Father Quinn led the way out of the town of Como toward the Convent with the other two men and the Reverent Mother in tow.
Night was falling and a multitude of stars filled the clear sky, winking like so many fireflies in the firmament as they made their way up the steep path.
Como sat hard up against the lake that gives it its name around which were several fishing villages and outlying farms that nestled into the mountain side.
As they went the three men filled her in with what information they had on events.
There had been rumours about the dead walking a night for several weeks but they were ignored as being fanciful, but then came the dead animals.
Sheep and the woolly mountain cattle were found with their throats ripped out as if by a rabid beast.
A group of four guards were dispatched to find and kill the beast but they disappeared without a trace. Their last report had came from the village Narro stating that they were going up to San Bernadetto before working back down. They never reached the village and their bodies were never found.
“We haven’t the experience and expertise to deal with a situation like this and I’m reluctant to send more young men to their deaths. If we decide to go I will go myself.” The old guard said earnestly.
“And what about your family don’t they count for anything?!” Father Quinn asked angrily.
“My wife has been dead these past two years and my two boys are old enough to look after their sister if the worse occurs.”
The three of them stopped as they realised they had left Sister Faith a good few yards behind.
She was standing very still with her quarter staff walking stick held horizontally in her right hand above her head, her left hand was held out palm outward in front of her.
They saw in the centre of the palm an unblinking eye that swivelled back and forth.
“Holy Lady of the Rose please aid this poor servant, give us your Holy Light.”
A nimbus of energy began to swirl around the staffs tip until it burned with an ethereal light. She spun the staff producing a ring of light.
“Avant! Show us what is their whether hidden or exposed.” Her voice was loud and commanding.
The light exploded outward exposing a group of … Shadows?
Creatures of no substance, shadows without the person that cast them.
Many screamed a piercing unnerving scream while other darker forms slipped into the shadows cast by the trees.
“What in hell where they.” Gorgio asked his sword held tightly in his hand.
“I don’t know Gorgio but I will by the time the day is done. Which is a silly thing to say considering the lateness of the hour.” She sighed. “I suggest we make our way to the Convent with some haste. Is their anyone who will miss you if you don’t go home tonight?”
They all said there wasn’t.
“Good. You will use the visitor’s cells for tonight.”
It was obvious that she would not brook any arguments.
At the Convent later on, after arranging the men in their rooms, she sat in her cell staring at the bookcase that covered one wall, four shelves high, in the hope that divine intervention would lead her to the right one.
Their was a quiet rap on her door.
The door opened to reveal the frail shape of Sister Boniface.
“Dear Sister what can I do for you at this late hour?” She asked gently.
“My hand’s have disturbed my sleep with their pain so I took myself to the chapel to pray. As I lay there I heard crying of such pain it sent a barb through my heart. When I rose up I found Marta in such tears she was quite unable to speak.
I comforted her as best I could and thankfully her sobs subsided.”
“Did she say what was wrong?” Sister Faith ask really concerned.
“Yes, She had in her anger confronted that cancerous bully Tomas-a-Quintus. His words spread like a disease making the people afraid of strangers.” Sister Boniface was rambling a bit but from experience Sister Fate knew better than to interrupt. She sat patiently waiting for the old nun to get back to the subject.
“He rage was so strong she produced Hell Fire in a ball over her hand. As she related the story to me she produced Hell Ice also in a ball.”
“Oh dear.” The Holy Mother said her mind racing.
“The poor child is frightened that she is evil, a monster because she can produce the flames and ice.
I was quite at a loss of what to say to her. Her good heart was fit to break and it pained me so to see her in such anguish. We need to show her she is wrong, but I have search my mind until I am quite dizzy and I still could not come to any conclusion.”
Sister Fate got up and took Sister Boniface’s hands in her own.
“Did she stop her tears while with you?”
“Yes and she took my hands and held them like you do now. I felt warmth flood over them easing their pain.”
“Then you have answered your own question. You gave her patience and love when she needed it most and that is a great gift.” She let go of her hands. “Rest your mind Sister, I will speak with her later this morning.”
