THE PIT-THING - THE CLIMB - THE EXAMPLE
Harry was back in his hotel room. He dumped his smal but heavy burlap sacks and unzipped his jacket into a wardrobe, deflating himself like a marquee with a snapped kingpost. Then, moving at a frenzied pace, he was out again.
At Le Manse Madonie: only nine or ten seconds had passed; the Francezci brothers were at the outer vault door, where Tony expertly spun the combination lock in a sequence that disarmed the alarms. But already Francesco was asking: 'Why did he lock the fucking place up again? And how did he - how could he - get past us on his way out? Or
... is he still here, one of us?' He glared all about, at the small party of thralls gathered in the tunnel.
They stared back at his writhing features, the unequivocal guarantee of murder written clear in his scarlet eyes and flaring, convoluted nostrils.
Tony had the outer door open; he made to step through into the airlock section . . . paused, lifted his head, and sniffed at the air. And, nostrils gaping, he inhaled frantically, disbelievingly - then choked and grabbed his brother's elbow.
They all smelled it at the same time: gas!
Tear-gas, in the ventilation system!
The lieutenants and thralls reacted instantly: they stumbled about in the tunnel, coughing and choking, blinded by their own tears, as the atmosphere became tinged with a trace of yellow from the tunnel's ducts. But a trace was enough.
Not enough for the Francezcis, however. Not yet. Wamphyri, they had more control over their bodies. The gas couldn't hurt if they didn't breathe it in. Their eyes wouldn't sting if they shuttered them with transparent membranes.
The membranes would sting, but sight would remain unimpaired for a while at least.
Francesco put the second combination to rights as his men began to
leave the tunnel, staggering away through the reek of the place, colliding with each other, their torches probing the misty-yellow, gradually thickening atmosphere. He spun the dial this way and that, and finally swung the door open -on an inferno!
Hot metal had set fire to paper money and burlap; shelving sprawled in twisted disarray; art treasures lay blackened, broken in the roil of dense smoke and fumes. Electrical conduits burned, sparked, sputtered. Flames licked up the rear wall and gouted on the ceiling, emitting the greasy black smoke and gut-wrenching stench of destruction, as fabulous oil paintings submitted to the heat. A wall of heat came scorching out of the strong-room!
There were fire extinguishers, but many of them were damaged, blasted loose from their seatings on the walls. It took quite some time for the Francezcis to find two that were still working, and a lot longer to bring the wreckage of the treasure vault under a semblance of control. And of course they must do it themselves in the stinging yellow fog, through all the tears and blood and rage of their hellish vampire eyes -for as yet their thralls were only human after all...
Harry emerged from the Continuum at Humph's co-ordinates deep underground - where the American's unauthorized explorations had been challenged more than forty years ago, and from which he'd been marched under escort before his employers - in that wide, spiralling stairwell that led upwards to the junction of five tunnels and downwards ... to what? A secret place that no one was allowed to see. Which was why the Necroscope must see it.
It was very confusing. He told himself it was to satisfy his 'natural curiosity,' but in fact it was to satisfy B.J.'s post-hypnotic command that he seek out the Wamphyri. Oh, she'd yet to turn him loose officially, but he knew her purpose, and it had become his. It would have been his purpose anyway, whatever the circumstances; but at the same time he'd been ordered to store away whatever information he discovered -to 'forget it,' place it in limbo - until B.J. or Radu brought about its resurgence.
The result of which was that he was now here, investigating a monstrous survival, a powerful and esoteric branch of the most dreadful 'dynasty' to ever infest mankind with its evil - the Ferenczys. And on this level he worked without conscious thought with regard to any outcome, but certainly with regard to his own safety. He was in thrall, but he was still Harry Keogh ...
Down here, there was as yet no tainted air. In these nethermost extremes of Le Manse Madonie, the performance of the air conditioning system was at its slowest, the circulation languid at best. But up above ... Harry could hear the hoarse shouting, the crying of men scrambling for fresh air. And they wouldn't find it until they were out of the building proper, out in the night. That was good, for they wouldn't be coming down here.
On the other hand Harry knew his own limitations, too. He was sure that the tear-gas would soon find its way through the system and back to him. Wherefore time was of the essence.
He went down the spiralling steps through several complete revolutions, until he arrived at a door formed of parallel bars of steel set in vertical stanchions. A warning sign - an openly displayed red lightning flash - warned that the bars were electrified. Beyond the door the floor was fairly level but uneven, and showed the natural stratification of rock; the place was a cave at the terminal point, the very lowest level, of Le Manse Madonie's excavations.
Well back from the bars on Harry's side of the door, there were twin, rubber-handled switches set in a panel bolted to the wall. One of these was marked with a lightning flash; the other was likewise pictorial, showing a series of horizontal bars. It couldn't be simpler. Harry threw both switches, waited until a mechanism hummed and the bars slid from left to right through the housing stanchion. The door stood deactivated, and open.
Of course the Necroscope could have simply taken the Mobius route into the natural cavern beyond the door, but he'd been interested in the operation of the mechanism; plainly the technology here antedated Humph's vault doors.
Also, this door was never intended to keep people out - which gave Harry pause as he stepped across the threshold into the dimly-lit cave beyond.
There was a nest of supplementary light switches mortared to the wall; when he switched them on, a battery of spotlights high in the walls lit the cave with a briliance that was dazzling. It took a few moments for Harry's eyes to adjust. Then he saw that the main focus of the spotlights was the mouth of a great circular well whose wall was of massive blocks of old hewn masonry.
