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Joby had heard the scream and shivered, assuming it to be from one of the Loud House's less familiar inmates. At the same time one of Angel's hands slipped off his chest, and he noticed that a few sprigs of hair grew on the palm. He was examining it when Kieran stumbled into the room.
"Shit!" Joby exclaimed "What happened to you?"
"Now is your big chance to say I-told-you-so", Kieran wheezed, and grabbed his stomach "Adam went apeshit".
"What did you say to him?"
"I don't know. He just went. I can't handle him Jobe, he's beyond me. Beyond everyone. You're right, I'm out of me depth. Me with me arrogance. Always thinking I can handle every situation", Kieran's knees buckled beneath him, and Joby caught him just in time.
"Well he's not here now", Joby half-carried his friend into the Woman's Bedroom "You'd better lie down and let your head clear".
"What about Angel?"
"Oh sod Angel! I should think he's more than a match for any freak around here", Joby pulled out a grimy handkerchief from his pocket and made Kieran hold it to his throbbing eye "Did you know, he's got hair growing on his palms?"
"Nothing surprises me about that boy", Kieran winced from a fresh onslaught of pain "Nothing at all. But then I don't understand anything anymore".
"Oh stop jabbering. Going over it isn't gonna help. What's done's done".
"I spect you're disgusted with me".
"I'd be more disgusted with you if you let it happen again. Why don't we just get out of here? There's a tower at the other end of this corridor. I'll go up it and see if I can locate a better way out of here, spy out the land beyond the Loud House".
"What about Adam and Angel?"
"Made for each other!"
Adam sat on a broken settle in the room with bottle-green walls and felt shame. As he always did once the blackness had cleared. That same blackness that always came over him when the rage was too strong.
He sobbed and berated himself, cursing his lack of control, his desperate hunger for love that always ensured he destroyed any chances of it. Then he sobbed at the unfairness of it all. That he had waited so long for Kieran, only for it to be ruined by five minutes of naked human emotion.
Gradually as the anger and shame subsided, he felt only an exhausted resignation. The dreadful knowledge that Kieran might never give him what he craved, which was the kind of blind devotion that forsakes all others and the world.
That simply wasn't possible. Kieran was a will-o-the-wisp, who took life at face-value, and enjoyed sex for its own sake and not for what it represented or promised. Devotion would bore him very quickly. Slowly though Adam began to see a way out. If he played the game by Kieran's rules for a while, accepted the casualness of the relationship. After all, hadn't Kieran come to him back at the inn, without any prompting on his part? So, all things were possible.
Adam gripped the arm of the settle as though enthusing himself with determination. A soft footfall behind the door made him look up. The door was open a crack, and through it a face peered at him. He caught the blur of an ivory-coloured skin, and a piercing dark eye, ferocious in the intensity of its glare.
There was something about the hateful stare that chilled Adam's blood. He realised that he was alone in the lower portion of the house, and cursed himself for not heeding his own advice about staying in company. It had all been an incredibly idiotic thing to do. Hitting Kieran, and then getting himself isolated within the house had both been acts of monumental stupidity.
He braced himself to look as menacing as he could, and strode towards the door. All the while he tried to tell himself that whoever it was must be a coward at heart to lurk in the shadows and hide behind doors. He didn't feel reassured by that thought though.
He took a deep breath and pulled the door open sharply, nearly hitting himself in the face as he did so. Beyond it, the atrium was empty. A cold breeze swept down from the broken skylight above and ruffled his hair. Directly opposite him, another door gaped half-open. Although he couldn't see the face, he still felt as though he was being watched.
"You're being absurd!" he yelled, shakily "Why do you keep prowling and watching? Why don't you show yourself? What are you ashamed of?"
He almost felt, although he couldn't be sure, that he heard a far scream, and the sound of someone retreating into the distance, burrowing further into the depths of the house. The scream was more animal than human, and it went through Adam like a knife. It hammered on his nerves the way the distant, wordless singing had done at the inn.
"My God", he whispered "What are we up against?"
At the top of the tower Joby scrambled up the last few crumbling steps, and emerged into the fog. It wasn't as dense up here, and he found he could see some way into the distance. To the north was the Grey Sea, few surprises there, although the lighthouse was still dark. Directly to the west, beyond the environs of the Loud House, the ground became lusher. There were tufts of grass, and rocks with moss growing on them. A broken and blackened archway stood by itself at the end of a small mass of jagged, crooked headstones, this was all that remained of an ancient graveyard.
Beyond that it was hard to tell through the vista of fog, but Joby felt with certainty that in that direction lay the way out of here. As he turned to go back down the stairs a movement far below caught his eye.
There was a hole sunk in the ground at the rear entrance to the graveyard, surrounded by a raised circle of bricks. It was too large to be a drain cover, but Joby worked out that it must be the external back entrance to the cellar. Slowly a trapdoor swung open, and fell with a muffled thud against the bricks.
Something rose out of the hole and clamped itself firmly against the bricks. It was a hand, long and reptilian, with a distinct mustardy hue. A hairless head followed it with slow certainty, pulling its cumbersome naked body up behind it. It scrambled around on all fours, and blinked rapidly in the muted daylight. A long, thin tongue, like that of an anteater's, shot out of its mouth and licked its face.
Joby managed to shake himself out of his terrified trance, and proceeded to half-run half-fall back down the tower steps.
Angel whimpered in his sleep and shook so violently that he woke himself up. There was meat nearby, he could almost feel his nose twitching as though in anticipation of a good meal. He rubbed his eyes, but they remained blurred and out of focus. The door nearby was lost in a haze, he could barely discern its outline.
