UKArchive ID: 36731Chapter 27: Christ Mass by mitch
Originally published on July 18, 2016 in Fiction

Chapter 27 of the Light-Father: The six Scatterlings survive in a Crawcester shop but at Christ Mass, an Order patrol drags them into the street leaving them at the mercy of the sadistic Father Alban. As Alban tries to strike Sheild again, something unexpected happens....

Fierce yawned, almost dislocating her jaw. “Sorry, Light-Father, I feel like I need to sleep now,” she mumbled. She turned away from him in her makeshift bed and closed her eyes. “I promise I’ll tell you the rest of the story in the morning.”

“Hey, we may have to make a run for it tomorrow,” Harold protested as the office was lit up again by over thirty brilliant lightning flashes in rapid succession. “Besides, you can’t leave a story hanging like that. How did Shield stop Amos from braining her with his sledgehammer?”

His plea fell on deaf ears - the exhausted girl was already fast asleep with her arms wrapped around her Honey Bear.

“I can tell you,” Amos said from the doorway. He came in and sat down on the floor, placing Mjolnir and his knives next to him. “Mother Fern thinks it’s important and so do Fria and Rebecca.” He put a hand to his forehead in frustration. “God’s teeth! I start to call her Rebecca and now she wants to be called Surl again.”

Harold sat up in bed to look him in the eye. “Don’t worry - Surl is not that bad a name,” he said, rocking a hand from side to side. “I’m not happy with it either but it’s her choice and before you ask, I am not going to call you Scar.”

“That’s all right, Light-Father,” Amos smiled. “I’m over that nonsense - I know I’m no saga hero so I guess I’ll have to respect my sister’s wishes for once. I can see her point though - she hardly remembers her life as Rebecca and like Mouse and her sisters, she’s grown used to the name I gave her. At least that way, I won’t ever forget what a monster I was then and how I tried to kill Shield before I knew that she was a Child of Exodus.”

“Then finish the story,” Harold prompted as Fern stood by the doorway to eavesdrop. “You were leaping down from the wall intent on harming her - then what happened?”


He brought the hammer down as he landed but the girl was older, taller and ready for him and he was off-balance from the jump. She used the shield on her left forearm to deflect the blow away at a shallow angle so that the momentum exposed his left flank. Using the torque from the blow, she pivoted and brought the guard on her right forearm down on his head just above his ear. It wasn’t a hard blow but it made him stumble away from her, spitting curses.

He saw Fria leap down to help him with her knives drawn but she was immediately confronted by Mouse and Fierce. She was older than they were but they had the longer reach with their weapons and they worked in tandem to block her attacks.

He slipped on the wet flagstones but he quickly recovered his footing and readied his sledgehammer - only to find a crossbow primed and aimed at a spot between his eyes. He glanced sideways to find Fria with her back against the opposite wall, glaring at the two girls as she desperately parried their thrusts. “You’re useless, Fria,” he snarled contemptuously. “I’m fighting on!”

“Don’t be so stupid, Amos!” Fria said angrily as Fierce almost gutted her with her sword. “They’ll kill us unless we surrender. Look at them – they’re children like us.”

He saw the deadly resolve in Shield’s eyes and knew that she would not hesitate to shoot him so he slowly lowered his weapon and curled his lip in disgust. “Pah! If I had a real fighter with me,” he said defiantly. “I’d have taken you all out.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Amos,” Shield retorted bluntly.

“We yield,” Fria said, sheathing her long knives. She pushed aside Mouse’s spear tip. “Enough - we’re the same as you.”

Amos said nothing but turned his face to reveal the livid scar. “That’s who I am and I just killed a Tally-man!”

“We’ve killed one Tally-man, one Brother and a Father,” Fierce boasted proudly. “So we’re two ahead of you! I’m Fierce, this is Mouse and our big sister with the crossbow is Shield.”

Amos was about to retort when his sister screamed and a strange high-pitched chattering noise could be heard on the other side of the wall. “Rats!” he cried in anguish. “We saw three big ones just now so they must be back in force. They’ll eat her alive!”

