Thracians - Undead in the Med - Szgany
Later, Möbius came calling:
Harry? Listen, my boy, I'm sorry I've been so long. But those mental doors of yours were giving me real problems. However, and as you well know, the more difficult a problem is, the more surely it fascinates me. So, I've been in conference with a few friends, and between us we've decided it's a new maths.
What is? Harry was bewildered. And what friends?
The doors in your mind are sealed shut with numbers! Möbius explained. But they're written as symbols, like a sort of algebra. And what they amount to is the most complicated simultaneous equation you could possibly imagine.
Well, I could never hope to solve it on my own - not unless I cared to spend the next hundred years on it! For you see, it's the sort of problem which may only be resolved through trial and error. So ever since I left you I've been looking up certain colleagues and passing it on to them.
Möbius sighed. Harry, there were others before me. And some of them were a very long time before me. But as you of all people know, they haven't simply gone away. They're still there, doing in death what they did in life. So I've passed parts of the problem on to them. And let me tell you, that was no simple matter! Mercifully, however, they had all heard of you, and to my delight they welcomed me as a colleague, however junior.
In the company of such as Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, Ole Christensen Roemer... even I am a junior, yes. And Einstein a mere sprout!
Harry's thoughts whirled. But weren't they mainly astronomers?
And philosophers, mathematicians and many other things, said Möbius. The sciences interlace and interact, Harry. So as you can see, I've been busy. But through all of this there was one man I would have liked to approach and didn't dare. And do you know, he came looking for me! It seems he was affronted that he'd been left out!
So who is he? Harry was fascinated.
Harry was stunned. Still here?
And still the Great Mystic, and still insisting that God is the ultimate equation... But here Möbius grew very quiet. And the trouble is, I'm not so sure any more that he's wrong.
Still Harry was astonished. Pythagoras, on my case? My mother told me there were a lot of people willing to help me. But Pythagoras?
Möbius snapped out of his musing. Hmm? Yes, oh yes!
But... does he have the time for it? I mean, aren't there more pressing - ?
No, Möbius cut him short, for him this is of the ultimate importance. Don't you realize who Pythagoras was and what he did? Why, in the 6th Century b.c. he had already anticipated the philosophy of numbers! He was the principal advocate of the theory that Number is the essence of all things, the metaphysical principle of rational order in the universe. What's more, his leading theological doctrine was metempsychosis!
Lost, Harry could only shake his head. And that has something to do with me?
Again Möbius's sigh. My boy, you're not listening. No, you are, you are! It's your damned innumeracy which makes you blind to what I'm saying! It has everything to do with you. For after two and a half millennia, you are living proof of everything Pythagoras advocated. You, Harry: the one flesh and blood man in all the world who ever imposed his metaphysical mind on the physical universe!
Harry tried to grasp what Möbius had said but it wouldn't stand still for him. It was his innumeracy getting in the way. So... I'm going to be OK, right?
We're going to break down those doors, Harry, yes. Given time, of course.
How much time?
But here Möbius could only shrug. Hours, days, weeks. We have no way of knowing.
Weeks doesn't cut it, Harry told him. Neither does days. Hours sounds good to me.
Well, we're trying, Harry. We're trying...
In the heights over Halmagiu, close to the ruins of his castle, Janos Ferenczy, bloodson of Faethor, ranted and raved. He had brought Sandra and Ken Layard up onto the sloping crest of a wedge of rock that jutted out into space, a thousand feet above the sliding scree and the steep cliffs of the mountainside. The night winds themselves were disturbed by Janos's passion; they blustered around the high rock, threatening to tear the three loose and hurl them down.
'Be quiet!' he threatened the very elements. 'Be still!' And as the winds subsided, there where the clouds scudded like things afraid across the face of the moon, so the enraged vampire turned on his thralls.
'You.' He drew Layard close, gathered up the skin at the back of his neck like a mother cat holds its kitten, thrust him towards the edge of the sheer drop. 'I have broken your bones once. And must I do it again? Now tell me: where is he? Where - is - Harry - Keogh?'
Layard wriggled in his grasp, pointed to the north-west. 'He was there, I swear it! Less than a hundred miles, less than an hour ago. I sensed him there. He was... strong, even a beacon! But now there is nothing.'
'Nothing?' Janos hissed, turning Layard's face towards his own. 'And am I a fool? You were a talented man, a locator, but as a vampire your powers are immeasurably improved. If it can be found, then you can find it. So how can you tell me you've lost him? How can he be there, and then no longer there? Does he come on, even through the night? Is he somewhere between? Speak? And he gave the other a bone-jarring shake.
'He was there!' Layard shrieked. 'I felt him there, alone, in one place, probably settled in for the night. I know he was there. I found him, swept over him and back, but I didn't dare linger on him for fear he'd follow me back to you. Only ask the girl. She'll tell you it's true!'
'You - are - in - leagued Janos hurled him to his knees, then snatched at Sandra's gauzy shift and tore it from her. She cringed naked under the moon and tried to cover herself, her eyes yellow in the pale oval of her skull. But in another moment she drew herself upright. Janos had already done his worst; against horror that numbs, flesh has no feeling.
'He's speaking the truth,' she said. 'I couldn't enter the Necroscope's mind in case he entered mine, and through me yours. But when I sensed him asleep, then I thought I might risk a glimpse. I tried and ... he was no longer there. Or if he was, then his mind was closed.'
Janos looked at her for long moments, let his scarlet gaze burn on her and penetrate, until he was sure she'd spoken only the truth. Then -
'And so he is coming,' he growled. 'Well, and that was what I wanted.'
'Wanted?' Sandra smiled at him, perhaps a little too knowingly. 'Past tense? But no longer, eh, Janos?'
He scowled at her, caught her shoulder, forced her down beside Layard. Then he turned his face to the northwest and held his arms out to the night. 'I lay me down a mist in the valleys,' he intoned. 'I invoke the lungs of the earth to breathe for me, and send up their reek into the air, to make his path obscure. I call on my familiars to seek him out and make his labours known to me, and to the very rocks of the mountains that they shall defy him.'
'And these things will stop him?' Sandra tried desperately hard to control her vampire scorn.
Janos turned his crimson gaze on her and she saw that his nose had flattened down and become convoluted, like the snout of a bat, and that his skull and jaws had lengthened wolfishly. 'I don't know,' he finally answered her, his awful voice vibrating on her nerve-endings. 'But if they don't, then be sure I know what will!'
With three vampire thralls (caretakers, who looked after his pile for him in his absence and guarded its secrets) Janos went down into forgotten bowels of earth and nightmare, to an all but abandoned place. There he used his necromantic skills to call up a Thracian lady from her ashes. He chained her naked to a wall and called up her husband, a warrior chief of massive proportions, who was a giant even now and must have been considered a Goliath in his day. Both of these Janos had had up before, for various reasons, but now his purpose was entirely different. He had given up tomb-looting some five hundred years ago, and his appetite for torture and necrophilia had grown jaded in that same distant era. While still the Thracian warrior stumbled about dazed and disorientated, crying out in the reek and the purple smoke of his reanimation, Janos had him chained and dragged before his lady. At sight of her he became calm in a moment; tears formed in his eyes and trickled down the leathery, bearded, pockmarked jowls of his face.
