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Joby waited apprehensively whilst Gabriel disappeared behind one of the drapes. He could hear a rattling sound, and Gabriel hectoring someone to move. Joby felt almost lightheaded with relief, because he knew he was going to see Kieran again. During those brief few minutes though he tried to brace himself for the worst of what Gabriel might have done to him. Kieran could now be deformed or ugly, or a lobotomised zombie. Either prospect felt too far-fetched. As far as Joby was concerned, Kieran would always still be Kieran.
Gabriel returned to the room looking triumphant. In one hand he carried a stick with which he tapped on the marble floor in a menacing fashion. In the other he held a long chain, at which he tugged impatiently. Kieran was on the end of it.
He looked smaller than ever, as though Gabriel had shrunk him to be the size he required him to be. He was naked, apart from his thong pants, and he was as dirty as Joby. The long chain was attached to an iron manacle around his neck, which chafed his skin and left it red and raw. His wrists were handcuffed together. Gabriel passed one end of the chain through the iron loop on the concrete block, and fastened it securely in place.
"Look at your friend", Gabriel ordered him "He's come all this way to see you".
Kieran looked up for the first time. On seeing Joby his blue eyes lit up like headlamps in his grubby face. Ignoring Gabriel, Joby rushed towards Kieran and hugged him, almost crushing him in his eagerness.
"Joby, you look terrible", Kieran exclaimed, hoarsely. His throat was sore from where he had been suffering what felt like slow strangulation from the iron manacle.
"I've seen you looking better too", said Joby.
"Adam?" Kieran gasped "And the others?"
"Still in the cage. What's it been like for you?"
"Awful", Kieran wept "I've been so worried about you. I didn't know what to think half the time".
"Has he kept you on this thing all the time?" said Joby, jangling the chain.
"Adam won't be very pleased when he finds out", said Joby.
"Is Adam alright, really?"
"Yes. He's been good to me. Keeping me up to scratch. I nearly lost my head after they took you away", Joby turned to Gabriel "So what happens to us now then?"
"You stay here", said Gabriel "To look after me. All three of us here together. All nice and cosy".
After it had gone dark Gabriel disappeared into another part of the complex. He left them without any form of light, and because there was no glass in the windows it was getting decidedly chilly in the second audience chamber. Gabriel had left Joby unmanacled, knowing full well that he wouldn't run away and abandon Kieran. Joby examined the chain, to try and find some way of releasing Kieran from his bondage.
"It's no good", said Kieran "I know every inch of the bloody thing, I've examined it enough times myself. Gabriel's got a little key which he keeps around his neck. We've got no hope".
"Of course we have", Joby protested "We could slug him unconscious and nick it".
"You think I haven't thought of that?" said Kieran "Only Gabriel knew what I was thinking. He said he'd programmed the zombies to advance en-masse towards Mundaba Heights if any act of violence was committed on his person. I couldn't risk anything happening to the rest of you. He knows what I'm thinking all the time. It's focking scary".
"So what's he been doing with you all this time?"
"Keeps me tied up like this mostly. Hurls abuse at me. Takes me for walks on the chain".
"Has he attacked you?"
"Strangely, no. The stick seems to be just for show. My one advantage is that I think he's scared too. At the moment that is. But he's growing more confident each day that I'm here. Because the longer I'm like this, completely helpless, the more he realises I haven't got anything like the supernatural powers that he has".
"I don't understand why he's got me here", said Joby.
"That's what really worries me, Jobe. Firstly, I think it's because he plans to ritually humiliate me more and more in the near future, and he wants you to witness it".
"Because it'll hurt me. Remember when Adam got drunk at the Winter Palace? He kept going on about how ashamed he was that I'd seen him like it. That thought upset him more than anything else. We never want those we love the most to see us at our lowest. And secondly, and this is the part that really worries me, is he's probably got you here to take out his frustrations on. I'm torn between being worried sick about you, and bloody glad that you're here where I can see you".
"I'll worry about all that when it happens", said Joby "God, it's freezing up here. How have you stuck this at night?"
"I don't know", said Kieran "Thinking about the rest of you I suppose. I wish we could get some message to Adam. With you gone too he'll be really upset".
Joby sat down next to Kieran and put his arms around him. Kieran was frustrated that, being handcuffed as he was, he couldn't do the same to Joby.
"Are you any closer to knowing what makes this bastard tick?" said Joby.
