Man to Man, Face to Face


'Harry!' Someone gave his shoulder an urgent shake. 'Harry, wake up!'

The Necroscope came instantly awake, almost like stepping through a Möbius door from one existence to another, from dream to waking. He saw the Gypsy he had spoken to and shared food with, whose blanket lay across his legs. And his first thought was: How does he know my name? Following which he relaxed. Of course he would know his name. Janos had told it to him. He would have told all of his thralls and human servants and other minion creatures the name of his greatest enemy.

'What is it?' Harry sat up.

'You've slept an hour,' the other answered. 'We'll soon be moving on. I'm taking my blanket. Also, there is something you should see.'


The Gypsy nodded. His eyes were keen now, dark and sharp. 'Do you have a friend who searches for you?'

'What? A friend, here?' Was it possible Darcy Clarke or one of the others had followed him here from Rhodes? Harry shook his head. 'I don't think so.'

'An enemy, then, who follows on behind? In a car?'

Harry stood up. 'You've seen such a one? Show me.'

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'Follow me,' said the other. 'But keep low.'

He moved at a lope through the trees to a hedgerow. Harry followed him and was aware of the other Gypsies scattered here and there throughout the encampment. Each of them to a man was silent but tense in the dappled green shade of the trees. Their belongings were all packed away. They were ready to move.

'There,' said Harry's guide. He stood aside to let the Necroscope peer through the bushes.

On the other side of the road a man sat at the wheel of an old beetle Volkswagen, looking at the entrance to the encampment. Harry didn't know him, but ... he knew him. Now that his attention had been focussed on him, he remembered. He'd been on the plane, this man. And... in Mezobereny? Possibly. That cigarette holder was a dead giveaway. Likewise his generally snaky, effeminate style. And now Harry remembered, too, that earlier brush with the Securitatea in Romania. Had this man been their contact in Rhodes? An agent, perhaps, for the USSR's E-Branch?

He glanced at the Gypsy beside him and said, 'An enemy - possibly.' But then he saw the knife ready in the other's hand, and raised an eyebrow. 'Oh?'

The other smiled, without humour. The Szgany don't much care for silent watchers.'

But Harry wondered: had the knife been for him, if he'd tried to make a run for it? A threat, to bring him to heel? 'What now?' he said.

'Watch,' said the other.

A Gypsy girl in a bright dress and a shawl crossed the road to the car, and Nikolai Zharov sat up straighter at the wheel. She showed him a basket filled with trinkets, knick-knacks, and spoke to him. But he shook his head. Then he showed her some paper money and in turn spoke to her, questioningly. She took the money, nodded eagerly, pointed through the forest. Zharov frowned, questioned her again. She became more insistent, stamped her foot, pointed again in the direction of Gyula, along the forest road.

Finally Zharov scowled, nodded, started up his car. He drove off in a cloud of dust. Harry turned to the Gypsy and said: 'He was an enemy, then. And the girl has sent him off on a wild goose chase?'

'Yes. Now we'll be on our way.'

'We?' Harry continued to stare at him.

The man sheathed his knife. 'We Travellers,' he answered. 'Who else? If you had been awake you could have eaten with us. But - ' he shrugged,' - we saved you a little soup.'

Another man approached with a bowl and wooden spoon, which he offered to Harry.

Harry looked at it.

Don't! said a deadspeak voice in his head, that of the dead Gypsy king.

Poison? Harry answered. Your people are trying to kill me?

No, they desire you to be still for an hour or two. Only drink this, and you will be still!

And sick?

No. Perhaps a mild soreness in the head - which a drink of clean water will drive away. But if you drink the soup... then all is lost. Across the border you'll go, and up into the ageless hills and craggy mountains - which, as you know, belong to the Old Ferenczy!

But Harry only smiled and grunted his satisfaction. So be it, he said, and drank the soup...

Nikolai Zharov drove as far as Gyula and midway into the town, then finally paid attention to a small niggling voice in the back of his mind: the one that was telling him, more insistently with each passing moment, that he was a fool! Finally he turned his car around and drove furiously back the way he'd come. If Keogh had gone to Gyula he could check it later. But meanwhile, if the Gypsy girl had been lying...

The Traveller camp was empty - as though the Gypsies had never been there. Zharov cursed, turned left onto the main road and gunned his engine. And up ahead he saw the first of the caravans passing leisurely through the border checkpoint.

He arrived in a skidding of tyres, jumped from the car and ran headlong into the one-room, chalet-style building. The border policeman behind his elevated desk picked up his peaked, flat-topped hat and rammed it on his head. He glared at Zharov and the Russian glared back. Beyond the dusty, fly-specked windows, the last caravan was just passing under the raised pole.

'What?' the Russian yelled. 'Are you some kind of madman? What are you, Hungarian or Romanian?'

The other was young, big-bellied, red-faced. A Transylvanian village peasant, he had joined the Securitatea because it had seemed easier than farming. Not much money in it, but at least he could do a bit of bullying now and then. He quite liked bullying, but he wasn't keen on being bullied.

'Who are you?' he scowled, his piggy eyes startled.

'Clown!' Zharov raged. 'Those Gypsies - do they simply come and go? Isn't this supposed to be a checkpoint? Does President Ceausescu know that these riff-raff pass across his borders without so much as a by your leave? Get off your fat backside; follow me; a spy is hiding in those caravans!'

The border policeman's expression had changed. For all he knew (and despite the other's harsh foreign accent), Zharov might well be some high-ranking Securitatea official; certainly he acted like one. But what was all this about spies? Flushing an even brighter red, he hurried out from behind his desk, did up a loose button on his sweat-stained blue uniform shirt, nervously fingered the two-day-old stubble on his chin. Zharov led him out of the shack, got back into his car and hurled the passenger-side door open. 'In!' he snapped.

Cramming himself into the small seat, the confused man blusteringly protested: 'But the Travellers aren't a problem. No one ever troubles them. Why, they've been coming this way for years! They are taking one of their own to bury him. And it can't be right to interfere with a funeral.'

'Lunatic!' Zharov put his foot down hard, skidded dangerously close to the rearmost caravan and began to overtake the column. 'Did you even look to see if they might be up to something? No, of course not! I tell you they have a British spy with them called Harry Keogh. He's a wanted man in both the USSR and Romania. Well, and now he's in your country and therefore under your jurisdiction. This could well be a feather in your cap - but only if you follow my instructions to the letter.'

'Yes, I see that,' the other mumbled, though in fact he saw very little.

'Do you have a weapon?'

'What? Up here? What would I shoot, squirrels?'

Zharov growled and stamped on his brakes, skidding the car sideways in front of the first horse-drawn caravan. The column at once slowed and began to concertina, and as the dust settled Zharov and the blustering border policeman got out of the car.

