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Chapter Ten

 

Harry Keogh's nimbus of blue fire burned bright in the stirless glade over Thibor's tumbled mausoleum, and Keogh's incorporeal mind was aware of the passage of time. In the Möbius continuum time was a very nearly meaningless concept, but here in the first low foothills of the Carpatii Meridionali it was very real, and still the dead vampire's tale was not completely told. The important part - for Harry, and for Alec Kyle and INTESP - was still to come, but Harry knew better than to ask directly for the information he desired. He could only press Thibor to the bitter end.

'Go on,' he urged, when the vampire's pause threatened to stretch indefinitely.

What? Go on? Thibor seemed mildly surprised. But what more is there? My tale is told.

'Still, I'd like to hear the rest of it. Did you stay in the castle as Faethor had commanded, or did you return to Kiev? You ended your days in Wallachia, right here, in these cruciform hills. How did that come about?'

Thibor sighed. Surely it is now time for you to tell me certain things. We made a bargain, Harry.

I warned you, Harry Keogh! the spirit of Boris Dragosani joined in, sharper than that of Thibor. Never bargain with a vampire. For there's always the devil to pay. .

Dragosani was right, Harry knew. He'd heard of Thibor's cunning from the very horse's mouth: it had taken no small amount of guile to defeat Faethor Ferenczy. 'A deal is a deal,' he said. 'When Thibor has delivered, so shall I. Now come on, Thibor, let's have the rest of the story.'

So be it, he said. This is how it was.

Something brought me awake. I thought I heard the rending of timber. My mind and body were dull from the night's excesses - all of the night's excesses, of which Faethor had only been the first - but nevertheless I stirred myself up. I lay naked on the lady's couch. Smiling strangely, she approached from the direction of the locked door, her hands clasped behind her back. My dull mind saw nothing to fear. If she had sought to escape she could easily have taken the key from my clothes. But as I made to sit up her expression changed, became charged with hatred and lust. Not the human lust of last night but the inhuman lust of the vampire. Her hands came into view, and clasped in one of them was a splinter of oak ripped from the shattered door panel. A sharp knife of hardwood!

'You'll put no stake through my heart, lady,' I told her, knocking the splinter from her hand and sending her flying. While she hissed and snarled at me from a corner I dressed, went out, and locked the door behind me. I must be more careful in future. She could easily have slipped away and unbarred the castle's door for Faethor - if he still lived. Obviously she'd been more intent on putting an end to me than on seeing to his well-being. Her master he may have been, but that wasn't to say she'd relished it!

I checked the castle's security. All stood as before. I looked in on Ehrig and the other woman. At first I thought they were fighting, but they were not . .

Then I went up onto the battlements. A weak sun peered through dark, drifting clouds heavy with rain. I thought the sun frowned on me. Certainly I did not enjoy the sensation of its feeble rays on my naked arms and neck, and in a very little while I was glad to return indoors. And now I found myself with time on my hands, which I put to use exploring the castle more fully than before.

I searched for loot and found it: some gold, very ancient, in plate and goblets; a pouch of gems; a small chest of rings, necklaces, bangles and such in precious metals. Enough to keep me in style for an entire lifetime. A normal lifetime, anyway. As for the rest: empty rooms, rotten hangings and wormy furniture, a general air of gloom and decay. It was oppressive, and I determined to be on my way as soon as possible. But first I would like to be sure that the Ferenczy was not lying in wait.

In the evening I dined and drowsed in front of a fire in Faethor's quarters. But as night drew on it brought thoughts to disturb and niggle in the back of my mind, disquieting ideas which would not surface. The wolves were aprowl again, but their howling seemed dismal, distant. There were no bats. The fire lulled me .

Thibor, my son, said a voice. Be on your guard!

I started awake, leaped to my feet, snatched up my sword.

Oh? Ha, ha, ha! that same voice laughed - but no one was there!

'Who is it?' I cried, knowing who it was. 'Come out, Faethor, for I know you're here!'

You know nothing. Go to the window.

I stared wildly all about. The room was full of shadows, leaping in the fire's flicker, but plainly I was alone. Then it came to me that while I had heard the Ferenczy's voice, I had not 'heard' it. It had been like a thought in my head, but not my thought.

Go to the window, fool! the voice came again, and again I started.

Shaken, I went to the window, tore aside the hangings. outside the stars were coming out, a moon was rising, and the eerie crying of wolves floated down from distant peaks.

Look! said the voice. Look!

My head turned as if directed by some other's will. I looked up, away to the ultimate range, a black silhouette against the sunken sun's fast fading glow. Up there, a far weary distance, something glinted, caught the rays of the sun, aimed them at me. Blinded by that effulgence, I threw up an arm and staggered back.

Ah! Ah! See how it hurts, Thibor. A taste of your own medicine! The sun, which once was your friend. But no more.

'It didn't hurt!' I shouted at no one, stepping to the window again and shaking my fist at the mountains. 'It merely startled me. Is that really you, Faethor?'

Who else? Did you think me dead?

'I willed you dead!'

Then you are weak willed.

'Who travels with you?' I asked, surrendering to the strangeness of it. 'Not your women, for I have them. Who signals with your mirrors now, Faethor? It isn't you who casts the sun about.'

The mirror flashed at me again but I stepped aside.

