UKArchive ID: 36642mitch
Originally published on June 20, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 20 of the Light-Father. The Order attack the Keep but Harold begins to really see what the Scatterlings can do but it does not go well until... Attached is my sketch of Mother Fern.
Father Bucheort gazed up at the ruined façade of the Druid Hotel with a peeling painting of a sickle-wielding druid on its name-board. “A fitting end for something honouring pagans,” he noted piously as the Tally-men lined up before him. Unlike the four Brothers who wore the shortened field-robes of their rank, he had on a white hooded coat that matched the length and cut of those of the Tally-men. “Well, Brother Teal, what of this weather, eh?”
Brother Teal was a small, dark-haired, wiry man bearing four faints scars to his cheeks – the result of his unspoken penchant for raping those awaiting Redemption. He studied the blood-red sun rising above the haunted roofs of Crawcester and cursed the coarse fabrics of his robes as it was already stiflingly hot in the forecourt of the hotel. “It’s a blessing, Father,” he declared neutrally. “I haven’t felt the sun on my face for quite some time.”
“Ah, perhaps you’d prefer another Inquisition into the African continent?” Father Bucheort laughed, enjoying the look of horror on the Brother’s face. “Fear not, my son,” he relented. “It will not be for some time so report upon our Tally-men. I’ve awarded you the rare honour of controlling them today, have I not?”
Teal displayed the complex device strapped to his forearm. “I’m honoured, Father, given that Brothers are not usually trusted with such devices. I’ve checked the barracks computer logs and I regret to report that the Tally-men malfunction regularly in that rail-yard especially that young one at the end of the line there. The rest of their patrol logs are normal so the barracks computer did not deem the anomaly important enough to alert the Great Abbey.”
“Ah-hah!” Bucheort exclaimed, walking up to David to stare into his dull and empty eyes. “How can a soulless automaton like you malfunction in just one place, hmm? Moreover, the Great-Abbot himself was bewitched into leaving this very yard by the Mother he was Inquiring of. This is becoming most intriguing. See how our once-shrouded sun rises into a sky of Virgin blue? Surely He blesses us this day, Brothers!” He spread his powerful arms wide to greet the dawn. “It is in Thy Name, O Merciful God that we set forth upon our Inquisition!”
“Amen!” the Brothers responded in unison.
A stout blond-haired Brother raised a hand. “Excuse me, Father,” he said respectfully. “This is but a brief respite. The Great Abbey reports that great storms already gather to the south and the edges of the rain-band to the north are unstable…”
Bucheort raised a hand to silence the Brother. “Yes, yes, I know this window will quickly close, Brother Mearkin,” he said irritably. “God has granted us this brief respite in which to achieve what Great-Abbot Schimrian could not therefore let us rejoice and repay His blessing! Have you your weapons ready, Brothers?”
“Yes, Father, all checked and operational,” they replied in unison. They laid their spears upon the ground to present their dart-rifles and plasma grenades for inspection.
Bucheort made the sign of the cross over each Brother and blessed them. “Brother Teal, Brother Mearkin, Brother Beale - you three are my prime Aides Inquisitor and now we have Brother Kai amongst our ranks,” he smiled, placing a powerful hand upon the young man’s shoulder. “Recommended by Great-Abbot Schimrian himself, Brother Kai is doubly fortunate in that he may be facing Wiccans and their dark arts on very his first Inquisition!”
“You’ll be fine,” the tall and athletic Brother Beale assured Kai, handing him his spear. “We have counters to all their arcane arts, do we not, Father Bucheort?”
Bucheort had a machine-gun on a strap over his shoulder and a device resembling a large blunderbuss on a strap over the other. “The begiuller is our most effective device,” he smiled. “It emits a high-frequency scream that renders any user of the craft senseless but those of us blessed by God are immune. We used it on a coven of Mothers in Iberia last year, did we not, Brother Teal?”
Teal grinned, displaying two gold teeth. “That we did, Father – and what a pleasure it was to Inquire of them.”
“Did they attack you with magic?” Kai asked nervously. “Brother Simon says they can melt the flesh from your bones.”
