The convent never looked so welcoming as it did to the exhausted girls last night. Their muscles ached from the physical exertions the sergeant put them through.
Their minds numb from all the information they were pushing into it.
They were so tired there was no cherry banter and minor mischief.
They dragged their bodies to their cots and fell deeply asleep.
They shut their eyes and opened them again to find that the night had gone and the bell for morning prayers was tolling.
They dragged themselves out of bed and got dressed in their novice robes. Trying not to yawn they collected outside their cells and traipsed toward the small chapel.
The service was beautiful as usual their voices filling the little chapel with love and peace. The sung prayers cleared the girls heads and relieved their tired bodies.
Soon the girls were at their allotted tasks.
Since the plough horse had recovered Gloria was working in the blacksmith shop making some ornate gates covered with the Holy Symbol, the Rose, on it for a rich client in Como.
Julienne was working at the kiln with another tray of pottery when she burnt her little finger.
Everyone waited for her to explode but instead of going into a rage and swearing she just took a slow deep breath and slowly exhaled while shaking the hand with the burn.
“Dear me that hurt a bit.” She said as a nervous nun administered to her burnt digit.
The girls laughed and signalled their approval.
Juliette blushed before giving a very theatrical bow with a wide grin, before bursting into song.
The nuns with her had cringed as they waited for her to explode in rage but were greatly surprised when she didn’t, so much so that they ended up joining her in song.
The sound of their voices was strangely uplifting.
As the others worked they began to join in until most of the convent was singing.
Marta pull gently at the plough horses ear.
“Right old girl lets work together for a change. If we do the sooner you’ll be back in your warm cosy stable.”
She joined in again with the singing feeling her heart lift.
Marta was ploughing another field with the nuns behind her putting carrots and parsnip seeds into the ground.
In a chair on the sidelines sat Sister Boniface watching what they were doing as she knitted a woollen jerkin. Two other elderly Nuns were with her and doing the same.
The Convent of the Rose had a small herd of sheep, goats and cattle. Little Lillian seemed to have an affinity with the creatures as did Gloria. While Lillian brought in the sheep, goats and cattle for milking, Gloria went out and grabbing the nose rings of the two young bulls and lead them to a new stretch of pasture.
Nuns would take the milk and turned it into butter and cheeses.
Twilight was making salves that helped to ease pain from the bark of one of the trees in the small arboretum, and believe it or not stinging nettles.
“Marta!?” Twilight called as she picked her way over the rutted ground to her with a small earthenware jar cradled in her hand.
“Twilight, you look lovely in that dress.” Marta laughed.
Twilight was wearing a long robe that she had made from fabric she had bought when they were down in the market. Over the top of it was a stiff leather apron.
“I’ve made this salve for you to use on Sister Boniface.” Twilight told her.
“Thank you my friend it is very kind of you.” Marta was truly taken aback as Twilight wasn’t known for compassion.
“We are a team Marta, you taught me that. Helping Sister Boniface makes you happy so we all decided to help. All of us used our skills.
I made the salve, Julienne the pot, Astra blessed it. Gloria has made this copper bangle with Lillian’s help, well hindrance really.”
Marta lent forward and kissed her friends cheek.
“You will have to share that I’m afraid.” Marta said she turned around to find all of her friends had stopped what they were doing and were watching nervously.
Marta lifted up the pot so they could see she had it.
“Thank you, all of you.” They nodded or waved before turning back to their work.
Having finished the ploughing Marta crossed to where the elderly nuns were knitting.
“How are you Holy Sisters I have had no chance to speak with you since I returned?”
The two nuns smiled at her whilst Sister Boniface examined her critically.
“You have changed.” She said. “I swear you have lost weight and grown taller since I last saw you. You have a harder edge to you which I’m not sure I like. But at heart you are still our Marta.”
She smiled warmly at her.
“I have been much bereft without your massage of my poor hands though to be honest I can now knit which I haven’t been able to do for many a day.”
“Look Twilight and my other friends have made this salve to ease your pains.”
Sister Boniface held out her hands for inspection while the other two nuns took their leave.
The Sisters hands were no longer twisted by arthritis and the knuckles no longer swollen and hot.
The skin was dry and cracked in places making them sore.
Marta un-stopper the jar and examined its contents. The smell of roses masked the more acrid odours.
She put a little on her finger and gently massaged it into the Sisters hand.
