Harry and 'Friends' - The Second Gate
Harry had slept the clock round, and toward the end he dreamed. Not knowing he dreamed, it seemed to him that he had always existed in this timeless, lightless limbo, and that now someone called to him from far, far away.
Harry! Harry! You're asleep, Harry Keogh - but the dead are awake! They've begged a boon of me - of me! -whom hitherto they shunned utterly. And I have agreed to talk to you; but when I sought you out, I discovered only a sleeping mind. Jumbled memories and dreams and intricate mind-puzzles. Pictures of an existence beyond existence! A strange thing, your sleeping mind, Harry, and not one with which I may readily converse. So stir yourself! Faethor Ferenczy offers his services...
Faethor? Harry snapped awake, sat bolt upright in his bed. Cold sweat drenched his brow, slimed his trembling limbs. A nightmare, yes: he'd dreamed that Faethor Ferenczy called to him in his sleep. A man shouldn't dream about creatures like Faethor, not even when they were dead and no longer capable of mischief. A dream like that was the worst possible omen. But -
A dream? The glutinous, far-away voice sounded again in Harry's Mobius-orientated mind. A nightmare? Hardly flattering, Harry! And Faethor's ancient, dead-undead mental chuckle came across all the miles between, came unerringly, tingling at the edges of Harry's still sluggish perceptions. But he was awake now, and the thing was no longer nightmare but reality. It was his business; it was what a Necroscope is all about; and now that he knew it was real it was no longer frightening. His limbs stopped shaking and he peered about the room. The blinds were drawn but slices of light made faded bands on the wall opposite the windows. An electric bedside clock said that the time was three in the afternoon.
'Faethor?' Harry said. 'The last time I spoke to you was at your old place under the Moldavian Alps. At that time I got the impression I'd heard the last from you. Has something changed that? Anyway, I'm still in your debt, so if there's something...?'
What? the other's dark chuckle was sly now, insinuating. Something you can do for me? That's a fine macabre sense of humour you have there, Harry! No, there's nothing you can do for me. But perhaps there is something 1 can do for you. Didn't you hear what I said? Were you that deeply asleep? I said that the teeming dead have begged my assistance, and that I have agreed to help -if I can.
'Eh? The dead, talking to you?' Harry slowly shook his head in astonishment. 'There must be something they want pretty badly.'
Aye, but not for themselves, Harry - for you! They've spoken to me of a quest, your quest, and asked for my guidance. And in this they've shown a deal more wisdom than you. For who would know better the secret source of vampires than an ex-member of the Wamphyri himself, eh?
Harry gaped. The source of vampires! The place where they originated! The world in which they were spawned, to come through into this world - as they had now started to come through the gate in Perchorsk!
'And do you know this secret source?' Harry couldn't conceal the eagerness in his voice and thoughts. 'Did you yourself come from that place?'
Myself? Was I once an inhabitant of that world of vampire legend? Ah, no, Harry - but my grandfather was.
'Your grandfather? Do you know where he lies, where his remains are buried?'
Buried? Old Belos Pheropzis? Alas, no, Harry. The Romans crucified and burned him a hundred years before your Christ. And my father: the last word I had of him was that he was lost at sea, somewhere off the mouths of the Danube in the Black Sea, in the Year 547. He was a mercenary for the Ostrogoths against Justinian, but of course he was on the wrong side. Ah, we Wamphyri were a fierce lot in our day! There was a living to be made, if you'd the stomach for it.
Then how can you help me?' Harry was perplexed. 'It seems to me that something like a thousand years separates your grandfather's era and yours. Whatever he knew about his origins - about this source world - must have died with him.'
But there are legends, Harry! There are memories, stories Old Belos told his son Waldemar, which he in turn passed down to me. They are as fresh now in my mind as they were the day I heard them. I kept them fresh, for they were the only Wamphyri history I was ever likely to know. I was still in thrall to my father at that time. If Thibor, that ingrate, had ever spent his apprenticeship with me, then I would have passed the legends down to him. But of course he never did. Now, if you in your turn would learn these things - which might well provide the clues you need to complete your quest - then come to me in my place and talk to me, as we talked once before.
Faethor's voice was faint now. Killed in a bombing raid in World War II and burned to ashes, what was left of him had seeped into the earth where once stood his house on the outskirts of Ploiesti toward Bucharest. It must be an effort for one such as he to speak across all these miles, after all this time. On the other hand, Harry was well aware of the devious nature of the vampire - of all vampires. To his knowledge they rarely did anything which was not of benefit to themselves. But there again, in the past Faethor had not been orthodox. Harry could never 'like' or ever really 'trust' him, but he did in a way respect him.
