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"It's done nothing but rain since the storm three days ago", said Joby, standing at Julian's bedroom window "Endless bloody rain. Sometimes strong winds, sometimes hailstones the size of fists. Wonderful place".
"I don't know how you're coping Joby", said Adam, sitting in the armchair behind him "I'm no bloody support for you. I get drunk, and then I sit in this damn chair having nothing but coughing-attacks".
"It's all this damp weather", Joby sat down opposite him "It's getting on your chest. Mind you, I don't suppose it's stopped you smoking your filthy cigars".
"With Patsy still missing I have to have something to keep me sane. That must sound feeble to you".
"Why should it? After all, I can have a glass of brandy when it all gets to me".
"You're a huge strength to me Joby. When we get out of this I don't want to ever live through it again. But then I keep saying that", said Adam "Let's talk of more practical matters. How's Lonts behaving? Julian says it wouldn't be a good idea to have him in here whilst I'm like this. He'd just get too excitable".
"He's pretty excitable now. I can understand you not wanting to upset him Ad, but you're going to have to let him see you. You know how insecure he is, he's convinced you don't want anything more to do with him. And he's a helluva handful for Ransey and Hillyard, especially with me being so preoccupied about Kieran. They have to watch him like hawks, and some of his tantrums are out of this world at the moment".
"I know. I hear them".
"Do you know what he did last night?" said Joby "He found he'd crapped his nappy, so he tore it off and smeared it on Hillyard's bedroom wall!"
"The little monster", said Adam "I hope Hillyard gave him a good smack".
"Hillyard?" Joby exclaimed "You know him, of course he didn't!"
"But that's why Lonts misbehaves. If no one corrects him he thinks no one cares".
"Look I know you're feeling a bit fragile at the moment, but Lonts would calm down a lot if you'd let him in to see you", said Joby.
"I know, and I miss him Jobe, as much as I miss Patsy. But Julian's been very good to me, particularly after my pathetic spasm the other night, so I'm going to do what he says. It's not easy, as acting docile isn't first nature to me. But these coughing-fits have frightened even me, and I'm terrified of them getting worse".
"You'll be alright once we get you away from this morgue", said Joby "Never was a place more aptly named. The Bone-House! And you need a drier environment, and certainly somewhere a bit warmer. If Kieran'd stop pratting about and come back, we could get you out of here".
"You seem very confident that he's absent through his own free-will".
"It's just a feeling I get, although I won't be able to relax until he is back. And when he does show up I'm going to wring his neck for giving us all this worry", said Joby "Why don't I send Lonts in before he goes to bed tonight?"
"If it'll give Hillyard a more peaceful night then by all means", said Adam "How are you sleeping anyway?"
"I don't very much. Me, Ransey and Brinslee tend to sit up in the kitchen and play cards. That bedroom gave me the creeps enough when Kieran was here, let alone now! Well it's my turn to cook lunch", Joby sighed "So I suppose I'd better make the effort and go and put some clothes on".
"Come here", Adam grabbed the end of the necktie which secured Joby's robe and pulled him towards him "Don't forget that I love you".
"I know", Joby kissed his forehead "So do I. Love you that is!"
"Poor Joby", Adam traced the lines of his mouth with his fingers "You've grown up into a such a grave person. I rather miss the hysterical complainer you used to be".
"I haven't changed that much deep down. Just got a bit quieter that's all. Although you won't see me being very grave when that blonde Irish half-wit finally turns up. I'll be shouting so loudly I'll make Lonts sound timid".
"No you won't. You'll be too pleased to see him to be cross, just like me".
"Don't bank on it".
On the landing Joby found Lonts standing by the bannisters, with his hands tucked furtively behind his back.
"What are you up to?" said Joby.
"Nothing", said Lonts, defensively "But I want to know why those men are here".
"The men in the hall. Have you invited them here to take me away, is that it? Because none of you want me anymore, I know that".
"There's nobody down there Lonts", said Joby, peering over the bannisters "The hall's empty".
"It's full of men Joby, and they've come to collect me. Well I'm not going. I don't care what anybody says. I belong with you lot. I won't let them take me away. I don't belong with them anymore".
"There is no one there!" Joby screamed "Go and fantasise somewhere else Lonts. I've got enough to worry about already".
