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By Sarah Hapgood

In the dazzling Spring sunshine, Kieran instinctively knew where Angel would be. Hiding in the arbour at the far end of the monastery garden.

“Would you rather I appeared out there in the sunlight?” said Angel, as Kieran sat at a suitable distance from him in the deep shade.

“I’m just pleased you came”, said Kieran “Your help was invaluable to us last night. I was worried you might have run back to The Cursed Isle before I had a chance to thank you”.

“There are other things I’d like to do first”, said Angel “Remember that time you destroyed Lixix by fire?”

“Angel, you are not going to attempt anything like that!” said Kieran “That was a cleansing. The place was riddled with demons!”

“And The Village Of Stairs isn’t?” said Angel.

“It’s not the same”, said Kieran “There is massive corruption there and devil-worshippers, but there are also good people”. “That lot that support you in their little cult?” Angel sneered.

“There are also a lot of ordinary people who don’t worship you or me”, said Kieran “They just live their lives”.

“I don’t think you have any idea of the level of corruption there”, Angel interrupted “There isn’t a public organisation in that town that isn’t built on a pack of lies, greed and fraud. They are driving the town into the ground, and it’ll be your precious ordinary people who will suffer the most”.

Through the thick foliage of the arbour, Kieran caught sight of Bengo and Bardin strolling amongst the flower-beds on the other side of the garden.

“That system is soon going to implode anyway”, Angel was saying “I shall just hurry it along a bit”.

“Not by mass destruction, Angel”, said Kieran “Take out the big bastards if you must, the rotten apples in the barrel, but not mass destruction. You’ve said yourself that you’re tired of endlessly destroying. Please listen to me. I’ve always loved you, it’s been one of my biggest regrets that I’ve never been able to save your soul”.

“Like you did the little gorgon brat?” said Angel.

“Tamaz has a generous spirit”, said Kieran.

“I must have the vestiges of one somewhere”, said Angel “Because those jerks in The Village sicken me. Even the old Ministry at its worst wasn’t as bad as this lot. They only believe in money”.

“Well”, Kieran sighed “At least that’s one up on the Lebiccan government, who from what you’ve told me, are total nihilists and don’t believe in anything!”

“Why are you being flippant?” said Angel.

“Self-protection”, said Kieran “Both The Village money-men and the Lebiccan government would get me so angry otherwise that I’m afraid of what I may do”.

“I’ll bring you the heart and liver of the chief of the money-men as a trophy”, said Angel.

“No, not that”, said Kieran “But if you take out the worst one, I’ll give you all the help you need to destroy Lebicca. We might as well finish what we’ve started”.

Joby wandered up to the monastery, to see where Kieran had got to. He knew all about Angel’s sudden appearance in the library of the day before, and he knew that it was all a necessary evil. But even so, he didn’t want to leave Kieran alone with him for any longer than was necessary.

He planned to loiter a while in the monastery foyer, at least until Kieran reappeared, but through an open doorway he saw Hoowie doing a comic dance routine for Lady Pegotty’s benefit. Pegotty looked polite but weary. Joby knew that Hoowie’s manic vitality would be very fatiguing for her.

“Oi!” he said, from the doorway “Lady Pegotty don’t wanna have to put up with you. Get down to the galleon!”

Fortunately Hoowie didn’t argue, although Joby still swiped him on the bottom as he went past.

“Sorry about that”, said Joby to Pegotty.

“He reminds me of a little horse I once had”, said Pegotty “He was ever such a frisky little thing. We were hoping to train him up as a gig pony, but every time we put him between the shafts he would get even more excitable and start shrieking. People perhaps don’t realise that horses shriek, but they do”.

“Yeah well I don’t normally agree with cruelty to animals, but this particular little horse could do with a really good thrashing with a whip on a regular basis!” said Joby “Julian keeps him on a short leash, but even so he’s still too soft with him, in my opinion”.