The Necroscope took it all in at a glance: the well, its electrified wire-mesh cover, the hoist with its metal platform, throwing a gallow's shadow across the mouth of the well... or the pit? And the deeper shadows, sharp-etched, marching away into the cavern's unseen corners. But the walled pit was definitely the place's centre of focus. And perhaps 'well' was a better description after all; Harry could make out a thin mist issuing from its throat, vaporizing on contact with the cover.
That this place was a facility, that it was used, however infrequently, was obvious. The door, spotlights, hoist, electrification ... all of these things spoke volumes however inarticulately. But what was it used for?
In the very instant of his inwards-directed question, the Necroscope was warned not to ask it. Too late; Harry's
'natural curiosity' had let him down; his mental guard was down, and his every thought was like a spoken word to the dead. Of which Le Manse Madonie - and the 'pit' in
particular - had more than its fair share. They might have remained silent, but his query; 'What was this place used for?' galvanized or even shocked them into grotesque activity. It had been akin to showing the long-healed victims of some hideous torture the implements of their suffering. Except it was much worse, for these victims were not yet healed.
The use of this place, of the pit? But they had been part of its use - as they were even now part of the creature in the pit! And while he, it, was not quite insane, they were - driven mad, because they remembered what they had been, and knew what they'd become.
The Necroscope gaped; his jaw fell open in that same split second; the short hairs stood up stiff at the back of his neck, because he sensed the coming onslaught. But this time - however strangely, inexplicably -he was ready for it. He somehow knew these people ... he had heard their dead voices before, but had forgotten them because they were part of something that he had been ordered to forget. Now, however, he was once more performing in that earlier 'mode,' so that for the time being his subconscious memory was intact again. And:
Him! (The one with the small, timid voice).
He was here befoooore! (The one who growled).
He's back! back! back! (A voice that seemed to echo).
He didn't listen, didn't run! (The agonized girl, her pain still fresh in her incorporeal mind).
He must be as mad as we are - har, har, haaarrrrgh! (The utterly crazed one, whose 'laughter' had sounded like bullets, and now sounded like a soul tearing).
But all of them beating on Harry's metaphysical mind simultaneously, so that he had difficulty sorting them out; beating almost physically, great hammerblows of passion, rage, or terror. And not only for themselves but for him.
'Dead!' the Necroscope heard himself gasp out loud. 'But where? How?' Again that question. And in answer: Here! (All of them in unison, explaining the where of it). In the pit! And another voice - like the breath of hell, like the croak of some gigantic, obscene toad - that cowed them all to silence in a moment, explaining the how of it: IN ME...!
Contact with the group had been through Harry's talent: he was the Necroscope and conversed with the dead. But this other contact was different. It was telepathy, which Harry recognized in a moment. But how could it be, when its source was the same? They had the answer to that, too:
But we're part of Him, the terrified girl, perhaps not so terrified after all - or simply stronger, more determined than the rest - told him. The Francezcis ...
... They fed its to him! She finished in a whisper.
He. Him. Something in the pit. Something that breathed air, creating the miasma rising from the throat of that now terrible hole. But... something alive?
Obviously - yet when Harry had spoken to them in his unique fashion, it had answered him back.
THEY'RE DEAD! The thing told him at once, its massive mentality gonging in Harry's mind. BUT THEIR MINDS LIVE ON IN ME ...
And because telepathy and the language of the dead frequently convey more than is actualy said, now Harry had the whole picture, or thought he did: The Francezci brothers - Wamphyri, last survivors of the dread Ferenczy dynasty - had grown something in this pit, even as Yulian Bodescu had grown that Other thing in the celars of Harkley House in Devon, England. But where Bodescu's beast had been a mindless monstrosity sprouted of his own vampire flesh, a thing of little or no original inteligence, this construct of the Ferenczys was hugely intelligent! It gathered knowledge from the minds of those it consumed. It was powerfuly telepathic; it was in Harry's mind even now, leeching his knowledge. He could feel it - its eagerly groping fingers - and slammed the doors of his mind on it, to shut it out before it learned too much! Its hold was broken; Necroscope and pit-thing stood off, 'face to face,' as it were, weighing each other up; Harry felt its awesome vampire probes fumbling at the outer reaches of his identity.
But while telepathy is one thing, communication with the dead is something else; while the thing in the pit could 'hear' Harry and its 'own' absorbed vestigial multi-minds speaking - and while it might occasionaly cow those consumed identities, or shout them down - it was mainly incapable of anything but threats.
For you can't any longer hurt the dead. And the girl, the one whose agony was still so fresh, seemed finaly to have recognized that fact and was talking to Harry, begging him to:
Run! Oh, run! You're warm and alive ... you don't want to be like us, cold and dead! So run!
'But I have to know,' Harry told her, as he sniffed the first faint reek of gas. 'What ... what is he?'
He is their seer, their scryer, their crystal ball. He's their machine: they aim, direct him, and he gathers knowledge for them. Even from across the world! He is their oracle! And more than that, he -
- I WAS THEIR FATHER! The great voice was back, breaking through all Harry's barriers. But now there was a gasping sob in it, an all-consuming grieving, a sense of great loss, like the loss of being - or of the control of being. I WAS
ANGELO FERRENZIG, FERENCZINI, FRANCEZCI. AND I WAS THE MASTER OF METAMORPHISM -UNTIL
METAMORPHISM MASTERED ME!
Again, more was conveyed than was spoken. Much more:
The Necroscope's skin crept as he saw the seething horror of a grotesque birth . . . twins, one of which was a monster from first gasp and destroyed at once. The other was Angela, bloodson of Waldemar, and apparently normal. . . A thousand years of vampire life, until his metamorphism ran rampant, became a disease, reduced or exploded him to what he was now.
