HARRY: PRESENTIMENTS AND PRECAUTIONS BONNIE JEAN: THE ROUTE TO THE LAIR
'Ma,' Harry said, after he'd stopped shivering. 'Do you think it's possible I'm going ... wel, maybe a litle crazy?'
Do you mean really crazy? (His long-dead mother was careful how she answered him). Do you mean mad? If so, then I think it's highly unlikely. If that were going to happen at all, son, then surely it would have happened some time ago? But after all you've been through - which really doesn't bear thinking about -1 think it's very possible that you're suffering from stress, anxiety, pressure. And who knows?
Perhaps you're physically ill too. I mean, with an ordinary illness?
'My eyes? My sore throat? The fluff in my head?' He blinked watering eyes and swallowed hard to try to ease his throat.
Flu, if ever I saw a dose! his Ma told him. All the classic symptoms. You're suffering from the backlash of living down in London. I was only there once - oh, thirty years ago, when I was a girl - and then only for a few weeks, but it did the same to me! All that smog, the smoky trains and dirty railway stations. Not only that, but didn't I warn you against coming down to the river to talk to me? Not in this bad weather, Harry! Not when you could just as easily be warm and dry in the comfort of the house.
Harry shrugged and told her, 'But you know that isn't my way, Ma.' Then he managed a wry grin, and added: 'Anyway, that London you're talking about was some time ago! It's not as bad as that now. Don't I recal reading somewhere that if you fel in the Thames in the
'Forties, when you were a girl, you'd have to be realy lucky to drown - because it was much more likely you'd die of any one of a dozen fatal infections instead?'
He sensed his Ma's incorporeal nod. I think thafs probably true, yes. But -
' - But there are fish in the Thames now,' he informed her. 'Even salmon!'
Well, you wouldn't catch me eating them! she said. And anyway, you've
changed the subject. Because you know what's coming next.
'I should go and see a doctor?' He hugged his overcoat more tightly to him, where he crouched at the rim of the bight, over the grey-gleaming, wind-ruffled water. But there had been something in the Necroscope's voice (scorn, perhaps? impatience? or sheer obstinacy?) that caused his mother to bridle.
Huh! She snorted. And is that how you reward good advice? Wel, your grandmother used to say, 'No one can help the man - '
' - Who won't help himself,' Harry finished it. 'Yes, Ma, I know. And I also know you're right. So I'l go and see a doctor - tomorrow.'
But why not today?
'Because it's late in the afternoon. Even if I could find a surgery open it's an odds-on bet there'd be a queue. And, Ma, these days you're not much appreciated if you call a doctor out for something like the 'flu!'
No, she said. You wait until you die, right? And before he could answer: Harry, you're living alone up here, and you don't have any close friends! Wel, not among the living. What if you should come down with something serious?
He shrugged. 'But I do have a teleph ... " And he broke off.
And she said: A telephone, yes ... which you're afraid of? But I can't say I blame you. That was a very bad dream, Harry!
'Or a warning, maybe?' He wondered out loud ... then shook his head, and said: 'No, Ma, I'm not afraid of the 'phone, just a litle wary of it... And I'l stay that way until I find out what al of this means.'
She picked up on the first part of what he'd said. A warning? How do you mean?
'Alec Kyle was a precog. That was his talent: he was able to catch these glimpses of the future. Usually in his dreams, just before waking. And I think he stil does. Or rather ... "
You do? (Sometimes she was quick on the uptake).
'Possibly. That dream wasn't my first... what, warning?'
But isn't that all to the good? she queried. / mean, surely it's better to know something of what to expect than nothing at all?
'Maybe,' he answered. 'But just to know that something unpleasant is coming doesn't help me to understand it. Sometimes I do and other times I don't. That was how it worked for Kyle, too. Also, he ... " And Harry paused again.
'I think that Kyle may have been an alcoholic,' he blurted it out. 'He kept it under tight control - or as tight as possible - but it was there nevertheless.'
Oh, dear! His Ma said, slowly and sadly. And you ...?
Til have to control it the same.'
You've ... experienced the need, the urge, to take strong drink?
'More than just the urge.' Harry nodded ruefully, and knew she would sense it. 'My thick head?' he sighed. 'Not the 'flu, as you see.' And quickly: 'But I promise you I'l see a doctor anyway.'
She was suddenly thoughtful. So your dream wasn't necessarily poor MrKyle's talent in action after all, then?
