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Hillyard helped them to fill their rucksacks with coins and banknotes, directing them as to which ones were still legal tender. He also found a bundle of maps, including one of the so-called Uncharted Area that was still relatively new.
"We can look at it better outside", he said.
"Exactly. Outside! Sounds a very good idea", said Adam.
"Are we rich now Hillyard?" asked Kieran, as they emerged onto the tower steps.
"Doing very nicely", Hillyard's words rang hollow in their dreadful surroundings "Got us a standard of living we're owed after all this".
"Fat lot of bloody use bags of coins are to us at the moment", said Adam "We can't eat them, they won't keep us warm, and we can't kill worms and vampires with them".
"Maybe not", said Hillyard "But you will be glad of them one day, take it from me".
The wide corridor leading up to the dining-room was still completely intact, as though nothing at all had happened since the last time they saw it. Inside the room the candles in their black holders had burnt down to the stubs, and wax had dripped onto the surfaces of the floor and table.
"I noticed when we first arrived that Braw fetched food from these cupboards", said Hillyard, opening various small wooden doors arranged around the walls "You said we couldn't eat coins Adam, well how about this lot?"
He placed various items of food on the table. The others eagerly reached out for it, ignoring the meat products, and stuffed them into their baggage.
"Some of this food's green", said Joby, dropping an egg which suddenly appeared to radiate a lime-coloured aura.
"It's not coming from the food", said Kieran, quietly.
A green haze had appeared over the centre of the table. It rapidly evolved into a dense shape which grew upwards and outwards. Caln eventually stood before them, looking very diseased indeed. The after-effects of his green blood addiction had spread up from his genitals and over his torso. One side of his face was scorched black like burnt paper.
"Everybody get behind me", said Kieran "He can't harm you then".
"Hah!" Caln exclaimed, rather dramatically "It's you I want though. The finest cut of all".
"You'll be contaminated if you eat me".
"I'm contaminated now", said Caln, looking down at the burnt shell of his body "So once more won't do me any harm. I've been attracted to danger all my life. I'm not like that fat pig Mullawa, screaming and yelling just because you're in the building. You would be an even greater fix than the green blood".
Caln ran across the table and lunged at Kieran, knocking him onto his back. Kieran got a lungful of the stench of his putrid flesh, and felt the creature's talons raking at him in desperation. He bared his teeth and tried to gnaw at Kieran's skin. Caln could hardly believe it, but there was hardly any flesh at all on this meat. It was all bone!
Kieran in turn was screaming hysterically. He felt sharp pains as the vampire ripped at his skin. It was nightmare, like being skinned alive. He couldn't understand why the others weren't helping him. It was going on so long that it seemed they had abandoned him. Truth to tell though it was only a matter of seconds, and his own pain shut out the pandemonium around him. Adam and Hillyard were kicking and clawing at the vampire, who remained so resolutely resistant to their attacks that it was like trying to get hold of water.
"I think I've got a hold on him", said Joby.
He grabbed Kieran's hair and tugged on it sharply, as he tried to drag him out from under the vampire. This new sensation of pain took Kieran so much by surprise that he kicked out on reflex. Caln took the full impact of it in his blackened groin. He rolled off Kieran and clutched madly at his scorched balls, convinced they were going to drop away.
"I'll get the bastard", yelled Hillyard "Move Kieran completely away from him".
Joby hauled Kieran away by his armpits, and then watched as Hillyard grabbed a flaming wall-torch and flung it at the vampire. Caln went up like a flare, his entire diseased frame immediately consumed in a fireball. Right to the end he resisted though. Even when his body was a charcoaled mess he still tried to raise himself from the floor. His lust for survival was as phenomenal as his lust for flesh.
Nobody could ever have accused him of being a quitter.
"Well, he gave us a run for our money", said Hillyard, beating out the last of the flames with his coat "I thought the bastard was never going to die. Some people just never known when to leave a party".
"Were you trying to scalp me Joby?" said Kieran, weakly.
"Probably", Joby replied in a distracted manner. He was methodically examining Kieran's body for signs of damage.
"And?" said Adam, standing over them.
