Chapter 20: Lamentation
Chapter 20 of the City of Gargoyles: Book 2 of the Light-Father Trilogy
Chapter 20: Lamentation
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” – Shakespeare
Nightshade put a hand across her eyes and sank to her knees with her head bowed. There was a pause in the thunder as the storm moved slowly northwards, the gusts of wind faded and the rain eased to a fine drizzle. Thus silence fell but for the lapping of the waves against the vast causeways and stonework of Milverburg.
Mouse, her heart abrim with empathy, wrapped her arms around the trembling, weeping Wiccan. “So you killed those three police officers but how could you know?” she said in Nightshade’s ear. “You had but six years. You are no different from us Scatterlings: we’ve killed to survive. We had no choice. I’d love to sit in a cafeteria eating chocolate ice-cream with you but that will never happen in this world.”
“As would I, dear heart, but when I said ‘fire’, it was so much more that just a word,” Nightshade sighed and laid her staff upon the flagstones. She placed her hands over Mouse’s hands. “My element called me and I embraced it because those stupid men were attacking Ma and Da.”
“Shield tried to tell me what she felt when she took down those Angels in Beorminghas but she couldn’t find the words.”
“It is hard to explain but your whole soul reaches out into the infinite: it touches the edge of the cosmos and collapses back down upon the object of your anger and your fear in an instant. That’s why Mother Moss had to take me: I would have killed again and again because they would never have stopped hunting us.”
“That was then and this now, Mother Nightshade.”
“I know, dear heart, the world was beautiful then even for us Mothers and those men had families and loved ones but, at my command, the universe destroyed them utterly.”
“But the Order killed billions…”
“I am not the Order!” Nightshade snapped. “I am Wiccan but my parents gave unto me a soul and a conscience and their words of love shaped my heart. I never spoke to them again nor my sisters though I watched them from afar. I used to go to Accyngate in disguise and sit in the malls and bazaars hoping to catch a glimpse of them till I thought my heart would shatter like thin glass. In the end, Mother Moss stopped me going as I would weep for weeks and fail in my tasks at the Retreat. So we built our coven and awaited the End of All Things though Mother Moss would leave us often, following this vision or that vision. The Plague came, and thanks to our friends in Exodus, we had access to the vaccines and remained immune.”
“Was the Retreat the place that the Light-Father spoke of? The Hill Where It Never Rains? I wish I could’ve seen it.”
“It was wonderful even after the Plague and the long rains began then Mother Moss left her staff with us. This is unheard of for a Wiccan but she only told us what she needed us to know and we accepted that. She told us to keep it safe and went to gather you Scatterlings to the Keep and watch over you. We missed her and I was sorrowed to hear you children blamed us for abandoning her. Just as your sister knew when and how her end would come, Mother Moss knew her cruel fate well. I think she saw that if we came to her aid then the Retreat would have been attacked by the whole Order. There would be no Mothers left nor would you Scatterlings have survived if that had come to pass.”
“She must’ve been wonderful to live with.”
“No, she was monster to us Daughters,” Nightshade said bitterly. “It may have been the guidance of her visions but she was brutal and merciless in our training. Every waking moment we studied and meditated, learning lore and ancient tongues and practising control of both craft and emotion.” She laid her hand on her staff. “It was the proudest moment of my life when she presented this to me yet when Moss killed Clover, it was hard for me to forgive her but when she gave me this staff I knew why she had to do it and why she made our lives so miserable. She gave me visions of the Plague and strangely, dear heart, a vision of the two of us standing here and watching Gaia rage above a ravaged world.”
She grasped her staff and used it to get to her feet as if wearied by the weeping. She smiled down at Mouse and laid a hand upon her head. “Bless you, little Mouse for Moss was right: I needed to remember Bordan and Kendra and the love they had for me and to come to terms with all the terrible things I’ve done since then. At the Abbey I killed many Brothers and we forced those men to shoot many of their brethren. We do what we have to do to cleanse this world of the Order but we must never become cold to the suffering of others no matter how dark their hearts are.”
