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By Sarah Hapgood

On leaving Starhanger they went to a hotel on the seafront at Magnolia Cove. The town was covered in freezing winter fog, and even at 11 o’clock in the morning the street-lamps had been lit. Even in this poor visibility though they were still a conspicuous bunch, and when they entered the hotel foyer even more so, particularly the dogs, which were causing some of the other guests considerable alarm, in spite of Lonts’s repeated assurances that all was well.

“Now”, said Julian, putting one of the money-boxes that had been retrieved from the safe at Starhanger, and opening it up in front of the receptionist “We would like one of your function rooms for the rest of the afternoon, plus a full lunch, lobster thermidor I think is one of your specialities of the house from what I recall, and sparkling wine, as much as you can spare of both”.

“Could I also get a message boy to go to our sloop and tell Hegley and Clarissa where we are?” said Ransey.

“How nice it is to feel rich again”, said Adam.

“We’d still be rich now if it wasn’t for a certain conniving little shite-bag!” sasid Hillyard, glaring at Codlik.

“Hillyard, I …” Codlik put his hand on Hillyard’s arm, but Hillyard shook him off and irritably told him where to go.

A short while later, Kieran and Joby were sitting together in the window of the ground-floor function room, sipping sherry.

“Nice to have a glass of sherry after carrying out a major arson attack isn’t it!” said Joby “Oh cheer up, for God’s sake. Don’t start all that ‘I’ve failed again’ stuff, I couldn’t stand it! Look, we’ve got the kids out of Starhanger, we killed those murdering Ghoomers who crucified Brother Iggy, and we’ve deprived Silling Productions of one of their finest assets. You can’t say fairer than that for the time being now can yer!”

“And perhaps burning is the answer”, said Thetis, gravitating over to them, also with sherry “Perhaps all we can do is to burn the places where the evil appears”.

Kieran had also, like Julian, noticed Thetis’s enjoyment of the inferno, and was about to make some suitable quip, when Bengo came into the room and promptly fainted on the spot.

“It’s o.k”, said Bardin, plucking off his cap and waving it vigorously over Bengo’s face “It’s all just got a bit much for him lately that’s all”.

“I have some smelling-salts somewhere”, said Thetis, delving into her handbag.

“It’s amazing what she keeps in there!” Joby muttered to Kieran.

Bengo was brought round, and once he was reassured that they had actually left Starhanger, that he hadn’t dreamt it at all, he perked up immediately.

“He’ll be alright when he’s had something to eat”, said Ransey.

Sade propelled himself into the room.

“Oh God, watch out”, said Joby “It’s Dr Strangelove!”

“I hold out the most meagre of hopes”, said Sade “That the food we get here will be even remotely eatable. It would make a refreshing change!”

“Well you don’t have to stay with us, old love”, said Adam “You could go back to your own time. They must all be missing you at the Bastille most terribly!”

“Like a hole in the head I should imagine!” said Joby.

Five hours went past and they were still ensconced in the function room, having steadily got through several bottles of champagne, and cleaned out the hotel’s current stock of fresh lobster. They had forgotten about the need to make plans for the immediate future, and assumed vaguely that at some point they would go in the general direction of the sloop and Indigo Towers.

Then at 4 o’clock, when the winter twilight was bringing its unsettling presence to the town, Hegley and Clarissa turned up with the priest of the Magnolia Cove Church. All of them looked deeply unsettled.

“Hello Clarissa”, said Adam “I almost didn’t recognise you with your clothes on, old love!”

“Oh Adam”, Clarissa cried “Please sober up. It’s important you all get away from here”.

“Why, what’s happened now?” said Joby.

Lonts was trying to calm down the dogs and kept repeating the word “friends! Friends!” to them to stop them attacking the three visitors.

“There’s no time to explain”, said Hegley.

“Well I really think you should at least try!” said Adam.

“A friend of ours in the telegraph office has been receiving messages for Silling Productions H.Q at Krindei all day”, said Hegley “They’re furious at what you’ve done”.

