Chapter 13: Meetings Destined

Chapter 13 of City of Gargoyles: Book 2 in the Light-Father Trilogy 

How Schimrian first met Pious and Abbot Michael tells Shield how Azrael was born…


Meetings Destined
 

   “So it was Schimrian who stopped you car at the roadblock,” Mouse exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Un-geh! Are you sure?”

  “Absolutely sure,” Nightshade nodded. She waited as another deafening peal of thunder made the ground shake beneath the soles of their feet and the hail returned, some large pieces smashing onto the stonework before them sending ice fragments skittering across the flagstones. In the gloom and flickering lightning beneath the belly of the storm, Mouse watched fascinated as plumes of water erupted from the surface of the murky estuary below.

    After three minutes of the thrashing roar and staccato ice impacts, the hail core moved slowly northwards. “Look at that green glow in the clouds, Mother Nightshade! I’ve only seen that colour once before in Crawcester. Is it an evil omen?” 

   “I’m no meteorologist, dear heart, that’s a scientist who studies the weather, but I’m told it’s the glow caused by large hailstones falling and rising in big storms on strong updraughts. Praise Diana, it’s moved north for now: my ears are ringing.”

    Mouse gazed up at her impatiently: “Schimrian?” she prompted. “How could you know it was that Schimrian?”

   “I had but few years yet I knew from the sound of his voice that I was in the presence of absolute evil. I felt the same malevolence when we entered the Great Abbey. I knew then that if he ever beheld my blood-red eyes, I would’ve been killed as a witch the instant he found the mark of the craft upon me.”

   “You didn’t see his face though, did you?”

   “Of course not! I was supposed to be asleep, remember?”

