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Adam could hear the screams from the main ring as he splashed through the mud towards his wagon. Every few seconds lightning illuminated the area in a ghostly silver sheen. He found Gimmit standing beyond the water troughs with his face turned towards the sky, enjoying the sensation of the rain pouring down his neck and his body. Adam ordered him back into the tent for his own safety. He then ran to the wagon where Hillyard and Lonts were sitting in the entrance staring out at the rain.
"You must get back inside the Big Top", Adam panted, as the wind whipped wet strands of his hair across his face "Manada's bringing the Gorgon over".
"And we're going to be safer there than here?" said Hillyard.
"If you do as I say you will. I want everybody where I know they are. We'll be alright backstage, he's only taking her into the ring. Don't argue Hillyard. Come along".
Between them they dragged Lonts across the swamp-like ground. By the time they got backstage their legs were plastered in mud. Backstage itself resembled a field-hospital. Members of the cast sat around wailing in distress, held in custody by Ransey who was having trouble keeping them under control, and watching the wings for anyone from the audience trying to get through at the same time.
"Give me one of those", said Ully, taking one of the revolvers from him "I'll mind this lot. You watch the ring. And before you ask I do know how to use it. I'm trained. Accountants aren't the only ones useful for undercover work you know".
Joby had resolutely refused to go back into the hay-wagon. Instead he sat on the sawdust sandwiched between the comedian and one of the eunuch dancers. Hillyard suddenly snapped one of Gimmit's handcuffs around his wrist and then attached the other end to Lonts.
"What the fuck are you playing at Hillyard?" Joby roared.
"I've got to help out there", said Hillyard "You're injured so you can sit there and mind Lonts. You know that he might bolt if we don't tie him down. At least now he can't go anywhere without you".
"I hope you've got the key to this thing".
"Gimmit must have it. Somewhere", said Hillyard "Lonts, you behave yourself, or Adam'll sort you out".
"I haven't done anything", Lonts wailed.
"Sit down", Joby snapped, and yanked his wrist until Lonts collapsed into the sawdust next to him.
"What's going on Joby?" Lonts asked.
"Hell's breaking out", said Joby.
Kieran turned the oil-lamp in the office up full, until Selis was blinking in the glare. In the end he hadn't had to summon the old man to see him. As soon as the acts had started refusing to appear Selis had sought him out himself. Kieran had no idea how the old man had found him so soon, and he didn't like to guess. Now Selis sat in the chair by the desk, his fedora in his lap, and one liver-spotted hand sweeping through his grey locks restlessly.
"I take it you wanted all this bloodshed for a reason?" said Kieran "This gross waste of life that you and Cootie planned between you this evening, what was it in aid of Selis?"
Selis didn't reply. He stared at Kieran with dead eyes. It was the very blankness of his eyes in fact which gave him away. Kieran made a sudden movement in his direction. Selis sprang out of his chair with a nimbleness not usually expected from someone of his age, and put an extra foot of space between himself and Kieran.
"You're a vampire aren't you?" said Kieran.
"Me and about half your audience tonight", said Selis, edging round the desk until it was between himself and Kieran "The old ones anyway".
"That's not possible. There were only three vampires left when I came on the scene. Mullawa, Caln and Angel. You weren't at the Winter Palace".
"I and many of my friends were banished from the Winter Palace many years ago, when Mullawa seized power for himself. We headed south, as far south as we could go".
"To Brenfar's resort?"
"Yes. We wanted as much space between ourselves and Mullawa as possible. Brenfar was running only a rather seedy little desert bar when we discovered him. In return for giving him the means to make it into a top-earning concern, he supplied us with meat from some of his clientele".
"B-But I thought that ..." Kieran stammered "I thought that when I destroyed Angel all traces of vampirism would be gone".
"Not quite, although I'll admit you did your job well", said Selis "I am not in my natural state, as you see me now. In reality I should be as youthful-looking as Angel or Caln were before you murdered them. When you destroyed the Devil you reduced us to this state. I am eighty-eight years old, but as a vampire I should look only twenty. You have reduced me to looking my age".
"So first you tried to kill Lonts to get your prime back, and now you're going one step further and doing in the whole lot of us. And all to resurrect Angel I presume?"
Kieran picked up a paper-knife from the desk and cut a large gash in his own arm. He started bleeding copiously at once.
"Is my blood no good then?" he said, inching round the table until Selis was backed into a corner.