He tried charging the door to no avail as he’d piled up wooden posts and planks to barricade it. “Quick,” he begged Shield. “Give me a boost over the wall. I have to save her!”

Shield turned and almost hurled Fierce up the wall. “She’s lighter,” she explained as he protested. “And she’s the best of us at killing rats. Get the door open first,” she commanded as Fierce dropped from sight. The wood was pulled away and she and Amos entered to find her already tackling a horde of rats with surgical jabs of her sword. Surl was curled up in a far corner of the paved yard with twenty of the largest rodents closing in for the kill.

“When did they get so big?” Shield gasped in awe as she drew her knives. “Jesus, protect us - they’re the size of cats.”

It took them over ten minutes of grisly work to clear the yard as not a single rodent turned to flee. Shield sensed that Amos cared little for his sister’s feelings so she gently picked her up and held her in her arms. The back door wouldn’t open so she turned to him. “Why is it locked?” she asked curtly.

“We’ve tried several other shops but there was no food in them. I was about to break in here when we heard you in the lane.”

“Well break in now – a rotor-craft is coming!”

He swung Mjolnir with all his might and the shattered remains of the lock bounced off the opposite wall as the door swung open. “How come you’re giving me orders?” he muttered sourly as they entered. “We’ve been fine on our own apart from my surly sister sulking and Fria the Fainter collapsing everywhere.”

“That’s cruel,” Fria snapped. “I’ve only fainted twice and I helped you save your sister in that house and again just now.”

“And four times you’ve both nearly got us all killed!”

“That’s enough!” Shield said forcefully, baring her teeth. “Stop bickering and let’s see what we can find in this place! Keep your knives to hand and kill any rats you come across. When we’re done, we’ll have to get rid of the dead rats in the yard.”

The back door opened onto a kitchen which was large and well-furnished as it serviced both the food shop at the front and the family accommodation upstairs. The floor was heavily fouled with dog faeces and rat-droppings but as the chairs were clean, Shield sat down at the table to sit Surl on her lap and cradled her until her trembling subsided. “What’s her name, Amos?”

“I’m not Amos!” he said angrily. “I want this to be my name,” he snapped, jabbing a finger at his ruined cheek. He felt a powerful resentment building up inside him and launched into their story and how they’d been fleeing from house to house ever since leaving the safety of the store. “My sister won’t smile for me because I couldn’t protect our parents and our brother and sister yet I’ve saved her lots of times and looked after her. She’s my surly little sister so Surl is what her name is!”

Fierce looked up at him with her hand on the hilt of her sword. “And you’re the jackal’s ass!” she spat at him. “Look at the state of her yet all you can think about is yourself!”

He dug a thumb into his chest. “I’ve had to fight Tally-men three times to save us since leaving the store and only in the last house was Fria of any use! She fainted in the road last week and a Tally-man almost had her but he didn’t see me coming and bam! I hit him over the head when he bent down to k…”

He halted as Fierce’s sword pricked at his throat. “I don’t like you very much,” she said icily. “I’d like you to shut up now about Fria and your sister or I might just kill you.”

His eyes bulged and it was plain that he was thinking about reaching for his sledgehammer on the table but thought better of it. “Pah! Girls always stick together,” he said sarcastically. “You wipe their snotty noses then while I go and see what we can use in the store.” He turned on his heel and stormed off leaving Fria sitting on a chair in the corner with her hands covering her face; weeping as all the months of fear and misery came to the surface.

Mouse, as empathic as ever, wrapped her arms around her and squeezed the older girl as tightly as she could. “Don’t cry, Fria,” she begged. “He’s just a big smelly turd!”

Shield gave the wide-eyed Surl a hug until she closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. “You’ve had rats, Tally-men and a grumpy brother all in one day, dear heart. No wonder you’re upset. I don’t want to call you Surl so what is your real name?”

“Rebecca,” Fria said, wiping at her tears with a blood and rain-soaked sleeve. “He said she was called Rebecca but he’s been cruel to her ever since I met him in the store. He looks after her but he makes her feel like a burden so she doesn’t talk much.”

“Surl,” the little girl said. “I’m Surly Surly Surl Surl.”

