Druid's Tale

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Chapter Four The Village of the Dammed

I’d like to say that in the morning everything was clearer and less menacing but I’d be lying. We broke our morning fast in stony silence whilst the storm rumbled on in the distance and it was obvious that the six of us had had a somewhat disturbed night. After the meal Hanna disappeared with Morag whilst Serin tried to engage the young man Lancelot in conversation. Something that really worried me and led to an irrational hatred for the young man though as to why I can not say.

Serin was talking to Lancelot with a patience and charm that she used on the more recalcitrant children back at the school and was having some luck be it minimal in getting information out of him.

“My Lady can I not entreat you and your co travellers to join with me in rescuing my beloved, my Guinavier. Together we can rebuild Avalon and Camelot.” He smiled a dazzling smile. “I know your beauty will surely steal away young Gwain’s heart. He may be young but he is steadfast and true, a more honest and brave soul would be hard to find.” His plea became more earnest. “He is not rich my Lady that is true but should we succeed my Lord King Arthur will surely bestow a dukedom on the lad.”

“I am flattered good knight but what of the villages yonder that have been so sorely abused. What of their fate?” Serin replied unaware of the dark dagger like looks Horren was giving them. “I can not abandon them to their fate, in all good consciousness I can not.”

“I see you are a woman of honour my Lady, very well then deal with these serfs and their cares and I will await your return.” The man’s face was full of a strange unearthly zeal that unsettled Horren even more.

“Can not you fight at my side for surely with you at my side these trivialities will seem as nothing and soon settled?” Serin asked.

“Yes, come join us good Knight in this endeavour and weald your sword beside us in the cause of divine truth.” Horren said mockingly. “You are not afraid are you my Lord? Not afraid of what we frail women will face.”

“I will forgive you that remark my Lady since you know nought of me, but I tell you I am unafraid by what you face but need to prepare for when you return to join me. There is much to prepare before we go to face Morgain and her army of dead souls. A gateway, a passage must be prepared to take us to the coast of Avalon. Now be gone doubter and do what you must but know this I would deem it an insult if my Lady Serin was to return in any way harmed. My Lady Serin return hale and hearty so our adventure can begin.”

He bowed to both women and left the room.

“What a stuck up creep. He is totally obsessed with himself.” Horren wasn’t happy at all.

“That’s a shame as I quite like him. The problem is, is he telling the truth or not, poor boy.” Serin pulled her bottom lip while deep in thought.

“You said yourself that he can’t be. It all happened three hundred years ago, remember.” Horren pressed.

“Three hundred years ago or yesterday, I wonder which it is.”

Any further speculation was curtailed by the arrival of Hanna who was looking far from pleased.

“How can you seduce someone who doesn’t stop talking? It’s been a total nightmare. Do you know that she goes to bed with a pair of Sting Pythons?” Hanna shook her head in disbelief.

“Yes we would.” Serin said with a slight smile. “We had the pleasure of meeting them last night before Morag took them away.”

“Well it is very difficult to get aroused with those four cold eyes watching your every move and nigh on impossible to get her aroused with all that chatter. And it was even more problematic for me to say the least when the snakes started joining in. Some people would have enjoyed it but not me.” She paused realising she had overstepped the mark before changing the subject. “You’ll find your fighting leathers and weapons upstairs on your bed. Tesler asked me to collect them this morning.”

“How did you get them without getting soaked again?” Serin asked.

“Tesler had me use the oak linen press. Do you know how revolting it is for me to go through dead wood? It’s so vile that I nearly threw up the last time. I would have too if Tesler hadn’t given me some foul brew to drink.” Hanna shivered at the thought. “I don’t know what was worse the sickness or the cure. Anyway put something on that will cover the armour and weapons, Tesler’s orders.”

“Tell our general ensign that we worked that one out for ourselves.” Horren was angry over the way Lancelot was charming Serin. She didn’t trust the man come to think of it she didn’t trust any of them.

“Oooh who got out of the wrong side of the pelisse this morning then?” Hanna joked. “I’ll see you and grumpy back down here in the common room in fifteen minutes ready for our excursion.”

It was nearer to half an hour when we arrived downstairs again. Our leathers were laid out on the bed as promised along with any equipment Hanna thought we may need. Looking at the equipment made us realise how many trips she must have made in all to get everyone’s equipment and what she must have suffered going through the dead wood. When we entered the common room the others of our happy band were already there, that is all but one.

