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Compared to the Winter Palace, the Bone-House looked almost suburban in its normality. No peepholes, no gorgonised chairs, no inner palaces lurking behind mirrors. Instead they were led through a baronial-style entrance hall, which was dominated by a sweeping staircase which led up to a gallery that circled three sides of the building, and from which the main bedrooms opened. They were shown into a sitting-room just beyond the dining-room. The sitting-room was small and positively idyllic, with French windows open to the sound of the sea crashing on the rocks below, and the pleasantly cool scent of a July night.
Even so, there was no escaping the fact that they had been greeted at the door by a man who had been murdered several years before. Noni certainly didn't look like someone in the best of health. He was pale and haggard. The godlike beauty he had enjoyed in life was still visible in small doses, but obscured by his uncut, straggly blonde hair, and his unshaven face. His eyes were obscured by a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses.
"Alright", said Kieran, collecting his composure, and standing squarely to face Noni in the sitting-room. He felt a breeze from the window ruffling his hair, but it seemed to have no such effect on Noni's "We've come all this way to see Caln. So why not let the dog see the the rabbit?"
"You're in a real hurry", said Noni, in his customary slow voice "There isn't no cause to be in such a hurry. You have all the time in the world. Now that you're here, Caln wants you to stay for a long time. So make yourselves at home, eat and drink. Rest. Be grateful to be away from all the diseases, the fighting and general madness in the world out there".
"Where is Caln?" said Kieran "If he's in this house somewhere we'll find him, you can be certain of that. Or is he still as cowardly as he ever was?"
"You really don't understand", said Noni "Caln wants you to be his guests. Everything in the house is at your disposal. You're here now. You've already fought half the battle, so you can relax for a while. Take it easy. That's what Caln wants. You'll find all your favourite drinks on the trolley behind the sofa, have as much as you want. After all, it's not to our tastes. At dawn I'll come and prepare you breakfast, and then you can go to your rooms and rest for as long as you wish. You'll be quite safe I assure you".
"Insanity!" Kieran exclaimed, after Noni had left the room "Sheer bloody insanity. I wasn't expecting Caln to be playing host of the year!"
"Invisible host of the year", said Adam, who on inspecting the drinks trolley had found it even contained a pot of coffee on a small heater.
"He certainly weaves a spell doesn't he?" said Trixie "The butler or whatever he is I mean. He's got a very soothing voice".
"He's dead", said Adam, shortly "That rather diminishes his attractions in my eyes".
"Don't anyone upset him by asking for a bottle of beer!" Ransey laughed.
"You're sick, do you know that?" said Joby.
"First Isaac, now Noni", said Kieran "Who else is Caln going to raise from the dead?"
"It's not Caln who's raising them", said Trixie "It's Vanod, I keep telling you that. It is Vanod who is behind everything. And even though he's dead too I expect he's around here somewhere as well".
"I think we all need a drink", said Hillyard, looking longingly at a bottle of plum brandy.
"We all need several", said Julian "If we stay too long in this place even Adam will be tempted to break his abstinence".
"If I can put up with you without being driven to the bottle", Adam snapped "Caln and his kind will be small fry by comparison!"
Whilst they had been talking Finia had been lounging against the window-frame, absorbing the night-air. He occasionally heard a distant scream coming from the mainland, and now began to pace the end of the room restlessly.
"Gimmit's alone out there", he suddenly announced "Out there in the woods. I know it. And don't tell me he's locked up because I know he isn't".
"And what are we supposed to do about it?" said Joby, from the depths of an armchair.
"I expect you'll do nothing as usual!" said Finia "I'm surprised you've ever got anything done. It's always the same with you lot. All talk and no action. Gimmit's at large. He's frightened, and you're all sitting around here as though it's a cocktail party".
"I can't hear anything now Finia", said Kieran, standing at the window.
"You've made an enemy of him", said Finia, still pacing "That was a bad risk on your part baby, on all of you".
"Why don't you go and join him?" said Adam "Make sure he isn't too lonely out there".
"Adam, don't be such a cretin", said Julian.
"This is just what he wants", said Kieran, who was also now pacing around the room "Caln I mean. Us to all fall out. Split us up like he tried doing at the Winter Palace".
Lonts had been dozing sleepily in the chair nearest the door, when he caught a movement from the hallway. Noni was standing in the middle of the floor, near the foot of the stairs, gesturing at him. His face was made largely inscrutable by the tinted-blue sunglasses he wore. Lonts slipped across the threshold without being observed and walked across the polished floor of the hall towards him.
Noni reached out and stroked his neck when he was close enough to him. The pressure of his fingertips against Lonts's flesh wasn't altogether gentle though. There was a certain maliciousness in the touch that was hard to ignore.
"So you're the Kiskev Survivor", Noni drawled.
"I'm Lonts", said the boy, feeling nervous. He couldn't see Noni's eyes at all.