'What?' But since speaking with the dead often conveys far more than is actually said, the Necroscope had her meaning well enough. 'You mean, some kind of delusion?'
Delirium tremens, (the nod of her incorporeal head). Well, possibly. So as you see, Harry, that makes a doctor imperative!
He hugged his coat tighter still, and sighed his agreement. 'Yes, Ma, I suppose it does ...'
It was coming in squaly again and Harry headed for home. Home: the old house where his mother and stepfather, Viktor Shukshin, had lived, until the maniac Shukshin had murdered her, drowning her under the river's ice. Harry had been a smal child, but he 'remembered' that day wel enough - and from his mother's point of view at that! So maybe this new 'thing' was just part of an older skill; maybe he was an 'observer of times,' like some Old Testament wizard. For if he was able to so vividly visualize a past he had never personaly known, then why not something of a future that no man had known - as yet? Perhaps these flashes of the future came to him via the Mobius Continuum and had nothing to do with Alec Kyle at al!
Thus Harry's metaphysical mind ran in contradictory, ever-decreasing circles, while he continued to get nowhere.
Home: a drab, unkempt sort of place at best. One day he'd find the time to do it up, starting with the garden that sprawled almost al the way down to the river.
Except to cal it a 'garden' was to lend it an unwarranted respectability; in fact it was an overgrown and weed-infested wilderness!
As it started to rain again, the Necroscope hurried along a crazy-paving path to the fly-specked patio doors, swearing a vow along the way that the thorny bramble creeper that whipped at his legs would be the first to go!
Leting himself in, he saw the sky darkening over again as the wind came up to bend the trees bordering the river. A great day for a nightmare, no question. But Harry didn't believe that was al it had been. Despite its surreal quality, it had seemed very real at the time. And what if he'd ignored that other warning, down at E-Branch HQ in London? That had been a hel of a mess anyway, but if he hadn't been able to use his Mobius door as 'foreseen' - it didn't bear thinking about. At least he had understood that warning. Which made this other thing, about the old castle, the place on the cliff, seem doubly suspect; it was something he didn't understand. Why, he could feel the hair on his scalp moving again at the thought of it! As for this latest warning, the telephone nightmare: whatever else he did, Harry knew he couldn't afford to ignore that one!
This time he locked the patio doors behind him and turned on the single ceiling light. And in the dusty jumble of his so-caled 'study', where a plywood packing case stood open in one corner, dribbling straw, and Harry's handful of 'worldly goods' were strewn about willy-nilly, the mere fact that an easy chair still lay on its back where he'd left it in his rush to get out of here, and that the occasional table had been overturned, and that the telephone was still purring away to itself, where he'd spiled it onto the floor ... these things would hardly seem to mater. They were just part of the general cluter, that's al. Except that wasn't al, for Harry knew that in fact they were the debris of his dream. Especialy the telephone.
He picked the 'phone and cradle up and went to replace the receiver -and paused. What if it were to ring?
But how could it ring? No one knew his number, or next to no one. He hadn't been up here long enough, and his name wasn't even in the telephone book; and in any case, he'd asked for his number to be listed, ex-directory. B.J. had it, yes (though for his life he couldn't think why he'd given it to her). But what the heck, she was just an innocent - if strong-headed, even wrong-headed? - young woman anyway. But fascinating, in a way.
And then there was E-Branch ...
Was that it? Was he scared of geting a cal from E-Branch, frightened of learning something that he realy didn't want to know? Such as the death of his wife, or his child, or both? Or maybe being caled in on something he couldn't ignore? For the fact was, that as part of the country's security services, the Branch had its own Dirty Tricks Department. And if they realy needed him ... he knew they wouldn't think twice.
Was that it? That his dream had been symbolic, coloured by his recent experiences in London? That would explain this wolf fetish he seemed to be developing, which had combined with the warning to produce his nightmare. So it still remained his best bet that this was some sort of left-over of Alec Kyle's talent. He was seeing something of the future; he had been warned about receiving a cal, most probably from E-Branch, that would prove to be dangerous; he must protect himself against it.
Wel, that was easy. And more determined now, he placed the 'phone in its cradle and dialed the operator. But even so, and while he waited for her to answer, still he sweated and glanced al about the room. Until finaly:
'This is the operator. How can I help you?'
'I want to change my number, to ex-directory,' he said.
