The Temple of Huron was quiet and dimly lit from the morning sun that filtered through the glass domed roof to the empty healing pool below, glinting off the marble tiles in fairy like sparkles.
In Father Peters private room Dannia sat huddled up staring blankly into the flickering flames of the roaring fire that crackled in the hearth desperate to feel its warmth.
Simieon was at Father Peter’s desk with quill pen and ink trying to make sense of the notes he took earlier out in the refectory. The response of the old and the poor that were having breakfast there this morning had been good and, with the exception of two old men whose only reason for coming to the bench were to get a closer view of the scantily attired Helena who, with a few surprisingly tactful words from her, were dissuaded, they proved to be very forthcoming.
They had told him that children had disappeared in each of the previous four years, all eleven year olds and mainly girls though a few boys had also gone. Though other children had vanished, as was normal down in the ghettos, these stood out because of their ages and the time of year it occurred, always in the third of the eight months or seasons of the year. The disappearances had been reported to the authorities but they had shown only the most cursory of interests and investigation, after all they were only the slum dwellers that lived outside the old town’s walls and of no interest to them.
He looked up from his work and looked across to the figures by the fire and sighed.
Helena was by the prematurely aged Peer helping him to drink another bowl of soup while he muttered in a distracted senile way. The young girl Alison was doing the same for the withered silent priest.
“Dannia? Would you like some more soup my darling?” He called.
Dannia waved a dismissive hand before examining it with her cataract filmed eyes. The once slim unblemished hand was gaunt and covered with age spots the knuckles lumpy and swollen from arthritis, the blue veins stark against her bone white thin skin as they weaved their way like a drunken spiders web under its surface, it was a hand of an old woman who was awaiting the blissful release of death not that of a vibrant young woman. She sighed and allowed the hand to drop into her lap as she fought to stay awake. As for the soup she would be glad not to see, smell or taste one for as long as she lived she had drunk so much of it..
She too had noticed how solicitous the young girl was being to the priest, it was obvious to her that the child was quite take with him, she only hoped that it would be returned by Father Peter when they had recovered, if they ever recovered. The two of them seemed made for each other and Lord knows they both deserved a chance of happiness after what the pair of them had gone through. It was then, as she dozed before the fire, that she heard the girl asking the priest about her.
“Yes child.” He replied wearily as her tried for the umpteenth time to find a way of sitting that eased his aching legs.
“Lady Dannia’s baby Father, what happened to her?” She was still upset about trying to lay a trap around the memorial slab but equally wanted to make sense of it all.
“Marie wasn’t a baby Alison she was an eleven year old girl. You should have seen her Alison, so vivacious, so full of life and like her mother and father so caring to others.” Peter replied sipping a goblet of icy cold water for a change from the soup. “She had a voice of an angel when she sang. I had hopes of building a choir around her but the idea died with her.”
“But! But!” Alison stammered. “But Lady Dannia and Master Simieon aren’t old enough to have an eleven year old girl they can only be ten years older themselves.” She wasn’t sure about how fast Halflings aged but knew in her heart she was right.
“You are right they are not, Marie was adopted. Dannia and Simieon can’t have children of their own, you see. It happened in a previous town where they were living, Marie’s parents were involved in some serious criminal activity of some sort and fell foul to another criminal gang and were murdered. Dannia and Simieon found the girl crying over her parent’s mutilated bodies after coming home early from her church school. Her tears were of shock more than love as neither her mother nor her father showed her any affection; in fact she rarely ever saw them spending most of her time with wet nurses and governesses.” Peter explained wheezing due to shortness of breath. “They took her in and gave her the first true love she had ever had and she returned it a hundred fold. She was devoted to them, and they to her.”
“Was she a halfling like them? I should think the chances of finding another Halfling family out here would be slim.” She said with a puzzled frown.
“She was human and already towered over them. She was destined to be as tall as her real parents I think. She was coming home from our temple school about six months ago now when she got into some sort of a tussle with girls from a rival school. We don’t know what it was about but we do know the outcome. Marie Manon Darkhorn was stabbed to death one eight day before her twelfth birthday.”
“Oh my God, no!” Alison’s face went pale with shock as tears ran down her face. “Did they…Did they find the girls?”
“No. The girls they thought had done it were innocent and didn’t understand what was going on. So no they never found out who had done it or why.” The priest wiped his rheumy eyes.
“They wouldn’t remember doing it.” She said with horror as she turned to find both Simieon and Dannia watching her intently. “My Lady Dannia, Simieon sir, I am so sorry for what I tried to do to your love ones grave, but I think girls from my school were compelled to kill your daughter.” The shock deepened on her face as realisation struck her. “It could have been me, I could have killed her and I wouldn’t even remember.” She rushed over to Dannia and tearfully knelt at her feet. “Please forgive me my Lady, please don’t hate me.” She sobbed burying her head in Dannia’s lap totally unable to face them for fear of seeing hate in their eyes.
Peer stirred and looked myopically at them.
“Hmm! No, no, no child totally impossible! The cards are simple entity control systems.” He said loudly. “The tissue would only be enough for one card I’m sure and each card would be only be able to be used once. The interface would burn out after use you see.” His voice petered out into a confused mumble that was punctuated by loud cries of ‘Yes, yes, Yes’ and ‘No, no, No’ and sometime an even more confused combination of both.
