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No one felt any great inclination to go to Thetislog Cross the following evening. It was cold and dark outside for one thing, and the invitation had been particularly terse. But Kieran's curiosity about the anonymous sender was sufficient to brook no argument. Nonetheless there was no great urge to get ready when the time came, and it was a fractious, dispirited rabble that climbed into the horse-drawn cart at the front door. Finia and Hirrid were staying behind to "mind the house" and it was generally felt that they had the better deal by far.
The cart took them down a narrow, leaf-strewn woodland path that was so quiet and deserted that Kieran began to have a mild presentiment that they were being sent on a wild-goose chase. A feeling that was enforced when Thetislog Cross hove into view. It was a house in ruins. The upper storey was almost completely gutted, and many of the ground-floor windows were boarded-up.
"It's like one of those old scams you used to get back in our time", said Joby "Someone invites you to a do which turns out to be a hoax, and whilst you're there your house is being burgled".
"Your parents named you aptly", said Adam "You're a real Job's Comforter".
"It certainly seems like we've been had", said Julian.
"Can we go home now?" said Lonts, wearily.
"There's a light in one of the downstairs windows", said Joby, as someone had indeed placed an oil-lap in the window of the small, relatively untouched part of the building.
"Can't we just ignore it?" said Lonts.
"We won't be stopping long", said Kieran.
"Just long enough to see who this weirdo is", said Joby.
The entrance to the house was reached by a small flight of steps under a covered walkway. Thetislog Cross must have once been an impressive woodland residence, probably an old shooting-box built in a Gothic style. But now there was no getting away from the fact that it was in an advanced state of decay. Ceilings had fallen in, and planks were placed across unstable floors for ease of access.
"The house isn't quite as dangerous as it looks", said their mysterious host "I wouldn't have asked you here if it was".
He was a man in his forties, thin and chalkily-pale, like a vampire that never saw daylight. His dark blonde hair was messy and uncut, and there were very dark rings under his eyes. His mannerisms were twitchy, but this seemed to be more out of impatience than nervousness.
"I actually live below", he said "I've tunnelled out a series of rooms in the ground below this house. It's quite an achievement, it took me several years to complete. I hope you'll be impressed".
His last comment seemed to imply that it would be in their best interests if they were. His whole manner was commanding, but in a disturbing way. This was a man who was interested in no arguments or compromise.
He led them into the room where he had placed the lamp. It must have once been a library as empty bookshelves still lined the walls. Heaps of old books, paintings, curtains and tapestries were heaped in huge piles as though he had suddenly got exasperated with them one day and ripped them out of their usual places. By far the most startling aspect of the room though was a toilet bowl, stuck in the corner in full view.
"Perhaps you could tell us who you are", said Kieran "And is this just a neighbourly invite on your part?"
"Yes, you took a big risk coming here", said the man, giving a crooked smile "Or don't you know the meaning of risk? Do you feel you have God on your side?"
"I'm just curious to know who you are", said Kieran.
"I have no name. My whole being is a symbol of power, so I go by the name of Power".
"I think it's time we went home", Joby sighed.
"Even if you regard my views as being of the lunatic fringe", said Power, raising his voice a notch "At least let me show you my house. I can guarantee you will be impressed".
And they were. Startled too. Power was a recluse, he informed them, that was why he had built his living quarters entirely underground. Only by doing that could he be guaranteed absolute privacy. But the design of the house contradicted his vehement assertions that he was of an anti-social nature. If he was so reclusive, why did an electric-powered lift, large enough to accommodate twelve people at a time, take them down to his underground domain? Why were the rooms all so big, including a ballroom?
"This whole place is extraordinary", said Kieran, as Power left them free to wonder the grand rooms on their own "It must be one of the trippiest places we've been in yet".
"He's not short of money either", said Joby "Electric light in all the rooms, fully-heated. Not much furniture, but what there is is good stuff".
Lonts stood in the middle of the vast echoey ballroom and did a short dance, which involved a lot of arm-waving and hand-clapping.
"Mine host is ill though", Adam whispered to Kieran and Joby, as they watched Lonts perform his little routine.
"Not right in the head you mean?" said Joby.
"You remember that bad-tempered neighbour we had when we lived in the apartment?" said Adam.
"Man in a dressing-gown", Kieran recalled.
"To me he always looked like an illustration of depression", said Adam "Unkempt, run-down, exhausted. That's who Power reminds me of".
"There's a bit more wrong with him than depression Ad", said Joby "He's completely screwy".
"That remains to be seen", said Adam "But I would gauge he's certainly had a massive nervous breakdown at some point over the past few years. May even be schizophrenic".
"I'm not saying he's dangerous, but perhaps we should get Lonts out of here", said Kieran.
"He's quite safe here", said Power, creeping up behind them silently "I have no interest in harming Bible-bashers. Quite the reverse, I feel sorry for them. Lonts is a symbol of all that has been wrong with the world for centuries. The Kiskevians killed themselves because they believed the lies of a religious fanatic".
