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By Sarah Hapgood

“I’m sorry, Kiel”.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve been under a lot of strain for ages now, it’s bound to happen occasionally, or not happens as the case may be”.

“Yeah, but I don’t like disappointing you”.

“You haven’t!” said Kieran.

He and Joby were lying in bed on the first floor of the house that they had once visited the year before. This time they had come up through the interior of the rock, leaving the sloop moored at the bottom. The inside of the rock had stone steps winding round a central pulley shaft, which had been used to move supplies up to the house. The Indigo-ites had moved their animals up on it.

The house was deserted, and had been for some time, judging by the dust everywhere. There was alcohol and non-perishable food items in the house, but no fresh produce. They had searched the house for any remaining life, but had unearthed none. What they had found was that the house was much larger than they’d originally thought, it was a rabbit-warren of hidden rooms and passages, and they strongly suspected there was even more that they hadn’t yet seen.

Kieran believed that this house held the key to all that had gone before, that Starhanger had only been like a showpiece place. That the “headquarters”, for want of a better word, lay here.

A row broke out in the bathroom next door between Mieps and Bengo, their words camouflaged by the sound of running bath-water. Suddenly there was a loud splash, a shout from Bengo, and the tapping of Mieps’s walking-stick as he headed off down the passage outside.

“Now what?” said Joby.

“Help!” Bengo shouted “I’m stuck! Help!”

Joby and Kieran got wearily out of bed and went to see what was wrong. They found Bengo sitting sideways in the bath-tub, awkwardly wedged in there from where Mieps had pushed him backwards. “Are you still keeping up your vigilance of Mieps then, Bengo?” said Kieran, as they pulled him out.

“How many times have we said don’t take on Mieps”, said Joby “He always gets the better of you”.

“No he doesn’t!” said Bengo, pulling a towel off the rack and knocking the whole contraption over.

“We don’t think he is messing around with Codlik”, said Kieran “And even if he was that’s for Julian to sort out”.

“I can take on Mieps”, said Bengo, looking very fierce, especially now that Bardin had also joined them in the room.

“Oh God, now I’ve heard everything”, said Joby “Bengo the Enforcer!”

“You’re wanted in the kitchen”, said Bardin, to both Joby and Bengo “Adam’s unearthed a very old bottle of port from the cellar, and Crowley’s going to show you how to open it”.

“Since when do we need any help opening a bottle!” said Joby.

“Surely you just pull the cork out?” said Kieran.

“He’s got some fancy way apparently”, said Bardin.

“Yeah”, said Joby “It probably involves rubbing it and a genii pops out!”

When Crowley had decanted the port (opening it by using a large pair of pliers heated in the kitchen stove), Joby took a glass out to Hillyard, who was converting the outhouse in the kitchen yard into a hen-coop. He had taken the gramophone from the sloop, and this was now sitting out in the brisk mountain air trilling a very old song about a bandit who apparently fancied himself as a bit of alright.

Hillyard pronounced approval of the port.

“Glad to hear it”, said Joby “After all the performance Crowley did opening it!”

“Are you o.k?” said Hillyard.

“Yeah”, Joby barked “Why?”

“I heard on the grapevine you was having a spot of trouble”, said Hillyard “Stress-related if you know what I mean”.

“What grapevine?” said Joby “Has Toppy been listening at doors again?”

“Your brother told me just now”, said Hillyard “Said ‘our Joby’s having trouble getting it up’. Now don’t get narked, these things happen. Talk to Uncle Hillyard about it”.

“There’s naff all to say!” said Joby “Kieran says the end-game’s in sight, that we’ve only got one more chasm to cross as it were, but that chasm feels like about a 100 miles wide, and we could all fall into it!”

“But just think about our bar in Zilligot Bay waiting for us at the end of it all”, said Hillyard “Only a few day’s journey from here”.

“Yeah, but that’s another thing innit!” said Joby “How do we get from here to there? The bridge to the mainland’s gone, and we’re totally confused about where all the water we’re surrounded by goes”.

“Ransey thinks there might be caves underneath us connecting this area to the ocean somehow”, said Hillyard “He’s turning the library inside out at this moment as we speak looking for maps, or anything that can help us when we come to get out of here”.

In the dining-room Crowley was annoying Julian by playing the gramophone recordings of his voice, one of which had so nonplussed them on their first visit to the house the year before.

