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Yentzi had noticed the darkness approaching from the horizon like a distant thunder storm. Up until then the conditions had been perfect. They had flown effortlessly over the glaciers, almost enjoying the graceful weightless sensation of floating above them.
"What does that mean Yentzi?" said Adam, leaning forward in his seat "Is that a storm approaching?"
"I'm not certain, but it does means trouble", Yentzi replied "The last thing we want is to be caught in it, and it's coming on pretty fast. There is a tower not far from here, an old meteorological observation station. From what I remember it has a small landing-pad on the roof. I won't have much space to land in, but I would prefer to attempt that than risk flying into the face of ... well whatever that is".
He was right to be cautious. They had barely landed the air-buggy and got under cover in the tower, before the darkness had wrapped itself around them like a black muffler. They stared out through the narrow windows at nothing. Even the harsh, brilliant glare of the snow had been blanked out.
"That is no storm", said Hillyard.
"Whatever it is we can't do anything until it passes", said Adam "We'll have to try and make the best of things here for the time being".
"Quite right", said Yentzi "Get some rest is probably the best thing".
"Oh jolly well do", said Joby, sarcastically "Break out the dry Martini's!"
He earned a scowl from Adam but was beyond caring. He was cold, the darkness oppressed him even more than the snow had done, and as well as worrying about Kieran's safety, he found he was missing him like an amputated foot.
There were three rooms in the tower, each above the other. The ground floor was minus its external door, which made it too vulnerable to wolves, so the main camp was set up in the middle chamber. As they went through the familiar routine of building a fire in the centre of the floor and sorting out bedding, Joby had to fight down a rising panic inside him. He suspected the darkness was something to do with Angel, and as such it didn't bode well. He took out his fears for Kieran's safety by pushing Lonts around the room like a football, until Hillyard stopped him because the boy was starting to squeal like a terrified kitten.
"If you want something to do" said Hillyard "go and keep an eye on Adam".
"What are you on about?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, him and his new friend have disappeared upstairs".
"That's his carry-on", Joby mumbled.
"Well some friend you are!" Hillyard exclaimed "You just going to let him shit on Kieran then, without a word? I'll tell you something, I wouldn't let Sto ..."
"Stombal be treated like that", Joby finished for him "I know. I've heard that speech from you already, many times".
"I don't understand you".
"So you keep on saying".
"Well I don't. You feel so much for people, but you won't put feelings into actions. Do you get lazy or embarrassed, or what? Or are you just frightened of caring?"
"It makes you vulnerable", said Joby "People can hurt you when you care".
"And you hurt them when you don't".
"Oh very profound".
"You know something?" Hillyard snapped "I don't how how a nice bloke like Kieran can put up with you. Particularly as he's someone who enjoys love so much. If Adam wasn't on the scene I'd go for him like a shot".
"You once told me he wasn't your type".
"That was before I knew him properly, and because I didn't trust blokes who are too good-looking".
"Like Artuul you mean?"
"Artuul was ..." Hillyard smiled warmly in reflection "irresistible. And the more I see of Kieran ..."
"Yea, well you're not having him", Joby roared "Don't be so fucking greedy!"
"I can't help being a man of lusty appetites", Hillyard laughed "At times I've even fancied you. Not at the present though, you've got that sour look on".
"Man of lusty appetites!" Joby sneered "You're a fucking fat fairy, that's what you are".
"At least I'm not afraid of what I want".
"Now you listen to me", Joby shouted into Hillyard's face "Neither you nor Adam knows what it means to love someone the way I love Kieran. Adam's only interested in sex, and you either want to screw someone or wetnurse them. You don't know what a well-rounded relationship is".
"Seeing as you've sewn me and Adam into pigeonholes", said Hillyard "What do you think Kieran wants then?"
"He just wants love", said Joby "In whatever form it takes. And the trouble is he's never been loved enough. Perhaps I'm just trying to put that right".
"Then do something about Adam for him", said Hillyard "Show you care enough about someone to fight their battles for them when they're not around. It's up to you".