The old man gazed at Kieran's blood with a mixture of lust and revulsion.
"Come on, you want it don't you?" Kieran held out his bleeding arm to the old man "I know you vampires. You're animals. Beasts. You want your blood, you need it. Go on, have a sip".
He grabbed a handful of Selis's greasy grey locks and forced his mouth down to his arm. Selis tried to resist, but felt like an alcoholic who was having a whisky bottle thrust under his nose. He knew that if he touched the Vanquisher's blood he would be contaminated, destroyed, and yet it was there in all its ruby-red richness, staining his flesh. His weakness got the better of him and he clamped his lips round Kieran's wound and sucked greedily. Kieran nearly fainted with revulsion at the feel of the old man's lips on his flesh. After what seemed an interminable time the old man gave a moan of horror and released him. He staggered against the desk and fell to the floor. He turned into dust and bone almost immediately.
Kieran upended the content of a water-jug over his arm and tried frantically to scrub away the feel of Selis's clammy lips against his flesh. He was distracted by a hissing noise from outside the box-office window. Giving a gasp of horror he pulled the blind down over the window, and prayed that Manada would take her straight into the ring.
Wearing only loincloths the acrobats had filed neatly up their ladder, carrying the huge safety net between them. The audience had thought this was another act and cheered delightedly. The acrobats then began to swing about overhead, skilfully disentangling the net in mid-air. They had dropped it onto the audience before any of them below had a chance to realise that something was amiss. The acrobats filed back down the ladder and secured the net around the aged vampires who were trapped underneath it.
"Those of you outside the net", Manada yelled from the ring, using the full advantages of his operatic-trained voice "Run for it now! You won't get a second warning".
The snakes around the Gorgon's head were longer, thicker and redder, obscuring her face sufficiently at first to make the audience think she was just another harmless act. When she began to step towards them, her naked breasts bouncing lightly as he moved, it was some while before they realised the awful truth. Some thrashed wildly about in the netting, stumbling over each other in their haste to escape from her. But even as they struggled they couldn't resist her hypnotic gaze. She prowled in front of them, fixing them with her burning eyes. Many stared back into them with the first genuine pangs of sexual yearning they had ever known, far removed from the blood-lust that tormented them usually. It was the last thing they were to know before the irreversible gorgonisation process set in.
Cootie had known what was going to happen as soon as Manada had stepped into the ring with the masked woman in tow. He had fled immediately, crawling out under the bottom of the canvas and into the sodden landscape beyond. The wind had overturned some wagons and stripped the canvas away from the freaks peepshow. He was relieved that the Monstrous ones were securely chained up in metal boxes. He hadn't bargained for the ones he had regarded as safe though. A collection of hermathrodites and the Siamese Twins now advanced on him, approaching stealthily through the rain like Gabriel's zombies.
"Please!" Cootie cried, looking a ridiculous figure in his mud-stained suit "I haven't harmed you have I? I didn't put you in tonight's show. Where's the harm I've done to you?"
"The harm?" the sober one of the twins spat "I've known for years now that me and him could have been separated ages ago if it hadn't been for you. But you refused to give your consent to the operation".
"It was potentially life-threatening", Cootie protested.
"We would have taken that risk just to be free of each other!"
"Y-You would have been lonely".
The twin gave a snort of disgust, matched by his brother's long and inebriated belch. Cootie turned and ran in the other direction, only to cannon immediately into the huge monstrous bulk of the Fat Man. There was no escape.
It was so quiet inside the Big Top. The vampires were silenced, reduced to a large heap of stone under the net. Even the storm was abating slightly outside, and there was just the sound of loose canvas flapping in the rain, and the hissing of the snakes in her hair. Manada had re-called the Gorgon, and got her masked again, using a mirror that he carried around with him for this purpose. It was only when he had stunned her with his special tranquilliser darts that he could relax again. So far the Gorgon had always responded to his orders, but he still wasn't sufficiently confident that she would always do so. He took her out of the main entrance, just as Fat Man brought Cootie in through the rear.
The freaks tied him to a whipping-post in the centre of the ring that was to have been part of a later act, and then they all departed, returning with the makings of a large iron cage. Cootie begged them to reconsider, but no one was listening. The cage had been erected around him with frightening speed, a low iron tunnel leading from it. It was only after they'd left him entirely alone that he heard the roar of the hungry lions.
