Inside the hut everything was a silent buzz of activity. A pair of towels were stitched together and covered the corner of the room where Bella and Alice were removing the corner panels they had laid in there whilst Juliet carefully lifted the panels that led into the space they had created under the hut. Hattie was trying to consol the increasingly distraught druid.
“Don’t worry about Angel Fran she’ll meet us at the boat, She’s proved how resourceful she is.” Hattie may have been whistling down the wind than actually believing what she was saying but it seemed to have the effect of steadying Fran.
“It’s the thought of someone raping her up there that’s upsetting me. It’s the not knowing that she’s alright.” Fran said as she dried her eyes.
“How are you and Beatrix getting on creating the mist?” She asked.
“Well we’ve created the perfect conditions for it; all we have to do now is give it a shove and wait awhile for it to form.” Fran reported turning to the cleric Beatrix.
“That’s right but we don’t know how long it will last or how thick it will be.” Beatrix added. “So I think it would be prudent to do it half an hour before we plan to escape.”
“Very well. Well done ladies.” Hattie turned to the youngest and the most nervous of the group. “Alice are your spells ready?”
“Yes Hattie but remember I can only use them once.”
“Hopefully once will be all we need.”
“Hattie something funny is going on.” Michelle called from her position as lookout at the window.
“In what way Michelle?” Hattie asked her heart in her mouth.
“I can see Caroline and a couple of her guard group and they are all wearing white somewhere. Whether it’s around an arm, a waist or as in Caroline’s case a crest and plume from her helmet around her head, it doesn’t make sense the other guards haven’t got them?”
“Why on earth would Caroline wear a white piece of cloth around her forehead for?” Hattie was decidedly puzzled. “You say some of the other guards have white on them too?”
“Yes Hattie either around their waist or their arms.” Michelle called down to her.
“They must be Caroline’s guard troop their can’t be any other explanation.” Hattie stroked her chin deep in thought a moment. “Can you see the archers in the towers have any of them got any white on them?”
“I can’t tell for sure from here but I don’t think so, certainly not on their arms. I can’t see the one closest to us properly from here.”
“Leave that for the moment child just go back to concentrating on the general activity for me please.” Hattie asked. “I wonder? Fran do you think you could, no leave it I’ll do it.”
Hattie crossed to where the joined cloths hung in the corner and very carefully pulled it aside just enough to be able to peer out. Satisfied that there was no one nearby to spot her she leaned out further and peered around the corner and up at the nearest tower. Two guards up in the watch tower were checking their crossbows and longbows the white cloths around their arms fluttering in the slight breeze.
When she drew back inside it was to the scrutiny of the other inmates.
“Caroline has arranged it such that we will recognise her guard unit, which includes the tower guards nearest us, by their white cloths. That doesn’t mean that they won’t attack if they see our escape but it does mean that they won’t look too intently in our direction when the time comes. That and the mist will increase our chances.”
The others took the news well considering how stressed they all were.
Hattie nodded to herself. They were as ready as they’ll ever be.
“If every ones ready then lets us all go to bed so to speak.” She gave a confident smile that she didn’t feel inside. “Juliet your last so will you check the hut and lower the light before joining us please?”
“Yes Hattie I will, but I’m afraid you’re the first to go in.” Juliet told her with a sad smile as she clicked the knife she had made together.
“Ah yes, just what I wanted to hear. Right or left?”
“Left.” Juliet told her as she lifted the floor boards to reveal their hidey hole.
As Hattie lowered herself into the space she called back over her shoulder a quick reminder.
“Remember girls once under here no one speaks or God help us sneezes. Good luck ladies.” With that she disappeared and crawled into place.
