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Hillyard found Kieran lying on the top step of the lighthouse tower, his fur coat billowing around him like an ink-blot. He took so long to bring him round, that he began to fear Kieran had died.
"Hillyard", he eventually muttered. His voice was wheezy as though he had bronchitis "I-I must have been here hours and not realised".
"I said I'd come for you, didn't I?" Hillyard sat down next to him "You did it you know. You really did it. The darkness has gone. You should be proud".
"I just feel cold".
"Don't worry. I'll have you at Buskin's house in no time", Hillyard picked him up in his arms and peered under his hood "He went to town on you didn't he?"
"Well that's what you get for fighting the Devil!" Kieran laughed, rather shakily "He's no gentleman".
Hillyard carried him out to the buggy that he had commandeered from Buskin and left parked on the ice, and placed him gently in the passenger seat, tucking his bare feet up under the coat.
"You did well to get this far so soon", Kieran whispered.
"We flew", Hillyard climbed behind the steering-wheel "Air-buggy. I'm still surprised it didn't crash, but I'll admit Yentzi's a good pilot".
"How are the others? Adam? Joby?"
"Nothing wrong with them, except they must be narked at me. As soon as we realised what you'd done, I shot out and hotwired Buskin's buggy".
"They'll be furious with you".
"I didn't think you'd want them fussing round you straightaway".
"I'm not sure I want them to see me like this at all".
"A month's time and you'll be back to normal I expect. Bruises don't take long to clear".
"Hillyard. Will you clean me up first, before I see them?"
"They're not going to mind you know".
"I do though. I don't want them upset anymore than necessary".
As luck would have it Adam and Joby had had to go after Lonts, who had decided to take an unscheduled walk on the marshes and so, with Buskin's help, Hillyard had managed to get Kieran into the house unseen by them.
"Take him up to Joby's room", said Buskin "The fire's been lit up there all morning, so it should be nice and warm. I'll get some brandy".
With the door locked behind them Hillyard washed Kieran in a hip-bath next to the fire, and then towelled him dry. He then dressed him in a clean shirt of Buskin's, and put him to bed.
"Do I still look terrible?" said Kieran.
"You could never look terrible. Anyway, you wouldn't want to look too good at the moment, in case no one believed what you'd been doing!"
"They're gone a long time", Kieran glanced out of the window "Do you think Lonts is trying to get to Kiskev?"
"That was where I met you for the first time wasn't it?"
"I know. God, so much has happened since I was last in this room. And yet it's only a matter of a few weeks ago ... have we missed Christmas?"
"Chri ... oh you mean Yule? No, we've got a few days yet".
"Oh that's good. I thought we had. I love Christmas. When do we go to the City?"
"As soon as you're able. Yentzi's given us the use of his apartment, so I thought, as long as you're up to it that is, we'll fly down there and get settled in. It'll be nice to have Yule in the City. It's always a great laugh. Stombal used to enjoy it too".
"Is Yentzi going to join us there?"
"No. Only to fly us down there. He's going to stay here with Buskin for a while. I think he's worried the Ministry might be tough on him. Abandoning his post, stealing government property etc".
"We'll have to tell them he only did it to help us".
"Not very good at the listening are the Ministry though".
"They might get better now".
"I'll believe that when I see it", said Hillyard, dubiously "Take a look outside. The wanderers return".
Kieran peered through the glass. Adam and Joby were frogmarching Lonts up the causeway. At one point they stopped and Joby shook the boy like a rag-doll. Lonts, as was customary, merely looked bewildered.
Joby turned the oil-lamp up firmly, to combat the early afternoon gloom. Kieran seemed to shrink away in its glare.
"Stop trying to hide", said Joby "Anyone'd think you was the Elephant Man the way you're carrying on".
"I feel like the focking Elephant Man!" Kieran retorted "I'm glad you came up first".
"Adam has these periodic fits of generous spirit. Even if he did say ten minutes and no longer".
"He's going to get a shock when he sees me, and don't say it's not as if he's unused to seeing me with bruises".
