The Secret Garden

Chapter Two: "Confessional"

Riots and Rescue

WiSK, Moonbeam and Bruno drive from Manchester to join Baz in Heyhead. Baz is part of a large protest against the demolition of the village – according to him, its church is a place of spiritual significance in the area. Its demolition is part of plan by sinister forces of order to control the region’s leylines. Or so Baz claims. As far as WiSK, Moonbeam and Bruno care, it’s an excuse for a day out and a bit of a shout at the police.

Gideon Gov is already at the site, being the manager responsible for the demolition of the church. It isn’t the career he had dreamed of by a long shot, and Giddy wonders how he has found himself here. The last six months have been a blur, almost as if he were under a spell…

As for Hemlock, he has just flown back from Germany, filled with the fires of his Awakening in Altensteig. He returns home to find Heyhead the centre of a media circus, and heads for Persephone’s cottage. As he nears the building, he senses the proximity of a spiritual presence. Working his will on the world around him, Hemlock realises that it is Saviel, his grandmother’s familiar. If Saviel has been separated from Persephone, something dire must have happened. Hemlock heads towards all the noise to find out what is going on.

Over the preceding weeks, much of Heyhead has been torn down to make way for an expansion to Ringway’s employee car park. Now, with the line of demolition a single street away from St. Aidan’s church, the patience and reserve of those who care has finally snapped. An unseemly mass of local residents, well-wishers, church officials, religious support groups, eco-activists and the Socialist Worker’s Party blocks the progress of the demolition. A thick line of police in riot gear separates the protesters from the now-idle workers

Struggling to make sense of the situation, Gideon meets his site foreman, Lucas Chatwin. Chatwin can barely conceal his resentment for Giddy (he had hoped for the job that Gideon now occupies) and cares little for the concerns of the protesters. As far as he is concerned, it’s Giddy’s job to convince the police to move the protesters. The fate of Heyhead was sealed in law long ago. Gideon’s job is to enforce that.

Before Giddy can decide how to proceed, a local journalist arrives on the scene. Louise Blyth, she writes for the Manchester Evening News, and subjects Giddy to several moments of uncomfortable questioning before he is able to usher her out of the site office cabin. No sooner is she gone, than Chatwin starts pressuring Giddy into talking to the police about moving the protesters. And again they are interrupted as Hemlock comes barging into the office, demanding explanations.

It is not a friendly meeting. Gideon, slightly out of his depth, struggles to explain to Hemlock what is happening, but Hemlock responds with anger and racial slurs, then storms off towards the church itself. Giddy orders Chatwin to leave the office, then pours himself a large coffee. It is clearly going to be a long day.

WiSK, Moonbeam and Bruno park the car and find Baz in the crowd. He is down on the frontlines, hurling abuse at the police. While Bruno joins him, Moonbeam is drawn to the church, sensing its spiritual energies. WiSK accompanies her. As they draw near, Moonbeam casts her spiritual sight over the church, and sees a trio of death epiphlings huddled on its eaves.

They enter the building and Moonbeam is struck by a strange vision of the church at night, lit by candles. An aged man stumbles in, soaked from the rain. He is wearing tartan and carrying a mediaeval greatsword, and collapses against a pew with a cry. No sooner have the echoes of his cry died away, than a second figure hurries into a view – a priest, judging by his cassock. He rushes to the old man’s aid, clutches his hand… and both vanish.

Moonbeam stumbles under the effect of the vision, but WiSK senses nothing, his magical awareness nowhere near as powerful as hers. The church itself is empty, streams of dirty sunlight bathing the rows of pews, electric lights cold and idle. But power slumbers here – it is a Node of considerable strength. Moonbeam approaches the altar to investigate and discovers that the church is not deserted at all.

From a rear room, father Alan Woomish appears, displeased at the intrusion. He tries to usher WiSK and Moonbeam out of the church, mistaking them for protesters. Before Moonbeam can disagree, Hemlock bursts in through the church doors, demanding to speak to father Parker and wanting to know where his grandmother is.

Woomish explains that Parker retired earlier this year and introduces himself. His manner softens when he realises who Hemlock is – Persephone Rhys is well-known in Heyhead, after all, and Hemlock helped care for the reliquary under Parker – and answers Hemlock’s questions.

Persephone has gone to Manchester, Woomish claims, to visit people there – although he avoids revealing exactly where she is or who she is with. Woomish says that she will doubtless be back in a few days, and that Hemlock need not worry. Hemlock, however, does exactly that.

Certain that something suspicious is afoot, Hemlock leaves the church and finds Ormskirk, the nonagenarian groundskeeper. Ormskirk is very worried about Persephone’s absence and is sure that Woomish is somehow involved. Ormskirk knows that Woomish sent the contents of the church reliquary to somewhere in Manchester, once the demolition of the church became inevitable. This was about three weeks back.

Ten days ago, Ormskirk saw Woomish arguing with Persephone about something. She was very upset after Woomish departed. A few days later – about a week ago – three strangers came to visit Woomish. Ormskirk thinks they were priests. One was called Baedecker. Persephone went missing the next day. Ormskirk is certain these events are connected – he just isn’t certain how.

