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By Sarah Hapgood

“I want to go out into the countryside and do a few blessings”, said Kieran to Joby, Ransey and Hillyard, with whom he had spent a cosy morning in the big cabin “Just take you 3 with me, it won’t take long. It’s just to try and start to heal the area somehow”.

“Shame there’s no chance of us being able to get our hands on an air-buggy”, said Ransey.

“No, let’s not draw attention to ourselves if we can help it”, said Kieran.

“I thought you might look a bit more enthusiastic”, said Hillyard to Joby “It’ll get you away from Mabel-Ann for a while”.

“Oh don’t start him on that one again!” said Kieran “Or we’ll never hear the end of it!”

“You and Adam haven’t been very sympathetic to me”, Joby complained “He accused me of milking it! I said how would he feel if there was some strange woman getting all obsessive about him”.

“And what did he say?” said Hillyard.

“He said he’d take his shirt off and show her his nipple-rings”, said Joby “And if that didn’t put her in focus nothing would!”

“Adam’s always been a bit hard-core”, said Ransey.

“Perhaps you should get your nipples done”, said Hillyard.

“Do me a favour!” said Joby, flinging his arm across his chest protectively.

There was a frantic knocking on the door. Hillyard unlocked it, and found Toppy standing there, clutching a newspaper.

“I went in to tidy up Kieran and Joby’s cabin”, he said, excitedly “And this was lying on the table. I have no idea how it could have got there”.

“Yeah alright”, said Hillyard “Let’s have it then”.

He passed the newspaper to Kieran. It was a Village Of Stairs paper, and one of its headlines on the front page read: ’SHOCK SUICIDE OF LEADING FINANCIER’. It turned out that the head of the Village’s largest bank had slit his wrists whilst sitting alone in his office. By the time anyone found him most of his blood had drained away.

“Angel’s doing”, said Kieran “It must be”.

“It might not be”, said Hillyard, who was now reading the piece “It says here ’friends and colleagues say he had been acting out-of-character for a few days. And yesterday morning he had walked into the foyer of the bank and shouted ’it’s all a big lie’’’. See?”

“I suspect that was Angel’s doing too“, said Kieran “Messing with his head”.

“I bet he helped drain his blood away too”, said Joby.

“Oh don’t talk about blood-draining!” said Toppy, squeamishly.

“Are you still here?” said Joby.

Using the Arch-Pater’s name they hired an air-buggy from The Village Of Stairs, on the grounds that Kieran’s plan to actually walk around the countryside would take far too long, and not get much back for results, compared to the amount of effort put in.

Air-buggies had improved considerably since the days when Adam, Kieran and Joby had first crossed into this world, when they could only take off from slopes and high places. This was just as well, as now they had to lift off from flat land.

For several weeks during the early Summer the 4 of them (Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Hillyard) travelled the barren, tormented lands that sprawled to the east of the monastery and The Village Of Stairs. They came into contact with few other human beings, and those that they did were only seen from a distance or far below them. These remote figures appeared to be wandering listlessly through the land. One that they did get a reasonably good look at was covered in cancerous spots and sores.

At nights they set up amp by the air-buggy, draping a canvas sheet from the side of the shelter, and lighting a fire to ward off wild animals and other undesirables. Kieran was inspired by his mission. The other 3, although they relished the open freedom after the confines of the monastery, missed their friends, and longed for it to be over so that they could regain the others and start off on another adventure.

One evening, just after they had eaten a scratch supper of boiled rice and tinned peas, washed down with black coffee, Ransey posed the question of just how much longer were they going to be doing this.

“We’re having a real positive effect”, said Kieran, sensing dissension in the ranks.

“Can’t say I’ve noticed”, said Joby.

“It all helps, believe me”, said Kieran.

Kieran’s mystical dreaminess was all too much for an intensely practical man like Ransey.

“We can’t just keep roaming around here forevermore”, he said “We’ve got to start thinking about getting back to the others”.

“I suggest we give it just a few more days”, said Hillyard, acting as peacemaker.

“Kiel, why don’t we got for a little walk and look at the sunset?” said Joby, hooking Kieran up by the elbow.

“Don’t worry, mate”, said Hillyard, when Joby and Kieran had wandered off “There’s 3 of us against 1 of him, so he’s out-numbered”.

“Yes, but Kieran has an annoying habit of getting his own way”, said Ransey “I know the blessings mean a lot to him, but I feel the only way to help this area is a change of regime in The Village Of Stairs … and Lebicca”.

“Angel had made a start there”, said Hillyard.

“Yes, but what’s happened since?” said Ransey “Umbert’s messages have been a bit sparse of late”.

The 4 of them kept in touch with Umbert via the air-buggy radio, but his recent transmissions had consisted of little more than weather reports. Ransey was finding it all very frustrating.

“Tell you what”, said Hillyard, clapping a meaty hand on his friend’s shoulder “Why don’t we have a go at the wireless this evening?”

“Why?” said Ransey, stubbornly “Just to have Umbert telling us that it’s as hot and sunny with tem as it is where we are?”

“Because we haven’t done it for a couple of days”, said Hillyard “And who knows, there might be SOMETHING”.

Kieran and Joby sat and watched the sun set from a rock overlooking a particularly barren bit of valley. Once the night came on the temperatures would drop dramatically.

“Come on, we’d better make a move”, said Kieran “Get back to the fire and lamps, and see if Ransey is going to cheer himself up by fiddling with the wireless set”.

“Well it won’t cheer me up”, said Joby “Umbert signed off the other night by telling us they were going to have a supper of fish pie and cold beer. Could’ve done without hearing that!”

“Ach, cheer up”, said Kieran “I expect they’re missing us like crazy. Adam’ll definitely be missing you in the galley”.

“Can we go home tomorrow, Kiel?” Joby pleaded “I’ve got a bloody great blister on me foot, and I just think we’ve done all we can”.

“Look over there”, Kieran said, and he pointed to the far distance.

There was what appeared to be the outline of a man standing against some rocks. In the fast-gathering dusk it was only possible to make out a dark shape, like that of a tattered, demonic scarecrow. Suddenly it lifted a bony arm above its head and waved it about.

“If he’s beckoning to us”, said Joby, nervously “I suggest we just ignore him”.

“It’s Angel”, said Kieran.

“Then we definitely ignore him!” said Joby.

“I don’t think he wants to see us”, said Kieran “Or he’d have come closer. I think he’s trying to tell us something’s happened”.

When they got back to the little makeshift camp they had set up, Hillyard came rushing out to greet them.

“News”, he said “Just heard from Umbert on the wireless. Lebicca’s been hit by an earthquake. The place is completely flattened”.

“How many …?” Kieran ventured to ask. “Fortunately not many”, said Hillyad “It was a size 7, so not a really mega-one”.

“Then how come the place is completely flattened?” said Joby.

“The building’s were crap”, said Hillyard, bluntly “Hadn’t been renovated in years, some were made out of little more than cardboard. And it happened in the daytime, so a lot of people were outside, or working out in the fields. BUT the whole system’s been destroyed”.

“The system’s been broken”, said Kieran, as though scarcely able to believe his luck.

“Ransey’s been mumbling about lawlessness”, said Hillyard “You know what he’s like. How people will run amok, but I thought it can hardly be worse than it was before!”

“The lawlessness will only be temporary”, said Kieran “Order will be restored in the end”.

“And when it is”, said Joby “Let’s hope it’s better than it ever was before!”

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