Evelyn Chartres Author
Hunter – Page 8

Hall of Higher Learning – Part I

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

For the second time in her life Clara was travelling with Sister Maria. That meant more time waiting on a train platform and she presumed the next connection would be made together. Their first trip together had been a stroll through Versailles’ palatial gardens in comparison.

For one, it was longer and involved a dizzying rate of train transfers. To make way over the open ocean had been a new experience for Clara and at first she was unsure of herself while the ship heaved and hawed with the waves. If her travelling partner had any inkling at all for amusement, Clara might have enjoyed the experience.

Instead they spent the bulk of the trip below decks, kept busy with prayers and lessons. Clara even missed the sights as they approached red mud shores; iconic for the region although one would ever know by looking at Sister Maria.

They left the station and grabbed the first available handsome. The ride was pleasant enough, and this was her first taste of a larger settlement. There were people and horses moving every which way, it was quite chaotic but infinitely enjoyable to watch since Sister Maria could do little to hurry on.

Whereas her hometown had a few buildings along the main stretch of road, this city had neighbourhoods and streets crammed with houses, storefronts and warehouses. It was something to behold especially after two years of being cooped up in that school.

This time around Sister Maria seemed to be enjoying the trip. Had this been her hometown? More likely she was elated that her charge would soon be released.

“Here we are,” the cabby said once they arrived.

It was the site of a massive construction site, visible on the foreground where the beginnings of church spires. This structure of wood, masonry and stone would stand tall above the neighbours; a point of pride for any city. So why here?
Clara and Sister Maria stepped off silently once the cabby had been paid. Without hesitation the nun pushed past the protective fencing and walked onto the construction site. Although there was showed no hesitation, Sister Maria seemed slower and more deliberate somehow.

They walked through the chaos as workers were busy with their trades. They continued on until they reached a cemetery located by the stone wall. At a point separating the two sites Clara saw a simple wooden door.

Sister Maria paused, stood aside and said, “I am afraid this is where we part ways child.”

Clara looked at the facial features of her escort as usual not a so for emotion had been betrayed. At least until a naughty little thought passed through her mind. Would be a shame to miss this opportunity to speak with impunity.

“I was the one who re-arranged all of the furniture in your room,” Clara said with a smirk.

Sister Maria maintained her stoic disposition for a moment then began to laugh.
“Was it now,” she asked in a light-hearted tone. “The sisters and I spent a great deal of time trying to work out how someone managed to get all my things onto the ceiling,” she added.

“You are not angry sister,” Clara asked, somehow slightly disappointed at this particular reaction.

“Of course not Clara,” Sister Maria said in her serious tone. “Sister Theresa nearly wet herself laughing and anything that knocks her down a peg is worth its weight in gold,” she added with a smile.

So Clara had gotten her wish after all. Not only did Sister Maria smile, but she had also learned that nuns were human. A good lesson for any child to learn.

“Now child, you must be the one to go through that door,” the nun said. “You never know, we might end up seeing one another again. Although not as travelling partners. You are far too talkative for my tastes,” she exclaimed.

Clara smiled, took her worn out suitcase and opened the door. It was dark inside, but she was not fearful, sometimes things you should be feared were hidden in plain sight. Without hesitation she crossed the threshold curious as to what she would find.

First Blood – Part IV

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Clara had been whisked away the moment men dressed identically to Father Michael entered the room. They did not seem to hesitate nor asked questions, instead the eldest simply glanced at one of the younger members and she was carried away.

Why was it that Clara had never seen these men before? Normally in a cloistered environment there was near perfect segregation, a new face was a rare occurrence. Any workmen, tradesmen or drivers were kept under a close watch.

To see a dozen such men certainly got Clara wondering if she had missed something in these past two years. Was there some sort of tunnel or access to the outside world that she never knew about?

A bit further down the hall Sisters Agnes and Maria were waiting. Clara was then placed under Sister Maria’s charge who in turn escorted back to her room. From the corner of her eyes she saw the man and Sister Agnes exchange words. When the nun collapsed, Clara had a good idea what had been said.

