Simieon followed his wife’s cute derriere as she led the way through the schools roof space wondering why she had decided to do this in the first place. The attack in the training room and the discovery of the processing room was enough to unsettle anyone but she seemed to have taken it in her stride. She had asked the mighty Amazon Helena to boost her up into the space between the floors and then asked her to do the same with Simieon which she did effortlessly even though he was in armour, leaving Helena and the two Gnomes, Peer and Ludwig behind to wait, and now Dannia was leading him who knows where without a word being said. All very strange, he thought.
Abruptly he was drawn out of his thoughts as Dannia stopped and pulled back a ceiling tile to expose the room below. Still without a word she rotated and dropped feet first through the hole to land silently in the room below. Simieon not quite as quietly, after all he was in a suit of scale mail, followed her.
As he stood up and surveyed room, which turned out to be a gym with wall rails, pommel horse and the like, he found himself covered in Dannia trying franticly to get his kit off.
Simieon knew better than to fight his wife’s urges after a kill and swiftly became a willing participant after making sure they were safe and secure. Soon they were both stark naked with Dannia using the wall bars to lift herself up and part her legs ready for him. To say their love making was passionate and frenetic would be an understatement as they utilised every piece of equipment available with included the rings and a pair of parallel bars.
When they had finish and got dressed then and only then did Dannia speak.
“Alright darling husband?” She asked with a flirtatious look on her face.
“Yes fine, why…” The penny dropped into Simieon’s somewhat deep well and made a resounding splash. “Oh no, not a chance my darling you’ve worn my old man to a stump as it is.”
Dannia nodded conceding the point.
“Why was there the body of an escaped criminal in the roof and who was he? I invented the lie for the Watchmen but it turned out true how can that be?” She asked in a more sober voice.
“Coincidence my love?” Simieon asked as he examined the equipment he’d been using for their sexual workout. “This is very serious equipment, far more so than what I would expect in a girls school no matter how progressive.”
“No I don’t think so, the body I mean. It’s too much of a coincidence and I don’t trust coincidences.” She ran her hand over a narrow walking bar appreciating the craftsmanship and the materials used before popping on top and walking deftly along it. “All this may be over the top for a girl’s school but not for assassins in training.” She stood silently in deep thought for a moment before doing several walkovers a summersault and a dismount with layout before crossing to the door. “Let’s join the others before they get into trouble.”
A few moments later they had rejoined their companions back in the weapons training room.
“Did you find anything?” Peer asked as they walked back into the room.
“We found a well equipped gymnasium.” Dannia replied a little curtly.
“A well founded gym? It was more than that Peer it was the finest of the fine and would be the envy of any imperial army training ground.” Simieon said his eyes sparkling in disbelief. “Have you found anything?”
“Well yes. We’ve crossed referenced the names on the unused cards to the names in the book and got perfect matches each time. All the sums in the book are similar for each year so I don’t think this is a book of school benefactors but rather a book of who had paid school fees. In other words these are the names of the girl’s parents and we can even surmise whose children had finished school by what names disappear from the records.” Peer told them with barely concealed excitement. “See here and err, yes, here.”
Dannia had to concede that he could well be right but what they also needed was some idea as to when both the Headmistress and the Matron arrived as that may give them a cut off point.
Dannia decided to examine the matron’s office before they left the building and leading them away out into the corridor began to expound her own theory.
To be fair it wasn’t much of a one but it seemed to fit most of what they knew but had gaping holes due to their enforced ignorance.
“I don’t think the Headmistress was in charge she enjoyed the beating far too much even when I was half strangling her. No I bet it was the Matron. She had access to the girls at all times and could control the Headmistress through her fetish. The other teachers were young, only a few years older than the sixth years, so were probably old girls of the school programmed to carry out the conditioning by their own cards.” She paused outside the Matrons room. “They were some of the ones we met upstairs I shouldn’t wonder. Dam it I took the hit on the wrong one it should have been the Matron I took out. I should have investigated further, I was clumsy.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Dannia, if you’ll pardon the pun, as hindsight is always perfect vision.” Peer said consolingly placing a hand lightly on her shoulder and squeezing slightly.
The inside of the Matrons room was how she remembered it, neat and tidy with a small cot for her morning nap tucked away in the corner. Once again their search appeared to turn up nothing of value except some letters from parents asking how their daughters were getting on. A medical log of injuries and a ledger recording financial transactions were the only other things found. The place was totally devoid of personality; there were no keepsakes or miniatures of the woman’s family, nothing to show she had had a life before joining the school and just as puzzling no sign of her actual name. She was simply the Matron. It was while pondering this fact that Dannia noticed that everyone was avoiding the left corner of the room in a strange way. They would walk towards it then proscribe an arc around it thereby avoiding it altogether. She called Peer over and had him watch for awhile.
