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By Sarah Hapgood

For reasons that he couldn’t explain to the others (because he didn’t know himself), Bardin ordered that they were to all don their cassocks for the remainder for the journey up the river.

“Now what the hell’s he playing at?” said Joby “It’s gonna be dead inconvenient working in here with them on”.

“We shall have to take them off whilst we’re working then”, said Adam “That should be fun”.

“Yeah but really!” said Joby “What’s he playing at? We haven’t worn our religious garb for ages. What’s brought this on all of a sudden?”

“Perhaps he thinks we’ll be safer that way”, said Adam “An innocent spiritual order, that sort of thing”.

“Yeah, one armed to the teeth”, said Joby.

“He says he doesn’t know what gave him the idea”, said Bengo “He said he woke up feeling as though someone had whispered it in his ear”.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby.

“Hey!” Umbert ran into the room “Lord Robert’s on the wireless”.

“Good heavens”, said Adam.

“Right now!” said Umbert, excitedly.

Adam looked around him as though some of the others were about to magically materialise out of thin air.

“I suppose I had better take it”, he said.

He went into the wireless room next door.

“Adam! Delighted to hear your voice again!” said Lord Robert, booming over the crackling airwaves.

“Good heavens, this is a pleasant surprise”, said Adam.

“Hah hah”, Lord Robert chuckled, heartily “I’m afraid we’re having to leave your little island abode somewhat smart-ish. You see, we’ve picked up warnings on the airwaves of a monster typhoon heading our way in the next few days, so we’re having to evacuate”.

“Oh lor”, said Adam.

“Yes, we can’t really muck about when things like this happen”, said Lord Robert “We’d like to follow on your heels if we may, could you give us your vague whereabouts? Doesn’t have to be anything too precise, I’m sure we’ll locate you”.

Adam gave the location of the river as best he could.

“It’s a somewhat strange area”, he said “We seem to have been travelling along it forever”.

The line started to crackle and fade, so they made hurried goodbyes.

“Adam!” said Lonts, from the doorway “Was it a good idea to tell him where we are?”

“Why not?” said Adam.

“Well it might be a trick, it might not be him”, said Lonts.

“I suspect it is, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “And even if it’s not, we’ll deal with that problem if it turns up”.

They moored at the side of the river. Bardin had ordered a day’s stopover, to allow Lord Robert and the Girls some catching-up time, although he had every intention of proceeding as planned to the west coast, and then stopping there for them.

“Did you warn them about some of the aspects of this river?” Bardin barked at Adam.

“No old love, I told you”, said Adam “I was rather caught on the hop and I didn’t have time”.

“Hmmph”, said Bardin, adjusting his cassock, as he got ready to go ashore and “have a poke round”, as he’d put it.

“Feel free to smack his bottom when we get back, Adam”, said Bengo.

“Oh I will”, said Adam.

“These habits are entirely impractical”, said Ransey, appearing at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps “I’m having to wear my revolver next to my skin”.

“Do you need suggestions as to where to put it?” said Julian.

“I can already think of a few places”, Ransey snapped back.

“Boys! Boys! Pack it in”, said Adam.

Ransey scooped up the hem of his cassock and trudged up the steps.

“Watch you don’t trip over your frock!” said Julian.

“Pipe down, Julian”, said Adam.

“Weeelll”, said Julian “He’s carrying on like a bloody old woman, fussing over his gun like that. I don’t have that problem with mine”.

He picked up his rifle by its strap and slung it over his shoulder.

Julian and Mieps were going hunting nearby, whilst the usual shore-party six (Bengo, Bardin, Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Hillyard) went off to explore a nearby part of the forest on foot, taking the dogs with them.

The worst of the heat, which they had known all along the river so far, was over, and instead a more gentle, warm sunshine followed them through the trees. The silence which surrounded them was intense. There was no birdsong, not even a whisper of a breeze through the foliage.

They walked in near-silence for a while, until they came to a clearing. At the far end of it a metal door seemed to open out of a building buried deep into the woods. The door wa standing slightly ajar.

Their footsteps crunched loudly in the grass as they walked over to it. As they neared the door it suddenly swung open, and a man emerged blinking into the sunlight like a worm. Like them, he was wearing a monk’s habit.

