Chapter 23: Second Skirmish

Chapter 23 of City of Gargoyles: Book 2 of the Light-Father Trilogy

The Light-Father and the others head for Wealthorpe where they encounter a large scouting party from Burslen Abbey and have no choice but to fight again. Meanwhile in the Vatican, Abbot Amherus plots his return to Britannia…

 Second Skirmish

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” – Sun Tzu

    “It’s eight of the bells, Light-Father,” Rabbit said, shaking him vigorously by the shoulders. “Wake up! There’s blue sky! Blue sky! There are no clouds!” she gabbled breathlessly and climbed onto his lap to bounce up and down all but winding him.

    “Oof! My God, you’re full of beans,” he muttered, wiping the sleep from his eyes and stretching luxuriously. “I thought you all hated the sun when you were in Crawcester because the rain kept the Tally-men away from the Keep.”

     Rabbit frowned quizzically and put her face close to his; almost touching noses. “That was before you came, Light-Father and why would I be full of beans? I’m a girl not a bean bag.”

    “It’s just a saying in my world,” he sighed wearily. “It just means that you’re full of vitality for some reason.”

    “I slept deep and long. Mother Fern said she’d placed herbs about us to chase away the nightmares and here I am: back with my very own Light-Father,” she gushed and hugged him tightly.

   It was a full three minutes before she would let him get up. “What’s that smell?” he wondered. “It is! I can smell bacon!”

    “Bas went out hunting before dawn and killed a young boar in the woods. Fern and Ibrahim gutted it and chopped it up while Michael went out and found edible mushrooms and wood sorrel, chickweed, wild garlic and even dandelions. He’s cooking some more just for the two of us. Fresh bacon! Oink, oink!”

    “Ow! So that’s why you’re jumping up and down on me!” His eyes widened and he set her down on the carpet. “Wait a minute, he’s cooking? The smoke will give us away!”

   “Not so, Light-Father,” Michael said from the doorway. “This cottage has a modern gas range. Apparently being a wood-master was a profitable occupation. Everyone has eaten except for you and the young kit there who wanted to break her fast with you.”

    Harold had to look twice at the sinisterly-robed and cowled cleric. It was as if Death had exchanged his scythe for a spatula and an apron with ‘Welcome to Thamesmead’ emblazoned upon it. It was so incongruous that he could barely suppress an incredulous chuckle. Michael drew himself up imperiously: “There’s no mirth in this. Cuisine is the practical application of science after all.”

   “Forgive me, Michael. You are full of surprises. In a way, it seems you are beginning to regain your humanity.”

   “If you say so; I have long road to walk before that. However, I do feel curiously refreshed as do all the others. Some of them say it’s due to Mother Fern’s herbal lore and the others say that it’s your magic that calmed their dreams. Either way,” he said, bowing. “I am eternally grateful. For the first night in six years, I saw no Gates of Hell opening beneath my feet and a great weight has been lifted from my soul thanks to you, Light-Father.”

     Harold kept his doubts to himself and followed Michael and Rabbit into the kitchen. He was astounded by the change in the five escapees as they sat on chairs in the corner of the kitchen drinking black tea and talking quietly to each other. They’d shaved, washed and found clean clothes to replace the soiled robes that Surl and the others had brought them before helping them to escape. Even the Scatterlings had found some garments similar to their own which had been irrevocably fouled by their sewer exploits and the seven days on the run from Beorcraft. He was struck by a sudden sense of déjà vu: as a student he’d gone to an environmental encampment and this could be the exact same communal kitchen prior to a strenuous day of coppicing in the forest.

    Fern was braiding her hair by the door and smiled at him having pried into his thoughts: “We are where we are, Light-Father,” she laughed and indicated Rabbit who was sat at the kitchen table with a knife and fork in her hands. “You’re harder to wake than one of the gargoyles in your tower so we sent in the heavy ordnance.”

