Chapter 27: The Worms Turn
Chapter 27 of the City of Gargoyles: Book 2 of the Light-Father Trilogy.
Abbess Ondine learns that her precious Sisters are now being violated and turns to Camus who finally finds the courage to save Ignatius if he can and both of them learn what it is that billions of vengeful souls want from them…..
The Worms Turn
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner
Ondine returned to the parlour at the Abbess Manse and looked anew at its opulent busts and paintings of saints and former Great-Abbots and found the bile rising in her throat. Despite the warmth of this rarest of sunny days, one of the Sisters, Frances, had set a fire blazing in the hearth as she always had without a thought for the sweltering heat now rippling through the high-ceilinged room adorned with intricate plaster mouldings depicting the seven ranks of angels. The ones that disturbed her most were the six-winged seraphim with two of their wings hiding their faces.
The electric lamps flickered fitfully as an indication of the Brothers-Technician attempts to connect the new generators to the power grid. Large telseiean lamps shone brightly enough in all the recesses to highlight the magnificent and sumptuous representation of Christ Ascending painted by a master on the high ceiling. It was based on the statue that the Wiccan had destroyed in the Great Cathedral and Ascending with Him was depicted a heavenly host including the thirteen disciples and Mary Magdalene.
A momentary spasm of anger at such Pagan defilement of her beloved Lord filled her heart but she set it aside instantly. “No, Azrael!” she snarled aloud, making a sweeping gesture with her right hand. “I feel your fingers clutching at my heart! Jesus would care no more than a humble carpenter would about a carven image. Your evil has ensnared Schimrian but not me!”
“I’m sorry, Abbess, but who are you talking to? Who is this Azrael you speak of? Is he not the Lord’s Angel of Death?”
“Ah, Sister Frances, forgive me,” Ondine gasped in surprise. “I didn’t see you there. I was just talking aloud in a brief crisis of faith, nothing more. Why aren’t you preparing the midday meals?”
“I was but I’ve brought you some tea,” Frances said shyly, pointing at the teapot, milk jug, cup and saucer set upon the tea table by Ondine’s favourite reading chair. The chair was set in a corner that boasted ornate bookshelves crammed with classical books that Ignatius had procured for her. “I know how hot it is today but I heard you were upset after visiting the Great-Abbot and I thought some tea would calm you down.”
“Thank you, dear heart,” Ondine said gratefully. “I am moved by your charity and thoughtfulness. What’s really troubling you? I’ve cancelled Midday Prayers with the Great-Abbot’s approval so is there anything else that concerns you?”
Frances blushed, clutching the tray tightly to her chest. “Father Aten has been molesting some of us and encouraging Brothers to do the same. They tried to r-r-ra…” she spluttered to halt and looked at the fire, her eyes glistening with tears. “I can’t say it!”
Ondine instinctively took the trembling young Sister in her arms and comforted her. “Be at peace and tell me what happened.”
“I was d-delivering breakfast to the Fathers’ Lodges after Matins when Father Aten and Father Leo suddenly dragged me into a cloakroom near the entrance. Aten p-pushed me against the wall and forced his hand between my legs. He made Father Leo grab my breasts and told him I was nothing more than a toy to play with… I-I tried to push them off but they were too strong. Father Leo’s face kept changing: one second he was remorseful and the next he was a demon pawing me everywhere. Abbess, I feel so… so dirty.”
“You are not dirty, my lamb,” Ondine crooned gently into the distraught Sister’s ear. “Now tell me what happened next.”
“They… they were trying to tear off my habit when Father Aten was summoned to attend Pious in the Redemption Cells. He forced a kiss on me then told me to attend his chambers where he would fulfil his most holy mission of restoring the Twelve Tribes. He laughed in my face, Abbess, groped me there again and left. I felt faint and fell to the floor. Father Leo apologised and helped me to my feet then he bade me promise not to say anything to you.”