'Bodrogk,' Janos spoke to him in an approximation of his own tongue, 'and so you recognize this wife of yours, eh? But do you see how I've cared for her salts? She comes up as perfectly fleshed as in life - not like yourself, all scarred and burned, and pocked from the loss of your materials. Perhaps I should be more careful how I gather up your ashes, as I am with hers, when once more I send you down into your jar. Ah, but as you must know, she has been of more use to me than you. For where you could only give me gold, she gave me -'
' - You are a dog!' the other shut him off, his voice cracking like boulders breaking. Leaning forward in his chains, he strained to reach his tormentor.
Janos laughed as his thralls fought hard to keep Bodrogk from breaking loose. But then he stopped laughing and held out a glass jug for the other to see. And: 'Now be still and listen to me,' he commanded, harsh-voiced. 'As you see, this favourite wife of yours is near-perfect. How long she remains so is entirely up to you. She is unchanged from a time two thousand years ago, and will go on the same for as long as I will it - and not a moment longer.'
While he talked his creatures made fast Bodrogk's chains to staples in the wall. Now they stood back from him. 'Observe,' said Janos. He took a glass stem and dipped it in the liquid in the jug, then quickly splashed droplets across the huge Thracian's chest.
Bodrogk looked down at himself; his mouth fell open and his eyes started out as smoke curled up from the matted hair of his chest where the acid had touched him; he cried out and shook himself in his chains, then crumpled to his knees in the agony of his torture. And the acid ate into him until his flesh melted and ran in thin rivulets, red and yellow, all down his quivering thighs.
His wife, the last of the six wives he'd had in life, cried out to Janos that he spare Bodrogk this torture. And weeping, she too collapsed in her chains. At last her husband struggled to his feet, the orbits of his eyes red with agony and hatred where he gazed at Janos. 'I know that she is dead,' he said, 'even as I am dead, and that you are a ghoul and a necromancer. But it seems that even in death there is shame, torment and pain. Therefore, to spare her any more of that, ask what you will of me. If I know the answer I will tell it to you. If I can perform the deed, it shall be done.'
'Good!' Janos grunted. 'I have six of your men in their burial urns, where they lie as salts, ashes, dust. Now I shall spill them out of their lekythoi and have them up. They will be my guard, and you their Captain.'
'More flesh to torture?' Bodrogk's growl was a rumble.
'What?' Janos put on a pained expression. 'But you should be grateful! These were your warrior comrades in an age when you battled side by side. Aye, and perhaps you shall again. For when my enemy comes against me, I can't be sure that he'll come alone. Why, I even have your armour, with which you decked yourself all those years agone, and which was buried with you. So you see, you shall be the warrior again. And again I say to you, you should be grateful. Now I call these others up, and I call upon you, Bodrogk, to control them. Your wife stays here. Only let one treacherous Thracian hand rise against me ... and she suffers.'
'Janos,' Bodrogk continued to gaze at him, 'I will do all you ask of me. But for all that I was a warrior in life, I was a fair man, too. It is that fairness which prompts me to advise you now: keep well the upper hand. Oh, I know you are a vampire and strong, but I also know my own strength, which is great. If you did not have Sofia there, in chains, then for all your acid I would break you into many pieces. She alone stays my hand.'
Janos laughed like a great baying hound. 'That time shall never come,' he said. 'But I too shall be fair: when this is done, and done to my liking, then I shall put you both down, and mingle your dust, and scatter it to the winds forever.'
"Then that must suffice,' said the other.
'So be it!' said Janos...
As the sun painted a crack of gold on the eastern horizon, Harry Keogh slept on. But in the Aegean Sea off Rhodes Darcy Clarke and his team were aboard a slightly larger, faster boat than last time, and already passing Tilos to port where they forged west for Sirna. Watching the sea slip by like blue silk sliced by the scissors prow, Darcy again went over the plans they'd made last night and looked for loopholes in their logic.
He remembered how David Chung had sat at a table in their hotel rooms, while the rest ringed him about and watched his performance. Chung's parents had been cocaine addicts; the drug had rotted their minds and bodies, killing both of them while he was still little more than a child. So that ever since joining the Branch he'd aimed his talent in that one specific direction: the destruction of everyone who trafficked in human misery. They had given the locator other tasks from time to time, but everyone in E-Branch knew that this was his forte.
Last night he'd employed a little of the very substance he loathed, crouching over the smallest amount of snow white cocaine. Upon the table a large map of the Dodecanese, and upon the map the merest trickle of poisonous dust, lying on a flimsy brown cigarette paper to give it definition.
Chung had called for silence, and for several minutes had sat there breathing deeply, occasionally wetting a finger to take up the white grains and touch them to his tongue. Then -
- With a single sharp puff of air from his mouth he'd blown the cigarette paper and its poison away, and in the next moment stabbed the map with his forefinger. 'There!' he'd said. 'And an awful lot of it!'
Manolis Papastamos and Jazz Simmons had applauded, but Zek, Darcy and Ben Trask had not seemed much surprised. They were impressed, of course, but ESP had been their business for many years. It wasn't so strange to them.
Then Manolis had looked more closely at the map, the place where Chung was pointing, and nodded. 'Lazarides's island,' he said. 'So now we know where the Lazarus is hiding. And aboard her, all the shit that the Vrykoulakas stole from the old Samothraki.'
After that, planning had been basic to minimal. Their aim: simply to get to the island in the hour after dawn, when the white ship's vampire crew should be less inclined to activity, and to destroy the Lazarus, vampires and all, right there where she was anchored.
David Chung was out of it now; his part had been played and the remainder of his time in the sun was his own; he wouldn't see the rest of the team until the job was finished. And now indeed they were on their way to finish it.
Manolis brought Darcy's mind back to the present: 'Another half-hour and we're there. Do you want to go over it again?'
Darcy shook his head. 'No, you all know your jobs. As for me: this time I'm just a passenger - at least until we get onto the island and into Janos's place.' He looked at his team.
Zek was unzipping herself from her lightweight one-piece suit. Underneath she wore a yellow bathing costume consisting of very little and leaving nothing at all to the imagination. She scarcely looked her age but was sleek, tanned and stunning. With her blue eyes, her blonde hair flashing gold, and a smile like a white blaze, there wouldn't be a man alive or undead who could keep his eyes off her!
Her husband looked at her and grinned. 'What's so amusing?' she asked him, tossing her head.
'I was thinking,' Jazz answered, 'that we'd like to sink these blokes along with their ship. The idea isn't that they should go diving in the water after you!'
'This is something I learned from the Lady Karen on Starside,' she told him. 'If I can distract them, then the rest of you will be able to do your jobs more safely and easily. Karen was an expert at distraction.'
'Oh, they'll be distracted, all right!' Manolis assured her.