     Harold sat down and Michael placed a breakfast in front of him and another before Rabbit who almost impaled his hand with a fork in her haste. It was indeed a feast that he and Rabbit ate with relish and not even the sound of Ibrahim sharpening his battle-axes and Bas maintaining her quiver and weapons could distract them from the task in hand. There was even some black tea which Shield insisted on pouring for him.

     Replete, he sat back to marvel at the fact that some in the kitchen had fought a savage hand-to-hand battle in Wealthorpe only yesterday while the others had been hunted mercilessly by Beorcraft. He turned to Fern: “There must be other Brothers out there searching for us. As Surl said, we’ll probably have to fight our way into that village again before we can return to Milverburg. We need to use the boat if we can: I’d rather not leave it here.”

     Fern finished braiding her hair and put her arm around Surl’s shoulders. She closed her eyes and concentrated:  “I cannot sense any Order search parties to the east. Maybe they’ve returned to the Great Abbey after losing Beorcraft. I honestly don’t know: my craft is not accurate over such large distances.”

    “Beorcraft led the main party hunting us,” Michael explained. “There were smaller scout groups and the Bede Angels searched for us as well. They knew we had to follow the main roads through Fosskeep and Thaneton so they set ambushes but thanks to Surl’s visions we avoided them. He had half-tracks and could always get ahead of us but we still covered over thirty miles a day.”

    “We could have covered more if not for the short rations and torture, brother,” Marc observed bitterly. The other four men nodded enthusiastically. Michael said nothing as he put the dishes and pans into the large sinks and strapped on his two gun holsters. Having already searched the cottage and its outhouses, he handed them a variety of weapons: two large lumber-axes and three large knives. “Now that your strength is returning,” he said bluntly. “You should be able to wield them without injuring yourselves.”

   “I’m afraid you’ll have to fight,” Harold told them. “We have to get to our boat at Wealthorpe and get back to Milverburg. As soon as everyone has finished going to the toilet, we’ll get going and… what’s so funny, Pup?”

    “It’s just that Shield keeps telling Pup that heroes in sagas don’t need to go to the toilet,” he giggled.

    Michael surprised them all by laughing out loud: “They do, young one, but nobody writes about the mundane necessities of life. I’m sure you don’t want anyone reading the Tale of Pup the Mighty to know about your bodily functions, now would you?”

     Before Pup could answer, Surl’s face went blank and she shuddered, grasping Fern’s hand hard. “We must hurry,” she gasped, closing her eyes. “I see half-tracks to the east and to the north and ships in the Milverbore and… something else in the red shadows in the north, something terrible…” She retched a little. “I am sorry, Mother Fern, my craft is still weak. I cannot see anything but I feel a great evil is moving towards us… it’s… it’s…”

     “Shhh, dear heart,” Fern said soothingly. “You have but few years and have yet to awaken fully into your craft. What…”

     Bas stepped forward and raised her hand. “When I was hunting, there was something in the air that made the animals nervous. The wind set north for a short while before veering south-west and there was a faint scent I’ve never smelt before: an animal I am not familiar with but my instincts tell me it’s a threat to us.”

    “Some animals from zoos and menageries survived,” Michael suggested. “Maybe a large cat is hunting in the woods.”

     Bas shook her head: “No, not a cat but something different; something foul. The scent was faint yet the badgers and foxes were hiding underground in mortal fear.” She shook herself. “Be not afraid: my brother and I will take care of it should it attack.”

    “Good, let’s get ready to leave,” Harold said firmly, strapping his katana sheath to his belt. “Um, where is the toilet?”

    “It’s outside but you may want to defecate in the woods,” Saul said delicately. “Unless you have no sense of smell.”

    Harold looked at the grinning Pup. “No,” he laughed, wagging a finger. “That’s definitely not going in your saga!”