Sister Fate paused a moment.
“Tonight as I returned to the convent with our guests we encountered beasts, creatures, I have never seen or heard of before. Creatures that were pure shadows without corporeal bodies to cast them.
In your long years have ever heard or encountered such beasts? I am looking for a book with them in but I do not know where to start.”
“The creatures you speak of are called Demon Shadows, Demon Shades.” Sister Boniface seemingly pull out a book at random. “They are the shadows of people who were servants of Chaos and failed them. They are as different in ability as they were in life.” Another book joined the first followed by a third. “Their touch is said to chill you to the bone and make you weak in spirit as well as physically.”
The fourth and last book landed on top of the other three.
“I believe these will enlighten you but I doubt they will calm your mind. I will return to my bed and rest there till I am called to prayer.”
“Good night good Sister may your sleep be undisturbed.”
Left alone Sister Faith examined the books neatly stacked on her desk.
“Gibbons book of Demons, Devils and Spectral Horrors. Somehow I don’t think so.”
For the rest of that long night till the Sun rose triumphantly over the horizon and the call to prayer came she poured over the books.
It was just as the pale sunlight began to light her cell she remembered the letter.
Using the knife on her desk she broke the seal and carefully opened the letter. What she read sent a chill down her spine. Later she would pen a reply.
The morning had dawned bright and sunny with the hint of spring in the air.
A Robin sat on the handle of Gloria’s spade and sang loud and strong as it greeted the new day.
Marta was sitting at the feet of sister Boniface while she gently warmed her knee with her hot hands.
“How’s that Sister Boniface, is it easing your pain?”
“My child your touch is a blessing to my tired old bones and far more effective than the pills, lotions and potions given to me by the apothecary.
I swear I shall rattle if I take anymore.” She gently sat stroking Marta’s hair. “I have my brush with me and I shall soon make your hair shine enough to rival the Sun itself.”
She began to brush it vigorously getting the kinks and burrs out of it
“What are we going to do with Marta now she has access to fire and ice.” Sister Innocent said as she joined Sister Fate. A frown creased her care worn tired face as she watched Martha and Sister Boniface together. “Do you think she knows?”
“I sincerely doubt it but they have created a strong bond between them, a bond built out of the strongest emotions of all, love.
Sister Fate scanned the sparse group picking out easily five of the young women.
“What are we going to do with all six of them is more to the point dear Sister. Under our guidance they have grown to be six good loyal young women.”
“Do you think it is time?”
“Yes, You and I are going out to face who knows what and for all we know we may not return. They need to be told the truth, so they are prepared if we don’t return.”
She turned to her friend the Abbess.
“Collect the girls together and bring them to the armoury.” She said gently.
They parted, each going in a different directions.
Marta’s hair shone under Sister Boniface’s gentle care.
“You have done a good job with Marta’s hair Sister, I have not seen it look any finer.”
The Abbess wasn’t kidding it flowed down Marta’s back like a crimson water fall to rest on her rump.
Something caught the abbess’s eye.
“May I have a look at your hands dear Sister?”
The old woman held them out for scrutiny.
Both hands were blue veined and the skin thin and tightly laid over the bones. But where the right showed the twists and bumps from arthritis the left was clear.
“Marta tends to my physical needs, I tend to her spiritual needs and education. Marta’s touch eases my pain and a little a bit of hair combing is little in return.”
“It is good that you have found solace in each others company, but alas I need Marta for other work. Marta child.”
Marta got up and thanked the old Nun for doing her hair. She took her aged hands up in her young ones and kissed Sister Boniface’s palms in the old fashion greeting and leaving used by the Elves.
A red flickering light appeared under Sister Boniface’s skin where she had been kissed and they flowed outward from her palms. It flowed up her arms and across her chest and once they met one flowed downward to her feet whilst the other flowed up to the top of her head.
She glowed for a couple of heart beats before it dissipate.
“Thank you.” Sister Boniface said sadly. “I only wish I could ease your hurts as easily as you have eased mine.”
