Sister Innocent drew up beside her superior.
In front of them was the small mining town of Sagno. It spread itself out on both sides of the river under the mines scattered up in the mountains.
Like several villages they had already gone through it was still and quiet.
None of the villages had any denizens of chaos like the first but it paid to be careful.
“Marshal will you join us please?” Sister Faith called.
The Marshal trotted up the ridge to join them.
“Your advice will be well respected.”
“Thank you Holy One.” He looked down into the town in silence for awhile. “Can you feel any evil in this place?”
“Evil has been carried out here but I can not detect an evil source.” Sister Faith replied.
“There are bodies here. That is different and worrying.” Sister Innocent informed him.
“I think it would be unwise to split our forces and enter from different angles.” The Marshal mused. “We will move slowly from house to house. I will send the Sergeant and a couple of troopers a short way ahead of us. But not so far that we couldn’t close on them if needed.”
“We will be guided by you Marshal.” Sister Faith said.
“Thank you. It is appreciated and I will do my best to earn that trust.” He said earnestly.
The main group had just entered the outskirts of the town when a trooper came trotting up to them.
“The Sergeant has found something important sir and wishes that I guide you there.”
They moved cautiously down a road to join the Sergeant.
“What have you found Sergeant?” The Marshal asked.
“There is a large number of bodies just ahead at the junction Sir, Holy Ones. Adult and children. All appear to be Dwarfs.”
“We could see some bodies from the ridge.” Sister Faith said. “Are they these?”
“No Holy One these are far, far, more.”
The troopers held the horses reigns as the two nuns dismounted.
“Show us?” The Holy Mother asked.
A young trooper led them down to the junction between three streets. It was a horrific sight that brought bile to Sister Faiths throat.
In front of them was a pile of about thirty Dwarf miners and their wives and children each had their hands tied behind their backs and their throats slit before being dumped unceremoniously one on top of another.
The Nun’s both knelt and began the painstaking job of looking for any vestiges of life. Sometime later they stood up and shook their heads, none had been saved.
Thankfully none had been abused.
Sister Faith signalled the troopers to bring over the horses. The beasts were skittish from the smell of the dead but a few soothing words and sounds from the nuns calmed them.
“It’s not right that the Holy Ones should see this sight.” One of the troopers muttered.
“They have see far worse than this believe me.” The Marshal hissed back at him. “But your concern is duly noted.”
Sister Faith raised herself up in the saddle as the horse reared up onto its back legs. She made the sign of the Living Ankh in the air and called out in a fine clear voice.
“Lords of the Dwarves hear my prayer, the prayer of a servant of Our Lady of the Rose. Take the souls of these who have been butchered up into you feasting halls and into the great mines. Dwarves, great hero’s one and all, join your Lords.”
She looked in the nimbus of light around her like a hero from legend.
At that moment every trooper renewed their vow’s in their minds.
A glowing light left her as the horse came down onto all fours, and floated over to the bodies to cover them with a Holy light. As they watched, the spirits of the Dwarfs left their bodies and travelled up into the sky along a beam of light until they were all gone. All around the town similar events were happening until all the spirits of the slain were finally at rest. Their bodies turned to dust and blew away.
Once the wind and dust had blown away it revealed a Dwarf decked out in fine military armour a massive War Hammer resting easy over his shoulder.
The Nuns horses did deep bows and the Nuns lowered there heads in respect. The Marshal and the guards were frozen in time and unaware of the tableau taking place before them.
“My dear Ladies you have done my people a great service. They can rest in peace now.” His voice was deep and commanding and yet soothing to the ears.
“I am glad we could help your kin my Lord Tempus.” Sister Faith said with great respect to the Dwarf God.
“They were taken from my sight and I could not claim them.” He said gently. “Do you know why my Lady, why they have been killed?”
“An agent of Chaos has taken the humans of the villages and town to prepare them for ritualistic murder. Trapping their spirits as they try to rise to their final rest. They turned them into deadly semi-sentient Shadows.
They tried the same on your people but failed. Your people are resistant to transformation magic’s.”
“I see. Do you go to meet with these agents of Chaos my Lady?”
“Yes my Lord. We will endeavour to close the breach to the infernal plains.”
“If you are in need of help to battle these creatures call me and I will do what I can. I am restricted by the rules of engagement but I will do what I can.”
