A Thing Alone - Starside - The Dweller
The Necroscope knew that there was very little time left and certainly none to waste. The Soviets had worked out some 'final solution' to the Perchorsk problem, which meant that he had to be through the Gate before they could put it into effect.
He went to Detroit and just after 6:20 p.m. found a bike garage and showroom on the point of closing. The last, tired employee was locking up; the next-to-last, a black forecourt attendant, had just this minute put away his broom, washed his hands, and was sauntering away from the garage down the evening street. Marvellous chrome-plated machines stood in a glittering chorus line behind the semi-reflective plate glass.
The Necroscope, right? said a deadspeak voice in Harry's mind, after he'd used a Möbius door to get into the showroom. It surprised him, for the dead weren't much for talking to him these days. I mean, you'd have to be the boogyman (whoever it was continued), 'cos I kin hear you thinkin'!
'You have me at a disadvantage,' Harry answered, polite as ever, at the same time examining the chain which passed through the spoked front wheels of the parade of gleaming motorcycles, securing them.
I have your what? Oh, yeah! You don't know me, right? Well, I was an Angel.
Deadspeak occasionally conveys more than is said. With regard to Angels: Harry would no longer be surprised to learn that there really were such creatures, and especially in the Möbius Continuum. But on this occasion he saw that the Angel in question wore no such halo. 'A Hell's Angel?' Harry stood on the chain and hauled with both arms, exerting furious Wamphyri strength until a link came apart with a sound like a pistol shot. 'But didn't you have a name?'
Hey! Whoooah, man! And the Angel whistled appreciatively. Like, I bet you leap tall buildings, too, right? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Shit, no - it's the ever-lovin', chain-breakin', dead-wakin' Necroscope! He grew quieter. My name? It was Pete. Pretty shitty handle, right? Here, Petey, Petey, Petey! Sounds like a fuckin' budgie! So I used my Chapter name: The Vampire! Er, but I see you have your own problems.
Harry took a Harley-Davidson off its stand and backed it out of the line of bikes, towards the rear of the showroom. But the last employee had heard the 'gunshot' of the snapped chain and was working his way back through a series of locked doors.
'Pete seems a good enough name to me,' said Harry. 'So what are you doing here?'
It's where I hung out, the Angel told him. I never could afford one of these really big babies. But I'd come down and look 'em over all the time. This place was a shrine, a church, and these Harleys were its High-powered Priests.
'How did you die?' Harry turned the key in the ignition and the big bike thundered into life, each pulse of each fat piston almost individually audible.
One night, me and my Pillion Pussy had a fight, the Angel answered. Randy Mandy split. So later, me and the Machine... we were both full of high octane! The booze caught up with us about the same time as we clocked the big One, Zero, Zero. Ran out of road on a bend, piled into a filling station, crunched a pump. We burned, me and the bike both, in a white-hot geyser! What was left of my body blew away on the wind. But me, I gravitated here.
'Pete,' said Harry, 'I always wanted to ride one of these things but never seemed to find the time.'
You don't know how?
'In one.' Harry nodded. 'I mean, I can learn the hard way, or take a little expert advice, right? So ... fancy a ride?'
Hooo-haaa! And Harry could almost feel him right there in the saddle where it ass-hooked at the back; indeed, their minds were one as Harry revved her up and up and up, then let her rip in smoking tyres and shrieking gears straight at the wall of glass!
Meanwhile the duty lock-up, a clerk, had reopened the last door and entered the showroom, and was now backed up against the giant display windows right in Harry's way. Spreadeagled, the man mouthed a silent gaping scream as the big bike snaked towards him. He knew he'd be cut to ribbons, him and this maniac rider both, and didn't know which way to jump. Closing his eyes and saying his prayers, he slid down the glass even as the bellowing monster bore down on him...
... And passed through him, and was gone!
As the noise subsided he opened his eyes first a crack, then all the way. The Harley-Davidson and rider were no longer there. There were skidmarks, blue exhaust smoke, even the roar of the engine, slowly echoing into silence. But no bike and no rider. And the plate glass was still in one piece.