My own go where I go, came his voice in answer. They carry my scorched and blackened body until it is whole again. You have won this round, Thibor, but the battle is undecided.

'Old bastard, you were lucky!' I boasted. 'You'll not be so fortunate next time.'

Now listen. He ignored my bluster. You have incurred my wrath. You will be punished. The degree of punishment is up to you. Stay and guard my lands and castle and all that is mine while I'm gone, and I may be merciful. Desert me - 'And what?' And you shall know hell's torment for eternity. This I, Faethor Ferenczy, swear!

'Faethor, I'm my own man. Even if it were in me to serve, I could never call you master. You must know that, for I did my best to destroy you.'

Thibor, you do not yet understand, but I have given you many things, great powers. Ah, but I've also given you several great weaknesses. Common men, when they die, lie in peace. Most of them.

That last was some sort of threat and I knew it. It was in his voice, a DOOM delivered in a whisper. 'What do you mean?' I asked

Only defy me and you shall find out. I have sworn. And for now, farewell!

And he was gone.

The mirror twinkled once more, like a brilliant star on the far ridge, and then it too was gone .

I had had enough of vampires, male and female. I locked my bedmate of last night in the dungeon with her sister, Ehrig and the burrowing thing, and slept in a chair in front of the fire in Faethor's apartments. Come daybreak and there was nothing to hold up my departure. Except... yes, there were certain things I must do before leaving. The Ferenczy had made threats, and I was never one to suffer threats lightly.

I went out of the castle, shot two fat rabbits with my crossbow, and took them down to the dungeon. I showed them to Ehrig, told him what I wanted and that he must help me. Together we tightly bound and gagged the women, dumping them in one corner of the dungeon. Then, though he protested loudly, I also bound and gagged Ehrig and put him with the women. Finally, I cut open the rabbits and threw their crimson carcasses down on the black soil where the flags were torn up.

Then it was a matter of waiting, but not for long. In a little while a tentacle of leprous flesh came to explore the source of the fresh blood; came groping up through the crumbly soil, pushing it aside, and in a trice I took what I wanted. I left Ehrig and the women tied up, barred the door on them, and went up into the base of the tower. Above the dungeon the steps wound about a central stone pillar. I broke up furniture, piled the pieces around this pillar. I scavenged through the castle, breaking furniture wherever I found it and sharing the wood between the towers. Then I poured oil on all the timbers of the battlements, in the hall and rooms where they spanned the gorge, down all the stairwells. At last I was done, and the work had taken me half-way through the morning.

I left the castle with my loot, walked out a little way from it and looked at it again, one last time, then returned and set a fire in the open door and on the drawbridge. And never looking back, I started out to retrace my steps to Moupho Aide Ferenc Yaborov.

At midday I met my five remaining Wallachs come to find me. They saw me coming down the cliff-hugging path and waited for me in the stony depression at its base. 'Hallo, Thibor!' the senior man greeted me when I joined them. He looked beyond me. 'Ehrig and Vasily, they are not with you?'

'They are dead.' I jerked my head towards the peaks. 'Back there.' They looked, saw the column of white smoke reaching like some strange mushroom into the sky. 'The house of the Ferenczy,' I told them, 'which I have burned.'

Then I looked at them more sternly. 'Why did you wait so long before coming to look for me? How long has it been, five, six weeks?'

'Those damned gypsies, the Szgany!' their spokesman growled. 'When we awoke, the morning after the three of you left, the village was all but deserted. Only women and children left. We tried to find out what was happening; no one seemed to know, or they weren't saying. We waited two days, then set out after you. But the missing Szgany menfolk were waiting along the way. Five of us and more than fifty of them. They blocked the way, and they had the advantage of good positions in the rocks.' He shrugged uncomfortably, tried not to look embarrassed. 'Thibor, we'd have been of use to no one dead!'

I nodded, spoke quietly: 'And yet now you have come?'

'Because they are gone.' He shrugged again. 'When they stopped us, we went back down to their so-called "village". Yesterday morning, the women and kids started to drift off in ones and twos, small parties here and there. They wouldn't speak and looked miserable as sin, as if they were in mourning, or something! At sun-up today the place was empty, except for one old grandad chief - a "prince", he calls himself - his crone and a couple of grandchildren. He wasn't saying anything, and anyway he looks half simple. So, I came up the trail alone, sticking close to cover, and discovered that all the men had gone, too. Then I called up these lads to come and look for you. 'Truth to tell, we'd long thought you were a goner!'

'I might well have been,' I answered, 'but I'm not. Here - , I tossed him a small leather sack, 'carry this. And you - , I gave my loot to another, 'you burden yourself with this. It's heavy and I've carried it far enough. As for the job we came to do: it's done. Tonight we stay in the village; tomorrow it's back to Kiev to see a lying, cheating, scheming Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich!'

'Ugh!' The spokesman held out his sack at arm's length. 'There's a creature in here. It moves!'

I chuckled darkly. 'Aye, handle it carefully - and tonight put it in a box, sack and all. But don't sleep with it next to you. .

Then we went down to the village. On the way down I heard them talking among themselves, mainly of the trouble the Szgany had given them. They mentioned putting the village to the torch. I wouldn't hear of it. 'No,' I said. 'The Szgany are loyal in their way. Loyal to their own. Anyway, they've moved on, gone for good. What profit in burning an empty village?'

