DREAMS IN RESIN
Radu dreamed his olden, less than vivid dreams, and strove to reinstate, restructure them, in the eye of memory. He dreamed of ages past and of the life he'd known then, and of the many lives he'd consumed since then. Crimson dreams of his genesis as a man in a far vampire world; of his monstrous conversion into something other than a man during his time of banishment; of his everlasting (and soon to be on-going) revenge on those who had dared to rape and ruin what little he had loved.
Less than vivid, these dreams of his, aye - unless they were recounted, reinforced, revisited time and again to bring them into nightmare definition in a yet more nightmarish mind. For time has the power to blur and even erase, and these were things that Radu desired to remember forever. During his sleep of centuries they had been his one recourse, his only means of keeping his hatred alive while he waited out his time undead.
He recalled names out of the fading past, names that were cursed for all time to come. Such as the Zirescus: Giorga, Ion, and Lexandru - and the Ferenczys, Lagula and Rakhi, once Lords in Olden Starside. Except all were dead in another time, even another world. Dead by his hand, aye! And Radu relished resurgent memories of how he had dealt with them who had borne those names, and how he would next deal with any survivor, any descendant, when once more he was up and abroad in this new world where his dreams would become the new reality.
True, the resolution of ancient blood-feuds was but a very small part of the overall schemes he'd schemed in his immemorial sleep ... but a delicious part! And it would be for any survivors just as it had been for their ancestors, or worse.
His 'immemorial' sleep ...
Well, immemorial to those he'd left behind - Szgany supplicants, thralls to remember and restore him when his time was nigh - but not to him. For despite the fact that Radu's dreams and memories required constant restoration, still they remained his one true anchor on the dimly echoing past, his one guide to an ever-expanding future ... and still they were red! He saw it even now in the eye of memory: how it had been in another time, another world. And how it was yet to be in this one:
Giorga, that cruel old bastard! Bah! For his death had been too easy ... Flopping about in his own blood, awash in a crimson flood that pulsed from his gaping throat and punctured gut. Air whistling in and out of his sliced windpipe, forming bright red bubbles into a livid froth that stained his beard and speckled his madly puffing face. But the spurting of his life-blood and all his jerking and twitching quickly slowing down as life ebbed. Much too quickly!
And Giorga's son, Lexandru: who had raped Radu's sister, sharing Magda's body - even when life had fled it - with his brother Ion and the Ferenczys. He too had died far too quickly, with a bolt from Radu's crossbow buried in his black heart and Radu's name spraying in red from his disbelieving lips.
And Ion, last and most loathsome of a brutish line:
Ion, with one bolt through his right arm, and another in his shoulder pinning him to a tree. But Radu had promised himself that this time the payment would be cruel as the crime - even so cruel, just so cruel! Magda had been raped, deflowered even unto death, her innocence crushed and ravaged from her as if torn out. So be it...
Ion, hanging there helpless from a crossbow bolt, while Radu's taloned hands caressed him in his body's most delicate parts. Then ... a// of Radu's rage and Wamphyri passion flowing in a single moment into his arms and hands!
In that same moment Ion Zirescu had lost everything, even the lower pipes of his body: dislocated, wrenched out of place, and left dangling like lumpy red rags! Not surprisingly, he had lost consciousness, too, and would have gone on losing enough blood that he. would never wake up -except Radu would not let it go to waste, not all of it. And while there was yet a pulse in his victim's jugular, he had buried a wolfs fangs in it to draw of the remainder of Ion's life.
Ah, how he had slaked his awful thirst, giving nothing of himself but draining all from the other, even to the dregs ...
Blood! It was what Radu had needed, what his parasite vampire leech needed. It was the nectar of life -
- It had been the life, and would be again, when he was up, up, up from his gluey grave! No, not a grave but a refuge, a sanctuary. From men, and from ancient enemies who were other than men, and from time itself. But especially a sanctuary from that Greatest of all Destroyers, which had finally determined his fate. Black it had been, and Black its name. Black as the swarming rats that brought it out of the east ...
As for men: they'd been naive as children when first Radu and the others out of Starside came among them. Their sciences were young, their superstitions many, and their blood sweet as any to be found on Sunside in that far vampire world of Radu's youth. Even so, their weapons had been deadly, and their courage unbelievable. In the first hundred, two hundred years, the vampire and werewolf had flourished; aeries and lairs had been erected or excavated in the mountains, and men had shunned the wooded foothills of the Carpati Meridional! and lands around.