“Shhh,” Shield soothed, stroking Surl’s matted curls. Her eyes widened in alarm as she held up a fistful of bright red hair. “Are you feeling well, Rebecca?” she asked, deeply concerned. “All your lovely hair is falling out in clumps.”

Surl buried her face into Shield’s chest and sobbed anew. “Surly Surl doesn’t care,” she whimpered. “Useless Surly Surl!”

“That’s enough! Your brother is going through a bad time too but he will be nicer to you,” Shield said gently.

The girls watched in morbid fascination as every time Shield passed a hand through Surl’s hair, more and more locks fell out until the quivering child was completely bald.

“Poor thing,” Shield sighed. “Mum said this can happen when someone is so badly scared it affects their whole body.”

“Mouse?” Fria said. “Can you let go, please? I can’t breathe and I don’t like having my knives out of reach. She called me Fria of the Long Knives so I always have them by me.”

“Huh? Who did?” Mouse asked as she released her.

“This old woman at the hospital who took my friend away from me,” Fria said distantly as she took out a rag to clean the blood off her precious blades. “She told me that some of the children who survived the plague were turned into something called Ferals by the virus. My friend, Bethwin, turned into one right in front of my eyes and Amos and Surl saw another one in the garden at their grandparents’ house – they’re not human.”

“Yes, we saw one that she named Ruff-ruff,” Amos said gruffly as he came back into the kitchen. “Because he did look like a dog.” His face fell when he saw his sister and the heaps of hair. “What in Odin’s name have you done to her?” he demanded, pointing an accusing finger at Shield. “Did you just shave her head?”

“No, I think it’s the result of a severe shock,” Shield explained patiently. “And not just because of what’s happened to her today. Have you been shouting at her or abusing her?”

“No!” he said angrily. “I only shout at her when she won’t keep up with us. She’s still too young to understand the danger. When you’re being chased by a large man with a spear and sparks shooting out of his head, you don’t have time to stop and think: ‘oh, I’d better not raise my voice or I might upset her.’”

“You shout at us all the time,” Fria added bitterly. “No wonder she’s ended up losing her hair - she’s still an infant.”

“And you can shut up too,” he snarled, baring his teeth.

“Why did that old woman say I had to meet up with a complete bull-pat like you?” she demanded angrily.

Shield turned on him and a dark fury arose in her heart. “You said you were going to see if there was anything useful in this store, Amos,” she said icily, her eyes boring into his.

Amos looked confused and rubbed at the bridge of his nose but he could not tear his eyes away from hers. “Um, yes,” he said uncertainly. “I think… yes, I’ll go and see if there’s anything useful. This is a shop but there are no fresh rat or dog droppings here now. Perhaps we should clear it all up if we’re going to hide here for a while – it’s as good a place as any, I suppose.”

“Is there food here?” Shield demanded, still glaring at him.

“Yes, it was a food shop,” he replied dazedly. He was trying to stay angry but it was as though his thoughts and feelings were not his own. “But it sold lot of cleaning things as well,” he added. “I’ll use them to clean the kitchen and the dining room next door.”

“Yes, you do that,” Shield said dismissively, still cradling Surl who wept silently as she stared down at the red hair in her lap. “Don’t worry, Rebecca, it’ll grow back. I’m sure it will.”

“Surl bad so surly Surl bald now.”

Amos exhaled noisily in exasperation and left the kitchen. Fria followed him, curious to know how he’d been so thoroughly subdued - by a girl of all things.

“Surl. Surl. Surl. Surl,” the little girl murmured, shaking her head. She refused to answer to Rebecca after that and rarely smiled or spoke again despite the best efforts of Mouse and Fria. Worse still, Amos continued to ignore her despite the pleadings of Fria and Mouse and blood-curdling threats from Fierce.

The weeks passed slowly as they settled down into an uneasy truce and a routine of sorts. Shield and Amos would take them all foraging at night but on two occasions, Fria had passed out and nearly got them captured so she was made to stay in the shop and protect Surl and Mouse. Fierce was left behind most nights and Fria knew that she’d been instructed to protect her.