And after she'd checked: 'But your number's already listed, sir. It is ex-directory.'
'I want to change it anyway.'
'Fine. I'll put you through to the service you require ... "
It was as simple as that. As for Bonnie Jean ... he could always give her his new number, if the need should arise.
And then, generally feeling a lot better, the Necroscope shaved, tidied up his study, finished the unpacking that he'd started a month ago, and made himself an evening meal . . . And thought about Brenda and his baby son, of course.
The way he worried about them, he could have set off right there and then, heading off aimlessly into the Mobius Continuum on some wild-goose chase that might easily last him the rest of his life. A wild-goose chase? Now why had he thought that? But of course he knew why: because his son had powers the equal of his own, and if he didn't want to be found, then Harry didn't stand much chance of finding him. His one trump card was that he knew more about the world and its ways; he was experienced as only an adult who has lived (and died?) can be experienced. While the baby ... was a baby.
But in any case he wouldn't be going anywhere for, oh, at least three weeks? ... He would need that long to work out his plan of campaign, surely? ... And meanwhile he would stay here, warm and comfortable despite all the bad weather, safe in this big old house.
Harry shook his head and frowned. God, he was starting to think like his mother! Starting to worry about himself - promising to see a doctor and such! But, three whole weeks to plan some kind of search campaign? He shrugged, blinked watery eyes, rubbed at his sore throat. And the mental fluff was back, right there where his brain should be. So much for a rapid recovery!
As for geting a plan together: if three weeks was what it took, then that's what it would get. Al he had to work out now was what to put in it!
But his throat was so sore! And his eyes: hot, and itchy as hel ... probably through sleeplessness, or a night spent in a drunken stupor, tossing and turning on Bonnie Jean's lounger. At which he remembered her wine. It had been on the table -
- And was now on the floor, having skitered against the skirting board under a bookshelf when he'd knocked everything flying. He went scrambling for it without realizing how desperately he needed it, trying to convince himself that it might be just the ticket, just what the doctor ordered. Its warm, resin-laden, sleep-inducing glow, al ruby-red and swirly-deep in his glass. It would ease his throat, for sure.
A sip, that's al. Just this one smal glass. After al, it wasn't his addiction he was pandering to, but Alec Kyle's. Except this time it realy was for curative or medicinal purposes. He was just so tired! Damned if he didn't intend to get a good night's sleep tonight, at least! And doubly damned if he did, too ...
Two and a half weeks later, when B.J. could no longer resist it, and when she had decided that she couldn't afford to wait any longer, she did try to call the Necroscope - only to discover that he had given her the wrong number! But she knew he couldn't possibly have done it deliberately. Checking with the switchboard, she then found that he'd changed his ex-directory number. But since she'd given him no instructions to the contrary, why shouldn't he? She had simply failed to consider the possibility that he might do such a thing, that was all.
But all was not lost. He had been ordered to stay in touch with her, and B.J. knew he would and even when he would: just a few days before the full moon, Harry would contact her. He had damn well better! And meanwhile she had decided to do a little searching of her own, for him. For in the glaring light of the possibility that he might be more than a mere mystery man and in fact the Mysterious One -
- Harry Keogh had become very important to her. So important that perhaps it was time B.J. took a short 'holiday.'
She had already closed the bar down and split her five girls into two teams: one pair of girls searching for Harry locally, and the second team staking-out the wine bar in its immediate vicinity to see if they could sight this watcher Harry had warned her about and discover his business with her. Which left B.J. herself and one other girl. Well, now she had somewhere to go, with or without Harry Keogh, and couldn't risk being followed. And she knew exactly how to employ the last of her girls ...
In the wee small hours of a wet and windy Sunday morning some four days before B.J. was due to hear her Master's call, she headed north. She felt sure that once she'd explained why she was early, Radu would understand her zeal in this respect.
She drove a hired car, a cheap, old, reliable but unspectacular model that wasn't likely to attract unwanted attention.
Even so, she wouldn't drive it directly from the bar but took a taxi to the home of one of her girls who had picked the car up for her. The girl lived in a northern district of the city.
It was a well-timed operation: Bonnie Jean left the taxi and paid the driver, got into the hired car and drove it away.
And in the mirror she saw the girl - one of her 'lieutenants' - following close behind in her own car. The girl wasn't just acting as a decoy; she would become a physical obstruction if B.J. should be followed. She would simply put herself and her vehicle in the way of the pursuer! But it was 2 a.m. and the weather was bad, and with the precautions B.J. had taken, she didn't think it likely that she'd be tailed.