And so they said no more about it.

That evening I went to the ancient Szgany prince in his hut and called him out. He came out into the coolness of the clearing and saluted me. I stepped close to him and he looked hard at me, and I heard him gasp. 'Old chief,' I said, 'my men said burn this place, but I stopped them. I've no quarrel with you or the Szgany.'

He was brown and wrinkled as a log, toothless, hunched. His dark eyes were all aslant and seemed not to see too clearly, but I was sure they saw me. He touched me with a hand that trembled, gripped my arm hard above the elbow. 'Wallach?' he inquired.

'That I am, and I'll return there soon,' I answered. He nodded, said, 'Ferengi! - you.' It was not a question.

'Thibor's my name,' I told him. And on impulse:

'Thibor... Ferenczy, aye.'

Again he nodded. 'You - Wamphyri!'

I began to shake my head in denial, then stopped. His eyes were boring into mine. He knew. And so did I, for certain now. 'Yes,' I said. 'Wamphyri.'

He drew breath sharply, let it out slow. Then: 'Where will you go, Thibor the Wallach, son of Old One?'

'Tomorrow I go to Kiev,' I answered grimly. 'I've business there. After that, home.'

'Business?' He laughed a cackling laugh. 'Ah, business!'

He released my arm, grew serious. 'I too go Wallachia. Many Szgany there. You need Szgany. I find you there.'

'Good!' I said.

He backed away, turned and went back into his hut.

We came out of the forest into Kiev in the evening, and I found a place on the outskirts to rest and buy a skin of wine. I sent four of my five into the city. Soon they began return, bringing with them prominent members of my peasant army - what was left of it. Half had been lured away by Vladimir and were off campaigning against the I'echenegi, the rest remained faithful; then had gone into hiding and waited for me.

There were only a handful of the Vlad's soldiers in the city; even the palace guard were away fighting. The prince tad only a score of men, his personal bodyguard, at court. That was part of the news, and this was the rest: that tonight there was to be a small banquet at the palace in honour of some boot-licking Boyar. I invited myself along.

I arrived at the palace alone, or that is the way it must have appeared. I strode through the gardens to the sound of laughter and merrymaking from the great hail. Men at arms barred my way, and I paused and looked at them. Who goes there?' a guardsmaster challenged me.

I showed myself. 'Thibor of Wallachia, the Prince's Voevod. He sent me on a mission, and now I am returned.' Along the way I had walked in mire, deliberately. The last time I was here, the Vlad had commanded that I come in my finery, unweaponed, all bathed and shining. Now I was weighed down with arms; I was unshaven, dirty, and my forelocks all awry. I stank worse than a peasant, and was glad of it.

You'd go in there like that?' The Guardsmaster was

astonished. He wrinkled his nose. 'Man, wash yourself, put on fresh robes, cast off your weapons!'

I glowered at him. 'Your name?'

'What?' He stepped a pace to the rear.

'For the Prince. He'll have the balls of any man who impedes me this night. And if you've none of those, he'll have your head instead! Don't you remember me? Last time I came it was to a church, and I brought a sack of thumbs.' I showed him my leather sack.

He went pale. 'I remember now. I... I'll announce you. Wait here.'

I grabbed his arm, dragged him close. I showed him my teeth in a wolf's grin and hissed through them, 'No, you wait here!'

A dozen of my men stepped out of the trees, held cautionary fingers to their lips, and bundled the Guards-master and his men away.

I went on, entering the palace and the great hall unimpeded. Oh, true, a pair of royal bully-boy bodyguards closed on me at the door, but I thrust them aside so hard they almost fell, and by the time they were organised I was among the revellers. I strode to the centre of the floor. I stood stock still, then slowly turned and gazed all about from under lowered brows. The noise subsided. There came an uneasy silence. Somewhere a lady laughed, a titter which was quickly stilled.

Then the crowd fell away from me. Several ladies looked fit to faint. I smelled of ordure, which to my nostrils was fresh and clean compared to the scents of this court.

The crowd parted, and there sat the Prince at a table laden with food and drink. His face wore a frozen smile, which fell from it like a leaden mask when he saw me. And at last he recognised me. He straightened to his feet. 'You!'

'None other, my Prince.' I bowed, then stood straight.

He couldn't speak. Slowly his face went purple. Finally he said, 'Is this your idea of a joke? Get out - out!' He pointed a trembling finger at the door. Men were closing on me, hands on their sword hilts. I rushed the Vlad's table, sprang up onto it, drew my sword and held it on his breast.

'Tell them to come no closer!' I snarled.

He held up his hands and his bodyguard fell back. I kicked aside platters and goblets and made a space before him, throwing down my sack. 'Are your Greek Christian priests here?'

He nodded, beckoned. In their priestly robes, they came, hands fluttering, jabbering in their foreign tongue. Four of them.

At last it got through to the prince that he was in danger of his life. He glanced at my sword's point lying lightly on his breast, looked at me, gritted his teeth and sat down. My sword followed him. Pale now, he controlled himself, gulped, and said, 'Thibor, what is all of this? Would you stand accused of treason? Now put up your sword and we'll talk.'

'My sword stays where it is, and we've time only for what I have to say!' I told him.