The KGB man pointed at the covered caravans, where scowling Gypsies were even now climbing down onto the road. 'Search them,' he ordered.

'But what's to search?' said the other, still mystified. 'They're caravans. A seat at the front, a door at the back, one room in between. A glance will suffice.'

'Any space which would conceal a man, that's what you search!' Zharov snapped.

'But... what does he look like?' the other threw up his hands.

'Fool!' Zharov shouted. 'Ask what he doesn't look like! He doesn't look like a fucking Gypsy!'

The mood of the Travellers was ugly and getting worse as the Russian and his Securitatea aide moved down the line of caravans, yanking open their doors and looking inside. As they approached the last in line, the funeral vehicle, so a group of the Szgany put themselves in their way.

Zharov snatched out his automatic and waved it at them. 'Out of the way. If you interfere I won't hesitate to use this. This is a matter of security, and grave consequences may ensue. Now open this door.'

The Gypsy who had spoken to Harry Keogh stepped forward. 'This was our king. We go to bury him. You may not go into this caravan.'

Zharov stuck the gun up under his jaw. 'Open up now,' he snarled, 'or they'll be burying two of you!'

The door was opened; Zharov saw two coffins lying side by side on low trestles where they had been secured to the floor; he climbed the steps and went in. The border policeman and Gypsy spokesman went with him. He pointed to the left-hand coffin, said: 'That one... open it.'

'You are cursed!' said the Gypsy. 'For all your days, which won't be many, you are cursed.'

The coffins were of flimsy construction, little more than thin boards, built by the Travellers themselves. Zharov gave his gun to the mortified border policeman, who fully expected the next curse to be directed at him, and took out his bone-handled knife. At the press of a switch eight inches of steel rod with a needle point slid into view. Without pause Zharov raised his arm and drove the tool down and through the timber lid, so that it disappeared to the hilt into the space which would be occupied by the face of whoever lay within.

Inside the coffin, muffled, someone gasped: 'Huh - huh - huh!' And there came a bumping and a scrabbling at the lid.

The Gypsy's dark eyes bugged; he crossed himself, stepped back on wobbly legs; likewise the border policeman. But Zharov hadn't noticed. Nor had he noticed the high smell, which wasn't merely garlic. Grinning savagely, he yanked his weapon free and jammed its point under the edge of the lid, wrenching here and there until it was loose. Then he put the bone handle between his teeth, took the lid in both hands and yanked it half-open.

And from within, someone pushed it the rest of the way... but it wasn't Harry Keogh!


- Even as the Russian's eyes stood out in his pallid face, so Vasile Zirra coughed and grunted in his coffin, and reached up a leathery arm to grasp Zharov and lever himself upright!

'God!' the KGB man choked then. 'G - G �C God!' His knife fell from his slack jaws into the coffin. The old dead Gypsy king took it up at once and drove it into Zharov's bulging left eye - all the way in, until it scraped the inside of his skull at the back. That was enough, more than enough.

Zharov blew froth from his jaws and stepped woodenly back until he met the side of the caravan, then toppled over sideways. Falling, he made a rattling sound in his throat, and, striking the floor, twitched a little. And then he was still.

But nothing else was still.

At the front of the column a Gypsy drove Zharov's car into the ditch at the side of the road. The Securitatea lout was reeling back in the direction of his border post, shouting: 'It had nothing to do with me - nothing -nothing!' The Szgany spokesman stepped over Zharov's body, looked fearfully at his old king lying stiff and dead again in his coffin, crossed himself a second time and manhandled the cover back into place. Then someone shouted, 'Giddup!' and the column was off again at the trot.

Half a mile down the road, where the roadside ditch was deep and grown with brambles and nettles, Nikolai Zharov's corpse was disposed of. It bounced from caravan to road to ditch, and flopped from view into the greenery...

Even as Harry had drained the soup in the bowl to its last drop, drug and all, so he'd brought Wellesley's talent into play and closed his mind off from outside interference. The Gypsy potion had been quick-acting; he hadn't even remembered being bundled into the funeral caravan and 'lain to rest' in the second coffin.

But his mental isolation had disadvantages, too. For one, the dead could no longer communicate with him. He had of course taken this into account, weighing it against what Vasile Zirra had told him about the short-term effect of the Gypsy drug. And he'd been sure he could spare an hour or two at least. What the old king hadn't told him was that only a spoonful or two of drugged soup would suffice. In draining the bowl dry, the Necroscope had dosed himself far too liberally.

Now, slowly coming awake - half-way between the subconscious and conscious worlds - he collapsed Wellesley's mind-shield and allowed himself to drift amidst murmuring deadspeak background static. Vasile Zirra, lying only inches away from him, was the first to recognize Harry's resurgence.

Harry Keogh? the dead old man's voice was tinged with sadness and not a little frustration. You are a brash young man. The spider sits waiting to entrap you, and you have to throw yourself into his web! Because you were kind to me - and because the dead love you - I jeopardized my own position to warn you off, and you ignored me. So now you pay the penalty.

At the mention of penalties, Harry began to come faster awake. Even though he hadn't yet opened his eyes, still he could feel the jolting of the caravan and so knew that he was en route. But how far into his journey?

You drank all of the soup, Vasile reminded him. Halmagiu is... very close! I know this land well; I sense it; the hour approaches midnight, and the mountains loom even now.

Harry panicked a little then and woke up with something of a shock - and panicked even more when he discovered himself inside a box which by its shape could only be a coffin! Vasile Zirra calmed him at once:

That must be how they brought you across the border. No, it isn't your grave but merely your refuge - for now. Then he told Harry about Zharov.

Harry answered aloud, whispering in the confines of the fragile box: 'You protected me?'

You have the power, Harry, the other shrugged. So it was partly that, for you, and it was... partly for him.

'For him?' But Harry knew well enough who he meant. 'For Janos Ferenczy?'

When you allowed yourself to be drugged, you placed yourself in his power, in the hands of his people. The Zirras are his people, my son.

Harry's answer was bitter, delivered in a tone he rarely if ever used with the dead: 'Then the Zirras are cowards! In the beginning, long before your time - indeed more than seven long centuries ago - Janos fooled the Zirras. He beguiled them, fascinated them, won them over by use of hypnosis and other powers come down to him from his evil father. He made them love him, but only so that he could use them. Before Janos, the true Wamphyri were always loyal to their Gypsy retainers, and in their turn earned the respect of the Szgany forever. There was a bond between them. But what has Janos given you? Nothing but terror and death. And even dead, still you are afraid of him.'

Especially dead! came the answer. Don't you know what he could do to me? He is the phoenix, risen from hell's flames. Aye, and he could raise me up, too, if he wished it, even from my salts! These old bones, this old flesh, has suffered enough. Many brave sons of the Zirras have gone up into those mountains to appease the Great Boyar; even my own son, Dumitru, gone from us these long years. Cowards? What could we do, who are merely men, against the might of the Wamphyri?

