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By Sarah Hapgood

“If you keep gripping the bulwark like that you’ll damage the boat”, said Hillyard.

He had come up on deck to find Ransey holding the bulwark as if his very life depended on it.

“I hope by the time we return that something has been done with that little nit Tomas”, said Ransey

“Oh him. He drives old Jobe up the wall too. He swears he’s been nicking things from the hold”.

“I haven’t had a chance to do an inventory. At least the little shit won’t be able to do it now we’re on our way”.

“What’s he done to upset you anyway?”

“Oh this is priceless”, said Ransey “He said we had no right to go after the Evil. That that made us no better than them, and where was our moral compass!”

“Look mate, let it go”, said Hillyard, clamping a meaty hand on his friend’s shoulder “We’ve left him behind. He’s not here on this boat now is he?”

“No, I think I’d chuck him over the side if he was”, said Ransey.

Bardin walked past them, giving them one of his ‘haven’t you got anything to do?’ looks. He went up to the poop-deck to chat with Mieps, who was steering the ship.

“I suppose he’s going to be a bundle of energy for the rest of the trip”, muttered Hillyard.

Ransey grunted in reply.

They took down the main mast and sailed under the bridge, over which the refugees had previously crossed, and out into the huge lake on the other side.

“Do we just keep going easterly?” asked Mieps.

“Yes”, said Bardin “The refugees said this area is a maze of great lakes. If we keep on a steady course, we should eventually end up on the river that runs past the Big House”.

“The Big House?” Mieps exclaimed, momentarily taking her hands off the wheel in shock.

Her shout alerted Ransey and Hillyard, who gravitated over to the poop-deck.

“Yes”, said Bardin “Didn’t I mention it?”

“No you bloody didn’t!” said Ransey.

“Well I guess I haven’t had a chance to explain”, said Bardin “We should have had a meeting I suppose, but I was desperate to get away”.

“I know this is probably a stupid question”, said Hillyard “But WHY are we going back there?”

“It’s where the Demonic Elite have retreated to”, said Bardin “According to what the refugees told me. They’ve hold themselves up there”.

“It makes sense”, said Ransey “It’s a formidable place. They can fortify it, or lose themselves in it”.

“This is what he’s wanted all along”, said Joby, down in the galley, when he heard the news “He’s been talking about going back there for years. And now he’s got his wish”.

“I don’t think we’re going there because that’s what Bardin wants”, said Adam “I can’t believe our boy would do that”.

“Oh I dunno what I’m saying”, Joby sighed “Perhaps he had an inkling the solution was gonna be there. Kieran’s always said Bardin’s more psychic than he realises”.

Bengo was watching this exchange as if it was a gloomy tennis match he wasn’t particularly enjoying.

“Psychic my arse”, he said “He just forgot to tell us that’s all. Too wrapped up in his own thoughts”.

“I spose it doesn’t matter anyway”, said Joby, glumly “We dunno what the hell we’re getting into”.

“That’s it, Joby”, said Adam “Keep your spirits up, old love”.

That night they moored the boat in the centre of the lake, and - apart from the night-watch - they all slept communally in the saloon. Bardin paced around the room so restlessly that Bengo had to order him into bed.

“Every day that we delay”, said Bardin “It gives them more warning we’re coming”.

“They probably know that anyway”, said Kieran “Bardin, I think we should concentrate on things we do know about”.

To everyone’s relief, Bardin did calm down and go to sleep fairly promptly, although he was awake and up again soon after daybreak.

“Anyone’d think we actually WANT to get where we’re going!” said Joby.

The day that followed was not without event. Mieps was driving again. Bardin had gone up onto the poop-deck to chat to her mid-morning. Whilst casually strolling around this small part of the deck he caught a movement on the distant shore directly ahead of them.

Grabbing his binoculars, he turned them on a figure he could see standing on a rock by the shingled slither of beach. It was clad in a long black robe from neck to feet. What was most disturbing about it though was that it had no face. A hairless skull, and a completely featureless oval where the face should be.

“What is it?” said Mieps “What can you see?”

“Nothing”, said Bardin “That’s the trouble”.

Suddenly he was distracted by another movement in the rocks above the figure.

“Shit!” said Bardin, and he began to blow on his whistle frantically, summoning some of the others up from below.

A group of strange-looking individuals, covered in what looked like tattered sacking, had appeared at various intervals on the mainland, each one armed with a crossbow. A fusillade of arrows began to rain down in the direction of the galleon. Fortunately, most hit the water, but some landed on the deck, and one hit Mieps in the hand.

Bardin gently pushed her onto the decking, and seized hold of the wheel, urgently forcing the ship into a standstill, preventing it from advancing any further.

Behind him, Ransey and Hillyard fired warning shots in the general direction of the shore. To everyone’s relief this seemed to have the desired effect, and the welcoming party on the shore dispersed.

After this little unplanned show, they relocated to the dining-room. Finia patched up Mieps, who had bled profusely all down the main steps.

“There is something positive to be gleaned from all this”, said Kieran.

Joby rolled his eyes, and set the big teapot on the table.

“Like what?” he said.

“They’re not as dangerous as us”, said Kieran.

“Tell that to poor old Mieps!” Joby exclaimed.

“No I see what he means”, said Mieps, now nursing a large glass of brandy “They had crossbows not guns”.

“A crossbow can still be pretty fucking lethal!” said Joby.

“They were warning us off”, said Kieran “Not picking a fight. I’m not saying we should go over there and make friends with them, but neither do I think they’re going to come after us. I don’t think they can. The crossbows might well be all they’ve got”.

“Be glad we’ve got the galleon”, said Bardin “It gives us more protection than the bus would have done”.

“What’s the plan now, Bardin?” said Lonts.

“We keep moving onwards”, said Bardin “But obviously with added caution, and keeping as far from the shore as we possibly can”.

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