Ben Trask had meanwhile opened up a small compartmented suitcase and taken out four of six gleaming metal discs some two inches thick by seven across. The back of each disc was black, magnetic, and the obverse fitted with a safety switch and timer. Manolis looked at the limpet mines where Trask began fitting them to a pair of diving belts in place of the usual lead weights, and shook his head. 'I still don't know how you got them out of England,' he said.
Trask shrugged. 'In a diplomatic bag. We may be silent partners, but we're still part of British Intelligence after all.'
There's a rock up ahead,' Zek shouted from where she now sat on a rubber mat on the narrow deck on top of the cabin and in front of the windshield. She pointed. 'Manolis, is that it?'
He nodded. 'That's it. Darcy, can you take the wheel?'
Darcy took control of the boat and throttled back a little. Manolis and Jazz stripped down to swimsuits, and went into the tiny cabin out of sight. In there, they tested aqualungs and checked their swimfins. Ben Trask took off his jacket and put on sunglasses and a straw hat. In his Hawaiian shirt he was just some rich tourist fool out for a day's pleasure-boating. Darcy might easily be his brother.
The island had swum up larger and Zek was seen to be right: it was little more than a big rock. There were a few shrubs, patches of thyme and coarse grass, and lots of rocks... and situated centrally, above coastal cliffs, a weathered yellow stack going up sheer for maybe one hundred and eighty feet.
Zek looked at it and put her hand to her brow. 'That's a pigmy of an aerie,' she said, 'but it gives me the shudders just the same. And there are men - no, vampires - on it. Two of them at least.'
The boat rounded the point of a promontory and Darcy saw what lay ahead. But even if he hadn't seen it, his talent had already forewarned him. 'Stay down,' he called out to Manolis and Jazz in the cabin. 'Draw those curtains. You two aren't here. There are just the three of us.'
They did as he told them.
Zek stretched herself out luxuriously on the cabin's roof and put on sunglasses; Trask lay back and hooked one leg idly over the boat's rail; Darcy headed the boat directly across the mouth of a small bay. And there, anchored in the bay ... the white ship, the Lazarus.
Trask knocked the cap off a bottle of beer and tilted his head back, merely wetting his lips but studying what he could see of the island intently. That was part of his job, while Darcy and Zek, in their various ways, studied the Lazarus.
The island consisted of a tiny beach inside a pair of bare spurs of rock extending oceanward, and an almost barren slope of rock climbing to the central stack. From this side, the top of the stack was seen to be a ruined fortification or pharos of some sort, with the remains of badly eroded steps still showing where they zig-zagged up to it. But half-way up the stack, a false, flat, extensive plateau seemed carved, as if in ages past the upper section had split down the centre and half had toppled over. With massive walls built around the plateau's perimeter from one side of the needle rock to the other, the place had obviously been a Crusader stronghold. The old walls had long since fallen away in places, but it was seen that new walls were now under construction, and scaffolding was plainly visible clinging to both the stump and the surviving upper section of the stack.
Darcy meanwhile considered the Lazarus. The white ship stood off from the beach in deep water central in the small bay. Her anchor-chain went down shimmering into the blue of the sea. On the deck under the black, scalloped awning, a man sat in one of several chairs. But as the motorboat came powering into view he stood up and took binoculars from around his neck. He wore a wide-brimmed floppy hat and sunglasses, and he kept fairly well to the shade as he put the binoculars to his eyes and trained them on the motorboat.
Zek propped herself up on one elbow and waved excitedly, but the watcher on the deck ignored her - at first.
Darcy throttled back and turned the boat in a wide circle about the white ship, and joined Zek in her waving. 'Ahoy, there!' he put on an upper-class English accent. 'Ahoy aboard the Lazarus!'
The man went to the door of the lounge and leaned half-inside, then came back out. He now aimed his binoculars at Zek where she continued to wave; this was scarcely necessary for the circling boat was no more than forty or fifty feet away. She felt his gaze on her and shivered, despite the blazing heat of the sun. A second man, who might have been the twin of the first, joined him and they silently observed the circling boat - but mainly they observed Zek.
Darcy throttled back more yet, and a third man came out of the white ship's lounge. Ben Trask stood up and held up his bottle to them. 'Care for a drink?' he shouted, imitating Darcy's faked accent. 'Maybe we can come aboard?'
Like fuck! thought Darcy.
Zek scanned the ship, not only above but also below decks. She counted six all told. Three sleeping. All of them vampires. Then...
... One of the sleepers stirred, woke up. His mind was alert; it was more completely vampire than the others; before Zek could cover her telepathic spying, he had 'seen' her!
She stopped waving and told Darcy: 'Let's go. One of them read me. He didn't see anything much, only that I'm more than I appear to be. But if they run off now we'll lose them.'
'We'll see you later,' Ben Trask called out as Darcy turned the boat away and sped for the tip of the far promontory.
Passing from the view of the watchers on the Lazarus, he throttled right down and allowed the boat to cruise close up to a flat-topped, weed-grown rock barely sticking up out of the sea. Jazz and Manolis came out of the cabin, put on their masks and adjusted their demand valves, and as Darcy cut the engine they stepped from the boat to the rock and so into the sea.
'Jazz,' Zek called down, 'be careful!'
He might have heard her and he might not; his head went down and a stream of bubbles came up; the swimmers submerged to fifteen feet and headed back towards the Lazarus.
'More distraction,' said Darcy, grimly, as he throttled up and turned back out to sea.
'Darcy,' Zek called to him, 'keep just a little more distant this time. They'll be wary, I'm sure.'
As Darcy headed straight out to sea and the Lazarus came back into view, so Ben Trask got down on his knees and took a sterling sub-machine gun out of its bag under the seat. He extended the butt and slapped a curved magazine of 9 mm rounds into the housing, then lay the gun between his feet and covered it with the bag.
Half a mile out, Darcy turned to port and came speeding back towards the white ship. There was activity aboard now, where the three on the deck hurried round the rail, pausing every few paces to look over into the water. Jazz and Manolis would be there any time now. Darcy piled on the speed and Zek commenced waving as before. The men on the deck came together at one point at the rail and again Zek felt binoculars trained on her almost naked body. But this time the interest was other than sexual.
Then, as Darcy leaned the boat over on her side and recommenced his circling, they heard the rattle of the Lazarus's anchor-chain as it was drawn up, and the throbbing cough of her engines starting into life. And now a fourth man came ducking out of the lounge onto the deck... cradling a stubby, squat-bodied machine-gun in his arms!
'Jesus!' Ben Trask yelled. And it might have been that his shout of warning was a signal to let the battle commence.
The man with the machine-gun opened up, standing there on the deck of the Lazarus with his legs braced, hosing the smaller craft with lead. Zek had scrambled down off the cabin roof; as she ducked into the tiny cabin the windshield flew into shards and Darcy felt the whip of hot lead flying all around. Then Trask stood up and returned fire, and the gunner on the Lazarus was thrown back as if he'd been hit by a pile-driver. He bounced off a stanchion on the deck, came toppling over the rail and splashed down into the water. And another crewman ran to retrieve his gun.