To further bolster her confidence in that respect, there was the fact that despite all her vigilance there had been no further spying on her place as reported by Harry Keogh. So perhaps it had been a one-off sort of thing after all, a coincidence that hadn't involved her directly. Well, maybe ... but B.J. was becoming less and less inclined towards coincidences, and in any case she hadn't been willing to risk it.
And now there was only one hazard, one gauntlet left to run: the Firth of Forth bridge, the only way into or out of the city from the north. If anyone had seen her leave home, and assuming they knew she would ultimately drive north, the bridge would be the ideal place to pick up her trail.
But the bridge came and went without incident, and so did B.J.'s escort. A mile or so beyond the Firth of Forth, heading for Perth, the headlights of the car behind flashed three times in her mirror, and she knew what the signal meant: there was no one in pursuit, no one to track her to the lair in its mountain fastness. But even so her lieutenant would park at the side of the road, and wait there a good hour, recording the details of passing cars and observing what she could of their drivers.
And the rest of it was all down to Bonnie Jean Mirlu ...
Dawn found B.J. at 'a friend's house' in tiny Inverdruie; she stayed there whenever she was up this way, which of necessity meant regular quarterly visits. But Auld John was always here, as his father had been before him. John 'belonged' to her Master no less than Bonnie Jean herself, but his blood was not of the blood, and so he was merely a thrall - a watcher or sentinel - here on the approach routes to Him in His lair high in the mountains. But having been sworn to Him by moonlight, John was nevertheless his Master's true man.
B.J.'s route had taken her through Perth, Pitlochry, Kingussie and Kincraig, and finally across the Spey to Inverdruie. And as true dawn's light limned the misty horizon of the Grampians, so Auld John was there to greet the 'wee mistress,'
as he thought of her, when her car pulled into his drive. And:
'Better garage the car, John,' she told him, after a brief hug. 'I've had snoopers at my place in Edinburgh, and we cannot afford such up here.' And entering his small house where it was almost hidden from the road in a copse of birch, rowan and juniper, she waited for him.
'It was dire cold last time ye were here, Bonnie Jean,' he told her, coming in and closing the door. 'Me, ah could'nae hae climbed wi' ye. Not this time. It's these old bones ... mah fingers hae no grip in they!'
'You're for watching, John,' she reminded him. 'No for the climbing.'
'Aye, but ah'd hae dearly loved tae see Him just one more time,' he said. 'Perhaps next time, come summer. But. . . surely ye're early, lass?'
'Snoopers, as I said,' she nodded. 'And maybe worse than snoopers. Things He should know, anyway. And a stranger, John. All very mysterious. But as for him: wel, I've no doubt you'l be seeing him soon enough, if I've gauged it right.'
The old man cocked his head. 'A stranger? Here? And "mysterious," did ye say?' His eyes were suddenly bird-bright.
Again her nod. 'Who knows, who knows?' She gave herself a shake, turned to the fire and warmed her hands. 'Reasons enough to come up here a few days early, anyway.'
Auld John was maybe sixty-five, but still spry for al his complaining. He was tall, gangling, walked with a woodsman's lope (an entirely natural one, the insignia of his caling as a gillie and tracker, if anything, and not rooted in any condition), and wore his long, thinning grey hair tied back in a clasp, to keep it from his weathered face.
He had on occasion accompanied Bonnie Jean high into the Cairngorms, to the lair. But that was a climb, and Auld John was no longer up to it. As for their relationship ... that was strange as can be. For more than sixty years ago B.J. had used to bounce him on her knee! And here she was a young girl, and him an old man ...
The blood is the life!
Auld John sat down opposite the wee mistress, reached out to put a log on the fire in the great wide hearth, and said, 'A body grows auld. Truly auld.'
'But slowly, John,' she answered, 'very slowly. And you'l outlive most men. Aye, and you've a lot to be thankful for. For after al, you've known Him.'
'In His sleep, ah've known Him, it's true. But tae see Him up and aboot...! D'ye think ...?' And now his voice was low and his eyes narrow in the firelight.
Narow and feral over a long flat nose.
