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"How's Lonts?" asked Kieran.
He had walked into Adam's room to find him stroking the boy's back. Lonts was lying on his stomach, making strange thrumming noises into his pillow.
"He's alright", said Adam "It's the storm that's bothering him more than anything".
"It is getting a bit noisy isn't it?" said Kieran, as another loud crash of thunder erupted overhead "I hope you're not going to punish him for tonight, it was Joby's fault after all".
"I wouldn't dream of it".
"That eye looks nasty", said Kieran, gently touching Adam's shiner "Do you want me to get you something for it?"
"A piece of rare steak?" Adam laughed.
"Better not", said Kieran "It might bring Angel in! I was thinking more of a cold compress actually".
"It looks worse than it is", said Adam "It just throbs a bit that's all".
"I'll leave you alone then, and go and share the delights of Joby's bed".
Kieran kissed them both and went out onto the horseshoe-shaped landing which wound round the central stair-well. Directly opposite him Trixie was sitting slouched on the floor just outside the doorway of his bedroom. He looked hurt and Kieran rushed to see what was wrong.
"There were hands", said Trixie, wildly "Luminous hands pressing against my window. I saw them Kieran. Luminous hands".
"But we're on the first-floor Trixie", said Kieran "And there aren't any balconies in this house".
"I saw them!" said Trixie.
It didn't escape Kieran's attention that the Grand Lord was very drunk. Somehow he managed to get him to his feet, which wasn't easy as Trixie was considerably heavier than him.
"It was probably a trick of the lightening you saw", said Kieran "It sounds like it to me anyway. Come on, I'll help you into bed".
"I can manage thank you", said Trixie, pulling himself away from Kieran. He stumbled into his bedroom and slammed the door. Kieran shrugged and went towards his own room.
Once there he found Joby lying on the bed cradling a large brass flower-bowl to his chest. He didn't look his best.
"It's a bloody good thing we crossed over", said Kieran "I saved some poor woman a fate worse than death, being married to you".
"Don't start having a go at me", said Joby "Just because I was out enjoying meself, whilst you were stuck here listening to Machin's hunting-stories I expect".
"I don't object to you enjoying yourself", said Kieran, as he began to undress.
"Could've fooled me, the way you nag at times", said Joby.
"I just don't see why you had to get the baby pissed too", said Kieran "It must be a bloody miracle that he didn't wet himself".
"I'll tell you why he didn't", said Joby "He didn't piss himself because for once he was relaxed. He wasn't getting uptight about something. Anyway, I thought he deserved the chance to let his hair down for a change. After all, he's not going to get much chance when we get back home. Not living with two roaring old faggots like Adam and Julian. He won't be allowed to put a foot wrong. They'll probably make him wear white gloves when they have guests for tea, and have him cleaning out the keyholes with a toothbrush".
"Adam's not like that".
"Lonts'll be frightened to move in case he knocks over one of Julian's dinky little ornaments. It's not right", said Joby "We should have him move in with us instead".
"Don't be ridiculous Joby. Lonts needs attention all day, and I wouldn't be able to give it to him, and you'd have your garden to see to. Whereas Adam and Julian can give him all the time and attention he needs. Anyway, I can't see Adam letting him go".
"You talk as though you're going to carry on being president", said Joby, biting his lip pensively.
"I can't see any other way out at the moment", said Kieran, sitting on the bed and lighting a cigarette "At least not until I've groomed a successor. I can't just leave 'em all in the lurch without anyone to take over from me".
"You shouldn't smoke in bedrooms", Joby snapped "It's a filthy habit. How many times have I told you about it?"
"And having a vomit bucket on the bed is clean living is it?" said Kieran.
Joby dropped the brass pot on the floor with a loud thump, and then lay down. He stared rigidly up at the ceiling whilst Kieran got into bed.
"I know you're disappointed Joby", he said "But I promise you I'll give you your cottage in the woods one day".
"I'll believe it when I see it", said Joby, and rolled over to face in the opposite direction.
Kieran slept in fits-and-starts, and by about three a.m found himself in a state of acute wakefulness. The storm had moved away, and now he could only hear the rain hammering down on the roof and windows. The room felt unnaturally cold, and he pulled the sheets up over his arms and shoulders. At one point he brushed against Joby, whose skin felt warm to the touch and glistened with perspiration. That was because the room really was hot, he knew that. But for reasons which scared him he only felt an intense, unearthly chill.