“I’m glad to see you alone, Joby, there is a little problem that has arisen”, said Pegotty “My cook, Mabel-Ann, seems to have formed rather an affection for you. Normally in these circumstances, I would have a discreet word with the member of staff concerned, but Mabel-Ann can be so very prickly”.

“Don’t worry”, said Joby “It’s only ‘cos we’ve been working together a lot lately, these things happen. She’s not daft, she must know the score”.

“I’m not so certain”, said Pegotty “You see, Mabel-Ann has always been rather contemptuous of men in the past. She has - had - 5 brothers, who were all, quite frankly, rather useless. You are the first man, apart from my dear husband, who I have ever heard her speak with anything like respect to. Women like her don’t fall in love easily, but when they do … well it tends to be rather intense. The constant nymph, that sort of thing”.

Joby looked askance to learn that Mabel-Ann had got so far as actually falling in love with him.

“I-I dunno what to say”, he said “’Cept, all this should be over soon, and we’ll move on”.

“She might threaten to come with you”, said Pegotty.

“She can’t!” said Joby, now panicking “I’ve got enough to deal with without that as well! Looking after Kieran’s a full-time job, let alone everyone else!”

“I saw that just now”, said Pegotty, referring to the incident with Hoowie.

Joby espied Kieran through the doorway, standing in the foyer looking lost.

“We’ll talk about this again son”, said Joby (though God knows what I’m gonna say, he thought).

“What have I gone and done?” said Kieran.

He and Joby were now sitting on the floor of their cabin, drinking brandy out of tooth-mugs.

“I’ve made a deal with the Devil!” Kieran wailed.

“Not exactly the first time”, said Joby, morosely, thinking that making a deal with Angel was a doddle by comparison with dealing with Mabel-Ann.

“But Joby”, said Kieran “I’ve virtually given him carte-blanche to wipe out Lebicca!”

“Won’t be any great loss to the world”, said Joby.

“Why am I getting the distinct impression that you’re not really interested in any of this?” said Kieran, in disbelief.

“I am, Kiel”, said Joby “But you can’t expect me to get worked up ’cos the Lebiccan government might get wiped off the face of the Earth or a few selfish git money-men in The Village Of Stairs!”

“Joby, what is it?” said Kieran “There’s something you’re not telling me”.

“I’m in deep shit trouble, Kiel”, Joby moaned.

“Which is it this time?” said Kieran “Cards or dice?”

“If only it were as simple as that!” said Joby “Mabel-Ann’s in love with me!”

“Oh that”, said Kieran “I’ve known about that for days”.

“It seems everyone’s bleedin’ well known it, apart from me!” said Joby.

“That’s often the way where you’re concerned!” said Kieran “Now listen to me, this is hardly the first time your grizzled charm has had a devastating effect on women. Glynis was nuts about you for years. And not just women either come to that!”

“You’ve gotta do summat, Kiel”, Joby wailed “Save me! You’re the Vanquisher of Evil!”

“Mabel-Ann is not evil!” Kieran laughed “Just misguided that’s all”.

“Oh thanks very much!” said Joby “Well that makes two of you then don’t it!”

“You have got far more important things to get your head round”, said Kieran, pouring out some more brandy “All this is just domestic trivia. You’ve got to help me sort things out on the world stage”.

“Oh just let Angel do what he wants”, said Joby “If he goes too far you can sort him out, you’ve done it plenty of times before”.

“What’s brought this reckless fatalism on?” said Kieran.

“Everything”, said Joby “What happened on Abbus Isle, seeing those zombie-like people along the Gold River, the unfairness in The Village Of Stairs. The slate needs to be wiped clean and started again. The old system’s rotten. If Angel can do that, then why should I care if a few crummy money-men come to a deserved end? They never care about anyone other than ’emselves”.

“But they are still human beings too”, said Kieran, although even he sounded a bit half-hearted on this one.

“Then YOU worry about their eternal souls”, said Joby “I spose somebody’ got to! And leave dark forces to do the rest”.

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