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The stairs to the next floor were covered with even more of the wall-torches, which cast a hot glow over their faces as they climbed.
"But of course", said Kieran "Heat is what keeps him strong".
"How can you be so sure?" said Joby "It might just be that he finds the tower as cold and damp as we do".
"He's possessed by the Devil, Joby", said Kieran "The Devil needs heat. Cold frightens him. It's one of the reasons, I believe, that he was earthed at the Skirra Fludd lighthouse for so long because for several months of the year that place is iced over. When we get up there we have to get rid of those fires, make it cold for him. Remember how Gabriel was said to hate the cold?"
"Yea, but he was half-snake", Joby protested.
"It doesn't matter. The snake has long been attributed as an agent of the Devil, as have worms, even eels, like we had in that disgusting soup the other night", Kieran stopped and kissed Joby on the lips "That is our way of destroying him".
They entered the room at the top of the building to find it lit by so many braziers and torches that it was like facing a massed battery of flash-bulbs. Through the glare they could just discern the shape of Vanod standing at the far end of the room.
"Now Joby!" Kieran yelled "Smash the windows, throw as many braziers and torches out of them as you can".
As Joby began to systemically work his way around the room, breaking glass and hurling hot coals out into the frozen mist, Kieran approached the man that had once been Vanod. As the coldness from the outside began to seep into the room he shrank back against the wall, and the stench from him grew ever more appalling.
"You are so vulnerable really", said Kieran, walking up as close to him as he could without gagging "All that power is not much good without a lack of vulnerability is it?"
Suddenly Vanod threw himself at Kieran and wrestled him to the floor. Joby ran over and tried to latch onto Vanod's back, but the diabolical smell was so overwhelming that he had to keep stopping to clutch his stomach. To his horror he then realised that other shapes were appearing out of the stone walls. A whole legion of Reptile Men were forming in front of his very eyes. Gathering his wits he ran round the room smashing the last of the glass, and hurling every object he could find out of the jagged apertures. Cold fog began to permeate the room, but the Reptile Men took a long time to fade, and he had to dodge their clutches for what seemed like a terrifying age.
He had barely got rid of them when a green vapour formed in one of the empty windows and Angel appeared, with Gimmit's blood caught up in his fur and encrusted in his nails. He sprinted like a cheetah across the floor, grabbed a handful of Vanod's hair and hauled him away from Kieran.
By this time Vanod was barely human. The whole shape of his face had changed, until he resembled a particularly vicious species of wild boar. Fur had grown over many parts of his skin, and his genitals bulged through his trousers as the Devil's huge phallus took shape.
"Is he really like this Angel?" said Kieran "Or is this my interpretation of him?"
"This is really him", said Angel "His power's weakening, so he's losing the ability to change shape. We're not seeing Vanod anymore. As long as you keep him cold you can contain him".
"But we can't stay here with him forever", said Kieran "He needs to be contained for good, for all eternity".
"Then you need to get him somewhere more secure than this", said Angel.
"Joby, go back down to Yzel", said Kieran "See if you can get some kind of refrigerated transport up here, something we can contain him in. If there's any chance at all you can get hold of some liquid nitrogen, then do so, it would be much the best thing".
"But I can't leave you here", Joby protested, glancing at the creature that had formerly been Vanod, and who was now whimpering in the corner "Not alone".
"Angel will stay with me", said Kieran "Please Joby, don't argue with me. This is about as important as it gets!"
Julian walked upstairs to the landing to find Trixie behaving in what could only be called a suspicious manner. The Grand Lord was prowling round the u-shape, clutching a length of lead-piping in his hand. He was staring intently at the walls and wainscotting, as though he wished to bash the brains out of any mice that might be lurking there.
"Who are you looking for?" said Julian, sharply.
"No one", said Trixie, straightening up "Is Lonts alright? Adam won't let me see him".
"There's nothing to see", said Julian "He's fast asleep".
"But he's alright isn't he?"
"Of course he is. I sometimes think that boy's indestructible".
"Good", said Trixie vaguely, and he began to head back to his own room "Good".
Julian went into Adam's room. Adam was sitting next to the bed on which Lonts lay sleeping on his stomach.
"Why is Trixie walking around with a piece of lead-piping in his hand?" said Julian "Is the Reverend Green about to cop it in the library?"
"I really couldn't say", said Adam "Does Lonts look alright to you, Jules?"
"He looks as fit as a fiddle, apart from the lash-mark on his back", said Julian "I think I'll scream if I hear another concerned voice asking me about Lonts".
"I don't know what I would have done if anything had happened to him", said Adam, pacing the room.
"Well nothing did happen to him", said Julian "So you can stop sobbing into your lace handkerchief".
Lonts stirred on the bed and lifted his head.
"Adam?" he asked.
"I'm here", Adam scuttled to his bedside.