   Ten minutes later, after Harold had completed his toilet – and won the battle to keep his breakfast down – they were on the road back to Wealthorpe with Bas and Ibrahim scouting ahead of them. The road was covered with hail-shredded foliage and fragments blasted from the roadside trees by countless lightning strikes during the storm. A few huge pines had but charred trunks remaining and the smell of scorched pine-sap was a torture to the senses especially to those of poor Bas whom they could hear coughing, sneezing and cursing fluently in the distance.

    The smell of pines faded to be replaced by a gentle westerly carrying the salt-sea air of the Milverbore. Before them lay the rail-tracks leading to Milverburg and they headed a little south to the place where they’d crossed over it when fleeing Wealthorpe. From the cover of the trees to the east of the tracks, they could see the corpses and the crows, ravens and seagulls which were already at work upon them and bickering over the spoils.

     “Ugh, I see rats as well,” Saul grimaced. “I never wanted to see such a sight as that again even if they are of the Order!” 

    “Your vision is much sharper than mine,” Harold said somewhat enviously. “But it looks like we’ll be able to get to the boat without a fight. Finally, we have some good news!”

     He was about to break cover when Surl put a hand on his shoulder: “There’s a large boat rounding the headland and keeping close to the shore,” he said urgently. “There are over a dozen aboard and they wear the field robes of the Order.”

    “They’re hardly likely to be anyone else,” Harold said grimly.      

    “Ah, my inner demon rejoices,” Ibrahim grinned before carefully removing that grin at a glare from Fern. He ran a finger along the edge of one of his axes. “He is still naught but an imp, Mother Fern, but he relishes the coming battle as I do.”

     “Shhh, everyone, get down!” Harold hissed. “They’re at the quay and they can see us from there.” He watched carefully as the Father and his Brothers made their vessel secure and three of them investigated the Ellendaed. He could see one of the Brothers pointing towards the village having spied the crows upon the bodies. After a short deliberation, the Father led eleven Brothers towards the ruins while four were left upon the quay to guard the boats with their spears at the ready. “We need to deal with those four at the same time as the others but how do we do that?”

     Bas looked offended: “Shield and I will see to them, Light-Father. There is cover to the east of the causeway almost down to the water’s edge. We’ll climb the stonework from the east and that will put us above the Brothers so that we can fire down upon them and take them by surprise. I’m sure Saul and my brother can deal with most of the others,” she grinned, showing that the points to her canines had indeed grown. “Remember to clean your sword afterwards, Light-Father! We’ll wait until you start your attack then we’ll join you once we’ve killed the four Brothers.”

     “Just be careful, dear heart,” Saul urged.

     Shield briefly kissed him and followed Bas into the overgrowth, keeping low and moving silently. Harold turned to Fern and Saul as the Brothers began checking the bodies and chasing away the vermin. “That’s a lot of ground to cover and that’s not a rifle the Father’s carrying: it looks like a machine-gun!”

     Saul shaded his eyes. “It’s strange that they did not bring Tally-men with them. Hoi! One of the Brothers is standing guard with the Father and he has a begiuller ready. That Father is not making the mistake that the others did yesterday by keeping it in the half-track. They’re retrieving shovels, Light-Father: they could just be a burial party and maybe they’ll leave after burying them.”

     “I doubt it,” Harold said thoughtfully. “They’ve seen our boat and they’re very alert so they must have a radio and know we’re close by. I think it’s an advance party sent to seize this causeway. I bet Schimrian is sending others to seal off the other two causeways to prevent the Phoenix leaving across the viaducts. They’ll probably use boats and Angels to stop us taking to the Milverbore as well. This is not good. We have no choice but to fight these Brothers then we’ll go and get the others and escape northwards. Beorminghas might be a good place to go. Those towers could be the perfect place to hide.”  

     Surl shook her head: “I don’t think we can make it there, Light-Father. More Brothers are coming and we only have time to make a stand in Milverburg.” She winced and put a hand to her nose and wiped away the fresh blood. “Ah! I cannot see any more!”