“Ah, I’ve heard that Brother Simon whispers much into foolish ears,” Beale said nastily. “Right now he’s Inquiring in the Venetian Enclave - whilst learning how to glow in the dark.”
Kai fell silent as the other Brothers laughed raucously. Simon had humiliated him but he could not find it in his heart to feel any pleasure over such a punishment. He started as Bucheort clamped a hand upon his shoulder again only this time the grip was extremely painful and carried an unspoken warning. “No time to daydream, Brother Kai,” he said gruffly. “The Inquisition is at hand!”
“Why aren’t we taking the half-track?”
Bucheort looked at Kai disdainfully. “If it was raining heavily, my son, we would as we cannot fully insulate the Guides upon the Tally-men and the control-unit Brother Teal bears but on a rare day like this, we shall use our God-given limbs and walk.”
“Brother Kai, it would be like an oven in there once the sun was on it,” Mearkin explained as they followed Bucheort onto Druid’s Lane with the Tally-men bringing up the rear.
Kai studied Mearkin’s round face intently and was not fooled for a second - the eyes belied the kindly features; being two lethal pools of duty to both Order and Revelation. “Why aren’t we allowed to carry guns like the Fathers?” he asked nervously.
“Oh, abroad we do,” Mearkin grinned. “But not in the environs of the Great Abbey. It’s all down to politics, my son - the Abbots feel that we lowly Brothers cannot be trusted with automatic weapons so only the Fathers in Britannia are allowed to carry them. I would do the same in their shoes – it only takes one hothead with a gun to covet the Great-Abbot’s throne and plunge the Order into chaos and deny us our prize; our New Jerusalem.”
“I see,” Kai said as they strode along. “This road makes me uneasy,” he added, indicating the decaying houses on both sides of the long straight road. “It feels like there’s someone or some thing watching us from the windows.”
“Many Brothers say the same,” Mearkin sneered. “They feel a misplaced sense of guilt because so many Unworthy souls perished. Do you harbour such foolish notions?” he asked sharply.
Kai gazed into those merciless eyes and forced down the scream of terror and revulsion rising in his throat. He smiled tightly. “Nothing of the sort – I am merely apprehensive that I might not live up to the Great-Abbot’s faith in me.”
Mearkin clapped him heartily on the back. “That’s the spirit, my boy,” he approved. “A man that doubts not his valour and his worth is a fool unworthy of both life and God!”
The heat was almost unbearable by the time that they reached Crawcester Road and the great iron boundary wall of the rail-yard. Bucheort called a halt after spotting something amongst the ivy and the weeds growing through the pavements. “What have we here?” he muttered, picking up a slender object. “This is a crossbow bolt that shows no signs of rust to the shaft. So Mother Moss was hiding the Unworthy in there, Brothers! That short access road before the gates is an ambush risk so I’ll cover you and the Tally-men. You’ll find a long office building in front of you – line up at the western end of the building and keep alert.”
Bucheort raised his machine-gun and kept it trained on the top of the imposing iron walls as they marched though the gates with their spears at the ready. “Ha! I bet you’d like a gun in your hands right about now, Brother Kai,” Mearkin teased.
“Yes,” Kai admitted nervously as they entered the yard. “A spear is no defence against a bullet or an arrow. If we’re up against a coven of Mothers and their Unworthy followers, why did Great-Abbot Schimrian send only one Father to lead us?”
“Resources,” Mearkin shrugged as Bucheort stepped backwards through the gates, keeping his machine-gun pointed at the tops of the walls. “It’s a large world out there that we must Inquire of thoroughly before our New Jerusalem can become a reality. Even thousands of Fathers, tens of thousands of Brothers and hundreds of thousands of Tally-men cannot be everywhere. There are only two Abbots and a dozen Fathers at the Great Abbey, as you know.”
“And but two hundred Brothers,” Kai agreed. “We can barely service the Great Computer and maintain the buildings.”
