Chapter 12: Gottes Sohn, O Wie Lacht
The crow spread its wings across the page tearing its form from the margins of the painted work. It opened wide its dark, spiked mouth to show the blush of its gullet emitting a piercing screech as it did; this time it was Toshiko who closed the book.
She gave Ianto that small, hesitant smile of hers and shrugged. “Let’s start with the cover, shall we?”
“Good idea,” he replied stepping closer.
Tosh ran the data scanning device over the images bathing the leather in a soft, blue light. A digital copy immediately appeared on her screen and it began to run a decryption programme.
“When did you say this was found?” she asked moving her keyboard nearer.
Ianto reviewed the notes he knew by heart. “Nineteen-hundred and four, when the church installed new heating equipment under the flagstones, in the vestry…”
The interface gave a conclusive bleep; Tosh leaned closer to the screen. “I’ve got something.”
She zoomed in on the data. “I couldn’t be sure of accurate results using the reconstructed images but these…” She turned to Ianto.
Ianto closed the file and moved to join her. “Is it alien?” he asked looking over his shoulder at the artefact.
Tosh placed her thumb and forefinger on the arm of her glasses and raised them off her nose. “It’s branch Ogham, um…” She used the arrow keys. “…An alphabet used by the Celts…” She trailed off rapidly clicking away on the keyboard.
“And the meaning?” Ianto asked giving Tosh chance to scan the interpretation. She ignored the question turning to her open laptop to cross reference the data.
“I’ll make some coffee then,” he stated, “unless you need…”
“Coffee would be great,” Tosh replied not even looking round.
When he returned, Tosh accepted the mug with a thankful smile. She patted the chair beside her. “This one…” She pointed to the crossed lines highlighted on the screen. “…Is Ebadh, it relates to Aspen…”
“The tree?” Ianto asked taking a swig of coffee.
Tosh nodded. “According to what I could find, Aspen was used to commune and visit the ‘otherworld’. They’ve found crowns made from the leaves in burial mounds around the country, apparently, so that the spirit of the deceased could return and be reborn. Its lightweight wood was, was also used to make shields for protection against both psychic and physical attack. Interestingly it was popular to plant a tree close to a dwelling to guard against demons.”
Ianto rested his chin between his thumb and forefinger. “And the other symbol?”
Tosh turned to look at him, his concentration remaining on the screen. “Ido, yew, the protector of the dead.” She let out a long sigh and pushed at the bridge of her glasses.
“What is it?” Ianto asked, his mug poised by his lips.
“These symbols are known as branch Ogham which means they were usually carved into trees, not stone.” She sat back in the chair nursing her mug with both hands.
Ianto studied the screen, his forehead furrowing slightly. “What if it’s not a cross?”
“Sorry?” Tosh sat forward again.
“The middle symbol, because we found it in a churchyard we just assumed it was a cross…” He gulped down a slug of coffee.
“What if it’s meant to depict a tree?” He pointed to the image, his fingers tracing the crude lines. “Look, roots, branches, the canopy of leaves…”
Tosh narrowed her eyes. “I don’t really see…”
Ianto rested a hand on her knee to prevent her query. “Pagan beliefs suffered with the establishment of Christianity, their way of life became absorbed into the new faith and a lot of what they worshipped was debased and turned into something evil.”
He reached across to Gwen’s desk to grab the folder. “While you were checking your results I re-read the church’s history in the file.”
He allowed himself a small smile. “It was quite meticulous really,” he mused in admiration, “anyhow, the two pillar stones were moved during the Victorian extension of the graveyard. It also mentions there were two more boulders which had been severely damaged; these also may have bore medieval impressions. Each of these stones were, at one time, placed in the four corners of the churchyard…”
“For protection or to keep something in…?”
He blew out his lips in thought. “Maybe both, but don’t you see, to make sure they weren’t removed, whoever placed them there, inscribed the stones with a symbol that would be interpreted as Christian.” Again, he traced his finger along the outline of the cross to emphasize a tree within its shape.
Tosh raised her eyebrows. “But where does that leave us? All we have is conjecture at this point, nothing solid.”
She looked at her watch. “And time’s running out for us to find answers.”
Ianto downed his drink and placed it on the desk. “Come on.” He stood, grabbing Tosh’s jacket from the back of her chair.
“Where are we going?” she asked pushing her arms through the sleeves.
“To someone who can help us decipher all of this.” He closed down her laptop and handed it to her before picking up the manuscript.
“Shouldn’t we check with Jack first?” Toshiko trailed behind him her small heels clicking loudly on the cold floor.