Bella followed next crawling to her right, then Fran and Beatrix hand in hand followed by Michelle and Alice until Juliet was all that was left. Juliet quickly toured the hut making sure that there was no evidence pointing toward where they were hidden before turning down the crude oil lamp. Carefully she dropped in pulling the floorboards after her until they slotted back into place. There they lay each with their own thoughts and fears in their communal grave. Beatrix and Fran still holding hands sent their thoughts slowly out into the ether up into the cooling airstreams and began finishing what they had built up over the past days. Eventually and equally slowly the temperature outside began to drop and the first gossamer tendrils of mist began to form.
It was difficult measuring time as they lay there in the dark waiting nervously for events to unfold. Every so often Juliet would lift up her head and looked out through a knothole at the ceiling above.
Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door and Caroline’s voice bellowed through it.
“Ready Ladies snap inspection!”
Incredibly it was a good two minutes later when she entered. Through the knothole Juliet saw her nod with satisfaction before vanishing from sight.
Unseen by those huddled beneath her feet Caroline crossed over to the cloths that hid the open corner and partially pulled them down to expose the gap before grabbing bedding from the bunks and throwing them onto the floor as if she had made a frantic search. She calmly walked back toward the door and stopped over the entrance to the pit. She rapped with her heel hard three times.
“Quiet now Ladies.” She said before tearing off bedding from the nearest bunk and dropping it over the entrance to the women hiding place with a piercing shriek of rage that made several of them jump.
Caroline threw open the door with a mighty crash that threatened to take it off its hinges.
“To arms! To arms!” She yelled into the mist. “Prisoners have escaped!”
If the woman had been able to see outside they would have watched as Caroline’s guard unit appeared at the run from all directions to join her, their voices adding to the confusion.
“You three.” She yelled pointing at the three closest. “Collect other guards and investigate the other abandoned huts. You two collect guards and search the ground in the spell casters compound.”
With grins the chosen guards vanished back into the growing mist.
“What is going on Caroline?” The Commander bellowed as she crossed the compound from the gateway that led out.
“Prisoners have escaped Commander. I have ordered my command group to search the huts and grounds, they won’t get far.” Caroline raged.
“No they won’t most are too weak to show much resistance. Show me!” The Commander was livid, how dare they spoil the celebrations.
Her temper was not improved when she found out who had escaped.
“Your subservient perverts! You will be punished for this.” The Commander followed Caroline into the hut and listened to her angry explanation of what must have happened peppered as it was with swearing and detailed descriptions of what would be visited on the runaways when they were captured. Apparently the women had removed the wall boards in the corner of the room which was a blind spot between two towers and covered it with drying cloths so no light could give them away. They had even gone to the trouble of making dummy shapes in the bunks to make it appear they were sleeping. While all the while they were slipping outside to freedom.
“Why didn’t they set off the traps?” The Commander asked angrily as she looked out of the gap.
Caroline did some rapid thinking before answering hesitantly.
“There’s another natural blind spot directly beneath the towers where there are no traps. Its how the guards get access to the towers.” She acted as if she had a dawning realisation which perhaps she had. “With this mist it would be easy to cross over and climb over the palisade without being seen. The bastards aren’t inside the camp at all they’ve made it outside. I’ll recall my guards and go after them they couldn’t have gone far.”
“Fool!!” The Commander screeched knocking Caroline to the floor with one single blow. “Do you think I’d trust an idiot like you to lead a pursuit after this fiasco? No you and your guards will replace those I send after them. We’ll make the camp the centre of an expanding circle of searchers. They must be found! Our plans can not be revealed this early.”
“Will you lead the search Commander?” Caroline asked as she regained her feet.
“Yes! No I can’t the Imperator is send a coach for me so I can join him and his officers at the Châteaux. He must not find out what has happened. You imbecile woman!”
The Commander flew into a towering rage knocking Caroline back to the floor before raining blows onto the poor guard who could do nothing to retaliate. The Commander grabbed Caroline’s hair and lifted her head off the floor where she was lying. “You better pray that they find them or it will be you who will suffer the tortures and death I planned for them.” She threw Caroline back to the floor and gave her a kick in the ribs for good measure as she stormed out.
