The Anglic Gene

An orphan girl unsure of who she is or why a man wants her dead carries a secret. She will experience humanity.

Are you ready?

Join Sophia in a heart thumping adventure across England set in the 1870’s, exploring faith, doubt, love and fear. A story, quoted by the editor as “really something special”, you’ll continue to contemplate long after the journey unfolds

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44. Time To Go

1878 - Nearly one year later

“It’s today, isn’t it?” Sophia said, standing in her bedroom gazing at Michael’s pained eyes under a wrinkled brow.

“Yes. Time to go. Mephis is mobilizing his army.”

“Well at least we are armed and dressed for the occasion,” she said. “We were on our way to visit Jeremial for the evening training session.” She glanced over her leather top and skirt that had been altered recently to suit her growing body. Less than a month earlier, she and Anne had celebrated their sixteenth birthday with the Order of Esdras. Jeremial had surprised them. Sophia and Anne had both laughed hysterically for long minutes when Jeremiah walked into the main dining room holding a chocolate cake in his hands—a cake he had baked himself. His face was covered in random smears of chocolate batter. White flour covered his hair and clothes. To top off the spectacle, he was wearing a goofy lopsided chef’s hat and a white, chocolate-stained, apron.

“Jeremial is waiting for us outside,” Michael said, his tone somber. “Fetch your jackets. The trip will be chilly.”

Anne raced out of the room shouting, “Be right back, I’ll get my jacket from next door.”

“Do you think Anne will be okay?”

Michael nodded. “Well, she is fighting and performing as well as you.”

“I know,” Sophia said. She paused, rubbed her eyebrow before continuing. “But it’s not me I’m worried about. I worry about her. I feel responsible for her well-being.”

“That feeling, I believe, is shared. We all feel responsible for each other. We are family.”

She smiled gently with a glint in her radiant emerald green eyes. “True enough.”

Michael gave her a tender pat on the back.

“I can’t say I’m looking forward to several days of riding back to London,” Sophia said.

“The way we are going will be much quicker,” Michael replied.

“I’m back,” Anne said, appearing in the doorway.

“Right then,” Michael said, “time to move on.” He led them down the hallway towards the main exit.

“Will we ever becoming back here?” Sophia asked as they passed the underground stables.

Michael shook his head. “Unlikely.”

Sophia considered what life would be like after Mephis is defeated—if he was defeated. No more hiding out in the southern parts of Scotland. Although, living there had been enjoyable. From trips to the local towns, the dense regional forests, the rich hunting and fishing, and, of course, the training. Though grueling at times, the discipline and fighting skills she had learnt were an invaluable asset. “So where are we going?” she asked.

“You’ll see.”

“The suspense is killing me,” Anne said as they left the underground complex.

Outside the main gate, they climbed a series of sturdy stone stairs recently installed in stadium seating fashion on the side of the chasm. At the top of the short stairway, they followed a worn dirt pathway up the side of Greatmoor Hill. On approaching the top, Sophia’s eyes widened. “What is that?”

“Our ride,” Michael replied.

A blue spherical balloon rose into the sky and hovered higher than the nearby trees, secured by four ropes, above a square wicker basket tethered to the ground. Douglas was standing inside the basket. Jeremial finished loading sandbags into the basket.

“We get to fly?” Sophia said. Her pulse quickening.

“We do,” Michael replied.

“Brilliant,” Anne added.

“You’re finally here,” Jeremial said. “I was about to come looking for you.”

“Sorry,” Michael said. “My fault. I had to say a few goodbyes. It’s unlikely I’ll be back here for some time.”

“Aye,” Jeremial replied, in his awkward burring Scottish accent. “All is set. Douglas here will serve as your well-trained pilot.” He gazed at the heavens. “And I’ve organized favorable winds at three thousand feet to guide you to your destination. Should be about thirty knots.”

“Around nine hours then?” Michael said.

Jeremial cleared his throat. “Aye.” He frowned. “Do I still sound like a pirate?”

Anne nodded, grinned. “How does the balloon work?”

“It is filled with hydrogen. To descend a valve opens by pulling on a rope that releases the gas. The vessel ascends by throwing the sandbags, ballast, over the side along the way. The less weight, the higher the balloon goes. Don’t worry, Douglas knows what to do. And this balloon is no ordinary one.”