"I wasn't going to", Joby sat down on the bed, and took Kieran's hands in his "I can't get over it that I've got you back. You wouldn't believe how I've missed you".
"Oh I think I would", Kieran touched Joby's face softly "Has someone taken a scrubbing-brush to you? It's a long while since I've seen you looking so clean".
"I had a bath about three o'clock this morning, when we got here".
"You look good Joby. Now you're the handsome one".
"Don't be daft! Anyway, being good-looking's no use to me now is it?"
"Yes it is. It makes you very kissable".
Joby leaned forward and kissed him gently on the side of his mouth.
"I suppose I have to get used to that for a while", said Kieran "It feels a bit like sipping through a straw".
Raised voices could be heard on the landing outside. Adam was shouting at Hillyard.
"You have been quite enough trouble for one day", he said, imperiously "You sneak off on your own like The Man With No Name, leaving us to babysit your loony little friend ..."
"I did not sneak off", said Hillyard "I made a promise to Kieran".
Adam made a sound that could only be described as an indignant sneer, and then entered the room like an emperor arriving at a state banquet.
"Patsy!" he exclaimed.
Kieran tried to rearrange his hair over his face. Adam though had been fully briefed by Buskin as to Kieran's physical state ("a bit bashed up like"), and was ready for it. He advanced on the bed, and put his hands on Kieran's face, sweeping back the boy's hair as he did so.
"I could do a painting of you like that", he said "The Battered Beauty. It would reduce grown men to tears all over the City".
"You should see the other fella", said Kieran, weakly.
"I'm going to see if Hillyard wants a hand with Lonts", said Joby.
"I think he's just made another of his tactful withdrawals", said Adam, after Joby had left the room "Did Angel do this to you then?"
"How did you get rid of the little bastard in the end?"
Kieran didn't know whether to laugh or cry in reply to that. In the end he did both.
"I threatened to make love to him", he said "And he chose oblivion instead".
"Yes well, Angel never did have much in the way of sense", said Adam "Inspired piece of vampire-hunting Patsy. I bet Van Helsing never did it that way".
"You haven't heard the worst yet".
"Then tell me".
Kieran told him about his experiences at the lighthouse. Towards the end he could barely speak for sobbing.
"I felt humiliated", he said "Violated. Stood there with me winkle out, trying to work up enough juice, whilst all the while feeling terrified and disgusted too. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't thought of you".
"So I was some help to you in the end?"
"Addy, I wouldn't be here now otherwise", Kieran began to laugh "I owe you and the time we had at the Love Suite at Marlsblad, my life. Without it my seed would never have got spilled!"
Buskin enjoyed having a full house that night. It reminded him of Yuletide evenings back at the camp when he was a child. The whole place was full of laughter. He had grown so accustomed to being alone that he had forgotten how much he enjoyed company, and he found himself looking forward to having Yentzi as a guest well into the New Year.
Kieran stayed in bed, but was rarely left sitting alone, as each the others took it in turns to go in and see him. Buskin came in to fuss, and keep plying him with food. Hillyard, Joby and Adam fussed him in their own different ways. Yentzi gently quizzed him about his experiences, so that he could write his report to the Ministry in his own good time.
"I never guessed about you and Adam", he said, after concluding one session "I must apologise. I always thought that it was Joby you see".
"They're both special to me in their own different ways", said Kieran "Or does that sound selfish to you?"
"I don't judge people", said Yentzi, primly "We all take what we can. Some get offered more than others".
He noticed Hillyard hovering in the doorway with a pot of hot cocoa. He made his excuses to leave, after giving Kieran a very chaste peck on the cheek.
"Don't take no notice of him", said Hillyard, after Yentzi had gone.
"I feel like I'm in the way again", said Kieran "Stopping someone being happy".
"Don't be such a pillock", said Hillyard "If Adam prefers you then that's his business".
"And what about Joby?" Kieran asked.
"He needs you. He was like a bear with a sore head whilst you were gone. I don't know how you put up with him sometimes. Anyway, according to him you and me are two of a kind. I'm greedy too".