“What were you doing in the rectory child,” Sister Maria asked.

Clara looked down at her blood covered hands remembered she was still holding the thin blade. Of all the things to ask? Clara palmed the crucifix under her sleeve to avoid it making a topic of discussion.

“Sister Maria, I was following Father Michael,” Clara said in reply.

“Now why would go and do such a thing.” Sister Maria asked while sounding exasperated.

Now that was a good question. However, that tone in her voice hinted that this nun had been aware of what took place. So she likely already knew that Father Michael was dead. The question was how?

Clara thought over her words before she said, “Father Michael told me earlier today that he wanted to discuss his plans for me sister.”

Sister Maria was white as a sheet, despite this being a blatant lie it certainly got her out of the hot seat. Now if only she managed to coax more information out of her before she was caught.

“What exactly did he tell you child,” Sister Maria asked.

Now Clara had to think on her feet. If she feigned ignorance, there would be no further gains. If Clara guessed his involvement the she might gain more insight. The latter came with more risk but Clara enjoyed a challenge.

“Father Michael had just begun explaining the particularities of his order,” Clara said.

Now that was vague enough to avoid getting caught in an outright lie. She was basing this line of questioning on the fact that men of the cloth were rarely, if ever armed. Father Michael had been armed for a reason and she guessed the fallen angel was a big reason as to why.

Sister Maria gave Clara a good long look before she said, “No matter child.” She paused a moment before she opened the door to the dormitory and added, “Now get cleaned up and ready for bed.”

A shame that bedtime was not for another two hours yet…

* * * *

News of Father Michael’s death had been hushed up. Clara continued on for a few days, curious as to why they would not share his fate with the rest of the school. Even as a new priest settled into the rectory, the nuns maintained a wall of silence.

Despite being the only witness to what had happened, no one questioned her about the event nor questioned her presence that night. It left her feeling a bit uneasy as though she were in trouble and was just waiting for the punishment to follow.

For once Clara kept her nose clean and continued on with her studies. An easy matter when other children avoided her, likely due to a secret directive. Like all directives, tenants or commandments, there tended to be severe repercussions for those who failed to uphold them.

After the events of Father Michael’s passing went by unobserved for a fortnight, Clara was pulled out of class by Sister Maria. Without notice she was hurried to the courtyard where horse and cart waiting for them. Surprisingly her things were already packed into that tattered old suitcase she had arrived with two years ago.

“It seems that Father Michael’s got his wish,” Sister Maria said while getting into the cart. She then reached down to help Clara up before adding, “It’s time to start your training child.”

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

First Blood – Part III

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Her arrival to this cloistered environment marked her first exposure to both schooling and religion. These had been luxuries her family could not afford. After all it was difficult to justify higher learning if one had to give up eating a meal or keeping a roof over their heads.

Clara readily embraced her new way of life, giving in to her newfound thirst for knowledge. Clara employed what she learned to make life difficult for the sisters; especially Sister Maria since she had sworn see this nun smile before she finished school.

There were other children who enjoyed pushing the boundaries as much as she, but Clara quickly learned how to avoid the nuns’ wrath. She noted that judgement was rendered only to those who were unlucky enough to get caught.

Not only did this push Clara to conceal her movements, but it made her escapades much more challenging. What better reward could there be to have Sister Agnes darting her eyes from child in another failed attempt to find out who was responsible.

On occasion Clara would get caught although it was normally for crimes of her own choosing. She would take her lashings, pray or fast as required. All the while she would plot her next bout of defiance while the staff continued to underestimate her capability for mischief.

In her second year at the orphanage, Clara noticed that Father Michael would often be called away. The man would disappear for days or even weeks at a time without raising suspicion. For a mischievous little girl, the concept of being able to avoid her responsibilities along with their consequences had some allure.

Motivated to discover his secrets, Clara shadowed the man. This proved to be easy enough since he probably never considered the possibility. After all, this was a foreign concept for those who lived under the watchful eye of their God, especially one who had given their vow of poverty.