“Enjoy your last night of life butcher as by morning I will have had the pleasure of stilling your tainted heart.” Caroline whispered as she pulled herself up with the aid of a bunk back on to her feet. She dabbed at a badly cut lip with the back of her hand while the other checked her bruised ribs for breaks.
“Ladies wait two hours then make your escape and Holy Sister may your God go with you.”
All the women wanted to speak but it was left to Beatrix to put their thoughts into words.
“Good luck brave Caroline and may your God bless you as all us women do.” She whispered.
“I thank you but my God is with me for I am his chosen Paladin, but quiet now, not a sound until you’re far from here.” Caroline looked up at the ceiling and prayed loudly. “My Lord God, grant me healing so I can carry out the purification you require of me this night and guide these poor souls in my care to safety.”
She lowered her head and smiled as touching her lip no more blood was found on her hand.
Juliet heard her leave and her call out to her troops though she couldn’t hear all what was said to them when they were all gathered, save for six simple words.
“Two hours from now we begin.” She said.
She heard something about there being twenty five and that her corps was replacing the duty guards but not enough to get any idea of what was going on.
Little did she know that an uprising had begun?
For the women laying in their darkened tomb under the floor boards it was horrendous, their nerves stretched almost to breaking point as they heard bellowed commands and the sound of groups of guards being formed up and marched away but eventually it became silent as the end of the two hours approached.
Juliet climbed out silently and checked the camp as best she could through the window and wall opening out into the swirling mist. What she saw was a basically quiet scene with a few white banded guards patrolling but studiously avoiding the area around the hut. She waited a few moments watching them vanish into the mist before calling the others up quietly.
Soon they were lined up in the order of their scramble to the palisade under the tower.
“Hold! Something is going on outside, some sort of large coach affair has turned into the compound.” Juliet commanded from her vantage point at the window.
“It must be the Commanders for the Châteaux. Perfect, they’ll be so distracted with that it’ll give us a better chance of getting across.” Hattie whispered back.
“Oh my God, It’s brought Angel back!” Juliet croaked. “Oh my little Angel what have they done to you. She’s just standing there like a zombie. Caroline put her in here with us please!”
“What’s happening?” Fran was frantic trying to get up to look through the window but being held back by both Hattie and Beatrix.
“Be quiet Fran. Listen child the only chance of getting Angel back is to be silent and let Caroline deal with the situation.”
“Caroline’s crossing to the wagon and she’s in her armour. Oh God the commanders coming across and I think she intends to kill Angel. Hattie what do we do, tell us what to do?” Juliet called from her vantage point.
Hattie was dumbstruck totally stunned and what made things worse for Juliet was that she had seen Angel cough and watched the thin line of blood dribble down her chin.
Outside things were no calmer. The coach had pulled up to a stop with a pale Angel wedged between the driver and a massive muscular female guard up on the driving plate.
Caroline took the horses reigns and drew the carriage closer to the women’s hut while assessing rapidly her options. The two figures on the plate were not people she knew but both wore white cloths around their heads. Where they new recruit’s, some of the twenty five she wondered.
The huge female guard descended and without saying a word gently lifted the strangely inanimate Angel to the ground.
“We’ve brought back the little scum.” The driver said with a grin showing of his missing and rotting teeth. “Don’t worry she’s been well service after the Major had finished with her even the Imperator was impressed by her performance.”
Caroline blood boiled at the thought of what Angel had been subjected too that could reduce her to such a state.”
“Ah my carriage has arrived.” The Commander had reached them striding purposely out of the gloom. “Oh and better yet you have returned the cause of my pain.”
She pulled out the sword she had strapped to her waist and with a look of cruel lust raised it above the poor Halfling.
