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Tamaz crept down the next flight of the red-painted stone steps and listened intently at the landing. In his hand he clutched his few true belongings rolled up in a long purple satin dress. He himself was dressed in his boy's clothes, a shirt and trousers, and his hair slicked back against his head. He felt a bit self-conscious after so long in female garb, as though he was masquerading as someone else, when in truth he had spent the greater part of his life as a boy. The female interludes had usually been due to circumstances beyond his control (his pregnancy and the subsequent birth of his children), or to get what he wanted (the good life on marrying Gorth), or because of the whims of Father Dalman. Now though he simply wanted to run away, go back underground if necessary, and seek out the few remaining Ghoomers to live with.
He got to the bottom of the tower steps and came to the set of double wooden doors at the bottom. He tried to open them and found that they were locked fast. Sobbing with rage he fruitlessly tried to wrench them open. When that didn't work he pounded on them with the palms of his hand, and screamed to be let out.
Suddenly he heard a key turning in the lock on the other side. The door swung open and Kieran appeared on the threshold of the tower. The anger on his face was enough to frighten even a half-demonic creature such as Tamaz.
"You rang?" Kieran smirked, advancing towards him.
Tamaz ran back to the stairs, but Kieran caught up with him. They both fell against the steps. Tamaz, finding himself under Kieran's body, pulled open his shirt to reveal his breasts, in an effort to stem the Vanquisher's anger.
"No good, Tamaz", said Kieran, shaking his head "There are real women in the world now. We don't need demons".
Tamaz raised himself up awkwardly and head-butted Kieran, who fell backwards in a painful daze. Tamaz took advantage of this to run further up the stairs to the next landing. He could hear a gabble of voices below as the other members of Kieran's party poured into the tower.
There was very little light when he got the landing, only a slight silvery glimmer from the full moon shining through the small, dirty window some way above him. He tried to ascend the next flight of stairs, but it was difficult to get his footing in such a dim light.
Suddenly he was attacked from behind. Someone had pulled something around his neck and was trying to garrot him with all their might. He fell forward onto the steps, clawing at the silky material, which was clutching him as effectively as a boa-constrictor.
"I know how much you like the feel of silk stockings, Tamaz", said Joby, breathing heavily in the boy's ear "So I thought I'd give you a little treat".
"Joby!" Adam cried, coming up the steps behind him "Patsy wants him alive!"
When Joby showed no sign of listening, Julian cracked the whip across his back. Spitting with rage, Joby let go of Tamaz and turned to face him. Ransey meanwhile managed to apprehend Tamaz with little effort.
"Bastard!" Joby hissed, feeling the soreness on his back.
"Take him below, Hillyard", said Julian.
"Come on, mate", Hillyard grabbed his elbow and led him down the steps. Ransey followed with Tamaz.
"It seemed the best thing to do at the time", said Julian.
"Sometimes Joby has to be saved from himself", said Adam "Killing people is not his style, and he'd only have regretted it afterwards".
There was a footfall on the stairs above them, scraping softly against the stone. It was out of sight, beyond the bend in the stairs, where from this angle they could only see darkness.
"Let's get everyone down to Phyllis's vestry and discuss everything there", said Julian.
"But who's that up there?" said Adam.
A sound as of someone breathing in sharply came from above.
"Adam", said Julian, sternly "I don't think whoever it is needs our help. Now come along!"
"I lost my head", said Joby, sitting on the arm of the sofa in the room that Julian had nicknamed Phyllis's Vestry "I saw him head-butt you, and something snapped inside me, and I just wanted to get the bastard. I had the stocking in my pocket, and I suddenly thought this is the way he deserves to go".
"I understand", said Kieran, holding a bloodstained handkerchief to his nose "And you probably hate the others for interfering".
"No, not really", said Joby "It was just a moment of madness that's all".
"Quite right. The little bastard's not worth it", said Kieran "We'll let the proper authorities sort him out".