“The smell reminds me of when I used to run through the fields as a child. That was before I took the veil.” Sister Boniface rarely spoke of her time before entering into the convent.
Marta mixed essences of earth, water and fire that dwelt in her body and pulsed it into her hand and then the Sisters body.
Sister Boniface sighed as her pains eased.
“How long have you been a nun here sister?” Marta asked.
“Practically all my life Marta, since I was sixteen. Why do you ask child?”
“Do you remember when the Reverent Mother found me and my mother?” Marta asked.
“Oh your mother was so beautiful, so full of life and misguided love.” The old woman sighed. “I do not remember much of that time. I don’t remember much of any past time for that matter. I think memory is only useful in warning you what not to do.”
“Oh. Don’t worry Sister it is just a foolish wish on my part to know more. What was my mother like?”
“She was like a breath of summer air. Fair of face, with a clement persona.” The old woman had a far away look to her face. “She died you know as she became an old woman though she had only seen barely sixteen summers.
Youth had gone and only wizen age remained.”
“Was she buried down in the village. I would like to visit her grave if it is possible.”
“No child, the towns folk wouldn’t have her because she had been tainted with the touch of Chaotic Evil. She was brought here but she had gone.
I am unsure of what happened to her body but if she was interned it would be in the field of lost souls outside the convents wall.”
Marta knew the place. It was a graveyard for those that died without the final unction, the death rites, having been carried out. It was also where unbelievers are buried.
The story goes that the unbeliever’s soul could not be claimed by any God and was left to wander the hollow halls of limbo for all eternity. A cruel fate Marta always thought.
“Do you know I think today is sixth day and we will be having apple crumble for tea.” Her eyes had filmed over and Marta knew she had lost her again.
“Ah your kindness warms this old heart of mine. I hope your eating well because I could swear you have lost weight.”
“Yes I’ve been working hard in the town on controlling my abilities.” Marta created a small ball of flame on her hand and allowed it to rotate there for a moment before it shot into the sky and burst like a firework.
The old woman clapped her hands in childish glee.
“You must repeat the act on our Saint’s Day, I know it will cheer all our souls.”
There was some sort of commotion at the gates to the convent. Marta peered over to see what was wrong.
Nuns were being pushed aside by a group of armed men and women. In the lead was Thomas-a-Quintus his face suffused with blood, in a barely controlled rage.
He spied Marta and made his way over to her an arrow knocked to his longbow.
“Move away Sister I have no wish to harm you.” He said levelly. “I have no issue with you or the other Sisters but in your naïveté you have let evil grow in your midst.”
“What evil will that be?” Sister Bernadotte said as she looked around even more confused.
“I think he means me Holy Sister.” Marta said as she strode forward to put herself between Thomas and the nun. “I am correct am I not Master Quintus?”
“Do not bandy words with me demon.” Thomas spat.
“Oh don’t be preposterous man the only evil here is you. How dare you bring violence to our convent.” The old woman was beside herself in anger. “All you can see is what is on the surface not what truly lies beneath!”
Marta looked over his shoulder and saw the folk that had come in with Thomas drive a wooden stake into the ground. It was with growing anger she realised it wasn’t the only one, there were six in all.
Julienne was watching intently as she made a plan to deal with the situation, her tactical mind working overtime.
She allowed herself to be bundled across to join the other four whilst Marta confronted Thomas.
“All of you!!” She yelled to the group erecting the stake. “Have I offered any harm to any of you here. Have I caused you any fear, if I have then I apologise, for I can not change my face or skin colour.”
The people faltered.
“Am I evil too.” Little Lillian yelled. “Did not my parents help you find things that were lost.”
“They wouldn’t know that Lillian. Remember you’re not from around here.” Twilight whispered.
“Oh damm that’s right.” She looked up at the small crowd. “My parent would have helped you as I will should you loose anything and want it found again.
I’m not doing it that well but you know what I mean ”
Someone in the crowd actually laughed.
“Silence!!” Thomas yelled.
Twilight curled her hand and prepared herself to cast a spell. Gloria still carried the blacksmith hammer and the hot metal bar she was working on.
Julienne put her hand around her diminutive comrades waist and tap her back with the hilt of two knives she had picked up and secreted on her body.
“Stop it I’m try to work out what to do!” Lillian hissed.
Julienne rolled her eyes with disbelief.
“Stop poking me!” Lillian hissed putting her hand round her back to feel the daggers hilt. “Oh? Oh!”