'No strings?' he said.
Strings? I'm a dead thing, Harry. Nothing remains of me but my voice. And only you can hear it - and the dead, of course, when they choose to listen. Even my voice is fading with the years. But... (Harry sensed his shrug) do as you will. I am merely respecting the wishes of the dead.
Harry would have to be satisfied with that. 'I'll come,' he told the other. 'But as well as hungry for knowledge, I'm plain hungry too! Give me an hour and I'll be there.'
Take your time, Faethor answered. I've plenty of it. But do you remember the way? His voice was dwindling now, shrinking into deep distances of mind.
'Oh, I remember it well enough!'
Then I'll wait for you. And then, perhaps, the Great Majority will see fit to leave me in peace...
Harry washed and shaved, had a change of clothes, 'breakfasted' and contacted E-Branch. He quickly told Darcy Clarke what he'd done, and what he was about to do. Clarke offered a cautionary 'take care' and Harry was ready.
He used the Mobius Continuum and went to Ploiesti.
The scene was much the same as it had been eight years earlier: Faethor's house on the outskirts of the town was one of several burned-out shells lying half-buried in heaps of overgrown rubble, stony corpses in what was otherwise open countryside. It was dark here, around 6:50 p.m. Middle European Time, but there was still enough light for Harry to find himself a tumbled wall and take a seat. And he had remembered the way: he could feel Faethor's presence lying like a shroud on the place, albeit one which was slowly returning to dust. A very faint nimbus of light glowed on the western horizon, beyond the Carpathians in the direction of home.
All around Harry was desolation, made worse by the feel of winter in the air. He shivered, but entirely because of the chill he could feel slowly working its way into his bones. In summer this place would have a certain wild beauty, when the old bomb craters would be masked by flowers and unchecked brambles, and the skeletal walls covered with lush ivy. In the winter, however, the snow would bring the perspective back to gaunt, monochrome reality. The devastation would be obvious, incapable of disguise. It would always be a reminder, and that was probably why the Romanians would never rebuild here.
One of the reasons, anyway, Faethor agreed. But I have always liked to believe that I was the main reason. I don't want people building here. Since Thibor destroyed my old place I've had several homes, but this was the last of them. This is where I am, so to speak. So now, when people come nosing around and I feel their footfalls -
' - You sort of gloom over the place. You exert an influence, your aura.' You've noticed.
Harry shivered again, but still only from the cold. 'How about your legends, Faethor?' he said. 'I don't like to rush you, but I've never yet spoken to one of your sort who told me anything in plain, simple language! And time is precious. It could be that lives are at stake.'
At 'stake'? An unfortunate choice of words. Do you mean human lives? In that other world? Ah, but they always have been!
'I mean lives which are important to me. You see, I think people have found a way into that place, that source world. Some of whom are, or were, very dear to me.'
He sensed Faethor's nod (for the fact is that people nod 417
with their minds as well as their heads). So I have been informed - er, by the dead, of course. Very well, the legends:
'Wait,' said Harry. 'First tell me, what's in this for you? Oh, I know you've said there are no strings attached, but still I can't imagine you'll help me out of the goodness of your heart.'
Faethor's chuckle grew into a laugh. Not a pleasant thing. Ah! - but you know us well, Harry Keogh. Very well, I'll tell you:
My grandfather, Belos, was exiled from his aerie, his world, his heritage, by the Wamphyri. He had grown too strong. They feared him mightily, and when their chance came they tricked, entrapped, expelled him. His lands and properties were stolen and he found himself here, in this world. He wasn't the first or the last, and if things don't change there may well be others still to come. Now I never knew Belos, who was dead before Waldemar passed on his egg to me, but I do know that if he had not been so badly treated then I would now be one of the Wamphyri in my rightful place - in the source world! When they expelled him they not only stole his heritage but denied Waldemar his after him and also mine. For that reason, and despite the years flown in between, Belos is worth avenging.
'You're going to help me find my way into that world for revenge?' Harry frowned. 'I don't intend to look anyone up for you, Faethor. As I see it, it will be a case of in, rescue, retreat. I won't be staying there long enough to write off any old scores.'