In the beginning, ranging far and wide, Radu and his various packs had ravaged among the colonial setlements north of the Danube - even to the point of harassing a Roman garrison's three cohorts, which were permanently stationed there to man forts strung out between the river and foothills, protection for the trade and supply routes. A fairly easy target, the garrison was residual of a much earlier XIHth Legion; its soldiers had mainly setled the land around; they were as much 'locals' as the Dacians themselves.
But despite that they were only three cohorts of the original legion, the title 'the 13th' stuck, and the troubles Radu brought them quickly earned them a prefix: the 'Unlucky' 13th. From which time forward that number had been known as a symbol of il-fortune among the Romans and others, and eventualy the entire world, even as it had been in Sunside/Starside.
Night-skirmishing with legionnaires along the river and in the Dacian hamlets: ah, but that had been a grand and dangerous game! One time, Radu had been taken in an animal trap.
... Given a knock on the head that near-brained him, he'd come to on a Roman ship on the Danube, on course for the Black Sea and eventualy Rome itself, and doubtless the Games! Several of his pack were with him, taken with common wolves in nets or pitfalls. Perhaps their captors considered them a new species!
Wel, so they were, in a way. There were also caged bears, and wild boars from the woods of eastern Pannonia, chests of local gold in thumb-sized ingots, barrels of spices, and wines galore in racks of amphorae. A varied cargo.
But the wolf is a wily beast, and the werewolf even more so; while the sheer physical strength of a Lord of the Wamphyri... is awesome! The oak-staved cages were like so much kindling in Radu's hands. And above decks a ful moon rode high in the Dacian sides, and the night was by no means done ...
The ship had beached itself near Zimnicea; its crew, and a handful of legionnaires retiring out of the army and returning to their homelands, were found hanging by their heels from the rigging, naked, pale and bloodless. But despite that their bodies had been ripped apart and their throats torn out, there was litle of actual blood to be discovered. Later, local Dacians had paid for this atrocity; a hamlet in the foothills, wel known for the rebellious nature of its citizens, was put to the sword and razed to the ground.
It stil amused Radu to think of it: how he had freed the wild creatures to swim ashore, stolen much of the wine and destroyed what couldn't be carried away. As for the gold ... wel, in his way Lord Radu, too, had been naive in those early times. And gold had been common in Starside.
He'd seen no use for the heavy stuff; his thralls had thrown a fortune overboard! There it had stayed (for al he knew) in the silt of a shallow reach of the river for over fifteen hundred years. If ever he revisited those parts, he would know where to find it again.
But there had been two other items of cargo that Radu had found much more interesting, which years later he had cause to remember and utilize: several amphorae filed with a glutinous golden liquid, at first mistaken for honey; and ... a chest of yellow stones? The first was resin, used throughout the Mediterranean as a preservative in wine, and the second was fossilized resin, turned hard as rock and rounded by the Baltic into polished amber pebbles. And Lord Radu - originally an untutored nomad, litle more than a savage from the woods of a paralel world, then a mutated Lord on the dark side of that world, now finaly a werewolf in this world -had seen the connection between the two, and might wel have been one of the first men ever to see it.
For on Starside it had been the practice of certain Lords of the Wamphyri to bury defeated enemies alive (or undead) out on the boulder plains, to 'stiffen to stones' and fuse with the earth in their deep and inescapable graves. But in this case it was different - here the preserving resin itself had stiffened, keeping intact whatever was caught within. For the translucent, softly glowing pebbles had contained flies and beetles trapped in the exuded life-fluids of coniferous forests dead and gone for countless years.
Radu had no idea of the span of time, of the aeons it had taken to turn resin to amber, but the principle had astonished him all the same. Especially when he examined some of the specimens locked in the amber: such as a perfectly preserved dragonfly, or an ant with a fragment of leaf still clearly visible in its mandibles. These creatures were dead, of course, and in the terms of men might well have been dead 'forever.' But what if a Lord of the Wamphyri should choose to preserve himself in this fashion? What, a metamorphic vampire, with self-regenerating flesh? And from that time forward Radu had worn an amber bauble, with its captive insect intact, on a slender chain of gold around his neck ...
Amber: the ultimate end product of resin.
