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There was a buggy waiting outside the door. Kieran stood by it nervously, huddled deep in his fur coat and feeling vulnerable. It seemed anarchy had broken out in the Colony. In the distance he could hear the screams as men stumbled around blindly in the cold darkness. The only lighting came from the red emergency lamps which glowed dimly from the sides of the tunnels. These were barely more than adequate. Now the whole place really did feel like a cold Hell, and he was waiting for Satan himself to appear.
Angel stepped out of the shadows. Kieran knew the vampire had been watching him for some time, and it annoyed him.
"I wouldn't have thought playing tedious games was your style", he said "Unless you're going to waste a lot of time just preying on my nerves".
"No need to get like that", said Angel "Not when I've got you a present".
Kieran felt something cold and heavy being put into his hands. When he held it up he saw it was a large crucifix on a long chain.
"You can wear that if you like", Angel went on "It'll protect you from vampires!"
Angel laughed in his extraordinarily unpleasant way, and climbed into the driver's seat of the buggy. Kieran put on the crucifix. It may not frighten Angel, he reasoned, but he needed all the comfort he could get.
"Come on!" Angel barked "I'm going to take you for a drive".
"More stupid games?" said Kieran, sulkily getting into the passenger seat.
"No, I just like driving. Surely you remember that?"
"Do you hate us so much Angel, because we abandoned you at the Loud House?"
"No, I leave such delicate feelings to you", Angel ran his hands lovingly over the steering-wheel. Kieran noticed that the long nails and furry palms were still as apparent as ever.
"We would have helped you if we'd known", said Kieran "But you were beyond us".
"I'll tell you something", Angel pressed the ignition button "I'm nothing, not when compared to the trouble you're going to have with the Kiskev Survivor one day. If you destroy me now, I'll regroup somehow, and I'll come back and I'll use him. It won't be for several years, probably not until you're middle-aged and past all your vanquishing. But I'll do it somehow".
"You can only manage that if Lonts stays insane", said Kieran "But he's still got a good chance of being cured".
Angel laughed and thrashed the buggy into life. Kieran watched the doors of the VIP suite until they were out of sight. And then there was nothing but the dark tunnels facing him. Mile upon mile of them. Angel was shrieking with laughter as he drove them further and further, faster and faster, into the blackness.
"You stupid stupid little git!" Joby roared, feeling as though his head would explode under the pressure of his own anger "You're a fucking moron. You're not just mad, you're brain-dead with it".
Lonts didn't respond at all. From the expression on his face it was almost as though he regarded Joby as some minor quarrel going on in another room, and nothing whatsoever to do with him.
"Joby!" Adam exclaimed, on entering the small bedroom "You really must learn to control these little tantrums of yours".
"Little tantrums?" Joby cried "Do you know what he's doing now? He's refusing to come with us. He says he won't go anywhere without Kieran".
"The Devil came for him", said Lonts.
"One can't argue with that", said Adam "He's got it right for once. Perhaps we're ALL mad, the whole world, and we're now on the same wavelength as him".
"Adam, for Christ's sake", said Joby "I don't need this, and I don't need him playing up".
"There's still no need to get so excited. Lonts hasn't got any say around here has he? He comes with us, because he's got no choice. It's really as simple as that, there's no point arguing with him. He's just going to do as he's told".
"But what if he does another bunk?" said Joby "I mean, he's always bolting from us".
"Quite simple", said Adam "Lonts, if you run away we won't bother coming to fetch you. You'll stay down here, all alone. In the dark. With the Devil at large".
"Don't you care about me?" Lonts's dark eyes stared out blankly, almost giving the impression that he wasn't seeing anything or anyone in the room "I thought you might though. I thought you might just want to see me happy".
Joby let out a strangled roar of exasperation, and stormed back into the lounge. He was standing in front of the blank security monitor when Adam rejoined him.
"The ego of him!" said Joby "Who does he think he is? Does he really believe that at the moment our biggest concern is him being happy?"
"Yes", said Adam "Lonts is mad, Joby. In his mind the whole world only exists in relation to him. That is why he has those spasms of paranoia, thinking someone's always out to get him. He cannot believe anyone is concerned with anyone else but him".
"There's just no talking to him", Joby went on "I stand there yelling and screaming in his face, and he stares over my shoulder the whole time. Have you noticed that when you're talking to him, you can't get eye-contact with him?"
"Come on", Adam passed him Kieran's rucksack "You can take care of that, then I can help Hillyard with the loony".
