IV

EXILED - TO EARTH!

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Going down from the heights of the barrier mountains into Starside, Radu came upon a ragged handful of pitiful 'survivors' of last night's vampire raid: men of the Mirlus, like Bela Romani, and of the Szgany Tireni and Szgany Zestos. He told them who he was and what he intended to do: lay claim to an aerie among the several as yet vacant stacks, and people it with thrals of his own. They were reluctant to join him; they 'belonged' to Hengor "the Gust" Hagi, or Lord Lankari, or the Drakul brothers, or - Lord Lagula Ferenczy!?

What? Lagula, a Lord of the Wamphyri? But... the same Lagula? Wel, Radu must wait and see. But meanwhile he offered the vampirized group a choice: he would guarantee them his personal 'protection', swear them to his service, and proceed with them across the boulder plains ... or they could die the true death right here in these barren foothills, with crossbow bolts skewering their poor decapitated bodies. And without more ado they went with Radu.

Their presence was observed; giant Desmodus bats from the various aeries reported their progress; they were in any event 'poor quality' thrals who had not warranted transportation on the backs or in the bely pouches of their masters' flyers. But when they headed for a middling, unoccupied stack in the outer circle of great upthrusting aeries, that atracted rather more atention. Too late to do anything about it, however, for Radu and his folowers had taken al of the long Starside night to come across the mountains and boulder plains, and already the sun was burning on the higher ramparts of the greater stacks.

This was the time when the Lords slept, normaly in north-facing rooms on the permanently dark sides of their aeries. It was not a time when they would launch out on their flyers simply to investigate the odd behaviour of a handful of 'branded' thrals! Perhaps the thrals themselves were merely being cautious and taking shelter from the sunlight. Al wel and good; this was a sign of some inteligence among them at least! Come sundown they'd doubtless proceed to the stacks of their rightful Lords, who had recruited them in Sunside.

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But they didn't. Radu, less fearful of the sun than most vampire Lords, had put his men to work at once. They had inhabited a cave near the foot of the stack, fortified its entrance, found bolthole passageways onto other levels and down onto the boulder plains, and generally made themselves as 'comfortable' as possible. Cold comfort, true, but Radu was still learning the way of things.

And a lot more to learn yet, be sure ...

Sundown, and Lord Egon Drakul sent a thrall and flyer to see what was what. He had beasts to feed and two of these errant thralls were his, destined for the provisioning of Drakstack. The thrall landed his mount at the foot of the suspect aerie, went striding into the scree jumbles, and disappeared. And in a little while, a strange, long-haired figure was seen seated awkwardly astride the flyer, putting it through its paces over the knobby dome of the new aerie! But what was this? Some raw recruit fresh out of Sunside, who yet fancied himself a Lord?

Klaus Lankari sent two thralls to investigate. These were bold, burgeoning lads who aspired to lieutenants ... the result was the same. By now Shaitan the Unborn himself was interested; he watched and 'listened' keenly from afar, as Hengor Hagi flew out with his chief lieutenant from Hengstack. Ah, but the Gust was careful to remain airborne as his man Emil landed in soft, sliding scree at the base of Radu's aerie, and continued afoot to put matters right. But shortly: My Lord? Emil Hagisman sent, with a slight but patently nervous tremor in his Gust-orientated, feeble mental probe.

Aye? The Gust circled on a flyer that was all muscle and manta wing, to take his great weight. What's the word?

My Lord, a man is with the recruits who says he is Wamphyri. In fact he has the looks, and I smell it on him. This one has a mature leech!

Oh, really? Swamp-bom, was he? With no egg-sire? So he's Wamphyri, so what? He hasn't ascended; we haven't accepted him. Not yet, anyway. Nor are we likely to, since he's a thief! The recruits you speak of belong to me, to the Ferenczys, to Klaus Lankari and the Drakuls. What, is he herding them for us - if so, well, that's damned kind of him! But it's another matter if he intends to keep them for himself.

But now a different 'voice' joined in, that of Radu. Hengor, I can do many things for myself, including speak! I don't need an interpreter. I have a leech; I'm "swamp-bom", aye, if that's the term, but that was some time ago. Oh, I know: this stack I've chosen for myself isn't nearly as grand as some of your soaring aeries, but it's a start and I wil ascend! If I need your recognition, then I'll wait for it. If it's not forthcoming ... well, I'm here anyway! Meanwhile, what's mine is mine. Nor ami a thief in respect of these thralls: a middling lot at best! I need them for now, that's al. But in due time I'll gladly repay whatever and whoever I owe, with interest.

Oh, indeed? The Gust sent back. So you take and then say you've merely borrowed, eh? And the flyers you've commandeered, are those yours, too?

For now, until I've learned the way of making my own. And that includes this one of yours ... but I'll give you your man Emil back. He's loyal to a fault, and therefore useless to me.