'But - ,

'Now listen, Prince of Kiev. You sent me on a hopeless quest and you know it. What? Me and my seven against Faethor Ferenczy and his Szgany? What a joke! But while I was away you could steal my good men, and if I were so lucky as to succeed... that would be even better. If I tailed - and you believed I would - it would be no great loss.' I glared at him. 'It was treachery!'

'But - , he said again, his lips trembling.

'But here I am, alive and well, and if I leaned a little on my sword and killed you it would be my right. Not according to your laws but according to mine. Ah, don't panic, I won't kill you. Let it suffice that all gathered here know your treachery. As for my "mission": do you remember what you commanded me to do? You said, "Fetch me the Ferenczy's head, his heart, and his standard." Well, at this very moment his standard flies atop the palace wall. His and mine, for I've taken it for my own. As for his head and heart: I've done better. I've brought you the very essence of the Ferenczy!'

Prince Vladimir's eyes went to the sack before him and his mouth twitched at one corner.

'Open it,' I told him. 'Tip it out. And you priests, come closer. See what I've brought you.'

Among the thronging courtiers and guests, I spied grim-faced men edging closer. This couldn't last much longer. Close by, a high-arched window looked out on a balcony and the gardens beyond. Vladimir's hands trembled towards the sack.

'Open it!' I snapped, prodding him. He took up the sack, tugged at its thong, tipped the contents onto the table. All stared, aghast.

'The very essence of the Ferenczy!' I hissed.

The part was big as a puppy, but it had the colour of disease and the shape of nightmare. Which is no shape at all but a morbid suggestion. It could be a slug, a foetus, some strange worm. It writhed in the light, put out fumbling fingers and formed an eye. A mouth came next, with curving dagger teeth. The eye was soft and mucous damp. It stared about while the mouth chomped vacuously.

The Vlad sat there white as death, his face twisting grotesquely. I laughed as the vampire stuff wriggled closer to him, and he gave a cry and toppled himself over backwards in his chair. The thing had intended no harm; it had no intent. Larger and hungry it might be dangerous, or if it were alone with a sleeping man in a dark room, hut not here in the light. I knew this, but Vladimir and the court didn't.

'Vrykoulakas, vrykoulakasP the Greek priests began to scream. And at that, though few could have known what the word meant, the great hall became the scene of furious chaos. Ladies cried out and fainted; everyone drew back from the huge table; guests crushed together at the door. To give the Greeks their due, they were the only ones who had any idea what to do. One of them took a dagger and pinned the thing to the table. It at once split open, slipped free of the blade like water. The priest pinned it again, cried, 'Bring fire, burn it!'

In the pandemonium now reigning, I jumped down from the table, up into the window embrasure, and so on to the low balcony. As I vaulted the balcony wall into the garden, a pair of angry faces appeared at the window behind me. The VIad's bodyguard, all brave and bristling now that the danger was past. Except that for them it wasn't yet past. I glanced back. The two were now out onto the balcony.

They shouted and waved swords, and I ducked low. Bolts whistled overhead out of the dark garden; one pursuer was taken in the throat, the other in the forehead.

The noise from the hall was an uproar, but there were no more pursuers. I grinned, made away .

We camped that night in the woods on the outskirts. All of my men slept, for I posted no guards. No one came near.

In the morning light we sauntered our horses through the city, then turned and headed west for Wallachia. My new standard still fluttered from its pole over the palace wall. Apparently no one had dared remove it while we were near. I left it there as a reminder: the dragon, and tiding its back the bat, and surmounting them both the livid red devil's head of the Ferenczy. For the next five hundred years those arms would be mine.

My tale's at an end, said Thibor. Your turn, Harry Keogh. Harry had got something of what he wanted, but not

everything. 'You left Ehrig and the women to burn,' he voiced his disgust. 'The women - vampire women - I think I can understand that. But would it have been so hard to give them a decent death? I mean, did they have to burn... like that? You could have made it easier for them. You could have - '

Beheaded them? Thibor seemed unconcerned, gave a mental shrug.

'And as for Ehrig: he had been your friend!'

Had been, yes. But it was a hard world a thousand years ago, Harry. And anyway, you are mistaken - I didn't leave them to burn. They were deep down under the tower. The broken furniture I piled around the central pillar was to shatter it, bring the stone steps down into the stairwell and block it forever. Burn them, no - I simply buried them!

Harry recoiled from Thibor's morbid, darkly sinister tone. 'That's even worse,' he said.

You mean better, the monster contradicted him, chuckling. But better far than even I guessed. For I didn't know then that they'd live down there forever. Ha, ha! And how's that for horror, Harry? They're down there even now. Mummied, aye - but still 'alive' in their way. Dry and desiccated as old bones, bits of leather and gristle and - Thibor came to an abrupt halt. He had sensed Harry's

keen interest, the intense, calculating way in which he seized on all of this and analysed it. Harry tried to back off a little, tried to close his mind to the other. Thibor sensed that, too.

I suddenly have this feeling, he very slowly said, that I may have said too much. It comes as something of a to learn that even a dead creature must guard its thoughts. Your interest in all of these matters is more than merely 'usual, Harry. I wonder why?

