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It took several weeks on the train to get from Pael to the City. Most of them couldn't help contrasting this journey with the one they had originally made eleven years before. This time they had a carriage to themselves, and proper bunks instead of a mattress on the floor shared by all of them, and Adam had no need to pay their way by sketching.
The journey got off to a hairy start at Pael when Lonts decided, for the sake of Adam's own good, to distribute his cigars amongst the passengers waiting to board. Adam was only mollified by the departure of Brinslee, who had decided to travel by buggy across to Port West. Adam was surprised when the Governor gave him a very cordial farewell, even hugging him.
"Did you give him a talking-to Patsy?" he asked, as he and Kieran stood on the observation platform at the back of the train to wave good-bye to Brinslee.
"No I didn't", Kieran laughed "It's just that I think he finally realises what a handful you have in Lonts".
"Why?" said Adam, suspiciously "What's the little horror done now?"
"You know the infamous book of poems?"
"Brinslee found my sketch-pad didn't he?" said Adam.
"Yes, is there any particular reason why Lonts should cut out words from the book and paste them onto the pages of your pad?"
"It was just something for him to do", said Adam "Lonts has always had a mania for cutting up bits of paper and sticking them on things. He likes to think he's making a collage".
"I appreciate that", said Kieran, trying not to laugh "But it was an expensive leather-bound book".
"He shouldn't have given it to Lonts then should he?" Adam exclaimed "No fool like an old fool".
"He has no hard feelings towards us Adam, that's the main thing. Too glad it's all over I think", said Kieran "We're going home. Doesn't it have a wonderful sound?"
The journey went on without a hitch. The Sleep Demons were banished, and no one discussed the activities in Hell, they were too desperate to put it all behind them. Kieran had re-called the "Killarney" to the City, although he had no intention of going on any trips for a while. By day they rested in their compartments, changing partners like the weather. At night they dined in the restaurant-car, and had the bittersweet satisfaction of being feted by the same sort of crowd who had resented their appearance on the train the first time round.
There was a disturbing time for Hillyard though. He was getting dressed alone in his compartment one evening, standing in front of the full-length mirror brushing his jacket, when he could have sworn he saw what appeared to be a fair-haired woman in a gold satin dress standing behind him. What was especially disturbing about her was that she had a hole in her throat, from which blood poured liberally, spilling down between her breasts. He had spun round instantly to confront her, but she had gone.
All through dinner that evening he was uneasy about returning to his cabin. He kept trying anything he could think of to persuade the others to stay behind in the saloon, organising card-games, even playing the piano. Inevitably the evening would end though. Ransey went off first, clutching a wad of papers. Adam hauled off Lonts, who had been asleep for some time on the sofa. And then Joby and Kieran went.
Reluctantly Hillyard went back to the sleeping-car, and spent a long time leaning out of the window in the corridor, watching the snowy wilderness that made up the passing countryside.
"Are you alright?" said Joby, suddenly appearing behind him.
"Will you come into my compartment with me?" said Hillyard "It's alright, I'm not after your body this time, I just don't want to go in there alone".
"Why? What's the matter with it?"
"I saw something in there earlier", said Hillyard, dropping his voice to a whisper "I think she was a ghost, but I'm not sure".
"Well she had tits, real ones. Blood pouring down them. She was wearing some kind of gold satin costume, and there was a big hole in her neck".
"Oh", said Joby in a small voice, as he remembered the dead woman he had seen at the fortress "Did she say anything?"
"No, I only saw her for a split second. You don't think I imagined it then?"
"You weren't imagining it. Why don't you bunk in with Ransey for the night?"
"He wouldn't like it", said Hillyard "He was saying at Pael that he was looking forward to some privacy on this journey".
Joby went ahead of him into the compartment. It was icy-cold, but other than that nothing was unusual or out of place.
"I don't think you should stay in here tonight", said Joby, shivering "This cold ..."
"Oh I expect the heating's knackered", said Hillyard, trying to sound casual "Something always is on this train".
"Kieran felt cold like this when he saw the Woman Demon".
"What Woman Demon? The one we saw in the Park?"
"No. He also saw one at Machin's house. I didn't, but he said the cold was unbearable".
"And you reckon that's what I saw?" said Hillyard, as the train's whistle blared eerily into the darkness "It means it's not over doesn't it?"
"Probably not", said Joby "But we've all had enough for the time being, don't you think?"
"You can say that again", Hillyard sighed "I just want us to go home for a while".
"We are", said Joby "We're all unanimous on that one. If they want to prolong the fight, they're going to have to come to us this time".
Lonts could be heard giggling in the next compartment, and being gently shushed by Adam.
"I-I think I'll be alright now", said Hillyard "These walls are so thin that I can always yell if I get into trouble".
"Make sure you do", said Joby "Goodnight Hillyard".
The train pulled into the City station on a bright, warm spring day at the end of March. The whole area was thronged with people, so much so that Kieran was quite taken by surprise.
"You've been gone nearly a year", said Hillyard, who was ironing one of Kieran's shirts in his compartment "It's not really surprising. They've missed you".
"It's been a tough time for them", said Kieran "With the plague last summer and everything. I hope they can forgive me for disappearing".
"Sounds like it doesn't it?" said Hillyard "You wait 'til they see Angel".
"Angel?" said Kieran "What's he got to do with it?"
"They've lived in fear of his return for years. When they see you've cured him, you'll be godlike".
"If only I'd brought them back a woman instead", said Kieran "That might have been a more useful gift for the human race".
"Not necessarily", said Hillyard, recalling his disturbing sighting of the Golden Woman "Perhaps we're better off as we are".
Kieran stepped into the crowd, so nervous it was more as if he was going to be torn to pieces than greeted with adulation. The entire station had been spring-cleaned for his arrival, and everything gleamed in the sunshine. They all made their way slowly through the crowd, towards the carriages waiting to take them back to the Ministry Headquarters.
"Adam?" said Lonts, climbing into the second carriage behind Kieran and Joby's "Is something wrong?"
"Fine old love", Adam laughed, nervously.
As their carriage rolled out of the station though Adam saw her once again. She was standing at the back of the crowd, half-turned away from him. She was thin and haggard-looking, dressed entirely in black like the archetypal phantom lady. She looked like some diabolical messenger of death. Adam caught his fingers in his mouth and gasped painfully.
"Adam?" said Lonts "Are you sure you're going to be alright?"
"Yes, really I am", Adam squeezed his hand reassuringly, once he had regained his composure "Everything is going to be just fine".
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