Really? Hengor couldn't make up his mind to roar his rage or laugh out loud! But he found himself liking this one -his audacity, anyway -without that he'd even met him as yet. And if I sent another flyer for Emil Hagisman, will you keep that, too?

(A mental shrug, and): He can fly or he can walk. That's your problem.

Do you know, said Hengor, beginning to enjoy this now, in the perverse fashion of the Wamphyri, but without ever meeting you in the flesh, already I like your colours. And I fancy I'll like them even more -when I use them to decorate the walls of my great hall in Hengstack!

Have I slighted you? (Radu's voice showed mild surprise - feigned, of course). Then come down and let's settle it.

Wel, bugger me backwards! the other burst out, but he was no longer amused. A challenge, is it? Listen, upstart: between the Ferenczys, Drakuls, Klaus Lankari and myself, we have four hundred men, thirty-two flyers and seven fighting beasts! How do you think you and your handful of fools would fare against those odds, eh?

Badly, Radu answered, which is why I've taken the time to parley.

But here yet another mental voice in Starside's aether, a voice as powerful and authoritative as it was sinister, interrupted and came between the two; the voice of Lord Shaitan the Unborn: the devil himself!

What's al this about a swamp-bom Lord, Hengor Hagi? Do you frown on a man because he had no egg-sire? Is a spore any less than an egg or a leech? Now, let's face it: whether a vampire is born of a woman, or changed by a spore or a leech, or by a bite, we're al of the one source, the one origin, which is the swamp.

It's not the route we take, which is a decision of fate, but the geting here that counts. Wel, so this one has got here ...

Hengor seemed more than a litle surprised. What, and do you accept him, Lord Shaitan? On his word alone? Why, we don't know what we have here! But a thief and a loudmouth upstart - we know these things for sure!

Oh? (Now Shaitan's mental voice was a sneer). But aren't we all thieves? Don't we al steal, out of Sunside? As for his braggart's mouth: is it any bigger than your own? Or mine? Or anyone's? Nor is his status suspect: we most certainly do know what we have here: a Lord of the Wamphyri, and one to watch out for, it's obvious! But if you disagree, take a look at the evidence. He plays a decent word-game - better than you, Hengor, for it was you who lost your temper! Also, your own man says he has a leech; neither spore, egg, nor mark on his neck but a mature leech! And he has made his way into Starside to occupy his own aerie; oh, a hovel of a place, granted ... as yet! So there you have it: he must be a Lord. Moreover, he has mentalism, which many of our colleagues lack, or possess to a lesser degree. But this one's mentalism is a power; I felt it!

Shaitan grew thoughtfully quiet, perhaps inviting comment, and the telepathic aether came alive in a moment: Klaus Lankari now speaks, said a wooden, almost mechanical, yet somehow doom-fraught voice. What's to be done? Something must be done, for this newcomer appears to have taken a thrall of mine, which I recruited in Sunside. Klaus was an ex-loner, not much known for quick-thinking. But he was a great and monstrous destroyer of life and drinker of blood.

He has men of ours, too, the Drakuls spoke up, in voices that hissed their telepathic venom. Is he to simply keep them, and get away with it? We say let's take them back, right now, and him, too! So he has a leech -so what?

All the beter, in fact, said the Gust. For there's nothing quite like the juice of another vampire - especialy his leech! And since I'm closest, I lay claim to it!

And finally Radu's turn again. What? Don't the Ferenczys have anything to say? Don't they want their peck at me, too? If so, well fine, for I certainly want my peck at them! There, it was out in the open, his hatred - the blood feud - between him and the Ferenczys. And better to do it this way, bold and swaggering, as befitted the image Radu would convey. For there was that in their voices (and in his own dark heart) that told him it was their way, the way of the Wamphyri.

They seemed to take pleasure in words: perverse, convoluted argument and contradictions. Not so strange, really; why, they were themselves contradictions - of Nature!

But so was Radu, and just as devious as the worst of them. He had flyers now and could ride them in a fashion; if he were attacked in force he could flee to the barrier mountains, find a place to hide and consider his position. And he would take a handful of thralls with him, and so retain at least the nucleus of an aerie. Thus his braggadocio wasn't all it might seem. He wasn't about to stand and fight a veritable horde of Wamphyri Lords and their followers, but he was ready for flight at a moment's notice!

As it happened, the way he'd acted was the best thing he could have done, said, thought. Shaitan the Unborn was fascinated, intrigued; it set his own more than devious mind working overtime. What, some bad blood between this one and the Ferenczys? The brothers were fairly recent among the Wamphyri, true, but already they posed a threat; they were like stormclouds on Shaitan's horizon, roiling and issuing stabs of lightning, and inevitably heading his way.

