Chapter 26: Defend Ten Towns

Chapter 26 of the City of Gargoyles: Second book in the Light-Father trilogy

Harold maps out a strategy to defend a city with so few people in his ‘army’ but the resources of Milverburg and several rotorcraft are at their disposal. How he will exorcise Azrael is another matter but then Michael presents Shield and Mouse with a supernatural gift: a Wiccan Egg full of dark, impossible hope … 

Defend Ten Towns
 “A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon

    Harold sat at the head of the table quietly appraising the others in the North Library as they chatted to each other, waiting for Ursaf to return from trying to raise Bede on the Angel radios. To his immediate right sat Michael who now wore a stout black leather jacket, black trousers and army-style boots. He turned to Harold on sensing that he was being stared at. “Does this Noh mask disturb you, Light-Father? Your shield-maiden over there found it in one of the collections in this tower. With this military head cover it means I don’t have to swathe my head in filthy bandages.”

   “It’s a bit unnerving, I’ll admit,” Harold smiled. “But better than looking at red muscles and blood vessels. I’m not familiar with Japanese theatre but you look like a ninja.”

   “An apt choice of word given my complicity in genocide but this character is not a ninja but a Kishin Shuju according to the label,” Michael replied, tapping the ruddy-complexioned mask of a young grinning man with his teeth slightly parted. “Shuju is a sea spirit that loves drinking alcohol so it would be more appropriate for Brother Ignatius but it allows me a good field of vision and the mouth gap is wide enough for me to breathe easily.”

   To Michael’s right sat Fria, retying her ponytail while listening intently to Amos whispering about Pomona and Kayleigh sat on the other side of the table. The girls were oblivious of their animosity preferring to share stories with Mouse and Shield. Saul was seated between Harold and Shield yet he was silent, brooding deeply whilst toying with a lock of his long, black curly hair. Like the other Scatterlings, his weapons were upon the table before him. He’d said little except to hint of his fears about the oncoming battle so Harold was concerned: Saul had been the Eldest of the Scatterlings for six years yet now that mantle had passed to him and he wondered if that was preying on the young man’s mind.

   Ibrahim and Bas to the right of Amos were deep in discussion about the two battles at Wealthorpe and gently bickering about their fighting techniques as only true siblings can despite their artificial dissimilarities. Linden, one of Ken Glascae’s men, sat to their right and next to him was Ken and both men had turned their chairs around to talk to their three companions; Seainare, Beorstahl and Naeglin. Harold noted that they all still bore the marks of torture at the Great Abbey but they’d fully recovered unlike Marc and his two fellow escapees, Olias and Stunneson, who would need a month or more to regain their full strength having suffered the attention of Pious and his Inquisitors for two weeks.

    Saul suddenly placed a hand on Harold’s left forearm, startling him. “Patience, Light-Father, my father used to quote Sun Tsu to me all the time and given the sunshine in Uppermost this quote came to mind: With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up. In other words; we have the heights and all we have to do is wait for our enemies.”

   Michael leant forward to talk across Harold. “Well said, Scatterling, your father was a wise man but we must prepare a strategy to defend the ten towns.”

   “My parents were both well-educated and well-travelled,” Saul retorted, displaying his saya. “The swords that I and the Light-Father wield are a pair he bought for the cost of a small house from a merchant here in Milverburg. It might have been one of Pomona’s clan but he was extremely satisfied with his purchase.”

   “May I look at it?” Michael inquired. He drew the katana from its saya and studied it closely. “What superb craftsmanship and skill,” he sighed genuinely moved. “Can you imagine the smith folding and refolding and quenching the shingane, hagane and kawagane steels in this blade thousands of times right down to a molecular level? This ridge is called a hamon and requires meticulous handling and covering with clay to modify and control the tempering. I’ve never seen a hamon so precise and uniform – these katana are the work of a master.”

   Saul took back his katana and sheathed it in its saya. “Another skill lost forever to the world,” he declared bitterly. “Thanks to your damned apocalypse. No doubt the jungle is reclaiming the bones and forges of the man who created these as we speak. All that’s left of him is the soul he poured into these blades.”

   Michael said nothing and Harold was glad the awkward silence was broken by the bustling return of Ursaf and his three men to take their seats at the other end of the table. Unlike Kai, all four of them were now dressed in comfortable civilian outdoor clothes and looked completely different; as though a massive spiritual weight had been lifted from their shoulders when discarding their field robes. Ken and Linden turned their chairs around eager for news but they and the others had to wait for Ursaf to regain his breath after climbing so many stairs.

