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By Sarah Hapgood

To everyone’s surprise Adam had insisted on coming with the excursion-party to Crowley’s house. This meant Lonts came too. Bardin didn’t object to this though. Lonts’s impressive build might be useful if any brute force were needed. So Adam and Lonts replaced Julian and Hoowie, who had been in the previous party.

Mooring the galleon where they had previously moored the skiff, gave everyone a feeling of security and reassurance. Plus the excursion-party were armed to the teeth, not just with guns, but with some silver charms Kieran had Blessed. They set off with a promise to be back by sunset.

On the ridge overlooking the house they heard music again. This time it was of better quality. A well-recorded swirling, majestic kind of music, like the sort that might be used as the overture to an epic film.

“So what do we do then?” said Joby to Bardin “Just walk down and march up to the front door?”

“Yes”, said Bardin “We shall be as upfront and in-your-face as possible. He can skulk around in the ether if he wants, but we’ll do it a different way”.

They scrambled down the ridge, and through a patch of wild undergrowth at the bottom. Even though the garden was sunlit, as it had been last time, the house was once more in deep shadow. It seemed out of place, as though it had been built in the wrong garden, and really belonged somewhere far more austere and gloomy.

As they walked confidently up to the front door they could see someone weeding a flower-bed under one of the windows. She was hunched in a tight ball, with her back to them.

“Good morning!” Bardin called out.

She visibly tensed, and it was clear that she was debating with herself whether to turn round and respond, or just ignore them. She glanced round, and they caught a glimpse of a pale face. She had frightened eyes, but the look she gave them was distinctly hostile. A strangulated grunt came out of her, which could possibly (at a stretch) be construed as a greeting of some kind. She immediately turned back to her garden.

Bardin decided that no further help was going to be forthcoming from that quarter, and carried on walking up to the front door. It was opened almost as soon as Bardin had wielded the hefty brass knocker.

“You came”, said Crowley, who now stood there facing them, blinking in the light from outside “I wasn’t sure if you would. That took some nerve”.

“One thing we are not short of”, said Bardin “Is nerve”.

He took some bitchy, theatrical pleasure in observing that Crowley had gained more weight since their last encounter many years before. Crowley had always been a big, fleshy man, but now he was portly and flabby, like an outsized toad. His girth was accentuated by the rich, brocaded waistcoat he wore. Its buttons were straining to stay fastened across his substantial stomach. He seemed quite taken aback to see them all.

“We’ve come all this way to see you”, said Bardin “Aren’t you going to ask us in?”

“Of course, dear boy, please excuse my manners”, Crowley stood back to let them pass through. He watched as the 8 of them filed past.

“Quite a contingent”, he commented.

“There are more of us on the galleon”, said Bardin, casually.

They found themselves in a dingy, large hallway. It was painted white, but the walls were filthy with soot stains and cobwebs. A broad staircase led up to a minstrel’s gallery. In the middle of the room was a long dining-table flanked by high-backed chairs. There were two armchairs on either side of the fireplace, but other than that the room was empty. No pictures, ornaments, or wall-hangings. It was grand (in an uncared for sort of way), but Spartan.

“How very baronial”, said Adam, looking around him “Just like you, Aleister”.

(Full of delusions of grandeur that go to waste, he thought to himself).

“Yes yes”, said Crowley, seemingly oblivious to the dust and soot “It used to be an old hunting-lodge apparently. There are a few like this dotted randomly around the countryside”.

“Yeah, we’ve seen a couple ourselves”, said Joby.

Crowley had been pacing about during all this, but he suddenly seemed to notice Kieran for the first time. He stood and appraised him.

“Still very skinny I see”, he said.

“Still very fat I see”, Kieran retorted.

Crowley wore a facial expression akin to someone trying to work out a very complex mathematical equation. He had very little in the way of a sense of humour, if any at all.

“Is my brother here?” Joby asked, abruptly “Last time we saw you, you were living in a house on a lake near Nuit, with him and the de Sades”.

“No, your feral brother is not here, neither are the de Sades”, said Crowley, in presumably what he hoped was a crushing voice “I left them all there”.

“That’s a bleedin’ relief!” said Joby.

“How long have you been here?” said Ransey.

“Some while”, said Crowley “It also took me quite some time to travel here overland. But I am rather expert at exploring wild, remote places, so it was no real difficulty for me”.

