The kitchens were dark when Dannia dropped in by the route she had used before. Carefully she picked her way across the floor to avoid bumping into anything that could make any noise to betray her presence. She picked the lock of the large pantry and looked inside. Her stomach cramped painfully at the sight of the meat hanging on their hooks and the shelves of fresh bread, the saliva positively pooling in her normally dry mouth. On a shelf a group of thirteen small pork pies that had been baked that day glistening appetisingly which soon became twelve due to Dannia’s light fingeredness but at first glance you would be hard put to say one was missing so skilfully had she rearranged those that remained. Soon a few bread rolls, a small boiled joint of ham nestling in a group of others, and a few pieces of fruit joined it in the basket which she replaced into her leg pouch. She wandered around for awhile seeing what else she could appropriate to assuage her magpie nature when she heard voices from below. A man and a woman’s both were trying to talk quietly but had been picked up by Dannia’s incredible hearing. It wasn’t enough to make out what they were saying but enough to tell her they were climbing the stairs to the kitchen area. They would see Dannia if she tried to escape via the way she had entered and the large cooking vessel she hid in last time was full of some unappetising stew affair Having no option she slid herself up under a set of chefs clothes hanging on the wall, they reeked of stale sweat and had several holes in them which allowed Dannia as she hung there a truncated view of the kitchen.
The door opened and two familiar figures entered, both of them nervous and jumpy. It was Caroline and the Lieutenant.
“Now why are they here?” Dannia pondered to herself. “They can’t be lovers surely?”
It soon became evident that they weren’t as a strange polite conversation took place, each one cautiously trying to sound out the other. It was the young officer who broke this pattern first as he came perilously close to where Dannia hung precariously.
“Look at the state of these clothes they are filthy it’s no wonder you were ill.” He said casually before adding the question he really wanted to ask in an equally casual manner. “Do you think what we are doing here is right Caroline? What we’re doing to those women I mean?”
“Off course sir, how can you doubt it, they are perverted subhuman scum.” There was no fire in her voice just a dead flat monotone that gave nothing away.
“Are they? You have the best, most orderly and quiet of the huts. Why?”
“They know better than to annoy me sir.” Caroline replied examining the sharpness of a butcher’s knife in Luna’s light.
“Rubbish!” The Lieutenant took the knife out of her hand and replaced it with the others. “I’m risking everything here just by talking to you and I don’t need you getting ideas about using a knife.”
Caroline was startled by the officer’s reaction and took a step backward her hand dropping instinctively to her cane in its sheath at her hip.
“We’re wrong guard, very wrong.” He continued.
“Wrong sir?” Caroline said defensively in an attempt to buy herself sometime.
“Don’t act the fool woman you are not very good at it. Gods Caroline it doesn’t require a genius to work out that you’re feeding them extra rations.” The man’s voice was a hoarse whisper. “I saw you go in with a full pouch and come out with an empty one. It wasn’t even the same pouch.”
“I’m trying to keep the output up sir; if they are starving they can’t perform their tasks properly.” She was starting to panic now and expected a set of guards to break in at any moment and take her away for slaughter.
“No! It was because you saw what I have, that they are human beings just like us. These are not degenerate monsters; they’re people, terrified, starving people.” He wiped his mouth with a back of his shaking hand. “We have no right doing what we are doing to them. And we call ourselves pure.”
Caroline sagged and began to explain in a trembling voice the rosary held tight in her hand.
“The church taught me that we were superior and that the other races were degenerate subhuman creatures that consulted with daemons. We were going to purge the world and usher in a world of peace and beauty untainted by dark magic’s and I believed it. I was trained to brutalise any captives but…”
“That but says it all. They weren’t what you expected were they?”
“No. They cared for each other and rallied round when one of them was hurt. They respected each other and even showed me a sad form of respect. It was if they weren’t blaming me for what I was doing to them, but was sad that our system had led to this.” Caroline took a breath. “When I was badly bitten they could have easily overpowered me and escaped but they didn’t they stayed and saved my sight. At the decimation today their lady mayor tried to move forward to replace little Angel who was obviously the one chosen to go, she was willing to sacrifice herself for her friend. This wasn’t what I was told they would do or how they would react; I was told they were self-serving and vicious, not kind and self-sacrificing.”
