Chapter 09: Shadows In Sewers
From the City of Gargoyles, the second book of the Light-Father trilogy. Trapped in the Great Abbey, the youngest of the Scatterlings turn to Surl and her growing gift of prescience to save them but she can’t foresee everything as it comes at a price.
Chapter 09: Shadows In Sewers
“What do you mean by sabotage?” Peter demanded as he stared down at the carnage taking place all across the Great Abbey. “How can four ‘kids’, as the Light-Father calls us, take on hundreds of Brothers and Fathers?”
Surl smiled as Pup ran in little circles behind them shouting “Pup the Mighty!” with excitement at each explosion and gout of flame. “Not hundreds now, Peter, only dozens of Brothers are left alive down there and most of the Tally-men are gone.”
“Pah! You sound like an Eldest,” he grimaced. “All I want to know is will this gift of yours protect us? Now look over there!” he urged, pointing at the sky. “The sun is going down and the storms gather to the south again. We can’t stay on this accursed roof in rain and lightning.”
“He’s right,” Rabbit agreed. “Seeing the sun again today was an incredible dream but I can smell electrics on the air. Another big storm is coming. Where do we go from here, Surl?”
Surl pursed her lips and pointed downwards. “Underground,” she said. “There are endless tunnels and sewers under the Great Abbey where we will hide. I have a vision where Brothers and Fathers want to return from all over Britannia but Schimrian keeps them outside the walls as he doesn’t trust them. Because there are so few Brothers left alive, we can stop them repairing their Angels until we escape to Milverburg.”
“Milverburg?” Peter exclaimed. “Is that where your visions say the Light-Father will be waiting for us? That dark place with the statues and all those corpses on the platforms?”
Surl hissed in pain and pressed a hand to her forehead. “Yes, yes. I see them waiting for us in a beautiful golden tower but all about them is so dark. Ah, it hurts when I try to see too much.”
Rabbit peered over the edge of the roof again. “Hoi! We could climb down the outside of this building using the pipe-work but we can’t because Peter’s stump is injured. We will have to find another way down.” She turned to look at Surl as a thought struck her: “So Schimrian didn’t die? Why did the Light-Father fail to kill him? Why are you shaking your head?”
“Something much worse than Schimrian was down there waiting for him,” Surl choked and shuddered. “He created a monster called Azreal; a fallen angel full of madness and evil. Azrael made the Tally-men kill Brothers and Sisters because it amused him – that is why there are few of the Order left alive in the Great Abbey.”
“If so few are left why can’t we just run after the Light-Father and the others?” Rabbit insisted. “Why stay here when Mother Fern and the Light-Father and the others failed to kill Schimrian and the rest of the Brothers?”
“They didn’t fail. The Angel of Death is gone for now,” Surl sighed, tears coursing down her cheeks. “But Fierce died in an explosion down there… I saw it… She had plasma grenades inside her stuffed bear and blew herself up to save us all… and Mother Moss knew! She knew what Fierce had to do save them – she was the only one who could kill Azrael!”
“No!” Pup wailed, wrapping his arms around her. “Mother Moss loved Fierce! Surl can’t be right! Use your magic to bring Fierce back!”
Surl’s shoulders sagged as she wiped at her eyes. “I would if I could, dear heart, but I am not a Wiccan like Mother Fern. I have so few years and I am so afraid but we must stay and prevent the Order from repairing its rotorcraft and its electrics. I-I-I am not sure,” she groaned, rubbing her forehead. “But if we flee now, the Order will kill us all in Milverburg by landing those rotorcraft in the city and blocking the docks and railways. Ah! Ah! I cannot see anymore – it hurts!”
Rabbit embraced Surl and comforted her as the four frightened Scatterlings huddled together. Acrid smoke drifted past them and scattered drops of heavy rain started to fall from the darkening skies above. They started as a huge train whistle blast sounded out defiantly as the Phoenix began to reverse away from the platform.
“No! They can’t leave us here!” Rabbit wailed.
“They can and they must, Rabbit,” Surl said grimly, pointing down at the surviving Brothers and Tally-men swarming about the sweeping expanse of the Sisters’ Processional. “The Battle of the Great Abbey is over.”
“What about the rest of the Ferals?”