“Come along Marta we need to find the others.”
This proved a bit trickier than she though as Lillian was nowhere to be seen.
Half and hour later they found her up in the Belfry with Sister Marie Clair.
Lillian put a finger to her lips to stop them speaking.
She pointed outside where a beautiful Peregrine Falcon sat on a nest.
“I saw the male fly up here a few times over the last few days, so I dragged Sister Marie Clair up here for a look.” Lillian whispered as they descended. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
“Yes she is.” Sister Innocent agreed. “The Mother Superior and I need you. You to Sister come along.”
A little while later they were at armoury door where Sister Faith waited patiently and Sister Leonora less so.
“This must be a unique situation for you Lillian, my little rouge. A door you couldn’t open and a room you have never seen.” Sister Faith said with a broad smile.
“I wouldn’t say that. It was one of the first doors I ever opened but what a waste of time that was all that was there was armour and weaponry, mind you I did take this knife. Now this really is a beauty.” She drew out a wavy bladed long knife from her belt.
Everyone burst into laughter.
“Oh Lillian.” Sister Faith said in defeat running her hand over her tired face. “Since you know it so well you can lead us in. Well go on.”
With a sigh their little reprobate led them into the rather gloomy hall beyond.
Around the room were stands on which suit’s of armour were hung, while on shelves around the room were a multitude of weaponry ranging from the simple sling and bullet to the complicated assassins weapons and traps.
The six of them stood wide eyed, well five of them, the sixth was worried that she may have to give the knife back.
The Mother superior and the Abbess turned to face them.
“We have a story to tell. Some of it you already know the rest you may have heard in a garbled fashion.” Sister Faith with the help of Sister Marie Clair and Sister Innocent with the help of Sister Leonora started to get undressed. Their habits were hung on a metal stand.
“The two of us were chosen to be special ones for Our Lady of the Rose.” Sister Fate explained.
“The hatred I had for Sister Fate reflected the deep division between the peaceful healers, the ‘Rose’, and the military wing the ‘Thorn’.” Sister Innocent told them. “The division resulted in each of us being branded with only part of the Holy Symbol. Sister Fate the ‘Rose’ and I the ‘Thorn’.”
“It was only when our differences had been resolved and we had made our peace one to the other were we blessed with the whole symbol.” Sister Faith concluded.
Both women stood naked before them their hands and arms outstretched so not to hide what was on their bodies.
Two leafs lay across their thighs as from their pubis a mighty rose stem arouse to split apart at their navels. A pair of branches curved outward toward their breasts with clear red thorns, as red as bright blood, where a pair of Rose buds in full flower adorned them as they lay there centred on their nipples.
It was more than a tattoo more a work of art.
The girls knelt and crossed themselves with the sign of the living Ankh. Sister Leonora and Sister Marie Clair lifted them gently to their feet once more.
“We travelled with the Bard Owen Dorr and the Paladin Tomas Du Prey.” Sister Fate continued. “We were at the field ‘Of The End of Days’ when Heaven, Hell and Limbo entered the field of war and Owen banish Chaos, the Queen Lilith, the destroyer, with his father and mother, Adam and Silver, into the endless wastes of eternity, of Limbo.”
As they spoke Sister Leonora and Sister Marie Clair began dressing them but this time in armour.
“Many died in the journey to that fateful spot and they left images that we can never forget. We saw horrors that are burned into our minds.”
Their Mother Superior, a woman of peace, now encased in shinning steel caparisoned for war.
The suit of armour was a bright silver with a symbol of a rose on the breast.
The Abbesses armour was jet black until the last piece was slotted into place. It flared to a blinding intensity leaving spot’s before the eyes . There in a pure white suit of armour with the Rose Symbol was Sister Innocent.
“Those who survived the day parted our way’s and spread out across the world.” Sister Fate crossed to a shelf and pulled down two maces with polished silver ends. They cracked as she passed one over to Sister Innocent before turning to face the girls. With a heavy thump Sister Fates burst into flame while Sister Innocent’s cackled with electrical energies.