For one thing there were two of them, and as a team they were closer far than the Drakuls. Shaitan remembered how they had ascended:

Two years ago Lord Petre Stakis had taken a small party of lieutenants, thralls, and an aerial warrior west along the spine of the barrier mountains and down into previously unexplored regions of Sunside. Unexplored, aye . . . Odd, then, that he should receive such a warm welcome! But such appeared to be the case. For it seemed that the Szgany of those western parts had been ready, waiting and prepared for just such an invasion - or for something in the nature of an invasion, at least! The Ferenczy brothers had been members (indeed, they'd been the recently elected leaders) of the same tribe, formerly the Szgany Zirescu. And that night... well, Lord Stakis had been unfortunate, to say the least.

His warrior had developed a temporary fault, which caused it to land badly in the mountain peaks. Leaving two of his lieutenants to see what could be done, Stakis had gone on with his reduced force, homed in on the smoke of a Szgany campfire, and landed in the lower foothills. On foot and engaged by a ferocious fighting force under Rakhi and Lagula, Stakis had been shot once through the eye and twice through the heart. His leech had reckoned he was done for, and made ready to exit his body; the Ferenczys had been on hand and would make perfect hosts.

But even in his death throes, still Stakis was a force to be reckoned with. Grabbing Rakhi when he drew close to inspect his body, Stakis savaged him, transfusing essence of his blood into Rakhi's system. Lagula, seeing his brother grappling for his life with a 'dead' man, set about Stakis with a machete and decapitated him - and likewise fatally injured his leech, which at that very moment was attempting to make an exit through its host's throat! Dying, the leech issued an egg which transferred to Lagula. Thus Lagula was Wamphyri, and his brother a vampire in the making. Two birds with one stone, as it were!

So much Lord Shaitan had had from a spy of his among Stakis's thralls. The rest of the story - how the Ferenczys had holed-up in the dark woods, slept the Sleep of Change, and the next night set about 'recruiting' as many of the former Zirescus as they could find; and how they'd then made their way back to Starside in a body - was unimportant.

The rules of the game were as simple as Shaitan himself had made them: it wasn't the route men took but the getting there that counted.

Well, they had got here, since when they'd made their presence felt. . . almost as a thorn in Shaitan's side! He was sure they worked against him, or would if given the opportunity. He was glad that they had no mentalism to speak of, which was the reason of course that they hadn't been privy to what was going on here. And now the coming of this one, and bad blood between them, or so it would appear. Al in al an interesting situation, and something to be fostered. For if the newcomer and the Ferenczys were at each other's throats, they wouldn't have the time to be at Shaitan's. Which was why he now proposed a solution to the problem posed by Radu:

Hear me out, he said. Let's give this one the benefit of the doubt. He says he'l repay your losses. Very wel, and if he forgets his promise, time enough then to sort maters out, and take back - and take al - of what he's accrued. Except... we cannot continue to think of him as he. Among the Wamphyri, I am the only He, the first and only Lord of Lords. You, stranger, do you accept that? If so, tell us your name, and how you come to be here.

And Radu answered: My only desire is to be accepted among my peers. Since you appear to be the greatest of them, be sure I'll agree to anything you propose - on the understanding that you leave me the means to live and prosper, of course! My name and status: I'm Lord Radu Lykan, who fused with a leech in the swamplands far to the west.

All of which seems only right and reasonable to me, the unseen Shaitan answered, eager to be done with the preliminaries. Very wel, then we will trust you - but it's a trust you must repay in kind. If I were to ofer you audience in Shaitanstack, would you attend me, come up to my manse and enter of your own free will?

Previously, there had been a subdued but very real background 'babble' in the psychic aether; now, as Shaitan made his invitation, this faded to an almost electric air of expectancy, a hush as of held breath. And Radu sensed that the question of free wil was of vast importance to the Lords - as indeed, for some ill-defined reason, it was to him. In effect, Lord Shaitan had offered him the ultimate test, (or ultimate challenge?) and if nothing else, Radu's answer would decide his suitability one way or the other. Which was why he said:

My Lord, merely tell me the hour of my audience, guarantee my safe access and egress, and give me a route ...?

And: A lot of'merelys'! Shaitan answered. But... so be it. And so it would be ...

The time was set: three hours before dawn. That was Shaitan's choice, of course, and a good one for him. That close to sunup, he could be sure that the affair wouldn't be a long one, therefore that it wouldn't get too heated. For of course this was to be more than any mere audience: it would be in its way a reception for the newly ascended Lord Lykan. While Shaitan had failed to mention it to Radu, the other principal Lords - and at least two of the Ladies - would also be there. Indeed they would demand invitations, ostensibly as a matter of protocol, but mainly to ensure that no deal would be struck between Shaitan and the stranger without their knowledge. With the Wamphyri, suspicion was a way of life ... not to mention a way of undeath and true death.

Radu still didn't know too much about the Wamphyri. Since Hengor seemed reluctant to send down another flyer for his lieutenant, Radu used the long night hours to question Emil Hagisman and familiarize himself with vampire codes and customs.

