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An extra buggy had to be hired (making 4 in total) as the number of the Dalman-hunting party had swelled to 19 when the Fat Witchfinder (minus his silent assistant) decided he wanted to come along too.
Late morning the following day saw them all speeding on their big tyres across the flat, empty terrain to the north of the town. The landscape here was spectacular to say the least. Broad and featureless, swelling into hilly lumps in parts, and with forest and mountains in the far distance. There was no other traffic around, so they were all free to spread out and drive exactly as they liked, particularly as there was no road or track as such, just mile upon mile of short sun-bleached grass.
Bardin had been ordered by Julian to drive a buggy containing Bengo, Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie. All of whom were bickering, more like a family on a day-trip than fearless monster-killers in search of their prey. Bengo was in the passenger seat next to Bardin, and the other 3 sat in the back, Rumble and Hoowie with their long legs uncomfortably flanking rotund Farnol in the middle of them.
"That cute kid Clovis told me that this Dalman lives in some style out here", Hoowie was going on "His gaff has everything you could wish for. He knows how to do it properly that's for sure".
"Well when we get there you can stay if you like", said Farnol, tartly.
"Hey I'm just saying", Hoowie shouted, above the din of the engine "I mean, you'd think Hillyard with all his bucks would want a bit of that style and luxury wouldn't you?"
"It'd be too much pressure to maintain it", said Bengo "Hillyard wouldn't like that, or the responsibility. He doesn't like resp..."
He trailed off uncomfortably, when he realised that Bardin was scowling at him, his fingers clenched round the steering-wheel. Bardin was sensitive about a lot of things, but particularly about Bengo's past relationship with Hillyard. He was only too aware that it hadn't been Bengo's wish to cool it. Bengo was now slipping down in his seat, with his knees practically above his head, in the forlorn hope that Bardin might not notice him for a while.
"It wouldn't surprise me if you were after some of Hillyard's money", Farnol was now saying, oblivious to Rumble motioning with his hands for him to shut up "And that's why you wanted to join us".
"Look, I don't need another guy's money to get by", said Hoowie "I can make my own way in life very well".
"Oh yeah?" said Farnol, sceptically "Selling melons?"
"I don't just sell melons", said Hoowie "I've done some nude modelling in my time too".
"Nude modelling?" Farnol exclaimed "Who the bloody hell's gonna pay to look at what you've got?!"
Bardin suddenly slammed down both his feet and brought the buggy to a stop. Silence descended on the back seat at last.
"Not another word!" said Bardin "I'm just in the mood to dump the lot of you right here in the middle of nowhere!"
"That doesn't include me does it, Bardy?" said Bengo.
"That especially includes you!" said Bardin, re-starting the buggy.
According to Clovis, Dalman's estate was reached via a track through the rain-forest at the base of the mountains. He had given precise directions as to how to find this track, and it was easily located. Before disappearing down it though, they had stopped to take on refreshments and get out of the worst of the sun for a while. A large canvas awning was erected on poles for this purpose.
The clowns-mobile was the last to arrive at the pit-stop. When they got there Julian was sitting on the bonnet of his buggy, talking to the others. Under the canvas awning Adam, Lonts, Joby, Kieran and Toppy were fussing around Tamaz, their great secret weapon.
"I've put a little something in your tea to help you", said Adam, handing him a cup.
"Oh yes?" Tamaz snapped "Trying to dope me into submission now are you?"
"Tamaz, I really can't imagine you being genuinely submissive!" Adam laughed.
"Adam!" Bengo ran under the awning "I don't want to travel with the other clowns anymore. Why were we put together?"
"'Cos we were hoping we'd lose you", said Joby.
"Do calm down, Bengo", said Adam, wearily "You're always getting too excited about everything. I warn you, Julian is not in a good mood, so I strongly advise you to stop carrying on so".
"Bengo", said Bardin, sternly, as he came into the shade "Siddown!"
"Bengo, heal!" said Joby "Woof! Woof!"
Bardin indicated that he wanted to talk to Adam outside, and so Adam followed him. Bengo meanwhile sat down meekly on a fold-up chair.
"Bengo the labrador", said Joby.
"Every home should have one", said Kieran.
"Preferably house-trained", said Joby.
"Which he isn't", said Toppy, snidely.
