The whole of the camp was a hive of industry as cages were erected at back of the building where the inmates were experimented on. Three times Dannia was nearly discovered as she lay in the shadow watching the activities, looking out for her next chance to move on.
Eventually it came as a huge cage section began to topple causing pandemonium as more guards rushed to help. Dannia sped across the ground like a gazelle being chased by a sprint cat and shinned up the wall and into the roof space of the mages hut. She lay in the dark surprised at how winded she felt. She was loosing condition fast even though she was supplementing her meagre ration with what she had managed to snaffle from the kitchens and what she managed to take from the stall before she was taken.
She needn’t have worried about waking the occupants as they were wide awake clustered around the windows trying to look out without exposing their natural healthy features.
“Louisa! Louisa!” She called trying to get the Sorceresses attention above the general hubbub.
“Angel? Angel do you know what is happening outside we can’t see from here?” She asked staring into the shadows where Dannia sat.
“You won’t like it.” Dannia told her as the others gathered around. “They are making War Golems in the slaughter house and the guards are erecting cages to house them.”
Several of the women sucked in air with a hiss in disgust, while a few others went pale. “I haven’t been able to get you any food I’m afraid.” The women waved her concerns away. “I’m here to tell you that this eight day our work stops and I suspect our slaughter will begin. Our only chance to survive is to work together. I have a plan listen.”
For the next ten to fifteen minutes the plan was thrashed out and refined to take in to account the women’s abilities.
“You must collapse the slaughter house roof and crush what’s inside. Louisa, Fran is with me in hut eight and I’m going to get her to move earth into the roof space to give it some weight to help you when you collapse it. She’ll, with Beatrix help, create a mist to confuse things and get them to use more guards, and while on the subject of guards don’t attack any with a white band on them. I can’t explain just trust me.”
“Child?” One of the older women asked. “Child these war golems you speak of have you any inkling what they look like what they are made of? We need to know so we can formulate a defensive, and if need be an effective attack, plan.”
“No Lady I haven’t but I fear that they must be formidable from what I’ve over heard.” Dannia replied with a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“Girl we need that information. Do you think that you could get close enough to the cages to have a look?” The old woman asked.
“Martha! You can not expect Angel to go and look she is already risking her life just by coming here with food!” Louisa was not happy, not happy at all.
“Do you think I would want her to do this if we had a choice?!” She looked back up at Dannia and waved her hand over the top of her staff muttering an incantation under her breath. Something familiar began to appear on top of the staffs silver pommel.
“This child is my wizard’s eye but I can’t send it out to investigate as it will in all probability be seen whereas if it is attached to you it will not. You have already proved yourself resourceful girl will you take the risk?”
Dannia swallowed pulling back her hood as she came further into the light.
“I have seen one of these in action before my lady so though I honestly can say that I do not relish having this eye attached to me, I will under take the task you ask of me.” She swallowed her mouth bone dry.
“Thank you my brave girl. Let us begin.” The eye lifted off the staff and flew up to settle warm and tackily on her forehead, throbbing with a life of its own. It twisted creating a sharp pain in Dannia’s skull before settling down.
“We need to give her protect while she’s out there, perhaps some shielding.” Another of the watching women said after how to use the eye had been explained to Dannia.
“No we can’t, any further use of eldritch energy could be detected and you know that!”
“I just don’t like sending her out there without help. It does not sit well with me!” The woman replied.
“Be careful Angel. If you don’t feel you can do it come back. No one, I repeat, no one, will think badly of you.” Louisa was worried but knew that the die had been cast and like the rest she must wait to see how it falls and in who’s favour.
Once outside and swathed in her black leathers once again she felt more comfortable, which was strange when you consider what she, was going to try to do. Moving with graceful slowness and keeping to every scintilla of shadow she worked her way round to the other side of the building to where the guards had just finished erecting the large cage. The cage next door was occupied by a great hulking shape that sat with deathly stillness.
The guards had been dismissed to get more metal for another cage so this was probably the only chance to get a close look at the beast. Keeping low to the ground she moved across the open space, even crawling the last fifty yards to avoid detection she drew ever closer to the shape sitting there. She was just ten foot from the metal bars when she heard the sound of two people approaching. She couldn’t stay where she was because she would be spotted at once and any attempt to run would leave her dangerously exposed to any of the numerous patrols. And all the while the sound of feet and sotto conversation grew ever closer.
Dannia did the only thing she could think of. She rolled straight under the empty cage’s metal side supports wrapping herself around one of them like a piece of rag.
“Well Caroline what do you think of our ultimate weapon, it is beautiful isn’t it?” The Cleric, the one she had seen in the strange building, was almost wetting herself with euphoric pride. “When these are released in front of the army our enemies will run in terror or be crushed underfoot and the beautiful irony is that they won’t realise their own people will be the cause of their deaths.”
Cautiously opening one eye Dannia espied Caroline and the Cleric at the creature’s cage. Caroline did not look at all well and only after a few moments of looking at it walked away to violently throw up a few feet from where Dannia lay whilst the Cleric cackled in laughter.
