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The silence of the area as they passed through it the next day was profound. There was an uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched from the surrounding hills.
“The hills have eyes”, as Joby put it.
It was all rather unsettling, as the galleon glided through the still waters of the lakes. If they hadn’t had to pay such constant attention to all around them, it would have been a serene experience, because there was no denying the beauty of their surroundings.
Occasionally there would be a glimpse of a movement amongst the rocks and the bushes, as something shapeless and malformed furtively watched them.
“I don’t think they mean us any harm”, said Kieran “They’re wary of us. I suspect they’ve been destroyed by the Satanic regime”.
“OK, but what about that freaky faceless thing we saw on the shore?” said Bardin.
“That I’m not so sure about”, said Kieran.
They soon had other things to worry about, as they sailed into a firestorm. The entire countryside surrounding them was burning, a mass of charred blackened hills bellowing smoke and turning the sky a deep crimson red.
Bardin ordered the ship to be thoroughly hosed down, to protect it from burning. Wrapping an old vest, soaked in water, round the lower part of his face, he supervised this vital operation.
“We must be getting close”, said Kieran, returning below deck.
“You think They’re doing all this to try and stop us?” said Joby, who was in the galley. The noise of the hoses above was deafening.
“Quite likely”, said Kieran “Or then again, They’re such a miserable bunch of bastards They might just be doing it for the hell of it”.
“Christ, I can’t imagine living that way”, said Joby “What an existence. Even if we can’t sort these bastards out, can the human race come back from this, Kieran? From what I can see it’s been well nigh-on destroyed”.
“It’s bounced back from plenty of horror in the past”, said Kieran “In spite of all it’s fearfulness at times, humans can be pretty indestructible. The hardest thing I think is going to be persuading them to believe in themselves again”.
It was like sailing through the inside of a furnace. The air was acrid, almost impossible to stay out in for any any length of time.
“If They’re trying to give us an idea of what Hell is like, They’re succeeding”, Bardin coughed, his face covered in smuts.
“From what i remember that was very grey and dreary”, said Adam, handing him a glass of water “Nothing like as dramatic as this”.
“Oh I’d forgotten you lot had been there”, said Bardin “Before our time”.
[All the clowns tended to get irked by any mention of the era before they’d joined].
“I don’t think you should go topside again today, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“Well of course I have to go topside again today”, said Bardin “Don’t be such a daft nit, Bengo”.
“But you must be getting a load of smoke in your lungs”, Bengo protested.
“Probably not as much as Julian did when he was still smoking cigars”, said Bardin.
“Yes but …” Bengo could see it was pointless going any further though “Oh what’s the point? I’ll be glad when we’ve finished with this whole stupid stuff”.
“Stupid stuff?” said Bardin “Understatement of the century!”
Kieran speculated that the burning countryside may have been a “ring of fire”, set up on purpose to protect the area of the Big House.
“We’re only just getting through it”, he said “It’d be impossible for anyone crossing by land”.
“Good job we abandoned the bus then”, said Hillyard.
“We would never have been able to do this without the galleon”, said Kieran “It also means we’re getting very near our quarry. I need to talk to everybody”.
He had a chance at a hastily-convened tea-break, taken whilst the galleon was moored in the middle of another large lake.
“I can give you all as much spiritual protection as possible”, he said “But one thing I must emphasise on you is, that under no circumstances, must you show fear”.
“Asking a lot ent it?” said Joby.
“Well yes, fear tends to be a reflective thing”, said Adam “We can’t always predict when we’ll feel it”.
“I know, I understand that”, said Kieran “But as much as is humanly possible, don’t show fear. There are two reasons for this. One is that the Evil feeds off fear. It makes them stronger. The other is that our not showing fear will confuse them. Their programming doesn’t get it. That will disable them to some extent”.
When the Big House appeared on the far horizon, it seemed like a slumbering wild animal, laying there sprawled, and waiting for them drowsily.
“Weird to think that it we carried on down this river we’d come to Toondor Lanpin eventually”, said Joby, standing on the main deck.
“Perhaps we should do that before we head back”, muttered Bardin.
He drew his little slim body up in a shudder, as though mentally shaking himself.
“Ransey’s broken out the guns in the dining-room”, he said “I guess we’d better go and get ourselves prepared”.
Berith pushed aside the telescope. Shivering, he pulled his filthy old robe closer to him.
“They’re still coming”, he said, teeth chattering “Why? Why are they still coming?”
“To get you”, said Angel, leaning against the bare stone wall in a bored manner “I would’ve thought that was obvious, even to you”.
“But doesn’t it bother you?” said Berith.
“Why should it?” said Angel “I’ll be out of here. I’m not hanging around to be bored to death by him!”
“Where will you go?”
“Somewhere else”, Angel shrugged “I’m bored. I might sleep for a while. Who knows”.
“You won’t get any solidarity from him, Berith”, said Crowley, wheeling himself into the room. The squeak of his antiquated wheelchair sounding unnaturally loud in the near-empty stone chamber.
“Will you take us back to your domain?” Berith asked Angel. “I don’t have a domain”, Angel snapped, impatiently “Anymore than he does”.
He gestured out of the window, in the vague direction of Kieran.
There was the sound of howling coming from different parts of the house. Some of it was animal. Some of it was human.
“They are all restless”, said Berith “They know what’s coming”.
“I don’t understand”, said Crowley, coming to a stop in the middle of the room “Angel, you can destroy him. You’ve always had that ability. Is your love for him, not for us, your followers?”
“I have no love”, said Angel “For anyone or anything. For a supposedly-intelligent man, Crowley, you’re incredibly dense and naive at times. I am largely consumed by total indifference. Sometimes the tedium gets all too much, and then I deliberately make mischief. To make life hard for him largely … and for you. Eternity is a long time. We have to fill it somehow. You must be knowing that all too well … since Adam took aim at your privates”.
“So that’s it”, Crowley whispered “You’re glad he did that to me”.
“You think I care what he did to a pervert like you?” said Angel “I’d have done it myself when I was younger. You’re all fools. The lot of you. And you’re the biggest fool of the lot”.
Crowley mouthed the word “me?”
“Yes”, said Angel “You were blessed with it all. Health, intelligence, looks, wealth, charisma. And you threw it all away. Turned yourself into a debauched old toad”.
“I was pushing boundaries!” Crowley protested “That was my aim! Always my aim!”
“Ah yes, the boundaries”, said Angel “It’s so fucking important to push boundaries isn’t it! You want to know the meaning of existence? It’s simply there. To be. To live. Many must have been baffled as to why Kieran granted you eternity. The truth is, he was cursing you. Now you have all eternity to push your boundaries. Apart from a few idiot souls, most will despise you for what you’ve helped to bring about. You’re a creature of darkness. My advice is to return to it”.
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