Chapter 08: Nightshade

Chapter 08 of the City of Gargoyles. As the storms rage above Milverburg, Nightshade, the enigmatic albino Wiccan gazes out at the rain and contemplates the end of all things. 


Chapter 08: Nightshade
———————————

    Lightning crackled incessantly across the heavens as Nightshade watched from beneath the immense gothic archway of the eastern railway entrance into Milverburg. The wind roared from the south-west so the veils of driving rain did not reach her but violent gusts whipped her long milk-white mane this way and that until, sighing with irritation, she laid down her staff and tied her hair back into a pony tail.

     She did not flinch as the tip of a spear touched her spine and a voice cried out: “You let your guard down. I could have been a Brother and run you through!”

     “I doubt it, Mouse, because your spear is not what it seems,” Nightshade smiled, keeping her back to the young girl.

     There was a shriek and a clattering of the spear upon the flagstones. “My spear turned into a snake,” Mouse cried out in horror. “It tried to bite me!”

    Nightshade stooped to pick up both staff and spear and handed the spear back to Mouse, marvelling at the exquisite Iberian workmanship. It was well-balanced and had belonged to an Iberian prince some three hundred years ago. “Ah, Mouse, I knew you were behind me and as for the illusion – I am a Wiccan after all. So, are all the others as restless as I am?”

    Mouse handled the spear nervously before standing it upright to look up at the beautiful and enigmatic Wiccan. “Yes, we fear for the Light-Father and the others and Mother Ivy just threatened to turn Amos into a warty toad,” she grinned, moving closer to Nightshade to watch the immense storm. “He can be such a bull-pat at times but he’s unbearable now.”

    “He was mourning for his sister, to be fair.”

    “He’s been awful; swooning like some helpless maiden in a saga.” Mouse put the back of her hand to her forehead and struck a forlorn pose: “If only I’d been a real b-brother to her then she would never have needed a w-w-wig!”

    “Such mockery is cruel, Mouse: shame on you.”

    “But it is funny when we have no joy in our lives.”

    “I understand, dear heart,” Nightshade smiled, placing her hand on Mouse’s head. “We Mothers and Daughters of the craft: we had no childhood to speak of either.” She paused as a blinding flare of light was followed instantaneously by a thunderclap that deafened them. “Diana, preserve us!” she gasped. “That was close! I think it struck one of the towers on Uppermost.”

    “The Light-Father told me how hailstones make the electrics as they rub against each other in storm clouds. He said the lightning is so hot that it makes the air itself explode to make thunder – Thor’s hammers are actually made of ice!”

    “I see. The Light-Father did find time to teach you something. He is most a most unusual man. I would love to see his world with my own eyes. To think they sent men to the Moon!”

    “I would too but he hasn’t spent much time with me since we got here,” Mouse said sadly, the tears trickling down her cheeks. “I just wanted to talk to him about Fierce but he was always too sad about leaving the others behind.”

    Nightshade put her arm about Mouse’s shoulders and held the girl close to her. “Dear heart, I know you miss Fierce as does Shield and all the other Scatterlings even Amos. The Light-Father misses her too but you must forgive him for not talking to you much about what happened at the Great Abbey.”

    “We need his magic,” Mouse protested.

    “I know, dear heart, but don’t forget; he was wounded by a great evil the like of which this world has never seen.”

    “You, Ivy and Fern were hurt too but you didn’t seem as worried about the little ones as he was.”

    “We were worried, I can assure you, but the Light-Father does not understand Surl’s gifts as we do so we were always hopeful that they would survive in that dreadful place.”

    “So Surl will become a Mother one day?”

    “Yes, she will be as powerful as Mother Moss so we must get her back at all costs. Because she is a seer, perhaps the only one left in all of Gaia, she may prove to be the only hope we have of surviving this accursed nightmare.”

    “Surl has no mark of the craft so how can she be a Mother?”

    “The mark could be anywhere,” Nightshade sighed thoughtfully. “We just haven’t seen it yet. I now feel her gift is not due to the genetic manipulation of the scientists at Exodus although you and the other Scatterlings bear much of their legacy.”

    “I know,” Mouse said miserably. “I am stronger and faster than most people my age but I am so tired of the Order; of men wanting to kill us all the time. Whenever I sleep, I  dream of the three of us riding in the Barnacle on the River Craw and racing through the broken Copper Bridge with all the masonry crashing into the flood but when Shield and I turn round, Fierce is no longer with us. Suddenly, we arrive at this calm lake shining in bright sunlight where our parents are in a rowing boat. Fierce is with them and she waves at us. There’s an old man steering the boat: Mister Helfburn, he owned the house in Crawcester where we stayed after the floods. We found him dead in his chair – he was watching the river and drinking whisky until he died from the Plague.”