Sister Fate clenched her fist. As she did so dark red thorns protruded out like talons over her knuckles. She suddenly spun round to face the archery target at the end of the hall. With percussive force the talon like thorns shot across the intervening space to land with a thunk in to the centre gold spot a good forty foot away. She crossed to the target and clicked them back in place before carrying on with her explanation.
“The Queen of Chaos was banished to the great empty halls of Limbo but she had weakened the weave of the multi-spheres enough to allow weak, compared to her, incursions of Chaos to occur. These small pockets are slowly expanding and joining up with each other. One such pocket has opened up in the mountains above Como. As you can see we are going to face it and seal it.”
The girls had watched with amazement, and no little trepidation, as the transformation took place.
Sister Leonora stepped forward and put a white silk nuns robe on Sister Faith as Sister Marie Clair put a black silk one on Sister Innocent.
“While we are away from the convent Sister Leonora shall take my place.” Sister Faith said with a warm smile for her replacement.
“You will now select your own armour and weaponry.” Sister Innocent informed them.
“Holy Sisters.” Astra said with grave concern. “I wish to take Holy Orders and become a nun.”
“I know you do child we have spoken about it often but you have only known the convent and now you must experience all that life has to offer for this coming year. If when that period is over you still wish to take Holy Orders we will welcome you with open arms.” Sister Faith told her. “The reason we want you to take up weapons is so you can protect the convent and the town while we are away.
We lost good people on our quest years ago and those that survived are to far away to help us now.
The Abbess has trained you for this moment. For when you become the new heroines against Chaos.”
“Select your weapons and armour carefully. Choose what feels right not that which you think is right. Let your instinct guide you.” Sister Innocent told them before they scattered around the hall to find what was right.
Marta found a Mithral Chain shirt and a leather slatted skirt reinforced with bronze studs, her weapons were a ball mace and Long sword, a light crossbow and quarrels sat easily on her hip. A iron head band with a solitary ruby set in it finished the equipment.
Astra was in full plate armour on a chain mail backing. In her hand was a flail comprising of three spiked balls linked by short chains to a wooden handle, at her hip was a Long sword. She had a steel head band with a yellow diamond at its centre.
Both the girls look slightly hunched backed due to their wings being strapped down.
Julienne was in full chain mail that almost tripped her up it was so long. At her hip was a battle axe, a war hammer and on her back a kit shield.
Gloria was in an armour consisting of the scales of some immense beast on a chain background. She had a magnificent composite bow and three quivers of different types of arrows. A massive double handed axe and a great sword was added.
Lillian was in studded leather armour with an array of knives, a short bow and arrows and a short Gladiators sword.
Twilight wasn’t wearing armour at all instead was in a long ice blue robe with a dark blue cape with a dark red inside. At her hip were two long knives and a group of short, for a better word, wands. In her hand was a ebony quarter staff.
Sister’s Faith and Innocent prowled round them finessing the outfits until they were satisfied.
“I can honestly say you look magnificent and you quite remind me of the hero’s we had the honour of riding with.” Sister Faith smiled a sad smile. “Twilight come forward child. Don’t worry you have done nothing wrong.”
Regardless of the reassurance she stepped nervously forward.
“This book of spells belonged to the Drow Heroine Darkness. Many of the spells will be beyond you but with time you will master them. I think she would consider you a good recipient of it.” Sister Faith passed over the book with it’s list of sigils, chants and hand gestures. “The Abbess has the spell book you were practicing with.”
She collected the books with a curtsy.
“You will be based in the town for four of the eightday’s in the week you will return here for the first and sixth day and also for the Holy seventh and eightday.” Sister Faith explained as the girls put their novice robes on over their armour save for Twilight. “Now it’s time to go.”
The Mother Superior and the Abbess lead them out of the armoury and into the sunlight. The Nuns and lay workers stopped what they were doing to watch them pass by. The Nuns crossed themselves whilst the lay workers took off their head coverings and either bow or curtsied depending on their sex.
Marta found it all rather disquieting.
Just how disquieting they were all about to find out.