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There was a room directly below them, reached only by one short staircase. This housed a hot spring which had remained uncontaminated by the swamp, and looked as inviting as a Roman bath. Even without the added stimulus of the cakes the four of them couldn't have resisted tearing their clothes off and jumping in. They squealed madly, getting a childish thrill out of hearing their voices bouncing off the walls.
"My nose feels too big", said Kieran, blowing bubbles into the water "Is it big, really?"
"Like a puny little button", said Joby, dismissively "Nothing about you is big, nothing at all".
"You're on that kick again Joby", said Adam, swimming towards them through the steaming waters "You have an obsession with size".
"My prick is two inches bigger than his", said Joby, proudly "We measured 'em once".
"I suppose that's the sort of thing you do with your cocks when you can't think of something more interesting", said Adam, lolling onto his back and floating "You straights are the most peculiar lot sometimes".
"Oh don't get so high-and-mighty", Joby splashed him gently "You must have done that sort of thing once".
"Yes, when I was at prep school", Adam splashed him back "Most of us grow out of it".
"You went to prep school?" Joby exclaimed "I always wondered what was responsible for you turning out the way you did".
"Don't mock it girlie!" Adam laughed, wildly "I'm the normal one in this world. You're the queer now!"
"It's not your size that matters", said Kieran, lagging several bars behind in the conversation "It's what you do with it that counts".
"Well yours is redundant now", Joby snorted "From what I can gather Adam does all the work".
"I wouldn't say it was redundant", said Adam "Not by any means".
"Talking of what you do with it!" Hillyard shouted from the side "You should see the little basket of goodies I've found!"
They slithered onto the stone walkway which ran round the hot spring. Hillyard tipped up the basket he was carrying and emptied out a heap of rubber sex-toys, ranging from the comical in appearance to the downright wicked.
"Here you are Hillyard", said Adam, picking up an outsize dildo "Something for you to play with in the bath!"
Kieran pinged a spiked condom at Joby, who in turn shuddered and said it reminded him of Caln. Adam noticed Hillyard looking rather longingly at the dildo.
"They'd probably need disinfecting first", he said.
"Yea, well", Hillyard shrugged "Sometimes you get desperate don't you?"
"A good-looking bloke like you?"
"Do you think so?"
"Well you're nice and cuddly ..."
"Shall we go off and leave you two to it?" Joby said, tartly "C'mon Kiel".
Joby hooked Kieran's elbow and marched him off in the direction of the stairs. Adam pelted after them.
"You can forget that Joby".
"Oh I see, gonna stop everyone having fun are you?"
"You want to make your mind up", said Kieran.
"I was only flirting", Adam held out his hands in a placating gesture "Running with it".
"Well you just carry on running", Kieran pushed him aside and made to sweep off with Joby.
"Don't be absurd", Adam protested, and pulled Kieran into a curtained niche, one of many set into the walls around the spring.
"You behaved atrociously out there", said Kieran, giving Adam's buttocks a couple of firm smacks.
"I suppose I did rather".
"You led Hillyard on, and then you upset Joby".
"I did not lead Hillyard on. I was trying to make him feel better".
"And as for upsetting Joby, well it's not difficult is it! Oh don't be so cross with me Patsy", Adam stroked Kieran's neck "We're both flying tonight, it would be such a pity to waste it".
"What makes you think I want to waste it on you? This might be my chance to initiate Joby. He was very willing just now".
"Oh yes, until it comes down the nitty-gritty, and then you won't see his arse for dust. And even if you managed it you'd have to spend the rest of your life listening to his guilty conscience. Wouldn't you rather be with me?"
"If we hadn't been there you and Hillyard would have been on the floor! You can't treat people that way Adam. The poor man's lonely".
Adam pushed Kieran into the corner and pressed his body up against him. Kieran squirmed as the other man thudded hotly against his loins.
"You bastard", Kieran whispered "You know I can't resist you. And you've always known that. This is Henang all over again".
"I've always wanted you Patsy. All that with Hillyard ... well the trouble is I've always found it easy to chat men up, particularly when they're gagging for it as he is. But if it hadn't been for the cakes..."
"Oh yes, and how much did you use to blame the booze instead?"
"Often", said Adam "But I've never been drunk when I've approached you, and this is the only time I've been high with you. I love you Patsy".
"I once heard someone say that that was the most effective phrase in the world for getting what you wanted out of people".
"Particularly", Adam kissed him "If said genuinely. Let's find somewhere more comfortable than this".
"This really is the most extraordinary wild goose chase", said Tomce, following Lonts along yet another dark corridor "I feel rather like that chap who went looking for the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Perhaps I'm being led into a trap. You're not an evil spirit in disguise are you?"
