“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
The altar boy’s angelic blue eyes, appearing through the horrid manmade peepers that permitted the Rector’s sight as white, like summer cloud or clean autumn snow, were mussed with tears as he gazed up into the Rector’s mechanical eyes and their faithful prayer echoed to a memory among these barren walls of old which radiated such hinter cold.
Thus they had blessed Jonah, James and Roland as the video feed displayed their brief, gory martyrdom. The power was out—perhaps the Heathen had cut down the garrison before the Dictor could scythe them from the mountainside above. In all contemplation, it made no difference, for his martyrdom was assured. He doubted that if the power source was somehow miraculously destroyed that he would act militarily and flood the Node, for that would prevent his angelic altar boy’s escape. The hope of youth should at least go fourth in an attempt to rejoin The Order at Hagerstown or Harper’s Gap—yes, they would head to the Holy See at Christ’s Cathedral, such mad dogs they were, not dawdle at another northerly outpost along the ice road.
“My boy, do not cry. They are gone to God, as soon will I. Be off—do not seek the Dictor, but take the skiff to Harper’s Gap. Tell them there that Cumberland Unction has fallen.”
The boy’s peepers became pools of sadness as he continued to look up at his towering Rector and shook his head, “I am sorry, Father, I may not go. My duty is here with my kind.”
“Boy, you were an orphan when you came to us and we are all dead. Do not die with the lost—live, fly to Harper’s Gap and onto the Holy See, declare to them that the Heathen is over the mountains!”
The boy fairly gushed tears now as a low groan was heard below, he supposed as the bars of the Purgatory Gate where dragged loose from their concrete moorings by all the fiends inhabiting this way station to Hell. The boy’s brain glowed azure and the Rector could read the sadness that underscored the sorrowful resignation that welled there in the pained face of the little angel who had come to them five winters past, left at the Outer Gate in an oversized bundling basket—of the kind the country folk used to inter dead children—and taken into The Order.
“What is it, My Son?” he spoke in utmost need to cure this little one of his doubts and send him to safety. The nimble boy would manage the skiff much better than would his monstrously augmented Rector.
The altar boy wiped away the pooling tears with one white sleeve, sniffled, swallowed, and then looked painfully into his eyes as the rude oaths and guttural curses of massed men echoed up the hall from the Portal of Descent. The sound of the spider drone being ripped from its niche made them both start with a shiver as their eyes and minds achieved clarity.
“Father,” came the angelic voice, “I have tracked the Dictor on the Periscope. He relieved the garrison at the turbine more quickly than we had expected, so it fell to me to shutdown the power feed. Father, I am Est of the Cumberclans—farseer, nursed by the women who lay with wolves. I have whispered every night to the One-Eyed Watcher since my placement among you. I am of the enemy. In taking me in your order doomed this holy place—your compassion is the chink in your armor.”
The heavy sword of the Rector, which he had instinctively drawn as he ordered the gate open so that he might dash below and staunch the flow of heathens while the boy manually hailed the Dictor, the mighty Sword of Christ in the wonder-powered Gauntlet of Augment, clattered to the cold stone floor as if he had been eviscerated by a heathen spear.
Standing there between the grinning black teeth of the now paralyzed jaws of his sacred Order’s maw, the Vector could feel himself losing contact with his body, wishing himself heavenward now that his single human hope in the world had betrayed him.
He was being shaken, shaken from below, his slack hands cold and limp in smallish hands of fiery, warm concern. Below him pleaded his altar boy, the darling hope of them all as their numbers dwindled and youth stopped coming among them for induction, as the Holy See had stopped sending young brothers for Induction at this furthest bastion of Advent, of the salvaged order of a once horrid world.
He took to one long-ago replaced knee as it geared down, to say his final prayer and a willfully read outline of a boy’s white-eyed face, its brain flushing stridently, spoke to him even as two small hands forced the Sword of Christ into his gauntlet, “Papa, not on your knees.”
His vision cleared somewhat as he heard the groan of bars popping from concrete, manmade stone that had held them close for too long.
“What, young one, but you are mine enemy?”
