. “You must carry me, Light-Father,” she panted, the sweat pouring down her face. “I cannot do this and run at the same time.”
Harold sheathed his sword and swept her from her feet and staggered towards the woods after the others. As soon as they’d 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. The heavy calibre bullets smashed every roof tile and beam into spinning fragments and tore the dry-stone walls apart as if two vast Norse gods were dragging giant hammers through the humble dwellings one after another until they 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 on her feet. “You must tell me how you do that, Mother Fern. Teach me this geiss that blinds!”
“It’s a little more complicated… than a simple geiss!” Fern wheezed, leaning on her staff and drawing in lungfuls of air. She watched as the two Angels completed the destruction of Wealthorpe, her face contorting in contempt and hatred. “Gah! Weapons fit for the children of the Devil!” she spat. “I mourn the honest masons and their families who lived here before the Great Plague. Not even their memory is safe from those beasts!”
“The Angels struggle,” Shield observed, baring her teeth. All around them tree crowns swayed alarmingly as gusts impacted the woods. “Hoi! They almost collided!”
Harold grabbed Fern as she suddenly sagged against him. “The ground to the north is flat enough for them to land and weather the storm,” he fretted. “That might be a problem when we need to get back the boat.” He looked up at the nearby firs, oaks and ashes as their boughs creaked ominously above their heads; the wind rising to a fitful roar that tugged at their clothes.
“We could wait for them to land and attack them,” Saul suggested hungrily, his katana drawn.
“No, Fern is exhausted and that’s a lot of open space to cover. We can’t wait for nightfall: we have to find the little ones!”
Saul nodded reluctantly and resheathed his blade. Suddenly he frowned and stepped forward to whip Harold’s katana out of its saya. “Never, ever sheathe a bloodied sword, Light-Father!” he said in a shocked voice. “You’ll have to oil this blade when we get back and flush the scabbard out and dry it. My father 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 deeply in the manner of the Japanese Empire and formally presented the katana to him. “We fought well for ‘kids’, did we not?” he added.
“Yes, you did, but I’m amazed that you even noticed what I was doing with my sword during the fighting.”
Ibrahim laughed as he wiped his battle-axes with a bloodied rag. “Mother Moss trained us well. ‘When in battle: eyes, ears and mind must stay open’ she used to say. We’ve practiced hard for six years and fought many battles even before you came.” He flinched as with a deafening crack of thunder, a lightning bolt struck a tree overhanging the railway line and blew fragments of bark from the trunk. “Hoi, look, Light-Father! The Angels flee inland! Cowards! My inner demon so wanted them to land!”
Harold grinned with relief as the machines rose and headed northwards, harried by the violent gale. “I bet they thought they’d be vulnerable to attack,” he reasoned aloud. “Good. That means we’ll have nobody between us and the boat when we retreat.”
“Now they’re gone, Mother Fern, how will we find the little ones?” Bas demanded, inspecting her arrows and restocking her quiver. “Can you sense them?”
Harold was astounded to see that, despite the clattering presence of the Angels twenty metres above them and their spinning chain guns, Shield and Bas both had the presence of mind to pluck most of their bolts and arrows from the corpses as they ran beneath both rotorcraft. He realised again how little he knew of the true potential of these Children of Exodus but pondered the price they and their descendants might pay for their doctored genes.
Bas actually hissed with displeasure as the first large raindrops splattered down upon her head before Fern had revived enough to answer her: “I can’t see them in my mind and they’re too far away for me to ‘far-talk’ as you call it. I’m sure Surl’s prescience will guide them to us but I did sense scores of Brothers to the east and north scouring farms and woods.” She massaged her eyes. “By the Triple Goddess, I’m so weary! We must find shelter and wait for the little ones as close to this road as we can.”
“I will scout ahead,” Bas volunteered eagerly and she vanished into the dank and gathering murk beneath the trees.