And oddly (or perhaps not) he approved almost everything he learned of them; for after all he was Wamphyri, too! But in fact their nature was much as he'd expected it to be - as he was or would be himself in the fullness of time.

They were proud, vain, lusty, greedy and devious, and they were bestial beyond the beasts, cruel beyond human cruelty, and bloody beyond the deepest gutters and vats of the worst possible charnel house. Their conceit and various vanities were perhaps their weirdest aspect. Every one of them considered him or herself 'handsome' or 'beautiful' to a fault - except they had no faults, not to mention, and certainly none of their own making! Any shortcomings were blamed on their 'worthless' eggs or leeches, while every triumph however small was as a direct result of their own efforts. It was an utter contradiction of the so-called 'free-will code' that governed their every interaction with and treatment of their contemporaries, thralls, beasts and victims. Since the Wamphyri themselves enjoyed no free will as such, the ideology or concepts of freedom and self-determination in others was paramount. If lesser men controlled their own destinies, then surely the mighty vampire Lords controlled theirs? Why, of course they did ...!

The Wamphyri were bloodbeasts. The blood was the life, and the life was or could be eternal as far as was known. Youth and blood went hand in hand; if a Lord wished it, he could keep his 'looks', hold back the years and retain his sexual potency forever.

Lesser men could - indeed must - shrivel under his bite and die the true death if nothing of him got into them, or rise up again undead and renewed, vampirized and enthralled by their Lord's essence; while he would go on unchanged, except he would be stronger (made stronger by their loss), and so continuously evolving through his victims' devolution, always.

And people, the Szgany of Sunside, and their produce ... were for using. They were no more than very temporary vassals, (or vessels?) from which all the good things of life including life itself might be taken wholesale as by right, or gradually siphoned off, as was more frequently the case. And the Wamphyri could do no wrong, not in their own red and rapacious eyes, for they were mainly without conscience! Perhaps the first handful of changeling Lords -with the exception of Shaitan - wondered about it from time to time: how they who had been Szgany could now live like parasites off their former kith and kin, and put them through such travails of terror.

Perhaps they pondered it ... but infrequently. For while their own parasites held sway, the host bodies would be and do as their leeches willed it ...

Next, Radu learned about the individual Lords and Ladies:

About Shaitan the Unborn, so called because he had neither father nor mother (not that he remembered), but seemed to have bred himself out of the vampire swamps! ... And why not, since he was the original vampire Lord? No such creature before him, and none since except he made them or made those who made them, or they had followed him out of the spore-laden western swamps. He alleged that he was the victim of some Great Expulsion, but from where or when he knew not; his persecutors had robbed him of al memory of previous existence! But he believed that his 'crime' had been his pride and awesome beauty: he had dared to be more beautiful than the masters of that unremembered place, which to them was unforgivable.

And in fact Shaitan was 'beautiful', as handsome a Lord of vampires as could be imagined. 'Judge for yourself,' Emil Hagisman told Radu, 'when you go up to see him. Why, Shaitan is so good-looking you just know he has to be the worst! He makes no pretence of it but calls it the "perfection of evil": when the external or visible image reaches a peak such as his, then the rot must commence invisibly from within. And Lord Shaitan has been rotting since his very first moment of being!'

Shaitan was the overlord here, the uncrowned King of these beings. But among his closest contemporaries ('peers' he would never allow) it was generally suspected that just such a crown, and a throne, were his ambition. Therefore, because he was so powerful, his allies were few. Perhaps that was why he seemed so eager to accept Radu ... as a future aly? But in any case, Lord Lykan would do wel to watch his step in Shaitanstack.

As for the rest of the Wamphyri: Radu paid some attention to what Emil Hagisman told him - especially with regard to the Ferenczys - but their descriptions, habits and origins, could only come as something of an anticlimax after Shaitan himself.

There was Hengor, called the Gust for his girth, thunderous outbursts, and bellowing laughter. Not that there was very much of 'merriment' in him; his angers were frequently as violent as his 'mirth', while his vampire appetite - for anything unholy - matched the size of his belly. Hengor was not a true Hagi; he took his surname from the Szgany Hagi, the first Sunside tribe visited by Shaitan the Unborn during his journey of discovery from the western swamps into Starside. Among the unsuspecting Hagis, the Lord of Vampires had seduced a girl, who later converted Hengor among others before the tribe's leader, Heinar Hagi, put her down. Hengor had dwelled in Starside only a year less than Shaitan himself; his aerie rivalled Shaitanstack in its colossal if morbid grandeur. And meanwhile, the Szgany Hagi... were probably no more.

Klaus Lankari was a mountain man, a loner and dullard who had thought to explore the swamps ... only to return from them something other than a man. Less 'scrupulous' than Shaitan and the others, most of his thralls were trogs recruited from caverns under the barrier mountains. He kept trog odalisques, too, and was pleased to admit that during his years in the wild he had shagged far worse than these.

