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The Gorgon was a huge attraction. Men queued up to go in and see her, seemingly oblivious to the huge danger that she presented. She was kept masked at all times, but neither that nor the fact that she wasn't a real flesh-and-blood woman deterred any of them. All they wished to do was touch her hands, gaze at her breasts and feel courageous and daring by peering up at the mask that adorned the greater part of her face. No eunuch or hermathrodite could compete with her legendary dangerous charm.
"I don't understand it", said Kieran, when Ransey showed him the box-office takings after their first week back in Lixix "It must be the danger element that turns them on".
"We can't complain", Ransey sighed "But I sometimes worry that Manada might not have full control over her. After all, it'd only take one slip".
"I know. It's a bit like sitting on dynamite. But she's our great hope for destroying the zombies. Sometimes I doubt we could do without her".
Their arrival back in Lixix, exactly two years since they had last seen it, was a mixed blessing. Not only were they getting very close to home and the biggest test of all, but the town brought memories flooding back. Of Noni and Paul, of the time when Gabriel first started making his power felt. It also reminded them of just how much had happened since they had last been there. It was hard to believe that they had arrived in Lixix in July 4001, intending to start a simple holiday, a break from the heat of the City.
"Imprisoned by Gabriel, marooned on a desert island, nearly dying in the desert, and joining a circus", said Kieran "It was quite some holiday after all".
They were sitting in the outdoor restaurant at the Lixix Hotel, which these days couldn't quite keep the salubrious atmosphere to which it had once been accustomed. The town had been inundated with refugees since Gabriel's reign of terror had begun, and was now bursting at the seams more than ever before. The refugees brought with them tales of horror from the City that chilled the blood of those that heard them. Of the huge bonfires, the cages, the zombie army that patrolled the streets at night. And presiding over it all, the gaunt figure in black who hadn't been seen in public for months now, and yet who everyone knew was still very much around. But Kieran's arrival had produced a carnival atmosphere. He had been presumed dead for so long that everyone had given up hope. It wasn't just the Gorgon who was a big box-office draw at the circus.
"A toast", said Adam, rising to his feet "You'll have to pretend my water's wine I'm afraid, but to absent friends. Noni, Paul and Yentzi".
"And", he said, on a lighter note once the toast had been drunk "To someone we didn't have with us last time we were here. Lonts. And I hope he forgives us for abandoning him in the City the way we did".
Lonts looked startled when everybody toasted him, and almost took his thumb out of his mouth.
"And to Gimmit", said Adam "Whose storm-raising powers may also come in handy in the City".
"Huh", said Hillyard, who had found out that Gimmit was behind the swarm of locusts.
"Now be fair Hilly", said Adam "He's on our side now".
"We've only got his word for that", Hillyard growled.
"He hasn't put a foot wrong these past few months", said Ransey "You've got to trust people sometimes".
"We'll see", said Hillyard "The big test will be in the City. Whether he stays on our side or not".
"I don't want to think about the City tonight", said Kieran "Not when I think what we might find there".
After dinner some of them went to a drinking-club which hid in the basement of one of the new, seedier hotels. A few weeks after seizing power Gabriel had outlawed private drinking-clubs as dens of iniquity. The law still stood in theory, but in practice no one from Gabriel's team ever checked them out. To appease Gabriel, the authorities in Lixix raided this club every few days, but it had become a laughable formality and the staff joked that they could usually set their watches by the guards' arrival.
Tonight it was sweltering in the underground room, which only added to the heady atmosphere. Candlewax dripped across the table, and glasses could be heard smashing at periodic intervals. Men danced together and occasionally smooched, a sight that Joby had never been able to get used to.
"We could always join in", said Kieran, sitting next to him at a table in an alcove "Then it wouldn't feel so bizarre".
"I'm alright", said Joby "It's just sometimes it feels odd. Even after all this time not seeing women anywhere takes some getting used to".
"It's the same for me, you know".
"I realise that", said Joby "It's just you cope with it so well I forget".
"You cope with it pretty well yourself".
"Yea, but I don't half wish we were back on the island sometimes".
"Perhaps it wouldn't be so nice now", Kieran sighed "In fact I know damn well it wouldn't be, now we know what we were sharing it with. All that time we were there our paradise island was really a Virus colony".
"Oh watch out, Hillyard's coming over", said Joby "I thought we'd got rid of him for the evening when he met up with that gang of suits over there".