Amos also found it frustrating as the Order would patrol the streets randomly and force them to hide for hours at a time. He longed to attack them even though he knew it would be suicide but Shield always managed to hold him back at the last moment. However, by Christ Mass, the Tally-men were patrolling without any Brothers or Fathers and had settled into steady predictable routes and times that made them much easier to avoid.

On the morning of Christ Mass, Amos and Shield were on the topmost floor of a large department store. A patrol wasn’t due for another two hours but Amos was nervous and kept checking the stairwells as Shield selected clothes, toys and jewellery as Feast presents for the girls. “Shield!” he hissed suddenly, raising his sledge-hammer. “There are dozens of them coming!”

He hid to one side and the first Tally-man through the stairwell door received Mjolnir full in the face. The spear of the second Tally-man just missed his ear as it was thrust over the collapsing body of the first. He felt the blood singing in his veins as he saw the face of the Father who’d thrown him into the kitchen like so much garbage. As he raised his sledgehammer to strike, a bolt whipped past his ear and smashed through the Guide upon the forehead of the Tally-man. It emitted sparks then the Tally-man convulsed and tumbled to his doom down the steep stairs.

“He was mine!” Amos shouted in a blind fury only to receive a hard ringing slap across the back of his head.

“You’re such a silly child,” Shield chided as she barged past him to retrieve the bolt and check the stairs. “He had that strange gun in his left hand pointed directly at you – you would never have hit him. Now where are the others? Two is not dozens.”

“Yes but they usually patrol in fives,” he said sulkily.

The first Tally-man groaned, clutching at his smashed face as blood seeped between his fingers. Amos raised the sledge-hammer above him with his hatred distorting his face into a demonic mask. As he swung down, Shield caught the shaft with both hands and stopped the blow from connecting. “What are you doing?” he screamed at her. “They showed my family no mercy at all so why should I show them any mercy? You killed the other one so where was the mercy in that? What makes you think you’re better than me?”

“I killed that one to save you,” she said angrily, wiping the blood off her bolt. “You were going to kill him for mindless revenge - not to save me. Murdering a defenceless enemy makes you no better than the Fathers and Brothers or do you want to be like them?” she said, pointing down at the Tally-man as he groaned and writhed upon the floor.

“If I have to be,” he said defiantly. “Why let him live? Won’t he just come after us again once he’s recovered?”

Shield peered cautiously down the stairwell again but it was clear. She knelt down next to the groaning, helpless Tally-man and studied the Guide wires leading down the back of his neck into the power pack and control unit beneath the coat. “Perhaps I should just set him free?” she suggested. She tore the wires from the Guides and the control unit bolted into his spine but instead of recovering, the Tally-man went into a massive seizure; his limbs thrashed and bloody foam erupted from his mouth. They watched, mesmerised, for the full two minutes it took him to die.

“Ah, that’s good to know,” Amos said with grim satisfaction. “Just rip out the wires and enjoy the show.”

Shield looked at him in disgust. “Let’s go,” she said curtly.

“Hey, don’t take it out on me,” he protested, waving his sledgehammer at her. “You’re the one who said ‘ooh, let’s look for presents and decorations for the little ones to open at the Christ Mass Feast.’ There was hardly anything left in these stores after the floods ruined the lower floors so why are we here?”

Shield glowered at him in mute frustration then stormed off to strap on her rucksack and look out through the front window. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw three black half-tracks parked in the rainswept street below and a Father tapping at a strange device strapped to his wrist.

Suddenly, he looked up at them and shouted a command. The rears doors of a half-track were flung open then two Brothers and five Tally-men jumped out and raced towards the store entrance. “We have to get up onto the roof!” she cried out in alarm. “Quick! Let’s get back to the stairwell!”

Moments later, they crashed though the fire-exit doors at the very top of the stairwell. They were dreadfully exposed upon the flat roof of the store and there were black rotor-craft hovering in the distance as lightning flickered amongst the brooding clouds.

She looked over the rear parapet and saw the metal fire-exit staircase at the rear of the neighbouring office building. “No, there’s no way down from this building!” she cried out in despair. “We’ll have to jump across to that one!”