“How did they know?” said Kieran.

“You burn down a house like Starhanger”, said Clarissa “It soon becomes common knowledge. There’s a film-crew at the gates there at this moment”.

“Good heavens, is there really?” said Adam.

“The people who run Silling Productions are evil”, said the priest, a young, handsome man who looked more like a suave professional gambler than a man of the cloth.

“Yes we know”, said Bardin “We’ve seen some of their handiwork for ourselves!”

“You are not safe anywhere in this town”, said the priest “But I can give you all sanctuary at my church”.

“With all due respect”, said Adam “I don’t see how we will be particularly protected there”.

“They wouldn’t dare violate sanctuary”, said the priest “The people in this town have tolerated a lot from them because of the money they’ve brought here, they’ve been good for the local economy, but they won’t tolerate a violation of sanctuary. It’s been a sacred right in this town ever since Kieran restored religion. The locals see it as insurance, if you like, a necessary protection if the vampires ever came back”.

(Kieran secretly doubted that the holy building would keep out Angel, but it would probably markedly reduce his powers. He doubted Angel could cause a poltergeist attack there on the scale of the one he had caused at Starhanger).

“You will be safe there as long as you don’t leave the building”, said the priest.

“And I can set demons of my own at the entrances to protect us”, said Crowley, who was looking very excited by all this “Psychic warfare against the powers of darkness. Oh, yes, that sounds right up my street!”

“I think they’ve stopped now”, said Joby, tentatively removing his ear-muffs. Kieran followed suit and removed his.

They had both been playing cards near the top of the bell-tower at the church where they had been given shelter. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and a service had just been underway down below. When the public were admitted to the church the 24 Esmeraldas made themselves scarce, even though the public very much knew they were there. In fact, church attendances had shot up in recent weeks, as customers strove to catch a glimpse of Kieran in the wainscoting. The public had been immensely supportive, donating food and drink and toiletries, as well as blankets and pillows. They would have donated candles as well, but the church wasn’t short of those. A coven of monks who lived in the woods to the south of the town had even donated their cast-off habits, and the 24 usually wore these for comfort and ease of movement around the echoey Gothic building.

“It’s hometime”, said Kieran, meaning the bells had finally run the parishioners out of the church.

“Elvis has left the building!” said Joby “God, peace and quiet at last. Sometimes I feel like bloody Quasimodo up here!”

“Esmeralda more like”, said Kieran “She was the one given sanctuary in Notre Dame”.

“You’re more appropriate as Esmeralda”, said Joby “I’m Quasi!”

“No, you’re far too sexy in that white habit!” said Kieran, patting Joby’s face.

They stood up and went to the stone window-ledge that looked out high over the town. Far down below the market square was looking particularly Christmassy in the snow.

“A bit different to last year”, said Joby.

Kieran squeezed his hand. Neither of them needed to say anymore. All the Indigo-ites had felt particularly sentimental about their bar in Zilligot Bay in the weeks running up to Christmas. They had been in danger then, but it was nothing compared to now. Here in the church they were effectively cornered. In the outside world the mysterious, faceless forces of darkness were amassing against them, waiting for the slip-up that would allow them to move in for the kill, like hunters after a fox.

In his more despairing moments (and Kieran tried to hide these from the others) Kieran was horrified that everything he had done in this time should have come to this. Unless a miracle happened they were finished, and finished by an enemy who still remained hidden from them, but whose presence was undeniably powerful all the same. And if that enemy got tired of waiting for the fox to emerge, they could chuck a burning torch into the church and burn the place down around them, forcing them to flee out into certain capture. The one and only consolation in all that was that if it happened it would they wouldn’t go quietly.

“Lo-Lo, do you think you could persuade Randolph to go out into the yard?” said Adam “He’s somewhat in the way in here”.

A narrow room behind the main altar, which contained a stone sink on brick legs, and a gas-ring, and had been turned into a makeshift kitchen, albeit a rather inadequate one for feeding 24 people from. It all led out into a back yard completely enclosed by a high wall, over which goodies were sometimes lobbed by passing townsfolk.