“Ah, Azrael is reaching out,” Ondine sighed whilst staring up at the picture of Christ and holding Frances tightly as the Sister shuddered and wept. “It was a terrible experience for such an innocent as you but this is no time for weeping, dear heart! You’ve brought me the resolve I need to face this Satan moving once more amongst us. Dry those tears and get me Abbot Camus. He’s either in the Angel Compound, repairing rotorcraft, or he’s in the communications rooms. Find him and bring him to me.”
Frances disengaged from the Abbess reluctantly and took out a handkerchief to wipe her face and blow her nose. “I shall, Abbess, but we’re so frightened. The Brothers and novices made lewd comments yesterday but this morning their faces are so full of hate and lust. They used to be so kind to us but they’ve all changed. What have we done to deserve this abuse? Why did the Tally-men kill three Houses full of Sisters? Have we sinned?”
Ondine held the Sister’s face in her hands: “Sweet child,” she said soothingly. “You have all done nothing except be the sweet young lambs I am sworn to serve and protect.” She kissed Frances gently on the forehead. “The Devil entered their hearts long ago but now their hatred of women is being revealed. Such has always been the nature of men in this world who see women like us as nothing more than mere possessions. Be of stout heart, my daughter, and when you have found Abbot Camus, bring the Sisters here into this parlour. Can you do that for me?”
Frances nodded. “Yes, Abbess, but not Sister Persephone.”
“Why? Oh, sweet Lord, what’s happened to her?”
“She won’t come out of the showers in Saint Agnes,” Frances explained, her eyes downcast. “She was seized by many novices after Matins this morning and we found her almost out of her mind and tearing out her hair in the Northern Processional near the North Gate. She was trying to flee into the woods for shame. They all took turns to ra… ra… to violate her.”
Ondine went white with fury. “The word is rape, my daughter. Satan is prowling the Great Abbey and ensured our piety and innocence is no longer a shield against the base instincts of these corrupted men. With his myth of New Jerusalem destroyed, the Devil has no need of broodmares…”
“I’m sorry, Abbess. What are broodmares?”
“Nothing, dear heart, nothing,” Ondine assured her quickly, waving a hand in dismissal. “Go and get me Camus! I will see to Sister Persephone. Is there anyone with her?”
“Sister Freya and Sister Geraldine.”
“Good: they are the two best suited to comfort her.” She went over the table and swallowed the cup of tea in one gulp and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Thank you for the tea. Don’t just stand there gawping, my daughter. Go!”
Frances stared wide-eyed at the Abbess like a bewildered rabbit for a full ten seconds; time enough for Ondine to reflect and curse how the Order had limited the intellect of her lambs deliberately for generations. Finally, the cogs meshed and Frances left the parlour drawing the door shut behind her only to reopen it a moment later. “I’m s-sorry to disturb you again, Abbess,” she stammered. “But His Eminence was already in the corridor. Shall I show him in?”
“That’s why I sent you to get him, dear heart,” Ondine replied patiently. “Now go and bring the Sisters here.”
“All of them?”
“Dear Lord, give me strength! Yes, all of them!”
Camus entered without invitation and the flustered Frances bowed deeply then pulled the door shut. There was a used teacup and saucer on another table so he used them to make himself a cup of tea. He then drew a chair up to the tea table and slumped in it, hands on thighs, tilting his head back to gaze at the ceiling. Ondine sat in her reading chair and poured herself another cup of tea. She thought Camus looked dreadful with vivid dark rings under his eyes and a grey pallor to his skin. He was dressed in stained overalls and his hands had already left oil smudges on the arm-rests. Normally she would have scolded him but those times were over.
“I’ve just heard that there was a serious incident in the novice refectory where a Sister was attacked and others have been harassed. Something is happening to the Brothers at the Great Abbey and to me and I need to know what. This is why I’ve come to see you. I know you saw Schimrian just after our little council of war earlier. I must ask what you sensed in the Great Manse.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve confided in me often enough, Ondine. I know of your sensitivity to other worldly phenomena. Michael, Ignatius and I have often discussed you and your forebodings. Even I felt something evil looking down at me from the ceiling in Schimrian’s chambers earlier. So tell me: did you sense anything?”