Harry snorted. 'He isn't Wamphyri! Oh, he desires to be, but there's that of the true vampire essence which escapes him still. What could you do against him? If you had had the heart, you and a band of your men could have gone up to his castle in the mountains, sought him out in his place and ended it there and then. You could have done it ten, twenty, even hundreds of years ago! Even as I must do it now.'

Not Wamphyri? the other was astonished. But... he is!

'Wrong! He has his own form of necromancy, true -and certainly it's as cruel a thing as anything the Wamphyri ever used - but it is not the true art. He is a shape-changer, within limits. But can he form himself into an aerofoil and fly? No, he uses an aeroplane. He is a deceiver, a powerful, dangerous, clever vampire - but he is not Wamphyri.'

He is what he is, said Vasile, but more thoughtfully now. And whatever he is, he was too strong for me and mine.

Harry snorted again. 'Then leave me be. I'll need to find help elsewhere.'

Smarting from Harry's scorn, the old Gypsy king said: Anyway, what do you know of the Wamphyri? What does anyone know of them?

But Harry ignored him, shut him out, and sent forward his deadspeak thoughts into Halmagiu, to the graveyard there. And from there, even up to the ruined old castle in the heights...

Black Romanian bats in their dozens flitted overhead, occasionally coming into the gleam of swaying, jolting lamplight where they escorted the jingling column of caravans through the rising, misted Transylvanian countryside. And the same bats flew over the crumbling walls and ruins of Castle Ferenczy.

Janos was there, a dark silhouette on a bluff overlooking the valley. Like a great bat himself, he sniffed the night and observed with some satisfaction the mist lying like milk in the valleys. The mist was his, as were the bats, as were the Szgany Zirra. And in his way, Janos had communicated with all three. 'My people have him,' he said, as if to remind himself. It was a phrase he'd repeated often enough through the afternoon and into the night. He turned to his vampire thralls, Sandra and Ken Layard, and said it yet again: 'They have the Necroscope and will bring him to me. He is asleep, drugged, which is doubtless why you can't know his whereabouts or read his mind. For your powers are puny things with severe limitations.'

But even as Janos spoke so his locator gave a sudden start. 'Ah!' Layard gasped. And: There... there he is!'

Janos grasped his arm, said: 'Where is he?'

Layard's eyes were closed; he was concentrating; his head turned slowly through an angle directed out over the valley to one which encompassed the mountain's flank, and finally the mist-concealed village. 'Close,' he said. 'Down there. Close to Halmagiu.'

Janos's eyes lit like lamps with their wicks suddenly turned high. He looked at Sandra. 'Well?'

She locked on to Layard's extrasensory current, followed his scan. And: 'Yes,' she said, slowly nodding. 'He is there.'

'And his thoughts?' Janos was eager. 'What is the Necroscope thinking? Is it as I suspected? Is he afraid? Ah, he is talented, this one, but what use esoteric talents against muscle which is utterly ruthless? He speaks to the dead, yes, but my Szgany are very much alive!' And to himself he thought: Aye, he speaks to the dead. Even to my father, who from time to time lodges in his mind! Which means that just as I know the Necroscope, likewise the dog knows me! I cannot relax. This will not be over... until it is over. Perhaps I should have them kill him now, and resurrect him at my leisure. But where would be the glory, the satisfaction, in that? That is not the way, not if I would be Wamphyri! I must be the one to kill him, and then have him up to acknowledge me as his master!

Sandra clung to Layard's arm and locked on to Harry's deadspeak signals... and in the next moment snatched herself back from the locator so as to collide with Janos himself. He grabbed her, steadied her. 'Well?'

'He ... he speaks with the dead!'

'Which dead? Where?' His wolf's jaws gaped expectantly.

'In the cemetery in Halmagiu,' she gasped. 'And in your castle!'

'Halmagiu?' The ridges in his convoluted bat's snout quivered. 'The villagers have feared me for centuries, even when I was dust in a jar. No satisfaction for him there. And the dead in my castle? They are mainly Zirras.' He laughed hideously, and perhaps a little nervously. 'They gave their lives up to me; they will not hearken to him in death; he wastes his time!'

Sandra, for all her vampire strength, was still shaken. 'He ... he talked to a great many, and they were not Gypsies. They were warriors in their day, almost to a man. I sensed the merest murmur of their dead minds, but each and every one, they burned with their hatred for you!'

'What?' For a moment Janos stood frozen - and in the next bayed a laugh which was more a howl. 'My Thracians? My Greeks, Persians, Scythians? They are dust, the veriest salts of men! Only the guards which I raised up from them have form. Oh, I grant you, the Necroscope may call up corpses to walk again - but even he cannot build flesh and bone from a handful of dust. And even if he could, why, I would simply put them down again! I have him; he is desperate and seeks to enlist impossible allies; let him talk to them.'

He laughed again, briefly, and turning towards the dark, irregular pile of his ruined castle, narrowed his scarlet eyes. 'Come,' he grunted then. 'There are certain preparations to be made.'

A handful of Szgany menfolk bundled Harry through the woods and past the outcropping knoll with its cairn of soulstones beneath the cliff. His hands were bound behind him and he stumbled frequently; his head ached miserably, as from some massive hangover; but as the group passed close to the base of the knoll, so he sensed the wispy wraiths of once-men all around.

Harry let his deadspeak touch them, and knew at once that they were only the echoes of the Zirras he had spoken to in the Place of Many Bones deep in the ruins of the Castle Ferenczy. The knoll's base was lapped by a clinging ground mist, but its domed crest stood clear where the cairn of carved stones pointed at the rising moon. Men had carved those stones, their own headstones, before climbing to the heights and sacrificing themselves to a monster.

'Men?' Harry whispered to himself. 'Sheep, they were. Like sheep to the slaughter!'

His deadspeak was heard, as he had intended it should be, and from the castle in the heights was answered:

Not all of us, Harry Keogh. I for one would have fought him, but he was in my brain and squeezed it like a plum. You may believe me when I say I did not go to the Ferenczy willingly. We were not such cowards as you think. Now tell me, did you ever see a compass point south? Just so easily might a Zirra, chosen by his master, turn away.

'Who are you?' Harry inquired.

Dumitru, son of Vasile.

'Well, at least you argue more persuasively than your father!' said Harry.

One of the Gypsies prodded him where they bundled him unceremoniously up the first leg of the climb. 'What are you mumbling about? Are you saying your prayers? Too late for that, if the Ferenczy has called you.'

Harry, said Dumitru Zirra, if I could help you I would, in however small a measure. But I may not. Here in the Place of Many Bones, I was gnawed upon by one of the Grey Ones who serve the Boyar Janos. He had my legs off at the knees! I could crawl if you called me up, but I could never fight. What, me, a half-man of bone and leather and bits of gristle? But only say it and III do what I can.