Joby slammed into his bedroom. Once alone Lonts calmly pulled out Ransey's revolver which he had been hiding behind his back. Holding it in front of him he trod purposefully down the stairs and then stopped halfway. His fellow Kiskevians were a silent throng in the hallway, all staring up at him expectantly with blackened faces. The stench from their burning flesh was nauseating in the extreme.
"Go away!" Lonts yelled "I don't want to be with you. It's not my fault you believed Isaac. Go away!"
He fired the revolver twice. The first bullet hit the newel post, blasting away a large chip of the wood, the second cracked a tile in the hall floor.
"Lonts!" Trixie cried, from behind the bannisters above him "Give me the gun please Lonts".
"Be careful Trixie, for God's sake", Joby ran down the stairs behind him "He doesn't know what he's doing".
Didn't he? Lonts looked down into the hall. There was no one there. He dropped the gun, and it landed with a dull thud on the stair carpet. Joby hastily picked it up.
"Is he alright?" said Trixie.
"He will be", said Joby "What the fucking hell was Ransey thinking of, leaving this out where the baby could get at it?"
"To protect the rest of us I think", said Trixie "Quick access, that sort of thing".
"They were there", Lonts began to cry, as the others appeared cautiously in the hallway "All the village. All come for me".
"No they haven't Lonts", Hillyard walked up the stairs towards him "Isaac made you imagine it. He was probably hoping you'd shoot one of us by mistake".
"He's so evil", Lonts wept "How can anyone be so evil?"
Hillyard put his arms round his shoulders and guided the boy up the stairs. Adam was waiting outside Julian's door.
"I think you'd better come and sit quietly with me for a while", said Adam, pushing the door open.
"I thought you didn't want me anymore", Lonts sobbed, whilst Adam calmly made some coffee on his portable stove "Everyone said you were ill, and I've been so worried. And you haven't asked to see me".
"Of course I want you, now drink this", Adam poured a cup of the thick black liquid, and passed it to him "But we've all got problems at the moment, and I wanted to get my health back so that I can cope with them. I've still missed you like crazy though".
"I've missed you too Adam".
"Don't try and get round me, I've been hearing about some of your antics. Such as a certain little re-decorating job using a soiled nappy, eh?"
"I'm sorry Adam".
"It's not me who needs the apology, it's poor Hillyard. You take advantage of his easy-going nature. If I'd caught you, I'd have made sure you couldn't sit down in that chair!"
"Y-You're not going to hit me though?" Lonts stammered, hopefully "I mean, you'd have done it by now if you were".
"How can I?" Adam stroked his face "After the way I abandoned you the other night? You'll have to believe me when I say it wasn't through anything you'd done. The evil bastards have been playing tricks with my mind too you see".
"They've taken Kieran haven't they?"
"We don't know what's happened to him", said Adam "Although Joby seems to think he's gone off through his own accord".
"To help us get rid of Isaac and Vanod?"
"We're hoping that's the case".
"Will he come back all beaten up, like when he fought Angel?"
"I hope not, but you can never be too sure what scrapes Patsy'll get himself into", said Adam "He's rather like you in that respect".
"What's the matter with Joby?" said Julian, coming into the room "He's walking around with an expression on his face that can only mean he wants to punch someone. I know he's a bit weedy, but it can still be unnerving".
"Don't worry, I think he's saving it for Patsy", said Adam.
"If I was him and I saw Joby looking like that I don't think I'd bother returning", Julian sat down wearily on the end of the bed "Have you two made up then? Am I going to be abandoned to a lonely bed tonight?"
Hillyard walked in at that moment, looking almost grey with worry and shock.
"I've got some bad news", he said, sombrely "Very bad news".
"Hillyard, what is it?" Adam rose to his feet anxiously "Is it about Patsy? Tell me!"
"There's no news of him", said Hillyard "It's about the rest of us. We're done for".
"Done for?" Julian looked at him in disbelief "Explain yourself properly man".
"Isaac's waiting for us downstairs in the dining-room", said Hillyard "He's got a whole army of henchmen with him. They've just turned up out of the blue. He says he wants us all downstairs. He says Kieran's dead, and we're to follow suit".
"It can't be", said Adam "There must be a way out".