“Yes your right, I wasn’t aware I was doing it too.” Peer said after a few moments. “Everyone stop where you are for a moment.”
He and Dannia went over and examined the area and soon noticed small incongruities, patters of the carpet not quite lining up and the like. They also found they couldn’t even put their arms out to touch the corner without them being diverted to either side.
“It’s an illusion and a good one at that. It totally convinces you that there is nothing there to such an extent that you bypass it to avoid touching what is hidden.” Peer was obviously impressed. But before Dannia could do anything he did something silly, something he was later, two seconds later to be precise, he would regret. With a waggle of fingers and convoluted words he dispelled the illusion but as he turned smugly toward Dannia a massive electric charge slammed into him lifting him off his feet and crashing him into the wall and table opposite.
“Are you alright, are you hurt?” Dannia asked the upside down shape of the Gnome as he slid down the wall onto the table’s top.
“Only my pride, you’d think I’d learn by now.” Peer muttered trying to swing himself round and recover some dignity.
“He’s okay, aren’t you friend Peer, yes.” Helena said with her usual innocence. “He has how you say, the hide of an ox, and sometimes the brain too.”
“Thanks for your support Helena I’ll wear it always.” Peer said sarcastically.
“Oh nothing, just ignore me.” He said having eventually managed to sit upright on the table. His actions though precipitous had had the desired affect exposing a beautifully carved chest of draws. Its wood was a dark brown and it curved outward and then inward again down to its dragon claw feet clutching a ball. The side and top had elegant marquetry depicting a tree and small colourful birds and fruit. It was stunning and gods bless her avarice soul Dannia wanted it, wanted it badly.
Simieon was very carefully examining it for unexpected surprises.
“Careful darling don’t damage it.” She cautioned.
“Damage It! Damage It! Look at the damage it tried to give poor Peer. If I had my way I’d smash it to pieces. How did you avoid getting killed by the way?” Simieon ranted as he found a particular knotty problem in the shape of a Gordian knot tucked underneath the cabinet.
“Would you believe consummate skill?” Peer asked with a smug expression.
“No!” Chorused both Dannia and Simieon simultaneously.
“Ah.” He replied.
“He wears special invisible magical cloak he creates that stops him being hurt, yes. Only works once though.” Helena said with a laugh.
“That’s it give away all my trade secrets.” Peer moaned dropping down on to the floor. “Any luck?”
“Yes and no. Yes I’ve disarmed the two traps, nasty ones, two sticky fire bombs, but no to the cabinet lock.” Simieon grumbled. “Have a look darling and see what you think?”
Dannia stroked his cheek before setting to work.
“These fire bombs have some sort of gel inside mixed with phosphorous and probably magnesium, well something like that, which ignites when exposed to air. The gel sticks it to you turning you into a flaming torch and even if you’re smothered to put out the flames they re-ignite when exposed to air again.” Simieon explained holding the two glass vials gingerly. “Professional and very nasty, the second one was set up to destroy the cabinet and its contents.”
The vials disappeared from Simieon’s hand as Dannia took them and stored them away in her belt pouch.
“Thank you darling.” She said with a grin. “Oh by the way the locks a dummy, the real opening mechanism is in the right hand side, a simple press switch.”
“No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere.” Simieon said ruefully.
With a loud click the whole of the cupboard front hinged open to reveal a set of beautifully finished draws with silver birds as handles. After a cursory glance Dannia opened them up to find row upon row of compartments just large enough to hold the calling cards of Nocturne but everyone was empty. Dannia sighed; it was asking too much to find the cards still in their places. Peer cast once again the strange spell that illuminates and shows the auras around people and things and immediately found the glow even if it was somewhat feeble from the presence of the mind altering cards.
“The cards were here and since the after glow still remains I would say they have been removed any time in the last twenty four hours, in fact more likely in the last twelve.” Peer told them as he sat stroking his fine white beard. “We’ve been beaten to it I’m afraid people. Nocturne has got the cards.”
“Then we’re finished here.” Dannia said ruefully. “I think we need to have a chat with the young lady we left at your place Ludwig, she might be able to place names and ages to the girls whose parent’s fill these lists.”
“Nocturne isn’t liable to have his or her girls at school here is he?” Ludwig asked.
“No, I doubt it but it might help me to know who potentially could be my enemy.” Dannia replied.