“Master Peer I don’t understand, what do you mean sir.” Alison called.
“He means that you couldn’t have killed our daughter as you hadn’t received your card until today.” Simieon said fighting to hold his emotions in check. “You fought the conditioning, the compulsion, to harm my wife and desecrate our girls grave and for this I will always be in you debt. It took great courage, but know this I will find those responsible and I will make them pay no matter what their age may be!”
Dannia took the girls soft hand in her own withered claw.
“Simieon is correct child you are not at fault and must not feel any guilt.” She patted Alison’s shoulder. “There is nothing to forgive you for. Come on dry your eyes. That’s it girl.” She paused a moment. “Are you willing to help us find who did this and to protect those girls like you who were abused.”
The girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before answering in a strong voice.
“Assuredly my Lady, just tell me what I must do.”
Dannia smiled and patted her arm once again.
“Be assured I will tell you as soon as I know what it is myself.” Dannia mused. “Simieon did you find out anything from those having breakfast this morning?”
“Yes quite a bit surprisingly.” He picked up his notes and crossed over to Dannia’s side.
“You’ll have to read it darling my eyes aren’t as good as they once were.” Dannia retorted with gallows humour.
“Right no problem my love.” He replied with false joviality. “Over the last four years sixteen eleven year old girls and twelve eleven year old boys have vanished from the Dulas district. That’s the shanty town outside the eastern wall. They reported the missing children when they became missing but the council of elders and the city guard didn’t do anything.” He paused to let her absorb those facts before continuing. “Over the same period seven girls under eight have been abducted, two were found later on they had been raped and murdered possibly mutilated. It is difficult to get a consensus on this one as the numbers vary slightly but all agree that part of the girls anatomy was removed, some say the eyes were taken others say the, er hmm, privates. Again there has been no formal investigation but the murders stopped a year ago.”
“Basically sod you we’re all right Jules.” Dannia said sadly. “Did they mention any names at all?”
Simieon said they had and that he had a list. Dannia asked Alison to look over the list to see if any of the names struck a cord. It was at this point that there was a knock at the door to the room followed by both Ludwig and the girl Rene entering.
“What have you done?!” He growled when he realised what he was looking at.
“They saved my life sir and this is what became of them.” Alison said hotly. “If there is any fault it is mine not theirs. They stopped me acting on the commands of an evil murderer sir.”
“I am grateful that they were successful but you’ll have to forgive me but my concern must be with them.” Ludwig replied equally angry.
Dannia hardly noticed when Ludwig examined her as she was watching the two girls instead who had just at that moment noticed each other. Alison stood by the desk with folded arms glaring at the newcomer who sneered back.
“Hello trouble maker.” The girl spat.
“Hello book worm.” Alison spat back. “Still playing that stupid giant lute thing are you.”
Dannia was just about to ask what the problem was between the pair of them and to remind them that they mustn’t be distracted when suddenly both girls gave a high pitched squeal and ran into each others arms with sheer joy. They kissed each other like young girls do, both babbling at each other ten to the dozen.
“I was bitten by a tropical spider and passed out.” Rene explained. “If it wasn’t for this gentleman and his wife,” she said indicating Simieon, “I would have died. They got me to Father Ludwig who with his cousin cured me.”
“Same here, if it wasn’t for Lady Dannia and Father Peter, with Sir Peers help I’d be probably dead too.” Alison said at almost the same time.
“Have you heard about the school, it’s awful isn’t it, thank the Gods it wasn’t like that when we were there.” Rene said seriously.
Alison was about to say something about that but was dissuaded by Dannia’s swift shaking of her head.
“No of course not.” Alison said with a puzzled look on her face.
“She doesn’t remember the punishments it’s hidden from her mind. Remember how difficult it was for you to know what they had done.” Dannia said sadly.
Rene noticed Dannia for the first time and actually did a respectable curtsey.
“Forgive me Mamon.” She said calling Dannia mother in Dannia’s own home tongue. “Your daughter and her husband did me a great service. I only hope I will be able to repay them one day.”
“I know we did Rene and as for repaying us you can start straight away.” The girls eyes widened in realisation.
“Lady Dannia?” She asked in disbelief.
“Lady Dannia, Sir Peer and Father Peter were prematurely aged in saving my life but there is good reason to believe they will return to youth again very soon.” Alison said with hope more than faith in her voice.
“It’s been too long, far too long.” Muttered Peer distractively.
“Girls what do you know of a girl from your school called Baccarat?” Dannia asked.
The girls looked at each other for a moment before shrugging expressively.
“She had a small distinctive birthmark on her cheek, in a shape of a heart.” Dannia added hopefully trying to jog their combined memories.
“Oh you mean Louise Raynard. She was a year ahead of us, I think, possibly two.” Alison informed her.
“That’s right she was one of the special girls. The Headmistress every year took in girls from poorer backgrounds into the school, someone paid for them to come I think.” Rene added. “They didn’t have all there lessons with us they had special lessons with the headmistress and the matron on their own. So did the small group of boys we had every year, in fact they never had lessons with us.”
