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Ransey woke up suddenly, and with an instinct born of old, knew immediately that something was wrong. He could hear Hillyard and Bengo breathing heavily in their sleep from the other side of the cabin, and Joby coughing in the next one. But something was altogether amiss, and he wished at once that he still had his revolver close to hand.
He sat up in his bunk and peered over the side. Etyn's bunk was empty.
"Oh shit", he muttered, and clambered out of his own. He opened the cabin door and peered out. The topside doors stood ajar. He stood stock still and listened, to try and get some idea of where exactly on the vessel Etyn might be.
Aside from the usual night-time noises he could hear another, distinctive one. A soft, squelching noise coming from underneath him. But it wasn't in the hold, he was pretty certain of that. This was coming from right under the vessel.
He slipped into the galley, and pulled out one of the carving-knives from the drawer. He was mildly reassured to find that nothing appeared to be out of place. Out in the gangway once more he was irresistibly drawn to the topside doors. Etyn was undoubtedly up on deck somewhere. He crept up the steps and gave a cry of alarm when he encountered something at the top.
It was a skull, a human skull. A perfect specimen, plucked completely clean. He looked at it in horror, completely at a loss as to where it had come from. He nudged it to one side and crawled out onto the forward deck.
Etyn was sitting cross-legged on the pile of hemp. He had pulled down the scrap of dirty net-curtain which normally hung at the saloon window and draped it round his head and shoulders. A mist had risen over the the steamy water of the swamp, and in the torrid gloom Etyn looked like some particularly bizarre ghost.
"What the hell are you doing?" Ransey whispered.
"Did you find my present?" said Etyn.
"The skull? Where did you get it?"
"It was here on the deck. Someone left it here. We're not alone out here you know".
"I told you not to leave the cabin", said Ransey.
"Why?" Etyn screamed "I'm not going to hurt anyone".
"Then what about the list eh? With all our names on it? What was that in aid of?"
"The Kiskevian boy has no breeding", said Etyn "It is only right that he should be the first to go. He's not a worthy companion for Julian".
"Did Tamaz set you up to this?" said Ransey "Did he bribe you to hitch a ride with us?"
"Don't know what you me-e-a-an!" Etyn shrieked like a banshee and flung off the net curtain. It rose into the damp air and then fluttered down like ectoplasm.
Giving another scream Etyn pushed Ransey out of the way, and hurtled down the steps to the living quarters. Ransey pursued him down the gangway, his mouth dry with terror. Etyn ran into Julian's cabin. He grabbed the paper-knife which was lying on the desk and threw it in the direction of Finia's bunk. It grazed off the wooden surround and landed with a dull thud on the carpet.
Julian grabbed at his revolver and shot Etyn twice in the legs. Etyn crumpled to the floor, screaming and whimpering. Finia had spreadeagled himself against the wall, his eyes bursting out of his head in an expression of shocked terror.
"Finish him off, Julian!" Ransey bellowed "Before the others get here. That list was as we thought, he was going to kill us all. Let's finish it now. Get him off this boat. Tamaz is behind all this, I'm certain of it".
Julian was now standing over Etyn, but he looked hopelessly uncertain as to what he should do next.
"If you can't, I will", said Ransey, angrily "Give the fucking gun to me if you haven't got the gumption".
Julian moved closer to Etyn and fired the gun straight into his heart.
"Are you alright, Jules?"
"If you ask me that one more time, Adam..."
"I can't help but be concerned. You haven't stopped shaking since we threw Etyn's corpse over the side".
"Well what do you expect?" Julian snapped, sitting down on the edge of his bunk and cradling himself "I-I've never killed a man before".
"You're very brave, but perhaps you should have left it to Ransey", Adam sat down next to him and stroked his back.
There was a large damp patch on the carpet in front of them, where Etyn had bled during his final moments two hours before.
"Yes I should", said Julian "There was nothing brave about it, Adam. It was a stupid matter of pride, nothing else. A pointless test of will. If I'd handed the gun over I would never have been able to look that pixie-faced accountant in the eyes again. I'd have had to resign from being Captain. It's no good having a Captain who's not prepared to do anything to protect the lives of his crew".
"You've earnt your spurs for tonight though. No one can take that away from you".
