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Joby paced the dining-room, growing more and more agitated with each minute that passed. The Palace was unnaturally quiet, and gave the unsettling impression that everything was going on below the surface. Hillyard was trying to warm himself by a brazier, and Adam sat slumped in one of the gorgonised chairs.
"Bloody cold isn't it", Hillyard grunted.
"Is that it?" Joby snapped "Is that all you've got to say? It's cold!"
"Well there's no getting away from it".
"Sit down Joby", said Adam "Nothing will be achieved by you wearing a hole in the floor".
Joby bolted around the table until he came to Adam's chair.
"Why aren't you doing something?" he yelled, slapping his hand against the table "You always become fucking useless in a crisis. I bet you're not thinking about Flannery at all. I bet you're wondering how much longer you can do without a drink instead!"
Adam stared at Joby, as though he had just woken up from a coma. He then rose to his feet so suddenly that Joby backed away, convinced he was going to hit him.
"Just because", Adam began, with forced patience "I don't scream and shout everytime I'm worried doesn't mean I don't feel anything".
"Well it's been hours", Joby protested "He should be out of there by now".
"It's been forty minutes actually, that's if that gargoyle clock over there is accurate. Even so, you're right about one thing, Lonts should have finished his confessional by now. I'll go and see".
"You can't go on your own", said Hillyard.
"That is precisely what I'm going to do".
"Don't be fucking stupid Adam", said Joby "Forget what I said, you don't have to prove anything to me".
"You", Adam jabbed his finger at the boy "You stay here with Hillyard. You leave this room on pain of death".
"Why can't we come?" said Hillyard.
"Because I can't seem to get a chance to think straight with you around. Joby's right, I don't seem to have done anything constructive, and it's time I put that right".
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do", Joby sneered "Your trouble is you take yourself too seriously".
"Wrong. About as wrong as you can be. I've not taken myself seriously at all, and that's why I allowed Patsy to be left alone with the Kiskev Fruitcake. I've been a fool, and I want you out of my head so that I can think straight!"
For a very short while after leaving the dining-room Adam felt like a hero. He was uncomfortably aware that Joby had been accurate in his assessment of him. He had been contemplating the booze whilst they had been sitting there. Sometimes he still felt torn between the two sides of his personality, the ones that had once been so devastatingly at war with one another. At times, deep down, he still felt so weak and inconsequential that it seemed the bottle could be the only answer. That was when the mocking voice of his addiction succeeded in telling him to forget any ideas he might have that he was a man of solidity and purpose.
He firmly told himself that he had to stay sober for the sake of the others, and this purposeful spirit buoyed him along for some way until he realised, with a surge of panic, that he was in fact lost. All the corridors, some darkened, others lit by wall-torches, seemed to merge into one another. He felt as though he was digging himself deeper and deeper into the Palace, and that it was sealing itself off behind him, blocking his escape.
All the loneliness he had previously felt in his life paled into insignificance compared to what he experienced now. If he had been the last man on earth he couldn't have felt more wretchedly alone. He tried to remember if they had descended stairs to reach the dining-room, and then found that he couldn't recall any of that.
He paused underneath a wall-torch to try and get his bearings. A tapestry nearby fluttered in a cruel draught. The tapestry depicted a man being dismembered on a table by a hideous, gnome-like creature. Overhead the ceiling was fluted in an ornate abbey-style design, completely at odds with the austerity of the rest of the area. Adam suddenly felt an unwelcome sensation that he could die here, in this semi-darkened corridor, and that no one would ever find him. Once the life-force had left his body the corridor would simply seal itself off, adding one more mystery to the Palace's many secrets.
His panic turned to outright terror when he realised that he was no longer alone. IT was there. The black-robed figure he had seen earlier. It was watching him from the far end of the corridor. More of its face had become visible. The large eyes were as black as its garments, and slanted in an exaggerated fashion, like the drawings of extraterrestrials made by alleged abductees. It was grinning at him, revelling in his discomfort. It was some time before he realised, with mounting horror, that it was actually moving towards him. Noiselessly, imperceptibly, as though it was gliding.