Adam unfolded an old mattress he had found lying on an iron bedstead in the top room. From a few objects lying scattered around the room it was obvious that the tower was occasionally used as a convenient shelter by anyone travelling by. He had lit a candle, and placed it on top of a chest of drawers that was in an advanced state of decay. It was icy in the room, in spite of a small fire which he had lit on the floor. He had seen more comfortable public conveniences, but he wanted a couple of hours alone with his own thoughts. It was not to be.
"There seems to be a row going on downstairs", said Yentzi, who had been checking the mechanics of the air-buggy, which was not an easy job to do by the light of a small hand-torch in such bitter darkness. He warmed his hands over the fire "I could hear raised voices when I was on the stairs".
"Probably just Joby and Hillyard having words", said Adam "Joby will need someone to quarrel with whilst Patsy's not around".
"It was him they seemed to be quarrelling about".
"Can't say that surprises me", Adam sighed.
"It's strange isn't it?" Yentzi sat down next to him on the iron bedstead "I never thought of the Vanquisher having ... well having an intimate life. But I'm broadminded. I'm not like those peculiar Honorary Virgins that are around. I don't believe celibacy is the only way to be in tune with goodness. It must be very difficult for Joby to wait whilst his lover is out combating the forces of darkness. Have they been together long?"
"Years. They've known each other since they were seventeen. They're very close in age, there's only about three-and-a-half months between them".
"It must make life lonely for you at times".
"To see two young people so much in love", Yentzi moved closer to him "Starting out in life together. All the same dreams and aspirations we would have had at their age. And now we just take what we can. Crumbs from the table".
"Although I've never really given up on the idea of meeting the right person".
"Yentzi, there is something you should know".
"We can talk all night if you prefer. I just want to be near you".
"I might've known!" Joby bellowed, as he kicked open the door "You can't keep it in your pants for five minutes can you!"
"I haven't got it out", Adam retorted "And what do you think you're doing? You come bursting in here like something out of a French farce..."
"And you!" Joby pointed accusingly at Yentzi "Out! Out!"
"Adam", said Yentzi, looking scandalised "I hope you're not going to tolerate this kind of behaviour from one of your young men".
"Out!" Joby repeated.
"You'd better get some rest downstairs Yentzi", said Adam "This place is hardly conducive to a night of passion anyway".
Yentzi made a commendably dignified exit, refusing to look at Joby as he passed him.
"Joby, you are very tiresome sometimes", Adam went and stood near the fire to get warm "The last person to order a man out of my room was my father. That was twenty-five years ago and I haven't spoken to him since".
"I should be that lucky!" said Joby "I have to protect Flannery's interests. That's why I came up here".
"Patsy has nothing to fear".
"Oh come off it. Yentzi practically had his tongue in your ear! I didn't notice you complaining about it neither".
"I'm only human Joby", Adam paced around the fire "I'm missing Patsy as much as you are, and this is such a horribly gloomy place. I'm terrified of what that darkness out there signifies ..."
Adam suddenly broke off and began to weep. Joby hugged him close. They held each other for some time in that crushing, desperate way that people do when they share a common grief. They eventually separated, and for a brief moment found themselves blindly seeking each other's lips. They broke off sharply before they had a chance to make contact.
"Well", said Joby, shaken "I can't wait to tell Kieran about this. He'll be laughing for days".
"You seem to have got taller and filled out a bit Joby", said Adam "More grown-up generally. You've lost that gawky, adolescent look".
"It's the cold weather. It must have killed me spots off".
"It seems you're not bad-looking really".
"Let's just say I'm much better-looking when Kieran isn't around", said Joby, nervously.
"Aren't we all?" said Adam "We seem to have come a long way, and I don't just mean geographically".
"We'd better get some kip", Joby began to straighten out the blankets Adam had assembled on the iron bedstead.
"Both in the same bed? When we haven't got Patsy to act as a bolster down the middle?"
"We'll sleep toe-to-toe", said Joby.
"I notice you don't sleep that way with Patsy".
"Course I don't. He never washes his feet!"