Darcy was round the white ship now and putting distance between them as he forged for the open sea; but as Zek came back out of the cabin, she grabbed the wheel and yanked it hard over, shouting: 'Look! Oh, look!'
Darcy let her have the wheel and looked. The man with the gun on the deck of the Lazarus was firing down into the water, shooting at something which drew slowly away from the white ship's flank. It could only be Jazz or Manolis, or both of them.
'You handle her!' Darcy yelled, and he moved to where Trask was still firing and drew out a second bag from under the seating. But as he loaded up the second SMG there came more of the angry wasp-buzzing of sprayed bullets, and Trask cried out and staggered back, only just managing to prevent himself going over the side. The upper muscle of Trask's left arm had a neat hole punched clean through, which turned scarlet and spilled over with blood in the next moment. Then Darcy was up on his feet, returning fire.
But the Lazarus was moving; she reversed out of the bay and began to turn slowly on her own axis, and the water boiled furiously where her propellers churned. They couldn't stop her now and so let her go, and Zek went to Trask to see if there was anything she could do. He grimaced but told her: 'I'll be OK. Just wrap it up, that's all.'
Heads broke the surface of the water as Zek tore Trask's shirt from his back to make a bandage and sling. Darcy throttled right back and drew alongside Jazz where he slipped out of his lung's harness and trod water, then helped him clamber aboard, and Manolis came knifing in in an expert flurry of flippers. In another moment he, too, had been dragged up into the boat - at which point the motor gave a gurgling cough and stopped dead.
'Flooded!' Darcy cried.
But Ben Trask was pointing out to sea and yelling, 'Jesus, Je-sus!'
The Lazarus had turned round and was coming back. The throb of her engines was louder, faster as she bore down on the smaller vessel, and her intention was obvious. Manolis, working furiously to get the motor restarted, glanced at the waterproof watch on his wrist. 'She should have gone up by now!' he yelled. 'The limpets, they should have -'
And when the Lazarus was something less than fifty yards away, then the mines did go off. Not in one unified explosion, but in four.
The first two exploded near the stern of the white ship, with only a second or so between them, which had the effect of first throwing the stern one way and then the other, and also of lifting it up out of the water. Slewing and wallowing as the engines seized up, the Lazarus was still advancing under something of her former impetus; but then the third and fourth limpets went off where they'd been placed towards the stem, and that changed the whole picture. With the stern already low in the water from massive flooding, now the prow was pushed up on the crest of white-foaming waters, and as her nose slapped back to the tossing ocean so the engines exploded. The back of the boat was at once split open in gouting fire and ruin, and hot, buckled metal was hurled aloft in a fireball of igniting fuel.
As the glare of the fireball diminished and a huge smoke ring climbed skyward on the last hot gasp of the ship, so she gave up the ghost, settled down in the water and sank. Scraps of burning awning fluttered back to the tossing ocean and the drifting smoke cleared; the sea belched hugely and offered up clouds of steam; the gurgling and boiling of the waters continued for a few seconds longer, before falling silent...
'Gone!' said Darcy, when he could draw breath.
'Right,' Jazz Simmons nodded. 'But let's make sure she's all gone. And her crew with her.'
Manolis got the motor going and they chugged over to where the Lazarus had gone down. An oil slick lay on the water, where bubbles surfaced and made spreading rainbow colours. Then, even as they watched, a head and shoulders came bobbing up, lolled over backwards, and the lower part of the blackened body slowly rotated into view. He lay there in the water as if crucified, with his arms spreadeagled and great yellow blisters bursting on his neck, shoulders and thighs. But as they continued to stare aghast, so his eyes opened and glared at them, and he coughed up phlegm, blood and salt water.
Manolis didn't think twice but shut off the motor, picked up a speargun and put a harpoon straight into the gagging vampire's chest. The creature jerked once or twice, then lay still in the water. But still they couldn't be sure. Zek looked away as they reeled him in to the side of the boat, tied lead weights to his ankles and let him sink slowly out of sight.
'Deep water,' Manolis commented, without emotion.
'Even a vampire is only flesh and blood. If he can't breathe he can't live. Anyway, the floor of the sea is rocky here: there will be many big groupers down there. Even if life were possible, he can't heal himself faster than they can eat him!'
Ben Trask was white and shaky but well in control of himself. His shoulder was all strapped up now. 'What about the one I knocked overboard?' he said.
Manolis took the boat to the middle of the bay where the Lazarus had been moored, and Darcy gave a shout and pointed at something that splashed feebly in the water. Even shot, the vampire had made it half-way to land. They closed with him, speared him and dragged him back out to sea, where they dealt with him as with the first one.
'And that's the end of them,' Ben Trask grunted.
'Not quite,' Zek reminded him, pointing at the looming stack of white and yellow stone inland. There are two more of them up there.' She put her hand to her brow and closed her eyes, and frowned. 'Also... there may be something else. But I'm not sure what.'
Manolis beached the boat and took up his speargun. He was happy with that and with his Beretta. Darcy had his SMG, which he considered enough to handle, and Zek took a second speargun. Jazz was satisfied with Harry Keogh's crossbow, with which he'd familiarized himself during the voyage. They might have taken the other SMG, too, but Ben Trask was now out of it and they must leave the gun with him - just in case. His task: stay behind and look after the boat.
They waded ashore and started up the rocks. The trail was easy to follow where the thin soil had been compacted between boulders, and where steps had been cut in the steeper places. Half-way to the stack they paused to take a breather and look back. Ben was watching them through binoculars, and also watching the stack. So far there had been no sign of life in the place, but as they approached its base Jazz spied movement up in the ancient embrasures.
He immediately dragged Zek into cover and motioned Darcy and Manolis down among jumbled rocks. 'If those creatures up there had rifles,' he explained, 'they could pick us off like flies.'
'But they haven't, or they would have already,' Manolis pointed out. 'They could have got us as we beached the boat, or even as we engaged the Lazarus.'
'But they have been watching us,' said Zek. 'I could feel them.'
'And they are waiting for us up there,' Jazz squinted at the rearing, dazzling white walls.
'We're skating on very thin ice,' Darcy told the others. 'I can feel my talent telling me that this far is far enough.'
A shout echoed up to them from the beach. Looking back, they saw Ben Trask struggling up the incline after them. 'Hold it!' he yelled. 'Wait!'
He approached to within thirty or forty yards, then fell back against a boulder in the shade and rested a while. And when he had recovered: 'I've been looking at the fortifications through my glasses,' he yelled. 'There's something very wrong. The climb looks easy enough - up those ancient stone steps there - but it's not. It's a lie, a trap!'
Jazz went back and met Ben half-way, and took the binoculars from him. 'How do you mean, a trap?'
'It's like when I listen to a police interview with a suspect perp,' Ben answered. 'I can tell right off if he's lying even if I don't know what the lie is. So don't ask me what's wrong up there, just take my word for it that it is!'
'OK,' said Jazz. 'Go on back down to the boat. From here on in we step wary.'
