The girls were back at the convent and Marta wondered how the Mother Superior and the Abbess were doing.
So did they.
They had scoured the hillside looking for the perpetrators but they had found nothing and so it was that they came upon the valley where the monastery sat.
After resting for awhile some of the troopers escorted the two Holy Sisters down to the monastery’s massive front doors.
Sister Faith had decided that a show of force would be too intimidating.
As they dropped steadily down to the valley floor they passed several entrances to the numerous mines in the area. In the monastery they could see dim shapes moving.
Paulo sat fidgeting on his sturdy pony beads of sweat ran down his strained face.
The Sisters drew their maces and began to sing a prayer. The troopers heads lifted and their backs straightened.
They drew their swords and waited for the command.
They eventually found themselves in front of the huge wooden doors.
“Aren’t you a teeny bit scared?” Paulo asked in a quiet voice.
“A coward dies a million deaths where as a hero dies only once.” Sister Faith quoted.
“It’s that once that worries me.” He whispered.
“Brave heart Paulo.” She replied as she signalled for a trooper to knock on the door.
“Who calls at this hour.” A querulous voice called out from inside.
“I, Mother Superior, Sister Faith, of the Convent of Our Lady of the Rose.” Sister Faith called in a clear voice.
There was a sound of hurried conversation before a different voice answered them.
“I’m afraid we cannot let you in Holy Mother. We have a virulent outbreak of influenza. We have isolated ourselves from others to reduce the chance of others being contaminated.” The new voice was younger, stronger.
“Then you need my healing skills and that of my Abbess to curtail the spread of the disease.” She called out reasonably
“No, no Holy Mother. It is too virulent. You must leave this place before its to late!” Sister Faith could just hear the panic in his voice.
“No.” Was Sister Faiths simple reply.
She turned to Paulo.
“Get rid of that door!” She said angrily. “If they speak the truth then we apologise and help those inside.”
“Forsooth my Lady you have given me a tricky task and that is no mistake.” Paulo replied in his normal verbose style.
“Just do it Paulo, don’t debate it.” She retorted tetchily.
He made a curious twisting movement of his fingers as if turning a key then suddenly the door made a loud clonk and swung open.
“After you Holy Sister.” Paulo said with an elaborate gesture. He was determined to be last in so he could avoid contamination.
They all dismounted and entered the monastery like a pair of Ships of the Line much to the annoyance of the two monks.
“Greetings Brothers. I apologise for the somewhat unorthodox entry but it was obvious you needed our help.” She turned to her compatriot. “Sister take a couple of troopers and visit the sick in the infirmary.”
“Yes Sister.” The Abbess pointed at two of the troopers. “Bertoli and Canni follow me.”
Weapons in hand they joined Sister Innocent as she crossed over to where she knew the infirmary and refectory should be.
“Is the Abbott free to see me as we have much to discuss?” Sister Faith said with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“The Abbott was one of the first to fall ill.” The monk’s face was heavy and his whole body language the reverse to what Sister Faith would expect from a monk. It was threatening and worldly wise.
“Oh I am sorry to hear that. Show me his grave so I might pay my respects?”
“No, no.” The second monk quickly gathered himself. “We cremated him so not to spread the malady.”
“Oh I see. Can you show me where his ashes are scattered. I will bless the ground for you.”
“It was scattered in a lime pit along with others that were frail or to young to shake it off.” The first said with an obvious lie.
Sister Faith noted the amount of black robed monks that came out from the different area’s of the monastery. Her sharp eyes spotted the glint of chainmail armour beneath their rough spun cassocks.
“Now Holy Brother I think you better tell the truth as you are a very bad liar?” Sister Faith told him with a grim smile. “What has happened here?”
“You should have remained outside Reverent Mother.” His voice was an evil hiss. “Now you must die.”
“No I don’t think so. Lady of the Rose bless your servants this hour.” Her silver mace burst into flame. “Let us get this done. Leave these two alive for questioning.”
A nimbus of holy light appeared over the Mother Superior and the troopers and curiously or an area of empty ground.
The scent of Roses filled the air.
The monk pulled out a wicked wavy knife from his cassocks sleeve and slashed at Sister Faith.
She blocked it with ease with her silver bull mace.
“I am Sister Faith of The End of Days.” She cried out as she swung the mace in a low arc to block another knife blow.
Her assailant face blanched and he staggered back a pace before rallying.
Pulling out a single bladed sword from where it hung inside his monks robes he was ill prepared for Sister Faiths mailed fist smashing into his face. It spread his nose over his face with a gout of blood.