If Harry had wondered how many generations of Francezcis? - then he wondered no longer. The answer was one: the brothers themselves, twins sons of Angelo Ferenczini, born toward the end of his time as ... as a man! For as his disease had taken hold on him, he had determined to extend something of his loathsome existence into the future. Or ... perhaps he had hoped to do a lot more than that, which was why he was now trapped down here and not free-roaming. For Harry had ample evidence of the tenacity of the Wamphyri; he knew that if there'd been any way for this creature to continue as 'a whole man,' then that he would have found it - or would yet find it! - perhaps in one of his sons, if they'd not seen fit to trap him down here first.
So, how long had he been here? Two, three, four hundred years? And all that time his sons inhabiting Le Manse Madonie, sometimes as one person and at others as brothers. Little wonder there was a long history of twins - for they were the same twins!
They would live here for a while (until one of them had to 'die' and for a time live elsewhere,) then reverse the process, 'rejuvenate,'
come together as sons and brothers again. And always there would be at least one 'keeper' here.
But their father was Faethor Ferenczy's brother, or half-brother, out of a different mother, Constanza de' Petralia. Had Angelo not known -didn't he know? - of his sibling in a different time, a different land? And what of the long-dead Faethor? Did he not know of Angelo? He had never mentioned him to Harry. But then, Faethor had usually kept himself apart; his interests had been limited, divided between war and his mountain territories, and bitter hatred of his egg-son, Thibor the Wallach. Or perhaps the two had known of one another but simply stayed well apart. And anyway, what would it have profited Faethor to speak of this Angelo, whom he never met? And if he had spoken of him, would it have been the truth? For of all liars, there is none like a vampire: fathers not only of monsters, but of lies!
Harry gave up on it; there were discrepancies enough in the history of the Wamphyri, as the Necroscope had long-since discovered ...
But though all of this - these incredible revelations, and the presence of the thing in the pit - was mind-staggering, still Harry had to know the worst of it. And through the first faint wisps of a yellow mist, he stumbled to the rim of the pit, avoided the wire-mesh, ignored his stinging eyes and gazed down the throat of the awful shaft.
Down there, looking back up at him through its own miasma, something with burning sulphur eyes quivered and surged ...
Get out of here! the multi-minds urged him, while the Necroscope reeled with the knowledge - the vision - of what had driven them half or wholy mad. But: OUT OF HERE? Angelo Ferenczy was quieter now, his 'voice' dripping sarcasm. OUT OF LE MANSE MADONIE? BUT CAN'T YOU SEE? HE CAME OF
HIS OWN FREE WILL - AND UNINVITED. THERE'S BUT ONE WAY OUT, WHICH HE WILL FIND BARRED, I AM SURE! AND EVENTUALLY ...
AH, IT WILL BE A PLEASURE SPEAKING TO HIM AGAIN, BUT MORE INTIMATELY NEXT TIME! OH, HA HA HAAAA!
Dizziness, nausea, that same mental confusion which had left Harry so helpless on the road below Le Manse Madonie the previous afternoon, struck again! But this time he knew what it was. The mental power of the thing in the reeking pit - of Angelo Ferenczy, or what was become of him - was awesome. The Necroscope could only think of his own safety now. And he knew that the multi-minds of those that the thing had devoured were quite right: he should run, get out of here with al speed.
Harry staggered back from the pit amidst thickening clouds of yelow and conjured a Mobius door. It took unaccustomed effort... the gas was in his eyes and lungs; the multi-minds were shouting at him, telling him to run, run; and the ancient, hideously mutated Ferenczy was tearing aside the Necroscope's mental barriers like so much tissue paper.
Panic set in. Confused, Harry saw half-a-dozen co-ordinates displayed on the screen of his mind, places he could escape to. Such as his old flat in Hartlepool; or beter still the Hartlepool cemetery, for the flat was probably occupied by now ... or (most obvious) his hotel room in Paterno ... or his study, garden, or bedroom at the house in Bonnyrig ... Except he could no longer think of that last without B.J. Mirlu also crossing his mind. Everything was so confused and confusing!
The pictures in the Necroscope's mind were automatic, instinctive; lacking an explanatory 'narrative,' they gave little or nothing away. But the girl - the mind of the dead girl who had not yet forgoten the agonies of her dying - seized upon one of them and clung to it.
And: Bonniejean! she cried. B.J. Mirlu sent you!
And because she was part of Angelo Ferenczy, he heard her, too. MIRLU? RADU LYKAN'S THRALL? THIS ONE IS ... ONE OF RADU'S? Then, his awful mind registered uter terror! His mental probes were immediately withdrawn; they released their grip on Harry's mentality, writhing back from him as if he were suddenly white hot. And in a way Angelo was right: Harry was one of Radu's.
Go! The girl cried. Hurry! You can't help me. No one can. So go now, if you still can. And tell B.J. - tell her ...
But Harry never found out what he should tel Bonnie Jean, for at that moment Angelo exerted his telepathic power over all the shrieking multi-minds and closed them down, and the psychic aether was empty as deep space. By which time -
The Necroscope was in even deeper space: that of the Mobius Continuum, where he twirled aimlessly for what seemed a long time, before a co-ordinate surfaced from the whirlpool deeps of his metaphysical mind and he fled to its source: His room at the hotel in Paterno ...
Harry woke up from an instantly forgotten nightmare, woke with a splitting headache, sweating and shivering and nauseous. But he fought it down and lay still, and in the light of a bedside lamp took in his surroundings. The hotel, yes. His room at the Hotel Adrano. In Paterno. Sicily.
