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Crowley would never have admitted it in a million years, but he didn’t want to go home, he didn’t want to leave the galleon. In his heart of hearts he had banked on being allowed to stay on-board. It came as a shock to the system to find that they were so determined to be free of him that they were prepared to o to all the trouble of sailing back up the lake to return him.
That morning, he sat pensively at the table in the dining-room. In spite of his uncomfortable night in the wireless room he couldn’t help but notice that the ship was homely and yet clean at the same time. The table was polished, the floor swept, the fire kept tended. Everything ran like clockwork, sometimes it looked mildly chaotic on the surface, but it was clockwork all the same. Bardin saw to that. For all that the others constantly teased him and poked fun at him, it was obvious that Bardin was a good leader. He had their devotion.
Elevenses were grudgingly brought to Crowley. The plate and cup were chipped (like so much of the crockery in the galleon after all these years), but the cocoa and the flapjacks were still good fare.
“Here, this is no good”, Joby hissed to Adam in the galley “We’re making it too cosy for him. He won’t wanna leave”.
“Don’t be silly, Joby”, said Adam, flushed from giving Kieran a damn good spanking “He won’t have any choice. We’re escorting him to his front door, remember?”
The house had looked forbidding when they had seen it before, on a bright, warm, sunny day. Then it had stood in the sunlit garden like a malignant, giant tumour. Now, in the dreamlike half-light of a near-Arctic Winter, it looked downright vile. The snow was banked up around it, giving the impression that the house was falling into the ground.
Crowley had been largely silent during the trek from the boat. To the others it had felt as though they were wardens, transferring an escaped prisoner back to jail. The Crowley-escorting group consisted of the usual 6 (Bengo, Bardin, Joby, Kieran, Ransey and Hillyard), plus Adam and Lonts.
There was no sign of the women when they went in through the front door. The candles on the hanging cartwheel light were lit, but the fireplace was empty. The room as a consequence was unwelcomingly cold. As soon as they entered the house Crowley vanished through a nearby doorway at the foot of the main staircase.
“Let’s look around the house properly”, said Kieran “I’ll take the library”.
“Oh great, that leaves me with the spooky cellar!” said Bardin.
“Have you got your gun with you?” said Kieran.
“Yes, of course I have”, said Bardin.
“I don’t mean that one, I mean the one I gave you earlier”, said Kieran, and he pulled open Bardin’s coat. In one inside pocket was Bardin’s usual revolver, on the other side was a small pearl-handled pistol stuffed full of silver charms.
“Happy now?” said Bardin.
“Good”, said Kieran “I’m glad you’re being sensible”.
Kieran turned and bounded up the main staircase. Ransey let out a heartfelt curse and followed him at high-speed, followed by Joby and Hillyard.
“Grim”, said Bardin, leading the way down the stone cellar steps.
They had found a light-switch by the door, and when activated it lit up a horrible brick tunnel, lined with iron doors.
“I think it looks worse with the light on!” said Bengo.
At the bottom of the steps Bardin tried the handle on one of the doors. It was locked, but to their horror, a pair of hands immediately poked out of the gap at the bottom, and an inhuman squawking sound could be heard.
“Holy Christ”, said Bardin “What is this place?!”
He moved to a door on the opposite side of the passageway. This time he didn’t try the handle. Instead he pulled open the little door which concealed the viewing-grid. He shone his torch inside, but the blackness within was impenetrable.
“There’s something in there though”, he whispered “I can sense it”.
“It’s like being in some nightmarish fun house at a fair”, said Adam.
The squealing and squawking was still going on in the other cell.
“Let’s get back upstairs”, said Bardin “There’s no point in trying to open up these doors until we know more”.
“Find out how dangerous they are?” said Bengo.
“Find out if they’re human”, said Bardin.
When they got back up into the hallway, Adam lifted the back of Bardin’s duffel-coat and smacked him on the behind.
“What was that for?” said Bardin.
“Just testing the acoustics in here, old love”, said Adam “And to keep us sane”.