As they entered they steeled themselves for the lecture from Tesler they knew they were bound to get but to their surprise they heard nothing of the sort. The reason soon became clear. Tesler was no where to be seen.

“If your looking for our intrepid leader she was here but didn’t like what she was wearing and has gone up to change for the third time.” Darius grimaced as she tried to warm her damaged leg by the fire while trying to ease the discomfort by giving it a rub.

“Hello Sir Berisford do you think you could escort us poor defenceless Ladies down to the villages this morning?” Serin asked the old man as he sat in a rather uncomfortable looking rocking chair smoking some herb or other in his clay pipe. He let the smoke dribble out of his nose and lips a moment before answering.

“I’d love to oblige my Lady but my old war wound is playing up again.” He tapped his leg. “Got it fighting the Gnoll’s in ’81? Did I ever tell you about that, my dear?”

“No my dear Sir but I think you’re going to?” Horren said with a smile.

“Well we were in a pretty mess I can tell you. We were holed up in a set of cabins near Daimyos when a hoard of dam savage Gnoll’s attacked our position. The first cabin was infiltrated and the occupants murdered before we knew what was happening.”

Darius drew Horren and the others away as Serin stood politely listening to the saga.

“I know who Berisford is now but it’s impossible!” She said with a worried frown.

“No matter how impossible it may seem tell us.” Lorren told her coldly.

“The story he is telling is about an Engl patrol under a commander nicknamed Blood and Glory, an incredibly courageous elderly soldier who saved the lives of eighty of his men. He and a small corps of troopers drew off the Gnoll tribesmen giving the main section a chance to get away and bring back the army. When he was found he and his men had killed three times their number of Gnoll’s but at a terrible cost. He and all his men had been butchered literally hacked to pieces.” Darius paused not for dramatic effect but just to let what she had said sink in.

“But that means?” Hanna offered.

“Yes. Serin is talking to a dead man.”

“That fits with what Serin has told me about Lancelot over there he’s supposed to have died three centuries ago.” Horren informed them.

They all turned to look at the very alive looking man puffing on his pipe and the intense young man muttering to himself in the opposite Ingle nook.

“What about the old crones are they dead souls too?” Horren asked rhetorically.

“I shouldn’t worry about ‘Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble’, at least not yet.” Tesler had entered the room in time to hear the last part of the conversation. “Serin my dear, I’m sorry to drag you away from the story our good knight was recounting but we must be away to the village to get some supplies. My sincere apologies Sir Berisford but perhaps you can tell us all this gripping adventure after our evening meal. I’m sure the girls are eager to hear it, I know I am.”

The old man pulled out his pipe and saluted Tesler with it as smoke dribbled from his nose.

“Think nothing of it my dear Abbess.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “I’ll look forward to it dear lady it has been a long time since I had an audience.”

The storm had abated somewhat though they could still hear it rumbling away in the distance and the heavy rain had reduced to a fine mizzle.

As they exited from the inn they made a fine sight and with the exception of Lorren looked the part of a group of pilgrims.

Tesler took the lead her hands tucked away in the large sleeves of her snow white nuns habit as she crossed her arms. Horren and Serin followed both in hooded robes of sky blue delicately embellished with gold thread. In the next pair was Darius in a long pale brown leather riding coat, leggings and high boots. A stout looking pole in her hand aided her in walking. And Hanna in a green hooded robe that showed her cleavage well, to well for Tesler’s liking, before sweeping to the floor from the buttoned waist. Last of all came Lorren in a tight black bodice, leggings and knee high boots over which was a charcoal black hooded robe. She looked suitably demonic as she stared intensely from under the hood.

It was a relatively short distance later they were made to stop by Darius. She squatted and ran her long fingers through the brown grass at the edge of the path before picking up some soil which she crumbled in her fingers. She then plucked a few leaves of a straggly plant a few feet on, examining it, sniffing it before eventually tasting it an action that caused her to screw up her face and spit it out.

“What is it Darius?” Tesler asked as the ranger stood up.

“There was a storm last night, we all heard it didn’t we?” The others nodded. “Then why is this ground so dry, if I didn’t know better I’d say it hasn’t had a drop of rain in months and yet it threw it down last night.”