"He's completely bonkers", said Kieran "He makes Lonts look the image of sanity and reason. He's got no sense of humour, no self-irony, nothing at all like that. He's a dreamer, he's got no sense of perspective at all. And that's the one thing that gives me hope. I mean, look around you here. We're in his private apartments, and we're the only ones here! Have you seen a single member of staff since you've been in here? I haven't. And I would like to bet that that troupe of guards that shanghaied us at the cottage make up his complete force".
"What are you getting at?"
"He hasn't got the support he likes to think he has. Most of his power comes from conjuring up spirits using his voodoo. He hasn't got much support amongst the mere mortals. He's had the Ministry under his thumb solely because of the vast amounts of money he keeps bunging at them. They accept it gratefully and pay lip service to him in return. But on the whole they don't trust him. There are about half-a-dozen pathetic gits in the entire government who support him. They're coming out here soon to see him. Plus I suppose he's got the Union of Honorary Virgins".
"That'd be like counting on a Brownie pack to overthrow the government!" Joby snorted "I've seen 'em marching in the City. No one takes them seriously. They give everyone a laugh that's all".
"So what are we afraid of?"
"He has these terrifying unearthly powers, Joby. Christ, he could have taught the vampires a thing or two! How do you fight someone who can conjure up zombies and psychopathic elementals to do his bidding? You heard what Ransey said to me. Gabriel could order the assassination of the President without telling anyone, and no one could do a focking thing to stop it. And anyway, since when has lack of support stopped nutcases? Adolf Hitler had precious little support from anyone when he first started out, he was dismissed as a crank, and then look what happened!"
"Still it gives me a bit of hope if he's alone in here".
"He doesn't need any hostages or human shields, Joby".
"Even so, I can concentrate on trying to get you out of this thing. There must be a way. And then we can leg it and find Adam and the others".
Gabriel had plans for Joby though. The following morning Kieran was taken into a straw-filled alcove and tied to another loop in the wall. With him out of the way Joby was then kept on his feet all day performing menial tasks. Gabriel wanted him to prepare his food, after personally scrubbing the boy's dirty hands until they were red and sore. Gabriel was nothing if not fussy with his food. He stood over Joby and ruthlessly rejected any ingredient that didn't measure up to his exact specifications. He even measured each piece of fruit with a ruler, and rapped Joby's fingers with it when they weren't up to his requirements.
"As if it's my fucking fault what size the fruit is!" Joby exclaimed, climbing into the alcove next to Kieran.
Night had fallen and Gabriel had done his usual disappearing act. Joby was nearly faint with exhaustion. He had cleaned Gabriel's bedroom thoroughly three times, as twice Gabriel had wrecked it after saying it wasn't good enough. On each occasion he had chucked cold water over Joby, and told him he was too filthy to be alive.
"Look at your poor hands", said Kieran, kissing the calluses and the dried blood tenderly.
"I know", Joby sighed "But at least whilst he's hounding me around he leaves you alone".
Joby reached into his singlet and pulled out some of Gabriel's rejected fruit.
"Here you are", he said "Get that down you. I don't spose you've eaten in ages".
"Did he frighten you?" said Kieran, mumbling through an apricot.
"Makes me nervous. You know how useless I am at trying to do anything complicated, particularly when someone's standing over me. I start dropping things all over the place. Well I dropped a plate of rice didn't I? He caught me a helluva whack across me shoulders with that stick of his".
"Oh Joby", Kieran cried "Now wonder you're moving all stiffly".
"Do you know", Joby lay down gingerly in the straw "I read an S&M book once, full of stuff like that. In fact no one did anything else but whack each other. They didn't seem to have anything else in life".
"I didn't think all that was your scene".
"It's not. I was curious. I was as depressed as hell after a couple of chapters. I didn't see how the people in it could keep going through all that AND enjoying it too. After a day with Gabriel I can understand it even less. I don't think I'm slave material. I wish he'd keep it to the verbal abuse, I can handle that. I've had enough of it from Adam over the years. And after all, I'm used to people telling me I'm ugly".
"No one tells you you're ugly you eejit", Kieran protested "You tell yourself. Adam certainly doesn't think so. And neither do I".
"Gabriel told me I looked like a gormless horse".
"Sounds quite witty for Gabriel. Anyway, I like horses".
"Backhanded compliment", Joby sighed, and looked around him "Well this takes us back don't it?"
