Alec Kyle's knuckles were white where his hands gripped the rim of his desk. 'God in heaven, Harry!' he cried, staring aghast at the Keogh apparition where bands of soft light flowed through it from the window's blinds. 'Are you trying to scare the shit out of me before we even get started?'
I'm telling it as I know it. That's what you asked me to do, isn't it? Keogh was unrepentant. Remember, Alec, you're getting it secondhand. I got it straight from them, from the dead - the horse's mouth, as it were - and believe me I've watered it down for you!
Kyle gulped, shook his head, got a grip of himself. Then something Keogh had said got through to him. 'You got it from "them"? Suddenly I have this feeling you don't just mean Thibor Ferenczy and George Lake.'
No, i've spoken to the Reverend Pollock, too. From Yulian's christening?
'Oh, yes.' Kyle wiped his brow. 'I see that now. Of course.'
Alec! Keogh's soft voice was sharper now. We have to hurry. Harry's beginning to stir.
And not only the real child, three hundred and fifty miles away in Hartlepool, but also its ethereal image where it languidly turned, superimposed over and within Keogh's midriff. It too was stirring, slowly stretching from its foetal position, its baby mouth opening in a yawn. The Keogh manifestation began to waver like smoke, like the heat haze over a summer road.
'Before you go!' Kyle was desperate. 'Where do I start?'
He was answered by the faint but very definite wail of a waking infant. Keogh's eyes opened wide. He tried to take a pace forward, towards Kyle. But the blue shimmer was breaking down, like a television image going wrong. In another moment it snapped into a single vertical line, like a tube of electric blue light, shortened to a point of blinding blue fire at eye-level - and blinked out.
But coming to Kyle as from a million miles away: Get in touch with Krakovitch. Tell him what you know. Some of it, anyway. You're going to need his help.
'The Russians? But Harry - , Goodbye, Alec. I'll get... back... to... you.
And the room was completely still, felt somehow empty. The central heating made a loud click as it switched itself off.
Kyle sat there a long time, sweating a little, breathing deeply. Then he noticed the lights blinking on his desk communications, heard the gentle, almost timid rapping on his office door. 'Alec?' a voice queried from outside. It was Carl Quint's voice. 'It...t's gone now. But I suppose you know that. Are you all right in there?'
Kyle took a deep breath, pressed the command button. 'It's finished for now,' he told the breathless, waiting HQ. 'You'd all better come in and see me. There's time for an 'O'-group before we knock it on the head for the day. There'll be things you're wanting to know, and things we have to talk about.' He released the button, said to himself: 'And I do mean "things".'
The Russian response was immediate, faster than Kyle might ever have believed. He didn't know that Leonid Brezhnev would soon be wanting all the answers, and that Felix Krakovitch had only four months left of his year's borrowed time.
They were to meet on the first Friday in September, these two heads of ESPionage, on neutral ground. The venue was Genoa, Italy, a seedy bar called Frankie's Franchise lost in a labyrinth of alleys down in the guts of the city, less than two hundred yards from the waterfront.
Kyle and Quint got into Genoa's surprisingly ramshackle Christopher Columbus airport on Thursday eve-fling; their minder from British Intelligence (whom they hadn't met and probably wouldn't) was there twelve hours earlier. They'd made no reservations but had no problems getting adjoining rooms at the Hotel Genovese, where they freshened up and had a meal before retiring to the bar. The bar was quiet, almost subdued, where half-a-dozen Italians, two German businessmen, and an American tourist and his wife sat at small tables or at the bar with their drinks. One of the Italians who sat apart, on his own, wasn't Italian at all; he was Russian, KGB, but Kyle and Quint had no way of knowing that. He had no ESP talent or Quint would have spotted him at once. They didn't spot him taking photographs of them with a tiny camera, either. But the Russian had not gone entirely undetected. Earlier he'd been seen entering the hotel and booking a room.
Kyle and Quint were in a corner of the bar, on their third Vecchia Romagnas, and talking in lowered tones about their business with Krakovitch tomorrow, when the bar telephone tinkled. 'For me!' Kyle said at once, starting upright on his barstool. His talent always had that effect on him: it startled him like a mild electric shock.
The bartender answered the phone, looked up. 'Signor - 'he began.
'Kyle?' said Kyle, holding out his hand.
The bartender smiled, nodded, handed him the phone. 'Kyle?' he said again into the mouthpiece.
'Brown here,' said a soft voice. 'Mr Kyle, try not to act surprised or anything, and don't look up or go all furtive. One of the people in the bar with you is a Russian. I won't describe him because then you'd act differently and he'd notice it. But I've been on to London and put him through our computer. He's dressed Eyetie but he's definitely KGB, name of Theo Dolgikh. He's a top field agent for Andropov. Just thought you'd like to know. There wasn't supposed to be any of this stuff, was there?'
'No,' said Kyle, 'there wasn't.'
'Tut-tut!' said Brown. 'I should be a bit sharp with your man when you meet him tomorrow, if I were you. It really isn't good enough. And just for your peace of mind, if anything were to happen to you - which I consider unlikely - be sure Dolgikh's a goner too, OK?'
'That's very reassuring,' said Kyle grimly. He gave the phone back to the barman.
'Problems?' Quint raised an eyebrow.
