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By Sarah Hapgood

“Did you get a look at her at all?” said Julian, when everyone congregated over tea and biscuits in the dining-room back on the galleon.

“No, she was muffled up to the nines”, said Bardin “Couldn’t see her face at all. They didn’t pause at all, just chucked the coins at us as they sped past”.

“And did she get much of a look at you?” said Julian.

“I can’t imagine so”, said Bengo “She was going too fast. Probably just glimpsed a scruffy bunch of herberts and assumed we were beggars I suppose”.

“Perhaps there’s a lot of it around here”, said Ransey “Beggars I mean”.

“Someone’s done alright though”, said Joby “Her I mean”.

“It all felt weird”, said Bardin “As if we’d seen something that wasn’t really there. Like a ghost, or a mirage”.

“I suspect that’s just because we weren’t expecting to see her when we did”, said Ransey “She felt out of place”.

“I was going to suggest staying around here for a while”, said Bardin “But I’ve changed my mind. I’m not in the mood for enchanted forests at the moment. I think we’d better press on”.

“Whatever you say”, said Ransey.

The “enchanted forest” was huge though, as they were soon to find out. They spent most of the following day sailing through its dark green depths. Flashes of sunlight dapples through the thick branches of the trees, occasionally blinding them with its sharp contrast to the magical gloom.

During a shore trip on the second day they found abandoned buildings, all overgrown as though snared by the plants in the some fairy-tale spell.

The most exciting discovery was what appeared to be the remains of a once-magnificent mansion. A few of them wandered through the most intact part of the buildings, taking in the peeling paintwork, the dust-choked bookshelves and the twisting staircases leading up to nothingness.

Everywhere was decay and abandonment, and yet at the same time it was very beautiful, in an entirely unexpected way.

“I thought we’d be pleased to see some beauty after the scorched lands”, said Bardin “But this isn’t reassuring me any. When was the last time we saw normality?”

“I spose Fire Island was the closest”, said Joby “Except that was just a rock sticking out of the ocean”.

“Well tis no good constantly looking backwards”, Bardin sighed “On and bloody onwards. If there’s any novelty left in this world then somehow we’ve got to find it”.

The tunnel of trees widened out into a lake surrounded by wooded hills and granite outcrops. The continuing abundance of heavy foliage meant that the lake had a distinctly green tinge to it. “Like a dirty garden-pond”, as Joby put it.

On the southern side the land jutted out into a mini-peninsula. A couple of fishing-boats bobbed languidly, anchored in the shelter of the side.

“Well that’s a sign of normality, Bardy”, said Bengo, from the main deck.

“We’ll see”, said Bardin.j

“Oh you’ve been saying that a lot lately”, said Bengo.

“It’s a case of having to!” said Bardin “Every time we come to anything, there’s something bloody skewed about it. I can’t assume it’s going to be any different, not just anyway”.

“You’re giving into defeatism if you ask me”, said Hoowie.

“Nobody did ask you!” said Bardin.

“But it’s true”, said Hoowie “If you think and act defeated you will be defeated”.

“And who did you get that particular little homily from?” said Bardin.

“Finia”, said Hoowie.

“I might’ve known”, said Bardin “Tell him if I wanted to listen to claptrap like that we’d have kept Kitty the Cat Woman on-board!”

“Yeah, it happens to be the truth, Bard”, said Hoowie “You’re seeing the worst in everything at the moment. I’ve been meaning to say that to you for a long time”.

“Would you like to go and clean the heads?” said Bardin, tartly.

Hoowie tutted and wandered off.

“He has a point”, said Bengo.

“Oh don’t you start”, said Bardin.

“It’s true”, said Bengo “You can’t live this way, you’ll give yourself an ulcer. You’re carrying on like you used to before a big show”.

“Because it’s the same sort of thing”, said Bardin “Back then I used to have to anticipate everything that could go wrong, and this is the same”.

“But you don’t have to do that!” Bengo protested “Whatever happens we’ll roll with it, we always have. How many more times do I have to say that?”

“You don’t”, said Bengo “Now let’s get over this lake. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a dirty fish-tank”.

It was with some astonishment (and not a little delight) that, on leaving the dirty fish-tank, they entered another leg of the river, and found a hostelry on the southern side of it, and this one appeared to be normal. Well relatively so anyway. It had a handful of customers for one thing, and the owners gave no indication of being particularly weird, and certainly not closet vampires.

“Nice to see you, gentlemen”, said the burly landlord, when Bardin took the usual shore-party over to suss out the territory “Travelled far?”

“From the east coast”, Bengo blurted out.

“Quite a way then”, said the landlord.

“You’ve come all the way through the lands to the east of here?” said his daughter, a slender girl in her twenties, sounding suitably impressed.

“We have”, said Bardin, relaxing slightly, but still assuming a quasi-regal captainly demeanour “And we are very glad to see civilisation at last”.

“Hey girl, get some pint-pots lined up”, said the landlord, as if the Indigo-ites were in danger of dying of thirst.

“You have no idea how pleased we are to see you”, said Bengo “You can tell us where we are!”

“Bengo!” Bardin hissed.

“Well it’s true, Bardy”, said Bengo “We have no idea where we are. We’ve just been travelling westwards and hoping for the best all the time”.

“This is the hamlet of Somba”, said the landlord “In the Roffin Forest”.

“And are we far from the west coast?” said Bardin.

“You keep going westwards for a few more days and you should reach it”, said the landlord “The river will take you all the way there”.

“That’s what we were hoping”, said Bardin.

The Indigo-ites looked appreciatively at the pint-pots being lined up on the counter. Ransey went to get out the coins which the strange woman in the sleigh had thrown to them.

“No, don’t worry about that”, said the landlord “If you’ve travelled this far you deserve the first one on the house”.

This hospitality and normality, after all the strange enchanted lands they had travelled through thus far, was almost too much to bear.

“We’ve seen a lot of devastation to the east of here”, said Hillyard “There’s virtually nothing left of the land”.

“Bombing”, said the landlord, in a pithy way.

“Bombing?” several of the Indigo-ites all exclaimed at once.

“The government ordered it”, said the landlord “Blanket bombing of the whole area to the east and south of here”.

“There is a government left then?” said Ransey “We’ve had our doubts lately”.

“Not much of a one, but they’re up against it”, said the landlord “Trying to re-impose some kind of order everywhere, after all the madness. I suppose they’ve had to resort to desperate measures”.

“But why bombing?” said Kieran “And why that area in particular?”

The landlord looked at Kieran in astonishment. Not because he recognised he, but because he was astounded that somebody didn’t know.

“It’s a hotbed of vampirism”, said the landlord “Vampires took over the whole area to the east and south of here. I suppose the government felt that firebombing was the only way to destroy them”.

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