    “Then I envy him in some ways,” Nightshade said, hugging Mouse tightly as the heavens above them were riven with great jagged forks of blue-white light. “Shield told me of your adventures so it is not surprising that you dream of them so. You Scatterlings have seen things that no child should ever see but we are where we are: two small gargoyles watching Gaia in all Her fury.”

    “I’m frightened, Mother Nightshade.”

    “As am I, little one. We will do what we can to protect you from these horrors until Gaia is cleansed of the Order. I have great power, Mouse, and I swear on the blood of my fallen sisters that I will not rest until you and the others are safe.”

    “Thank you, Mother Nightshade,” Mouse smiled gratefully through her tears. She let her spear fall to the floor once more, wrapped her arms around the Wiccan’s slender waist and buried her face into her chest. “What crafts have you? You haven’t told us much about yourself or where you’re from.”

    “There is little to tell, dear heart,” Nightshade said in self-deprecating tones. “I am Mother Nightshade of the Fourth Degree. I am a Servant of Leo and a Wielder of Fire.”

    “Hmph! That says everything and nothing.”

    Nightshade laughed then waited for a titanic rumble of thunder to die down. “It does at that. Mother Rosemary was of the Sun and she could wield the Light of Creation so her ‘element’ – if you want to call it that – was light itself. She could also breathe life back into those who found themselves at the Gates of Death. I have seen her heal many grave injuries yet for all her craft we could not restore humanity to our poor Ferals.”

    “Was she as powerful as you?”

    “I was not her equal but, amongst the Mothers, I was respected,” Nightshade smiled. She opened her free hand and above the palm an intense glowing sphere formed and Mouse could feel the heat upon her face. “I, too, can melt brickwork and set the greatest of fires but I also have the greatest power of all the Mothers to bedazzle minds and confuse the sight of our enemies as you found out just now with your spear.”

    “The snake was so real,” Mouse shuddered. “I could feel its scales in my hands and I heard it hissing.”

    “It was a fooling of all your senses.  Fern is almost as strong in that facet of the craft as me and one day, Shield and Surl will possess such gifts and insights.”

    “But I thought Wiccans could only wield one element?”

    “Not so but we are strongest in the one that calls out to us and awakens us, dear heart. Fire called out to me but we all have other gifts such as telepathy and telekinesis to some degree and we can all cast illusions of one sort or another but, as I said, our abilities vary greatly from one Mother to the next.”

    “What about Mother Veneris?”

    Pain crossed the delicate features of the Wiccan and the fiery sphere faded away. “Ah, I so grieve for her, dear heart. She was a Wielder of Water and a good friend and mentor to me. She could have raised a wave high enough to drown this citadel twice over but those infernal begiullers laid her and Mother Rosemary low at the Great Abbey before they could wield their full powers. Few before them would have survived had their craft been unleashed.”

    “Mother Rosemary frightened me a little bit,” Mouse admitted. “Her irises would change colour all the time and all the shadows about her seemed wrong somehow.”

    Nightshade looked down at Mouse with some surprise. “Well, you are perceptive and no mistake. You have no craft but you Children of Exodus are special too, you know.”

    “But what were those shadows?” Mouse persisted. 

    “Rosemary could harness the power of the sun itself as she was a Heliodrammus but as she could call those back from the Gates of Death, she could also stand at the portals of Hades and of Heaven as a Bearer of Souls.”

    “A Bearer of Souls? So she could see ghosts like Mother Fern does all the time?”

    “Hmm, not really. Fern’s ghosts are more manifestations of her guilt than real but Rosemary could and did speak to ghosts. Before the Great Plague, many powerful people covertly sought her counsel to wrest secrets from the dead. She would always encourage souls to let go of their earthly ties and cross over but we now have billions of desperate and angry shades all filled with a hatred great enough to tear this reality apart – thus are they chained to this vale of tears. God help all those Fathers and Brothers if that hatred ever became corporeal.”

    “And now Shield has become a Mother too. Will she go mad if these ghosts all start speaking to her as well?”

    Nightshade caught the tone in Mouse’s voice and placed a hand on her cheek. “Fear not, like Rosemary, she will not be driven mad nor we will not take your sister from you for all our fates are bound together for good or for ill.”

    “Will she be talking to dead all the time?”

    “I don’t think she has craft enough to be a Bearer of Souls,” Nightshade said thoughtfully. “But she was strong enough to keep you from entering the Doors of Death with Fern’s help.”