So, I've found a man at last, Harry answered, this time silently, in the unique manner of the Necroscope. But lie still, Dumitru Zirra, for I need more than old bones to go against Janos.

The way was harder now and the Gypsies sliced through the thongs binding Harry's wrists. Instead they put two nooses round his neck, one held by a man who stayed well ahead of him, and the other by a man to his rear. 'Only fall now, Englishman, and you hang yourself,' their spokesman told him. 'Or at very least stretch your neck a bit as we haul you up!' But Harry didn't intend to fall.

He called out to Möbius with his deadspeak: August? How's it coming?

We're almost there, Harry! came the excited answer from a Leipzig graveyard. It could be an hour, two, three at the outside.

Try thirty minutes, said Harry. I may not have much more than that left.

Other voices crowded Harry's Necroscope mind. From the graveyard in Halmagiu:

Harry Keogh ... we are shunned. Who named you a friend of the dead was a great liar!

Taken off guard, he answered aloud. 'I asked for your help. You refused me. It's not my fault the world's teeming dead hold you in contempt!'

The Szgany where they laboured up the mountainside in the streaming moonlight looked at each other. 'Is he mad? Always he talks to himself!'

Harry opened all the channels of his mind - removed all barriers within and without - and at once Faethor was raging at him: Idiot! I am the only one who can help you, and yet you keep me hooded like some vicious bird in a cage. Why do you do this, Harry?

Because I don't trust you, he answered silently. Your motives, your methods, you your black-hearted self! I don't trust a single thing you say or do, Faethor. You're not only a father of vampires but a father of liars, too. Still, you do have a choice.

A choice? What choice?

Get out of my mind and go back to your place in Ploiesti.

Not until this thing is seen through -to- the - end! And how can I be sure you'll stick to that? You can't, Necroscope!

Then sit in the dark, said Harry, closing him off again. And now the climb was half-way done...

In Rhodes it was 1:30 a.m.

Darcy Clarke and his team sat around a table in one of their hotel rooms. They had spent time recovering from their work, had eaten out as a group, had discussed their experiences and how they'd been affected and probably would be affected for a long time to come. But in the back of their minds each and every one of them had known that their own part in the fight was minimal, and that without Harry Keogh's success everything else was cosmetic and the partial elation they felt now only the lull before the real storm.

As they'd returned from their late meal, so Zek had come up with an idea. She was a telepath and David Chung a locator. Together, they might be able to reach Harry and see what were his circumstances.

Darcy had at once protested: 'But that's just what Harry didn't want! Look, if Janos got his mental hooks into you -'

'I've a feeling he'll be too much involved with Harry to be thinking about anything else,' Zek had cut in. 'Anyway, I want to do it. In the Lady Karen's stack - her aerie on Starside -1 had the job of reading the minds of a great many Wamphyri. Not one of them so much as suspected I was there, or if they did nothing came of it. That's the way I'll play it now.'

Still Darcy wasn't sure. 'I was only thinking about poor Trevor,' he said, 'and about Sandra...'

'Trevor Jordan wasn't expecting trouble,' Zek had answered, 'and Sandra was inexperienced and her talent variable. I'm not putting her down, just stating a fact.'

'But -'

'No!' and again she had cut him off. 'If David is willing, I want to do it. Harry means a lot to Jazz and me.'

At which Darcy had appealed to Jazz Simmons.

Jazz had shaken his head. 'If she says she'll do it, then she'll do it,' he said. 'Hey, don't take my word for it! I'm only married to her!'

And with reservations, finally Darcy had submitted. For the fact was that he as much as anyone else was interested to know Harry's circumstances.

Now the three who weren't participants, Darcy, Jazz and Ben Trask, sat around the table and concentrated on what Zek and David were doing: the latter with his eyes closed, breathing deeply, his hands resting lightly on the stock and body of Harry's crossbow where it sat on the table, and Zek similarly disposed, her hand on one of his.

They had been this way for a minute or two, waiting for Chung to locate the Necroscope through the medium of one of his own possessions. But as seconds ticked by in silence and the two participants grew even more still, so the watchers began to relax a little - even to fidget - and their thoughts to drift. And just at the moment that Jazz Simmons chose to scratch his nose, that was when contact was made.

It was brief:

David Chung uttered a long drawn-out sigh - and Zek snapped bolt upright in her chair. Her eyes remained closed for several long seconds while all the colour drained from her face. Then... they shot open and she snatched herself away from Chung, straightened to her feet and backed unsteadily away from the table.

Jazz went to her at once. 'Zek?' his voice was anxious. 'Are you OK?'

For a moment she stared right through him, then at him, and accepted his arms. He felt her trembling, but at last she answered: 'Yes, I'm all right. But Harry -'

'You found him?' Darcy too had risen to his feet.

'Oh, yes,' David Chung nodded. 'We found him. What did you read, Zek?'

She looked at him, looked at all of them, and freed herself from Jazz's arms. And said nothing.

Darcy said, 'Is he OK?' And he held his breath waiting for her answer.

Eventually she said, 'He's all right, yes, and he got there safely - to his destination, I mean. Also, I saw enough to know that it will all come to a head soon. But... something isn't right.'

Darcy's heart thudded in his chest. 'Not right? You mean he's already in trouble?'

She looked at him, and her look was so strange it was as if she gazed on alien things, in a world of ice beyond the times and places we know. 'In trouble? Oh, he's that, all right, but not necessarily the trouble you're thinking of.'

'Can you explain?'

She straightened up and gave herself a shake, and hugged her elbows. 'No, I can't,' she said, shaking her head. 'Not yet. And anyway, I could be mistaken.'

'But mistaken about what?' Darcy's frustration was mounting. 'Harry is going up against Janos Ferenczy personally, man to ... to thingl If he's in trouble before they even meet, his disadvantage could well be insurmountable!'

Again she gave him that strange look, and shook her head, and quietly said, 'No, not insurmountable. In fact on a one to one basis, I think you'll find that... that there's not a great deal to choose between them.'

Following which, and for quite a long time, she would say no more.

With the misted valley far below and in the streaming moonlight of the heights, Harry knew the climb would soon be over and he'd be face to face with hell. He had hoped to call up all the local dead into an army on his side, arid march with them on Janos's place. But even the dead were afraid. Now there was very little time left, and probably less hope. So the fact that he actually found himself anticipating what was to come was a very hard thing to explain. It could be of course that he'd simply 'cracked' under the strain, but he didn't think so. He'd never been the type.

His mind was still open and Möbius picked up his thoughts:

A breakdown? You? No, never! And especially not now, when we're so close. I need to be into your mind, Harry.

'Enter, of your own free will,' he answered, almost automatically.