"Nah Hilly. We just know how to enjoy ourselves that's all!"
Joby roamed the house all evening, simply enjoying the sensation of having Kieran under the same roof as himself once more. And that it was all over. No more restless prowling from one strange place to another, being lured on by demons. They'd settle in Yentzi's apartment for a while, perhaps he could get a job, although Hillyard had assured them (rather smugly he thought) that their secret trove of money, taken from the Winter Palace, would take that pressure from them for a while.
"You're restless tonight Joby", said Adam, who was sitting at the dining-table with a pot of coffee in front of him. Lonts was kneeling in front of the fire, folding up scraps of paper with great concentration, although no one else but him could see why on earth he was bothering.
"Just making plans", said Joby "In me head. And enjoying being free. I've felt like a fugitive these last few weeks".
"I suppose we were in a way".
"Not much chance of them sending us back to prison is there?"
"Incarcerate the Vanquisher?" Adam exclaimed "Don't you think that'd seem a bit ungrateful in the circumstances!"
"That must be why I feel free now", said Joby "I've felt like an outcast all the time. I don't anymore".
"We'll have to see what the City's like. Except I don't think Cities ever really change at heart, no matter where they are or what time you're in".
"This is an improvement on the other night isn't it? That blackness all round the tower, and the coldness".
"And the worst part of all", said Adam "Sleeping next to your feet!"
"Adam", Joby began, awkwardly.
"Can we let bygones be bygones?"
"I thought that's what bygones usually were".
"I know this is going to sound pompous, but I've accepted you and Kieran together".
"That's good. Because I happen to like things the way they are. And he is safe with me Joby. I won't hurt him again".
"That's all that matters to me. After all, it was bad enough that I hurt him once with Amy ..."
"Ssh, say no more. We have to move on together now", said Adam "All that is gone".
The following day Yentzi flew them as far south as a quiet seaside resort a few days journey from the City. He couldn't take the air-buggy any closer to the City without drawing attention to himself, but the resort resembled a mortician's slab at this time of year and so he left them there. They exchanged farewells like hostages newly released from incarceration. Yentzi then flew back to the Weather Rock. The rest of them killed a few hours in a deadly quiet bar in the town, and then caught a very slow train which took them eventually into the City.
It was now Yuletide Eve, and the City was in the grip of celebrations. Joby, who had once been informed by his disgruntled gran that it was only women who kept the tradition of Christmas going, had to revise his opinion. There was a heady atmosphere about, now that the darkness and the vampires had gone. There was a frost fair being held on the wide river at the heart of the City, and children (probably the last generation ever) skated around the pig roasts, beer tents and chestnut sellers. It was true that the atmosphere would have been far giddier if women had been part of it, and their absence was sorely noticeable, far more here than anywhere else they had seen on their travels, but for now it was enough that the Devil had been banished.
They reached Yentzi's bank just before it closed for the holidays, and collected his keys from the safety deposit box. An ancient tram-car then took them to their destination, and they sat silently on hard benches during the journey, with Kieran keeping his battered face covered by his hood. The apartment block turned out to be in a fairly central part of the City, only a street away from the river. It had a slightly decayed look to it, but this was very much the norm for City accommodation, unless you were fortunate enough to own somewhere like Tintally's ritzy place in Palfrey Towers.
There was no elevator, but their apartment was situated at the top of the first flight of narrow stairs. It was small and compact, with sleeping space for four of them at least. Adam took a curtained bed next to the stove in the living-room-cum-kitchen, Hillyard had the box room, and Joby and Kieran took the master bedroom. Lonts was relegated to the floor in Hillyard's room for the time being. A small and primitive bathroom lurked behind a glass partition at one end of the kitchen. It had running water and electricity, so by most City dweller's standards it was lavish, even if no one from the twenty-first century would have described it so.