Resin: the blood of great pines ... which fifteen hundred years ago, and indeed in far more recent times, had covered the mountain slopes like winter fur on a beast's hide; not only the granite mountains of inhospitable Scottish regions but those of far, foreign parts as well. No shortage of resin, no! Two centuries after Radu's coming, all the Greeks in the Mediterranean had been using countless tons of the stuff just to cure their wines! And if Radu's 'contemporaries' - the Drakuls, for instance - had thought to bring native earth from their aeries in Starside for their beds here in this world, then why not a bed of amber for a sleep of centuries?
For long and long, years without number, the idea had lain dormant in Radu's head without his even suspecting it was there. But when he'd needed it...
Resin: a preservative with medicinal properties. A shield against the ravages of time. Perhaps even a cure for a terrible curse that in this world was as devastating as leprosy in Starside. Well, that last wasn't proven as yet, but -
- What was that...?
Radu's 'dreams' were more nearly conscious thoughts now, so that the very slightest of tremors which he'd felt through the walls of his sarcophagus and the near-solid matrix of his resin cocoon had seemed like a presence entering the room of a man on the verge of waking. He had sensed - something! Or someone? Or perhaps it was merely the mountains settling onto their foundations, as they had been doing for all of the six hundred years he'd lain here. He hadn't called, had he? It wasn't time yet, was it? Soon, but not yet. So ... could it have been his creature, stirring with hideous life where it waxed in its own great vat? Possibly. He would 'feel' such motions, certainly, for its mind and flesh were of his making. And so:
Gently, little one, gently, Radu sleepily sent. Your time is soon, be sure ... but not before mine. So have no fear, for your master shall be there to bring you forth ...
There was no answer, and Radu hadn't expected one. It was simply a tremor in these old and fractured rocks, that was al. He could go back to his dreaming: of men and monsters, time and the plague, and of his eventual flight from al these things.
The Romans. But the Empire had been on the wane, at least in the parts where Radu and the others came forth. Aye, for the Goths were coming, and they were only a very smal part of what else was coming! Such wars, such batles, such blood! The blood was the life! And the diversity of blood, in this new world! No wonder that at first these hel-lands had seemed like some sort of Wamphyri heaven or paradise. Oh really...?
Men, and their wars ... (Radu gradually settled back into his sleep of centuries).
During long years of upheaval, the Wamphyri had moved into the
mountain heights and spread out into the lands around, even into other lands across the sea; indeed, into all the shores of the Mediterranean and its islands. For they had seen the folly of their ways when first they came here; they had been too bold and had become legends which would not fade quickly in the memories of men. But if they desired long lives here, they must be (or at least appear to be) as one with the world and its people and not apart from them.
And slowly but surely they had come to a mutual understanding: that in this bloody and war-torn world, they would use to best advantage such cover as the wars established for them. And indeed a cover had been required.
For already it was seen how men reacted to the Wamphyri presence: fearfully at first, in a world rife with superstition - but then, like the Szgany of Sunside, they fought back! For while men may suffer their lands to be stolen, their children to be eaten and their wives seduced away, when finally they have nothing left, then there's nothing left to lose! And then any man wil fight!
That was how it had been: the alien invaders of Earth had thought to rule by terror, as they had in Sunside/Starside.
But even there they had not had it all their own way. Through seemingly endless days the sun had forbidden entry into Sunside; in the dark of misty nights the Szgany had hidden themselves away, or if they could not hide had taken up arms. Likewise in this world, except here it was worse. Here the nights were fleeting things and allowed so little time for the vampire Lords to establish themselves; and the days . . . were terrible! The furnace sun passed directly overhead, and there were no barrier mountains to contain its searing rays, or the rage of vengeful men.
Oh, there were mountains, to be sure - and such mountains: the vast horseshoe of the Carpatii in the east, and the mighty Alps in the west -but unlike the barrier mountains of Sunside/Starside, the solar orb was not restricted by them, and at its zenith burned down on all and everything indiscriminately. As for the great armies of nomad tribesmen that were sweeping the world at that time: where mountains could not be climbed, they could always be circumvented . . . and they were. By warriors!