"Except I didn't do it for any altruistic, moral reasons, just stupid pride, like I said".
"I don't think it was anywhere near as simple as that", said Adam "Think of Etyn as a mad dog that had to be put down".
"No!" Julian bellowed "What kind of an argument is that? You told me yourself that at one time you thought Lonts was mad, would you have condoned shooting him?"
"Lonts wasn't a cold, calculating psychopath. Etyn wrangled his way amongst us on purpose, in order to do serious damage. Think about the knife he threw at Finia".
"I know I know, I've argued that one with myself too. I'll be fine. This time tomorrow I'll be stronger, you'll see".
"Oh Jules, I do love you", said Adam "Whatever you say I know you did it because it made sense".
"He had a fixation with me", said Julian "If Tamaz did choose him to get amongst us, then he used me as the bait. So I suppose it was only fitting that it should be me who did the dirty deed".
"Tamaz must have cursed this whole trip", said Adam "It's the unifying factor that binds all the things that have gone wrong. Uddle really being the Slime Man should have given it away. Oh God, I hope Bengo doesn't turn out to be a psychopath too".
"Someone else can shoot him if that does turn out to be the case", said Julian "All I can say is Tamaz must definitely be using dark forces".
"Well he is a Ghoomer, so it's not terribly surprising", Adam sighed "But we're surviving, that's the important thing. I do remember that Gabriel's supernatural power had parameters, it couldn't reach everywhere. Perhaps we might be lucky and that could be the same with Tamaz. If we keep going up this hellish river we might out-distance him".
"That remains to be seen", Julian rubbed his knees "Come along, we'd better go and give a pep talk to the others".
"Fine. They're still up on deck", said Adam.
"Adam has a theory that we might be able to distance ourselves some way from the limits of Tamaz's power, as you did during Gabriel's time", said Julian, standing in the damp, steamy dawn "As things stand it's really the only hope we've got. Otherwise that thick-lipped freak is just going to keep bombarding us with assorted nutcases until we all go mad too. So in the light of this I suggest we keep moving up the river. Are you all happy with that idea?"
"Ecstatic", said Joby, sourly.
"Joby, if you have any better suggestions ..." Julian sighed, in exasperation.
"He hasn't", said Kieran "Take no notice of him, he'll do as he's told".
"That will be a novelty", said Adam.
A spray of water hit the deck.
"What's happening now?" said Hillyard, in dismay.
"Something's thrashing about in the water", said Ransey.
"Get away from the edge!" Adam pulled him back just as a shape lurched up out of the river with an earsplitting scream.
It had five heads. A huge worm with five heads sprouting from a single body. It thundered against the side of the boat, all the while screeching horrendously. They shot at it, kicked at it, stabbed at it, and jabbed at it with the wooden poles. Bengo managed to get one of heads into an armlock and twisted it right round. The creature, with its multiple blindness, continued to thrash and scream, although it seemed to be cavorting in fear and panic, not aggression.
Another head was lopped away completely by Lonts, and Ransey pumped a round of bullets into the rest, until it fell with a huge, lifeless thump on the deck.
"I wonder how many more of the bastards are around", said Ransey, trying to catch his breath.
"Perhaps we should get off the river and go cross-country", Bengo suggested.
"Leave the Indigo?" Lonts looked appalled "We can't the leave the Indigo. It's our only home!"
"Just a suggestion", said Bengo.
"Tell him we're not leaving the Indigo, Adam", Lonts went on.
"There is no way we're leaving the Indigo", said Julian "Whatever horrors lurk in the river can't be any worse than what we might find in the swamp".
"And we're not going to give Tamaz the satisfaction of us leaving our home because of him", said Kieran.
"I wonder what giant worms taste like", said Hillyard, looking down at the huge, slimy corpse.
"If you cook it, bloody awful I expect", said Joby.
"I think this rather unsophisticated breed of hydra is quite harmless actually", said Julian "It's large and it makes a lot of noise, and it could cause damage to the boat, but it's relatively easy to dispose of. Like a lot of things, it's capable more of instilling terror just by its presence".
"Like the Slime Man", said Kieran "In Stokva, remember?"
"Better dispose of it I suppose", said Hillyard.
"Oh leave it until later", said Julian, irritably "We all need some rest. Leave it there as a warning to its friends!"
