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Julian watched the dawn come up from his bedroom window. He hadn't slept at all that night. He had lain awake in anticipation, hoping Adam would come sneaking through his door. Now, as daylight came, he reasoned that this was a futile hope. There was no earthly reason why Adam should do that. Julian had nothing to offer him. And after today he would be gone again, leaving him alone in his beautiful house, with only a eunuch for company.
He went downstairs and flung open the doors and windows, filling the house with the chill of the dawn, which would be all too short-lived. Out on the verandah he found a batch of shrunken heads suspended from the wooden rail like a string of shrivelled onions. The sight turned his stomach. They most certainly hadn't been there the day before.
Knowing that he couldn't expect Finia to dispose of them, he unhooked them himself, and nearly screamed when one accidentally brushed against him.
"What the fuck ...?" said Joby, who was standing in the doorway.
"A little 'bon voyage' present from Gabriel I suspect", said Julian "I'll have to bury them in the garden. If I put them in the trash-can Finia might get a shock".
"D-Did that zombie leave 'em here last night?"
"I haven't a clue how they got here. Ugly little bastards aren't they? Although relatively commonplace in this part of the world. Not to everyone's taste, but some of the Husgalonghi people hang them outside their doors as a charm against evil. They believe the dead are protecting them".
"Round here it's the dead you've got to fear!" Joby exclaimed.
"Quite so", said Julian, and stepped down into the garden, holding the heads aloft like a lantern.
"How long have you been standing there?" said Joby, when he realised that Kieran was behind him.
"I wondered where you'd gone", said Kieran "I woke up and I was alone, and I felt afraid. I don't know why. As though something evil was near me. I could just sense this overpowering presence. And then ... and then I came downstairs and I saw those things out there".
Kieran was beginning to cry. Joby steered him back into the house, and started to make coffee in Julian's spotless kitchen, after first sitting Kieran down at the table.
"My fault", he said "I shouldn't have left you".
"You can't be with me twenty-fours a day", said Kieran, trying to mop his face on his vest "I don't expect that".
"I know, but I should be. I want to be. It's just that when I woke up I was curious to see if there was any traces of that creature last night. I didn't stop and think. I should've woken you up and taken you with me. It's obvious Gabriel's going to make a move on you of some kind any chance minute you're alone. Don't tell Adam I left you, he'll kill me".
"No need, I'm alright", Kieran sniffed "Except I hate causing so much trouble for people. You're all risking so much coming with me".
"Wouldn't have it any other way", said Joby, spooning coffee-beans into the little hand-grinder "Well I would actually. I'd set up home in the potting-shed with you. Adam could have visiting rights".
"We'd have to get a paraffin heater for the winter", said Kieran.
"No need", said Joby "It's never likely to happen".
"No I suppose it's not", said Kieran, looking downcast "Nice thought though".
"Morning both", said Ransey, strolling into the room "Ready for the adventure ahead?"
"Give it a rest", said Joby "None of us is looking forward to it".
"What are my chances Ransey?" said Kieran "You know Gabriel better than any of us".
"Not anymore I don't", Ransey sat down at the table "This person that he is now is nothing like the bloke I first worked for. In the old days he was open, professional at all times. He lived for the stock-market, and his facts and figures. He'd always been ruthless of course, right since he was a child. I suppose there was always a touch of the zealot about him, but to order the deaths of people, and deaths like Noni's too ... well I don't know him anymore".
"Why are you risking everything by joining us out there?" said Joby.
"Because I'm frightened of what'll happen to everyone if he gets in power. He's got a taste for killing now, and he's started to believe that he's invincible. He genuinely does believe Kieran is an imposter who's duped everyone".
"So why doesn't he just have me killed then?" said Kieran.
"That's not good enough for him. He wants you completely crushed. He wants to make an example of you. I think that he has these fond ideas of parading you through the City streets in chains when he becomes President".
"But that could be years away".
"I wouldn't be so sure about that", said Ransey "He's quite capable of ordering the assassination of the current President".
"Then somebody should warn him".
"I did", said Ransey "I sent an anonymous letter to the Ministry just before I left Gabriel's employ. I knew Gabriel had wild plans of getting the President bumped off when he opened the extension to the City Gardens. My letter was taken sufficiently seriously to get the visit cancelled".
"But that only means he'll try again!" Kieran protested.
"Listen Kieran, Gabriel's powers are such that if he wanted he could get the President mysteriously assassinated in his own private apartments, and they'd never find a single clue as to how it had happened. It'd be just like Noni's death all over again. Now he wants you up at Mundaba Heights, at this time I think it's to play some stupid games at your expense. We won't know fully until we get there".
"What are you all doing in here?" said Adam, coming into the room.
"I have to go there alone", said Kieran, ignoring Adam's entrance "I can't ask anyone else to risk their lives for me".
"Oh don't start all that again!" Joby exclaimed "It does my head in. What makes you think you can manage anything on your own anyway?"
"I defeated Angel alright".
"It's gonna take a bit more than wanking over him to get rid of Gabriel", said Joby "This git is human. That makes him far worse than any vampire-cum-devil".
"Oh you cynic Joby!" said Adam "Anyway, we haven't got time to sit around talking about it. It's time to get on with it instead".
"You've got the maps I did for you haven't you?"
"Yes I have, stop fussing Jules", said Adam "You'll be asking me if I've got clean underpants next".
