Isabella Fox hurries through the corridors of the convent where she has spent most of her adult life, now nearing a hundred and fifty years. She received an urgent message from the Mother Superior as she was at her morning prayers, stating she was needed. The Sisters are all aware of Isabella’s attributes, and have protected the secret for as long as she has been there.
She enters the Mother Superior’s chamber, kneels and says, “You needed to see me, Mother?”
“Please rise, Belle,” the Mother Superior says. “There’s a critical matter I must discuss with you.”
Isabella does as instructed. “What is it, Mother?”
The Mother Superior gazes out the window. “Come over here.” She indicates something outside the window.
Isabella goes to the window and gasps. Along the edge of the hill away from the convent is a long row of pikes, each containing the nude body of a woman.
“Who would do such an inhuman thing,” she says, as tears form in her eyes.
“Someone who may not be human,” the Mother Superior says. She walks to a bench but stands beside it without sitting.
“I don’t understand,” Isabella says, turning away from the horrid sight.
The Mother Superior does not immediately respond, but remains in silent thought.
“Mother, what’s this about?” Isabella says. “what do you mean someone who isn’t human?”
“Would you be able to summon your father, Belle?”
Isabella shakes her head. “No, Mother, my parents went to England with William. I’ve not heard from them for many years.
“What about your brother, Nathaniel?”
“I could write to him, but it could take months before he’d arrive,” Isabella says. “He’s been minding our family’s holdings in Saxony. If he’s needed, I would need to summon him right away.”
“We may not have the time,” the Mother Superior says solemnly. “By the time he arrives, all he may find are ashes.”
“Is it the marauders? Are they the ones who’ve done this?” Isabella says, indicating the window.
“It’s worse than that. It is said they serve a dark lord, known only as Bergeron. He inhabits a castle miles away and dispatches his men to harass the order. A week ago, we sent an envoy to ask for his mercy.” She turns toward the window. “That’s them on the hill. Only one was allowed to live. With the horrors she had to endure, her sisters are the lucky ones.”
“What did you mean when you said he may not be human?”
“The stories told of him are that he’s a fierce warrior who doesn’t fear death. He’s conquered it, in fact. People in the town that know of him say he’s been killed many times, yet rises from the dead, more powerful than before.”
Isabella looks at the floor. “Maybe he’s like me.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought, too.”
Isabella is silent for a long time, considering the Mother Superior’s words.
“We may not have much time,” the Mother Superior says. “His attacks have grown more brazen. Now that he’s murdered our envoys, he has no reason to conceal his intentions any longer.”
“What can be done?” Isabella says.
“There’s an order some distance away, that’s better fortified than we are. Plus they’re under the protection of a Duke who favors them. If we could make it to them, we could survive, but if we attempt to travel alone—”
“I’ll summon Nathaniel,” Isabella says. “Then I’ll go see this Lord Bergeron. I may not be able to stop him, but perhaps I can buy enough time for Nathaniel to get here.”
The Mother Superior nods. “If you are certain. It may be the only hope we have.”