“That’s true but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait till midmorning before you could ask her, the suggestion we gave her should have lost its effect by then.” Ludwig told her.
“Then we’ll go to the temple of Huron and speak to the girl there.” Dannia said decisively. “The Matron may have ruled the roost here but she wasn’t Nocturne after all she is dead and the assassin is still active.” Dannia looked across at Ludwig and gave him a beautiful smile. “Have you room for two more in that palace you call home my friend Ludwig.”
“Yes of course, freedom hall my lady, freedom hall.” The Gnome priest grouched with a sour look on his face.
“So kind of you cousin.” Peer said with a wicked grin. “I must let people know of your largesse.”
Ludwig gave him a dark look and swore heavily, the gist of which was ‘Over your dead body’. Soon everyone was laughing in relief the tension easing out of there bodies.
After a quick sweep of the other critical rooms they made their way out of the building and down to the wall once more, but this time neither of the Darkhorns indulged in acrobatic endeavour choosing instead to scale a tree with a branch that overhung the wall. Dannia watched with appreciation by Peer did several walkovers and twists along the narrow branch before dismounting with a full twisting summersault. She landed outside with barely a sound. Not to be out done Simieon grabbed the branch and with swinging full rotations around it along with hand stands and twists made his way along its length and drop off at the end to land lightly outside.
Peer wanted to applaud as if he was watching some sort of act at a fete but instead simply said well done as he exited with the other two from the tunnel he had created through the wall.
“You’re right Helena we need them to joint our act. They are just amazing.” Peer whispered to his mighty friend as he closed the tunnel.
“See I told you, it is just like the old woman said. She said we would find two acts here.” Helena whispered with a child like smile on her face. “She said we should go to the spring fair at the mountain castle to find our leader so we have some time.”
“There is no guarantee they will come with us you know.”
“Oh they will Master Peer, they will, it has already been decreed. The old lady has said so.” With that Helena closed the conversation with total unshakeable belief.
The following morning a group of tired adventurers were tucking into a small mound of pancakes Peer had made, before making their way to the temple of Huron to speak to the young woman who had hired Dannia a few nights earlier, though to Dannia it seemed a life time ago. The young harpist, as Ludwig predicted, was still in a deep restorative sleep. Ludwig had elected to remain behind just in case the girl should awaken promising to gently extract the information they needed.
So it was that Dannia and Simieon in their civilian clothes escorted government investigator Peer and his bodyguard Helena to meet Father Milligan at the temple to interview the girl and question the priest on the missing vagabond children. But things didn’t go to plan.
“Do you mind if we do a little detour before we meet the Holy Father?” Dannia asked as they stood by the wicker gate that led into the graveyard. “Are you coming with me Simieon?” She looked pleadingly at her husband who took a shuddering deep breath.
“I don’t think I can darling it’s to painful still.” His normally mobile comic face was still and pained.
“For me please husband, I need you with me, I need you.” Simeon nodded and held out his hand which Dannia grabbed like a drowning woman sliding under his arm for the comfort that body contact can bring.
“We won’t be long we just need to visit our daughters grave. She died six weeks ago, Dannia’s been here every day since then but this is the first time for me.” His voice seemed broken, crushed.
“We will come with you to support you, yes.” Helena said taking off her helmet in a mark of respect. “You agree Peer, no.”
“Yes I agree but we will stand back and let you have your time.” Peer told them soberly.
“Thank you.” Dannia said leading them through. After a few paces sensing Simieon’s difficulty in approaching the memorial she let go of him and moved forward.
“Daddies come to see you today so let’s clean you up shall we?” She said tearfully.
“How old was she Simieon?” Peer asked expecting to hear she was a still born so it came as a bit of a shock when he told him.
“She would have been twelve at autumn festival.” Peer must have shown his surprise on his face as Simieon felt compelled to continue with an explanation. “We can’t have children you see; well I can’t, so we adopted her. Her mother and father were killed in a crime war, one she only just survived, and was sent here to the temple at our previous town as an orphan. She was so beautiful and sad but for some reason she took to us immediately and us to her so when we had a chance to adopt her we took it and she loved it calling us mum and dad straight away.”
Simieon was having difficulty talking as the raw emotions ran through him but abruptly he broke of and dashed to his wife side knocking her hand away from the dried leaf that rested on the memorial stones top.
“Don’t touch it, it’s trapped!” He yelled bundling her to one side. “Helena, take Dannia for me!”
Helena didn’t need telling twice, throwing her helmet to the floor she ran and knelt taking the sobbing woman in her arms.