Yentzi rarely used the apartment so the main bedroom was sparsely furnished, with only a double bed, a chair, a fireplace and a basin in it. It had curtains, but there was no carpet on the floor. Kieran didn't notice the austerity though. He went straight to bed and slept solidly for nearly twenty-four hours. When he eventually awoke he found it was late afternoon on Christmas Day. He was annoyed that he had missed so much of his first Christmas in his new life, but had too little energy to get resentful.
The room was lit only by a fire in the grate. The door was slightly ajar, and he could hear voices in the kitchen, accompanied by the distinct clink of glasses.
"Oh, you're awake", said Joby, sliding quietly into the room.
"What have you all been up to?" said Kieran sleepily, as Joby sat down near him.
"Eating mainly. Some traditions never change! Hillyard managed to get us a goose at the last minute. Huge bloody thing, enough to feed the entire block. There's plenty left over for you".
"Did he do you a roast then?"
"Yea. Weren't bad, 'cept the sprouts were hard. Of course, I get into trouble for mentioning it. He takes everything I say so personally".
"Probably because you're always so rude to him".
"Don't you start! How are you feeling anyway?"
"Fed up with being an invalid".
"Won't be for much longer. I'll get you some grub to be going on with. You'll fade away if you get any thinner".
"I don't think I can face congealed goose. Anyway I've gone vegetarian after Angel's antics".
"How about fruit, chocolate and nuts in the meantime, whilst I get Hillyard to run something up for you?"
"Sounds a bit of alright, as long as you come and sit with me whilst I eat it".
"Of course ..."
Joby was interrupted by a loud hammering on their front door. He went deathly pale.
"Who the hell can that be? They can't be coming to arrest us surely?"
Hillyard was dumbfounded. He eventually managed to collect himself enough to hiss "bow!" at Adam and Lonts. Adam was merely perplexed. A chubby, middle-aged man in a rather nondescript dark suit had walked into the room, as calmly as though he lived there. Two large men, looking uncomfortably like heavies, had followed him in, and now stood against the door.
"Who am I bowing to?" said Adam, testily.
"The President", said Hillyard, going red with embarrassment.
He was acutely aware of the mess in the room, especially the table which was littered with the remains of a day's serious feasting. Several empty bottles lolled around the floor, and to add the final note of squalor, damp washing (featuring some very ropey-looking underwear) was festooned over a clothes horse in front of the stove. They themselves weren't much better. Lonts was wearing most of his dinner down his front, whereas Adam wasn't even dressed. He had spent the entire day slopping around in the faded baroque splendour of his Kiskev robe. Hillyard suddenly remembered that the toilet hadn't been flushed for some time, and was also littered with Adam's cigar butts. He prayed that President wouldn't get caught short during his visit.
"Excuse me for disturbing you on Yule night", said the President, in such a quiet voice that Adam wondered how he ever managed to get himself heard "I have come to see the Vanquisher".
"Why?" said Adam, suspiciously. Hillyard looked horrified at such insolence.
"I wish to thank him", the President replied.
"Oh I see", said Adam "I'd better go and check if he's decent".
"How did he know we were here?" said Kieran.
"I don't know", said Adam, closing the door behind him "Perhaps someone recognised you at the bank yesterday. It doesn't matter. The fact remains that he is here. The President, OUR President now, has turned out on Christmas night to come and see you".
"I didn't think you toadied to authority Adam".
"I don't, but you just can't send him away with a flea in his ear".
"Why not?" said Kieran "We haven't got anything to say to each other".
"He wants to thank you".
"What for? Wanking over the Devil!"
"Patsy, if I didn't know any better I'd say you'd been drinking. You're being obstreperous".
"I'm fed up with being the Vanquisher that's why! Today is the first day of the rest of my life, and I intend to spend it as Kieran Flannery, not the Vanquisher of Evil. Too much like hard work that was".
"You can't throw people's gratitude back at them. We're going to be living in this City from now on. We are of this time now, and if the President wants to be nice to you then you accept it graciously. Is that a clean shirt you've got on?"
"Doesn't matter if it's not, it's the only one that's dry. Hillyard's washing the rest of me clothes".