His form shifted into that of a massive Golden Dragon.
“Remember to call me at the moment of direst need and I will help you as I did when my servant Sir Henry call to a the End of Days. When you next speak to Our Lady of the Rose please wish her well from me.”
In two wing beats the dragon was up in the air and rapidly disappearing.
“Go to the market square and you will find a most unusual comrade in arms.”
The Marshal and the troopers came out of their stupor and looked around with a puzzled expression on their faces for a moment before carrying on as if nothing had happened.
The centre of the town was arranged around the well. A circular wall enclosed it and a quaint wooden roofed pulley system lowered and lifted the bucket.
“Marshal I don’t think the town offers us any threats now, so I suggest, if you are in agreement, that we stay here for the night.” Sister Faith was keenly looking around her. “And perhaps some of the men could investigate the Town Elders house for any information. While the Abbess and I do the same with the chapel.”
“If you can not detect any danger I agree it would a sensible place to rest. There is a guard room over the way which may have some information. I’ll investigate it if that suits your plans.” The Marshal gave a grim smile.
Sister Faith laid a hand on his muscular forearm.
“If you can post a guard the Abbess and I will lead the Evensong.”
“That would lift the troopers spirits.” He agreed.
“Err Hello.” A thin weedy voice echoed around them.
The group look around themselves trying to find the owner of the voice. It would look quite comic if it wasn’t for the seriousness of the situation.
“Hello!” Sister Faith called tentatively.
“Ah good there’s someone there. Well there would have to be unless I’m talking to myself again which I have a habit of doing.” The invisible owner of the cleared his throat. “I am in great need of assistance to extradite myself out of the present dilemma. I am up to my waist in freezing cold water so if could hurry before I catch my death of cold.”
The Marshal pointed over at the well.
The Sisters nodded and quietly crossed over.
“Hello. You haven’t gone have you? A silly question your not going to answer if you’ve gone are you.”
The two Nuns laughed as they suddenly recognised the owner of the voice.
They peered over the top to see a weedy looking individual staring up at them.
“Well as I live and breathe it’s my old friend Master Paulo Putzi.” Sister Fate said with a laugh.
“You have the advantage over me dear Lady as all I can see is your shadow.” He complained.
“Have I got to pull out your sorry arse from the fire again!?” Sister Innocent called.
The man blanched as he recognised the voice.
“Ah Holy Sister. I’m sure I can wait until someone else comes by. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.” He said nervously.
“Nonsense. Now tie the bucket rope around your waist and we will haul you up.”
With much muttered complains he did what he was told.
Two of the troopers took hold of the crank handle and slowly cranked him up to the surface. In minutes he was sitting on the well’s low wall.
He was bedraggled with several holes in his soaking and dirty blue robe. His face was pinched and sat beneath his untidy shock of prematurely grey hair. All in all he wasn’t an awe inspiring sight.
He spluttered and made a strange sound like hot fat on a griddle before he found his voice.
“Sister Innocent.” He said with a slight bow. “My dear lady it has been a long time since I last had to trouble you.”
“Yes true, and you still owe me ten silvers for the pleasure. He said he needed it so he could by a new robe and books and I like a fool believed him.”
“Ah yes I had a slight liquidity problems with all my funds as I recall and my equipment was tied up because of poor investments.”
“Investments! You owed money to practically every one in the town and the only reason you couldn’t use your equipment, such as it was, was because the bailiff’s had taken them in loo of payment.” Sister Innocent was warming to her theme. “I wouldn’t have minded if he had used the money to reclaim his effects but oh no not you, you had to loose it all gambling at the local point to point horse race.”
“Ah but you see if I had won I would have been able to pay you off and reclaim my books and equipment.” He said sheepishly.
“Yes you could have done if you hadn’t put it all on a horse that even rotund Sister Mercy could beat around the course.”
By now the atmosphere had eased and there was smiles on their faces.
“I take it you know him Holy Sister’s?” The Marshal asked.
“Yes unfortunately. His real name is Ivor Ivanovich and comes from an isolated town out in the great grass lands. When we were with Owen Dorr and Sir Tomas Du Prey we passed through his town and if you think his method of speech is old fashion and lengthy you should meet his town folk. They don’t use one word if a good ten could be used.