“I think only forty of the two hundred made it,” Surl said, wiping at her tears again. “Sweet Mary save us, Rabbit, only forty.”
Rabbit pursed her lips and put her hands on her hips. “We can mourn them later,” she urged decisively. “If any of those Brothers look up here, they will see us. Come on! If Surl’s vision can’t find us a way down, then leave it to Rabbit to find a warren!” She pointed to the roof of the Great Cathedral and the tall bell-tower at its south-east corner. “Look, there’s a door accessing the roof. We could get to the ground through the bell-tower. There surely won’t be any Brothers in a bell-tower when there’s been fighting and so many fires.”
Surl nodded wearily. “Yes, but we need to be careful because the ledges are exposed. We could be seen if anybody looks up at the roof. Well then, Rabbit, lead the way.”
The ledge was indeed narrow and slippery with mould and mildew with a sheer drop to their left. They resorted to crawling as Peter wondered why the architects of this huge structure had given so little thought to the safety of the workers who maintained the roof. A rising wind tugged at them and Pup whimpered in terror for the full twenty minutes it took them to reach the door which was mercifully unlocked. Shuddering with fatigue, they entered the musty and brooding silence of the belfry.
Pup shrieked at a skittering noise above them in the rafters and shadows fluttered past their faces in the dark. “Ugh, bats,” he grumbled, waving his arms above his head to ward off the whirring of wings. “Ugh! Pup can hear them talking to each other in nasty little squeaks.”
“It’s how they see,” Rabbit explained. “I read it in a book back at the Keep. They use sound to detect objects in the dark. Their huge ears hear the echoes so they never crash into anything. It must be hell for them when the bell rings!” she smiled, reaching out a hand to touch the huge bell rim.
“Ignore them, Pup, they’re a nuisance but they won’t hurt you.” Peter said, crossing to the ladder and peering down into the gloom of the stairwells below. “We can’t stay here,” Peter said “We have to get down this ladder and onto the stairs. If any Brother enters the tower we will be trapped up here or forced back onto the roof. Follow me, but be careful,” he warned, clambering onto the ladder. “The ladder steps are narrow so feel for them with your feet. There’s not much light down here and this glow-stick is spent.”
With their hearts in their mouths, they descended the hollow tower with steps set against the wall but with no railings. The feeble light coming from windows set at regular intervals merely made the sense of vertigo worse and Pup had to stop to relieve himself from fear. He lay upon the cold stone steps, his face pressed against the wall and his eyes screwed shut. He was trembling and whimpering for a mother he had never seen.
Rabbit instinctively knelt beside him and kissed him on his sweat-soaked forehead. “She would think Pup is a brave Pup,” she crooned, copying his way of speaking in the third person. “She would want Pup to be strong because inside his little body beats a warrior’s heart. She would want Pup to get up and fight.”
Pup stared for a long while into Rabbit’s large, dark brown eyes and relaxed. He put a hand up and ran his fingers through her unkempt auburn mane. “Would she really tell Pup that? Pup has had dreams of mother – she has no face but she sings Pup a lullaby,” he murmured. “Let the angels fill your dreams with cakes and queens and magic beans…”
“Enough, Pup,” Rabbit coaxed gently and levered him to his feet. “We are near the bottom of this bell-tower. Just keep a hand on the wall and don’t look down. Just keep moving and keep your eyes on me. That’s it. Good Pup. We’ll soon be on the ground.”
“Yes, where all those angry Fathers and Brothers are running around,” Peter grumbled. “I just hope the fires keep them all busy.”
Surl sat down suddenly so that he almost tripped over her. “Saint Saul, Surl!” he exploded. “I almost fell!”
“Shhh! All of you keep quiet and lie flat on the stairs!”
Such was the tone of urgency in her voice that they obeyed instantly. A second later, the tower door immediately beneath them opened and two Brothers, clutching spears, entered and gazed up into the darkness of the tower above them. “Always gives me vertigo,” one of them grumbled. “Why would the Unworthy hide in here? They all fled on that damned train of theirs.”
“Father Leored insisted we search everywhere for stragglers,” the other shrugged, shining a strong torch upwards to illuminate the beams of the belfry far above them. “With the Annexe destroyed and Schimrian dead, we are vulnerable to another attack. All our radios are down, don’t forget.”