“Hey, an old accordian”, said Hillyard, standing by Crowley’s desk in the library “We should take it home. Umbert and Rumble might like it. They’re the musical ones”.
“We are removing nothing from here”, said Ransey “Put it down!”
“Yeah alright!” said Hillyard, putting it down.
Kieran had located the picture of Angel. He took it down from the wall.
“Yeah that’s him”, said Joby “As he looked when we first knew him at Henang”.
“It may even have been painted there”, said Kieran “Didn’t the Governor have a bit of a thing about him? Those deceptively angelic looks of his”.
“Put that back as well”, said Joby “I’m not having a picture of him at home!”
“I think we should go and find the others in the cellar”, said Ransey “The evil in this house seems to be focussed down there”.
“You sensed that, Ransey?” said Kieran, his blue eyes opening wide with surprise.
“Kieran, it doesn’t take a damn psychic to sense that!” said Ransey “Now come along, or I’ll drag you down those bloody stairs by your hair!”
They left the library - Hillyard casting a longing look at the accordian as he departed - and immediately bumped into the others on the landing.
“What the fuck?” said Joby “You could’ve given me fucking heart-failure, suddenly appearing like that!”
“We made enough noise coming up the stairs, Joby”, said Lonts.
“Did you find anything in the library?” said Adam.
“There’s an accordion”, said Hillyard “In really good nick too. But I’m not allowed to take it”.
“We can’t just walk into other people’s houses all the time and take things”, said Ransey.
“Particularly an accordion”, said Joby.
“The definition of a gentleman, Hilly, old love”, said Adam “Is one who knows how to play the accordion, but doesn’t”.
“There. See?” said Joby.
“We had an accordion-player at the Cabaret once”, said Bengo “He went down quite well”.
“Probably even he was a relief from you lot!” said Joby.
“What did you find in the cellar?” said Kieran.
“Locked doors”, said Bardin “And what I can only call Things behind them. I just can’t believe they’re people”.
“I’m going to go and find Crowley”, said Kieran, suddenly shooting off towards the stairs at top speed.
Ransey cursed and pursued him.
Kieran found Crowley in some sort of chapel which led off the hall. Inside it was bone-scrapingly cold, the only heating came from the candles lit on the altar. The walls were decorated with obscene murals. People with grotesque leering faces in a variety of un-erotic poses. Kieran had seen it all before too much to be truly shocked. A chapel devoted to blasphemy and sacrilege. It was all so childish. Crowley was hunched over on one of the wooden benches.
“What’s going on in this house, Aleister?” said Kieran, walking up and standing in front of him.
Ransey was walking tiredly down the aisle towards them, followed at random intervals by some of the others. (Adam had kept Lonts in the hallway).
“I have pushed boundaries more than any other man who has ever lived!” said Crowley.
“And much good it’s done you by the looks of things”, said Kieran.
“Oh how very Catholic!” said Crowley “Doubtless you’d rather we still believed the Sun moved around the Earth! And burnt anyone at the stake who said otherwise!”
“Don’t be ridiculous”, said Kieran “Exploration, both of the mind and in the physical sense, should be ultimately used for the common good. What good has your stuff ever achieved? You’ve even said yourself at times that some of it should be left alone. And look what it’s done to you! Look what it did to you in the old life. A heroin-addict living in poverty. Everything that Life had bestowed on you, wasted! All your talents, your intellect, even the money from your family, squandered. And nothing to show at the end of it. Nothing. No great discoveries, just a few badly-written books, and some tired old scandals only fit to fill the pages of trashy newspapers. Oh but that doesn’t matter Aleister does it, as long as you were remembered. That’s all that matters to you”.
“Shut up!” said Crowley “You’re no better than Angel. You’re both cut from the same cloth”.
“That’s enough”, said Ransey, pulling Kieran slightly away from Crowley.
Bardin marched to the front of the aisle.
“What’s down in the cellar?” he asked, abruptly.
“Things, creatures”, said Crowley, sounding exhausted “Safely locked behind iron doors”.
“Did you secure them there?” said Kieran.
