Chapter 30: Revelations
Chapter 30 of the City of Gargoyles: Second Book in the Light-Father Trilogy
At the Great Abbey, Schimrian sits shrouded by the disembodied Will of Azrael as he berates Pious and his Inquisitors whilst in Uppermost, Fern and Harold battle desperately to save the life of Shield after her first attempt at astral projection trapped her soul in the body of a drowning Sister…
Pious stood silently before Schimrian’s desk flanked by the stony-faced Father Dreorman and the diminutive, effeminate form of Brother Brodiglede. It was obvious the Great-Abbot had availed himself of several brandies as a ruddy glow suffused his high-boned cheeks but, nevertheless, his eyes were as cold as ice. Brodiglede swallowed nervously as he thought he could sense another presence superimposing itself upon Schimrian’s physical form. He’d glanced up at the ribbed ceiling on entering the chambers only to find every carved angel’s face was now a demonic mask of hatred glaring down at him.
He had to shake his head as he thought it was a trick of the restored electric lighting but a second glance confirmed that the desecration of the angels was real. He felt as though the nervous perspiration trickling down his spine was solidifying into a glacier as Schimrian finally spoke, his left hand resting upon a revolver. A drawn sword was also laid upon the desk before him.
“What happened out there, old friend?” Schimrian demanded of Pious. “Father Leored reported to me that you’ve aroused the carnal desires of our novices and younger Brothers against our beloved Sisters! Sister Persephone was assaulted and raped! This is an insult to every tenet of the Order!” Spittle flew from his lips. “Then I find the Redemption Cell empty and Camus missing! I have also heard via our restored communications systems that the Sisters’ Enclave has been barricaded shut! Can you enlighten me as to these events? Yes?”
Pious gazed up at the ceiling for several seconds as if listening to a radio before returning his attention to the Great-Abbot. “We must restore our Holy Number, Eminence,” he said, his voice evoking sensations of a graveyard breeze. “Forgive me if I inflamed our virtuous brethren by reminding them of the sole purpose of our Sisters in that endeavour. I personally went to console Sister Persephone as soon as the training was concluded but, as you’ve heard; the gates to the Enclave were locked and barred as were the doors to the Abbess Manse and the kitchens. I’ve ordered Fathers Theo and Edward to lead a search of the Enclave but they have not found any trace of Camus, the Abbess, Ignatius or the Sisters.”
“This is not what I want to hear. Why did you send Father Dreorman through the North Gate to empty our reservoir?”
Pious sighed patiently, the sound uncannily reminiscent of handfuls of dried leaves being crushed and rubbed together. “Forgive me for acting precipitously, Eminence, but given the damage caused out by those saboteurs, I assumed Camus and Ignatius and whoever else is with them would resort to further treachery so the simplest solution was to flush the kack from beneath out feet before they could strike at us.”
“Why wasn’t Ignatius guarded?” Schimrian seethed. “I gave specific instructions that he be guarded at all times!”
“It was Father Leored’s domain but in his defence, you also specifically instructed us to train every single novice and Brother, Eminence,” Pious retorted. “And in that regard, we have succeeded. The Brothers and novices appear to be free of doubt and fear for the first time in my experience. They are of calmer mien now but they thirst for revenge against this Light-Father tomorrow.”
“So along with the kack, you’ve also flushed away the Abbess and all the surviving Sisters! How is that master-stroke supposed to populate our New Jerusalem, hmmm?”
“We haven’t finished searching the Enclave yet,” Father Dreorman nervously explained. “We may find the Sisters hiding in the Manse. Of course, we must find a way to protect them from the excess of passion stirring amongst our Brethren. We could house them within our Redemption Cells, Eminence, to be guarded by the most mentally, um, disciplined of us.”
“Pray that they are unharmed, my son,” Schimrian snarled making the bearded Dreorman pale visibly. “Or you will personally retrieve their bodies from the sewers and inhume them.”
“I p-pray that I will not need to do that, Eminence,” Dreorman stammered, sweating profusely. He too became acutely conscious of the disfigured angels above his head. “I am sure we’ll find them safe and sound… apart from poor Sister Persephone, of course.”
“Of course,” Schimrian said icily. He steepled his fingers briefly than laid both hands upon the blade of his sword. “I order the three of you to dissuade our brethren from any such lusts and desires in future until such a time as I deem appropriate when I shall arrange with the Abbess that such affairs are conducted with due respect for her lambs. Do I make myself clear, my sons?”