They arrayed themselves anxiously alongside the manager’s office in the brilliant and broiling sunshine but Bucheort was in a good mood as he joined them. “It’s a huge place and there seems to be nothing here,” he grinned. “But that’s exactly what the Great-Abbot was bewitched to believe!” He knelt down to pick up a small, ragged sheet of metal from the tarmac. “This is the precise location of the anomaly detected by the Great Computer. Observe these scorch-marks about us and the lettering on this.”
Teal peered at it closely. “It’s Romanic rather than Runic – Co-keh? What in Peter’s name is Co-keh? There are dozens of these fragments everywhere… including this curious one,” he declared, holding it up. “See where the metal is fused into the brick?”
“I think I recognise this device,” Beale said, poking at the ruined spectrometer with his foot. “It uses light shone through a sample to determine it’s chemical composition but again the lettering on the casing is Romanic and look at this, Father,” he said, bending down to indicate areas of gleaming brass. “A large section has been sliced off leaving no saw or burn marks in the exposed metal!”
“I’m sure the Great-Abbot would have noticed this curious debris,” Bucheort said, getting to his feet. “Therefore these must have appeared at the time the anomaly was detected. Now where did the Tally-men malfunction, Brother Teal?”
Teal consulted a screen map on the device strapped to his wrist. “The malfunctions took place on the rail tracks in front of those three railway wagons over there.”
“Then they must be the very wagons that the Great-Abbot described to me. He was bewitched to lay the head of Mother Moss in that very spot and forget about doing so.”
“That would mean these witches wield great power even after death!” Kai blurted out fearfully but then he reddened after a withering glare from Bucheort and a sly chuckle from Beale.
“What else would you expect of a creature that’s sold its soul to the Devil, Brother Kai?” Bucheort snapped. “Think it through, my son! Look about you – the yard is empty and if a full coven were here, would we not be under attack right now?”
“As we were in Spain, Brother Kai,” Beale said, clenching a fist. “Ferals and beasts uncounted attacked us but we slaughtered them without mercy as we fought our way into the convent where the Mothers were at bay. Drenched in blood, Father Bucheort led us into the convent church where we fought the Devil’s harlots with our begiullers and our plasma grenades…”
“…it was our most glorious Inquisition, Brother Kai,” Mearkin concluded proudly. “Worry not - there are no Mothers here!”
“So it would seem, Brothers, but we fight the Great Deceiver and His servants,” Bucheort warned, indicating the three wagons. “Look at how the gate touches that rightmost wagon when there should be a buffer at the end of that siding. Look to the left - why is there a large lorry trailer driven up against the leftmost wagon? Because we have a concealed fort before us, Brother Kai!”
“Do you think there may be some Children of Exodus in there, Father?” Beale asked thoughtfully.
“We’ve lost more than the normal number of Tally-men in Crawcester these past six years and some of the computer logs indicated clashes with Ferals.”
“The Great Abbey merely assumed that their attackers were all Ferals,” Bucheort explained, shielding his eyes as he studied the wagons. “Hmm, there appears to be barbed wire between the wagons and underneath them. If it wasn’t all Ferals, as I suspect, then we are about to flush out the last Children of Exodus.”
“We need to capture them for study,” Beale pointed out. “Our medical experts will need to examine them.”
Bucheort was silent for a moment then readied his begiuller. “There is no need to capture them,” he said disdainfully. “These creatures are an affront to God that we have a calling to exterminate, Brother Beale - never forget that! Take up formation behind me. Brother Teal, have our Tally-men follow us in a line and get them to watch the rooftops for snipers.”
“As you wish,” Teal grinned, tapping at the keys of the control unit. The Tally-men began scanning the nearby buildings and roofs, their heads turning as regular as radar.
“If anything comes at us from behind, they get it first,” Beale remarked to Kai. “That’s what they’re designed for.”
“And try not to soil your field-robes,” Mearkin added.
Bucheort raised his hand when they reached the rails of the first siding and they halted behind him. “Deceptive, isn’t it?” he sneered then he pressed the trigger of the begiuller.
Kai felt that something vile was squirming against his inner ear but he heard no sound as the muzzle of the device swept back and forth across all three wagons. Suddenly there was a piercing scream of mortal agony from the central wagon.
“Ah-hah!” Bucheort crowed, shouldering the begiuller. “It seems we do have a Mother or a Daughter in there after all!”