“The bastards, I’ll kill them for this. Do hear me Nocturne, I will find you and kill you.” Dannia screamed to the heavens over and over again between her wracking sobs. Nocturne had overstepped the line and broken the unwritten code that stated that a rival assassin was fair game if they were commissioned to die, but not the family. They were sacrosanct.
Peer watched Simieon working swiftly and yet with great caution and accuracy to trace where the wire attached to the leaf went. When he had succeeded he stood up with a puzzled expression on his face a loose wire affair dangling from his fist. The trap wasn’t attached to anything; Dannia could have moved the leaf with impunity without fear of any harm at all. It didn’t make sense, no sense at all.
“Do you think they were disturbed?” Peer asked.
“No I don’t think so and that’s what’s so odd. There is no sign of anything being abandoned.” He shook himself and crossed to his wife. “Darling look at me, I need your help. There was no device attached or evidence of any being abandoned and that doesn’t make sense, I need that sharp brain of yours.” He wiped away her tears with the back of his hand. “We will be revenged darling be sure of that, we will be revenged.”
Dannia took a deep breath and with a nod of thanks to Helena stood up.
“The only thing I can think of is that they changed their mind. Perhaps wiring a grave was too low even for them.” She said in a breathless pained voice.
“If they did go against the conditioning it would be crippling.” Added Peer thoughtfully before continuing. “Unless the conditioning hadn’t worked properly in the first place but even then they would be scarred.”
“The girl with the terrible scars I told you about, she works here in the soup kitchen, where I should be now.” Dannia said with a worried frown. “It must have been her, she’s must have fought back. Come on gods knows what it has done to her.”
Dannia swiftly led them across the lawn and through the side door into the temple proper. As they entered a young woman spotted Dannia and called to her as she rushed over in obvious distress.
“Thank goodness you’re here Mistress Dannia you’ve got to help. I was sent to look for you by Father Peter. It’s the new girl she’s gone mad and locked herself in her bedroom.” The young woman screeched, the words falling out of her mouth in a breathless jumble.
“Slow down, take a deep breath and tell me what happened?” Dannia asked beckoning the woman to follow as she made her way toward the refectory and the quadrangle that led to the dormitories.
“She came rushing in from the garden of remembrance screaming. I wondered what was wrong I thought she had been attacked but all she kept saying was ‘I won’t do it you can’t make me, I won’t hurt her’ over and over again. Then she ran off toward the hostel screaming and hitting herself.” They had reached the doorway to the refectory by this time where Dannia paused allowing the girl to finish what she was saying. “Father Peter rushed after her but it was too late she had locked herself in. He’s outside her room now trying to talk to her.”
“Thank you, Michelle isn’t it?” She asked.
“Yes mistress.” The young woman actually tried to curtsy which on another occasion would have amused Dannia no end but today only irritated her.
“Well Michelle can you carry on with the others and serve our guests while I join the Holy Father?”
“Yes mistress the other three of us are serving them now but it might calm everyone if you talked to them.” Dannia just managed to stop the girl curtsying again.
“We’ll see.” She said simply pushing the door open to the refectory kitchen.
The refectory was a long room full of long tables and benches where those more unfortunate came for a simple meal of soup followed by some meat and vegetables or as on this occasion porridge and fruit teas with some bread. It wasn’t high cuisine but it was nourishing. The kitchen was attached along one wall where serving hatches gave them access to the refectory proper and from where the people could be served; those who were too frail to queue were brought their food by one of the several girls that worked the room. Dannia was usually in charge of the girls and helped them with the cooking and serving. The older clients were quite taken by her and often called on her to play something on the organ at the far end of the room but today they were more concerned with the wailing and screaming coming from across the quadrangle. They started to clamour for an explanation for as one old man put it, ‘It was quite putting him of his breakfast’.
Dannia asked the mighty Amazon if she could lift her up so she could speak to the crowd.
“Yes my new friend Dannia I can but will they listen to you. Here sit on my arm and loop your arm around my neck.” She knelt beside the little Halfling and put her fore arm out for her to sit on. “We will help you. Yes.”
Dannia was hoisted up so that she could see everyone and equally important they could see her.
“Ladies and Gentleman!” She called but to effect. “People, may I have your attention please.” Still no effect if any thing the hubbub of speculation grew louder.
“Silence!!!!!” Helena bellowed almost deafening Dannia in the process but it had the desired effect as total silence fell on the crowed.
“Thank you Helena.” She whispered before carrying on in a voice all could hear clearly.