A flicker of white caught his eye. Something vague and indistinct was crossing the room from right to left. Kieran shivered and tried to press his eyes shut, but his overwhelming curiosity wrenched them open again. The figure had now crept softly up the side of the bed and was standing right over him.
It was her again. The female spirit from the woods. Naked and beautiful, and utterly terrifying. Her eyes were like large featureless black hollows. She was staring down at him with all the intense malevolence of the Gorgon. Kieran tried to move, to back away from her, but he was immobile. She leaned over as though to kiss him, and Kieran felt an intense wave of frozen air hit his skin like a frostbitten blanket. He didn't know it, but by then he was screaming.
"Hillyard and Ransey were asking if you were alright", said Joby, wrapping Kieran in another blanket "I said you'd just had a nightmare that was all".
"Good, I don't want anyone else to know about this", Kieran shivered "Can't you feel the cold at all Joby?"
"No, it's hot", said Joby "Quite hot. I'm surprised Adam hasn't been in, wanting to know what's going on. Considering he's right next door".
"It doesn't matter", said Kieran "I want Berenice's visit to be between you and me only".
"She was a vampire in an Edgar Allan Poe story", said Kieran "I sometimes find it helps me to give nicknames to unknown fears. It humanises them a bit. Helps to make them less scary".
"You've never told me that before", said Joby "Even so, can't you call her Ethel or something? It sounds more homely".
"If you like", said Kieran.
"Your flesh is stone cold", said Joby, touching Kieran's forehead "I don't like this Kiel, I wish you'd let me get Machin onto a doctor".
"No Joby, please don't! I promise I'll be fine come daylight".
"Why?" said Joby "Was Ethel a more conventional vampire than Angel or something? Has she got a coffin of earth where she goes to during daylight hours?"
"She's a night terror, Joby. Sent by Vanod to try and drive me out of me little mind. Like Trixie's wild beast was at the Bone-House, remember?"
"And Adam's dream about Lonts", said Joby "The one that made him hit the bottle".
"And me nearly falling into the pit of boiling water", said Kieran "All night terrors. All things dredged up out of our subconscious and made temporarily real. I'm even beginning to wonder if Isaac was just a figment of Lonts's. He would have seemed extra real because of the lack of mental discipline the boy has".
"Could well have been actually", said Joby "He was certainly defeated when Lonts finally confronted him".
"Don't mention that in front of Lonts though", said Kieran "You know what he's like. He'll blame himself entirely for what happened at the Bone-House, and we can't have that".
"Course I won't", said Joby "But what I don't understand is, why did Ethel appear to you tonight? Why not me or Ransey? Naked women lurk in our subconscious too".
"The only reason I can think of is because I'm the only one here who's been married to a woman. It is not a question of lust. That wouldn't have made me frightened of her. Perhaps Ethel was a projection of the guilt I feel at having deserted Amy".
"You didn't desert her", Joby exclaimed "It was all a huge accident. You didn't deliberately run off and leave her. I think the sooner you stop getting at yourself for that, the sooner that demon'll be exorcised".
"Perhaps you're right", Kieran looked around the room anxiously "Four dark corners. Have we no more lamps or candles we can light Joby?"
"No, there's only the one oil-lamp", said Joby "And I've turned that up as far as it'll go".
"What wouldn't I give for a blinding strobe-light in here at the moment", said Kieran "It'd leave no shadows for demons to hide in".
"You're going to be quite safe", said Joby "I'll stay awake for the rest of the night and keep an eye on you".
"More like you're hoping Ethel'll put in another appearance, so you can get an eyeful of her!"
"No thanks. Not after what I've seen her do to you", said Joby "What's the point of a naked woman who reduces your body temperature!"
"I must have dozed off", said Kieran, waking early the following morning.
"You've had a good couple of hours kip", said Joby, raising the window-sash to let in the sound of the birds warbling "The rain's stopped at last. The temperature must be in the late twenties already. Hard to realise it's late October".
"She didn't come back then?"
"Not a sign of her".
"Are you disappointed Jobe?" said Kieran, playfully.
"Relieved actually", said Joby "Are you still feeling cold?"
"No I'm fine now. I told you it'd all disappear come morning".
The door opened and Hillyard walked in, looking sleepy in his dressing-gown.
"Do you want me to run you a bath Kieran?" he said, yawning.