Lonts left the others sleeping and groped his way to the stairs. He was confused, uncertain where he was or how he was meant to behave. Darkness had fallen and the others were asleep, and yet he didn't think it was night-time. Added to that Kieran had suddenly vanished, without any explanation at all, but the others were carrying on as though this was perfectly normal, almost as though he had never been with them in fact. He had tried very hard to keep up with the situation, to understand what was going on, but he got easily frightened, too aware all the time of all the hidden dangers in life.
It was Kieran's sudden disappearance which bothered him more than anything though. How could someone just disappear, and it then be accepted as normal? If it could happen to Kieran, it could also happen to him. He reached the next floor, but not before he had begun to panic. He could feel the darkness pressing on him. He pushed open the door nearby and was almost hysterically relieved to see a candle burning on the chest of drawers.
He crossed over to the bed in the far corner of the room, and stared down at Joby and Adam. Joby was asleep and hugging Adam's feet. Lonts had been staring down at them for some time before Joby woke up. He sat up suddenly and stared at Lonts in total bemusement. Lonts felt it was now vital he spoke in a way that would reassure Joby, somehow he had to try and act normally.
"Lonts", Joby was saying "What are you playing at now?"
"Hello", Lonts replied very carefully, like a Victorian debutante at a diction class "How are you?"
"How are you? Are you alright?"
Joby didn't reply. Instead he climbed out of bed and pulled on his shoes. Adam woke up and slowly took in the scene.
"What's happened to him?" he asked.
"He's really flipped this time", Joby muttered.
"No", Lonts protested "I'm being normal. How are you?"
"Poor lad", said Adam "How on earth can he be expected to know what normal is? Our next priority, after getting Patsy back, is getting him sorted out. Finding a place for him".
"I thought I was staying with you", said Lonts.
"For the time being", Joby grunted.
"No, no!" Lonts shook his head firmly "I want to stay with you. Always. I'm not going back to the Assizes Court. I'm not. I'm only myself when I'm with you".
"That just about says it all", said Joby.
"And when Kieran gets back he can take care of me. He's the only one that can".
"You really are a selfish little git!" Joby exclaimed "I suspect when Kieran gets back he's going to need care himself, and I'm not going to want him being bothered by you".
"Go easy on him Joby".
"Well he makes me sick. He can't seem to think of anyone but himself".
"I've already explained all that to you".
"He'd better come back downstairs with me", said Hillyard, appearing in the doorway with the torch in his hand "He's no bother really".
"His poor hands are frozen", said Adam, as he tried to lead the boy over to the door.
"I don't understand", Lonts wailed "Isn't it daytime? Why is it dark? I don't understand".
"Join the club", said Joby.
An hour went past, then two hours ... three ... and the blackness had got worse rather than better. In the City men wandered the streets with scarves tied over their faces against the bitter cold, and carried flaming torches to light their way through the gloom. The only place that struggled to carry on normally was the outdoor market, which strung up lanterns and torches to provide an oasis of light and normality.
"If it's over by tomorrow", said Gorth, speaking at the Ministry headquarters "We can always put it down to a freak weather condition. Get Buskin to say there was an unexpected solar eclipse or something".
"And if it's still dark tomorrow?" said a sceptical colleague.
"Then I don't know what we do", Gorth replied, candidly "It'll probably mean the end for us all".
He couldn't feel the coldness at all, couldn't feel the sheen of ice beneath his bare feet. He was running across ice, stark-naked, and yet the only thing he felt was a burning desire to destroy Angel. The demon was running a few paces ahead of him. As in all dreamlike states Kieran had mainly his visual sense to rely on. He couldn't hear Angel, could only see the white flesh of him as he ran effortlessly ahead through the gloom.
Kieran spurred himself on even faster. His arms were going like pistons, but his feet felt like lead. They had passed the lighthouse, looking as it did like an abandoned decoration on an iced cake. There was freezing fog in the air and it was coming down fast. Kieran feared that if his visual ability went too he might as well give it all up. He couldn't even feel the crucifix bobbing about on his chest.