    “I was so suspicious of Shield: she spent a lot of time with Mother Moss in that office of hers and would come back to the Keep, white as a ghost and trembling all over.”

    “Mother Moss determined your sister’s element of awakening to be Air which she quietly honed and trained at that Keep of yours in Crawcester. To be trained like that will drain the hardiest of souls. Your sister will become more powerful still but she must learn to control that power or it will consume her and we…”

    “You mean if she becomes evil from using her power,” Mouse said angrily. “You will kill her like all those other Daughters.”

    “Be at peace, Mouse,” Nightshade sighed. “An evil Wiccan could be more terrible than Schimrian and Azrael but I do not think we need to worry about Shield: her heart is pure.”

    “I know! She kept her secret from us all that time and then she knocked two Angels out of the sky in Beorminghas,” Mouse said proudly. “Long before we got to the Keep, we almost died in the Barnacle on the River Craw but she made our rope bounce out of the water and onto a mooring post. I didn’t know at the time but that was when she first used her power but now she has no time for me because she is besotted with Saul.”

    “She is indeed a Wiccan and she is still your sister yet she is also a beautiful young woman whose heart is blossoming with love,” Nightshade laughed, placing a hand on Mouse’s cheek. “Wiccans are not encouraged to take mates but that is now a foolish rule to follow with mankind all but destroyed. When this madness is done with, little Mouse, you will mature as she is now doing; you will seek out a man; you will fall in love with that man and then you will have lots of little mouselings! Your descendants will then reclaim Gaia and make of it a paradise.”

    “I don’t want to grow up! I just want my sisters back!”

    “Please, dear heart, do not cry again when the skies weep so. Mother Moss set Fierce upon that grim path yet your sister accepted her fate willingly knowing that she would sacrifice herself to save you and the rest of us. She kept this dark secret from you all and I bless her soul for even I, for all my craft and will, could never have shouldered such a burden for so long knowing the time and manner of my death.”

    Mouse waited for another deafening roar of thunder to subside. “What of you? You never answered my question. Who are you, really? What’s your real name? How did you become a Mother? When did you know you had the craft?”

    “Ah, Mouse, you do know that I’m an albino?”

   “Yes, I can see that,” Mouse huffed. “I’m not stupid.”

   “I did not say that. Many believed that albinos were a portent of evil and the midwife actually fainted when I was born. However, my parents were both doctors and accepted my condition but then they found the mark of the craft upon my shoulder. Everyone knew of the mark of the Wiccans so they hid it as best they could but they made naïve enquiries about Wiccans and so the Order knocked the door one night and forced their way into the house.”

    “How did you escape?” Mouse gasped.

   “Diana protected me. My parents had to watch as a Father inspected me for the mark knowing that the make-up could rub off at any moment. He left after sympathising with them for having such a ‘damaged’ baby and he actually wished them well!”

    “By Saint Saul, your parents were brave.”