'Finish your drink and we'll talk about it in our rooms,' said Kyle 'Just act naturally. I think we're on Candid Camera.' He forced a smile, swallowed his brandy at a gulp, stood up. Quint followed suit; they left the bar unhurriedly and went up to their rooms; in Kyle's room they checked for electronic bugs. This was as much a job for their psychic sensitivity as for their five mundane senses, but the room was clean.
Kyle told Quint about the call in the bar. Quint was an extremely wiry man of about thirty-five, prematurely balding, soft-spoken but often aggressive, and very quick thinking. 'Not a very auspicious start,' he growled. 'Still, I suppose we should have expected it. This is what your common-or-garden secret agent comes up against all the time, I'm told.'
'Well, it's not on!' Kyle was angry. 'This was supposed to be a meeting of minds, not muscle.'
'Do you know which one of them it was?' Quint was practical about it. 'I think I can remember all of their faces. I'd know any one of them again if we should bump into him.'
'Forget it,' said Kyle. 'Brown doesn't want a confrontation. He's geared to get nasty, though, if things go wrong for us.'
'Charmed, I'm sure!' said Quint.
'My reaction exactly,' Kyle agreed.
Then they checked Quint's room for bugs and, finding nothing, called it a day.
Kyle took a shower, got into bed. It was uncomfortably warm so he pushed his blankets on to the floor. The air was humid, oppressive. It felt like rain, and if a storm blew up it would probably be a dandy. Kyle knew Genoa in the autumn, also knew that it has some of the worst storms imaginable.
He left his bedside light burning, settled down to sleep. A door, unlocked, stood between the two rooms. Quint was right next door, probably asleep by now. The city's traffic was giving it hell out beyond the louvered window shutters. London was a tomb by comparison. Tombs hardly seemed a fitting subject to go to sleep on, but .
Kyle closed his eyes; he felt sleep pulling him down, soft as a woman's arms; and he felt -
- something else pulling him awake!
His lamp was still on, its shade forming a pool of yellow light on the mahogany bedside table. But there was now a second source of illumination, and it was blue! Kyle snatched himself back from sleep, sat bolt upright in his bed. It was Harry Keogh, of course.
Carl Quint came bounding through the joining door, dressed only in his pyjama bottoms. He pulled up short, backed off a pace. 'Oh my God!' he said, his mouth hanging open. The Keogh apparition - man, sleeping child and all - turned through ninety degrees to face him.
Don't be alarmed, said Keogh.
'Can you see him?' Kyle wasn't quite awake yet.
'Lord, yes,' Quint breathed, nodding. 'And hear him, too. But even if I couldn't, I'd still know he was here.'
A psychic sensitive, said Keogh. Well, that helps.
Kyle swung his legs out of bed, switched off the lamp. Keogh stood out so much better in the darkness, like a hologram of infinitely fine neon wires. 'Carl Quint,' Kyle said, his skin prickling with the sheer weirdness of this thing he'd never get used to, 'meet Harry Keogh.'
Quint stumblingly found a chair close to Kyle's bed and flopped into it. Kyle was wide awake now, fully in control. He realised how insubstantial it must sound, how hollow and commonplace when he asked: 'Harry, what are you doing here?'
And Quint almost laughed, however hysterically, when the apparition answered: I've. been talking to Thibor Ferenczy, using my time to my best advantage - for there's precious little of it to waste. Every waking hour makes Harry jar stronger and me less able to resist him. It's his body and I'm being subsumed, even absorbed. His little brain is filling up with its own stuff, squeezing me out or maybe compacting me. Pretty soon I'll have to leave him, and then I don't know if I'll ever be corporeal again. So on the way back from Thibor, I thought I'd drop in on you.
Kyle could almost feel Quint's near-hysteria; he glanced warningly at him in the light of the soft blue glow. 'You've been talking to the old Thing in the ground?' he repeated. 'But why, Harry? What is it you want from him?'
He's one of them, a vampire, or he was. The dead aren't much bothered with him. He's a pariah among the dead. In me he has, well, if not a friend, at least someone to talk to. So we trade: I converse with him, and he tells me things I want to know. But nothing's easy with Thibor Ferenczy. Even dead he has a devious mind. He knows that the longer he strings it out, the sooner I'll be back. He used the same tactics with Dragosani, remember?
'Oh, yes,' Kyle nodded. 'And I also remember what happened to Dragosani. You should be careful, Harry.'
Thibor's dead, Alec, Keogh reminded him. He can do no more harm. But what he left behind might.
'What he left behind? You mean Yulian Bodescu? I've got men watching the place in Devon until I'm ready for him. When we're sure of his patterns, when we've assessed everything you've told us, then we'll move in.'
I didn't exactly mean Yulian, though certainly he's part of it. But are you telling me you've put espers on the job? Keogh seemed alarmed. Do they know what they might have to deal with if they're marked? Are they fully in the picture?
'Yes they are. Fully. And they're equipped. But if we can we'll learn a little more about them before we act. For all that you've told us, still we know so very little.'
And do you know about George Lake?
Kyle felt his scalp tingle. Quint, too. And this time it was Quint who answered. 'We know he's no longer in his grave in the cemetery in Blagdon, if that's what you mean. The doctors diagnosed a heart attack, and his wife and the Bodescus were there at his burial. So much we've checked out. But we've also been there and had a look for ourselves, and George Lake wasn't where he should be. We figure he's back at the house with the others.'