“You’ll never forget those three policemen, will you?”
“Nor should I, Mouse,” Nightshade nodded. “I think you must be stealing a little magic from the Light-Father,” she smiled, laying a hand upon her breast. “My heart feels lighter somehow.”
“The storm is almost done,” Mouse noted.
“Yes, you’re right. Come, let us rejoin the others. They must have a fire going: I can smell fish roasting on a spit. Let us eat something and get some sleep. I fear we may have yet more fighting to do before this day is out.”
“I would rather eat chocolate ice-cream instead,” Mouse said mournfully. “And make daisy-chains in the sunshine…”
“One day, we’ll do that together, Mouse, I promise.”
Harold looked up at the ceiling. “The hail has stopped,” he observed. “It’s still raining hard but the thunder is moving away so this storm should be gone by dawn and then the fun begins.”
Michael knocked the door. “May I have a word?” he said.
“You can say what you need to in front of Fern and the Scatterlings,” Harold frowned. “Then get some sleep. I want to hear what the children have to say about the Great Abbey.”
“It is a little… uncomfortable in there. I…”
“Your younger brother survived the Redemption Cells,” Fern said sharply. “We know. Look elsewhere for forgiveness.”
Michael looked at the floor for several moments. “Aye, it is both a joy and a torture. Marc told me in every detail how my family, the Onderhelms, suffered in the Plague and how he survived with his miraculous immunity. He told me of the unimaginable horrors he’s witnessed: the giant rats feasting on human flesh and dogs feasting on the survivors; hunting them down and killing them one by one. He watched young children warp into Ferals. He asks me over and over why I let this happen; why I stayed in my beautiful chambers toying with my computers and radios and Angels while the world drowned in blood and rain.”
“What did you expect?” Harold demanded. “Flowers?”
“No,” Michael sighed wearily. “I tried to explain how I shut out the truth from my mind then watched the endless rain for six years within the walls of the Great Abbey whilst dreading sleep. I spared no thought for Pious and his cruel Inquisitors or how they were killing and torturing survivors or the Fathers-Surgeon turning them into Tally-men. In the end I have no excuse other than my weakness and cowardice so there is no answer or solace I can give him. I do not deserve his forgiveness, but God praise him, I will dedicate the rest of my pathetic life to protecting him and the Children of Exodus. I will justify his forgiveness.”
“We’ll see. Be seated,” Harold said with ill grace, indicating an armchair. “How are the others doing?”
“My brother the others are asleep,” Michael said, lowering himself gratefully into the chair. “Shield and Saul remain awake and – ahem – we need to give them some privacy.”
“Noted now be quiet and let Peter and Rabbit finish their story and we can all get some sleep. As Surl said, we may have to fight our way back to Milverburg tomorrow.”
“Certainly, Light-Father, only I overheard how Ignatius helped them. The children had not mentioned him to me as we were being hunted but I always had a liking for the old rogue. I was also surprised to learn of Ondine’s confession, I must admit.”.”
“Ondine?” Peter asked. “Who’s Ondine?”
“She looks after the Sisters.”
“The Abbess?” Peter exclaimed. “She told Surl that she lost her family and hates what the Order did to the world.”
“So I heard but if they find out that she and Ignatius helped you they will be in grave peril from Schimrian and Pious.”
“I hope they won’t be punished,” Peter said anxiously.
“I hope so too as I hold Ondine to be one of the purest souls I’ve ever met. On with the rest of your story, Scatterling, I’m curious to know how you all survived those three weeks.”
“You and me both,” Harold said impatiently.
The first day had gone well: they’d followed the north-eastern branch of the sewer system and crawled underneath the Exodus laboratory building. The smell of chemical, oil and smoke grew stronger and Peter was first to realise that it was coming from the fuel stores that were still ablaze above them. They were relieved to finally find the inspection chamber under the enclosed courtyard that Ignatius had carefully marked upon their map.
