Chapter 22 – Sunday Morning Service, June 8
Grace and the two elves were the only ones that roused themselves to face Spamwich’s latest breakfast. It consisted mainly of a fishy paste with herbaceous green flecks through it, atop a baked slab that seemed to be a cross between bread, biscuits, and old shoe leather, washed down with tomato juice. A bowl of nuts and berries was on the side.
Grace finished her berries and looked away from the remains of her breakfast. “Well, enough of this. I think I’ll go to the church this morning and see what they make of morning services. Anybody care to join me?”
Cleo pointed to the remains on Grace’s plate. “If you don’t want that I’ll have it. No, I think I’ll spend the morning making silver arrowheads out of my coinage. I still can’t believe my arrows did nothing to that bloody ghoul. I think Clang will let me use his tools. Do you want me to do yours, too?”
“Sure.” Grace dug in her pouch and produced a handful of silver coins.
Cleo glanced at Animus. “And you?”
“Nah, human religions don’t interest me. I think I’ll watch the longboat today, in case anybody tries to steal it again.” He held up a hand. “I know, the Earl will have guards on duty but they won’t be watching for the little vermin, now will they? And yes, Cleo, if you please, do my silver too.” He dug in his pouch and found a few silver coins.
Cleo took the coins. “But Animus, surely you know the longboat is not at the docks any more? Sapphire had the asians hide it in the swamp for safety.”
“Oh. No, I don’t go poking around in people’s minds the way some do. Well then, I’ll just kick around here awhile.” Animus stared broodily at his breakfast, then raised his voice. “More ale here, please!’
Grace looked at Animus, and shook her head. “Okay, I’m off then.” Grace looked at Cleo, who was wolfing down Spamwich’s fishy creation. “And I’m sure the apothecary will be open peddling indigestion cures, later on. Good day, and good luck!”
Grace went out the front door and turned left. The town was amazingly quiet and peaceful. The apothecary indeed had its door propped open, with a sign out front reading ‘Hangover Cures’. The butcher’s shop still emitted wisps of smoke. Madam Clair was out pursuing scraps of paper in the market place. The church doors were open wide, and a few others went in ahead of her.
She seated herself in the second row and admired the high stained glass windows that wrapped around the entire back of the church, except where support columns broke their panorama. The friar had spoken of them as moving, but they were motionless now. Many religious figures were posed in scenes of apparent historic significance, though much attention was also given to the brilliant colors of flowers and fruits of nature.
The service was unremarkable as these things went. Some singing, some ritual with smoky incense and candles, that made Grace drowsy. Padre Paul talked about the immortal souls of the undead that had been stolen from the town and farms, but now walked upright at the Withers place. He admonished anyone from killing them outright, least their immortal souls be forever bound to their mortal bodies and rot on earth for all eternity, never to enter the joyous realms of Heaven. Instead he advocated a course of Love. These poor souls should be brought back to the light and their souls saved.
He droned on and on, and Grace was unable to keep her attention on him. Instead she gazed at the stained glass. The colors seemed brighter. And the pictures swam together. Some of the angelic figures even seemed to move. One went and sat on a sheep, while one tweaked the nose of each of the Apostles in turn.
The golden one seemed to float down out of the picture and approached Grace. Clearly she was dreaming. She glanced around and all the other humans seemed to be frozen in place, even those around the podium that were conducting the service. Then the golden angel spoke. “Fear not, we only wish a moment of your time. A moment frozen in time, in fact, that will not count against your tally at the End of Days.”
“No my dear, I promise you: we are quite real. Well, yes the incense is drugged, but that has nothing to do with us. It is a genuine miracle that we can commune with you, and you with us.”
Grace rubbed at her eyes. “And why is that a miracle?”
“We are from a far distant place, not of your world. It takes a divine dispensation for us to manifest here.”
Grace gave a short bark of laughter. “And what place is that supposed to be? Heaven? Perhaps you just claim to be from Heaven, and only take on the form of angels, which is such a cliché by the way, to conceal what — that your origin is in fact Hell? What is your game? What temptations do you bring?”
The golden angel laughed. “Dear child, I see your confusion. There are many, many worlds above and below. Heaven and Hell are but simplistic stories for the children to understand.”
Graces’ eyes flashed in defiance. “I know of the parallel worlds of the elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Which do you come from?”
“Know that the worlds of the spirit lay like layers of a cake…”
The angel in white broke in, licking her lips. “More like the layers of a fragile pastry…”
“Yes, sister, I think she gets the idea. Each world can be given a score, if you will, or ranking, based on what you would call the scale of good versus evil. By fact of nature, the proximity of any two reflects their relative congruence; the closest worlds to your reality are those most similar to your own.”
Grace shifted uncomfortably. “Okay then, the world’s religions have many, many different views of the afterlife. So, according to you, when we die — what?”