The other was very quickly in and out, and he was excited as never before. It all fits! It all fits! he said. And the next time I come, I'm sure I'll be able to unlock those doors.

'But not right now?'

I'm afraid not.

'Then there may not be time for a next time.'

Don't give in, Harry!

'I haven't. I'm just facing facts.'

I swear we'll have the answer in minutes! And meanwhile you could try helping yourself.

'Help myself? How?'

Give yourself a problem in numbers. Set yourself a mathematical task. Prepare to re-establish your numeracy.

'I wouldn't even know what a mathematical problem looked like.'

Then I'll set one for you. The great mathematician was silent for a moment, then said: Now listen. Stage one: I am nothing. Stage two: I am born and in the first second of my existence expand uniformly to a circumference of approximately 1,170,000 miles. Stage three: after my second second of uniform expansion my circumference is twice as great! Question: what am I?

'You're crazy,' said Harry, 'that's what you are! A minute ago I would have sworn it was me, but now I know that I'm perfectly sane. Compared to you, anyway.'


Harry laughed out loud, causing the Gypsies who struggled up the final rise with him to jump. 'A madman,' they muttered, 'yes. The Ferenczy has driven him mad!'

The Necroscope used his deadspeak again: August, here's me who can't count his toes without getting nine, and you ask me to solve the riddles of the universe?

Pretty close, Harry, Möbius answered, pretty close. Just keep at it and I'll be back as soon as possible. His deadspeak faded and he was gone.

Jesus! said Harry to himself, shaking his head in disgust. Jesus!

But Möbius's question had stuck in his head. He couldn't give it his attention right now, but he knew it was in there, lodged firmly in his mind.

And now the party had reached the top of the cliffs; and somewhere here on this wind-blasted, sparsely-clad plateau, here lay the ruins of the Castle Ferenczy. That was where Janos waited; but right here and now, here at the top of the long climb... here something else waited. Seven somethings in all, or eight if one included the Grey One slinking in the moon-cast shadows. Harry's 'escort' to the lair of the undead vampire.

The two leading Zirras saw them first, then Harry, finally the three Gypsies who panted where they laboured close behind. All drew back, startled and gasping, except the Necroscope himself. For Harry knew that he stood in the presence of dead men, which was common ground for him. What he and the others with him saw was this:

Seven great Thracians, dead for more than two thousand years, raised up again from their burial urns to do Janos's bidding. They had the aspect of life at least, but there was a great deal of death in them, too. They wore helmets and some pieces of armour of their own period, but wherever their grey flesh showed naked it was scarred, disfigured. Their helmets were fearsome things, designed to terrify any beholder: they were domed, of gleaming bronze, with oval eye-holes dark in the flicker of their torches, and curved, downward-sweeping flanges to cover the jaws of the wearers.

All seven were big men, but their leader stood a good four inches taller than the rest. He stepped forward, massive, but the eyes behind the holes in his mask were red - with sorrow.

Bodrogk looked at Harry Keogh and the five who cowered behind him. 'Free him,' he said. His tongue was ancient but his meaning - the way his bronze sword touched Harry's ropes - couldn't be mistaken.

The Szgany spokesman stepped cautiously to Harry's side and loosened the nooses a little around his neck. And to Bodrogk the Gypsy said: 'You are ... the Ferenczy's creatures?'

Bodrogk didn't understand. He looked this way and that, frowning, wondering what the man's question had been. Harry read his deadspeak confusion and answered: 'He wants to know if Janos sent you.' He spoke the words aloud, letting his deadspeak do the translating. And now Bodrogk's gaze centred on Harry alone.

The massive Thracian paced forward and the Gypsies fell back. Bodrogk caught the ropes around Harry's neck and snapped them like threads. He grunted an introduction, then said: 'And so you are the Necroscope, beloved of all the world's dead.'

'Not all of them,' Harry shook his head, 'for there are cowards among the dead even as there are among the living. If I can't know them - because they are afraid to know me - then I can't befriend them. And anyway, Bodrogk, I've no great desire to be loved by thralls.'

Bodrogk's men had come forward, moving closer to the Gypsies on the bluff, herding them there. Now their huge leader took off his helmet and tossed it clanking aside. His neck was a bull's, his face full-bearded, fierce. But it was grey, that face, and, like the rest of his flesh, gaunt with an unspoken horror. His haggard, harried aspect told far better than any words the way in which Janos had dealt with him and his.

'I heard you talking to the dead,' said Bodrogk. 'You must know that all of Janos's thralls are not cowards.'

'I know that the Thracians in the vaults of his castle are dust, and so can't help me. They told me they would but can't, because only Janos himself may call them up, for he alone has the words. On the other hand... you and your six are not dust.'

'Are you calling us cowards?' Bodrogk's calloused hand fell upon Harry's shoulder close to his neck, and in his other hand a great bronze sword was lifted up a little.

'I only know that where some suffer Janos to live,' Harry answered. 'I came to kill him and remove his taint forever.'

'And are you a warrior, Harry?'

Harry lifted his head, gritted his teeth. He had never feared the dead, and would not now. 'Yes.'

Bodrogk smiled a strange, sad smile - which faded at once as he glanced beyond Harry. 'And these others with you? They captured you and brought you here, eh? A lamb to the sacrifice.'

'They belong to the Ferenczy,' Harry nodded.

The other looked at him and his eyes went into Harry's soul. 'A warrior without a sword, eh? Here, take mine,' He placed it in Harry's hands - then scowled at the Szgany and nodded to his men. The six Thracian lieutenants fell on the Gypsies with their swords, swept them from the bluff and over the edge of the cliff like chaff. It was so swift and sudden, they didn't even have time to scream. Their bodies went bumping, bouncing and clattering into the deep dark gorge.

'A friend at last,' Harry nodded. 'I thought I might find a few, at least.'

'It was you or them,' Bodrogk answered. 'To murder a worthy man, or slaughter a handful of dogs. Thralldom to the Ferenczy, or freedom - for as long as it may last. Not much of a choice. I made the only decision a man could make. But if I had paused a moment to think... then it might have gone the other way. For my wife's sake.' He explained his meaning.

'You've taken an enormous chance,' Harry told him, giving back his sword.

'The dead called out to me,' Bodrogk answered. 'In their thousands they cried out, all of them begging your life. Aye, and one especially, whose tongue lashed like none other! Why, she might have been my own mother! But instead she was yours.'

Harry sighed, and thought: thank God for you, Ma!

'Your mother, yes,' said the other. 'She half-swayed me, and Sofia did the rest.'

'Your wife?'

'The same,' Bodrogk nodded, leading the way back towards the ruined castle in the heights. 'She said to me: "Where is your honour now, you who once was mighty? Rather the applause and cold comforts of the teeming dead, and thralldom to Janos forever, than another urn filled with screaming ashes in the monster's vaults!"'