"That a fact?" said Bengo, wounded "Well at least I haven't brought my slippers with me!"
"You haven't have yer?" said Joby, looking amazed at Toppy.
"I don't like walking around barefoot like the rest of you", said Toppy, defensively.
"Toppy is so-o-o embarrassing sometimes", said Lonts.
"Hoowie is beginning to seem like a liability", said Adam, standing just outside the awning with Bardin "I think we should have left him behind".
"No he's o.k", Bardin sighed "A lot of it was Farnol's fault. He should have just ignored him. Hoowie's like a spoilt kid. He'll just keep on until he gets a reaction, but he's harmless really".
Adam noticed Bengo staring despondently at them from the shade.
"Oh for goodness sake, you're going to have to go and make things up with him", said Adam "I can't bear it when he gives that wounded puppy look, it tears me to pieces. You see him, and I'll go and see Hoowie".
Adam picked up Julian's cane from his buggy, went across to Hoowie and dealt him a swish across the backside with it, which was effective enough to make Mieps, who was passing by, jump in a startled fashion.
"I'm not into that S&M stuff!" said Hoowie.
"Irrelevant", said Adam "I did that to calm you down, not to get you aroused!"
"Hey I'm cool, I'm o.k", said Hoowie, holding up his hands in surrender "You won't hear another word out of me".
"I'm almost beginning to feel sorry for him", said Joby, as Hoowie limpingly followed Adam under the awning "He's only been with us 24 hours, and he's been clobbered with ice-cream and given a thrashing!"
"You're supposed to be sorting the lunch rations out", said Adam, pointing the cane at Joby.
"You can't threaten me with that!" said Joby "We're not in the galley now. I'm not under your jurisdiction here".
"You are always under my jurisdiction", said Adam.
"Stand by your beds", said Ransey "His lordship wants a word".
Julian came in, closely followed by Codlik, who stood behind him whilst he spoke, nodding with approval.
"This morning's driving has seemed like a jolly wheeze no doubt", said Julian, addressing them all "But going into the forest will be an altogether more serious affair. We have no idea what may be lurking there. The fact is we have to be prepared for absolutely anything, including zombies. Which is not exactly a cheering prospect. Alertness will be required at all times, and no one is to get out of this vehicle for any reason, short of the damn thing catching fire anyway! We will all assemble in the vicinity of Dalman's house. Now I suggest everyone stays out of the sun for the next half-hour".
Having said this, he went back out into the sun himself. A disconcerted Codlik pursued him, having not expected the pep talk to be so brief.
"What the hell are we doing here?" said Julian, quietly.
"Chasing Father Dalman", said Codlik "To destroy evil".
"Why?" said Julian.
"Because it must be destroyed", said Codlik "Evil must always be destroyed".
"And why the hell do we have to be the ones that destroy it?" said Julian, rounding on him "We come out here, risking each other's lives, purely because some whiney little nincompoop gets beaten up by Dalman!"
"He was very badly beaten, Julian", said Codlik "He had suffered abuse and humiliation over a long period of time".
"Yes, and I expect he deserved it", said Julian, dismissively "Pompous little prick-tease. I'm not surprised Dalman beat him up!"
"It's no use you trying to shock me", said Codlik "I'm too used to your ways. If you can't get sympathy for Clovis, then at least think of all the others Dalman has kidnapped. Remember how he tried to get Bengo".
"Alright, alright!" said Julian, testily "Let's get on with it shall we?"
Half-an-hour later they all packed up to leave. Julian went round all the drivers for a final talk. Hillyard had to be the first driver, with Mieps in the passenger seat, as their best look-out guide.
"You'll be setting the pace", said Julian to Hillyard "Try not to slow for any reason, if you can possibly help it".
He moved on to Bardin, who would be in last place.
"You've got a difficult job", said Julian "Keeping a close eye on all the clowns".
"I'll manage it", said Bardin, gruffly.
"Of that I have no doubt", said Julian "But keep a very close eye on Bengo when we get to Dalman's place. I don't like to think what could happen to him there".
Bengo was standing nearby, twiddling a strand of hair around his finger.
"You do everything Bardin says", Julian spoke to him very slowly as though he was talking to a halfwit "Understand?"
Bengo nodded obediently, and then climbed into the passenger seat of the buggy.