“Can we sit down, Aleister?” said Adam, who had given up any hope of being offered a seat.

“Of course, my dear boy”, said Crowley, although he was clearly rattled at being caught out in such a lack of hosting skills.

Most of them congregated around the table. Bardin continued to walk around the room, as though he was disapprovingly inspecting a less-than-satisfactory stage set.

“Bardin, do sit down, old love”, said Adam “You make me feel uncomfortable, constantly pacing about like that”.

Bardin though strode over to Crowley’s chair.

“What do you want from us?” he demanded “Let’s not waste any further time on this, let’s cut straight to the chase. And don’t give me any of that rubbish about wanting me and Hoowie, because I don’t believe that”.

“But my dear boy, it is true”, said Crowley.

“What for?” said Lonts “Just sex?”

Bardin gave a very visible shudder.

“No, not just sex”, said Crowley “I am setting up my own temple here. I want dedicated followers. Bardin, I think you would be a worthy acolyte”.

“And Hoowie?” said Bardin, in disbelief.

“Ah now that would be simply lust”, said Crowley.

“Well it’s not going to happen, Aleister”, said Adam “Never”.

“Can they not speak for themselves?” said Crowley.

“It will never happen, Crowley”, said Hillyard “He’s very happy with Julian”.

“Yes, I really can’t see him dumping Julian for you, Aleister”, said Adam.

“Such hostility towards an old friend”, said Crowley.

“You have been trying to intimidate and coerce us”, said Bardin “That’s why we’re being hostile”.

“Intimidate?” Crowley gave a mirthless laugh “I have merely tried to contact you over the wireless. I fail to see how that is intimidating”.

“You demanded to have Bardin and Hoowie”, Bengo shouted “THAT is intimidating!”

“I expressed myself clumsily”, said Crowley “I thought that being the adventurous, open-minded men that you are that you would be interested in my little set-up here. I see I should have put it in a more winning way”.

This was complete rubbish. Crowley’s monstrous over-sized ego had led him, in Joby’s words, “to try it on”. It was slowly dawning on him that he was having to back-peddle, and it didn’t come easily to him. Crowley wasn’t a man who was used to negotiating or compromising to get what he wanted.

“Is it only Bardin and Hoowie who are invited to your temple?” said Kieran.

“Well I know there wouldn’t be much chance of enticing you in, dear boy”, said Crowley “No doubt you see us all as heretics who should be tortured and burned”.

“You haven’t told us anything about your temple yet”, said Kieran “For me to form any kind of an opinion”.

“You are waiting to be shown before you make a judgement?” said Crowley “Most unusual for a Catholic I must say”.

“This is a waste of everybody’s time”, said Ransey “Crowley, Bardin and Hoowie aren’t coming to live here, and no one wants to join your temple, so I don’t see any point in prolonging this pointless conversation”.

“But if we are to be neighbours …” said Crowley “In fact, why don’t we become more than that? Why don’t you come to live here? It’s a big house …”

“Thanks, but we prefer our side of the lake”, said Bardin.

“But there is everything you could possibly want right here”, said Crowley.

Judging by the dingy, Spartan state of the hallway this was extremely unlikely. Crowley seemed oblivious to the impression that his cheerless domain was having on everyone.

“We’ve got what we need on our side of the lake”, said Bardin “We’re trying to do what you’re doing. Setting up our own colony. I don’t see why we can’t accept each other, and leave each other alone!”

He then paused at the doorway though, Colombo-fashion.

“What was all that stuff about pockets of evil breaking out though?” he asked.

“There is civil unrest in many places”, said Crowley “But it seems random, uncoordinated, pure anarchy. As though people have become infected with some kind of mental illness. They go on rampages and destroy things, until they’re all burnt out with it all. I have seen much unrest in my time, but this is something very odd, there is no sense to it, no purpose. It is as if people are consumed with an evil, negative poison”.

“And do you approve of that, Aleister?” asked Kieran, softly.

“I do not”, said Crowley “I want peace and privacy for myself and my followers. This wanton, bestial destruction bothers me”.

“We will keep you informed on the wireless if we hear anything more ourselves”, said Bardin.

“Won’t you have to switch your wireless set back on for that?” said Crowley.

“Yes”, said Bardin “As long as you promise not to hog the airwaves!”

They opened the front door, and the hostile gardening woman scuttled back to her flowerbed, after a good eavesdropping session.

“Keep at it!” said Bardin.

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