"Kiel", said Joby, anxiously "The authorities won't have to know everything that happened to me will they?"
"If you're worried, they don't have to know anything", said Kieran, squeezing his hand "It's serious enough that he killed Gorth. We don't have to go into anymore than that if you don't want to".
Joby nodded. Phyllis came through from her small pantry at the back of the vestry. She was carrying a bowl of water and some cottonwool, to clean up Kieran with. Kieran looked astonished to see her.
"I thought you'd cease to exist now", he said "After Dalman was shot. I thought you were just an image he'd created".
"I'm quite real", said Phyllis, unabashed.
"Told you, didn't I?" said Joby, smugly.
"Then why were you working for Dalman?" said Kieran, suspiciously.
"Father Dalman was looking for a housekeeper when he came through No-Name, that's my home village", said Phyllis "He seemed a very charming man, and I had never been beyond the village, so I thought it would be a nice little adventure. I've only been here a short while, but things hadn't turned out quite as I'd expected. This is a strange area. Remote. And I'm not used to the loneliness, that was why I was so relieved when you all turned up. I don't quite know what you mean by images. All is quite real around here I assure you. I can't quite take in that Father Dalman was a bad sort. He always seemed quite genuine to me, but then I suppose wickedness all too often has a charming face, doesn't it?"
"What exactly were you mean to do here?" said Kieran.
"Light cleaning duties, in the parts of the building I was allowed into", said Phyllis "And preparing meals for himself, and his charge. I was told that Tamaz was a sick boy, who was prone to delusions and strange habits, such as putting on women's clothing. Father Dalman told me he had the potential to be very dangerous, and that was why he kept him locked in the tower most of the time. You can understand how everything that's happened to me today is such a lot for me to assimilate all at once".
"There is a lot to explain", said Kieran.
The others walked into the room. Ransey directed Tamaz to sit on a chair, and proceeded to tie him to it using the thick cord that held the curtains back.
"Phyllis", said Julian, closing the vestry door behind them "Who's the other person in the tower?"
"My Mother", said Tamaz, aggressively "She has a room there".
"Have you ever seen her, Phyllis?" asked Adam.
"I never actually went into the tower itself", said Phyllis "Father Dalman strongly advised me against it. He kept it locked at all times".
"And for good reason too", Tamaz sniggered.
"He told me he kept a creature in there which had terrifying powers", said Phyllis, with astonishing calmness "But I would be quite safe as long as I never went inside. He gave me the impression he kept it in there for everyone's safety. I had no reason to doubt him at the time".
"But the Gorgon has no power anymore", Kieran protested "I've seen her face-to-face. So's Joby".
"She was dead at the time!" Tamaz laughed "She dies and gets re-born. Haven't you figured that out yet, Vanquisher? It happens every so often, like a snake shedding its skin. And when she's re-born, her power is greater than ever".
"Is she going through this process now?" said Kieran.
"Yes", said Tamaz "But you'll have to figure it out yourself how far the process has gone, because I'm not telling you. You'll have to take that gamble".
"We have to get out of here", said Julian, firmly "That includes you, Phyllis".
"Of course, but I wouldn't advise doing it before daybreak", said Phyllis "This whole area takes on a different aspect at night. Surely you've noticed the attitude of the villagers on the other side of the marsh? I strongly suggest you leave travelling until dawn at the very earliest".
"Jules, we never locked the tower door behind us", said Adam, faintly.
"Oh marvellous", said Joby "So Medusa's free to roam at will!"
"The creature's power is diminished in daylight", said Phyllis "Father Dalman told me that. He said she could operate in direct sunlight, but had much less potential for causing harm".
"Seems logical", said Kieran "She was definitely a creature of the night at Marlsblad. Likewise she operated well during the dark winter at Wolf Castle".
"She'll still come and get you in here", said Tamaz, triumphantly "She'll search this entire building until she finds you".
"Then we'll lock ourselves in", said Phyllis "There is just the doorway to this room, and the back door in the pantry. I'll bolt them both. We'll be secure then until sun-rise".