"It must be out about minus-50 in here, or it feels like it anyway", said Hillyard, walking in from the bathroom with his coat on "What's happening to this place?"
"It's falling apart", said Adam "Somehow we've got to get out of here. Get back above ground. And that could be difficult, considering we don't know our way around this rabbit-warren".
"We should be alright", said Hillyard "As long as we stay way from the contaminated areas".
Four orange lights flickered in the far distance. Suddenly an electronic disembodied male voice announced that they were entering a contaminated area, and unless authorised to turn back immediately. The voice kept breaking up as yet another emergency back-up generator struggled to cope with Angel's presence.
"Oh I see", Kieran glanced at the profile of the demon sitting next to him "That's your game is it? Going to contaminate me, lock me away in one of the cells here, until I become completely scorched, bits of me drop off and I shrivel away?"
"You can't do much against that", said Angel, staring directly ahead.
"Bit tame isn't it? Where's the great battle of wits between two opposing forces then? The great Armageddon showdown at the end of time?"
"Listen shitface, I'm only interested in getting you out of me fucking hair. I don't want to do a dance of death with you".
"Oh but I do", said Kieran "I am disappointed, Angel".
"Do you know how much you fucking irritate me? You always have, with yer poncing around as though yer shit don't smell!"
"It's going to get very tedious if all we do is trade insults the whole time".
"I don't plan on having you around for very long".
The orange lights were now directly in front of them. Their brightness was harsh on the eyes after the intense blackness of the tunnel. The lights were suspended above the opening of a much brighter corridor, the walls of which were decorated with contamination symbols. Angel drove the buggy on into the light.
"Do you know what I'll do if you leave me here?" said Kieran, trying not to sound desperate "I'll kill myself, then you'll never be rid of me".
"No you won't", Angel retorted "You won't kill yourself because of your poxy religion. I heard you say so".
"Then I shall refuse to go in".
"You haven't any choice!"
They rounded a corner and came upon a makeshift wooden barrier, hastily erected out of office furniture when the electronic bulkhead barriers had failed to operate. Angel swore in exasperation, as the makeshift barrier was too big and dense to simply drive through.
"Not going your way is it?" said Kieran.
"Oh stop trying to sound like your pansy lover", Angel stalled the buggy, and slapped his hands angrily against the steering-wheel "That's what gets me more than anything about you, shitface. You're obscene you are, debauched, filthy".
"I am?!" said Kieran "That's a bit rich coming from someone who crams human flesh into his dirty little gob!"
Angel jumped out of the buggy, and angrily gestured for Kieran to do the same.
"At least I don't perform unnatural acts", the demon screamed.
"Well what else is a man supposed to do these days?" said Kieran, feeling that he would laugh if he didn't find the situation so confusing "Anyway, I know you're quick enough to drop your knickers when you want something".
"Yea, but I don't see it through".
"Prick-tease!" Kieran yelled, and then began to laugh "I've just realised the missing link about you Angel. I've found your Achilles Heel".
"What are you talking about?"
"That there's a lot more to you than meets the eye. I think I've just found my answer. I should've realised it all along".
Before Angel could respond two figures emerged from behind the barrier. Both were encased in blue thermal bodysuits, which sheathed them from head to toe. Their forbidding appearance was enhanced by protective masks which obscured their faces. Angel saw their unscheduled entrance on the scene as a gross irritation, and tried to push Kieran into the shadows where they couldn't see him. One of the men raised a stun-gun threateningly, and then instantly dropped it again when Angel got nearer.
"So you have that effect too do you?" said Kieran, as the guard took a few terrified steps backwards "I tend to have that result when I appear to people as well".
"Shut up!" Angel screeched, and then turned to the guard "You let us pass. I've got someone here wants to have a look round".
"You're an eejut Angel. You haven't got the knack of dealing with people that I have".
When Kieran pushed his way in front of Angel, both the guards instantly fell to their knees.
"Bastard!" said Angel "You always go and ruin things. Well I'll show you something that'll stop you being so bloody smug".
He tore a mask from one of the men's faces. The man wailed in despair and tried to cover himself from Kieran's gaze, but Angel grabbed a fistful of the man's greasy hair and pulled his head back sharply. The growth of the Virus had spread over most of his face and had started to eat away at his nose. The man's whole face looked like a slab of Swiss cheese that had slowly gone mouldy.
"Do you wanna look like this, eh?" said Angel, roughly shaking the man's head backwards and forwards.
"Angel, leave him alone!" said Kieran.
