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By Sarah Hapgood

In his virginal white bed in his virginal white room Gabriel was disturbed out of his rest by a violent pounding in his head. It meant the elemental was trying to communicate with him. He sat up, suddenly wakeful, and watched with apprehension as the creature emerged from the whitewashed wall. Gabriel was so nervous that for a moment he hardly dared frame the question. He had waited for this moment for so long that now it was here he felt afraid.

"Has it happened?" he said, eventually "Did you do it?"

The elemental wasn't capable of speech. Instead it let a diabolical smirk cross its face, and mimed jabbing a knife into its heart.

"He's dead?"

On receiving confirmation that this was indeed the case, Gabriel sprang out of bed with a sprightliness that he hadn't felt in some time. He pulled on his robe and then paced the floor excitedly.

"They come to me of course", he said "It wouldn't be seemly for me to suddenly appear in the City and demand my destiny. I must wait here and receive them when they come. Then all will be as it should be".

Gabriel dissolved the elemental for the time being, and went to seek out his menagerie. He took Kieran out of the alcove and chained him to the stone pillar. Kieran noticed instantly that there was something different about his captor, that the tide had turned somehow and not necessarily for the better.

"I will be leaving here shortly", Gabriel was saying "To go to the City on important business. I may at some point send for you. I would not be in too much of a hurry for this if I was you, as it won't be to your advantage. Whilst I am gone you will stay here, with the chain on you. Your little friend will look after you. I want you alive until I'm ready for it to be otherwise. You will both stay confined to my suite".

In order to enforce this final command, Gabriel made Joby lie flat on the floor whilst he beat the soles of his feet with the stick. Joby had tried to avoid crying out because he didn't want to give Gabriel that satisfaction, but had been unable to keep up such an impossibly stoic front. The beating went on for so long that he wondered if he would ever be able to walk properly again. Kieran was driven frantic by this display of wanton cruelty, and prowled the pillar in torment, tugging at his chain and screaming at Gabriel to stop.

"I'm just making sure he doesn't get the urge to stray very far after I have gone", said Gabriel "You must excuse me now, oh great Vanquisher! I have state business to perform".

But the whole day passed and there was no news from the Ministry. He could imagine the scenes of turmoil in the City, but was still surprised that no one seemed anxious to contact the rightful successor. By dusk Gabriel was seething with impatience. He tried getting hold of his supporters at the Ministry, but his handset persisted in flashing up a "NO RESPONSE" message. When he tried again a couple of hours later it was to be informed by a disembodied voice on the line that all communications in and out of the City were suspended until daybreak, as a sign of respect for the late President. The City was now in an official state of mourning. Gabriel was extremely annoyed at what he considered to be a sign of hypocrisy, but conceded that his great destiny would have to wait until tomorrow to be claimed. He could wait.

Meanwhile, in the City, a discreet hunt was on for Kieran. His apartment was empty, and his shabby next-door neighbour blithely informed the Ministry representatives that he had no idea whatsoever when they were due back.

"This isn't good", said Gorth, back at the Ministry Headquarters "He has to be found before Gabriel gets back here. This has never happened before. The world is without a President for the very first time. This is a dark day indeed. For us all".

Adam, Hillyard and Ransey waited with ill-concealed impatience whilst the supper ritual was carried out. First a psalm had to be sung, then prayers, and then the food was blessed. A full twenty minutes had elapsed before a morsel could be touched. Adam felt that praising the Lord was all very well, but it didn't take into account the feelings of those who had eaten nothing but dried bread in recent times, and even that had been stopped of late.

"So, why do you live out here?" he asked, when the wooden bowls were finally circulated. They were all sitting at a central table set up outside the peculiar little glass dwellings.

"We have a golden rule not to speak during meal-times", said Isaac "The food deserves all our concentration".

And so not a single word was said until the empty wooden bowls were collected and stacked at the end of the meal.

"This is the first commune I've come across that hides itself away underground like this", said Adam, trying to communicate with Isaac after everyone else had dispersed to their different duties "A lot of people would find living out of sight of sunlight depressing".

"We seem contented enough don't we?" said Isaac, waving his well-scrubbed hands around in a serene fashion.

"What do you get out of it though?"

"Peace and fulfilment", he said, simply "You may stay here tonight. It's not safe to wander around outside after dark. We have a spare cube or two for you to sleep in. Would it be too curious of me to ask what your business is with Gabriel?"

"We've simply come to collect two friends of ours who have been staying with him", said Adam "Only they've been here longer than we expected, and we were getting rather concerned".

"They will be safe with Gabriel. I will take you to see them in the morning".

"We were getting rather concerned!" Ransey exclaimed, sitting on the edge of one of the plastic bunks and removing his shoes "You're a cool one and no mistake".

"I've often found it best to be relatively upfront with peculiar strangers, but not too upfront", said Adam "What horrible little rooms these are, like a cross between a space capsule and a greenhouse. I hope Hillyard remembers to behave himself in the other one. I don't want us getting thrown out now because he couldn't resist violating an Honorary Virgin".

"I think there's someone outside waving at us to pull down the blind", Ransey fiddled with a catch above his bunk and a silk blind shimmied down. Adam did the same on his side until they were completely closed in "They obviously don't want the risk of the sight of our naked bodies inflaming them with desire".

"I couldn't live this way however peaceful and fulfilling it was", said Adam "I've felt closed in and repressed since getting here. Even so, I can't help feeling that Patsy and Joby are nearby. It gives me hope anyway".