   “Oh. Yes. Forgive me. I am listening.”

~~~~~

    It was getting stuffy in the car as they fought down the rising panic in their chests, waiting silently as Schimrian read through their forged papers and made meticulous notes. “Have you always lived in Brigstowe?” he asked pleasantly as he returned their papers. “Can you tell me a little of your family’s history? We can always go through each Great Census of course but we want to know if there are genes out there that can help us succeed in our holy task to rid the world of all known diseases.”

    “What do you mean?” Bordan asked, puzzled.  

   Schimrian stroked at his goatee then smiled patiently: “The Census can only tell us so much about family histories. Think: did you have a grandfather who never had a cold or a great-great-grandmother who lived to receive one hundred and ten years from Our Lord for example? Was there a cousin who was abnormally strong or fast or excelled at academic subjects? Do you understand the reasoning behind our holy endeavour?”

    “Yes, I think so,” Bordan said carefully. “You wish to identify and isolate the best of the genes of humanity for our children and their children. I have read your literature.”

     “Ah, that is so good to hear,” Schimrian murmured, ticking a box on his clipboard sheet. A thin knowing smile formed upon his face but his eyes remained cold: “The Wiccans and certain media demagogues spread falsehoods about us so it is a pleasure to deal with educated folk for a change. So tell me: is there anything outstanding in your family bloodlines?”

   “Well, I’m just a humble teacher at Brigstowe South Academy where I’ve lived all my life and my darling wife, Cassandra, is but a humble housewife…”

    “My dear Mister Geowine,” Schimrian admonished. “There is no such thing as a humble housewife. The Sisters of our Order are revered as all women should be. There is nothing humble about gestating life such as your young Freda there. The day is warm so do not let her overheat as she slumbers.”

    “We’ll be careful,” Kendra assured him. “As for remarkable family members, I’m afraid we must disappoint you, Father Schimrian. All my side of the family were average across the tables: average height; average strength; average life spans and we got ill often – my grandfather died of sclerosis.”

     “Ah, how unfortunate,” Schimrian said distantly leaving them unsure as to whether he was referring to their genes or her fictional grandfather. “And what of you, Geoffrey?”

     “A long line of schoolteachers, I’m afraid, and my maternal grandfather was a tailor with no special skills as I can recall. May I ask what you do with all this information?”

    “Ah, you may: it’s no secret. When we find a bloodline of interest we map the double-helices of that family and isolate the genes that confer long life, resistance to illness, intelligence, rapid healing and so on. We have a new computer at the Great Abbey that collates the information that we have mapped of the human genome. We hope one day to create medicines that are tailor-made for individuals to cure specific cancer and brain ailments and so on. Is this not a worthy goal for our Order?”

    “It is, it is,” Bordan replied hastily, aware of the evangelistic edge to Schimrian’s voice. “I teach the sciences to baccalaureate level but I can’t conceive of a computer powerful enough to compute something as complex as human DNA.”  

   Schimrian consulted his clipboard and scribbled a few notes upon it. “There was little progress as computing is in its infancy, I concede this, but we’ve made several astounding advances in that regard at the Great Abbey and we are close to building a machine capable of such a feat. I tell thee: these decriers of Intelligent Design need but to look at the sophistication of our genes to see the Hand of God at work. ”

  “Something was found in Heofland, was it not?” Bordan said shrewdly, wiping the perspiration from his forehead with a large handkerchief. Schimrian’s gimlet gaze was profoundly unnerving but curiosity steadied his nerves: “A newspaper reported that one of your Fathers found an ancient computer in a cave.”

     “Sensationalist rubbish, Mister Geowine,” Schimrian scoffed. “You shouldn’t take such nonsense as gospel truth. However, what we did find was unusual: a Cymrig youth near Caer Brenia possessed of phenomenal skills in electrics and mathematics. In this blighted village we found this pauper boy surrounded with books and papers all covered in calculations.”

      “That’s unusual for Heofland. The few villages there are completely isolated from the rest of Britannia; even more so than the clans on Anseld, Edelingaeg and Fellholm.” 

     A look of profound disgust crossed Schimrian’s face as the Order often condemned the inbreeding on those islands. “Quite so yet even amongst the jungles of the southern hemisphere, genetic surprises surface almost daily. It’s a shame their immune systems can’t cope with the diseases of the civilised world,” he sighed theatrically. “We have so much to do and to learn even from the degenerate brigands of Heofland. Hopefully, we can prevent the police from being, um, too enthusiastic when they are found.”

    “This new computer that you are building,” Bordan prompted, a nagging doubt gnawing at his heart: “Will it be available on the market in the near future?”

    “Not for some time. You see: we recruited this young man and completed his education with the help of some Exodus tutors. He’s made such staggering advances in computing theory that we’ll need decades to master his incredible innovations. Fear not, we shall make such knowledge widely available in due time but only when we are satisfied that such technology will not be used to design and build weapons of mass destruction.”

     “I understand and commend such caution,” Bordan agreed carefully. “These are dangerous times with the Japanese Empire threatening war again. I’m sorry we can’t help you much with your survey but forgive us: we urgently need to get to Beorminghas.”

    “Of course, I’m sorry to delay the three of you,” Schimrian said with a slight bow. He straightened up and moved away from the car window then paused to gaze into the back seat with a frown upon his face. He opened the rear car door, causing Kendra to gasp involuntarily, and placed a hand on Ellete’s forehead but she did not react and grumbled sleepily. “Forgive my impertinence but I yielded to my medical concern for your daughter: I had thought her unnaturally flushed in this heat but her forehead is cool.” 

     Bordan glared at him as he withdrew from the back seat and quietly shut the door. “If you are done with us, Father, we need to press on with our journey before the full heat of the day catches us. They do predict another heat-wave, you know.”

    “Indeed they do. It was a pleasure to meet you. God speed you and watch over you.”

   “And thee,” Bordan responded formally and gunned the engine into life. “Good luck with your survey.”

    As Schimrian stood and watched the car weave its way through the roadblock and recede into the distance, he was joined by one of the more curious Brothers. “Were there genes of interest in that family, Father?” he asked. “You spent a long time with them and we have a long line yet to interview.”

 “Indeed, my son,” Schimrian replied, rubbing his thumb and fingers together. “But can you tell me first why a child who has but six years is wearing make-up, hmmm?”

     They whirled at the sound of tyres screeching behind them. A van erupted from the waiting line of vehicles and slammed into two police officers hurling them high into the air. The passenger let loose volleys of obscenities and gunshots but the Brother did not hesitate for one second: he picked up a metal barrier and hurled it through the windscreen. The van swerved, missing Schimrian by mere inches, and ploughed into a police car. The impact flipped it onto its side and it slid down the road in a shower of sparks. 

     The occupants scrambled out brandishing weapons but were met with a withering fusillade of fire from the incensed police officers seeking revenge for their fallen colleagues.

     Schimrian brushed at some dust on his field robes and retrieved his clipboard. “I bless your good reflexes and resolute heart, my son,” he said to the Brother who nodded, making no reply for he appeared to be relishing the spectacle of the Cymrig brigands being shot repeatedly at close range.

     “Ah, our Heofland friends have met with an untimely demise. How unfortunate,” Schimrian sighed as the shooting abated. “We can always salvage some samples, I suppose. I’m not familiar with you or your colleagues from the Burslen Abbey but I have use of someone like you. I’ll ask Abbot Cystig to transfer you to the Great Abbey. I feel we are astray of late and so I intend to personally see that we fulfil our holy destiny as ordained in the Book of Revelation. Do you have a name, my son?”

    The young Brother grinned wolfishly and genuflected. “Pious, Father, they call me Pious. How may I be of service to you?”