Randolph was one of the guard-dogs from Starhanger, whose massive frame was now blocking the path to the back door.

“Randolph?” said Joby “Where did that one come from? Rudolph I could understand, as we’re near Christmas”.

“I’m afraid Lo-Lo has never been very impressed by your story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, old love”, said Adam “He says he’s seen loads of reindeer in his time, but never one with a shiny red nose!”

“Oh no?” said Joby “And is it anymore implausible than the Happy Bears, who ride bikes and go out in the streets with only their jumpers on? If they really went around like that they’d get arrested for public indecency!”

“Don’t be silly, Joby”, said Lonts “Nobody can see their little whatsits”.

“A bit like yours really!” said Joby.

“Joby, go and fetch all the coffee-mugs from the side chapel”, said Adam “We’re short of cutlery in here at the moment”.

Everybody slept on the floor of the side chapel which, when the public was admitted to the main body of the church, was closed from view by a large screen on wheels. Joby had to reach it by walking from the kitchen through the main area of the church. The big wooden entrance doors had been closed and bolted, the priest had gone home, and now the only occupants were Codlik who had recently spent a rather worrying amount of time in prayer, and Sade, who hadn’t. Sade in fact (still forcibly wheelchair-bound) was sitting in front of the altar, fantasising about two nubile, naked young women pawing each other on the altar top, and about to lead up to the piece de resistance of doing something absolutely filthy with one of the crucifixes.

“Stop that! Stop it right now!” said Joby, who could see that Sade was fiddling with himself beneath his cassock “It’s disgusting doing it in here! It’s not respectful to the poor old vicar after everything he’s done for us”.

“English hypocrite!” sneered Sade.

Joby kicked him in his bad leg, and Sade screeched with pain.

Codlik suddenly stood up in his pew and staggered towards Joby. He looked like he was having a cardiac arrest.

“Are you alright?” said Joby.

“Joby, forgive me!” Codlik cried, lunging at him “I am a broken man!”

Joby was knocked over backwards. Codlik fell on top of him and grabbed his leg as though he was seizing a life-belt.

“I never meant to do harm”, Codlik wailed “Only good …”

“Get off me fucking leg!” said Joby “Pull yourself together, you’re a grown man for fuck’s sake!”

“It was a time of insanity”, Codlik went on “I got caught up in it all, swept along by my overwhelming desire to rid the world of evil!”

“Oh for crying out loud!2 Joby managed to wriggle away from Codlik and clamber to his feet.

Suddenly a huge, eyeless dog lunged out of the wall, knocking him backwards again. Joby screamed. The dog seemed huge, as big as a bungalow.

“Don’t panic!” said Crowley, coming out of the side chapel, followed by Thetis, Julian and Victor.

“It can’t harm you”, Crowley continued “It’s in a fourth dimension, it can’t physically harm you”.

Joby felt he needed rather more reassurance on that one. Thetis fired her pistol at the spectral animal. Kieran ran in from the other direction and grabbed a crucifix from the altar to chuck at it. The dog disappeared.

“Was this your handiwork?” Kieran asked Crowley.

“I set elementals to guard us whilst we’re here”, said Crowley “Unfortunately I’m rather rusty”.

“You and your bloody Magick, Crowley!” said Julian.

“Joby was quite safe”, said Crowley “As I said, the creature couldn’t actually harm him. It doesn’t exist in this dimension. I can explain the structure of the fourth dimension to you sometime”.

“I’ve had enough for one day!” Joby exclaimed “It was bad enough being mauled by Codlik, let alone that … that Thing! I’m gonna have a drink, and nobody try and top me!”