He staggered back a couple of places as more armed black robed monks poured out of the cloisters.
“Kill them kill them all.” He yelled to them.
“Oh shut up you pestilent creature!!” Paulo yelled as he launched a blue lance of energy at him.
As the energy hit him the monk became frozen to the spot unable to move, locked in position, paralysed.
Seeing that the troopers were outnumbered Sister Faith yelled to the mage.
“Paulo. Remove the veil, remove the veil!!”
With a cracking sound the air under the blessing glowing light parted to reveal a troop of Dwarf warriors.
“For Tempest!!” They yelled as they entered the fray in a fighting wedge their war axes and war hammers handing out death with clinical precision.
A pair of young Dwarf girl archers on each side of the main group loosed arrow after arrow into the enemy.
The troopers had moved outward to the fringes of the battle to allow their Dwarf compatriots the room to operate. They cut down any of the monks that tried to get behind the Dwarfs.
A Dwarf arrow whipped past Sister Faith’s cheek to land with a meaty thunk into the monk who had somehow got behind the Holy Mother. She nodded her thanks before turning back into the fray.
Sister Innocent and the two troopers came thundering out from the refectory and smashed a couple of monks aside.
“Are you well Reverent Mother?” She called.
“Yes I’m fine dear Abbess and yourself?” Sister Faith called back as she smashed another monk to the ground.
“I have never felt so well.” The Abbess called back as she push through the melee to get to her fellow nun.
“Let us finish this Sister.”
Side by side they entered the fray.
A pair of monks launched an attack on them with short swords. Sister Faith shoved a clenched fist at them and fired the hidden thorns into their faces blinding one and seriously injuring the other. Sister Innocent made short shrift of them with her mace.
As suddenly as it had begun it finished.
They looked round at the figures that lay dead around them, their enemy had fought to the last man, in shock.
Sister Faiths troopers had come off relatively lightly with only four carrying injuries and the Dwarf troops having only superficial injuries.
They reverently took up the dead monks and laid them side by side ready for the Holy Sisters to perform the last rights.
Sister Innocent went round the injured and performed healing on them while Sister Faith had Paulo remove the paralysis’ from the only monk still alive.
“Now sir you will tell me all I want to know. Where are the chaos priests? Where is the portal to the demonic plain? Speak sir.”
The man looked up at her and giggled.
“In winning you have lost. Thank you you fools.” Sister Faith had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “The Lord of Shadows has claimed them to live in perpetual chaos in eternal flux. Now they will feast on you. You will become his servants down in the mine. His shadow slaves.”
He whipped out a small knife and cut his own throat before Sister Faith could react.
Horror dawned on her.
“To arm, to arms, the dead still live!” She yelled at the top of her voice.
A black miasma boiled out of the dead monks. Inside the cloud piercing red eyes observed them in pure hunger but was the only obvious thing they could see.
The troopers and the Dwarves reformed ready.
“These are ours Reverent Mother, we are more suited to fighting in the dark which would blind you.” The young Dwarf archer told her as she knocked an arrow to her bow string as the blackness billowed out and rolled over them.
“Go to it my lady, Troopers form up on me.” She yelled. “Don’t let them touch you or they will chill you to the bone as they suck your life away.”
In seconds their ingrained discipline took over. The troopers formed a shield of archers as the Dwarfs plunged into that darkness, their weapons flashing in the low light.
An axe chopped at a shadows exposed neck only to slide off with minimal damage. The creature clawed at the Dwarf with its black nails only to find that they were just as impervious to attack.
The other Dwarfs were finding a similar problem but likewise could only take minimal damage.
Two Shadows separated from the others and began to prepare a spell.
Paulo had spotted this and with a cry of anger sent a ball of flame at them. It burst with a roar knocking the creatures out of their stride.
“Troopers attack those two!” Sister Innocent yelled and pointed them out.
A barrage of arrows peppered the two figures such that they looked like human porcupines.
But before they dissipated they fires lances of energy at Paulo who only just managed to erect a force field in front of him that cracked but held before him.
“Focus on two at a time.” The Dwarf archer called out as she fired another arrow into a black shape.
Sister Faith and Sister Innocent was down amongst them healing the Troopers and Dwarfs injuries.
The troopers working quickly to remove a badly injured Dwarf out of the melee.
At last the new tactic was paying dividends as Shadow after Shadow was destroyed and disappeared in quite literally a puff of smoke.
At last the two Nuns were side by side. Grabbing each others hand and lifting them up.
