Chapter Eleven Betwixt Heaven and Hell.
They were standing in a meadow resplendent in wild flowers. Around them were gentle rolling hills where bubbling brooks flowed over beds of stones.
The scene looked idyllic
Alexander could tell that the students felt ill at ease wearing armour in this place.
They climbed the hill in a ragged line as if out for a walk after dinner.
Bonnyface had his massive war hammer over his shoulder while Samantha use her unstrung bow as a walking stick.
From the top of the hill they could see the scenery rolling away to the horizon in all directions.
A group of white garbed people were talking and laughing with an Angel as they walked along the ridge. Down below a group of women were looking after a sizable group of babies and toddlers.
“They are the barren women with the infant dead.” The Angel told them. “They care for them till they are called to be reborn.”
“Where are we Holy One?” Tomas asked with respect.
“Why didn’t I say, this is the Elysian Fields the first plane of Heaven.”
The Angel led them over the hill to where a blue shimmering portal stood and led them through.
This time they exited on to a great plain covered with small villages and herds of Bison.
“The Second Plane.” The Angel told them. “The Happy Hunting Grounds.”
On the plain hunters moved stealthily through the long grasses tracking their target. Spears and bows at the ready.
Everywhere smelt fresh like dew on spring grass.
Another Portal was a short distance away shimmering with a darker shade of blue.
“The Third Plane.” The Angel yelled over a swirling mass of noise as they exited into an enormous barn affair.
Warriors of all nations and times sat at long trestle tables drinking huge steins of ale and eating from huge roasts in front of them.
“The Halls of Valhalla.” The Angel explained leading them through several large halls where the warriors caroused, trained or took part in martial games. Sprinkled amongst them were armoured Angels, the Archangels, teaching them or offering advice.
The place seemed full of joy and friendliness.
“It is to here Sir Alexander will come one day.” The Angel looked back at the Paladin but Alexander was unable to reply. Deep within him came a yearning for this place.
A yearning that he knew was as dangerous and as false in this place as any promise glibly spoken outside.
They crossed through a portal that was a darker shade of blue again.
They emerged into a vast garden filled with glorious blooms and beautiful scents.
Tending the flower beds were groups of people. An occasional wingless Angel was seen helping the groups. They carried an Orb and Sceptre in their hands.
“The Gardens of Paradise.” The Angel said. “The Angel’s here are a higher tier of divine than I am, they are called ‘Powers’ and are Heavens administrators. This is as far as I can show you, now we must return to the mortal plane.”
There was a rushing sound and they stood momentarily back in the chapel before being whisked away to the first level of hell.
They were in white antiseptic corridors where groups of people sat with hopeful expressions on their faces.
A devil sat at a desk its dark wings unfurled behind it.
It would call a name and a figure from the group would step forward with their sheet of parchment.
The figure at the desk would read it, stamp it and add another parchment to the already sizeable pile and direct the applicant through another door.
They followed to find themselves in a room that duplicated the first. In fact they thought they had doubled back on themselves before noticing a different set of petitioners. They went on and on through duplicating rooms until they were lifted high above them and could see an infinite set of rooms.
“Welcome to Purgatory the first plane. Here they fill out forms to get into heaven for eternity. Moving from one seat, one office, to another forever in the faint hope they will be forgiven for their small sin and to be truthful sometimes one is.
It is the plane of false hope and brain numbing boredom, the plane of despair.”
He led them through a red glowing portal into a howling gale.
Panic shot through the group when the realised that their physical body’s had gone.
“What trickery is this infernal one?” Tomas bellowed into the wind.
“No trickery I can assure you. You are quite safe.” It paused a moment to let them gather themselves. “Listen to the wind, can you hear the voices.”
With growing alarm they could hear individual voices in amongst the winds roaring wine.
“No, no, no, no, no.”
“Yes, yes, yes ,yes, yes.”
“It wasn’t my fault!”
Patrik was pleased to hear how calm Tomas sounded.
“Am I to believe that the wind is made up of their individual voices pleading for their lives?”
“Yes young Tomas. Slowly they loose any sense of individuality and become one with the howl.” A shimmering flame red portal appeared from nowhere and they could feel themselves being drawn to it.