"Move away from it", he said to himself "Don't look at it, just move away".
His legs felt like treacle, and for a moment he thought he had become paralysed. Moving the first few steps was like teaching himself to walk all over again. He glanced back at the figure, and his heart sank. It couldn't have moved that close already! An urge to turn and walk towards the figure was quashed by his rational side, which reminded him of how Rooly had met his fate by such rashness.
A staircase, which he hadn't previously noticed, had appeared on one side of him. It led upwards, and Adam pursued it, this time not bothering to glance back to see where the figure was now. In the room at the top he thankfully closed the door behind him. The room which faced him was like a long gallery in an Elizabethan manorhouse. The ceiling was raftered so he guessed that he was now directly under the roof. The walls were painted a deep shade of purple, which blurred the edges of the room into darkness. A long table in the centre of the room was neatly set at one end only. Cutlery and covered dishes for one person were illuminated by a silver candelabra. His presence had been expected.
Mullawa stepped out of the shadows. He had been gorging so much recently that his body had become temporarily barrel-shaped. He looked exhausted too. He had gorged for hours in the hope that he could delay the urge to feast on Adam, so that they could at least play some games together first. Unfortunately he realised he had rather overdone it, and now all he wanted to do was sleep. But Adam was here now, and meat was always best taken fresh. He couldn't guarantee that his hold over the cowardly Caln would restrain him much longer, and Mullawa had no intention of Adam being reduced to a left-over.
"I take it you set that ... that Thing out there to chase me up here?" said Adam.
Mullawa was too distracted by the sight of Adam's body, pulsing with vibrant life, to respond at all. He moved towards him, and Adam could see that the creature was so clogged with blood that it was oozing from parts of him like religious stigmata.
"Why couldn't you be a conventional vampire?" said Adam "Tall, dark and handsome in a dinner-suit. I might have fancied you then".
As it was Mullawa looked more like a prize pig that had just had a date with the abattoir. He was fat and bloody. The vampire poured him a glass of wine and pushed it towards him. Adam noticed that the creature left spots of blood on everything it touched.
"You drink it", said Mullawa "You can't get out of here, so you may as well enjoy yourself whilst you can".
"Won't it poison my blood for you? I thought all your victims had to be as uncontaminated as possible".
"If we only chose meat that contained no alcohol or intoxicants of any kind we would be severely restricted in our food. You drink".
"Why this charade? I know you intend to eat me. You couldn't make it more obvious if you were carrying a knife and fork! So, as I am trapped as you say, why don't you just go for it, old love?"
"Sometimes one tires of eating a meal just for its own sake, just as a means to stay alive. There are other things in life, one thing in particular that you bits of meat place such importance in".
"Sex? With you!"
"Drink your wine".
"If you think getting me drunk would help you're mistaken. I'd have to be dead before I fancied you".
"You can't get out of here", Mullawa's voice was mesmerising "Can you see a door?"
Adam peered through the purple candlelit gloom. Everything seemed blurred, out-of-focus, and he hadn't even touched his drink! There must be a door surely, he had come in through it, hadn't he?
"Drink", Mullawa pushed the glass at him one more time. The wine looked so sweet it could almost have been syrup. Adam glanced from it to Mullawa. A line of blood was trickling from his hairline down the side of his face. Mullawa's hair was bleeding.
"I don't drink", said Adam, faintly "Just tell me what it is you want, as I expect you'll do it anyway".
"What do you usually do?" asked Mullawa.
The question made Adam feel like a rent-boy, and this thought caused him to giggle. He was no longer sure if he'd been drinking or not. The wine-level in the glass didn't seem to have dropped at all, but he wouldn't put it past Mullawa to resort to any kind of trickery. The glass was decorated with bloody fingerprints from the vampire's hand.
"You're just going to have to eat me old love", Adam giggled wildly "Because there's no way I'm going to bugger you".
"B-bugger?" Mullawa's composure was shaken "What is this, bugger?"
"Something very painful that you wouldn't like".