"Perhaps he wants to ask you to dance".
"Alright then?" Hillyard sat down opposite them, placing his bottle of beer purposefully on the table.
"Are you staying?" said Joby.
"I thought I'd come and talk to you two for a change".
"Have you lost interest in your new friends Hillyard?" said Kieran.
"Boring", said Hillyard "Bunch of businessmen complaining that commerce has been shot to pieces since Gabriel took over. As though that's their biggest concern!"
"Perhaps it is", said Kieran.
"Yea well, I expect I've been out of it too long", said Hillyard "I can't seem to make small-talk anymore, or keep up an in-depth conversation for very long".
"You were never that brilliant at it", said Joby.
"Take no notice of him", said Kieran "Joby's missing the company of women".
"Perhaps we should've invited some of the eunuchs along", said Hillyard.
"You're serious aren't you?" Joby exclaimed "As if they're the bloody same!"
"Oh I'm going to find Adam", Kieran stood up "I'm not talking to Joby when he's in this mood. He's unbearable".
"I think you've upset him", said Hillyard, after Kieran had left.
"I know", Joby mumbled "I don't know what gets into me. I cope with it all fine normally, it's just that some places we end up in remind me of what we've lost".
"You sit there saying that, and then expect him to believe you when you say you wouldn't swap him for a dozen women!" said Hillyard.
"But that's true, I wouldn't", said Joby "That doesn't mean to say I don't miss the sight of them sometimes. Even Adam does, he's said so".
"Kieran could do with your help at the moment. He's got a lot on his plate. He was saying to me only the other day that the lives of everyone are on his conscience. That's a pretty heavy load for a man to bear".
"Oh don't make me feel worse!"
"Well go and talk to him then. I'll sit here and have a conversation with me beer".
Joby pushed his way through the sweaty bodies until he found Kieran sitting alone at the bar. The men nearest him had cleared a space around his immediate vicinity, which made him suddenly look very small, vulnerable and lonely.
"I thought you were going to talk to Adam", said Joby, planting a warm hand on his knee.
"He's huddled in a corner having a heated discussion with Julian".
"Perhaps they need breaking up", Joby cuddled him and gave him a lingering kiss.
"Steady on Jobe, remember where we are!" Kieran exclaimed "This lot might start thinking you're queer or something".
"Alright, I deserved that", Joby sat on the stool next to him "I'm sorry I went on just now. None of it's got anything to do with my feelings for you. They'll never change".
"I hope not", said Kieran "I need you. I'm going to get very lonely in the future".
"You've got me and Adam as your consorts".
"I'll have you as my consort. I'm beginning to wonder if I should let Adam go".
"Don't start all that again. Everytime he talks to someone of his own age you start prattling on about letting him go. He doesn't want to go!"
"But Julian ..."
"Is a prat. Almost as big a one as you".
"Thanks", Kieran noticed that the heated discussion between Adam and Julian had come to a conclusion. Adam left the table mouthing two short words at him which were unmistakable. Julian looked mutinous.
"It's frightening how those two carry on sometimes", said Kieran "You can see why it ended in disaster the first time".
"Exactly. Proper couple of old queens. It's like clash of the dinosaurs whenever they get together", said Joby.
"He might thrive on the stimulus", said Kieran.
"No I don't actually", Adam snapped "I could hear you two talking about me, and I object to being referred to as a dinosaur. Julian might be, but I'm not".
"You're the same age as him", Joby protested.
"It's got nothing to do with age", said Adam "He has been chewing me out since we got here because I didn't include him in the toasts at dinner".
"I'd quite like to include him in the toasts for absent friends", said Kieran
"He went on and on that I toasted Lonts and Gimmit but not him", said Adam "This is what he's like all the time. He doesn't make mountains out of molehills, he makes them out of rabbit-droppings!"
"Calm down", said Joby.
"If I hadn't shown great firmness of character in walking away just now", Adam continued "He would have harped on about it all bloody night".
"Calm down", said Joby "Have some coffee".
"I should think he's had enough", said Kieran "That's why he's all excitable. His nerves are jangling, aren't they Addy-kins?"
"I'm going back to the wagon now. To make sure Lonts is alright".
"He should be", said Kieran "Ransey was going to put him to bed".
"Even so I'd like to make sure. Just in case Ransey's got enthralled with his cash-boxes and forgotten about him", said Adam "I've got an idea though. There's no matinee tomorrow afternoon, so why don't I book us a room at the Lixix Hotel for a few hours ... for the three of us?"