“Tchah! I am glad that lunatic, Schimrian, is gone. I just hope we elect a new Great Abbot who has a little more vision.”
“Watch your tongue, Brother Cyrus, they may resurrect him yet: he was inside that Satanic machine and that survived the blast.”
“Verily I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
“Enough of quoting John! Come, let us move on to search the other towers before darkness falls. Remember, all the electrics have failed and we will have to make do with bell and candle.”
“Then throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“By Saint Peter’s beard, Cyrus, will you stop quoting the Scriptures at me? We could run into the Unworthy at any moment – it is an ill time for your attempts at levity.”
“As you wish, Brother Luke,” Cyrus laughed. “But the cowardly, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Luke snorted in disgust and frustration and slammed the door behind them leaving the children able to draw breath. What little light there was from the small windows in the tower was fading as Peter ran swiftly down the remaining stairs, knife in hand to open the door a crack. The other three gathered behind him anxiously.
“There is nobody around but there’s a lot of smoke coming from the burning buildings. Where do we run do?” he demanded of Surl. “If we can’t find a way into the tunnels we’re finished.”
“Stop being a worry-wart, Peter. There’s a sewer manhole just behind the tower next to the wall of the Great Annex,” Rabbit said.
“How would you know that?” Peter asked sharply.
“Huh! Mother Moss always taught us all to use our eyes and see everything,” Rabbit smiled. “When we were on the roof I looked for manhole covers and there it was. The tunnels won’t run under big heavy buildings like the Cathedral but I think Surl is right: there must be lots of tunnels down there.”
“Hallelujah, Mother Mary, we get to swim in kack or we get killed,” he groaned. “So it’s the kack for us. Come on; let’s run while this wretched smoke gives us cover!”
They hared across the hundred metres with the acrid fumes burning their lungs and, using an abandoned spear, they prised the cover up and descended on the rungs into the foetid darkness of the underground tunnels. Rabbit struggled but she managed to pull the heavy manhole cover into place and the darkness became total. Peter sighed with relief as he took his two remaining glow-sticks from his jacket and shook them into life. He removed the spent glow-stick from his head-band and was about to throw it into the sewage flow but Surl prevented him. “No,” she hissed. “It will be seen when they check the sewers!”
“So you can even foresee what happens to kack?” he asked with an incredulous grin. “That is quite the gift!”
“No but Mother Moss taught us well,” Surl retorted crossly. “She said we should never leave clues for your enemies to find. Amos said our father was always telling him things like that about how to be a soldier. I wish I could remember…”
“It’s no time to think of our lost parents, Surl,” Rabbit interjected. “Peter’s arm-shield and knife are still in the duct from the generator room.”
Surl glared at her for a moment then sighed and massaged the bridge of her nose. “True, Rabbit, but it will take them months to dig through all the wreckage in the generator room. They are far more likley to search the sewers once we start our sabotage.”
“Some saga this is going to be,” Peter muttered. “Come on; let’s get going.”
The brickwork of the sewers was barely higher than their heads as they walked along the ledges set into the rounded walls. In the pale light of their glow-sticks they made their way past lines of chittering rats which paid them little heed. Surl was leading and eventually she found a rotting door set into one wall where the sewer opened out into a chamber where several tributary converged.
She carefully pulled the little door open which creaked ominously upon its rusted hinges. “We’re here,” she declared and led them into an ancient cellar with ancient wooden benches and cobwebbed shelves set into the walls.
There were a few bottles still laid upon the shelves that Peter inspected. “Sixty years old,” he announced after reading the labels. “This must have been a wine cellar the Brothers and Fathers have forgotten about. Mmm, can you smell cooking?” he said, sniffing at the air. “Better than that stinking sewage out there.”
“We are below the kitchens where the Sisters prepare the food for all the men in the Great Abbey,” Surl declared and sat down upon one of the benches. “These will be our beds and this will be our Keep for the next three weeks. Ah,” she winced and wiped at her nose again, the blood bright red upon her sleeve. “No! I cannot see any more!”
“I will check that passageway and see if there is a way into the kitchens,” Peter said decisively “The Sisters are less likely to kill me and Rabbit if we are found. Pup, you stay with Surl and I’ll see if Rabbit and I can steal some bedding and candles as well as something to eat. Do your visions see any danger for us, Surl?”