Lillian took them and carefully slid them unseen up her sleeves.
“Well blasphemer carry out your work but leave the others alone. They offer you no harm.”
“Off no harm!! Lies trip glibly from their tongues. They are tainted by your corrupting influence. Beyond salvation.” Thomas drew and rapidly fired the arrow in one swift move.
There was a meaty thunk as it buried itself deep into flesh.
Sister Bernadette clutched Marta’s shoulders and looked up into her eyes with pure joy.
“I know you now sweet daughter.” The years had pealed away to reveal the nuns true age. A thirty two year old woman slid down Marta’s body to lie barely breathing on the ground, the arrow sticking out of her body forming a shadow of a cross on the nuns face.
Both Thomas and Marta looked down in horror
“Mother? I didn’t know. Why didn’t anyone tell me, why didn’t they tell me.”
Thomas was on his knees hands clasped in prayer.
“Holy Lady forgive me. I come to do thy will not this tragedy.” He stood up and placed another arrow to the string. “If it wasn’t for you I would not have committed this act. You must die.”
“Mother?” Marta felt a mixture of emotion boil through her body, the predominant one being anger.
Thomas took a step back in horror.
From her back where now powerful bats wings that stretched above Marta’s head. Massive horn’s had erupted from her forehead and curled over her head. The long sinuous barbed tail curled over her shoulder, its tip dipping poison.
Smoke issued from her nose as the air around her shimmered due to the heat pouring out of her body.
Above her outstretched hand was a glowing sphere made from all four elements of, Fire, Earth, Water and Air.
Even her friends had stepped back shocked by the transition. All save Astra whos own wings had grown to that of an angels.
“Marta?! Marta listen to me?!” She yelled over the noise the orb was making. “This isn’t what Sister Faith and Sister Innocent wanted.”
She wasn’t getting through and she knew for all their sakes she had to.
“Look at your mother is it what she wanted?”
Marta looked down at the now young woman at her feet and saw her feebly shake her head.
With an animal like roar, Marta her head tipped backward to see the sky, as she released the ball of energy. Not at the fearful Thomas but at the empty sky.
With a scream of release it shot off her hand and up and up to eventually disappear behind a high cloud.
Marta stood over her mothers body her own back to normal.
“Attack them quickly whilst they are distracted.” Thomas yelled to his followers as he loosed another arrow at Marta.
Marta without appearing to look snatch it out of the air. She held it up for Thomas to see before incinerating it.
The people that had followed Thomas screamed defiance as the hurtled toward the girls. Their swords and axes shimmering in the sunlight.
Julienne spun round on the spot grabbing the sword hidden under her robe and throwing it to Astra.
“Astra catch.” She bellowed.
Astra caught it and continued the motion to parry a blow aimed at Marta’s neck.
Julienne dropped her robes to reveal her naked flesh and the two single bladed swords dangling from her belt. They came out of the leather scabbards with a joyful swish.
The Drugar’s swords spun in front of her making what appeared to be an impenetrable shield of whirling steel.
Lillian was having to deal with two assailants at once. They both swiped at her at the same time in the hope of one of them catching her off guard. The Halfling somersaulted out of the way and then jumped forward as she spied they had over reached leaving them open to a counter attack. With surgical skill she cut them open. Not enough to kill them but enough to remind them of this day even after it had healed. The day a three foot woman had bested them.
Thomas drew his heavy blade and attacked Marta.
Unarmed though she was she gave a good account of herself , successfully sending energy globes at her assailant.
Twilight sent her own rainbow globes into the fray. Each one that hit a foe caused a different reaction. One was violently sick another stunned and the last shivering so badly she could barely hold her weapon.
“Hold!!” A voice yelled. “Hold or I will kill her.”
Everyone stopped and turned as one.
Thomas lay with his leg bent at an awkward angle a knife held at Sister Boniface’s neck. Shocked Marta turned round leaving herself unprotected from a blow to her head.
As she slipped into unconsciousness she felt her mother take her hand one more time.
“I love you my daughter, my time is over so don’t die like me, live!”
She saw her mothers eyes film over as the blackness over come Marta.
When she came to again it was to find herself being tied to a wooden stake. At her feet was piled more wood and kindling. Beside her her friends were similarly trust up and tied to a stake. All of them displayed wounds that showed they were not taken easily.