"Some nip marks on his chest that's all", said Joby "Just surface scars, the bastard didn't get very far. Nothing to get his teeth into I suspect!"
"He'll be fine", said Lonts "I've got those on my chest and I'm alright".
"That's a matter of opinion", said Adam.
"He'll live", said Joby, wrapping Kieran in his fur coat "We won't be able to complain about Fatso's size again. It was only being such a bone-bag that probably saved him".
"Isn't it frightening?" said Lonts, standing over the remains of Caln "How people can just turn into ashes? My whole village did. I mean, it makes you think doesn't it!"
Havoc had been wrecked in the atrium. Braw's hut was reduced to a pile of matchwood, the main doors to the outside world hung askew, the bannisters showed huge gaps like rotted teeth, and although the level of swamp water had gone down it had left a lot of damage in its wake. Of the worm though there was no sign. It had penetrated into the inner palace, of which Braw had been so proud, and could vaguely be heard thrashing its way blindly through the structure.
Parts of the fabric of the stone bridge had gone completely, but they managed to get across by treading carefully along the outer edge. Tomce's buggy had been sucked into the swamp, and now lay half-submerged like a metal iceburg.
"I wish we'd seen Braw again", said Kieran "I wonder where he is".
"What do you wanna say to him?" Joby exclaimed "Thank him for a lovely stay!"
In a clearing in the woods, only a short distance from the edge of the swamp, they found the litter that Caln had used during his regular forays into the Uncharted Area. Lonts recognised it at once, and began burbling enthusiastically about how warm it was inside it. The hefty bullock that pulled it grazed nearby, tethered to a tree by a long chain. Hillyard's first job had been driving wagons around a Ministry-owned farm. It had been the only job he had truly enjoyed, and he looked forward to getting behind the reins again now.
"It doesn't look the most practical form of transport", said Adam, dubiously "A great lumbering thing like that".
"Caln seemed to use it alright", Hillyard spread out one of the maps "According to this, it's not far to the Valley of Freaks. We won't get there today, as it's not long now until sundown, yet we should get there sometime tomorrow. There's a clear track through the forest which seems to lead directly to it. It must be a simple enough journey if Caln did it on a regular basis".
"It just depends what we find when we get there", said Joby, darkly.
"You're not seriously going to drive this thing Hillyard?" said Adam.
"You try and stop me".
"But you have a bad foot".
"Which I don't need for driving", Hillyard unchained the beast and led it to the shafts. The animal obeyed with a sort of weary acquiescence. It was obvious that it was so accustomed to the journey that it barely needed pointing in the right direction.
Lonts had already clambered into the litter, like a child getting into bed. He buried himself beneath the fur covers, and curled into a foetal position.
"See", said Hillyard "Lonts has faith in my driving".
"Yea", said Joby "But he's mad".
Joby had to concede though that it was a very comfortable way to travel. Although the litter swayed and bumped continuously over the woodland path, its passengers were so ensnugged within the fur blankets that they barely noticed. Adam sat up front with Hillyard, a scarf tied over his face against the steady onslaught of snow which at times seriously hampered their vision.
They managed to travel only a few miles before darkness and blizzard conditions forced them to set up camp for the night. A fire was lit first, not just for warmth but to ward off the neighbouring wolves which could be heard eerily in more distant parts of the forest.
"It's bloody ridiculous", said Kieran, lying in the litter "There's everyone else making themselves useful, and there's me sat here like some aged Victorian duchess".
"Adam's right", said Joby, climbing in beside him "It won't do you any harm to get some rest. You've had quite a time of it lately".
"So have we all and it's not over yet".
"Get some of this inside you", Joby held out a metal plate "Hillyard's just concocted it. Carrot stew. Absolutely no meat in it whatsoever".
"It looks like vomit", said Kieran, nibbling at a spoonful "Tastes like it too, but I suppose he did his best".
"You certainly couldn't have done any better. I remember you once tried to cook an omelette in a saucepan!"
"I did didn't I? God, it was disgusting, Amy said it was like trying to eat an ironing-board cover. Still, that was a different life, and in this one we have to be grateful for Hillyard's carrot stew".
"How do you feel now?"