“Yes, Eminence,” they chorused, bowing their heads.
“Good. Now please update me as to Bede. Has Abbott Aten and his two Brothers bolstered their wavering hearts?”
“Aye, Eminence,” Dreorman responded quickly. “However, he regrets that twelve Brothers have deserted to the Southern Cities in three Angels after callously slaying nine of their brethren. All of Bede’s Tally-men were confined to their barracks and he found secure cells with ten completely deranged Brothers confined within them. He has five Angels and twenty Brethren at his disposal and has already flown a sortie to the Queen of Babylons as Brother Cwellor sobered up the drunken Brothers and novices. He found two intact Angels in the park at the centre of Uppermost. He saw Ursaf and several other Brothers with the Light-Father alongside them. He surveyed Milverburg, Eminence, and reports the dock-gates are closed and the entrance tunnels completely barricaded.”
“Traitors all!” Schimrian hissed, shaking his fist. “Why did he not open fire upon treacherous Ursaf and his new master?”
“He perceived the influence of Wiccans in his mind and did not want to be bewitched into crashing the rotorcraft so he withdrew. They believe the two Angels Camus sent to Wealthorpe were shot down by Ursaf’s two rotorcraft and their crews lost to us.”
Schimrian massaged his eyes. “Please, God, give me strength to endure this calumny! If only we could have saved my beloved Azrael from that Unworthy brat! They have taken Azrael and our New Jerusalem from us, my sons but we’ll have revenge on this foul creature that calls himself Light-Father! We leave at Five Bells tomorrow so what news of the arrangements, hmm? Will these Erdethric hybrids be a problem, my sons?”
Pious nodded at Dreorman who answered: “No, Eminence. Even though half our Norton brethren were overwhelmed en route and Burslen Abbey attacked, Father Hvretsope at Wealthorpe reports no sign of them along the northern shores of the Milverbore but he is fortifying the hamlet in case they come at him in the night. He has begiullers and he found that they are effective at keeping them at bay. He claims that he and all thirty Brothers-Martial are looking forward to commencing your Great Inquisition tomorrow.”
“Ah, finally I have some good news to assuage the doubts and turmoil within my heart. What of the other causeways?”
“A half-track with two of our Brothers-Martial has already been sent towing a field-artillery unit to Cwiclasc and another to Drytenham. Wyehold lost a Father-Martial and fifteen Brothers-Martial at Wealthorpe but they’ve still mustered two Fathers-Martial and thirty Brothers-Martial in Cwiclasc. They also have one Father-Martial and twenty Brothers-Martial at Drytenham but they’ve added another twenty armed novices and Brothers-Technician to reinforce their numbers there.”
Pious tore his dead eyes away from the ceiling. “I believe we should send all our Angels in half an hour before midday to see if we can destroy Ursaf’s machines on the ground before ferrying our Brothers-Martial into Uppermost. We’ll have our Wyehold brethren feint along their viaducts just before midday whilst we four lead the main thrust from Wealthorpe after destroying the barricade in mouth of that Pagan entrance. Is this satisfactory, Eminence?”
“Yes, I endorse this plan,” Schimrian said, pursing his lips. “But I will be taking Compline this evening so please ensure everybody is there! My sermon will be focused upon the sins of carnal desire so I expect three of you to be in the front pew!”
They bowed without reply and turned to leave after Schimrian waved a hand in dismissal. As Dreorman reached the door, the Great-Abbott called after him: “As I said, my son, if no Sister is found alive, you will spend the night searching the sewers.”
Dreorman’s shoulders sagged as a sudden and murderous rage burned in his heart at this unnecessary humiliation: “As you wish, Eminence.” He glanced up at the angels to find their expressions were now ones of sadistic mirth and he retreated from the chambers quickly, his heart hammering wildly in his chest.
He found Pious waiting for him in the corridor.
“Azrael is with him, my son, yet he knows it not,” Pious said, with an ironic half-smile. “He’s sustained by the spirit of our archangel as am I although I cannot fathom the craft of it.”
Dreorman collected his thoughts quickly as his natural sadistic demeanour returned. He grinned maliciously: “Yes, I was aware of his presence in the chambers as are so many Brothers and novices yet I crave this Inquisition, Eminence. I wish to prove myself to you, to the Great-Abbott and to Azrael who watches over us. I care not what the weak-minded Brothers say; our New Jerusalem shall be built upon the bones and ashes of the Unworthy.”