“Oh how I wished I could visit on you the thousand agonies I had planned but I have not the time, my brother, the Imperator, awaits.” She looked across at Caroline and the towering guard. “Stretch out her neck and hold her arms I have no wish to meet our Lord covered in her foul blood.”
“No!” Caroline said simply.
“What do you mean no? Obey me or suffer the consequences!” The Commander screamed. Caroline didn’t answer her sword spoke for her as the officer’s sword swept down to decapitate Angel. With a resounding crash the two blades met a hairsbreadth above her head.
“Troopers attack!!” Caroline commanded as at that same moment male and female fighters disgorged from the carriage and took up the cry.
Caroline hesitated a moment as she spied on the roof of the carriage two Halflings, a male and a female, taking control of the newcomers. That hesitation lost her the advantage as with a savage kick the Commander knocked her to the floor and ran off calling for the guards that were still loyal to her.
“Archers take out the tower guards.” Simieon commanded pointing up at a pair of unadorned guards. But he needn’t have worried as archers loyal to Caroline in the next tower shot them down. Simieon gave a raised fist salute to Caroline as she regained her feet. A sign she returned with a nod.
Then all hell let loose as the hut’s door exploded open and Angel’s friends burst forth wielding their homemade weapons. From the dormitories on the other side of the fence terrifying screams could be heard as mad Mary run amuck within slaughtering all comers. The mages hut evaporated in an explosive boom to reveal the magic users brimming with health and eldritch power standing within.
“Collapse that buildings roof!” Dannia yelled pointing at the place were the golems were created and housed as she pursued the Commander dodging her loyal guards attempts to stop her.
The high priestess that had created the golems, those travesties of life, tried to flee only to be picked up by some unseen force and thrown back into the building as it warped and folded into itself. Its walls ground together with ear splitting shrieks as it was rendered down to a fine dust.
Dannia saw with fury where the Commander was making for. The kennels of the devil dogs.
Elsewhere the battle had degenerated into a melee as solitary battles for survival took place.
Juliet was hard pressed to keep two guards from filleting her as she waved her homemade knife before her. Suddenly the guard to her left staggered as an iron tipped javelin exploded through his chest.
“Catch.” Helena yelled throwing her war hammer to the blacksmith.
Juliet caught it deftly and using the momentum smashed her other assailants head in with it.
Alice had managed to skirt round the worse of the fighting and found herself under the only tower left in the enemy’s hands. Determination crossed her face as she concentrated. Lifting her hands up thumb touching thumb in a fan shape at the archers she muttered a single convoluted word. Fire leapt from her fingers and washed over the watchtowers platform. Though those there were only scorched the dry tinder of the tower burst into flame with percussive force. Having no option the three guards jumped for freedom but only two landed safely rolling out of the falling towers way; the third had landed awkwardly shattering the bone in his left leg. He could do nothing but look up and scream as the burning faggots fell on top of him setting him ablaze.
The two guards left had rolled to their feet dragging out their blades as the rose up straight into a rainbow of colours streaming from Alice’s hand. It was like they had run into a wall leaving them stunned unable to defend themselves as Alice cut them down.
The girl was proud of herself, she hadn’t been a millstone around the others necks after all, she actually counted for something. She was still smiling when the arrow thudded into her back cutting her down.
In the kennels the sound of combat was muted as the Commander lent against the wall trying to regain her breath before opening the two pens that held the devil dogs.
“Out of condition are we?” A voice purred from the shadows.
“Come out and you’ll see how out of condition I am!!” The Commander roared her challenge. “Or are you going to strike out at me like a coward.”
“Tisk, tisk Commander you’ll give yourself a seizure at this rate and save me the trouble of killing you.” Dannia remarked as she came into the light walking calmly on the beam holding the dog’s harnesses.
“You are not Angel she has no fight in her. Who are you?” The Commander was playing for time looking for an opening.
