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Isaac had advised them to delay going up to the suite until evening. Gabriel was never there at night, he said, so it would be safe then.
"He can't really believe his gracious leader is so harmless now if he's advising us to call when he's out", said Adam, as he and Ransey walked slowly around the perimeter of the commune "Sometimes I feel a bit mean disillusioning him like that. At first I thought this place would be sinister, like religious communes often turned out to be, but it's not at all. They just want somewhere to live a religious life, like the monks of old, and Gabriel's provided it".
"And in return he'll use them as good publicity when he becomes President", said Ransey.
"That doesn't seem to bother Isaac terribly much. He adores the nutter".
"They certainly believe cleanliness is next to godliness anyway", said Ransey, watching as two of the commune inmates methodically hosed out and disinfected each cube.
"Only in the Irish dictionary".
"Beg pardon?" said Ransey, looking blank.
"Nothing. Very ancient joke that's all", said Adam "So ancient it must be a priceless relic by now".
"Are you nervous about what me might find when we get up there?"
"My over-riding concern at the moment is just to see them again. We'll then take it from there".
The rest of the day passed peacefully enough. To the commune inmates it was simply a day like any other. They showed no curiosity about having the three strangers in their midst, as to do so might disrupt their methodical routine. It was clear that not a moment of their day was wasted, although Adam wanted to argue that this made sure they never had any time to think and so catch any stray thoughts. And everything, meals, cleaning and gardening, was accompanied by the introductory ritual of psalms, prayers and blessing. All of which was slightly tedious, particularly when it meant the food was never served hot. There was also a disturbing incident in the middle of the afternoon when all the inmates automatically stopped what they were doing, lay down on the ground and abandoned themselves to a fit of hysterical laughing. To an outsider it looked like a terrifying outbreak of unified insanity, although Isaac told Adam afterwards that it was actually a therapy session, designed to expel any demons of frustration that may have accumulated since the previous day.
"Do you have a lot of problems with frustration?" said Adam.
"We are all still human", said Isaac "However dedicated we are to our vocation. But our frustrations tend to be of repressed anger or impatience than anything sexual. We are sensible people. We test ourselves well before joining the Union. The night before my investiture some friends took me to a nightclub in the City as a final temptation. The floor-show was rumoured to be the most erotic in the area, specialising in religious parody. I'm afraid that after three minutes I was wretched with boredom, although I did rather like the eunuchs who were dressed up as demons. They were very graceful with their bat-wings. Have you seen that show?"
"No, I'll have to treat us when we return".
"A man of your intelligence may find it rather tedious".
"I expect Joby and Hillyard will love it", said Adam "Patsy will probably try to ban it".
"If Gabriel isn't the chosen one", said Isaac, awkwardly "And if your friend truly is the Vanquisher, what will happen to us?"
"Put it this way I can't imagine he'll bear any malice to you. Are you starting to hedge your bets now Isaac?"
"I'm not a betting man", Isaac gave a gentle smile "But what you said about the killings disturbed me. There is no doubt you see that Gabriel possesses some extraordinary powers. The zombies in the jungle are proof of that".
"You know about them and yet you didn't believe he was capable of killing?"
"Gabriel said that he could control them, that they were there solely as a warning to outsiders. He said it was to protect us. This all sounds rather feeble I know. Look, we supported Gabriel because he was our salvation. Without the support and sponsorship of a man as powerful as him we would have suffered endless persecution, and possibly be imprisoned for practising religion. Gabriel was enabling us to get religion re-established once more. So when he said he was the true Vanquisher of Evil it seemed only logical to us somehow. Although there is no disputing the fact that he had nothing to do with ridding the world of the vampires. Was it really Kieran who did that?"
"He helped", said Adam "What is Gabriel's grief about sex? Why is he so hard on anyone who is a non-celibate?"
"I don't really understand what you mean. We chose chastity because we wish to focus our inner thoughts on God, and an active sex life does rather get in the way of that. By banishing sex from our lives it frees our minds from a lot of trappings".
"Do you agree with killing people who are non-celibate?"
"No of course not", Isaac exclaimed "We accept that our way of life is not to all tastes. We need Gabriel, we need his protection and patronage, but we would never condone such brutality".