By men who had known how to destroy their enemies, even the Wamphyri, and destroy them utterly; known how a bolt or a lance through the heart would kill a man, and how his head on a lance would guarantee he was dead ... then how to reduce his castle and its contents to ashes, until nothing of him or his survived. Such methods were simply the way of the warrior, and by no means reserved for the Wamphyri and their followers. For in a majority of cases the invaders who used them - first the Goths, later the Visigoths and Avars - did not even know they went up against the Wamphyri! No, for they were merely murdering rich Dacian landowners in their gloomy castles, or strange, savage grey halflings in their foothill keeps and caverns.
And because of the times, times of change, tumult, and crisis -indeed the crisis of an entire Classical World - the as yet young legend of the Wamphyri, of the blood-crazed vampire and werewolf, was almost eradicated. What need for monstrous myths in a world that was in reality a bloodbath? Forty years after Radu's coming the Visigoths had sacked Rome itself, and forty-five years later it had fallen again, to the Vandals; except on that occasion Radu had been part of it. For like most of the Wamphyri exiled from Starside by Shaitan, he was unable to resist blood, certainly not in such copious amounts.
War, to which he was drawn as a lodestone is drawn north. And such wars to be warred as nothing conceived in Starside by even the mightiest of the Old Lords. And down all the years and decades, Radu was a great mercenary washed hither and to by the tides of war and blood. He used his gift of oneiromancy - not uncommon among dog-Lords - to scry on future times and know in advance which side to join in the great wars to come. And likewise he remained alert for word of those olden enemies who came through the Hell-lands Gate with him. And time and again Radu cursed himself that he'd not dealt with them then, on the very threshold of this new world, when they were at their weakest.
But then, he had been at his weakest, too, for a time.
Rumours found their way to Radu. Employed as a mercenary warlord by the Vandal Gaeseric (who dubbed him 'Radu, Hound of the Night,' because he preferred guerilla warfare by the light of a full moon), he learned of the alleged death of one
'Onarius Ferengus,' a provincial senator (what, Roman?) murdered by pirates in his villa at Odessus on the Black Sea ten years earlier. This he had from a Numidian slave-girl, Ulutu, set free when Gaeseric's forces sacked Rome. Upon a time she'd belonged to Onarius, but she had fled from the fire and the fighting on the night he was killed. And from Ulutu's descriptions of her ex-master ...
... Radu had little doubt but that he had been none other than Nonari the Gross Ferenczy!
And in Radu's keeping, where he and his pack spent their days in a den under the Colli Albani twelve miles out of Rome, Ulutu fell under her new master's spell (and Radu, to a lesser degree, under hers); and they were lovers. But because he had enough of 'pups' up in the mountains of Dacia, now Goth territory, and because he had learned that anonymity and insularity were synonymous with longevity, he made sure that Ulutu stayed entirely human; which is to say that for all that he was into her, nothing of him got into her. And at times, lying spent on their bed of cured furs, at Radu's request she would tell him various things about her former master.
Just how Nonari the Gross had gained elevation to the rank of a Roman Senator in absentia during the eighty-odd years sped by since the coming of the Wamphyri into Dacia - that was anybody's guess. But the way the girl described his castle, backed up to a great cliff, with his private chambers facing away from the sun and always in the shade; and his servants, 'like mists over a bubbling swamp, drifting, pale and ghastly, yet smiling with strong white teeth ... all wafting and weaving, hastening to Onarius's beck and call, yet shuddering to his touch so cold and menacing; and his right hand like a club, with its fingers all welded into one ...'
He had called her 'his little trog,' and had told her that he'd known trogs before, in the dank caverns of a far forbidden world.
Except they had been shambling leathery creatures, while Ulutu was graceful and her skin so soft. It had never ceased to amaze him: that she'd been browned by the sun, 'but yet was not burned up!' But Onarius's odalisques were white - Arabs, Britons, and Syrians - and he had no time for dalliance with trogs, even if they were as beautiful as Ulutu. And so she had carried water, cleaned Onarius's chambers, and been grateful. For she knew how he dealt with them with whom he 'dallied.' Or rather, she did not know, for he was wary of prying eyes.
But she had seen the evidence of his passion, apparent in the feral yellow eyes of his male and female thralls alike, and in their 'wafting and weaving' after only a very short space of time spent in his service; even in certain of the villa's children, which were gross. She had seen how rapidly his odalisques aged and his thralls were worn down - 'sucked dry, until they were no more,' - and how when they died he buried them deep in the earth where the rocky land sloped down to the sea, with the rush and roar of breakers to deaden ... other sounds.