“I’m not surprised.” Dannia said sardonically. “They have certainly covered all eventualities. Girls can you look through the list Simieon has worked on and see if the names mean anything to you. Now where did I put that school book?”
“I have it here friend Dannia.” Helena said as she ladled more soup into Peers mouth. “I give to the girls to look at, yes.”
“Yes please Helena.” Dannia signalled for Simieon to join her. “‘Nocturne’ isn’t stupid he or she has assassins in every important person’s house as a wife or daughter and even has prostitutes for those who crave extra marital couplings.”
“What about the boys? They don’t fit the plan do they?” Simieon stated hotly.
“Not all the important people crave sex with a woman my darling. If only we knew who brought the children of the poor families in.”
“I’ve seen him deliver them over the years I was at the school. Three of us watched them arrive from the north tower even though we weren’t supposed to be there.” Stated Alison. “He’s a massive man with greasy lank black hair and beard; he always brought them up in a landau to the side gates. You couldn’t miss him he always wore flamboyant coloured clothes. Last year he wore blue hose with a red shirt and green neckerchief we all thought he was colour blind as no sane person would wear such a jarring sense of colours. He always had a big sword strapped over his back such that its hilt protruded over his right shoulder and he always had a reddish wooden club in his left hand. I don’t think many people would argue with him.”
Both Dannia and Simieon spoke at the same time, both uttered the same word, a man’s name.
“Carder Moore. The bastard.” Dannia said when she had finished coughing.
Dannia explained that Carder Moore was a council representative and constable working out of a ragged equipment store under the Lyle arches. The man had only been given a constables licence so he could keep the local petty crime lords in check.
The man turned out to be no more than a thug who broke heads for the fun of it. He acted as enforcer for which ever gang could afford him, often taking a cut for himself of any fees he collected. Crude and with a violent temper he wasn’t the wisest of men to cross but Dannia had decided to do just that.
“I think we’ll pay him a visit and have a word in his shell like ear.” Dannia said trying to mimic the slums high pitched nasal patter but failing miserably. “As I see it we have now two leads to follow up, Carder in the slums and Madam Gabrielle Dolour provider of horizontal pleasuring.”
“Three leads are possible darling as I’m doing another security detail tonight for a party hosted by Le Sade. If they’re any children tonight we can find out who has provided them or at least follow them to their hostel, home or base.” Simieon informed her.
“Good, we’ll make that our first action and we’ll go from there. And will you stop pacing up and down like that Ludwig it’s getting on my nerves.” Dannia moaned as the gnome cleric passed between Dannia and the fire for the umpteenth time.
“Darling you can’t do anything you’re too frail I’ll take Helena with me instead. If you’re willing that is Helena?” Simieon asked trying to avoid his wife’s hostile glare.
“Of course I will, see Peer my friend I said we will become a team, yes.” Helena grinned with a smile that lit up her whole face. “You rest here with Lady Dannia while I and Simieon save these children, no.”
“Helena we wouldn’t be saving them, at least not yet, just following them to find out who is using them.” Simieon sighed as he watched as the naiveté in the girl Amazons eyes struggled with that suggestion. “You’ll do just fine just follow my lead alright.”
Dannia seethed at her infirmity, it should be her not Helena who brought them to justice, for the sake of her daughter if for no other reason. Once again the Gnome cleric obscured the warmth from the fire.
“For the God’s sake sit down man your making my head swim with all this too-ing and Fro-ing of yours.” If she had a stick she would have clobbered him with it and dammed the consequences.
All of the sudden Ludwig stopped as if coming to some sort of important decision which come to think of it he had and it wasn’t the best he’d ever had but it was the only thing he could do.
“Helena, girls, Simieon stop what your doing.” His voice was commanding surprising himself as much as everyone else. “Strip Lady Dannia, Peer and the Holy Father and bring them to the healing pool in fact Helena come with me.”
“The pools empty.” Peer croaked licking his white cracked lips.
“Yes I know but please do as I ask it maybe the last and only chance of returning you back to normal.” He signalled for Helena to follow as he left the warm room and walked purposefully into the cool dimly lit temple.
“Helena, try and find a bench or long seat they can sit on and have it facing the pool please and quite near to the edge.” Ludwig commanded.
“You no hurt them priest they are my friends, yes.” Helena glared at him her muscles tense and showing in startling relief.
“I’m trying to save their lives you great lummox! The degradation, the aging, it’s still continuing if I don’t do something soon they’ll die of old age!” Ludwig fumed back at her.
Helena didn’t know what ‘Lummox’ meant but was sure it was some sort of insult but was willing to let it pass because even she could see the honest concern and fear in the little mans eyes. As she crossed to grab one of the couches they had laid the victims on earlier Ludwig waved his hand around the room and by sheer force of will lit the rush torches in their sconces bathing the area in their flickering warm light before turning to ignite the fire in the chimney alcove with a single word.
Satisfied he began to strip, throwing his clothes into a muddled heap as he rushed to prepare as the girls and Simieon led the prematurely aged trio out of the office. Helena had two of the couches butted end on end ready for them to sit on and was hovering nervously behind the girls ready to assist with their charges if it was needed.