Hemlock stands in the church grounds, trying to make sense of matters. Moonbeam and WiSK cautiously approach, having overheard much of the preceding discussions. For Moonbeam, the loss of a grandmother is a spur to action – her own grandmother’s spirit is her guide and she feels Hemlock’s loss keenly. She offers to help reunite Hemlock and Persephone, as does WiSK. Hemlock, sensing their Awakened souls, agrees.

At this point they notice that Louise Blyth has been standing by one of the graves, listening in on their conversation. After she sheepishly apologises, Louise admits that she overheard them talking about Persephone’s disappearance. If there is something untoward afoot, she would be more than happy to help out – in return for a story, of course. Louise doesn’t have to wait for long.

Back at the site office, Chatwin has finally worn Gideon down. Giddy goes in search of the local police commander (a wryly humorous man by the name of O’Malley) and asks if the police are prepared to move the protesters on so that demolition can proceed. O’Malley informs Giddy that a mounted unit is already en route, with orders to disperse the protesters.

And so Gideon and the others watch from the sidelines as mounted police sweep into position, then charge the protest line. Gideon urges restraint, but O’Malley pays little attention. The mounted officers trample several protesters underfoot – at least one hapless soul is dragged away unconscious – and drive the others before them. Any who resist – Baz among them – are beaten into submission and arrested. It is an appalling display of brutality that drives Giddy from the site office in disgust.

Louise races over to the scene of the action, camera in hand, but the others hang back. Shortly thereafter, Gideon makes his way to the church to clear his head and put the images of the police charge behind him. He finds Hemlock and the others in the graveyard and joins them, aghast at what he has seen.

Hemlock apologises for his earlier rudeness, but Gideon waves the apology aside. He can sense the power lurking within St. Aidan’s, and wonders if there are deeper motivations for the demolition of the church. His suspicions are confirmed by Hemlock, who insists that the church is a site of great spiritual importance, and its demolition would be an abomination. Seeing that several agendas have combined here in Heyhead, Gideon agrees to see what he can do to improve matters. He might, for example, be able to delay demolition if new calculations reveal problems with the existing plans. Heartened by Giddy’s show of conscience, Hemlock invites the group to join him at his grandmother’s cottage.

As the police mop up the last protesters, Gideon gives word to close the site for the day. The media are crawling all over the place now and there is little chance of getting any more work done. He then accompanies Hemlock and the others to Persephone’s home, Rose Cottage, known locally as Old Thatch.

There they talk frankly with one another, openly admitting to being Awakened (apart from Bruno, who mocks them as the kind of weirdos who are always looking to get in touch with their inner dolphin). Although they see the world in a variety of different ways, they are sure that they can work together. For reasons of family, morality or sheer curiosity, they resolve to find Persephone and discover the truth behind her disappearance.

Hemlock begins by communing with Saviel. From Persephone’s familiar, he learns that men came from a church in Manchester, asking her about a book that Woomish found references to in the church records. The book was supposed to be in the reliquary, yet seems to have been removed before the demolition of Heyhead. Where is it? Persephone claimed ignorance, and the men invited her to come to Manchester as their guests. Saviel is certain that Persephone knew she was in danger, but she seems to have gone willingly. Before she departed, she instructed her familiar to wait here for Hemlock’s return – and to inform him of what happened.

Further investigation among Hemlock’s fellow villagers confirms this: the man called Baedecker is a priest of Saint Ann’s Church in Manchester. If Persephone went with him and his colleagues, that is where she will most likely be. Hemlock sends Saviel forth to seek his grandmother, then heads back to the cottage.

Back at Old Thatch, Moonbeam calls upon her spirit guide, her grandmother’s ghost. With her aid, Moonbeam casts her vision back over the preceding days. She sees Persephone and Baedecker talking. Both glisten with Prime, and Mind Arts are thick in the air. Persephone is no fool and accepts Baedecker’s offer of hospitality at St. Ann’s. Moonbeam sees something else as well – shortly after Persephone’s departure, Woomish enters the house with a strange metal amulet. Using it like a lodestone, he searches the property. It leads him to the attic, where he discovers a black wooden box that confounds his attempts to open it. Woomish takes the box and leaves.

While Moonbeam and Hemlock are investigating, WiSK tries to talk with Bruno. Bruno is largely disinterested in pretty much anything WiSK has to say – he pays more attention to his cat, Ziggy – and the conversation is stilted and awkward. Bruno also soon discovers that he has problems of his own.

His vision goes blurry and the ends of his fingers and toes go numb. He feels something squirming around behind his eyes – it is filthy and horridly personal. He gags and goes rigid – Ziggy hisses and backs away. A shudder wracks Bruno, as if he has swallowed something particularly distasteful. His jaws work frantically, but only strangled noises are squeezed through his clenched teeth. Suddenly, he speaks.

’I’m still here! You promised me. You said you’d help me. You fucking promised!’