“Not unassisted”, said Crowley “I think you know who I mean”.
“Why would Angel help you to lock up demons?” said Kieran.
“This countryside is infested with demons, I’ve told you that before”, said Crowley “That is not my doing, it is merely a simple fact. I know of ways where I can harness the power of some of them. Tame demons in-situ if you like. I made a deal with him, that he would help me, and in return I said I would seduce two of your platoon away from you. It was a win-win situation for me”.
“No deal with Angel could ever be a win-win situation for anybody”, said Kieran “How could you be such a fool, Aleister!”
“Don’t you want to know what was in it for him?” said Crowley.
“I can guess that already”, said Kieran “Like you, Angel suffers from boredom. There’s a lot of eternity to fill. If you had succeeded in luring away Bardin and Hoowie, that would be a massive blow to me, a massive blow to us all. This isn’t the first time he’s tried to find some way of splitting us up. He knows if I was isolated I’d be destroyed”.
“And yet I don’t think he does want to destroy you”, said Crowley “The world would be a dull place for him indeed without you in it”.
“Maybe”, said Kieran “I also annoy the bejaysus out of him though, just by existing. He must think I’m one hell of a smug little bastard”.
“You’re like two brother eternally scrapping”, Crowley sighed “You resent each other, and yet this is blood feeling there”.
They were interrupted by a loud pounding on the front door.
“Do you know”, said Adam “I have a feeling that might be Julian. It does sound awfully like him”.
“That’s all we need”, said Joby “I’ll go and answer it”.
He pulled his gun out of his pocket.
“What do you need that for?” said Bengo.
“Just in case it isn’t him”, said Joby.
“I’ll come with you, Joby”, said Lonts.
“Who is it?” Joby called out, when he got to the front door.
“Me, open us”, said Julian.
Joby lifted the rusty handle with some difficulty. Standing outside in the freshly-falling snow were Julian and Hoowie.
“Why didn’t you let yourselves in?” said Joby “It wasn’t locked”.
“Are you sure?” said Julian, looking sceptically at the handle “We couldn’t budge it”.
“Why did you bring Hoowie?” said Joby, standing back to let them into the hallway.
“He wanted to come”, said Julian “He’s quite safe. There’s no way I’d let that fat toad get his slimy hands on him”.
He uncoiled a long scarf from around his neck, and looked around him with withering disapproval.
“Hellish place”, he said.
“You don’t know the half!” said Joby “The others are in the chapel”.
“Chapel?” Julian exclaimed “Doing what? Holding a Satanic mass?!”
“Don’t be daft”, said Joby “Can you see Kieran joining in with one of those?”
“Well … perhaps as the sacrifice”, said Julian.
When Julian entered the chapel Bengo ran up to him and hugged him.
“I wish I always got that reception”, said Julian “What, Adam? Aren’t you going to do your usual bit of ‘what are you doing here, Jules?’”
“Don’t be silly”, said Adam.
“Crowley”, said Julian, pacing down the aisle “No wonder you look depressed, surrounded by this grim décor. If I were you I’d whitewash the lot. Anyway, I was wondering what was keeping you all. I thought you were only delivering him, not moving in!”
“The others wanted to have a look round”, said Joby.
“I see”, said Julian “And was it worth it?”
“There seem to be demons locked up in the cellar”, said Bardin.
“How very unpleasant”, said Julian “Where’s that rather doleful-looking creature you saw here before?”
“Ah the Mistresses”, said Bardin “Somebody must be here. The candles were lit in the hall when we came in”.
“We haven’t seen sight nor sound of them since we’ve been here though”, said Bengo.
“There is only one left”, said Crowley “Hermia. You saw her in the garden before. The others have gone”.
“Gone where?” said Bardin.
Crowley spread his hands in an irritatingly philosophical fashion.
“Is it absolutely essential to find the wretched creature?” said Julian “Or creatures?”
“No I suppose not”, said Adam.
“I’ve had quite enough of this house”, said Joby.
“Good”, said Julian “Then let’s go home”.
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