Surl slowly lifted the manhole cover and looked about the yard which was surrounded by former stables that had been converted into modern toilets and shower rooms for the Brothers-Technician and Exodus scientists. Unknown to the Scatterlings, they were in the very complex where the Plague virus was first cultured. She could see biohazard warnings on the walls but there was sign of life anywhere. “It’s safe to come up,” she said, anxious and disappointed that no fluttering moth had been there to guide her. “I think the Brothers are all fighting the fuel depot fire.”
They emerged into a fine drizzle but they could still hear thunder rumbling to the north. They could see smoke billowing up from the depot fire into the dank overcast sky to form a vast ominous smudge. Beyond the eastern wall, they could hear the desperate shouts of Brothers, novices and postulants fighting the blaze. There was a concussive thump and gouts of flame belched into view as another oil drum exploded adding to the chaos.
There were bodies everywhere but the torrential rain had washed most of the blood away. Surl gagged as she realised she had earlier washed her bucket out in that run-off water. There were Brothers and Tally-men entangled in death-throes and several white-coated Exodus researchers lay with gaping wounds having been trapped in the courtyard and slaughtered.
They stepped over the bodies and entered the laboratories. On Ignatius’s map was the stern instruction in red: ‘Do NOT open any of the refrigerators or sealed flasks in the laboratories.’ Surl found a small storeroom in one of the corridors and lit a candle. She set it on one of the shelves and made sure that it couldn’t fall over or get blown out then she led them back into the laboratory which was strewn with corpses, smashed equipment and broken chairs.
“Now turn every gas tap on full,” she told them and they complied until the sound of hissing gas was almost deafening. Following the instructions on the map, she did the same with the hydrogen and oxygen cylinders. “We have to run! When this gas reaches the candle the whole building will explode.”
They needed no urging as they clambered over the dead bodies in the entrance and scuttled down the rungs and into the inspection chamber with Surl heaving the manhole cover into place behind them. They frantically crawled down the narrow sewer with Surl struggling to keep the lantern and map dry above the gushing and contaminated rainwater. In the end the water scooted them down the gentle slope and out into the junction by their Keep in the nick of time: a thunderous blast shook the ground beneath their feet and a gout of smoke erupted into the chamber. “Pup made a big noise,” Pup grinned. “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”
Surl looked at their soiled clothing and remembered another instruction on the map: Wash your clothes and skin: there may be toxic chemicals in the sewer from Exodus and the depot fire. She led them into the cellar and found four large bowls of water on the floor, bars of soap and some towels. There was even a tub of lice powder. She slumped onto a chair in sheer relief and let the reaction and adrenaline release in a fit of shaking and trembling. She pondered briefly at how unaffected they all were to all the dead bodies they’d stepped over and sighed, shaking her head.
“What’s the matter?” Peter asked, taking his shirt and breeches off. “Ignatius is right; my skin is itching. We have to wash this chemical kack off us quickly or it might make us ill.”
The four children washed themselves thoroughly and Surl made sure the lice powder was applied. She got them to wash their clothes in the bowls but there was nowhere to dry them in such a dank cellar. She started at six knocks on the door and all four children scrambled for their weapons. She opened the door carefully but again Ignatius was gone leaving them a pile of night-garments that obviously belonged to postulants so all four of them could settle down to eat in dry clean clothing.
And so it went for seven days.
“That first day was the worst,” Peter explained. “We itched for days afterwards but Ignatius seemed to know even though we never saw him. There would be the six knocks and a jar of zinc salve or lamp batteries or food or a flask of hot tea. We would have not survived without him.” He counted off their attempts at sabotage on his fingers: “We set fire to the library by leaving candles against the drapes. We did the same in the armoury which was badly damaged and parts of it were still on fire. Ignatius believed that no Brother would enter a burning armoury but we got in through a hole in the wall, piled up all the begiullers we could find on top of the last crates of the plasma-grenades…”
“Those grenades could have gone up at any moment,” Michael pointed out. “Ignatius should’ve warned you….”
“Hush! Let him speak,” Fern said sharply.