The Keogh manifestation nodded. That's what I meant. So now he's undead. And that will have told Yulian Bodescu exactly what he is! Or maybe not exactly. But by now he must be pretty sure he's a vampire. In fact, he's only a half-vampire. George, on the other hand - he's the real thing! He has been dead, so what's in him will have taken complete control.
'What?' Kyle was bemused. 'I don't - ,
Let me tell you the rest of Thibor's story, Keogh cut in. See what you make of that.
Kyle could only nod his agreement. 'I suppose you know what you're doing, Harry.' The room was already colder. Kyle gave a blanket to Quint, wrapped another about himself. 'OK, Harry,' he said. 'The stage is all yours. .
The last thing Thibor remembered seeing was the Ferenczy's bestial animal face, his jaws open in a gaping laugh, displaying a crimson forked tongue shuddering like a speared snake in its alien passion. He remembered that, and the fact that he'd been drugged. Then he'd gone down in an irresistible whirlpool, down, down to black lightness depths from which his resurgence had been slow and fraught with nightmares.
He had dreamed of yellow-eyed wolves; of a blasphemous banner device in the form of a devil's head, with its forked tongue much like the Ferenczy's own, except that on the banner it had dripped gouts of blood; of a black castle built over a mountain gorge, and of its master, who was something other than human. And now, because he knew that he had dreamed, he also knew he must be waking up. And the thought came to him: how much was dream and how much reality?
Thibor felt a subterranean cold, cramps in all his limbs, a throbbing in his temples like a reverberating gong in some great sounding cavern. He felt the manacles on his wrists and ankles, the cold slimy stone at his back where he slumped, the drip of seeping moisture from somewhere overhead, where it hissed past his ear and splashed in the hollow of his collar-bone.
Chained naked in some black vault in the castle of the Ferenczy. And no need now to ask how much of it had been dream. All of it was real.
Thibor came snarling to life, strained with a giant's strength against the chains that held him powerless, ignored the thunder in his head and the lancing pains in his limbs and body to roar in the darkness like a wounded bull. 'Ferenczy! You dog, Ferenczy! Treacherous, misshapen, misbegotten - '
The Wallach warlord stopped shouting, listened to the echoes of his curses dying away. And to something else. From somewhere up above he had heard his bellowing answered by the slam of a door, heard unhurried footsteps descending towards him. And with his cold skin prickling and his nostrils flaring - from rage and terror both - he hung in his chains and waited.
The darkness was very nearly utter, streaks of nitre alone glowed with a chemical phosphorescence on the walls; but as Thibor held his breath and the hollow footsteps came closer, so too came a flickering illumination. It issued in an unevenly penetrating yellow glow from an arched stone doorway in what must otherwise be a solid wall of rock; and while Thibor watched with bated breath, so the shadows of his cell were thrown back more yet as the light grew stronger and the footsteps louder.
Then a sputtering lantern was thrust in through the archway, and behind it was the Ferenczy himself, crouching a little to avoid the wedge of the keystone. Behind the lantern his eyes were red fires in the shadows of his face. He held the lantern high, nodded grimly at what he saw.
Thibor had thought he was alone but now he saw that he was not. In the flare of yellow lamplight he discovered that there were others here with him. But dead or alive...? One of them seemed alive, at least.
Thibor narrowed his eyes as the glare from the Ferenczy's lantern brightened, lighting up the entire dungeon. Three other prisoners were with him here, yes, and dead or alive it wasn't hard to guess who they'd be. As to how or why the castle's master had brought them here - that was anybody's guess. They were of course Thibor's Wallach companions, and also old Arvos of the Szgany. Of the three, it seemed to be the stumpy Wallach who'd survived: the one who was all chest and arms. He lay crumpled on the floor where stone flags had been laid aside to reveal black soil underneath. His body seemed badly broken, but still his barrel chest rose and fell with some regularity and one of his arms twitched a little.
'The lucky one,' said the Ferenczy, his voice deep as a pit. 'Or perhaps unlucky, depending on one's point of view. He was alive when my children took me to him.'
Thibor rattled his chains. 'Was? Man, he's alive now! Can't you see him moving? See, he breathes!'
'Oh, yes!' the Ferenczy moved closer, in that soundless, sinuous way of his. 'And the blood surges in his veins, and the brain in his broken head functions and thinks frightened thoughts - but I tell you he is not alive. Nor is he truly dead. He is undead!' He chuckled as at some obscene joke.
'Alive, undead? Is there a difference?' Thibor yanked viciously on his chains. How he would love to wrap them round the other's neck and squeeze till his eyes popped out.
'The difference is immortality.' His tormentor thrust his face closer yet. 'Alive he was. mortal, undead he "lives" forever. Or until he destroys himself, or some accident does the job for him. Ah, but to live forever, eh, Thibor the Wallach? How sweet is life, eh? But would you believe it can be boring, too? No, of course not, for you have not known the ennui of the centuries. Women? I have had such women! And food?' His voice took on a slyness. 'Ah! Gobbets you've not yet dreamed of. And yet for these last hundred - nay, two hundred - years, all of these things have bored me.'
'Bored with life, are you?' Thibor ground his teeth, put every last effort into wrenching his chains' staples from the sweating stone. It was useless. 'Only set me free and I'll put an end to your - uh! - boredom.'