“Oh yes I am and she is me so to speak. Confused? You should try living it.” Dannia countered tauntingly. “Oh by the way you know the school matron who created your little assassins well I had her tortured and killed and as for ‘Nocturne’ herself lets just say she’s playing a different tune in hell with your brother, the Imperator. Ah I forgot to tell you I killed him too and all his officers so I wouldn’t expect any help from that quarter if I was you.”
The Commander did what Dannia hoped she would, she attacked with a scream of rage. Dannia made a flying leap over the women head in a perfect twisting somersault her little gem knife flashing out once, twice with absolute precision.”
The commandant slammed off the beam straight into the wall and slid down it helplessly to land propped up against it sitting on the floor.
“What have you done you little bastard I can’t feel my arms and legs.” The Commander looked up into Dannia’s face as she approached her little knife glowing in her hand. “What are you going to do kill me like a suckling pig?”
“No tempting as that would be I think not, in fact I’m going to offer you your life for information.” Dannia’s face was as hard as stone. “I have temporarily paralysed you but that will wear off if you live that long.” Dannia squatted beside the woman and placed the knife close to the woman eye. “Shall we begin?”
The older woman swallowed.
“What do you want to know?” She asked nervously.
“Oh lets start with who else is involved in Perry with this lunatic scheme of your brothers shall we?”
Outside things had congealed into a stalemate with the remaining loyal guards holding out in a few of the huts giving them ample cover from which to pick off any who attempted to attack.
Elsewhere small battles still continued.
The Mages were not in a situation to aid Caroline’s men as they were to busy dealing with four remaining War Golems whose cages were broken when the building collapsed. The women had created a fighting wedge of power around themselves that the golems pushed at with all their incredible strength threatening to collapse it. In the centre of the mages was the old woman who’s staff of power Dannia had found. She spun it round and round above their heads having it fire balls of fire and daggers of ice at the abominations blasting chunks of flesh of their constructed frames.
“We can’t hold them back much longer.” A young woman yelled.
“You have to for all our sakes.” The old woman yelled but even she knew in her heart that the constructs were edging ever nearer through the churned mud and ice sheets some of the other women had created.
In the kennel the conversation had come to an end and the two women glared at each other.
“And that is everything?” Dannia asked coldly as she ran the voice changer disc idly backward and forward over her knuckles.
“Yes I swear it!” The Commander was sweating profusely from straining to move her limbs. “How long before I get feeling back in my limbs, I still feel nothing?”
“Hmm.” Dannia said distractedly. “Oh that. Sorry I lied.” She grinned cruelly and squatted down beside the woman once more to whisper. “I severed the nerve nodes in your back so there’s no chance of you ever getting feeling back and using them again.”
The Commander opened her mouth to scream but was stopped by Dannia ramming the disc up between the woman’s front teeth and her gum where it adhered itself.
Leaving the stunned Commander lying there she crossed to the dog pens and led them out to stand in front of the injured woman.
“Do you think that will work, they only obey my voice?” The Commanders face took on an expression of horror upon hearing her deep distorted voice.
“Yes I thought that would be the case so it’s lucky that I’m an excellent mimic.” She walked over to the door and opened it before looking over her shoulder at the immobilised Commander and the Devil Dogs whose breath was beginning to steam in anticipation of a kill.
“Kill her slowly. Do this and you are released from my command to return to the infernal abyss. That is my final command.” The creatures turned their heads to one side confused at hearing their mistress’s voice coming from the small figure at the door. “Obey! Begin!”
The Commander sealed her doom by screaming in her distorted voice.
“No! Attack her!!” As one the animals turned on her and began their attack.
Dannia heard her first screams as she shut the door behind her and with tears streaming down her face locked it.
“Yes Carder I was like you glorifying in the thrill of dealing death, but no longer, not anymore.”
She slid down the door weeping as the screams within grew louder and louder.
Fran was surrounded by the enemy who only kept their distance due to the uncertainty over the spines that erupted from her body shredding her clothes. In her hand was a knobkerrie of iron wood she had called forth from the ground at her feet, its hardened spherical end parrying any attempt at a strike, clubbing the blades aside.