It al came flooding back - or it didn't, not al of it:
Le Manse Madonie, the treasure vault, the tear-gas - and the money!
At that he came off the bed so fast it set his mind, and his body, reeling again. And his clothing stank of gas. God - no wonder he felt nauseous! He'd been hit by his own tear-gas! But the money ... was it real? Nothing/eft real. It al felt like some badly fragmented dream, as if something was missing. So what else was new?
He hadn't felt right from the first moment he got to this fucking place!
But after he'd opened the windows to his balcony, and then opened the wardrobe ...
It was no dream, and nothing was missing. Not of his loot, at least. A burlap bag slumped over on its side, and a handful of gold coins slipped from the rim and set off on their diverse courses, wobbling across the polished boards. Their miled rims purred on varnished pine; they thumped heavily where they colided with the carpet trim and fel on their sides.
And in the wardrobe where he'd emptied his jacket - bundles of high denomination notes! A suitcase ful. Pounds, deutschmarks, dolars, in fifties and hundreds. And the Krugerrands: twin burlap sacks weighing at least thirty pounds each! Sixty pounds of solid gold!
And al of this money here in his room, in the night, in Sicily. Harry broke out in a sweat again. He wasn't a thief - but he was now! But so were the Francezcis.
And what the hel, he'd known what he was doing. And what it was for. But...
... He had to get it out of here!
He did, to the old house in Bonnyrig. Then returned to the Hotel Adrano, and lay tossing and turning al through the rest of the night, unable to sleep.
Rising with the sun, Harry checked out of the hotel. He didn't dare simply disappear, for that would be to invite investigation. But having checked out, then he disappeared - back to his home in Bonnyrig, where at last he would be able to set the wheels of a real search in motion.
In his house - which felt unaccountably strange and empty now, as if he'd been away for a week at least - Harry secreted the money away and began to feel a little easier. And then, to make up for the deficiencies of last night, he slept...
... But only for an hour, until the sun rose again for the second time in just sixty minutes.
It was the telephone that brought him awake; Bonnie Jean's husky voice inquiring oh-so-knowingly, 'Is that mah wee man?'
And oh, yes, it was him. And he was hers, beyond a doubt:
The full moon, its golden light streaming down ... B.J.'s strange eyes, undergoing an even stranger metamorphosis ... and a wolfs head in silhouette, dark against the disk of the moon.
Harry said nothing, because her words hadn't been a question but a trigger. On the other end of the line BJ. understood his silence, smiled at it and asked him:
'Wel, did you get your finances sorted out? You can answer normaly, Harry.'
'Er, yes,' he said. 'I'm al fixed up now.'
'And ready for a weekend's climbing?'
'Ready as I ever wil be,' he answered.
She arranged a meeting for lunch: 12:00 noon, at a little place she knew outside Falkirk, about half-way to where they'd be climbing. And she finished by asking him, 'How wil you get there?'
Til bike it,' Harry answered. 'Looks like a nice day. I should enjoy the ride.' It was no lie; he would bike it - some of the way, anyhow.
He sensed B.J.'s surprise. 'But that's -1 don't know - maybe fifteen miles?'
'I'l be seting out about 9:30. Plenty of time.'
Til have my car. I could pick you up?'
'I ... think I'l enjoy the fresh air.'
At last he sensed her shrug. 'Wel, okay, just as long as you save some of your energy. Er, for the climbing, I mean ...'
'Oh, I'l have enough of energy.'
'Very wel then,' she laughed. Til see you around midday. Afterwards, when we're done, we can always put your bike on the roofrack and I'll drive you home ... mah wee man.'
Which left Harry feeling as if the world had blinked and for a moment he'd felt the darkness. But al he could remember was that he had a date with Bonnie Jean, and that she was innocent, of course.
But innocent of what ... ?
At Le Manse Madonie there was hell on. There had been hell on all night. And unheard by the brothers' lieutenants and common thralls (their servants or 'soldiers,') and ignored for now by the Francezcis themselves, because they were busy, the ancient thing in the pit had wailed piteously, continuously to itself for hours now.
And one by one the interrogations went on: the 'household staff were called forward one after the other into Francesco's private rooms; he and Anthony talked to them, threatened them, required them to admit responsibility for last night's damage and robbery.
Or if they weren't directly responsible, to admit that they'd been seduced by some outside agency, and were part and parcel of the break-in. To no avail; but the brothers had known that from the start; it was simply something that had to be done.
Finally it was done. Le Manse's staff, sufficiently cowed but all perfectly 'innocent' - or as innocent as vampires can be - were back at their duties; the Francezcis could now begin to consider, or at least attempt to consider, the mechanics of this thing. Which had to be the most frustrating, infuriating part, for it was patently impossible.
Francesco paced, while Tony sprawled in an easy chair. The latter looked entirely exhausted, but his looks were deceptive.
Wamphyri, he was simply exhausted of ideas. But in fact he was the most 'sensitive' or 'passive' one, while Francesco had all the aggression.
'We should have Guy Cavee in again!' Francesco burst out. He strode to the hugely heavy curtains, looked for a moment as if he might draw them, tear them aside. But out there, all was brilliant sunlight. And throughout Le Manse Madonie all of the curtains would stay closed until sundown. The Francezcis had a woman whose sole responsibility it was to open and close curtains. No one else touched them, not even the brothers.
The night watch? To what end?' Tony lolled in his chair. 'He gave warning, while still the intruder was in the vault.'
'We don't know that!' Francesco rounded on him. 'If Cavee is lying, the thief could have been in there - and out of there - before he called out. If there was a plot, he is the obvious one to have been in on it.'
