Chapter 12: Beginnings
Chapter 12 of the City Of Gargoyles – Book 2 of The Light-Father Trilogy
Chapter 12: Beginnings
Heavy hailstones threatened to smash the tiles for a few seconds then continuous overhead thunder made conversation impossible. Finally, it subsided and storm paused as if it were a living thing drawing breath for a fresh assault on the senses. Surl had fallen asleep upon Harold’s chest with a contented smile upon her face and did not stir at all during the cacophony. He was conscious of their damp clothes and felt claustrophobic and pinned down as she was a dead weight in her slumber.
Fern placed a hand upon her head and concentrated. “Diana has blessed her with a deep and dreamless sleep,” she said. “She is utterly spent, the poor child. She has hardly slept for three weeks but she feels safe and loved in your arms, dear heart, as do I,” she added suggestively making him blush. Peter was looking at him quizzically so he coughed to hide his embarrassment.
“So you and Rabbit were trapped in the kitchen by the Tally-man,” he prompted. “Did you have to fight him?”
“Why is he not attacking us?” Rabbit demanded in an urgent whisper as the Tally-man stood motionless in front of them, blocking their only escape route. His hood was pulled back and they could see the dull glint of the metallic Guides driven into his bald skull. He raised a hand to touch the one embedded into his right temple as if listening to a radio and took a sudden long and rasping breath that startled them.
Peter looked over his shoulder at the great oak door on the far side of the kitchen. It was their only means of escape but he feared it would lead them out into the Great Abbey grounds and certain death. His heart was fluttering with fear but the Tally-man was making no move to attack them or even point his spear at them.
“Peter!” Rabbit squeaked. “He cannot see us!”
The Tally-man’s head swivelled from side to side as he scanned the kitchen and then to their immense surprise he purposefully strode between them as if they were completely invisible and carefully laid his spear on the nearest table, resting a hand on it for a moment as if trying to recall some pleasant memory.
“Hoi, monster!” she cried. “What are you doing?”
The Tally-man turned to face her and a chill ran down her spine as those soulless eyes regarded her for a full ten seconds as if she was just an insect unworthy of the energy to swat. He brushed past her to retrieve a large wooden tray and began stacking bread, butter and cheeses onto it. Too fascinated to bolt down the corridor, the children watched him as he calmly went about the kitchen. He paused to stare impassively down at the mutilated corpses of the Sisters for a moment then he simply stepped over them again and again as he got on with his task.
“Ah, now I understand,” Peter said brightly, kneeling to pick up their scattered provisions and bundling them back into the tablecloth. “He has not been programmed to search for us or to deal with the Sisters; he has just been instructed to collect food for the Brothers. See? They cannot think for themselves.”
Intrigued, Rabbit stood in front of the Tally-man who simply stepped around her to collect another loaf of bread. She even waved her hand in front of his face only to have it gently swatted aside as if it was an annoying fly. “Shall I slice through his wires?” she suggested, readying her axes and circling behind him.
“No!” Peter said quickly. “Think about it: they sent him here to get food so if he fails to return and they find his wires cut, they will know for certain we are in the Great Abbey and in this building. Leave him be: we need to get this food back to our Keep.”
“Wait,” Rabbit said as the Tally-man lumbered out of the kitchen, bearing his overloaded tray. “We need that.” She went to a shelf and took down a medical kit.
“Ah, well spotted, Rabbit.” Peter sighed with relief but he also silently cursed himself for not thinking of it first. “Even the slightest pressure on my stump is making me feel sick but we need water as well. I can manage this; you fill those two large jugs under the tap. Can you reach?”
“Just about,” Rabbit puffed as the jugs were almost a third of her size yet she managed to fill them at the sink. “Phaw! They are heavy but I think I can carry them. If any Sisters have survived this madness, I pray they do not notice they are missing.”
“Mother Moss said that Sisters were bred by the Order to be as brainless as the Tally-men so I think we should be safe.”
Rabbit struggled heroically with the jugs of water but they were soon back in the cellar after Peter had checked that the door into the corridor was secure and braced with several sound pieces of wood he’d found in the store-room.
Peter was surprised to see in the pale light of the glow-sticks that Surl and Pup had found a musty old broom and had swept the place free of debris, cobwebs and rodent droppings. He wrinkled up his nose: the cellar stank of kack and sewage because of the gaps in the rotten access door. They had also found bales of linen in the store-room that had been wrapped in plastic and fashioned four crude beds for them on the wide wooden benches.
“We met a Tally-man, Surl,” Rabbit began breathlessly. “But he never even looked at us!” She paused and looked crestfallen: “Ah, but then you already know through your visions.”