"Hurry up will you!" Joby snapped, as Gimmit fumbled with the hand-cuffs. He wasn't in a good mood. The wind had ripped the canvas away from him directly overhead, and rain had been splattering down on him in a dispiriting fashion for some time now. Added to that Lonts had kept raising his thumb to suck, and jerking Joby's arm painfully at the same time. He began to have great sympathy for the Siamese Twins.
Lonts had been snivelling for what seemed like an age. He had got it into his head that the extraordinary events of the evening must all be his fault, for insisting on appearing in the show against Adam's wishes.
"Free at last Joby?" said Adam, who had spent the last couple of hours helping the others to try and restore order "And why is Lonts carrying on so?"
"He thinks you're going to wallop him", said Joby, rubbing his wrist.
"I will if he doesn't stop making that awful noise".
"He's all yours", Joby got to his feet, grunting in pain as he did so "I'm going to find Kieran".
"I think you should get the M.O to look at you first".
"He's got enough to do, and if I was going to die I'd have done so by now".
"I'm glad I didn't have to use this on anyone", said Ransey, holding the revolver in the palm of his hand.
"You would have done if you'd had to", Ully handed him a glass of whisky, and then fanned his face with his wig "That unexpected rain-storm hasn't cooled the air one bit".
"It's always the people you least expect isn't it?" said Ransey "Who were in our trade I mean".
"I expect everyone said that about you when they found out. The Ministry did their job well when they chose us, didn't they?"
"They fed him to the lions", said Kieran in disbelief, as he stumbled past the wreckage of the circus and into the desert beyond.
"He'd double-crossed us all along", Joby wheezed, having difficulty keeping up "All of us. He'd been in league with the vampires, that's why he was so keen to sign you up back in Pepuaah. Still, the bastard's dead now. So's Starlight apparently. They threw him to the lions too. They don't take too kindly to their own turning on them".
"I'm so stupid Joby", said Kieran, pulling his mud-splattered purple silk robe around him "I'm supposed to be the Vanquisher of Evil, and yet I couldn't stop any of this happening".
"You destroyed Selis", said Joby "Oh slow down Kiel, I'm a wounded man, I'm having trouble keeping up. Where are you going anyway?"
"Into the desert".
"What the fuck for?"
"Because it's the best place for me".
"Will you stop this fit of conscience Kiel, it's really boring! It could've been a lot worse, and we've got a lot of good blokes on our side. They'll follow us when we go to get Gabriel. We'll stand a good chance then. Oh God, you've got no compassion you haven't. I'm in pain here".
"Then bog off back to the wagon Joby".
"Alright I will!" Joby snorted, and began to stumble in the opposite direction. The rain seemed to be getting heavier, and he wondered if Gimmit knew how to stop these storms once he had started them.
"Joby!" Kieran screamed.
"Kiel, what is it?" Joby blundered back through the rain, trying to locate where Kieran was "Tell me where you are".
"Joby, help me!"
He had imagined so many horrific scenarios that he was almost hysterically relieved to find that Kieran had only fallen into a cactus patch. So relieved he couldn't stop laughing.
"It's not focking funny. Help me out of here!" Kieran yelled.
"That was a stupid thing to do wasn't it?"
"I couldn't see a bloody thing in this rain. I'll wring Gimmit's neck when I get hold of him".
"Adam thought it might be useful that's all. We needed all the luck we could get this evening", Joby grabbed Kieran's hands and pulled him out of the patch "I'll probably give meself a hernia doing this".
"Millions of the little bastards all sticking in me. We'll go back to the wagon and then you can pull them out".
"You can forget that, after the way you've been carrying on".
"Listen you little sod, I have to pull jiggers eggs out of your feet with monotonous regularity. This is the least you can do for me".
"It'll take me all fucking night!"
"Then the sooner we get started the better".
"You're enjoying this".
"Oh yes, I just love staring at your arse for hours on end. I can't think of anything better", said Joby, kneeling on the floor of the wagon and picking at Kieran's bottom with a toothpick "We must do this more often. I have really had fun evening haven't I? I get beaten up by Vanod and left for dead, then hand-cuffed to that snivelling little brat Lonts for hours on end, and now to cap it all I'm pulling cactus pins out of your arse. I mean, it can only get better can't it!"
"Hello boys, having fun?" said Julian, appearing in the entrance.
"You were saying?" Kieran groaned, and buried his head in his arms in embarrassment.
"What do you want Julian?" Joby snapped "Can't you see we're busy?"