“Yes, something profoundly evil. I believe it is Azrael.”
“But that damned angel was destroyed in the explosion.”
“Only his physical form was. He was there in the Great Manse pressing down upon my soul, mocking me until I imagined the angel statues were moving and staring at me. His shadow has wrapped itself around Schimrian and Pious and so I fear for my Sisters for that Satan is still amongst us.”
“I see. You know there was an alien device that was at the core of the Great Computer?” Camus ventured.
“Yes, I heard as much plus the fact it was possibly centuries old and that the Great Abbot found it in a cave in Heofland. He claims that the voice of God told him where to look but now…”
“You think Azrael was speaking to him,” Michael interrupted shrewdly, his eyes narrowing. “My Brothers speak of a veil lifted from their souls since the Light-Father came. They wrestle with their consciences but fear and faith keep them chained here but I fear that veil is descending again.”
“Yes. Azrael’s influence is returning. I can feel it.”
“Do you share my belief that this is why the Brothers and novices are suddenly harassing the Sisters?”
“It has to be,” she replied, pursing her lips in thought. “Ignatius told me that you believed this alien device came from a parallel universe some centuries ago. Schimrian’s own brother, Abbot Breostan, was the donor for the brain tissue needed to activate it. He used to abuse postulants and Sisters as the Brothers are doing now so this vile behaviour of theirs carries his stench.”
Camus ceased studying the ceiling artwork and turned to stare at her: “Many witnessed the power Azrael wielded in controlling the Tally-men and resurrecting the dead so I believe he was always inside that infernal device and whispered to the Conclave and the rest of us for hundreds of years. Wiping out so many of the Order proves that all he desires is the end of all sentience in this world but he can only work his full satanic craft if he takes physical form. That’s why he created that infernal machine in the Great Annex: to build him a body. We were fortunate, if you can call it that, in that we had no Tally-men in the Angel Compound as they were of no use…” He trailed off into an anguished silence.
“What ails you, Camus? You look dreadful. Are you still seeing the dead at night?”
He rolled up his sleeve to display the maze of shallow scratches on his forearm. “I see millions of them,” he groaned. “Millions! They including the tortured souls that the Wiccans forced me to shoot in the Compound. The dead have already gained corporeality enough to injure me thus. Since that infernal meeting, I see them swarming around me whenever I shut my eyes even for a second. They are in here with us now,” he said, closing his eyes and waving a hand at the parlour. “They’re frantic and begging us to find courage enough to rescue Ignatius who is to be executed tomorrow after Matins. They say he’s important and they also want me to find the Light-Father – they regard him as a fulcrum: someone with the power to turn the whole world onto a new course. He also has with him a child that they desire. She has the strangest of names: Surl.”
“Surl?” she gasped. “She was one of the young Scatterlings left behind when the Light-Father…” She clamped a hand to her mouth and looked away, fearing Camus would betray her.
“Don’t worry, Ondine,” he assured her, correctly guessing her concerns and doubts about him. “Now I am listening to them, the dead have told me how you helped Ignatius and his little saboteurs. Ignatius has not betrayed you despite the torture and neither will I. It’s obvious that these Scatterlings were Children of Exodus to be able to wreak such havoc across the Great Abbey.”
“Yes, the four of them were of Exodus but Ignatius found the mark of the craft upon Surl – she’s a seeress.”
“Really? A seeress? Like those Panchen Lamas?” he exclaimed, blinking in disbelief. “Ah, that explains why they were able to escape detection for so long even with your help.” He rubbed at his unshaven jaw, deep in thought then yawned. “The dead say she is vitally important for the future of mankind but they won’t tell me why or how. They also say they can’t move into the light as they don’t want their deaths to be in vain. They want to stop the Order and end this Satan that killed them all but they have no corporeal power. Perhaps this Surl can give them that?”
“She’s an extraordinary girl but her power of foresight may be what they’re referring to. It could be the salvation of us all. What’s this?” she exclaimed as death’s-head moth landed upon the back of her hand only to dissipate in a puff of dust. “Did you see that?”