“Perhaps the storm was isolated; we’ve all experienced that phenomenon, where it has rain on one side of a farm but not the other for example.” Tesler said in an irritated tone.

“Horren taste this wild mint would you I’d like your opinion?” Darius passed the other leaf over to the druidic arts teacher.

Horren popped it into her mouth and chewed for a few moments savouring the flavour and texture but judging by her screwed up face it was doubtful that savouring was the right word. She spat it out with a sigh of relief.

“I agree with Darius. This plant hasn’t seen rain, or any water for that matter, for weeks if not months. It’s dry and bitter when it should be sweet and aromatic.” Horren told them as she gratefully accepted some water from Darius’s water bottle.

“As I said the storm was localised.” Tesler said a little testily. “Come on we can’t waste time here, now where did Morag say the village was Hanna.”

“Villages, there’s eight all told, seven are no more than a cluster of farm buildings whereas the eighth, the one we are aiming for now is much larger with a market and tradesmen.” Hanna informed her once again with a sigh.

“Good, follow me then ladies.” With that she led them off up the path.

“No storm is that isolated.” Horren muttered.

“I agree.” Came Darius’s voice behind her.

As we approached the village we passed several small holdings along the way only to find the occupants scurrying away from us into the nearest building from which they watched our progress with frightened eyes, only coming out once we were safely passed. It was an eerie feeling being so obviously feared.

The village was a well set out place with an array of rock and mortar single story buildings radiating out from a central market square. The square was devoid of any stalls but not of people. A female blacksmith worked at her anvil in the entrance of a small forge whilst a Fletcher worked making arrow shafts in the watery sunshine further up. In the furthest corner a group of children were being taught by a pretty young woman in a simple but prettily patterned pinafore dress and poke bonnet.

None of them took much notice as Tesler undid the gate in the boundary fence and led the group to the village cross in the centre of the square.

Serin noticed a few wary faces peeking out of windows and doors at them in total silence. It was the silence, save for the smith’s hammer, that they all noticed most of all.

“Lady Goddess let all those in the village hear my voice, amen.” Tesler looked up from her prayer and spoke, her voice now magnified filled the square easily.”

“Do not be afraid brethren we offer you no harm. I am Abbess Tesler and I have come to investigate the disappearances of your love ones and friends.” She turned slowly around to give the impression that she was speaking to everyone. “I have been sent by the synod and the great council of Dyffid to find out the truth. I and my inquisitors only wish to speak to you.”

Hanna winced.

“Bad choice of words there you should have said investigators.” She muttered for fear that her voice would be broadcast too.

“I will speak to you Reverent Mother but I can not speak for the others.” A slim muscular man with an open face and a shock of blond hair exited from a house further down the east side of the square.

“Welcome and well met sir. May I know the name of whom I’m speaking too?”

“I am Lothar Penderly and though I am no village leader most look to me for guidance.” The man stopped short before bowing to Tesler.

Tesler made the ‘Sign’ in the air before her as a means of reply before sitting down on the short wall that surrounded the village cross.

She turned to the others and dismissed them with a wave of her hand and a nod to the others that occupied the square.

“Now tell me Lothar of everything that has happened here with dates and times, as much as you can remember them.” She said gently.

“I can’t forget them holy one they are burnt into my mind.” He replied.

Lorren had wandered over to the blacksmith and had engaged her in a conversation over the working of metal as a way into finding out about the events that had occurred. Darius was doing like wise with the Fletcher and Hanna with the teacher and children. Horren and Serin entered the few shops that opened out on to the square for trading.

“Hello.” Serin said brightly. “I am called Serin and this is my colleague Horren.”

“Colleague huh, can’t even bring herself to say partner. Probably too embarrassed.” Horren thought to herself.

“I be Hugh and this be Martha. It be true yea looking into the vanishings.” The man was wary but neither woman could blame him for that.

“Yes sort off. The Abbess will be investigating, we just get the information and evidence for her.” Serin explained.

“Oh right.” He said pretending to understand. “Well it started like this see.”

Over the next hour they all collected the stories before returning to be together to share the evidence.

“The first to go missing was a farmer up in Beck village.” Serin began.

“His names Earl Hunt and a right nasty piece all in all.” Hanna added.