As for Thereza Three-Eyes' Lugosi: she would be a gross mistake in any world! Born a freak, as a Sunsider child she'd been fortunate to escape with her life. The Szgany had enough to do in those days of restructuring without the extra burden of caring for monstrous children. But her parents had pleaded her case; however grudgingly, they had been granted the right to care for her; fearing for her safety anyway, they'd become loners in Sunside's foothills and mountain passes. The source of her eventual vampiric contamination was unknown except to Thereza herself, but that her doting parents had paid in full for letting their deformed ogre of a child grow to full maturity was scarcely a matter for conjecture: she kept their teeth and finger bones on a gold chain around her neck!

Thereza's deformities were several. One shoulder appeared to be missing entirely; she held the good one high, which gave her the appearance of a hunchback. Her left arm was of normal length, but the right dangled to her knees.

Her breasts were dissimilar flaccid dugs, and all of her skin was mottled with purplish blotches and birthmarks.

But her third eye was the worst of her blemishes. She'd been born with an extra orbit in the back of her skull, and a rudimentary eye skinned over in its socket. Since her change, Thereza had developed this abnormality into an actual optical receptor, an eye which gazed out lidlessly - if not vacantly - from the spot where she kept her hair shorn. Which was perhaps a measure of her real monstrousness: that with her metamorphism, while she scarcely required to remain ugly at all but might easily remodel herself, she preferred it that way! As to the eye: she declared that of all the Wamphyri, she alone possessed the means of watching her back at all times ...

Then there was the Lady Rusha Basti, by all accounts gorgeous as a peach! Except, by whose account? To Emil Hagisman's knowledge no one had ever seen her entirely ... what, exposed? Not even her occasional lovers! Rusha's hair was red as flame and longer than her ample body, and she wore it in several sensuous designs, strategically bunched, or shaped with clasps to cover or expose her various parts according to her mood. Sometimes she would leave a breast bare, now and then her back and buttocks, or her long and alluring legs ... but never her face. Perhaps she was a hag after all; rumour had it that she detested her eyes - which were red as her hair, of course - and her nose, which had a flange and was convolute beyond her ability to mask it with vampire metamorphism. A rarity, Rusha actually admitted to these small flaws - or rather, she would not admit to them, and so must keep them covered. With luck, Radu might find himself 'on a good thing' with the Lady Rusha Basti. With the exception of Lord Shaitan the Unborn, who preferred absolute control over his odalisques, and Hengor Hagi, because he had the bulk of a bull shad and Rusha would not suffer the necessary bruising of such an affaire, she'd had all the Lords worth mentioning as lovers. Indeed, she loved them and left them as easily as snapping her fingers!

But on the other hand ... Rusha was not so easy as might at first be reckoned. Stolen out of Starside just four or five years ago, she had ascended in very short order. And the young Lord who had taken her ... well, where was he? She had his egg, be sure, but did she also have his head? According to Rusha he had died of some wasting disease in her loving embrace. And if so, then he'd probably expired happy - but expired, definitely! Emil Hagisman had heard of certain female spiders, who ... but he'd made his point, and Radu assured him he need say no more.

Then there were the Drakuls, Karl and Egon. They had been among the first-established in Starside. The younger bloodsons of a loner family vampirized in the swamps, they'd been obliged to care for themselves almost from infancy. For the Drakul family had dwelled in the mountains, where as long as they stayed Starside of the peaks they'd been able to eke out something of an existence.

But allegedly, in those days there had been dog-Lords in the hills -men much like Radu, but with a great deal more of the wolf in them and far less of intelligence - and these and the Drakuls had feuded. One night, hounded by these wolflings, the man, his wife, and one older son had been driven over into Sunside in the twilight hours before the dawn. Unable to find shelter, they'd perished in the blast from the rising sun. But the infant brothers - twins, which were not uncommon among the Szgany - had been left behind and raised half by the wild dog-Lords, half by a pack of common grey brothers.

When they were old enough (and they were only youths even now, perhaps seventeen or eighteen years old, but precocious far beyond their years), then they had come down into Starside to build an aerie among the menhirs of the Wamphyri. Demoniac fighters, both of them were viciously territorial, even more so than the Wamphyri in general. Perhaps it was only natural, for after all their mountain-dwelling parents had had nothing. Currently the brothers occupied Drakstack, which Egon had claimed as his own; wherefore his twin was already at work on nearby Karlscar. Both of these stacks would make tremendous aeries, which together might house vampire armies to rival anything of Shaitan's making. Shaitan, however, was aware of Drakul rapaciousness; needless to state, the brothers were not his favourites among the lesser Lords. Nor were they anyone's, for even by Wamphyri standards their ways were dark ...