Harry said, 'We have much in common then, your lady and I.' And, on impulse: ^Bodrogk, I already have my cause but she must be yours. Only fight with Sofia in mind, and you cannot lose,' And deep inside, unseen, unheard, he prayed it was true. Except: 'I have no plan,' he admitted.

Bodrogk laughed, however grimly, and answered, 'A warrior without a sword, nor yet a plan of campaign!' But he grasped the Necroscope's shoulder and added: 'I have been dead a long time, Harry Keogh, but in my life I was a king of warriors, a general of armies. I was the Great Strategist of my race, and all the centuries flown between could not rob me of my cunning.'

Harry looked at the Thracian, striding gaunt, grim, dead and resurrected beside him. 'But will cunning suffice, when the vampire need only mutter a handful of words to return you to dust? I think you'd better tell me how this magic of his works, and then something of your plan.'

'The words of devolution may only be spoken by a Master, a Mage,' said Bodrogk. 'Janos is one such. He must direct his words, aim them like an arrow to their target. And to hit the target he must first see it. Wherefore ... we go up against him as individuals! You, me, my six, each man of us a unit in his own right. We approach and enter the castle from all sides. He cannot smite us all at once. And with mere words, even Words of Power, he can't smite you at all! Some of us shall fall, aye. What of it? We've fallen before; we desire to fall, and to remain fallen! But while Janos deals with some of us, the others - especially you, Harry - may live long enough to deal with him.'

Harry nodded. 'It's as good a plan as any,' he said. 'But surely he isn't alone?'

'He has his vampire thralls,' Bodrogk answered. 'Five of them. Three who were Szgany, and two but recently joined him. One of these is a woman with Powers -'

'Sandra,' Harry breathed her name, felt sick in the knowledge of how it must be for her, and how it was yet to be.

'And the other a man likewise talented,' Bodrogk continued. 'Janos broke him to force his obedience. As for the woman: he did to her what he does to women, the dog!'

Then we have them to deal with, too.'

'Indeed - and now!'


They are waiting for us, there beneath the trees, beyond which lie those tumbled, cursed ruins. I am now supposed to give you into their hands, when they in turn will take you to their master.'

Harry looked, saw twisted, wind-blasted pines leaning towards the cliffs of the ultimate ridge. And in the shadows formed of their canopy, he also saw the yellow flames of vampire eyes, feral in the night. He reverted to true deadspeak, using only his mind to ask: Do you know how to deal with them?

Do you? Question matched question.

The stake, the sword, the fire, Harry answered, grimly.

Swords we have, said Bodrogk. Fire too, in the torches which my men carry. And stakes? Aye... we cut a few while we waited for you at the cliff. For, you see, there were vampires in my day, too. So let's be at it.

Janos's undead thralls came ghosting out of the trees. Their long arms reached for Harry; they smiled their ghastly smiles; not a one of them dreamed that Bodrogk had renegued. But even as they ringed the Necroscope about, so the Thracians fell on them and cut them down!

It was butchery, and it was quick. All three vampires were beheaded, thrown to the ground and staked through their hearts. But only three? As Bodrogk's men took up the bodies of their victims and draped them across low branches, and set fire to the tinder-dry, resin-laden trees, Harry saw a crooked figure standing a little apart. And in the next moment Ken Layard stepped into view. 'Harry!' he sighed. 'Harry! Thank God!'

Moonlight turned his sallow flesh golden as he opened his arms wide, closed his eyes and turned his face up to the night sky. The Thracians looked at Harry; there was nothing he could do; he nodded and turned away -

- And saw a tall, dark figure standing at the edge of the ruins, only a dozen paces away.


Bodrogk's men had done with Layard now. They too saw the vampire there in the dark of the ruins, his scarlet eyes furiously ablaze. The Thracians began to melt quickly back into shadows, but not quickly enough for two of them who stood close together.

Janos pointed at them, and his awful baying voice swelled out like a curse on the night air:


There was more, but the effects of the rune of dissolution were already apparent. The two Thracians who were Janos's target had already cried out, fallen against each other, collapsed to insubstantial wraiths which, as he finished his devocation, drifted to the earth as dust!

Harry glanced all about; Bodrogk and his remaining four were nowhere to be seen; another terror approached.

The wolf - the Grey One which had also been part of his escort, but who had kept himself well back behind the party of Thracians - was now creeping up on him, shepherding him towards the castle's master. The Necroscope stooped, took up one of the bronze swords of the dematerialized Thracians, felt its great weight. Smaller than Bodrogk's sword, still it was no rapier. Harry knew he couldn't hope to wield this thing, but it was better than nothing.

He looked for Janos, saw the monster's fleeting shadow moving back into the darkness of the ruins. A ploy, a feint: Harry's cue to pursue him. Well, and wasn't that what he was here for?

As he followed after Janos, so the Grey One rushed up behind him and snapped at his heels. Harry stiffened his leg into a bar of flesh and bone and lashed out, and felt teeth crunch as his foot concertinaed the beast's slavering muzzle. He snarled at the creature and took up his sword two-handed... and astonishingly the wolf shrank back, whining!

Before Harry could wonder at the meaning of this, Bodrogk and one of his remaining four stepped from cover and together fell on the animal. The sounds of their attack were brief and reminded Harry of nothing so much as a butcher's shop as they first crippled the beast, then cut short its yelping and howling by taking its head.

Harry's eyes were more accustomed to the dark now; in fact his clarity of vision in the night was entirely remarkable and a wonder to him. But that was something else he had no time to consider. Instead he looked into the heart of the tumbled pile and saw Janos standing behind a toppled wall. The monster's gaze was fixed on a point beyond Harry - the Thracians, of course. But as he pointed his great talon of a hand, so the Necroscope shouted: 'Look out!'

'OGTHROD AI'F...' Janos commenced his crackling rune of devolution, and before he'd finished another Thracian had cried out, sighed, and crumbled into smoking, drifting dust. One of the two had been saved at least, and Harry found himself hoping it was Bodrogk.

But now the Necroscope went after Janos with a vengeance. Athletic, sure-footed even in the dark, he saw the vampire commence a descent apparently into the earth itself behind a mound of rubble. In the last moment before he disappeared he turned his freakish head and looked back, and Harry saw the crimson lamps of his eyes. There was a challenge written there which the Necroscope couldn't resist.

He found the stone trapdoor raised above hollowed steps leading down, and almost without thought began his own descent - until a voice from behind stopped him. Looking back, he saw Bodrogk and his remaining warriors converging on him. 'Harry,' the great Thracian rumbled. 'You'll be first down. Go swiftly! Preserve my Sofia!'

He nodded, clambered down the spiralling stairwell - a wall of stone on one side and a chasm opening on the other - down to the first landing. But setting foot on the solid stone floor...