The Ferenczy laughed like a baying hound. 'You will? But you already have, my son. By coming here. For, you see, I have waited for one just such as you. Bored? Aye, that I have been. And indeed you are the cure, but it's a cure we'll apply my way. You'd slay me, eh? Do you really think so? Oh, I've my share of fighting to come, but not with you. What? I should fight with my own son? Never! No, I'll go forth and fight and kill like none before me! And I'll lust and love like twenty men, and none shall say me nay! And I'll do it all to the ends of the earth, to such excess that my name shall live forever, or be stricken forever from man's history! For what else can I do with passions such as mine, a creature such as I am, condemned to life?'
'You speak in riddles,' Thibor spat on the floor. 'You're a madman, crazed by your lonely life up here with nothing but wolves for company. I can't see why the VIad fears you, one madman on his own. But I can see why he'd want you dead. You are... loathsome! A blemish on mankind. Misshapen, split-tongued, insane: death's the best thing for you. Or locked up where natural men won't have to look at you!'
The Ferenczy drew back a little, almost as if he were surprised at Thibor's vehemence. He hung his lantern from a bracket, seated himself on a stone bench. 'Natural men, did you say? Do you talk to me of nature? Ah, but there's more in nature than meets the eye, my son! Indeed there is. And you think that I'm unnatural, eh? Well, the Wamphyri are rare, be sure, but so is the sabre-tooth. Why, I haven't seen a mountain cat with teeth like scythes in... three hundred years! Perhaps they are no more. Perhaps men have hunted them down to the last. Aye, and it may be that one day the Wamphyri shall be no more. But if that day should ever come, believe me it shall not be the fault of Faethor Ferenczy. No, and it shall not be yours.'
'More riddles - meaningless mouthings - madness!' Thibor spat the words out. He was helpless and he knew it. If this monstrous being wished him dead, then he was as good as dead. And it was no use to reason with a madman. Where is the reason in a madman? Better to insult him face to face, enrage him and get it over with. It would be no pleasant thing to hang here and rot, and watch maggots crawling in the flesh of men he'd called his comrades.
'Are you finished?' the Ferenczy asked in his deepest voice. 'Best to be done now with all hurtful ranting, for I've much to tell you, much to show you, great knowledge and even greater skills to impart. I'm weary of this place, you see, but it needs a keeper. When I go out into the world, someone must stay here to keep this place for me. Someone strong as I myself. It is my place and these are my mountains, my lands. One day I may wish to return. When I do, then I shall find a Ferenczy here. Which is why I call you my son. Here and now I adopt you, Thibor of Wallachia. Henceforth you are Thibor Ferenczy. I give you my name, and I give you my banner: the devil's head! Oh, I know these honours tower above you; I know you do not yet have my strength. But I shall give it to you! I shall bestow upon you the greatest honour, a magnificent mystery. And when you are become Wamphyri, then - '
'Your name?' Thibor growled. 'I don't want your name.
I spit on your name!' He shook his head wildly. 'As for your device: I've a banner of my own.'
'Ah?' the creature stood up, flowed closer. 'And what are your signs?'
'A bat of the Wallachian plain,' Thibor answered, 'astride the Christian dragon.'
The Ferenczy's bottom jaw fell open. 'But that is most propitious. A bat, you say? Excellent! And riding the dragon of the Christians? Better still! And now a third device: let Shaitan himself surmount both.'
'I don't need your blood-spewing devil.' Thibor shook his head and scowled.
The Ferenczy smiled a slow, sinister smile. 'Oh, but you will, you will.' Then he laughed out loud. 'Aye, and I shall avail myself of your symbols. When I go out across the world I shall fly devil, bat, and dragon all three. There, see how I honour you! Henceforth we carry the same banner.'
Thibor narrowed his eyes. 'Faethor Ferenczy, you play with me as a cat plays with a mouse. Why? You call me your son, offer me your name, your sigils. Yet here I hang in chains, with one friend dead and another dying at my feet. Say it now, you are a madman and I'm your next victim. Isn't it so?'
The other shook his wolfish head. 'So little faith,' he rumbled, almost sadly. 'But we shall see, we shall see. Now tell me, what do you know of the Wamphyri?'
'Nothing. Or very little. A legend, a myth. Freakish men who hide in remote places and spring out on peasants and small children to frighten them. Occasionally dangerous: murderers, vampires, who suck blood in the night and swear it gives them strength. "Viesczy", to the Russian peasant; "Obour", to the Bulgar; "Vrykoulakas" in Greek-land. They are names which demented men attach to themselves. But there is something common to them in all tongues: they are liars and madmen!'
'You do not believe? You have looked upon me, seen the wolves which I command, the terror I excite in the hearts of the VIad and his priests, but you do not believe.'
'I've said it before and I'll say it again,' Thibor gave his chains a last, frustrated jerk. 'The men I've killed have all stayed dead! No, I do not believe.'
The other gazed at his prisoner with burning eyes. 'That is the difference between us,' he said. 'For the men I kill, if it pleases me to kill them in a certain way, do not stay dead. They become undead...' He stood up, stepped flowingly close. His upper lip curled back at one side, displayed a downward curving fang like a needle-sharp tusk. Thibor looked away, avoided the man's breath, which was like poison. And suddenly the Wallach felt weak, hungry, thirsty. He was sure he could sleep for a week.
'How long have I been here?' he asked.
