UKArchive ID: 36753Chapter 29: Nightshade by mitch
Originally published on July 25, 2016 in Fiction    

Chapter 29 of the Light-Father: Harold gets to know Nightshade, the enigmatic albino Wiccan. The storm starts to break as dawn approaches on their day of reckoning:

Fern stood at the main doors of the shed watching the faintest heralds of dawn creeping under the south-eastern skirts of the vast storm that still raged above the ruins and empty buildings of Crawcester. She thought of all the towns and cities of the world now falling into decay as Nature reclaimed her own yet it was the rat-chewed remains of families still mouldering in their homes that filled her with the greatest sadness and the greatest anger.

Nightshade joined her as the murmur of the waking and anxious Ferals grew louder and more boisterous behind them. “Gaia is indeed awash with vengeful souls,” she said, placing a hand on Fern’s shoulder. “No one person can mourn and pray for such a sea of ghosts. You have a great heart, sister, but not that great.”

“We failed them all, Nightshade, every last one of them.”

“They did not listen to us, dear heart,” Nightshade retorted with an edge to her voice. “They persecuted us. They mocked us. They were afraid of us. They cheered as our flesh fell to whip and flame yet we never lost our faith. We are mortal and fallible and we may never know why the Order was allowed to become ascendant, why the seven-headed lamb was created or why that alien device appeared to help the Order bring about their Armageddon.”

“I was also thinking about the history of the Motherhood,” Fern said, gazing up at the turbulence and ceaseless lightning discharges amongst the clouds. “And the contradictions in our own sacred texts – our Triple Goddess, the Horned God, Diana, Gaia… and how we came to be here amidst such death and darkness.”

Nightshade placed her hands upon the head of her staff and watched the other Mothers begin preparing a morning meal on Harold’s grill and the portable gas stoves recovered from the canteen. “There are no contradictions. We feel the energy of the planet as Gaia; as women, we revere Diana as an aspect of the Divine and as the goddess of the hunt, the Moon, birth and all flora and fauna. Her power runs deep within us but especially in you.”

“And like Diana and her sisters, we never marry…”

“Ah-hah, so you see him as your Apollo,” Nightshade teased. “Or is he your Virbius or maybe your Kernunnos?”

“In as much as Veneris resembles a water-nymph!”

”You cannot deflect me from the obvious,” Nightshade chided. “Even in light as faint as this, I see the colour to your cheeks as proof enough that you have fallen for this man. Our beliefs are not cast in stone, dear sister; our history is - so it’s a bit late for a crisis of faith in our Motherhood. We were born of myth and if these precious children of Moss survive, we will return to myth.”

“No, we won’t for at least two of them have the craft,” Fern said, shaking her head. “The scientists of Exodus saw to that. These children may one day give birth to human miracles; beings with powers and forms that far surpass our own.”

“Ah, Exodus,” Nightshade sighed. “It is easy to miss the one small madness in the asylum. The one called Shield has the craft - I sensed that in her as soon as I met her but who is the other?”

“The bald child, Surl, has some limited prescience but she keeps it suppressed. I suspect Moss may have missed it,” Fern smiled wryly. “Well, the sun would hardly notice a candle.”

“True, sister. We must ensure these children survive the path Moss has laid before us even if we do not.” A faint smile touched Nightshade’s lips as she saw Harold adding coals to the grill and working a bellows to get the fire going. “Their descendants will have a fresh start and if they do beget the craft to their descendents, it will be a world like no other. Isn’t that worth fighting for?”

“Yes,” Fern agreed resolutely. “I would give my life to bring an end to the madness of Schimrian and the Order.”

“Good. This fire in your heart will one day break the vows of Diana yet it gives you more to live for than any of your sisters, never forget that. Ah, the clouds are moving swiftly northwards,” she noted with an expert eye as a hot breeze began to blow, slanting the sheets of rain. “I can feel the edge of the storm approaching us on this wind bearing the dusts and despairs of Africa.”

“How long before their devil-craft can rise into the skies?” Fern asked as the light to the south slowly brightened. “How long can these blessed children enjoy their few moments of peace before this monstrous Order sullies their lives once more?”

“Three hours at most,” Nightshade sighed. “But I do not need to be a delver of the soul to know that each Child of Exodus does not sleep in peace – I feel each Scatterling endures nightmares as dark as those that deprive our poor Ferals of their rest.”