"I'm not evil", Lonts stopped abruptly "People always say that, but I'm not!"
"No my dear, I was joking", Tomce tapped the boy's arm lightly "I meant no harm, just a little jest between friends".
"I'm not", Lonts continued "I'm not evil. The others think I am. They tie me up".
"How dreadful of them. Why did they do that?"
"Because I said I was going to kill one of them".
"Had he harmed you in some way?"
"No", Lonts chewed on his thumb thoughtfully "He was good to me, so I wanted to protect him. I think he understood. Only the others, they turned him against me. So I ran off".
"Where are these people now?"
"Around here. Somewhere. Up on the towers, inside the walls, somewhere".
"I see", for the first time Tomce realised that he may have a tiger by the tail. Insanity could be a definite turn-off "Are you taking me to see them now?"
"No", Lonts suddenly looked horribly dejected, as though some terrible fate was inevitable "It's the other one. He wants to see you".
"Does he mean me harm?"
"Then why are you luring me into his lair? That's not very friendly".
"It's the only way he'll leave me alone. For good. I thought once he'd left me that would be it. But he can still get inside my head. He's promised me this time that if I take you to him, he'll leave me alone for good".
Tomce clung onto the hope that this mysterious 'he' was entirely a figment of Lonts's imagination. If he wasn't, then he didn't like to even consider the possibilities.
Joby lay on one of the sofas in the room where they had found the food. He felt pleasantly drowsy, although his rational side argued that if his mind had been unfugged he would have been as angry as hell at that point. Hillyard sensed this and reached out to touch his forehead. Joby nudged him away, as though he was a troublesome fly.
"Not fair", said Hillyard "What that Adam does".
"You're better off out of it".
"I was thinking more of you actually".
"He did me favour", Joby pulled at the edges of a silk cushion maliciously "I'd only have regretted it. I think. You should never make love to close friends. It only goes and ruins everything".
"Possibly. but you were itching to let go, weren't you?"
"I love him", said Joby, simply "But sex-wise, he's better off with Adam. I'd rather be a good friend than a bad lover".
"Fact remains, Adam behaved badly".
"He always does! He knows us too well that's why. He knows Kiel will fancy him, whatever he does. And he knows my limits", Joby hurled the cushion across the room "As for you. He'd have made you miserable. You're the sort who falls in love after one screw".
"And he wouldn't have loved me".
"No. Not a hope. You're too complicated. He bullies people who are complicated. He can be cruel. Comes from being too bloody complicated himself".
"I'll get you another drink", Hillyard rose slowly to his feet "We might as well enjoy ourselves that way instead".
"Yea", Joby sniggered "And remember, it's the one way he can't enjoy himself!"
"Where is it?" Caln yelled, after kicking in the door to Braw's hut.
"Somewhere you can't get at it", Braw replied, frustrated that his weak voice was cracking with nerves in spite of his best efforts.
Caln was a disturbing sight. He had slept briefly after catching up on his gorging. On waking he had remembered that there was live, fresh meat within the Palace walls. He recalled the young boy he had nibbled at when it first arrived, and cursed himself for his cowardice in not getting at it properly when he had had the chance. He had been roaming the Palace for some time, but hadn't caught even the slightest whiff of his prey.
"I knew they'd find their way to it eventually", Braw continued "They always does, if you leaves 'em alone long enough. Now you can't get at 'em".
"You were told to stay out of the main part of the Palace, except when authorised".
"And you think I'm gonna listen to you?"
Caln stared at him in horror. He looked like a vampire defeated. His red hair hung over his face, his skin was sallow, and the bloated look was beginning to wear off, as was the sated feeling.
"It's nice in that part of the Palace", Braw was saying "All hidden behind the mirrors, where you can't go. When I'm there I fancy I can still feel the presence of those good people who built this place. That's why I've kept it nice, as they would have liked it. I think their presence must still be there, and that's why you can't get in. Goodness driving out evil, it always will in the end. Whilst they stay behind the mirrors they're safe".
"Shut up you old fool, and help me get them out".
"Why should I?" Braw shrugged "You can't do nothing more to me. You've already done it all".
Caln advanced on Braw in a menacing fashion, although he was very unsure what he was going to do to him. Braw was right, it had already been done. He couldn't threaten him with death, as he had made the man's life so valueless that death was no longer something to fear.
"You can't go where there's been a large consecration of goodness can you?" said Braw, all the while bracing himself for some small act of sadism to be perpetrated on his person.