“There are a few others of us who feel like we do but too few to act.” He crossed to the window and peered out. “Did you notice that the majority of the decimated were old women? I see you did, well like your lady mayor they probably volunteered to give the younger ones a chance. Not an act of selfishness is it.”
“But what can we do? If there is so few of us that doubt, we can’t risk exposing ourselves.” Caroline was twisting her rosary in her hands as she spoke. “All we can do is try and make the ladies as comfortable as we can, like I’ve tried to do.”
“My father, the mighty general, is to take the title of Imperator, did you know that. It’s sick!” He spat. “He is going to entertain his officers with some of the women in our charge before he announces his ascendancy next eight day. How hypocritical is that! We are going to have to provide sex slaves from our prisoners for the perverted pleasure of his officers, whilst condemning our foe for the self same sins!”
“Calm down Lieutenant or we will be heard and both end up being tortured as traitors.” Caroline was beside herself with fear, terrified at what her involvement with this man could cost her.
“Caroline I intend to try and get your women selected for the châteaux and then try and get them away if I can. It’s not much but it is at least something. You can either come with me or stay behind either way I’ll make sure you are not implicated.” He paused. “I intend to go with them and then make for Engl to get away from this delusional madness. You can come too or stay at the camp here. No one will blame you I’ll be the one at fault.”
Caroline nodded slowly.
“Will you go to Erin sir? To see the little people, Angels people?”
“Yes, if the Gods are kind.”
“What do you want me to do?” She asked having made up her mind to go with them.
“Keep feeding them but be more careful and don’t warn them they might give themselves away. I’m going to put in the suggestion that your group goes but you must be against it to cover yourself. If you are coming with us then insist on taking them to the châteaux yourself, I’ll meet you there, if not remain here and moan about them going.” He looked straight at her. “I trust you Caroline, so please don’t betray me.” He said. “I have to go I’m expected to dine with my aunt and father tonight, with any luck they will choke on their food.”
With that he left, leaving Caroline standing forlornly in the middle of the room. With a sudden cry of pain she sank to the floor and began to sob.
“You lied to me my God; you filled me with hate and fear! I denounce you false prophet, corrupter of souls!” She ripped apart the rosary allowing the beads to drop into the palm of her hand. “What is to become of me?! Why have you abandoned me? I’m so confused, guide me I pray?”
“I have not abandoned you child you were driven from my sight by false priests who corrupted my words.” A deep distorted voice echoed around the room making her shake with fear. “But you have had the scales of lies taken from your eyes and I can see you once more. Strive for purity in your heart child and in your dealings with others do not let hatred blacken it. Return to the bosom of your God and feel my love and guiding hand. Go forth from here and be born anew, help others find purity of mind and body as you yourself strive for those goals. Go child quickly, go and be ever in my sight.”
Caroline rose and bowed her head clutching the beads so hard in her hand that they dug into her flesh.
“You’ll not find me wanting my Lord God. I will work for equity with others if that is your wish.” She said humbly. “I will work for purity of my own soul.”
“It is, now go knowing you are blessed and absolved for you were led astray by liars and the evil hearted. You shall be my Paladin, my star in the darkness, now go.” The voice told her. She bowed and left.
After waiting a moment Dannia lowered herself down to the floor and took the voice distorter from her mouth pondering on what she had heard and saw.
She stared at the spot where the poor guard had broken down in tears and confusion trying to get the taste of the voice distorter out her mouth. She actually felt sorry for the woman; it seems she had suffered in her own ways as much as they had.
Dannia slipped into the shadows and was gone.
The strangely shaped building loomed up starkly against the clear star filled sky like some ancient hunching monster. Dannia was reluctant to enter its cold brutality but she needed to collect a few more scrolls, books and rods for the trapped mages if she was going to prime them for an eight day breakout. She was about to pick the lock once again when she heard voices coming from the darkness.
“Thank the gods we got rid of that useless brother of ours. He was so frightened he was becoming a liability.” It was the two of the three guards she had the unfortunate pleasure of discovering last time. “He was a lousy lover anyway.”
“He was such a coward it was easy to convince him he had the vomits too and when he did spew I held his mouth shut and pinched his nose so he drowned in his own puke.” The man actually let out a low chuckle. Dannia felt like killing them there and then but desisted imagining their demise instead.
