"I see you're still the offensive old bastard you've always been."
Ravenna watched as the old priest walked over to stand before her, a grin spreading across his face as he looked into her sharp blue eyes.
see you're still as charming as ever, my dear", he replied, with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"You'll never make Bishop with that attitude", the woman said, crossing her arms.
"Ah, feck that", Fingal replied with a smile, "A mitre would never suit me. I'd look a right tosser. I prefer to minister to the flock in my own
"You mean get drunk on communion wine".
"Now that would be a sacrilege, so it would", Fingal retorted, "And anyway, thanks to this heathen pixy here", he gestured to Pisky who was
watching in amusement, "I prefer a drop of cider these days".
Ravenna looked over at the pixy, her eyes piercing. Pisky held the gaze, but inwardly shivered. It was as if the woman was looking into his very soul.
He was relieved when she returned her interest to Fingal. "So", she asked, "Now that you've blackened my profession, are you going to introduce
me to these good people ?"
Fingal let out a little laugh, then hugged Ravenna, who returned the gesture with smiling eyes.
"This is Ravenna", he said, "But you already know that. She's a member of the Vatican Archaelogical Research Group - the Pope's
", he grinned as the woman shook her head in amusement. "She's also my god-daughter".
The old priest beamed as he said the last words, releasing Ravenna but keeping hold of her hand.
"Whyever my parents chose a drunken old sot like you to stand godfather for their only daughter is beyond me", Ravenna said, grinning. "They should
have known you'd be a bad influence".
I been a bad influence, my dear ?"
"Of course", came the reply, "Otherwise I wouldn't be where I am now, would I ?" Ravenna laughed, her eyes shining brightly in the sunlight.
"Right then. Introductions", Fingal coninued."This is Tobias", he gestured to the soldier who held out a massive hand towards the woman. She
smiled as Tobias' digits swamped her own small hand.
"And this 'cute Colonial' is KayEm".
Ravenna inclined her head in a bow, smiling. KayEm did likewise as Fingal continued the introductions.
"KayEm is married to the heathen pixy over there", Pisky sauntered over, a grin on his face which somehow didn't reach his eyes.
Ravenna nodded her head towards the pixy, then turned back to Fingal as he introduced the fourth member of the team. "Sarah", he said, "You don't
want to get on the wrong side of her before morning coffee, but don't let that fool you. She's really quite nice".
Sarah shook her head and waved to Ravenna, who smiled back.
"So", Ravenna said, her gaze taking in everyone, "Now that the introductions are over, can anyone tell me exactly what you are doing here ?"
"The Seven Swords of Wayland", Said Ravenna after the old priest had finished his story.
"Five", said Tobias, leaning away from the sarsen that he had been sitting against, "Two are 'in the hands of darkness' according to Drake".
"Quite", came the soft reply, "Which two ?"
Tobias shook his head, "Sorry - can't remember". Ravenna looked around. Nothing.
"Great researchers you have here, Fingal", she snapped. "Can't even remember the names of the bloody swords. I assume you remember the names of
swords ?" She glared around the group, her eyes blue flame.
", said Tobias, looking embarassed at his lack of preparation.
", KayEm replied. She pronounced it in the correct Welsh manner, daring Ravenna to challenge her.
", This was Sarah, who was sitting beside a small gas cooker brewing the obligatory coffee.
", replied Pisky as Ravenna looked towards him. As usual he held a mug of 'Best Pixyland' in hia hand. The woman nodded.
"And mine is Erin
", Fingal said, pouring his own cup of cider.
Ravenna leaned back against the stone she had been sitting beside and closed her eyes. "That leaves Mannin
", she said.
"The Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight".
"Pardon ?" KayEm looked across to where Ravenna sat.
"Each sword is named after a part of the British Isles", came the exasperated reply, "With Excalibur the centre - the 'heart' if you will. Wales,
Scotland, Cornwall, Ireland. Plus the two missing swords, Mannin and Vectis - The isles of Man and Wight".