"You don't really want me there", said Joby, morosely.
"Don't I? News to me. I want you there, so don't you dare stand me up. See you back at the wagon".
"That thought's got the old red corpuscles racing hasn't it?" said Kieran, once they were alone again.
"Best way I can think of to celebrate me twenty-fourth birthday", said Joby.
"Oh Jobe so it is", said Kieran "Where were we when it was mine I wonder?"
"Mid-March, we'd have been in Pepuaah, 'cept we never knew the exact date there, and you never reminded us", Joby jabbed his finger at him accusingly.
"To be honest with you I forgot meself".
"You can have a late birthday present tomorrow afternoon then".
Adam was sipping iced water in the hotel-room when they arrived the following day. Up until then he had been wondering if booking a room at the Lixix Hotel had been such a good idea after all. The room they had been allocated was almost exactly the same as the one he had stayed in last time, so much so that he half expected to see Noni sitting on the windowseat. Noni had angered and irritated him when he was alive, but it was still upsetting to realise that such beauty had been snuffed out so soon and in such a diabolical way.
"This isn't the same room is it?" said Kieran, after he and Joby had gauged why Adam was feeling so despondent.
"No, it's on a different floor", said Adam "But it feels spooky all the same".
"Would you like to call it off?" said Kieran.
"I certainly would not", said Adam "Joby can take his clothes off, that'd cheer me up".
"I'm not taking mine off first", said Joby.
"Go on", said Kieran "Give the boys a thrill".
"I've got to undress in front of you two?"
"Will you listen to him?" Kieran exclaimed "Anyone would think he was going to show us something we hadn't seen before!"
"Alright, if you're going to be like that", said Joby, and divested himself of his only two items of clothing very rapidly "There you are then. And the first one who laughs gets a rocket up his arse".
"Mesmerising", said Adam "Simply mesmerising".
Kieran flopped onto his knees and waddled over to Joby, where he began to caress Joby's cock. For a while Adam watched greedily, and then coaxed them both towards the bed.
"I don't want to hear anymore complaints from you about how hard done by you are", said Adam, caressing Joby softly "You certainly don't have a rough deal from where I'm laying".
"Say that to me again in a few days time", said Joby, as they lay in the shaded room "When we're approaching the City with an invincible army of eunuchs, clowns and acrobats! And then, even if we win and beat Gabriel, nothing's ever going to be shame again is it?"
"When Patsy's President you mean?" said Adam, as the toilet flushed in the bathroom "We'll still be able to have fun, you'll see. It won't all be state dinners and looking out for vampires".
"I know, but the last president was knifed. It could so easily..."
"Ssh", Adam put his fingers on Joby's lips "It won't. We'll make sure of that".
"Sometimes I wonder if the whole of the past four years has been a dream", said Joby "I would never have believed any of this could have happened to me".
"A bit different to that suburban lifestyle you would have had otherwise", said Adam "It's certainly been a dream for me. To think that if we'd never crossed over, I might never have got together with Patsy, and it certainly wouldn't have happened with you".
"You wouldn't have missed much".
"Oh I think I would. I'm very glad I've known you Joby. You've been good for me. I'd never met a man like you before, such a worrier and yet so pragmatic at the same time".
"I expect they've all been like Julian have they?"
"Not quite that bad!"
"Are you still attracted to him?"
"Yes, but I would never give you two up for him. Not in a million years".
"I'm glad to hear that", said Kieran, coming back into the room. He dived onto the bed, carving out a hollow between them "Because I'm not going to let him have you. Not permanently anyway".
"He's been waiting to hear you say that all along", said Joby, stroking Kieran's buttocks with his fingertips.
"I'll just loan you to him occasionally", said Kieran, kissing Adam's nose "When I'm feeling generous".
When they got down to the foyer they found Ransey having coffee with Trixie. Both had been discussing battle tactics at great length until their heads were swimming.
"It's these underground tunnels of Gabriel's that we have to find", said Kieran, sitting down opposite them with Joby perched on the arm of his chair "I have a feeling that that's where he'll be lurking".
"It's a difficult one for you Kieran", Ransey sighed "We don't know what motivates him or even what he really is".
"Then I'll just have to take it as it comes", said Kieran "We'll have the Gorgon to sort the zombies out, and as long as we take the proper precautions with her that's half our battle really".