At the headquarters of Silling Productions, in the centre of Magnolia Cove, a rather nasty little ceremony was underway in the basement. The demons who ran the place behind the scenes had gone to strenuous efforts for several days now to prepare themselves for a ritual to raise the Devil. They were angered and bewildered by both Sade and Crowley seemingly defecting over to Kieran’s camp, and were determined somehow to bring some power onto their side. So far they had gained negative power and influence through the age-old time-honoured means of drugs and bad sex. But these weren’t helping them to eject Kieran from the church where he had taken sanctuary.

So for days they had made various unsavoury preparations, such as not washing or changing their clothes, and eating only dog-flesh. Now they were all stood on the bare earth soil of the cellar, in order to absorb the energy of the earth itself, most particularly that of the lost souls who lay beneath it.

They wailed for the Devil to appear and rid them of the menace that was Kieran, he who had destroyed Starhanger and burnt Lixix to the ground.

Angel did appear, but not as they had expected. He had materialised in the archives room, where some of their worst celluloid masterpieces were stored, and wrecked it. Some of the atrocities contained on the film had touched a raw, personal nerve within Angel, one that he didn’t want to analyse for himself. When a demonic minion came in to find out the cause of the hubbub within, Angel tore him to pieces and scattered his remains amongst the wreckage of peversions and abominations. His contempt for the low-lifes who had summoned him was absolutely total.

On Christmas morning Kieran was to preach from the balcony of the belfry to the people in the square. He began his preparations in the room behind by donning a bullet-proof vest, to be worn under his habit.

Adam bustled into the belfry-room. He had hardly slept the night before, and knew he wouldn’t relax until Kieran’s dangerous “Christmas Day spectacular” (as the clowns called it) was over.

“Hurry up dressing, Patsy”, he said “Mr Crowley’s on his way up here”.

“Why, do you think he’ll get turned on by the sight of me in a bullet-proof vest?” Kieran teased.

“Probably, knowing him”, said Joby.

Toppy and Bengo were helping Kieran to dress. Bengo fell off the footstool he had been standing on and landed sprawling on the floor at Crowley’s feet, his habit around his waist and his nuts exposed in all their glory. Bardin crossly pulled him to his feet, and dragged him to the other side of the room.

“Why haven’t you got any pants on?” he hissed.

“I thought that being dressed like this”, said Bengo “It would be nice to just sorta swish around with none on sometimes. Well I wasn’t expecting to fall over was I!”

“Why not, you usually manage it!” said Bardin “Stupid clown! I’ll deal with you after the show!”

“Ooh!” Bengo cried.

“Are you ready yet?” Ransey snapped at Kieran. Ransey had been standing at the glass doors looking pensively out at the crowd for some time. He simply wanted it all over and done with.

“I’m ready”, said Kieran.

“It was when he threw his arms up in the air that got me”, said Joby “His sleeves fell back and there was these little stick-like arms, like a kids”.

He and Hillyard were down in the crypt, getting out some bottles of wine they had stored down there in the cool and the dark.

“I didn’t know how tense I’d got with it all until I noticed afterwards that that horrible knot in my stomach had gone”, said Hillyard.

He put down the carriage-lamp he had been holding on the dusty floor. He looked around him furtively.

“You fancy a quick one?” he said.

“Yeah, go on then”, said Joby.

He leant forward over a wine-barrel. Hillyard lifted up the back of Joby’s cassock, yanked down his pants and rogered him.

“God, you’re so sexy”, Hillyard panted.

When he was rearranging himself afterwards Joby noticed a burly figure standing at the top of the crypt’s stone steps. He shuffled away under scrutiny.

“God, there’s no fucking privacy in this place!” Joby exclaimed “Who was that?”

“Crowley I expect”, said Hillyard “It can’t have been Sade, it didn’t have wheels”.

“Don’t show yourself up like that again!” Bardin shouted through the store-room door at Bengo “You wear pants at all times from now on. There are too many funny buggers round here!”

“Yeah, including you!” Bengo shouted back.

Bardin went into the main body of the church, muttering to himself. Adam went into the store-room where Bengo had put on a singlet and pants, to be worn under his cassock. Adam playfully tipped him over and spanked him. Bengo giggled.