After they had gone she entered the building making sure to lock it after her and picked her way down past the corpses that lay on the beds and dissection slabs. A woman had been split open and an attempt to remove her womb had been unsuccessfully carried out, on another a young woman was linked through tubes of intestine to an older woman, blood vessel to blood vessel. Blood flowed from the old woman slowly into the younger who twitched and writhed, even though it was evident she was sedated, she was in agony.
The older woman’s eyes fluttered open.
“Have you come to torture me more little demon?” She wheezed.
Dannia recognised both the women with difficulty such was the brutality they had endured. They were mother and daughter and had run the bakery in La Mer together.
“No my friend it’s Petite Angel. Have no fear.” Dannia pulled back her hood and came into what light there was.
“Ah Angel. You should not be here it is to dangerous mom petite.” It was typical of the woman to think only of Dannia’s safety and not her own. “Before you go take our lives I beg of you. I can’t stand the pain, the agony. I’m killing my daughter with every drop of my blood.”
Dannia nodded soberly.
“Your deaths will be avenged.” With delicate skill she found the pressure points on the woman’s neck and pressed. “You have my word on it.” The woman didn’t twitch or thrash about but simply slipped away as her daughter with a final convulsion did likewise.
Dannia sighed and crossed to the door where the scrolls and mage rods were kept and was about to pick the lock when the noise of the main door being unlocked and voices froze her heart.
“How are the experiments going good priestess?” the general asked the short severe woman by her side. “I trust they are going well?”
“It is mixed results I am afraid.” Her voice was clipped and emotionless. “The attempts at sterilisation by removal of the womb have met with some success but many died of shock after the operations. Let me show you General on this body I have prepared for you. As you can see to remove the whole womb is a major task but removal of these, the egg producers, would be less traumatic and would increase the slave race’s chance of recovery but still giving us total barrenness.”
“I see, how easy would it be to carry out on mass?” he asked.
“Any competent barber surgeon could do it or birthing woman for that matter once they have been shown how. Over here we are seeing if a mothers blood can be used to replace a child’s, our research shows that such changes are possible even from unrelated subjects, but some show violent reactions to the process and we are trying to ascertain why. It seems that this pairing has failed.”
“And what of the hybrid creature?” The general asked as he came further down the group of beds.
“That has been very successful with the creation of two of them. The first we slaughtered for examination and the second was unfortunately killed by a scorpion, but both creatures show heightened senses and a surprisingly low problem rate. We can create further experimental creatures, say approximately two dozen, ready for use in two eight days.”
“That is far more than I could hope to expect. Leave us now.” The General told her with a wave of a hand. Soon all that was left was the General and the Commander.
The General sat down at the huge kneehole desk and rested his hands upon its surface.
“Ah my sister can you not feel destiny calling?” He said with a manic glint to his eye.
“You should not have undermined me at the decimation!” She growled back at him.
“We need the scum before the push into our enemies territory but be rest assured dear Katrina your services will be required once more.” His voice lifted up into a religious fervour his fist crashing into the desktop to illustrate his points. “You will purge them, you will find the degenerate, the corrupt, and the dabblers in foul magic’s, as you did in our home land, you will lead the Inquisition once more!!!” He was practically dribbling in his rant.
The Commanders ruined face grinned manically.
“Have you had word from our sister and our agent?” She asked her hand going to her ruined face.
“No sweet sister but our ‘Matron’ has all her little assassins in place. I do not expect to hear from either of them now we are this close, but do not fret we will make them pay for what they did to your face.” He replied. “Xavier Provost thinks I will honour our pact, oh how he is wrong. The Assassin Guild Master will die at your hand sister for what his men did to you. You will have your revenge for what his agents did to your face, of that have no fear.”
He got up and began pacing up and down.
“In two eight days we will surge over the border and sweep all before us. Burundian’s little assassins will have disposed of their leaders for us, dropping them into total confusion, paving the way for our troopers. We will heap on their heads ten fold, a thousand fold, ten thousand fold our retribution for their sins. Those that can not be used in the labour camps will be slaughtered until the land is swept clean of their corruption.” His grew voice louder and louder. “I will have the message sent to both Provost and our sister Burundian of the invasion date. Come we will consult later but as of now let us dine with my son.”