Ibrahim smiled despite the rain now soaking through their clothes: something they were used to as it had rained continuously for six years since the Plague. “She’s hoping to find more Brothers to kill. Her bloodlust has increased tenfold since our battle at the Great Abbey. I’m concerned for her, Light-Father, she may lose herself to the beast within and become worse than a Feral.”
“I’m worried for her too,” Harold assured him. “I’ve been so wrapped up in guilt and self-pity these past three weeks that I’ve barely spent any time with her or with you for that matter.”
“We know you torture yourself as Mother Fern does,” Ibrahim said kindly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You must remember that we all love you, Light-Father. You took us in and you got us out and you stood before Azrael and Schimrian. We fight to make you proud of us and to honour Fierce’s memory.” He secured both of his axes into the slings on his back and patted his muscular chest. “Besides, my inner demon rejoiced in that battle,” he laughed then stopped abruptly as Fern glowered at him. “But he is now a very small demon,” he assured her quickly, pinching his right thumb and forefinger together. “A mere imp!”
“Good, I have no desire to chastise thee again,” Fern said icily. “Or remind you of our conversations on the matter of taking pleasure in killing. You children have suffered much – the Light-Father and I know this and we fear for your futures when we are free of the Order and Gaia smiles upon us once more.”
“Better an uncertain future than this reality,” Shield interjected. She started as lightning struck close by in the woods to the north of them. “We’re not safe amongst the trees,” she added nervously after the deafening peal of thunder had subsided. “I’m as wet as we were in the Keep. I really feel cold now.”
“The Tower of the Sun has made you as soft as a kitten,” Saul teased, embracing her. “Ow! What ails you?” he complained, rubbing at his bruised ribs. “That hurt!”
“I’m no helpless kitten needing protection,” she said loftily, freeing herself from his arms. “I train every day at my craft and martial arts: I need no man to protect me.”
“Don’t look at me, Saul,” Harold smiled, raising his hands. “She knows you love her but I wouldn’t patronise her like that.”
“Exactly, Light-Father,” Shield huffed, folding her arms.
“You two definitely need to talk when this is over.”
“We will, Light-Father,” Saul promised, blushing crimson. “Mother Fern? Are you sure Schimrian’s risen from the dead?”
“As far as I can tell from the mind of Father Ursaf,” she 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, a scar to the chin and long black hair that had been tied back and braided by Shield. What had impressed her most were his reflexes and the skill of his swordsmanship. She wished, not for the first time, that she could’ve witnessed his momentous battle against Abbot Pious, the deadliest member of the Order.
“Are you reading my mind?” he inquired suspiciously.
“A little,” she smiled. “I can see you piercing Pious through the heart but I fear the dark magic that animated his corpse. I hope that he now suffers in the deepest depths of Hell.”
“When Azrael died, he moved no more,” Saul agreed. “But by my soul, I still fear that undead creature more than all the Tally-men and all the Abbots in the world combined.”
“As do I,” said Shield, taking his hands 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. “At least my inner demon is happy: there are so many Fathers and Brothers yet to kill that he always has something to look forward to.”
He whirled and drew his axe at a soft thud behind him only to find Bas grinning at him. “No axe in your hand? Tch! You’re letting your guard down, brother,” she teased.
“Did you find anything, Bas?” Harold demanded. He estimated that she’d jumped more than five yards to the ground with no apparent exertion. Her cold, calculating father would have been proud of his achievement in creating this hybrid child had he not himself been betrayed by the Order he had served so well.
“Yes, Light-Father, a dozen chains from here is a wood-master’s cottage set off the road and hidden from view. The roof is intact and dry enough inside. There are lots of cobwebs but it’s free of bones. Follow me and keep away from the road – I’m sure I heard half-tracks but this thunder is making me deaf.”
Ten minutes later they were safely seated on assorted chairs in the kitchen around a large rustic table. They listened in silence to the rain intensifying and hammering on the roof tiles while the last of the daylight faded. The kitchen was dominated by two ancient dressers decorated with intricate carvings of dryads, fauns and faces of bearded men with antlers. A rack was set against one wall and stacked with the tools of the wood-master’s trade: axes, machetes, saws and serrated knives. The adjacent door led to an outhouse containing chainsaws and all manner of climbing equipment.