Haunted! The man thought, before he passed out. Christ, I've always known it! This place is haunted to hell!
He was right and he was wrong. The place had been haunted, but no longer. For Pete the Vampire Biker was now with Harry Keogh, and like Harry he wouldn't be back...
Harry coasted through the Möbius Continuum to Zakinthos, conjured a door and blazed out through it at forty onto the uneven surface of a starlit Greek island 'road'. An inexperienced rider, he might have come to grief right there and then, but Pete the biker was in his mind and his hands, and the huge machine stayed upright and steady on the potholed tarmac.
Zek met the Necroscope on the white steps which wound to her door, but she had spoken to him moments earlier: Penny's awake. She's been drinking coffee - a lot!
My fault, Harry had answered. We did a little celebrating. A moving-outparty. And he thought of his place near Bonnyrig, Edinburgh. House-warming with a difference, yes.
Wow! said the Vampire, seeing Zek mirrored in Harry's mind. Is this your Pillion Pussy? But of course his exclamation and question were deadspeak and Zek couldn't hear them or even know he was here at all.
No, it isn't. Harry spoke only to Pete. She's just a good friend. Anyway, mind your business - and your mouth!
Penny joined Zek and Harry even as they touched hands. She came ghosting to the door and smiled (however tiredly, however... eerily?) when she saw the Necroscope had returned. And there in the Greek night Zek saw the cores of Penny's eyes glowing red as a moth's where they reflected the light of the lamp over the door. As for Harry's eyes: Zek avoided looking at them. In any case there was no need, and no need to say anything out loud, not when their minds were touching.
Zek, he said, I owe you.
We all owe you, she answered. Every one of us.
Not any more. You've squared it for the rest.
'Goodbye, Harry.' She leaned forward and kissed his lips; just a man's lips for the moment, but cold.
He led Penny through the trees to the big bike, and mounting up looked back. Zek stood in lamplight and starlight and waved. The Harley-Davidson's lights cut a swath under the trees, picking out the track back to the road.
Zek heard the roar of the engine pick up to a howl, saw the headlights cutting the night, held her breath. Then -
- The engine noise was only a receding echo doing a drum roll along the hills, and the headlight beam was gone as if it had never existed ...
Are your eyes closed? Harry asked over his shoulder.
Yes. Her answering thought was a whisper.
Then keep them that way - tight-closed - until I tell you to open them.
Hurling the big bike through the Möbius Continuum, with Penny and Pete the Vampire riding pillion, Harry headed for the Perchorsk Gate. He knew exactly - indeed precisely - where the Gate was. Möbius equations flickered across the screens of his metaphysical mind, opening and closing an endless curve of doors as he went. But when the doors began to warp and waver he knew he was almost there. It was an effect of the Gate: to bend the Möbius Continuum as a black hole bends light. A moment later, Harry guided the bike through the last fluxing, disintegrating door, and hurtled out of the Möbius Continuum on to the perimeter of the steel disc surrounding the Gate.
And Viktor Luchov saw it all even as it happened.
At the very rim, where the plates of the disc were covered in rubber three inches thick, the Projekt Direktor was conversing with a group of scientists; the perimeter had been made safe, roped off with non-conductive, plastic-coated nylon; the disc not only carried a lethal voltage but was now linked to the sprinkler system. Fat white and blue sparks danced as Harry's huge, powerful machine came roaring off the Möbius strip to erupt into this space-time.
The Screaming Eagle's Dunlops were wide, heavy and of the very best rubber, but the sudden shock of the bike's five hundred and seventy-plus pounds jarred fish-scale plates together in a crackle and hum of electrical discharge. Blue energies skittered across the disc like snakes of lightning, adding to the throaty chaos of snarling pistons in the cathedral acoustics of the spherical cavern. And overhead, the acid floodgates were opened!