“But that gap is impossible,” he said, wide-eyed with fear.

“Then stay and wait for the Tally-men,” she said callously. She checked the straps of her rucksack and crossbow and closed the lid of her quiver. She took three deep breaths then, clutching a bolt in her right hand, she took a running jump and leapt the wide gap with ease. It took several aborted runs and a spear clattering across the roof behind him before he could summon up the courage to follow her lead - and he hated her for it.

After several narrow escapes in the maze of streets and alleys to the south of the main shopping centre, they made it back to the lane behind their shop and clambered over the wall to find Fria and Fierce practicing knife-fighting in the yard. Mouse welcomed them with open arms but the other two barely noticed them as they were circling each other in the rain with a determined look upon their faces. Shield noted the new dents on their arm-guards, the bloodied scratches on their arms and their feet splashing through the puddles on the paving-stones as they searched for openings.

“Ah, this is excellent,” Amos approved as he dropped down. “They’re finally getting serious about their training.” He was almost knocked down by the rucksack Shield tossed at him. “What in God’s teeth are you doing?” he spluttered indignantly.

“You and Mouse take that inside and begin preparing,” Shield commanded. “You two, that’s enough – the Order are searching the shopping centre for survivors. They almost had us and their rotor-craft are heading this way. Can’t you hear them?”

Fierce sheathed her knives. “Surl was getting hysterical about you. She said she could ‘see’ two Tally-men were after you but I told her they wouldn’t be able to stop you, Shield.”

“Huh?” Amos sneered. “How could she possibly know that?”

“She might have the gift of second sight,” Mouse said proudly, twirling her spear around her body. “Well, she might be a seer, Amos,” she added defiantly as he glared at her.

“If you want me to call you Mouse then call me Scar,” he said angrily. “I won’t tell you again, Ethelind.”

Shield shoved him roughly through the door. “And I won’t let you bully your sister or mine, Amos,” she snarled.

Once more he turned on her and clenched his fists as a terrible rage burned in his heart but silhouetted in the doorframe against the dim grey light outside, he saw strange sparks glittering in her pupils and he flinched instinctively away from her. “Just what in Styx are you, Shield?” he whispered fearfully.

“A big sister to Mouse, Fierce and Surl,” she said flatly. “And to you – whether you like it or not.”

“You’ll never replace Sara!”

“Why should I even try?” Shield sighed. “Everyone, wash your wet clothes then set them to dry in front of the heater. Surl? Oh, where is she? Is she upstairs again?” Leaving them all to get changed and dried, she went in search of the pale, withdrawn child and found her huddled up and trembling inside a wardrobe. “What are you doing here? Come and see what your brother and I have for you. We’re going to have a real Christ Mass Feast.”

Surl choked but after several attempts, the words rushed out in a torrent: “Fathers and Brothers looking for us. Be here soon. Hurt us! Kill us! But she might stop them. Make clouds bleed.”

“Shhh, calm down, they’re searching the centre,” Shield assured her as she prised her gently out of the cupboard. “We took care of two of them and we made sure we weren’t followed so forget about them for now. Come and help the others put up decorations while I make you all some lovely Christ Mass food.”

She carried Surl downstairs to be cajoled and bustled by the excited Mouse into decorating the dining room and the table. Shield made them a chicken broth and there was fruit cake, sausages in brine, chocolates, lemonade and bowls of tinned fruit. She checked that the curtains were fully drawn and risked six candles as night fell and by midnight even Amos had relaxed enough to join in a few carols and hymns such as ‘Road to Bethlehem’, ‘Prayer in a Manger’ and ‘The Star-Guided Sages.’

Surl had grown increasingly anxious as the evening wore on despite the games and toys that Shield had brought back with her. Amos was abrupt with her several times until Fria snapped and threatened him with a knife then in the dreadful stillness after her outburst they heard a scrape outside the window and another from the shop front. Shield realised that she’d made a terrible blunder – although the Tally-men rarely patrolled in the dark, the same could not be said for the Brothers! She quickly extinguished the candles and crouched down in the pitch-black but her heart fell as she saw torchlight flickering though small rents in the curtains.