'But if he is lying,' Tony waved a slender, languid hand, 'then he's also planning his escape from this place. Indeed, he would be fled by now, or dead by his own hand. For he must know that when, if, we discover the truth ...'
'In any case,' Francesco stopped pacing. 'We have to make an example of someone. And again, he is the most obvious one.'
'You're saying that whoever did this, he can't be seen to get away with it entirely? Someone must pay?'
'But it will make no difference. We still won't know who did it, or how he got into the strong-room without tripping an alarm, and out again -and out of Le Manse - without anyone so much as seeing, hearing, or even smelling him!' Even Tony was beginning to show his agitation now.
'Oh, I smelled him well enough!' Francesco shouted. 'Tear-gas! In the ventilation! And grenades, in the vault!
Uncounted - literally uncounted - billions in marks, lira, francs, dollars, and treasures, destroyed or stolen. From under our noses. At least a quarter of everything we held down there. And as if that weren't enough, he actually locked up before leaving! The impertinence of this bastard! Unbelievable!'
'Impertinent, yes,' his brother agreed, scowling. 'And we sit here impotent.'
Francesco ground his teeth, and repeated: 'We should have Cavee in again.'
Tony's shrug. 'He knows nothing. One look at his face says it all: why, he thinks he should be rewarded; he was that quick off the mark!'
'Rewarded!' Francesco snarled.
'And the cameras, ruined,' Tony slumped more yet. 'It was hot in there.'
'Not necessarily ruined,' Francesco answered. 'They think they can save one of them - or rather, its contents. We can at least hope that we have this dog on film!'
'We do have Cavee's description.'
'Hah!' Francesco snorted. 'What, a true description? If he was in on it? And if he wasn't, what was that for a description anyway? A face and figure, seen distorted, in monochrome and at an angle from above?'
Tony stirred himself, stood up. 'You know, of course, that He has been crying out al this time? There was gas down there, too.
And he is, after all, our greatest "treasure." For without him, where would we be?'
'I've heard him, yes,' Francesco rumbled. 'But then, who could avoid hearing him? Raving, babbling about bloody Radu, at a time like this!' But he knew that it must have been worse for his brother, for Anthony and his father were closer. Then, in a moment, Francesco's expression changed. And turning to face the other, his eyes narrowed more yet and became red-burning slits in his dark face.
'Oh?' said Tony, wonderingly.
'We have to make an example of someone,' Francesco growled. 'We can't be seen to be ... impotent, as you put it.
Our dear father is ever hungry. And if Guy Cavee has knowledge of this thing ... "
'He's a lieutenant,' Tony pointed out. 'Junior, but - '
'No, he is our example!' Francesco cut him off, grinning darkly. 'Our important example. We can always promote another junior lieutenant, but we shall never be able to make a better example - of anyone.'
Again Tony's shrug. 'Well, at least it's a course of action,' he said. 'Certainly we need to do something. But I can't see that it will produce anything of a solution. However, and since you seem determined ...' Grudgingly, he nodded his head. 'So be it...'
By 11:30 the Necroscope was cycling through wild and gorgeous country somewhere west of Edinburgh. He wore his track-suit; a pack on his shoulders contained a pair of decent climbing shoes and some spare items of clothing; he supposed B.J. would see to anything else. Himself: Harry had already seen to something and got himself some expert tuition; or he'd arranged access to it, at least.
Not wanting to make a total fool of himself in the hills, this morning he'd spoken to the dead in a Bonnyrig cemetery and got some leads. The man he had been looking for was in a graveyard in Dalkeith. Harry had gone there along the Mobius way and introduced himself in his fashion; when the excitement had died down, he'd explained his reason for being there. Now he felt a lot happier that he could look after himself on a cliff face.
The dead man he'd spoken to had been a climber of the old school. Not a mountaineer as such, no, but someone who had made himself something of a local legend in his lifetime, as a rock-climbing man without peer. No nylon ropes in they days, Necryscope, he'd told Harry. And I wouldn'ae be caught dead - ye'll excuse mah language - with hammer and piton in mah hand! Lord, no! All that cock wiz fer the so-called 'professionals.' Ah wiz no professional - but man, ah could monkey up a sheer slab o' a rock like a wee lizard! Lookin' back now, all eighty years and more - ah can't say, ah don't know - ah think it wiz the view pure and simple. Toe look doon on the world frae on high, frae a new place, ye ken, and ken that only the eagles had ever perched there afore a man? Ah, that wiz something!
'Will be again,' Harry had told him from his seat on the old lad's sarcophagus in the shade of a tree, breathing in the cool, calming quiet of the cemetery. 'You can see it all again, through my eyes; though I can't promise you the climb is going to excite you. I'm only a beginner. I don't suppose my guide will be letting me tackle anything too adventurous.'
A beginner, is it? Wel, ye're in good hands, be sure, I wouldn'ae dare let anything happen to ye! The dead man had assured him. Me. but ah traveled tae do mah climbing, Harry. Ben Nevis, the Peak District, North Wales, Derbyshire, the Dartmoor Tors, the Cornish and Pembrokeshire sea cliffs ... you name it! But a wee climb will be beter than none at al! Just gi' me a cal, and ah'l be there fer ye. And don't fret none ... ah'l no be letting ye down, Necryscope. No wi' a bump, anyhow!
'Good!' Harry told him. 'See, this lady I'll be climbing with is good at it. I don't want to be made to look, you know, stupid, that's all.'
Eh? A wee lassie, is it? Aye, well there were a few good ones in mah day, too. Ah mind one who ... oh, it's a long time ago. But she wiz the only one who ever beat me up a crag, ah'll tell ye that...!