'Al things are possible in Him, John,' she told him. 'As the stars and mistress moon spin their tracks through space and time, slowly but surely His time comes around. He may not stay down forever. For just as your bones age and wither, so do His - and He has outlasted the centuries! I've calculated his time over and over again, and always it comes out the same.'
'Four years, is it?' The old man's voice was low, almost a growl, yet pleading in its eagerness. 'Is it down to just four years?'
Bonnie Jean nodded again, and repeated him, Three or four at most, after six long centuries! A drop in the ocean, John.'
'And then, and then ...?' It was an old story, but he would hear it again.
'Then, a legend born anew,' she answered. 'A new creature in the heights, along with the pine martens, the golden eagles, and the wildcats. But just think, John: in His horseshoe mountains, He knew the real cats: the last of the sabretooths!'
'A new creature in the high crags,' he whiningly repeated her, his yelow eyes blinking his excitement.
'And in the cities!' Bonnie Jean added. 'Don't forget the cities. Oh, our Master tried the other way - the secret way -all those many centuries ago. It didn't work then, and won't now.'
'But,' the old man protested, 'only show a man something that's different - be sure he'll murder it! Come hell or high water, if it's strange and fails to conform, it's a goner. And if it's like Him up there?' (A toss of his head, indicating the Cairngorms). 'If it's like the Master? War, Bonnie Jean, war!'
'Indeed,' she agreed. 'And as it was then, when He first came among us, so it is now. Except men have forgotten the old times, the old legends, and no longer believe. And by the time they do, it will be too late! Aye, and there's no Great Black Death now, John, to plague Him and His. And just as our Master was driven here, driven west, and north, by that black, devouring fire, so now He will light a flame and drive east. Except He'll not stop, but drive south and west too! For in His time the world was so small; why, there are entire continents that He never saw or knew about! But He will, He wil ...'
The Black Death stopped Him, consigning Him to the everlasting dark ... " Auld John shivered.
'... Not everlasting, John,' she told him. 'And when He's up, it's the Red Death that wil light His way! Ah, but nothing from poor Mr Poe, though certainly it wil seem like it. No more hiding, John, when next He comes down from the mountains. And the name of the pack ... "
'... Shal be Mankind!' (His turn to interrupt).
They shal be legion,' she tossed back her hair, grey as Auld John's in the firelight. 'And His enemies, who or whatever remains of them ...'
'... The true death,' he nodded. 'Neither undeath, nor any sort of sleep such as He has known, but death forever!'
'Amen to that,' she said, and smiled.
'When wil ye go tae Him?'
'Give me soup, your good broth, and tea to brew and a little strong, wild meat to take with me. Inverdruie sleeps; when she wakes I'll be long gone. You'l see me along the trail into the foothills, as always, then return and wait for me here. But I may be gone a while, so don't worry if I seem late.'
Til no worry,' he told her.
'And my equipment?'
'Safe and sound. But, are ye sure ye need it?' There was a chuckle in his voice. She answered with a laugh of her own:
'I could climb it blindfold, as wel you know!' Then her laughter stilled and she sobered in a moment. 'Except I can't afford to slip.
My life means nothing, but His ...'
'Aye, lass, aye,' he leaned across and took her hand. 'He has lived too long to die like that: cold and alone, lonely in His lair.'
Bonnie Jean said nothing but stared into the fire. Shortly, John went to see to her food and make his preparations...
B.J. 's climbing skils were prodigious; working with enormous efficiency and at great speed, and using only her sense of balance, and the natural tenacity of long fingers and toes to defy gravity, she seemed almost to adhere to a rock face. And in all truth she scarcely required Auld John's ropes, pitons, karabiners, and similar paraphernalia of the professional climber.
But she took them with her anyway.
It was as she had explained: as His guardian, His keeper, she simply could not afford to slip. For while to Bonnie Jean the climb itself was little more than a thrill - and her faith in her skill was absolute - still she might make a slip.
Which to Him in His centuried sleep could easily mean the difference between undeath and the true death. For the balance B.J. was required to maintain on the rock face wasn't nearly so delicate as the balance of His continued existence.
Auld John knew all of this, and though he was silent on the woodland trail where they walked, stil al of his thoughts were for Bonnie Jean and their mutual Master. 'Ye'll take care, lassie, in the heights?'
'You know I wil, John.'
There has been a rockfall or two.'
'Good! I'm always on the lookout for new routes.'