Onarius had a son in the mountains far to the north, in a place called the Khorvaty in Moldavia. (Here Radu had paid more attention. What, another living Ferenczy?) He was called Belos Pheropzis (not Ferengus? No, of course not, not if one desired to hide one's true kith and kin away!) and kept a great castle in the heights, on the very borders of the Empire's territory. All secret from Romans and nomad invaders alike, the place was to be Onarius's bolt-hole, in the event he should need one.
As to how Onarius's 'little trog' had known these things: she had feared this Belos mightily when he visited his father, because of the way he looked at her - the way he looked at all females, even his father's thrall mistresses! Yet at the same time she had been fascinated by him: his dark good looks, hawkish features, massive yet proportionate stature. Keeping well out of sight, she'd listened to their conversations, mainly to ensure that Belos did not ask for her. For if he had, then she would have run away.
But when Radu had queried her one time, about this attraction that she'd felt towards Belos:
'No, my Lord,' Ulutu had told him, lying sprawled between his legs and fondling his now flaccid rod, squeezing its glans between her dark breasts, and kissing its tiny lips, 'perhaps I have given you the wrong impression. It was not so much fascination as terror that I felt. For this Belos was like one of the great warhorses that draw the Roman chariots ... and what was I but a tiny black mare? I was a slave, and if this son of Onarius had wanted me ... I scarcely believed I could contain him in my small body!' (At which she had seen her mistake at once, for Radu was fiercely prideful). ' - But, since it seems I contain you well enough, my Lord, obviously I was mistaken! Whichever, this Belos frightened me, seeming more creature than man, more animal than human.'
'What, even as I am more creature than man, more animal than human?' Radu had reached down to fondle her soft breasts and draw Ulutu effortlessly up onto his belly, where he could squeeze her dark and rounded buttocks.
'You are a wolfling, as I've seen,' she had told him then. 'But Belos . . . was other!' And Radu had felt her small shudder.
Aye, and Ulutu was right: Belos was 'other.' No slightest shadow of a doubt, he was this Onarius's (or Nonari's) egg-son. Wamphyri! Which perhaps explained his looks and appetites, and the reason why he and his damned father were so close. Or maybe that last was as a result of the wars, the shaken, perhaps even crumbling Roman Empire, the unstable skein of things in general. For even the best Wamphyri relationship could scarcely be described as 'close,' not in normal circumstances. But that apart, quite obviously this ... this scum of Starside had bred one of its own here in this world! An egg-son for Nonari! A Ferenczy!
Well, so be it. It simply meant there'd be one more Ferenczy for Radu to hunt down when all wars were won and times were right, and the world was quiet again. And as for this so-called 'Onarius Feren-gus' ... dead, was he? Radu didn't think so. More likely it was some grand contrivance, the entire scenario, some scheme of Nonari's to vanish a while, and come back later under a new name and in a different guise. The idea was interesting, something Radu could even try for himself in some future time, when it might seem to some that he had lived too long ...
Radu's dreams had set his juices working however sluggishly. Dreams of his undying hatred for the Ferenczys, his charnel love of the battlefield, but especially his carnal memories of Ulutu.
Ah, Ulutu! She had loved his horn, and it had been hard to will his spunk lifeless when he spurted in her. But if she had fallen pregnant ... then she had also fallen dead, be sure! For Radu was not like Nonari, making vampires left, right and centre, to plague him in a later age, His pups were enough for him. They had known his bite and bore his curse - that of the moonchild, the changeling, the werewolf - but not liis seed. There would be time for bloodsons, and eventually an egg-son, later, when he could afford the time to train, control, and bend them to his wil. But in that savage world of fifteen hundred years ago, Radu Lykan had control over nothing! Even kings and emperors had controled nothing! Only the restless forces of Nature, Change, and Chaos had any control at al...
But Ulutu: Radu had biten her during intercourse, a love bite, but much too deep. She would never be Wamphyri - wel, not for a long, long time at least, if she lived that long - but she would be a wolfling, bound to Radu as his thral. Very wel, she could run with the pack and be his mate, for as long as it lasted. Alas, but that hadn't been long. Gaeseric's advisers, who earlier in the campaign had welcomed Radu's pack as 'mercenary warriors without peer - men who fight like dogs of the wild!' now gave their lord different advice. Oh, it had seemed a grand irony at first, a marvelous jest, that a great city founded by wolf-suckled brothers should be brought to its knees in part by a wolfish man, this so-caled Hound of Night, with his band of howling berserks. But the city had falen now and Radu and his lot had been paid off. And who could say, perhaps they had even been paid ... too wel?
