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Kieran and Joby went upstairs alone, saying that they would send for Tamaz if needed. As it was Kieran felt that Tamaz needed to re-gather his strength. Upstairs the corridors fanned off in many different directions, like the legs of a monstrous spider, all of them dark and forbidding. It was bitingly cold, and the whole atmosphere felt repellent, and heavy with the sense of evil.
“Kieran”, said Joby, when he noticed a door standing slightly ajar ahead.
The room inside was cavernous, and had evidently been used by the Countess as a bedroom-cum-bathroom. A four-posted bed was over by the shuttered windows. On a raised dais to one side stood a huge marble bath, filled to the brim with blood. (Joby felt that he could only stay in the same room as it by pretending that it was a giant bowl of tomato soup). Sitting next to the fire, seated in an ornate, throne-like wooden chair, was her. She was so still that at first Joby wondered if she had hastily taken a suicide pill, rather like the Nazi officers. She was as motionless as if all the breath had left her body. Her hands were resting a little apart from each other, and it appeared as if she was holding something concealed in the black folds of her dress. For this reason Kieran approached her with some caution. Her dark eyes stared blankly back at him, betraying no emotion whatsoever.
As he got within striking distance, she suddenly lashed out. She had hiding a lead pipe in the folds of her dress, and she slammed it at Kieran’s face. He fell over backwards, slightly concussed. Joby ran to help him.
“No”, Kieran gasped “Get her, get her restrained, before she gets away”.
The Countess raised the pipe as though to lash at Joby too, but fortunately this time her attack was expected. Joby dodged it, and punched her in the face. She dropped the pipe, and to disable her further he pushed her over backwards in the chair. As she tumbled her left hand fell into the fire, and she let out a scream of agony.
“Shut up, you old cow!” said Joby, pulling her away from the fire.
He somehow got her back onto the chair, and then pulled a revolver out of his pocket to show her that he had a better weapon than hers.
“Are you alright?” he asked Kieran.
“I’m going to have one helluva headache”, said Kieran.
“What are we gonna do with her now?” said Joby.
“Lock her in here for the time being”, said Kieran “Only put out the fire first. I wouldn’t put it past her to burn the place down around us”.
“She’ll freeze”, said Joby.
“Are you concerned?” said Kieran.
“Not really”, said Joby.
Joby searched the room thoroughly for signs of hidden doorways, trapdoors etc. When he was satisfied that there was no other means of exit (the window was too high up and looked down at sheer stone wall, unbroken by any pipework or foliage), he damped down the fire, removed an oil-lamp and candles, and then led Kieran from the room.
“Now we have to search the castle”, said Kieran, when they were back out in the corridor and the door had been locked “See if there’s anyone else around here that’s alive, and get them out. When we’ve done that ask me again what we do next. There are going to be some very unpleasant sights I expect”.
“You mean there haven’t been so far?!” said Joby.
There was no one left alive in the castle, apart from themselves and the Countess. There was strong evidence in the cellar that she had kept many people prisoner there, manacled to the walls and had literally fattened them up for slaughter, in the vampiric belief that the fatter they were, the juicier and more lush with blood they would be. It’s not unfair to assume that Lila had ended up down here. Any women that had been there though had since been pureed into Erzebet’s bath foam.
Everyone assembled again in the main hall to debate what to do next. Kieran was feeling very rough after his bashing, and found it hard to think straight with the pounding in his head. Soon there was to be an even more horrendous pounding though. A terrific shaking shook the castle, and a massive pounding came from outside, as though a giant was stamping his feet in their direction.
“The old bitch has set the demon onto us!” said Kieran.
Tamaz ran up to the main doors, but this time his services were to be of no use. The demon was invisible, all that could be seen of it were giant footprints left in the snow in the courtyard. Kieran tried to assure them all that they were safe where they were.
“It can’t come in”, he said “She wouldn’t risk that, it would destroy her as well”.
“She has no bloody respect for any human life”, Julian snapped “What makes you think she’s got any respect for her own?!”
“Even if she was on some kind of death-wish”, Kieran explained “She still wouldn’t want to be torn to pieces. We’ll have to sit it out here whilst I think of something”.
“You’re not in a fit state to think about anything”, said Julian.
“In the meantime I’ll go up and have a word with her”, said Adam.
“What about, for christ’s sake?” said Julian.
“Are you armed?” said Ransey.
“No he’s not”, said Bardin “But I am, and I’ll go with him. Bengo, you stay exactly where you are”.
Bengo stayed miserably in place on one of the sofa’s.
“She’ll probably not understand a word you’re saying!” Julian shouted after Adam up the stairs.
“Oh I think she will”, said Adam.
“You must surely recall the last 4 years of your life”, he said to the Countess, a few minutes later. It was bitingly cold in the fire-less room, but the Countess seemed impervious to it, she sat as still as before, with her hand in a bowl of water from the wash-stand “You were walled up alive at Csjethe. You saw no one, and spoke to no one, you never left that room in 4 years. It must have been a living death”.