"Hey, mate", said Angel to the guard, in a mocking fashion "Would you like to kiss the Vanquisher of Evil? Go on, you know you do. Then he could look as pretty as you".
Angel began to drag the man across the floor towards Kieran, and threw him at his feet. Kieran reacted by suddenly grabbing Angel's ear and twisting it round sharply in his fist.
"You fucking wanker!" Angel squealed, and tried to twist himself away, but only succeeded in getting himself caught up even further.
To Kieran's annoyance the diseased guard, instead of sensibly running away at this point, continued to sit at his feet in adoration.
"Is there any way you can seal yourselves into the contaminated area?" said Kieran, breathlessly.
The man nodded, and began to speak in a faltering, laborious way.
"The bulkhead barriers can operate manually, but on a combination locking system. We are still trying to work out the code".
"Then get back in there and do so", said Kieran, trying to ignore the way Angel was kicking him in the shins "Are there any other patients at large in the Colony?"
"No. When the lights failed most panicked and hid within their cells".
"Good. I'm asking you to seal yourselves in, contain the Virus. You do realise the tremendous sacrifice I'm asking of you?"
The man nodded mutely.
"We will be alone?" the other guard spoke, removing his mask slowly "No one else will be able to see us?"
"No one else to use you", Kieran touched the other guard's face "What time is left to you will be entirely yours. I will make sure your sacrifice is never forgotten. Now please go!"
The guards turned and ran back into the contaminated tunnel. Once they were out of sight behind the barrier Kieran released Angel, who immediately head-butted him and sent him sprawling against the wall.
"You were reasonably restrained there Angel", Kieran staggered to his feet. His head was filled with a blinding pain. "Letting them go like that".
"I can come back for them if I need 'em. Bulkhead barriers are no obstacle to me".
"I doubt if it will be worth your while", Kieran passed his hand over his forehead, and was surprised to find it wasn't bleeding.
"I've got another plan for you", said Angel "I thought I could leave those pathetic bastards to see you off, but I should've known better. I really am going to have to do it all by myself".
"That should be good for a laugh, if nothing else".
"Where I'm taking you there won't be much laughing".
It had been a major operation getting everyone ready for departure. Lonts alone was enough trouble for five men. At one point he literally dug his heels into the carpet and refused to move. In turn Adam had to forcibly restrain Joby from administering serious bodily harm on the young boy. Adam was already beginning to feel the strain of controlling the group on his own. It was becoming all too apparent that Kieran had unobtrusively acted as their peaceful core. With him gone they were reduced to kicking at each other blindly. And as such the omens weren't good for the long journey ahead.
"Thank goodness, you haven't gone yet", Yentzi appeared in the suite, clad in an expensive thick coat, and looking flustered "I'm so relieved. I was afraid I'd be too late".
"Why?" said Adam.
"Because I can help you to get out of here. I don't know where you plan to go next, but in this part of the world your best mode of transport will be an air-buggy".
"You're not getting me up in one of those things", said Hillyard.
"They have improved the safety on them considerably in the past couple of years".
"Where can we get one?" said Adam.
"The Director has his own personal one. It is kept in a hangar situated directly over his private suite. I can take you there with little trouble, even in the darkness. And then ... well let's say we can commandeer it".
"But that will get you into serious trouble!" Adam protested.
"I see it as my small contribution to helping the Vanquisher ... and you".
"None of us knows how to fly one of those things", said Hillyard.
"I know how", said Yentzi "I took lessons some years back. It was one of the conditions of my appointment here in fact".
"You're coming with us?" Joby exclaimed.
"I can be of great help to you".
"I seem to remember someone else being of great help to us with transport".
"Oh come on Joby", said Adam "Yentzi is hardly Angel".
"No", said Joby, grudgingly. But as he glanced between the pair of them he couldn't help but feel that Yentzi would be almost as much trouble.
The Director sat silently staring at the blank screens in his suite. One by one they had all gone dark, and the deformed men in their cells were hidden forever from his view. He was slumped on the leather sofa, too doped to rake up enough energy to even think about what was happening. One of his domestic staff had left a candle burning in a bowl of water nearby, so he wasn't without light, but it did nothing to eleviate the fug in his brain. He was vaguely aware that Yentzi had entered the room, accompanied by some other men whom he felt he might have seen before, and yet he couldn't be certain. Yentzi was now spouting a lot of bilge (in his opinion) about "commandeering the air-buggy in the name of the Vanquisher".
"They've all gone", said the Director "All my little freaks. All hidden forever. They've put themselves out of reach of the vampires, and us".