     Fern put a hand on her head and stared into her eyes. “Do not use your craft again!” she said forcefully. “You’re starting to haemorrhage. Any more of this and you’ll have a stroke. Rest here with Pup, Rabbit and Peter. You’ve done more than your share already. I will try my geis: I think might be able to cover us up to the village but there are three times as many minds there to glamour than in the Angels yesterday. Keep close behind me so I have a smaller area to camouflage. Follow me and tread as quietly as you can! If you make the slightest sound, my illusion will be shattered and we will lose the element of surprise.”

      They drew their weapons and crept in a tight formation towards the ruined cottages. The Father and the Brother next to him were scanning the woods as they approached but it was obvious that they couldn’t see them at all. Michael and the other escapees gaped openly at the power of the craft she was displaying.

     They were ten yards away when the Father’s eyes narrowed and then widened: “Fire the begiuller, Brother Abraham!” he screamed. “A Wiccan is upon us!” He raised the barrel of his own weapon but before he could pull the trigger, Michael had shot him neatly between the eyes. Fern, however, was pole-axed by the begiuller and Harold’s knees buckled briefly beneath him. The pain was short as Ibrahim swung his axe and the Brother’s head was almost cleaved from his shoulders. Ibrahim then shattered the weapon with two tremendous blows from his bloodied axe.

     Fern was totally incapacitated so Harold had to carry her away to a safe distance from the fighting before rushing back into the fray. These were well trained Brothers-Martial and they all handled their weapons expertly but Michael had the sense to stay apart from the fighting and whenever a Brother tried to prime a plasma grenade, he shot him. The Brothers were possessed by righteous fury at the attack on the Great Abbey and did not yield, screaming their hatreds of the Unworthy and the Harlots of Satan with ‘revenge Abbot Amalgan’ as their battle-cry.       

     Two of Marc’s companions were gored by spears as they tried to use their knives. They fell to the ground, clutching at their mortal abdominal wounds in agony, one screaming for a mother six years dead. Eight Brothers remained and two charged at Michael who managed to shoot one but then his gun jammed. Before he could draw the second weapon from its holster, a spear tip penetrated deep into his shoulder. He grasped the shaft with both hands so that the Brother could not withdraw it and was thus left vulnerable as Harold swung his katana with all his strength.

    Michael sank to his knees and yanked the spear free: “Ah: I will recover,” he hissed. “Leave me! Help the others!”      

    The surviving Brothers could see that their boat was lost to them so they slowly retreated westward in a tight formation keeping their spears jabbing at their foes so that Saul and Ibrahim could not close on them until Ibrahim was almost incoherent with frustration. Two stepped behind the others to prime plasma grenades but a crossbow bolt and an arrow put paid to both their endeavours and their lives. The survivors broke and fled wildly but like sprinters bursting from their blocks, Ibrahim, Saul and Bas were upon them whilst Marc brought down one himself then began stabbing his fallen enemy repeatedly until Harold was forced to drag him off the corpse.

     “It’s over, Marc,” Harold said gently. “Come on, son, you can stop now: they’re all dead.”

     Marc got to his feet and flung the bloodied knife away: “It’ll never be over, Light-Father, not until every stinking sweflennic one of them is dead and their bones crushed to powder!” He glared at Michael: “Better him than you, eh, brother?”

      Michael came up to him to stare into his eyes: “You’re right, Marc, better me than anyone else,” he said quietly. “But that man you killed and the others from Wyehold were the most fanatical of the Order. Abbot Amherus held sway there before Abbot Amalgan was appointed so their loyalty to the Conclave is absolute which is why Schimrian distrusts them. Whatever the Light-Father may do or say, there’s no way he can break their conviction. We will have to kill many more of them before this is over.”  

    “Then I’ll relish every death,” Marc grated through clenched teeth. “Now I’d like to say farewell to my companions: they were named Wyne and Rowan – not that you would care!”