“What do you intend to do with him?” The Commander asked.
“Oh he will die a hero’s death. Often junior officers die in battle and he will be no different.” He replied with a half smile.
“How can you be sure he will die?” She asked.
“Simple sister I will kill him myself. So will those simpering fools die that plot to remove me when their usefulness has come to an end?” He held out a courtly arm and led his sister out into the cool night locking the building behind him.
Dannia crawled out of the kneehole space of the desk and stretched to ease her stiff and cramped limbs. Several times the general nearly kicked her in his agitated rants but Dannia was more concerned with the revelation that the Commander was the ‘Matrons’ sister.
She knew that the woman reminded her of someone else but couldn’t work out who but now it seemed obvious. Though Dannia only saw the sleeping ‘Matron’ briefly and the Commander was heavily scarred on one side of her face she felt she should have realised earlier, much earlier. She shook herself, self condemnation would have to wait she had bigger fish to fry. She opened the door to the locked room and took two more spell books, three small ebony rods and two long staffs that felt strangely warm and vibrant in her hand. The last two were quickly stored away as they made Dannia feel distinctly uncomfortable. Making sure that no one could tell if she had been there at all she locked up and made for the main entrance only to stop three paces later by the sound of the door being unlocked. She was too far away from the desk to hide there again without being seen so had no option but to dive under one of the beds and pray they wouldn’t look underneath.
“Right.” It was the clipped tones of the Priestess. “Get rid of the shit on the slabs and beds, from tomorrow we create the Hybrid creatures and War Golems by the Generals orders”
“Madam this one is still alive, just.”
“Lets see.” Dannia heard her footsteps come closer to the bed she was hiding under. “This one won’t do for spare parts for either set of creatures it’s from the poisoning project. Dump it in the lime pit with the others. She can die in there with the other filth.”
“Yes madam. How shall we transport it to the pit?” Dannia from her precarious position hanging under the bed would like to hear the answer to that one too, especially as the wrong choice could leave her fatally exposed.
“Leave it woman! I’ll get the male guards to do it first thing in the morning since you’re so squeamish!” She wasn’t happy not one jot. “Tomorrow I want this whole room cleaned do you understand. We’ll be working on a hut of male and female slaves daily so we will need more cages made up outside to house the finished articles. What’s left of their bodies will be fed to them either that or consigned to the lime pits. Got all that, good. Tomorrow we will begin creating an invincible army of golems out of the bodies of our enemies an irony I shall enjoy creating.”
Dannia waited once more to make sure they had gone wondering if her luck was due to run out after so many close shaves.
A little later she was in the roof space of the mages hut looking down on Louisa’s sleeping face, she seemed so peaceful laying there her youthful face so empty of care. Youthful face! Louisa’s face was young and smooth as it had been before they had all been captured. Dannia felt a tension she never knew she had loosen as she lowered the basket of food, books and magic rods down to land gently on her friend’s chest. Louisa’s eyes snapped open to reveal pure black orbs with no sign of iris or whites, just a glossy blackness that sucked you in they were so deep.
“Louisa it’s me Angel.” She called quietly hoping her friend wasn’t totally lost to her.
The young woman blinked once, twice as her eye’s returned to their normal colour and the clawed hand relaxed.
“You startled me Angel.” She rebuked gently.
“I see you’ve solved the problem of the withering.” Dannia observed.
“Yes child.” Said an older woman as she came into view to the left of where Louisa was lying. “Thanks to you we have.”
As Dannia passed down the two long staves she had recovered the older woman let out a shriek of joy.
“It is my staff.” She took it in her had and her whole body shimmered making it difficult to focus on her. “They took it from me when they broke into my home. I was working on a spell to reduce the rat population at the time. They called me a witch and dragged me out and forced me to drink the foul stuff they make us drink now. They made me watch as they butchered my family in front of me. They pulled out my daughter’s fingernails and toe nails before tearing out her teeth beating her all the while. They called her the devils whore, freak and worse until she was almost passing out then they slit her throat. My own people did it to us, she was only eight.” She shuddered and the nimbus of light vanished. “Three quarter of us in here have similar stories child, all will be loyal to you, and what would you have of us.”
“Do nothing until then. I’ll try to visit every night if I can with food but it may prove difficult if not impossible to get any magical equipment.” She said when she had finished.