Ivor, sorry, sorry, Paulo was a young boy and was so impressed with us he vowed to leave the town when he was old enough and find us.”
She paused and gave a shudder. “He turned up two years ago and has been a thorn in our side ever since.”
She took a deep breath and got back to the job at hand.
“You certainly got yourself in a bit of a pickle didn’t you Paulo?” Sister Faith said with a slight laugh.
“Holy Mother how could I have not recognised your voice. It is like a balm to my very ears.”
“Flatterer.” She said.
“True.” He replied.
“Tell us briefly what happened?” She asked stressing the word ‘briefly’.
“Ah yes.” He gathered himself before beginning his report. “I was sitting in the Java shop opposite enjoying a black Java and a slice of honey cake. You should really try it, the honey cake I mean, it’s quite delicious. A large group of riders rode into the market square as if they owned the place which considering what happened next they did.
I know you will ask so here is the description of what they were wearing. Some of them wore blackened chainmail others black leathers over which was a loose black robe with on the right breast a mailed fist crushing a heart that has a halo above it.”
“Do you recognise it Marshal?” Sister Faith asked her eyes missing nothing.
“Yes. I have heard of a similar emblem.” He said rubbing his chin deep in thought. “It was associated with a small group of disenchanted souls, highwaymen, bruisers and the like. Nearly all were arrested by the Paladins and Judges when they did a sweep of the area. Most were executed while those they felt could be saved entered the work house. They never were as been anything like as organised or dabbling in the dark arts as this group.”
“Pray continue Master Paulo.” Sister Faith said.
“Well when ever we have visitors the Town Elder goes to greet them and I tag along behind to smile and nod at the right time whilst having the restraining spell at my finger tips so to speak.
She had barely started speaking to them when one of their number, a pretty girl I recall, fired a crossbow. The bolt killed her outright.
I was shocked by the shear casualness of it all. I fired the restraint spell and quickly followed it by a concealment one. The girl toppled out of her saddle locked in place.” Paulo shook as if someone had walked over his grave.
“Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour I back peddled to the well.”
“And that’s were you hid yourself.” The Marshal said aggressively.
“Far from it sir. I used every hostile spell I had in my arsenal but it was no good.
They spread out and attacked the towns folk. They were unarmed for the most part and helpless.
The Dwarf’s counterattacked with whatever came to hand and they managed to kill three of the raiders before they were over run.
The remaining towns folk were herded together and led away, they even took the bodies of the slain with them on a cart, well the human ones that is. The Dwarves had their hands tied behind them then they were ritually slaughtered. It was if they expected them to get up again.”
“How did you end up down the well?”
“My concealment spell ran out at the wrong moment. At that moment the confinement spell dissipated and the woman fired her crossbow at me. Thankfully she wasn’t fully recovered and I managed to use the last of my energy’s to divert it so it passed between my body and my arm. I acted as if it had struck me and toppled back into the well. I stayed hidden there until I heard your voices.”
Sister Faith placed a hand on his bony shoulder.
“Thank you Paulo. Can you tell us how many there were and when this all took place?”
“Why this morning about two hours after dawn. As for their numbers I estimate about twenty. Oh my God the miners will be coming back from the mines it will be the end of their shift.” He was quite beside himself.
“Calm yourself my friend. I will speak to them when they come down.” Sister Faith turned to her compatriot. “Sister go with young Master Paulo to his home and get him cleaned up and collect the supplies he needs, oh and make sure he doesn’t try to flee, we have need of him.
Have the troopers found anything of use Marshal?”
For the next hour they pored over the papers that they had found whilst lookout’s kept a sharp eye out for any returning miners, but none came.
At Evensong they walked in silent procession to the little chapel. Inside it was cool and airy. The walls of a pale yellow wood over which hung drapes covered with country scenes gave it a rustic air.
On the alter was two Holy Symbols. One the Cross of the Unnamed God and the symbol of the Dwarf Gods, a pick and a mining hammer made a cross shape with a Dwarven Waraxe push vertically through its centre.
The two nuns took up their positions behind the alter and the congregation fell silent.
“I call to you the Nameless God and to you Mighty Tempus, God of the Dwarves, and request that Our Lady of the Rose maybe permitted to enter this hallow place.”