He urged himself onwards and then couldn't believe his luck. Angel seemed to be flagging, and he found he was now closing the gap between them. Only a few paces now. Kieran lunged at him, hurling himself at the demon, and bringing him to the ground. Angel rolled around like a cat struggling to get to its feet. Eventually he disentangled himself, and Kieran wasn't prepared for what happened next. Angel seized him under his armpits and hurled him across the ice. Kieran crashed to a halt against one of the Skirra Fludd rocks. He felt something sharp dig into his back, and howled in pain and terror, convinced he had been stabbed.
But then Angel was on him again, hauling him to his feet and punching him repeatedly in the chest. Kieran raised his arms to try and ward off the attack, and somehow managed to push him away. He kicked the demon in his balls, and Angel crumpled to the floor. Kieran seized his chance. He fell onto Angel, pinning him to the ice. Angel spat and struggled like a wild animal. Kieran in turn fastened his teeth onto one of the demon's nipples and bit hard. At the same time he grabbed Angel's balls in one hand and crushed them between his fingers.
Angel let out such a horrendous squeal that Kieran fancied he could be heard in the City. It took him so by surprise that he didn't feel his grip relaxing on the demon. The next thing he knew they were both back on their feet, and Angel was smashing his fist repeatedly into Kieran's face. The pain was indescribable, and one side of his face went numb under the onslaught. Blood, tasting like hot rust, filled his nose and his mouth, and he was terrified he would choke on it. He felt a drowning sensation, as of water rushing too suddenly up his nose. He panicked and flailed about.
Angel was laughing.
I can't lose, he kept thinking to himself, I mustn't lose. Nobody told me that I might lose, they all assumed I would be able to do it. What cobblers! I'm no more qualified to vanquish evil than the next guy. I have lost, I'm helpless. I can't even pull myself away from him, not now that he has a firm hold of me. All is lost.
He was tucked under Angel's arm, and the demon held him firmly by his hair. If he tried to pull away he knew his scalp would tear. He could no longer feel the ground beneath his feet. Angel had effortlessly managed to drag him from the frozen Grey Sea to the courtyard of the Loud House. He had no idea what the demon's plans were for him now, and he didn't want to imagine them.
Perhaps if I just coast along with him for a while, he thought in complete exhaustion, lull him into a false sense of security, get my energy back somehow. I must.
They were inside the building now. In the green room in fact. The place which, ironically, had once caused Angel so much terror. Angel pushed him into a chair and then abruptly abandoned him. Kieran was too fatigued to care where he had gone. He leaned his head on a nearby table and wept. He was tired, his body was sore and bruised. He was angry with himself, because he would never have believed he could be vanquished himself so easily. It made a complete mockery of all the trust and confidence that everyone had put in him. And yet to them it had seemed to be the crazy truth. The hideous, crazy truth.
He must have slept, but he didn't know for how long. He came round with a start, as though someone had called his name. In the gloom he could just discern someone standing in the doorway. A cloaked shape, like the archetypal hooded phantom.
"Angel?" said Kieran, raising his head wearily "Not more games please. No more games. Let me be".
The figure drew nearer. Now it was sitting near him, pushing its hood back. Oh God NO! This was too cruel! It was Her. The Guardian of Green Ways. Joby's night visitor.
And he had never seen anyone more beautiful. She had breasts, real ones, poking through the top of her low-cut scarlet gown. Her skin was smooth, her dark hair coiled around her head in an elaborate style. Her whole being exuded gentleness and motherly warmth.
"Alright", Kieran groaned, putting his hands over his face "I'll concede to you, you diabolical shape-shifter! Do what you want with me. I hate to say this but you're too clever for me. I can't fight you. Not like that. I just can't. Please don't do this to me!"
"I am here to help you", she said, in a soft voice "I haven't much time so please ... you must listen to me".
"Is it really you?" he asked, slowly raising his head to look at her once more "Are you a ghost?"
"One that can no longer stay earthbound. I have to move on".
"You're the poor woman. The one here who ..."
"I have already stayed far longer than I should have done. But I wanted to be with you at the end. He is weak now. You have succeeded in draining him".
"Not as much as he's drained me", said Kieran, ruefully.