~~~~~

     Michael sat with his back to Shield and the others in the kitchen as he devoured the broth marvelling at how the preservatives and canning process had served the food so well. “A small miracle,” he murmured to himself: “One that I ill deserve.” He was aware of Shield’s presence standing next to him and the scent of damp clothing, fresh blood and soap fragrance from her recent bathing at Milverburg. “Yes, child?” he enquired patiently. “What do you want? – apart from my prolonged and painful demise that is.”

     Shield took the empty bowl from him, placed it in the sink then she pulled up a stool and sat next to him. “I will not deny that I resist a powerful urge to kill you where you sit but the Light-Father would consider me to be the monster not you. I’ve killed many Brothers and Tally-men today and even this deluge cannot wash their tainted blood from my clothes but such is the world that you and Schimrian created. Please don’t turn from me: I wish to look you in the eye as I speak.”

     Michael complied and found himself gazing into the eyes of a beautiful and powerful young warrior who was the polar opposite of the timid rabbits trammelled in the Sisters’ Enclaves. “What would have me say, my child?” he asked, tilting his head slightly to one side. “The crimes of my Order are so vast that I have no words to convey the horror of it yet you have now seen me Naked as the living embodiment of that unspeakable arrogance.”

    “That I have and yet I do not pity you.”

    “As I said to your Wiccan: I desire not your forgiveness nor do I deserve your pity.”

    “You will receive neither from me. You are what you now are because of what you did to bring about this bloody Ragnarok; this… this nightmare without end. You…” Great sobs wracked her body but she held up her hand to forestall Saul from coming over to comfort her. He reluctantly rejoined Bas and Ibrahim who were applying bandages and salves to the wounds of the five victims who were still unable to voice their gratitude.

    Shield composed herself and glared at Michael: “You helped Schimrian create a physical body for the Devil that my sister gave her life to destroy. Without her, Hell and all its demons would have been made manifest all because of you.”

    “I honour her name but, as I said before, both I and Camus were cowards. We kept the machines working and the Angels airborne but before that we worked on the Great Computer for twenty years ever since Schimrian found that machine in a cave in the Black Valleys and brought it to us at the Great Abbey. I asked him how he found it and he claims the ‘voice of God’ revealed it unto him while our Brothers scoured the wastes of Heofland on a mission to find Cymrig samples of DNA.”

    “Because they wanted nobody to survive their precious virus,” Shield scowled. “Mother Moss told me of your ‘surveys’.”

    “That may have been so for the Abbots and the Conclave but most ordinary Brothers genuinely wanted to serve mankind but those fools in the Vatican experimented with animal genes until they created a seven-headed lamb that survived.”

    “How could such a creature survive? Your Virus is destroying the Ferals but none of them have more than one head!”