The Necroscope's intuitive, Möbius maths was on top form; he had calculated well and, after all, what could possibly go wrong in something slightly less than the space of a single second? Walking round that central cavern with Luchov (in the Direktor's mind), he'd seen no guns there. The acid sprinkler outlets had been maybe twenty feet above the disc; they'd take a little time to activate and fill before they could commence spraying; he should be into the sphere Gate and gone before the first droplets smoked murderously down onto the steel plates.
And yet even as he'd emerged into the glare of the cavern and his tyres had shrieked on the plates where they tried to find purchase, even then he'd known that something was wrong. Not with his figures but with the plan itself, with what he already knew of that plan, with what he'd already seen of it in action. For he had seen something of it, yes ... when he'd visited Fa��thor in future time: his scarlet-tinged, neon line of life turning aside from its futureward thrust, shooting off at right-angles and disappearing in a brilliant burst of red and blue fire as it left this dimension of space and time and raced for Starside.
But only as it - that solitary life-line, one life-line -departed. Harry himself, Harry alone... without Penny!
Slowing from forty to thirty miles per hour while the bike yawed and his tyres found purchase, Harry remembered a vastly important rule: never try to read the future, for that can be a devious thing. But he had taken even this temporary deceleration into account, and even so the timing was still only a second, one tick of a clock. So what was wrong? The answer was simple: Penny was wrong.
Had she once obeyed him? Had she once obeyed his instructions to the letter? No, never! She might be in thrall to him, in love with him, fascinated by him, but she didn't go in fear of him. He was her lover, not her master. And in her innocence, Penny had been inquisitive and vulnerable.
'Don't open your eyes,' he'd said, but being Penny she had; opened them as they shot through the Möbius door into Perchorsk, opened them in time to see the glaring Cyclops-eye Gate looming where the bike skidded, fish-tailed and rocketed towards it. And seeing, 'knowing', they were going to crash, she'd reacted. Of course they were going to crash - crash right through - which was the whole plan and shouldn't be her concern. If time wasn't of the essence, he might have explained all of that to her.
All of which flashed across the Necroscope's mind in the split second that Penny screamed and let go of his waist to cover her eyes... and his rear suspension bucking like a bronco to absorb the shuddering of the steel plates... and just exactly like a bronco ass-hooking the gasping girl into an aerial somersault! In the next split second he ruptured the Gate's skin and shot through... but on his own, a thing alone. Or at best, with only Pete the Vampire Biker hanging on behind.
Shit! Pete's deadspeak howled in Harry's mind. Necroscope, you've lost your Pillion Pussy!
Harry saw it in his mirrors, looked out through the Gate's skin and watched Penny come down in dreadful slow-motion on to the plates of the disc. He saw the languid flash of lightning that stiffened her limbs to a crucifix, laced her hair and clothes with webs of blue fire and spun her body like a giant, coruscating Catherine-wheel. He saw the acid rain come down and the curtain of hissing vapour which at once went up; saw Penny turn wet and black and red, skittering like a flounder on her back where her skin peeled open or was eaten away; saw her rhumba roller-skated this way and that across the steel plates on vibrating molecules of her own boiling blood, like droplets of water flicked into a greasy, smoking-hot pan.
She'd been dead, of course, from the first flash of blue fire, and so felt nothing of it. But Harry did. He felt the absolute horror of it. And he sucked in his breath as at last the current glued her to the steel fish scales, where acid and fire both worked on her, turning her to ashes, tar, smoke and stink.
And... there was nothing he could do.
Not even Harry Keogh.
For he was through the Gate and no way back.
But there are certain mercies. Her single, silent, telepathic shriek had failed to reach him, for he'd already been over the threshold and into another world. Likewise her deadspeak; if she was using it now, it was shut out by the Gate...
The Necroscope wanted to die. Right here, right now, he could happily (unhappily?) die. But that wasn't the way of the Thing inside him. And Pete the Angel wasn't about to let it happen, either. Between them, they closed Harry down, turned him to ice, froze him out.