Yentzi was now saying that the best policy would be for him to join them, as though he was proposing a company merger not escape from a hellhole.
"You want to leave here Yentzi?" said the Director "Then go! You're no fucking use anyway. Look at your with your knees tied together. The freaks have more passion than you".
"I did try to help", said Yentzi "The freaks will be the death of you. I expect the Virus strain is already in you, but then you should never have taken advantage of them in the first place".
"Get out, and take your preaching with you. GET OUT!"
"What will happen to him?" said Adam.
Yentzi had led them through the door on the far side of the Director's chamber. They were now staggering blindly down a dark corridor, served only by dim emergency lighting.
"The Director?" said Yentzi "Oh I suspect he will die. Whether it will be the Virus that gets him, or the extreme cold, or an overdose, is up to the Fates to decide. If I sound bitter you must forgive me, but I have witnessed too many of his antics to waste my concern on him. I am normally a very forgiving man, but I cannot condone the way he used some of the patients here".
"He slept with them?" said Joby.
"His love of deformity was one of the reasons he was transferred here", Yentzi explained "It made him easily manipulated by the vampires, and as far as the Ministry were concerned it at least stopped his embarrassing antics getting out in the City. Because here it could be swept under the carpet. In the City it would only be a matter of time before he was caught abusing lame men he had picked up in the street. There are strip shows, illegal of course, that cater for men like him".
"Go and get turned on by amputated limbs and operation scars", said Adam.
"You get the general idea. The Ministry were terrified one of these disgusting places would get raided whilst he was there. Top-ranking Ministry official caught ogling the sick and deformed, and paying for their services. There are some things even men in the City can't forgive. We have a lot of stairs to climb now, as the elevator will be out of order".
The air-buggy looked like a silver bullet. Small, snub-nosed and streamlined for speed, like a rocket from an old Flash Gordon cartoon. It sat in the middle of a compact hangar, which was just big enough to contain it. Yentzi opened a large hatchway in the wall opposite its nose, using a manual pulley system. Daylight appeared, bringing with it a blast of cold air.
"Conditions don't look too bad actually", said Yentzi, peering out "A nice, crisp, cold day. Good visibility. We should take advantage of it, just in case there are any blizzards due later".
Adam spread one of the maps against the wall, and indicated the northerly direction in which they should travel.
"You're not getting me up in that thing", said Hillyard, staring at the air-buggy with acute hatred.
"You'd rather stay here would you?" said Joby.
"I don't see why we can't travel in the litter", said Hillyard.
"Two bloody good reasons", Adam exclaimed "It's far too slow and impractical, and secondly I wouldn't be surprised if Angel's eaten the bullock by now".
At this news Hillyard looked as though he was about to cry.
"You said you wanted to help Patsy, Hillyard", said Adam "Well this is our best way of doing so. And stop getting upset, you're disturbing Lonts. I'm relying on you to keep him calm whilst we're in the air, just in case he decides to jump out".
"That wouldn't be any great loss", Joby muttered.
When it came to the departure it was felt safest to bind Lonts's hands, as his jumpiness was so acute. Adam and Joby sat on either side of him in the tiny bucket-seats at the back. Adam had threatened the boy with instant death if he gave any trouble at all, but Lonts looked dangerously as though he wasn't listening. For once he didn't respond at all to any threats.
The lift-off was hairy. It involved Yentzi steering the air-buggy to the edge of the hatchway and then simply letting it drop, until a mechanism cut in to make it float in the air. They bounced in the icy sunshine for some distance until the vehicle adapted itself to flight. Way below them the buildings looked like children's toys left scattered carelessly on a hard white floor.
"Didn't I say?" Yentzi yelled, skittishly "Perfectly delightful flying weather!"
Kieran woke up feeling frightened and disturbed. He couldn't remember passing out, only dim recollections of Angel standing near him at the mouth of the tunnel to the contaminated area. If there was one trick Angel possessed that was guaranteed to unnerve him, it was his ability to cause darkness to fall in his mind at any moment he chose.
By the time he fully regained consciousness he was completely disorientated. There was a rocking motion going on around him and everywhere was dark. For a moment he had the upsetting sensation that he had regressed back to being a baby. He felt like a child lying in a crib, helpless and panicking because it was dark and he was alone.
"What did you do?" he croaked, becoming aware that Angel was sitting opposite him.
"Put you out of it for a while", said Angel.
"If you can do that, why don't you do it all the time? Then you'll really have me out of your hair".
"Requires a lot of energy. I'll only be able to manage that when I've weakened you enough".
"Physically or mentally?"