“But the Light-Father has changed everything,” Fern murmured. “A Herald of Saturn yet a bringer of such joy.”

“An unimpressive fellow,” Nightshade said dryly. “But will you honour the feelings you have for him as a woman?”

Fern lowered her eyes and blushed furiously. “Yes, I do have feelings for him,” she admitted. “A book often belies its cover. We are both becoming parents to these Children of Exodus just as their parents twisted Gaia to their own ends…”

“Sister, we must focus on our immediate task,” Nightshade said sharply. “From the craft of our late sister, we know that death and darkness await us but we must all go willingly unto that fate if Schimrian and his vile Order are to be defeated.”

“I know but it’s not just Schimrian that we face,” Fern sighed then related all she knew of the Great Computer and its role in creating the plague. “It was brought here by a great evil.”

“Ah, you did not explain to us earlier that this machine is an artificial intelligence,” Nightshade murmured in awe. “The Bible suggests that Heaven’s War Eternal will descend upon the Earth so maybe this machine was indeed brought here to bring that about. It must be related to the great evil that Moss could not or would not reveal to us - she had no knowledge of electrics so maybe she could not interpret her visions. We assumed that our ultimate foe would be Schimrian, the Abbots and the Fathers behind them because they were the obvious embodiment of evil. To think that a machine designed the Revelation Virus and plans to make the Order immortal – it sends ice though my veins.”

Harold joined them. “The young ones are already awake,” he said, gazing up at the storm clouds. “How long have we got?”

“Less than three hours,” Nightshade replied, noting how Fern cast sidelong glances at the technician – a book belies its cover indeed, she thought. “Let the older ones sleep another hour then we must rouse them for a battle whose final outcome we cannot know despite the craft and guidance of our beloved sister.”

“What do you mean by that?” Harold demanded. “I thought Mother Moss had arranged it so that we could win.”

“You yourself said that seers see many visions and will sacrifice friends and others for the greater good,” Fern said resignedly. “Many of us may be going to our deaths because she can only steer us on a course most likely to yield success. There are many throws of the dice to come before this journey’s end, dear heart.”

Harold became concerned for the frail Nightshade who was leaning against the concrete doorframe for support and breathing heavily. “You need rest – you’ve been marching though a storm while soaked to the skin. Mother Moss may have programmed these kids to accept going to the Great Abbey but what do you think is waiting there for you and the other Mothers?”

“I know not,” Nightshade admitted, staring up at the vivid lightning displays. “The little communication we had with her while she cared for the Scatterlings was cryptic at best but we accept our fate and will face an evil that may be far beyond our meagre powers to defeat. We thought it would be the might of the Order but because of this Great Computer, it could be something darker and fouler than the Order itself. Despite this, we bless the fact that you are here to give form to her prophecies. We are afraid but we have faith in her and in you to lead us.”

“Lead you?” he gulped. “I’m a technician not a general.”

“Kai has drawn plans of the Order’s great fortress and we have learnt much ourselves over the centuries as we watched the Order and their foul constructions taking root. We know this place – it has been seared into our very souls over the centuries.”

“Ah, so you’ll know your way around the Great Abbey by some kind of instinct or racial memory then?”

“To some degree,” Nightshade smiled. She cocked an ear as a roaring sound like that of a vast freight train grew in volume. “Listen to that, Light-Father. A vortex is prowling to the east.”

“We call them tornadoes in my world, Nightshade.”

“It is far away but it marks the southern edge of the storm line which is now moving north rapidly. We have less than three hours before the devil-craft take to the air and attack us.”

“I’m exhausted too,” Harold yawned. “I had only a few snatches of sleep with all these Ferals wandering around.” He opened out the parchment he was holding. “If Kai’s maps and drawings are accurate, we have to plan our assault carefully otherwise we’ll be wiped out. Are the Ferals any good at climbing?”

“Remarkably good, General. Why do you ask?”

Harold bridled at the amused smile on the albino’s face. “I’m no bloody general!” he said bluntly. “But my father was in the army and he used to read me books about battles and how generals like Rommel and Napoleon used to plan their campaigns. I was a great disappointment to him when I took to fixing televisions and house-hold appliances as a child instead of playing with the toy soldiers and tanks that he’d bought me.”