Lolling there emotionless, mindless, vacant in the saddle of the Screaming Eagle, he wasn't riding the bike any more but they were. And they rode it all the way to Starside...
When Harry recovered he was a full mile out on the boulder plain, seated on a rock beside the now silent Harley-Davidson. The big machine stood there, silvered by full moon and ghostly starlight. It had seemed awesome enough in a showroom on Earth, but here on Starside it was utterly (and literally) alien. The bike was alien, but Harry wasn't. Wamphyri, he belonged here.
A picture of Penny surfaced out of memory's scarlet swirl; he remembered, drew breath to howl and choked on it, then clenched his fists and closed his red eyes for long moments, until he'd driven her out of his mind for ever.
The effort left him limp as a wet rag, but it had to be done. Everything Penny had been - everything anyone had been - was a dimension away and entirely irretrievable. There was no going back, and no bringing her back.
Bad vibes, man, said Pete the biker, but quietly. What now, Harry? We done riding?
Harry stood up, straightened up, and looked around. It was sundown, and in the south there was no gold on the jagged peaks of the mountains. East lay the low, tumbled tumuli of shattered aeries, the fallen stacks of the Wamphyri. Only one remained intact: an ugly column of dark stone and grey bone more than a kilometre high. It was or had been the Lady Karen's, but that was a long time ago and Karen was dead now.
South west, up in the mountains, that was where The Dweller had his garden. The Dweller, yes: Harry Jr with his Travellers and trogs, all secure in the haven he'd built for them. Except... The Dweller was a vampire. And the battle with the Wamphyri lay four long years in Starside's past, so that Harry wondered: Is my son still ascendant, or has the vampire in him finally taken control?
His thoughts were deadspeak, of course. And Pete the Angel answered them: Whyn't we just go and see, man?
The last time I was here,' Harry told him, 'we argued, my son and I, and he gave me a hard time. But - ' and he shrugged, ' - I suppose he has to know sooner or later that I'm back, if he doesn't know it already.'
So let's go! Pete was eager to ride. Just climb aboard the old Screamin' Eagle and start 'er up, man.
But the Necroscope shook his head. 'I don't need the bike, Pete. Not any more.'
The ex-Angel was cast down. Hey, that's right. You got your own form of transport. But what about me?
Harry thought about it a while, then gave a wan smile. And it was a measure of his strength that he still had it in him to smile. Pete the biker read his deadspeak thoughts, of course, and whooped wildly. Necroscope, do you mean it? He was breathless with excitement.
'Sure,' said Harry. 'Why not?' And they got aboard the big bike.
They turned her around, found a good straight stretch of hard-packed, boulder-free earth, and took her up to a ton. And it was as if a primal beast bellowed in the starlit silence of Starside. Then, still howling a hundred and waving a tail of dust half a mile long, Harry conjured a Möbius door and they shot through, followed by a future-time door which they likewise crashed. And now they rode into the future with a great many blue and green and (Harry noted) even a few red life-lines. The blues were Travellers, the greens would be trogs, and the reds...
... Vampires? Pete picked the thought out of his mind.
Looks like it, said Harry, sighing.
But Pete only laughed like a crazy man. My kind of people! he yelled.
And on they rode, for a little while.
Until Harry said, Pete, here's where I get off.
You mean... she's all mine?
For ever and ever. And you needn't ever stop.
Pete didn't know how to thank him, so didn't try. Harry opened a past-time door, then paused a while before crossing the threshold and watched the big Harley rocketing away from him into the future. Eventually he heard the Angel's whooping cry come echoing back: Heee-haaaaaaaaaa! Well, at least Pete was happy now.
And then Harry went back to Starside and the garden...