And shortly it had been time to go.
It was only after the Necroscope had left that his new friend recalled the name of the girl from his time, eighty years ago, who had
'beaten him up a crag.' Then, he'd thought to call out after the Necroscope, but Harry's Ma had got to him first: Don't, she told him. My son ... is in trouble. But we have it under control. We think so, anyway. The thing is, if he were to hear that girl's name ... we really don't know what it would do to his mind. So let it be for now. There will be time later, if it comes to it...
The old climber had asked no questions. Like most of the Great Majority, he'd heard of Mary Keogh and knew her reputation; that whatever she did on Harry's behalf would be for the best. But he really couldn't understand her concern. Why, that young lassie he'd remembered, that Bonnie Jean Mirlu, would be a long time down in the ground herself by now! What, after all these long years? Of course she would.
But because Mary Keogh had spoken, these were thoughts he would keep to himself, always ...
The Necroscope had long since mastered the technique of vacating the Continuum astride his machine: it was just a matter of balance, of going from metaphysical to physical, weightlessness to gravity, darkness to light - 'simple'
things, to Harry. But he still had his other thing - about someone seeing him in the moment he emerged into this space-time. He had become that concerned with keeping his esoteric talents secret.
On this occasion, though (and oddly enough, because he was riding a bike), he didn't worry. For it's one thing for a man to suddenly appear out of nowhere, but quite another for a man on a bicycle to spring into existence. For a bicycle is such a mundane thing that if a man on a bike comes from nowhere, then it's a trick of the light, or the eye, or the mind. But it certainly can't be weird or supernatural.
Thus in only ten minutes Harry was able to cover the distance from his house on the outskirts of Bonnyrig to his rendezvous with Bonnie Jean at a pub on the approaches to Falkirk, by 'jumping' stretches of the road ahead for distances of anything from a hundred yards to half a mile. If he could see the way was clear ahead - see with his own eyes the place where he would like to emerge - it was as good as a co-ordinate, and he could simply 'go' there.
Finally the picturesque little pub was in view; he spied the place from the crest of a low hill, jumped to a paved service track at the rear, and emerged as from an avenue of tall, fully-clad chestnut trees that made for a perfectly concealed 'landing.' A moment more and he had cycled round to the front of the place, parked his machine and entered.
Bonnie Jean was seated at a table in an alcove at one end of the bar. A shame, because it was gloomy; she could have chosen a window seat; but in any case the day was overcast. Maybe she wouldn't want to climb after all. But no such luck.
He slid into his seat beside her, said, 'Hello,' and: 'It doesn't look any too hot out.'
'It's ideal.' She gave him a kiss on the cheek. 'We won't have the sun in our eyes.' He couldn't know that she had been keeping abreast of the weather forecasts and so had been fully aware that there'd be little or no sun from noon today.
They talked, about nothing much in particular, ate a light lunch, and Harry paid the bill. 'A man of means,' B.J.
'Er, you could say that,' he answered. 'I'm solvent again, anyway.'
She pulled a wry face. 'I wish I could say the same. That place of mine scarcely pays for itself. In fact, I'm in debt.' Then she bit her lip, for she hadn't meant to tell him that.
'How much?' he asked her.
Too much,' she told him. Three and a half thousand too much!' And she sighed and shrugged. 'It might mean becoming a pub instead of a club after all.'
Harry felt sorry for her, said, 'Oh, you never know. Something could turn up.' In a way he felt guilty; for she'd been spending quite a lot of her time, her nights, with him. Well, he certainly had the means to put that right...
The climb B.J. had chosen was further than she had thought; it was some time since she'd been out this way, and never by car. Something like sixty years since the last time she'd practised her climbing here ... but the scenery hadn't changed that much. The place, in the sprawling foothills of Ben Vorlich, was dramatically beautiful: Loch Lubnaig gleamed silver-grey under the low, unseasonal cloud ceiling, and Ben Ledi across the loch was a hazy blue silhouette like a squat mushroom - the bulk of the mountain holding aloft a massive grey cap formed of dirty sky.
'Shoes,' B.J. commented, eyeing Harry's feet as they made their way diagonally across sliding scree to the foot of a jagged rock outcrop that rose almost sheer for a hundred feet, to a saddle between awesomely carved spurs. 'Boots were better - climbing boots - but as you can see, I don't wear them either. Anyway, it's the soles that count. Good, gritty rubber to grip the rock. Boots do protect the ankles, though. You'll remember, if you get a sprain.'
Thanks,' Harry told her. Til try not to.' But, as they arrived below the crag: 'Are we climbing this?'
B.J. grinned at him. 'For starters,' she said. 'But don't worry - this time next year, this will be like a Sunday afternoon stroll! And anyway, I'll have you on a rope - this time. So for now, why don't you just sit there and watch while I get the gear ready? I'll be a minute or two, that's all.'
She shrugged out of her pack, turned her back on him, and went down on one knee.
Harry wandered off around the base of a chimney that rose half-way to the summit. Out of sight of B.J., he spoke to his friend in the cemetery in Dalkeith. How about it?
The other looked out through his eyes, answered: Damn me, but ah've climbed here before! Ben Vorlich, am I right?
Well, are ye ready?
Harry peeped around the base of the stack. B.J. was still busy with her pack, her back still turned to him. Yes, why not?
Off we go then. A piece o' cake. Just you leave it toe me, Necryscope.
And the Necroscope left it to him - but not entirely. He felt what the dead climber felt, every nuance of the climb.