"And I'll be with you when you confront Gabriel", said Ransey.
"We'll see", said Kieran "I might have to face him alone".
"Over my dead body", said Joby "You went off alone last time to fight Angel, I'm not having you do it again".
"You have a lot of support Kieran", said Trixie.
"Yes, but we're not fighting earthly forces are we?" said Kieran.
"Then let's just concentrate on the earthly ones for the time being", said Adam "Like making sure everyone in our ranks is as trustworthy as we can get them, and the prime problem there is Vanod".
"He's kept a very low profile these past five months", said Trixie.
"Which is what worries me", said Ransey "We don't know what he's hatching".
"We should be alright", said Kieran "As long as, when we reach the City, there is someone minding him at all times".
"I can't think of anyone brave enough to", said Trixie "He intimidates most of the circus crew".
"I rather think Julian might come in useful there", said Adam.
"There's a problem with that one", said Ransey, pushing his glasses up his nose "He came looking for you in here whilst you were upstairs. I told him you were with Kieran and Joby. I'm sorry if that's dropped you in it, but he's always so damn arrogant I couldn't resist shocking him".
"He was shocked?" Kieran exclaimed.
"Affronted I think is perhaps more accurate", said Ransey "He got all pink-faced and said something along the lines of 'oh if that's the way he wants it', and then swept out. I doubt if he'll be talking to you now".
"I'll bring him round", said Adam.
"You're damn sure of yourself", said Joby.
"I know Julian. Do I have your permission to charm him round Patsy?"
"Only if you give me all the gory details afterwards", said Kieran.
"With knobs on", said Adam "But if anyone's capable of keeping Vanod out of mischief it might be Jules".
Hillyard was supposed to be minding Lonts, but when they got back to the wagon he was busily engaged in chatting up one of the acrobats, and dismissed queries as to Lonts's whereabouts with "he's playing with Gimmit somewhere". This turned out to be rather truer than he realised. They finally located Lonts lying under the wagon engaged in a hearty snog with Gimmit.
Adam reacted with untold fury, and hauled Lonts bodily out from under the vehicle. Lonts was gibbering with terror and trying to hang onto his shorts at the same time, which gaped unbuttoned in a rather guilty fashion. Adam marched him to the front of the wagon, and gave him such a hefty smack on his buttocks that he fell sprawling into the contraption. The boy could then be heard wailing hysterically from inside it.
"Gimmit, come out from under there at once!" Adam screamed, as Gimmit sat just out of reach.
"N-No", Gimmit replied, horrified by the very idea.
"Can you blame him?" said Joby.
"Don't be such a hypocrite Addy", said Kieran, sternly "After what we've been up to this afternoon we can't criticise".
"We are over the age of consent", said Adam.
"Well over in some cases", Joby muttered.
"So is Lonts, and so is Gimmit", said Kieran.
"Lonts isn't, not mentally", said Adam "He's only a child mentally".
"But he has urges just like we do", said Kieran "You can't repress those in him, it could be potentially dangerous. Surely you can see that?"
"Yes", Adam sighed "But I have to protect him".
"I can't believe he's going to come to any harm with Gimmit", said Kieran "Go and find Julian and talk to him. It'll give you someone to vent your rage on".
"I will, but I want to speak to Lonts first".
"Don't hit him", said Joby "We all have to start somewhere".
"I'm not going to", said Adam "I just need to talk to him".
Inside the wagon Lonts wrapped his arms round Adam in an impulsive bear-hug.
"I didn't mean to get angry baby", said Adam, when he had finally loosened Lonts's grip so that he could breathe again "You didn't do wrong".
"I'm sorry Adam", Lonts sobbed "I know you don't like me being with Gimmit".
"Do you like being with him though?"
"I'd rather be with you".
"But Gimmit's alright is he?"
Lonts shrugged and nodded.
"He doesn't try pressing any more pills on you, or trying to get you into trouble?"
"He's loyal to Kieran, he told me so", said Lonts "He has been ever since the elemental beat him up really badly. It's only since Quipignon that he's had the courage to ignore the thing though, and that's because he thinks it's power is waning. He says it's starving, or something like that. And Gimmit says he wants to help Kieran".
"Do you enjoy being with him?"
"He tells me tales from his time. Sometimes the things he says reminds me of Kiskev, and he makes me feel good. Warm and tingly".
"That's a nice feeling isn't it?" said Adam.
