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They were escorted along endless stone corridors that were cut deep into the interior of the extinct volcano. These were narrow, and very low-ceilinged in parts, making the whole journey feel claustrophobic. After what felt like an age the tunnel widened out into a square, bordered on all sides by large cages set into the walls. Some of these cages contained heaps of ragged clothes which, on closer inspection, turned out to be men that had been there so long they no longer had the energy to stand up and stare at the newcomers.
The door of an empty cage was pulled open. Inside was nothing but vermin-soiled straw on the floor, and a couple of empty enamel bowls left over from the stay of the previous occupants. A guard stood menacingly nearby while the group filed in. Before the door was clanged shut though a second guard hooked Kieran up under his armpits and hauled him out of the cage. Kieran screamed as the door was thrown shut on his friends.
"What are you doing?" Joby roared, clinging onto the bars.
"Where are you taking him?" Adam shouted, as Kieran was dragged screaming towards a narrow stairway in the corner "Patsy!"
"You fucking bastards!" Joby was alternately kicking the bars and trying to climb up them. A guard came along and rapped his hands with a stick. Joby fell back against the straw, and found that one of his hands was bleeding.
"Where have they taken him?" he wept "We shouldn't have come here. We shouldn't have come here!"
Adam didn't reply. Instead he busied himself by tying his handkerchief around Joby's hand to try and stem the bleeding. All the while he cried himself. But Joby's distress at least allowed Adam to keep himself occupied. He spent several hours cuddling the weeping boy, and trying to persuade him to drink something from the bucket of water that had been put into the cage soon after their arrival.
"That's a good sign", said Hillyard, drinking from the dipper "It means he intends to keep us alive".
"It's not us I'm fucking worried about", said Joby "It's Kiel. What's happened to him?"
"Joby, you've got to try and pull yourself together", said Adam "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. We're all in the same boat. At least we've still got each other. Think what it's like for Patsy. He's on his own somewhere".
"He's probably dead", said Joby, morosely.
"No he's not", said Ransey "If he was we would be too. There'd be no point in Gabriel keeping us alive without him. He hasn't any use for us lot, I'm certain of that".
"And he wants to keep Patsy alive so he can humiliate him in the City when Gabriel becomes President", said Adam "That at least gives us a bit of time on our side".
"It makes you wonder why he's hanging onto us though", said Hillyard.
"What's the matter with your finger Joby?" said Adam "It looks all misshapen".
"I think it got broken when the guard attacked me", said Joby.
"Bloody place", said Hillyard, looking round him with disgust "Next year Adam, I suggest we go back to Marlsblad for our hols. The accommodation here is fucking terrible!"
"It must be night-time", said Ransey.
"Strange", said Adam "I haven't heard that noise for the past couple of nights".
"Sounds like it's below us", said Hillyard "Still can't make out what it is though".
The howling was definitely emanating from somewhere else within the volcano, but the noise was still as indefinable as it had been when they heard it in Husgalonghi. A guard came round and pushed crusts of bread through the bars at them. It was disturbingly noticeable that he didn't feed any of the other caged prisoners. They had been left to starve.
"Please, can you tell us if our friend is alright?" said Adam "The little blonde boy. Where have they taken him?"
"To see Gabriel", came the muffled reply.
"Will they bring him back?" said Joby.
"That depends on Gabriel", said the guard, and moved away.
"How long are they gonna keep us here?" said Hillyard, crossly "We could be stuck in here for years".
"We should try and keep our minds occupied", said Ransey.
"What do you suggest then?" Joby snapped "Charades!"
"Ransey's only trying to help", said Adam "If you can't think of anything positive to say Joby, then I strongly suggest you remain quiet".
"I wonder what Gabriel and Kieran are talking about", said Hillyard.
"I'm sure Patsy's holding his end of the conversation whatever it is", said Adam "We'd better try and sleep I suppose".
Adam found it next to impossible to compose his mind enough for sleep though. Beside him Joby drifted into an exhausted slumber, worn out by sobbing to himself. Adam stepped over him and sat down next to Ransey, who was also showing signs of acute wakefulness.
"I'm sure he's not coming to any harm", said Ransey "Kieran, I mean. Gabriel will want his public moment of glory, and he needs Kieran alive for that".
"Alive, but not necessarily well", said Adam, gravely.
"I know it's not easy for you".
"I wish I hadn't scorned his telepathy so much. At least if I'd taken it seriously we might still be able to communicate. I keep trying to relax my mind enough to open myself up, in case he's trying to reach me. But it's difficult to do when your brain keeps flying off into a state of wild panic".
"You're coping with it better than Joby is".
"The advantage of age. One thing I've learnt is it's no use crying until you know the absolute worst. I must try and get him to calm down though. Patsy might be trying to get through to him. Mentally they're like twins, very close. But it's hopeless whilst Joby keeps getting upset".
"He'll go to pieces if anything happens to him won't he?"
"He won't be the only one", said Adam.
Time passed in a disorientating fashion. It was even worse than it had been at the Henang penal colony. At least there meal-times had been regular and they had had the position of the sun and the moon to roughly gauge the time of day from. Here it was impossible. Food was brought in at random intervals, and they only knew it was night-time when the howling started. Occasionally there were other odd noises which penetrated the gloom. There was the distant and mysterious sound of music, like a rapid drum-beat, which would break out without warning and go on for an unpredictable length of time.