"Adam, I have just had a really peculiar dream", said Lonts, sitting up properly "Vanod was there, and he'd made a woman. A real one. And he was going to kill me so that he could make some more. But then Kieran and the others dynamited the doors and got in".
"That wasn't a dream Lonts", said Adam "It really happened".
"Oh", said Lonts, in a small voice "Did it?"
"But you're safe now", said Adam "Even if I have to sit up all night and watch you, you'll be safe".
"What's all the commotion outside?" said Julian, as he heard raised voices from the lawn below. He peered out of the window to find Joby walking across the grass, surrounded by a posse of Machin's fearless hunters, all wanting blow-by-blow accounts as to what happened up at the fortress. Joby was ignoring them, and ploughing determinedly towards the house.
"Where the bloody hell is Patsy?" Adam roared.
"Calm down", said Julian "I can hear your chest starting to rattle from here".
"Shut up Jules, and mind Lonts", Adam yelled, as he tore out of the room.
In the hallway Joby was holding a brisk conversation with Machin, who occasionally tried to put up objections that he needed his refrigerated wagon for storing his carcasses in.
"Containing the Devil is a bit more important than preserving your victims", Joby was shouting "Get it ready and bring it round to the front of the house".
Joby ignored Adam, who was yelling at him from the stairs, and went on into the kitchen at the back of the house. There he bellowed at the confused staff to make as much ice as they could.
"Joby, what the hell is going on?" Adam cried, following him around the room.
"Not now, Adam".
"Joby!" Adam screamed "If I have to give you a good hiding to get the truth out of you I will. Now tell me what's happened to Patsy!"
"We need to preserve Vanod in ice", said Joby, as though explaining an unusual recipe "It'll curtail the Devil's power you see".
"Where is Patsy?" said Adam, impatiently.
"He's up at the fortress, with Angel", said Joby "He knows what he's doing Adam, and if you didn't insist on holding me up we could get him out of there a lot quicker".
Vanod lay on the floor, whimpering and shaking like a very young puppy. Kieran watched him, feeling the damp cold seeping into his own bones.
"So the silly fool unearthed the Devil", he said, watching his icy breath billowing out into the grey air "Using some kind of ancient hocus-pocus, and the Devil got into him".
"Not at first", said Angel "He just resurrected a few people at first. I don't think he intended to release the Devil, but Vanod's experiments with creating women was too good an opportunity for Old Nick to miss. It was his best chance to cause mischief since the vampires were in power. Using Vanod's body he would impregnate the women with his sperm. In no time at all the future of the world would be solely in the hands of demons. For a while Satan used Gimmit's body as a host vessel, but Gimmit was too weak. He started going out of his mind".
"Are you saying that the Devil got into Gimmit on the 'Killarney'?" said Kieran "From the 'Coronola'?"
"The Captain of the 'Coronola' made a pact with the Devil years ago, before you crossed over, when they were sailing round the Skirra Fludd route. Soon after the boat went off course and got trapped in an ice-ocean".
"So the Devil's power that he had released in that direction got frozen in aspic, to coin a phrase".
"Yea, for years", said Angel "Until the ice broke open and released the boat. It drifted for ages. Anyone who saw it was too superstitious about it to approach it. Sightings of it had become portents of doom, that sort of thing. But then of course, you lot had to come along and interfere as usual".
"And when did the Devil abandon Gimmit, and take on Vanod's form?"
"When you were at the Bone-House", said Angel "You know what you've got to do now don't you? When you've got him encased in ice? You've got to take him back to the Loud House".
"I was hoping you weren't going to say that".
"You have to", said Angel "It's the mouth to Hell. You have to take him there".
"Take him into Hell?" said Kieran, weakly.
"It'll be the only way to make sure he's buried for good".
"Will I come out again?"
"That's entirely up to you".
It was very late when Kieran showed himself into Machin's study and made for the drinks tray. The house was settling down for the night. Outside, Vanod's body lay in state in a refrigerated wagon, having first been sprayed liberally with liquid nitrogen. Ransey now stood guard outside, quite prepared to shoot anyone who went near it.
Kieran didn't now how he had got through the hours since leaving the Sacred Rock. He had made conversation like a sleepwalker, and in spite of his empty stomach, failed to eat any supper. Now he filled a glass tumbler with whisky and held it in both hands as he took comforting sips from it.
"It's raining again", said Julian, suddenly walking into the darkened room and dropping his sodden umbrella into the stand by the door "I've never known such a place for rain".
"It's the start of the rainy season apparently", said Kieran "At least it only seems to happen at night".
"Why aren't you cuddled up with one of your consorts?"
"Because I needed a drink!" Kieran exclaimed "Do you have any objection to that?"
"No", said Julian "I expect if I'd been told I had to escort a frozen corpse into Hell I would feel like a drink too. I take it you don't wish to see this Loud House place again?"