     Michael shrugged: “I know not but on my journey here, I was thinking that God or the Devil intended that creature to be viable. Then, guided by an angel or tempted by the Devil, someone in the Vatican betrayed them and smuggled it out of the laboratories. They sold the monstrosity to a carnival owner who obviously did not understand the significance of the creature he proudly paraded. Naturally, it attracted world-wide attention until it was seized by the Order and taken to the Great Abbey for analysis.”

      “Why was such a creature so important to the Order?”

      “Because the Twenty-Four of the Conclave beheld the creature and its seven heads, each with one horn and one eye upon it and concluded that the lamb was the One True Lamb as foretold in the Book of Revelation; a creature heralding the opening of the Seven Seals upon the world to bring about the Day of Judgement. With war and famine already rampant, they decreed that the first three Seals had already been opened and thus we opened the Fourth. Now every night the Fifth Seal opens unto me.”

    “What do you mean by that?”

   “I forget that you haven’t read the Bible. Every night the souls awaiting Judgement surround my bed: a countless horde beyond the reason of guilt or conscience or logic. I hear them cry out: ‘O Lord, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood.’ Camus sees them too but not Schimrian or Pious – oh no, not them.”

    “Mother Fern sees them too.”

      Michael made a gesture of negation. “No. As you heard me tell her earlier, her apparitions are figments of her misguided guilt however the shades I see are real. The manner of their death binds them to this world; adding to our sin and our punishment.” He placed a hand across his eyes. “Every night is a torture until we pass out from exhaustion: the mind can only take so much before it shuts down and oblivion claims us for a few sweet hours.”

      “I see,” Shield said coldly. “Mother Moss often told me that spirits were real but they held no fear for us for we survived the Year of the Rats and the endless rains of Crawcester. We saw such sights that even the vilest of shades would seem but an angel to us but we’ve never seen a ghost.”

     Michael looked up at her. “I think you have for such is the Wiccan gift and do not deny this: I see it in your face.”

     Shield blushed and averted her eyes. “In Crawcester, during the first of the great floods, I and my sisters sheltered in a house on the banks of the River Craw and I admit I beheld the spirits of my parents and the old man who used to live there, Mister Helfburn. I thought I was hallucinating to see such visions but Mother Moss assured me otherwise. I now know that he was none other than Kai’s grandfather by happenstance.”

      “Hmm. Happenstance indeed. Such coincidences are rare so I suspect a Higher Design is at work. I had no belief in earthbound souls until the Great Plague and since then Camus and I have endure nightly swarms of vengeful spirits.” He fell silent for a moment. “Enough of me; tell me of Brother Kai. He has shown far greater mien than I could ever aspire to. Do you not think he is a remarkable young man? I fostered his interest in science as he has a keen mind and was unbowed by the oppressive routines of the Order. I was… fond of him almost as a father would be. He was too young to be party to our monstrous schemes of genocide so I would know if you Scatterlings can forgive him for his sins.”

     Shield pursed her lips and stared into his eyes again. “He saved Fria but he did so at the expense of another girl in the hospital and I saw him lead two children to their brutal death so the answer is no despite the bravery he showed at the Great Abbey.”

     “His bravery is far greater than you can ever imagine given the brutal subjugations of our postulants and novices. He had to rebel against every fibre of his being and every tenet of his faith to help you. Their young minds are filled with the mistrust and hatred of women especially Wiccans; the Whores of Babylon as they are so described in the teachings of the Order.”

    “I’m no whore but I do bear the mark of the craft and I have received the staff of a Wiccan,” Shield said proudly, watching him for a response. He gave none. “Why are you not recoiling in horror and making the sign of the cross at me?”

    “Given my appearance, do you honestly think I would react to anything? However, despite all that Azrael did to me, I thank God that I still retain the scientific curiosity that often warred with the mediaeval attitudes they drummed into me. I tried to retain an open mind even during the experiments with that accursed machine that Schimrian brought back to the Great Abbey.”

     “If that machine was so accursed, why did Schimrian bring it back from Heofland? Why did the Order use it?”

    “Schimrian was mesmerised by it. Abbot Cystig was in charge of electrics but he indulged and mentored Schimrian in all things. He was too easily flattered and bedazzled to see the true nature of the man or the dangers in that infernal machine. I would only go near it under sufferance as it had an aura that made my skin crawl.”