"Where are we now?"
"In a boat".
"A boat!" Kieran struggled to sit up, causing the boat to dip dangerously. His eyes adjusted once more to the gloom. They were in an underground cavern. Dirty water lapped against the side of the vessel. The whole place had a strangely familiar feel to it.
"Angel, we're at the Loud House!"
"Got it in one", Angel sniggered and continued to row the vessel down through the dark cavern "Otherwise known as the Mouth to Hell".
"But how did we get here? How long have I been out of it?"
"Don't panic. You've been out for a few minutes that's all".
"Then how did we get here?"
"The same way I've always baffled you lot by managing to keep up with you. Being Undead has its advantages. We can get anywhere we choose with no effort at all. But to take you with me I had to make you Undead too. For the time being".
"Angel!" Kieran panicked.
"I'm not going to keep you that way am I! It's just for the convenience of getting around".
They pulled alongside the bank, where (so long ago it seemed now) Angel had torn the insides out of a demon child. A short bent figure in a long, hooded robe stood waiting for them. It was carrying a lantern in its claw. As they got nearer Kieran realised it was one of those demonic entities they had seen before, the Reptile Men. They passed it by and sailed on under a low bridge. Once underneath it they were encased in complete darkness.
"Hell doesn't exist Angel", said Kieran "Except as a state of mind perhaps".
"You go on believing that if you want to", said Angel "If you deny it you might just end up being driven mad, and that would suit me fine".
"More of your conjuring tricks then?" said Kieran, wearily.
"Alright", Angel angrily jabbed him in the chest with his talons "If you're going to be like that, we'll make it a straight contest between you and me. A bad, dirty fight!"
They were on the shingle on the edge of the Grey Sea. The ocean had iced over, and looked like a dull mass of black glass in the eerie half-light of an endless winter night. Angel was sitting cross-legged nearby when Kieran woke once more. He noticed that the demon was now naked, and at first marvelled at his immunity to the cold. Until he realised he was naked as well, apart from Reuton's crucifix which still rested against his ribcage.
Kieran sat up and slowly took in the scene. Behind him the Loud House was still as decayed and cheerless as he remembered it. In front, a short way out to sea, he could make out the white stump of the Skirra Fludd lighthouse in the gloom. In his mind he hung onto the belief that the lighthouse spelled the end of the journey, although he still had the nigh-on impossible task of surviving Angel to contend with first.
"What's your own personal idea of Hell then?" said Angel, nudging him with his foot.
"You needn't think I'm going to tell you!" Kieran exclaimed "You'll have to figure it out by yourself".
"I already have. You're so fucking transparent you see".
"I can't feel the cold", Kieran raised his arm in wonder "The temperature must be ... hell I don't know what, and I don't even have goose-pimples. One of the other advantages to being Undead I suppose?"
"You can bet I know what your idea of Hell is", Angel repeated, in exasperation "It's to be alone isn't it? With no one to love your pathetic body, or gasp in awe and wonder at your pretty face. Do you realise how fragile your mind really is?"
"It's never felt particularly fragile".
"Because you've never tested it before, never had to. If I had the patience I'd leave you be and let time do all the destroying of you, because it will, shitface, it will. When nobody fancies you anymore you'll shrivel up, go mad. You'll become a drunken old bore, and not even your poxy friends will want you anymore".
"So what do you intend to do?" said Kieran "Scar me for life, to hurry the process along a bit? It might harm me physically, but mentally, contrary to what you believe, I'll still be intact, if only to spite you".
"Not if I do it properly. You saw Braw didn't you? He was once as beautiful as you. Men used to mob him when he walked in the City. They used to fight each other just to get a touch of his hair. And then look at how he ended up! Riddled with disease, no life in him, no energy, all his looks gone. Do you really think you could survive that?"
"Yes. As I said, I'd do it to spite you. The best form of revenge is to live well. Knowing I was the one person cramping your style would make up for a lot", said Kieran "And every second of my life that I could grab a grain of happiness in, however trivial, would be one heck of a kick in the balls to you".
Kieran rose to his feet and tramped awkwardly over the shingle towards the demon. He felt deeply vulnerable in his nakedness. He knew deep down Angel was right. As a sensual creature most of his happiness was tied up in the pleasure that could be obtained through his body. Not only that, but he did need people, he did need love. Without it Angel would have won, and he would be destroyed. He knew he could never exist just for revenge alone. But he wasn't going to tell him that!
"Alright then", he said, standing over the demon "There's no stalling this any longer. Let's see what you're made of".
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