"It's a terrible place Julian", said Kieran, nursing his drink against his chest "It has to be experienced to be believed. I hoped never to clap eyes on it again".
"You have very soft, kissable lips, do you know that?" Julian moved close to him and brushed his mouth gently against Kieran's "I've always wanted to do that".
Kieran responded with an urgent hunger. Julian was so confident, he gave the appearance of being so sure of life that Kieran wanted to hold himself against his body for the rest of the night. If only to absorb some of that confidence into himself.
"Get away from him Julian", said Adam.
"You make me sound like a vampire", Julian exclaimed "I was just giving him a bit of comfort that's all. I didn't notice him strongly objecting".
"I told you ages ago to keep your hands off him", said Adam "And that still stands".
"You'd better go up to bed Julian", said Kieran "I don't feel like a domestic tiff tonight".
"No, quite", said Julian "So behave yourself Adam".
He gave Adam's backside a ringing slap, and then left the room humming to himself.
"It was quite nice to be told I had soft, kissable lips", said Kieran "Or has he been using that chat-up line for some time?"
"Since before you were born", said Adam "But in your case it's true. I don't know, I must have been a pretty dreadful person in a former existence to be lumbered with the barking mad likes of you, Lonts and Julian now. Thank God for Joby I say".
"I quite enjoyed that little scene", Kieran giggled "Made me feel young again, as things were in pre-president days".
"You need some sleep", Adam took the tumbler from him and placed it back on the tray.
"I'm scared Adam", Kieran suddenly burst into tears "That ... that Thing out there in the wagon. All these scenes up at the fortress, and now having to go back to the Loud House. I can't stand it Adam. I think I'm going to lose my mind!"
"I doubt any of us would notice any difference if you did", Adam began to steer him towards the door "God, I hate getting old. Years ago I would have slung you over my shoulder and got you upstairs in no time at all. Now I couldn't even begin to manage it, not even to a seven-stone weakling like you. We all have our fears Patsy. And getting slowly more and more infirm is one of mine".
"You mustn't come to the Loud House Adam", said Kieran "It's going to be so cold up there by now. You go back to the Headquarters with Lonts".
"I will not!" said Adam "Me, you and Joby started this adventure, and we'll damn well finish it".
"But your chest ..."
"And I'm sick to death of hearing about my chest. Nobody else has to put up with so much attention being focused on their anatomy. What the fuck am I supposed to do whilst you're in Hell anyway? Have Julian push me in a bath-chair around the Ministry square, politely answering questions from the general public? 'Oh yes the President's doing very well. He's currently escorting the Devil into Hell. Hopes to be home by Easter!'"
"There's no need to be so bloody sarcastic. I can't help being concerned for you".
"I will be perfectly alright, I can assure you".
Joby was leaning over the bannisters outside Adam's door when they got to the top of the stairs.
"Why aren't you in bed yet then?" said Adam.
"Because somebody has to keep an eye on the baby", Joby scowled.
"Is he alright?"
"Nothing wrong with him", said Joby "Except he's started going on about how he's broken one of the Ten Commandments, Thou Shalt Not Kill. I tried to reassure him he wasn't going to burn in Hell, but it's a bit difficult when he knows we're heading there. I don't think he should come".
"I don't agree now", said Kieran "Obviously we won't take him into the Loud House with us. But it won't do any good to leave him out of it altogether, not whilst Adam insists on coming with us anyway".
"Adam's going to have to have a good long chat with him then", said Joby.
"Don't worry, I will", said Adam "I'll watch Lonts very carefully. The last thing we want is for him to start turning in on himself. Get some sleep, both of you".
"I saw Julian coming up the stairs", said Joby, as they got undressed in their room "Didn't half looked pleased with himself".
"Did he?" said Kieran "Far as I've seen he always looks like that".
"Why did I hear Adam shouting at the pair of you in Machin's study?"
"You don't miss much do you?" Kieran snapped "Julian was just trying to make me feel better that's all".
"Get into bed", said Joby, sourly.
"Are you cross with me?"
"No. I think you'd had enough attention for one night. Adam's right when he says you're just like Lonts. I'm glad I don't carry on like that".
"That's exactly what Adam said!" Kieran kissed Joby's bare shoulder "Thank God for Joby, were his exact words. Unlike me, Lonts and Julian, you aren't a basketcase".
"No. Perhaps I'm immune after all this time", said Joby "Did you kiss Julian?"
"How could you bear it?"
"He can be very seductive when he wants to be", said Kieran "It's that voice of his".
"His voice?" Joby exclaimed "He's an upper-class twit. And he's got a slight lisp. You don't always catch it unless you listen out for it, but it's there. His voice! I sometimes think you're going senile already".
"No, I just enjoy winding you up", said Kieran, mischievously "It's great fun when you get jealous, properly jealous I mean, not like when you go into a sulk".
"Turn the fucking lamp out", said Joby.
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