She proceeded to do just that, whilst Adam did a hasty head-count to make sure no one was missing, and Hillyard pulled the heavy curtains.
As self-imposed prisons went, it was of a high standard. The vestry was warm, and the pantry had food, running water and a flush lavatory in a cupboard. It would be no trouble at all to sweat it out until morning, even with a dozen of them in there.
"I hope the younger ones don't get panicky", Phyllis whispered to Julian, when she had bolted the pantry door "This is a rather tense situation after all".
"Don't worry, they wouldn't dare", said Julian "First hint of a panic-attack, and they'll get thrashed within an inch of their lives".
"You obviously know best", said Phyllis, sounding uncertain.
"You'd know all about thrashing, Julian", said Joby angrily, and he pulled his t-shirt to reveal the long lash-mark made by the whip.
"That looks rather nasty", said Phyllis.
"Yeah well it was a nasty git what did it", said Joby.
"It was entirely for your own good", said Julian "Now stop bellyaching. If you ask Kieran nicely I'm sure he'll put some powder on it for you. We've got some in the First Aid tin".
For a couple of hours things were very quiet. The room was hot, from the heat of the fire and the close proximity of a dozen bodies. It was also fuggy from cigarette smoke, and if it hadn't been for the tense situation it would have been quite relaxing and womb-like.
Adam sat on the sofa, sandwiched between Lonts and Toppy, who both sprawled over him, taking half of his body each. He was irresistibly reminded of the way Kieran and Joby had both sprawled over him like this in their younger days. In a nearby armchair Kieran sat on Joby, and in another Finia sat on Julian. Phyllis took the third on her own. She had started off by sitting bolt upright, but had gradually slumped sideways in her sleep. Adam watched her, and marvelled yet again at how easily they had got used to women in their midst once more, after so long. If anything, mixed company seemed to be easier than it had been in their time, as though all the antagonism's had been removed, although naturally this didn't apply to Lady Red, who seemed to paranoidally regard everyone as threat to her position.
Ransey got up off the floor and inspected Tamaz, who had also fallen asleep strapped to his chair, his head slumped forward onto his chest. Satisfied that Tamaz was still secure, Ransey poured himself another glass of sherry, the only alcohol on offer.
"Everything alright?" Adam whispered.
"So far so good", Ransey winked.
The clock on the mantelpiece struck twelve, and the chimes seemed to ring out very loudly in that great barn of a building. It was as they died down that they heard the footsteps overheard. Ransey nearly dropped the sherry bottle in horror. Someone was pacing about in the room directly overhead.
"It's her", said Ransey, grimly.
They watched the ceiling intently as the footsteps approached the far end and then gradually receded into the distance.
"That was Father Dalman's room", said Phyllis, who had woken up.
"Chances are she's heading down this way", said Ransey.
"You think she was looking for the room we're in?" said Adam.
"Yeah. We'd better get prepared", said Ransey "Just be alert I mean. We've got to stop the doors opening at all costs".
"And the windows", said Phyllis "She could break them. I wish we had shutters".
Everyone in the room slowly came to consciousness, and everyone was without doubt very afraid. Tamaz was no exception. Truth to tell he didn't know how far advanced his mother's latest incarnation was. The last time he'd seen her he'd only looked into her face briefly, but if she had reached full maturity since then even he wouldn't be safe from the merest glimpse.
They heard her footsteps in the passageway outside their room soon after. She was brushing against the wall as she walked, as though she was scraping her hands along it. Everyone watched and listened as she rounded the corner and approached the door. The handle rattled, and then she spoke, in a voice that was low and drawn-out, and like no other voice that anyone had heard. It was truly impossible to describe what it felt like to hear a monster speak.
"Tamaz", she said "Open the door. I want to see you".
Underlying her words were the sound of the snakes-heads hissing.
"Untie me from this chair", Tamaz wept.