He got off the truckle bed and felt unsteady on his feet. He groped his way out of the room and along the corridor. He avoided the top of the atrium staircase and instead went further back into the house, towards a twisting, stairway which corkscrewed down to the floor below.
Holding onto the wall on both sides he crept downwards, neither seeing, hearing or touching anything properly. He was detached from his environment, only aware of the nearness of meat. At the bottom a windowless corridor sloped sharply down towards an indoor stream. On the rock-strewn bank sat a child, little bigger than a rabbit, and yet fully developed in all it senses.
Its sex was indeterminate, its skin yellow and covered with a fine sparse fur from head to toe. Its eyes blinked in the dim light.
An image flickered into Angel's blurred consciousness. Himself as a child. Rain falling in a wood. Footsteps crunching over dead leaves. He, barely any bigger than this creature, tucked into the crook of a man's arm. The man's hair yellow and brittle like Adam's. A horribly sharp pain had followed, as though a knife had been inserted into his throat. Angel had cried and struggled, but then he strangely began to enjoy the pain. It contained a perverse thrill of excitement that was beyond any thought or reason. That had been the beginning.
He shook himself firmly back to the present. This child, creature, whatever it was, scampered over the rocks towards him as though expecting a titbit. Angel leaned forward and coaxed the creature onwards. It gurgled and smiled broadly, its mouth seemed to split its yellow face in half.
Angel put his hands under the creature's armpits and lifted it up. The creature kicked its feet in delight. Angel's eyes blurred even more as the urge came over him. He sank his teeth into the child's stomach and ripped out its intestines. The child squealed briefly but was then silent.
When Angel had finished he tossed the skin away, and it fell amongst the rocks, where it lay like a furry after-birth. Bloated, Angel made his way back up the bank. For the moment he felt satiated.
Adam had cautiously gone beyond the door on the other side of the atrium, and found himself in a cavernous room, a room that was so large it disappeared into the dimness at the far end. It was bathed in a deep, orangey glow from the light of several candles standing in floor-sconces at precise intervals.
His shadow was thrown large against the wall, and he felt horribly conspicuous in the eerie light. Set into the wall on his left was a low doorway with a stone overmantel. The door was only about five-feet high and firmly shut. Adam moved towards it and then stopped. He felt paralysed, rooted to the spot. He willed himself to go forward, but he found he couldn't. His own subconscious was rebelling, refusing to take him any further.
Kieran awoke drowsily to feel something dripping onto his face. He touched it irritably, but it continued.
"What the ...?" he opened his eyes to find Angel standing over him.
The boy was holding his arm over Kieran's face and squeezing blood from a small gash in his arm directly onto him.
"Stop it!" Kieran bellowed, and scrambled across the bed.
Angel watched him in bewilderment, his eyes were glazed and almost luminous.
"I'm helping", he muttered.
"Helping? I don't need your help thank you very much. Where have you been, you little shit? What have you been up to?"
"You look weak", the boy went on "Injured. I can help you. Blood gives strength".
"Where have you been getting it from?"
"B-below", Angel suddenly looked ludicrously terrified that Kieran might be cross with him. He stammered and looked defensive. "T-the underground stream. It was there".
"WHO was there?"
"A child, a creature, a goblin I think", Angel turned and ran from the room, like a small child who had been caught out doing something naughty. In the doorway he collided with Joby, and left him standing there.
"He's awake then?" said Joby.
"He's been scavenging again. Says there are goblins by an underground stream. Normally I'd think he'd been dreaming if it wasn't for the fact that he's choc-full of blood".
"We'd better get after him".
"Why?" Kieran winced in pain and slouched against the wall, clutching his stomach.
"Well we're gonna have to do something about him. We can't leave him here on his own".
"I don't see why not, best place for him".
"Yea well we just can't. Neither can we take him with us. I've seen a possible way out of here, beyond an old graveyard just outside of here, but I think Angel's too far gone to come too. Who's to say he won't start on us, when we're in the middle of nowhere?"
"What do we do then?"
"Kill him", Joby mumbled "It's the only way".
"Stake through the heart I suppose!" Kieran said, sarcastically.
"You think of something then!"
"We can't just kill him in cold blood. That would make us no better than he is".
"He's got no life Flannery. He lives like an animal. It'd be the kindest thing".
"You can do it then. I'm a pacifist", Kieran groaned, as yet another burning pain shot through him "A pacifist with broken ribs".
"Bollocks", Joby pulled open Kieran's shirt "Breathe in".
Kieran did so, and Joby pressed lightly on his ribcage.
"Christ, you're skinny", said Joby "Like a bloody xylophone!"
"You can talk! Is all as it should be do you think?"
"As far as I can tell. I think you'll live, unfortunately".
Adam strode into the room, stopped short on seeing Kieran's bruised eye and looked away quickly. He turned to leave, but Joby shouted after him.
"I think we should get out of here, and I've seen a way. Beyond the old graveyard just west of here".
"That's the best idea you've had in a long time", said Adam, still with his back to them "I suggest sooner rather than later".
"And he thinks we should kill Angel", Kieran said, abruptly.
"Where is Angel?" Adam spun round in horror "Why aren't any of us minding him?"
"Because as usual we're too wrapped up in our own problems", said Joby, bluntly "I wouldn't worry too much though. Out of all of us he's the only one that can take care of himself in this craphole".
"We'd still better find him", said Adam "I doubt if even Angel and his disgusting habits are any match for what lurks here".
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