By this time Caln was so close to him that Braw could have sucked on his skin. Caln's eyes were like glistening black marbles, and for one moment Braw thought that he may no longer have been considered off-limits. Caln looked quite prepared to eat him.
But Caln was distracted by something over Braw's shoulder. A creature was squirming through a crack in the outside wall. At first it looked like a slimy string of clay that had come to life. Gradually as it eased through the gap, a crack spread through the rest of the plasterwork. The wall was breaking under the impact.
"What's happening?" Caln squealed.
"All your walls are gonna come tumbling down".
"If they do, you suffer too".
"That won't be anything new!"
Braw moved away as nimbly as his disease would let him. They were getting showered in dust and plaster as the sheer size of the creature impacted on the wall. Its wet skin shimmered in the dim light. It was a worm. A huge, blind worm.
The door to the tower was barred by an iron gate, swathed in a rusty padlock and chain. Lonts tugged at it and motioned Tomce forward.
"You know how to get in here", said the boy "You have the key don't you?"
"Why do you need to go in there?"
"He's in there. He wants to meet you".
"But how did he get in there? Only I have the key".
Lonts shrugged infuriatingly. Tomce sighed, and selected a key from amongst several he kept on a silver chain attached to the belt of his trousers. He unlocked the gate himself. Even the unusual circumstances of the visit didn't diminish the pleasure he always felt on performing this small operation. Behind this door was what made everything worthwhile in his life possible.
"Are you coming down with me?" he asked, as he finally unlocked the door behind the gate and swung it open.
"I have to", said Lonts "He wants to make sure you get down there alright".
"I have a right to know who this person is".
Lonts panicked. He had not been briefed on what to do if Tomce gave trouble. He had been assured that his own presence would guarantee Tomce's co-operation in all things. Lonts reacted the only way he knew how. He gave Tomce a small shove, which sent the older man stumbling down several of the tower's well-worn steps.
"Steady on my boy", said Tomce, nervously "Forgive a man his natural human curiosity".
"S-sorry", Lonts mumbled "But he'll kill me if I fail".
"And we can't have that can we?" Tomce cleared his throat, as though trying to expel the fear from it at the same time "Shall we proceed?"
Lonts followed him down, until the steps petered out at a studded wooden door. Tomce needed no prompting this time. His own excitement had taken over, and he unlocked the door speedily.
"Now I take the keys", Lonts held out a grubby hand.
"As you wish", Tomce carefully detached the silver chain from his belt and handed it over.
Lonts followed him into the small, claustrophobic tower room. All it contained was money. Laundry chests full of bank-notes (from all eras), legal documents and identity cards. Stacked on the floor around these chests were cloth bags stuffed full of coins, each sorted meticulously into values, and those which were still legal tender, and those which may be valuable collector's items. This was all Tomce's own private domain. The vampires had no interest in money, because all that they required was purchased by threats, power and luck. Whenever a victim was claimed the vampires took the body, and Tomce took any possessions they may have had of note. The value of the money inside that one small room could have brought him mostly anything in the City, but Tomce's needs and interests were narrow. The money brought him sexual gratification, and that was enough for him. After all his own specialised needs didn't always come cheap.
In the light from the one narrow slit of a window Lonts caught the gleam of the gold coins which had spilled from one of the cloth bags. Money for its own sake held little appeal for the boy, but he was mesmerised by the magical glint of the gold. Tomce noted his fascination.
"It is beautiful isn't it?" he said, picking up the split bag and offering it to Lonts. He placed the bag on the boy's open palm "You'll never believe how much that one little heap of coins could buy you. Why, a young boy like yourself, could do almost anything with it".
"Same old voice, same old chat-up lines too".
"Where did that come from?" Tomce was startled, he grabbed Lonts's wrist and caused him to scatter the coins on the floor.
"He's the one that wants to see you", said Lonts "Now he's here, I can go".
"No you mustn't!" Tomce exclaimed "Stay with me, please".
Krik entered the room from the steps. He had pushed back his hood so that his entire head could be seen. It was the first sight Lonts had had of him, and he had built up such a demonic picture in his head that he had almost expected someone with horns. As it turned out Krik merely looked dirty and seedy. Careworn. Shopsoiled.
"Krik", Tomce breathed the name like a talisman "You died Krik. You were executed. I read about it".
"Shame you didn't read more about the details on me from my trial", Krik advanced into the room "One of my interests was in how to develop the mind so that it could exist independently of the body. Sophisticated form of astral-projection. I had a feeling it might come in useful one day. You would have also been interested to hear what the psychologists had to say about you. Oh they didn't mention you by name of course, but you were very much the deciding factor in my development".
Krik turned to Lonts and spoke to him.