"So you can let her in, you little jerk?" said Joby.
"So I can get away!" Tamaz cried, pathetically "Away from her. She's at her worst, I can hear the snakes".
They all could.
Soon after they heard the main door to the building open. She had stepped outside, and was now moving directly outside the window. If anyone had pulled open the curtains at that moment they would have seen her full-on. If she decided to smash the glass she would have no problems doing so. She could then be heard moving towards the side of the house.
"She's gonna try the pantry-door", said Hillyard.
"Me and Joby'll stand guard in the pantry", said Kieran, and he hauled Joby into the next room, pushing the middle door shut slightly.
"That creature out there has to be destroyed", said Kieran "And we're gonna do it".
"Are you crazy?"
"I expect so. What's the big deal? It was only what we were going to do on Albatross Island".
"How though?" Joby exclaimed "Poke out eyes out first?"
"Well you're halfway there already", said Kieran "Blindfold ourselves, and then do what Perseus did to Medusa. Cut her head off".
"How if we're fucking blindfold?"
"We'll stun her first. Knock her out", Kieran picked up a long-handled shovel which was leaning against the wall "When she gets to the back door, fling it open and just bash her with it".
"Blindfold?" said Joby, dubiously.
"Well it's better than the alternative!" Kieran screeched, and he began to arrange a couple of tea-towels into suitable eye-masks.
"What are you doing?" said Lonts, pushing open the middle door.
"Get back in there!" Joby roared, in terror "It should be you tied to the fucking chair, not Tamaz!"
"No, hang on, he might be useful", said Kieran "We need a lookout. Someone to guard the middle door. Stop anyone coming in whilst we're attending to business".
"We can't use HIM!" said Joby "He's the biggest insurance risk we've got".
"I don't think that's very kind, Joby", said Lonts.
"I don't care", said Joby "I don't want you as a statue".
"Lonts, this is a very important job, and a very dangerous one", said Kieran, grasping Lonts's shoulders firmly "I want you to go and stand on the other side of that door and keep it shut. You're not to let anyone through. No one. If anyone tries it, knock 'em unconscious. I don't care who it is. Adam, Phyllis, or any of them. This is vitally important. And don't open the door yourself again, until I say so. If you do, you'll die, very painfully, it's as simple as that".
"I understand", said Lonts, solemnly.
"Kiel", said Joby, as the Gorgon could be heard scrabbling on the other side of the door, like a cat trying to burrow it's way through.
Kieran propelled Lonts through the middle door and closed it firmly. He then stuck a hard-backed chair under the handle for good measure. Lonts could be heard explaining the situation to the others, and being met with cries of incredulity.
"We haven't got much time", said Kieran "Are you ready, willing and able?"
"No, no and no", said Joby, sounding petrified.
"That's the spirit".
They helped each other secure their blind-folds.
"You're certain you can't see anything?" said Kieran "If it comes loose or falls off, close your eyes and don't open them at any cost".
"Just get on with it!"
Kieran felt for the bolt on the door. Joby stood behind him with the shovel. Kieran himself held the chopper that Phyllis used to trim wood for the fire.
Joby felt a blast of cold air on his face, as the door was opened. He could sense Her presence, even though she didn't speak. He could hear the hissing of the snakes. Human curiosity is a powerful thing, and he had an insane urge to tear off the makeshift blindfold and see her diabolical countenance for himself. He had seen her twice before. Once in the mirror at Wolf Castle, and once in the City, when her power had temporarily gone. But never in her fully "glory". Nobody could and survive. Could they?
He swung the shovel in her direction and it hit something solid. For one appalling moment he thought he'd hit Kieran by mistake, but he heard her scream. It rang out across the flatlands of the marshes, doing a crazy dance of its own under the moonlit skies. It was followed by a dull thud and then a squelching noise.