   “We managed to contact Bede,” he gasped finally, savouring the deliciously cool air of this marble-floored oasis after half an hour under the relentless sun in the park. “I spoke to Brother Thanewell.  Camus has warned him on their private frequency that Aten was elevated to Abbot. He and two of his brutal Inquisitors are on their way to take control of Bede. He says they’re all terrified.”

    Michael shifted in his seat. “I’d hoped Camus would’ve defected by now but he’s too much of a coward.”

    “I don’t know, Michael,” Ursaf disagreed. “He’s playing a dangerous game. He revealed that Schimrian plans to lead the attack on Milverburg at noon tomorrow. He told Thanewell to tell me that the Order has already secured the three causeways to prevent us escaping along the rail tracks and boats will take to the Milverbore at dawn to block the dock entrances.”

   “I confess to being pleasantly surprised,” Michael approved. “When he ran from me screaming, I thought he was lost to that shadow-geis forever. On the other hand, I can’t believe Schimrian would ever leave the Great Manse let alone lead an assault. I think this Azrael-Satan is still manipulating his puppet’s strings. What was it that Wiccan was saying? Something about a vision telling her that Azrael is actually part of an ancient enemy intent on destroying all life in God’s Creation?”

   “That’s what she said,” Harold confirmed. “I’d find it hard to believe but for the fact I’m from another world myself.”

   “So, Michael, this Azrael was more than just a ‘program’ or an ‘artificial intelligence’ as you believed yesterday,” Shield observed shrewdly. “That machine was his ship!”

   “I believe that this ‘ship’ arrived centuries ago,” Michael agreed reluctantly. “It all makes sense now! From the moment that sphere entered this world in Heofland, the Order has been gently moulded in His image. I see it all so clearly now: how my thoughts and feelings and those of others in the Order were subtly altered and manipulated. I now feel so completely different: my mind is free from doubt and paranoia for the first time in decades.”

   Harold laughed contemptuously: “This is all so convenient, Michael! Where I come from we’ve always had that old defence for sin and murder: the Devil made me do it!”

   Michael slammed his fist on the desk. “Don’t you for one second think I’ll ever hide behind that excuse, Light-Father! None of us, not even Amherus and Schimrian, were controlled like Tally-men and some fled the Order as the Great Plague was unleashed though where they went I know not. Azrael could not nurture and influence all Twelve Tribes individually as perhaps he did with the Conclave but he found in us the perfect clay: corrupt and paranoid because of our arrogance. We thought we were the Chosen Ones of God but Azrael was that doubt; that fear of the Unworthy; that dream of a New Jerusalem eroding reason and compassion. But, Dear Lord, I ask myself: how can such an incorporeal creature exist? It denies every tenet of science I hold dear.”

    “You believe in an invisible God even though you say you’re a scientist,” Ibrahim interjected bluntly. “So why is a Satan capable of achieving such power over your soul so hard to believe?”

    “A good point well made. I think the Light-Father and I need to talk to the albino and see what else we can learn,” Michael conceded thoughtfully. “If this creature is incorporeal then perhaps we can only kill it if we can if it takes physical form again.”

   “Mmm, let’s focus on the corporeal for now,” Harold decided. “What else have you got for us, Ursaf?”  

    Ursaf looked at him with some sympathy: “I have bad news for your little saboteurs, Light-Father: Brother Ignatius is now being tortured for helping them then he is to be executed immediately after Matins tomorrow. Pious will do it front of all the novices and postulants as a warning of what will happen to them if they fail tomorrow. Camus is in charge of organising them and the Brothers-Technician into manning the boats blockading the docks: if a vessel leaves they are to call down the Angels to destroy it.”

    Harold slumped back in his seat. “That’s what I would do in their place but they won’t know that we have two Angels on our side unless this Thanewell tells them? Will he betray you?” 

    Ursaf shrugged. “Thanewell and Gerald are actually in one of the three Angels about to take off to join us but they report that nobody else will join them through fear, blind loyalty to the Order or intoxication. They have an hour at most before Aten and his two butchers arrive then they’ll be forced to prepare the remaining six Angels to land Brothers-Martial in Uppermost. The Bede crews will be there on sufferance so their hearts won’t be in it now the geis is lifted. They’ll be slow to react and they’ll make mistakes.”

   “Why doesn’t Thanewell destroy those accursed Angels after he takes off?” Ken demanded, his face reddening with frustration. “It makes no sense just to leave them intact!”

    Ursaf held his hands up in a gesture of apology: “Three were in hangars and three were being serviced by Brothers – Thanewell refuses to open fire upon his brethren.”

    “I hope that changes when he gets here,” Harold said icily. “They have to fight or be killed slowly by Pious and Aten!”