Surl laughed and tapped her temple. “No, it does not work like that, I think. You will have to tell me what happened. I am feeling better now that we have all this food and water!”
Rabbit launched into a breathless account of the bodies of the Sisters and their encounter with the Tally-man.
“At least we know we need not be afraid of Tally-men unless they are instructed to come after us or they go berserk again,” Surl said thoughtfully, looking at Peter who nodded. “Pup, be patient!” she chided as the youngster rummaged through the bundle and dropped a wheel of cheese onto the flagstone floor. “Did you manage to get some crockery?” she asked with a teasing smile.
Peter almost rose to the bait but laughed instead: “I’m sorry, your highness,” he said with a mocking bow. “But we do appear to be short of cutlery too but in the storeroom there were boxes that may contain plates and other things we might find useful. Look; you missed those candle-holders on the shelf over there! Let’s risk lighting some of the candles – these glow-sticks are almost done and I’m tired of the dark. Ugh! Listen to the rats in the stonework: I hope the light keeps them out of the cellar.”
“We need to find some more glow-sticks or electric torches,” Surl said thoughtfully as she watched Pup tearing bread and cheese apart with his teeth. “I think he’s hungry,” she laughed then her own stomach made a loud noise. “Let’s at least try and slice and butter the bread and cheese,” she said, mimicking Mother Moss. “We must behave in a civilised way even if there is no civilisation left… I… ” she trailed away, suppressing a sob.
“I miss her too,” Peter said, placing his hand on her shoulder. “But I think you’re right: she is watching over us somehow.”
Surl shook herself free of the thrall to light three candles and revel in their warm and comforting light. “First things first,” she said decisively as shadows danced around the cellar walls and Pup nearly choked until Rabbit enthusiastically slapped him on the back. “Let’s have a look at that stump of yours.”
Kai started as a hand was placed on his left shoulder. “Ah! Mother Ivy! I did not see you there. How are Amos and Fria?”
“Fria had her ear nicked by our stone ghosts and her pride was sore wounded but she’ll live and she and Amos have a lot to think about. We need to find these two girls before they do attack us in earnest as they show signs of the craft. I am not accustomed to having arrows fired at me like that.”
“So they could be Wiccans? I suppose this must be so as they have survived for six years in this accursed mausoleum. We hear them whispering through the air-shafts in the stables. I think they were doing it to drive the Ferals wild. It takes me a long time to settle them down after they do that as they thought that they were real ghosts in the beginning.”
“What exactly do you mean by ‘stables’?”
“Our quarters at the base of the Tower of the Sun.”
Ivy frowned at him. “Our Ferals are not animals, Kai,” she said dangerously. “They are naught but human children beneath such cruel disfigurement. They suffered much as we strove to halt and reverse their mutations at the Hill Where It Never Rains.”
“Ah, it was their idea,” he said defensively, desperately seeking to change the subject. “What of these stone ghosts? Do we hunt them down when the others return?”
“No,” she said, displaying the drawing. “I want them to learn to trust us and join us for they are victims of the Order just as we are. But they are not the reason I came over to talk to you. I need to find a way to stop you brooding like this as I fear for your health and sanity. I know you want to take care of our Ferals but they are fierce and independent souls: they love you, they say, but they are not animals to be shepherded. They know full well you do it out of a sense of guilt and not because of a love for them.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, crestfallen. “I thought I was being useful to them but I have failed in that small atonement as well.”
“You did well at the Great Abbey, dear heart, and you’ve turned your face away from great evil yet you still wear the field-robes of the Order. I must ask the Light-Father to weave his magic upon you because you do not endear yourself to the Scatterlings by wearing the very symbols of the madness that destroyed their families and made of Gaia a world of shadows and bones.”
“A simple change of clothes will not make them trust me, Mother Ivy, but fear not: I do not blame them for hating me as much as I hate myself. I beg you to leave me be: I’ve had this talk before with Mother Nightshade and Mother Fern and I will not change my mind on this. The Order was my whole life, body and soul, just as being a Daughter was yours. Thus I wear these field robes as a reminder of my unspeakable sins while I do penance and pray to Almighty God every day for His mercy.”
“And so you cling to the image of some vast male deity sitting on a throne amongst the clouds and judging you,” she sighed wearily. “I am not burdened with such foolish notions, dear heart. This is why I beg of you not to punish yourself for events you could not control. You were just a child; an innocent in all this.”
“I’m no innocent but how could you ever understand me? You Wiccans have no concept of sin or divine punishment, you have no sense of good and evil,” he said angrily, returning his gaze to the Ferals still chasing each other about the Phoenix and its bullet-torn carriages. “You may wish to revel in such decadence but I am of the Cloth: I need to absolve my sins whilst I am chaste and find a way to earn my place at God’s right hand.”