They passed through it into a hot realm of smoke and fumes.
Small horned imps armed with tridents and whips forced the sufferers on.
In the smoky distance a heavily muscled man was rolling a massive stone up a steep rocky hill. Exhausted he reached the top only to let go and let it roll down to the bottom again.
A woman was being made to give birth in total agony to the same imp time and time again.
As they walked on the impact of what they were seeing was effecting them badly. They flinched and shook with each new sound.
They saw people sitting in boiling water that scolded them forever while others were ripped apart only to heal and be ripped again.
Striding through the tortures were tall elegant Devils with dark wings caparisoned as for war.
In a corner black armoured warriors were being trained.
“Some of the army of hell and as such they have considerable power .”
“We have seen enough Devil return us to our home realm?” Tomas asked calmly.
“Very well. In truth this is as far as I am allowed to bring you.” With a tearing sound as if the borders of reality was being ripped apart they reappeared back in the chapel.
They stood shakily behind Tomas.
“Well young ones what say you? Which cause will you show allegiance too?” The Angel asked.
“Neither, as they are both traps for the unwary. The test is not what we have seen, the test is where we see ourselves fitting in to society, its about our choices.” Tomas stood very tall in front of the supernatural beings. “I hope to be a Justice, but it will be achieved by my own efforts. Now be gone so we can continue our vigil.”
“Does this upstart speak for you all?” The Devil said persuasively.
“Yes Jinn he speaks for us all. He is my friend and I trust his judgement.” Aziz said coming up to stand beside Tomas.
Taking deep breaths all the others save De Anjou came to stand beside Tomas.
“You have your answer Holy One. Now be gone from this holy place.” Samantha said.
“Are you fools. The power they are offering us would set us apart from the rabble, make us more able to protect them. We would be like Demigods. I believe a strong individual is better than a weak group.” De Anjou said eagerly.
“We represent the common good De Anjou. We promote what is best for people as a whole and not what an individual may need. We care for others not for ourselves.”
“Ah a dissenting voice.” The Devil laughed. “It is such a pity it comes from you De Anjou.”
“You have been tested and have not been found wanting. Go in peace.” The Angel stepped back and returned to stone.
“You are strong in will but I will have you in my thrall eventually.” With a rush of air he split and rushed to every candle flame.
“I always thought you were an idiot farm boy, now I know you are.” De Anjou stomped of to a corner in annoyance. “The rest of you follow him like sheep!”
“You are wrong De Anjou we each questioned our choices in those moments and agreed with him.” Aziz affirmed.
Tomas looked at his still glowing sword.
“Keep vigilant. I fear out test is far from over.” The words were barely out of Tomas’s mouth when a group of black clothed warriors appeared. “What do you want in this place.”
“Your will has been tested but not your physical mettle. Defend yourself.” The leader called.
Tomas’s armour and sword flared a brilliant silver making their adversaries step back a pace.
Holy rage flooded through him as with sword and mace flying he ploughed into the fray.
Unable to move Alexander and Patrik could only watch in horror.
“Sir Alexander wants you to fight as a team.” Sophia yelled. “Vicktor defend Tomas’s right, Gregory his left. Bonnyface attack the right wing, De Anjou the left. Aziz attack those who get past them. Samantha take point and bring down as many as you can with your bow.”
Alexander looked across at the girl with wonder as she spoke the very plan he had in his mind.
“Yes I can hear you my Lord. Tell me what has to be done.” Sophia called across to him as she cautiously circled the battle.
Three enemies lay on the floor as tribute to the youngsters ability.
Again and again the enemy tried to break through only to be cut down by Samantha’s arrows.
De Anjou stood back from the fray and only took on those that attacked him. His swordsmanship was formidable. He took down one and drove the other two back onto Aziz’s whirling blades.
During it all Sophia called out Alexander’s commands.
A decapitated body squirmed at Tomas’s feet while another fell back with half his skull smashed in.
Then as suddenly as it had started it was over.
The enemy including the fallen stepped back and saluted the youngsters.
“You have done well but you still have much to learn. But we will all come to fear you Tomas of Prey if you live through these coming days.” The head of the leader said before fading away leaving frost on the ground.