Dragosani, for so long silent, broke in with a burst of laughter. Isn't it obvious, old devil? he said. He's outsmarted you! Why is he so interested? Because there are vampires in the world - in his world - right now! It's the only answer. And Harry Keogh came here to find out about them, from you. He needs to find out about them for the sake of his intelligence organisation, and for the sake of the world. Now tell me: does he really need to tell you the present circumstances of that innocent you corrupted while he was still in his mother's womb? He has already told you! The boy lives - and yes, he is a vampire! Dragosani's voice died away. .

There was silence in the motionless glade, where only Harry's neon nimbus lit the darkness to give any indication of the drama enacted there. And finally Thibor spoke again. Is it true? Does he live? Is he - ?

'Yes,' Harry told him. 'He lives - as a vampire - for now.'

Thibor ignored the implications of that last. But how do you know he is... Wamphyri?

'Because already he works his evil. That's why we have to put him down - myself and others who work for the same cause. And certainly we must destroy him before he 'remembers" you and comes to seek you out. Dragosani has said that you would rise up again, Thibor. Now how would you set about that?'

Dragosani is a brash fool who knows nothing. I fooled him, you fooled him - so well, indeed, that you helped him destroy himself - why, any child could make a fool of Dragosani! Take no notice of him.

Hah! cried Dragosani. A fool, am I? Listen to me, Harry Keogh, and I'll tell you exactly how this devious old devil will use what he has made. First - BE SILENT! Thibor was outraged.

I will not! Dragosani cried. Because of you, I am here, a ghost, nothing! Should I lie still while you prepare to be up and about? Listen to me, Harry. When that youth - But that was as much as Thibor was willing to let him say. A hideous mental babble started up - such a blast of telepathic howling that Harry could unscramble no single word of it - and not only from Thibor but also Max Batu. Understandably, the dead Mongol sided with Thibor against his murderer.

'I can hear nothing,' Harry tried to break into the din and through it to Dragosani. 'Absolutely nothing!'

The telepathic cacophony went on unabated, louder if anything, more insistent than ever. In life Max Batu had been able to concentrate hatred into a glare that could kill; in death his concentration hadn't failed him; if anything the mental din he created was greater than Thibor's. And since there was no physical effort involved, they could probably keep it up indefinitely. Quite literally, Dragosani was being shouted down.

Harry attempted to lift his voice above all three: 'If I leave you now, be sure I won't be back!' But even as he issued his threat he realised that it no longer carried any weight. Thibor was shouting for his life, the sort of life he had not known since the day they buried him here five hundred years ago. Even if the others did quieten down, he would go right on bellowing.

Stalemate. And too late, anyway.

Harry felt the first tug of a force he couldn't resist, a force that drew him as a compass is drawn northwards. Harry Jnr was stirring again, coming awake for his scheduled feed. For the next hour or so the father must merge again with the id of his infant son.

The tugging strengthened, an undertow that began to draw Harry along with it. He searched for a Möbius door, found one and started towards it.

In that same instant of time, as he made to enter the Möbius continuum, something other than Harry Jnr stirred, something in the earth where the rubble of

Thibor's tomb lay scattered. Perhaps the concentrated mental uproar had disturbed it. Maybe it had sensed events of moment. Anyway, it moved, and Harry Keogh saw it.

Great stone slabs were shoved aside; tree roots snapped loudly where something massive heaved its bulk beneath them; the earth erupted in a black spray as a pseudopod thick as a barrel uncoiled itself and lashed upwards almost as high as the trees. It swayed there among the treetops, then was drawn down again.

Harry saw this - and then he was through the door and into the Mobius continuum. And incorporeal as he was, still he shuddered as he sped across hitherto hypothetical spaces towards the mind of his infant son. And uppermost in his own mind this single thought: 'Ground to clear', indeed!

Sunday, 10.00 A.M. Bucharest. The Office of Cultural and Scientific Exchanges, (USSR), housed in a converted museum of many domes, standing conveniently close to the Russian University. The wrought-iron gates being opened by a yawning, uniformed attendant and a black Volkswagen Variant accelerating out into the quiet streets and heading for the motorway to Pitesti.

Inside the car Sergei Gulharov was driving, with Felix Krakovitch as front-seat passenger, and Alec Kyle, Carl Quint and an extremely thin, hawk-faced, bespectacled, middle-aged Romanian woman in the back. She was Irma Dobresti, a high-ranking official with the Ministry of Lands and Properties and a true disciple of Mother Russia.

Because Dobresti spoke English, Kyle and Quint were a little more careful than usual how they spoke to each other and what they said. It was not that they feared they'd let something slip about their mission, for she would see more than enough of that, but simply that they might err and make some comment about the woman herself. Not that they were especially rude or churlish men, but Irma Dôbresti was a very different sort of woman.

She wore her black hair in a bun; her clothes were almost a uniform: dark grey shoes, skirt, blouse and coat. She wore no make-up or jewellery at all and her features were sharp and mannish. Where womanly curves and other feminine charms were concerned, Nature seemed to have forgotten Irma Dobresti entirely. Her smile, showing yellow teeth, was something she switched on and off like a dim light, and on those few occasions when she spoke her voice was deep as any man's, her words blunt and always to the point.

'If I were not thinly,' she said, making a common enough mistake in her attempt at casual conversation, 'this long ride is most uncomfortable.' She sat on the extreme left, Quint in the middle and then Kyle.

The two Englishmen glanced at each other. Then Quint smiled obligingly. 'Er, true,' he said. 'Your thinlyness is most accommodating.'