And finally the Gust's lieutenant went on to tell Radu of Turgo Zolte, Shaitan's so-called 'son.' But discovered by Shaitan in an act of black treachery, Turgo had been thrown out of his 'father's' manse onto the boulder plains, to exist as best possible in the scree and the rubble and the dust. It was said he dwelled now in Sunside, sleeping out his days in deep caves where the sun couldn't find him, and constantly on the run from the Szgany. If so, then he was fortunate indeed - and far more so than his co-conspirators.

One of these had been tossed into the Starside Gate, and so banished to unknown hells; the other lay undead in a deep grave on the boulder plains, slowly stiffening to a stone among stones ...

As for the lesser Lords and Ladies: they were diverse as all of the aforementioned, but Emil Hagisman would gladly say on if Radu wished it. He didn't, for in the new-found conceit or self-assurance of his own strengths and talents, he wasn't much interested in the lesser personages. Certain things, however, continued to puzzle him; not least how for so long he'd been ignorant of the Wamphyri's presence here.

The Lords lived on trogs for long and long,' his informant told him. 'Until their stacks were established. And it's only recently that Lord Shaitan bred his first flyers and warriors, thus prompting the others to follow suit. But now . . . they're moving that much faster. They've organized supplicant tribes east of the great pass, who make their battle gauntlets for them, and other supplicants who ... are simply flesh. They take tithe from the poor bastards, even as I was taken. Raids west of the pass have been few and far between; certain of the Szgany tribes fight back! The Lidescis in particular are vicious in their defence of Sunside!

And you say you were a loner, who dwelled in the mountains and kept apart from men? Plainly you were, for there's that of the great wolf in you. But the barrier mountains are a mighty range; it's not surprising you didn't sight the Wamphyri on their infrequent raids. Ask yourself this: why should they raid west of the pass when there's easy meat in the east? Also, why should they be in a hurry to show themselves? What is time to them? But that was then, and this is now; Sunside will come more and more under attack ... "

And one other subject:

'Mentalism,' said Radu. 'Do they all have it? Who is the craftiest thought-thief, whom I must watch out for? And who is least talented, that I can spy on his mind?'

'You could get me killed!' Emil Hagisman protested. 'Perhaps I've said too much already!'

'And why have you?'

'Something about your eyes, their penetrating stare. Or your open atitude ... your "innocence", perhaps? You treat me as a man, not as a slave. I suspect it's because you are new to al this - ah, but you'l be a true Lord soon enough! Perhaps it's because you have more than mere mentalism. They say that Rusha Basti is a beguiler, too.'

'A beguiler? Hypnotism?' Radu hadn't realized it, not in himself.

There's that in your voice that lulls,' said the other. 'It makes me weary and lures words out of me.'

Radu held him close and stared deep into his eyes, which were feral even as Radu's own, but without his scarlet cores. Then say on, and tell me what I would know,' he said.

And Emil Hagisman told him - or would have. But at that very moment one of Radu's thrals came scrambling down from a high vantage/viewpoint looking northeast on the greater stacks of the Wamphyri. He was pointing back over his shoulder, gabbling, 'Lord Lykan! There in the sky around one of the mightiest aeries: aerial warriors, and flyers bearing armoured men! They swarm even now, perhaps against us!'

In moments Radu and the Gust's lieutenant had climbed up into a viewing niche, where they gazed out through a wide and jagged crack in the stack's outer sheath, upwards and into the heart of the nest of sky-scraping towers. And in one sense at least Radu's thral was correct: a swarm of men and creatures were massed about one of the central aeries. Except they were not descending from it, but atacking it.

'Shaitanstack!' Emil Hagisman gasped. 'Shaitan, the Lord of Vampires himself, is under atack!'

Radu looked at him. 'In two more hours I was to meet with him. Now ... it would seem not!'

'It was probably his invitation to you that started this going,' the other told him, shielding his eyes from the northern auroras as he tried to identify the shapes darting around Shaitanstack.

'Oh? How so?'

'A distraction, of course. The perfect time to launch a pre-emptive strike! What, a reception in Shaitanstack? Why, the Lords are al busy pretying themselves up, not to mention the Ladies! Proud, aye! And Shaitan himself, proudest of them all: he'll want his place to look its very best. Oh, they don't get their heads together very often, these vampire Lords, but when they do ... it's a grand contest of words and gestures, poses and postures!

'Al for me?'

'For them! Half-hinted taunts and chalenges, threats and insinuations. They thrive on it. But at a reception: no weapons alowed. They can crow, preen and bluster al they like, and no harm done. Until later, possibly.'

'You make them sound ... what, like fools? Buffoons!'

'Among themselves, so it would ofttimes seem - for they have each other's measure, after al. Wel, more or less. But among humankind? Ah, no. Great bears play rough-and-tumble in the foothills of Sunside, and no harm done. But if they played with men like that, they'd break al of their bones.' Emil saw something and pointed excitedly. 'Ah, see!'

Radu looked. 'See what?'