“Yes I got that feeling from those I spoke to though none said it outright but it could explain why no one investigated straight away.” Serin continued. “Three young women from the furthest villages then vanished, which for some reason resulted in them remembering Earl. They though he had done it and set up a search but none of them were found. That’s as far as I got with them?”

“I had a bit more luck with the blacksmith. Apparently Earl lost his daughter followed by his wife but most people just thought they had run away from him. The last to vanish was the Priestess who disappeared straight after the eight day service.” Reported Lorren sceptically wondering if any of it was true.

“Has anyone got anything more to add? Good.” Tesler was very much in control. “Well done Ladies most admirable. The fact is that after his daughter vanishing Earl and his wife took to locking all the outside and inside doors to keep what ever took her out. It didn’t work because the wife supposedly vanished three minutes after blowing out the light from a completely sealed room. Apparently, as you have confirmed Lorren, the last one to vanish happened to be the Priestess yesterday. She waved and basically shook hands with the parishioners after the service stepped back into the shade and that was the last they saw of her. She had completely vanished leaving her Holy Symbol, chains and bracelets on the floor.”

“Like the one in the forest?” Horren asked.

“Yes like the one in the forest. The temple is sheltered behind those trees over there. I suggest we pay it a visit and it may have the freshest clues to this unholy mess.”

As Tesler led them on she was full of praise of the others.

“Well done all of you, together we have managed to confirm what has occurred here but not as yet the why. That will be come evident when we question them further after our visit to the scene of the crime so to speak.”

The temple turned out to be a somewhat grand affair tucked away in a dip in the ground behind a screen of scrubby short trees. The front was a palladium with arches and pillars of pink marble while the sides were of the local stone with a flint fascia. In alcoves each side and above the doors was a statue of a woman naked stooping with a cornucopia overflowing with fruit and vegetables.

“It’s dedicated to the ‘Bountiful Goddess’.” Tesler informed them as she made her way to the large oak doors. “Strange to find her way up here she’s normally revered in low land farming communities.”

She was about to say more but instead lifted her hand and commanded them to stop.

“Hanna I smell corruption!” That was all she said but it was all she needed to say as Hanna understood immediately. The little woman made several passes across the doorway muttering under her breath all the while. Slowly ever so slowly a sickly yellow sheen engulfed the door and opening.

Tesler grunted.

“As I thought something has abused this place.” She muttered before adding in a stronger voice. “Prepare yourselves Ladies there are possibly enemies within but do not attack until I give you leave too.”

The transition was amazing as with a nod they began to prepare themselves for the encounter within. Serin undid the robe she was wearing and divesting herself of the top half exposed the strange single bladed swords strapped to her back in a cross, saltier, shape. Lorren tuck up the bottom of her coat to allow access to the huge black sword in its scabbard. Darius took the cord from around her waist and used it to transform her staff into a bow and unclipped the top of the box at her waist to reveal the arrows within. Hanna put a belt around her waist holding many spell rods and short staffs.

Horren held her hand open over a patch of twisted stunted tree saplings.

“Mother Earth, give me something I can use to defend your beauty I beg of you?” She asked devoutly. The earth moaned and shuddered then up through it’s surface a plant shot up a single stem that grew and swelled at a phenomenal rate until its hardened rounded end touched her hand where it stopped and disconnected from the ground below. She had formed a perfect knobkerrie of iron wood.

Checking that they were all ready Tesler pushed open the door and led them into the gloom of the inside. The place positively reeked of brimstone, damp and unwashed bodies in a cloying mist that curled yellowy amongst the rafters and pillar tops.

There sitting on a bloodied alter was a hellish creature called a Balor, its hairy simian body and sharp white fangs totally at odds with its feminine good natured voice.

“Hello my friends come in please do.” It said moving its heavily muscled frame into a more comfortable position. “I am afraid I can not offer you much in the way of hospitality but you are welcome to what little I have.”

“Thank you Princess of Darkness but we must decline your kind offer as the food would stick in our throat in revulsion as to its source.” Tesler was apparently completely unarmed and yet dominated the room.

Hanna tapped her arm lightly and pointed at the shapes that were moving up in the rafters amongst the stone gargoyles. Tesler nodded and issued an order.