"There isn't", said Hillyard "Look outside".
Adam walked to the window and looked out onto the rocks. The house and the causeway were thronged by a large rabble of identical-looking men, all whitefaced and wearing long, tattered black coats.
"But they don't look real", Adam protested "It must be some kind of trick, an illusion that's he's playing on us. Surely?"
"I've seen 'em up close in the hall", said Hillyard "They're real enough, I can promise you. We've got no choice Adam. Kieran's gone. There's nothing protecting us anymore. Vanod wants us out of the way. We're lost. We're going to be killed".
"But not like this", said Adam "Not so abruptly".
"Adam", Julian grabbed his hand and squeezed it "Think of the boy".
Lonts was looking at each of them in turn, visibly panic-stricken.
"I just hope he's quick", Adam whispered, as Hillyard led Lonts from the room "And doesn't insist on making a performance out of it".
"Who'd have thought it would come to this eh?" said Julian, trying to be flippant "You and me going down in front of a firing-squad, or whatever delights he has in store for us!"
"It can't be though", said Adam "I just don't believe it. These things don't happen just like this. I don't believe Patsy's dead. I'd know if he was dead. I'd just know".
"Accept it Adam, it's much easier to deal with then".
"I was thinking at breakfast-time that I felt like having a double bourbon on the rocks", said Adam, smiling weakly "I wish I'd had it now!"
At the top of the stairs Brinslee, Finia and Trixie were looking down at the massed ranks of black-clad scarecrows in the hallway. Brinslee was desperately trying not to nervously with the loose change in his pocket, an old habit of his that would have been endearingly comical in any other situation.
"This is all Vanod's doing", said Trixie "Once I'm dead I'm going to pursue him through all eternity. I won't give him a moment's peace".
"I bet you're glad you came to stay with us aren't you Brinslee?" said Adam "You're being very calm Joby. I hope I get a kiss out of you before dying".
"I don't accept this", said Joby "Any of it. I don't accept this is real".
"What kind of Godforsaken hole have you brought me to?"
"It's not much is it? It's where I come when I'm resting between fixes. For the moment you're one of the Undead".
"So I'm trapped here at your whim?"
"You haven't got anything to be afraid of", said Angel "I've brought you here to give you strength. You're going to need it if you're going to destroy Vanod".
Kieran sat up weakly and looked around him. He seemed to be in some kind of cave, filled entirely with a murky half-light.
"I'm quite well enough", he said "Take me back Angel".
"Not until you're as strong as I can get you shitface", said Angel "Last I heard Vanod was bragging about bringing back Tomce and Krik. I don't want that, so you've got to make sure you destroy him".
"The last I remember I was falling into some kind of abyss".
"Full of brimstone and boiling water", said Angel "Vanod got it from some nightmares you used to have as a child, about Hell".
"Good grief, but I'd forgotten about those myself".
"Your mind obviously hasn't".
"So it was all imaginary?"
"Not as far as you were concerned at the time it wasn't. But I got you out".
"How thoughtful. Now take me back".
"When I'm ready", said Angel, and he squeaked as he laughed.
Kieran slept a good deal of the time, and was only woken when Angel came back from his "hunting-trips". The vampire always came back looking bloated. At such times he made a gash in his chest with his talons, and pulled Kieran's head towards him. Lonely and demoralised in this bleak no-man's land, Kieran began to look forward to these suckling sessions. And there was no doubt that the intake of blood did him good. He felt revitalised, as though ten years had been taken off his age.
"How long have I been here Angel?" he asked, after one such session.
"Only a couple of days".
"Is that all?" said Kieran "A couple of days! It feels more like a couple of years. It's so cold".
"It's wearing off then", said Angel "The protection of the Undead that I put on you. It doesn't last long on humans. You'll really start to feel it over the next couple of hours".
"Then take me back Angel, please!"
"You're not quite ready".
"The others will be worried about me. You have to let me go. As far as they're concerned I must have vanished off the face of the earth".
"You have", said Angel, simply "Or at least into another sphere anyway".
"I feel as though I'm never going to ..."
"You always were an impatient sod", said Angel "I've got information for you. I haven't just been gorging on my trips out you know. Don't you care where Vanod is?"