The Necroscope stood at the forward edge of the garden, his hands resting on the low stone wall there, and looked down on Starside. Somewhere between here and the old territories of the Wamphyri, where the broken remains of their aeries now lay in shattered disarray, the sphere Gate - this end of the space-time 'handle', the dimensional warp, whose alternate extension lay in Perchorsk - would be lighting up the stony plain in its painful white glare. Harry fancied he could see something of its light even from here, a ghostly shimmer way down there in the far grey foothills.
He and the incorporeal Pete had come out of the Starside Gate on the big bike - come through the aching dazzle of the 'grey hole' from Perchorsk and out of it on to the boulder plain - but Harry remembered very little of that. He did remember the last time he was here, however, which strangely felt more real to him than all that had gone between. Probably because he now desired to forget all that had gone between.
He turned his head more directly northwards and gazed out across all the leagues of Starside's vast unknown to the curve of the horizon lying dark-blue and emerald-green under fleeting moon, glittering stars and the writhing allure of aurora borealis. That way lay the Icelands where the sun never shone and into which the doomed, forsaken and forgotten of the Wamphyri had been banished since time immemorial. Shaithis, too, after the defeat of the Wamphyri and the destruction of their aeries in the battle for The Dweller's garden. And he remembered how Shaithis had sped north aboard a huge manta flyer in the peace and the silence of the aftermath.
Harry and the Lady Karen had spoken to Shaithis before he exiled himself; unrepentant even then, the vampire Lord had openly lusted after Karen's body, and even more so after The Dweller's and his father's hearts. But he'd lusted in vain. At that time, anyway.
As for the Necroscope: he'd had his own use for the Lady Karen. For just like his son, she had a vampire in her. If he could exorcize Karen's nightmare creature, perhaps he could also cure The Dweller.
He starved Karen in her aerie, used the blood of a piglet to lure her vampire out of her, then burned the thing before it could escape back into her body. But after that, things had not gone according to plan. And the rest of it was still seared on the screen of his memory:
She came to him in a dream, stood over him in her most revealing white gown, and turned his triumph to ashes. 'Can't you see what you've done to me?' she said. 'I who was Wamphyri am now a shell! For when one has known the power, the freedom, the magnified emotions of the vampire... what is there after that? I pity you, for I know why you did what you've done, and also that you've failed!' And then she was gone.
He woke up and searched for her in all the rooms on all the many levels of the aerie, and could not find her.
Eventually he went out on to a high bone balcony and looked down, and saw Karen's white dress lying crumpled on the scree more than a kilometre below, no longer entirely white but red too. And Karen had been inside it.
Harry shook himself, came out of his reverie, deliberately turned his back on Starside and the scars it had given him, and looked at the garden - which now he saw was not entirely as he remembered it. A garden? Well, yes, but not the well-tended garden he had known. And the greenhouses? The hillside dwelling places of the Travellers? The hot springs and speckled trout pools?
There was green algae on the pools; the transparent panels in many of the greenhouses were torn and flapping in cold air eddies out of Starside; the dwelling houses, especially Harry Jr's, showed signs of disrepair where tiles were missing from the roofs, windows were broken, and central-heating pipes from the thermal pools had cracked, spilling their contents out upon the open ground so that the radiators went without.
'Not the same, Harry Hell-lander, is it?' said a deep, sad, growling voice from close at hand, if not in those words exactly. But the Necroscope's telepathy had filled in the bits which his ears had failed to recognize: it's easy to be a linguist when you're also a telepath. Harry turned to face the man approaching him jinglingly along the lee of the wall; as he did so the other noted his gaunt grey flesh and crimson eyes, and paused.
'Hello there, Lardis.' The Necroscope nodded, his own voice as deep and deeper than the other's. 'I hope that shotgun's not for me!' He wasn't joking; if anything, he might have been threatening.
'For The Dweller's father?' Lardis looked at the weapon in his hands as if seeing it for the first time, in something of surprise. He shuffled a little, awkwardly, like a boy caught in contemplation of some small crime, and said, 'Hardly that! But - ' and again the Traveller chief looked at Harry's eyes, and this time narrowed his own, ' -wherever you've been and whatever you've done since last you were here, Harry Hell-lander, I see you've known hard times.' Finally he averted his gaze, glancing here and there all about the garden, then down onto Starside. 'Aye, and hard times here, too. And more still to come, I fear.'
