Part Thirty: An Epilogue...

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Thirty: An Epilogue…

The rest, as the Bard knocked out when the bill for the roof needed paying, is silence. Or not really. The rest was actually a tad noisy.

The YMCE jeep was a hardy one, a tad crunchy on the corners but otherwise game and true as a Derby colt. I roared away from the Highlands.

There were cans of petrol in the back, of course, and food, blankets, torches and a gun. Bivouacking in fields, travelling at dusk, I drove.

As I drove, without comfort other than the hum of the wind and the regular splat of insects in my teeth, I was given occasion to think.

I thought through the extraordinary events of what was, on count-back, only the last few days. I had adventured, all right. I had lived!

Others had not. Poor Sam Phraxby, drained of blood by a demonic Flea in a cistern deep below one of London’s more insalubrious boroughs.

At least he was the only good guy to have bought it, Simon the Kapo and the YMCE, Holman-Hunt and Galanthus having paid the dearest price.

I supposed I should count the Archbishop of Canterbury in that too - he had, after all, rather saved the day and foiled the plot. Fair dos.

Galanthus. Vespa. Maxine. Whatever her name was. I thought, as I camped out on moor and scree, of her deception. Of her lies! Her treachery!

Of her kiss… I don’t suppose it surprising that, as I flew south, I thought often of that kiss, on the ledge over the boiling pit of lava.

It had seemed I had won her back. Galanthus! Max Galanthus! A woman who directed governments, started wars, poisoned worlds! Won by a kiss!

I’ll allow that I allowed myself a conceited chuckle, only to be brought and caught short by the subsequent remembrance of her fiery demise.

I remembered her reaching for the book, the Taxus Brevifola, the Lambeth Treasure itself! I saw her fall, her scream! Her hideous death!

Couldn’t be helped, I supposed, and she or I couldn’t say she hadn’t had it coming, what? No. The world was safer without Maxine Galanthus.

And without the Taxus Brevifola and the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon. But here too, approaching Leeds, if I recall, I had cause to pause.

I had not seen the Taxus Brevifola destroyed. I had seen it float away on a diminishing scrap of rock, adrift on a sea of magma and death.

But I had not seen it destroyed. Nor, of course, had I confirmed the fate of the dastard Moon, who had skedaddled at doom’s first crack.

Naturally the blackguard had run! I had not seen him, though, in the course of my subsequent escape. He could, I knew, have escaped too.

I hoped he had been squashed by a chunk of volcanic rock. It would have fitted, given his usual air of having scuttled from beneath a stone.

But I had no proof of his death, not even having seen a convenient dog collar afloat on a pool of spitting lava. That would have been nice.

I chased Moon from my mind. Frankly, if he had escaped, so much the better for future adventures. We might well, would well, meet again.

About the possible survival of the Taxus Brevifola, possibly, madly, in the possession of said Moon, I thought even less. It didn’t bare it.

And it was unlikely. That was enough, and as I drove south and the landscape softened, an odd lull, a sense of completeness, came upon me.

Such feelings descend at the end of adventures, be they kayaking the ice floes with Taktuk desperadoes or popping to the shops for lunch.

By the time I reached Lambeth, at night on the seventh day, and parked the jeep under a railway arch, I felt at one with all and sundry.

I crept into Blake’s house – by smashing a window, granted – and retrieved Sam Phraxby’s corpse from behind the chaise longue in the study.

Drained of vitals, he was light as a feather. I couldn’t, I realised, give the poor fellow a decent (I hesitated to say ‘Christian’) burial.

I stashed him in the Labyrinth. Popped down, alert for Flea, Gout Devil or Night Mare, and took him where Moon first manifested himself.

I laid Sam on the table in the middle of the room. Closed his eyes (which had been staring hideously, rather) and retreated to the door.

‘Goodbye, Phraxby old chum,’ I said, taking a look at what would be his eternal tomb. There was an awkward silence. ‘Cheero, then,’ I said.

I left him. Climbing back to the silence of Blake’s study, I pondered my next move. To the river, obviously. Find some passing traffic.

East! That way lay further adventure! And Tilbury. And there lay fine ships, bound to need a stout hand for impending voyages! Abroad!