They started as the wagon-door was slid briskly to one side to reveal a portly middle-aged man in overalls wearing a peculiar red cap. He was clutching a large oriental sword in one hand but he seemed quite unperturbed. “Can I help you, gentlemen?” he said amiably. “You appear to be trespassing on private property.”
To Kai’s surprise, Bucheort was taken aback. “A mature adult survivor of Revelation?” he gasped in wonder. “I have only come across nine in all my years as Father-Inquisitor.” He aimed his machine-gun and released the safety-catch. “I know not who you are but I deem you Unworthy of our New Jerusalem!”
And with that he opened fire.
The stranger dived out of sight as Bucheort calmly raked the wagons from end to end, pausing only to reload. The noise was deafening; splinters of wood flew everywhere and bullets drew sparks from the metal in the barricades. Finally the gun jammed and he threw it to the ground in disgust. “The Devil won’t deny me!” he growled. “Brother Teal, prepare a grenade!”
“This is a disappointing Inquisition, Father,” Teal grumbled as he drew out a plasma grenade and primed it. “I had hoped we would meet some resistance to ease the boredom.”
There was a strange whistling sound and a faint thud. “Ah, I think you might be pleasantly surprised in that regard, my son,” Bucheort grunted, slowly dropping to his knees. “I appear to have taken a crossbow bolt in my abdomen.”
Teal quickly assisted Bucheort into a sitting position and handed him the begiuller. “Father, can you keep this trained on the witch in there while I throw this grenade?”
“Yes, I can,” Bucheort gasped, raising the begiuller and aiming it at the doorway. “Now throw the thing!”
Teal hurled the plasma-grenade with all his might but the instant he let fly, something flashed past him and Bucheort cried out. The Brothers watched in astonishment as the grenade veered upwards at the last moment to sail over the boundary wall into Crawcester Road where it exploded harmlessly.
Mearkin and Beale pointed their dart-rifles at the doorway followed by Kai. “The Father’s hit again!” Beale cried out. “Get the begiuller or she’ll throw the next one back at us!”
Teal turned to find Bucheort tugging at a crossbow bolt that had pierced his left hand and forced him to drop the begiuller. “Father, we must withdraw immediately!” he urged.
“No! Send the Tally-men in to give you cover,” Bucheort snarled. “Then use this begiuller and a grenade together.”
“But that’ll kill the Tally-men!” Teal protested.
“Do it! They’re expendable!”
Teal tapped a command and the Tally-men advanced towards the wagon doorway in a line with their spears at the ready. He went to grab the begiuller but another crossbow bolt slammed into it, sending it skittering away from him. He lunged for it again only to scream in agony as a bolt slammed into his left thigh, spinning him around. A belt pouch of dart-clips had taken the brunt of the impact but the tip had still penetrated deep into his flesh. “You’ll pay for that, witch!” he bellowed, shaking his fist at the doorway.
As he yanked the bolt out, one of the Tally-men gave a rasping cough then crashed forward onto the rails with two arrows through his neck. Two more received bolts and arrows to their bodies but Teal had switched off their pain receptors so they kept stepping forward implacably until they’d reached the open doorway.
Saul, Ibrahim and Harold leapt over the barricade across the doorway to confront them and they halted in confusion unsure of how to deal with so many armed opponents. Teal cursed as David retreated unscathed from the fight, clutching at his head despite repeated commands being entered into the control unit.
Beale assisted Bucheort to his feet as a Tally-man received an axe-blow to the skull after losing a hand to Saul’s blade. Fria and Amos joined in and the remaining three Tally-men began to retreat in confusion, unable to deal with the rapid strikes from their more numerous and far more agile opponents.
“Those pups fight well,” Bucheort observed wryly, clutching at his abdomen with his right hand. “I need to order reinforcements. Brothers, kill the children but take that man alive! The Great-Abbot will want to know if he is linked to that anomaly - he thinks it represents an omen of some sort.”
“First you try to kill him then you want us to take him alive,” Beale chided, aiming his dart-rifle. “You can be most inconsistent at times, Father. Ah, I have him!”