“Peculiar,” he nodded. “It has to be an omen. Schimrian said he was plagued by them during his bout of madness. I expect without Azrael sustaining him, his sanity collapsed but now, as you fear, Azrael is recovering his strength. However, I wonder why Azrael allowed the dead to torment Michael and I all these years.”
“Maybe it simply amused him,” she suggested, shrugging her shoulders. “Or by focusing their collective will, the dead could target individual minds and break through his barriers to get inside your dreams. Perhaps Azrael couldn’t block out so many souls when they were focussed on just two targets.”
Camus slumped even deeper into his chair and drained his tea before replying: “Perhaps but to seek out the Light-Father will be hard for me given how many of my brethren I was forced to slay. They crowd around me venting their anger towards me but the others come and tear them away and threaten to cast them and me into the Pit. I have no strength left to resist them any more.”
“I understand,” she said sympathetically. “It may be that you and Michael were the only truly open minds in the Great Abbey but enough speculation about Azrael: how can I save my lambs?”
“It’s why I came to see you. The final straw breaking the donkey’s spine: as well as the incidents I’ve heard about, when I got back into the hangars, all the Brothers would talk of nothing else but copulating with Sisters, willing or otherwise, as their holy duty to repopulate the Gross Thousands. They would not listen to me or focus on the repairs. I found their voiced intents disturbing and, shall we say, extremely explicit.”
“Yes, we’re just the brainless broodmares of the Order,” she snarled, clenching a fist. “I utterly despise this cruel misogyny. In hindsight, I think I, too, must’ve had my mind lulled for decades by Azrael to so blindly accept the putrid elf-dust fed to me that my Sisters were taken in by the Order as an act of charity.”
Camus rubbed at his eyes and smiled guiltily. “It was always covertly accepted amongst the brethren that this would be so to maintain the holy number in our New Jerusalem for all our vows of chastity. This was why utmost respect for you and the Sisters as saviours was programmed into us as novices but now that respect is disintegrating at just a whisper or two from Azrael no doubt. They are slowly being consumed by lust and obsession: I predict they’ll storm this Enclave before sunrise tomorrow.”
“I fear this too, Camus. We must flee this place as soon as we can. New Jerusalem was but a myth that corrupted their souls yet it held their base desires in check. We had to be revered as chaste and sacred in order to preserve that fantasy but now that veneer has been stripped away from the beasts within.”
He mopped his brow with a cloth and stared at the fire. “The Gates of Hell are opening beneath our feet, Ondine, but I will listen to these siren voices beseeching me in my dreams. They hint at my salvation but I needs be careful: I told my Brothers I was coming here to ensure their evening meals would be on time and there would be some meat in the broth,” he smiled wryly.
“I’m sorry: that was the only excuse they’d accept in that frame of mind,” he continued after Ondine glared at him. “Theo and Edward are spying on me for Schimrian which, to me, along with Schimrian’s anger towards me, confirms that my life will shortly end if I remain trammelled here. He plans to lead the attack on the Light-Father tomorrow but,” he added brightly, raising a finger in emphasis. “I’ve also heard that three Angels have just defected from Bede and the rest may follow! Aten has been despatched to Bede to bring them into line but I’m hoping he’ll be too late.”
“Are there any other Brothers here who can resist these primal urges and flee the Order?” she asked him. “Ignatius didn’t think there were any worth approaching when we discussed saving my Sisters and as many postulants as we could.”
“Mmm, none that I can think of in the Great Abbey,” he replied sadly, drumming his fingers on the armrests. “Not even the ones newly arrived from Norton. Schimrian chose them for their loyalty to him and their blind devotion to his New Jerusalem.”
“Then Azrael did not need to do much for us to see their true faces then,” she sighed resignedly. “Ignatius told me how so many of them volunteered to spread the Virus.”
“The Conclave wants to return here and I suspect most of them will be of the same mind as Amherus but how many Brothers abroad will desert the Order, I cannot say. I promise you that I’ll save you and as many Sisters as I can but how can we free Ignatius? What condition has Pious left him in?”