"I'm alright", said Kieran "I just get a bit frustrated sometimes because I don't have as much energy as I'd like. But I'm bloody glad to be out of that place! In spite of the cold it's quite nice here, listening to the fire".
"And the wolves", Joby shuddered "I've never been able to get used to the sound of them".
"Wolves rarely attack humans unless provoked".
"Wish I had your confidence", Joby chewed at a lump of barely-cooked carrot "I've got a question that Adam and Hillyard won't answer. Why are we going into the Uncharted Area? I mean, we've destroyed the vampires, surely that's it isn't it?"
"Far as I can see the vampires did a pretty good job of destroying themselves", said Kieran "They may be gone but the evil's still around. They didn't control the worm for instance. And I still have to destroy Angel, although God knows how! And the Virus has to be destroyed too, to stop anyone else getting any bright ideas about using it to gain power".
"Where are you going to meet Angel though?"
"He keeps showing up all over the place, so I'm assuming he's going to flush me out at some point".
"Yea well that's not good enough", said Joby "That gives him an unfair advantage. Look what happened back at the Palace, the evil there nearly finished you off for God's sake".
"Nobody ever said fighting the Devil would be a fair process. As far as I can see it'll be a dirty fight", Kieran laughed "Sherlock Holmes got to fight an evil genius like Professor Moriarty, I get a loutish brat like Angel!"
"I don't think you're up to it. Nobody could be, but particularly an emaciated wimp like you".
"You say the kindest things".
"I thought you were supposed to be watching Lonts", said Joby, as Adam came over to join them.
"I've told him that if he moves an inch from the fireside I'll kill him".
"That's hardly the way to talk to a sick child!" Kieran protested.
"He takes everything we say as such literal gospel, I just thought I'd turn it to our advantage for once", Adam shrugged "Anyway he's not a child. Anyone would think he was six-years-old the way you lot talk about him".
"He is", said Kieran "Mentally".
"Getting him away from the Palace might help him", Adam yawned, tiredly "Krik's gone for good, I assume. And I'm hoping that if we stay away from too much water we'll be safe from that evil elemental I kept seeing back there".
"You think it can only operate near water then?" said Joby.
"Well it didn't bother us from Gurran Island onwards until we got to the Palace, so I assume so, or I should truthfully say I hope so".
"It didn't bother us in Marlsblad", said Joby "And we were next to a lake there".
"Maybe, but it couldn't trap us there. Marlsblad isn't an island".
Lonts let out a shrill wail. He was standing next to the fire, and at first his wailing was so anguished they thought he had burnt himself.
"What is it?" Hillyard shouted. He had been feeding the bullock and the last he had seen Lonts he had been sitting huddled next to the fire "Are you hurt Lonts?"
"I want to go-o-o", Lonts cried.
"Oh fucking hell", Hillyard said angrily, on seeing exactly what had happened "He's pissed himself".
"For crying out loud Lonts", said Adam "Surely even you can manage to relieve yourself with no problem".
"Normally he would have done", Kieran clambered out of the litter and gave Adam a shove "But a certain person terrified him into not moving. You pillock Adam!"
"That boy needs putting away!" Adam roared. When he realised fully what he had said he was horrified. He had sounded exactly like his father. He was so shocked by this that he was immediately humbled into silence.
"Can't you see how confused he gets?" Kieran went on. He led Lonts gently away from the fire "I'll sort him out Hillyard".
"I can't leave the fire", Lonts protested "Adam'll hurt me if I do".
"No he damn well won't. If he tries it I'll focking hurt him".
Lonts calmed down eventually, after being put into Kieran's spare trousers, and went to sleep, although he insisted on doing so by lying up against Kieran's back. Kieran was beginning to find Lonts's devotion a sore trial. He had quite enough to worry about, without adding the welfare of a retarded boy to his burden. Lonts was supposed to be Hillyard's problem after all.
"I must feel guilty about the way we treated Angel when he was alive", Kieran whispered to Joby, who lay on the other side of him "Which is why I'm reluctant to push Lonts away".
"No reason to feel guilty about Angel".
"We did neglect him Joby".
"He was fucking sick Kiel, a pervert, a vampire".
"Lonts is sick too. Only difference is he's vulnerable. Angel never was, was he? Not really, in spite of all those panic-attacks he kept having".