Dannia’s prim figure had gone, even her small pert breasts sagged in a mound of wrinkled flesh. Simieon, tears streaming from his eyes, gently carried her to the seats murmuring loving words and encouragements all the while as the woman he adored fought to stay awake.
Ludwig spoke loudly as he waved his hands over the pool from where he stood at its edge.
“Mother of creation who is adored and revered hear my words I pray. Lord Huron angel of trust and reconciliation who is adored and revered hear my words I pray.” A noise was coming from the pool an odd echoing dripping sound that seemed to underline his words. “Though I am not worthy those that sit afflicted behind me are. They gave of their lives and of their youth to save a girls life.” Water was trickling into the pool but where from couldn’t be seen as it seemed to just be appearing from all sides equally in what was now a steady stream.
“Huron Lord of Truths allow the Mother of Creation access to your pool I beg so through me she can heal them and make them whole.” The water was pouring into the pool now the noise growing ever louder as the flow grew stronger. The surface of the pool was no calm lake but a violent storm tossed sea. Arcs of foam and waves crashed over its surface making odd twisted shapes before vanishing back into the maelstrom of its surface.
“Mother of Creation I am here naked before you in flesh, mind and in spirit. Aid me; aid me now I beseech you.”
In the centre of the pool a whirlpool grew, spinning rapidly as a shape at its centre flickering in and out of existence until with a deafening roar the whirlpool inverted into a towering waterspout that almost touched the dome high above. Within its column a transparent female figure stood arms out flung as if she was made of water or glass herself. She brought her hands together in a strange cupping formation and aimed them at the now shaking priest. Water roared out from those cupped hands in a jet that struck Ludwig solidly in the chest making him stagger but by force of will he remain standing before erupting out of his back were three discrete jets of water that smashed into three bared chests. The girls and Simieon fought to hold the three of them upright against the onslaught praying that that was the correct thing to do. Dannia looked down at her right hand and arm and watched the withered flesh swell as life giving fluid poured into it. She felt her breasts swell and lift and her legs lose their weakness and aches.
As quickly as the horizontal jets had appeared they were gone leaving behind three dry youthful naked figures sitting upright and awake upon the couches.
“What have you done you old fool?!” Peer yelled launching himself toward the now kneeling figure of his kinsman who was silhouetted against the dwindling column of water. To Peers horror as Ludwig turned his head he saw that the man had lost his eyes, he wasn’t just blind the eyes had been plucked from his head leaving two empty smooth sockets.
“What I had to cousin and by your voice I can see I was successful.” Ludwig said with irony. “What I have lost is a small price to pay for the health of the three of you and to look upon my Gods sweet face.”
Peer looked across to the slowly sinking column of water and realised that by myth no one could look upon her face with out being struck blind and that to restore Ludwig’s sight he must make a pact. But he had little time to do it.
“Mother of Creation do not leave him thus, restore his sight but remove his memories of you if you must, and I will be your liegeman, your acolyte for evermore.” Even as he said it he knew that his pledge of loyalty had been ignored but at least the whirling waterspout paused in its decent. Once more a pair of transparent hands cupped the water and thrust it out into a jet that struck the cleric soundly in the back. Unprepared for the impact Ludwig was knocked over and crashed to the tiled floor knocking the wind out of his body as all the torches were blown out and the column of water collapsed with an almighty bang.
When the beleaguered and battered Cleric lifted himself off the floor he was able to look up at Peer who was rushing to his side with two brilliant sparkling eyes, but what eyes, for one was a blue so deep and cold it brought the mage up short whilst the other was the warmest of dark browns shot through with deep reds.
“Thank you cousin.” He said happily before passing out.
The event was in full swing as Dannia and the young girl Alison made their way through the throng of party goers. Dannia had managed to find a serviceable suit of leather armour that could fit the girl but hadn’t realised that in this environment the pair of them would blend in rather than stand out. Around them guests dressed in strange leather costumes cavorted and postured.
After the events at the temple Ludwig and the victims of the aging process rested and tried to get some sleep while the girls with Simieon’s help tried to put names and faces to the lists that they had found and compiled.
When Dannia had woke up it was getting late so it was decided to leave the visits until tomorrow besides Simeon had been selected to be security at another party, this one being held by the Worshipful Order of Leather Workers. That had been a euphemism if there ever was one. Everywhere you looked there were leather clad men and women, and it wasn’t as if the clothes were practical, at least for fighting, being too tight and far to revealing. The revellers played at dungeons with no conception of its reality.
A corpulent woman walked pass in a leather studded strap affair that barely covered the nipples of her huge flaccid white breasts and shaven crutch, she was leading a naked slim young woman on a lead like a common cur. From odd corners came the moans of pleasure as leather struck flesh. Dannia looked at poor Alison as she flinched at every sound of impact and regretted talking the girl into coming.
“You can go back if it’s getting too much for you; I can ask Helena to take you. I don’t think she’s having anymore fun than you with all this. You’ve only to ask.” Dannia said softly as they made their way around a woman who was using a large squash like fruit to pleasure herself while four men pleasured themselves above her.