“Draw arms my sisters, mine friends”

Darius notched an arrow with red feathering rather than her normal blue and partly drew her bow, Lorren laid her mighty darkly glowing sword upon her shoulder, Serin drew her narrow blades and held them across her body to form an ‘X,’ the saltier, Hanna after a moments hesitation drew out two mismatched rods and finally Horren laid the heavy rounded end of her cudgel into the palm of her left hand. All was ready as they waited Tesler’s word of command.

“Come now Holy Sister why show such a degree of mistrust, after all we are on sacred ground here.” The creatures voice made Horren’s skin crawl but she couldn’t deny the creatures logic. “You know that this is a place of sanctuary a place of truce if you will. Here nether of us can hurt the other so come let us negotiate.”

The voice was not only getting under Horren’s skin as she became aware of its effects on Lorren and Darius.

“Do not listen my sisters, the words are of a honeyed liar designed to charm and bemuse you.” Serin called out before invoking the Sky Father with a hurried earnest plea. “Sky Father, protect us from these words so designed to enthral us.”

A wind for a moment or two whipped around them chilling their flesh and clearing their minds like the icy winds of winter.

“Oh that was unbecoming of you to play such a shallow trick. But you see my friends, my sisters, are more than equal to your foolish games.” Tesler smiled tight lipped at the creature. “Your sheer presence here is enough to prove that the sanctity of this place has gone. But then I don’t think you’re what you seem either.”

A Shepard’s crook appeared in her right hand and a long double ended mace in the other as she began speaking more resolutely.

“Goddess give the sight to see the truth of this to us your humbled servants, so we more better can carry out your divine will.” She thumped the crook down on to the tiled floor so hard that it reverberated around the hall. The Balors winced at the noise much to Horren’s great pleasure. Suddenly an eye that Horren had never seen before opened up in Tesler’s forehead and looked sadly at the devil creatures dotted around the room. A cool pale light flooded out from it changing every evil creature it touched to its true form. The Balor shrunk in on itself to reveal a short scaly red bodied creature with wings in its place.

“Ah ha. A Quasit is it. An imp of the dark damp places of limbo.” Tesler seldom laughed but this time she gave into the urge and giggled a very girlish high pitched laugh. “Oh you pitiful creature what did you do. You have no words of explanation? Well let me tell you. What happened was that whatever event occurred here not only destroyed the priestess but ruptured the veil between the planes and you, and you took advantage of it. I am right aren’t I. There is no sanctuary here just you little imps, and I have it, you can’t go back as it shut straight afterwards. You’re stranded here and had no option but to call your rivals from the Seven Hells the imps to aid you. Ha how that must have stuck in your craw.”

“Oh so proud of yourself aren’t you, you human fool!” The creature’s voice was scratchy like a hag. “I don’t need any illusions to destroy you!”

It lifted its head up and opened its mouth and coughed. A ball of flame issued forth and streaked toward the women.

“Protect!” Tesler yelled a split second before it struck creating a flickering shell over them of divine energy that dispersed the flame with a roar over its surface.

“Above.” Darius called launching an arrow at an animated gargoyle that dropped from the ceiling smashing through its skull. For a split second it hovered in the air before crashing to the ground with a horrendous crash. Darius didn’t give it a second glance as she fired at another and then another. Three fell to her expert archery but now the creatures became weary and circled around to attack the others and they were already hard pressed.

Three imps launched an attack at Horren who was holding them at bay with mighty swipes of her club. They darted backward and forward looking for an opening launching their own breath attacks of fine dust and hot rocks at her. One mistimed its run and got hit on its wing by the club shattering it and as it fell to the ground the others pounced on it ripping it apart with their needle sharp teeth. They were so preoccupied with their new prey they didn’t see Horren’s club until it was too late. She dashed out their brains in two swift strokes.

Lorren’s sword was decimating the small creatures with skilful feints and slashes while Serin made a whirling shield barrier of her sword blades to protect Horren’s back. Hanna calmly put back the two weapons she had drawn and took out two shorter ones instead. With lithe flicks of her wrist’s bubbles of energy few out of one while from the other came a rainbow of coloured beams and each had strange effects on those struck. If they were struck by a ball of energy they came crashing to the floor to heavy to make it back into the air whilst the rainbow colours froze them in place, or simply covered them in a thick layer of ice or burnt them almost to a crisp. Once disabled the others made quick work of them but there was a problem and that was the sheer number of them they seemed to pour out of any and every crevice like bat’s at dusk.