"He knew how to take care of himself alright. Even at the prison he had the whole system sewn up to suit him", said Joby "Lonts isn't anywhere near Angel's league. Oh hark at those bloody wolves. This contraption may be comfortable, but I don't feel secure in it".
"The fire should help keep them away, as long as we keep remembering to stoke it during the night. There's a forest of feet in this litter. Is it you I'm playing footsie with?"
"No it's me", Hillyard grunted, from the opposite end of the litter. He was lying next to a sleeping Adam "You can keep it up though, it's quite nice. Comforting".
Joby treated him to a kick in the thigh.
"You're fucking mental you are!" Hillyard yelped "You wanna make up your mind what you want".
"What I want!" Joby roared, sitting up suddenly "I know exactly what I want. I want blokes to keep themselves to themselves that' all. Stop coming onto each other all the time".
"Nobody was", said Hillyard "I was only saying that it was nice to feel another human being nearby, particularly when it's all so cold and dark. It's you who thought I was flirting with Kieran. He didn't think that though did you Kieran?"
"I didn't think anything", said Kieran, wearily.
"No you never do", Joby snapped.
"You've got a jealous one there Kieran", said Hillyard "Rather you than me".
"Just calm down Joby", Kieran stroked his forehead softly "Hillyard meant no harm".
"Oh leave me alone", Joby pushed Kieran's hand away and rolled onto his side, facing away from him. For two pins he would have howled like one of the wolves "You're both a pair of twats".
Little sleep was to be had for the rest of the night. Just before dawn Lonts had a nightmare and had to be soothed. He had dreamed that he was back in his room at Kiskev, and the ceiling had collapsed under a deluge of blood and spiders. It was a spectacularly unsettling dream, and Kieran had to rub his back until he was calm. Lonts eventually fell asleep again, with his hair fanned against Kieran's face.
The sun rose like a blood orange, and emitted no warmth. The temperature was many degrees below freezing, and would remain that way for weeks to come. Hillyard stoked the fire, and watched in satisfaction as voluptuous plumes of smoke billowed up into the frosty air. There was little good feeling around that morning. Apart from the bonding between Kieran and Lonts, nobody seemed to like anyone else very much, and tempers were short.
"I blame you for it all", Joby hissed at Adam, who was sitting on the edge of the litter smoking a cigar.
"Oh why not?" Adam sighed "Patsy already does".
"No, I mean for all this pansying that's going on".
"I can't be held responsible for Hillyard's sexual orientation".
"You heard all that last night then?"
"As I was right next to him, I would have had to have been deaf not to".
"I'm surprised you didn't add your fourpennorth".
"I seem to get into trouble when I speak at the moment".
"Oh", Joby was unnerved at the sight of a humbled Adam "You're not going to have a marathon sulk just 'cos Flannery's had a go at you? Just kick his arse, that's what I do when he starts on me".
"It's not that", said Adam "I heard myself last night, and I didn't like what I heard. I've put up with a lot of intolerance and prejudice in my life, and I never thought I would be able to dish it out myself with such abandon, and certainly not to a young boy who's plainly bonkers".
"We all say daft things. I made a right prat of myself last night, but as you know I'm always doing that".
"And I've never helped you have I?"
"Well how can you for a start?" said Joby, suspiciously.
"I know what it's like to be sexually frustrated, only too well. I've never once made allowances for what you're going through, and yet I've been there myself. I should use my imagination more. You're in the same position I would be in if I was suddenly plunged into a world full of women".
"I can honestly say I don't think I'd handle it as well as you're doing".
"Do you mean that?"
"Yes", said Adam.
"I'm always over-reacting though", Joby sat down next to him "I mean, that was a real pillock-special I pulled last night".
"We all get jealous", Adam shrugged "I once served time just for getting jealous. You don't make as big a fool of yourself as you do when you stick a broken bottle in someone's face".
"I just get sick of everyone fancying him that's all. Sometimes I wish someone would say he was puny and ugly, just for a change".
"They'd have to have a pretty bizarre mentality, although I'd agree with the puny aspect. Anyway, Artuul didn't fancy him. He was most put out when Patsy was introduced to him back at the inn".