Adam put his hands under Kieran's armpits and hauled him into a sitting position, using Joby's pillow to prop him upright.
"Where's your comb?" he asked.
"Haven't got one", Kieran mumbled, sulkily "I lost it ages back. I've been using Joby's".
"Well, where's Joby's?" said Adam, feeling close to shouting.
"In his rucksack I suppose".
Adam found it and began to comb Kieran's hair vigorously.
"We've kept him waiting long enough", he snapped "Hillyard must be close to expiring with nerves, and if we're not quick Lonts might do something embarrassing, like belly-dancing or cleaning between his toes".
"I wish you'd bog off Adam".
"Don't talk to me like that! I'm not putting up with any prima donna hysteria from you, so you needn't think it. There, you look vaguely presentable at last".
"Well what do you expect when I've got a face like a lump of raw meat! Suave sophistication and elegance?"
"Just let your natural charm shine through!"
"We would like to offer you a place on our Council at the Ministry".
Kieran stared back at the President in disbelief. He remembered an old Groucho Marx joke, "I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member", and had always thought it highly appropriate when applied to himself. None more so than now.
"I'm very honoured", he said, wishing both his mother and Amy could be here to witness this astonishing event. He was certain they would both be as incredulous as he was "But I'm not a political person, so I wouldn't be much use to you. Not in any capacity really. I'm pretty hopeless at most things, you see. But could I ask if you'd do a favour for us?"
"It's Lonts. You may have seen him in the other room. He's the Kiskev Survivor".
"Yes, I know about him".
"The fact is, he's very ill, mentally unstable. He needs hospital treatment. We can't manage him here".
"That can all be arranged. We have a very good mental health centre here".
"That's as maybe, but I don't want no straitjackets and electric shocks for him. One of us will check regularly to make sure he's well looked after", Kieran suddenly realised that being the Vanquisher may have its positive advantages. He could insist on proper treatment for Lonts, and see that it was carried out "And whilst we're at it. About Yentzi".
"I know about Yentzi", said the President.
"He did it all to help us. Without his co-operation my friends wouldn't have got out of the Valley of Freaks as quickly as they did, and so I wouldn't have been rescued in time. I could've died at the lighthouse if Hillyard hadn't got to me so soon. I'd like you to be lenient on him. I don't see as to how that would do any harm".
The President had looked dubious up until then, but at the end of Kieran's speech he agreed.
"I have a favour to ask of you now", said the President "I wish to nominate you as my successor".
"I don't understand".
"As President I am in the job for life. Now, short of being run over by a tram, I anticipate being in it for some time yet, but at some point I do need to nominate a successor, and I can't imagine anyone being more acceptable than you".
Kieran felt like making some tart reply about democracy being at work, but changed his mind.
"You don't have to reply now", said the President "Or even next year. The option will be there for you when the situation arises".
"I'm sure you can find someone suitable than me".
"More suitable than the Vanquisher?"
"Look Mr President, Your Excellency, Sir. I think it's just a fluke that I was the Vanquisher. I mean, anyone could've done it, given the right instructions".
"Not anyone. It had to be you".
"Well if I live to be a hundred I'll never understand why it was me. It doesn't make any sense at all".
"Sometimes it simply doesn't do to question fate. We just have to accept what is. Particularly when that applies to the good in life. And there is a lot of good to be found in life, provided you don't weaken".
SIX MONTHS LATER
Because it was a perfect summer's day, before the worst of the heat arrived in the City, Kieran decided to take a rickshaw ride. It was a wonderfully relaxing way to see the sights, and the canopy meant he was afforded some privacy. Being stared at in the streets could still unnerve him, even though most of the population had got used to seeing him out and about. A lot of his discomfort at being recognised was largely due to his lingering belief that anyone could have rid the land of the Devil, given the right information, although Adam often joked that "it's obvious not just any old sperm would do".