Ianto turned his head to answer her. “No, not yet.”
Tosh grabbed onto his arm. “Why?” She pushed the strap of her handbag back on her shoulder.
Ianto gave a rueful smile. “He doesn’t trust him.” He turned and carried on to the lift.
Tosh took a moment before following.
The passageway was a narrow and murky Victorian backstreet sheltered from the light and colour of the city. The floor was peppered with cigarette butts, sodden litter and unsavoury puddles. It was bleak and full of imperfections, a split of cheap bed sits and iniquitous occupations that shone red through torn net curtains.
“Ianto, wait!” Her heels struck the icy concrete. “If Jack doesn’t trust him, then, why are we here?”
“Because I do and I know he can help us.” His gaze held a conviction which swayed her for the time being.
He smiled gently positioning her leather bag back on her shoulder. “It’s just up here,” he said inclining his head.
She nodded just as her mobile bleeped echoing between the terraced buildings. She reached into her pocket. “It’s a text from Jack, a list of names he wants me to check with the military data base.” She looked at him. “Let’s hope this doesn’t take too long, okay?” It was an empty threat.
He smiled and headed for a seedy little shop called The Occult.
A sprung bell heralded their arrival. A man, with a shaved head and ears full of gold looked up from behind a glass counter filled with Wiccan novelties; his eyes were cloudy and white, his bare arms inscribed with ink.
The man smiled vaguely in their direction moving from the counter. “Well, well, Torchwood Three, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” The man’s voice was hoarse and held a hint of antagonism.
Ianto moved closer holding out his hand in an open gesture. “We need your help.”
The man snorted, his piercings stirring with his head. “We?” he emphasised.
Ianto held the proprietor’s opaque gaze. “I need your help, Teal.”
He looked to the door quirking a pale eyebrow. “Just you two?”
Ianto nodded and the man took a moment before taking his hand, squeezing it amicably. “Bet Harkness doesn’t know you’re here?”
Ianto smiled and the proprietor nodded giving a meaningful grin of his own that would give Jack a run for his money. “Thought so,” he added, “and who’s this you’ve brought with you?” He turned his chalky gaze to Tosh.
“Toshiko Sato, meet Teal.” Ianto paused. “Owner of ‘The Occult’.”
“Teal?” she enquired as he lifted her small hand to his lips.
He kissed the soft skin, it was feathery and light and surprisingly cold. “Yeah, it kinda adds to my mystery.” He winked at her the soft light glinting off his pale lashes.
“You like tattoos, Miss Sato?” Teal held out his left arm which was adorned in Celtic art.
“Or maybe you prefer dragons?” He showed her the richly decorated green and red beast snaked on his other arm.
She stared as the tattoo began to unfurl its scaly body moving under the confines of the skin. Its bulbous eyes turned their focus on her and it belched fire through its serpentine jaws; Tosh stepped back, Teal’s eyes had turned amber.
“You’re an alien,” she gasped instinctively reaching inside her bag; Ianto stopped her hand.
“We’re here on business, remember?” he directed at the proprietor, “not a floor show.”
Teal smiled and bowed his head slightly, his veins showing blue through the skin. “Business, yes of course, I forgot myself, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to show my talent. Please, you know the way.” He gestured to the back wall.
Ianto nodded and guided Tosh to a series of altar cloths that hung there. He drew one, patterned in Celtic knotwork, along its runner revealing a door. He afforded the owner a glance as Teal locked the entrance and then opened the door.
“He’s an alien,” Tosh hissed grabbing Ianto’s sleeve before he could head up the staircase.
“No,” Ianto corrected taking her hand from his arm, “he’s a hybrid.”
Tosh frowned. “One of Torchwood’s successful genetic experiments,” he confirmed.
She stared in disbelief. “But I’ve never read any reports…”
Ianto gave a small smile. “The programme was disbanded twenty years ago with mixed results. I believe the government stopped funding any further trials when the escalating death rate amongst the foetuses made them take the moral high ground.”
“But surely there must be some record…”
“Torchwood’s Earth-Alien Life-form experiment was buried Tosh like all of its mistakes.” He gripped the sweep of the banister.
“So, Teal worked for head office?” she surmised.
Ianto shrugged. “It was father and mother to him, it was home,” he answered slowly walking up the stairs.
“Yet,” he continued, “like most children he rebelled against their authority.”
Tosh followed. “You knew each other?”
Ianto looked over his shoulder. “We were friends…” he hesitated “…Once.”
Copyright RMC Dec 2017
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