“Why are you hesitating? Dart him!” Bucheort demanded then his jaw dropped as he saw the fatal arrow shaft protruding from Beale’s right eye. As Beale fell backwards, Teal, Mearkin and Kai dropped to one knee to offer smaller targets and began firing repeatedly at the melee in front of the wagons and into the doorway - but none of their darts were striking home.
Teal turned to Bucheort. “Father, the Wiccan bitch is deflecting the darts into the ground,” he reported in exasperation. “We can’t hit them. We need to withdraw!”
“Brother Mearkin, get the begiuller!” Bucheort ordered as a second Tally-man crashed to the ground – Harold had dodged the spear and much to his surprise, had successfully driven his sword upward under his opponent’s sternum and killed him.
Mearkin ran across to pick up the begiuller but it kept sliding away from his outstretched hand. “This is witchcraft!” he exclaimed. He turned to Bucheort and tried to speak but he could not utter a sound as a bolt was now embedded in his throat. He clawed at it in vain with blood spurting from his mouth before collapsing in his death throes alongside the fallen Beale.
“Brother Teal, get those two Tally-men to cover our retreat!” Bucheort yelled, staggering towards the gates. “You have your wish, my son – we’re withdrawing!”
Teal quickly tapped a command into the control unit then hurled his remaining plasma-grenade over the heads of the Tally-men but again it landed in Crawcester Road. “I’d love to know how she does that,” he seethed through clenched teeth.
“Retreat in good order!” Bucheort commanded angrily, having reached the gates. “Forget the grenades and keep the two automata between you and the enemy! Can you get this defective one to assist me, Brother Teal?” he gasped. “I’m losing blood.”
Teal entered more commands and David supported the Father-Inquisitor and half-dragged him at a quick pace towards Crawcester Road. “We’ll hold them, Father!” Teal pledged as he fired his dart-rifle at Saul, Fria, Harold, Amos and Ibrahim who were advancing through the gates but again the darts ploughed harmlessly into the tarmac. “Where are you, witch?” he yelled angrily at the enclosing iron walls “Show yourself!”
Ibrahim suddenly outflanked the two Tally-men and charged at Kai who desperately lunged with his spear only to have it knocked aside with an axe-head before a rock-hard fist slammed into the side of his head rendering him senseless.
Teal tried to gore Ibrahim with his spear but something struck him between his shoulder blades and knocked him to the ground. He rolled over and nimbly got to his feet to find Bas hissing at him. “By Saint John,” he gasped on seeing her ears and tail. “You’re no Feral! What the hell are y…?” He never got to finish the question as she shot forward at unbelievable speed, rising up under his spear tip to thrust a dagger between his ribs and into his heart.
The two Tally-men fought like demons. One whirled the tip of his spear around in full circles, raking Harold across the chest leaving a long shallow cut. Fria ran in from behind and plunged both knives into his back but he did not flinch and would have impaled her had not Bas knocked her out of harm’s way.
Shield appeared on the wall above them and sent a bolt into the Tally-man behind his collar-bone. “They’re immune to pain!” she cried down at them. “That was my last bolt! Keep at them!”
As one Tally-man engaged Saul and Ibrahim, Amos darted in from the left to strike at a knee but the Tally-man switched the spear to his other hand and delivered a back-handed blow that sent him flying, the hammer slipping from his grasp. He landed on his back to find the spear-tip aimed at his chest but the Tally-man sank to his knees instead after Surl had hamstrung him with several swings of her razor-sharp machete. As the crippled Tally-man tried again to thrust at Amos, Ibrahim delivered the coup de grace, almost severing the head from the body.
Amos looked at the dead Tally-man in amazement and then at Surl who threw herself into his arms, knocking him back onto the tarmac with an incredulous grin upon his face.
“You both did well,” Ibrahim approved as Fria, Bas and Harold tackled the remaining Tally-man. “You are finally a brother and sister worthy of each other!”
Distracted by his three foes, the Tally-man never saw the axe and sword that struck him down from behind. He sank to his knees and looked with mild puzzlement upon Fria as she thrust both her knives into his chest. He slowly crumpled to the ground with a strange gasp that sounded uncannily like a sigh of relief.