“He’s weak and passes out before they can do any real damage from what I’ve seen when I took him some food on Schimrian’s orders. He wants me to watch as they butcher him tomorrow.”
“Ach, yet another reason I must leave this nightmare,” Camus snorted in disgust. “I’ve repaired and fuelled the surviving Angel. If we can get Ignatius into the Compound, we can escape by air.”
“What about my Sisters?” she snapped. “I will not leave them to be raped and molested like Persephone!”
“Persephone? In the refectory? Ah, no, such a sweet innocent!”
“Innocent no longer you mean! How can I save them all?” she demanded desperately. “They’ll not survive the night if the Enclave is attacked.”
There was a gentle tap on the door which opened when Ondine rang the small silver bell she kept on the table. Frances poked her head around the door: “I-if it p-pleases you, Abbess, Eminence, there are thirty-three of us here. Sister Freya and Sister Geraldine cannot get poor Sister Persephone to stop scrubbing herself. They fear for her, Abbess: she’s howling like a banshee.”
“She needs sedating,” Camus said decisively, reaching into a pocket in his overalls and extracting a small bottle of white pills. “Make her take two of these and bring her here. Don’t look so worried, Sister: they’re just sedatives. I use them to give me a few hours of sweet oblivion every night and they’ll do the same for her. Come, Sister, don’t be shy. Take them!”
“Sister Frances!” Ondine ordered curtly. “Tell the Sisters to wait in the corridor and do as His Eminence bids you but only give her two, do you understand? Two!”
“Y-yes, two, Abbess. I understand,” Frances whispered as she crept across to Camus and gingerly took the bottle of pills from his hands. “Thank you, Eminence,” she said, bowing deeply and left, once more shutting the door behind her and cutting off the querulous, frightened babble of the Sisters in the corridor.
Camus wearily massaged the back of his neck. “Ach, by the Holy Trinity, it’s clear that Michael and I are nothing more than a conduit for the dead but I’ll lose my sanity if they don’t let me rest for just a few hours.”
Ondine stood up with her arms outstretched: “Enough, dear hearts!” she said sternly. “Leave him be for now. You’ve won: he hears you at long last; he will do as you bid as will I. If you must burden him then burden me also for I share his mortal sins!”
A look of horror formed on Camus’s haggard face and he reached out a hand to stop her. “Wait, Ondine, you don’t know what you’re doing! You’re opening the Gates of Death!”
She shrugged and turned to look down upon him. “I cannot sense them for all that I sensed the evil in Schimrian’s chambers. Aieee!” she screeched suddenly and clutched at her chest, struggling for breath. “I see them! I see them! The dead are before me.” She pressed her hands to her ears and whimpered: “I cannot shut out so many voices. So much hate.” She crumpled to her knees. “How can you and Michael endure this?”
“Please,” Camus begged the invisible horde swirling about the parlour. “You must not press upon us so otherwise we cannot serve your desires! She’s a sensitive! In the name of God, you’re killing her! Let her go and let us save Ignatius and her Sisters! Let us find the Light-Father and this Surl-child for you!”
She was struggling to breathe as he helped her to her feet. “They’ve gone for now,” he assured her. “I think it’s only because we’re communicating with them instead of trying to block them out with drugs and alcohol as I’ve done for six years.”
“So many furious souls,” she shuddered, grasping his arms for support. “They want revenge upon the Order but they fear Azrael above all else yet they are determined to do battle with him. How they can do that, I know not, but we must help them!”
“Indeed but what else did you learn?”
“They’ve been doing this to the Brothers in Bede and elsewhere all across the globe. They say they’re trying to weaken Azrael’s influence but they say Azrael is shielding the Conclave as he needs them to ensure his resurrection.” She drew a deep breath before sitting down to drinking the rest of her now-tepid tea. “There’s one more thing,” she whispered, wide-eyed. “Something terrible.”
“What could possibly be more terrible than four billion dead?”
“They call Azrael a Soul-Eater. They fear that if he extinguishes all sentient life from the face of the Earth then it will be as if mankind and even the Earth itself had never existed! He will absorb the souls of the dead and move on to other worlds until all of Creation is destroyed and the last star is snuffed out.”