"Yea, it'd do him good", said Joby.
"Rough night?" said Hillyard "I'm glad I haven't been getting these dreams. They're really shaking everyone up".
"Nothing in your subconscious to dredge up I expect", Joby grunted.
"Oh I don't know", said Kieran "It could be something involving Stombal".
"I've been dreaming about him for years", said Hillyard "So it wouldn't be anything new".
"I wish we were all as straightforward as you Hilly", said Kieran, getting out of bed.
"I'll go and make me peace with Adam", said Joby.
He was surprised to find that Adam was still asleep when he went next door. Adam was normally an exceptionally light sleeper who woke up at the slightest thing. But he was sleeping deeply, oblivious to Joby's entrance. What was far more disturbing though was the absence of Lonts. His side of the bed was completely empty, with barely a wrinkle in the sheets to show he had been there at all.
Joby moved closer to the bed, feeling sick to his stomach. His intuition told him plainly that Lonts's disappearance wasn't going to be explained away by a trip to the lavatory. His fears escalated considerably when he found Lonts's little wooden crucifix, the one that Gimmit had made him, lying on the pillow. Joby knew that Lonts had become almost superstitious about wearing it lately, particularly in bed, after all the talk of the Sleep Demons. Joby sank to his knees. He wept and clutched the crucifix in his fist.
"The bastard!" he wailed.
"Joby?" Adam woke up, feeling as though he'd been drugged "Joby, where's Lonts? What's wrong?"
"That bastard Vanod's got him", Joby cried.
"No!" Adam screamed "I don't accept that!"
"He has, Adam. He's got him".
"No, he must be around here somewhere", Adam pulled on his robe and began to babble "He must be. I'll go and look for him".
He scoured all the rooms on their floor. Kieran was sitting in the bath with his hair all soapy, Hillyard was standing over him, Ransey was in the lavatory, Trixie was drinking milk (to line his stomach in preparation for another day's drinking), Brinslee was barely awake, Julian and Finia were eating hot rolls. All asked Adam the same thing "Isn't he with you?"
"How's Adam now?" said Ransey, as Kieran came back into his bedroom.
"He's quieter", Kieran replied "Julian slipped a couple of tranqs into his coffee, which I'm glad about. Adam was getting so agitated that his chest was starting to wheeze something chronic. Julian says he'll sit with him all the time us four are out. Although he won't tell him what we're at until we're safely up on the Sacred Rock. I don't want him with us in his condition, or trying to stop us going".
"I could kill Brinslee for shouting at him like that just now", said Joby "It's not Adam's fault".
"Listen, for the moment we have to leave Adam entirely in Julian's care", said Kieran "We have to get on and find Lonts before it's too late. I don't know what Vanod's intentions towards him are, but you can bet your back teeth he's not taken him up there for tea and cakes".
"I suppose there's no chance we've made a mistake?" said Hillyard, hopefully "That Lonts has just gone for a walk without telling us? It wouldn't be the first time".
"None of his things are missing", said Kieran "He only had his nappy on, and you know how sensitive he is about that. He's hardly going to go strolling around the town in it".
"And you reckon Vanod's up on the Sacred Rock somewhere?" said Ransey.
"According to the last report I had from Angel anyway", said Kieran, pacing up and down "And why the blazes does he never turn up when he's wanted? I could do with knowing some more. Anyway, Machin's going to let us have some more firearms and ammunition, not that they're much use against Vanod but there we are, and a small amount of gelignite in case we need to blast our way into anywhere. I was talking to him just now, and he's given us a route to the old fortress that Angel was on about. It's still intact, and quite substantial. He says it'd be a perfect hideout for the bastard".
"Lonts must be terrified up there", said Hillyard.
"Then the sooner we stop gabbing and get on with it the better", said Ransey, impatiently.
"There's just one more thing", said Kieran "A cheery little thought to send us on our way. According to Machin, a corpse was found at the foot of the Rock soon after dawn this morning. It was the corpse of a local man".
"Throat and stomach torn out I suppose?" said Ransey.
"He'd also been cut clean in half", said Kieran "And whoever did it sawed off his head and took that away as a souvenir, as that's completely missing".
"Was Gimmit the culprit?" said Joby.
"Angel did say he was now up there too", said Kieran "So we're going to have to be on our guard every single moment. We can't afford one slip at all, not one".
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