Freed from their enforced paralysis Alexander and Patrik surged forward to check on the youngsters.
Alexander turned around to speak to Sophia only to find she had gone like smoke on the wind.
Alexander grabbed Patrik’s shoulder.
“Brother go and check on Sophia?” He asked franticly.
“Why she is just here…” Patrik eyes widened in realisation. “What about the children?”
“I’ll tend to them, now go man before something can happen to her. Tomas!” Alexander called. “Tomas go with Brother Patrik. No arguments.”
Tomas was pale with exhaustion but nodded and drew his shoulders back with determination ignoring the pain.
As they left Alexander turned on the smirking De Anjou.
“Why did you disobey my orders!”
“I could not be sure they were your orders and not another illusion my Lord. In the press of combat I would be too limited in my range of actions. I decided it was better to protect their backs and strike down the weary.” De Anjou said slyly.
Alexander felt like tearing that smug look of his face but had to concede his reasoning was reasonable. “Did any of you see Lady Sophia leave?”
None had which made Alexander’s stomach drop.
All of the students carried minor wounds and strained muscles, the only signs that there had been a battle at all.
Using his skill at laying on of hands he sent healing warmth into the strained muscles easing them a little.
“Tomorrow we will start working on the muscle groups that you are using for your chosen weapons.” Alexander said trying to clear his head.
“But we did beat them my Lord. We did beat them, didn’t we?” Bonnyface said with a grimace as Alexander massaged his shoulder and upper arm.
“Next time use the left hand to guide the war hammer while the right provides the strength.” Alexander said while mulling over the question.
“We did beat them didn’t we?” Samantha repeated the question.
“They were not trying to kill you they were testing you out. Finding out about your will as much as your physical prowess. They weren’t trying but I am proud of you this day for how swiftly you obeyed orders and the skill you displayed. But you all have still much to learn. Collect your things and follow me back to the refectory your vigil is done this night.” He smiled paternally at them.
“It’s not night my Lord. I don’t know how but the Sun is rising.” Viktor said as a beam of sunlight poured through the stain glass window throwing a rainbow of colours across the floor.
“Then we shall break our fast like soldiers with fried pork strips and eggs with small beer.” Alexander said cheerfully. “You deserve it.”
As they left a figure detached itself from the shadows and watched them go with deep sadness.
Patrik knocked on the nuns cell door before announcing themselves they then entered the room.
Elizabeth and a elderly Nun sat at the table obviously in prayer.
“I am sorry to intrude but I have come to see how Sophia is?” Patrik was about to add about Sophia’s action during the night but something in the way the women sat made him hold his peace.
“We gave her the laudanum as instructed Brother and it seem to calm her.” The elderly nun said. “Her sleep was a little restless but she has slept through the night.”
“And did you Ladies manage to sleep too?” He said gently.
“Oh yes. We were able to take turns on the cot for a couple of hours.” Elizabeth told him. “You needn’t worry Brother we are quite refreshed is that not so Sister.”
“Yes my Lady and at my age you don’t need much sleep. Now if you excuse me I will go to the Lady chapel for morning prayers.”
Soon Patrik found himself watching a touching scene as Elizabeth and Tomas greeted the dawn with the newly awoken Sophia. A Sophia that gave him a dark knowing look that chilled him to the bone.
In the chapel later Patrik, having sealed the room, called to the Angel, the Throne, that stood in its alcove.
“You called gentle Brother?” The head rotating to a benign one. One that exuded peace and calmness.
“Yes I called!” Patrik raged. “Last night was not what we agreed on! You could risk everything by taking them into the planes this early.”
“I am afraid I don’t understand Brother?”
“An Angel and Devil took the students on a little jaunt to the first planes of Heaven and Hell. If it wasn’t for Tomas’s steadiness anything could have happened. An to have them fight the Devils army troops was shear stupidity.”
The strange head with its five faces tilted slightly as if listening before rotating once more it’s two pair of wings rustled.
“Brother I can assure you we did no such thing and neither did our opposition as we would have felt it and stopped it.” The head rotated once more. “And if we didn’t?”
“Then who did?” Patrik finished for her a shiver running down his spine. “Who’s game are we playing?”