     “And you suspected nothing?” Shield said with an eyebrow raised. “Are you lying to me?”

     “I had my doubts but it was an engineering marvel: a multi-faceted sphere with a band of portals at the equator but its power was almost spent after being damaged and trapped in the cave. We surmised that it had once travelled between worlds like your Light-Father who proved my theory about parallel realities.”

    “The Light-Father has told us of his world and how there may be millions of worlds all side by side….”

    “Indeed. Why would the Creator stop at just one Creation? The device resisted our attempts to study it: it emitted flashes of light that rendered Brothers unconscious and it would rise into the air, warping the benches and flooring beneath it before crashing back down to earth. Waves of fear emanated from it and Brothers would curl up on the floor in foetal positions and soil themselves.”

    “So this thing was beyond your ken yet you persevered and brought the End of Days upon us,” Shield said, aghast. “But I begin to see that it was not just the Order at work.”

     “Ah, now you begin to grasp the full sin of our arrogance,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’m convinced the Devil steered that device into our reality with the Order providing the fertile soil for his demon seed. We finally managed to open the casings and found a container of dead brain tissue attached to its central processors. Schimrian found a still living brain cortex and placed it into the container. The device immediately became active: before we could react, it sealed itself up and floated into the Hexagon where we saw cables move on their own connecting the sphere to the computers in the Hexagon and the rest of the Great Annexe.”

   “How can cables move by themselves?” Shield demanded, frowning. “It’s impossible, surely?”

       Michael chortled: “Ha! This from a Wiccan? I know of no physical mechanism that can impart kinetic energy over a distance even though we knew Wiccans can ’far-move’ objects. We were transfixed by this telekinesis as terminals started powering up and began communicating with our programmers. To save face, we pretended to Abbot Cystig and the Conclave that we intended this to happen to keep both our positions and our privileges. Then at some point Azrael was born.”

    “From what Kai told us, the Light-Father concluded that he was something called an artificial intelligence.”

    “He is indeed an insightful man but I believe the sphere brought a malevolent program with it. Azrael revealed himself to a few of us some years ago and seduced Schimrian and Amherus. Born of an alien technology and our interaction with it, it did not present itself as a threat. It helped us to design the Guides, the begiullers and it showed us how to design the Virus to confer immortality.”

    “I can’t believe they didn’t notice it was evil! What in Mary’s name did you think the Guides were for?”

    “Ah, the Guides were originally designed to restore mobility to paralysed patients as we could use them to bypass breaks in spinal cords. We had some initial success but then a few scientists at Exodus voiced their concerns about the Guides being used as a coercive devices but the Conclave had them dismissed.”

   “Why didn’t the rest of the Order take them seriously?”

   “Because countless medical innovations flowed from the Great Computer as we began to call it so we convinced ourselves it was benign. The rest you know from your experiences at the Great Abbey and only when that door closed upon me did I at last recognise the full extent of my cowardice and my sins.”

     “And now you seek redemption?”

     “In the proper Christian sense of the word, aye.”

     One of the former prisoners looked across the table towards them. “Listen well, Abbot Michael,” he said in a voice croaking from a lack of use and much suffering. “I forgive you.”

     Michael’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “You can’t do that, my son; you cannot forgive a man who would have stood by and watched you torn apart to become a Tally-man.”

     “Nevertheless, I forgive you, Naked One. I reject all the hatred in my heart as it poisons me, body and soul. As these wonderful children, these Scatterlings have shown us: we must become better than you or we become less than Satan’s beasts.”

      “I rejoice that you have regained your voice, my son,” Michael said, the awe evident in his tone: “But such forgiveness is beyond the power of mortal man. What birth-name do you have?”

    “You should know it well enough,” the young man said. “I survived six dark years in Oldhayne, losing friends and family to Plague, dog, Tally-man and rat only to be captured and tortured in the Great Manse. I am Marc Onderhelm; your younger brother.”

~~~~~

__________________________________________________

(c) 2019 Paul D E Mitchell  PRS and other copyrights protected. 

Reproduction and retransmission strictly forbidden without written consent. 

© mitch 2019
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