In anticipation of his destination, Clara went ahead and hid in his quarters. She was reminded on how the devout were notorious for remaining covered at all times. Clara once caught a sister flaying herself as she bathed; all in an effort to keep impure thoughts from her mind. She later learned that was the reason they adopted the habit. They did it to keep their body and hair concealed even from members of their own order.

Clara caught no more than a glimpse of his scar-riddled back. These scars had not been left by a whip, paddle or another form of corporeal punishment. There was an animalistic quality to the scarring, but what kind of animal was capable of inflicting those?

While sisters of the order tended to assume they were alone with God when in their quarters; this priest surprised her when he spoke. So much so that it blew her earlier theory out of the water.

“It is not wise to enter the house of God with impure thoughts,” he said calmly using the voice he reserved for his sleep-inducing sermons.

Clara did not say a word and even held her breath in an effort to remain undetected. He never turned to look at her before speaking again. Since there were no mirrors or reflective surfaces in the room, her presence should have remained a mystery.

“You have been following me all morning child,” Father Michael added.

Even with the priest keeping his back to her, she knew better than to continue this game. It was obvious that she had been discovered, so the question was, how?

“Curious,” Clara replied then mulled over her initial response. She then thought it best to add for good measure, “Father.”

“Curious child,” he asked while continuing to change.

Clara noted how these were not a priest’s garbs. The more Clara questioned this situation, the more curiosity swelled within.

“Why a man of the cloth disappears for days on end,” she replied. “The origin of your scars and more recent wounds,” she added despite that being a wild guess.

So why not turn the tables and evade his attempts at an inquisition? At least that was easier than constant evasion.

Once again she threw in, “Father”, as a belated mark of respect.

“The sisters often mention how bright you are,” he said.

Clara wondered why he dropped the formality of calling her child. Father Michael turned around then kneeled to get a better view of her. It was the first time she had looked into his eyes, steel grey like hers and full of life.

“Clever enough to stay out of sight,” the priest said which was quickly followed by a warm smile. “Quick enough to ask questions that could provide you with valuable insight,” he added.

Before she could reply, he raised his hand to interrupt. This confused Clara since she heard no other sounds. Was a veiled attempt at making fun of her? An attempt at teaching her a lesson?

The answer came when the door was torn from its hinges and revealed a woman of intense beauty. Clara had no words to describe her, only that she was as beautiful as Clara imagined angels to be.

Such beauty might adhere a sense of trust in a little girl or even admiration, but it did nothing to arouse desire. There was no primal aspect of her soul which yearned for that woman, especially a child whose hormones had yet to wreak havoc on her mind.

Not the case for Father Michael, he seemed bewitched, unable to think or focus. At first, she wanted to say something, to snap him out of it. Yet she sensed there were forces at play that went beyond her comprehension.

Clara remained concealed and even held her breath while she watched. If that woman was aware of Clara’s presence, she showed no obvious signs.

The creature continued her slow deliberate movements towards the priest. Once she was a foot away from Father Michael, he broke out of his trance and pulled out a rosary from his pocket. This particular rosary had been fitted with a thin metallic blade at the base of the cross.

With one quick motion, he attacked but missed. This woman moved like a blur, reappearing just behind Father Michael and with one vicious strike, gouged out a chunk of his neck.

Clara watched as blood shot out in spurts. The initial spurt covered the wall to his left and the second narrowly missed Clara. The third spurt never materialised since this creature had latched onto his neck to feed.

Terror should have taken a hold of this girl, culminating in a blood-curdling scream. Such a response would have made her the second victim of the night. Somehow she was able to remain even-keeled, her mind clear and focused.

Clara snuck out of her hiding place then crept quietly towards the rosary. She picked it up prior to focusing on the horror. Given the nasty wound, it would take no more than a moment for that creature to finish her feast. Even now he was white as a sheet, a sign that he was far too gone.

