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“You’re good at this”, said Mabel-Ann, Lady Pegotty’s cook.
Some of the Indigo-ites had gone up to the monastery to help everyone make preparations for turning the rambling old building into a siege state. Joby had gone into the kitchens, and was now helping the staff there to trim up a ham joint for roasting. To do such a domestic task in the face of impending doom felt somewhat surreal.
“Comes of living on a ship”, said Joby, who was trussing up the meat “You get quite good at anything to do with string and ropes”.
“Why are we still doing this though?” said Brother Kafta, the monastery’s assistant cook and resident whinger.
“Because people still need to eat”, said Joby.
“With that thing out there marching on us?” said Kafta.
“ESPECIALLY with that thing out there marching on us!” said Joby “What use are we gonna be if we starve everybody in a time of crisis! THEY’LL sort the monastery defences out. WE’LL make sure they’re fed whilst they’re dong it!”
“I could have told you that”, said Mabel-Ann to Kafta. She had a pretty low opinion of him. Travelling from Abbus Isle had made her appreciate her own strength. The downside was that it made her intolerant of weakness in others.
“Look”, said Joby “ Go out into the entrance hall and see what everybody’s doing, if you need reassuring”.
“I still think we should sever the rope bridge”, said the Arch-Pater, who was currently in the entrance hall, eyeing the main doors apprehensively.
“Trust me on this one”, said Bardin “We lure it as close as we can, and then destroy it, or more likely it will destroy itself”.
“You would make a good poker player, Bardin”, said the Arch-Pater.
“No he wouldn’t”, said Bengo, who had dropped tea-making duty to follow Bardin up to the monastery “Bardy was always rubbish at gambling!”
There was the sound of footsteps rushing down the tower steps. Kieran galloped down to the entrance hall, closely followed by Lady Pegotty.
“The Thing’s set itself on fire”, said Kieran.
“What?” said Bardin, impatiently.
“The Thing, the Creature”, said Kieran “It’s turned itself into a flaming demon. A burning one”.
“On purpose?” said Bengo.
“Yes”, said Kieran “It’s energising itself”.
“Even more reason why we should sever the rope bridge”, said the Arch-Pater, envisaging a burning monastery.
“Even more reason not to”, said Bardin “It’ll set fire to it, and the Thing will collapse from it, Kieran, move everybody else further back into the building, for safety’s sake. Not underground though. We don’t want to become trapped”.
“And where are you going in the meantime?” the Arch-Pater asked Bardin.
“Outside”, said Bardin “To watch for It”.
“No!” the Arch-Pater protested.
“Bengo, come along”, said Bardin, moving towards the main doors.
“No, not him as well!” said the Arch-Pater.
“I won’t let him go out there without me”, said Bengo.
“Tamaz!” Bardin called out.
“Here”, Tamaz emerged from the shadow of the hall, bedecked in jewels.
“What the …?” said Bardin.
“As many as I could rescue from the hold”, Tamaz explained “If that creature managed to sink the galleon, we would have no money. You would thank me for this whenever we came to civilisation”.
“But it won’t sink the galleon”, said Bardin, impatiently “That’s why I had it moved into the caves! Oh never mind that now, we haven’t time for all this. Let’s get outside”.
“B-but what do you need Tamaz for?” said the Arch-Pater.
“To turn it to stone, if we can get it close enough”, Bardin called out, as he departed through the main doors “You’d better make sure everybody stays safely out of the way. We don’t want anyone getting caught in the crossfire!”
Bengo, Bardn and Tamaz hung around outside the main doors of the monastery. It was cold, as the monastery was buffeted by strong winds, and on a sharp, Spring day like this, it felt particularly bracing. To make matters even more uncomfortable still, it began to cloud over. It was then that the full gravity of the situation began to hit them.
“What if I can’t stop it?” said Tamaz.
“Don’t pick right now to have a crisis of confidence”, snapped Bardin “Anyway, you’re not the only weapon at our disposal. We’ll try everything we can think of”.
“It won’t be the only demon though”, said Tamaz “There will be others along as well”.
“Just stop talking!” said Bardin “It’s not helping!”
Kieran got everybody else into the monastery chapel. It was secure and situated at the very centre of the site.
“I don’t like leaving Bengo, Bardin and Freaky outside”, Adam muttered to him.
“We’ll bring them in when the creature gets to the rope-bridge”, said Kieran.
“As late as that?” said Adam.
“Tamaz needs to get a full look at it”, said Kieran.
“Don’t go near the Arch-Pater”, said julian, who had gravitated over to join them “He’s whingeing again”.
“Why?” Adam snapped “Ye gods, I know he’s a man of peace and spirituality, and he’s had his nice, orderly routine disrupted …”
“Calm now”, said Kieran, stroking Adam’s arm.
“I’m going into the foyer to smoke a cigar”, said Julian.
Adam and Kieran suspected that it was more to be near Tamaz and the clowns, but wisely said nothing. Out in the foyer, Julian looked through the doors leading into the refectory, and was astounded to see Joby and Mabel-Ann carving up the gammon steak as though they didn’t have a care in the world. Julian hit the roof.