"So what now?", asked Tobias, "How do we get the swords. Assuming they are where they are supposed
to be ?"
Ravenna looked over at the soldier. Using the clipped tones she reserved for newbies she explained. "Over the years almost a hundred archaelogists
have been through these ruins. Some were looking for the swords. Not everyone believes the story, so many were just here in search of bronze age
artifacts. No matter. The point is, no one ever found them. No secret passages have been discovered. No secret doors. I, myself, have been here for
scrabbling through the dust trying to find something that maybe - just maybe - the others have missed. With absolutely no bloody
luck at all".
"So they don't exist ?", Sarah asked, passing around cups of coffee to those without cider.
"Oh, they exist alright", came the reply. "We just need to find out where they are".
asked the New Yorker, handing Ravenna a mug of steaming coffee.
"Of course", the woman said, "Why do you think I'm here in the first place ?"
"To get the swords for the Vatican ?", asked Fingal with a look of resignation on his face.
"So she expects us to find the swords and hand them over to her to give to the fecking Pope
Pisky shook his head. "No fecking way !"
"She's got authority from the Vatican", Fingal explained sadly. "That means she can order
me to hand over 'Erin' and unless I want to be
excommunicated, I'll just have to do it".
"Nice god-daughter you've
got, I have to say".
"Ah, she's a nice lass when she wants to be".
"Nice lass my arse. She's hand in glove with the fecking corporates !!!"
Fingal spun around, fire burning in his eyes. "Now don't you be saying things like that about her", he snapped, "I'm sure she has her
Pisky glared at the old priest. "The Vatican is corrupt to the core", the pixy said coldly. "You know damned well that Villot and P2 murdered John
Paul in '78, and JP2 is too old to stand against them now".
"No !", shouted Fingal, "I do not
know that !!!".
do" The soft voice of Ravenna broke through the tension. Fingal spun to face her. She looked pained, as if caught in a lie by a beloved
uncle. "What ?
". The word forced itself out as the old priest stood stunned before her.
"What the pixy said ... its all true", Ravenna closed her eyes.
Fingal stood and held her close.
"And the rest ?", Pisky interrupted.
"There is a core group of cardinals who are - as you said - corrupt; However the Holy Father himself is inviolate. He knows that his time on earth is
growing short and, aware of the evil within the Vatican, and the cause
of this darkness, he sent out his most trusted aides to cut out - in
whatever manner possible - the rotting cancer within the heart of the church".
"The inqusition ?", asked Pisky.
"Partly", came the reply. "The congregation for the doctrine for the faith
is part of this alliance against darkness, but there are a few
others. The Pope's graverobbers
, as Fingal so sweetly calls us, is one other strand. The legion of Saint Philomena is another".
"Is that all we have left ?" Fingal asked, his hands shaking.
"Yes", Ravenna said sadly. "The others have all gone over to the corporates. Can't serve God and Mammon as the quote has it." She leaned forward
and took his old hands in hers. "I'm sorry", she whispered.
"Well, to be sure", the old priest said finally, regaining some of his old strength, "I'm happy you're on the right side".
"The corporates wouldn't agree", came the reply, "They'd say I was subject to bad influence
"So you were", smiled Fingal, "and I for one am glad of it".
For miles around, the only light came from the high windows of Stokesay castle. Outside, the moon hid behind a dark bank of clouds, while the
deserted village nearby was as dark and quiet as a crypt. Inside the Great Hall, Loki sat nursing a glass of mulled cider while Pantha stared into the
fire, deep in contemplation. Asala and LadyCool muttered together in whispers, worried that even those faintly spoken words would wake the girl
sleeping fitfully in the nearby infirmary. Phoebe snored beside the fire while Pillywiggin lay curled up in Coleman's lap. The apprentice stroked
the sleeping cat with one hand, the other holding a half full cup of 'Best Pixyland'.
"Still nothing ?" Loki whispered as Erisian came wearily in from the solar where the computer system stood.