It was an eternity before there was a sharp tap at the window that popped out some of the glass to allow a small gas canister to be pushed through. It gushed out foul smoky fumes and as they coughed and retched helplessly with their eyes streaming, the shop front door and the back door were kicked in and dark shapes wearing face masks rushed into their refuge.

They were disarmed roughly, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were dragged through the front door and into the road to be inspected by a white-haired Father who held a whip in one hand. There were powerful lights mounted upon the rear of the half-track that cast long shadows away from them as the rain lashed down. “Well, Brother Elham, what a nest of Unworthy spawn we have here!” he crowed, using the handle of the whip to force up Sheild’s chin to stare into her face. “Such a pretty one too. These must be the ones who killed the Tally-men and murdered Father Icarius and Brother Bartholomew. It’s an impressive achievement for immature, genetically inferior specimens like these.”

“Are you going to cut our throats then,” Shield spat. “Like the heroes you are – going around murdering children!”

“No, dear child,” Alban smiled, his hair plastered to his face. “We don’t murder children – we merely Redeem the Unworthy. We simply allow God and the Devil to take their due.”

“Pious and Michael want these ones, Father,” Elham reminded him. “They want them alive for study and dissection.”

“Pious! Ach, our new Abbot is such a Feast-phantom,” Alban snorted contemptuously, pushing the sodden hair out of his eyes. “Damn this rain! Will it never end? Thank the Lord I’m Inquiring in Italy next month. Still,” he added, licking his sensuous lips and taking several steps back to uncoil the whip. “Alive is such a broad term. These vermin have put us to considerable trouble these past few months. Load the Tally-men into the half-tracks while I teach this little bitch-spawn of Satan some manners.”

The whip cracked across Shield’s thigh but she refused to cry out drawing a nod of approval from the depraved cleric. The others watched helplessly as Shield was hit again and again and bit her lip as she slowly sank to her knees, bleeding from several expertly-inflicted cuts. The other half-tracks drove off, leaving Elham and another Brother waiting impatiently as Alban circled his prey.

“Leave her alone, you rat turd,” Amos hissed earning a deep cut on his unscarred cheek for his impertinence.

“I’m going to kill you,” Fierce promised but she too cried out in agony as Alban laughed and went about his sport.

“Come on, Father!” Elham urged impatiently. “The Abbots will rip our hearts out if we keep them waiting.”

“Or if you damage the specimens too much,” the other Brother muttered nervously. “Pious made it plain what he’d do to us if we ever disobeyed the Great-Abbot’s orders.”

“Hah! Why should Pious have all the pleasure of scourging the Unworthy?” Alban cackled, pointing at Shield who was glaring at him with absolute loathing and hatred in her eyes. “This one is strong - I want to see her begging for mercy before we leave. That way we’ll have no nonsense from them on the journey back.”

Amos surged forward as Alban readied his whip for a more brutal assault on Shield only to have Elham pull him to the ground by the rope attached to his bonds. Alban cackled with sadistic glee as he struck at Shield but his arm was halted in mid-strike. He turned to find the end of the whip being held by an elderly woman who was dressed in a black long-sleeved smock and breeches with a white hemp belt at her waist from which hung knee-length black loin cloths. Even without her staff, Alban knew he was facing one of the Mothers - the Order’s most ancient enemy.

“A man of God taking pleasure from torturing children!” she admonished in a strident voice. “Do you, vile creature, wish to repent any of your many sins before you depart this Earth?”

“Go! Get the begiullers!” Alban roared at the Brothers. “Tally-men! Get out here and take down this foul witch!”

“They will aid thee naught,” the old woman warned as she effortlessly resisted Alban’s attempts to free his whip.

“We shall see, whore of Satan,” Alban sneered, discarding the whip. He drew a gun, pointed it at her head and fired. His face fell as she caught the bullet between her right index finger and thumb then discarded it. He fired until the gun jammed and she opened her other hand to drop those bullets to the ground as well.