“This was one of your little tasks for the Satanic sex-n-horror mob was it?” said Julian, who was taking full advantage of the stock of cigars found in the sideboard “Along with torturing pigs?”

“Don’t quite follow you, old boy”, said Crowley.

Julian told him about the pig having its eyes gouged out when they were at the Horn. Julian caustically remarked that torturing animals was nothing new to Aleister.

“I confess I carried out a scientific experiment on a cat when I was a boy”, said Crowley “To ascertain if it really did have 9 lives. But I had immense sympathy for it throughout”.

“How can you have immense sympathy for something you’re torturing?” said Ransey, who was at the far end of the table perusing peculiar abstract drawings of what seemed to be numerous inter-connecting tubes.

“You would have made a good Nazi, Crowley”, said Julian.

“I don’t take offence easily, Julian”, said Crowley “But I am offended by your remark, as any true Englishman of my generation would be. I lived in London during part of the Blitz, I saw the devestation first-hand, in fact a bomb exploded right outside my flat. I wrote poetry urging England to stand firm, and it was I who gave Winston Churchill his idea for the ‘V for Victory’ gesture”.

“I apologize”, said Julian, much to Ransey’s astonishment “I went too far”.

“I know I did many foolish things when I was younger”, said Crowley “As a boy I constantly kicked against my upbringing and background. I thought you might understand that only too well yourself, I’ve heard you talking to your brother”.

“I understand”, Julian mumbled.

“Neither of you knew you were born if you ask me”, said Ransey, rustling diagrams indignantly “You should have tried having the kind of upbringing Hillyard and I had! It’s a miracle we turned out human”.

“I wasn’t aware you had!” said Julian.

“Children, please!” said Crowley “Let’s get back to the foul crime of which I stand accused. The incident with the pig was not my doing. Demons can shapeshift, one may well have impersonated me, like they borrowed these gramophone recordings of my voice to fool you that I was behind all this”, Crowley gestured at the four walls around them “And they succeeded, did they not? For a very long time you thought I was responsible for everything”.

“Crowley, you’re an intelligent man”, said Ransey “So why were you so damn foolish as to play with evil as you did? Raising demons and all that”.

“Practitioners of my form of Magick”, said Crowley “Believe that, if care is taken, we can conjure up demons and use them as our tame slaves. Unfortunately it is hellishly difficult to achieve. It is rather like the drugs, in that, too late, I realised they were controlling me, not I them. That’s why I take my hat off to Kieran, he has achieved that with the two Ghoomers”.

Bengo came in, carrying a tray of cutlery, with which he was to set the table for lunch. He snapped at Ransey for having covered half the table with vast sheets of paper. Ransey sternly rebuked him for being “lippy”. Julian took Bengo into a small room off the hall to find out what was making him so tense.

Julian was more amused than anything when Bengo told him about his concerns over Mieps.

“I wondered why Mieps has been glaring at you so much”, said Julian, walking round the white-painted room which was used to store boots and outdoor clothing “Id’ be damn cross if anyone thought I was having an affair with Codlik!”

“Oh don’t tell Bardy I was rude to Ransey, please!” Bengo wailed “He’ll lecture me for hours. I couldn’t stand it. I’ll kill myself!”

“Such dramatic gestures will not be necessary”, said Julian “But reassure yourself about Mieps. He has seen Codlik’s weaknesses too much of late, and Mieps despises emotional weakness”.

They left the room and found Mieps waiting for them in the hall. Mieps thought Bnego had been making yet more false accusations against him, so he hissed and clutched his walking-stick in a threatening manner. Bengo tried unsuccessfully to hide behind Julian.

“Away back into your lair, you old witch!” said Julian to Mieps, pointing at the library.

Mieps went into the library, where Thetis was smoking a joint, speared like a cocktail sausage on a large hatpin. “Why do you let him speak to you like that?” said Thetis.

“Used to it”, Mieps grunted, sitting in a nearby armchair and reaching for his knitting-bag.

Thetis gravitated over to him and perched herself on the arm of the chair.

“It amazes me that Tamaz is the one with the gorgonising powers”, she said “Your eyes are far more disturbing to my mind”.

“Tamaz is a child”, said Mieps.