'Four days.' The Ferenczy began to pace to and fro. 'Four nights gone you climbed the narrow way. Your friends were unfortunate, you remember? I fed you, gave you wine; alas, you found my wine a little strong! Then, while you, er, rested, my familiar creatures took me to the fallen ones where they lay. Faithful old Arvos, he was dead. Likewise your scrawny Wallach comrade, broken by sharp boulders. My children wanted them for themselves, but I had another use for them and so had them dragged here. This one - , he nudged the blocky Wallach with a booted foot ' - he lived. He had fallen on Arvos! He was a little broken, but alive. I could see he wouldn't last till morning, and I needed him, if only to prove a point. And so, like the "myth", the "legend", I fed upon him. I drank from him, and in return gave him something back; I took of his blood, and gave a little of mine. He died. Three days and nights are passed by; that which I gave him worked in him and a certain joining has occurred. Also, a healing. His broken parts are being mended. He will soon rise up as one of the Wamphyri, to be counted in the narrow ranks of The Elite, but ever in thrall to me! He is undead.' The Ferenczy paused.
'Madman!' Thibor accused again, but with something less of conviction. For the Ferenczy had spoken of these nightmares so easily, with no obvious effort at contrivance. He could not be what he claimed to be - no, of course not - but certainly he might believe that he was.
The Ferenczy, if he heard Thibor's renewed accusation of madness, ignored or refused to acknowledge it. "Unnatural", you called me,' he said. 'Which is to claim that you yourself know something of nature. Am I correct? Do you understand life, the "nature" of living, growing things?'
'My fathers were farmers, aye,' Thibor grunted. 'I've seen things grow.'
'Good! Then you'll know that there are certain principles, and that sometimes they seem illogical. Now let me test you. How say you: if a man has a tree of favourite apples, and he fears the tree might die, how may he reproduce it and retain the flavour of the fruit?'
'Indulge me, pray.'
Thibor shrugged. 'Two ways: by seed and by cutting. Plant an apple, and it will grow into a tree.. But for the true, original taste, take cuttings and nurture them. It is obvious: what are cuttings but continuations of the old tree?'
'Obvious?' the Ferenczy raised his eyebrows. 'To you, perhaps. But it would seem obvious to me - and to most men who are not farmers - that the seed should give the true taste. For what is the seed but the egg of the tree, eh? Still, you are of course correct, the cutting gives the true taste. As for a tree grown from seed: why, it is spawned of the pollens of trees other than the original! How then may its fruit be the same? "Obvious" - to a tree-grower.'
'Where does all this lead?' Thibor was surer than ever of the Ferenczy's madness.
'In the Wamphyri,' the castle's master gazed full upon him, ' "nature" requires no outside intervention, no foreign pollens. Even the trees require a mate with which to reproduce, but the Wamphyri do not. All we require is a host.'
'Host?' Thibor frowned, felt a sudden tremor in his great legs - the dampness of the walls, stiffening more cramps into his limbs.
'Now tell me,' Faethor went on, 'what do you know of fishing?'
'Eh? Fishing? I was a farmer's son, and now I'm a warrior. What would I know of fishing?'
Faethor continued without answering him: 'In the Bulgars and in Turkey-land, fishermen fished in the Greek Sea. For years without number they suffered a plague of starfish, in such quantities that they ruined the fishing and their great weight broke the nets. And the policy of the fishermen was this: they would cut up and kill any starfish they hauled in, and hurl it back to feed the fish. Alas, the true fish does not eat starfish! And worse, from every piece of starfish, a new one grows complete! And "naturally", every year there were more. Then some wise fisherman divined the truth, and they began to keep their unwanted catches, bringing them ashore, burning them and scattering their ashes in the olive groves. Lo and behold, the plague dwindled away, the fish came back, the olives grew black and juicy.'
A nervous tic jumped in Thibor's shoulder: the strain of hanging so long in chains, of course. 'Now you tell me,' he answered, 'what starfish have to do with you and I?'
'With you, nothing, not yet. But with the Wamphyri why, "nature" has granted us the same boon! How may you cut down an enemy if each lopped portion sprouts a new body, eh?' Faethor grinned through the yellow bone mesh of his teeth. 'And how may any mere man kill a vampire? Now see why I like you so well, my son. For who but a hero would come up here to destroy the indestructible?'
In the eye of Thibor's memory, he heard again the words of a certain contact in the Kievan Vlad's court:
They put stakes through their hearts and cut off their heads... better still, they break them up entirely and burn all the pieces...ven a small part of a vampire may grow whole again in the body of an unwary man... like a leech, but on the inside!
'In the bed of the forest,' Faethor broke into his morbid thoughts, 'grow many vines. They seek the light, and climb great trees to reach the fresh, free air. Some "foolish" vines, as it were, may even grow so thickly as to kill their trees and bring them crashing down; and so destroy themselves. You've seen that, I'm sure. But others simply use the great trunks of their hosts; they share the earth and the air and the light between them; they live out their lives together. Indeed some vines are beneficial to their host trees. Ah! But then comes the drought. The trees wither, blacken, crumble, and the forest is no more. But down in the fertile earth the vines live on, waiting. Aye, and when more trees grow in fifty, an hundred years, back come the vines to climb again towards the light. Who is the stronger: the tree for his girth and sturdy branches, or the slender, insubstantial vine for his patience? If patience is a virtue, Thibor of Wallachia, then the Wamphyri are virtuous as all the ages . .
'Trees, fishes, vines.' Thibor shook his head. 'You rave, Faethor Ferenczy!'
'All of these things I've told you,' the other was undeterred, 'you will understand... eventually. But before you can begin to understand, first you must believe in me. In what I am.'