"Of course he was, he was Angel really!"
"I think the real Artuul would have been fairly disgruntled too Joby. These sex-gods don't like their thunder being stolen. Anyway", Adam pulled one of the maps out from under his cushion "As you and I are both in the doghouse where Mr Gorgeous is concerned, and as we're the only two whose entire thoughts don't seem to centre on the Kiskev Fruitcake, perhaps we should look at where we're off to today".
"According to this most of the Valley of Freaks seems to be a Restricted Area", said Joby, studying the map carefully "I spose it would be if they're all highly contagious. Can't say I fancy the thought of turning into a freak somehow".
"No earthly reason why you should. It's a government zone, and as it's a Restricted Area I can't see that the freaks will be roaming about freely without a care in the world. They're also guarding the source of the Virus so security must be pretty tight".
"If the government's guarding the Virus though", said Joby "Why don't they just destroy it themselves? Then the vampires wouldn't have had a means of control".
"The only logical conclusion I can draw to that is that the vampires were the only ones with access to it".
"But now the vampires have gone".
"So we have to go there and convince them of that. It might help if they recognise Patsy".
"Even so, they're not going to have access to it, and even if they did they're not going to let us wheel in and grab it, in case we do what the vampires did".
"Those are all risks we have to take. When they find out the vampires are destroyed, and that Patsy is the real thing, they might just listen to us".
"All the vampires aren't destroyed though are they? There's still Angel at large".
"We'll worry about him when he puts in an appearance. I'm intrigued to see what this government area is like".
"What if they just recognise us as time-crossers and lock us up again? I don't think I could bear it. They might separate us next time. I might never see you or Flannery again. I think I'd rather be shot".
"I think we all would Joby".
"You two have been talking a long time", Kieran slopped onto the litter and lay facing them. He couldn't have looked more conciliatory if he'd thrust his bottom at them, as cats do when showing trust.
"We've been busy", said Adam "Working out where we're going, and what we do when we get there".
There was an uncomfortable pause in which nobody spoke.
"Are you both trying to be as frosty with me as the weather?" said Kieran, eventually.
"Don't be whimsical Patsy", said Adam.
"Well you both keep cuddling up together. It's starting to feel like three's a crowd".
"Now you're being stupid", said Joby.
"You both make out I'm to blame all the time", Kieran protested "And all I ever do is try and put things right. I tried to help you last night and you pushed me away, and for another thing Adam shouldn't have spoken to Lonts the way he did".
"It's fucking hard for us living with a saint", said Joby "We keep falling short of your very high standards, don't we Adam?"
"You can say that again", said Adam "We should be making a move soon. Patsy, have you fed Lonts, and changed his nappy this morning?"
"I think you're both being bloody mean".
"It's what keeps us sane old love".
"I can't do anything to please you can I? Not either of you".
"Yes you can", said Adam, grinding out the butt of his cigar "You can shut up and just look decorative. I'm sure Joby agrees with me on that one".
"It'd make a change from getting nagged all the time", said Joby.
"Now I understand why women complain about men being insensitive louts, because you ARE!" Kieran screamed, and let the litter with such violence that it carried on rocking for some time afterwards.
"I think we blew that one", said Joby.
"I think so too", said Adam.
Hillyard was trying vainly to coax Lonts into eating the remains of the carrot stew for breakfast. Lonts though had gone into a sulk. He had pinched one of Adam's cigars, and was smoking it frantically as though it was dope. Whenever Hillyard tried to approach him Lonts waved the cigar threateningly and told him in no uncertain terms to go away.
"Can you at least tell me how you feel?" asked Hillyard, desperately.
"Go away!" Lonts tossed the carrot stew in the other man's direction. Most of it went over the fire, causing the flames to spit and sizzle aggressively.
"Kieran!" Hillyard grabbed the Irishman as he came over "You're the only one who seems to be able to get through to him. He's really flipped this morning. I didn't think my stew was that bad".
At that moment Kieran would have been glad to see Lonts in Hell.
"You encouraged him along Hillyard", he said, angrily "Wanting him as a focking toy-boy, then you find you can't control him and we have to pick up the pieces".