“Are you threatening to do the same again?” said Erzebet, her voice deep and heavily-accented “You propose to wait here until I die, and hope that then the demon will die with me?”
“We have lived in worse conditions than this”, said Adam.
“You think you can survive here for 4 years?” Erzebet gave a malicious smirk “Where is the food to come from, the water, the fuel to keep warm if you cannot get into the forest? Do you expect the villagers to come here and help you? They are fearful, superstitious idiots, they won’t come here”.
“It won’t take 4 years for you to starve to death, Erzebet”, said Adam “And deprived of liquids as well, I doubt it would take you 4 days”.
“Would it not be more worth your while to just kill me now?” said the Countess “Or are you afraid that with me being dead you will be trapped here forever with the demon outside?”
“There are two answers to that”, said Adam “One is that killing you outright would be far too compassionate for you, I think you should get some fraction of the suffering you have meted out to others, and starving to death is a very gruesome way to die, and secondly that as you weaken over the days ahead I strongly suspect your power over the demon will weaken, there will be nothing to feed it, to keep it malevolent”.
“That is a gamble you will have to take of your own choosing”, said the Countess.
“How did you get into this time?” said Adam.
“When I was very young”, said the Countess, savouring the words as she recalled herself as a stunning young bride “I was lured away from my husband and into the forest by the Black Lord. I wanted to be with him for all of eternity, but I had to return to the castle. He always promised he would return to me though, but he never did … in my lifetime that is. Those four years you mentioned were a time of peace for me, because I knew that eventually he would return and save me. The passing over was painful, but only briefly”.
“And he brought you here?” said Adam.
“Dumped you here more like”, said Bardin.
The Countess turned a smile on him that could only be described as unpleasant.
“In my time”, she said “You would be regarded as a vampire, with your disfigurement”.
“So where is your great lover now?” said Adam.
“I don’t know”, said the Countess “I don’t need him any more you see, I used him to bring me back to life and to a place of safety. My tastes do not require him anymore”.
Adam decided he had had enough of the Countess and spirited Bardin out of the room, locking the door behind him.
A long evening passed. Occasionally the demon in the courtyard made its presence felt by stamping about, rattling the chandeliers and the candles in their holders. It was like experiencing periodic minor earthquakes. The bodies were removed to the side room where the Countess’s blood shower was situated.
Ransey took Lonts away from miserably picking out wrong chords on the piano and got him to light the kitchen fire. Tins of lamb stew had been found in the cupboards, and Ransey took over cookhouse duties, to make these into a meal, helped by Joby. Kieran, suffering from a pounding head, flatly refused to eat it, and nibbled on some packets of dried fruit instead. Afterwards he took control of a tin of salt, also found in the kitchen, and performed a blessing around the main doors to the great hall.
Late that evening the demon was heard snuffling and scraping up against the doors. Kieran muttered a few words of an exorcism, and the demon was heard squealing like an anguished pig in return. Whilst Kieran performed his task, Julian ordered Hillyard, who was getting upset with it all, to play “a nice tune” on the piano.
“The last thing we want is him to start cracking up”, said Julian to Adam.
“He’s a very sensitive boy underneath it all, Jules”, said Adam “I think he’s finding it hard being back here again”.
“I’m not exactly finding it Butlins!” said Julian.
“I hope Dobley’s keeping an eye on the animals”, said Bardin, sitting on one of the sofas “And he hasn’t forgotten to feed them”.
“It was a stupid idea leaving him in charge”, said a sulky Bengo, who had spent the evening looking like a worn-out clown who had had one bucket of water too many chucked over him.
“And if I’d suggested leaving you there as well”, said Bardin “You’d have had a right tantrum!”
“Why don’t they just shoot the old bitch?” Tamaz whispered to Mieps in a far corner of the room “And don’t give me all that rubbish about the demon, when Kieran’s recovered from his bashing he’ll soon find a way of despatching it”.
“Try and stay awake later”, said Mieps “I’ve got an idea”.
“I hope you have”, said Tamaz “Because we can’t afford to stay too long here”.
“The firewood in here won’t last another day, that’s true”, said Mieps.
“And the food will run out!” said an aghast Tamaz.
Mieps and Tamaz managed to slip away upstairs at around two in the morning, Mieps grabbing one of the revolvers off a side table, and Tamaz looting the key from Adam’s pocket. When they got up to the Countess’s room though she seemed to have disappeared. There was no trace of her. Until Mieps saw a bare foot sticking out of the edge of the bath of blood.
“Is it her?” asked Tamaz, peering through the gloom.
“She must have got a craving for a blood cocktail and fell in”, said Mieps, rolling up her sleeves.
“What are you going to do?” said Tamaz.
“We have to make sure it’s her, and not just the remains of one of her victims”, said Mieps “And that lot downstairs are too human, they haven’t got the stomach to fish her out. I’ll have to do it”.
Mieps sank her arms into the blood and pulled up the body that was lying submerged just below the surface.
“Yes it’s her alright”, said Tamaz.