Pious placed a hand upon the shoulder of his most trusted Inquisitor causing Dreorman’s knees to buckle briefly. He wheezed in two lungfuls of air to speak in a voice as desiccating as a Saharan simoom: “Then your heart beats for the two of us, my son.”
Fern knelt next to Shield as she sat upon the grass spewing endless gushes of water that erupted like fountains from her mouth. Fern placed her hands upon her temples and chanted repeatedly in a forgotten tongue which grated upon the ears: “klew mewe workomendw gentisc: adsoro kwu tu askornane!”
“Where the hell is all that water coming from?” Harold cried, placing his hands on top of his head in impotent despair.
Shield arched her back briefly, gazing sightlessly up at the blue sky then she coughed up the last of the water from her lungs and slumped backwards. Fern laid her gently down upon the long, coarse grass and repeated the chant making Harold’s skin crawl as he felt as if his brain wanted to leave his skull via his eye sockets. He knelt down by the unmoving, unresponsive Shield and took her pulse. There was none. “Ah! Damn it all to hell, Fern, why’d you let her do this? She’s had no training!” he snapped, pressing the palms of his hands down upon Shield’s sternum and pumping hard.
“The Wiccan soul goes where it wills,” Fern said helplessly. “If only Mother Rosemary was still alive: she could have saved her! I’m sorry, Harold: she’s already passed beyond the Gates of Death. I can’t bring her back as we did with Mouse!”
Harold uttered a searing profanity before inflating Shield’s lungs and after what seemed like an eternity of pumping, she gasped and drew a great shuddering breath and blinked her eyes. She sat up, clutching at him and shaking violently. “I was drawn to them for a reason, Light-Father!” she cried out. “I was drawn to them as flood water hurled them down a tunnel and into the River Elver!”
She released Harold to grip Fern by her forearms: “We have to rescue them, Mother Fern! They’re being washed up on an island in the river but some of the Sisters have drowned! That’s all I know. I feel so peculiar; like I’m not fully back in my body!”
“That will pass, dear heart,” Fern assured her as Harold and Ursaf hovered nearby. “Harold,” she insisted, looking up at him. “We need to take the Angels to that island and rescue them.”
“If we can,” Harold replied coolly, still fuming at her for giving up so easily on Shield. “I want to save them too but we’ll have the Bede Angels to contend with.”
“They could still die here,” Ursaf pointed out. “They may have a better chance of surviving there than we do here.” He flinched as Fern stood up to glare at him and brandish her staff. “I can sense Thanewell and the others returning from Brigstowe. The three of us will come with you in case you’re intercepted by Aten. I know you’ll have to fly far to the south to avoid detection by Bede and I know that will use up your precious aviation fuel but we will not abandon refugees from the Great Abbey.”
Ursaf shaded his eyes and gazed to the southwest. “Yes, you’re right: here they come now. I’m sure Thanewell will want to rescue the Sisters anyway. He’s related to the Abbess, apparently.”
“How many survivors did you see, Shield?” Harold asked her.
Shield looked up at him. “At least thirty Sisters and four men I think, Light-Father. I can’t be sure as this is the first time I’ve ever done this. It was chaos: I was in one mind and then another and then another as they were fighting the current to get to the island. This is how Mother Moss described astral projection to me but I never thought it would be this strange and this dangerous.” She shuddered, pressing her face into her hands. “I was drawn to a Sister as she was drowning so I felt I was drowning with her yet I was here as well. It was horrendous! All her life memories flashed before my eyes and I experienced her fear as all the Brothers turned on them this morning. They were like animals; pawing at them, groping them and one Sister was gang-raped.”
Ursaf made a wry face at the news: “Thirty-four altogether. Each Angel can carry ten people so it shouldn’t be a problem,” he ventured thoughtfully. “It sounds as though they were flushed out of the main sewer overflow tunnel leading south underneath the Angel Compound. I know this island downstream where the Elver divides: there’s a large house with lawns upon it so we should be able to land there if they’re not too overgrown.” He paused to look down at Shield: “If what you far-saw in that poor Sister’s mind is true then no wonder they were forced to flee. Dear Lord, the evil festering there is beyond belief… beyond mere words…” he trailed off, shaking his head slowly in bewilderment.
“I sensed Azrael at the Great Abbey, Mother Fern. I think he was aware of me but he was unable to stop me.”