"Nothing", she replied, taking the cider Loki poured for her and sitting in a vacant chair. "It's getting more and more difficult to get through
too. The corporates are charging for everything these days - Free internet is dead and buried".
"ATS is still free" Loki replied, draining his cup and pouring another.
"Pirate internet", Erisian mused, "Mobile servers transmitting from cellphone lines. Not as easy for the corporates to find, but still trackable
if left in the same place for too long". Erisian grinned at the thought of a red-suited superhero driving a server-filled RV around the United States
while hundreds of corporate minions scrabbled around trying to track him.
"Did you find anything ? ... anything at all
to help Tamsin ?" Loki asked, a hopeful inflection in his voice.
Erisian leaned across and placed her cup onto the nearby table. "I cracked the CDC site. If it's anything weird - anything unnatural
DNA666 - I would have expected it to be registered there". She sighed. "Nothing".
"Bollocks !", muttered Loki. "I wish KayEm was here. At least we'd stand a fighting chance".
"Me too", Erisian replied. "Epilepsy is the closest possibility, but I can't find anything exactly
like it on any
of the medical
"She's getting more lethargic every day", Pantha interrupted. "And her skin is so white, she's almost like a ghost"; The worry on her face was
tangible. Pantha rubbed her eyes.
"The 'absences' are getting more frequent too", Loki added, "Since we've been monitoring her, I've seen them for myself. It's as if she's
there one minute and gone the next. And she's been saying strange things too. About a 'beautiful lady' and stuff like that. And then when she
'wakes' she can't remember anything about it".
"Beautiful lady", mused Pantha, "Could it be Philomena ?"
Loki shrugged, "Could be", he replied, picking up his glass and taking a sip.
"At least she has the bird to look after", Pantha said, remembering the little dove that Tamsin had been caring for since discovering it in the
nearby field. The bird had been attacked by a hawk and Tamsin had spent hours cleaning it's wounds and making a little splint for its broken wing. It
was currently residing in a makeshift cage beside the bed where Tamsin was sleeping in the infirmary. Angover had spent most of the day with his
stricken daughter, only leaving her bedside when Pantha ordered him to return to the smithy for some well-needed sleep.
"You should get some rest, as well", Loki said to Pantha as he noticed her drooping eyes, "You look knackered".
"Old age catching up on me", Pantha smiled.
"Old age, my arse", Loki grinned, "Pisky's far older than you and he's
still capering around like some Skillywidden"
"Skillywidden ?", Pantha asked. "Don't you mean Pillywiggin
"Nope", Loki replied, "as the most esteemed Pisky told me a few weeks ago during a particularly raucous drinking session, his avatar is actually a
skillywidden". Seeing Pantha's vague look, he continued. "A Pillywiggin
is flower-faery, similar to Tinkerbell. A Skillywidden
"Oh", Pantha said. "I see. What an amazing amount of useless information can be gleaned from a bottle of 'Best Pixyland'".
"Well, it was a bit more than one
bottle", came the reply, "But ..."
"OH MY GOD !!!!!"
Loki spun around, leaping to his feet as the scream cut through his words. Looking towards the source he saw Asala standing beside a fallen chair,
one hand clapped to her mouth while the other was pointing towards the infirmary. LadyCool sat beside Asala, her face white, eyes bulging in
disbelief. "What the f ..." Loki exclaimed, then stopped. His mouth went dry. Pantha stood and gave a little moan. Coleman yelped in shock.
"What's happening to me ?"
Tamsin asked, her voice sounding as if she had just woken from a nightmare. She stood just outside the infirmary,
the ghostly whiteness of her face enhanced by the bloody mess around her mouth. Feathers stuck to the fresh blood, while in her hand she clutched the
torn body of what once was a dove.
Tamsin looked around, fear in her eyes, disgust welling up in her stomach. Lifting her hands towards the heavens she began to scream.
[edit on 24-9-2004 by Pisky]