'I'll never - ' Thibor began, only to be cut short.
'Oh, but you will!' the Ferenczy hissed, his awful tongue lashing in the cave of his mouth. 'Now listen: I have willed my egg. I have brought it on and it is forming even now. Each of the Wamphyri has but one egg, one seed, in a lifetime; one chance to recreate the true fruit; one opportunity to carve his changeling "nature" into the living being of another. You are the host I have chosen for my egg.'
'Your egg?' Thibor wrinkled his nose, scowled, drew back as far as his chains would allow. 'Your seed? You are beyond help, Faethor.'
'Alas,' said the other, lip curling and great nostrils flaring, 'but you are the one who is beyond help!' His cloak billowed as he flowed towards the broken body of old Arvos. He hoisted the gypsy's corpse upright in one hand, like a bundle. of rags, perched it, head stiffly lolling, in a niche in the stone wall. 'We have no sex as such,' he said, glaring across the cell at Thibor. 'Only the sex of our hosts. Ah! But we multiply their zest an hundred times! We have no lust except theirs, which we double and redouble. We may, and do, drive them to excesses - in all of their passions - but we heal their wounds, too, when the excess is too great for human flesh and blood to endure. And with long, long years, even centuries, so man and vampire grow into one creature. They become inseparable, except under extreme duress. I, who was a man, have now reached just such a maturity. So shall you, in perhaps a thousand years.'
Once more, futilely, Thibor tugged at his chains. Impossible to break or even strain them. He could put a thumb through each link!
'About the Wamphyri,' Faethor continued. 'Just as there are in the common world widely differing sorts of the same basic creature - owl and gull and sparrow, fox and hound and wolf - so are there varying Wamphyri states and conditions: For example: we talked about taking cuttings from an apple tree. Yes, it might be easier if you think of it that way.'
He stooped, dragged the unconscious, twitching body of the squat Wallach away from the area of torn up flags, tossed old Arvos' corpse down upon the black soil. Then he tore open the old man's ragged shirt, and glanced up from where he knelt into Thibor's mystified eyes. 'Is there sufficient light, my son? Can you see?'
'I see a madman clearly enough,' Thibor gave a brusque nod.
The Ferenczy returned his nod, and again he smiled his hideous smile, the ivory of his teeth gleaming in lantern light. 'Then see this!' he hissed.
Kneeling beside old Arvos' crumpled form, he extended a forefinger towards the gypsy's naked chest. Thibor watched. Faethor's forearm stuck out free of his robe. Whatever the Ferenczy was up to, there could be no trickery, no sleight of hand here.
Faethor's nails were long and sharply pointed at the end of his even, slender fingers. Thibor saw the quick of the pointing finger turn red and start to drip blood. The pink nail cracked open like the brittle shell of a nut, flapped loosely like a trapdoor on a finger bloating and pulsating. Blue and grey-green veins stood out in that member, writhing under the skin; the raw tip visibly lengthened, extending itself towards the dead gypsy's cold grey flesh.
The pulsating digit was no longer a finger as such: it was a pseudopod of unflesh, a throbbing rod of living matter, a stiff snake shorn of its skin. Now twice, now three times its former length, it vibrated down at an angle to within inches of its target, which appeared to be the dead man's heart. And all of this Thibor watched with bulging eyes, bated breath and gaping mouth.
And until this moment Thibor had not really known fear, but now he did. Thibor the Wallach - warlord of however small and ragged an army, humourless, merciless killer of the Pechenegi - utterly fearless Thibor, until now. Until now he'd not met a creature he feared. In the hunt, wild boar in the forests, which had wounded men so badly as to kill them, were 'piglets' to him. In the challenge: let any man only dare hurl down the gauntlet, Thibor would fight him any way he chose. All knew it, and none chose! And in battle: he led from the front, stood at the head of the charge, could only ever be found in the thick of the fighting. Fear? It was a word without meaning. Fear of what? When he had ridden out to battle, he'd known each day might be his last. That had not deterred him. So black was his hatred of the invaders, of all enemies, that it simply engulfed fear and put it down. No creature, or man, or threat of any device of men had ever unmanned him since... oh, before he could remember: since he was a child, if ever he'd been one. But Faethor Ferenczy was something other than all of these. Torture could only maim and must kill in the end, and there's no pain after death, but what the Ferenczy threatened seemed an eternity of hell. Mere moments ago it had been a strange fantasy, the dreams of a madman, but now. .
Unable to tear his eyes away, Thibor groaned and grew pale at the sight of that which followed.
'A cutting, aye,' Faethor's voice was low, trembling with dark passions, 'to be nurtured in flesh already tainted and falling into decay. The lowest form of Wamphyri existence, it will come to nothing so long as it has no living host. But it will live, devour, grow strong - and hide! When there is nothing left of Arvos it will hide in the earth and wait. Like the vine, waiting for a tree. The cut-off leg of a starfish, which does not die but waits to grow a new body - except this thing I make waits to inhabit one! Mindless, unthinking, it will be a thing of the most primitive instincts. But it can nevertheless outlast the ages. Until some unwary man finds it, and it finds him...'
His incredible, bloody, throbbing forefinger touched Arvos' flesh... and leprous white rootlets sprang forth, slid like worms in earth into the gypsy's chest! Small flaps of fretted skin were laid back; the pseudopod developed tiny glistening teeth of its own; it began to gnaw its way inside. Thibor would have looked away but he could not. Faethor's 'finger' broke off with a soft tearing sound and quickly burrowed its way out of sight within the corpse.