"Heard a lot about your beauty. Can't see it myself. Your hair's nothing special", Noni ruffled Lonts's hair in an unaffectionate way "You look cute that's all. A cute-arsed boy. There's a lot of your sort about".
"Could you take your hands off me please?" said Lonts, in a warning voice.
"Why? Don't you like being touched? And how does Adam cope with that? He's such a touchy-feely kind of person".
Lonts suddenly pulled Noni's glasses off him.
"What are you?" the boy bellowed in disbelief, as he stared at the tiny pinpricks of grey that sat in the middle of Noni's eyes, where his irises should have been.
"I'm your destiny Lonts", Noni took the glasses from him and put them back on "You look at me and see how you'll end up. I am fate".
"You're evil!" Lonts yelled, in a voice so loud that it could have lifted the roof "You're not real. I don't believe in you! I don't!"
"Get away from him!" Adam screamed. He slammed Noni against the bannisters, and pushed Lonts in the direction of Joby, who had closely followed him into the hallway "You ever touch him again Noni and I'll..."
"You'll what?" Noni spat "Kill me? I'm already dead".
Noni disappeared through a doorway at the far end of the hall. Adam stared after him in disbelief. He couldn't believe this was the same man he had met in the woods near the City Harbour, or the same man who had followed him through the streets of Lixix. Adam felt a crushing wave of sadness so strong that he almost felt breathless. Behind him, he could hear Joby trying to calm Lonts, who was sobbing all over him. Adam's shoulders sagged under the hopeless hell of it all.
"What was the point?" he muttered, flinging his arms at nothing "All that happened at the Winter Palace, all that happened with Gabriel. And all just to have them keep coming back at us. Relentlessly. Again and again".
"Adam", said Joby "I think Lonts needs changing".
"Yes", Adam laughed "And what's the point of pondering on the meaning of life when Lonts needs changing?"
"Pull yourself together Adam", said Julian, appearing on the scene "The boy needs you".
"Go and fetch my bag from the other room Joby", Adam sighed "I'll change Lonts on the dining-room table".
Adam guided Lonts through the nearest doorway.
"How many times ... how many bloody times do I have to tell you not to wander off Lonts?" he said, giving him a light smack on the back of his trousers.
"I'm sorry Adam", Lonts sniffed.
The others all followed Adam into the dining-room, except Domino that is, who Joby found cowering behind one of the chairs in the sitting-room.
"Are you alright?" he asked, picking up Adam's bag "Who are you hiding from?"
"N-Nothing", Domino got to his feet, rubbing his hands nervously "I got a bit scared. Lonts shouts rather loudly doesn't he? I've never heard someone with such a large voice before".
"Yea I suppose he can take you a bit by surprise when he's at full throttle", said Joby "You don't have to worry though, he wouldn't hurt you".
"He's tall and strong too", said Domino, unconvinced of Lonts's harmlessness.
"He's a pussycat", said Joby "Just threaten to tell Adam if he gives you any trouble. That soon brings him into line usually".
"Joby, where the fuck have you got to with my bag?" Adam yelled from the next room.
Everyone stood around talking whilst Adam laid Lonts out on the polished dining-table like an enormous baby, and removed his soiled trousers.
"Everyone's going to laugh at me Adam", said Lonts, squirming so that he could get a view of them all.
"This lot?" said Adam "Too busy listening to the sounds of their own voices. Now keep still, or I'll jab a pin in you by mistake".
"I don't want to wear it Adam", said Lonts, staring at the clean nappy in horror "No one else has to wear one".
"Now is not the time to play me up Lonts. And they've all seen you in one before".
"Well who cares what he thinks?" Adam exclaimed.
"Relax Lonts", said Hillyard, stroking the boy's stomach "You're with us. You're alright".
"I wouldn't be so sure about that!" Caln's voice boomed out from the other end of the room.
"About time you showed your face", said Kieran.
The rest of them shrank back in unison as Caln advanced a couple of steps into the room. There was no longer any sign of the Virus on him, and nothing to indicate that he had been burnt to a crisp at the Winter Palace the last time they saw him. In spite of the humidity he was wearing his old ermine-lined robe, and carrying a whip in his right hand.
"Nice to have us all back again under the same roof isn't it?" Caln went on "I always said you couldn't beat keeping fresh livestock on the premises".
Caln walked down the side of the table until he was only a couple of feet away from them. Lonts sat up and faced him.
"And there's a bit more to you than there was the last time I saw you", said Caln "A nice sturdy neck and a broad chest. Not the bag of bones you used to be, when you were not much bigger than the so-called Vanquisher of Evil".
Caln cocked his whip is Kieran's direction.
"You won't find it so easy getting rid of me this time, Mr President", he said "I am virtually indestructible, so you've got a long stay in the Bone-House ahead of you. As such, I advise you to make yourself at home. Oh and make the most of the company you've got, whilst it lasts anyway".
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