"The Kiskevians, tragically, were particularly vulnerable to that kind of influence", said Kieran.
"And how does that make them a symbol of what's wrong with the world?" said Joby.
"The human race has been manipulated all along", said Power, his soft shoes making slapping noises against the highly-polished parquet floor "Men manipulated by what they read in the newspapers in the morning, believing the lies the establishment tell them".
"Sounds like you've got a touch of paranoia to me", said Joby.
"Yes, the same paranoia that led to the Massacre of the Women", Power hissed "Men believed the lies that were printed, the evil stories that were spread around, and then look what happened! It was a tragedy waiting to happen, ever since they centralised power in the City, and let religion have too big a hold. Religion killed the women. And now you", Power pointed accusingly at Kieran "have brought it back!"
"Men were practising religion in secret anyway", said Kieran "I just thought it was more sensible to be upfront about it. Whether you believe in God yourself or not, the fact remains that spirituality is a fundamental part of human nature".
"And it suits you to cultivate religious feeling", said Power "It keeps you in an unassailable position. Whilst they believe you're the Son of God you have unshakable power".
"I have never believed myself to be the Son of God", said Kieran, quietly "For a start it would be blasphemous for me to think anything of the kind. I am an ordinary, mortal man who, for reasons I will never know nor understand, was put into an extraordinary role and am trying to make the best of it. That is all".
Adam was diverted from this conversation by the sight of Lonts disappearing through a side-door into another room beyond.
"Stop him!" Power screamed "He's not supposed to go in there".
"Calm down", said Adam "He won't do any harm".
Joby pursued Lonts into the room. When he got there he stopped dead. The room was almost bare, lit by two standing braziers which flanked what appeared to be a black marble sarcophagus. Lonts was in the process of trying to prise the lid off it.
"I just wanted to see what was inside it Joby", he said.
By now Joby was pretty curious himself, but he could hear Power's voice approaching quite rapidly. Between them he and Lonts hastily slid back the heavy marble lid. Joby never believed he would be able to faint with shock, but at that moment he came close to it. Inside the sarcophagus lay a mummified corpse. The body was tightly swaddled in bandages (which didn't appear to be all that old), leaving only the face exposed. The face though was in an advanced state of decomposition. It was discoloured and wrinkled like a rotten peach. The shape of the swaddled body was undoubtedly female.
"Who the bloody hell is she?" Joby exclaimed, as Power came into the room.
"You'll find out in due course", said Power, sliding the lid back into place.
Joby looked dangerously close to hitting him out of exasperation, so Kieran hastily intervened.
"I think it's time we left", he said.
Another shock was to come before they left Power's extraordinary subterranean home. Hillyard had wandered into a bedroom, and found it decked out in a decidedly female way. Silver-backed hairbrushes and hand-mirrors were lined up on the dressing-table, along with bottles of cleansing lotion and moisturiser. A pink satin nightdress was thrown casually over the bedspread, as though waiting for someone to come in and put it on.
"What do you think?" said Hillyard, holding it up against him.
"Not your colour dear", said Adam.
"It's more your size", said Hillyard "Whoever wears this is a slim six-footer like you, so that rules out Power".
"Come on, we're going home", said Adam "All this is seriously weird".
It was a relief for one and all to get out of Thetislog Cross. There was something so unbearably gothic about Power, his underground palace, and his pet mummified corpse that it was all quite depressing.
"I wish we'd never gone", said Kieran, as the cart rumbled along below the trees "He's as potty as they come, and I dread to think what the significance of his mummy is".
"Suddenly I don't want to live up here anymore", said Ransey.
"Don't take it so hard", said Adam "We'll just leave him to it from now on. We won't accept anymore invitations from him, and if he sets foot on our property we'll let the dogs loose on him".
Finia was standing in a pool of light just outside the front door when they arrived back at Wolf Castle. From the expression on his face it was obvious the troubles of the night weren't over.
"We have a visitor", he said, disdainfully.
Kieran found Angel sitting in the hallway, reminding him of a hated possession that no matter how often you throw it away, it always returned eventually.
"How did you get here Angel?" said Kieran, incredulously.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Angel shrugged "Don't tell me you're going to chuck me out on a cold, dark night like this?"
"You'd be better off in the City", said Kieran.
"Don't see why", said Angel "I can find my amusements just as well wherever we are. You've only got to know the right places to look".
"Will I ever be free of you?"
"I don't call that a very grateful attitude", said Angel "Seeing as I once saved your life. You took blood from me shitface, and very grateful you were for it at the time".
"I can't believe this is the same bloke I spoke to at the Loud House that time", said Kieran.
"Yea well I thought I was out of my misery then didn't I?" said Angel, looking horribly dejected.
"Alright", Kieran sighed, and indicated for Hirrid to come nearer "Do we have any spare bedrooms Hirrid?"
"Only on the attic floor", Hirrid replied.
"That's o.k", said Kieran "The attic will suit him just fine".
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