She tightened her grip on his shoulder and turned him to face her. He saw a dangerous light in her eyes and gulped nervously. Shadows flowed across the floor to the feet of the Wiccan as her anger flared: “Thousands of Mothers were put to lash and flame by your holy Order for the crime of being different; for the sin of being powerful women so never, ever again tell me what is good and what is evil, Kai! I will never forgive Schimrian for his torture of Mother Moss: applying pliers, barbed wire and all manner of tools to her naked, frail body before beheading her. These are the foul creatures who taught you the concept of sin; of what is good and what is evil. How in all the ruins of Gaia, could my anger at such monstrous acts ever be construed as decadence?”
“I-I am sorry,” he flustered, reddening. “I am still blind to such things as I have but eighteen years and much still to learn.”
He breathed a sign of relief as her fury and the shadows about her faded. “That’s better,” she nodded. “An opened mind is but the first step on the road to enlightenment yet it is welcome.”
As before, he found himself unable to turn his head away. Her proximity, the beauty of her face and her subtle but heady scent suddenly aroused him. He shuddered and quickly tried to shut the thoughts down but not before she had raised an eyebrow:
“Oh, so you do possess earthly desires for all your faux piety,” she said with a faint smile and sensuously drew a long forefinger down his cheek and under his chin. “Perhaps you would like me to teach you the ways of the flesh as well, hmm?”
His cheeks flushed crimson. “Now you mock me because you can reach into my mind! Do I not punish myself enough?” he seethed through clenched teeth. “Hear me well: I led innocent children like lambs to the slaughter during the Year of the Rats till none were left but the Scatterlings and two stone ghosts.”
“As I tell thee, dear, heart: you had no choice.”
“I have no count of them, Mother Ivy,” he confessed, screwing his eyes shut to fend off the tears. “But in my dreams and even in my waking thoughts I see every face, every drop of blood; I hear every scream, every plea for mercy, every twisted smile on the faces of the Fathers and Brothers as they butchered them in the name of God: may He save my soul.”
He felt her hand upon his face again and her voice was soothing: “I know your tale well, dear heart. You were taken from your family in Crawcester as a postulate: part of the Order’s centuries-old arrangement with the Conclave of Architects that your family was party to. You had no choice in the pact as you were the eldest male in that line and in return the Order manipulated the bloodlines of Conclave families for hundreds of years.”
“Yes, my family was well feted by the Order. My father was ranked as Stonemason amongst the Architects and my uncles were Aldermen of Crawcester. Thus the Virus of Revelation triggered my DNA as the Order ordained thus I am now both immortal and damned,” he groaned, hanging his head in despair. He placed a hand to his side. “The wound Pious gave me was deep but not even a scar remains. I will have centuries in which to contemplate and repent my sins. I am however spared the sin of suicide,” he added bitterly, shedding a tear. “Because I cannot kill myself unless I completely sever my head from my body.”
“You may heal swiftly but there is no guarantee that you are immortal, dear heart. It may interest you to know that Wiccans also know how to extend life. I have fifty years for example.”
His eyes widened in total disbelief and he looked her up and down: the lithe figure; the skin tanned by Persian heritage and again he had to avert his eyes as he felt wave after wave of arousal course through his limbs. “You mock me again,” he accused. “You have but a few years tallied to one score. You are beautiful…”
Again she forced him to look at her. “Why thank you for such sweet courtesies, young knight,” she laughed delightedly. “I seek not to mock you but to distract you. Mother Fern and the Light-Father torture themselves and so do you. For Diana’s sake: you had no choice in the actions you carried out. When you did not obey, you were beaten without mercy and steeped in the brutal misogyny of the Order until your free will was crushed.”
“I did have a choice: I could have run away or refused to act as a Judas to those children but I did not because Britannia was emptied of souls and foul with the stench of rotting corpses. I was too afraid to act and I now think that my grandfather foresaw what was coming: he tried to stop my father signing the papers but they took me nevertheless. Even my family name, Helfburn, was denied me.” He smiled suddenly. “But was it not the strangest of coincidences that Fierce and her sisters sought refuge at his house? It is a comfort to me to know that he died in his favourite chair, drinking his favourite spirit and watching the river Craw that he loved. He often took me fishing before I was taken.”
“Good,” Ivy smiled again, making the blood pound through his veins as the crescent Moon atop her staff was almost touching his cheek. “You must seek out and treasure what little light there is in your heart and in this world. You saved Fria did you not?”