Tesler was perfectly still through all this, unaffected and untouched, locked into what appeared to be a staring match with the Quasit. Then slowly very slowly she lifted her double headed dire mace above her head and began to spin it around her fingers faster and faster whilst muttering a prayer under her breath.

“Tesler is going to do it brace yourselves.” Lorren called as she managed to get a good sword cut at the gargoyle that was annoying and harassing her. Her sword cut through the rock like butter splitting it in two. The upper half fluttered in the air for a moment before realising it was dead where upon with a cry of disbelief it crashed to the floor.

Tesler had let go of the mace which now continued to rotate with a life of its own smashing into gargoyles and imps alike with equal impunity as it accelerated into a blur of metal.

Then Tesler spoke the word.

A word so Holy that none could hear it but all could feel its affects, like a glow of light it rippled outward washing over the girls refreshing tired limbs and raising their spirits while disintegrating the gargoyles and immolating the imps it touched. Tesler sagged to the floor and Lorren took her place facing the little devil that still sat upon the Holy Table.

“You are not like the other women. You have anger in your very soul, it is corrupt and as black as your lips, join me and I will give you power beyond your dreams.” It offered slyly trying to get inside her very psychic, her very soul.

Lorren smiled as Horren scream out no her white teeth stark in her white face.

“Sorry I’d prefer to be a Heavens Demon than a Hells Angel.”

The black sword dropped with deadly accuracy splitting it from crown to crotch. It screamed in mortal agony as it slid apart and vaporised.

“Lorren help Horren get Tesler outside we’ll deal with what’s left.” Darius called as she checked the nun’s life signs.

Lorren without a word sheathed her sword and with a mighty heave lifted Tesler and carried her outside.

The women that remained made short work of the surviving creatures but at some cost to the fabric of the temple. Everywhere was the black steaming ichors that passed for imp blood and broken gargoyles and chipped and scorched walls.

As they trooped outside they did not feel any sense of victory in fact quite the opposite one of defeat that they couldn’t protect the temple from damage and hadn’t saved its sanctity.

Tesler moaned and tried to sit up.

“Easy Holy Sister you’ve taken a lot out of yourself.” Hanna said lightly but her frowning face showed her concern. “You’re going to try that trick once too often and then were will we be hmm?”

“I must go back inside or everything we have done will be for nothing.” Tesler used Hanna’s shoulder to stand up on shaky legs that barely seemed to be able to support her.

“The creature you called a Quasit is dead I slew it.” Lorren said with a matter of fact indifference.

“No you didn’t, you have reduced it but you never managed to kill it.” Tesler drew a hand over her grey sweating face. “Only I can banish it by re-sanctifying the temple. I will need the energy of all of you to succeed. Follow me.”

Weary beyond comprehension she led the women back inside. Horren left eye felt as itchy as hell and watered profusely from the final imps dust attack as she followed the others into the gloom.

Tesler pointed at a strange small worm creature with a human head laying, squirming in the blood and dust of the creatures splitting.

“That is the real Quasit a creature akin to the Lemures of the 666 levels of limbo but far, far, much smaller.” She said hoarsely.

“What I don’t understand is why it didn’t attack us as well. As far as I could tell it just sat there and didn’t do anything but stare at you Tesler.” Horren was truly puzzled even more so when she saw Hanna stifle a grin

“It couldn’t attack because it isn’t fully in our sphere. The portal had shut trapping its rear body the other side in limbo. It’s the reason I must sanctify this place of prayer so I can push it back over into limbo. Now hold me up while I prepare myself.”

Lorren got behind her and put her arms gently around her.

“Lean on me Sister.” She said simply.

“I rely, lean, on you all as you lean on me it is what true friendship means but thank you my dark sister. Were you tempted by its offer?” Tesler asked taking the dropped mace and crook back into her hands from Serin and Darius.

“Oh yes of course I was but if I had I would throw away any chance I have of seeing Leonard again and I will never jeopardise that.”

Tesler seemed satisfied with the reply and with great care began the ritual of sanctification. Her voice grew stronger and stronger as she spoke the litany in the old tongue of the Roma people.