"His willpower is low, he hasn't the emotional support of others that you have. He has no one mentally urging him on. Believe me, that makes you stronger than him", she said "You have to seize your chance now".
"I don't know how".
"Think of what Braw said to you at the Winter Palace. The essence of life is not just blood, but sperm".
"Oh no", Kieran stared back at her in horror, as recognition dawned "I can't. Not him!"
"I have to go now".
"No, please stay", Kieran went to lunge across the table at her, and then felt ashamed of himself. He was naked, bruised, and spattered with blood ... and all in the presence of a beautiful woman. He felt wretched and humiliated.
"You will succeed", she said "If you attack now. There are some things that the Devil has always feared. It is only now that I realise it for myself, and it is too late for me".
She walked past him, touching his hair gently as she did so. But when he went to look at her again she had gone.
Angel felt like he had been given an electric shock. There was a burning sensation running through his body, forcing him into small convulsions. He stumbled to his feet, and saw with horror that the Virus was back on him with a vengeance. He was losing his strength of mind, his scorched genitals were evidence of that. The evil bastard that had possessed him had never taught him to survive without human flesh. He urgently needed some now, and the only meat close by was Kieran's. But no matter how acute his desperation was, the Devil wouldn't let him risk taking that.
"You're losing it Angel aren't you?" came a familiar voice behind him "I knew I'd have to starve you in the end".
"You can't starve me", Angel cried in a rusty squeal. He kept himself turned away from Kieran as he spoke.
"Yes I can", said Kieran "You can only stop me by closing down my mind, and I doubt you've got the willpower to do that anymore. It's just you and me here Angel ..."
Angel staggered towards the atrium steps, and rooted around angrily in the pile of broken glass that lay on the bottom one. He found a shard sufficiently big enough, and then thrust it at Kieran.
"Look at yerself", he rasped "Done a pretty good job of destroying you haven't I?"
Kieran looked at his reflection. He saw that his right eye was closed completely. One side of his face had swollen so much he looked as though he had a tennis-ball stuck in his cheek. The flesh was a deep scarlet, and one side of his mouth was so swollen and cut that the bruising appeared to have formed a malignant life-force of its own. Added to that his hair and skin was caked in blood. He was shocked by what he saw. He didn't recognise the man in the mirror as himself, and for a moment he felt as though he had no identity.
"Not so pretty now are you?" Angel jeered.
But there damn well has to be more to me than looks, Kieran thought, I have to rise above this. I can't be so vain that I can't survive beyond a battered face, one which may well heal completely anyway.
"Mine will heal though", he said, breathlessly "Not so sure about yours".
The Virus had scorched part of Angel's face. He had tried fighting it but the willpower was missing. He felt weak. He knew he had to destroy Kieran, but now he simply couldn't see the point anymore. The Devil was raging inside him, ranting at him to finish what he had started.
"Right pair aren't we?" said Kieran "You need meat, but you won't eat me. And I have to destroy you by ... well I can't do that without destroying myself".
"What do you mean?"
"It looks as though we're going to have to destroy each other", said Kieran "You're going to give me the Virus".
"Then I'll have won won't I?" said Angel.
"Oh no", Kieran shook his head "It's quite Medieval really. Show your private parts and shame the Devil into exile! I have to make love to you".
Angel looked wide-eyed in terror.
"Believe me", said Kieran "I'm no more happy about it than you are. It's what you fear most isn't it Angel? Sex. I feel sorry for you. In my time it might not have happened. I bet you've never had sex as an adult have you?"
Angel grabbed Kieran by the neck and slammed him against the wall.
"You do anything to me", he screamed "And I'll contaminate you. Do you know what that means? You'll end up like me. Like all the freaks in the Colony. Scorched skin, and eventually no prick and no balls. Is that what you want?"
"No", Kieran cried "But it's what has to be done!"
"You would finish yourself, just to destroy me?"
"Angel, am I talking to you as yourself at the moment? Just you?"
The boy's scorched skin was very close to his face. Kieran tried to see beyond the Virus, to the person that Angel had once been. Sometime once there must have been a real person there, before the blood-lust took over completely.