'More flyers going up ... from Kirkscrag, Antonstack, and Wens-keep. Reinforcements! And look, a crippled flyer heads this way. It is one of Lord Ehrig's creatures; I cannot be mistaken, for his sigil adorns its flank. Lord Shaitan's enemies are ... Kirk Nunosti, Anton Zappos, and Ehrig the Wen!'

'Lesser Lords, all?'

'Aye,' Emil nodded his head in great excitement. 'All lesser Lords -all joined together now against Shaitan - and all losers, too!'

'Losers?'

'He has their measure!' Emil pointed again, and Radu saw.

With a stuttering and coughing of bio-propulsive orifices, Things had emerged from Shaitanstack's launching bays.

And even at this distance they were far more awesome constructs than the ones ranged against them. Other bays issued flyers with lieutenant and thrall riders; their polished leather armour and iron weapons glinting blue in the sheen of the stars. There followed a scattering as of leaves in a sudden gust, as Shaitan's forces fought and tore and ravaged amongst their enemies. And shortly, in the space of only a minute or two, the debris of Lords Nunosti, Zappos, and Ehrig the Wen's shattered forces began spiralling, drifting, or plummeting down onto the boulder plains.

Some survivors - a very few, the merest handful, al of them in wild disarray - made to fly home to the lesser aeries of Kirkscrag, Antonstack, and Wenskeep; Shaitan's superior forces harried them al the way. 'If the errant Lords themselves are among the survivors,' Emil husked, 'Shaitan wil hang them in silver chains from his ramparts, and fry them in the golden fires of sunup.'

Suddenly, there were flurries of activity in the launching bays of the other manses and aeries. Where previously the greater Lords had looked on, perhaps even wagering on the outcome of this insurrection, now they seemed eager to show their solidarity with Shaitan. Flyers launched as 'anxious' Wamphyri Lords and Ladies made to attend their overlord. But he would have none of that.

Radu jerked back from his natural viewport as great gonging thoughts rang in his (and in all) vampire minds: Keep back! Who dares come here now comes at his own risk! My blood is up! I am betrayed! And who can say but that these were only dupes, playing out the moves of some sneaky, cowardly gamesmaster? Is there no honour among the Wamphyri?

Of course not, and Shaitan knew it... knew also that the others would protest his insinuation - indeed his accusation - anyway. But before their denials could get underway, Shaitan's 'voice' rang out again: Shaitanstack is now inviolate. I shall not sufer any of you to come here. All invitations and engagements are cancelled. Now I go to make assessment of my losses - and my not inconsiderable gains! Also to think what must be done - and against whom! First, however, I require a show of allegiance. Answer me now: who stands with Shaitan, recognizing him as his one and true liege Lord?

Radu answered at once: I, Radu Lykan, stand with Shaitan. (In truth he didn't care who he stood with, just as long as he was accepted with a minimum of trouble).

From the others there was momentary silence ... until the Lord of Vampires said: Any who do not stand with me, naturally stand against me ...

At which there was a concerted babble of nightmare voices, as they sought to 'guarantee' their allegiance. For if not, why, Shaitan could pick them off one at a time! And they had already seen what lesser alliances were worth.

The mental gabble picked up, until again Shaitan broke in:

Radu Lykan - Lord Lykan, as you are now -you were first to side with me. Since it seems I now hold sway, I hereby testify to your ascension ... you are Lord Lykan! Moreover, he who would harm you, harms me. (He paused). Except. . . I would hazard from your wolfish ways, and the bark in your mind, that you are a dog-Lord? (And after another pause, a mental shrug). Just so. Wel, and as the dogs of the Szgany are faithful, so shall I expect faithfulness of you. So be it...

But from the other Lords:

What? He has ascended? Just like that? This bold thief of a wolf out of Sunside?

And Shaitan laughed and told them: Aye, and he keeps what he has taken! No payment or repayment due! What? But your losses are small!

For only think what you might lose, should I pursue ... certain investigations? As it stands, the uprising has been put down.

Those Lords who were caught red-handed will pay for it, and let that be the end of it. Shaitan is merciful...

As the psychic aether fel silent, Radu said to Emil Hagisman, 'Now you can take your flyer and return to the Gust. If he asks you what transpired, tell him you told me nothing, and be sure I'll never give you away. Also, if at any future time something should befal Hengor Hagi, you know there's a place for you with me.

Only tell me one more thing before you go.'

'Name it,' the other's relief was plain to see.

'In al of this so far, I've haven't heard a single word out of the Ferenczys. Are they without mentalism, or what?'

'Apparently,' Emil nodded. 'It wil doubtless come with time, as al Wamphyri talents do - though slower in some than in others - but for the moment the Ferenczy brothers are deaf and dumb in the art of telepathy.'

They'l know nothing of my presence here?'

'Oh, be sure they'll know you're here, if not who you are. And they'll know that soon enough, for others are bound to tell them. Then there's the question of Lagula's stolen thrals. But you have Shaitan's protection - for now, at least.'