Early spring sunlight, sharp and bright, dappled their path through birch and Scots pine. B.J. didn't much like the sunlight; stepping aside from the larger yellow splotches, she felt glad that her climb would be mainly shaded by the bulk of the mountains.
Back in Inverdruie, most people were still abed, barely awake, tossing and turning ... but mainly turning their backs on the light coming in through their windows on this fine but chily Sunday morning. There'd be church, of course, and animals to feed at the nearby nature reserves: brown bears, bison, antelope, and reindeer. And maybe even a handful of visitors, tourists, at the gift shops in the villages. Nothing like the crush of a few months ago, when the snow was deep at Aviemore and the skiers dotted the slopes like a myriad brightly hurtling insects against winter's blinding white backdrop.
'Aye, and there were climbers, too,' Auld John reminisced. 'But no out this way.' No, for this was the Cairngorms Nature Reserve: more than a hundred square miles of mountain heights and wilderness; the haunt of deer and wildcats, of foxes, otters, and other creatures of the wild - but rarely men. And it was John's domain, too. These were the trails where he was a guide, which made it easier to ensure that the most secret of the forest tracks remained secret. Oh, sometimes, even in the winter months, some idiot climber would ignore all the posted warnings to bring his team in here and stray this way ... and sometimes they wouldn't make it out again. It rather depended on where they walked, and especialy where they climbed - and also on who else might be climbing there ...
Now the ground was rising. At a break in the trees Bonnie Jean and Auld John paused and looked back along the way they'd come, across Loch -an Eilein with its crumbling castle. Bonnie Jean was wel acquainted with a local tradition: that the old castle in the lake was much associated with the outlawed son of Robert II, caled the Wolf of Badenoch; Badenoch being the area east of the Spey and along the Cairngorms foothills. Ah, but she also knew that 'the Wolf had been dead for a hundred years before the castle was built; which seemed to her to beg the question, just which wolf was remembered here - and just how wel had diverse traditions kept themselves apart? Or how badly?
Among the trees, mossy granite outcrops began to show: 'the tears o' the titan mountains,' as Auld John was wont to cal them. And at last they were through the foothills to the base of an almost sheer rock face. And: 'Granite,' Auld John informed unnecessarily, 'an' more than four thousand feet of it, at that -perpendicular!' Wel, not quite.
He had carried her pack; now he helped to transfer it to her person, tied back her hair with his own clasp, and filed a smal pouch at her belt with chalk powder, to keep her fingers dry for the climbing. Finaly: 'Where the going's rough, use the rope,' he advised, for he dared not order.
And up she went...
Four thousand feet of granite. But by no means perpendicular, not al of it. In places the going was flat, or very nearly so: scree-filed basins, domed plateaux, rocky re-entries and pine-clad saddles. Oh, in one or two places it was sheer, and in the worst place of al vertiginous to overhanging through five hundred feet of a traverse that would cause the best of climbers to blink and cringe back from it, if only for a moment or two, before the actual assault. But to Bonnie Jean's mind that was what climbing was al about: the chalenge.
. Not so much of a chalenge to her, though, whose business, whose duty it had been to climb these rocks at least once in a three-month, every season of the year, for the last one hundred and seventy years! Some six hundred and eighty times now - she occasionaly lost count -B.J. had pited herself against these heights, and so knew each crack and crevasse, every cave, ledge and chimney along the way.
She knew where veins of rose quartz shone pink and purple in the grainy granite face, and a chimney where curious smoky crystals or 'germs' (cairn gorms) had weathered loose and lay in a neat pile, like a natural cairn. She knew where to avoid the aeries of the great Golden Eagles, especialy now, in the mating and nesting season, and used as landmarks the bruised and rusted pitons of yesteryear, more often than not her own, out of times when she'd lacked experience.
And for every thousand feet she climbed, she would move laterally a kilometer or more, ever deeper into the mazy interior of the mountain system, where few climbers had ventured before. But in one hundred and seventy years -especially the last thirty - there had been climbers, some of whom had come too close.
Well, the Cairngorms were notoriously unforgiving mountains, and in places they were entirely inaccessible. Some bodies had never been, never would be discovered. But Bonnie Jean knew where the bones of a handful of them lay, at least; knew, too, what was become of their flesh ...