“You will be one of the first to die for what you have done.” Caroline muttered as she straightened up wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“It filled you with horror Caroline as it should but can you imagine an army of ten or twenty of these bearing down on you. Can you imagine what terror these will induce in our enemies?” She slapped Caroline on the back in a show of false camaraderie. “Come I have a good wine in my quarters that with remove the vomits taste from your mouth. You and I are the same, a vision of the new order. Demigoddesses both, you in your shinning armour cutting down our enemies and I controlling our demons, our juggernauts, on the field of battle. Together we will rid the world of this fetid stink, these lesser beings, till only we remain. We shall be demigods! Avenging Valkaries!”
“Forgive me Cleric Doctor but I can not join you as of yet I have my patrol to finish, but perhaps later.” Caroline replied carefully with a false smile on her lips, the type that doesn’t reach the eyes.
“Of course Caroline we all have our duties to perform but come and join me later in the refectory. Bring your fellow patrol guards and we will drink to our inevitable victory and the destruction of this filthy scum. I look forward to seeing them beg for mercy as we kill them. There is so many inventive ways I have found for their demise that I can hardly wait to try them out.” The Cleric left her standing there as she walked off laughing almost manically to herself.
Caroline stay put until she was out of sight before signalling to the others of her guard patrol to join her.
“What has she done Caroline? Where are our prisoners?” A young blond woman asked breathlessly.
“Look for yourself if you have a strong enough stomach for it?” Caroline replied pointing at the occupied cage.
“I’d rather not..” Her male companion began but Caroline insisted.
“Go look upon it!”
When they returned it was surprisingly the young woman who had suffered least from the fear onslaught and was supporting a very shaken young man.
“The bastards!” He croaked as he stood there shaking. “How could they do that to them? They were human beings for Gods sake.”
“Simple, they, in their vaulted superiority, consider our charges as vermin to do with as they will.” Replied Caroline with quiet intensity. “But they are wrong as they will find out when we rise up on eight day. I wish to dispatch the Cleric Doctor myself and if it wasn’t for our God’s creed I would make it slow.”
“And then you would be as bad as they my Paladin. Channel thy anger and use it swiftly and wisely my Holy Knight and do not waste your energy blaming yourselves for these thoughts. They are natural for you are only human.” A deep voice rumbled. “Seek purity in yourselves and aid others to find it but do not be angry at failing it is the true honest attempt that sustains me that and your love. Now go and do what you must to prepare.”
“Yes my Lord.” All three made the Holy sign before leaving allowing Dannia to crawl out and carefully make her way to see what had caused all the concern.
She pulled back the hood enough so the mages eye was exposed and then in a carefully selected rhythm commanded it to open.
“There you are ladies I hope you like what you see because I’m having a hard time holding onto the contents of my stomach.” She whispered wondering if they would be able to hear as waves of fear washed over her.
The creature in the cage was colossal standing at least fifteen foot tall. If that wasn’t enough to frighten you then the fact that it was made out of human flesh, muscle and bone surely would. The families hadn’t gone home but had been melded into this abomination. Lacking skin Dannia could see easily where arm muscles had been ripped from their living forms and laid over one another again and again until biceps and triceps as large as Dannia whole body were formed. Bones from the naked limbs were fused together to give solid anchorage points for muscle and sinew, blood veins and arteries arced over the surface until it entered one of four pulsing hearts working in parallel under a massive chest bonded to one of the metal breast plates Juliet had made. Its head was tiny in comparison as it turned it to look at Dannia. She wanted to scream her whole body shaking with fear as six mismatched eyes looked at her over an open pit where a nose should have been and two independent mouths that sucked mighty volumes of air in to the four lungs below. The eyes were piercing and full of feral hate in their diamond pattern under the metal encased low sloping cranium. As it stood Dannia saw what it was eating and turned away in horror. On the floor of the cage was a large dish full of the unwanted pieces of flesh, blood and bone of those that went to make it. It was eating itself. Hanging from his hand by a piece of spinal cord was the eyeless head of one of the young women that lied thinking it would get her home.
Dannia pulled the hood over her head and ran into the darkness so full of fear that she forgot to command the eye to shut. Hugging the shadows like a second skin she made it back to her own hut, flying past patrolling guards at such speed that they failed to register her. Once inside she lay in the dark of the roof and calmed her breathing with great difficulty but eventually she succeeded and commanding the eye to close and drop off into her hand she made it back to her bunk. The others were still toiling away at moving the earth but it was obvious that the limited space was hampering them.
Dannia dropped to the floor and padded over to them.
“Move over Hattie it’s my turn.” She said.
Hattie looked up into Dannia’s pale but determined face and hesitated.
“This isn’t going to work if we can’t get the earth out from under the floorboards and I’m the only one small enough to do it.” She turned to the Cleric who sat wearily on a stool near the hole. “Beatrix can monitor me and make sure I’m safe. Please Hattie I need to do this.”