     Michael shook his head as his brother turned from him. “No, you’re wrong, Marc. I shall mourn them whether you like it or not.” He looked at Harold who was supporting the badly-dazed Fern. “He hath need of thy magic, Light-Father, as do I, I fear.”

   Harold left Fern’s side only after she’d assured him that she was not about to die and handed a shovel to Ibrahim. “Saul, recover that machine-gun for me and get spears for Marc and the other two. Shield and Bas, search the bodies for plasma-grenades and find a bag to carry them in. Ah, here they are!” he grinned as Surl and the other three children waved and ran up to join them.

    “Pup would’ve helped,” Pup huffed. “They can’t write a saga about Pup if Pup hides in the wood like a frightened rabbit.”

     Rabbit cuffed him: “I wasn’t frightened!” 

    “Pup meant hoppy rabbits, hoppy rabbits!” he whimpered.

    “Enough!” Harold said wearily. He was about to sheathe his katana when Saul seized his wrist. “What? Ah, hell. I’m sorry, Saul, I almost sheathed it without cleaning it! Damn it,” he sighed, wiping the blade on the field robes of a dead Brother. “A month ago I was cleaning centrifuges not bloody swords!”

    He and Ibrahim set to the grave digging whilst the four younger children eagerly helped Bas and Shield search the bodies, oblivious to the gore and the fact that most of Beorcraft’s party had lost their eyes to the crows and ravens. Harold paused in his task to study the macabre scene and rue the fact that these children were so immune to such slaughter and carnage. He smiled ironically: no more so than the African child-soldiers of his world. Determined anew to save them, he resumed his digging with a will.

   Despite Marc’s protests, they allowed Michael to lead a prayer over the two graves punctuated by everyone except Pup responding with: “In manus tuas, Domine.” 

    As they approached the quay, Harold pointed to the sleek Wyehold vessel which was obviously once a military craft: “Would you kindly scupper that?” he said to Ibrahim who leapt to the task with glee. It took eight mighty blows before the reinforced hull gave way and it sank. They boarded the Ellendaed and to Harold’s immense relief, the engines started at the first turn of the ignition key. He edged the boat out to get the feel of the fast ebbing currents of the Milverbore before opening the throttles wide. The Ellendaed surged towards the vast bulk of Milverburg whilst its passengers shaded their eyes from the unaccustomed sun.

     Bas was the first to hear them. To the east, through the arches of the viaduct they could see two Angels keeping close to the surface of the Milverbore and approaching at high speed. “Damn!” Harold cursed. “They’ll be on us before we make the docks! Fern? Can’t you hypnotise the crews like you did yesterday?”

    Fern was sat upon the decking, clutching her staff with her head upon her knees and a pool of vomit between her feet. “That begiuller has completely drained my craft,” she groaned. “It was too close to me when it fired: I’m as helpless as a babe.”

  “Does anyone know how to use that machine-gun? What about you, Shield? Do think you can knock them out of the sky like you did in Beorminghas?”

   “I’ll try, Light-Father, but I was affected by the begiuller as well,” she said grimly, holding on tightly to the gunwale as the Ellendaed ploughed through the estuary waves. “I can’t aim a bolt at them: the boat is rocking too much.”

    The Angels roared over their heads and then swung round in a leisurely arc to attack, their chain-guns beginning to spin up. Shield concentrated and began an arcane chant patiently taught to her by Mother Moss but she quailed as from the north came two more Angels moving fast and low towards them. “I can’t focus on them all,” she despaired. “I can’t! Saul! I’m so sorry, dear heart!”

     “I hate those bloody machines!” Harold spat as he swung the steering wheel over hard to try and reach one of the gigantic viaduct arches to use the piers as cover but he knew they would not make it. Time itself seemed to slow to a crawl as the two incoming Angels opened fire.     