“He did warn us,” Peter said resolutely. “On the map, he wrote: ‘if on fire, there’ll be no Brothers but things might explode so be careful.’ We may have but a few years compared to you but we do know what peril is.” He shrugged: “It was no different to what we faced every day staying alive in Crawcester: in this world you helped create.”
Michael raised his hands: “Point taken. Please ignore me.”
Peter frowned at the mutilated cleric then shook himself and continued: “We found a metal canister of cleaning fluid which we threw over the crates. We got to the hole and threw some burning rags at the liquid and whoosh: they went up quickly. We got back into the sewer just in time as the explosion was huge and some of the bricks flew out of the wall and we had to wash all this oil and chemical kack out of hair and clothes again,” he shuddered.
“We went back to the library the next day and we found a store of fuel for the heating boiler for the library and the other buildings around the memorial gardens. Ignatius wrote down how to pull the fuel pipes out and to leave candles burning on the floor: the fuel didn’t explode but the flames spread through the classrooms and refectories. We almost got caught: some Brothers and novices fighting the library fire came to the gardens to get buckets of water from the fountains!”
Surl yawned and rubbed her eyes: “The manhole cover was in the gardens beneath one of the classroom windows so we thought we were trapped and poor Pup and Rabbit were panicking. The Fates saved us: there was a crash from inside the library and the Brothers ran back inside to see what was happening. I think the roof was starting to collapse. That’s when we saw him.”
“You saw who, dear heart?” Fern prompted.
Surl and Peter paled at the memory. “Pious!” Surl burst out, almost choking on the name. “The gardens were covered with holes and there were bodies and coffins piled up there in the rain. Pious came through the south gate into the gardens and he was angry with these postulants who had but twelve years by the look of it. He wanted them to dig more graves but one boy stood up to him and threw his shovel to the ground. He lifted the boy off his feet and threw him into a coffin, slammed the lid shut and kicked it into a grave then he ordered the other postulants to throw earth onto the coffin until it was completely buried!”
“He’s a monster!” Peter snarled, clenching a fist. “We could see the postulants crying and shaking and wetting themselves then Pious went into the library. After a while, they started digging more graves then one of them noticed the fire spreading into the building behind them and they turned to watch the flames. We climbed out of the window and into the manhole and they didn’t see us or hear as the fires were making so much noise!”
Surl closed her eyes again. “It was faint because of the earth on the coffin: but we could hear that boy screaming only the other postulants were pretending not to hear him. It was horrible. I am so tired of the Order’s cruelty.”
Peter scowled and bared his teeth. “Ignatius later told us that he survived but his mind was destroyed. Pious…”
“Forget about him for now,” Harold urged. “We have to get some sleep soon. What happened next?”
“Let’s see,” Peter said, counting on his fingers again. “We stole parts from the Tally-men relays and the radios then we set fire to some fuel drums stacked in the generator rooms. There were two Brothers asleep on the floor when we did that!” he said proudly. “But we had to stop Rabbit from stabbing them.”
“She was terrified they’d wake up,” Surl explained.
“Best of all was when we got into the Angel compound and found those fuel drums they’d stacked behind the barracks because of the fires in the hangers,” Peter continued. “They were working on the Angels in the burnt-out hangers so we set candles against the curtains on the ground floor of the dormitory and set a trail of fuel from the windows to the drums.”
“The manhole was out of sight behind the dormitory so they couldn’t see us from the hangars,” Surl added excitedly. “But we almost got caught by the fire: even though it was athidol, it spread so fast to the drums which spat fireballs everywhere!”
“We got the manhole back in place just as the first drum exploded,” Peter said. “And when we got back to the Keep, there was more food from Ignatius and towels on the table waiting for us and a note saying to come and see him urgently.”
Harold nodded approvingly. “It seems you really did a good job, Peter, was there anything else left to sabotage?”
“Not much,” he grinned. “So we went to see Ignatius.”