   “The five of us will lie in wait for the enemy machines,” Ken Glascae growled in disgust, indicating his men. “There are only three parks on Uppermost where they can land from what I’ve seen from this tower. As you can see we took a lot of equipment from the army base we came across. These three weapons here are high-powered sniper-rifles so we’ll kill the pilots before they can land and pick off anyone surviving the crashes.”

    Piamadet raised a hand and Harold bade him speak. “I’m all for fighting a guerrilla war in Milverburg, Light-Father, but why not escape? If we attack along one of the viaducts using the two Angels we have now, we can overwhelm the causeway defenders. There can’t be more than thirty or so Brothers and about twice as many Tally-men holding each of the three causeway villages.”

   “That will not be easy,” Ursaf cautioned him. “Schimrian has finally acceded to Pious and all the Brothers have been allowed to carry rifles and the Fathers all bear machine-guns. Even the novices and postulants in the boats will be issued with rifles.”

    “Then Azrael must be overriding Schimrian’s paranoia,” Harold reasoned aloud. “But if we flee, we would be out in the open either on foot or on the train and once more open to attack by Angels or run down by half-tracks. We’re in a fortress so we can meet the onslaught on our own terms. What’s the matter, Michael?”

   “You’re right,” Michael replied thoughtfully. “Schimrian is so utterly paranoid so only Azrael could force him to leave his throne unguarded. We can deduce that Azrael was weakened by losing his corporeal form in the explosions at the Great Annex which is why his geis upon the rest of the Order has waned. I fear his power will be restored when he has more souls to feed on when Amherus and the rest of the Conclave return to the Great Abbey.” 

   “There’s no point in second-guessing a disembodied demon,” Harold pointed out. “The Wiccans will do what they can but it’s up to us to defend this place. Yes, Pomona?”  

   “You know that all the towns but Uppermost and the Core are in permanent darkness, Light-Father?”

   “Yes, I know this. There is a little light from the slit windows on the Perimeter Stairs during the day but I’ve only managed to get the emergency lights working on the Core Level and in the docks. Someone switched the lighting off in the Core when the Plague struck but not on the eight levels between the Core and Uppermost so all their emergency lighting batteries were drained. So what’s your point, Pomona?”

   “We know the vents,” Pomona shrugged. “We can find our way through them in the dark…”

   “And the Brothers will need torches,” Kayleigh grinned.

   Saul’s eyes widened at the implication: “Ah, I see. If any Brothers start searching those levels then we can find them easily by watching their torches from the vents and ambush them.”

   “I will go,” Bas offered. “I can see in the dark as well as any Feral and if I can’t see, I can sniff them out.” Harold heard the bloodlust in her voice and it worried him on so many levels: was it a sign her animal genes were starting to dominate her humanity?

   “If Ken and Ursaf can defend Uppermost with snipers and Angels,” he said, rising to collect a large coffee-table book from a nearby shelf. “We can fight a rearguard action all the way up to Uppermost. If they aren’t engaging enemy rotorcraft, our Angels can strafe the viaducts and attack the boats on the Milverbore and free up more escape routes. Ursaf? Could you co-ordinate that? Will you be happy attacking your former comrades?”

   “That’s a good point, Light-Father,” Ken Glascae chimed in. “Thanewell obviously couldn’t. Will you four be able to pull the triggers on your chain guns if you have to?”

   Ursaf rose to address them all. “I understand Glascae’s scepticism but we are free of Azrael’s bane so the answer is yes, Light-Father. Those who attack us are also free of his geis but they will seek revenge being fanatically devoted to the Order. We’ll have no choice but to kill or be killed. It’s as simple as that.”

   “We’ll hold you to your promise to heal us, Light-Father,” Spero intervened, rising to his feet. “And we’ll hold to ours. We’ve brought these hand-phone sets for you to use.”

   “We have others,” Marcus added despondently, displaying the four sets. “But their radio signals won’t penetrate stonework this thick. They probably won’t even penetrate a single level.”

    Harold opened the book in the centre of the table and carefully unfolded a map from the centre section that depicted a detailed cross-section of Milverburg and its ten towns. They all rose to gather around to marvel at the sheer scale of the citadel and the complex engineering required to support all the nine towns above the Core with the central pillar of the aptly named Yggdrasil rising and tapering to form the base of the Tower of the Sun. Four similar columns rose at the centre of each quadrant to form the bases of the four Towers of the Moon and each of these had a name taken from Norse Mythology: Nidhug, Surtr, Vili and Ve – the latter two being the brothers of Odin.