     “Brother Simon, have you raised the Great Abbey on the radio yet?” Abbot Amherus demanded, his fingers drumming on an ancient Vatican table in what had once been the Pope’s personal chambers. His contempt for the papacy and the fact they had brought the Seven-Headed Lamb upon the face of the Earth had led him to vent his fury on the antique furnishings and tapestries during the long years of the European Inquisitions. A tenth-century hand-illustrated gold-bound Christmas Mass written on rare vellum was transfixed to the table-wood by an ornate Romanic sword.             

     Simon seated himself slowly. “I apologise for my presumption, Eminence, I was poisoned in the Venetian Enclaves. The nuclear reactors there still spew their toxins.”

    “They were the powerhouse of the continent at one time and we failed to shut them down in time so you are forgiven, my son, even for coughing up blood during Vespers. Luckily, we are well versed in treating radiation burns or at least that’s what I’m told by the Fathers-Surgeon God spared from the catastrophe.”

    “They are well-skilled, Eminence. I have but few years and the vitality of youth so I mend quickly in their care. As you know, the Great-Abbott assigned me to that cruel task personally because of a minor indiscretion on my part. I regret I now owe him no loyalty or trust, Eminence. I tried my best after the Tally-men malfunctioned but it was pointless. The few Unworthy creatures that crawl upon the ground there are diseased or mutated and not worth redeeming so I sailed here with the last of our Adriatic Brothers and Sisters on my own initiative and abandoned the last of our Tally-men. They were easily poisoned by the radiation and too stupid to seek shade during the hottest part of the day and died.”

     “This is why I know I can count on you, my son. Though you are but a youth you have intelligence and motivation. So, have our Brothers-Technician raised the Great Abbey today?”

    “No, Eminence, they have not. I am told that the losses in Britannia were significant with but three dozen Sisters left alive at the Great Abbey. Brother Theo knows me well and told me last night that the Scotian and Eirann abbeys and outposts were also lost due to the Wiccans seizing control of our Tally-men.”

    “So I understand, my son,” Amherus said, steepling his heavily bejewelled fingers. “Now here are my doubts about the corruption of the Great Computer: something rings the bells of falsehood. I have known well the covens of old in the Russias and Iberia: they were craft-wise but completely unskilled in computers.”

    Simon consulted a note from his pocket before responding: “I have but few years and little experience, Eminence, but I must agree. According to Theo, Abbot Pious was in charge after the attack and according to the radio operators, Brother Theo also let slip that Pious was brought back from the dead and that they are all absolutely terrified of him and his inquisitors.”

    “I see, my son, but he cannot be a reanimated corpse though the craft of Wiccans is both dark and deep. No, we are blessed by the foresight of the Order so no doubt our genes pulled him back from the Gates of Death but, I regret to say, some of us may wish otherwise. He and his Brothers-Inquisitor were in Italy some weeks ago here and they shamed me with the number of Unworthy creatures they winkled out from the cellars and catacombs beneath my feet; fey scraps of flesh that we’d overlooked in all our years of scouring Europe. No doubt Schimrian revelled in that shame. How dare he belittle me so! I was once his staunchest ally in the Conclave and deliberated with him upon the creature bred within this so-called Holy City! We of the Conclave were the trumps of God and we brought forth Revelation upon Gomorrah.”

    “Hallelujah, Eminence,” Simon said carefully. He had quickly seen that Amherus was vain, capricious and a fanatic: one of the men who had calmly signed the death warrant of humanity. “I was told that he actually assaulted and seriously injured three Fathers here for their failures without discussing it with you.”

     Amherus’s handsome face darkened and he clenched his fists: “I will never forgive that insolence though he now be of my rank. He ruled the Great Abbey in the Great-Abbott’s name until Schimrian recovered his wits and is said to be still as loyal as a dog to that fool. I fear him: when he was here, unholy motivations were plainly at work in him as he gloried in butchery and torture. Tchah! Had I been Great-Abbott, no Unworthy scum would come within ten leagues of our spiritual heart! It’s no wonder that they continue to forbid the Conclave from returning to Britannia to hold them to account. This is madness of course when they have but four hundred souls left in the whole of that blessed realm!”