Adam instantly realised he had used the wrong description. Mullawa wasn't averse to a bit of pain. Like all vampires pain to him symbolised the biting, gulping and tearing process of feeding. Fortunately for Adam though, Mullawa's passion for pain wasn't as acutely developed as Caln's. Unless he was eating little did engage Mullawa's attention for long.
"But of course", said Adam "As a vampire you would never have penetrative sex would you?"
Mullawa looked at him blankly.
"No", Adam continued "With you lot it's fellatio all the way isn't it? I've met human men like you. It always stops at jerking off. Silly old queens. I've always despised them".
"Drink!" Mullawa cried, enraged.
He grabbed a handful of Adam's hair, yanked his head back and slopped the wine in the general direction of his mouth. Part of it went down Adam's clothes, but a small amount escaped into his mouth. His wild hopes that after all this time of being dry he would have lost the taste for alcohol proved to be unfounded. It was all still there. The urge. In all its hideous glory.
"Alright", he croaked, wiping the wine from his chin "Have it your way, you odious shit. Do what you want".
Mullawa moved so close that some of the blood rubbed off on Adam. The vampire pawed him, leaving traces of bloody handprints over his clothes and skin. Adam felt about as comfortable with it as being mauled by a wolf. The blood was now pouring down the vampire's neck in dark red ribbons. If things carried on like this, Adam thought, everything in the room would be saturated with the stuff.
"There's one thing I need to know before we go any further", said Mullawa "The other meat, the ones you arrived with, what happens between you all?"
"The One in particular", Mullawa said, hoarsely "You know the one I mean. You tried to keep its identity from us when you first arrived here".
"Oh", Adam felt a flicker of hope glimmer on the horizon "You mean, the Vanquisher of Evil?"
"What do ya do with it?" Mullawa's customary velvety tones came out like a slurred whine "How close do ya get?"
"Very close. All the way old love. Beyond the realms of your experience. At it as often as we can get, as much as our bodies can stand".
The vampire couldn't have looked more shocked if Adam had whipped out a crucifix and garlic. He backed away from him.
"You're obscene", Mullawa barked "It's not natural. It's vile. How can you let that Thing near you? It's grotesque, obscene, disgusting ..."
Mullawa disappeared so quickly that Adam didn't see how or where he went. All he knew was that he was mercifully alone again. He sat down wearily on one of the chairs, feeling shell-shocked. Sometimes it seemed as though he was in the centre of a very complicated maze, and he only had a limited time to get out. He told himself that he must get back, find the others, but the thought of penetrating those gloomy corridors and perhaps seeing that black-robed creature again was more than he could bear. He had poured another drink and sampled it, before he was even consciously aware of what he was doing.
"You should sit down".
"How can I sit down, it's focking freezing! This is the only way I can stop meself from going completely numb".
Kieran also had the fear that if he sat down he would let the panic inside him take over completely. He had been trapped in this grim room, alone with Lonts, for hours. Where were the others? Why hadn't they come back? He was now beginning to get a very real fear for their safety. For some time now he had been trying to psyche himself up into physically wresting the key from the boy, but each time his courage had deserted him. Like a lot of people Kieran had a subconscious fear of the insane, and Lonts came with even more added complications. The boy's "pregnancy" was accelerating at an alarming rate. He seemed to have reached the state of being eight-and-a-half months gone in as many hours. His belly was now so huge and swollen that he had had to take off his trousers, and had wrapped his pale, skinny legs in Hillyard's blanket.
"Perhaps this is Hell", said Kieran "Perhaps I've really died. It's a good interpretation of Hell, this being locked in a cold, dark, empty room with a deranged nutter like you".
"I don't know why you're so upset", said Lonts, shifting his new-found bulk uneasily on the bare floor "I won't let them harm you".
"You were threatening to kill me not so long ago!"
"Yes, and we'll both be safe then. No one'll be able to reach us then will they? I know who you are, it's been predicted for years that you'd turn up".
"So why do you want to kill me?"
"Because, as I just said, you'll be safe then. Everyone means you harm you see. They're all of them evil. I'm the only one who can keep you safe".