The drive through the rain-forest passed eerily without incident. There was no birdsong, which was always a worrying sign. Codlik spent the journey leaning over Julian's shoulder and giving him good advice, which Julian listened to with gritted teeth. Jonner was the only one who seemed to enjoy the journey, stoned out of his head as usual. He leaned back in his seat, relishing the rush of air on his face.
Dalman's place, when they reached it, astonished them by its beauty. This was no Winter Palace sitting atop a stagnant swamp. It was a glorious white-painted castle, complete with ramparts and towers, which completely filled the clearing it was in. A massive double door sat in the middle of the wall facing them, barring their way very effectively. Up on the battlements, beautiful, naked man and women stood in a row clutching bows and arrows, which they aimed down at the visiting party.
"They don't look as though they want rescuing", said Adam, as he and the Indigo-ites tentatively got out of their vehicles.
"So what do we do now?" said Joby, looking at Julian.
One of the archers let ping an arrow and it landed perilously close to Topy. Lonts gave the archer a ferociously malevolent look.
"We go home", said Julian.
"No", Tamaz tugged on Julian's sleeve "Dalman is watching us, I can sense him".
Dalman was watching from his favourite room in one of the corner towers, peering down through a powerful pair of binoculars at the gathering outside. He had already decided those that would die (most of them), and those that would live (Tamaz and Bengo. He had dithered over Lonts, appreciating his beauty, but ultimately deciding that Lonts was too much of a wild-card to make a good slave).
As he watched, Tamaz turned to face the tower. Dalman gasped and almost recoiled. He hadn't seen Tamaz properly for many years, apart from the brief, frenzied glimpse of him on the waterfront. The last time, Tamaz had been a plump chicken in frothy petticoats, with a vicious scowl on his extraordinary face. He was a lot slimmer now, which emphasised his cheekbones, full lips and tawny eyes. His body was deliciously lithe and firm in his boy's clothes. But most notably, the viciousness had gone from his face and now he simply looked beautiful.
"Get them all in here!" Dalman barked at anyone who was listening "Tamaz! Tamaz!"
Through the big doors they all went, and into an idyllic inner courtyard with a large pond, banks of flowers, white marble pillars, and beautiful people walking around naked. Only these beautiful people weren't strolling languidly by, or sitting peacefully by the pond, idly chatting. They were scurrying about with haunted eyes, living in fear of the lash or some other humiliating punishment. Everyone here was a slave, but they were pitted against each other relentlessly. No one knew from one day to the next who was going to be a superior slave, one that got to act like a prefect in charge of the others, or an ordinary slave, i.e on the same level as an animal. That way everyone was forced to live in a state of fear and false hope, and no loyalties and friendships were formed. Any close attachments were ruthlessly punished by those superior slaves who were determined to keep in Dalman's favour and so retain their meagre crumbs of authority. Divide and rule.
The most obvious and extraordinary aspect of the whole set-up was that there were no guards, no jailors. The bow-people on the battlements were all naked slaves too, as were the doorkeepers. There was actually nothing tangible keeping these people in this forlorn, brutal state. Certainly not desire, as none of them wanted to live this way. There was absolutely nothing to stop them rising up against their terrifying, sub-human master, and leaving this place. They were kept locked in by their own fear, partly because they had been told that demons and zombies roamed the forest outside, and partly because all of them, even the worst bullies, had been so completely demoralised and brutalised by the whole set-up. Those that left, like Clovis, were never seen again by the inmates. And it was generally accepted by everyone that these people had been killed or sent to an even worse place. It never occurred to them that few places could be worse!
Admittedly, the castle looked like a self-contained paradise. The weather here was usually beautiful, and everything was elegant, refined and luxurious. But no one, apart from Dalman and a very small handful of superior slaves, were ever allowed to get any comfort or pleasure from any of it. It was impossible to do so when you were expecting your next flogging or soul-destroying task at any moment. Everyone lived permanently on edge, their minds constantly alert to the next nerve-jangling exercise.
When Kieran and his party entered the courtyard they took in the lack of security immediately. The bow-people were easily disarmed at the points of several guns, and most of the slaves backed against the walls in obvious consternation. This was a raiding-party of some sort, was the general thought. But instead of seeing it as a potential liberation, they could only think of the hassle and grief it might bring them in the long-term.