Some two hours after midday, she rested on a ledge overlooking a dark ravine with a waterfall and white water that rushed down to the swollen,' near-distant Spey. Almost all the snows of winter had melted down into the earth and the rocks now, to filter their way into falls and cataracts. The heavy rains of the last few months had added to the tumult, and the tumbling tributary four hundred and fifty feet below sent up spray to dampen the rocks. Higher up, a series of caves opened into a far greater cavern system: the lair itself.
B.J. could have - perhaps should have - chosen the 'easy' route into the lair: up onto the plateau's shattered roof, and down through any one of several shafts into the dusty, rubble-strewn heart of the place. But this way had been a challenge, albeit a small one, for here the rock was rotten and given to crumbling. Thus it presented her with an opportunity to test secondary skills, this time with the generally despised apparatus of the professional climber.
And having eaten just a bite, and sipped a little water, then - for the first time during her climb - pitons and hammer, karabiners and fine, light nylon rope came into play. She used them all to form a hoist, then cranked herself up onto the last ledge, where a treacherously fractured 'window' opened into the gloom of the lair. And leaning back with her feet on the ledge and every ounce of her weight suspended on the rope, she looked down through all that deadly height to where fangs of rock were blackened by the torrent, and the gorge was a snarling gash of a mouth more terrible than any dark beast's -
And so into the lair, which for all B.J. 's previous visits was at least as fearsome a step as the actual climb itself ...
Once inside, after a brief scramble through shrouding cobwebs, accumulated dust and sharp, stony debris, B.J. wasted no time. With the ease of any night-sighted animal and most wild creatures, her eyes very quickly adjusted to the gloom. Had it been pitch-black, they would have served her just as well. So that even as she shrugged out of her harness, she was able to gauge fairly accurately her location in this cavern system which she had explored so many times before. She knew where she was, and therefore where He was.
And between them, maybe two hundred feet of pitfalls and crumbling pathways, jumbles of falen, hexagonal pilars, and dizzy causeways over crevasses which, for al she knew, might wel go down to the roots of the mountains. On this one level she had explored the lair, for this was His place. But as for other possible levels: she didn't know, couldn't say.
And apart from the natural obstacles of this great cavern, there was one other thing standing between B.J. and her Master. A Thing, yes, and she shuddered at the thought of it... even the 'wee mistress' herself.
It was something of His, she knew, but still it was beyond reason. Beyond her reason, anyway. But it was sentient; it knew things, sensed things. It would know she was here, and it would stir when she passed by. And it would know why she was here ... that it, the Thing itself, was one of her reasons. For just as B.J. 's Master hungered, so did His creature ...
That would be the part she disliked, the one aspect of her duty that bothered her. Her Master's needs were one thing, but the needs of His creature were something else. She ... disliked feeding it, even with beast's blood. Also, she never failed to be amazed by the fact that so little could satisfy so much. But would it be the same when the Thing was up? Surely He intended to bring it up, else what was its purpose? But Bonnie Jean had never inquired about it; it wasn't her business to question but to guard and inform, as it was her duty to obey.
The place was unquiet; only take a single step away from the crack of light gleaming through the dusty, irregular shape of the 'window,' and silence fel as if someone had switched it on - or switched al sound off -except for the echoes of the lair itself: the dripping of water in various unseen locations, and B.J.'s own breathing, her own muffled movements. Quiet, yet unquiet... But by no means a contradiction of terms. The tumult of the gorge was dead here; it couldn't find its way in; something shut it out.
There was some light, at least; rays or curtains of dim light filtering dustily down from various faults in a ceiling of il-defined height and extent: the shafts through which she might have descended, if she'd chosen a different route. Light in this place, anyway, but not where He lay. For B.J. 's Master could no longer suffer direct sunlight. The moon was His light, and the ful moon His glory! And it would be the same for B.J. in time to come, for she too was a moon child. So far as possible, she shunned the sun even now, though as yet it wouldn't kill her - not in her human form, at least. And she had often wondered: why here? Why build a lair in this high place, when Radu might have found Himself a place of darkness utter? But as she knew wel enough, it had been a mater of circumstance, not choice. And anyway, He had been used - in a different age, in a different world - to a lofty manse indeed. But then, He'd been used to many things in His time ...