“Thank you my Lady but no, you said you needed me to recognise any of the children here and I’d like to see it through if I can.” Her voice was strained as she adjusted the silver mask she was wearing. “Why must I wear this my Lady, when you are not wearing a mask?”
“That’s simple girl I want them to know I’m here but I don’t want them to know you are here also, you’re my ace in the hole so to speak.” Dannia was scanning the crowd with what appeared to be bored indifference when that was far from the truth.
As they approached one dimly light corner they came across a naked chubby woman tied to a wheel being spanked, caned and whipped by an ugly weasel of a man.
“Mercy Master, mercy I beg.” She moaned her ample flesh quivering.
Alison moved forward to snatch the cruel knobble cane from the man’s hand but was stopped by the strong pressure of Dannia’s hand on her wrist.
“But my Lady she was begging for mercy.” Alison said totally bewildered.
“It is all part of the game child. She doesn’t really want it to stop she’s enjoying it to much but she has to keep up the act of being a damsel in distress hence the cries for mercy.” Dannia explained. “You think the one with the whip is in charge but he is not the slave is, the punishment would stop instantly on the use of an agreed safe word. Between Simieon and I it is the word ‘red’ and we only partake in gentle correction nothing as savage as this. The were passing another couple were some sort of mage was sending mini lightning out of his finger tip to strike the woman’s wet pierced breasts. “Shut you mouth dear you look like one of those fish Simieon is always catching.”
Out of the crowd an incredibly well endowed fat man appeared chasing three naked young girls around a large table a heavily knotted three thronged scourge in his hand just missing their bare flesh. He spied the pair of them and stopped his pursuit to leer at them licking his lips suggestively.
“Have you come to share your bodies with me sweet meat. They would look so much better with a few stripes on them.” He sidled closer whilst his three young companions watched from the other side of the table giggling. “It’s fun when they are bought but so much better when they are not. My dungeons need new flesh to love, to punish.”
His engorged member waved close to Dannia’s face as he ran the back of his hand down the visibly shaking Alison’s neck.
“You can’t wait my dear, I can tell.” He would have said more if it wasn’t for the fact that there was the flat of an icy cold knife pressed up against the gland of his member.
“We’re security sir not part of the scene shall we say.” Dannia’s voice was as cold as the knife. “We’re here to make sure things don’t get out of hand.”
He looked as if he was going to scoff possibly thinking it was all part of the game but the increased pressure of Dannia’s knife dissuaded him.
“Security you say, good idea, we don’t want the young bucks getting carried away with what is on offer.” For all the fact he was clearly embarrassed his member staid resolutely erect.
“On you go then sir.” The man turned to go but was brought up short by Dannia’s next words before waddling of rapidly with the three giggling girls in tow.
“Oh Bishop I do hope you realise that the drug ‘V’ is illegal, it wouldn’t do for someone of your standing to be found with some in his possession would it.” Dannia grinned coldly.
Dannia turned to Alison who was clearly shaken.
“That drug will give him a heart attack before his finished. Are you alright child?”
“Yes just a bit shaken Lady Dannia.” It was clear to Dannia that the girl was more than a bit shaken but for the girls sake chose to let it go.
“Did you recognise the girls at all Alison?” She decided to bring the girls mind back to the task in hand as the three girls reappeared this time in the company of another corpulent woman leading a thin younger woman on a slave chain. Both wore leathers that exposed more than it could ever cover. For a moment Dannia speculated over why at an event like this it was the fat and excruciatingly thin that predominated. You could hardly say it was a gathering of the beautiful people. Alison’s voice brought her back to the present.
“Yes I do.”
“Don’t point girl just tell me!” Dannia told her quickly to avoid alerting any possible watcher.
“They’re from the school but they are not as young as they look. The two red heads are Colette and Odette, they are twins but you wouldn’t think it to look at them, they left school just before me so they would be seventeen. The other girl is the same age as me, sixteen, and she’s called Veronique.” Alison was trying to keep her voice calm but it still shook slightly as she watched what the group was doing.
“All special students I take it?” Dannia said watching in disgust as the fat woman squatted and peed into a glass that one of the girls was holding and defecated on to a plate that Veronique was holding.
“Yes Lady Dannia.” Alison replied trying not to retch as the woman in the slave chains was made to drink and eat the woman’s waste whilst other revellers watch on in obvious pleasure.
“Try to remember that it is the slaves choice to be treated thus.” Dannia explained but even she was revolted as to what happened next. “Come on lets join Simieon at the refreshments. I for one need a drink, anything to get the foul taste out of my mouth.”
Once they had reached the table they found a group of naked and semi-naked women collected round it and they soon saw why. Stretched out on the table was a curvaceous young woman whose naked body held any amount of small nibble size foods including a banana thrust between her legs and into her private parts? The women were using their mouths and lips alone to retrieve the little food parcels that lay on her body whilst a saggy old matron attacked the banana with gusto.
Quickly retrieving a couple of cool glasses of lime cordial she led the girl away to where Simieon was standing his arms crossed a look of disapproval on his face no doubt but hidden under the masque mask.