“Joby, just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he roared “Have you taken leave of your senses? It’s not Christmas Day, get into the chapel at once!”
Joby bristled at being told off like this, even though he was well used to it from Julian.
“We thought it’d be good for morale”, he said.
“Take everybody’s minds off things”, said Mabel-Ann, who had adopted her usual pose of standing arms akimbo at Joby’s side.
“Get in the damn chapel or I’ll have the hide off you!” Julian shouted at Joby.
“We’ll take it with us”, Joby said to Mabel-Ann, referring to the gammon.
One of the main doors scraped open, letting in a slither of leaden grey light.
“Here it comes”, said Bardin “Everyone in the chapel NOW!”
“You two must go in as well”, said Tamaz, imperiously.
“We’re not leaving you alone out here”, said Bengo “Anyway, I thought we were immune to your stare, just like Kieran is”.
“We don’t know that for certain”, said Tamaz “Get inside”.
“Bengo, do as he says”, said Bardin “At least go inside the door”.
“And what are you gonna do?” said Bengo.
“I’ll listen and face you through the door”, said Bardin “I’ll have my back to Tamaz, and you won’t be able to see with me AND the door in the way”.
Bengo’s courage nearly faltered at the last minute when, standing just inside the main doors, he felt the close proximity of the demon on the other side of the gorge. There was a loud, electrical crackling noise and an unbearable stench like rotten eggs. Bardin stood directly in front of him, facing straight at him. Bengo kept a hold of Bardin’s jersey, as though to prevent him from running off.
“I can’t do it”, Tamaz suddenly pushed Bardin into the room, and followed him, slamming the door shut behind them all.
“What do you mean?” said Bardin.
“It’s using counter-tricks against me”, said Tamaz “It’s going into my head and making me confused. I cant’ concentrate. Do you want me to try again?”
Bardin noticed that red sores had appeared around Tamaz’s mouth and nostrils.
“No I don’t”, he said “We’ll fight it from within here”.
“I don’t think it can get across the gorge”, said Tamaz “Or at least not yet. Oh fuck, I feel sick”.
The clowns pushed him onto a wooden bench nearby, and stuck his head between his knees.
“If it can’t reach us”, said Bardin, when Tamaz was feeling slightly better “Then we can go into full siege mode and try and wait it out. It might eventually exhaust itself”.
The demon may not have been able to get across the gorge, but its nearby presence was still being felt. Over the next four hours many of the occupants of the monastery began to feel deeply nauseated by its proximity. Literally. It was as if a severe vomiting sickness had suddenly got the monastery in its grip. As night came on, and the demon drew strength from the dark hours, the situation grew even worse.
The worst one to suffer was Tamaz, and Bardin ordered Bengo to take him into the Arch-Pater’s study, so that he could rest on the day-bed in there.
“You look really ill”, said Bengo, lighting a lamp on a nearby table.
“I really thought I was going to die out there”, said Tamaz “I know it’s not supposed to be possible, but I was convinced of it. I’ve never felt like that before, not even when the Ministry had me on trial and some of them wanted to kill me”.
“Perhaps you knew then, deep down, that Kieran would get you out”, said Bengo.
“I deserved to die didn’t I?” said Tamaz “I was evil”.
“No you weren’t”, said Bengo “Just a lost soul that’s all. You were like a little child”.
“I had killed people”, said Tamaz.
“No one had ever shown you any love”, said Begno “Certainly not the Ministry, they used you, and then wanted rid of you when they had got what they wanted. You were frightened all the time, and you lashed out. You’re not evil. If you had been truly evil you wouldn’t have been able to reform. We’ve met evil bastards, and in the end they could only be destroyed. There was no other option. Do you think Joby could have loved you if you were evil?”
“I tried to mess with his head”, said Tamaz.
“He seems to have got over it”, said Bengo, who didn’t see the point in chewing over this old ground.
He was glad when Bardin created a diversion by coming into the room.
“He seems to be having some kind of emotional crisis”, said Bengo.
“Isn’t there enough of that going on round here already!” said Bardin “Roll on daybreak, that’s all I can say”.
Suddenly there was a horrendous noise, reminiscent of a giant bird screeching and beating its wings against the bars of a cage. The entire monastery seemed to shudder under the onslaught.
“Shit, it’s got over the rope bridge”, said Bardin “I didn’t think that would happen!”
He ran out into the foyer, where the big main doors were thudding under the impact of the creature outside. Kieran ran up to the doors and spread himself with his back to the wood. He shouted loose a volley of insults against the terrible creature, whilst some of the monks chanted a blessing. The creature managed to gouge a small hole in the wood, near to Kieran’s shoulder. Joby grabbed his arm and roughly pulled him away from the doors. The horrendous noise stopped as abruptly as it had started.
“Is it over?” asked Lady Pegotty.
“Only for the meantime”, said Kieran “We’re going to have to be prepared for anything”.
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