Two more tears dripped from the face he now looked into on the level, seen in the ghostly hues of his abominable augment.
“Yes,” hissed the small voice, and you have been my father for five winters—a great warrior not yet fallen, a worthy foe for the Hard Hand of the Cumberclans.”
The absurdity of this line of reasoning was drearily punctuated by the moan of rent bars down the hall beyond their lonely station.
“But you are mine enemy, the boy I fancied to be my successor, Satan’s dagger in the dark, the enemy within that has taken my Rector-heart. I am a confessor without congregation—the folly of my heart to my brothers doom I brought.”
If his eyes existed they would have shed tears. Instead the spider wipers deployed needlessly over the lenses of his visual augments and toiled at nothing.
More groaning steel, louder popping concrete and sweaty oaths of power helped clear his head somewhat, but not his shivered soul, which ached alone in its tiny pit.
The hands of the little boy—not so little-seeming now—pressed his claw and his gauntleted Hand of Augment together once more around the hilt of the far-famed sword that once took the head of the last moneylender in the land. This boy, who his claw and gauntlet could rend like putty between a potter’s fingers, stood before his kneeling form, monstrous bent he knew, encased in the Armor of Christ, cursed with the Inner Sight, gargoyle-like hands around The Sword of Advent, the sacred blade of this extinguished candle in an ice-grown, demon-haunted world. This boy knew no fear.
“Papa, you have been the father of my heart and will ever be. I have delivered you to the father of my blood and ask your forgiveness.”
The fading man, who had been the Rector and Confessor of Cumberland Unction, nodded and croaked, “Yes, My Son.”
“Papa, what is your name—what was your name before you took the Oath of Unction?”
He rose absently as the sound of bent steel and cracked concrete sang a song that was distantly familiar, a song that captured his older part.
“Theodore Bryce, my mother a tailor named Ann, my father a soldier named Bill, slain by the heathens—me, my mother’s dedication to the cause of avenging her man, her gift to the Avenging Order of Advent.”
He now stood towering in his hideous encasement of war-armor and sin-seeing artifice above this tiny boy, who had been the undoing of them all. He could not summon a shred of malice for the little—blue-eyed to the world but white-eyed to him—boy who he had tutored for half a decade, a little boy, dressed in pure white, looking up flush-faced to a man he admired.
“Yes, Papa, you are the man who shaped me, the man that will speak wise things to me in my nightmares, the man who will make Est of the Cumberclans a Nord worth heeding.”
Theodore chuckled slightly, as the base of his brain flushed with the flood of danger-awareness and his augmented parts lubricated in readiness for duty. He spared a smile for Est and said dreamily, “Swords and Angels,” and turned to face the gloomy greyspace that had literally been the tunnel to Hell for these past 500 years as it spewed up its savage, hairy contents.
Theodore stopped and went to side guard, belatedly blessing his last friend in this cold world, “May God know you for his own.”
He had forgotten that his augmented voice sounded like a trumpet and that men had once and now fallen cringing like the howling dogs of Hell they were being sent to before his malediction song. Terribly reminisce was that those maniac breed capable of withstanding his thundering creed parted like grass before the scythe on the edge of the Sword of Christ and that the steely Claw of Consignment powered by the undying engine in the bowels of the armor that wore him like an under-glove, crushed skulls like an acorn in a boar’s jowl.
“Swords and angels!” he roared as they howled like wolves and their chief cleaved through a living machine which had been masquerading as a suit for ten human lifetimes.
When the towering Rector teetered his last and folded among the gory ruin of a dozen naked men, a bell tolled within the steel frame of the suit—tolled loud as the very Bell of Unction. As the death knell of the Rector tolled, only one living thing in that hallway knew that it would toll but six more times before his adopted enemy home would turn to a terrible pool of melting men, stone and steel.
It was at this time that the fleeing, white-robed form known as Est of the Cumberclans first suspected that he was the fastest of his kind.
This concludes the novelette Rise of the Nords. It will be published in print along with the stories Hammer of the Cumber Clans: The Patrimony of Est, and The First Cull: The Patrimony of Fend.