“Ah, Ondine!” Ignatius said brightly after opening the tower door. “Come upstairs and dry yourself out by the fire. I raided the coal bunkers today so I can make you some tea and toast.”
“I’d rather you not call me by my birth name, Ignatius, but these are the darkest of times, I suppose.”
“They are indeed,” he said over his shoulder as he led her up the stairs to his beloved study at the top of the tower. “I enjoy being invisible: even Camus and Pious do not notice me as I potter about with my buckets of coal in the rain. Please be seated,” said indicating one of the two comfortable armchairs set by the ancient tiled fireplace. “Luckily, you’ve just missed two postulants who were forced to bury that poor boy alive earlier.”
“That’s one of the reasons I came to see you,” Ondine sad as she sat down. “That boy is still under the ground but Pious just laughed at me when I demanded he be exhumed.” She shuddered. “It was more like a snake hissing than a human laugh. I saw the black veins in his neck and on his hands: is he one of the walking dead as my Sisters claim? What news of Abbot Michael? I heard Schimrian has imprisoned him in one of the Redemption Cells.”
A kettle steamed gently on the hearth and Ignatius patiently made them tea, pouring the aromatic brew into some bone china cups. “I have but three packets left of Indian tea and two of a rare Chinese blend then civilisation truly falls, I’m afraid.”
”You look nervous,” Ondine noted bluntly. “Are you expecting company? Perhaps our little sewer trolls, mayhap?”
Ignatius looked taken aback: “What do you know of them?”
“I’m not one of my poor Sisters, you know. Ah, this is so good,” she sighed happily. “It’s been so long since I’ve had real tea.”
“Well?” he prompted nervously.
“They’re beneath the main kitchen in the wine cellar that only you and I know about. I actually poured my heart out to one of them through crack in the old door leading to the cellar. She said nothing but I sensed a youngling maybe having eight to twelve years. I know you’re helping them because you frequent that cellar every single day to partake of its bounty,” she laughed at Ignatius’s faux umbrage and pointed to the large box by the door containing dozens empty bottles. “You can’t fool me,” she smiled. “Your poor liver must be the size of an ox. Ah,” she said, cupping an ear. “Six sharp taps on the courtyard door: now that is strange as it has such high walls around it. So it seems you are expecting company after all. Shall I go down and let them in?”
“No, I’ll go,” Ignatius grumbled, getting to his feet. “It’s lucky for me that you have sharp ears. The back door is open as there’s no point is locking it and I doubt Ferals could climb the walls.”
“They climbed the outside of the South-West tower easily enough,” Ondine pointed out. Six knocks sounded at the study door. “That was quick: our little trolls found their way through the unlocked door easily enough it seems.”
Ignatius paused by the door with his hand on the door knob. “Please sheathe your weapons before you enter, children. I have a welcome guest here who knows of your presence and I don’t want any accidents or misunderstandings.”
Ondine stood up to greet the four nervous Scatterlings as Ignatius introduced them to her. “This is the Abbess,” he announced formally. “This is wonderful,” he added, rubbing his hands with glee: “To have so many guests: oh, how it reminds me of my youth in the villages! Please pull up those stools around the fire, children, and dry yourselves out.”
Ondine fanned at her face. “Saints preserve them,” she gasped. “The dear hearts absolutely reek of smoke and worse.”
Surl glared at her. “Perhaps it comes from us crawling around in sewers beneath burning buildings for days,” she said sarcastically. “Did you mean what you told me about hating the Order and sensing that evil presence in the Great Abbey?”
“Yes, Surl, I meant every word. I sense a similar evil in Abbot Pious. I deem he is not of this world any more. He…”
“Pup saw him bury a boy alive,” Pup chipped in. “His friends pretended they couldn’t hear him screaming. Pup hates them.”
“His friends are scared to death of the Abbott,” Ignatius explained, stoking the fire. “I had two here earlier who had soiled themselves and were too scared to go back to their dormitory where they would be punished again by their House-Father. They’ve been forced to dig graves, build pyres and haul corpses by hand. They’re completely traumatised, all of them.”