In the distance she could see Nuns with a bucket of water trying to heal her mother.
Tomas appeared in front of them being supported by a curly haired woman. It was obvious that his leg was broken.
“You filth had seen your last sun rise.” He spat.
“And after we have gone what then?” Marta asked as a brazier was lit.
“Tomorrow we will begin the work of purifying the Convent and rededicating it to Our Lady of the Rose.”
“I suppose your going to burn me first? I make a plea to you to spare my friends? Their only fault is their friendship to me.”
“No, it is beyond that now. They will be fired first so you can witness their demise one by one to punish you for corrupting them. Then you shall burn.”
Marta took a sharp intake of breath as she realised the man believed totally in what he was saying. He was a bully with a violent temper but he actually believed he was doing the Saints will.
The other girls were awake now and were looking to her fearfully.
Marta looked at the man before him and spoke loudly to him such that the other girls could hear her clearly.
“You actually believe your doing Our Ladies will?!”
“Yes with all my heart. You will not escape now demon.”
“What will happen do you think if you are wrong. What do you think Our Lady will do?!” Marta noticed that little Lillian was free of the rope that bound her hands and was holding the stake as if still bound.
Martha gave he a knowing nod of appreciation.
“Who told you that we were evil?!!” She shouted at the man so explosively it made him stagger back a pace. “Well?!”
“Father Quinn! He has guided my hand in this telling me of the evil work you are undertaking.”
All the girls were stunned in disbelief.
Marta recovered the quickest.
“Be careful when you light our funeral priers Thomas. The wood and grass may ignite creating a firewall and I wouldn’t want anyone else, bar ourselves of course, injured.” She gave Tomas a wicked smile. “Come on light us up we’re tired of waiting.”
Thomas signalled the women to come forward with a flaming brand from the brazier.
They crossed to little Lillian’s and pushed them into the briars and kindling and watched with satisfaction as they caught fire.
“Brave heart Lillian. Have faith and the flames will not touch you.” Marta called.
Lillian swallowed nervously but gave a nod.
Suddenly the flames roared up in front of her obscuring her from view. She screamed in what sounded like shear agony then she fell silent as the flames roared in front of her prier.
The woman walked to the other end of the stakes and thrust their flaming torches into the wood at Gloria’s feet.
Once again the flames roared up to hide her from view. There was a grunt of strength as Gloria strained and broke the ropes that bound her, but it seemed to late. She too screamed out her last.
The flames at each end began to flow like a burning stream igniting the wood at the base of the stakes of the remaining women.
Twilight had her hands tied above her head to prevent her being able to cast a spell.
Marta saw her trying to twist her fingers into a spell casting shape. Marta gave a slight shake of her head.
“Twilight my beloved friend it is to late for your Elfin magics. Accept what is to happed with good grace and courage.”
Around her she could hear the women screaming out their last moments.
With tears running down her face to evaporate on her cheek due to her body heat she bowed her head.
“What is this, does the demon’s child actually have feelings for those she has cruelly corrupted.” Thomas mocked.
With her eyes cast downward she could see the grass being flattened and moved aside as if by invisible feet. When they had reached the doorway into the chapel they stopped.
Marta realised she had to retain the villagers attention.
“Tell me, as I am about to die, how did this came about? Did he pick you as there leader?” She asked.
“He saw that I could see the truth of things, the dangers the strangers bring to the town. I had to stop Como from being contaminated physically and mentally.”
He signalled for the women to set light to the wood at Martha’s feet.
“You are a fool Thomas a Quintus. You have been used. Your fear of strangers was the weapon he needed to deal with us.
You think you are so pure yet you kill people with out concern or constructive thought.” She had their attention now and saw with gratification the door open and close silently.
The flames were licking at her feet now making the itch. She had already tried to break the ties and straps that held her to the stake with no luck. She formed a tiny globe of mixed essences which floated upward and settled on her bonds. She could feel and smell the acid as it burnt it’s way through to ropes.
“Hear me Holy Saint! Hear the words of your servant my Lady!” Marta yelled at the top of her voice making everyone stop what they were doing to look at her. “I forgive those who try to kill me. They are not evil but misguided, tricked by the glib tongue of another.
Holy Mother give me the courage to endure what is coming.”
The flames licked at her legs.
The crowd parted to reveal Father Quinn striding towards her.
“Fancy seeing you here Holy Father.” She said as the acid finished its work. “Have you come to free us, if you have then your too late to save the others. They gone like dust before the wind.