For what were they after al but mercenaries? And only a handful by comparison with the true Vandal army. No match for Gaeseric, if he should decide to take back what tribute he had paid them. Aye, and these wolves of war kept many comely women plundered out of Rome, and measures of good red wine likewise sacked from the city, which they held in their cavern lair in the mountains with the rest of their loot...
A man of Gaeseric's had come to Radu in the early evening with news of a legion mustering in the north, and Roman galeys from the Eastern Empire puting men and ordnances ashore south of the Tiberis. And these were Gaeseric's orders:
Radu was to send one-third of his men to spy out the land to the north, and he and the rest were to harass the sea-borne invasion at the mouth of the river; which in the same night he set out to do ... only to discover that there were no such reinforcements for the ravaged city! Nor had there been. Then he remembered how he'd dreamed dreams of treachery, and saw when he rushed back to his lair under the mountains how his dreams were true: smoke and fire issuing from the great cavern's outlets, and the ravished bodies of the pack's women strewn among the coarse grasses at the mouth of the cave! Even Ulutu, with blood under her nails from the fight she'd put up.
At which it was as much as Radu could do to keep himself from screaming aloud. It was not that she was dead - he might even have kiled her himself, had circumstances required it - but more the way of her death. For it brought back to him memories of his own sister's rape and murder at the hands of Zirescu and Ferenczy scum, in Sunside in a different world.
And finaly he did scream, except it was a howl that went vibrating up to the sinking moon. And a ful moon, at that...
There were Vandals in the heights around the cavern and in the defile that led to it. They had thought that Radu would not be back until ful daylight, which would be to their advantage for he was a night fighter. Yet here he was, albeit weary from his abortive journey to the coast and back. By comparison Radu's hundred was a handful, while Gaeseric's ambush party, a formidable assault unit, outnumbered them four to one.
But despite that the two sides were unequal, and that the Vandals held the high ground, still their advantage was not so great as might be reckoned. Not against furious, vengeful men, and men who were werewolves at that! So the batle was joined, as bloody as might be imagined.
It was the twilight before the dawn, when the eyes of men may not be trusted. But the eyes of wolves are feral; they see in the twilight just as wel as in the night.
Also, a mist was rising ... a vampire mist, conjured out of Radu's pores and up from the bone-dry earth! But al in vain; the pack was beaten from the start, almost before it began. For they must strike up at the ambushers, while the Vandals need only strike down. And Radu's wolflings fought in ragged clothes, with staves, knives, axes, and their bare hands and fierce teeth; while the Vandals had leather armour, lances, bows and primitive crossbows. (And that last was an irony in itself, for it had been the Wamphyri who brought the first crossbows with them out of Sunside/Starside. In their world the crossbow had been a Traveler weapon, which the vampire Lords had neither the skill nor the patience to duplicate or manufacture for themselves in this one. As for the few entirely human Szgany thrals they had brought through with them: they had become scatered among the peoples of this new world. Aye, and al their skills with them. Hence that the Vandals had crossbows).
Yet still Radu's pups slew three to one, except there was always a fourth to come. And pierced by lances, feathered with red-streaming shafts, one by one they went down. And al their tribute stolen, their women raped and butchered, finaly their very lives forfeit to the treachery of the Vandals ...
The sun rose on a hillside that seemed to smoke from al the blood and urine, al the sweat and guts and foulness that had been spiled there; four hundred and ten bodies reeking under the hot sun. But Radu and two of his lieutenants had survived; seeing how al was lost, they'd crept away through Radu's mist to find refuge in a deep dark crevice till nightfal.
And coiled like a snake in the cool dank of their hiding place, and wiling his leech to heal his several wounds, Radu had vowed a Wamphyri vow where he sheltered - not only against Gaeseric and the
Vandals but against mankind in general. For so far Radu had been the most 'lenient' of al the Lords, the most 'human' of an inhuman lot. But that was over now.