Bruno, locked within his own mind, struggles to make sense of the experience. In his inner eye, he sees the ghostly form of Derek arise before him, eyes black and bleeding.

’They’ve taken him,’ Derek snarls. ’Arrested him. Who’s going to help me now?’

Bruno realises that Derek is referring to Baz. Of course, he is unable to reply.

’Help me, or you’ll be sorry. You’ll be so fucking sorry.’

The words hang ominously in the air, infusing the moment with their dire message, then Derek is gone. Bruno realises that he is his own man once more. WiSK stares in horror at Bruno. Unsure what to make of this. Bruno refuses to discuss it.

Back at the cottage, Hemlock briefs the others on what he has learned, and Moonbeam adds her own insights. They have a motive – the possession of a box secreted here from the reliquary – and they have actors – Baedecker and Woomish. And, moreover, they know where to look next – St. Ann’s Church, for Saviel soon returns and confirms that Persephone is there. Strange spirits guard the place, however, and the familiar dared not risk their wrath. Gideon realises that the demolition of Heyhead may have been motivated by an attempt to control the power inherent in St. Aidan’s, and again pledges his assistance.

Not wanting to waste any more time, the mages pile into Bruno’s battered green BMW and head for Manchester. They arrive as night is fully fallen across the city. St. Ann’s Church is located in the heart of the city’s shopping districts, at the far end of St. Ann’s Square. Saviel warns again that astral Umbrood known as Vigils are standing watch over the place. The mages simply approach the main doors and demand entrance.

They are met by Baedecker himself. The priest-mage is nervous and paranoid and initially he tries to deny that Persephone is here, but Hemlock is barely able to contain his anger, and demands to see her or shed Baedecker’s blood on the altar. Baedecker acquiesces, and takes Hemlock to see his grandmother, who is resting in one of the inner cloisters.

After a tearful reunion, Hemlock rounds on Baedecker, demanding to know how anyone could kidnap an old woman. Baedecker explains that Persephone came of her own free will, but Hemlock is not fooled – he knows his grandmother had little choice. And for what?

Baedecker produces a black box – the same one that Moonbeam saw in her vision – and says that it contains something of great power and importance. Persephone has no right to keep it to herself – it is a holy relic and belongs to the Celestial Chorus. Persephone argues that Baedecker’s Tradition has no right to the contents. The box, she says, contains a book that was written by a priest of Heyhead centuries ago and given into the keeping of her family. It is hers.

Baedecker’s temper finally snaps and he makes it clear that he will turn his holy arts on the heathen if need be. If Persephone does not fear him, perhaps Hemlock’s life is more valuable to her. Hemlock can barely believe that he is being threatened, but it is more than enough for Persephone. Whatever the contents of the book, it is not worth risking her grandson.

’Harm none, Baedecker,’ she says. ’But you will pay for this, I promise you.’

Without further ado, she murmurs soft words over the box. It opens, revealing a battered book lying within.

’Ah, finally, finally,’ Baedecker says, eyes alight with greed. ’Ask and ye shall surely receive.’

He opens the book, eyes scanning the pages before him. At the same moment, there is a crash from the nave of the church, followed by the harsh stutter of gunfire. A shriek echoes through the priory. Baedecker, Hemlock and Persephone race back into the main body of the building. Hemlock sees his companions confronted by armed intruders.

Foremost among them is a woman in a long, grey overcoat. It is immediately clear from her aura that she is one of the Awakened. She is flanked by a trio of men in combat gear, sporting submachine guns. There is no negotiation. No tense stand-off. The newcomers simply open fire. Unprepared for such an explosion of violence, the mages dive for cover. As Baedecker attempts to flee, he inadvertently trips. He loses his grip on the book and it goes skidding across the floor to land, by complete coincidence, at the woman’s feet.

Realising that this is a strike team of unknown origin sent to acquire the book, the mages do what they can do prevent its theft. Bruno pulls his shotgun from beneath his trench-coat and fells one of the men in combat gear with a blast to the face. Moonbeam stalls the other with a wash of spiritual energy. WiSK manages to disarm the third, but recoils in horror when the man’s arm splits open to reveal a hi-tech firearm. WiSK only just manages to throw himself behind the altar as it spits blazing death in his wake. Hemlock attempts to empower his body with inhuman strength to battle the newcomers, but his magic goes awry, backlashing, and he suffers terrible wounds to his Life Pattern.

Gideon scrambles for the diary, but the woman in the grey coat snatches it up and produces a strange device from her pocket. She punches coordinates into the device and vanishes. Bruno and Moonbeam finish off the second of the armed men, but the third flees, crashing through a window and fleeing into the night.

In less than a minute, the attack is over. The book has been stolen and the mages have faced a foe they never even knew existed. They leave Baedecker with dire threats not to interfere with their lives again, and put St. Ann’s behind them, heading back to Heyhead. Persephone is safe, but the mages have learned how fleeting safety can be. When morning comes they decide that they will try to discover who stole the book – until then, Rose Cottage will be their sanctuary.



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