“Ivy weakened him somehow,” Fern explained, glancing at Harold with a deep sadness: she did not need to read his thoughts to know how displeased he was with her – no more than she was with herself: “Did you see anything else along the River Elver? Were there any Brothers on the banks of the river?”
“No but I saw wolves on the north bank and I saw some strange Ferals with them,” Shield said, closing her eyes and searching her mind for those images now fading as fast as a dream at daybreak. “They were shrouded in this… this shadow. There’s nothing in their hearts but a desire to kill every living thing by fang and claw. They’re Azrael’s creatures, I’m sure of it. I saw deer, foxes and hogs torn to pieces in the woods behind them. I saw…”
Harold raised a hand to silence her as Thanewell’s Angels clattered above them and made ready to land. “That’s enough, Shield,” he shouted as rotor downdrafts whipped the long grasses this way and that and tore the heads from the wild flowers about them. “I promise you we’ll save them from those creatures.”
As Ursaf and Spero guided the three Angels in to land, her expression became somewhat hysterical and she gripped his hands: “I far-saw, Light-Father, I did it! I astral-projected! I really am a Wiccan! I really do have the craft!”
“That’s wonderful,” Harold said, straining to be heard above the noise of the Angels. “But it almost killed you! Remember that! I have no idea how all that water got into your lungs so we need to work out how that happened before you try it again. I can’t advise you but even a thick technician like me knows that being inside the mind of a dying person is an incredibly bad idea.”
They watched the Angels land and Ursaf, Piamadet, Spero and Marcus greeting Thanewell and his eleven companions with open arms. Harold smiled at the vigorous camaraderie and back-slapping that was going on: his little army was growing quickly! He turned to see Fern staring at him intently. “How did you bring her back, Light-Father?” she demanded. “I could not sense her essence on this side of the Gates of Death! How did you do it?”
“Seriously?” he demanded incredulously. “You don’t have CPR in this world? You’re kidding me! It’s a basic technique to keep a heart attack victim alive until the ambulance crews arrive!”
Fern looked deeply puzzled and pronounced the acronym with difficulty: “Ch-pr-rurr? What is that?”
“Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation,” he explained patiently, hoping that it translated well. “The compressions pump blood through the heart and oxygen into the brain. Usually, a young drowning victim like Shield will recover quickly even though her heart had stopped. Honestly? You Wiccans have never heard of this?”
Ursaf had approached to report and overheard them. “You can’t blame her for thinking Shield was dead, Light-Father; the Order kept most of its medical knowledge and techniques from them and the rest of the world. One whole Tribe of us were surgeons of the finest calibre so we created a medical monopoly and held entire governments to ransom. That’s how we grew so powerful.”
“Well, thank you for that, Ursaf,” Harold smiled coldly. “It just makes it even harder for me to forgive you all.”
“That’s your prerogative,” Ursaf sighed heavily. “I know it’s not my place but I think you owe her an apology.”
Harold turned to Fern and thought that if looks could kill, he’d be a pile of soot right now then a little voice chimed in: she’s a Wiccan so it’s not an idiom in her case! “I’m sorry I was angry,” he began lamely. “I thought you’d given up on her too soon.”
She turned from him pointedly and uttered a single “Hmph!” making his heart sink as that was the exact sound of his marriage breaking up after the death of little Naomi. Cot death syndrome: such an impersonal sanitising label for something that is utterly devastating to any parent. His hands clenched until the knuckles were white and he shuddered, remembered vividly how his wife picked up their daughter who had such a gorgeous smile upon her face only she was cold and lifeless. Andrea kept turning from him and uttering that sound again and again until he could bear no more and left the house never to see or hear from her again.
Fern twitched as she detected his thoughts but she still had her back to him so he was a loss as to what more he could say until he heard a chuckle from Shield who was still seated on the ground. “I’m so grateful you saved me again, Light-Father, but she’s not really angry with you,” she grinned. “It’s just that she can’t cope with the fact a lowly normal human like you could bring me back through the Gates of Death when she, a mighty Wiccan, could not. What was that phrase you used last week?” she wondered aloud, placing a finger to her cheek. “Yes, that’s it; she’s definitely up her own backside at the moment.”
Ursaf laughed out loud then apologised as Fern stiffened but remained silent, facing away from them. “I’m sorry,” he said carefully. “I’ll go and see to the refuelling and re-arming the chain guns. It should take only fifteen minutes at the most.”