"I know mate, but he needs your help".
"And I'm sick and tired of doing favours for you. First it was avenge Stombal's death, now it's wetnurse your nutty boyfriends. I'm fed up with being used".
"I'll make it up to you one day I promise".
"That'd be interesting to see!"
Kieran nonetheless approached Lonts, who instantly formed a wilting position. Hillyard left them, as though generously bestowing privacy. It all made Kieran feel depressed. He was gradually being isolated from the others, and sucked into Lonts's closed little world. It all reminded him of that time alone with the boy at the Winter Palace, shut in the dark, cold room with him.
"That won't do you any good", he said, snatching the cigar from Lonts's fingers and tossing it into the fire "Particularly if Adam catches you".
"He'll hurt me?" Lonts asked, opening his dark eyes wide.
"Probably", Kieran sighed.
"You said you wouldn't let him, you promised!"
"That was before you started messing me around. Chucking things at Hillyard and such like. If you don't co-operate then I can't guarantee the others won't get cross with you".
"But you promised!"
"I can only promise so much", Kieran brushed away tears of frustration with the back of his hand "You're not the only one who's got problems Lonts".
"Come away with me", Lonts grabbed Kieran's hands eagerly "If you come away with me you won't have any problems, because we'll go somewhere they can't find us. You'll be safe then".
Kieran lifted his face skywards and screamed.
He was aware that the litter had stopped swaying. The rocking motion over the past few miles had lulled him into an exhausted sleep, but now it had stopped and he could vaguely make out the others moving around outside. From the noises it appeared that they had stopped for a much-needed brew. He had been alone in the litter for the day's journey so far. Lonts must be walking alongside, or sitting up front with Hillyard, he thought. Goodness knows how they had got him to behave himself and co-operate.
"Here you are", Joby came through the fur drapes, carrying a tin-mug of coffee "I've put some honey in it, so it'll give you energy".
Kieran took the mug without a word and sipped at the hot drink.
"Hillyard had no right to put all that on you earlier", said Joby.
"How is Lonts?" Kieran asked, feeling groggy.
"Seems to be alright. We've had him walking with us. He's so frightened he might've upset you that he hasn't given us a moment of trouble. Been as quiet as a mouse".
"I can't remember what happened".
"You had your 150th nervous breakdown that's all", Joby sat down next to him and kissed his forehead.
"That must have been rather silly of me. On top of all the worry I've caused you lately too".
"Drink your coffee. I spect we didn't help, teasing you earlier".
"I don't blame you. I have been getting a bit carried away with me St Kieran act lately".
"It's all Hillyard's fault", said Joby "He expects too much of you. I mean, I think that on the whole we cope with Lonts as best as we can, considering that what he really needs is about a hundredweight of pills inside him. That's the only thing that's going to break the vicious circle".
"I never realised how interminable madness could be until I met Lonts. I think that's what made me scream. You just keep going round and round with him, one step forward, five steps back. You keep hoping he'll suddenly snap out of it, but he never does. Each day dawns and he's still as mad as he was the night before".
"I know, and sometimes you just wanna tip him upside down and shake him".
"Not talking about me I hope?" said Adam.
"Lonts", said Kieran.
"Don't worry about him Patsy. We're going to walk his little arse off today. With any luck he'll be too tired later to give us any lip".
"Your methods may be harsh Adam, but I suspect they're going to work better than mine", said Kieran "All I seem to do is encourage him to be as potty as he can".
"I'm going to give Hillyard a hand", said Joby, slipping away.
"I think Joby's just made what is rather intriguingly called A Tactful Withdrawal", said Adam, lying down on the litter next to Kieran "Now, are you going to do as you're told, and just lie there and let Joby and me look after you?"
"That seems to be the sensible option", Kieran drained his cup "This is all Angel's doing isn't it? Why I'm feeling run-down I mean".
"What you went through at the Palace must have knocked you for six. The Bastard Angel is trying every which way he can to make you too weak to fight him, and then you won't get in his way anymore".
"I'm going to die aren't I?" Kieran suddenly began to wail "That's what he's doing. I'm going to fade away and die!"