“Don’t worry about us child we can manage now. Don’t take any unnecessary risks.” Hildegard the older woman said. “We’ll use a glamour to make us appear withered then neutralise the foul stuff once we are returned to the hut.”
“Angel take care God speed.” Louisa added as Dannia lent back and faded into the shadows.
The night was getting humid again and full of the threat of thunder as Dannia sat in the pool of darkness created by their hut. Her shift was wide open allowing what ever breeze there was to cool her body.
The lieutenant was ill at ease when he appeared further back along the path, his head down deep in thought. When he reached the shadowed hut he called to Dannia softly.
After checking he wouldn’t be seen he crossed to her side and knelt on the grass.
Dannia took his face in her hands and drew him down and kissed him. Her heart raced as her tongue explored deep in his mouth as his did hers. At that moment she wanted him inside her, she wanted to feel his naked skin against hers, to lose herself in that blissful moment. Her desire was so strong that she began to shudder under its drive and it took all her willpower to keep some modicum of control.
“I love you!” She whispered hoarsely into his ear as they cuddled together. “Make love to me, please.”
“Soon, my darling Angel soon.” He drew back from her panting as he too fought his desires. “Listen to me Angel; I’m getting you transferred to the Châteaux brothel by Eighth day. You’ll be better dressed and fed there.”
Dannia took a deep seemingly shocked intake of breath before whispering fiercely.
“You want me to service other men?”
“No of course not.”
“Oh I see it know you want me to be your birds in a silver cage for you to take out and dally with at your leisure like a child’s toy.” She hissed. “I will not be your trollop, your whore!”
“Angel no, that’s not how it will be. The Châteaux will not be so heavily guarded and I will have access to horses. With your small size I should be able to smuggle you out in a bundle of furs and ride off with a spare horse. Once out of sight of the Châteaux we will make for Alsace or down to Giber may be even eventually reaching Erin, your homeland.” His eyes glinted wetly in what light penetrated the gloom. “I could never do that to you my darling love and I would kill anyone who tried.”
“I’m sorry I doubted you my darling. Kiss me; hold me because it will be an agony waiting till we can be together properly.” Dannia couldn’t reveal what she knew of his plans to take the whole hut there and wondered how he was going to rescue the others when suddenly she realised that he wasn’t going to it was all a blind to get her there, to the châteaux.
It was a very tired and concerned Dannia who lowered herself onto her bunk back in the hut. The Lieutenant was indeed offering her the best chance to escape but she knew she couldn’t abandon her friends to their fate. This concern for them was a strange and alien feeling for her as before staying at La Mer all she was ever concerned about was Simieon and her daughter, everyone else could go to hell as far as she was concerned. But now she was questioning everything she once believed. Where before she would have had sex with the Lieutenant and with Fran without batting an eyelid, or being concerned for their feelings as long as they satisfied her, now she worried how not hurt either of them. She sighed and climbed down to the floor and padded to the desk where she laid out what remained of her spoils.
“Juliet.” She whispered. “I know your not asleep, will you talk with me?”
“Yes Mon Petite.” Juliet was already out of her bunk and moving incredibly silently for a woman so large. “Did things not go well?”
“No they did not go well. The Lieutenant has fallen in love with me. It’s a mess Juliet, I’m not sure of my own emotions any more. On Eight day he is taking me up to the Châteaux to entertain his fathers officers, he is taking me to a whore house? I must abide there till such time he can procure horses for our escape. He is risking everything for me, to get me away with him.” Dannia toyed with a piece of apple. “But I can’t abandon you, you’re my friends. I don’t know what to do.”
“Will you tell the others?” Juliet asked.
“I must, it is only fair that they should know.”
“Say nothing Angel, not even to Hattie about this. Take your chance for freedom, but try and get him to take Fran too. When you are far away from here your emotions will settle and then you can make your choice of who you wish to be with or escape from them both.” She knelt down and kissed her cheek and embraced her before adding. “Go back to bed Angel you have done enough this night.”
They crossed back to where their bunks were but Dannia slipped in beside the sleeping Fran rather than returning to her own. Fran roused.
“Hello Angel.” She said sleepily.
She kissed the druid on the lips and gently, quietly they made love before drifting off into an exhausted sleep.