“And we’re not?” Rabbit seethed. “Oh, sob, sob, sob! We’ve lived with Tally-men, Brothers, rats and dogs trying to kill us for six years while they’ve been coddled up in here in their nice warm beds. Mother Moss tried her best but we had rot and fleas and lice from being wet all the time and risking our lives every time we open a tin. They lured children out of hiding so they could be killed so they can eat kack and drink piss for all I care!”
Ondine raised her hand. “A child is still a child, dear heart. They were forced to act as Judas-bait as you well know and they are as innocent of Revelation as my poor Sisters are.”
“Drink some tea, children,” Ignatius insisted. He poured them a mug each and added milk and sugar. “There’s very little left in the world now. Would you like some bread and jam?”
“Pup would,” Pup grinned hugely and took the plate but the others declined. “Pup is always hungry!”
“Why do you want to see us?” Surl demanded.
“Ah, I am concerned about you,” Ignatius said after sitting back down in his armchair. “As is the Abbess it seems,” he added after a nod from Ondine. “We consider ourselves to be not of the Order yet we are trapped here, the Abbess to help her Sisters and I remain to help the postulants and novices who confide in me.”
“And the endless supply of wine,” Ondine teased.
Ignatius reddened but did not rise to the jibe. “We stay because there is no alternative but there may be now that this Light-Father of yours has appeared. The postulants say he is ten feet tall and can rip a head off with his teeth. They say’s he not of this world. What say you? What’s he like? Is he really a human being?”
Peter told them of the appearance of the Light-Father and their adventures as the two adults listened in silence and a growing respect. “My life and soul,” Ondine exclaimed. “Someone from another world maybe like that thing I sensed in the Great Annex? I now fear supernatural forces brought forth the Apocalypse to feast upon the tortured souls of four billion dead!”
Ignatius pursed his lips. “Abbot Camus told me last year about the alien device at the core of the Hexagon. He mentioned that they used living brain tissue to activate the machine and he suspected it came from Schimrian’s own brother, Abbot Breostan, who was the only other nominee for the throne when Great-Abbot Cystig died suddenly after only a year in office.”
“Looking back, I see the hand of Schimrian or possibly his brother in Cystig’s untimely demise,” Ondine said thoughtfully. “Breostan was not mourned: he was a most unpleasant man who sexually abused Sisters and postulants alike whenever he could get access to them. I had to lock my poor lambs away whenever that beast visited the Great Abbey.”
“Anyway, children,” Ignatius continued. “I think you’ve done more than enough to delay the Order from recovering for a long, long time. Schimrian has fallen into a stupor and speaks in tongues after being attacked by the Wiccans in…”
“No!” Surl said angrily. “I could see in my visions how he was attacked by Azrael, the demon he created from that alien machine only Fierce blew herself up in the Hexagon and killed it and saved us all. It was Azrael that took over the Tally-men and made them kill all those Brothers and Sisters because when he was destroyed, all the Tally-men dropped dead.”
“Ah,” Ondine gasped in wonder. “I heard tell of angel wings being burnt in the forges by Pious only two days ago. So he tried to create an archangel but his madness spawned a devil – I wasn’t wrong! The evil I imagined there all this time was real! Thank the saints: I feared for my sanity!”
“It gets worse,” Ignatius muttered, intertwining his fingers and staring into the flames. “I believe this creature also brought the dead Brothers back to life to serve as his Tally-men during the fighting only they too fell lifeless after the explosion when his dark craft was dispelled. All but one: Pious! He controls the Great Abbey now and Camus is but his lapdog through sheer terror as Schimrian wanders about and raves in tongues. With the fires all but extinguished in this endless rain, it is only a matter of time before he finds you and puts you to a cruel death.”
Ondine sat up in her chair. “You said you saw this creature in a vision just now, Surl!” she exclaimed. “Have you the craft?”
Surl nodded reluctantly and Ignatius smiled: “I guessed as much seeing as you destroyed the generators and found that cellar. That wasn’t just blind chance. Can you foresee anything now?”