The others began to wend their way slowly below deck, talking in subdued voices.
"Adam", Finia pulled the said man aside "I think it might help Julian if you sleep in with him for a couple of hours. I'll take your bunk. That business with Etyn is going to haunt him".
"Will you be alright though?"
"O.K", said Adam "I'll just explain things to Lonts. I expect Julian will want us to try and resume normal life at lunchtime. Try and get some sleep in the meantime, if that's not a forlorn hope".
"I have absolutely no intention of trying to clean the damn thing", said Julian, hacking out a large square of carpet from his cabin floor "It's saturated with Etyn's blood, and blood is notoriously difficult to shift. In my Grandfather's house there was a small bloodstain on one of the staircases that was said to have been there for over 400 years. Happened when a Royalist got killed during the Civil War".
"Not that hoary old chestnut!" said Adam "You told me when we were children that it was really a red wine stain, but your Grandfather left it there because he thought the tourists would enjoy the story!"
"Even so, blood is still difficult to shift", Julian wrenched up the square of carpet and tossed it into the far corner "I'd rather put up with a foot of bare board than have that stain there, permanently reminding me".
"Some has seeped through to the floor", said Adam, peering over his shoulder.
"Then I'll chuck one of Finia's shawls over it! What are you doing back in here anyway? Shouldn't you and Eskimo Nell be going at it like rabbits at this hour?"
"Finia asked me to stay with you for a while. He thought you might like that".
"He's right as usual", Julian tiredly rose to his feet.
"What I said yesterday about it all being your fault Etyn was with us", said Adam "I had no right to say that. I'm sorry".
"It's all a bit pointless going into the why's and wherefore's now", said Julian "None of could have guessed at the start how things would have turned out with Etyn. All I do know is I don't want anymore deaths on this boat, not if it's remotely within my power to stop it. Now, we'll have a few hours rest and at noon we'll get moving again. Seconded?"
"Seconded", Adam smiled.
They lay next to each other for several hours, as the mist slowly cleared outside and another sweltering day was unveiled. Neither of them slept, and although each was aware that the other was awake, they didn't speak to each other for some time.
When Julian rolled onto his side, facing away from Adam, his friend put his arm around him.
"I love you", he said, over and over again "I love you. I love you".
"I'll never forget the look in his eyes", said Julian, eventually "He may have been mad, but he was still aware of what I was going to do. I caused that terror in him".
"Jules, he was intending to kill us all", said Adam "He was an instrument of Tamaz. There is nothing else to be said".
"Did you ever read a short story called 'the Horla' by a Frenchman, Guy de Maupassant?"
"About a man who goes insane and kills himself, wasn't it?" said Adam.
"He talks in there about a race that will succeed humans on the Earth. No one knows what form this race will take, so Man created demons of the unknown in his mind in order to be prepared for it. He reckoned that was where the legends of ghosts and vampires came from".
"Didn't he also say that these beings already lived alongside us, but most of the time we weren't aware of them? Are you thinking of the Ghoomers?"
"No, the Ghoomers were just humans like the us, but who mated with these creatures and produced a race of them with human form ... Oh God, what am I talking about, Adam? I'm gibbering. All this talk of Tamaz having supernatural powers and being able to control what happens to us, even out here. I'm sounding no better than the poor, demented sod in the story! If we don't all end up crazed and paranoid it'll be a bloody miracle. What if Tamaz is behind none of this? What if everything that's happened has just been bad luck or a coincidence? Does that mean we're all slowly going potty? Mass hysteria aboard the Indigo!"
"No, I don't believe that. Not after some of the things that have happened", said Adam, quietly "I saw the Gorgon whilst I was in hospital. I haven't said anything because ... well we've all had quite enough to think of lately".
"That wretched creature is still at large?" said Julian "I take it her power is still missing?"
"She looked as Patsy saw her in the City, only her eyes were piercing".
"Is she following us around?"
"I haven't got a clue", Adam sighed "Anything could be happening. God help us, we're not safe wherever we go, and we will never know peace. Not in this time".
"I've no objection to crossing back over again", said Julian "Provided we all do it. We've all been through too much together to start again apart".
"I don't think anything could split us up now", said Adam, softly.
"Not a single perishing thing!" said Julian, firmly.
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