“There’s something we could try my darling.” Nodding to the living table with a wicked glint in her eyes as a woman poured sparkling wine over the lying woman’s breasts before licking and sucking it back off. “Interesting.” She purred before getting down to the business of what Alison had discovered. “Alison has positively recognised three young girls from her school but the problem is that they are all school leavers so they are not underage.”
“Four Dannia.” Alison was so insistent that she forgot to say ‘Lady’ not that Dannia minded, she in fact preferred it that way. At the living table a plump with baby fat girl had appeared, her breasts newly budding, to join the three they had seen earlier. All four were giggling as they tried to get food of the table whilst the women already there groped them. “Her name’s Yvette, I don’t know her last name, but she younger that me, in fact I don’t think she’s fourteen yet.”
“Well done Alison. Now I think it’s time you went back to the temple dormitory don’t you it’s very late.” Dannia said gently.
“I agree with Dannia you’ve seen and done enough my girl. We have our mark to follow now so you’re work is over.” Simieon told her agreeing with his wife.
“We’ll get Helena to take you back as it seems she’s having problems of her own.” Laughed Dannia as she watched the beleaguered Amazon approaching with a thunderous scowl on her face.
The problem was that Helena insisted on wearing her traditional armour which only went to emphasised her mighty frame. The golden breast plate sculptured to look like a naked woman’s torso, the very short skirt made of leather strips and her strange sandals that laced right up to just below the knee made her look more like a party goer than part of the security team.
“Go away little man and stop kissing feet, it is pervert, yes.” The weasel like youth licked between Helena toes mistaking her shiver of disgust for pleasure, but not for long. With a roar of fury she bent and grabbing the little man by the neck lifted him up and slammed him into the wall and held him there much to the delight of the crowd at the table who watched her with lust in their eyes.
“You are nasty little pervert and if you touch me again I will break your neck, you understand, no.” The man his face purpling due to restrictive breathing tried to nod as his erect member erupted in response to his total euphoria. Helena was not impressed at being splattered and with a bellow of rage threw the man over twenty feet into the deep pool that stood at one side of the room. “Friend Dannia I no like this place, it is evil, how you say disgusting.”
Dannia under normal circumstances would have disagreed, revelling in the freedom and lack of hypocrisy an event like this would represent, but somehow after seeing what the girls did with the fat woman she wasn’t quite as sure.
“I agree Helena, but alas they are allowed to do as they want.” Dannia looked up at the towering young woman as she took a cloth off the nearest table to wipe the man’s seed of her skirt and naked leg and wondered if she ever was as naiveté and innocent as Helena.
“Helena could you possibly take Alison back to the Temple Dormitory, I think she’s done enough tonight it will also give you a chance to clean yourself up.” Dannia said with a smile.
“Of course friend Dannia, I will do this then I return, yes.” Helena replied with one of her dazzling natural smiles.
Dannia looked over at the pool to see the creep staring adoringly at Helena over its edge.
“No I think we can manage now you might as well have the rest of the night off.” The crestfallen look on the man’s face was quite comic and even Alison couldn’t help but stifle a giggle.
“Ladies and gentlemen for your pleasure Lady ‘Nocturne’ challenges any woman present to a competition for a purse of five hundred silver Marks.” Dannia couldn’t see where the voice was coming from but she could see the cloaked shape of a woman walking toward two pillowed couches. “The winner has only one thing to do and that is to have sex with one more man, or woman with a suitable appendage, than ‘Nocturne’ herself.” The woman dropped her cloak to reveal a young nubile body unadulterated with hair. “Are there any challengers?”
“I will! I will challenge her.” A tubby woman of around forty strutted forward discarding what was left of her clothes. “My name is Messelina.”
“A Roma Kings wife no less. Very well my lady, prepare yourself. Women will be limited to two minutes with the appropriate artificial appendage and the men must pass their seed on her body to prove success.”
Simieon’s eyes went black with rage while Dannia’s went to ice. There lying in front of them was their enemy, the person who had their daughter killed and attempted several times to take Dannia’s life.
“This is the woman who hurt you, yes” It seems that Dannia wasn’t the only one affected by this revelation. “I challenge her for you, no.”
Dannia was suddenly aware of the gem shard knife in her hand but had no memory of drawing it whilst Alison had the seaman’s dirk out in front of her, her hand shaking with rage, even Simieon and Helena had drawn blades.
“No Helena. All of you put your blades away.” With great reluctance she sheathed her knife. “Something’s wrong here, something very wrong.”
She looked up the staircase and saw the chain of one of the chandeliers dangling down and with a check of the mighty hammer beam roof and allowed herself a wry smile.
“Come quickly.” She led them swiftly up onto the balcony to where another of the chains hung down. “Helena could you lower the crown of candles and then haul it back up again with Simieon and me on it or will we be too heavy?”
Helena examined both the chandelier and the chain before she came to her conclusion.
“I will try my friend Dannia, I will try.” So saying she took the chain in her powerful hands and slowly lowered it down to the floor.
“Alison, help us put out the candles as I for one don’t want to get burnt on that thing.” Simieon said his face set hard like granite.
