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By Sarah Hapgood

“You won’t see it much in this light”, said Joby, taking a cup of tea to Bardin up on deck the following morning.

“No, but the weather conditions are right”, said Bardin “The sky is clear. Perhaps we’ll see it later tonight. Umbert says the best chance to see an aurora in this part of the world is late at night”.

Suddenly there was a loud screeching noise, piercing the countryside around them. A strange, tall, stick-like figure seemed to dance out of the dunes on the shore and whirl around, screeching all the while as it did so. It darted around at a supernatural speed, occasionally flickering like a reel of crackly old film.

“What in the fucking hell is that?” said Joby “What the fuck are we seeing here?”

It vanished again as suddenly as it had appeared. Although where it had vanished to was a mystery.

“Is Bardin still up on deck?” asked Kieran.

“No, he’s gone to tell Julian about it”, said Joby.

Kieran brought over a bottle of whisky from the drinks tray in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. He sat down next to Joby on the sofa and poured him a generous measure.

“Could it have been one of those wood demon things?” said Joby “We briefly saw one up by Crowley’s house that time. He aid they infested the countryside hereabouts”.

“It could be”, said Kieran “You said it was sort of tall, black and stringy”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “Even skinnier than you! My God, that was a weird-looking bloody thing”.

“Well don’t worry”, said Kieran “You’re safe here on the boat”.

“I’m no so sure about that”, said Joby “Not from the weird way it was sprinting about. Wouldn’t surprise me if it could sprint over here!”

“No, I’ve Blessed the boat up to the hilt”, said Kieran “Anyway, it’s often very difficult for demons to cross water”.

“I hope you’re right”, said Joby “Well this has put paid to Hillyard and his plans to camp out in the tepee. I’m not sleeping over there with that thing about!”

“Did you see where it came from?” said Kieran.

“No, it just suddenly appeared”, sadi Joby “We heard that god-awful noise before we actually saw it”.

“Well I think it’s safe to say it’s just another demon”, said Kieran.

“Just another demon?” said Joby “Only you could say that, Kieran!”

“I meant it’s nothing we have to be unduly concerned about”, said Kieran.

“If you say so”, said Joby, unconvinced.

He wasn’t the only one. When Bardin announced at lunchtime that they should move on, he got not a single dissenting voice.

“Anyway, I’m bored with this area”, said Bardin “And it’s bloody demons. Suddenly I don’t feel like being iced in here for the rest of the winter. We’ll go on down the lake, for as long as the weather let’s us”.

For the rest of the day Bardin moved the ship onwards like a man possessed. Something had gotten hold of him, and he became determined to put as much of the area behind them as they could. They sailed into an area where the snowy mountains pressed in closer to the lake, but instead of making everything claustrophobic, the view was too awesome to be anything less than inspiring.

Late afternoon, as the light began to rapidly fade, they ran into another blizzard. Bardin, a scarf wrapped around his face, stayed up on deck, and pushed the boat onwards, determined to stop only when the darkness became too absolute.

They anchored the ship for the night at a safe distance from the shore, and at first light they pressed on again. Bardin paced the deck restlessly, and almost had to be bulled into taking breakfast.

“Something is really driving him”, said Adam.

“I think he’s just had enough of the old area”, said Joby “Can’t say I blame him. It did all get too much. Perhaps he feels we’re leaving the demons behind”.

“Let us hope we are”, said Adam.

“He needs to be reigned in if you ask me”, said Julian, from just inside the dining-room.

“Nobody did ask you, Jules”, said Adam.

“He’s not thinking clearly”, said Julian “He’s letting his emotions rule him”.

“I would argue he’s going on gut instinct”, said Adam “Which surely is no bad thing”.

The hatch door overhead was slammed open, and Bardin’s boots appeared on the quarterdeck steps. In spite of his layer upon layer of clothing, and the scarf wrapped round his face, he still looked frozen.

“Bardin really, I think you should come and sit by the fire for a little while”, said Adam “Joby, break out the cooking-brandy”.

“I think you should call a halt soon”, said Julian.

“Yeah mate”, said Hillyard, emerging out of the gloom of the corridor “ I expect we might be in for some fog soon”.

