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By Sarah Hapgood

"Trixie's having a go at cooking dinner tonight, so I hope you're not too hungry", said Joby, when Kieran had finally caught up with him at the end of the dining-room.

"I don't think I could face anything", said Kieran.

"No, I suppose food must seem very unexciting after blood", said Joby, sarcastically.

"There's no need to be like that", Kieran snapped "Angel saved my life. If it hadn't been for him I would have fallen into that pit of boiling water. Why can't you just be grateful for that and stop disapproving about everything?"

"What the fuck were you doing in the cellar to start with?"

"I'm not certain. I woke up with the feeling that I had to make sure Caln was secured for good".

"But why didn't you wake me up? I'd have gone with you".

"I don't know", said Kieran "It was a spur of the moment decision. And you were sleeping so peacefully ..."

Joby gave a cry of disbelief.

"I'm sorry Jobe", said Kieran "But let's just be grateful we're still alive".

"You may have fobbed me off with that one when we were younger, but it's not going to work now".

"Oh go and boil your head Joby!" Kieran stormed into the hallway where he found Angel leaning over Lonts in a very overbearing way "Angel, leave him!"

"Just admiring the meat", said Angel, flippantly.

Through the open doorway of the living-room Kieran could see Brinslee pouring himself another brandy.

"So you're planning to leave here tomorrow?" said the Governor.

"There's no point in staying on", said Kieran "And we won't be able to relax until Vanod's defeated once and for all. But you don't have to come Brinslee. I'm sure you've got duties you have to get back to".

"I want to come", said Brinslee "For Domino's sake. Anyway, how are the Ministry taking your prolonged absence?"

"Not well", said Kieran "I logged into them just now. Most annoyed to hear I was going on to Yzel, but I persuaded them that it was an informal state visit, particularly as we've never been out that way before. They were a bit mollified by that, but not much. The plague news is much better though. The fatalities are actually down to single figures this month, and there's even signs that it's falling off in Pepuaah, which has bucked up Trixie at least".

"Must be a load off your mind too".

"Yes, but as I said I won't be able to relax completely until Vanod's out of the way for good. Anyway, I'm going up to bed now. I think I could sleep for a week. A word of advice Brinslee, don't go opening your door to Angel tonight".

"He won't be after me will he?"

"I doubt it, but he might try it on. Ask for a little drop of blood, that sort of thing", said Kieran "After all, you're a nice size for him. But don't listen to his pleading".

"Adam was right earlier", said Brinslee "It is something else staying with you lot!"

The full moon was lighting a path along the waves, like a second silver causeway. Kieran had been mesmerised by it for some time, gazing at it from his bedroom window. He was broken out of his trance by Joby coming into the room and slamming the door behind him.

"You really know how to break the mood", said Kieran.

"Are you still having a go at me?" Joby snapped.

"I thought it was you having a go at me actually", said Kieran "This conversation could go on all night".

"I've brought you up a couple of rolls", said Joby, holding out a bulging napkin.

"A peace-offering?" said Kieran.

"No, I think it's because you ought to eat something", said Joby "About the only subject me and Angel probably agree on".

"Thanks Jobe", Kieran took the rolls "I am feeling a bit peckish. But I couldn't bear the thought of us all sitting around the supper-table, having emotional post-mortems on the past few days".

"It wasn't like that in the end", said Joby "I think everybody felt like you did, so they all picked up their food and went and hid in corners with it, like squirrels. I finished up having supper with Lonts. That was hardly a barrel of laughs".

"I meant to have a little word with him. Say how proud I am of him".

"I don't wanna be a prig, but I don't think you should tell him how proud you are that he's such an efficient killer!"

"No, I was thinking more of his brain-power".

"Eh?" said Joby, incredulously.

"Since we've been in the Bone-House he's come up with two very good ideas, that salt wards off evil and decapitation defeats most things".

"Hardly original, either of 'em".

"But he thought of them", said Kieran "So he should be encouraged. I do sometimes wonder if the way we mollycoddle him encourages him to let his brain atrophy".

"It's probably safer than letting it have a free rein", said Joby "Haven't we got enough problems without that?"

Trixie hadn't managed to go to bed. The good news about Pepuaah still hadn't exorcised the demons in his head, and the closeness of death that day had reduced him to a quivering wreck as he sat alone in his room. He propped his elbows on his knees and sobbed quietly into his hands.

It was some considerable time before he could calm himself. By then he realised that the house had gone quiet. Everyone else had gone to bed, and sheer exhaustion was driving him to the same conclusion. He felt horribly alone, not wanted anywhere. It was a devastating predicament for a young man of his age to find himself in.

A nearby snigger made him sit up with a jolt. Vanod was standing in the shadows, watching Trixie with a supercilious expression on his face.