A cool pale light throbbed out of the heads of the dire mace while a warm red light pulsed out of the crook. As she asked for forgiveness and confessed her sins, taking on herself the sins of the women, her friends, the blue light pulsed out repairing everything it touched. Gargoyles reassembled into angelic spirits and returned to their possessions in the wall niches and ceiling bosses. Blood vanished at its touch and the remains of the little demon trashed about and screamed as it was sucked back smoking into where it belonged. As it vanished a pure white cloth covered the altar and vases of sweet scented flowers appeared at each end. Finally the warm glow lifted up and entered a red glass lantern that hung from the rafters and bathed everywhere with its warm glow.

Tesler slumped against Lorren totally spent, barely breathing.

“Come on you old fuss pot heal yourself.” Lorren muttered in grave concern though she strove to keep her voice light. “Who’s going to keep Hanna on the straight and narrow if you are not around? Or me for than matter? Come on you can’t die here.”

“Nor will she my brave warrior.” The girls turn almost as one to confront the speaker who stood in the doorway. “My Goddess spoke to me and told me of your deed and bade me hither to serve her as Priestess.”

Hanna recognised her as the young woman who had been with the children.

“Can you aid her Holy One?” She asked.

“Yes for that purpose I have been here.” She walked in and laid a hand gently on each one shoulder except for Horren. When she had reached her she ever so gently ran a hand over her cheek and irritated eye. Pain lanced through the orbit for a split second and then was gone along with the irritation. When the new Priestess opened her had a pile of dust and tiny pieces of glass lay there before fading away?

When she reached Tesler after touching her shoulder she kissed her tenderly on each cheek saying.

“Be strong in body as you are in faith and love Holy Sister. Your love and devotion to these young women has not gone unnoticed. Stand erect and strong with the Goddesses new favour and wisdom.” Tesler stood up slowly and proudly before bowing to the young Priestess.

“I hear you Goddess and I thank you for your favour.” With that she led the women out and back toward the village.

“What about looking for clues Tesler?” Hanna asked as they came back out into the fresh air.

“No. They would have vanished as the temple restored itself.” She paused a moment in thought. “We will just have to proceed with our investigation by talking further with the villagers. Can any one remember if there was a gate here before?”

The last was aimed at any of them and was received with puzzlement.

“No there wasn’t I’m pretty sure of it.” Darius replied.

“Ah, I thought so.” Tesler said opening it up and going forward. “And there is no chance I suppose that we have circled around back to the front of the village.”

“No off course not, we have barely gone a hundred feet no matter a hundred yards or more.” Darius stopped as she like the others looked down into the village from their original view point.

“I thought not. Don’t let anything seem to surprise you.” She stopped and turned around to face them. “How did your arrows shatter the gargoyles they were made of granite Darius and how for that matter did you blade slice through them so easily Lorren?”

“Yes I noticed that too. You weren’t using your blue fletched arrows but those of red.” Serin observed with a frown. “And your sword glowed Lorren.”

“Oh those arrows I got from the Fletcher in the village. I must remember to thank him. Look I have some left.” She opened the box quiver on her hip but not one red feathered arrow remained. “I don’t understand there must have been at least six left.”

“And you Lorren?” Tesler asked.

“The blacksmith cold coated the blade saying it would help it to keep its sharpness.” She drew the blade but it seemed strangely quiescent.

“I think when we enter you should go and speak to them, but carefully, about it.”

“The girl, the priestess she is still with the children. How is that possible? She hasn’t passed us so how can she have got there before us?” Asked Hanna incredulously.

“Because perhaps that she had never left?” Tesler said enigmatically.

They entered the village and made their way to the village cross aware once more of the people watching from their windows. Lorren, Darius and Hanna detached themselves and made their way to their prospective targets.

“Welcome and well met Holy Sister I am Lothar and though I am no village leader most listen to me.” He stopped and bowed and Tesler gave the Holy sign in return.

“He doesn’t remember.” Horren whispered.

“Look at the sun Horren it hasn’t moved.” Serin whispered back.

“Quite.” Tesler murmured before saying much louder such all could hear even without spiritual aid. “I am Abbess Tesler Von Abbess and I have been commanded by the Synod and the high council of Dyffid to investigate the disappearances. These are my..” She paused a moment before continuing. “Investigators and scribes.”

Horren and Serin made to move off and cross over to the shops that open out onto the market square as they did before but Tesler forestalled them.