“No, I just said I can’t see anything but the colour red when I close my eyes,” Surl sighed wearily. “You are on your own.”
“As always,” he grumbled, clutching at his stump. “By the skirts of the Holy Mother, this hurts too. If it gets infected, Death will call my name.”
“Hurry then,” Rabbit urged, peering into the dark. She took hold of the glow-stick and in its feeble glow she could see stairs going upward. “I think we might be able to get into the kitchen. You’re right, Peter, I can smell cooking now.”
“Keep your voice as quiet as possible,” Surl urged in a whisper. “Sisters are not that clever but they have keen ears.”
“We have less than an hour before those glow-sticks burn out,” Rabbit said. “I’ll take this one and Pup, you keep that one and look after Surl for us.”
Pup readied his lethal catapult. “Pup will kill any Brother who comes in here,” he declared bravely but the shaking in his voice betrayed the raw fear of a young boy orphaned in the endless nightmare of an apocalypse.
Peter nodded in approval and scurried after Rabbit as she climbed the musty stairs that seemed to go up forever before reaching another small and long-forgotten store room with shelves set into all four walls. There were jars and pots galore upon those shelves but all were shrouded in webs and dust. Between two shelving units was a door which was boarded up on the inside and there was a faint chink of light that drew them to a small crack in its wood. “Strange,” Peter murmured. “Whoever placed these boards here must have come up from the sewers but why did they do this?”
Rabbit peered through the crack. “Worry about that later, Peter! There’s a passageway lit by candles on the other side but I can’t see much: the hole is too small and the light is too dim. I don’t think there’s anyone around though.”
Peter tugged at one of the pieces of wood and it came away easily in his hand with virtually no sound. “Hoi! The saints are with us, Rabbit: the boards are full of dry rot,” he grinned. A few seconds later, he had freed the door. “Ah, there’s no handle or door knob,” he groaned in despair. “We can’t open it.”
“Wait,” exclaimed Rabbit, rooting around on the floor. “Here’s the spindle, but there’s no way to turn it in the door lock.”
“Let’s see,” Peter said, extending a hand to take it. “Ah, all we need is this nail to go through this hole in the spindle like so and we insert it like this. Now, Surl had a point: give me the glow-stick,” he said. He placed it in a pocket inside his jacket. “There’s light enough out there and we don’t want to leave it behind as a clue.”
“I wouldn’t have dropped it,” Rabbit sniffed.
They started a little as the door swung easily inward to reveal a long thin table set against the door frame with candles burning on candle-sticks at each end. A faint haze of smoke hung in the air but there was no sign of any Sister as occasional booms and rumbles from the exploding fuel drums shook faint puffs of dust from the arched ceilings above them. To their immediate left, the wide passageway led beneath an ornate portal into the kitchen.
In the faint light from the dozen leaded windows set high in the walls and the ruddy glow from the ranges and oven fires, they saw on the tables closest to them something they’d never thought they would never see again in this world: mounds of freshly baked bread and pats of butter. There was also a box of candles and matches too so that they could not believe their luck. “Don’t take too many candles,” Peter said, grabbing two loaves and a pat of butter. “Or they might get suspicious and come looking for us.”
“We need to check the other tables and pantries for some cheese or meat,” Rabbit decided. She went around the next kitchen table then squeaked in horror. Peter was by her side in a flash with a knife at the ready.
“Oh, oh, I see,” he whispered, the bile rising in his throat. There on the floor were three Sisters with their throats cut; their bodies bearing many puncture wounds and their habits drenched crimson with their blood.
“Saint Peter, save us,” Rabbit whimpered, clinging to Peter. “They’ve been butchered.”
Peter shook himself vigorously. “No! Feel no pity for them for they are of the Order! We must take this food and get back to the door now or we’ll end up like them.”
He paused to scoop up the bread, butter, candles and matches and caught up with Rabbit who was standing still before the passageway with her mouth open. “What now?” he demanded irritably then a cold thrill ran through him as, in a blur of motion, he dropped his burden and whipped out his longest knife. Rabbit saw him move and she too followed suit with her razor sharp hand-axes at the ready.
Spear in hand and silhouetted by the candles burning in the passageway was the unmistakable shape of a Tally-man.