“Holy Lady let their be light!” Sister Fate called.
“Shut your eyes, now!” Sister Innocent yelled simultaneously.
Such was the faith they had in the two women they shut their eyes without hesitation.
A bright Holy light flashed down leaving spots before their shut eyes but the shadows screamed in agony.
“Attack! Attack while they are weak.” The Dwarf archer yelled.
The shadows that remained stood swaying back and forth with gaping holes in their shadowy bodies.
The end was swift and brutal as the Dwarves split into small groups and fell on them.
Their weapons now able to cause terrible wounds on the shadow warriors.
Again the two Shadow Mages tried to conjure a spell but once again they were beaten to the punch by Paulo who fired a spell that entombed them in ice. A dwarf leaped forward out of the darkness and struck the two mages with such force it shattered their bodies.
“Look out!!” Paulo yelled but it was too late as a shadow plunged its hand into histhe3 Dwarfs back and stilled his heart.
The shadows triumphant yell was cut off as the Dwarf archers and the troopers peppered it with arrows. It lay twitching on the floor for a moment before it blew away on the wind.
It was over.
The two nuns quite literally dragged their exhausted bodies over to the Dwarf and felt for life signs.
“His heart is still beating, only just but it is there. Bring me water quickly?!!” Sister Faith yelled to anyone that would listen.
The two Dwarf archers crossed over to join them, arriving just as the Dwarf opened his eyes.
He coughed and a thin dribble tricked out of his mouth.
“You are not strong enough Holy Sister to heal me.” He wheezed. “I am satisfied that I have done what was needed. Lord Tempus waits for me to join the army eternal.”
Sister Faith lifted him up onto her lap and cradled his head as he gently slipped away.
Tears streaming down her face Sister Faith gently closed his eyes.
“My Lady of the Rose take this beautiful warriors soul into your tender loving care and deliver him to his Astral Lord, to Lord Tempus, with my love and gratitude.”
The two Dwarf archers knelt beside them with goblets of cold pure water in their hands.
“Don’t weep Holy Mother he is happy. Look he has been accepted.” Eva said holding the goblet to the nuns lips. “Drink now Holy One and regain your strength.”
Standing above the body of the fallen Dwarf was his spirit. He looked over at the Reverent Mother and saluted, a broad smile on his face. They watched as he faded from sight. Where his body once lay there was a broach. It depicted the Holy Symbol of Tempus, the War Hammer, but it was entwined with two Rose stems with it red thorns to two tight red rose buds , the symbol of Sister Faiths Saint, the Lady of the Rose.
The Dwarf maid carefully picked it up and with reverence attached it to Sister Faiths silk nuns habit where it glowed for a moment.
“I didn’t even know his name.” Sister Faith said wearily. “Or yours bow maid.”
“He was called Karl Goethe and I’m Eva Colberg Goethe. He was my uncle.” She said as she helped the nun to drink the cool clear crystal water.
The two nuns were to weary to complain as the archers helped them to their feet and across to a pair of chairs they had purloined from one of the empty houses.
The troopers had drawn their swords and reversed them such that the tip touched the ground whilst they crossed their hands over the pommel and bowed their heads.
The Marshal marched in front of them, turned and drew his sword and like his troopers reversed the blade. Taking hold of the blade he held it before him so it resembled a cross.
The Dwarfs marched forward and with their weapons resting over their shoulders took their places in front of the troopers.
The two nuns got up and faced them.
“My Lady of the Rose, and my Lord Tempus of the Dwarf folk, look favourably on those gathered here in your name, and strengthen our resolve to do your bidding and destroy the growing chaos that has manifested itself here among these beautiful mountains.” She then made the sign of the living Ankh over them. “Go in peace and love, and keep our eyes clear and our axes sharp.”
“Troopers general salute.” The Marshal called.
With a crash of armour and in perfect unison the Troopers reversed their swords and brought the blades up to almost touch their noses.
“Dwarfs salute.” Eva called.
With a roar they punched their weapons skyward before going down on one knee before her.
Eva turned to the two nuns and said in a choked voice.
“Holy Reverent Mother, Holy Abbess, my kin here wish to personally give their oath of fealty. It is a thing we Dwarf folk do not do with out a time of serious consideration. We swear loyalty unto you and do pledge to use our skills, our strength, our weapons in you cause. You cried and comforted one of our own at the time of his death and yet still managed to send him to our Lord Tempus.
If we return from this venture we will speak of you and teach our young people of what you have done.”