"We're both tired Angel. Tired of fighting each other. I don't believe you want this mess to continue. You're not your own person. You're as possessed as Lonts was by Krik".
"I-I don't want you to do this thing", said Angel.
"It's not my style either", Kieran sighed, and pushed himself away from the boy. Suddenly his shoulders slumped. He was a man defeated, and he knew it. "And for all my big, brave words Angel, you've nothing to fear from me. You see, I can't do it. I just can't. You might as well go ahead and destroy me".
Kieran stumbled through the courtyard of the Loud House, where he had walked with the others several weeks before. It was all over. Everything. He had failed. He had argued it all out with himself. He reasoned that he had never asked to be the Vanquisher, and there surely must be a more worthy candidate than him!
"But at the end of the day it's my own courage that fails me", he said, lifting his bruised and battered face to the leaden sky "My own squeamishness. I can't do it. I just can't".
He lay down on a heap of fallen masonry at the edge of the courtyard. All he could see directly ahead was the icy, frozen wastes of the Grey Sea. He wept bitterly for his own inadequacies. For everything.
"It should never have been me!" he raged "And I should never have been expected to do this terrible thing!"
Angel was standing near him.
"You're free of me Angel", he said "I won't fight you anymore. Oh God, Angel! Don't harm my own people. Please. I'll beg you if you want, but don't harm them!"
"You only care about them don't you?"
"Because I can't care about everyone! It's unreasonable to expect it of me. But perhaps I care about you too. Perhaps that is why I can't do this thing. God in Heaven! The type of man they wanted as Vanquisher they should have chosen Tomce!"
He felt something warm being put around his shoulders. It was his coat. He hadn't noticed Angel carrying it, but then he was so locked in his own misery and shame that he had noticed very little.
"You'll need it", said Angel "You'll feel the cold when you've destroyed the Devil. You'll stop being Undead then, you see".
"Destroy the Devil? Me? Sick joke Angel!"
"You will. Because only you can".
"Stop torturing me Angel. I'm defeated. I admit I've lost, don't push it anymore".
"You know something?" Angel sat down next to him on the stones "Ever since I can remember, I've been promised the earth. 'Do this for me, and you can have whatever you want', I've been hearing those words all my life".
"Tomce said that to you didn't he?"
"Yea", Angel nodded "He said he'd make me a vampire. Give me immortal life".
"And did he?"
"Did he hell! All he did was make me feel sick, and I've been feeling sick ever since. He just put the vampire idea in me head. Drinking blood, eating flesh, it all fooled me into thinking I had power. Thought I was taking in that person's strength. And then I died. And I found I did have that power for real. I had become a real vampire. It were great fun at first. Scaring you lot, getting me own back. Being able to travel around with no effort at all. When I wasn't haunting you lot I was having fun in the City. I'd go to bars and clubs, looking as I had when I were alive. It meant I was never short of offers, so I was never short of meat. I had me revenge on Tomce a hundred times over, by eating any amount of men. Then I realised there was a catch. This damn meat wasn't just a bit of fun. I needed it! Because without it I'd shrivel up like a burnt piece of paper. When I realised that, well it stopped being fun. It became a necessity. And then I started to panic. I had to stay one step ahead of the craving all the time. It never gave me no peace. And now. You can see what's happening to me now".
"The Devil is inside you".
"It came in when I was killed here. I was just ripe for it. Sometimes I think it was all pre-ordained. You know, lunar eclipses an a soft-headed git like me coming along at the same time. No one had been out to the Loud House for years, and then I was here. A complete nutter like your friend Lonts, just ready for possessing".
"What are you going to do now?"
"Depends on what you do".
"I suppose I sit here until I die", said Kieran "It seems more dignified than being eaten by a Virus".
"If you do that", said Angel "The Devil will destroy everything. The Virus'll become like a plague".
"But I can't ..."
"Neither can I", said Angel "I don't want to go on. I was used all me life. I'm sick of it. But you only have to do two more things, and the Devil will be gone".
"Sit with me for the next few hours. Stop me going off and getting meat. If I don't get meat I'll cease to exist. It's going to be fucking painful, I'm not looking forward to it. And on me own I couldn't do it. But with you here, I'm prepared to give it a try".