In what seemed to be an astonishingly short space of time, he heard Kieran telling him it was safe to look. Joby lowered his blindfold cautiously. The Gorgon's headless body lay sprawled on its back across the threshold of the pantry. It was half-naked, and from the waist up seemed to be perfect. The breasts poking firmly into the air, the nipples made as erect as organ-stops by the chill. He stared in appalled fascination at the severed stump of her neck, from which an assortment of black and red tubes and arteries spilled out, like a tangled mass of electrical wiring, amidst a welter of blood.
"Your blindfold, Joby", said Kieran, holding out his hand "It's bigger than mine. I need it to cover the head. It can still cause damage, even though she's dead".
He had his foot pressed on the back of the decapitated head, where the snakes fizzed frenziedly around his shoe. Kieran was bloodsplattered, his own blindfold hanging like a loose roll of skin around his neck. Joby pulled off his blindfold and handed it to him. Kieran used it wrap the head in, and then carried it like a mis-shapen football into the pantry, where he dropped it into the small stove. Plumes of black smoke wafted out as the head began to burn, and Kieran waved them away irritably.
"I wouldn't advise anyone to go poking around in there later", he shouted "Skulls don't always burn completely, so don't go rifling about in the ashes afterwards. You might get a nasty surprise!"
The others came into the pantry soon after, or as many of them could fit into it. Kieran was full of praise for Lonts, and said none of it could have been done without him, which made Lonts bounce up and down wildly. Kieran also apologised to Phyllis for the way her stove was smoking.
"I think we could all do with another sherry", Phyllis replied.
"We'd better bury the rest of her", said Ransey, looking grimly at the headless corpse in the doorway.
He and Hillyard went to work immediately, to dig a grave in the moonlit marshes. Meanwhile Joby looked like he was about to have hysterics at any moment. Adam coaxed him back into the vestry, and sat him down on the sofa.
"Ad", Joby whispered "There's something weird about the whole thing".
"I'll say!" said Adam, with a wry smile.
"No I mean I don't think Kieran wore his blindfold when he beheaded her", said Joby, in a shocked voice "It's just a feeling I've got, but that's what I think".
Adam looked across the room at Kieran, who was pacing jauntily up and down with a schooner of sherry in his hand as though he was at a wedding reception.
"Don't seem to be any imminent signs of gorgonisation", said Adam "You really think he could look at her without turning to stone?"
"Well it wouldn't surprise me", said Joby, facetiously.
"We could try asking him", said Adam.
"No", said Joby, firmly "I really don't think I wanna know!"
"But if that's the case, why didn't he just confront her himself?" said Adam "I can't believe Patsy would put us all at risk just to be deceitful".
"Nor can I. Perhaps he didn't realise until it came to the final crunch", said Joby "Or more likely it's this ... he decided at the last minute to take a gamble. Test his powers to the full".
"Fortunately it paid off", Adam sighed "But I sincerely hope he doesn't make a habit of it!"
They snacked on bread and fruit at around three a.m, but in spite of the nourishment and the Gorgon's death, there was still some tension in the air. And it was all to do with Tamaz, who was still tied to his chair, and being fed scraps by Hillyard.
"I think it's time we shot him", said Ransey, bluntly.
"And I told you I didn't want that", said Kieran "He killed a president, and for that he should stand trial in the City".
"That's all very well", said Ransey "But it could take us a year to get back to the City, at the least! What do you suggest we do with him in the meantime? Take it in shifts to stand over him with a gun? It'd be hopeless, and I don't see the point anyway. It's not going to bring Gorth back".
"Justice must be seen to be done", said Kieran "And there are the hermaphrodite children to be considered".
"He doesn't give a fuck about them!" Ransey exclaimed.
"Maybe not, but I'll say this once more only", said Kieran "Justice must be seen to be done".
"Sod justice", said Joby "I don't want him on the Indigo with us, not for the length of time it'll take us to get him back to the City. Anyway, you're not in charge around here anymore. It's not your say. Julian?"
"Oh I agree with Kieran", said Julian "He should go back to the City and take what's coming to him. A bullet in the head would be far too humane. Let him sweat for a nice long while and give him plenty of time to dread what's going to happen".