“You’ve come!” he said.

He was greeted with a dumbfounded response from the Indigo-ites. Bengo even looked all around him, to see if anyone else had suddenly appeared too.

“Please, come in, now”, the man gestured for them to follow him. They did so.

Inside was a long dark corridor, lit at regular intervals by small burning braziers.

“We prayed and prayed for you to come soon”, said the little man.

“You’re a religious order?” said Kieran.

“Our Father Superior died a few days ago”, said the monk “We haven’t felt it safe to bury him yet. But with you here, for perform a ritual blessing …”

He led them into a cavernous side room, lit by ranks of candles on man-sized stands. In the middle of the room stood an open coffin. Inside was the bloated, shrouded corpse of an elderly man. His body was decomposing fast, and appeared as if it was going to burst open, covering the casket in a glutinous, soapy mess.

“You want me to bless him so that you can bury him?” said Kieran.

“I can’t believe this is happening”, Joby whispered to Bengo.

“Well he certainly should be done soon”, Kieran was now saying.

“We’ve been in a bit of a quandary you see”, said the little monk “We didn’t want to put him in the ground outside until we could be absolutely sure his corpse was safe. You turning up out of the blue like this is an absolute miracle”.

“What do you mean by if you could be absolutely sure he was safe?” said KIeran.

“Oh please, if you could just do him first”, said the monk “We would be so grateful”.

He led them across the corridor into a study room. It was lined with books, but there was no fireplace, and the window had a shutter across it, fixed into place with metal bars. He requested that they wait here whilst Kieran performed the final ceremony. Joby and Ransey insisted on going with him, leaving Hillyard, Bengo and Bardin to their own devices.

“This is damn freaky”, said Bengo “And why is it so cold in here?”

“No sunlight can get in that’s why”, said Bardin.

“And thick stone walls”, said Hillyard “Anyway, I suppose we get these pockets of Kieran supporters in odd places. Got to expect it”.

“He didn’t seem that surprised to see him”, said Bardin.

“No”, said Bengo “More grateful than anything. What are the odds of Kieran turning up after all this time just to bury their Father Superior?!”

“Bengo!” Bardin snapped “Stop thinking! Had this out with you before”.

“Huh”, said Bengo “Well there’s nothing else to do in here is there”.

The murmuring of the voices in the next room ceased and Kieran and the others came across to the study.

“How long will you be here, Your Grace?” the little monk was asking.

“Not long”, Bardin barked.

“He wasn’t asking you”, said Bengo, roughly nudging his partner to be quiet.

“Well we would like to know what’s going on around here”, said Kieran, sitting down on a hard wooden chair “And perhaps you may be able to tell us”.

“We have been here a long time”, said the monk, sitting down wearily near the doorway. Out in the corridor could be heard a muted crashing and banging, as a few of the other monks prepared to take the coffin out into the forest.

“Our monastery goes back many years”, the brother went on “I like to think we have done a lot of good here in that time, providing shelter for travellers and charity for those who have fallen on bad times. Recently though They came”.

“They?” said Kieran “Vampires?”

“I don’t think it is as simple as that”, the monk sighed “Vampires, demons, evil in it’s purest form. It could be all of those. They have rapidly infested this whole area. And on top of that the government has been fire-bombing the land to the east of us, to wipe them out. All it has done has driven them back further into this part of the forest, and we are concerned we will be firebombed next. We are caught between two evils, between a rock and hard place, as the old saying goes”.

“Do you know where the vampires, to it in shorthand, are based?” said Kieran.

“We think they have their main headquarters at an old castle to the west of here”, said the monk “No one can get near it. Plus no one wants to get near it. That one is vile. Deformed creatures roam the woods surrounding the castle. We don’t know if they have been made deformed by the vampires, or have been put there to keep people away”.

“Or both?” said Kieran.

“Possibly”, said the monk, who now seemed too exhausted to talk any further.

Kieran stood up, shaking out his habit as he did so.

“We will see you again before we leave”, he said, not giving Bardin a chance to interject “There is a super-storm heading towards the east coast apparently. We don’t know how far it could project inland”.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if They had caused it”, said the monk “They can do things like that. We have no awareness of the true extent of their diabolical power”.

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