“A noisy toy fit only for a hell-bound child,” she observed sadly as the Tally-men formed up behind Alban. Amos squirmed about on the floor and kicked one of them to the back of the knees causing him to sag momentarily. “Be at peace, child!” she said forcefully. “This will take but a few moments.”

“Kill her!” Alban ordered and the Tally-men advanced in a line upon the old woman with their spears at the ready.

She pointed at each of them in turn and their hoods flew back exposing the Guides to the rain. Lighting flickered overhead as she gestured and bolts struck the Tally-men, earthing through their Guides and killing them all instantly. Amos and Shield jerked and twitched violenetly as the current radiated away from the feet of the doomed Tally-men through the surface water.

Elham and the other Brother reappeared at Alban’s side with the bizarre-looking begiullers. Shield and Amos, having got to their feet, shoulder-charged the Brothers as they took aim. They were savagely thrown to the ground again but the old Wiccan had closed upon the Brothers, chanting in an ancient tongue. Amos revelled in the terror he saw upon their faces as their weapons were torn from their grasps and dashed against the store facade.

“The wind is my element,” she said pleasantly as the two Brothers retreated behind the bulk of the transfixed Alban. She pointed at the ground with the index finger of her right hand and started moving it in a circle. Around the three terrified clerics, a torus of wind began to form as the children quickly scrambled out of the way. “Wind can be a boon,” she crooned. “But it can also rip the clothes from the flesh and the flesh from the bone.”

The torus became a cylinder of screaming wind that obscured the men within then it expanded to encompass the corpses of the Tally-men. The cylinder then rose upwards to dissipate amongst the clouds then bloody fragments of flesh and clothing fell back to earth amidst the rain. “Gaia’s tears will run foul for a moment,” the old woman said sadly. “I’m sorry I could not get here sooner but you are safe now. I am Mother Moss. It is time for me to take you to a nearby refuge where you will meet others like you.”

Shield leant into her and wept with relief as she helped her and Amos to their feet. The others crowded around her as best they could with their hands still bound behind their backs and attached to ropes. “Don’t cry, dear hearts,” she soothed, planting a kiss on Surl’s forehead. “You have all been through so much but everything happens for a reason and you all have such adventures in front of you worthy of a saga of your very own.”

She gestured again and their bonds fell away from their wrists. “These maggots have ruined your Christ Mass Feast,” she declared. “But they will not be back this night as this storm will worsen before morning so let’s get inside and dry ourselves off, shall we? Then I need to heal all your wounds.”

“Are you the one who took Surl’s pet, Ruff-ruff?” Amos said, suddenly recognising her in the lights of the half-track.

“And you took Bethwin from me,” Fria said sharply.

“That I did, children,” Moss smiled sadly. She approached Surl again and looked into her face. “Poor child, you see so much and yet you say so little.” She did the same to Amos who tried to pull away but could not as she was deceptively strong. “You will have to wait for the Light-Father,” she said grimly. She paused in front of Shield and smiled. “Ah, I do have a daughter here,” she sighed, puzzling them all greatly. “I was sure of it but I can hardly trust to my own craft in these dark times.”

“What about this half-track?” Amos demanded. “They’ll find it at first light and search these shops for us.”

“True enough,” she nodded and gestured. A wind grew around them whipping the rain into a streaming mist that slammed into the half-track. It slid sideways along Cartwright Road then bounced end over end until its lights were smashed and it was lost from sight. They could only see each other in the flicker of the lightning until she produced a torch. “Come, children,” she said. “Let’s get in and have some more Christ Mass food. Ah, there’s one more crucial thing, dear heart,” she said, turning to Shield.

“What’s that, Mother Moss?”

“Did you find any tea in that shop?”

(c) 2012-2013 Paul D.E. Mitchell copyright protected

© mitch (pdemitchell on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36731
Archived comments for Chapter 27: Christ Mass
Mikeverdi on 23-07-2016
Chapter 27: Christ Mass
Another great read, still enjoying the story.

Author's Reply:
So grateful. Hope your health is improving! I was worried about too much back story but this is the basis of a series of books. I ahve written the first three chapters of the second in the series: City of Gargoyles is the working title. Onwards and tangentially siedways. Mitch