"Any idea how long we've been here?" said Hillyard.
"I've tried to keep track in the time-honoured way", said Ransey, looking at some vague scratches he had made on the wall "But my sleep patterns all shot to pieces. I never know how long I've been out for when I wake up".
"Joby, I've saved some bread for you", said Adam, trying to nudge the boy into a sitting position "Eat it".
Joby glared at him sullenly.
Joby went to knock it out of his hand, but caught Adam's warning look and ate it instead.
"So I should think", said Adam "All this moping is getting to be very self-indulgent".
"It stinks in here", Joby grunted, eventually "Nothing but crap and cockroaches".
"Yes well you'll have to excuse us", said Adam "It's the maid's day off".
The guards opened up a cage on the other side of the room, and removed the dilapidated bundle of rags that had once been a living human being.
"That's all we need", said Hillyard.
The drum music had started again. It sounded like it was several miles away. They lay in the filthy straw and listened to it, taking wild guesses as to what it signified, such as public executions or Gabriel visiting the lavatory. They were distracted soon after by the guard unlocking their cage door.
"Which one of you is called Joby?" said the guard, peering into the gloom.
Joby gave himself away immediately by sitting up and looking alert.
"You're to come with me", said the guard.
"W-Why?" said Joby.
"You want to see your little friend don't you? Come on, you haven't any say in the matter".
Joby was led up several twisting flights of stairs, which had been hewn out of the stonework. At the top they came out into a broad, gloomy corridor lit at rare intervals by flaming wall-torches. Joby felt like he was walking inside a pyramid. This feeling was reinforced when he finally emerged into Gabriel's private quarters, as the audience chamber wouldn't have looked out of place in a Biblical epic. A craved stone chair stood in the centre of the echoey, white-painted room. Up a short flight of steps was a large glassless window which afforded a panoramic view of the jungle, and a glimpse of coastline in the far distance.
"Joby the scrawny", came Gabriel's soft, girlish voice.
Joby noticed that the guards seemed to have evaporated. He was now alone in the chamber with this peculiar creature, who desired so badly to be the last ruler of Mankind. Gabriel seemed to emerge out of nowhere. This thoroughly unnerved Joby. The vampires had moved in this way, suddenly forming out of mist on the spot.
It was hard to believe that this was the same scarecrow figure Joby had seen on the ship going down to Lixix. Gabriel looked revitalised, like a photograph of an elderly person after all the wrinkles had been airbrushed away. He was spotlessly clean, so much so that Joby was surprised he didn't squeak when he walked. He wore a rich, embroidered robe that covered him from his neck to his ankles. The sleeves were so long that his fingers were hidden. His huge, black eyes were more striking than ever against his new flawless complexion.
By comparison Joby felt nauseated with himself. He was filthy, covered in dirt of dubious origin from head to foot. Cockroaches had crawled over his body as he slept, and rats had ambled through his hair. He doubted if he would ever feel clean again.
"You look ugly, Joby", said Gabriel, standing near enough to talk quietly, but at the same time keeping a disdainful distance "You feel it too, don't you? You feel filthy and depraved, worse than an animal. Far worse than an animal in fact, as animals manage to keep themselves relatively clean. That is how you look to me. Filthy and sub-human. That is because that is what you are. Your body now reflects your inner soul".
"Is that why you did it?" said Joby "You locked me up in a cage to make me look exactly as you see me?"
"Yes", said Gabriel, simply "As I said, the body reflects the soul".
"Anyone'd look filthy and sub-human after the way we've been living", Joby exclaimed, feeling tears welling in his eyes "It's got nothing to do with the soul. Where's Kieran? What have you done to him?"
"He's alive", said Gabriel "He now looks as he is too. An animal. A wild beast with no self-control and no morals".
"What have you done to him?"
"You'll see him. That is why I summoned you here. No Vanquisher of Evil should be without his sidekick, his personal attendant, and so that is your job from now on. What a fine pair you will make. Come with me".
Joby followed Gabriel into a corridor that was hung entirely with soft white netting. It felt like moving through the human body. Suddenly Gabriel pulled down one of the drapes to expose a floor-length mirror. Joby caught sight of himself and gasped. He didn't recognise the emaciated, dirty creature as himself. It looked more like something out of a nightmare, or one of the zombies that Gabriel employed to patrol the jungle.
"How long have we been here?" Joby asked, faintly.
"Don't you know?"
"I've no idea. It didn't feel that long really, but perhaps it was".
"Then I won't enlighten you", said Gabriel "You'll have to work it out, except I don't think your bestial mind is now capable of such things".
They moved on. The corridor turned into another large white-painted room. This was really an extension to the audience chamber, but on a more informal footing, as though this was where Gabriel entertained his more favoured guests. This room had a softer aspect to it, with more of the net drapes hanging from the walls. What looked entirely at odds with it all was a tall concrete block which stood in the centre of the room, from which hung a large, metal ring.
"Where's Kieran?" said Joby, stubbornly "You said I could see him".
"You will. All in good time. The beast has to be brought out of his lair. I'm gradually building up quite a little zoo here. A menagerie. I've always wanted my own zoo, ever since I was a child. And you and the so-called Vanquisher of Evil are now my star exhibits".
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