"Beane's cave", said Kieran "Except I'm the only one chained up this time".
"And at least Gabriel doesn't want to eat us".
The next few days followed no particular pattern at all. Gabriel treated them very much as his menagerie, as something that caught his attention once in a while for amusement. He ignored Kieran and left him in the alcove, apart from once when he decided it might be interesting to see how quickly he caught the sun. He left Kieran chained up on the narrow ledge outside the window during the hottest part of the day. For a few hours Kieran had lain rigid with fear, terrified to move or fall asleep in case he rolled over the edge of the precipice, which was uninhibited by any barrier. He knew the manacle and chain would throttle him to death before he fell very far. It was small comfort somehow.
Other than that Gabriel left him alone, and concentrated on his new toy. Joby. The boy's nervousness around him increased as the days went by, which led to a marked increase in his clumsiness, and Gabriel got much freer with his stick. In the end both sides were feeding each other. Back in the alcove at night, Joby tried to keep his bruises from Kieran, although this was next to impossible when they were in such close proximity to one another.
"How much longer is this going to go on?" said Joby, his teeth chattering with a combination of cold, pain and humiliation "He's got those Ministry pillocks you mentioned flying in tomorrow. I keep hoping he'll go back to the City with them".
They were an unprepossessing lot to look at. Six characters who saw Gabriel as their chance to rise to the top of the greasy pole at the Ministry, a feat they would never have managed otherwise. Joby had been instructed to set lunch in a small silk-hung room off the chamber. He was terrified in case Gabriel found some flaw in the arrangements and started on him in front of them. After a while he realised he needn't have worried. In the company of his fawning acolytes Gabriel's attention was fixed solely on the sound of his own voice.
Joby was intrigued that the men seemed put-out and blatantly disconcerted by his own presence. He could understand that. Here they were, having flown many miles to meet their great salvation, the man who proclaimed himself Vanquisher of Evil and the last ruler of Mankind, and they were being waited on by an underfed dirt-encrusted vagrant with angry red weals showing on his arms and shoulders. It must have been disturbing to them to find that Gabriel had no one better on his private staff to serve them. But then Gabriel had no private staff. Not now. He had killed Noni and Paul, and he could get no one from the City to come out here. Joby took a great deal of inward satisfaction from the fact that the men were embarrassed by all this.
"That public abomination, the Parade of the Eunuchs is to take place in the City soon", Gabriel was saying "They disgust me. They dress up in the most outrageous costumes and intimidate the crowd. I don't know how the President, a known celibate, can endorse it and put in an appearance too".
It's called public relations, thought Joby, and was annoyed that none of the invited guests dared say as much.
"It may give us an opportunity..." one of the men began, but was silenced by a look from Gabriel. The plans for the assassination of the current President were not intended for Joby's ears.
"I have a surprise for you", said Gabriel, rising to his feet "You may remember that I boasted to you that I would soon be having the so-called Vanquisher of Evil as my guest. Well I will fetch him for you, as our guest of honour".
Joby hung back against the silk drapes, hoping Gabriel would forget his presence. He didn't want to be ordered out of the room. He wanted to be here to give Kieran moral support. Gabriel led him into the room, gleefully displaying him on the end of the chain. Kieran stared at the men, and Joby was satisfied to note that most of them were discomforted by his blue-eyed gaze.
This riled Gabriel considerably. It was obvious many recognised Kieran for who he really was, and were suddenly afraid. But Gabriel wasn't to be defeated quite so easily.
"This is the man who defeated the Devil by mast..." Gabriel had trouble saying such an intimate word comfortably "By masturbating over him. When you realise how little he has, you may find that rather surprising".
Gabriel suddenly pulled down Kieran's pants and exposed his private parts to their embarrassed gaze. Joby made to protest as violently as he could, but Kieran silenced him with a single glance. Gabriel would exact retribution later if he caused a scene now.
"Not very impressive is it?" said Gabriel, flicking the end of Kieran's flaccid penis with the end of his stick "And yet not only does it defeat the Devil, but it is said to give pleasure to many. That's what they say anyway. Personally I don't think it looks up to it. How would you feel Vanquisher, if I was to lay your cock and balls on the table and bring my stick down on them hard?"
"I would feel a great deal of pain", said Kieran, calmly and steadily gazing into Gabriel's eyes.
"Then let it be a little treat for you to look forward to", Gabriel sniggered "For when you're least expecting it".
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