"I'd like to come too", said Julian "But I can't really leave Finia here alone. He's very young".
"I don't expect you to come", Adam sighed "We're very grateful for the help you've given us so far. We don't expect anymore".
"When all this is over", said Julian "Will you call on me again? What are you smirking about?"
"Oh just the phrase 'when all this is over', I seem to have heard it before. Yes, I will call on you. We can sit out on the verandah and discuss old times. Very old times. Over 2000 years ago. I can tell you exactly what it was like for me in prison. That should make you feel better".
"Was it very bad?"
"At first. It takes a while to get used to the fact that some people get their kicks out of pissing in your food and such like. One adapts though. The odd letter from you would have eased things slightly".
"I'm a coward, Adam", said Julian "I always was. I'm not strong like you. I don't have your inner resources".
"I have to go", Adam kissed Julian's ear as though he was saying goodbye to his mother "We'll see each other again, I'm certain of it. You have this habit of turning up in my life when I least expect it. It's a nice place you've got here. I wouldn't mind one like it myself".
"It's yours anytime".
"I hope your complaint clears up eventually. You might be lucky. Perhaps curses are killed along with the person who caused them".
"If that should be prove to be the case", said Julian "I will come looking for you".
Gabriel selected a wafer biscuit from the small selection beside his bed. He snapped it in half and popped a segment into his mouth. Chewing on the dry, tasteless morsel helped him to think. He had so many plans coming into fruition that he almost felt dizzy at the thought of them all. Years ago someone to whom he had confided his desires had had the effrontery to accuse him of being too ambitious. He hadn't wanted to listen to such comments then, and he certainly didn't want to now. He would succeed the current President. He would be the last ruler of Mankind. He only had to bring the imposter they called Kieran into his circle and he would be on the last lap of his oh-so ambitious journey.
"He's on his way now", said Gabriel, to himself "On his way here to me".
They walked without stopping that day, ever aware that the demon time was sitting on their backs. Even under the harshest heat of the day they carried on, at a time when most people would have retreated under cover until late afternoon. They couldn't afford such luxuries.
"I've almost forgotten what colour this shirt was originally", said Ransey, flapping his waist with the sweat-sodden garment.
"We're never going to make those shelters by sunset", said Joby.
"Yes we will", said Adam, who was walking at the front "We're setting a good pace. We'll be alright as long as we don't stop. Conserve your energy Joby. And that means no moaning!"
They had their first glimpse of Mundaba Heights as the daylight faded with disturbing speed. Gabriel had built his jungle complex towards the summit of an extinct volcano. A small area of jungle had been cleared at the base of it, so that Gabriel could land his air-buggy. It was a bleak place, and for centuries it had been rumoured to be cursed, ever since the volcano's last eruption when the hot lava had completely engulfed a village and all its residents at the foot of it.
Whatever the strange metamorphosis was that had overtaken Gabriel during his sojourn in the jungle a few years before, had happened here. But that was as much as anyone knew. To the locals in Husgalonghi it was no surprise that Gabriel had come back a different man. Some believed he had been driven mad by the ghostly cries of the long-dead villagers.
There were two disused stone cottages at the very edge of the jungle, directly overlooking the volcano and Gabriel's landing-strip. The buildings were still intact, and were each one-roomed affairs, completely bereft of fixtures and fittings.
"As long as they keep out the zombies", said Adam, staring up apprehensively at the darkening sky "That's all that matters".
Inside one of the buildings Hillyard lit a lantern that had been swinging from the bottom of his rucksack all day. It cast a much needed warm glow around the room.
"It's so quiet here", said Kieran "The birds have stopped twittering".
"They generally do when the sun goes down", said Adam "Try and block your airwaves up Patsy, or you could pick up anything in this place".
"It's tomorrow what worries me", said Hillyard "What the hell do we do up there? We're out of our depth. He's probably got guards and everything swarming all over the place".
"He's right", said Joby, gloomily "How the hell do the five of us stand up against Gabriel's might?"
"I don't know, but we don't have any choice", said Kieran.
"Yes we have", Joby exclaimed "Tell Gabriel he can have his fucking power. You tell him that tomorrow".
"That's tomorrow's problem", said Adam "At the moment we have tonight to get through".
Kieran slept on the same bed-roll as Joby. Normally it was Joby who slept easier with his friend nearby, but tonight the boot was on the other foot. As long as Kieran could feel his friend's arm sticking into his side he felt reassured. He spent most of the night alert for any strange noises from outside, but there was nothing.
"The zombies must be patrolling elsewhere", said Joby, sleepily.
Kieran dozed for a little while after that, and woke up to see the first grey fingers of dawn filtering through the dusty window. He watched it for a while, and tried to keep his mind at peace by focusing on the fantasy of himself and Joby living in the potting-shed.
He was suddenly distracted from this reverie by voices outside, and a harsh orange glow lighting up the window. At first he thought the cottage was on fire, and leapt to his feet, screaming at the others to wake up.
"Oh shit", said Hillyard, taking a quick glimpse out of the window "We're done for. I told you Gabriel would have guards, didn't I?"
Outside the cottage stood a small, but nonetheless fierce-looking group of men wearing all-encasing black outfits. They even had masks across their noses and mouths. A couple of them were carrying flaming torches, although these were scarcely needed in the burgeoning daylight.
"On Gabriel's orders", said one, his voice muffled by his mask "You are all to come with us. He's putting you under arrest for trespassing".
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