“She thought she was so strong”, said Mieps, letting the body drop back into the bath, and reaching for a towel nearby “She thought her blood addiction made her invincible, when in fact it was her biggest weakness. How right they were to lock her in here, even though they didn’t realise it. She couldn’t resist that stuff being right nearby”.
“She must have become so weak, with the cold and everything, that she fell in”, said Tamaz.
“We’re finished here”, said Mieps “Now it only remains to get rid of the Thing in the courtyard”.
Mieps washed off the blood at the pump in the kitchen, whilst Joby prepared yet more lamb stew over the kitchen fire, by the dim light of a lamp held by Bengo. Meanwhile Hillyard had hit upon an idea.
“There’s no way we have to be marooned in this part of the building”, he said “There must be a way of getting into the other part of the castle, the bit where Caln and Mullawa used to hang out”.
“The great hall is self-contained”, said Kieran “I’ve explored all round the edges of it. The only entrances are into here, the courtyard, and up the stairs …”
“Exactly!” said Hillyard “Am I the only one using my brain round here? Upstairs is a maze of corridors, one of ‘em should link to the front part of the castle”.
“But why would we want to go in there, Hillyard?” said Lonts.
“Yeah, why?” said Joby.
Hillyard sat down at the kitchen table with a harrumph of exasperation.
“To get to the main doors again”, he exclaimed “If I remember rightly there’s a stairway leads down from Mullawa’s old den to the main doors, comes out directly opposite the wooden hut Braw used to use”.
“And even if we did that”, said Kieran “The demon would still be at large in the courtyard, we can’t just run off and leave it here, at large”.
“We set fire to the place”, said Joby, in a flash of inspiration “Burn down this pit like we should’ve done all those years ago, and the bloody demon with it!”
“Sounds reckless”, said Ransey.
“Oh come off it!” said Hillyard “You’ve done some pretty reckless things yourself when we’ve been up against it, and it paid off alright”.
“Shooting Father Gabriel for instance”, said Joby.
Bengo was quite overcome with all this. The atmosphere of Evil in the castle had depressed and demoralised him all night, and suddenly he looked as though he was about to have a screaming fit. He ran away from the fire, taking the lamp with him.
“Hey come back here!” said Joby “Or you’ll feel my hand on your backside!”
Bengo slunk back.
“I’m sorry, Joby”, he said “It’s just it all got to me”.
“I thought you showbiz lot were sposed to be tough”, said Joby.
“Yes, but I’ve always had terrible stage-fright, you ask Bardy”, said Bengo.
“It’ll all soon be over, Bengo”, said Kieran.
“He always used to say that and all!” said Bengo.
A miserable breakfast was consumed with almost indecent haste, and then they gathered up their belongings, plus a good assortment of candles, lamps and kindling, and went upstairs. After a few false starts they located a particularly cold and bleak corridor which led eventually into the old dining-room they remembered from their first visit all those years before. The younger Indigo-ites looked wide-eyed at the gorgonised furniture, that is the chairs that had been fashioned out of the stone remains of the gorgon’s victims.
“We set fire to Caln in here”, said Hillyard, with grim satisfaction.
“If I remember rightly”, said Lonts “There’s a room near here with peep-holes in the walls, Mullawa spied on me through them”.
Bengo gave a gasp of horror at it all.
They located the stairs that led down to the courtyard, right near the main doors. There was a strange light in the courtyard, a misty red haze that had nothing to do with the approaching dawn. Kieran instructed them all to wait on the stairs whilst he lit a large bunch of candle and applied it to Braw’s old wooden hut, and the wooden railings of the stairs. He then ordered them out of the main doors and onto the bridge, before chucking the ignited kindling vaguely in the direction of the invisible demon, whilst shouting the words of an exorcism.
“That shouldn’t take long”, said Hillyard, once they were safely out in the snowy forest, as the black smoke began to curl up into the air. There was a hideous squealing sound coming from the courtyard. The demon was trapped there. Kieran had localised it.
“Kieran!” said Lonts, pointing to one of the upper windows “There’s somebody still up there, look!”
Two pale and haggard faces were staring out with absolute horror.
“What are we going to do?” said Lonts.
“Nothing”, said Kieran “They’re vampires, let ‘em burn”.
“But are you sure?” said Lonts.
“I’ve seen them before”, said Kieran “In the foyer of the ‘Moon and Stars’. They must’ve really enjoyed the Countess’s little house-parties here”.
“You mean they’ve been up there all this time?” said Ransey “All the time we were there?”
“Well they’re not going to show themselves to me are they!” said Kieran.
“So where did they come from?” said Bengo.
“I expect that’s what we’re going to have to find out”, said Kieran “At some point in the near future”.
“Let’s go back to the Old Mill-House”, said Bardin.
“Don’t worry, little fellow”, said Julian, patting Bengo on the shoulder “Wolf Castle is where we’re going soon!”
“But first we have to make sure that Dobley hasn’t starved all our animals and burnt down the Old Mill-House!” snapped Bardin.
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo cried, in exasperation “You wait til I get you home!”
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