“It’s a pity you can’t attack Bede on the way,” Harold said.
“It is but I made sure that there’s a working radar system there so they would all be in the air ten minutes before we reached them. The hills to the south create a radar shadow so they can’t see any low-flying rotorcraft. Will you be coming with us?”
“No, I need to stay here brief Thanewell’s men, introduce them to the others and get them oriented as to what we plan to do. We really need their help in making more pipe-bombs.”
“Good!” Fern said icily.
Ursaf shot Harold a time-honoured look of sympathy. “They’re all good technicians so they should pick up quickly enough,” he said aloud. “They may even add some refinements as they hate the arrogance of the Brothers-Martial. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll help to get these rotorcraft ready for your rescue mission.”
As Ursaf’s and Thanewell’s men bustled about Angels, Harold felt isolated in that tableau beneath the hot westering sun with Shield, still too weak to get to her feet and Fern still standing resolutely with her back to him. Shield closed her eyes and concentrated. She gave a sudden small yip of pain and opened her eyes with a sheepish look upon her face.
Fern whirled around and glared down upon her, her face white with indignant fury. “Daughters,” she said imperiously. “Do not invade the minds of Mothers! Know your place, child!”
“Child?” Shield retorted sharply. “What happened to ‘dear heart’? You, Ivy and Nightshade read people’s minds all the time without their permission, even ours!”
Harold thought to himself: ‘Ha, she has you there. You read my thoughts like dipping into a sweet jar whenever it suits you.’ He was rewarded by another ferocious glare. ’I love you but then you already know that,’ he added for good measure.
Shield gazed up at Fern defiantly: “The main reason she’s like this is because of what happened to your Naomi, Father. She’s been trying to tell you for days but she’s afraid to stir up more of those painful memories because she loves you and besides, you were too busy brooding in your tower or the docks weren’t you?”
“Tell me what?” Harold demanded, perplexed.
“By Saint Peter’s teeth, Father, you can be really slow in the pate sometimes! She’s pregnant!”
“Sweet Lord Jesus, I’ve failed them!” Ondine wept inconsolably. “Six lost to the river because they knew not how to swim!”
Camus stared upstream and shaded his eyes from the late afternoon sun. “Some were knocked out by others landing on them in the water so it cannot be your fault,” he assured her. “Opening the reservoir sluices has got to be the work of Pious but on the plus side, there’s no pursuit along the northern bank,” he added with some relief. “They’ll concentrate on Milverburg and the Light-Father which gives us until the day after tomorrow to find somewhere to hide. Hmm, this is odd: I don’t feel Azrael’s presence any more. Do you?”
Ondine chewed at her lower lip as she searched the river waters without hope for her lost charges. “No,” she murmured distantly. “Now we are out of the Great Abbey, it’s like a cloud has been lifted from my soul. He almost had me in the kitchen; I wasn’t conscious of picking that knife up and, oh, how I wanted to be free of the burden placed upon me!”
The Sisters were sat upon the mud and gravel of the shoreline and bewailing the dead now drifting towards the Elver Estuary that opened out into the Drowned Lands to the east. Poor Persephone was lying in a patch of river sediment making mud angels like a child and cooing: “Blue sky! Pretty sky! Blue sky! Pretty sky!”
Camus looked at her and felt that his heart would break. Nobody deserved what she’d been subjected to and he silently vowed, unknowingly echoing Ondine’s conviction, that nobody else on this desolate planet would suffer the same fate. “You’d best get her out of that slime and clean her up,” he suggested. “If I remember rightly, this island was privately owned by a large banking family, the Fitzgeran Clan. With any luck, their mansion has survived so let’s see if we can find somewhere to regroup and dry our clothes.”
It was arduous getting the Sisters moving through the trees that covered most of the island especially as the Sisters would not go near Camus, Cyrus or Luke although they tolerated Ignatius as he was looking exceptionally haggard. Sister Geraldine actually leant him a shoulder for support as Persephone skipped on ahead.
They emerged onto a huge lawn that looked as though it had just been mown due to the goats they saw grazing upon it. The ivy-clad mansion was so imposing with its three stories and countless windows that they all fell silent as they approached it. Camus and Ondine climbed the steps and opened the main front door which swung inwards on oiled hinges. They looked at each other in astonishment: somewhere, deep within in the spacious cobwebbed interior, they could hear children singing.