Harry studied the man, and asked, 'Hard times? Won't you explain?'
Lardis Lidesci was Romany; in this world, on Earth, anywhere, there would be no mistaking the Gypsy in him. He was maybe five-eight tall, built like a crag, and looked of one age with the Necroscope. (In fact he was a lot younger, but Starside and the Wamphyri had taken their toll.) In contrast to his squat build he was very agile, and not in body alone; his intelligence was patent in every brown wrinkle of his expressive face. Open and frank, Lardis's round face was framed in dark flowing hair in which streaks of grey were now plainly visible; he had slanted, bushy eyebrows, a flattened nose and a wide mouth full of strong if uneven teeth. His brown eyes held nothing of malice but were careful, thoughtful, penetrating.
'Explain?' said Lardis, coming no closer. 'But isn't all of this explanation enough?' He opened his arms expansively, as if to enclose the entire garden.
'I've been away four years, Lardis,' Harry reminded him, but not in exactly those words. He made automatic conversions; time on Sunside and Starside was not measured in years but in those periods between sunup, when the barrier peaks turned gold, and sundown, when auroras danced in the northern skies. 'When I left this place and returned to the hell-lands,' (he did not say, 'after my son had crippled and banished me', for he'd read in Lardis's mind that he knew nothing of that), 'we'd just won a resounding victory over the Wamphyri. The sun had burned The Dweller, very badly, but he was well on the road to a complete recovery. The futures of you and your Traveller tribe, and The Dweller's trogs, too, seemed secure. So what happened? Where is everyone? And where's The Dweller?'
'In good time.' Lardis nodded, slowly. 'All in good time.' And in a little while, frowning:
'When I saw you come here,' (he seemed to have changed the subject), ' - when you appeared here in that way of yours, as once The Dweller was wont to appear - ' (past tense? Harry contrived to hide a small start), 'well, I knew it was you, obviously. I remembered how you looked - you, Zek, Jazz - as if all of that were yesterday. Yes, and I remembered the good times, in the days immediately after the battle here in the garden. Then, approaching you, I saw your eyes and knew you were a victim no less than The Dweller in that earlier time. And because you are Harry Wolfson's father, his natural father - and I suppose also because I carry this shotgun, loaded with silver from your son's armoury - I wasn't afraid of you. For after all, I am Lardis Lidesci, whom even the Wamphyri respected in some small part.'
'In some large part!' Harry nodded at once. 'Don't sell yourself short. So what are you trying to say, Lardis?'
'I am wondering...' the other began to answer, paused and sighed. 'The Dweller, when lucid, has mentioned...'
When 'lucid'? Now what the hell was this? Harry would look inside Lardis's head, but something warned him not to take on too much. 'Yes?' he prompted.
'Is it possible - ' Lardis jerked the shotgun shut across his arm, thus loading it, its twin barrels pointing straight at Harry's heart, 'that you are their advance guard?'
The Necroscope conjured a Möbius door directly under his own feet and fell through it - and in the next moment rose up out of another door behind the Traveller chief. The echoes of the double blast were still bouncing between the higher crags; a whiff of black-powder stench drifted on the air; Lardis was cursing very vividly and swinging the double barrels of his weapon left and right through a 180-degree arc.
Harry touched him on the shoulder, and as Lardis crouched down and spun on his heels took the gun from him. He propped the weapon against the wall, narrowed his eyes and tilted his head on one side a little - perhaps warningly - and growled, 'Let's walk and talk, Lardis. But this time let's try to be a little more forthcoming.'
The Gypsy was build like a bull; for a moment he remained in his half-crouch, eyes slitted, arms reaching. But finally he changed his mind. Harry was Wamphyri. Go up against him? One might as well hurl oneself from a high place, which would be a much quicker, far less painful death.