Janos was waiting!

The vampire came from nowhere, knocked the sword out of Harry's hands, hurled the Necroscope against the wall with such force that all the wind was hammered out of him. Before he could draw breath Janos towered over him, closed one huge hand over his face and slammed his head against the wall. Physically there was no match: Harry went out like a light.

Harry... Haaarry! his mother cried out to him, a hundred mothers like her, an even larger number of friends and acquaintances, and all the dead in their graves across the world. Their voices soughed in the deadspeak aether, filled it, penetrated the threshold of Harry's subconscious mind and wrapped him in their warmth. Warmth, yes, for the minds of the dead are different from the common clay of their once-flesh.

Ma? he answered through his pain and the struggle to rise up, back into the conscious world. Ma... I'm hurt!

I know, son, she said, her voice brimming over. I feel it... we all of us do. Lie still, Harry, and feel how we feel for you. Behind her, the wash of background deadspeak was building up to a crescendo, a wall of mental moaning.

Lying still won't help, Ma, he said. Nor all the gnashing of teeth I hear going on there. I'm going to have to shut you all out. I need to wake up. And when I've done that I'll need help just to live.

But the dead can help, Harry! she told him. There's one trying to contact you even now who has part of the answer.

Möbius? She had to be talking about Möbius.

No, not him, Harry sensed the shake of her head. Another, someone who is much closer to you. Except there's not much left of him, Harry. You won't hear him against all of this. Wait, and I'll see if I can quiet them.

She retreated, spoke to others, passed on a message that spread outwards like ripples in a calm pond where a stone has been tossed, until it encompassed the world. The mental babble quickly faded away and an extraordinary silence followed. Out of which -- Harry?

Whoever it was, his deadspeak was so weak that at first the Necroscope thought he must be imagining it. But:

Are you looking for me? he answered, eventually. Who are you?

I am nothing, the other sighed. Not even a whimper, not even a ghost. Or at very best a ghost even among ghosts. Why, even the dead have difficulty hearing my voice, Harry! My name was George Vulpe, and five years ago my friends and I discovered the Castle Ferenczy.

Harry nodded. He killed you, right?

He did more, worse, than that! the other moaned, his deadspeak thin as the slither of dry, dead leaves. He took my life, my body, and left me without... anything! Not even a place to rest.

Harry felt that this was very important. Can you explain?

I've spoken to a great many Zirras in the Place of Many Bones, George Vulpe told him. When the Ferenczy lay in his urn, they were the ones who came to feed and refuel him with their blood. But I was different. On my hands there were only three fingers!

Now Harry gasped. You were the one!

He has my body, the other said again. And I can't rest. Ever.

What was he? Harry wanted to know. I mean, how did he usurp you, drive you from your body?

The other explained. My blood drew him up from his urn. I was a son of his sons, from the Zirra clan. But I didn't know that. Only my blood knew.

He came from his urn? Harry pressed. As essential salts?

My blood transformed him.

Harry needed help to understand. He uncovered Faethor.

Damn you, Harry Keogh! the incorporeal vampire at once raged.

Be quiet! Harry told him. Explain what this man is saying to me.

Faethor heard Vulpe's story, said: Why, isn't it obvious?

Janos had taken precautions. When I reduced his brain and vampire both to ashes, his ever faithful Zirras hid him away in a secret place until he could perform this... this metempsychosis. But it wasn't merely a transfer of minds: Janos's leech was revived from its ashes. The creature itself entered this one's body! And now -

But Harry at once closed him down again. And: George, he said, thanks for your help. I don't see what good it will do me, but thanks anyway.

The only answer was a sigh, rapidly fading to nothing...

Harry strove to rise up from unconsciousness, to revive himself, to wake up. And was on the verge of succeeding, then Möbius came.

Harry! Möbius cried. We have it! We believe we have it! He entered the Necroscope's mind, and in another moment: Yes, yes - this must be right! But... are you ready?

I've never been so ready, Harry answered.

That's not what I meant, said Möbius. I mean, are you prepared mentally?

Prepared mentally? August, what is this?

The Möbius Continuum, Harry. I can open those doors, but not if you're not ready for it. There's a different universe in there, doors opening on places undreamed. Harry, I wouldn't want you to get sucked into your own mind!

Sucked into - ? Harry shook his head. I don't follow.

Look... did you solve my problem?

Problem? Suddenly Harry felt rage and frustration boiling up in him. Your fucking problem? What time do you think I've had for solving fucking problems?

Did you even think about it?

No... Yes!... yes, I thought about it.



Harry, I'm going to open one of those doors... now!

The Necroscope felt nothing. Did it work?

It worked, yes, Möbius breathed. And if you have the equations, you should be able to do the rest yourself.

But I don't feel any different.

Did you ever? Before, I mean?

No, but-

I'll open another door. There!

But this time Harry did feel it. A sharp white lance of agony, setting off fireworks in his head. It was something like the pain Harry Jnr had arranged for him if ever he should be tempted to use his deadspeak, but since he was already unconscious its effect was greatly reduced. And it served an entirely different purpose.

Instead of blacking him out, it jabbed him awake -

- He came awake, into a waking nightmare!

Cold liquid burned his face, got into his throat and stung him, caused him to cough. It was - alcohol? Certainly it was volatile. It smoked, shimmering into vapour all around. And Harry was lying in it. He struggled to his hands and knees, tried not to breathe the fumes, which were rising up into some sort of flue directly overhead ... A blackened flue... Fire-blackened!

Harry kneeled in a basin or depression cut from solid rock, kneeled there in this pool of volatile liquid. Impressions came very quickly. He must be in the very bowels of the castle, down in the bedrock itself ... a huge cave... and against the opposite wall where rough-hewn steps led up to the higher levels... there stood Janos watching him! He held a burning brand aloft, his scarlet eyes reflecting its fire.

Their eyes met, locked, and Janos's lips drew back from his monstrous teeth in a hideous grin. 'And so you are awake, Necroscope,' he said. 'Good, for I desired that you should feel the fire which will make you mine forever!' He looked at the torch in his hand, then at the floor. Harry looked, too. At a shallow trough or channel where it had been cut in the rock. It ran from Janos's feet, across the floor, to the lip of the basin.

Jesus! Harry lurched for the rim of the shallow pool, and his hands shot out from under him. He wallowed in the liquid, put one hand on the rim and drew himself up, heard Janos's mad laughter and saw him slowly lowering the brand to the floor!

My problem, Harry! Möbius was hysterical in his horror.

Harry fought back terror to picture the thing, instinctively translating Möbius's circumferences into diameters:

And his intuitive mathematical talent, returned to him at last, did the rest.

What am I? Möbius howled, as the fire of Janos's torch descended to the liquid fuse.