But I holed up at Sam’s place first, sorting my canvas bag, bathing, shaving and stocking up on Clipstone Ceylon Tea and hard-tack biscuits.

I also sat down at poor Sam’s desk and, among the fossil paperweights and textbooks, wrote and wrote and wrote. Steadily, a manuscript grew.

The resultant khaki packet I trussed up with string and sent to the Hack Pengelly, care of whichever quack pamphleteer now employed him.

Before dawn, I left Hercules Road, noticing happily a council notice proclaiming the demolition of the terrace in which Blake’s house stood.

The Lambeth Labyrinth would be sealed at its secular end. At the ecclesiastical one, Moon’s robot Archbishop would, hopefully, stand guard.

I chased all loose ends from my mind. East! At the river I found a happily unguarded rowboat. Hopping in, I applied oaken oar to rollock.

Lusty strokes had me out in midstream, under the gaze of Lambeth Palace. ‘Cheero!’ I shouted, and set forth. Hard east, into the rising sun!

Part Twenty-Nine: A Shattering Climax!

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Twenty-Nine: A Shattering Climax!

At the lip of what was a precipitous crevasse above seething, boiling death, I paused, holding tightly to Galanthus and the Taxus Brevifola.

The crater of Tavis Knoyle seethed with abominable, apocalyptic suffering. YMCE soldiers teetered, flailed and fell to their fiery doom.

Rock fell from the walls in jagged chunks, like enormous prehistoric flint axe heads. Tanks and guns were cleaved by the monstrous shards!

Armour plating buckled and groaned; vulcanised rubber tyres blistered, hissed, bubbled and blew out in the rising heat of Tavis Knoyle.

Flesh stood no chance: YMCE maidens fell in bloody swathes, like sheaves of corn. I ducked, pulling Galanthus to me, as rock fell above us.

We were unscathed, but we would not be so for too long. I could see to the other side of the crater – the staircase by which we had entered!

The rope rail hung limp and split, useless. But at the staircase’s top a doorway was still intact, and through it glimmered… Yes! Light!

An escape route lay open! The YMCE seemed not to have considered taking it – they were, as it were, going down with their ship. Stout lads.

But misguided, like the idiot boy who stood on the burning deck or the violinists who accompanied the Titanic to the inkiest dark depths...

Casting an eye, I espied a route down to the crater floor and, upon that floor, a reasonably intact path through burning tanks and corpses.

‘Come on!’ I shouted, rather relishing the prospect of a dash to death, most likely, or glory, possibly. I hadn’t had one in nigh-on an age.

‘Wait!’ shrieked Galanthus, struggling to arrest my already fatal momentum. ‘Wait!’ I stopped, puzzled. ‘What’s this now, woman?’ I asked.

‘Wait, Leinigen,’ said Galanthus, panting, a wild look in her eyes. ‘Moon! Where is he?’ I said I couldn’t care less, but she protested.

‘I want his hide!’ Galanthus snarled. I allowed she had a point. I rather wanted it too. ‘He has deserted me!’ she cried. ‘He has run away!’

He had. I scanned the seething, dying crater before us but of the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon there was no sign. He’d just have to wait.

Assuming the collapse of Tavis Knoyle (and with it his plans for theocratic domination and so on, which was a boon) didn’t do for him first.

I shouted at Galanthus, tried to tell her she was wasting precious time, but she raved, quite mad with anger, jealousy and betrayed rage!

Women will do this, in times of stress. I considered slapping her across the chops, to shock some sense into her. But I couldn’t do that.

One does not raise one’s hand to a lady. A gentleman does not. More so, a chap does not, and if I am anything I am a chap. A jolly good one.

And Galanthus, despite her megalomania, her sponsorship of terror, blight, plague and small-scale credit-card fraud, had some good in her.

Well, maybe not, but when she had been Vespa Cryptoides, inamorata and co-adventurer, she had been good. At things. Interesting things.

I had to get her out. To save her. In order to have her arrested and locked up in one of the more secure women’s wings, true. But still.

But still she raved and raged at the treacherous Moon. Still time ran out! Still the crater shook, rock fell and lava boiled! Screams grew!