When Ben had started back, Jazz looked through the binoculars at the zig-zagging, precipitous stone stairway from the base of the stack to the ancient walls. Close to the top, a jumble of boulders and shards of stone bulged from the gaping mouth of a cave, held back from the steps and the vertiginous edge by a barrier of heavy-duty wire mesh strung between deeply bedded iron staves. Cables, almost invisible, hung down from the ramparts and disappeared into the gloom of the cave. Jazz looked at these cables for long moments. Demolition wire? It could be.
He rejoined the others where they waited. 'I think we're walking right into one,' he said. 'Or we will be if we start up those steps.' He explained his meaning.
Darcy took the binoculars from him, stuck his head out from under cover and double-checked the face of the looming rock. 'You could be right... must be right! If Ben says it's all wrong, it's all wrong.'
'No way we can cut those cables,' Jazz said. "Those things up there have the advantage. They could spot a mouse trying to make it up those steps.'
'Listen,' said Manolis, who had also been studying the route up the rock. 'Why don't we play them at their own game? Let them think we're falling for it, and make them waste their ambush.'
'How?' said Darcy.
'We start on up,' said Manolis, 'but we are stringing it out a little, and one of us is staying well ahead of the rest. The path turns a corner just underneath the cave with the boulders. And just before the corner, there is this big hole - er, this concavity? - in the face of the cliff. So, one of us has already turned the corner, and the others look all set to follow him. The creatures up in the fort are in a quandary: do they press the button and get the one man for sure, or do they wait for the others to come round the corner? At this point the one in front, he goes faster, past the point of maximum danger, and the others pretend they are coming on! But they only just show themselves and don't actually start on up that leg of the climb. The vampires can't wait; they have missed one of us and so must try for the other three; they press the button. Boom!'
Jazz took it up: 'The three at the rear have now showed themselves around the corner, but unbeknown to the guys on top they're expecting what happens next. As the charge blows those rocks out of the cave higher up, so the three skip back round the corner and into the scoop in the face of the cliff.'
'Is how I see it,' said Manolis, nodding, 'yes.'
'Or,' said Darcy, his face suddenly pale, 'we leave it till tonight, and -'
'Is your guardian angel speaking?' Manolis looked disgusted. 'I have seen that look on your face before!'
Darcy knew he was right and cursed under his breath. 'So, who do you suggest bells the cat?' he said.
'Who goes first and risks getting blown the hell off the cliff?'
Manolis shrugged. 'But... who else? You, of course!'
Jazz looked at Darcy and said: "This talent of yours, it really works?'
'I'm a deflector, yes,' Darcy nodded, and sighed.
'So what's the problem?'
The problem is my talent doesn't work in fits and starts,' Darcy answered. 'It's working all the time. It makes a coward of me. Even knowing I'm protected, I'll still use a taper to light a firework! You are saying: off you go, Darcy, get on up those steps.-But it is saying, run like hell, son - run like bloody hell!'
'So what you have to ask yourself,' said Jazz, 'is who's the boss, it or you?'
Darcy offered a grim nod for answer, slapped a full magazine into the housing of his SMG and stepped out into view of who or whatever was watching from above. He made for the base of the stone steps and started up. The others looked at each other for a moment, then Manolis started after him. Jazz let him get out of earshot and said: 'Zek, you stay here.'
'What?' she looked at him. 'After Starside you're telling me that I should let you do something like this on your own?'
'I'm not on my own. And what good will you be anyway with only a speargun? We need you down here, Zek. If one of those things gets past us, you're going to have to stop him.'
"That's just an excuse,' she said. 'You said it yourself: what good am I with only a speargun?'
'Zek, I -'
'All right!' she said. And: 'They're waiting for you.'
He kissed her and started after the other two. She let him get onto the steps and start upwards, then scrambled after. They could fight later...
Just before the crucial corner, where the narrow stone steps angled left and climbed unevenly up the section of cliff face directly beneath the threatening cave with its potential barrage of boulders, Darcy paused to let the others catch up a little. His breathing was ragged and his legs felt like jelly: not because of the stiff climb but because he was fighting his talent every inch of the way.
He looked back and, as Manolis and Jazz came into view, waved. And then he turned the corner and pushed on. But he remembered how, as he'd passed the sheltering hollow where the rest of the team would take cover, he'd been very tempted. Except he had known that once he stepped in there, it would take at least a stick of dynamite to get him out again!
He craned his neck and glanced straight up, and winced. He could see the wire-netting holding back the bulging tangle of rocks not ten feet overhead. It was time to make his break for it. He put on speed and climbed out of the immediate danger area, then glanced back and saw Jazz and Manolis coming round the corner. At which precise moment a pebble slipped underfoot and sent him sprawling.
Feeling his feet shoot out over the rim, Darcy grabbed at projecting rocks and in the same moment knew that it was going to happen. 'Shit!' he yelled, clinging to the cliff face and the steps, as a deafening explosion sounded close by and its shock wave threatened to hurl him into space. Then-
- Fragments of rock were flying everywhere; it was like the entire stack was coming down; deaf and suffocating in choking dust and debris, Darcy could only cling and wait for the ringing to go out of his ears. A minute went by or maybe two, and the rumbling died away. Darcy looked back... and Jazz and Manolis were clambering dangerously up towards him across steps choked with rubble.
But up ahead someone - two someones - were clambering dangerously down!
As Darcy began pushing himself to his feet, he saw them: flame-eyed, snarling, coming to meet the stack's invaders head on. One of them carried a pistol, the other had a nine-foot octopus pole with a barbed trident head. The tines must be all of eight inches long.
Darcy's SMG was trapped under rubble and stony debris. He yanked on the sling but it wouldn't come. The vampire with the pistol had paused and was taking aim. Something thrummed overhead and the creature aiming at Darcy dropped its pistol and staggered against the cliff face, its hands flying to the hardwood bolt skewering its chest. It gagged, gave a weird, hissing cry, fell to its knees and toppled into thin air.
The other one came on, cursing and stabbing at Darcy with its terrible weapon. He somehow managed to turn the wicked trident head aside as Manolis arrived behind him. Then the Greek policeman yelled, 'Get down!' and Darcy threw himself flat again. He heard the crack! -crack! - crack! of Manolis's Beretta, and the hissing of the vampire turn to shrieks of rage and agony. Shot three times at close range, the thing staggered there on the steps. Darcy yanked the octopus pole out of its hands, slammed the butt end into its chest. And over it went, mewling and yelping as it pinwheeled all the way down to the base of the stack.
Jazz Simmons came up to the other two. 'Up or down?' he panted.
'Down,' said Darcy at once. 'And don't worry, it isn't my talent playing up. It's just that I know how hard those things are to kill!' He looked beyond his two friends. 'Where's Zek?'
'Down below,' said Jazz.
'All the more reason to get back down,' said Darcy. 'After we've burned those two, then we'll see what else is up here.'
But Zek wasn't down below, she was just that moment coming round the corner. And when she saw that they were all in one piece... her sigh of relief said more than any number of spoken words.