"Stop talking such utter bullshit Patsy. As far as I can see the only thing you're likely to die from is anorexia, and Joby and I are determined that won't happen, even if we have to force-feed you".
"Exactly. He's going to make me die!"
"Only if you let him, you silly plank. You do have a say in this".
"But how can I stop him?"
"Distance yourself from Lonts for a start. I believe sometimes that Angel's using him".
"Oh why not!" said Kieran, sarcastically "Every other evil bastard has".
"Tried and tested you see, is our poor Lonts. He's so out of his mind that he's left it vacant for any malevolent squatter to move in. Angel's practically turned him into a vampire too. Lonts is depending on you too much, sucking the life from you. Whilst you're pre-occupied with him you're getting weaker an weaker yourself, and your attention is diverted".
"But I can't just turn me back on Lonts".
"I said distance yourself, not abandon him. The rest of us will try and keep Lonts from bothering you too much. We won't ill-treat him, you've got nothing to fear there, but we have to stop his growing dependency on you, which Hillyard seems to be doing his level-best to encourage. Now, I don't want any more bilge about you dying".
"Sometimes that feeling is so strong though".
"Doing well at the moment is Angel, isn't he?" said Adam "What's the betting that next he starts trying to persuade you to kill yourself?"
"He won't succeed there! I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I do believe suicide is a great sin against God".
"As well as an act of gross insensitivity to the rest of us!"
"I couldn't do any of this without you two, you and Joby. I'd have ended up like Braw already".
"It's impossible to fight evil alone", said Adam, and he lightly kissed Kieran on the lips "Absolutely imposs ..."
"Come on, break it up", said Joby, reappearing and unfolding a map with a great rustling of paper "Hillyard's been showing me the map. If we wanted to we could be inside the Valley of Freaks by dusk tonight".
"So soon?" said Kieran, faintly.
"You'll be alright with us Patsy", said Adam "Don't let it bother you so".
"You don't understand!" Kieran got onto his knees and hobbled around the litter "You don't focking understand".
"Try explaining then", said Joby.
"It's a feeling I have. Angel's going to be waiting for me there. I'm not ready, I'm not ready, listen to me!"
"We are", said Joby "If you'd listened to me properly you'd have understood that I was saying we COULD be in the Valley of Freaks by tonight if we wanted to be, or we COULD arrive there tomorrow morning, or later than that if you'd prefer. According to this map there is a church open brackets ruins close brackets up overlooking the Valley. I was talking to Hillyard and he agreed that we could have a short pitstop there or a long pitstop, depending entirely on how you feel".
"Yet more carrot stew I presume", said Adam, glumly.
"No, Lonts chucked the last of it on the fire", said Joby.
"Probably the first intelligent thing that boy has ever done".
"It's only a matter of time", Kieran lay down and hugged a cushion close to him "I feel like I'm waiting for my execution. There's no way I can back out is there? I mean, you're both taking it as a foregone conclusion that I'm going to fight Angel. I have no choice. I notice you don't offer to take me away from it all, like you used to".
"Would you listen?" Adam snapped.
"What's the matter with you anyway!" said Joby "You're sounding as though you've got a bad attack of Lonts-itus. Pull yourself together".
"Joby, you always were an insensitive pig", Kieran spat.
"Yea, and Angel must be laughing up his sleeve if he can see you right now. I bet he's already planning which of us he's going to tear up first once he's got you out of the way".
"He would, wouldn't he?" said Kieran.
"Which will it be do you think?" said Joby "Adam Casserole, Baked Joby, Roast Hillyard or Chopped Lonts? We could all keep him in snacks for a few weeks. And once you're gone there'll be nothing to stop him".
"Try and think of Angel as he once was", said Adam "A rather tiresome little wretch in an orange vest, whose only use was for hot-wiring stolen buggies".
"That's not the Angel we're dealing with now though", said Kieran.
"Maybe not, but that's the shell of him that's being used. Somehow you've got to get past the Devil and appeal straight to the ghost of the old Angel".
"I nearly did once", Kieran recalled "At the Marlsblad inn, when he threw Lonts down the stairs. I shouted at Angel, and for a moment he looked at me as himself, as if he wanted help. The real him is still in that festering body somewhere ... along with the evil that has to be destroyed".
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