"Yes. It's like the feeling I get when I'm lying next to you".
The clowns were doing a mime-act in the street. Since Elodie's untimely death the circus had had to find other ways to lure the punters in. This evening the clowns were putting on a show of their own, occasionally breaking into song, surprising Adam by their strong, almost operatic voices. He had designed a backdrop for them, an illustration of the Gorgon's face. Only in this she looked considerably more attractive than Adam supposed she did in reality, but he had let his imagination take over instead. In the illustration her eyes were closed, and the expression on her face was quite serene. Sometimes Adam worried that he had made her too attractive, and that some reckless punter might tear the mask away from the real thing to get a look at that serene face for real. Nonetheless though the backdrop was quite startling and drew the eyes of the passers-by, which was the main purpose.
"You know damn well what the trouble is", said Julian, pausing with Adam at the fence overlooking the harbour "Two things really. First, you reminded yourself of your charming father".
"I almost came close to understanding the old bastard", said Adam "When I shouted at Lonts, I thought perhaps the old man had just been concerned about me all along, except he never tempered it with any affection in the slightest".
"And secondly", said Julian "You want to keep the little jailbait all to yourself".
"I want to keep him safe", said Adam "It's not the same as what you're implying. But then you always were coarse Julian".
"I'm coarse?" Julian exclaimed "You're the one who's been taking two of your little darlings to bed at once. You're nothing but a dirty old faggot. Come back to my tent and pick on someone your own age".
"I resent the way you talk about me. You make me sound like a child molester".
"Well if they get any younger Adam you'll be hanging round school-gates".
"I should slap your face for that remark".
"I'll slap yours back then. I'm not one of your boys".
"I'm not here to argue with you. I want to ask you a favour, an important favour".
"I might need persuading", said Julian, sulkily.
"Let's go back to your tent then", Adam sighed.
"To be serious for a moment", said Julian, as he poured out coffee in his tent "I think the sooner you hit the City now the better. Gabriel is very weak. There's gossip going round the town here that his most loyal supporters, the ones that haven't been zombified that is, are topping themselves all over the countryside. Including the entire population of another of his communes up by the Harbour Woods".
"That'll upset Patsy".
"I rather think it's because of him that they did it. In the week since we've been here news has got round about him. You can understand how panicky some of the Gabriel-lites must be feeling".
"That will definitely upset him", said Adam "If only they'd hung on, he wouldn't have been vengeful on them. I think we can count on Patsy to be magnanimous in victory".
"They're fanatics though Adam".
"I know, I know", Adam stirred his coffee pensively.
"What's this favour you want doing anyway?" Julian sat down beside him on the futon.
"You know about Vanod, and how we can't trust him?" said Adam.
"He's barely been in evidence these past few months".
"But he's still there, and he could be trouble when we get to the City. He needs keeping an eye on. We can't allow him to go beyond the City walls. Someone needs to stay outside the City and watch him".
"Oh I see", said Julian "And I'm to be minder am I? I sit out in the countryside watching some thoroughly nasty piece of work, whilst you go and do all the heroics".
"You'd be doing us the most tremendous favour".
"What the hell do I do with him?"
"Do what you damn well like, it won't bother us, as long as he's kept out of the way".
"And the rest of you all go over the top? Including Lonts?"
"Lonts could be a liability, but he comes with us all the same".
"What's the matter? Don't you trust me with him?"
"I don't trust Vanod with him,, especially after what he did to Joby at Quipignon".
"Oh, so it's perfectly acceptable for me to get bashed up then?"
"You can take care of yourself", said Adam "That's why I'm asking this of you. If anyone can hold his own against Vanod it's you".
"Perhaps", said Julian "Although I think I could still do with some persuading".
Julian sat up excitedly.
"It really is?" he stammered "It's really happening at last!"
"I think I should go out and warn everybody", said Adam "Julian's in action again".
"Gabriel's losing it, what did I tell you? The curse is going. What's the matter Adam?"
"I think I'd better go", said Adam, reaching for his clothes.
"You can't be serious? Don't you realise how long I've waited for this moment? I want you. You can't leave me".
Adam turned and smiled at him.
"I had you going there for a moment didn't I Jules?" he said "You really thought I was going to employ your old tricks".
"You wicked bastard", Julian laughed "Alright, you've had your joke. But I've well and truly paid for my sins in that department these past few years. Now, lets you and me get down to business. We have a lot of years to catch up".
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