'Light!' Harry cried aloud. 'What else can you be? Only light expands at twice the speed of light - from nothing to a diameter of 744,000 miles in two seconds!'

Fire whooshed, came racing across the floor of the cave in a blue-glaring blaze.

Which light? Möbius was frantic.

'You were nothing until you came into existence,' Harry yelled. 'Therefore... you are the Primal Light!'

Yes!!! Möbius danced in Harry's mind. And my source was the Möbius Continuum! Welcome back, Harry!

Computer screens opened in Harry's mind even as the bowl became an inferno. Searing heat roared up in a tongue of blue fire that belched into the chimney overhead. Liquid fire singed the hair from his head and face and set his clothes blazing. It lasted perhaps one tenth of a second - until Harry conjured a Möbius door and toppled through it!

He knew where to go, conjured a second door and fell out of the Möbius Continuum into a deep drift of snow at the roof of the world. He was scorched, yes, but alive. Alive as never before. Elation filled him, and more than elation. His laughter - hysterical as Möbius's own -quickly died down, went out of him, became a growl that rumbled menacingly in his throat...

Janos had seen him disappear, and in that moment had known that Harry Keogh was invincible. The Necroscope had gone... where? And he'd be back... when? And what awesome Powers would he bring with him? Janos dared not wait to find out.

He bounded up the stairs through the lower limits of the castle's labyrinth bowels, eventually emerging in the area of massively vaulted rooms which housed his urns and jars and lekythoi. And discovered Harry there ahead of him! Harry, Bodrogk and the remaining Thracians.

Janos fell back to crouch against a wall, hissing, then straightened up to come forward again. 'You are dust!' he snarled at Bodrogk, and pointed his finger.

The huge Thracian chief and two of his captains ducked through an arched door into another room, but the third was caught in the blast of Janos's devocation:




The devolved man threw up his arms and sighed his last... and fell in a cloud of grey-green chemicals.

Janos roared his mad laughter, leaped to take up the fallen warrior's sword. He advanced on Harry, sword raised high - and the Necroscope knew exactly what to do. For Harry was a mage, a master in his own right; and in his mind right now, crying out from all of their prisoning urns, a thousand deadspeak voices instructed him in the Words of Power!

He pointed at the jars scattered all about, and turning in a circle uttered the rune of invocation:




The vaulted room filled with stench and purple smoke in a moment, obscuring Harry, Janos and all. And out of the rush and reek came the cries of the tortured. There had been no time for the mixing of chemicals; these resurrected Thracians, Persians, Scythians and Greeks would all be imperfect. But their lust for vengeance would be entirely in keeping.

Janos knew it, too. He careened through their stumbling, groaning ranks as they shattered their jars and grew up like mushrooms out of nothing; but as fast as he could target a group and put them down again, so the Necroscope called them up! There was no way the vampire could win. He couldn't bellow his words fast enough, and the ranks of resurrected warriors were rapidly closing on him.

Blasting a path of dust before him, he fled to the steps winding up to ruined regions above and passed from sight. The hideously incomplete army would follow after, but Harry cautioned them:

'Stay here. Your part is played. But this time when you go down, you know that you may rest in peace.' And they blessed him as he returned them all to their materia. All except the warrior king Bodrogk.

And taking Bodrogk with him, he stepped through a Möbius door... and out again into the ruins of Castle Ferenczy.

They waited, and in a little while Janos came, grunting, whining and panting into the night. He saw them, choked on his terror, gagged and reeled as he stumbled away from them out of the ruins. He was spent; he had no breath; he tottered to the cliff behind the castle and climbed it along a path... and half-way up found Harry and Bodrogk waiting for him. The huge Thracian carried a battleaxe.

There was nowhere left to run. Janos looked outwards to the night and his crimson eyes gazed on empty space. In all his life there'd been only one Wamphyri art he never mastered or counterfeited, and now he must. He held up his arms and willed the change, and his clothing tore as his body wrenched itself into a great blanket, an aerofoil of flesh. And like a bat in the night, he launched himself from the cliffside path.

He succeeded! - he flew! - with the tatters of his ripped clothing fluttering about him like strange wings. He flew... until Bodrogk's hurled battleaxe buried itself in his spine.

Harry and Bodrogk returned to the ruins and found the monster writhing there where he'd crashed down in the rubble. He choked and coughed up blood, but already he'd worked the axe loose and his vampire flesh was healing him. The Necroscope kneeled beside him and looked him in the eye. Man to ... man? Face to terrifying, terrified face.

'Bastard Necroscope!' Janos's eyes bled where they bulged.

'You have a man's body,' Harry answered, without emotion, 'but your mind and the vampire within you were raised from ashes in an urn.' He pointed a steady hand and finger. 'Ashes to ashes, Janos, and dust to dust! OGTHROD AI'F, GEB'L - EE'H.'

The vampire gave a shriek, wriggled frantically, choked, gagged and regained his man-shape.

And the Necroscope continued: 'YOG-SOTHOTH, 'NGAH'NGAI'Y.'

'No!' Janos howled. 'N-n-noooooooo!'

As Harry uttered the final word, 'Zhror, so Janos's entire body convulsed in instant, unbearable agony. He writhed frantically, vibrated, then grew still. Finally his head flopped back and his awful mouth flew open, and the lights went out in his eyes. Then -

- His massive chest slowly deflated as he sighed his last, long sigh. No air escaped him but a cloud of red dust, drifting on the air. The rest of his body, even his head, must be full of the stuff. And as the dust of that devolved vampire leech settled, it reminded the Necroscope of nothing so much as the spores of those weird mushrooms at Faethor's place on the outskirts of Ploiesti.

Which in turn served to remind him of something else as yet unfinished...

Bodrogk's lady Sofia came up out of the ruins, and Sandra came with her.

She came ghosting in the way of vampire thralls, her yellow eyes alive in the night, but Harry knew that she was less than Sandra now. Or more. Briefly, he remembered his precognitive glimpse back at the start of this whole thing: of an alien creature that came to him in the night and lusted after him, but only for his blood. Sandra was now an alien creature, who would lust after men for their blood.

She flew into his arms and sobbed into his neck, and holding her tightly - as much to steady himself as to steady her - he looked over her sallow shoulder to where Bodrogk gathered up his wife. And he heard Sofia say:

'She saved me! The vampire girl found me where Janos had hidden me and set me free!'

And Harry wondered: her last free-will act, before the monstrous fever in her blood claims her for its own?

Sandra's beautiful, near-naked body was cold as clay where it pressed against the Necroscope, and Harry knew there was no way he could ever warm it. A telepath, she 'heard' the thought as surely as if it had been spoken, and drew back a little. But not far enough.

His thin sharp stake, a splinter of old oak, drove up under her breast and into her heart; she took one last breath, one staggering step away from him, and fell.

Bodrogk, seeing Harry's anguish, did the rest...

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