Soon the two Halflings were on board ready for their assent to the wooded beams that crisscrossed the ceiling. Helena’s muscles bulged as she took the strain and began to haul them up into the ceiling with Alison’s help and even the little man who had plagued Helena so much had reappeared and was adding his surprising strength to the proceedings. Soon they were at roof height and could swing themselves up onto the beams above where with the skill of high wire experts the trotted and changed beams until they were directly above the contest below.
“Why are we up here Dannia we should be down there dealing with the bastard?” Simieon’s voice was a low growl.
“Because my dear impetuous husband I want to be certain it is she. If it is then she will pay my darling she will pay.” She hunkered down to watch the proceedings below for awhile.
The self styled Messelina grunted and sweated like a pig as another party goer mounted her making her moan with pleasure. ‘Nocturne’ was cool and though moaning just as much as her rival was somehow detached from it all. As their enemy with amazing suppleness tucked her feet behind her ears and used her fingers to open herself for the next client Dannia saw it or to be more exact didn’t see it.
“It’s not ‘Nocturne’.” She whispered angrily.
“It must be Dannia it’s too much of a coincidence that we are here when a woman called ‘Nocturne’ turns up.” Simieon’s eyes blazed with barely contained fury.
“Since when would a woman like ‘Nocturne’ circumcise herself.” Dannia spat back vehemently. “It’s one of the girls from the school, poor child. She’s been sent one of those cards to do this, isn’t it enough that they have cut her without having her raped by these perverts. Tomorrow she won’t even remember, all she’ll have for it is a very sore fanny and a broken, ripped maidenhead.”
Dannia was shaking with indignation and rage.
“I don’t understand. Why has the girl been used this way?” Simieon looked down now with new eyes. “But your right even thought she is going through the motions her eyes are blank, unfeeling.”
“‘Nocturne’ knew you would be here tonight and was relying on you to attack the girl. You would have killed the supposed deadly assassin and in the process got yourself arrested and executed. No one will be aware of the little assassins programmed to kill and even if you told the authorities they wouldn’t believe a murderer.” Dannia paused as the challenger emitted an all mighty howl of pleasure as someone, a woman Dannia noticed, hit the right spot. “If you had arrested her she would have either stayed in character and been hung or come out of it making you look a fool, either way the authorities would close the book on it.”
“Both ladies have been pleasured by thirty, shall we say, customers but how many more can they take.” The disembodied female voice called over the grunting copulation below.
“What do we do now, wait till she’s finished then follow her?” Simieon offered as Dannia scanned the throng below for the owner of the voice.
“No point darling she’ll just go home and wake up without any knowledge.” Dannia tried to see if anyone was lurking like they were up in the rafters. “No we follow that school child.” She indicated the underage girl that Alison alerted her about earlier.
“Won’t she be under the same compulsion?” Simieon asked.
“No she’s one of the special girls from the slums and they appear to be trained for prostitution. Any cards they would receive would be for them to assassinate.” Dannia rocked back on her haunches as she took in what the group of girls were doing as they prepared the men and women for the contest and for the first time since they had come to Perry she felt physically sick over the debauchery. “Come on lets get back to the others.”
Once they reached the candelabrum they slid down the chain to the floor where the others awaited them, including the little man who sat at Helena’s feet very still.
“It isn’t ‘Nocturne’ it’s a trap, one we nearly fell for.” Dannia explained as that disembodied voice echoed forth once more. “It’s one of the girls from the school. I hate to ask you this of you child but can you work closer to her and see if you can recognise her while Simieon and I try and trace the owner of the voice.” Dannia noticed the little man for the first time. “And what is he doing here?”
The little man stood up and lifted his mask to reveal his thin sallow face.
“Marcelo Waive at your service madam. I’m a junior lawyer at the central registry.” His whole stance and demeanour had changed markedly, he was more assured and erect. “I had the unenviable task of taking statements about the brutality meted out to those poor girls from the school you mentioned.” He physically shuddered at the thought. “I wish to help in any way I can and I can start by finding the owner of that voice for you. Forgive me but I doubt they would give the name or location to a city guard but the may let it slip to a ‘slave’.” With that he dropped into his previous attitude and slinked away.
So without any option they stood on the balcony and waited and watched the competition with dull eyes.
Alison was the first back her face white at what she had seen.
“Your right it is a girl from the school, she was in the year above me but I’m afraid I don’t know her name.”
“How did you recognise her with her mask on?” Simieon asked with a worried frown.
“She got herself tattooed with her boyfriends name on the last day of school, I remember because the headmistress went berserk.” Alison replied.
“She would do, she was frightened the girl would break the conditioning.” Dannia said clearly concerned for the girl. “You’ve done enough, more than enough Alison, Helena will you take her back to the temple for us please.”
“Assuredly my friend Dannia.” Helena took Alison’s hand gently into her own. “You want me to come back, yes.”
Dannia shook her head.
“No but tell the other’s to prepare. I’ll send word when I’ve run the prey to its earth.” Dannia told her before kissing Alison on both cheeks. “We will have our revenge, they will be brought to justice for what they have done never doubt that.”
The girl nodded and left with Helena’s other hand on her shoulder giving it a gentle squeeze, well as gentle as she could but it still made Alison wince slightly.