    Harold pointed to the Core which was called Niflheim by the original builders as winter fogs used to roll in through the dock entrances and linger for days. “We need to close the dock gates and lock them all bar the Merchant Dock where I have the Beomodor fuelled. It’s the only boat large enough to take all of us if we have to retreat into the estuary. My main problem is I don’t know how to defend those three railway entrances.”

   “We could destroy the viaducts,” Saul suggested.

    “I would like to find a way to keep them intact because this world will have need of this city again,” Harold said, savouring the surprise on every face around the table. “That’s right: I’m thinking about what we need to do once the Order has been defeated and Azrael is finally exorcised from this world.”

    Ken tapped a viaduct shown on the cross-section: “There is too much heavy masonry in each arch to be destroyed easily. We can make pipe bombs from any gunpowder we find in the armouries and from ingredients in the garden stores on the level below us but they won’t be enough to destroy arches of this size. You need demolition charges or military explosives to do that.”

   “What can we do, Light-Father?” Linden asked anxiously. “If they attack along all three viaducts at once we’re finished.”

    “We’ll push wagons and carriages into the tunnel mouths,” Harold said decisively. “Lock their wheels then jam dock trolleys and trucks into the spaces between them to form defensive barriers. We’ll hold the Core as long as we can then retreat to the Northern Perimeter Stairway after booby-trapping the others. We’ll mine or bomb the stairway as we retreat but we need to make as many trip-wire bombs as we can today. Ahhhh…”  He winced and closed his eyes, placing his fingertips to his temples. “Ow!”

   “Are you ill?” Michael asked, placing a hand upon his shoulder. “Shall I go and summon a Wiccan?”

   “No, no, I’m fine,” he assured them all hastily. “In answer to Marcus’s concerns about maintaining communication in the ten towns, we have our Wiccans who can use telepathy or ‘far-talking’ as you call it. Nightshade has just used it to tell me that Kai and twenty of the Ferals are already at work closing the dock gates. The other Ferals and the little ones are already pushing carriages and wagons into place in the Loki Tunnel.”

   “So they’re far-seeing our discussion,” Ursaf noted. “I’d love to know how telepathy works as with all their other gifts.”

   “As would I,” Michael agreed wistfully.

   “The Wiccans already know about the groups on the causeway – at least that’s what Nightshade told me,” Harold replied, tapping at a temple in emphasis. “Fern is recovering so they’ll each take one of the barricades tomorrow and slow down the attacks. However,” he added, turning to Ursaf and Ken. “That means they can’t take out enemy Angels if they’re deep in the Core.”

   “I’ll join Ken in that case,” Shield declared, brandishing her crossbow. “With my craft, this is as lethal as any sniper rifle.”

   Ken beamed. “Ah, I get to see a Wiccan in action! What an interesting day tomorrow promises to be!”

   “I hope I get to kill Pious again,” Saul said, gripping his katana. “This time I’ll remove his balanith head from his body.”

   “What else did the Wiccan tell you, Light-Father?” Spero demanded anxiously. “What will you do if the Brothers spread out into the levels below us? They may find other ways to access the upper levels. I suppose you’ll be able to see where they are from their torches but how will you see in the dark?”

   “As I said, we’ll retreat up the Northern Stairway so they’ll have to follow us and be concentrated there as it’s unlikely they’ll spread out across the towns unless,” Harold announced thoughtfully, raising a finger in emphasis. “Pomona, Kayleigh and Bas and whoever is on their teams can plant torches as decoys to draw them into ambushes. You could even come at them from the rear as they climb the Northern Stairway. Who’ll go with them once the railway tunnels are breached?”

     “Olias, Stunnal and I will fight rearguard on the Stairwell,” Marc declared. “We know how to use firearms from our years ambushing Tally-men but we need to find these armouries first.”

     “We’ll take you,” Pomona and Kayleigh pledged in unison. “Then we’ll show the Light-Father all the garden stores in Midgard and the places where the fireworks are in Aflheim are…” Pomona continued, grasping Kayleigh’s hand.

     “The gun shops and the armouries are down in Svartalfheim,” Kayleigh continued. “They have lots of rifles and shotguns!”

     “This is excellent news,” Olias approved, clenching a fist. “My father bought his hunting rifles from Svartalfheim but pipe-bombs will be the most lethal in the confined spaces of the stairways. We’ll need hundreds of them. Perhaps the Wiccans can instruct us how to make them. But,” he added cautiously. “As Spero pointed out, we’ll be fighting rearguard in total darkness as any light we use will make us easy targets for Brothers storming the stairways.” 