“By the souls of thirteen apostles, agnostic philosophers often posited, to much scepticism, that reality exists because of sentience and vice versa. In other words, they saw observation as an act of creation. To think they may have been right all along!”
“I can’t understand it any of it,” she sighed, placing her hands on her cheeks. “For fear of insanity, my mind recoils from accepting that we’re less than insects in the Scheme of Things.”
He sat down and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Whether or not all this is true, we insects must focus on the tasks in hand: the only way we can get three dozen Sisters out is through the overflow tunnel under Ignatius’s tower. It leads to the River Elver to the south and we can strike west along its banks until we reach the forest. Is Ignatius guarded? Where are Pious and his Inquisitors?” He paused as a fusillade of shots echoed and re-echoed about the Great Abbey complex. “Ah, they’re training the postulants and novices how to use rifles by the sound of it. Do you have keys to the corridors? Since the Light-Father’s attack they’ve taken to keeping them locked.”
“Of course we do,” she replied, displaying ten large brass keys on a rusty metal ring. “We feed the prisoners, remember?” She selected one. “This opens the corridor door below Schimrian’s chambers. Given that Azrael’s presence is in those chambers, will you be able to withstand his spiritual pressure?”
“Possibly,” he grimaced. “An entity like Azrael must be able to read minds as the Wiccans do so I can only conclude that the dead have always shielded me and pray they will do so again.”
“You need to go now,” she urged. “Schimrian is setting aside several hours to torture Ignatius personally. Find an excuse to go to the Manse and free him. Take him along the south side of the Abbot’s lodges and south along the Eastern Cloisters as the Tally-men don’t patrol there. Go to the Chaste Gate at the east of the Enclave which I’ll leave unlocked for you. We’ll meet you in the main kitchen under the pretence of finishing the midday meals. There’s a door to the main sewer which leads to the overflow tunnel.”
“Ah, that’s a good strategy. We’ll meet there at First Bell. That should give me enough time to get Ignatius to the kitchens.”
“He’s barely able to walk as they’ve torn out the poor man’s toenails and several teeth,” she warned him. “But they haven’t broken any bones or damaged his eyes. Be mindful as you do this, Camus, that Ignatius will not survive the day.”
“I know. Gather bundles of food and flasks of water and as many torches as you can find,” he advised her. “But you cannot flee in habits. You’ll have to wear trousers and jackets under your habits in case anyone enters the Enclave then shed them as we flee. Can you organise this?”
“Of course I can!” she replied haughtily. “This Manse houses the seamstress rooms and the laundry on the ground floor so there are novice and postulate clothes aplenty that will suffice.”
“Excellent. Remember to take some kitchen knives,” he told her, brandishing the small handgun he kept in an inside pocket. “This will not be enough to protect us but I can’t return to my lodgings to get any of my other weapons without drawing the attention of my watchers. I won’t have time to sabotage the Abbey Angel either – I pray we won’t regret that.”
He wanted to tell her about the Norton survivors and the packs of wolves and Erdethric hybrids sweeping south but he knew that the Sisters would be too terrified to leave if they learned of them. It was truly the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea but he reasoned that they stood a far better chance of survival out there than they would at the mercy of the Brothers at the Great Abbey.
“We have no choice, Camus,” she insisted, echoing his thoughts. “I couldn’t bear it if he died after all that’s happened to this world of ours.”
“Neither would I,” he assured her, listening carefully to the crackle of small arms fire. “It sounds like everyone bar those in the communications rooms and generator room are in the library gardens – it’s the only open space large enough for target practice.” He made a face. “I’m sorry but it means we can’t rescue the postulants as you and Ignatius desired. We’ll have to pray that God will protect them.”
“I understand but my Sisters are in far greater peril than the postulants.” She took his hands in hers. “May God protect you!” she said impulsively.
“It’s about time He protected someone,” he replied.
(c) 2019 Paul D E Mitchell – Copyright Protected.