'He's changeable?'

'As the wind off the Icelands, aye!'

The wind off the Icelands - ' Radu repeated him, nodding thoughtfuly and stroking back his mane. But then he grinned in his wolf fashion, clapped Emil on the shoulder, and barked: ' - Which currently blows in your favour! So be off now to Hengstack, and give my regards to the Gust. Tel him I admired his word-game, and that I look forward to taunting with him again sometime ... "

Thus Radu Lykan ascended to Wolfsden in Starside, in those earliest days of the Wamphyri...

The rest is known.

Radu rose in the ranks of the Wamphyri, and acquired al the 'natural,' monstrous instincts of a Lord almost as a vampire born. Eventualy he incurred the wrath of Shaitan, by which time he was equal in stature to even the greatest of the lesser Lords, and Wolfsden was insufficient to contain his army. Territorial, he looked at the other stacks - al of them occupied now - but especialy he looked at Ferencscar!

Let the bloodwars commence! Radu allied himself with Hengor Hagi, Klaus Lankari, and Thereza Lugosi against the Ferenczys, who were now legion. Lagula Ferenczy had sired a bloodson, Nonari the Gross, and a daughter, Freyda Ferenc, both of whom had ascended in their turn to occupy their own aeries. Rakhi Ferenczy had likewise ascended to a Lord (albeit a lesser one); for Petre Stakis's last bite had been virulent indeed, transfusing or conferring upon Rakhi all the ingredients of a Lord. In short, he had developed a leech of his own.

Still Rakhi fell first. Radu beheaded him, tore out his parasite and devoured it. Rakhi's men and beasts were divided between the victors; straws were drawn for Rakstack, which went to the Gust, who at once gutted the place; Radu and his allies again turned their eyes on Ferencscar, Nonspire and Freydastack. But Freyda, a so-called 'Mother of Vampires,' was no more; she had died spawning a deluge of eggs, al of which save one were diseased and likewise expired.

Ferencscar fell, and finally Lagula Ferenczy - the lone surviving member of that band who had ravaged Radu's innocent sister -must pay the price. A hundred and seventy years had passed since then, but Radu had forgotten and forgiven nothing. The Wamphyri do not forgive. He cut through Lagula's tendons to weaken his joints, put his neck in a silver noose, skewered his limbs with iron hooks, and had him drawn and quartered between straining flyers, so that his blood and his bits fel like red rain down onto the shuddering boulder plains ...

And that would have been that, except now Lagula's bloodson, Nonari the Gross, swore vengeance on Radu and death to his kith, kin, and spawn for al time to come. The impassioned vow of a Lord of the Wamphyri, which might outlast eternity itself. They would have gone at it at once, except a greater peril now united all the Lords, even Radu and Nonari, against a yet more pitiless foe -whose name was Shaitan!

The Lord of Vampires had stood aloof from the bloodwars ... until now. But finaly, when al the others were weakened, Shaitan swooped on the lesser stacks and ate them up in a veritable frenzy of conquest. Until shortly, only two camps left: Shaitan on the one hand, and his Great Enemies on the other.

The stacks under Shaitan's control were many; flesh of his flesh, his own bloodsons and daughters, inhabited them. But one of these (Shaitan's 'true' son, or egg-son, the once-Turgo Zolte, long returned from banishment and grown mighty in Starside) joined now with his father's foes in the longest and bloodiest bloodwar so far ... which in the end Shaitan won.

Then the reckoning, when Hengor Hagi, Klaus Lankari, and Thereza Lugosi were buried alive out on the boulder plains, to stiffen to stones, and Turgo Zolte was banished into the northern Icelands; except he reneged on his punishment and fled east over the Great Red Waste, out of his father's jurisdiction, and presumably to his death. And the Drakuls, Nonari the Gross, and Radu were hurled, along with a handful of surviving thralls and supplicant Szgany, into the Hell-lands Gate; many of whom resurfaced in a land caled Dacia by its Roman overlords, on a great river caled the Danuvius, in a world an entire dimension's remove from Starside, in the year AD

They emerged close to a harbour, where Roman merchants and the soldiers who protected them, along with local Dacians, gathered to buy or barter, and to trade in slaves. And because they arrived by the light of the ful moon it was a joyous time for Radu, when he and his ran free and amok among the sparse local populace ...

Eventually, the Drakuls and theirs went up into the mountains (later the Carpathians), to find or build an aerie; Nonari 'the Gross' Ferenczy fled east from Radu's wrath and took a new name; and Radu crossed the river with his followers, who spread out into al the lands around. And in an age of legends, it was the beginning of a new legend - indeed, of several. The legends of the vampire and the werewolf, and the dark things of night.

As for the place of Radu's resurgence, the barter-camp of the Romans and Dacians, it would have many names down the centuries. But to the superstitious people of that region, who had long memories, it would always be known as Radujevac:

'Where Radu came forth,' of course ...

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