“The asian religions speak of reincarnation; that is a part of it, but there is more. Those souls we would call ‘good’ gravitate to a world further on in our direction. Those of the opposite predilection are reincarnated in worlds on the other side. So the concept of an afterlife in Heaven or Hell does have some validity, but only in a limited sense. And so in this way, the karmic wheel turns.”
“You said ‘we would call good’. What do you mean by that?”
“We of my world value truth, justice, creativity, and honesty. Our adversaries would call us tactless, oppressively egalitarian, anarchistic, and blunt. They call themselves bold, loyal to their own, and strong. We would call them aggressive, mindlessly slavish, and savage.”
“So Heaven and Hell are each just one step along the chain each way? What is at the end?”
The golden angel laughed again. “What is at the end of an infinite path towards Goodness? The answer is beyond our own understanding as well. We come to you from far along the chain towards Goodness, but the Worlds extend far beyond our ability to even glimpse.”
“Very well then, why are you ‘communing’ with me? Why was I chosen for this… honor?”
“You were one of seven chosen by the one you call The Monk. He, by the way, is one who has chosen mastery of a rather interesting talent, though eschewing further study of the nature of good and evil. While others study the workings of life, or the workings of the forces between the stuff of matter, he has devoted his studies to the way of the body and mind. His choice of you seven, as potential champions of Good, is to be trusted, and you, Grace, are the best of the lot. See here.” She spread her arms. “You are the only one attending this church today. Why would we not choose you to commune with? Besides, we know that you will share with the others in a way that no one else ever could, without the aid of The Monk.”
“So why are you here?”
“We are here in answer to a prayer. No, not yours! Those of the people of this village – three, in fact. We hear the prayers of the people, and receive the energy of their devotion. When the opportunity is upon us, we can use that energy to return and render aid.”
The green and pink angel broke in. “Oh, but we cannot aid directly. We can only do what we are doing now – commune with the faithful to provide information, and inspiration. To help the mortals here to go down the right path of action, you understand.”
Grace nodded slowly. “Like, telling a certain mousling to come to this valley in search of other, caged, gentile mouslings? That was you, wasn’t it? But why?”
The golden angel smiled. “Yes, that was us. We were given three miracles to perform, in answer to three prayers. We sensed the maximum opportunity was to be found in communing with dear little Flicker, knowing that he would come to this place, drawing other powers in his wake, then acting rashly with his surprisingly strong magical powers, to trap you all here, in this place, until we can effect a final deliverance from Evil. All the elements are in place now, for you seven to bring about proper answers to these three prayers.”
Grace frowned. “So this is your second miracle, talking with me?”
The one in white tittered. “Yes. One left, one left.”
Grace groaned. “And none of the problems, er, prayers have been, ah… resolved yet?”
“No, but we know it is in your collective power to do so, you seven champions.”
“So what were these three prayers? What is it you need us to do?”
“Very well, I think you are now ready to hear them. Firstly, there is the matter of Sister Maude, a righteous and kind lady. The people of this church prayed for the salvation of her soul, as she is now slipping towards damnation, if you will, as an undead monster. Of course her illness is symbolic of the disease that grips the valley; cure Maude and you can cure everyone. This prayer was deemed worthy of an answer.”
“I see. And the second?”
“The farm families prayed one and all, for deliverance from their plight. To restore them to a pastoral life, several things must be accomplished. The war between the Trogs and those afflicted by the manic disease, those who are now roaming as wolves, must be averted at all costs. The violent death of the afflicted innocents, at the hands of the Trogs, would forever sour the delicate interwoven relationship between Trogs and farmers that is so important to the society in this valley. The farm families must be made whole and viable again, after their losses of livestock as well as family members. The future wellbeing of the entire valley depends on this, even that of the Trogs. This prayer was deemed worthy of a response.”
“And the third prayer?”
“You know of the summonings of the Earl. He has unleashed dreadful Evils into the land, in his ignorance. Stop them.”
“All of his summonings?”
“No, just the evil ones – those evils already summoned, and those yet to be summoned.”
“How can we judge which are evil? Aren’t they just people now, like any others?”
“You will have the help of The Monk, who can peer deep into one’s soul.”
“Can you give me a list of the evil ones?”
“No, I am sorry, time grows short and our connection fades. You will need to enlist the aid of every power in the valley you can, to achieve these ends. Good luck to you, and may the grace and glory within you carry you forward on this path of righteousness.”
The three angels rose and merged once again into the stained glass. “But wait, what of the third miracle?” The golden angel winked at her, and blew her a kiss, then froze in a dignified pose above a nativity scene.
Grace blinked. A rush of sound returned to her as the service broke up and people began to exit the church. Grace hurried to the front and addressed the priest. “Padre Paul, my name is Grace. If you can, I would like to meet with you this afternoon, me and my six companions, to talk about a mission to the Withers estate, as you discussed.”