    “How are you sure of the numbers, Eminence? I am told the Great Abbey was tight-lipped about what happened there.”

    “Father Silas reckons that is an accurate estimate based on our losses as the corrupted Tally-men were most thorough without much variance across the entire planet.”

     “Some of the Brothers claim it is hotter here than Hades, Eminence. If they sortie out at midday, they invariably get heatstroke and some are beginning to die despite our genetics. They crave the cool, perpetual rains of the northern climes.”

      Amherus beckoned to a Father who was waiting by the door for an audience. “Come and sit with us, Father Silas,” he beamed at the newcomer, indicating one of the ornate and gilded chairs set before his desk. “I need to rally the Conclave across the globe. What news have you obtained for me in this regard, my son?”

     The short, stocky Father kissed the ring of office on the Abbott’s finger and sat down to mop at the copious perspiration on his face. “I apologise for my appearance, Eminence, but bless these marble halls: it is so cool in here! The temperature and humidity climbs once again, Eminence. The surviving Tally-men are failing because of the heat and the damage done to their barrack computers across the globe. Without direction, they stand in the sun until they die and we dare not trust the ones we have left. The weather and communications satellites we access are starting to fall out of the sky but it’s the Equator that’s become my main concern.”

     “What do you mean, my son? You tell me of the equatorial storms making landfall from time to time in Africa and the East and how they inconvenience us by destroying port facilities but we still manage to get our vessels through even now, do we not?”

     Silas opened a folder and laid out satellite images across the desk showing the entire equatorial band of the planet. There were six vast hurricanes girdling the entire equator all equidistant from each other and all interconnected with their eyes at least fifty miles across. Silas pointed at them in turn and swept his hand across the images. “The sea temperatures are so high that these now appear to be permanent, drawing in heat and moisture from the seas to the north and south. I’ve never seen anything like it but this bizarre equilibrium is due to the atmosphere trying to distribute the global energy surplus. The equatorial desert temperatures are above the boiling point of water and the equatorial seas are aflame from the methane rising from the depths. I have no idea how long this will last but the temperate rain bands have moved further north and are becoming unstable with huge thunderstorms and vortices constantly forming on their southern edges.”

     Amherus rubbed at the bridge of his nose: “So what are you saying, my son? Our ships and aircraft can no longer cross the Equator? What of our brethren in the South, in Australasia, Southern Africa, the Incandean States, the Antarctic coasts?”

     “They cannot reach us, Eminence, and we cannot reach them as long as these storms last. We could see the climate either stabilise once the heat has dissipated or it could become ever more chaotic and dangerous. Already, Italy and Iberia burn under this accursed sun and now southern Francia and the Urals. We…”

    “Enough,” Amherus said wearily, raising a hand for silence. “It’s clear they are lost to us for now. We must tell all our surviving brethren in the north to cease these endless and fruitless Inquisitions and gather at the Bocage Abbey. The Great-Abbott has need of our Inquisition having suffered the Great Abbey to be decimated by the Unworthy and their Wiccans.”

     “The brethren in Italy are with you, Eminence.”

      “Thank you my son. Our new crusade shall be the cleansing of Britannia and restoring the rule of our Order upon those hallowed isles. We cannot build a new Jerusalem while we are chasing half-beasts and the handful of Unworthy left upon this miserable Earth.” He clenched his fist and a fire burned in his eyes: “Given the scale of this disaster, the Conclave intends to Inquire not only of the Great-Abbot himself but all those who failed him as well.”        

     “Such as Abbott Pious?” Silas ventured hopefully.

     “Especially Abbot Pious.”



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