Oh? And you know all about this place you're searching for, do you? (A certain amusement in Faethor's tone.) Get in, rescue your loved ones, or whatever, and get out again. As simple as that...
'Something like that, yes.' But Harry was less certain now.
Again Faethor's shrug. Well... possibly. But I see it differently. For after all, you are Harry Keogh! And the fact is that in your use of your special talents you have been a dire force against vampires in this world. You've dealt with my treacherous son Thibor, with Boris Dragosani, Yulian Bodescu - the list is impressive. My feeling is that when you enter into the source world, then things are almost bound to happen. I believe that you are the catalyst which will change, perhaps even destroy, the old balance. So all I require of you is this: that if the time should come and someone should ask you, 'Who are you?' - then you will answer him that Belos sent you. Is that too much to ask?
'No, you have a deal,' Harry agreed. 'So now tell me what you know. First about Perchorsk.' Eh? (Surprise.) I never heard of it. Harry quickly explained.
That may well be one way into, or out of, the source world, Faethor answered, but it is not the old route. Now listen: this is what Old Belos told my father, which he in turn told me. The Wamphyri sent him into the hell-lands (this world) through a shining white door in the shape of a sphere. Yes, the very duplicate of this sphere you've mentioned at Perchorsk. But Perchorsk is in the upper Urals, and Belos's exit-point was far removed from there. 'So where did Belos surface?'
'Surface' is the wrong word. Rather he 'descended'. Inside the sphere he fell. He was aware of falling - as if into hell! It was as if he plunged down the throat of a great white luminous shaft whose walls were so far distant he could not see them. He fell, and yet at no great speed, or so he believed. And he must have been correct in that belief, for when he emerged he was still falling! He fell out of the sphere - the gate of entry - into this world. 'Where?' Harry was eager again.
'Like at Perchorsk?'
Unlike Perchorsk. Belos gathered his senses, looked all around. The sphere he had fallen through was embedded in the ceiling of a great horizontal borehole, over a ledge of smooth dripstone. Through the bed of the bore rushed a black, gurgling river. Belos knew not where it came from, nor where it went. All around the sphere where it hung suspended, great holes were apparent in the ceiling - like these magmass holes of yours at Perchorsk. Likewise in the ledge where Belos had landed. The extent of the cave, and its ledge, was not great. Where the river rushed from cave into darkness, the gap between ceiling and water came down to a few inches. The ledge was large enough for a man to walk maybe ten paces this way, ten paces that, before it narrowed down and smoothed into the glistening wall of the bore. There was no way out. Or there was, if a man had the stomach for it.
'A subterranean sump!' said Harry.
Exactly. The river might run for miles. It might never surface at all! That was Belos's predicament...
Others had been there before him, and some of them were still there. He found their remains, ossified. Things he called 'trogs', and 'Travellers', even the skulls and mummified remains of Wamphyri, who'd preferred to sit here on the ledge and wither rather than risk the unknown. But Belos's heart was bigger than that.
'He dared the river?' Harry was fascinated.
Faethor's shrug. What else could he do? First he tried to re-enter the sphere, of course, but it rejected him. When he held up his arms to plunge them into its light, they were repelled. The Gate into the hell-lands had closed on him. But to sit here with these others and stiffen into stone was not his way. He would go now, while he still had all of his great strength.
Now, Harry, I suppose you have heard this myth, how vampires fear running water?
'Next to you,' said Harry, Tm the world's greatest expert on vampires! Or as much of one as you'll find, anyway. You're going to tell me the myth stems from this underground river, which the Wamphyri had to overcome to make their way to the surface of this world, right?'
Thibor had a different explanation.'
Faethor sighed. Thibor didn't know, as I've explained. He could have learned so much from me, that one. But not knowing, he obviously invented an explanation. Devious, as you've said.
'I've said that of all of you,' Harry reminded. 'But you've side-tracked. Get back to the point.'
Very well, but the underground river is the source of that particular myth. A vampire is flesh and blood and bone, Harry. Immerse him in water long enough and he will die. Now let me get on:
Belos braved the river, was washed along downstream. At times his head was above water, but there were other desperate moments when the gap narrowed to nothing, so that he was pushed under. It seemed a long time before the ceiling receded, before natural light returned, glimmering at the end of the watercourse. Then came the resurgence, into a basin, which emptied itself into a sluggish river. But this time, as I've said, on the surface. Bedraggled and a little battered, coughing up the river water until he thought he'd dislodge his lungs, at last Old Belos was in this world!