“The faint white glow?” Sophia asked.

“Yes, you see it?”

She nodded while scanning the glow that lent the ordinary an air of the divine.

“Where are we going?” Anne asked.

Michael faced towards the south and peered into the horizon. “Stonehenge.”

“Wait,” Sophia said, “I have a question.”

“Out with it, then” Jeremial said.

“How do you organize favorable winds?”

“Oh, I have my connections.”

She was going to question him further, but over the years, she had gotten used to his cryptic replies. He would answer further queries with ever more ambiguous reasoning, resulting in further interrogations. The never-ending cycle made her head hurt. Michael appeared none the wiser and never seemed concerned to ask. In the end, that was good enough for her.

“All aboard,” Douglas shouted.

After Anne and Michael boarded, Sophia climbed over the side of the wicker basket. “Not much room in here,” she said, slipping between the sandbags stacked along the side and a crate in the center to the only vacant corner.

“Well, girls, this will be goodbye from me.” Jeremial said, sniffling.

“Are you crying?” Anne said.

“No, dear, of course not,” he said, batting his eyes. “It’s just allergies.”

“We will miss you,” Sophia said. A rush of warmth curled her lips into a smile and sent tingles to the very tips of her fingers and toes. “Thank you for everything.”

“The pleasure has been mine,” he said, pulling on a length of rope, which tore pegs holding the tethers from the ground. The basket wobbled slightly before beginning to climb.

Sophia, Anne, Michael, and Douglas waved to Jeremial as the balloon carried them into the heights of the sky. Before long, Jeremial appeared no larger than an ant scurrying along the hillside towards the underground compound.

“This is wonderful,” Anne said, peering over the side of the basket. “You can see so much. Hermitage Castle looks so different from up here.”

“Don’t lean so far over the edge,” Michael said. “You make me nervous.”

Sophia gazed towards the west, watching the sun hover on the horizon. “Enjoy the view while you can. Not long until nightfall.” This is it, she thought. The final event. No turning back now. Thousands of butterflies flapped their wings in her stomach, not from the flying but from the apprehension of the pending showdown with Mephis. She questioned her own fortitude. Am I strong enough? Did I do everything I could in training?

Him or me.

The moon rose and the sky darkened as they sailed southwest, carried in the currents of the favorable winds. The sparkling lights below combined to create beautiful intricate patterns, like a painting, but constantly changing from one mesmerizing scene to the next. Sophia felt the cold wind pure on her face and experienced a great sense of peacefulness. A sense of cohesion with the world. Time passed swiftly as they experienced the ride of their life.

* * *

Eight and half hours later

“Not far now,” Douglas said. “Half an hour.”

“That’s good,” Anne said. “My legs are stiff.”

“Mine, too,” Sophia added. In the corner of her eye, passing in front of the moon she caught a glimpse of something flying by, larger than a bird. Then came ear-piercing shrieks. “What is that noise?” Sophia said, peering into the darkness.

The sound grew louder, accompanied by the noise of great wings flapping. Michael said, “Fiat lux,” and his staff came on with a flash of light. Dark shadows revealed the silhouettes of creatures like flying rodents, with arm’s-length wingspan, flying towards them. “Bats” he shouted. No ordinary bats, their eyes glowed blood red.

A bat landed on each of the four ropes strung from the corners of the basket to the balloon. Three other bats swooped, in a vee formation, across the top of the basket, narrowly missing their heads. The flying rodents began gnawing on the ropes. Michael swung his staff as if it were a pick-ax and whacked the bat closest to him, sending it spiraling through the air. “Sophia, use your crosses to take out the other three,” Michael said.

Sophia quickly retrieved the tiny crucifixes from the locket of her necklace. She scanned the darkness for the bats. They separated. One flew up high, towards the middle of the balloon, the other two-headed straight for her. With a flick of her wrist, she launched the throwing crosses. The first one homed in on its mark. The bat lurched to the left dodging the cross. After a sharp U-turn, the crucifix tailed the bat, accelerating, until ambushing the creature from behind, amputating its left wing. The bat spiraled uncontrollably, tumbling, to the ground far below. The second cross hit the head of its target full-on, slicing the bat into perfect halves, like the apple in the training exercise. The last cross spun through the air tracking its prey midway up the height of the balloon leaving behind a bright white trail. The bat seemed unperturbed by the impending impact. Instead, folding its wings it became like a missile zooming straight for the side of the balloon.