What, treacherous, the Wamphyri? Hah! For now it seemed to Radu that those old Starside Lords had been the veriest beginners in the ways of the traitor! And as for cruelty ...
The lust of the vampire was that of a man, increased tenfold by his parasite. When he raped it was because he must! His passions, rages, delights, al of his emotions were larger than life or even undeath. He could no more turn away from a shapely woman than a drunkard refuse a jack of wine, or the furnace sun hold still in the sky. He could no more resist blood than a fly avoid fresh dung, or the tides resist the pul of the moon. For the blood was the life! But the men of this world - Romans and barbarians alike - they fucked simply because it was there; not because they were driven to it, but because it was right of the conqueror! To the victor the spoils!
And while the vampire as often as not created life - or undeath - the men of this world invariably destroyed it. Radu had seen how it was when Gaeseric and his Vandals stormed Rome; he had seen how inhuman were these humans. And as for the 'civilized' Romans: why, in the Eastern Empire they would crucify a man for stealing a loaf of bread!
Wel, Radu was half-way between the two, or so he'd liked to fancy. As much wolf as man, yes, but more wolf than vampire. That was how he'd seen himself: greater than a mere man by virtue of his strength and awesome vampire powers, yet superior to the Wamphyri by virtue of the last lingering traces of his humanity!
A paradox but a fact. Oh, realy? And again, hah! Wel, so much for humanity! And this was the final change, the true change, the last straw that turned a man to a pitiless monster.
But naive? Aye, he'd been that. In Sunside, naive. Looking back, he knew that he'd always had the measure of the Ferenczys and Zirescus. But he'd been a mere youth and inexperienced. And in his Starside aerie, naive: to believe he stood the slightest chance against Shaitan the Unborn, yet still he'd gone against him.
Finaly in this world, oh so naive. The golden ingots he'd thrown in a river believing them worthless - while in fact men would kill for them! The way he'd made werewolves to run with him, when he should have stayed a loner. Last but not least, to have sold himself to a warlord, and think he'd actualy be paid for his services and accepted as an equal!
What, an equal? Radu Lykan? But he had the measure of al these so-caled 'warriors.' Their only advantage was that they were men, and could live here as men.
Ah, but in the long term time was on Radu's side. He could outlive them al ... if only they would let him!
And so, with al such notions as 'honour,' 'trust', and 'faith' put aside forever, a new strategy was needed. From now on Radu would honour neither man nor creature, but only his own vows. He would trust no one, not even his pups, but continualy assert his wil and ensure that his word was law. He would have faith only in himself, and in the blood which is the life.
And above al, he would be the most secretive and watchful of men, so that no one could know him, or come upon him unsuspected.
So, perhaps old 'Onarius Ferengus' had got it right and Radu should find himself a position, elevate himself, and prepare bolthole dens and lairs along the way, with caretakers to keep them in his absence. Then, like Nonari the Gross Ferenczy, he would be able to venture forth in the world as before, indulging himself as never before, but always knowing there would be a refuge jn needful times, or when the number of his years was such that he should 'retire' a while.
Or perhaps he misjudged Nonari and that one had not gone into hiding since his 'murder' as a Roman senator but was out and about, reveling in al the great reel and roil of things. If so, no doubt he'd come to Radu's atention again, when the time was ripe for him to rise up in other parts. And who could say, perhaps then the time would also be ripe for 'Onarius' to vanish forever? Likewise his egg-son, this Belos Pheropzis.
These were some of Radu's thoughts, and some of the plans he made, while hiding the day away in a hole in the ground ...
Came the night. One of Radu's pups had died of too many cuts in his side, which had leaked al his blood away. He had gone uncomplainingly, simply stiffening where he crouched. The crevice would make as good a grave as any; Radu and the other survivor of Gaeseric's treachery had dropped stones on him from on high, to block the crevice and keep away any lesser wolves and wild dogs from the body of their ex-coleague.
Then away into the night under a moon that was still ful, heading north for the Appenino heights that stretched the ful length of Italia. For in a land overrun by Vandals, that would be the safest route out.
Werewolves run swift. The next night, up in the mountains, the pair met up with other survivors, men of the pack that Radu had sent north to spy on the aleged legion massing there. They had their own story to tell: of a vile ambush not twenty miles along the river north of Rome, which had left forty-two of them dead.