     “They’ll be easy targets too and the dark is not a problem for me or the Ferals,” Bas assured him. “But it will be for you and the others if you panic and start shooting blindly.”

     Ken and his men placed their goggles on the table. “These are night-vision glasses,” he explained proudly. “We found them at the army base. I just wish we’d brought more now. If the rear guard uses these they won’t need any torches but there won’t be enough for anyone setting ambushes in the towns.”

     “The other three perimeter stairways will have to be mined at every level,” Marcus fretted, jabbing at the map. “They could send a party to cross a level to use those stairways to outflank us.”

     Harold sighed. “That’s my worry as well but we can only do so much in the time we have left – about twenty four hours. Let’s see: Saul and Ibrahim, you’ll join the rear guard. Ken?”

    “Aye, we’ll show them how to use guns and rifles.”

     Harold nodded in approval. “The Wiccans will retreat with me and try and confuse the attackers with their illusion-geis. Fria and Amos, what would you two like to do?”

   “And me!” Mouse chipped in. “I want to fight!”

   “You and the little ones will stay with me,” Harold said sternly. “I abandoned four of you once. It’ll never happen again!”

   “We’ll go with Yin and Yang over there,” Fria said haughtily. “We’ll show them what real Scatterlings can do.”

   “Amos?” Harold asked pointedly. “Remember what we’ve told you about keeping focused in battle?”

   Amos looked sheepishly at Fria. “Now I have something besides Surl I want to protect, Light-Father, I’ll think of others first.” 

    “Fine,” Harold nodded. “But you must spend some time with Surl this evening. Right, you all know what you need to do now! Barricades then guns then pipe bombs.”

   “What will you do first, Light-Father?” Marc asked.

   “I’ll wait with Mouse, Ken and Ursaf to see if these Bede Angels make it then we’ll post a lookout in top of this tower in case the others attack today. We’ll all meet here at six bells to distribute the weapons. Nightshade and Ivy already know what we plan to do,” he said, wincing at the two voices in his head. “The Ferals say they want to join Bas and Ibrahim to ambush the Brothers in the levels below us. She says their senses are so sharp that they won’t need night-glasses. She thinks they’ll prove to be even more deadly than they were at the Great Abbey as they will have the advantage in the pitch darks. That’s all for now: good luck everyone.”

   Michael applauded, his gloved hands making a dull thumping sound: “Well done, General. Sun Tsu lives on in you.”

   “I’m no general,” Harold replied, somewhat embarrassed by the compliment as the others began to file out of the library. “It’s just the best I can come up with as there’s so few of us. I’m confident, given the numbers that we can hold out…”

   “But when Amherus and the fanatics of the Conclave return, it’ll be a different story,” Michael continued.

   “I know but I can only focus on one impossible task at a time.”

   “Excuse me a moment, Light-Father. Shield? Mouse? Can you stay a moment? I have something for you that one of the postulants found in the wreckage in the Great Annex and Ignatius bid him bring it to me. He thought I was the only one who would know what it is and he was right. I think you need to see this before I pass it on to the Wiccans to work their craft upon it.”

   He unwrapped a glistening ovoid object and placed it on the wrapping-cloth so that it would not roll about the table. “Look at the mark here: this is the ancient symbol the Wiccans use to denote the element of water…”

   “Mother Veneris had water as her element!” Harold exclaimed incredulously. “Are you saying she created this?”

   “It was found exactly where the brave sister to these two sacrificed herself so I have a theory based on all my research. This is a Wiccan Egg. I have no idea what material it’s made of but, Shield and Mouse, look closely at the surface and tell me what you see inside? You have to almost touch your nose to it.”

   Mouse went first and her eyes were as wide as saucers as she peered through the egg’s translucent sheen. “I can see a foetus moving inside it!” she gasped. “Look, Shield!”

   Shield followed suit then glared suspiciously at Michael. “What is a Wiccan Egg and what has it got to do with us?”

    Michael reached out and held it aloft in his hand to study. “It defies science like so many things that the Wiccans do. There’s an ancient tale of a noble Celtic warrior who sacrificed himself to save his king in battle. He was brought back to life by an Arch-druid who captured his essence inside an egg – a powerful symbol of rebirth amongst the Druids and the Wiccans. I believe your Mother Veneris achieved something similar to create this Egg.”

   “What do you mean by capturing an essence, Michael?” Shield demanded angrily, clutching at a knife-hilt. “By Saint Peter’s heart, I warn you: you’ll pay a heavy price if this is a cruel jest!”

   “I make no jest but you both needed to see the egg before the Wiccans do because if I’m right then inside this wondrous object resides the soul of your sister, Fierce!”


© mitch 2023
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