“I think I’ll watch the road,” Harold decided, taking out a small but powerful pocket-lamp and switching it on.
“There are candles aplenty,” Shield observed. “If we cover the windows we need not sit in the dark all night.”
“At least there’s no chance of Tally-men operating in such a downpour,” Fern noted. “We’ll light the candles but no chink of light must pass the drapes or we’ll be discovered.”
I made that mistake in Crawcester,” Shield admitted, getting up to draw the curtains. “But for Mother Moss we would’ve been killed. I still have nightmares about that Father Alban and his whip. If I’d had a demon inside me then,” she added, glancing at Ibrahim. “She would have howled with joy when he was torn apart by her vortex and the rain turned red.”
They lit three candles and enjoyed their welcome light. Harold readied his sword and opened the door. It was pitch-black outside now the sun had set. “I’ll check that the candle-light does not get through the doors and windows first.” He turned and his heart almost failed as he beheld a large cowled man, silhouetted by incessant lightning flashes, standing on the doorstep.
But for the lack of a scythe, Harold thought that he could have been looking at a manifestation of Death. Instead the man raised a gloved hand: “Ah, Light-Father, well met. I mean you no harm. I have four saboteurs 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 stooped to embrace her. “I thought you were dead! I can’t believe you’re alive!” To his horror, tears coursed down his cheeks as she buried her face in his chest. “I’m so happy you’re alright. I just… could not… find you! I am so, so sorry I left you behind!”
He looked up at Michael but he could not see his face as it was shrouded in the shadow of 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 when compared to the arcane panoply 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 behind her. “Perhaps I should let these children pry open the gates of Hell for you.”
“Forgive my unwise attempt at humour,” he apologised, bowing deeply. “But this remarkable child is helping me unpick a lifetime of indoctrination and prejudice.” He went outside to usher in the others and soon the kitchen was crowded so more chairs had to be found and more candles lit. Fern had to use her ‘voice’ to prevent Saul, Bas and Ibrahim from attacking Michael, dressed as he was in the field robes of the Order.
Michael closed the door and watched silently as Pup, Rabbit, Surl and Peter were swamped in endless hugs and kisses from their elders as the five victims of the Order sat in a corner, staring at the candles as if seeing their comforting light for the first time in their lives. Harold waited until the hubbub subsided. “I’d better go and keep watch,” he said as they became too overcome with joy to speak. “While I’m out, can one of you see if there’s any gas in that cooker? The rest of you: search the cupboards and the rooms for food and anything else we can use.”
“We will, Light-Father,” Bas promised as she hugged Pup after swinging him round several times until he was dizzy.
He pecked Fern on the cheek. “I really hate the rain,” he grumbled in martyred tones making her laugh.
After Harold had left, Fern approached Michael with a frown upon her face. “Shall I read your mind to find out why you saved these little ones and those poor men?” she said candidly, conscious of Ibrahim still glancing at the cleric with murderous intent.
“The answer is simple: because they saved me, Wiccan,” he whispered into her ear. “Condemned to a living hell by Azrael, I was about to be killed as an abomination by another abomination but they freed me from my cell and found me these robes. They are remarkable. I am nothing but a maggot in their eyes but they’ve been my epiphany; my final awakening.”
“I want to know why the Order has turned on you and why you now decry and betray the Order you’ve willingly served all your adult life and blindly followed unto the ruin of all humanity. Tell me, monster, why should I believe you?”
“Because the Order reviles me as the Naked One.”
“What do you mean by that? Are you naked because you’ve finally cast off your mantle of arrogance and delusion?”
“Oh, it’s far more literal than you could ever imagine, Wiccan,” he said quietly. He unfastened his sodden robes, pulled back the cowl and removed his gloves and the bandages that hid his face. He let them all fall to the floor. “Behold.”
Saul had to leap forward to catch her as she fainted.
Updated 23rd June