"Do you know something Good Boy? He used to be a great man. A top scientist, nominated for all the best awards and honours. Then he went and blew it all, simply because he couldn't keep his cock to himself".
"I don't think you're in a position to judge me Krik", said Tomce "How many boys was it by the time they caught you? All of them dismembered, some sealed up in oil-drums in your cellar. Not a very nice person at all?"
"Stop it", said Lonts "I hate this talk".
"And I suppose he justifies it all", Tomce continued, unabashed "By blaming me. Well I'm afraid that simply won't do. You were always a bad one Krik, and like so many of your ilk you refuse to take any of the responsibility. It will always be someone else's fault as far as you're concerned. But the only person who led you to the electric chair was yourself!"
"I'm going to kill you", said Krik, calmly.
"And what will that achieve? It won't give you your rotten life back".
"It's not my life I want. That was never any great shakes, thanks to you".
"Oh here we go again", Tomce sighed "Self-pity oozing from every pore of his being".
"I want you", said Krik "I'm going to kill you so that you spend the rest of eternity with me. I'm going to have it so that you pay over and over again for what you've done. And who knows? I might be able to enlist the help of some of the others. You know, the ones who weren't so ... er ... lucky as me. The ones who finished up at the bottom of the well, or in makeshift graves in the forest. You'll never escape us. Once you've killed someone you're never free of them again".
"And does that apply to the ones you killed as well? The small army of them. The ones you sadistically tortured Krik. You poor sad fool. I did read about parts of your trial in fact. I distinctly recall the bit about how, when you were feeling especially lonely, you would go down to your cellar and sit amongst your oil-drums for company. I must say, I did find that touching".
"You got the keys Good Boy?" Krik asked.
Lonts held up the silver chain in reply.
"Good", said Krik "On your way out, lock us in. This money won't be buying him any more boys".
"You used to be a real miserable bastard when we were first together", said Kieran.
Naked, he walked around the windowless bedchamber that they had discovered down a corridor leading from the hot spring. The walls were painted a deep, dark green, and everything in the room was on a large and heavy scale. Two hefty double beds with ornate brass rails stood on two separate dais as though in a showroom. There were oak wardrobes, and a fireplace big enough for four people to sit in. Kieran lifted the ornaments and examined them cursorily.
"What brought that on?" asked Adam.
"Just remarking on how much you've changed. I remember, back at that disused inn, soon after we left the prison, I tried to get close to you, and you got quite snotty".
"That must have been one of the days Angel was playing up".
"I sat outside the door of the room in which you slept".
"Like a good pet", Adam stretched drowsily in the cool sheets. The bed-covers and blankets smelt dusty, but otherwise the bed had been freshly made, as though their visit had been anticipated.
It had been a glorious session, well worth offending Joby and Hillyard for. Being as high as a kite Kieran had demanded penetration as soon as they felt the feel of the sheets next to their skin. Adam had piled up the cushions in the centre of the bed and then spread Kieran over them, until his buttocks were sticking up into the air. Adam felt bizarrely as though he was offering his lover up for sacrifice, and he caressed his smooth skin almost reverently. Kieran was so thin that his ribs and spine stuck out. Such emaciation shocked Adam, and he rubbed his palms along the boy's body with extra tenderness.
"You're so thin Pats", he whispered "Like an old AIDS victim. I'm frightened if I bugger you I'll rip you apart".
"I'm tougher than I look. You should know that by now".
Kieran felt at that moment that he would have risked torture itself just to feel Adam's sperm pumping into his backside. Long ago he had been squeamish at the thought of sodomy (he remembered screaming the first time they had tried it), but now he couldn't get enough of it. The feel of someone else inside his body, penis throbbing as it ejaculated its load, was, as Braw had said, the very essence of life.
"Come back to bed", Adam now said "You must be frozen out there. Then we shut out that bloody awful colour scheme".
"What's wrong with green?"
"Nothing, except it reminds me of the Loud House".
"So it does", Kieran stepped up onto the dais "Angel was terrified of that bottle green room there".
"It doesn't hold fond memories for me", said Adam "I sat in there feeling absolutely wretched after I'd beaten you. I was convinced I'd lost you for good. It brought it all back home to me earlier when Joby said that you and he had planned to leave me there afterwards".
"Well we didn't", said Kieran, sliding into the bed "And you haven't. Lost me that is".
"Good", Adam swept his hair over the pillow "How wonderful it is to be clean again. We'll have to get hold of Lonts, sandpaper him down and dunk him in the hot spring. There might be a real person under all that dirt somewhere".
"I wouldn't bank on it", Kieran nestled close to him, until Adam could feel the younger man's hair brushing against his nipples "We should've gone looking for him".