Thetis had lost a lot of weight during their recent adventures. She hadn’t exactly been a big woman to begin with, and now her headlamp eyes dominated her face even more, staring out as though from a sheet of tight thin parchment. Most people look older when they lose weight, but Thetis looked much younger.

Mieps put down his knitting and led her over to a door in the corner of the library, which contained a spiral stone staircase which connected them to the bedrooms on the first floor.

Adam was dismayed by this latest strand in the complex web of all their connecting relationships. Julian though thought it was amusing, and said he’d rather have Mieps and Thetis fooling around with each other, than, as he put it, “charging around like a pair of oversexed loose cannons, causing mayhem in their wake”.

It was bitterly cold outside their mountain-top retreat, but the inside of the house was almost claustrophobically fuggy, with lit fires, cigar-smoke, and the pungent aroma of hash, all combining to create an indoor fog-bank.

In the library after lunch Piers, Codlik and Josh (who all seemed to be slipping into the roles of the disreputable uncles whom no one really wanted living with them, but they had to be tolerated as they had nowhere else to go) took their share of the intoxicating substances on offer. Or rather Piers and Josh did, Codlik had instead almost surgically attached himself to the gin bottle.

He was standing in front of the fireplace muttering about how he had always done what he had believed to be right at the time. Piers sat in an armchair, staring intently into space, and Josh had stripped himself to the waist and was now standing lurching forward precariously, like a spindly tree caught in a gale.

“If he falls over I’ll shout timber!” said Joby, bringing a tray of clean glasses into the room.

“Be prepared for the cloud of dust from the sofa if he lands on that!” said Julian.

“Mieps and Thetis could at least have asked us in to watch couldn’t they?” said Hillyard.

“I find that remark in very poor taste!” said Adam, aware that Sade was listening avidly for any crumb of detail that might fall his way. Adam knew he had pestered Madame de Sade to help him upstairs whilst Mieps and Thetis’s sort-of Sapphic union took place, but that for once Madame de Sade had firmly refused to do any such thing.

“Alright, keep your knickers on!” said Hillyard “It was only a joke!”

Adam went into the hall, where Kieran was sitting halfway up the stairs, idly plucking on Rumble’s banjo.

“It’s beginning to feel like a particularly sordid casbah round here!” said Adam, going up the steps to join him.

“That’s a good thing”, said Kieran “It’ll keep Angel out of our hair, he won’t want to come here with all this rampant licentiousness going on”.

“For once I don’t blame him!” said Adam.

Late that afternoon Joby was pestered by his brother. Josh had got it into his head (befuddled as it was by hash) that Angel would now come for him in particular. Joby suggested that Josh speak to Kieran about all this, but Josh refused. Joby strongly suspected this was because Josh was afraid of Kieran, but he was never likely to admit it.

“It’s that foul stuff you’ve been smoking today”, said Adam, in the kitchen at twilight “It’s making you paranoid, convinced someone’s out to get you. Alcohol can produce the same effect. Why don’t you go and find something useful to do?”

“He can’t”, said Joby “He’s completely useless at everything!”

“Joby, nobody in the world is completely useless”, said Adam.

“He is!” said Joby.

“This is all your fault”, said Josh to Adam.

“What is?” Adam snapped.

“Why he’s so mouthy these days”, said Josh, pointing at Joby “He was never like that when he was little, all argumentative like. It’s you lot, you’ve poisoned his whole attitude”.

“We’ve taught him to stand up for himself you mean!” Adam retorted “Really, you two and your incessant bickering! You’re like a pair of grumpy old men in an old people’s home! It actually makes me relieved that Julian and Piers hardly ever communicate!”

Very late that night Julian roamed the upstairs landing after everyone else had gone to bed. Whilst in the bathroom a short while before he had heard a strange noise, and it was preying on his mind. It had seemed to be coming up through the pipework, and sounded bizarrely like an underground train.

Adam approached in the half-light, pulling his dressing-gown around him.

“Jules”, he whispered “You’ve heard it too haven’t you? I also heard it in the bathroom”.

“Just now?” said Julian.

“Yes”, said Adam “The noise seems to be travelling up from way below us. I keep thinking of that underground train …”

“Where Toppy nearly got pulled into the wall?” said Julian “It seems Kieran is right, this is where the end game really begins in earnest. You look exhausted my old friend, you should get some sleep … whilst we can at least”.

“Goodnight, old love”, said Adam.

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