The priest smiled. “Bless you my daughter. All will be well, then.”
Animus looked up. “Yeah, she took a picnic lunch out somewhere with her friends. Said something about sitting under a tree. Who’s your little friend?” He took a nut from a bowl on the table and offered it to Eeek, who took it shyly, then retreated.
Sapphire stamped a foot. “Darn. I wanted to ask her to watch Eeek while I went to the meeting Grace called, at the church.” She looked around the inn in despair.
Animus offered Eeek another nut, but forced him to climb into his lap to get it. “Eeek.” The animal started going through his pockets looking for more, and Animus got another nut from the table, while stroking its fur.
Sapphires eyes widened. “I thought you hated animals?”
Animus gazed at Eeek. “Only vermin, rats. Eeek here is quite cute.” He looked up at Sapphire. “You go to your meeting. I’ll watch Eeek.”
“You sure? He can be a lot of trouble – gets into everything, he’s so curious.”
“No, this should be fun. Maybe I’ll look up Dorothy and see if she knows what that witch on the broom has against this little guy.” Animus scooped up the nuts and offered the empty bowl to Eeek, who licked it, then put it on as a hat. Animus spread the nuts on the table in Eeek’s reach, and he started gobbling them down with gusto.
“All right then. We’ll fill you in on what we learn at the church.”
Animus pushed aside his tankard absently and started playing a shell game with the last couple of nuts, to Eeek’s evident amusement. “You do that.”
Animus shuffled up to them, dragging Eeek, who was clinging to his leg. “Excuse me, I don’t think we’ve actually met. My name is Animus.”
Dorothy hopped up and gave a curtsy. “Pleased to meet you. My name is Dorothy, and these are my friends, Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow. May I offer you some lemonade?”
Animus shook his head. Eeek squeezed tight and peered around at the four on the picnic blanket. “Ouch. And this here is Eeek. It is him I’ve come to talk with you about. He seems to have run afoul of that witch who came here with you. Any idea why that might be?” Dorothy gestured to the blanket and they both sat down. Eeek immediately started rummaging through the picnic basket, which turned out to be empty now. The Tinman offered Eeek his plate, with a sandwich on it.
Dorothy shook her head. “Why no, I’m not really sure who that witch was. I only met two wicked witches in Oz, and they’re both dead now.”
“Ah yes, you dropped a house on one, and melted the other.”
Dorothy looked shocked. “How did you know?”
Animus looked at her appraisingly. “Your adventures are legend here. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the stories I’ve heard about you are from long, long ago. Do you know how you got here, to this time and place?”
Dorothy looked sad. “I’ve no idea. The wizard was about to send me home, and I was saying goodbye to my friends, when suddenly I found myself here.”
The Scarecrow looked up from where Eeek was devouring the sandwich. “The wizard’s magic must have gone wrong. I’m afraid it is going to take some powerful magic indeed to get her back home now. If only Glinda, the witch of the north, were here.”
Animus glanced at Dorothy’s sparkling red shoes. “Indeed, powerful magic indeed.”
The Lion growled. “The wizard was only a fraud, you know. If I ever see him again, I’ll rip him from limb to limb. I’ll mash him, and dice, him and…”
The Tinman put out a hand and shook his head. “I’m afraid that won’t help Dorothy get home, Lion.”
“So Dorothy, about this witch…”
“The first two witches were sisters. They must have had another sister.”
“But what would any of them have against Eeek?” They all looked at the fur ball, who had finished the sandwich and was now wearing the picnic basket over his head and shoulders.
Tinman gave a laugh. “There is your answer. The witches we knew were old, childless spinsters. They hated children of all kinds, and most especially their pets.”
Scarecrow punched his own palm. “I know! The witch must be stranded here, same as us. She needs a stronghold where she feels safe, to build back her power. She was last seen flying up to the big mountain there on her broom. I bet that wherever she landed, she encountered this little guy, maybe in a cave or something. I’ll bet he got into her things, and she went into a rage.”
Animus nodded. “She left a note – that sounds about right. And she mentioned this fellow’s mama, who would come looking. I bet there really is a cave up on Monolith Mountain where the two of them lived, that the witch wants for her own now, and this is what she did to get rid of them both, while causing us a bit of trouble in the process. Thanks, you’ve been a lot of help.”
Dorothy looked back and forth between Eeek and Animus. “Heavens! But what are we to do?”
Animus stood up. “I am going to go look for Eeek’s mama, and see if I can fix this witch good, in the process. Can you gentlefolk take care of Eeek while I’m gone?”
Dorothy nodded. “Of course we can. Oh, do be careful, Animus.”
The little white fur ball had curled up on the Lion’s chest and was running his fingers through the Lion’s golden-brown mane. “Eeek!”