"It wasn't that long ago you told me he was at the Bone-House".
"No, I told you Caln was at the Bone-House, and I was right. I wasn't certain about Vanod. He's been eluding me for some time. He's not as easy to trace as a vampire. He can cover his tracks better. Not being as susceptible to the weaknesses of the flesh as we are".
"Where is he Angel?"
"He's at the Sacred Rock in the Yzel Park. It's not far from here, as the crow flies anyway".
"What the blazes is he doing there?"
"He's sealed himself up in an old fortress, up on the Sacred Rock. The area suits him, it's been full of mystery and weird happenings for as long as anyone can remember".
"And you're certain he's there? You're not sending me off on a wild goose-chase?" said Kieran.
"It took me ages to find him, but he's there alright. It was Gimmit who finally led me to him, little does he know it".
"He's gone up there for fresh pickings", said Angel "To be honest with you I think I scared him off. I've started regarding this area as my patch, I don't want some pathetic pseudo-werewolf stealing my meat. Also I had a feeling that if I finally managed to chase him away from here he'd go wherever Vanod is".
"Vanod controls him?"
"Vanod controls everything. Except me. And that must be galling the bastard no end. Anyway, Gimmit wound up in the Yzel Park. Perfect place for our sort of thing. It's huge, very wild in parts, and there's plenty of animal and human meat walking around. Everyone's talking about the Sacred Rock murders these days. You don't know what you've been missing. Human remains found mysteriously butchered near ancient site ..."
"Yes alright", said Kieran "There's no need to gloat over the facts. When are you going to take me back down?"
"When you've had another feed and a sleep. You'll be fine then".
Kieran suckled from him once last time, feeling rather like a feral child with a she-wolf. Afterwards he tried to rest, but the cold was getting more and more intense as he slowly returned to a normal living state. In the end Angel lay on top of him to give him heat from his body fur.
It seemed he had barely slept before Angel was waking him.
"We've got to hurry", said the vampire "I've got a bad feeling about the Bone-House. Something terrible's going to happen there. Come on, we haven't got much time".
The furniture had been cleared out of the dining-room, and they all lined-up against the panelled wall, watched silently by the crowd that had gathered. There was no individuality to any of the faces that watched them so intently. They were all pale, hairless, and dressed in the tattered black coats. It was as if Gabriel's zombie army had come back from the dead one last time.
"Sorry to see you in this state Lonts", said Isaac, who was standing in the middle of the room as though he was about to start conducting choir practice "It could have all been so different for you. Vanod had high hopes where you were concerned".
Lonts didn't answer. He stared at Isaac sullenly and then turned and buried his face in Adam's shoulder.
One of the scarecrow creatures moved forward and pulled a gleaming machete out from under its coat. It passed the weapon to Isaac.
"One more step and I'll fire", said Ransey, desperately pulling out his revolver.
"You absurd person", Isaac purred "Bullets won't affect any of us. We're already dead. As will you all be in a matter of minutes. I shall walk along the line of you and sever each head from your shoulders. A nice clean cut. And with that there will be nothing left of the Vanquisher or his party".
The group instinctively moved towards one another and huddled close. Isaac advanced on them. He grabbed Lonts's hair and yanked him away from Adam, raising the machete as he did so. Adam gave a bestial cry and wrenched the weapon from Isaac's hand. The Undead crowd began to mutter ominously and moved across the polished floor towards them.
"I see", Isaac spat "So you'd rather be torn to pieces by a mob would you than suffer a noble, clean, heroic death? I might have guessed. It's entirely in character with all of you. Alright, I shall throw you all to the pack. And you will experience every moment of agony".
"Not so fast!" Kieran cried, stepping through the French windows with Angel close behind "I don't happen to approve of blood sports".
The mob were gabbling so loudly in agitation by now that Lonts picked up the machete without anyone noticing. With one swift movement he lopped off Isaac's head, and it bounded on the floor a couple of times before rolling to a halt at Kieran's feet. With Isaac's sudden demise the black-clad figures vanished at once, as though they had been nothing but an illusion.
"He didn't think he could die", said Lonts, triumphantly "But no one can survive having their head cut off. Not vampires, not Gabriel, not Isaac, not anyone. I'm so pleased it really worked".
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