“OK”, said Bardin “But just a little bit further”.

Bengo managed to wrest Bardin’s duffel-coat from him.

“I’ll go and hang this by the fire”, said Hillyard, taking it into the dining-room.

Bardin was taken into the galley and rapidly divested of several items of clothing.

“I know everyone thinks I’m obsessed”, he said, wrapping his hands round a glass of brandy “But believe me, I feel we’ve got to get in as much mileage as we can. We might not be able to move if this weather keeps up”.

“But we also have to accept we have no idea how far these ‘demon lands’ extend for”, said Adam.

“It could be all over the world”, said Bengo “Sorry Bardy, but it’s true”.

“Aleister did suggest something as such”, said Adam “And certainly something very ominous has been happening out there, from all we’ve heard”.

“We’ve been out of the loop for so long”, said Joby “Just about anything could’ve happened”.

As the twilight began to fade, there was a development. An entrance appeared carved into the sheer cliff-face on what they now called the Crowley side of the lake. A flight of rocky steps led up to it, covered extensively with moss. Someone was standing at the top of the steps, waving a lantern from side to side.

“Cut the engines”, Bardin ordered “They’re shouting to us”.

It was some frustrating while before the conditions were quiet enough for them to hear what was being shouted.

“We can give you sanctuary!” was what was being shouted.

By now a small group of people had appeared at the top of the steps. They looked as normal as it was possible to get. Earnest and concerned, wrapped up in their coats and other outdoor gear.

“Good God, real people”, said Bardin.

“This is gonna feel weird”, said Joby.

“Thank God you heeded us”, a middle-aged man had ran down the steps to greet them, when a handful of Indigo-ites had decanted from the galleon “I saw the lights from your ship …”

“And we thought we must offer them shelter”, said a woman, who had followed him down. She seemed to be about the same age as the man.

“That’s very kind”, Bardin began “But …”

“You travelled down from the Demon Lands”, said the woman, breathlessly.

“The Demon Lands?” said Bardin.

“Yes, all up that way”, the man gestured in a northwards direction.

“We’ve never had someone appear from up there before”, said the woman “This is quite exciting for us”.

“W-who are you?” said Bardin “Do you live here?”

“I suppose you could call us refugees”, said the woman.

“Refugees?” said Bardin “From where?”

“From the rest of the world”, said the man, sombrely “From what used to be called civilisation”.

“We can’t stand out here talking”, said the woman “It’s far too cold. Please come and share our hospitality. We want to hear how you’ve survived the Demon Lands”.

“Just a minute though”, said Bardin “How do you know WE’RE not demons?”

“They never travel by water”, said the man.

“No. Never”, said the woman.

“We don’t think they can”, said the man.

“Please”, said the woman “Come inside”.

Up the mossy steps and into the cave. Inside was a revelation. A fire was burning in the middle of the large entrance chamber, the smoke going up through a hole far overhead. Surrounding the fire were beds piled up with reindeer and bear skins.

“It’s amazing what you’ve done here”, said Bardin.

“Oh we didn’t do it I’m afraid”, said the woman “We found it like this”.

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

“A couple of years”, said the woman.

“Let us introduce ourselves”, said the man “My name is Anton, and this is my wife Beatrix”.

Two figures approached out of the gloom at the back of the chamber. One was a man, a few years younger than Anton, scruffy, but with an affable face.

“My cousin, Wesley”, said Anton.

The other was a rather intense-looking woman, with long black hair hanging down to her waist.

“My sister-in-law Kitty”, said Anton, as though they were at a cocktail party.

Bardin had come ashore accompanied by Bengo, Ransey and Hillyard. Kieran had been confined to below-deck until the strangers could be sussed out (for their “religious nut job potential”, as Julian had put it). Joby had elected to stay at home to keep Kieran (“the poor little bastard”) company.

Kitty rather disconcerted the Indigo shore-party by going to each of them in turn and hugging them.

“The Universe sent you here”, she said “The Universe is truly kind”.

“Kitty is a Lightworker”, said Anton, laughing awkwardly “She is concentrating on sending positive vibes to heal the world”.

“Well God knows it needs healing!” said Bardin.