"And the second thing?"
"When I'm gone the Devil will flee back to Skirra Fludd. Once it's there you're the only person that can seal it back in. You'll know how".
"I hope I've got enough in me", Kieran joked.
"You'll be safe from the cold all that time", said Angel "Until the Devil is contained. Then this Undead spell I've put round you will wear off, so you'll have to watch yourself then. It's more cold than you realise out here".
"I'll help you Angel".
Many hours passed, but the scenery never changed in the slightest. The half-grey light stayed as half-grey light. Kieran sat facing the icy wastes of the Grey Sea, and tried to comprehend that nothing existed beyond it. The country they were in, however vast it may be, was all that was left on earth.
He had been prepared for anything with Angel. Violent rages because he desperately craved that fix, nightmares ... but Angel was calm. He faced oblivion with a courage he had never shown in life, and that Kieran wasn't sure he would have shown himself in the same circumstances.
"It's easy really", said Angel, when Kieran had remarked on his composure "It's easy to be brave about oblivion when you've got nothing to leave behind. It's different for you. There's a lot for you to live for".
"Angel", Kieran wept "It could've all been so different".
"No it couldn't. We always think that don't we? But if that were true I'd have tried to change it, wouldn't I? It's just a matter of time now".
"You'll always be in my head. Always. You'll live on through me".
"I know that. I'll have the life I never had through you. Suits me fine".
Towards the end Kieran took him in his arms. He held Angel close, even as he felt him slip away. At times he almost had the sensation that he was swimming through mist with him, or falling through stars, their bodies intertwined until one had to be set free. When the darkness came for Angel, they exchanged the softest, slightest of kisses and Kieran let him go.
There was nowhere to bury Angel. The ground was too hard, and Kieran was too nervous of meeting any Reptile Men to go digging around in the bowels of the Loud House. He felt dismayed that there would be nothing he could do for the boy, until in the end he put the body inside a wooden settle in the atrium. He piled some fallen masonry on top of it, more to make it harder for anyone to go poking around in than fear of Angel getting out again. Even so, he reasoned that it was likely to be a very long time before anyone came visiting again at the Loud House.
Afterwards he ran and slid across the ice towards the Skirra Fludd lighthouse. He felt that if he did everything quickly he would have no time to think about it. Barefoot in his fur coat, he arrived at the rock, and with a little difficulty succeeded in breaking open the rotten wood on the main doorway of the lighthouse tower. The darkness inside the building was all-enveloping. He hadn't sensed such a heavy concentration of evil in one place since they had wrenched open the trapdoor at Gurran Abbey. Blindly, his coat flapping around his bare legs, he ran up the tower steps. Even in the gloom he couldn't help but notice that the steps were splattered with dried blood, the only remains of the many sacrifices dumped here to appease the Devil.
At the top he wrenched open the glass doors that surrounded the dead light. So, the scheme for keeping the Devil contained on the rock had worked, he thought, until a lunar eclipse and the arrival of Angel, an easy receptacle for evil, at the Loud House had combined to release it. Unwittingly they themselves had released it, along with the elemental at Gurran Abbey. Angel had never wanted to go to the Loud House, perhaps some subconscious part of him had always suspected what would happen if he did.
Kieran circled the light, taking in the forbidding view. To stand at the edge of the world was a daunting experience, and he had never in his life felt more lonely, or less inclined to go spilling his sperm. Somehow it had to be done though. He turned to go back down the stairs, but there was now something blocking his way. The inner walkway around the light was filled with darkness, a darkness as thick and acrid as putrid treacle.
"I think this is where I come in", he said to himself.
For Kieran, the satisfaction of seeing the darkness recede made up for the humiliation he had felt at having to masturbate over the supreme force of darkness, rather as Tomce had done to him at the cottage. He didn't feel like a hero, if anything he felt even more humble than he had done before. Never had the word vanquisher rang so hollow in his ears. He knew he would never feel the same again. But the task was done, the job was completed, and that was all that mattered.
He could go home now, wherever that may be.
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