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By Sarah Hapgood

One of the ratings drove them in a large buggy out of the town, and up a winding track through the forest to the top of Deadman's Handshake. The full moon ensured that it was a very bright night, and helped to light their way. A steep path led down from the top of the point to the causeway below. The small island which supported the Bone-House was a jagged black blur in the middle of a metallic grey sea, like a lump of coal set atop a sheet of silver paper. The actual structure of the Bone-House itself was obscured from view by the outline of the rocks on the island.

Due to the sound of voices from a bar in the forest near to Deadman's Handshake, the area wasn't quite as forbidding as its name suggested, although the island of the Bone-House was an unforgettable presence in the background. Kieran dismissed the rating, and sent him and the buggy back to the ship. He then decided to take everyone for a late supper in the bar, until the tide had departed from the causeway completely, and left them with no choice but to go forward.

The bar was a one-room affair with a red-tiled floor and plenty of oak beams. It was basically equipped with a few sticks of wooden furniture, but the booze was plentiful, and there were meat pies to be had for supper. There were a handful of visitors, mainly travellers dropping in en-route to Port West, or trappers who had been working in the forest.

"You shouldn't be roaming up here without a firearm Mr President", said the bar-man "It's not unusual to get wild animals this close to the road-way".

"But we have a fire-arm, don't we Ransey?" said Kieran. He noticed that the other men in the bar had placed their various muskets and revolvers next to their plates and glasses, like a kind of talisman. He made Ransey do the same.

By now his party were beginning to get nervous about the near vicinity of the Bone-House, and the sure and certain knowledge that they didn't know what on earth they would find there. Kieran tried explaining that it still wasn't too late for anyone to drop out if they wished, but was howled down.

"We'll be alright Patsy", said Adam "Just shut up and eat some of your garden", he indicated the pile of greenery that Kieran had chosen in place of a meat pie.

"Everything's going to be fine", said Trixie "As has been said before, it's not as if we don't know what we're up against. They've all been seen before".

A hiatus occurred when Domino walked alone into the bar. His arrival didn't seem to be too unexpected by the bar-man, who instantly produced a carafe of red wine. Nonetheless the bar-man was ill-at-ease, as though he immediately anticipated trouble.

"So you came tonight", said Domino, snaking over to Kieran's table "Every night I've been coming here, ever since your ship was expected. I knew it was only a matter of time before you went out to the Bone-House, and here I am to join you".

"Why?" Kieran snapped "And does Brinslee know you're here?"

"Brinslee doesn't matter", said Domino, sitting down next to him "I want to see the vampires".

"You sound like a great kid", said Hillyard.

"I know all about them", said Domino, his eyes shining "I've read everything I could find about them. The Winter Palace, and Angel's beauty. And now they're back this is my chance to see them for myself".

"I need another drink", said Kieran, standing up so suddenly that his chair fell back against the floor.

"I think I do too", said Joby.

"He's obsessed", said the bar-man, sitting at the end of the counter furthest away from Domino.

"With the vampires?" said Kieran.

"Yea. Comes in here every night. Hasn't got the guts to go out to the Bone-House alone, but he sits here waiting patiently to snap up any titbits he can get about them".

"And what kind of titbits do you get out here?"

"Very little", said the bar-man "After all, the likes of Caln aren't going to walk in here for a beer are they? Occasionally farmers and trappers report finding animals with their throats and hearts torn out, and that's about the extent of it. Although it has been getting worse lately".

"Aren't you nervous?" said Joby "You're miles from the town up here".

"Very, but I keep telling myself it's only like the old days before you came along. Even so, I get nervous. Who wouldn't? Some of the sounds I hear out there after the bar has been shut for the night ... All I can say is you must take care. I don't know what goes on out at the Bone-House, and I don't want to know, but I wouldn't have your job for anything".

He moved away to serve another customer, leaving Joby and Kieran alone.

"I don't think I want our job for anything!" said Joby "Although perhaps when Angel shows up again, we could introduce him to Domino. Willing meat if ever I saw it".

"That's what worries me", said Kieran "The fact that I haven't seen Angel lately I mean. I was hoping he'd pay us a final visit before we went to the Bone-House, but he hasn't".

"He's probably double-crossing us that's why", said Joby "He tells us everything Caln's up to, and he tells Caln everything we're up to".

"I've thought of that", said Kieran "In fact, I suspect it's the truth. I won't be at all surprised if when we get to the Bone-House Caln is ready and waiting for us. Even so, I wasn't expecting Angel to remain silent today".

"Perhaps our antics this afternoon scared him off", Joby joked "The sight of all those naked arses! I think by now I could identify any one of us just by his posterior".

"Julian said I had a bony little arse".

"It's an improvement on his", said Joby "His looked like a suet pudding that had collapsed! I don't know how Adam can look at that and go 'cor!'"

"I don't think he does", said Kieran "Nowadays they remind me of two old dears discussing knitting-patterns, bickering over cups of hot sweet tea. Apart from when Julian has a surge of energy like he did this afternoon".

Trixie let out a scream and pointed wildly at the uncurtained window.

"A face!" he cried "Too ghastly for words. Peering in. Mad, staring eyes. I just got a glimpse and then it was gone".

"Probably his reflection", Joby muttered.

"I think it's time we went off to the Bone-House", said Kieran.

As they walked to the headland they could occasionally hear a scampering noise in the trees nearby, as though someone was trailing them. They ignored it and walked on down the cliff-path. From behind a tree Gimmit watched them. He wanted to call out to them, beg them for help as he had to Kieran in the cargo-hold. But his hunger got the better of him. So instead he walked up to the bar, and waited outside for the next customer to emerge.

Caln watched them crossing the moonlit causeway from the window in his tower-room. There were ten of the bastards, he thought, rather more than he'd bargained for. But in some ways he knew he could turn this to his advantage. Not only would it mean more meat in the end, but the higher the number of games he could play with them.

"All of them there", he said to himself "The Kiskev Survivor, the Grand Lord of Pepuaah, Governor Brinslee's consort, and not forgetting the dear Vanquisher of Evil himself. Quite an illustrious gathering for my first weekend occasion. Rich pickings, rich games, rich meat".

He rang a handbell on the table nearby, which was a pre-arranged signal for his servant to be ready and waiting at the main doors. Then he settled back in his chair and, humming softly to himself, he opened up a glass jar, selected an eyeball from the many within, popped it in his mouth and sucked on it contemplatively.

The causeway stopped abruptly at a flight of steep stone steps, hewn raggedly out of the rocks. The steps sped up and twisted sharply at the top, eventually stopping at the main doors to the Bone-House. What had once been a large, rambling stone edifice for incarcerating lepers, had now spawned a moderately-sized house amongst its ruins. Someone had once had the bizarre notion of living out on the rock, and had built the house to some fine specifications. But the reality of living in a haunted ex-leper colony built over the graves of plague victims had eventually proved too much. The entrepreneur had moved out, and the house stood empty, until Caln decided it was perfect for his use.

Kieran rang the brass bell next to the blue-painted doors, and they were opened almost immediately. He wasn't the only one who gasped in horror at the figure who greeted them.

"Good evening", Noni drawled "You are expected. Welcome to the Bone-House".

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