A little later Marcelo reappeared a little breathless from some exertion Dannia had to assume.
“My Lady the owner of the voice is an elderly lady called ‘Cherry’ but I managed to find out her real name. It’s Charlotte Rubens she used to work for the El Pariso brothel as one of the entertainers,” He said using a euphemism for a prostitute, “but now that she’s too old she’s become a maid caring for the younger working ladies. She was asked by the young ‘Nocturne’ to accompany her and be her voice, but she doesn’t know who is paying but she herself got twenty gold marks.”
“Thank you Marcelo you’ve done well.” She paused. “Do you really want to help those girls from the school?”
“Yes most assuredly. Do you know that only the first two years of girls at the school knew what was happening to them the older girls had no idea that any violence was taking place at all. I couldn’t understand why the Headmistress and the Matron would suddenly start abusing the girls after all they had been running the school for five years now.”
The man replied.
“In your legal profession is there anyway you can get all those girls that were still at the school out of the city to a place of safety?” Dannia asked rapidly while scanning the crowd for the young girls.
“I can’t physically take them but I’m sure I can arrange a legal document which would allow them to be taken out as a symbol of remorse from the city fathers.” He said helpfully.
“Will you go to the Temple of Huron where my friends are waiting with Father Peter the priest? Explain to them what you can do and then ask Peer discreetly to tell you what we have discovered. I can’t explain more but we must get those girls out of the city for both their sakes and for the sake of the city.” Dannia said as she caught sight of the girls once more.
“I hope you don’t mind Lady Dannia but I think I’ll go home first and change. These are hardly the correct attire for visiting a Temple.” He gave a thin smile which made Dannia realise that he unlike most of the clientele was quite young. “I’ll pick up the required paper, velum, ink and seals on the way to the temple to save time.”
“Thank you Marcello.” Dannia had always revelled in the cities free hedonistic ways but now they just looked vile and ugly. “Simieon target on the move, I think they are going home” Before the poor lawyer could say anything more they had gone, melting into the crowd.
The night air was chilly as the Darkhorns followed the girls from their vantage point of the roofs, always keeping up with the children and their minder, another prostitute. Under different conditions they would enjoy free running over the cities skyline but not tonight, too much was at stake for them to lose their prey.
The children were dropped off one by one at different homes until only the youngest was left. There was still a chance that this was all a wild goose chase and that the girl would be dropped off at some safe house where a ‘maid’ would look after her but somehow Dannia doubted it though why she couldn’t say it was just some kind of instinct.
Eventually they stopped at a door in the well to do part of the trader’s quarter. The woman walked up the tiled path and knocked on the door with a strange series of staccato taps.
“Surely not code that would be just plain stupid?” Dannia muttered from her vantage point on the roof of the inn opposite, but evidently she was wrong as the door very carefully opened to let them enter. In the doorway just for a second stood an ugly brute of a man with a sword hilt sticking above his shoulder, a man they knew.
“Now what? Do we just burst in and confront them or just spy on them?” Simieon asked but Dannia was hardly listening she was staring at the houses windows and then at the bright face of the main moon Luna and the minor moon Lucifer before turning back to the buildings again.
“Look at the windows Simieon.” Dannia said.
“Oh no you’re not going to change the window covers again are you.” He moaned fully aware of Dannia’s habit of quite literally pick up fashion tips from the houses she burgled or as she put it ‘Liberated’.
“No you idiot look at the reflections.”
“There aren’t any.” Simieon said a little non plus.
“Yes but there should be, of Luna if nothing else. The other houses are reflecting some of its light.” She pointed at the others in that block.
“It isn’t real it’s an illusion.” Simieon said as the penny finally dropped.
“Simieon go back and fetch the others while I keep watch.” Dannia ordered.
“No need my love Peer gave me this.” Simieon pulled out of his pouch what looked like a marble eye of a statue and placed it on his forehead where it adhered and eerily took on flesh tones before rolling backward and forward in its new socket. “He called it his wizard’s eye. Now he can see what we can see and hear what we say.”
“Peer come to the Rue del a Mort.” Dannia felt foolish talking to a statues animated eye but persisted. “Bring the others I think we’ve found the way into ‘Nocturnes’ lair.” She paused as a sweet refrain drifted up from the inn’s common room below. “How do we know he’s heard?” Dannia asked just as the eye returned to its marbled state and dropped into his palm.
“Like that I think?” Simieon said popping it back into his pouch.
They settled themselves down to watch cuddling up together to keep warm and listened to the music floating up from the inn below. Little did they know that the man, Owen Dorr, playing so sweetly in the common room below would play such a pivotal role in their lives before the years end, but that is another story.
His music was having a profound effect on Dannia who felt the sad song in her every sinew, in her every memory of Marie. It was if he knew her every emotion and could play them at will. Towards the end she could feel tears filling her eyes, blurring her vision, and turned to Simieon for comfort only to find silent tears running down his cheeks too.
“We will have justice for her darling I promise.” He gathered her deeper into his arms and kissed her tenderly before without a word they returned to their vigil.
Unseen they laid there upon the roof and waited not moving like two gargoyles on a temples roof for something to happen.