He passed all the familiar sights. The river, the market, the monument to the victims of the Massacre with the eternal flame which was kept burning at all times, the Assizes Court, the gilt splendour of the Ministry Headquarters. The whole City shimmered in the sunshine. During the summer the Ministry spent lavishly on flowers and street decorations to keep the place looking cheerful. Men were employed simply to go around watering the numerous hanging-baskets, to prevent the smallest sign of neglect showing through. Most of the population lived in basic rooms the size of rabbit-hutches, but at least the streets were colourful ... that seemed to be the reasoning anyway.
Past the huge open-air bar and cafe, nicknamed The Pen by most of its regulars, as customers would sit there and be ogled by the passing foot-traffic on the other side of the wooden fence. Then over one of the twenty-four or so bridges which spanned the water to the quieter, more conservative side of the river. Kieran asked the rickshaw driver to stop at the entrance to the Lady Memorial Gardens. Joby had rented out a plot there, which he tended religiously during most days during the warm weather. He had proved to have a natural aptitude for gardening, and the plot was his sanctuary. Kieran was the only one from the apartment allowed entrance to it. Adam in particular was banned after he referred to it as an "oversized funeral wreath".
Kieran found Joby sitting on a wooden bench overlooking the plot. It was early on a June evening, and here everything seemed pleasantly peaceful after the hubbub of the City. He had moved fairly close to him before Joby noticed he was there.
"You do look sad Joby Long", he said.
"Not anymore I'm not", Joby replied, holding out his hand to his friend "I didn't know if you'd get back this evening. Hillyard was saying that you and Adam might stay there another night".
"He was winding you up", Kieran sat down next to him "We've just got back in fact. I guessed you'd be here on a fine evening like this, so I came straight round. You look tired".
"I don't get much sleep when you're not there. I suppose it's a silly question asking if you had a good week?"
"Marvellous. Adam's thinking of us going back in about a month's time, but with you and Hillyard coming too".
"What use have me and Hillyard got for the Marlsblad Love Suite!"
"There are other things to do there. It's almost a different place since the vampires went. Very popular amongst the fishing set, now that all the corpses and monsters have gone from the lake".
Joby instantly looked more interested.
"Thought that'd grab you", said Kieran "It's a beautiful place in summer, and no one's afraid to use the forest now that the Gorgon's gone. There were even some kids camping there. And the landlord has put some turtle-doves in the bird-cage outside the Love Suite".
"We weren't supposed to feed them, but I used to nip down first thing and give them the remains of the me breakfast. And Titty Artuul, as Angel used to call him, is still at large in the massage centre, so that should please Hillyard. Have you two been getting on alright whilst we've been away?"
"Haven't seen him that much. The weather's been so good I've been here a lot. Except he insists on bringing me a cup of tea first thing every morning. I wouldn't mind, but his legs aren't a pretty sight at the best of times, let alone then!"
"Oh well, I'm back to defend your honour now".
Joby kissed him.
"Lonts has been asking for you", he said, eventually.
"How is he now?"
"Calmer at least", said Joby "The pills mean he doesn't get so agitated, although I personally don't think they give them enough do at that place. They keep sending 'em to bed! Says they need rest, but I don't see how they do anything to get tired!"
Kieran traced the contours of Joby's lips with his finger. Joby kissed it.
"I've missed you too", said Kieran.
"I'm surprised Adam gave you time!"
"We had loads of time", said Kieran "That was the biggest luxury of all. Having time together. Not like last November, when we had to rush off vampire-hunting. I kept remembering that when we were there. That awful sinking feeling I had in my stomach as the twilight came on. Not wanting to leave. Wanting so much to be safe".
"It's all an improvement on this time last year too", said Joby "We had just been caught then after crossing over at Henang".
"That horrible feeling we had when we were first locked in the cell! God, I can't believe how much has happened since then".
"I know", Joby sighed "Let's hope things settle for a while eh? Give us a chance to enjoy ourselves".
"Mmm. It's getting a bit chilly. Have you finished here for tonight?"
"Yea, that'll do".
"Good", said Kieran "Then let's go home, shall we?"
Joby smiled and agreed.
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