“What about that Father?” Harold demanded as he inspected his wound. “He got away while we were fighting!”
Saul ran out onto the road but Bucheort and David were nowhere to be seen. “He’s made it into Druid’s Lane!” he called back. “For someone with two bolts in him, he moves fast!”
“I think we should follow him,” Harold decided, brandishing his bloodied sword. “Otherwise he’ll call for reinforcements.”
“No, they may have only been a scouting party,” Saul pointed out as he rejoined them. “If we charge up there without scouting ahead ourselves, we’ll be slaughtered. Besides, they will soon attack us in force now that they know where the Keep is.”
“What about this one, Light-Father?” Ibrahim said, indicating the unconscious Kai. “Shall I kill him?”
“No!” Harold said angrily. “Whatever the Order has done, you cannot be like them. There’s an old saying in my world: when fighting monsters, be wary lest you become a monster.”
“Very profound,” Ibrahim observed dryly. “So what shall we do with him? I doubt he’ll be any use to us as a hostage.”
Fria leant over Kai and studied his face intently. “I know him, Light-Father!” she gasped. “He was the postulant who saved my life in the hospital!”
Fierce joined her and her eyes widened in amazement. “Shield, you have got to come here and see this! It’s the boy we saw in the old man’s photograph!”
“One coincidence after another,” Saul observed, shaking his head in disbelief. “And one miracle after another! After Shield betrayed our position we should have all been killed yet their darts, bullets and grenades kept missing us…”
Harold glanced up at Shield who pleaded with him silently not to say anything. “I can’t explain it either, Saul,” he shrugged. “But you’re right: the Order will attack us at any moment so we have to get the Phoenix ready but if anyone needs a miracle right now, it’s Mouse - she won’t last the night otherwise.”
“Blessed Mary, save us!” Saul gasped, staring over Harold’s shoulder. “The reason why their darts and grenades went awry, Light-Father, is standing right behind you!”
Harold felt the hair rise up on the back of his neck so he slowly turned around only to stand there speechless as Mother Fern placed a hand gently upon his cheek. “This is no dream,” she said.
“I am very disappointed,” Schimrian said bluntly. “What could possibly have clouded your judgement so, I wonder?”
Bucheort stared at the screen as he adjusted the bandage on his left hand. “I prostrate myself,” he said irritably. “I did not expect such resistance, Eminence. Send someone to get this bolt out of my guts and let me finish my Inquisition.”
“Even though you saw no witches,” Schimrian continued. “Mothers were obviously present and this man that you met may be an omen of evil. Therefore, I am sending two Angels to destroy this little fort of theirs before they can flee Redemption.”
“Excellent,” Bucheort approved. “If you could send me medical aid and some stout Brothers, I can support the attack.”
“A team cannot possibly reach you before these storms break,” Schimrian said sadly. “However, the Great Computer is currently rerouting a medical program into that Tally-man next to you. It will deal with your injuries and your abject failure....”
“Failure, Eminence?” Bucheort protested, paling as he noticed a red glow forming in David’s pupils. “You’ve known me since the first Conclave! I have never failed you...” He gasped in agony and horror as the spear tip was driven deep into his intestines.
“The Conclave has served its purpose well but, alas, your sins have rendered you Unworthy, old friend.”
Bucheort reached out his right hand imploringly towards that smiling face but in vain as the screen went blank. For three hours, not a single curtain twitched as his screams echoed and re-echoed the length of Druid’s Lane.
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012-13
Archived comments for Chapter 20: First Battle
Mikeverdi on 22-06-2016
Chapter 20: First Battle
Another chapter to relish Mitch, I'm so enjoying this story. Is it your drawing? She looks so young, I had pictured older.
I should have guessed as everyone else is young.
Thanks, Mike. A lot of people are reading it (but not commenting) after I promote it mercilessly on Facebook but this site version is dwindling. My drawing is how I visualised Fern who is about 27 but finds the grubby technician fascinating but Mothers don't get out much as they tend to get burnt at the stake. Mitch