The nuns walked amongst them placing their hands on their heads blessing them.
A little later as they watched a Dwarf axe man stitching a couple of wounds on the Marshall’s face. The Marshal didn’t even flinch.
“Reverent Mother, Sister Innocent and I have something to show you in the refectory and the infirmary. If you feel able.” He said when the Dwarfs handy work was finished.
With a groan she stood up. Though, thanks to the ministration of the Dwarf archers, she was much recovered but she had pulled a muscle in her back which pained her when she stood up. She sent a pulse of healing warmth to it and was gratified as it eased.
“Lead on Marshal, lead on.” She said as she signalled the young Dwarf bow woman and Paulo to join them. “I am sorry to drag you away from what you were doing but the Marshal and Sister Innocent has something to show us in the refectory and infirmary.”
“I’ve already seen some of it and you’ll need a strong stomach.” Sister Innocent led the way.
The refectory was a long building with two parallel lines of benches and trestle tables.
In that it was no different from any other refectory, but what was left on the plates on the table and hanging in the larder dissuaded them from such a cosy view.
Identifiable pieces of human flesh hung there.
“They ate humans.” Eva shuddered and looked rather green.
“To be exact they are the original occupants of the monastery.” Sister Innocent told them.
“The monks?” Sister Faith asked with a sad sigh.
“Yes I fear so.”
“Is there more to see?”
“Yes, Holy Mother.” Sister Innocent led them from the refectory into the infirmary, straight into a vision of hell.
A man with half his head missing turned to face them.
“Are you my mummy?” He said in a simpering child like voice.
“Oh dear Lord.” Sister Faith uttered as Eva threw up in the large sink in the corner.
A woman was slumped in the corner. Her flesh had been removed and then put back in squires held in place with bronze pins. A third arm had been attached under the right one.
Everywhere there was fresh horror.
One of them turned and began to lurch toward them. Its head lolled loosely on its neck its eyes blank and staring.
The Marshal tried to physically halt the creature the man had become but to avail as it pushed him step by step backward.
“Attention Trooper!” Sister Faith barked.
The man stopped in his tracks and stood to attention.
“Return to your post. Dismissed.”
The figure turned and marched away back to his bed. Once there he laid down again.
“They have been experimenting on them.” Eva said in disbelief.
“Yes.” Sister Faith said before lifting her hand up. “My Lady of the Rose give these poor souls rest and take them to your gardens.”
A golden light emanated from her raised hand and fell gently fell over the misshapen figures. They laid down onto the cots and beds and passed away quietly.
As they came out into the cloisters and the daylight they took a deep breath to clear there noses of the stench.
“Forgive me Holy Mother!” Eva said hanging her head in shame. “I disgraced myself and diminished myself in your eyes.”
“No child you did not disgrace yourself I was but a heartbeat from joining you.” Sister Faith reassured her.
“I did the same as you when I went in the first time.” Sister Innocent added. “Now go and join your people they have need of you. And have a glass of wine to take the bad taste from your mouth. We will be.”
“Thank you Sister.” With a nod of thanks she walked away.
A little later a trooper crossed over to them and tried to catch their eyes.
“Yes young man?” Sister Faith asked him.
“Excuse me Holy Sister.” Sister Faith could hear the capitals. “We found these maps in the Abbots office but our engineer can’t make head or tails of them.”
“Well done trooper.” Sister Faith said. “Lay them out on the ground so we can see them in their entirety.”
The trooper carefully unrolled them, weighing them down with rocks to stop them rolling back up.
There was no doubt they were maps but they were like no maps she had ever seen before. Even the Marshal was stumped.
“Trooper, Armani isn’t it?”
“Yes Holy Mother.” The man stiffened with pride at the fact that Sister Faith had remembered his name.
“Go to the Dwarfs camp and ask if Lady Eva and their mining expert could join us.”
“Yes Holy Mother.” He departed at a trot much to the amusement of the Dwarfs.
Eva and a gnarled individual came back with him in steady walk.
The other dwarf was Jacob who was their champion miner who like the fabled Sir Henry could follow a mother lode with ease.
They studied the maps for awhile.
“They are definitely maps of mine workings.” Jacob said pointing out the different levels.
“Here on the tenth level is something special.” Eva pointed at the relevant spot.
“It is marked up with the word ‘Portal’ in the miners sub-tongue.” Jacob said earnestly whilst stroking his long white beard deep in thought. “In some mines there are Gateways, portals if you like, that connects a group of mines to another set. It is these portals that allow us to move vast distances without coming outside.”