"Gabriel wanted me to join this lot", said Ransey, flopping back on the bunk "I'm quite well-known amongst the City finance crowd, and for some time now he's been desperate to get prominent men to advocate the celibate life. He was going to take out billboard adverts in the City with each of us proclaiming the joys of celibacy. Trouble was, he couldn't get enough of us to commit ourselves to it. So then he started up this commune, spread the word on the quiet that his people were able to create a haven in a cursed place".

"Why isn't it more well-known then?"

"Because religion's still illegal for a start, and also I think because the reputation of the cursed place was too strong. This lot seem happy enough though".

"I wouldn't be so sure about that. It's impossible to get eye-contact with any of them, and they all seem so irritatingly docile. I sometimes wonder if they're drugged".

"No. Just forgotten to think for themselves that's all", Ransey yawned "Their whole lives are taken up with Gabriel and his promises of a pure life. Someone else has written all the rules you see. It's great if you like that sort of thing. No responsibility at all. Do you know what I mean?"

"Oh yes", said Adam "Rather like being in prison in fact".

It seemed as though he had barely slept before Ransey was woken by a firm knocking on the glass door of their cube. He opened it to find one of the commune inmates standing there carrying a jug of cold water. The serene creature broke into a spot of evangelical hymn-singing before handing the water over. Back inside the cube Adam was sitting up in his bunk looking appalled.

"Do you think they do that a lot?" he said "Break into song I mean?"

"Let's hope we don't stay here too long or we'll start joining in", said Ransey, marching to the back of the cube with the water.

"Ransey, do you regret leaving your old life and throwing in with us?"

"Nope", said Ransey "I was sick of the old life, had been for years. And I want to see Gabriel stopped, otherwise I think he's going to cause untold damage".

"I wonder what happened to him here", said Adam, massaging his legs "To give him these supernatural powers that he has..."

"I've come to wish you a good morning!" said Isaac, walking into the cube and exhibiting such an aura of peace and goodness that he positively glowed. He stopped dead on seeing Adam and then spluttered "Outrageous! Don't you realise that such fripperies are the emblems of the Devil?"

Adam looked down at his nipple-rings and felt a great compunction to laugh.

"You cannot possibly be friends of Gabriel's when you indulge in such vanities", Isaac was almost in tears "Come to my cube when you are dressed".

"Who does he think he is?" said Adam, after Isaac had gone "Talking to me like that!"

"I wouldn't worry", said Ransey "It speaks volumes for how innocent they are, especially when you consider that yesterday he swallowed everything you told him!"

Adam met Hillyard on his way to Isaac's cube. He was holding out one of his spare socks and filling it with the sharpest rocks he could find.

"Dare I ask what you're doing?" said Adam.

"You never know when it might come in handy", Hillyard replied, looking grim with concentration.

Adam left him to it, and finally located Isaac's cube. There were absolutely no personal touches to its interior whatsoever, not even so much as a shaving-razor or a toothbrush. Isaac was pacing up and down the centre of it, rubbing his hands vigorously.

"We are a gentle peace-loving people", he said, on noticing Adam "We do not expect to be lied-to. You inveigle yourselves into our company under false pretences, whilst all the while you intend to do our leader harm".

"Now you listen to me!" Adam exclaimed, slamming the door shut "We did come here looking for two friends of ours. We are desperate to find them in fact. I wish it were true that they were just paying Gabriel a social-call, but it's not. He abducted them. Yes, abducted them! And locked the rest of us in a filthy cage, left us in there to starve to death. We are here to rescue people we care for, surely you lot with your great preachings of love and humanity can understand that?"

"I-I don't know what you mean by abducted".

"We were all taken into this bloody volcano by a posse of Gabriel's armed guards. We were then slung into a cage, whilst guards came and took away first one of our friends, and then another. We haven't seen them since".

"Then I am sure it is the guards who are to blame", said Isaac, desperately "Not Gabriel. If Gabriel was to hear of this he would be mortified. Why should he abduct your friends?"

"Because one of them happens to be the Vanquisher of Evil, that's why. The real Vanquisher of Evil. Kieran is not the imposter that Gabriel likes to put about that he is".

"But Gabriel says it cannot possibly be true that this Kieran is the real one. He says it's all lies".

"You're not so certain though are you?" said Adam "Why don't you take me to see Gabriel, and then you can see Kieran for yourself, make up your mind. Or have you forgotten how to think for yourself?"

"There is no need to get offensive", Isaac sat down weakly on his disinfected bunk "I-I know what we are doing is illegal here, practising religion, but we genuinely don't wish harm to anyone. Gabriel gave us this place as a sanctuary, so that we could live our chosen life in peace. He said it would only be temporary, and that when he became President religion would be re-instated, and we could move somewhere more accessible and open. He IS a good man".

"He's a psychopath!"

"Oh how can you say such cruel things?"

"Because he orders people to be killed. Brutal, sadistic murders of people who did no more than attempt to live THEIR lives the way THEY chose".

"Gabriel would never kill anyone".

"No. He gets other people to do it", said Adam "Or rather other things".

"I'm sure you are mistaken. As I said, if Gabriel knew what was being perpetrated in his name..."

"You think what you wish Isaac, I'm not here to win converts. I'm here to fetch my friends. If your beloved Gabriel is the saint you like to believe he is, then you have nothing to fear from helping me have you?"

"What is it you wish to know?" said Isaac, numbly.

"How to get to Gabriel's suite from here. I know there is a second entrance somewhere".

"Yes, but I'm not certain where it is. The quickest way from here is to go up in the service elevator. It is what we use to send food supplies up to Gabriel's suite. The elevator is operated at Gabriel's end though, as none of us ever goes up to his suite. But it can be operated from our end on a manual pulley system, in case of emergencies".

"Thank you, that was very useful", said Adam.

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