"But it's what he does".
"Then that rather leaves us on the horns of a dilemma. If we reject Gabriel's patronage, we may well have to split up, undo all the good work we have achieved in building our commune here".
"I wouldn't make any hasty decisions at this stage", said Adam "Stay here and keep your head down is what I advise for now. So, where does Gabriel disappear to at night?"
"No one knows", said Isaac "And perhaps we're all too cowardly to interfere".
Gabriel disappeared every evening at the same time, which usually coincided with the end of the commune's evening meal. The visitors ate with them for the last time, and Adam was so suffused with excitement that he found the religious ritual, then the silent eating, more interminable than ever. There was no doubting the essential kindness of their hosts though, and when they picked up their belongings prior to leaving, Adam was touched to be handed a small purple flower, cultivated in the commune's garden, by a tubby little man.
"It's for the Vanquisher", he said.
"He'll appreciate it", said Adam.
"You mustn't hang about", said Isaac, nervously "You have to get your friends out, and you must find an alternative route".
"Can't we bring them down through here?"
"That's not advisable. The captain of the guard sometimes calls in mid-evening in case Gabriel has any orders to issue through us. It would be disastrous for you if you were to appear whilst he was here. And as he didn't come in last night, there is a strong chance he may do so today".
It was freezing up in Gabriel's suite. Left alone once more in the dark, with Kieran chained up in the full blast of the open window, Joby was frantically trying to think of some way to generate more body-heat.
"I could get the sheets off his bed and the clean towels", he suggested "We could wrap them round ourselves".
"No Joby", said Kieran "If he finds out he might get stick-happy with you again".
"I don't care", said Joby, although the thought did fill him with terror.
"Well I do! It was the most upsetting thing in my life to have to stand here helplessly whilst he tried to break your feet. Don't put me through it again".
"I can hear the service lift", said Joby "That's weird. That never operates at night. Oh God, I wonder what it is now".
"What if it's zombies or something?" said Kieran "Perhaps Gabriel's got bored with us, and has sent someone to finish us off".
"It's being so cheerful keeps you going", said Joby "I'll go into the next room and have a look. I'll scream if anything happens".
"Oh yes and I'll come running", said Kieran, jiggling his chain in frustration.
Joby hobbled painfully through the drape-lined corridor into the main audience chamber. There were voices coming from the secret passage. Two or three voices that all seemed to be talking at once were coming towards him.
"All this drapery. It's like a whore's boudoir, far too over-the-top. It has Julian stamped all over it!" Adam emerged from the passage, with Hillyard and Ransey following on behind.
They all stopped dead on seeing what appeared to be a small, wild animal standing upright against the far wall. Having been scrubbed clean in the commune, they noticed Joby's state of neglect all the more.
"A-Adam", Joby whispered, hobbling towards them.
"Joby, what has that bastard done to you?" said Adam.
"It looks worse than it is".
"You're in agony!"
"He's still alive though", said Ransey "Be grateful for small mercies. What about Kieran?"
"He's alive too", said Joby, feeling as though he was about to faint at any moment "He's chained up in there".
Adam handed his rucksack to Hillyard, and then picked Joby up. He carried him through into the second audience chamber. He found Kieran to be an even more extraordinary sight, pacing restlessly on the end of a long chain, and shivering violently. He stopped dead on seeing Adam.
"Well you took your focking time!" he cried.
"This is ridiculous Patsy", said Adam "I know I said you needed to be put on a leash, but this is something else!"
Whilst Hillyard and Ransey set about trying to release Kieran from his bondage, Adam took Joby through into Gabriel's cheerless white bedroom.
"He'll be furious when he sees this", said Joby, looking at the footprints of bloodstains he had left on the stone floor "Probably make me clean it all again".
"No he won't", Adam gently stripped him of his clothes, only to find Joby's singlet come apart in his hands "Oh well, make a duster I suppose. So, what happened to your feet?"
"It was to stop me moving too far. Not that I would've done anyway, not with Kiel chained up like that".
"Looks like he gave you several beatings", said Adam, inspecting the weals on Joby's back "It's important I clean those up. We have some powder in the First Aid kit, that at least might stop them being so sore".