"Give me the key Lonts", Kieran stood over the boy "You need help, and I can't deal with this alone. I could easily take it from you, but I'm asking you as a civilised human being ... oh what is it now?"
Lonts's face had contorted with agony, until he resembled one of the Palace gargoyles. He flattened his hands against his stomach, and Kieran began to fear the worst.
"My God Lonts, what's happening?"
Lonts pulled up his clothes, and Kieran saw that the skin on the boy's grotesquely swollen stomach had started to pucker, like hot custard coming to the boil.
"It wants to come out", said Lonts.
"Well it can't!" Kieran screamed "How can it for Christ's sake, you're not built that way!"
"Make it stop", Lonts wailed "It hurts, make it stop".
Kieran crouched down beside him, and tried to soothe him, whilst all the time he kept being drawn to the boy's stomach. He tried frantically to think of something to say that might help, but was at a complete loss to think of anything. He rubbed the boy's hands and stroked his forehead, in an effort to keep the boy calm. But he could think of nothing to say that might help, when he had no idea what was going to happen himself.
"Whatever it is we'll see it through together Lonts".
"Am I going to die?" the boy asked.
"Let's hope for the best", said Kieran, only realising afterwards how ambiguous that had sounded.
"I expect everyone'll be glad if I die, because they think I'm evil, that I'm a demon. I might be, but I don't think I am. If I was I couldn't sit here with you like this now could I? Not with you being who you are".
"Save your strength Lonts, we don't know how much you're going to need".
In the end, when it happened, it was bloody but mercifully quick. Lonts's skin on his stomach wrinkled, as though someone had tied a rope around it and was pulling it upwards. What eventually came out (through his navel) was a long silver thread, which slithered across his belly, over his hip and onto the floor. Kieran and Lonts watched in petrified silence as it then formed rapidly into the vague outline of a man, so wet, glistening and bloody with after-birth that his actual appearance was difficult to define. This gruesome adult foetus then slipped out silently through the door, literally.
"Is it over Lonts?" Kieran whispered.
The boy nodded wearily and buried his face in Kieran's chest.
Hillyard had fallen asleep at the dining-table. Joby had dozed, and then woken up with a sharp feeling of guilt and foreboding. Neither Adam nor Kieran had returned, and he was frightened beyond belief. He knew he depended on the two of them, but he hadn't realised quite how scared he was at the prospect of finding himself without them. There was no way he could sit there for any longer.
"Hillyard", he nudged the other man "Oh c'mon you stupid fucker, wake up! You're always falling asleep".
Hillyard mumbled something in his sleep that sounded like "Stombal", but he showed no sign of waking. Joby could have wept with frustration. He felt an obligation to stay with Hillyard, but his concern for the other two was much stronger. Without them he was completely alone, and would be forever.
"Look", he said to the unconscious Hillyard "I've gotta look for 'em. I can't just sit here and do nothing. You'll have to understand".
The dying rays of the sun filtered into the Palace like slim ghosts, doing little to lighten the Stygian gloom. The darkness of night was coming on fast, and Joby, like Adam before him, was approaching a state of wild panic. He too had somehow managed to get into an unknown part of the Palace, and all the time he had been walking he had been convinced he was being followed by something unseen.
The room he was now in was a curious affair with a low ceiling, and the outside wall completely made up of an arched honeycomb grid design. It afforded a grand view of the swamp on which the Palace rested. Joby peered out to try and get his bearings somehow, but the only familiar landmark, the bridge to the mainland, was out of sight.
An unnatural chill hit the air, distinct from the general frigid atmosphere inside the building. There was also a faint odour of rotten eggs. Joby's heart nearly stopped. Convinced it was Angel, he turned to face his pursuer.
Caln was standing in the dusty light from the honeycomb grid. He had lassoed his penis tightly to try and distract himself from his mounting hunger, but it no longer worked, nor did any fear of Mullawa's anger. Braw had been right. When the vampires got desperate nothing stopped them in their pursuit of fresh meat. And from the look in Caln's eye, he was now very desperate indeed.
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