Fern placed a hand on his cheek and once again he found his heart pounding. “I am glad that you are not a man of professional violence,” she said lovingly. “Yet, like the infernal device of the Order, you were brought to our world where children are forced to take up arms. What are you thinking we should do?”

Harold was unable to reply until Nightshade gently removed Fern’s hand from his cheek. “Um, well, we need diversions to mask our main assault on the Great Cathedral from the south. If one of those diversions can force its way into the Great Manse and free everyone in those Redemptions Cells, it might tie up the defenders allowing the main force to fight through the nave and into the annex where we can destroy the Great Computer. Kai says it controls everything so if we can do that and kill Schimrian as well then the Order will fall apart.”

“No, it won’t,” Nightshade disagreed, shaking her head. “Even if they are destroyed, another Abbot will assume the throne and the Inquisitions will continue. We cannot kill every one of them as they are scattered all over the globe but therein lies the irony: it is because of this fact that we have our only hope of victory.”

“True,” he conceded. “We’ll have a brief respite as the Abbots will be locked into a power struggle then we will have to spend the rest of our lives on the run but if we don’t cripple the Order now, we have no chance of survival at all.”

“Speaking of which, we haven’t got long before the rain ends,” Nightshade reminded him. “It takes far less than an hour for rotor-craft to fly here from the Great Abbey.”

“You’re right,” he sighed wearily, gazing up at the skies to note that the rain and the lightning were visibly easing. “I don’t think we’ve got that hour to spare. Go and rouse the children and get them ready while I fire up the Phoenix.”

“Are there carriages enough to transport everyone?” Nightshade demanded. “The Ferals move fast but it would take them at least three days march to reach the Great Abbey from here.”

“There are three carriages in good condition in the far shed,” he said with a pained expression. “I just wish I had time to armour-plate the roofs and the sides because those chain-guns will rip them to pieces if they catch us out in the open.”

“You leave the rotor-craft to us,” Nightshade said with such vehemence in her voice that it startled him. “It is about time that we took the fight to them. I lost my mentor - the one who initiated me into the craft - when the Iberian coven was destroyed which proved beyond doubt that hiding from the Order is futile. I refuse to wait for my inevitable destruction and do nothing. Even if I perish at the Great Abbey, I am going to fully embrace the dark angers and doubts gnawing at my heart; I intend to kill.”

He shuddered as her pupils glowed blood red. “Let me get the Phoenix fired up first,” he said nervously, taking a step backwards. “Then we’ll look over Kai’s plans and drawings and decide how to best to storm the Great Abbey.”

“I will rouse the children,” Fern decided firmly, unable to look into Nightshade’s eyes even though the eerie glow had faded.

Nightshade turned away from her. “You do that, Fern,” she said bitterly. “Leave me here to contemplate the seeds of despair and darkness within me that Schimrian and the Order have sown.”

“Will you be alright, Nightshade?” he enquired as Fern hurried away. “Can I get you anything?”

Her shoulders sagged and he saw that she was weeping openly as she looked up the roiling skies. “I am so confused, Light-Father. I am filled with a murderous rage yet I cannot imagine taking a life,” she explained. “It terrifies me to the core that I have no choice in this matter if I am going to save these children. I wish dear Moss could have been more precise. I am full of fear, anger, doubt, sadness, despair, revulsion – so much so that I fear my heart could stop beating at any moment.”

On an impulse, he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her slender waist and placed his cheek against her milky-white hair. To his surprise, she did not resist the embrace. “It’s okay to have all these feelings at war inside you,” he said gently. “We are facing great evil and unspeakable odds so all that’s in your heart right now is what makes us human and courage is what makes us rise above this conflict and do what must be done.”

Nightshade gently prised herself free and turned to look him in the eye. “Thank you,” she said, bowing. “I am both humbled and healed by a mere man. Fern clearly sees the magic in you - as I do now. Just let me have a few moments to myself.”

“Will you be alright?” he persisted.

“Yes, I think so,” she smiled, resting her hands on her staff and gazing up at the heavens once more. “Because I now believe in you, Light-Father, even if I no longer believe in myself.”

(c) Paul D.E.Mitchell 2012-13 copyright protected.

© mitch (pdemitchell on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36753
Archived comments for Chapter 29: Nightshade

No comments archives found!