Since coming to Hopeless, Philomena Bucket was of the firm impression that there was nothing left to surprise her anymore.  She had witnessed so many oddities, so many weird and not particularly wonderful occurrences on the island, she convinced herself that the part of her brain designated to register surprise had been rendered permanently numb by overuse. It was, therefore, something of a surprise to her to find that she had, against all odds, been taken by surprise.

I do not think that many of us, when finding ourselves mysteriously transported from the chilly, foggy island of Hopeless to the sumptuous, if somewhat stuffy, environs of a London Gentleman’s’ Club, heavy with the scent of deep, leather armchairs, good brandy, expensive cigar smoke and freshly ironed copies of ‘The Times’, could honestly claim to say that the experience had failed to raise the odd eyebrow, or cause us to ponder for a moment. Personally, put in such a position, I would have quickly dissolved into a gibbering wreck, and been sent to inhabit a small space liberally lined with several rolls of rubber wallpaper. Philomena Bucket, however, was made of sterner stuff, and allowed the novelty of the moment to do no more than extract a slightly startled, “Jaisus, Mary and Joseph!” from her lips.

The lean, bespectacled figure, sprawled languidly in the leather armchair, had introduced himself simply as Buer. The name meant nothing to Philomena; happily, for her, she had never seen him in his more terrifying form, with five legs, each tipped with a cloven hoof, radiating from the head of a lion.

“Where am I?” she asked, looking around the unfamiliar surroundings.

“You are in Pandæmonium,” replied Buer. “This is my home… or at least the home that I share with my many brothers, for we are legion.”

“Is Pandæmonium a place?” queried Philomena. “I always thought it was an unholy noise.”

“Oh, it is definitely unholy,” smiled Buer, “But it roughly translates as ‘The Home of all Daemons’.”

“And you are… a demon?” asked Philomena. If there was alarm in her voice she was determined that Buer would not hear it.

 “That need not concern you, for now, Philomena,” said Buer. “I mean you no harm. But tell me, why is Durosimi O’Stoat lying to me, and offering you up to me as a sacrifice?”

The look on Philomena’s face told Buer that she had no idea as to what he was referring. He decided to enlighten her.

“Durosimi is using me to persuade John Dee that he must find the key to the Underland. You, my dear, are the payment I receive when he delivers it.  Apparently, in Durosimi’s words, you will be mine, ‘Body and soul’.”

Philomena shuddered. Her naturally pale face grew chalk white. Buer raised a reassuring hand.

“Don’t worry, I have no interest in you, other than to warn you of Durosimi’s intentions.  I think that obtaining the key is of less importance to him than getting rid of you. Do you know why that might be?”

Philomena shook her head. Although she did not like, or trust, Durosimi, she could not say why. She barely knew the man.

Buer raised himself from the armchair, and walked over to where Philomena was standing. Her body tensed and she became frozen to the spot as he took her face in his hands and stared deeply into her eyes. She could feel his gaze sweeping through her like a searchlight. After what felt like an eternity Buer straightened his arms and regarded her with interest.

“He fears you! Durosimi fears you and does not truly know why. How unutterably delicious,” Buer laughed. “And you have no idea why, either, do you?”

“This is all news to me,” said Philomena. Just an hour previously she had thought that there were no surprises left in her life; now she was currently juggling more than she could cope with.

“I wonder why it is,” pondered Buer, “that men seek to destroy that which they do not understand? Tell me, Philomena, are you familiar with the term ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’?”

Philomena shook her head dumbly, unsure of where this might be leading.

“Then allow me to lighten your darkness,” continued Buer. “In the late fifteenth century there lived, in the city of Florence, a Dominican friar, named Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola feared beauty, for he considered art, books, mirrors, cosmetics, perfumes, indeed, almost anything that made life bearable, to be sinful.  That would have been fine, had he kept his opinions to himself. Unfortunately, he managed to persuade the citizens of Florence that, in allowing anything remotely beautiful to exist, they would be damning themselves for eternity. Rubbish of course, but they were driven by fear, and on Shrove Tuesday, in the year 1497, they built a great fire and destroyed every worthwhile thing of beauty that they could lay their hands on… and that was unforgiveable.”

“But what has that got to do with Durosimi O’Stoat?” asked Philomena.

“Because he is no better than Girolamo Savonarola,” replied Buer. “I have seen into his mind. He fears you, and because of that he wishes to destroy you.”

“Ah, go on… why would anyone be scared of me,” laughed Philomena, nervously.  Before she could say another word, Buer held up a beautifully manicured hand to silence her.

“Because you are powerful. Far more powerful than Durosimi O’Stoat could ever be.”

Philomena said nothing. Both John Dee and the ghost of Granny Bucket had told her the same thing, and it made her feel uncomfortable. She wanted to change the subject.

“So, what happened to old Girolamo?” she asked, quietly congratulating herself that she had remembered the friar’s name.

“I hated what he had caused,” said Buer, “so all it took was for me to murmur some chosen words into a few sanctimonious ears, and little more than a year after The Bonfire of the Vanities, Friar Girolamo, along with two of his closest supporters, were fuel on their own bonfires.” He gave Philomena a long, hard look. “When O’Stoat learns that I have no appetite to consume your body or soul, he will, most likely, try to turn the islanders against you. Before that happens, I will deal with him as I did the friar.”

“No,” cried Philomena, horrified. “I can’t have that on my conscience. Anyway, you said that you’re a demon. Surely, you approve of people being evil?”

“My dear young lady,” smiled Buer, “that is a very mediaeval attitude, if you don’t mind me saying. Anyway – I did not say that I am a demon, they are completely different to my race. I am a Daemon. Any ancient Greek schoolboy would tell you that I am no more, or less, than a supernatural spirit. While I admit, I can rarely be described as being on the side of the angels – if indeed, such creatures exist – I am certainly not on the side of evil. I will punish as I see fit and somewhat enjoy terrifying the pious when I don some of my various, less comely, forms; but no, on balance, few would call me evil.”

From seemingly nowhere, a mist arose and began to swirl around the room. A startled Philomena looked about her, and the vision of the elegant daemon in Pandæmonium began to fade; she was once more in the kitchen of The Squid and Teapot, staring into a bowl of water, which glowed golden as sunlight. Philomena’s heart missed a beat as, alarmingly, the terrifying image of an angry lion’s head with blazing red eyes appeared upon its surface.

“If you do not wish for my help, then learn your craft, and learn it quickly, Philomena Bucket”

It was the voice of Buer that spoke in her head.

Suddenly the spell was broken by an agitated John Dee, bursting into the kitchen.

“I’m giving up scrying, it does not work for me anymore. Mistress Bucket,” he blurted, twirling his beard in anguish. “I am in dire danger and know not how to extricate myself if I cannot find the key to the Underland. Please, Mistress Bucket – I implore you – I desperately need your help!”

To be continued…  

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