'Good.' She gave a curt nod.

The car sped on out of the city, picked up the motorway. .

Kyle and Quint had spent the night at the Dunarea Hotel in the city centre, while Krakovitch had spent most of it up and about making connections and arrangements. This morning, looking haggard and hollow-eyed, he'd tuned them for breakfast. Gulharov had picked them up and they'd driven to the Office of Cultural and Scientific exchanges where Dobresti had been getting her instructions from a Soviet liaison officer. She had met Krakovitch 'lie night before. Now they were on their way into the Romanian countryside, following a route Krakovitch knew fairly well.

'Actually,' he said, stifling a yawn, 'this not too surprising. Coming here, I mean.' He turned to look at his guests. 'I know this place. After that business at (Château Bronnitsy, when Party Leader Brezhnev give tie my appointment, he ordered me to find out everything I could about... about what happened. I suspected Dragosani was at root of it. So I came here.'

'You followed his old tracks, you mean?' said Kyle.

Krakovitch nodded. 'When Dragosani have holiday, he always come here, to Romania. No family, no friends, but he come here.'

Quint nodded. 'He was born here. Romania was home to him.'

'And he did have one friend here,' Kyle quietly added. Krakovitch yawned again, peered at Kyle through eyes which were a little red in their corners. 'So it would seem. \anyway, he used to call this place Wallachia, not Romania. Wallachia is a country long gone and forgotten, Hut not by Dragosani.'

'Where exactly are we going?' Kyle asked.

'I was hoping you could tell me!' said Krakovitch. 'You said Romania, a place in the foothills where Dragosani was a boy. So that is where we are going. We'll stay at a little village he liked off the Corabia-Calinesti highway. We should be there in maybe two hours. After that,' he It rugged, 'your guess is as good as mine.'

Oh, we can do better than that,' said Kyle. 'How far is Slatina from this place where we're staying?'

'Slatina? Oh, about - ,

'One hundred twenty kilometres,' said Irma Dobresti. Krakovitch had earlier told her the name of the place they were staying - a difficult and meaningless name to the two Englishmen - but she had known it fairly well. A cousin of hers had lived there once. 'About an hour and half to travelling.'

'Do you want to go straight to Slatina?' Krakovitch asked. 'What's in Slatina, anyway?'

'Tomorrow will do,' said Kyle. 'We can spend tonight making plans. As for what's in Slatina,

'Records,' Quint cut in. 'There'll be a local registrar, won't there?'

'Pardon?' Krakovitch didn't know the word.

'A person who registers marriages and births,' Kyle explained.

'And deaths,' Quint added.

'Ah! I begin to see,' said Krakovitch. 'But you are mistaken if you think a small town's records will go back five hundred years to Thibor Ferenczy.'

Kyle shook his head. 'That's not it. We have our own vampire, remember? We know he, er, got started out here. And we more or less know how. We want to find out where Ilya Bodescu died. The Bodescus were staying in Slatina when he had some sort of skiing accident in the hills. If we can trace someone who was involved in the recovery of his body, we'll be within an ace of finding Thibor's tomb. Where Ilya Bodescu died, that's where the old vampire was buried.'

'Good!' said Krakovitch. 'There should be a police report, statements - perhaps even a coroner's report.'

'Doubting,' said Irma Dobresti, shaking her head. 'How long ago this man die?'

'Eighteen, nineteen years,' Kyle answered.

'Simple death - accident.' Dobresti shrugged. 'Not suspicious - no coroner's report. But police report, yes. Also, ambulance recovery. They make report, too.'

Kyle began to warm towards her. 'That's good reasoning,' he said. 'As for getting hold of those reports through the local authorities, that's your job, Mrs er

'Not Mrs. Never had time. Just call me Irma, please.' She smiled her yellow-toothed smile.

Her attitude in all of this puzzled Quint a little. 'You don't think it's a bit odd that we're here hunting for a vampire, er, Irma?'

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. 'My parents come from the mountains,' she said. 'When I am little they sometimes talk about wampir. Up there in Carpatii Meridionali, old people still believe. Once there were great bears up there. And sabretooth tigers. Before that, big lizards - er, dinosaurs? Yes. They are no more - but they were. Later, there was plague that swept the world. All of these things, gone. Now you tell me that my parents were right, there were vampires, too. Odd? No, I not think so. If you want hunt vampires, where better than Romania, eh?'

Krakovitch smiled. 'Romania,' he said, 'has always been something of an island.'

'True,' Dobresti agreed. 'But that not always good. World is big. No strength in being small. Also, being cut off means stagnation. Nothing new ever comes in.'

Kyle nodded, thinking to himself, and some of the old things are things you can well do without.

It had been a rough night for Brenda Keogh.

When Harry Jnr had finished his small hours feed, he hadn't wanted to go back to sleep again. He wasn't bad about it, just wouldn't sleep.

After an hour or two of rocking him, then cradling and crooning to him, she'd finally put the baby down and gone back to bed herself.

But at 6.00 A.M. he'd been right on time again, crying for his change and another feed. And she'd known from the way he twisted his little face and clenched his fists that he was tired: he'd been awake right through the night, from no cause that Brenda could discover. But good? What a good little chap he was! He hadn't cried at all until he was hungry and uncomfortable, just lay there in his cot through the night doing his own thing - whatever that might be.