Carrying her pack slung over her shoulder, and following a trail of poorly arranged 'flagstones' long since falen from the ceiling, Bonnie Jean set out through the maze of stony rubble. In places the path was obscured, almost obliterated, where recent falls had crashed down and caved-in the paving stones or hurled them aside, forming angular granite piles and jumbles of rock which were almost crystalline in their nitre-fused shapes. But 'recent' in B.J.'s terms meant other than it would to persons of normal longevity. Indeed, it meant any time in the last ten decades! Still, it was as well that her Master's time would soon be up - that He would soon be up - for this place wouldn't last forever. And in this modern world ... well, "repairs' were out of the question! Oh, there remained a handful of thralls in various parts, and B.J. 's girls, of course, but getting them up here safely and secretly would be nigh impossible, and the task itself utterly beyond them.
This place had been 'built' before B.J.'s time, and the thralls who had built it for Him had died at their work. But in that bygone time all the land around was a wilderness, when prying eyes were few and far between ...
Thus her thoughts ran as she approached the place of the Thing, that dark cave to one side of the main cavern, where the light never reached and the silence was near absolute; the physical silence, anyway. But the atmosphere, or aether - if there really were such a thing -seemed to seethe here; she felt the oppressive weight of the place almost tangibly upon her shoulders.
B.J. was no mentalist (it was only the awesome strength of her Master's sendings that made possible communication with Him, let alone His creature!), but as always in this place, so close to the Thing, she sensed emanations of weird entity, the foetal fumblings of that which waited to be born. And because it was her duty, despite the fact that she hated it, still she turned from the path, however briefly, entered the cave of the Thing, and thus 'announced' her presence.
And as her eyes adjusted to the greater darkness, so the aura of awful sentience - of a vacant yet savage awareness - grew more tangible yet... and the sure knowledge that she in her turn had been recognized.
An outline or silhouette took shape in the darkness, one which radiated its own almost imperceptible red glow, like the embers of an almost-dead fire in a dark room. It was a cylindrical shape formed of hexagonal granite columns standing on end like the staves of a barrel. At their bases these pillars were buried in rubble and buttressed with boulders to stop them toppling outwards; they formed the walls of a massive container or vat. But several of them were cracked, and others were slightly splayed or stood askew, or had been forced apart by the geological stresses of the mountains, allowing trickles of a resinous sealant or preservative to escape from within and form puddles hardening to amber at the bases of the surrounding boulders.
B.J. approached the vat, reached out tentatively at first, but finally placed her hands upon two of the columns. The stone was cold to her touch; it shouldn't convey anything but that it was stone; nothing of the nature of its contents should be apparent. But something was apparent. And B.J. thought: Ifs like listening to the sea in a sounding shel. Except the sea has an entirely natural sound, with nothing of sentience and entirely oblivious to the rest of the world around it. It can't respond, except to ignore.
But this Thing, her Master's creature, was not oblivious. And even as she listened to it, so it 'listened' to her. And: Thud! (Dully, like some far, faint vibration, felt in her fingertips).
She had felt, heard or sensed it before and didn't recoil. In another five minutes, or fifteen, or twenty, if she cared to stand here so long, she would hear it again.
The slowed-down, almost-stilled, hibernating heartbeat of the Thing. No, not hibernating (she corrected herself) but suspended, indefinitely extended ... waiting! And alive, oh yes!
Alive, in there, Her Master's future ... what, guardian? Something to take her place, when He was up again? That was a thought she had thought before, even scarcely daring to think it. His own fierce creature, to guard Him in His lair ...
And this time, because she stood there rapt in thought - and perhaps unworthy thoughts, at that, because He had assured her often enough that she would always have a place with Him - Bonnie Jean was startled and snatched back her hands.
Was it intelligent, like Him, she wondered? Would it perhaps be jealous of her, this unborn Thing?
She moved quickly to the side of the stone vat, climbed a stairway of stacked slabs, finaly gazed down into the solidified murky swirl of a mainly opaque, luminous resin reservoir. And with eyes feral in the darkness, she kneeled at the rim to peer through the crusted surface deep into the looser liquids beneath, at the foetal Thing that was curled there -
- That massive wedge of a head as seen in profile. Those long dog jaws. The dark orbit of an eye big as a platter!
The last time she was here, its heartbeat had been slower, and the great lid of its eye entirely closed, asleep. But now: Thud!
The Thing quickened beyond a doubt, and the lid of its eye seemed gashed where a crack of yelow light glowed from within, brighter than its protective resin sheath ...
Bonnie Jean stood up, descended the stairs, left the cave for the less fearsome labyrinth of the cavern complex, and finaly ran breathlessly to her Master ...
... To Radu Lykan.