“Yes,” he conceded. “I tried to save many others but with little or no success. I swapped her medical notes with those of another girl in her ward who was near death.”
“It is to your credit that you did so despite the risk,” Ivy nodded. “This is one good deed at least to salve your guilt.”
“Not so,” he grimaced, shaking his head. “Because I was forced to watch Father Pious slit her throat believing her to be a Child of Exodus. He thought it would be educational. She was alone and helpless; in pain and terror; begging me for help but I could not move. I did nothing but stand and watch as her bright blood flowed and the light faded from her eyes and, may the Devil take me, I cannot even remember her name.”
“Fria told me her name was Cora. She was stricken with the Plague but still robbed of dignity in death by that devil,” Ivy explained quietly, drawing a little closer and making his heart race even more. His senses reeled as she now had about her the million faint aromas of the deep flora of her craft.
“Cora,” he said, painfully aware that his voice had risen in pitch. “I will honour her name and her memory.”
Profoundly unnerved by the beautiful Wiccan, he stepped back but found himself pressed up against cabin of the Phoenix with no escape. He looked past her and noticed the Ferals were no longer near the Phoenix but were chasing each other amongst the forest of columns or chattering excitedly to Fria and Amos.
“W-what else d-do you want of me?” he stammered.
Ivy smiled and pressed relentlessly forward again. “Kai, I am a Servant of the Moon, a Bearer of Quintessence and a Wielder of Darkness and I pledge to thee, youngling, in the name of the Mother of All, I will protect thee and save thee if I can.”
“I assure you, I c-can save myself,” he blustered as her lips were now but inches from his. He tried to move away from her but could not. “Have y-you bewitched me?” he demanded.
“Mmm, only in the corporeal sense,” she murmured softly, her lips brushing against his. “I must remind thee that where a human heart beats like this, there is always hope – even for me.”
“But I must redeem myself for my sins,” he groaned. “I cannot yield unto temptation. Get thee hence, please.”
A spasm passed across her face and she pulled back a little. “Redemption? Gah! The Order has reduced that word to a blood-soaked synonym for genocide, Kai. You must find new words to utter in their place as you seek out this new path.”
“Why are you standing s-so close to me and why are the Ferals not laughing at me? What are you doing?”
Ivy pressed her body against his and kissed him full on the lips. He responded instantly, passionately, their tongues searching. His passion was so aflame that he thought he would faint but he noted that she, too, was breathing heavily, her eyes closed with pleasure. She leant her staff against the Phoenix and cupped his face in her hands. “A simple geiss that blinds the eyes, dear heart: it looks to them as though we are just talking here awhile.”
She repeated the questing kiss again and his heart hammered in his chest as he circled his arms about her waist and held her tight. After several minutes, she pulled away to kiss him on the forehead. “See? There are things in life worth holding on to.”
“You…. Jezebel,” he panted heavily. “You toy with me because of my youth; tempting me away from my faith.”
“It is nothing to do with faith, dear heart. I simply wish to purge the guilt devouring you. But,” she added mischievously, leaning forward to nibble at his ear. “When all is done, we shall lie together for six days and nights or more, young Kai.”
She stopped and cocked her head to one side as he coughed and reddened to the tips of his ears. “Ah, Mother Fern and the Light-Father are safe! They fought and killed a Father and many Brothers at Wealthorpe and now they hide in the woods…”
“Oh, thank God for your ‘long speech’,” Kai sighed, relieved that she had released him. “I will have less on my conscience. What is wrong? You do not look well at all. What horror is Mother Fern revealing to you?”
She shuddered and picked up her staff to raise it and release the Ferals, Fria and Amos from her geiss. “A disturbing image of someone you know well: Abbot Michael. He survived but Azrael disfigured him for his amusement and the Order seeks to redeem him as they feel he is marked by God for his sins.”
“Abbot Michael? “ Kai gasped. “Why? There was no man more devoted to the Order – and the kitchens – but he was kind to me and taught me electrics and physics whenever he could.”
“Be that as it may,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “He has been blighted by Schimrian’s demon and will have need of thee as he too seeks to atone for his monstrous crimes.”
“I see. Then I will do what I can to assist him at your request,” he pledged, placing his head upon his heart.
“Thank you, dear heart. Now shall we rejoin the others?”
He blushed crimson once more and turned from her, squirming in acute embarrassment. “Um, If I it pleases you, Mother Ivy, I will remain here in the shadows awhile to… um, reflect on all that you have revealed to me.”
“Why, bless you young knight,” she laughed brightly, placing a hand to her cheek as a coy young virgin might do when receiving her first declaration of love. “You flatter me with such reflections. I will leave you be… for now.”
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