“No, I can’t,” Surl sighed, pursing her lips. “I think I overtaxed my craft. I only see the colour red when I try to pierce the ‘veils’ as I call them to see all the paths of the future. I have no other craft manifest and I have no mark that I know of.”
Ignatius frowned and suddenly knelt before Surl, surprising her. “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue as far as you can,” he commanded with some urgency. “Hoi! There it is: faint but definitely a mark of the craft on your tongue! Oh, I do so enjoy being right!” he crowed as he returned to his chair.
“A real life Daughter,” Ondine sighed. “Bless! I never expected to meet someone of the craft in my lifetime.”
“Be that as it may,” Ignatius said forcefully. “It’s time for you to leave the Great Abbey but I have one more mission for you before you go. Pious and his Inquisitors have butchered many prisoners in the Redemption Cells bar the five in the Redemption Cells beneath Schimrian’s chambers. He was furious that three or four escaped dressed as Brothers so he will soon get round to killing those five as he claims the Order no longer needs new Tally-men. However, I fear he may be keeping them alive for his perverted sport.”
“I’m so glad Ken Glascae and his friends escaped but we didn’t know about the other cells,” Surl said sadly, her eyes downcast. “We thought they were all in the one corridor.”
“How could you know, Surl?” Ondine said kindly. “It’s a large building and there are over a hundred cells. I take food and water to the surviving five when I can but it’s not enough and when the crisis is over they will be guarded. Unless we help them they will die and I will have yet more deaths on my conscience.”
“And there’s one more thing. I heard that the Wiccans… sorry, this Azrael mutilated Michael so they call him the Naked One for that reason. He’s in a cell in the same corridor. I would be grateful if you could help me free him as well.”
“I am allowed to give him food through the service hatch,” Ondine explained. “But I am not allowed to see him. Pious and the others blame him for the success of the attack on the Great Abbey and many say he’s been punished by God and not this demon; this foul Azrael that we speak of but,” she warned, raising a finger in emphasis: “I still sense an unholy presence within the Great Annex: it’s faint but it’s definitely there.”
“Maybe you have the craft as well, Abbess,” Surl suggested.
“No but lesser mortals can be sensitive to the supernatural, Surl, but that is not the point. Pious is to be feared: this Azrael’s dark craft lingers in him for some hellish purpose. Schimrian all but anointed him as his successor and when he recovers his wits, his inhuman lapdog will be despatched to scour the earth to find and kill your precious Light-Father.”
Ignatius poured Ondine some more tea in the silence that followed. “I was glad to hear that Kai was fighting alongside this Light-Father. He was a protégé of both Michael and I,” he said proudly. “So if he’s found sanctuary and forgiveness with your Light-Father, then both the Abbess and I would like the same for as many Sisters and postulants as we can save.”
“Are there any other Brothers who would renounce the Order?” Peter asked hopefully. “We could do with more fighters.”
“None I would trust in the Great Abbey,” Ignatius said sadly. “They were hand-picked by Schimrian for their unquestioning loyalty and welcomed, nay, rejoiced in the Plague and volunteered to spread the Virus! But in places like Bede and the Norton Abbey and in the outposts across the globe, I suspect some must now question the whole purpose of the Revelation Virus especially as the Twelve Tribes have been decimated. They must see that this promise of a New Jerusalem was nothing more than a cruel deceit of Satan designed to make them accomplices to genocide.”
“If this Light-Father can indeed offer them salvation,” Ondine added. “We can bring many of them back into the light. If we are to rebuild this world then we’ll have need of them. Brother Kai might be the first of many to surrender to his healing magic,” she sighed. “From what you say, I would give my life to meet him.”
“So, what say you?” Ignatius insisted. “Will you help us free Michael and the others before you flee westwards?”
Surl gaped as a death’s head moth emerged from the flames and fluttered across the room to settle on her upturned palm only to vanish in a puff of dust. “I think we have no choice,” she said.
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