“Don’t go sisters I want you to listen carefully to what our friend here Lothar has to say.” She smiled at the man as she sat down onto the village crosses low wall. “I am sorry Lothar please continue.”

“I have wished you had come earlier Reverent Mother. Our Priestess was taken from us this very morning straight after service. She shook our hands and waved us goodbye ’fore stepping back into the temple. Well me and Tomas Penberthy realised we hadn’t asked her to bless our new field so we stepped back into the temple but she had gone and all we found was these few rings, bracelets and her Holy Symbol.” He pulled out from his belt pouch a few items of jewellery and dropped them into Tesler’s hand. “We were that a feared that we fled back here in time to see you enter the village like.”

Tesler nodded sagely and stroked her chin.

“I see. What can you tell me of an Earl Hunt?”

“Oh he be a nasty piece of work that one worked the farm up yonder at Swinebeck and no better name is there for him. He be a belligerent bugger, begin you pardon Reverent Mother I didn’t mean to swear, but he is. He reckoned that his Daughter and wife had been taken but we reckon he’d either done for them or they ran off to get away from him and I don’t blame them either.” The man looked down at his feet in embarrassment a moment before looking up and adding in a quieter tone. “But after this morning he could have been telling the truth. He said that his wife was taken from his side while they laid together in their locked bedroom. I mean Reverent Mother how likely is that, it’s not is it.” He dropped silent and stared at his hands.

“What happened to him Lothar?” Tesler asked gently.

“We couldn’t find any bodies see but it was obvious he was lying. He’d done for them or they had run off.” He stuttered to halt.

“What did you do to him Lothar?” Tesler persisted.

“We hung him from that tree there. He kicked up hell of a din, cursing us for fools he did right up to the drop but that silenced him. When the Priestess found out she was furious and gave us a right ear bashing and that’s no error but it was to late the deed was done.” The man did look contrite and puzzled. “When the other people disappeared we thought it was him to but it couldn’t have been because the Priestess has gone too.”

“Return to your people Lothar you have given me much to think on.” Tesler was pleased to find all the others had arrived back. “Come sisters we will retire to the inn for some refreshment and to compare notes.”

“Did you say Inn Reverent Mother? I’m afraid you’ll find no inn.” There was no trace of deception on the man’s face as he added. “There used to be an inn but it burnt down a few years back. The fire was so bad we couldn’t get anyone out. The guests and the owner, a lovely lady called Mrs Davis. She ran it with her daughter Morag, funny thing she was, always talking ten to the dozen about nothing she was, you had too listen out hard to find out what she wanted. Now where’s me manners, you can stay here in the village I’m sure we can all find some room for you. It won’t be posh but at least it’ll be clean.”

“Thank you Lothar we may take you up on your kind offer but at the moment we need to investigate things further. We will bid you good day?” She got up and led them away.

“Well?” She asked the three who had gone to speak to the residents.

“They are not the same people as before. They look the same but they don’t speak the same as before they aren’t as intelligent or as skilled.” Darius informed her.

“I agree. Puzzling isn’t it?” Tesler mused.

“The sun is in the same place in the sky as before. It hasn’t moved.” Serin added.

“Yes I heard you Serin.” Tesler replied.

“What I want to know is what are we going to do about the inn? All my clothes are there including my best knickers.” Hanna moaned.

“I don’t know child I really don’t know.” Tesler looked up the path and as thunder began to roll she added quietly. “But I have a feeling we are going to find out.”

As the group made there way back to the tavern they could hear thunder rolling around once again.

“I don’t understand Sister why didn’t they recognise us the second time around?” Horren was puzzled and highly unsettled by it all. “And come to that why were they so, so, different, dull even? There was no life in them compared to before. Were they under some sort of glamour?”

“Possibly, possibly but I don’t think so. Did any of you notice that parts of their conversation was exactly the same as before, almost word for word?”

Several of the women nodded. “I think we all feel it. Something is seriously wrong here.”

“I’d rather go back to the school but your right we’ve got to set nature back on its right course again.” Horren looked across to Serin hoping she would contradict her and insist that they go home but she didn’t she just stared at the black thunder clouds with intense concentration.

“These storms are too localised to be natural and far too violent.” Serin muttered as the turned the last corner and the Inn came into view. “Dear Gods he was right. The Inn is in total ruins! He was right look there’s only a few walls left!”

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