The time - the era - was some three hundred years before your Christ. And the place...
'Yes?' Harry could scarcely contain himself.
As the crow flies: one hundred and seventy miles from the very spot where you now stand!
And indeed Harry was on his feet. 'Where, exactly?' he asked.
Near Radujevac, on the Dunarea, Faethor told him. Or on the banks of the Danube, as it might be better known to you. That's where you'll find this resurgence. It is the source of the legend, and the legend is the source of the Wamphyri! Will you go there now, at once?
'Now? No,' Harry shook his head. 'Tonight I plan. I go there tomorrow.' He stood there in the darkness and sighed.
A weight off your shoulders, Harry?
'Perhaps - or maybe it's just one more burden.'
I have kept my part of the bargain.
'And I'll keep mine, if the time should come. Meanwhile, you have my thanks.'
Aye, and those of the teeming dead. Hah! Talk about legends! But your own legend is spreading, Harry. And soon to spread much farther, I think. I bid you farewell
Harry beat his arms across his body, loosening the stiffness in his joints and driving out the cold. Then:
'Goodbye, Faethor,' he said. And as always, the Mobius Continuum was waiting to welcome him...
Harry's plans and preparations were the simplest of things, easily carried out. Back at E-Branch HQ he told Darcy Clarke what he required, and while the items were being assembled he brought Clarke up to date and went a little deeper into detailing what the boss of E-Branch already knew.
When he'd finished Clarke said: 'Let's get this right. You're going to Romania, the Danube in the vicinity of Radujevac, where you'll travel upstream along the course of an underground river, right?'
'Somewhere up there you expect to find a Gate like the one at Perchorsk, except there won't be anyone who'll shoot you dead on sight.'
There might well be people there,' said Harry. 'A handful, maybe, but they won't shoot at me. They won't be able to. If I know my business they'll welcome me; they may even have valuable information for me.'
Clarke looked at him and thought: Dear God! - he's human but he's so bloody inhuman! Out loud, quietly, he said: 'Dead people, right?'
'Corpses, yes. Maybe not even that. Maybe just memories of people.'
Now Clarke shuddered, long and visibly and violently. He was remembering the Bodescu affair, a time when he'd witnessed with his own eyes the unbelievable extent of Harry's power over the dead. Or rather, the result of their respect for him. In fact it hadn't been Harry who called up the dead that time but his son, the then infant Harry Jnr. But Harry could do it too, when he had the need.
Finally Clarke steadied himself and continued. 'And having found this Gate, then you'll use it to go ... wherever! To another world, the place where your wife and son are. And presumably Jazz Simmons, too.'
Harry nodded. 'And Zek Foener, and maybe one or two others. If they're still alive, and you know I believe they are, then I should have some friends there -1 think. But I may also have enemies. At least one, anyway: a KGB thug called Karl Vyotsky.'
'But assuming everything works out OK, then you'll speak to Brenda, Harry Jnr, and when that's done you'll see who wants to come back with you?'
'Something like that, except I still don't know if there's a way back. Remember, I know that nothing from this world has ever got back here, and I know that nothing that's come here can ever go back there! Does that make sense? Anyway, that's the way it is.'
'In short, you're risking your life.'
'Do you want it done or don't you?'
'I want it done, yes; in my own way I'm as curious as you are. And the next thing I want is to see Perchorsk closed down. Even if they don't make those things there, still it's a time-bomb.'
Harry nodded. 'I feel the same way about it - but I have Viktor Luchov's word that nothing will ever escape from Perchorsk again. That's good enough for me.'
Clarke gave a snort. 'Harry, your word is good enough for me any time, but I'm just one small cog in a very big wheel. I don't suppose that anyone is going to take preemptive or any other sort of action against Perchorsk. Especially not now, in this new climate of "political understanding," but if something else does escape...' He threw up his hands.
'Then it would be right out of your hands, I know,' Harry answered.
Again Clarke's snort. 'Right out of control is more like it!' he answered.
'Well, and that's another reason for my going in,' Harry was almost fatalistic about it. To see if there's anything we can do about it - which is maybe better done from the other side.'
The two were silent a while, then Clarke said: 'Harry, the rest of your gear will take a little time to get hold of. But it's being done. It's very late now and I'm overdue for my bed. I'll catch a couple of hours and be here to see you off in the morning. Before I go, is there anything else I can do for you? And what will you do with yourself for the rest of the night?'