A red rose bud appeared before the other two Holy Symbols and it’s scent filled the air.
“Thank you my Lords.” She lifted her head up and began to sing the prayers of Evensong. Her crystal clear voice brought a feeling of sanctuary, of peace, as Sister Innocent joined in with her lower voice.
Eventually the songs came to an end.
“A terrible thing has occurred here in this place this morning. An evil human force has killed all the Dwarf’s of this town down to the last woman and child, they have taken the human citizens as captives to perform vile magic’s upon them.
I beseech you My Lady of the Rose to bless and purify this town and mines. Wipe away taint and allow the flowers to bloom again to fill the land with scent and peace.”
Sister Faith held up her hand palm outward.
“Let me be the conduit of your love and peace.” A swirl of light appeared around her hand before pulsing outward with the chapel and her hand at its centre.
Where flowers were trampled flat there now stood tall and proud. The blood stains were wiped away and everywhere was the scent of roses.
“I beseech you My Lady of the Rose, Mother and Martyr, to bless those gathered here in you name and who will be going to face and fight those who committed these terrible crimes.”
A second light pulsed out but this time it seem to drape its self over all those that were there, making them glow momentarily.
Including the Dwarves that were standing uncertainly at the doorway.
Sister Faith left the alter, she turn and gave a slight curtsy to the Holy Symbols and picked up the rose bud.
Her mind was racing as she tried to come up with someway of breaking the devastating news to the new arrivals.
The leader of the group went down on one knee before her and to her embarrassment the others followed suit.
“I am so sorry, so very sorry. What I have to relate to you breaks my heart. But please stand you are with friends here.”
The leader looked up at her puzzled for a moment before speaking in a voice as deep as the fabled Dwarf mines.”
“Holy Lady our Lord God Tempus came to us in our mine and spoke to us of what had happened here and what you were going to do.” He cleared his throat nervously. “He told us that you were going find and destroy those that had killed our kin.
He asked for twenty of us but he could have had three times that number.
He linked our mine to the one at the head of the valley and instructed us to meet you here.
We are yours to command my Lady.”
“Stand my friend.” Sister Faith took the Dwarfs gnarled hand in her long soft fingers and lifted him to his feet. With relief she saw the others follow suit. “Take this rose as a symbol of our friendship and our common cause.”
The rose had changed into a full white bloom.
She laced it through a ring on his mail shirt and watched as it vanished and imprinted an image of itself on his armour, a sign that was copied on all the others.
“I receive this symbol as a sign of our friendship and our common cause.” His eyes had widened with surprise his fingers tracing the image on his armour. “I am Fritz Kohlberg and these are some of my clan.”
“I am the Mother Superior of the Convent of Our Lady of the Rose in Como. I am call Sister Faith and this is my Abbess Sister Innocent.”
The man stood there stunned with his mouth open.
“Were you not told who we were?” Sister Innocent asked puzzled.
“No Holy Sister. Is it really you? Are you really the ones that rode with Bishop Henrik at The End of Days?” He could not hide his astonishment.
“Bishop Henrik? Oh you mean Sir Henry, yes we had the pleasure of riding and fighting along side of him. How is the old reprobate?” Sister Faith asked with a broad smile.
“He still rides with the Paladins I believe my Lady.” Fritz was to his credit was recovering well from the shock of meeting a legend.
She held out her hand once more and taking his, guided him and his kin into the centre of the chapel. She watched with pride as the troopers moved up in the pews and invited their Dwarf counterparts to join them.
Soon their deep voices joined in in singing the liturgy of night.
That night they slept in the homes of the fallen. Though most were grateful of a bed the restorative sleep that was needed eluded them as if the spirits of the houses kept reminding them what happened to the owners.
They tossed and turned until the sun crawled over the horizon and the new day had begun.
The Sisters took the lead once more and led them out of the town. Behind them came the phalanx of Dwarfs with the troopers riding on each side of them.
An hour later they were passing some of the mines high on the valley side. Several Dwarfs pealed off and at a run disappeared inside only to reappear with barrels of black powder over their shoulders.
They carefully placed them on their cart and with military precision rejoined the line.
The two Nuns looked at each other and shrugged.
Within minutes they were passing through the mountain pass out of the valley. Soon they would be descending down to the monastery that huddled by the small lake of Bernadotte.