And of course he learned as they went; for it was his arms and muscles taking the strain, easing him up, ever up within the cleft of the chimney; his eyes scanning the way ahead, taking in each and every detail of the route; his brain, recording it all for later. And the old-timer's narrative to guide him all the way;
That crack there - a good wee hand hold, three fingers at least. And that split opposite: ye can getye're toe in there - but mind ye dinnae twist ye're foot! and that wee ledge, Necryscope: aye, park ye're arse right there a moment... but on'y a moment! And alwiz keep moving - on and up! And breathe, laddie, breathe! For it's the air that powers ye. Breathe easy, Harry, in and oot. Ah! And see there: a piton! But dinnae ye touch it! That's cheatin'!
They were through the chimney and onto the outer face, and Harry felt like he was actually haring for the high horizon of the topmost rim. Then he scuffed loose a pebble that went clattering all the way down the sheer face, until it hit the scree and bounced up between B.J.'s legs, where she'd just that instant straightened up from her pack. Laden with a rope, hammer, pitons, she frowned, turned, saw a trickle of dust from above. And she looked up.
Then ... she would have called out - in astonishment if for no other reason - but was afraid to do so in case she distracted him. The idiot!
But 'the idiot' was hauling himself up onto the rim, to sit there with his legs dangling, waving down at her! And B.J.
too sat down, with a bump, on the scree, stared up at Harry and for the first time in as long as she could remember felt dizzy - from the angle of her neck, and from the thought of Harry's 'solo' climb: the speed of it!
Then anger replaced her astonishment. The clever bastard! Letting her think he was new to all this!
Quickly, she shed her gear, grabbed her pack, set off back the way they had come. Thus she failed to see Harry reeling on the rim, and almost falling before he could regain his balance. Except it wasn't him but his guide: the fact that the old climber's mind had seemed suddenly to go blank, so that the Necroscope had been left alone, as it were, on a knife-edge of vertiginous rock.
Following which ...
... The way down took a deal longer, and Harry could feel something of a tremble in his guide's suddenly uncertain mind. At the bottom he asked him: 'What was all that about?'
A sick spell, the other lied. That's what stopped me frae climbing, Necryscope: dizzy sickness. Er, vertigo? Aye, and it got me in the end, sure enough. Ah got dizzy once too often ...
'You fell?' Harry's jaw fell open. He couldn't believe it.
So ah did. But it's how ah lived; ah cannae complain it's how ah died, too.
And Harry sighed deeply, closed his eyes and thought: Now he tells me! But he kept the thought to himself.
Likewise his guide. He, too, kept his thoughts to himself. The fact that he now knew something of what Harry's Ma had been talking about. For in fact his 'attack' had come when Harry had looked down at Bonnie Jean. The old climber had seen her, too - through the Necroscope's eyes - that lass who eighty years ago had beaten him up a crag!
Well, and finally he'd got his own back ...
By the time Harry reached the car, B.J. had almost, not quite, forgiven him. Her tone was severe as she told him: 'I've a mind to make you cycle home.'
'You've got it all wrong,' he lied, but in a way told the precise truth. 'I've never done it before. It just seemed - I don't know - so natural, that's all. Sort of instinctive?'
And by the time she'd got him home she was half-convinced.
They made love through the evening, but as night came on she had to go. 'I've missed too many Saturday nights,'
she explained. 'My regulars expect to see me behind the bar.'
But as she kissed him and got into the car, Harry pressed a velvet gift sacklet into her hand. 'Oh?' B.J. looked at him curiously, surprised at the weight of his present.
'It's very practical,' he told her. 'A little something I feel sure you can use.'
And it was. In her room above B.J.'s, she untied the ribbon and turned out the contents onto her bedspread: twenty golden Kruger-rands. B.J. knew their value! Her mysterious Mr Keogh certainly seemed" to have got his finances sorted out - not to mention hers ...
At Le Manse Madonie, the 'cleansing' of Guy Cavee's person had taken all day. He'd been kept fully conscious most of the time - a torture in itself; the Spanish Inquisition could scarcely have been more cruel - and like the Inquisition, at each stage of the process he'd been given the opportunity to confess. If he had been able to tell the Francezcis anything, certainly he would have done so. And in the end he did: let them so much as make a suggestion - he agreed with it. So that even then they couldn't be sure he was entirely innocent.
But they knew how to make sure. In the moment of his absorption into Angelo, the truth would be known. After that
... his mind, or what was left of a mind, would be mainly his own again. But his body -well, there would be no body.
Angelo's digestive system was that of the Wamphyri carried by his rampant metamorphism to its absolute limits.
Literally absorption: he would not so much 'digest' the ex-lieutenant as render him liquid, suck him up like a sponge, add his mass to the bulk of the unthinkable abnormality that was Angelo Francezci, Ferenczini, Ferenczy. A process of simultaneous internal and external homogeniza-tion: to make Cavee as one with the active body, the substance, of the pit-thing. The utter and utterly destructive rape and reduction of a person to protoplasm of... of a different nature.
But the mind, thoughts, memories, would be there, not alive but incorporated into Angelo's mentality, giving him something of access, as to a piece of unfeeling computer software. Incorporeal, and therefore unfeeling, yes, but not without emotion and not without memories. Guy Cavee, like all the others before him, would know exactly what was become of him.
As for the thing in the pit: Angelo had been 'silent' for hours; even Tony Francezci had heard or sensed nothing of his father since midday. It was possible that the intruder's tear-gas had entered the Thing's system, rendering him ill or even unconscious. But his metamorphism -which was all he was now, a metamorphism - would have no trouble dealing with that; and his mist, his miasma, rose up from the pit as before.