"Go away!" Trixie yelled, and flung his chair in Vanod's direction. The figure vanished and the chair hit the wall.

Lonts rolled onto his back, and knew at once that they weren't alone in the darkness. A shadow crossed the window and, to his horror, seemed to be walking towards him. Suddenly a cold draught ruffled his hair.

"I'll be waiting for you", came Vanod's unmistakable voice "Mad boy! You're going to be more entertaining than I previously thought".

"No-o-o", Lonts whimpered.

"Lonts, what is it?" Adam turned over blearily, his tone a mixture of tiredness, concern and irritation "Do you need changing?"

"Vanod was here, Adam", Lonts cried "In this room".

"Calm yourself", said Adam, desperately hunting for the matches to light the candle on the bedside table.

Lonts hardly dared look when the candle-flame eerily lit up the room. It showed the outline of the furniture, plus the heaps of clothes and nappies laid out for packing in the morning.

"Doesn't look as though he's here now", said Adam.

"But he was here Adam!" Lonts's voice was rising to a crescendo.

"Alright, I believe you. After all, there's no reason why I shouldn't".

"He said he'll be waiting for me".

"Then that settles it", said Adam "You and I aren't going to Yzel. In the morning I'm taking you back to the ship. We'll stay there until it's time to go the City".

"No, I want to go to Yzel!" Lonts screamed "If you take me back to the ship I'll run away".

"Oh no you won't".

"I'm going to Yzel!"

Ransey banged on the wall irritably.

"What is so bloody important to you about going to Yzel?" Adam hissed.

"Because I've been with you all since I met you in Marlsblad", said Lonts "Apart from when you had met put away in the hospital, which wasn't fair! All of you are always trying to put me away. I remember you talking about it when we travelled in the litter years ago, but you always finish up with me, because I'm meant to be with you".

"I'm not denying that, and what is all this nonsense about the hospital? No one's suggesting you go back in there for one moment. I'm just trying to protect you from Vanod that's all. I suggested going back to the ship solely for your own good".

"Like having me put in hospital was solely for my own good was it?" said Lonts.

"We did that because we mistakenly thought you needed special care that we couldn't provide".

"I just need you that's all".

"I realise that now, I didn't then", said Adam "For God's sake Lonts, we're talking about things that happened nearly ten years ago! Now lie down and get some sleep".

"Not until you promise me we're going to Yzel", Lonts folded his arms stubbornly.

"Alright!" Adam yelled, oblivious to Ransey's shouts on the other side of the wall "We're going to bloody Yzel, but if you give me a moment's trouble when we get there I'll make you wish you hadn't been born ... or hatched I suppose in your case".

Satisfied, Lonts lay down and sucked his thumb. Exhausted, Adam blew out the candle.

"Never did any of us look less prepared to go off on an important mission", said Ransey, leaning over the bannisters the following morning "Mind you, a good night's sleep might have helped!"

"You've got to be positive and fearless", said Hillyard, yawning as he pulled on his bath-robe.

"You?" Ransey exclaimed "Positive and fearless? First sighting of a cute bum and we won't see you for days. Too easily distracted that's your trouble".

"You're not still snarling Ransey?" said Adam, walking past them on the landing.

"I might be in a better frame of mind if I hadn't had to listen to you two rowing all night", said Ransey.

"It wasn't all night", said Adam "Just a little part of it".

"You shouldn't have given in to the baby the way you did", said Ransey "It's not going to be safe having him along. He's so exhausting to keep an eye on".

"We've always managed alright before", said Hillyard.

"Then I'd better not remind you of the tales I've heard of you lot losing him in the Winter Palace", said Ransey, tartly.

"We wouldn't have lost him then", said Hillyard "If Adam hadn't gone all soft and taken the harness off him".

"It makes my blood run cold to think how cavalier we used to treat him", said Adam "Such as having him bound and gagged for crying out loud!"

"Sounds quite sensible to me", said Ransey.

Adam gave a snort of impatience and went into Julian's room, where he found Finia making cups of hot chocolate. Ignoring the eunuch Adam fell onto his knees and put his head in Julian's lap.

"I never thought I'd say this Jules", he said, dramatically "But you are a bastion of civilisation in a crazy world".

"Oh really?" said Julian, facetiously "And how many men have you seduced with those words?"

"You are coming to Yzel aren't you?" Adam looked up at him.

"Of course I am, I'm not going to risk you going off the boil now when I've got you simmering nicely".

"Thank God", said Adam "It's the others Jules, they're all mad".

"You can say that again", said Finia, disdainfully.

"It's extraordinary how long it's taken for you to find that out", said Julian "Such is life".

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