So I deployed my last, most potent weapon. Holding Galanthus tighter, I pulled her to me, looked into her ice-blue eyes, and kissed her!

I kissed and I kissed and I kissed. After a moment’s shocked repose, Galanthus yielded. She kissed me. My moustache excited her. And me.

I tasted Vespa. I tasted Athens again – raki, pinenuts and so on. Revolution. The closest I have ever come to being in, falling in… love.

I pulled away. Galanthus, no longer the supervillain I’d known her for, was limp in my arms. I looked deep into her now limpid blue eyes.

‘Come on, old girl,’ I said. ‘Let’s save our own skins, eh? Moon’s ratty hide ain’t worth a pickled egg. Eh?’ She laughed. ‘OK,’ she said.

That was OK with me. I let go of Galanthus, that she might propel herself, and in a trice we were sprinting to the heaving crater floor!

As we hit level ground, what was left of it, the noise of Tavis Knoyle’s demise seemed to rise! A waterfall of lava burst through the wall!

‘Run for it!’ I shouted, and Galanthus, nimble and spry as a Swiss mountain goat, responded. We tore towards our staircase to salvation!

Around us, the last of the YMCE army went to its doom. Some women, chillingly, clasped babes to their breast and leapt to die in the lava!

I tried not to look. The staircase was close; two or three more bounds would do it! One! Two! Nearly there! I looked round for Galanthus!

She was hard behind me, but then fate struck me, as fate will, a lusty blow in the happy sacks! Not looking where I ran, I tripped and fell!

I landed safely on a little plateau of solid rock. Galanthus, following, landed on me. Unfortunately, in falling I lost my grip on the book.

The Taxus Brevifola! It tumbled from my grasp, a rebound flipping it up and over a freshly opened crack in the volcanic, erupting floor!

It was intact, but lost. I could not reach it, for at any moment the floor would give way further. Red lava seethed and spat in the crack!

Quick calculations suggested that this was no bad thing. The damned book would be destroyed! I had saved myself a job. And temptation.

The Lambeth Treasure had to be destroyed. With it and a quick masters at some technical institute, I would have been a very dangerous man.

I ran, leaving the infernal book to its fiery grave. I was up on the path to life, air and sanity when I saw Galanthus had not followed.

Insanely, jitterily, she was reaching for the book. One of her boots skittered on the edge of a heaving, unsteady stone. Still she reached!

‘Galanthus!’ I roared. She ignored me and reached further! Her fingertips brushed the vellum binding of the Taxus Brevifola! ‘Galanthus!’

At a crack and roar, the stone upon which Galanthus stood lurched and the crack between her and the Taxus Brevifola widened, a grinning maw!

She kept her balance, somehow. ‘Galanthus!’ I roared. I ran! She would not reach the book! She would fall to a hideous, boiling death!

I grabbed her arm. ‘Stop this madness!’ I cried. ‘You’ll never reach it!’ ‘I can… reach… it…!’ She stretched. ‘No!’ I roared. ‘Yes! I can!’

Galanthus had the edge of the Taxus Brevifola’s frontispiece between ring finger and pinkie. I had her by her arm. Then the floor gave way.

‘Leinigen!’ The shriek was piercing, shrill and, perhaps fortunately, brutally cut off. I staggered, gained my balance. Galanthus was gone.

Where she had fallen, lava belched and seethed. I fancied I saw a face, sinking in its boiling depths. In death, Galanthus became… Vespa.

In death. She was gone. Moon was gone. Probably. Simon and Holman-Hunt and the Archbishop of Canterbury were gone. The YMCE were all gone.

The Lambeth Treasure sat on its ledge, floating slowly away on a sea of boiling, melting, nastily magmatic soup. I waved to it, and ran.

I made the top of the staircase, two steps at a time, as a hideous roar, as of a thousand tidal waves, announced the death of Tavis Knoyle.

I ran upwards through tunnels which shook and fell about me. As I burst into daylight, dank, grim Highland air filled my grateful lungs.

The YMCE jeep stood where we had left it. I hotwired it and, in a screech of rubber and shattering rock, drove as fast as I could to safety!