Regardless Clara realised this was her one and only chance, she closed her eyes and recited a prayer. Relying on faith alone, she plunged the rosary into the woman’s back and was greeted by silence. This entire situation evoked a sense of déjà vu although she did not understand why that was.

In the time it took for her to blink the other had turned around to glare. Pure hatred was painted on the creature’s face, clearly indicating what she planned to do. Meanwhile, Father Michael’s body slumped to the ground with nothing more than a few drops of blood trickling from his wound.

“How dare you,” the woman shrieked.

Again this confrontation should have left her shaking like a leaf. Instead, Clara stood tall, with blade in hand. Blood from that creature covered the blade and Clara wondered why it appeared to be both thicker and richer than her own.

The girl then looked out to the doorway, noticing how it splintered when torn from the frame. Were these titans? Who could be capable of such strength and speed?

Shadows appeared in the hallway followed by the sound of footsteps a smile came upon Clara’s lips. The creature’s face flickered for a moment followed by a hint of worry, it seemed that she had arrived at the same conclusion. In a blink of an eye, that creature was gone, her escape left nothing more than a breeze from an open window.

First Blood – Part II

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Whoever said that getting there was half the fun, did not travel with a nun hellbent on completing her mission. For Clara the entire journey was a confused blur further exasperated by fatigue.

They would race from one train to the next at a breakneck pace. Clara felt as though her arm would be pulled out of its socket if she too a moment to catch her breath.

To what end? All for the privilege of waiting for the train or attempt a nap rest on uncomfortable wooden benches.

Clara spent the last leg of the journey in a comatose state. The two days of solid travel and transfers had driven her to exhaustion. In that moment she could have slept soundly just as easily in a dungeon as a bed made from twenty mattresses.

“Wake up child,” Sister Maria said loud enough to wake the dead.

Clara woke up in a start while her heart raced at a gallop. Her head hurt and she could barely focus, but once she did she set eyes on what was to be her home.

Somehow she had been transferred onto a horse and cart without her knowing. They were in the middle of a large gravel courtyard surrounded by several buildings. Based on this being a school, she assumed made up the dormitories and classrooms of the school.

Before Clara realised where she was, her escort had already disembarked. Sister Maria had hurriedly met with another nun from the school and seemed to be in deep conversation. Given she was unobserved Clara took in the scene in greater detail.

The horse and cart she noted were old and well used. The one at the reins looked looked like to be a farmer. He had white hair, shaggy beard, sunburnt skin and vivid blue eyes. His clothes were covered in dirt, his hands calloused and clearly fit in with what she expected of someone who worked the land.

The nearest and most prominent structure was a three story building. There were evenly spaced Windows throughout and an ornate metal roof and gables that would provide for a spacious attic. Clara had a feeling that she would be spending the bulk of her time there.

Another structure nearby was made of wood and stone. Clara could see through the windows and saw more nuns inside. She later found out that this was their primary dormitory.

“Miss Grey,” Sister Agnes said. “Since you are awake you may as well grab your things and join us,” she added.

“Of course sister,” Clara said while she complied.

Clara could see that while Sister Agnes wore a smile there was authority in her words. Given how she was directing Clara directly that woman was likely also the senior. Things were certainly going to get interesting.

“Now child. There are a few rules you need to know before we take you in,” Sister Agnes said.

Before any more words were exchanged both of the nuns looked behind Clara. Clara tuned to find a young man walking towards them, his black clothes and white collar a clue to his vocation. The man appeared to be overjoyed to see her, although she could not fathom as to why.

“Sisters,” he said while holding his gaze onto the new arrival. “Clara Grey is it,” he asked.

Clara looked flummoxed, she had not expected to be noticed or at least this soon. One quick glance from Sister Agnes and Maria told her this went against normal procedure.

“Yes Father,” Clara replied.

Sister Agnes attempted to bring some decorum by saying, “Father Michael I was just—

“Thank you Sister,” Father Michael said. “Just wanted the opportunity to see miss Grey before she got settled,” he added.