“Take some wine along to them”, said Adam, when he’d finished chastising him “And don’t forget to put your habit on first!”

Bardin was seated at a long dining table at the side of the main part of the church, in the shadowy side recess beyond the pillars. He was there with Julian and Crowley when Bengo carried out the jug of wine to them.

“I am striving to find us a way out of here”, Crowley was saying “A portal into another dimension through which we can escape”.

“That sounds dodgy if you ask me”, said Julian “I would rather find a means of escape into this world! For all it’s faults we at least know it”.

“The dark forces out there have you snared, Julian”, said Crowley “One should know when to fight and when not to. If you came into my time, only temporarily, you would have a chance to obtain some proper protection, and thus come back into this one, empowered”.

“Why are you going to all this trouble?” said Julian, regally waving at Bengo to sit down next to Bardin “I know you’re infatuated with Kieran, but after several weeks it should be fading surely?”

“Why?” said Crowley “Your own particular infatuation for him hasn’t faded after several decades!”

Julian was spared from having to think of a reply by Tamaz scuttling through the area on his way to the kitchen. Crowley was completely distracted by him.

“Intoxicating creature”, said Crowley, as Tamaz disappeared into the kitchen “Highly stimulating, reminds me of my first wife”.

“Rose?” said Julian.

“Yes”, said Crowley “Very like her in many ways. You have managed to save Tamaz, curb his excesses. I failed to rescue Rose from hers. Perhaps towards the end I had simply stopped loving her enough”.

“You still carry a bit of torch for her though don’t you?” said Julian.

“She was the first woman I truly loved”, said Crowley “Oh I had had infatuations before, mad longings, usually with older, married women. All good experiences for a young man with red blood in his veins. But Rose wasn’t like that. She was girl, a skittish, irresponsible and yet utterly enchanting girl. The day I married her I felt a love I never though I would ever know. On our first evening together I sat down in the hotel lobby and wrote a sonnet to her beauty, thinking I was Percy Shelley! I was like a lovesick swain out of a Shakespearian comedy! An endless riot of sex, travel, oysters and champagne, that was our extended honeymoon”.

“Why did it go wrong?” said Bengo, ignoring Bardin’s stern looks to be silent “I can’t imagine falling out of love with someone I was as nuts about as that”.

“Ignore him”, said Bardin to Crowley “When it comes to love Bengo’s still 6-years-old!”

“He is pure of heart”, said Crowley “Oh what went wrong with Rose and I … the usual oh-so-very-human catalogue of tragedies. She drank, it was an inherited condition, her mother was a drunkard too. Rose drank heavily. It was through her sottish neglect that our child died of typhus”.

“That can’t exactly have helped matters”, said Julian “It would put a strain on any marriage”.

“No, as you say it didn’t help”, said Crowley “And as Rose’s drinking got worse a friend of mine even urged me to stop having sexual relations with her, because her condition would only get passed onto the next generation. Her sexual adventurousness, which had so intoxicated me at first, now repulsed me in its uncouthness. And yet I never stopped truly caring for her. She continued to travel up to Boleskine with me, although we now occupied rooms at the opposite ends of the house. And she lived with me for a year after our divorce. I was too young even then to be fully firm enough with her, I was still too full of schoolboy romantic notions. If I had been less of an impulsive romantic things might have had a chance of turning out differently”.

Codlik shuffled across the area into the main body of the church. He had pulled the hood of his cassock well over his head, and he looked like the Ghost of Christmas Future.

“Now there is a haunted man”, said Crowley “He was telling me recently about his lady-friend”.

“Nola?” said Julian “Now there’s a rum ‘un!”

“She sounds like an incarnation of Hecate, the third Moon Goddes”, said Crowley “Hecate, the bitter and frustrated crone, from the dark side of the moon. Whereas Thetis is Artemis, the wise, strong, courageous Moon Goddess. Thetis is Greek for strong-minded, did you know that?”

“It figures somehow!” said Julian.