Hattie looked at her with sad eyes before nodding.
“Angel we have managed to loosen a lot of soil under the adjacent floor boards but it needs to be brought into the middle for Fran to remove it.” She said wearily getting out of the hole. “Just move it as best you can toward the middle where we can get at it. You’re not going down there for long young lady.”
“If I don’t Hattie we will all die after eight day. They plan to kill us all after that.” Dannia dropped into the pit that had been created and set to work with a will hoping the physical work would expunge the fear and shame she had felt when she had run away. She shivered and drove the small spade harder into the dirt.
Over the next few days the work was unrelenting as the tannery rushed to complete its orders. But Caroline had changed over the days making sure they had plenty of breaks to take on water and what ever food she could get. The first day after seeing the golems she was quiet, almost introspective as she had led them to their work.
“Caroline may I be permitted to ask you a question?” Hattie asked politely.
“Permission granted.” She replied reluctantly as if she knew what was coming next and was desperate to avoid it.
“Have you managed to find out what has happened to the families that have been reunited? Have they gone home?” She asked casually.
That morning the ritual of the men being brought in and the women joining them continued. Dannia found it agony to watch knowing as she did what fate awaited them and also knowing there was nothing she could do to alleviate the pain. Caroline stood very still rotating the rosary in her hand while muttering a prayer under her breath. Dannia could even have sworn that she saw a tear running down her face.
“Yes I have Hattie.” She eventually replied. “They have not gone home as hoped but are being prepared to join our troops at the front line. They will be in the fore front when we invade.” The guard was so obviously suffering from a conflict of conscious that it was with a cracked and halting voice she continued. “They are not being used as a human shield but have been experimented on, altered, to fit the army’s needs. I am sorry.” She paused once more. “I and several of the guards who think as I do are to try and get this abominable act stopped but I fear we will have little impact.” Hattie was about to speak but was silenced by Caroline’s raised hand. “That is all I want to say about it now.”
“Thank you for your honesty Caroline.” Hattie replied.
It was coming back in the evening that things began to change.
“The countryside is glorious at this time of year isn’t it?” She said to no one in particular. “Did you know that behind the woods is a tributary of the Elsa river that runs down to the inlet sea.”
“No I didn’t know that Caroline. Is it far?” Beatrix asked.
“No not too far about ten miles if you go through the woods. I remember playing in there when I was a child it was full of nooks and crannies that even an adult could hide in.” She told them merrily, going on in some detail about the different paths you could take and which ones were the best for avoiding people if you were bird watching. For the next three days Caroline gave an intimate and detailed description of the surrounding area describing where fires could be safely burned with out being seen in a series of amusing anecdotes.
When they had returned to the hut on the third day they found the end panels had been removed and a series of wood bed boards had been left.
“Bless her she is doing her best to help us without being seen to be doing so.” Hattie said checking the gap in the corner. “It’ll be a tight squeeze for Juliet but we should manage. We will cover it with cloth for now to hide what we are doing.” She wandered back to the table and the now familiar bag lying beside the pot of hot porridge. “Let’s see what she has left us this time.” She tipped out the contents of the bag and got quite a surprise. In amongst the dates and grapes were a lode stone and a small key.
“Girls look at what our knight errant has left us besides the fruit. Now I can understand the lode stone, that’ll help us keep on course’ but the key that’s a different matter.” Hattie twisted it around in her fingers as if would suddenly announce its purpose.
“That’s not all Hattie look.” Beatrix drew out a small but fine piece of parchment and a small narrow piece of writing charcoal from where they were tucked up inside the pouch. At the top of the page was one word written in flowing script ‘Map’. “She is risking a lot to help us.”
“True and we must not let her courage go in vain. Can anyone fully remember what she told us about our surroundings and can put them on the map?” Hattie asked as Juliet moved the table off the hollow boards and lifted the floor boards ready to restart the digging.
“I should be able to do it Hattie. I can remember everything she said it comes from training myself to remember the complicated rituals involve in spell making.” Alice offered.
“Well get to it my girl.” Hattie said in mock exasperation. “Angel I hate having you to do this for me but could you do some more digging child? We are desperately running out of time.”
Dannia pre-empted any arguments by picking up a digging tool and dropping naked into the now open hole.
“Angel try and move the earth we have managed to loosen to a spot where Fran can remove it like you did last time? Beatrix will you monitor Angel again please?” Hattie asked with a concerned look at the already glistening form of Dannia toiling away beneath her. “Fran how are you and Beatrix getting on with affecting the weather?”
“We will have the conditions we need by eight day Hattie.” Fran told her as she prepared to remove the pile of earth Dannia was making.
Dannia dug away at the pile of earth in the cramped conditions with anger burning in her heart and shame in her mind. She had run away from the golem, not a tactical withdrawal, she had ran away in terror. Icy fingers of fear ran down her back and her blood grew cold as she realised that in a few days Angel would be dead. It was as inevitable as the sunrise. Tears began to run down her face as she realised that Angel did not want to die.
And there was nothing she could do about it!!!