They brought petrol from the boat and burned the two badly broken vampires, then rested a while before going up into the old fortifications. Up there Janos had been preparing a spacious, spartan retreat; not quite an aerie of the Wamphyri as Zek remembered such, but a place almost equally sinister and foreboding.
Letting her telepathic talent guide her through piles of tumbled masonry and openings in half-constructed walls, and past deep embrasure windows opening on fantastic views of the ocean's curved horizon, she led the others to a trapdoor concealed under tarpaulins and timbers. They opened it up and saw ages-hollowed stone steps leading down into a Crusader dungeon. Rigging torches, the men followed the stairwell down into the reeking heart of the stack, and Zek followed the men. Down there they foupd the low-walled rims of a pair of covered wells which plunged even deeper into darkness, but that was when Zek gasped and lay back against nitrous walls, shivering.
'What is it?' Jazz's voice echoed in the leaping torchlight.
'In the wells,' she gasped, one hand held tremblingly to her throat. 'There were places like this in the aeries on Starside. Places where the Wamphyri kept their... beasts!'
The wells were covered with lids fashioned from planking; Manolis put his ear to one of the covers and listened, but could hear nothing. 'Something in the wells?' he said, frowning.
Zek nodded. "They're silent now, afraid, waiting. Their thoughts are dull, vacuous. They could be siphoneers, or gas-beasts, or anything. And they don't know who we are. But they fear we might be Janos! These are ... things of Janos, grown out of him.'
Darcy gave a shudder and said: 'Like the creature Yulian Bodescu kept in his cellar. But ... it has to be safe to look, at least. Because if it wasn't I'd know.'
Manolis and Jazz lifted the cover from one of the wells and stood it on its edge by the low wall. They looked down into Stygian darkness but could see nothing. Jazz looked at the others, shrugged, held out his torch over the mouth of the well and let it fall.
And it was like all hell had been let loose!
Such a howling and roaring, a mewling and spitting and frenzied clamour. For a moment - only a moment - the flaring torch as it fell lit up the monstrosity at the bottom of the dry well. They saw eyes, a great many, gaping jaws and teeth, a huge lashing of rubbery limbs. Something terrible beyond words crashed about down there, leaped and gibbered. In the next moment the torch went out, which was as well for they'd seen enough. And as the hideous tumult continued, Jazz and Manolis replaced the cover over the awful shaft.
On their way back up the steps, Manolis said: 'We shall need all the fuel we can spare.'
'And plenty of this building timber,' Jazz added.
'And after that those other limpet mines,' said Darcy, 'so we can be sure we've blocked those wells up forever. It's time things were put back to rights here.'
As they reached the open air, Zek clutched Jazz's arm and said, 'But if this is a measure of what Janos can do here, even in the limited time he's had, just think what he might have done up in those Transylvanian mountains.'
Darcy looked at his friends and his face was still gaunt and ashen. His throat was dry as he voiced his own thoughts: 'God, I wouldn't be in Harry Keogh's shoes for... for anything!'
Harry woke up to the sure knowledge that something had happened, something far away and terrible. Inhuman screams rang in his ears, and a roaring fire blazed before his eyes. But then, starting upright in his bed, he realized that the screams were only the morning cries of cockerels, and that the fire was the blaze of the sun striking through his east-facing windows.
Now that he was awake there were other sounds and sensations: breakfast sounds from downstairs, and food smells rising from the kitchen.
He got up, washed, shaved and quickly dressed. But as he was about to go downstairs he heard a strangely familiar jingling, a creaking, and the easy clatter of hooves from out in the road. He went to look down, and was surprised to feel the heat of the sun on his arms where he leaned out of the window. He frowned. The hot yellow sunlight irritated him, made him itchy.
Down there in the road, horse-drawn caravans rolled single file, four or five of them all in a line. Gypsies, Travellers, they were heading for the distant mountains; and Harry felt a sudden kinship, for that was his destination, too. Would they cross the border, he wondered? Would they even be allowed to? Strange if they were, for Ceausescu didn't have a lot of time for Gypsies.
Harry watched them pass by, and saw that the last in line was decked in wreaths and oddly-shaped funeral garlands woven from vines and garlic flowers. The caravan's tiny windows were tightly curtained; women walked beside it, all in black, heads bowed, silently grieving. The caravan was a hearse, and its occupant only recently dead.
Harry felt sympathy, reached out with his deadspeak. 'Are you OK?'
The unknown other's thoughts were calm, uncluttered, but still he started a little at Harry's intrusion. And: Don't you think that's rude of you? he said. Breaking in on me like that?
Harry was at once apologetic. 'I'm sorry,' he answered, 'but I was concerned for you. It's obviously recent and... not all of the dead are so stoical about it.'
About death? Ah, but I've been expecting it for a long time. You must be the Necroscope?
'You've heard about me? In that case you'll know I didn't mean to be rude. But I hadn't realized that my name had reached the travelling folk. I've always thought of you as a race apart. I mean, you have your ways, which don't always fit in too well with...no, that's not what I meant, either! Perhaps you're right and I am rude.'
The other chuckled. I know what you mean well enough. But the dead are the dead, Harry, and now that they've learned how to talk to each other, they talk! Mainly they reminisce, with no real contact with the living - except for you, of course. Which makes you yourself a talking point. Oh, yes, I've heard about you.
'You're a learned man,' said Harry, 'and very wise, I can tell. So you won't find death so hard. How you were in life, that's how you'll be in death. All the things you wondered about when you were living, but which you could never quite resolve, you'll work them all out now that you're dead.'
You're trying to make me feel better about it, and I appreciate that, the other answered, but there's really no need. I was getting old and my bones were weary; I was ready for it, I suppose. By now I'll be on my way to my place under the mountains, where my Traveller forebears will welcome me. They, too, were Gypsy kings in their time, as am I... or as I was. I look forward to hearing the history of our race at first hand. I suppose I have you to thank for that, for without you they'd all be lying there like ancient, desiccated seeds in a desert, full of potential, shape and colour but unable to give them form. To the dead, you have been rain in the desert.
Harry leaned far out of his window to watch the caravan hearse out of sight around a bend in the dusty road. 'It was nice meeting you,' he said. 'And if I'd known you were a king, be sure my approach would have been more respectful.'
Harry - the other's deadspeak thoughts drifted back to the Necroscope, and he sensed that they were a little troubled now, - you seem to me to be a very rare person: good, compassionate and wise in your own right, for all that you are young. And you say that you have recognized an older wisdom in me. Very well, so now I would ask you to accept some sensible advice from a wise old Traveller king. Go anywhere else but where you are going. Do anything else but that which you have set out to do!
Harry was puzzled, and not a little worried. Gypsies have strange talents, and the dead - even the recently dead - are not without theirs. How then a dead Gypsy king? 'Are you telling my fortune? It's a long time since I crossed a Traveller's palm with silver.'
The other vseized upon that: With silver, aye! My palms shall never know its feel again - but be sure my eyes are weighted with it! No, cross yourself with silver, Harry, cross yourself!