"Am I going to be lame?"
"Your feet just need a chance to heal that's all".
"They could turn gangrenous couldn't they?"
"Well if they do we'll just have to chop them off! Sit down on the bed whilst I sort some soap and water out".
"I can't", Joby wailed "He'll kill me if I mess this place up".
"Joby, you're not on our own anymore, now calm down. I'm here, you can lean on me now".
"He did a terrible thing to Kiel", Joby sobbed "Paraded him in front of some jerks from the Ministry. Made fun of him. Pulled his pants down and exposed him. Kiel took it really bad".
"I'm not surprised".
"All those times I joked about his cock, and then that has to happen! He couldn't have humiliated him more if he'd tried. Kieran turned in on himself afterwards. I just couldn't reach him. I really thought he was just going to give up and die".
"I'll be having words with him about that. Vanquishers of Evil don't roll over and die just because some sadistic cretin forces him to get his dick out. You've suffered far worse with your feet".
"Yea, but I haven't been kept chained up like a dog all the time".
"Poor old Pats. But there's one thing I know about him. Now things are looking up again he'll put it all behind him. It's you I'll worry about, you're the brooder".
"I'll be alright, I'm just tired that's all".
Adam cleaned up Joby's wounds, and massaged the powder into them. As he was finishing Kieran strolled into the room. The handcuffs were gone, and he was released from the plinth, but the manacle and chain was still around his neck. Nevertheless this small achievement was enough, as Adam had predicted, to make him feel a lot better. Kieran's remarkable resilience towards life was one of the reasons Adam felt so comfortable with him.
"All very well Patsy", he said "But does this mean we have to put up with you clanking around like Old Marley's ghost from now on?"
"Hillyard says he'll work on this in his own time", said Kieran "Meanwhile he's helping Ransey to get some decent grub for us".
"I notice Gabriel has a hot tub", said Adam, indicating the round jacuzzi-style contraption that sat on the wide ledge just inside the window "You and Joby should get yourselves cleaned up, and then climb into bed and get some rest for a few hours".
"Shouldn't we get away before Gabriel gets back?" said Kieran.
"What would be the point?" said Adam "He'd only track us down. I want to confront him anyway".
"For fock's sake Addy, it's not worth it. He has every power of darkness on his side".
"No man is invincible Patsy. Anyway I'll be damned if I'm going to run away after what he's done to you and Joby".
"None of that matters now".
"Yes it does!" Adam exclaimed "Look at Joby's feet if you don't believe me. He'll have won if we run now, and how far do you think we'd get, eh?"
"That's 'cos of me and my fucking feet", Joby cried "I'll slow you down. You'll have to leave me behind".
"You must be deranged if you're coming out with lines like that. It must be hypothermia setting in. Have a dip and warm yourself up. Patsy, you'll then have to take Joby to bed and comfort him. Talk him out of killing himself, like he did for you".
"I would never have killed myself!" Kieran protested.
"That's not what I heard", Adam kissed him "I'll be back in shortly to hand-feed you mangoes".
Kieran and Joby bathed in the hot-tub. The chain was a considerable handicap to Kieran's relaxation though, and he took to smacking it in frustration against the side of the tub. Adam came back in soon after and plied them with fruit. Joby was taking everything badly. All the while Kieran had been chained up he'd had to be the strong one, and now it was as if he was suddenly letting go. He could only think of the humiliation of the beatings, and his rage at what Gabriel had had done to Kieran. He was angry now, and his anger tended to smoulder painfully for a long while.
"I'm going to search the rest of the suite with the others", said Adam, getting up to leave "See if Gabriel has any weapons or anything useful tucked away that we can use. Patsy, you have an important job to do".
It took all Kieran's powers of persuasion to get Joby to lie down. Gabriel's bed held an almost superstitious fear for the boy, and he was convinced that if he defiled its virginal whiteness in any way, he would wake up to find Gabriel's stick crashing down on him once more.
"He can't hurt us now the others are here", said Kieran, lying next to him and stroking him soothingly "They won't let him".
"If I need you in the night", Joby giggled, weakly "I'll just pull on your chain!"
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