Tony had tried 'speaking' to him, told him what had happened and what he and his brother were doing about it; hoping to bring him round, he had even asked for his advice in the matter - all to no avail. But as the brothers had had the now unconscious Cavee placed on the crane's platform and swung out over the open pit, Tony had felt a psychic tingle of expectancy and had sensed an incredible hunger; so that he'd known his father was silent for his own reasons.
Therefore, before bringing Cavee awake with an ampule and lowering him into the shaft, Tony had tried one last time:
'Father, we need to know if this man is a traitor. We need to know who coerced him, turned him against us, against you. I know you are hungry, but if he is a dupe we need his thoughts. We need the names in his head.'
Nothing - only the miasma thickening - as the brothers, and their lieutenants and senior thrals, edged back from the mouth of the pit. And then Francesco, ever impatient, stepped forward and broke an ampule under Cavee's nose, commiting him to hel.
The platform descended; the miasma rose thicker yet; Cavee began screaming as he came awake to his worst nightmare. He was tied down; his screams, denials, confessions, pitiful pleading, couldn't help him -nothing could. Then the choking, coughing, gurgling, and the soggy splitting sound ... like meat wrenched from a bone, or wet leather tearing; and in a little while the mist rising from the mouth of the pit turning pink. Then: AN INNOCENT, their father's doom-fraught voice rang in the brothers' minds. MORE INNOCENT THAN THEM WHO LEFT ME DOWN HERE TO CRY
OUT, NOT KNOWING THE WHYS OR WHEREFORES OF IT! THE SAME ONES WHO NOW BEG ME FOR MY HELP! ... HAH! BUT YOU MERELY
SEEK ANSWERS, WHILE I ALREADY HAVE THEM ...!
Tony waited awhile, then said: 'Father, what threatens us threatens you. We need to know, else we can do nothing.'
AH, ANTHONY, MY ANTHONY! AND FRANCESCO; I SEE THAT YOU ARE HERE, TOO. BUT DID YOU NOT
HEAR ME CALLING OUT TO YOU? I CALLED FOR LONG AND LONG. AND DID YOU NOT HEAR THE NAME THAT I CALLED?
The brothers glanced at each other, and Francesco finally grunted and said, That again: Radu, Radu, Radu! But he's long gone to earth and won't be up for a while, if ever. What has he to do with anything?'
OH YOU FOOL! said that awful Voice' from the pit, quietly but scornfully. WHY, UPON A TIME YOU BROUGHT ME
ONE OF HIS -A GIRL - TO QUESTION HER. I LEARNED A LITTLE; NOT MUCH, BECAUSE UNLIKE MY THRALLS, RADU'S THRALLS ARE STRONG. SHE WAS BEGUILED; HER MIND WAS CLOSED; SHE COULDN'T SPEAK. BUT
SHE WAS ONE OF HIS ... AND YOU TOOK HER!
'Because you pressured us into believing that when he was up again he'd come looking for us!' Francesco snarled, displaying his objection to being called a thrall. 'Because you fear this dog-Lord bastard, and transferred your fear to us!'
And after a moment's silence: FEAR HIM? WHY, I FEAR EVERYTHING! TRAPPED DOWN HERE AS I AM, I AM
VULNERABLE! EVEN MY OWN SONS HAVE POWER OVER ME. BUT NOW THERE'S ONE WHO MAY WELL HAVE
POWER OVER ALL OF US.
'His name?' Tony was eager now.
AYE, I SAW THAT, IN HIS MIND. IT WAS ... IT WAS HARRY!
'And is he invisible, this "Harry?" ' Francesco snorted his sarcasm.
APPARENTLY - OR NOT APPARENTLY! The Thing had its sense of humour.
'And his master, the people he works for?' (From Tony.)
HOW CAN YOU BE MY SONS, AND DEAF, DUMB, AND BLIND, TOO?
Again the brothers glanced at each other. And: 'Are you saying - ' Tony began, only to be cut off at once by a howl of rage, frustration:
HE STRIKES BACK, EVEN FROM HIS LONG SLEEP! YOUR INTRUDER WAS NO COMMON MAN - WHAT, BUT HE SPEAKS
TO THE DEAD! - AND HE WORKS FOR NO COMMON MASTER. YOU TOOK ONE OF HIS, AND THIS WAS HIS REVENGE ... OR PART OF IT.
Angelo was mistaken, in part at least, but his logic was perfectly sound.
'Radu?' And now there was a tremor in Tony's voice.
THE SAME, his father answered. HE FLEXES WASTED MUSCLES, AND TESTS OUR METAL IN ADVANCE OF HIS RETURN. AND HE HAS
FOUND IT WEAK!
Tony grabbed Francesco's arm. 'I think he's right. I know that he believes it!'
'I need proof!' the other snarled. 'Oh, I know we can move on our father's word, bring about mayhem in England or wherever, perhaps track this Radu to his lair and destroy him there - and perhaps expose ourselves, too! Not to any old vampire Lord, but to the authorities! What, centuries of secrecy wasted? Ah, and how many of our good friends across the world would "flock" to our assistance then, do you suppose? No, before I make another move, I need proof.'
I, I, I. It was always T with Francesco and never 'we.' Tony narrowed his eyes. But before he could answer, there came a shout from the stairwel:
'Francesco, Anthony! Sir, and sir!' A man in a white smock waved something excitedly. 'Photographs! The intruder! We have him on film!'
And: 'Proof?' Tony said, his red eyes lighting like lamps. 'Wel, perhaps now we have it!'
And behind them as they left the place, the ancient thing in the pit thought: IT BEGINS! - then relapsed into gibbering and darkness ...