Then over their shoulders she spied Angel running toward her knife in hand only to have to stop as a wracking cough took her breath away. She wiped her mouth and stared confusedly at the blood on her hand before sinking to her knees and keeling over onto her side as a fountain of blood erupted from her mouth.
Fran screamed and the quills exploded out of her skin and peppered those around her. One guard died instantly as one perforated his eye and sunk deep into his brain. Another, a female, was struck by three quills and died chocking on her vomit as the poison took effect. Those that remained had their heads caved in by Fran’s club as they vomited.
As she tried to get to Angel the Lieutenant thundered through the open gates with twenty of his trusted guard, each with a white cloth around their heads and arms, accidentally impeding her progress.
The Lieutenant held up the Imperators chain of office above his head.
“Desist in the name of your new Imperator. I am your new Lord throw down your arms guards of the old Lord and you will be treated fairly, honoured even as brave and loyal men and women.” A hush had fallen over the camp save for the sounds of the wounded and dying. Even the War Golems had stopped their advance on the mages. “War Golems recognise me by right and by blood, desist in your attack and line up by the fence for new orders.”
As they obeyed the frantic Fran finally broke through and began dashing toward the strewn form of Angel screaming her name. The Lieutenant swung round on his horse adding his own voice as he spotted his little lovers body lying twisted on the ground.
Suddenly a small dark shape appeared over the body like a harpy claiming its kill.
“Get back don’t you dare touch her!!” Dannia bellowed hold Fran off at sword point. Though she knew that the body on the ground was merely an illusion created by Peer using Ludwig’s strength it was very real to her. For Dannia her sister lay upon the ground unmoving, lifeless and she howled, wept and rage allowing no one near.
“Dannia let her through is Angels lover.” Hattie yelled realising who the black garbed shape was.
The lieutenant had jumped off his horse and approached with tears in his eyes but he too could get no nearer.
“Out of the way let me get to her!” Ludwig commanded bustling his way through to lean over the body and check for life signs. Finding none he closed the little Halflings eyes. “She has gone Dannia. There was nothing you could do, nothing anyone could do. It was her heart; it was already weak and couldn’t take the strain.” He turned a little confused by Dannia’s reaction to face her. “Let me take her away and prepare her before God.”
Dannia nodded dumbly as Fran collapsed to her knees in abject misery and the Lieutenant lifted his head and screamed at the sky.
Dannia stood up and watched numbly the old Imperators guard take advantage of the distraction to launch an attack of their own.
They barely got three steps before Caroline yelled for spiritual aid.
“Lord God give me strength to destroy them!”
Lightning crashed down through the misty air hitting the leading guard; from there it leapt from person to person until all of them had been consumed and reduced to floating dust.
A colder part of Dannia was proud of Caroline and wondered if her work had re-awakened the young Paladins sleeping God.
Ludwig gently lifted Angel’s body and carried her over to the carriage where an exhausted Peer waited in the dark interior to dismiss the illusion.
But for Dannia it was a living hell for she had lost not only the part of her that was the confident sexy Assassin but also the better part of her that was gentle Angel leaving an empty void behind that ached to be filled.
An hour later a sad column let the compound as is caught light from the mages fireballs. The lieutenant on his horse with Caroline beside him led the combine column of marching guards followed by those women left who could walk being helped by Simieon’s team and the coach with those two weak for the journey. On its top was the sad white coffin of Angels remains with Dannia sitting guard. And at the rear came the magic users using their awesome powers to destroy the place of their nightmares and the mighty War Golems. In Dannia’s eyes it was a column of the dammed as they were lit by the flames as if entering the gates of hell. Whether from eyes that were irritated from the smoke or out of relief tears rolled down the women’s cheeks adding to the hellish scene.
The road home had begun.