Sophia mumbled, “Oh no,” as the cross severed the bat’s backend. The front half, teeth bared, continued into the side of the balloon, piercing the material and leaving a sizeable hole. Each crucifix returned to her hand. “We have a problem,” Sophia said, gazing at the gas-leaking puncture.

“What?” Michael replied, preparing to take a swing at the last bat gnawing on the rope in Anne’s corner of the basket. “Give me a sec’. This is the final one.” He swung. The bat swiveled around on the rope. He missed. After repositioning, he took another swipe at the unwelcome guest. This time he hit it cleanly, sending it cascading into the darkness.

Sophia gazed at the rope. Several strands were bitten through. Only one remained. Then the unthinkable happened: The strand snapped. Under Michael’s and Anne’s weight, the basket pitched in their corner. The sandbags and crate slid towards them exacerbating the lurch. Anne lost her balance, screamed, and vanished over the side. Douglas lost his footing and tripped towards the edge. He attempted to grab onto anything he could to slow his momentum. Unable, he hit the side and tumbled over the side following Anne. Sophia clung to her side of the basket, her weight the only thing keeping the basket from totally tipping sideways into a death roll. She shimmied closer to the edge to peer over the side. Anne, knuckles white as ivory, jaw set in a gritty look of determination, hung onto the cut rope dangling from the side of the basket—the rope-wall training helped. Holding onto her ankle, Douglas gazed up towards them.

Anne’s grip slipped an inch down the rope, struggling to support the weight of both of them. “Hang on, Douglas. I can do this,” Anne shouted as she tried to pull herself up. In doing so, she slipped an inch or two farther down. She gazed down at Douglas. Their eyes locked. His soft eyes filled with an inner glow that said everything he needed to say before he shouted, “Go, finish this!” He let go of her ankle. “No!” Anne screamed.

Sophia watched Douglas disappear into the darkness below. Nausea rose from her churning gut. She swallowed hard to tame the urge to vomit.

“Sophia, go to the far side of the basket,” Michael said, gulping. “Help us balance.” She shimmied across to the opposite side of the basket, pushing her body as deep as possible into the corner. The basket refused to level. The combined weight of Michael, Anne, and the sandbags kept it at a sharp tilt. Michael leant over the side, the temporary floor, and extended his arm to Anne.

Anne tried to reach his hand. Fingers outstretched, she reached the tips of his. Not close enough to embrace hands. She gave up and grasped the rope with both hands. Her movements caused her to sway back and forth, dangling from the rope, her only lifeline. After taking a deep breath, she pulled herself up a little. She rested a moment before continuing the threatening climb. A couple of hand-over-hand pull-ups later, she reached out and grabbed Michael’s palm.

“I’ve got you!” he yelled. She released the rope allowing his grip to support her. He lifted her into the lopsided basket. Michael maneuvered across to Sophia’s side. The basket stabilized a little as he transferred positions. “Anne, throw some sandbags over this side,” he said. One at a time, she grabbed the sandbags and tossed them to Michael. Manipulating their positions and the sandbags, they were able to somewhat level the basket, although it listed constantly like a see-saw.

“Are we descending?” Michael asked.

“Yes, I was about to tell you before, a bat punctured the balloon.”

Michael gazed at the moonlit horizon as he tossed a sandbag over the side. “It is time to go down, but not this fast.” He threw another, and then another, until there was no more left. “Brace yourselves,” he said, “we’re going down fast.”

No lights illuminated the ground below, so they had no way of judging how far they were from the ground—from impact. A short time later, the pale moonlight provided just enough light to illuminate the tops of the trees. “Here we go,” Michael said, screwing his eyes shut.

The bottom of the basket skimmed along the tree canopy, bouncing from one to the next as the wind carried it southwards. Then the trees broke into an open field. A moment of peace, falling, before they slammed into the ground at speed with a thud. A gust of wind, around ten knots, propelled the balloon, dragging them across the field. Sophia, Michael, and Anne huddled with each other in the basket, heads down. Together, they whispered prayers. None of them prayed for themselves, instead they prayed for each other. They slid to a halt. Sophia gazed up at the balloon tangled in the swaying branches of a large oak tree. “We’re down.”

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