Faethor held up his hand. The severed member was shrinking back into him, pseudoflesh melting into his flesh. The cancerous colours went out of it; it assumed a more normal shape; the old fingernail fell to the floor, and right in front of Thibor's eyes a new, pink shell began to form.
'Well then, my hero son who came here to kill me,' Faethor slowly stood up and held out his hand toward Thibor's bloodless face. 'And could you have killed this?'
Thibor drew back his face, head and body, tried to cringe into the very stone to avoid that pointing finger. But Faethor only laughed. 'What? You think that I would... ? But no, no, not you, my son. Oh, I could, be sure! And forever you'd be in thrall to me. But that is the second state of the Wamphyri and unworthy of you.
No, for I hold you in the highest esteem. Why, you shall have my very egg!'
Thibor tried to find words but his throat lacked moisture, was dry as a desert. Faethor laughed again and drew back that threatening hand of his. He turned away and stepped to where the squat Wallach lay humped on the stone flags, gurglingly breathing, face down in a dusty corner. 'He is in that second state,' Thibor's tormentor explained. 'I took from him and gave him something back. Flesh of my flesh is in him now, healing him, changing him. His tears and broken bones will mend and he will live - for as long as I will it. But he will always be slave to me, to do my bidding, obey my every command. You see, he is vampire, but without vampire mind. The mind comes only from the egg and he is not grown from seed but is merely... a cutting. When he wakes, which will be soon, then you will understand.'
'Understand?' Thibor found his voice, however cracked. 'But how can I understand? Why should I want to understand? You are a monster, I understand that! Arvos is dead, and yet you... you did that to him! Why? Nothing can live in him now but maggots.'
Faethor shook his head. 'No, his flesh is like fertile soil - or the fertile sea. Think of the starfish.'
'You will grow another... another you? Inside him?' Thibor was very nearly gibbering now.
'It will consume him,' Faethor answered. 'But another me - no. I have mind. It will not have mind. Arvos cannot be a host for his mind is dead, do you see? He is food, nothing more. When it grows it will not be like me. Only like... what you saw.' He held up his pale, newly formed index finger.
'And the other?' Thibor managed to nod in the direction of the man - that which had been a man - snoring and gasping in the corner. -
'When I took him he was alive,' said Faethor. 'His mind was alive. What I gave him is now growing in his body, and in his mind. Oh, he died, but only to make way for the life of the Wamphyri. Which is not life but undeath. He will not return to true life but to undeath.'
'Madness!' Thibor moaned.
'As for this one - , The Ferenczy stepped into shadows on the far side of the cell, where the light did not quite reach. The legs and one arm of Thibor's second Wallach comrade protruded from the darkness, until Faethor dragged all of him into view. 'This one will be food for both of them. Until the mindless one hides himself away, and the other takes up his duties as your servant here.'
'My servant?' Thibor was bewildered. 'Here?'
'Do you hear nothing I say?' Faethor's turn to scowl. 'For more than two hundred years I have cared for myself, protected myself, stayed alone and lonely in a world expanding, changing, full of new wonders. This I have done for my seed, which now is ready to be passed on, passed down, to you. You will stay behind and keep this place, these lands, this "legend" of the Ferenczy alive. But I shall go out amongst men and revel! There are wars to be won, honours to be earned, history is in the making. Aye, and there are women to be spoiled!'
'Honours, you?' Thibor had regained something of his former nerve. 'I doubt it. And for a creature "alone and lonely", you seem to know a great deal of what is passing in the world.'
Faethor smiled his ghastliest smile. 'Another secret art of the Wamphyri,' he chuckled obscenely in his throat. 'One of several. Beguilement is another - which you saw at work between myself and Arvos, binding his mind to mine so that we could talk to each other over great distances - and then there is the art of the necromancer.'
Necromancy! Thibor had heard of that. The eastern barbarians had their magicians, who could open the bellies of dead men to read their lives' secrets in their smoking guts.
'Necromancy,' Faethor nodded, seeing the look in Thibor's eyes, 'aye. I shall teach it to you soon. It has allowed me to confirm my choice of yourself as a future vessel of the Wamphyri. For who would know better of you and your deeds, your strengths and weaknesses, your travels and adventures, than a former colleague, eh?' He stooped and effortlessly flopped the body of the thin Wallach over onto its back. And Thibor saw what had been done. No wolf pack had done this, for nothing was eaten.
The thin, hunched Wallach - an aggressive man in life, who had always gone with his chin thrust forward - seemed even thinner now. His trunk had been laid open from groin to gullet, with all of his pipes and organs loose and flopping, and the heart in particular hanging by a thread, literally torn out. Thibor's sword had gutted men as thoroughly as this, and it had meant nothing. But by the Ferenczy's own account, this man had already been dead. And his enormous wound was not the work of a sword . .
Thibor shuddered, turned his eyes away from the mutilated corpse and inadvertently found Faethor's hands. The monster's nails were sharp as knives. Worse, (Thibor felt dizzy, even faint,) his teeth were like chisels.
'Why?' The word left Thibor's lips as a whisper.
'I've told you why.' Faethor was growing impatient. 'I wanted to know about you. In life he was your friend. You were in his blood, his lungs, his heart. In death he was loyal, too, for he would not give up his secrets easily. See how loose are his innards. Ah! How I teased them, to wrest their secrets from him.'