Even now his will to stay awake and be a part of the world was strong, but his yawning told his mother that he couldn't. With dawn an hour away, Harry was going to have to go to sleep. The world would have to wait. No matter how fast your mind grows up, your body goes more slowly.

As his baby son went to sleep, Harry Snr found himself free and was struck with a thought as strange as any he'd ever had, even in his thoroughly strange existence.

He's leeching on me! he thought. The little rascal's into my mind, into my experiences. He can explore my stuff because there's lots of it, but I can't touch him because there's nothing in there - yet!

He put the extraordinary idea to the back of his mind. Now that Harry Jnr had released him he had places to go, people - dead people - to talk to. There were things he knew which he was unique in knowing. He knew, for instance, that the dead inhabit another sphere; also that in their lonely nether-existence they go on doing all the things they've done in life.

The writers write masterpieces they can never publish, each line perfectly composed, each paragraph polished, every story a gem. Where time isn't a problem and deadlines don't exist, things get done right. The architects plot their cities of the mind, beautiful aerial constructs flung across fantastic worlds and spanning sculpted oceans and continents, each brick and spire and sky-riding highway immaculately positioned, no smallest detail missing or botched. The mathematicians continue to explore the Formulae of the Universe, reducing THE ALL to symbols they can never put on paper, for which men in the corporeal world should be grateful. And the Great Thinkers carry on thinking their great thoughts, which far outweigh any they thought in life.

That had been the way of it with the Great Majority. Then Harry Keogh, Necroscope, had come along.

The dead had taken to Harry at once; he had given their existence new meaning. Before Harry, each one of them had inhabited a world consisting of his own incorporeal thoughts, without contact with the rest. They had been like houses with no doors or windows, no telephones. But Harry had connected them up. It made no difference to the living (who simply weren't aware) but it made a great deal of difference to the dead.

Möbius had been one such, mathematician and thinker both, and he had shown Harry Keogh how to use his Mobius continuum. He'd done so gladly, for like all of the dead he'd quickly come to love the Necroscope. And the Möbius continuum had given Harry access to times and places and minds beyond the reach of any other intelligence in all of man's history.

Now Harry knew of a man whose one obsession in life tad been the myths and legends and lore of the vampire. His name was Ladislau Giresci. How was it going for him now, Harry wondered, in the aftermath of his murder? Max Batu had killed him with his evil eye, for no good reason other than that Dragosani had ordered it. Killed him, yes, but not Giresci's life-long penchant for the legend of the vampire. What had been an obsession in life must certainly have continued afterwards.

Harry could no longer make any headway with Thibor, and Thibor would not let him get through to Dragosani. His next best bet had to be Ladislau Giresci. How to reach him, however, was a different matter. Harry had never met the Romanian in life; he did not know the ground where Giresci's spirit lay; he must rely on the dead to supply him with directions, see him on his way.

Across the road from Brenda's flat - once Harry and Brenda's flat - there sprawled a graveyard hundreds of years old, containing a large number of Harry's friends. He knew most of them personally from previous conversations. Now he drifted towards the lines of markers and occasionally leaning tombstones, his mind drawn by the minds of the dead where they lay in their graves communing. They sensed him at once, knew that it was him. Who else could it be?

Harry! said their spokesman, an ex-railway engineer who'd lived all his life in Stockton, until he died in 1938. It's good to talk to you again. Nice to know you haven't forgotten us.

'How are things with you?' Harry inquired. 'Still designing your trains?'

The other came aglow in a moment. I have designed the train! he answered. Do you want to hear about it?

'Unfortunately I can't.' Harry was genuinely sorry. 'My visit is purely business, I'm afraid.'

Well, spit it out, Harry! someone else exclaimed, an ex-bobby of Harry's acquaintance, late of Sir Robert Peel's time. How can we help you, sir?

'There are some hundreds of you here,' Harry answered. 'But is there anyone from Romania? I want to go there, and I need directions and an introduction. The only people I know there are... bad people.'

Voices rose in something of a babble, but one of them cut through, speaking directly to Harry. It was a girl's voice, sweet and small. I know Romania, it said. Something of it, anyway. I came here from Romania after the war. There were troubles and oppressions, and so my elder brothers sent me away to an aunt who lived here. Strange, but I came all this way, then caught a cold and died! I was very young.

'And do you know someone I can seek out, who can perhaps help me on my way?' Harry didn't like to seem too eager to be off, but he really couldn't help himself. 'It's very important, I assure you.'

But my brothers will be delighted to guide you, Harry! she said at once. It's only since you came that we've all been able to... well, get together again. We all owe you so much.

'If I may,' Harry answered, 'I'll come back and talk to you again some time. Meanwhile, I'm afraid I've no time to spare. What are your brothers called?'

They are Jahn and Dmitri Syzestu, she said. Wait and I'll call them for you. She called, and in a moment her brothers answered. They were very faint, like voices on a telephone from the other side of the world. Harry was introduced.

'Just keep talking to me,' he told the brothers, 'and I'll find my way to you.'

He excused himself from the company of his friends in the Hartlepool cemetery, found a space-time door and passed through it into the Mobius continuum. 'Jahn, Dmitri? Are you still there?'

We're here, Harry, and we're honoured to be able to help you like this.