The priest winked at Clara then walked away. Clara could tell that the nuns were irritated, although it was amusing to see Sister Maria be on the verge of losing her composure. Perhaps this place would be more entertaining than she had initially been led to believe.

First Blood – Part I

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

Clara was waiting on the platform with Sister Maria, while she may have had the same name as her sister the similarities ended there. This was a stern woman who had lived through hard times and Clara could guess where the conversation would lead once they left.

Clara was anxious, a maelstrom of emotions lay just beneath her calm exterior. A lot had taken place since her mother had been laid to rest; the chaos that invariably followed when a family’s anchor is lost.

A glowing light approached in the distance. At first it was as bright as a star and slowly it grew in intensity until Clara had to avert her gaze. The ground began to tremble and yet no one was worried, for them this was routine, mundane, certainly nothing out of the ordinary to have a mechanical mammoth barrelling towards them.

Clara was startled when Sister Maria pulled her back from the edge of the platform just as the whistle screamed out into the night. This particular train was been an express and had no intention of making a stop at this nondescript outpost.

Clara sighed, disappointed that her great journey was still on hold. In the distance she saw a small group headed their way over the boardwalk. Until that moment they had been the only ones waiting for their train.

Once their faces were illuminated by the light, Clara’s eyes brightened and she ran towards them. She jumped into Maria’s arms embracing her sister with all her might. It felt good to feel wanted and loved.

When Clara turned to Ada she noticed the family elder was holding onto a young man’s hand. She had seen him before, the son of a miner who had likely reached the age where he too would be going deep beneath the surface.

It took a brave (or desperate) man to go deep under the ocean floor to collect coal. To breath in that dust and not see the light of day for twelve hours a day, all the while surrounded by other men and dwarvish horses. Clara hoped he would at least be spared her father’s fate.

“Couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye,” Ada said a moment before she kissed Clara on the forehead.

“My train won’t be here until the morning,” Maria said as her voice trailed off.

Clara nodded, trying to keep from crying, although she found the stern gaze from Sister Maria did much to help. Originally Eva and Maria were supposed to head out together.

The Church had lined up work in a laundry for the elder sisters, while Clara would attend a school somewhere else. Now it was clear that they would each walk their own path.

“Congratulations,” Clara said while looking at both Ada and her beau.

It seemed a sensible thing to say, even though she could not bring herself to smile. She wanted to stay with her sisters, but they were too old to attend this school. Now it seemed that Ada would soon be wed, which effectively douse any flames of hope in Clara’s heart.

Ada keeled down to look Clara in the eye. It was hard to keep this moment from devolving into a shower of tears. They all knew what this moment meant for the rest of them.

“Thank you Clara,” Ada said. She then hugged Clara before adding, “Don’t forget to write.”

Another train came in from the distance, mimicking the actions of its predecessor except that this one slowed with a long deliberate squeal.
Clara even felt the rush of steam as the locomotive stopped by the cistern. There the engine would fill her boilers with enough water as continue on with their journey.

“Miss Grey,” Sister Maria said from a distance.

It seemed that this fond farewell would have to be cut short. The nun had no intention of boarding late so the girls could have some closure. A shame really, but Clara knew that this moment would be cherished for years to come.

“I have to go,” Clara said.

Her eyes welled up and a single tear streamed across her left cheek. This was going to be far harder than she had hoped.

“We will miss you,” her sisters said in unison.

“You’ll come and visit some day,” Clara asked.

Both her sisters nodded before they individually gave her a big hug. All three sensed it, but none would ever say it; this was the last time they would be together. For Clara this also became the last time she would see her sisters.

“Come now,” Sister Maria said with a hint of inevitability oozing from every word.

Her sisters gave the nun a dirty look and Clara concealed a giggle. She then ran down to the platform, grabbed her tattered suitcase filled with worn clothes and boarded the train.

By the time they were seated and Clara had noticed her sisters were already gone. That’s when the tears began to stream, not that she would gain any sympathy from Sister Maria.