“But I take it this doesn’t do that?” Sister Faith asked.
“It may do but the words in the Dwarf tongue beside it uses the words Limbo and Abyss. They believed it was a gateway to Hades.”
“Thank you for your assistance Master Jacob, Mistress Eva.” Sister Faith looked worried but resolute. “I think we have just found the source of the Chaos.”
“Now all we need to do is find out which mine.” The Marshal aid in hope of an easy answer.
“We don’t think it is any of the mines up in the hills and mountains. The entrance seems too wide and flat.”
It was at that moment a Dwarf messenger ran up to them from the entrance of the monastery.
“Excuse me Holy Lady.” He said, obviously struggling to come up with a suitable form of address. “Our Lord Fritz Colberg has been seen coming down from the nearest mines with the rest of our squad.”
“Thank you young man.” Sister Faith got to her feet. “I wonder what he has found, if anything, in the mine shafts. I’ll join you at the main door to greet him when he arrives.
Go tell Eva Colburg that her father will be arriving soon.”
It was an hour later when Fritz and the remaining Dwarf troops arrived.
Sister Faith allowed Eva to be the first to greet her father.
After a quick conference with his daughter he led the warriors over to where the two nuns were standing.
They went down on one knee.
“Well met Master Fritz, brave warriors.” Sister Faith nodded to them. “There is no need to bend the knee here we are all equal.”
“Well met Holy Mother, Holy Abbess. My daughter has told me of all that has occurred and how you wept and tried to save one of my kin.
As you have heard we do not give our loyalty easily. But I do pledge that I and my folk here will serve you loyally and will do whatever is needed to aid you in you endeavours.”
Sister Faith knew that she could injure their pride if she refused or protested that she was not worthy.
The two Nuns went amongst them and gave each one a blessing.
When that was done that warrior would get to his feet and join the rest of his kin in some beer from the monasteries micro brewery.
At last Sister Faith came to Fritz. She placed her hand lightly on his head.
“Good Master Fritz go in peace and love, and keep our eyes clear and our axes sharp.”
She held out her hand and lifted him to his feet.
“I hear my daughter has been of use?” The Dwarf ask carefully.
“Yes she has proven to have an excellent gift for warfare and an equally excellent gift of peaceful analysis. She has proven to be a great asset to us in your absence.” Sister Faith walked him over to where his daughter and Jacob were waiting before the map. Sister Innocent passed a hand over a goblet of fine white wine whilst uttering a short prayer. The goblet and wine became chilled.
She passed the drink over to him.
Karl sipped it with a grateful sigh.
“Did you find anything of interest in the mines? My Lord?” Sister Innocent asked.
“Yes but not what you mean I expect.” He gave a shiver. “We went through several mines but all were empty and silent which can never be if Dwarves were working them. The mines are generally worked the full day for seven of the eight days resting on the eighth, the Saints Day, after going to the temple. Even then it wasn’t uncommon for a group of our best retired miners to go round and do safety checks.”
“So what you are saying is that it would be highly unlikely for the mine to be empty?” Sister Faith asked trying to make sure she understood. “Did you find any bodies to suggest foul play?”
“No none which only makes it more curious. Plenty of abandoned tools but no bodies. There was no sign of a rock fall, flooding or a gas pocket to account for it.”
“Father will you look at these maps please? They are of a mine but we don’t like the look of the entrance?”
Fritz squatted and examined the map a frown deepened at what he saw.
“Well done child I’m proud of you. It seems your education wasn’t a waste of time after all.” He said teasingly before getting up and giving his daughters shoulder a squeeze. “Holy Sister’s. As my daughter has found the entrance to the mine is too wide and too shallow to be any we have visited up in the mountains it must be here in the base of the valley. Which is a strange place to put it unless, unless.”
“Unless what my Lord?” Sister Faith said after a few minutes not wanting to break his train of thought.
“It could be a gold mine? Yes that must be it. The monastery was built over the top of it so they can have access to a small quantity for their famous jewellery.”
He began to slowly rotate his eyes looking for any imperfection, anything out of place.
He stopped and pointed at a long low storage building.
“Shall we?” He asked.
“Why not?” Sister Faith replied. “Eva rouse both contingents and have them ready to follow us.”
“Yes Holy Sister.” With a nod at her father she dashed off.
“You have a fine daughter Master Fritz so be proud of her.”
“Believe me Holy Mother I am.”
As they crossed over to the entrance to the building Sister Faith couldn’t help but wonder how the girls and the Convent was getting on.