He homed in on them, emerged through another door into the grey Romanian dawn. He found himself in a field of grass beside a pock-marked wall fast crumbling into ruins. There were ponies in the field but of course they couldn't see him; they just stood still, shivering a little, their coats shining with drops of dew. Plumes of warm air came snorting from their nostrils like smoke. In the distance, the last lights of a town were blinking out as the sun rose on the eastern horizon.

'Where is this place?' Harry asked the brothers Syzestu. The town is Cluj, said Jahn, who was the oldest. This

place is just a field. We were in prison - political prisoners

- and we ran away. They came after us with guns and caught us here, trying to climb this wall. Now tell us, Harry Keogh, how we can help you?

'Cluj?' said Harry, a little disappointed. 'I need to be south, I think, and east - across the mountains.'

This is easy! The younger brother, Dmitri, was excited.

Our father and mother lie side by side in the graveyard in Pitesti. Only a little while ago we were talking to them!

Indeed they were, a deeper, sterner voice joined in, from some distance away. You're welcome to come and visit, Harry, if you can find your way here.

Harry excused himself - a little hastily but with many apologies - and re-entered the Mobius continuum. In a little while he was in a misted graveyard in Pitesti. Who is it you're seeking? inquired Franz Syzestu.

'His name is Ladislau Giresci,' said Harry. 'All I can tell you is that he died some little time ago at his home near a town called Titu.'

Titu? Anna Syzestu repeated. Why that's nought but fifty kilometres or so away! What's more, we've friends buried there! She was plainly proud to be of assistance to the Necroscope. Greta, can you hear?

Indeed I can! A new voice, sharp and shrewish, answered. And I've the very man right here.

There you are! said Anna Syzestu, in a told-you-so tone. If you want to meet someone in Titu, ask Greta Mirnosti. She knows everyone!

Harry Keogh? A male voice now came to the fore. I'm Ladislau Giresci. Do you want to come closer or will this do?

'I'm on my way!' said Harry. He thanked the Syzestus and went to Giresci's plot in Titu. And finally, at last in the presence of the vampire expert himself, he asked, 'Sir, I believe you can help me - if you will?'

Young man, said Giresci, unless I'm very much mistaken I know why you're here. Last time someone came to me inquiring about vampires, it cost me my life! But if there's any way I can help you, Harry Keogh, any way at all, just ask it!

'That was Boris Dragosani who came to see you, right?' said Harry. He sensed the other's shudder. Giresci might have no body, but at the mention of Dragosani's name he shuddered.

That one, yes, Giresci answered at last. Dragosani. When first 1 met him I didn't know it, but he was already one of them. Or as good as. He didn't know it himself, not quite, but the evil was in him.

'He sent Max Batu to kill you with his evil eye.'

Yes, because by then I knew what he was. That's the thing a vampire fears most: that people will discover what he is. Anyone who suspects... he has to die. So the little Mongol killed me, and he stole my crossbow.

'That was for Dragosani. He used it to kill Thibor Ferenczy in the cruciform hills.'

Then at least it was put to good use! Ah, but when you talk about Thibor, you're talking about a real vampire! said Giresci. if Dragosani, with all of his potential for evil, had lived - alive or undead - as long as that one, then the world would have an incurable illness!

'I'm sorry,' said Harry, 'but I can find nothing to admire in such monsters. And in any case, there was one greater than Thibor, who came before him, and outlasted him. His name was Faethor, and Thibor took his second name from him. Rightly so, for it was Faethor who made him a vampire. I'm speaking of Faethor Ferenczy, of course.'

Ladislau Giresci's voice was the merest whisper now as he answered: Indeed, and that was where my interest in the undead really began. For I was with Faethor when he died. Imagine that, and him a creature at least thirteen hundred years old!

'These are the ones I want to know about.' Harry was eager. 'Thibor and Faethor. In your life you were a vampire expert; however people might scorn your obsession or look upon you as an eccentric, you studied the vampire's myths, his legends, his lore. You were still studying them when you died, and it's my guess that dying didn't stop you. So where's your research led you now, Ladislau ? How did Thibor end up buried there on the cruciform hills? And what of Faethor between the tenth and twentieth centuries? It's important that I know these things, for they relate to what I'm doing now. And what I'm doing relates to the safety and sanity of the whole world.'

I understand, said Giresci, soberly. But Harry, don't you think you should speak to someone with even more authority? I believe it can be arranged.

'What?' Harry was taken aback. 'Someone with more authority than you? Is there such a person?'

Ahhh! said a new voice, a powerful voice. It was black as the night itself and deep as the roots of hell, and it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Oh, yesss, Haarrry, there is - or was - just such a one. And I am he. No one knows as much about the Wamphyri as I do, for no one has or ever will live so long. So very long, indeed, that when I died I was ready for it. Oh, I fought against it, be sure, but in the end it was for the best. Now I have peace. And I have Ladislau Giresci to thank for giving me that final, merciful release. Since he obviously holds you in the greatest esteem - as do all the dead, apparently - then so must I. So come to me, Harry Keogh, and let a real expert answer your questions.

It was an offer Harry couldn't refuse. He knew who it must be at once, of course, and he wondered why he hadn't thought of it himself. It was, after all, the obvious answer.

'I'm coming, Faethor,' he said. 'Just give me a moment and I'll be right there. .

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