Now Harry wasn't merely puzzled but suspicious, too. What did this dead old man know? What could he possibly know, and what was he trying to say? Harry's thoughts weren't shielded; the Gypsy king picked them up and answered:
I have said too much already. Some would consider me a traitor. Well, let them think it. For you are right: I'm old and I'm dead, and so can afford one last indulgence. But you have been kind, and death has put me beyond forfeiture.
'Your warning is an ominous thing,' said Harry. But there was no answer. Only a small cloud of dust, settling, showed where the caravans had passed from sight.
'My route is set!' Harry called after. 'That is the way I must go!'
A sigh drifted back. Only a sigh.
'Thanks anyway,' Harry answered sigh for sigh, and felt his shoulders sag a little. 'And goodbye.'
And he sensed the slow, sad shake of the other's head ...
At 11:00 a.m. Harry booked out of the Hotel Sarkad in Mezobereny and waited by the side of the road for his taxi. He carried only his holdall, which in fact held very little: his sleeping-bag, a small-scale map of the district in a side-pocket, and a packet of sandwiches made up for him by the hotel proprietor's daughter.
The sun was very hot and seemed intensified by the old boneshaker's dusty windows; it burned Harry's wrists where it fell on them, causing a sensation which he could only liken to prickly heat. At his first opportunity, in a village named Bekes, he called a brief halt to purchase a straw summer hat with a wide brim.
From Mezobereny to his drop-off point close to the Romanian border was about twenty kilometres. Before letting his driver go he checked with him that in fact his map was accurate, and that the border crossing point lay only two or three kilometres ahead at a place called Gyula.
'Gyula, yes,' said the taxi driver, pointing vaguely down the road. And again: 'Gyula. You will see them both, from the hill - the border, and Gyula.' Harry watched him turn his cab around and drive off, then hoisted his holdall to one shoulder and set off on foot. He could have taken the taxi closer to the border, but hadn't wanted to be seen arriving in that fashion. A man on foot is less noticeable on a country road.
And 'country' was what it was. Forests, green fields, crops, hedgerows, grazing animals: it seemed good land. But up ahead, across the border: there lay Transylvania's central massif. Not so darkly foreboding as the Meridional!, perhaps, but mountains awesome and threatening enough in their own right. Where the road crossed the crest of low, undulating hills, Harry could see the grey-blue peaks and domes maybe twenty-five miles away. They clung to the horizon, a sprawl of hazy crags obscured by distance and low-lying cloud. His destination.
And from that same vantage point he could also see the border post, its red- and white-striped barrier reaching out across the road from a timber, almost Austrian-styled chalet. Borders hadn't much bothered Harry, not when he had the use of the Möbius Continuum, but now they bothered him considerably. He knew that there was no way he was going to get past this one, not on the road, at least. But his uncomplicated plan had taken that into account. Now that he knew exactly where he was on the map (and the precise lie of the border), he would simply continue to act the tourist, spending the day quietly in some small village or hamlet. There he'd study his map until he knew the area intimately, and choose himself a safe route across into Romania. He knew the Securitatea were keen to keep Romanians in, but couldn't see that there'd be much to-do made about keeping foreigners out! After all, who but a madman would want to break in? Harry Keogh, that was who.
At the bottom of the hill was a T-junction where a third-class road (or half-metalled track, at least) cut north through dense woodland. And less than a mile through the woods... that must be Gyula. Harry could see hazy blue smoke rising from the chimneys in the near-distance, and the gleaming, bulbous domes of what were possibly churches. It looked a quiet enough place and should suit his purpose ideally.
But as he reached the bottom of the slope and turned left into the woods, he heard again that half-familiar jingle and saw in the shade of the trees those same Gypsy caravans which had passed under his window earlier in the day. They had not been here long and the Travellers were still setting up camp. One of the men, wearing black boots, leather trousers and a russet shirt, with a black-spotted bandana on his brow to trap and control his long, shiny black locks, was perched on a leaning fence chewing a blade of grass. Smiling and nodding as Harry drew level, he said:
'Ho, stranger! You walk alone. Why not sit a while and take a drink, to cut the dust from your throat?' He held up a long, slim bottle of slivovitz. 'The slivas were sharp the year they brewed this one!'
Harry began to shake his head, then thought: why not? He could just as easily study his map sat under a tree as anywhere else. And draw less attention to himself, at that. 'That's very kind of you,' he answered, following up immediately with: 'Why, you speak my language!'
The other grinned. 'Many languages. A little of most of them. We're Travellers, what would you expect?'
Harry walked into the camp with him. 'How did you know I was English?'
'Because you weren't Hungarian! And because the Germans don't much come here anymore. Also, if you were French there would be two or three of you, in shorts, on bicycles. Anyway, I didn't know. And if you hadn't answered me, why, I still wouldn't, not for sure! But... you look English.'
Harry looked at the caravans with their ornate, curiously carved sigils, their painted and varnished woodwork. The various symbols were so stylized they seemed to flow into and become one with the fancy scrolls of the general decoration, almost as if they'd been deliberately concealed in the design. And looking closer - but yet maintaining an attitude of casual observation - he saw that he was right and they had been so concealed.
His interest in this regard centred on the funeral vehicle, which stood a little apart from the rest. Two women in mourning black sat side by side on its steps, their heads on their bosoms, arms hanging slackly by their sides. 'A dead king,' said Harry... and out of the corner of his eye watched his new friend give a start. Things began to piece themselves together in his mind, like bits of a puzzle forming up into a picture.
'How did you know?'
Harry shrugged. 'Under all the flowers and garlic, that's a good rich caravan and fit for a Traveller king. It carries his coffin, right?'
Two of them,' said the other, regarding Harry in a new, perhaps slightly more cautious light.
'The other one is for his wife. She's the thin one on the steps there. Her heart is broken. She doesn't think she'll survive him very long.'
They sat down on the humped roots of a vast tree, where Harry got out his sandwiches. He wasn't hungry but wanted to offer them to his Gypsy 'friend', in return for the good plum brandy. And: 'Where will you bury them?' he eventually asked.
The other nodded eastward casually enough, but Harry felt his dark eyes on him. 'Oh, under the mountains.'
'I saw a border post up there. Will they let you through?'
The Gypsy smiled in a wrinkling of tanned skin, and a gold tooth flashed in the sun striking through the trees. 'This has been our route since long before there were border posts, or even signposts! Do you think they would want to stop a funeral? What, and risk calling down the curse of the Gypsies on themselves?'
Harry smiled and nodded. 'The old Gypsy curse ploy works well for you, eh?'
But the other wasn't smiling at all. 'It works!' he said, quite simply.
Harry looked around, accepted the bottle again and took a good long pull at it. He was aware that others of the Gypsy menfolk were watching him, but covertly, while ostensibly they made camp. He sensed the tension in them, and found himself in two minds. It seemed to Harry that he'd discovered a way across the border. Indeed, he believed the Gypsies would gladly take him across; more than gladly, and whether he wanted to go with them or not!