"And give him more life than he's entitled to", said Joby, sourly.
"It also means that we have to go back to the City", said Adam, sadly "When we could just go back to Toondor Lanpin and stay hidden".
This was by far the most attractive option of all. Toondor Lanpin, for all its dirt and down-at-heel appearance, held far more appeal to them than the City. Kieran could only agree with this. In the City he would never get any peace, but in Toondor Lanpin nobody cared who he was. His only problem was that he felt some allegiance to Gorth, a duty to avenge his death. It was crazy. As Ransey said it wouldn't bring him back, and Gorth was hardly the first president to be assassinated. It happened so much at one time that it was deemed an occupational hazard, like too much paperwork!
And as it was Tamaz looked rather pathetic at the present time. He shook constantly with terror, and although he occasionally shouted at them, it had none of the vicious bravado that Angel used to display.
"We might not be able to go anywhere", said Lonts "The river was sealed off behind us, remember?"
"It won't be now", said Tamaz "That was all Dalman's doing".
"You're probably not bright enough to manage anything like that", said Joby "The fact remains though you sent nutters after us to try and kill us".
"You're all missing the point entirely", said Julian "If we all stay hidden in this cosy little world we've found, then the Ghoomers will ultimately have won. They will be destroyed forever if we take the women back to the City, and re-integrate them back into society. No future Tamaz's would stand a chance then. It has to be done".
"The fact remains we haven't got the means to hold Tamaz in custody with us", said Ransey.
"No, but Lady Red would be able to do it", said Phyllis "She has a floating gorilla cage on a raft, that she uses as a punishment cell. He could be taken back to the City in that".
"The ladies go to the City, with Tamaz in a cage", said Julian "It's the perfect solution".
"I still don't see why we have to go back too", said Adam.
"It's very simple", said Julian "I don't think living in Toondor Lanpin would be good for us. Not when I have a better solution. Magnolia Cove. We can take the Indigo back there and put it in a permanent mooring. We would have our idyllic house-boat existence, but in a more salubrious setting, and not quite so much at the back of beyond. A far more attractive setting for our old age".
"And I'm sure I speak for the other women when I say that we would prefer to go back in Kieran's company", said Phyllis "Make a triumphant entry as it were, not sneak in through the back door, as though we were hoping no one would notice us!"
"Then that's the way it'll be", said Kieran.
The dawn erupted red across the skies an hour later, and Adam stood at the pantry door, watching the light change on the marshes.
"Who were the women we saw out there in the moonlight, Phyllis?" he asked "We saw some women as we were crossing the causeway last night".
"The local villagers call them the Marsh Witches", said Phyllis, who was brewing coffee "They're quite harmless, just a group of local women who gather at the time of the full moon and raise spells on the marshes. It's to build a psychic barrier against evil spirits in this area. It has a longstanding reputation for it you see. I don't suppose any of it works very well. If it did Father Dalman's powers would have been severely curtailed".
"Still, every little helps", Adam sighed "Who knows what he might have been capable of otherwise? What will you do now?"
"Go back to No-Name", said Phyllis "And see if I can persuade Lady Red to form a women's contingent to go to the City, and if I can be a part of it".
"An exciting time for you all".
"You sound as though you've had quite enough excitement yourself".
"Just a little!" said Adam "I'm very much coming round to Julian's idea. We all enjoyed Magnolia Cove when we lived there before, and we'd still have the Indigo. I shall look forward to our life there very much".
"A peaceful one?" Phyllis smiled.
"Here's hoping", said Adam.
No one checked the chapel before they left. Which was just as well. Father Dalman's body had been dragged away whilst the Gorgon was keeping Kieran and his crew occupied. He was taken below to that twilight world reached beneath the tower which only the demonic offshoots of the Ghoomers knew about. All that remained above to show that he had ever existed at all, were a few streaks of blood on the chapel floor.
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