If you have come to gloat then I’m afraid I am poor entertainment.”
“You poor entertainment, never?” He laughed. “I had to see if you would be powerful enough, evil enough to join our cause.”
“You’re cause?” Not another madman she thought.
“Off course. You were created by a demon, an Incubus. A child of our goddess Lilith, the Queen of Demons, Tiamat the Rainbow Dragon, the first and only true wife of Adam the first man.”
“Now that’s a mouthful.” Myra said as the flames surged up to her waist.
“She was banish at The End of Days but she left enough energy for us, her disciples, to open a crack into the realm of Chaos and into Limbo.”
“And you need me to open the crack wide?” Marta said wriggling as the flame walls flowed down to reveal the empty and untouched stakes and poured along the ground like snakes to disappear up her legs. She was sucking the flames into her chest into her very heart.
“All this petty resistance is futile. Look your friends are all ready dead because of your folly. You must embrace your destiny. I’d much rather have your mind intact but if I have to turn you into an unthinking beast so be it.” He turned to Thomas and held out his hand. “Your sword Thomas.”
“Remember your oath Holy Father that you will leave Como untouched and free from contamination?”
“Oh yes I remember it well.” Father Quinn took the sword and without a moment of hesitation or remorse slew Thomas.
The mans head bounced along the ground as the body dropped to the floor.
“I don’t consider an oath to a buffoon as binding.” He said coldly before turning back to Marta who stood there in all her demonic form. “Can’t you see girl these false friends and mentors are holding you back from embracing what you are. Imagine it Marta, a world without humans stupid laws where the only law is the survival of the fittest. Where the only truth is moulded from your own whims.”
What was left of her charred clothes fell off to reveal her naked form.
“Do you like what you see Father?” She asked as her tail move over her body like a snake caressing her. She licked her lips seductively before stepping down from the pyre with an erotic rocking motion.
Father Quinn breath became shorter and his eyes widened and his pupils shrank as she sauntered over and caressed his cheek. She wrapped her body around his seductively.
Father Quinn gripped his holy symbol so hard it drew blood.
His breathing eased and his eyes returned to normal.
“Pity.” Marta said breathlessly. “But you can’t blame a girl for trying.”
“Will you join us willingly?” Father Quinn asked of her.
She stopped as if thinking about it for a moment.
“In your vision there is only pain for the people where there should be love and happiness. You would destroy the nuns within a blink of an eye. I can not let you do that to those that raised me. They raised me with a set of values that are engraved on soul.”
The villagers were standing behind them unsure of what had just happened.
Marta turned to face them.
“Is this the reason you came here, to open the breach and recalled Lilith to our realm.” She put all her force of personality into it. “Did he tell you that he intends to release the Demons of the Abyss or that he hope to raise the banished Lilith. You put medallions around your children’s necks, do you not, to protect them from Lilith while they sleep, to stop her replacing your child with an evil Changeling. So why do you carry out her deeds. Deeds that will resonate through all time.”
She looked at them pityingly as they shuffled around not knowing what to do.
“I forgive you. Go home and by my oath you will be unharmed.”
The villagers wandered around aimlessly for a moment before in dribs and drab made their way to the exit.
“Where is your army now Father?” Marta asked.
“Why here child.” Father Quinn waved his hand and crawling out of the ground came the black shadows their red eyes glinting. Over the back wall came four corpse eaters. Painfully thin humanoid creatures with a yellowish skin covered with pustules, boils and open weeping sores. Their nails were long and razor sharp.
Their naked forms showed that nether of the sexes was spared. They worn no armour nor carried any weapon. they didn’t need too.
Marta felt her stomach flip and had a hard time not losing her breakfast as their rancid stink hit her right between the eyes.
“Once they have immobilise you then I can remove your consciences and turn you into an obedient beast.” Quinn called.
“That’s a lie otherwise you would have done it already.” Marta laughed. “You might have noticed that the quadrangle, the cloisters, is empty.
Quinn looked around it.
“Yes so what?” He was puzzled and felt uneasy for the first time since this had all begun.
“So that means I haven’t been alone after all.”
Out of the doors that opened out onto the cloister came her five friends each caparisoned as if for war. Each screaming their battle cry.
But somehow Marta couldn’t help wishing for the Mother Superior and the Abbess to be here as futile as that thought may be.
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