“You may or may not know that that poor girl you can hear screaming was one of the children that was so cruelly treated at that vicious school. Though we have healed her body she still suffers in her mind and that is where I will be going to help the Holy Father bring peace to her mind. I ask of you good people that before you take sup today that you will offer up a prayer for her.” Dannia noticed several of the old men gaping at the scantily clad Helena who was holding her up so effortlessly and tried not to lose her fragile temper. She waved her hand toward Peer, who was standing on a bench with Simieon, and Helena beneath her. “With me today are the council’s investigator Sir Peer Svenssonn and his bodyguard Helena. They are investigating the occurrences at the school and the disappearances of the children from the ghettos. If you have any information that will help with their investigations please speak with them I pray, after you have eaten of course. My husband is acting as scribe and will take your statements at that bench over there. Please enjoy what we are serving today and thank Huron for our bounty this day. Amen.”
A chorus of ‘Amen’s’ echoed out as Dannia was lowered to the floor.
Simieon quickly managed to obtain writing materials from somewhere and with Helena standing beside him ensconced himself at the bench Dannia had indicated, though at that moment he was admiring the Amazons physic more than anything else. Well he was till Dannia quietly reminded him once again of what she would do to his genitals if he kept it up.
With Peer behind her she flew up the stairs to the girl’s bedroom where Father Peter was attempting to communicate with the girl through the locked door.
“Father Peter?” Dannia called to him as she reached the landing.
“She’s still locked in Dannia and I can’t get through to her. She just repeats manically that she won’t kill someone and that they can’t make her no matter what they do then she screams in mortal agony.” He explained.
Dannia nodded her understanding before indicating a puffed Peer beside her.
“Peer this is Father Peter Harry Milligan priest of Huron, Holy Father this is council investigator Sir Peer Svenssonn he’s investigating what happened at the school and about those missing children from the ghettos.” She bent and looked through the keyhole to see the key still in the lock whilst the two men shook hands a little guardedly. Father Peter instantly recognised what Peer was, that of being a mage, a trade that never sat well with the church.
Dannia didn’t bother trying to speak to the girl through the door as she could already hear how distressed she was; instead she took a thin neckerchief from her belt pouch, unfolded it and pushed it under the door. She then set about with a slim bladed knife pushing the key out of the lock, with some success as it happens as with a grin Dannia heard it drop on to the cloth she had arranged below. Carefully she pulled back the cloth praying the key wouldn’t get jammed under the door, but she needn’t have feared as the key soon came into view.
“Dannia when you unlock the door the girl may attack you; your presence may over ride her controls. Do you understand what I’m saying my Lady?” Peer cautioned.
“I understand Sir.” She said as she undid the door. “When we enter the room that poor child’s safety is paramount no matter what she may try to do. She must be the focus of all our attentions and nothing must harm her no matter what.”
The two men nodded their understanding.
They entered to find the poor girl curled up on her bed clawing at her face begging for release.
She spied Dannia and stared at her with blood shot eyes.
“I know you!” She screamed. “Please good lady stop them punishing me I can not take much more. They are cutting me!” She said grasping at her crutch. “I didn’t do it Lady, I wouldn’t do it. You have been kind to me. Oh please stop the pain please make them stop.” Fresh red lines where appearing on her skin.
“She believes she is being struck and her body reacts as if it has.” Father Paul said wide eyed.
“Father Paul do you have a healing pool? Quickly man!” Peer was taking charge smoothly as his mind raced.
“Yes why, it’s only good for the ills of the body not the mind?”
“Because with its and your help I can get you into her mind to cure her that’s why?” Peer said breathlessly.
Dannia cautiously walked forward and gently took the girls face in her small hands and looked deep into her eyes.
“Look at me child. Do you trust me girl, do you trust me?” Her voice was warm and gentle even though her heart screamed at her for vengeance for what the young woman had tried to do to her daughter’s grave.
“Yes Lady I do.”
“Then come with us and quickly.” Taking the girls hand Dannia led her out of the room and down the stairs. Once back in the refectory Dannia couldn’t help but notice that there was a queue to Simieon’s bench but from the way some of the old boys were nudging each other it was more to get a closer view of the scantily clad Helena than really having anything to report.
“Simieon when you and Helena have finished there come to the healing pool, one of the girls will bring you if you’re not sure of the way.” She called as Father Peter scooped the poor suffering girl up in his arms as her thin dress was soaked by fresh blood at her crutch and disappeared into the interior of the temple with Peer scurrying after him.
Though Dannia didn’t realise it she was about to enter this tortured young woman version of hell, an inferno she may never escape from.