“Yes it does”, said Beatrix “Come, have some of my homemade plum brandy. This is a special occasion. It merits it”.

“Where do you come from, originally?” said Bardin, once they were ensconced by the fire with their drinks.

“Nariba”, said Anton “It’s … it was … a small town a few miles north of the City. It got completely destroyed by an earthquake a few years ago”.

“The ground just opened up”, said Beatrix “Swallowed everything”.

“Not the first time a cataclysmic earthquake has hit that area”, said Ransey.

“No indeed”, said Beatrix “This was truly appalling. Nothing was left. We only survived because we had gone on a fruit-picking holiday in the countryside. But everything we had was destroyed”.

“Don’t concentrate on that now”, said Kitty, sternly “Bad thoughts poison the Earth. Bad thoughts become things”.

“I know dear”, said Beatrix, emotionally “But our guests want to know what happened”.

“We have been out of the loop for a long time”, said Bengo.

“But dwelling on negativity is bad and unhelpful”, said Kitty “We must concentrate on praying for the common good”.

“You’ve travelled a long way then?” said Bardin, hoping to distract Kitty from her pathological obsession with positivity.

“Yes”, said Anton “We kept coming further and further north. Everywhere we came to seemed to have been hit by trouble of some kind. Natural disasters, civil unrest. It’s as if the world is consuming itself”.

“It is just Mother Nature cleansing the Earth”, said Kitty.

“We finally wound up here”, said Beatrix “And we stayed here because we had been warned that the far north had become completely infested by demons. That they had driven everyone else out”.

“How did you survive up there?” said Wesley, not in any belligerent way, but wholly out of curiosity.

“With difficulty at times”, said Bardin “We’re a religious order, of sorts”.

“A peaceful one”, said Bengo “Entirely peaceful”.

“Then your faith protected you?” said Kitty.

“I suppose so”, said Bengo, wanting to add that it was largely Kieran who had protected them, but he had been forbidden from mentioning him yet.

“I have no time for organised religion”, said Kitty, grandly.

“Oh we’re not very organised”, said Bengo, cheerfully, and then glanced at Bardin and Ransey “Although some of us are of course, very organised”.

“Are you nomads?” said Beatrix.

“Well we’ve been looking for somewhere to put down roots for years”, said Bardin “Not had much luck for some time though”.

“I’m not surprised”, said Wesley “Travelling in a godforsaken hole like the Demon Lands”.

“We didn’t know they were the Demon Lands”, said Hillyard “Although it makes sense now you’ve said it!”

“Anton and Beatrix seem like a nice couple”, Bengo explained to Adam and Joby when they arrived back on the galleon, sounding for all the world as if he’d just been to a suburban cocktail party.

“And Wesley’s a down-to-earth sort of guy”, said Hillyard, who had followed him into the galley “He says he’s got his own still in the cave, so he must be alright”.

“That’s how you judge he’s alright?” said Joby “That he’s got his own still!”

“Well from what you’ve said, Hillyard, he sounds fine”, said Adam.

“That Kitty woman sounds a bit of a pain in the arse though”, said Joby.

“Yeah, I think she and Kieran might lock horns if we’re not careful”, said Hillyard.

“Or lor”, said Adam “Rather like that nun Patsy upset on the Gold River!”

“So everyone’s anticipating I’ll cause trouble already?” said Kieran, when Joby went over to speak to him in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin “I’m clearly nothing but a prize headache for everyone!”

“Now don’t start all that”, said Joby “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. We’d have all been pushing up daisies decades, if not centuries, ago. All I’m saying is one of ‘em is a bit right-on. There’s a danger, Adam thinks, that she might try and argue with you”.

“I must admit I’m not keen on the sound of all this ‘the Universe this’ and ‘the Universe that’ stuff”, said Kieran “No mention of the Almighty at all! All sounds a wee bit Pagan to me”.

“There you go again”, said Joby “Going all fanatical on us. That attitude ent gonna help is it! We’re gonna out-stay our welcome pretty damn quick if you go over there trying to convert everybody!”

“From what I’ve heard”, said Kieran “It sounds like she’s the one who’s going to be trying to do the converting!”

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