The odd thing was that he didn't feel any animosity towards this man, these people, who he now felt reasonably sure were here partly out of coincidence but more specifically to entrap him. He didn't feel afraid of them at all; in fact he felt less afraid generally than at almost any time he could remember in his entire life! His problem was simply this: should he casually, even passively accept their entrapment, or should he try to walk out of the camp? Should he make allusion to the situation, make his suspicions known, or simply continue to play the innocent? In short, would it be better to 'go quietly', or should he make a fuss and get roughed up for his trouble?
Of one thing he was certain: Janos wanted him alive, man to man, face to face - which meant that the last thing the Szgany would do would be to hurt him. Perhaps now that Harry was on the hook, it were better if he simply lay still and let the monster reel him in. Part of the way, anyway.
... When he yawns his great jaws at you, go in through them, for he's softer on the inside...
Did I think that? Harry used his deadspeak, or was it you again, Faethor?
Perhaps it was both of us, a gurgling voice answered from deep within.
Harry nodded, if only to himself. So it was you. Very well, we'll play it your way.
Good! Believe me, you - we? - have the game well in hand.
'Do you think I might rest here a while?' Harry asked the traveller where they sat under the trees. 'It's peaceful here and I might just sit and look at my map, and plan the rest of my trip.' He took a last mouthful of slivovitz.
'Why not?' said the other. 'You can be sure no harm will come to you... here.'
Harry stretched out, lay his head on his holdall, looked at his map. Halmagiu was maybe, oh, sixty miles away? The sun was just beyond its zenith, the hour a little after noon. If the Travellers set off again at 2:00 p.m. (and if they kept up a steady six miles to the hour) they might just make it to Halmagiu by midnight. And Harry with them. He couldn't even hazard a guess as to how they would go about it, but felt fairly sure they'd find a way to get him through the checkpoint. Just as sure as he'd seen that sigil of a red-eyed bat launching itself from the rim of its urn, painted into the woodwork of the king's funeral caravan.
He closed his eyes and, looking inwards, directed his deadspeak thoughts at Faethor. I think I frightened Janos off- when I threatened to enter his mind, I mean.
It was bold of you, the other answered at once. A clever bluff. But you were in error, and fortunate indeed that it worked.
I was only following your instructions! Harry protested.
Then obviously I had not made myself plain, said Faethor. I meant simply that your mind is your castle, and that if he tried to invade it you must look to understanding his reasons, must look into his mind and try to fathom its workings. I did not mean, literally, that you should step inside! It would in any case be impossible. You're no telepath, Harry.
Oh, I knew that well enough, Harry admitted, but Janos himself wasn't so sure. He's seen some strange things in my mind, after all. Not least your presence there. And if you were advising me, then obviously he would need to step wary. The last thing he would want - the last thing anyone would want, including myself- is you in his mind. Still, I suppose you're right and it was bluff. But I felt... strong! I felt I was playing a strong hand.
You are strong, Faethor answered. But remember, you had the additional strength of the girl and Layard. You were using their amplified talents.
I know, said Harry, but it felt even stronger than that. It could of course have been your influence, but I don't think so. I felt that it was all mine. And I believe that if I had been a true telepath, then I would have gone in. If only to try and do to Janos what he did to Trevor Jordan.
He sensed Faethor's approval. Bravo! But don't run before you can walk, my son... And before Harry could answer: Will you go with the Szgany, the filthy Zirra?
In through his jaws? Harry answered. Yes, I think so. If I can't get into his mind, then I'll get into his 'body', as it were, and maybe blunt a few of his teeth a little along the way. But answer me this:
If I have frightened him off from any sort of mental seduction or invasion, what will he do next? What would you do, if you were him?
What remains to him? Faethor answered. In the skilful use of powers - those very powers he desires to steal from you - he believes you are his match. So he must first conquer you physically. What I would do if I were him? Murder you, and then by use of necromancy rip your Knowledge right out of your screaming guts!
Your... 'art'? Harry answered. Thibor's? Dragosani's? But Janos doesn't have it.
He has this other thing, this ancient, alien magic. He can reduce you to ashes, call you up from your chemical essence, torture you until you are a ruin, incapable of defending yourself - and then enter your mind. And so take what he wants.
Hearing that, Harry no longer felt so strong. Also, the slivovitz had been more potent than he thought and he'd taken quite a lot of it. Suddenly he knew the sensation of giddiness, an unaccustomed alcoholic buoyancy, and at the same time felt the weight of a blanket tossed across his legs and lower body. It was cool under the trees and someone was seeing to his welfare, for now at least. He opened his eyes a crack and saw his Gypsy 'friend' standing there, looking down at him. The man nodded and smiled, and walked away.
Treacherously clever, these dogs, Faethor commented.
Ah! Harry answered. But they've been well instructed...
Though Harry felt he should have no real requirement for sleep, still he let himself drowse. For two or three days now there had been this weariness on him, as if he were convalescing after some minor virus infection or other, maybe a bug he'd picked up in the Greek islands. But a strange ailment at best, which made him feel strong on the one hand and wearied him on the other! Perhaps it was a change in the water, the air, all the mental activity he'd been engaging in, including his deadspeak, so recently returned to him. It could be any of these things. Or ... perhaps it was something else.
Even as he let himself drift, and as he began to dream a strange dream - of a world of swamps and mountains, and aeries carved of stone and bone and cartilage - so Möbius came visiting:
Harry? Are you all right, my boy?
Certainly, he answered. I was merely resting. Whatever strength I can muster... it could be I shall need it. The battle draws nigh, old friend.
Möbius was puzzled. You use strange terms of expression. And you don't quite, well, feel the same.
As Harry's dream of Starside faded, so Möbius's dead-speak made more of an impression. What? he said. Did you say something? Terms of expression? I don't feel the same?
That's better! said Möbius, with a sigh of relief. Why, for a moment there I thought I was talking to some entirely different person!
Between dream and waking, Harry narrowed his eyes. Perhaps you were, he said.
He sought Faethor in his mind and wrapped him in a blanket of solitude. And: There, he said. And to Möbius: I can hold him there while we talk.
Some strange tenant?
Aye, and greatly unloved and unwanted. But for now I've covered his rat-hole. I much prefer my privacy. So what is it you've come to tell me, August?
That we're almost there! the other answered at once. The code is breaking down, Harry, revealing itself. We'll soon have the answer. I came to bring you hope. And to ask you to hold off from your contest just a little while longer, so that we -
- Too late for that, Harry broke in. It's now or never. Tonight I go up against him.
Again the other was puzzled. Why, you seem almost eager for it!
He took what was mine, challenged me, offended me greatly, Harry answered. He would burn me to ashes, raise me up, torture me for my secrets - even invade the Möbius Continuum! And that is not his territory.
Indeed it is not! It belongs to no one. It simply is... Möbius's deadspeak voice was dreamy again, which caused Harry to concentrate and consolidate within his own personality.
'It simply is'? he repeated to Möbius, mystified. But of course it is! What do you mean, it is?
It thinks... everything, Möbius answered. Therefore it is ... everything! But something had been triggered in him. He was fading, drifting, returning to a dimension of pure Number.
And Harry made no attempt to retain him but simply let him go ...