    “They were at that but my earliest memories are filled with fear and darkness as they struggled to keep my secret safe, keeping me hidden away and my shoulders covered at all times. I felt so lonely and bored until my magic awakened one day when I had but four years. Like Fern, I was yet to feel the full call of my element but things became… difficult.”

~~~~~

    “Bordan, she’s doing it again!”

    “She’s doing what again, Kendra?” Bordan demanded irritably, putting down his newspaper. “It’s difficult to have a conversation with you when you’re bellowing down the stairs from the landing while I’m trying to eat my breakfast in the kitchen!”

    “Well, come upstairs then!”

    Bordan muttered several choice expletives under his breath and levered himself to his feet. He trudged upstairs and along the landing to find his wife hovering at the door to their daughter’s bedroom. He looked over her shoulder to see their four-year old daughter sat cross-legged on the floor and waving her hands. “Ah, I see,” he groaned. “Telekinesis. I thought it was just a myth, a rumour put out there by the Order to discredit the Wiccans. There have been no scientifically documented examples of telekinesis that I am aware of and the Wiccans ahve always denied it.”

    “Yet there it is,” Kendra said, placing a hand to her mouth to stifle a sob. “There it is: same as yesterday only I thought I was dreaming when that toy floated across the room.”

    Five stuffed toys were marching in unison around their little albino daughter who was singing a nursery rhyme: “March, march, march, little soldier boys, march to the music of the band…

     “This is no myth, Bordan, or would you deny the evidence of your own eyes?” Kendra hissed. “The craft is manifest in her. We can’t send her to school even after all the preparations we’ve made with the principal about her albinoism. What would our child-minder or my mother do if they saw her doing that?” 

    “Look, Daddy, all my friends are alive! It’s magic!”

    “Yes, Ellete, it is magic,” he said carefully. “Can you ask them all to lie down so you can get dressed and have breakfast with us? I have to go to work soon and so does your mother.”

    “Okay, Daddy!” Ellete smiled and waved her hand. The toys flopped to the floor and she started pulling off her nightdress and stopped suddenly. “Oh! I don’t feel so good,” she whimpered, clutching at her head and swaying. 

    Kendra swept Ellete up in her arms as Bordan inspected the toys. “There is no way we can send her to a nursery or a primary school after this,” he groaned. “Our neighbours will start asking even more questions than they are now. It’s bad enough they are prejudiced against albinos but if they found out she was a Wiccan they would burn this house to the ground!”

    Kendra cradled her daughter who was already beginning to revive and whimper at the tone of their voices. “I am sure Eowynne Unwin has reported us to the authorities – her brother is a Master of the Royal Conclave of Architects and you know how close they are to the Order and the shareholders at Exodus.”

    Bordan sighed and ran a hand though his hair in exasperation. “She is not the only one, I’m sure of it.”

    Kendra kissed her daughter on the forehead. “It’s why we’ve had so many constables visiting us – the neighbours tell them that we are keeping our daughter prisoner.”

    “Yes, I know,” he laughed wryly. “It is our good fortune that the constables believe us rather than them when they see that she’s an albino. They are good men but poor Ellete will never understand why they’re so afraid of her being an albino and having those blood-red irises. I don’t want her to lose her innocence, Kendra, but we can’t hide a craft as powerful as this. Imagine doing these magic tricks at school!”

    Ellete began to stir in Kendra’s arms. “We have friends working for Exodus. Maybe they can suppress the genes causing this without their managers finding out. We have to try, Bordan, otherwise they’ll take her from us and kill her!”

    “How can Exodus help?” he shrugged. “They do a lot of work for the Order and they won’t be able to explain how a small child’s brain can generate enough telekinesis to make dolls and toys come to life. It requires a lot of energy so no wonder she nearly fainted. Look, she has a nosebleed as well.”

    “I’m really hungry, Mummy,” Ellete mumbled, snuggling against her mother as if nothing had happened.

    “I bet you are, dear heart,” Kendra murmured soothingly, dabbing at Ellete’s nose with a tissue.

    “I want to go to school and make some friends!”

    “I know, angel, but the other children don’t have magic like you do. If you make toys dance around with magic, they might be too frightened to play with you.”

    “I’d never be mean,” Ellete said, patting her mother’s face. “I’ll keep it a secret. Are the Mothers coming to take me?”

    “We hope not, Ellete,” Bordan said carefully. “Your mother and I don’t want the Wiccans to take you away from us either as we love you so much. They take all the girls who have been marked by the craft like you are. We want to keep you secret; we want to keep you safe.”

     “I love you lots,” Ellete said simply. “But the Mothers whisper in my head. They want me to be a Daughter and learn how to control my magic.”

    “See, Bordan?” Kendra said bitterly. “Telepathy! You just had to make enquiries about her craft mark.”

    “As you did with the Wiccans when she was born,” he retorted angrily. “Only they know what the craft entails and they how to control it when no scientist on this Earth can explain the biology and the physics of what they do. We may have no choice but to give Ellete to the Wiccans.”  

    “Never! Because some parents do get to see their girls again,” Kendra protested angrily. “The ones who are sent home dead. We can no more trust them than we can trust the Order. Remember how the press were calling for the Wiccans to be brought to trial even though the autopsies showed they died of natural causes?”

    “I know, I know,” Bordan sighed, going to the window to look down at the busy main street at the front of the house. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. If we keep her home the authorities will ask why she isn’t at school but if the Wiccans take her, then they stop asking questions.”

    “Oh, the Wiccans see to that,” Kendra said bitterly. “Even I have to admit their abilities are real but they can’t have her.”

    “Ah, I think we have a bigger problem.”

    “What do you mean? How can it be any bigger than this?”

    “A police car is in the street and a van with the markings of the Order. I see constables and  Brothers talking and pointing at the house. Wait here.” He ran into one of the rear bedrooms and peered down into the gardens then quickly rejoined his frightened wife. “They haven’t posted anyone at the rear of the house. Thank the Virgin Mary, we had the foresight to see this day coming.”

    “Do you mean we have to run?”

    “Yes, I’ll barricade the front door while you grab the suitcases we keep packed. Quickly Kendra,” he urged taking her by the shoulders. “We haven’t much time.”

    “Are we playing hide and seek?” Ellete said happily.

   “Yes, dear heart,” Bordan said, kissing his beloved daughter on the head. “Only if they find us they will kill us.”

~~~~~

 

 

© mitch 2018
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