All the strength went out of Thibor's legs and he fell in his chains like a man crucified. 'If I'm to die, kill me now,' he gasped. 'Have done with this.'
Faethor flowed close, closer, stood not an arm's length away. 'The first state of being - the prime condition of the Wamphyri - does not require death. You may think that you are dying, when first the seed puts out its rootlets into your brain and sends them groping along the marrow of your spine, but you will not die. After that...' he shrugged. 'The transition may be laboriously slow or lightning swift, one can never tell. But of one thing be sure, it will happen.'
Thibor's blood surged one last time in his veins. He could still die a man. 'Then if you'll not give me a clean death, I'll give myself one!' He gritted his teeth and wrenched on his manacles until the blood flowed freely from his wrists; and still he jerked on the irons, deepening his wounds. Faethor's long drawn-out hisssss stopped him. He looked up from his grisly work of self-destruction into... into the pit, the abyss itself.
Hideous face working yet more hideously, features literally writhing in a torment of passion, the Ferenczy was so close as to be the merest breath away. His long jaws opened and a scarlet snake flickered in the darkness behind teeth which had turned to daggers in his mouth. 'You dare show me your blood? The hot blood of youth, the blood which is the life?' His throat convulsed in a sudden spasm and Thibor thought he was going to be ill, but he was not. Instead he clutched at his throat, gurgled chokingly, staggered a little. When he had regained control, he said: 'Ah, Thibor! But now, ready or not, you have brought on that which cannot be reversed. It is my time, and yours. The time of the egg, the seed. See! See!'
He opened his great jaws until his mouth was a cavern, and his forked, flickering tongue bent backwards like a hook into his throat. And like a hook it caught something and dragged it into view.
Gasping, again Thibor drew down into himself. He saw the vampire seed there in the fork of Faethor's tongue: a translucent, silver-grey droplet shining like a pearl, trembling in the final seconds before... before its seeding?
'No!' Thibor hoarsely denied the horror. But it would not be denied. He looked in Faethor's eyes for some hint of what was coming, but that was a terrible mistake. Beguilement and hypnotism were the Ferenczy's greatest accomplishment. The vampire's eyes were yellow as gold, huge and growing bigger moment by moment.
Ah, my son, those eyes seemed to say, come, a kiss for your father.
Then - The pearly droplet turned scarlet, and Faethor's mouth
fastened on Thibor's own, which stood open in a scream that might last forever .
Harry Keogh's pause had lasted for several seconds, but still Kyle and Quint sat there, wrapped in their blankets and the horror of his story.
'That is the most - ,Kyle started.
Almost simultaneously, Quint said, 'I've never in my life heard - ,
We have to stop there, Keogh broke in on both of them, something of urgency in his telepathic voice. My son is about to be difficult; he's going to wake up for his feed.
'Two minds in one body,' Quint mused, still awed by what he'd heard. 'I mean, I'm talking about you, Harry. In a way you're not unlike - ,
Don't say it. Keogh cut him off a second time. There's no way I'm like that! Not even remotely. But listen, I have to hurry. Do you have anything to tell me?
Kyle got a grip of his rioting thoughts, forced himself back to earth, to the present. 'We're meeting Krakovitch tomorrow,' he said. 'But I'm annoyed. This was supposed to be exclusive, entirely an inter-branch exchange - a bit of ESP dtente, as it were - but there's at least one KGB goon in on it too.'
How do you know?
'We've a minder on the job - but he's strictly in the background. Their man comes close up.'
The Keogh apparition seemed puzzled. That wouldn't have happened in Borowitz's time. He hated them! And frankly, I can't see it happening now. There's no meeting ground between Andropov's sort of mind-control and ours. And when I say 'ours' I include the Russian outfit. Don't let it develop into a shouting match, Alec. You have to work with Krakovitch. Offer your assistance.
Kyle frowned. 'To do what?'
He has ground to clear. You know at least one of the sites. You can help him to do it.
'Ground to clear?' Kyle got up off his bed. Hugging his blanket to him, he stepped towards the manifestation. 'Harry, we still have our own ground to clear in England! While I'm out here in Italy, Yulian Bodescu is still freewheeling over there! I'm anxious about it. I keep getting this urge to turn my lot loose on him and - '
NO! Keogh was alarmed. Not until we know everything there is to know. You daren't risk it. Right now he's at the centre of a very small nest, but if he wanted to he could spread this thing like a plague!
Kyle knew he was right. 'Very well,' he said, 'but - ,
Can't stay, the other broke in. The pull is too strong. He's waking, gathering his faculties, and he seems to include me as one of them. His neon-etched image began to shimmer, its blue glow pulsing.
'Harry, what "ground" were you talking about, anyway?'
The old Thing in the ground. Keogh came and went like a distorted radio signal. The hologram child superimposed over his midriff was visibly stirring, stretching.
Kyle thought: we've had this conversation before! 'You said we know at least one of the sites. Sites? You mean Thibor's tomb? But he's dead, surely?'
The cruciform hills... starfish... vines... creepers in the earth, hiding.
Kyle drew air in a gasp. 'He's still there?'
Keogh nodded, changed his mind and shook his head. He tried to speak; his outline wavered and collapsed; he disappeared in a scattering of brilliant blue motes. For a moment Kyle thought his mind still remained, but it was only Carl Quint whispering: 'No, not Thibor. He's not there. Not him, but what he left behind!'