After supper Kieran took Tamaz up to the belfry. The others thought it was for a bit of privacy. In actual fact it was to see Angel, whom Kieran had sensed was close by. This was confirmed by the candle which Kieran had been carrying to light their way. As they neared the top of the bell-tower, the flame turned blue.

Angel was standing just outside the glass doors which led out onto the balcony from where Kieran had preached earlier in the day. Angel looked appalling, haggard and tortured deep within himself.

“I’m fed up with all of you!” Angel rasped out the words like poison “You, and that bunch of demons in the town, you claim be on different sides, but you’re all involved in the same game. You took in that Sade bloke, and I know for a fact that all he wants to do is to corrupt the innocent. I know, I’ve seen what they do!”

“Angel”, Kieran gave an anguished cry “You’re in pain, let me help me”.

“And tame me is that it?” said Angel, and he pointed at Tamaz “House-train me, like you did with that one!”

“You’re being preposterous”, said Tamaz.

“You need love”, said Kieran to Angel “It’s the only way to rid yourself of the burden you’re carrying. Let me love you”.

“Get away from me!” Angel stepped back out onto the balcony “I’m gonna destroy you all, the whole damn lot of you!”

“Angel!” Kieran yelled, as Angel stepped off the balcony and fled, like a high-speed bat down the steep walls outside.

“What’s he going to do?” said Tamaz.

“I expect we’re soon going to find out”, said Kieran.

They found out before they had even reached the ground floor of the church. The whole area was being rocked by a sound as of giant feet stamping towards them.

“What is that?” said Bengo, who had instinctively dived under the dining-table “Is it earth tremors?”

“It seems to be coming from above the ground, not below it”, said Adam.

Kieran, Bardin and Tamaz fled up the main aisle towards the doors. They heaved open the huge iron bolts on the inside and pulled the doors open. Almost immediately they saw a huge figure, the height of a skyscraper, looming up over the buildings in the distance.

“It’s one of t-those Tall Things”, said a man, who had been hurrying past “Get below ground, it’s the only chance!”

“You heard what the man said”, said Bardin “Let’s all go down into the crypt, NOW!”

He blew sharply on his whistle for good measure.

“Kieran, you are a fool if you think Angel can be transformed by love”, said Sade, when everyone was assembled in the candlelit crypt “You must simply accept that some people are born bad”.

“I can’t accept that”, said Kieran “What you’re suggesting is a council of despair, and despair is the greatest sin of all. I may be wrong, but I saw something to him up there. He is like the souls in Hell, he is full of pain that tortures him and he won’t let go of it”.

“He can’t”, said Sade “His soul rejected his body at birth. He is a vampire, his blood-lust and his urge to destroy is all that he knows”.

“But Tamaz is a Ghoomer”, said Lonts “They only know destruction normally, but he’s got beyond it, so has Mieps”.

“Much as I would normally enjoy such a fascinating philosophical discussion”, said Crowley “I fear this isn’t the time or the place for it. I urge you all to take advantage of the portal I have uncovered”.

The violent crashing sounds as the church was destroyed immediately above them brooked no argument from anywhere. All 24 of them walked towards the hole Crowley indicated in the far wall, from which a dim light was showing.

“We’ll have to send Sade’s chair down on ahead”, said Bardin, peering down the steep tunnel which was on the other side of the wall “Then we’ll slide down, with our packs on our stomachs”.

“You would have made an excellent mountaineer”, said Crowley “It’s rather like glissading, except we will be doing it on our backs, not our stomachs”.

“This is very like the rabbit-hole in ‘Alice In Wonderland’”, said Adam, as the others prepared the shove their camping equipment on behind Sade’s chair, so that wherever they eventually landed they would not end up caught in its wheel-spokes “Will we end up in Wonderland I wonder?”

“To show my integrity”, said Crowley “I will go first”.

And so it came to pass, with a profound sense of liberty, that they all slid down the shoot from that gloomy Christmas church and into the unknown.

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