Only eight had been lucky; they'd somehow managed to swim to safety across the river, and left Gaeseric's lot bogged down in their armour with al their weaponry. After that, like Radu, the eight had made for the heights, for they'd known that they were dupes.
So ten of them now, ten of a hundred and fifty. Wel, and that must suffice, for Radu would make no more werewolves for a while ...
He started ... a nervous twitch of his limbs that spent itself uselessly in his resin matrix. Not enough to wake him entirely, but enough to make certain subconscious connections, so that he dreamily wondered:
But is there someone here, someone coming? What was it he thought he had heard, footsteps? But footsteps, in this riddled rock, which barring the furtive creep of spiders and fluter of bats had been so long silent? Perhaps a stone had roted out of the high ceiling, and the thunder of its fal had caused him to dream of a past age when he had piled boulders on the body of a dead coleague ... and secondary shocks had caused him to start? Yes, that must be it.
Yesss. That must... be ... it...
After Rome Radu had taken his much reduced party north to the Danube, then east through the forests and mountains, and eventualy down into the Dacian territories that they knew so wel. This was Lombard, Ostrogoth and Hun territory now, but south of the river the people were mainly Christian. Radu himself had no religion except blood; the superstitions and beliefs of local Dacians made little or no difference to him, except Christian-held land made safer journeying than land under the control of the barbarians.
In any case it wasn't his intention to stay south of the river; finaly he headed north again for the mountains of what would much later become Walachia. For he believed that in taking the high ground he would be secure a while from the bloody tides of war washing al around on the fertile plains below.
In this he was correct. The mountains were mainly barren and inhospitable. Unatractive to invaders, they contained little or nothing of value; Radu knew he could safely recruit the hardy locals for the building of a castle, an aerie of his own in a place as high and inaccessible as he could find.
That would require funds, of course, but he had learned a valuable lesson: that while wine and women can do a man a power of good, gold can do him even more.
And on his way from Rome to Dacia he had not been remiss in accumulating monies. There had been Romans fleeing the barbarian slaughter of their land; Radu had slaughtered them, for their wealth. There'd been parties of Vandals scathing in the land around; he'd done some scathing of his own, taking back what they had stolen. Finaly, on the Danube, there had been a last handful of Roman merchants and traders. Radu had traded death for their blood and their gold.
And journeying through the nights and paying his way during the days in Christian camps and villages, he'd listened to rumours and learned a new word which the local folk associated with the devil and every evil thing. But this word was in fact a name, one that had filtered through the high passes and from far across the mountains. It was the name of a family - or of a curse now - and one that was by no means new to Radu:
Upon a time Karl and Egon had been Radu's alies against Shaitan the Unborn; now they were his greatest threat, in that they continued to scourge among the horseshoe of the high Dacian mountains, so bringing themselves into unnecessary prominence. Unlike Radu - who had developed a certain tolerance for weak sunlight, until he could abide to venture out in a hooded cloak - the Drakuls were true children of the night; sunlight would kill them instantly. But they'd developed their metamorphism to such a degree that like Shaitan the Unborn they could shape themselves into bats to fly out in the night and so take their prey.
And they'd been doing it ever since. Moreover, in Starside they had been reared by wolves. They knew wolves, and in this world kept grey brothers as familiar creatures. Wolves of the wild kept watch for them, by means of which the Drakuls were secure in their aerie and feared no man.
For the moment it worked for them, hence the rumours now finding their way to Radu. For the barbarian invaders who were settling the plains north of the mountains were no less superstitious than the locals they usurped. And when their wives or children died mysteriously or vanished in the night, then they knew who to blame: the winged devil in his mountain retreat - the 'obour' or 'viesky,' the vampire - the Drakul! The brothers had long since built a castle or castles in no-man's-land, at least one of which aeries stood on a rocky promontory over a chasm.
This much Radu learned, and no more. Sufficient to determine him to avoid the error of bringing himself into prominence. And he kept reminding himself: anonymity and obscurity are synonymous with longevity. The Drakuls were true legends now; when al the fighting was over and done with and Dacia was united as a single tribe or country, then the people would remember these monsters and go looking for them. But even if the locals should forget, be sure that Radu Lykan would not. Territorial the Wamphyri, aye, and this place was where Radu had come forth.
And anyway, there'd never been much love lost between him and Karl and Egon in the first place.
Ever vengeful - and smiling grimly, if only to himself - Radu dreamed