Kieran took Tamaz into the tower, where Tamaz had sensed Father Dalman was lurking. The slaves, daunted by Kieran's presence, offered no resistance. On the ground floor of the building Kieran hastily changed Tamaz into the black velvet gown, which he had been carrying in a silk bag over his shoulder. Up the stairs they went. In the middle-floor room an orchestra of slaves were playing skilfully on their various instruments. The musicians were all naked, blindfolded, and had had their hair bleached and slicked back.
On the top floor Dalman was sitting at a long dining-table, which was heaped with food. He had his back to them as they entered. Along the exposed rafters overhead Kieran saw Angel, Caln and Mullawa were scrabbling about like large rats, scurrying along the beams to get a better look at their visitors. Kieran was disconcerted to find more of the ubiquitous naked slaves in this room. Some eating from scraps on the floor, others serving no other purpose it seemed than to simply act as decorative, living wallpaper. Kieran cursed himself for his own lack of foresight. He felt he should have known that it would be unlikely Dalman would be alone when he received them. If this wasn't played very carefully, Dalman wouldn't be the only one who got turned to stone!
"Dalman", said Tamaz, huskily "I'm here".
Dalman stood up, his long garments flapping gracefully around him. He moved rapidly but jerkily towards them, like an animated skeletan. Then he stopped, taken aback by Tamaz's appearance. Tamaz had gone from elfin-like adolescent boy to sophisticated mature woman in a matter of minutes.
"You came to me", said Dalman, eventually "I knew you would".
He completely ignored Kieran, having no interest in him whatsoever. As far as he was concerned the vampires were welcome to have him as a stringy morsel.
"What do you want of me here?" said Tamaz, with mock-demureness.
"Ah your spirited naughtiness, I remember it well", said Dalman, teasingly "You won't be allowed any of that here. You won't be allowed to ask questions. I may have to punish you for that little transgression".
Kieran looked at him in total disbelief, thinking "God, what a slimeball!" He was left with the uncomfortable thought that this must have been how Dalman had once talked to the novice priests under his charge, like the tragic Ketts for instance.
Tamaz meanwhile was looking impressively inscrutable.
Dalman was continuing to blither on about what he expected of Tamaz, of the total obedience that would be required, but how, even if Tamaz's behaviour was exemplary ("Unlikely!" thought Kieran), he might still decide to punish him occasionally "just for fun".
Tamaz listened with great attentiveness, suddenly putting the little finger of his left hand into his mouth and licking it gently. This was their pre-arranged signal, which meant he was about to start working with his mysterious power. There was no time for niceties, Kieran had to get the slaves turned away. He ran at them like a mad thing, screaming "Faces to the wall! Faces to the wall!"
"Tamaz?" Dalman looked shocked "Y-you're not capable ... not that!"
Tamaz advanced stealthily on Dalman, fixing him with his gaze.
Kieran pushed open some nearby doors, and herded the slaves through them as though driving them away from a bush-fire. The doors opened into a windowless long gallery lined with mirrors. The slaves ran down it screaming, until they disappeared into the shadows at the far end. Caln and Mullawa also scuttled past him. Angel didn't run down the gallery. Instead he backed into the corner behind the doors and sat down on the floor, hugging his knees and whimpering.
"He's going", came Tamaz's voice from the doorway "He's turning to stone and nothing can be done to help him. I've destroyed him ... and probably destroyed myself too".
Kieran stared at him intently. Tamaz put his hand to his own face and touched it cautiously.
"You are beautiful", said Kieran, kissing him on the lips.
"But what if I can't control this thing now I've started it?" said Tamaz "What will happen to me?"
"Nothing", said Kieran "Because you can control it. That's what makes you so different to other Ghoomers. You're half-human, Tamaz. You're not a monster. You're not at the mercy of your own destructive powers. You're too intelligent for that".
"That is true", said Tamaz, drawing himself up magnificently "Real Ghoomers are too stupid to control their monstrous ways. Look at Mieps!"
"You sexy creature", Kieran laughed "It was a rare stroke of genius me buying you that dress. You're enough to scare the bejaysus out of any guy in that!"
Angel gave a terrifying cry and suddenly ran down the gallery at an incredible speed.
"What's the matter with him?" said Tamaz.
"A victim of the old world", said Kieran, sadly.
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