"We did", said Adam "And we couldn't find him. Anyway, with Hillyard keep strapping him up like some bondage freak he's probably better off away from us".
The floor around the sofa was littered with half-used bottles. Hillyard and Joby had had a substantial taste from each bottle they had found in the drinks cabinets, and were now sleeping off their labours. Joby had asked Hillyard if he had ever tried to imagine what sex was like with a woman. Hillyard couldn't have looked more flummoxed. It was like asking someone if they could imagine making love to a dinosaur.
"Because I don't believe", said Joby, drunkenly "That if you had been around in my time that you would have been gay, fancied men I mean. You look too normal to me, and you're not that keen on ... on doggie sex are you?"
"Depends who I'm with", said Hillyard, who was comfortably tearing into an apple.
"How do you mean?"
"Well some, like Lonts, are so young and small that I couldn't bear the thought of it. Terrified of hurting 'em. It was like that with Stombal towards the end. Artuul though, or who I thought was Artuul, was a different matter entirely. He had such a cute bum. I always wondered why he insisted on keeping his shirt on though. Now I know".
"Is it you who always does the buggering?" asked Joby "So you don't like it up your arse then? You're like Adam, you do all the sodomising".
"Each to his own way. Women had a hole instead of a cock I know that, so I suppose there was only one way to do it with them".
"Don't you believe it! Tops, sideways, rear entries. Women are so versatile ..."
Joby drifted off into a peaceful oblivion.
Having been ordered out of the tower Lonts felt abandoned and bereft. He was finally free of Krik's influence, he was finally free full-stop. But he had no idea where to turn next, either physically or mentally. He had brought Krik to the end of his road, and yet his own still wound on inexorably. He belonged nowhere. He couldn't bear the thought of going back to the City, and there was no one in Kiskev. The other option was to roam the land until he dropped, or somewhere took him in and accepted him. But he was tired of bearing it all alone. "I'm only fourteen!" he wanted to scream aloud "Somebody help me".
Lonts faced the very real prospect that he had no future to speak of. Whatever he did he would always be the freak. The Kiskev Survivor. People would stare. The kinder ones would mutter "that poor boy", until one day he became instead "that sad bewildered old man". He was fated always to be a victim, his own insanity would see to that.
By more luck than judgement he found he had wandered out onto the top of the stairs in the atrium. He couldn't understand the scene that met his eyes. What appeared to be a giant worm had coiled itself around the atrium floor, crushing Braw's hut and the bottom of the bannisters. It seemed to be convulsing as though gathering strength for its next onslaught.
"You shouldn't come out here lad", said Braw, emerging from one of the first-floor corridors "It's not safe".
"W-what's going on?" Lonts pulled down the sleeve of his jumper, and chewed on it nervously "Where can I go?"
"Find a mirror", Braw said, as steadily as he could "Any mirror. You'll find a few of 'em around. Unlatch it or unhook it from the wall, and step into the gap behind it. You'll find yourself in a much nicer place, and you'll be safe. If not from the worm, then at least from the vampires. Did you understand all that?"
It was all so crazy that Lonts had no trouble comprehending it at all, because it was the basic realities of life which threw him the most. He fled up the next flight of stairs and ran wildly down several corridors before he came across his first mirror. It was a long, narrow effort in a wooden frame. Lonts scrabbled at the edge of it, trying to get it to move.
"What are you doing?" Caln yelled, from some distance away.
"I want to get behind this mirror", Lonts replied "I'll be safe from you then".
"What do you want to hide from me for?" Caln moved quickly towards the boy "I didn't harm you before, in fact you couldn't get enough of me".
"But you're evil, a vampire", Lonts protested "You'll kill me".
"You reckon?" Caln reached out a claw and touched Lonts's neck "Well you haven't got much of a life have you? So you're not throwing much away".
"No-o-o", Lonts shook his head and backed away "I don't want to die like that".
"Tough", Caln hooked his fist into Lonts's jumper and reeled him in "I'm not into asking nicely".
Lonts screamed and grabbed at the edge of the mirror. At first he was disconcerted when it came away in his hands, then relieved. A hole had opened up in the wall behind it. Caln grabbed at him to try and prevent him slipping away, but Lonts was too fast. He batted him away with the mirror, and then he hovered in the archway, unable to believe at first that Caln would refuse to follow him. But it was as though an electrical force-field was in place. The vampire watched him and refused to follow. The creature could have reached out and touched him, yet it merely stared at him malevolently.
"You can't stay in there forever", said Caln "I'll make sure you can't. And when you come out I'll be waiting".
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