"I was sent to find you. Everyone is anxious to locate you. It seems His Vanquishership's loyal troops want him to address them. Shall I say you're a bit tied up at the moment?"
"I will be out shortly", Kieran mumbled, without looking up.
"I'll give them the glad tidings", said Julian, and left.
"Oh God, why did it have to be him?" Kieran cried "Anyone but him!"
He changed into a clean shirt, feeling that he didn't want to give the first big speech of his political career wearing nothing but a pair of gold satin pants. He was appalled to see the wreckage of the circus in the cool light of dawn, and stumbled around the wrecked canvas in dismay. Everyone else seemed to be remarkably calm though. In fact Ransey and Ully were having breakfast in the box-office, drinking mint tea and eating chunks of meat on skewers.
"I don't know how you can eat that stuff after what happened to Cootie", said Kieran.
"How do you know this isn't him?" said Ully "Cootie on a stick! It'd only be what he deserved".
"Wise up Kieran", said Ransey "No one wants any conscience-stricken thoughts this morning I can assure you".
He walked out and located Hillyard, Gimmit and Lonts sharing whisky with the comedian, amongst the dilapidated ruins of the wings.
"There you are", said Adam, coming up behind him "Julian informs me you've been having your butt seen to".
"Having half a ton of cactus pulled out of it", said Kieran.
"It's about time you appeared. Your loyal folks want you to address them. And Tixie's made up a speech for you".
"Oh he has has he?" Kieran snapped "Well he can forget it, I can give my own speeches Sometimes I don't know why you lot bother having me around. You can obviously cope just as well without me".
"Now don't start sulking", said Adam "It's very unregal. At least let Trixie give you some words of advice".
"Yes", said Kieran "Like where that bastard of a consort of his has gone".
"Vanod has disappeared for the time being", said Trixie, awkwardly "Although I'm sure he'll turn up".
"And I'll be waiting for him when he does", Kieran snarled.
"A-About this speech", Trixie stammered, fighting back the tears that were welling in his eyes "The most important thing is to sound sincere, and say what is uppermost in your mind".
"What is uppermost in my mind is that I have a sore bum", said Kieran "Although I don't suppose that's of interest to anyone".
Hillyard found Joby kneeling on the grass behind the Big Top. He was coughing blood violently, his stomach and shoulders heaving.
"For God's sake help me Hillyard", he cried "I think I'm dying".
Joby opened his eyes at the same time as Adam did. Silently they reached out and squeezed each other's hands. They were in the M.O's wagon. Joby was lying on his side on the bunk. Adam was sitting beside him.
"Reports of your death were greatly exaggerated I'm glad to say", said Adam "Although I think you look worse now the M.O's cleaned you up than you did before".
"He told me earlier that it was delayed reaction", said Joby "He said he once heard a case of a bloke who'd been knocked over the head with a mallet. He went out to a bar afterwards feeling fine, had a few beers, came home and died. Delayed reaction, you see".
"Very reassuring I must say", said Adam.
"Is Kieran alright? I mean, he's not annoyed I missed his speech is he?"
"Of course he's not. He's been fussing round all afternoon. I had to forcibly evict him from here because he was driving me mad. He kept panicking because you were asleep so long", said Adam "I do seem to make a habit of this don't I? Sitting by bedsides. I don't look after either of you very well".
"You can't be everywhere at once".
"Maybe not, but I can be ready and waiting for Vanod when he reappears".
"No Ad don't", said Joby, urgently "He'll only do to you what he did to me. In fact it might be worse".
"I don't care about that".
"I do! I couldn't bear it if this happened to you".
"Oh Joby", Adam buried his face in Joby's arms "I hope there's no permanent damage, I really do".
"The M.O said he doesn't think so".
"Doesn't think so!"
"Be fair Ad, he can't do much here can he? It's not as if he's got a whole flaming x-ray department at his disposal, to suss out all that's wrong with me. I feel fine really, just a bit sore that's all. Talking of which, how's Kiel's bum?"
"Decidedly tender", Adam laughed.
"I don't think I got all the bits out. Julian went and interrupted us".
"He's very good at that. Don't worry. I'll have a full inspection of it myself some time".
"You look exhausted".
"It's been quite a full twenty-four hours. I think everyone's catching up on their sleep now".
"You should do the same".
"I don't want to leave you".
"Who says you have to?"
Joby gently tugged at him until Adam was lying next to him on the bunk.
"I seem to make a habit of this too", said Adam, and he kissed him gently.
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