But this time, no longer distracted by the gun, Harry read his thoughts. 'No need to die, Lardis,' he said, as softly as possible. 'And no need to kill. I'm no one's vanguard. Now, will you tell me what has happened -what is happening - here? And take the shortest route about it?'
'Many things have happened,' Lardis grunted, catching his breath. 'And many more will happen. That is, if The Dweller's premonitions - his dreams of doom - should come to pass.'
'Where is The Dweller now?' Harry demanded. He glanced sharply at Lardis. 'Wolfson, did you call him? And where's his mother?'
'His mother?' Lardis raised his slanted eyebrows, quickly lowered them again. 'Ah, his mother! Your wife, the most gentle lady Brenda.'
'She was my wife, once.' Harry nodded.
'Come this way,' said Lardis.
He led the Necroscope across the garden, and Harry saw for himself how great were the changes. For it was plain now that the place had been left untended. The pools were stagnating; the greenhouses were empty and cold; a bitter wind blew, bouncing wiry balls of tumble-weed across the flat, once fertile saddle. And to one side, where the level ground began to climb again like foothills to the higher peaks, there lay Brenda's simple cairn.
Harry felt the poignancy of the moment and reached out with his deadspeak. It was instinct... like the beat of his heart... like breathing... but in another moment, remembering how she'd been, he withdrew. She wouldn't know him, and even if she did remember it would only disturb her. To Lardis he said, 'She died peacefully?'
'Aye,' the Gypsy answered. 'Sunup and gentle rains, and all the flowers in bloom. A good time to go.'
'She wasn't ill?'
Lardis shook his head. 'Merely frail. It was her time.'
Harry turned away. 'But alone, here...'
'She wasn't alone!' Lardis protested. 'The trogs loved her. My Travellers, too. And her son. He stayed with her to the end. It helped keep his own trouble at bay.'
'His trouble?' Harry repeated him. 'You mean when he's not himself, not lucid? And you've called him Harry Wolfson. I ask you one more time: where is The Dweller, Lardis Lidesci?'
The Gypsy stared at him a moment, then glanced at the full moon riding the peaks and shivered. 'Up there,' he said, 'where else? Wild as his brothers, aye, and like a king among them where they lope in the trees along the ridges. Or snug in a cave with his bitch on Sunside when the sun is up, or hunting foxes in the far west. Men see him from time to time with the pack... they know him from the hands he wears where the rest have paws, and from his crimson eyes, of course.'
Harry need ask no more, for now he knew. It was something he'd wondered about often enough. Almost to himself, softly, he said, 'With The Dweller... changed, and the Wamphyri defeated, no longer a threat, there was nothing to keep his people here, nothing to hold them together. Perhaps you even feared him. And so you Travellers have drifted back to Sunside, the trogs have returned to their caves, and the garden... will soon come to an end. Unless I put it to rights again.'
'Why not? I fought for it, upon a time.'
Lardis's voice was sour, gruff now. 'And will you also hunt on Sunside - hunt men, women and children - when the nights are dark?'
'Does my son hunt the travelling folk? Did he ever?'
Lardis turned abruptly away. 'I have to go. At the back of the saddle there's a track, a cleft, a pass. My route back through the mountains to Sunside.'
Harry followed close behind. 'Do you go alone? Why did you come here, anyway?'
To remember what was upon a time, and to see what has become. Just this one last time.'
'And now that the Wamphyri are no more: how goes it on Sunside? Have you settled, or do you journey as before?'
Lardis looked back and gave a snort. 'What? The Wamphyri, no more? Well, perhaps - for now! But the swamps boil with their spawn. All is as it was in the long ago, and what has been will be again. Vampires today, Wamphyri tomorrow!'
Harry came to a halt, let the other stride away into a rising mist. 'Lardis,' he called after him, 'remember this: don't bother me and I won't bother you and yours. That's a promise. And if you're in need, seek me out. Except... seek carefully.'
'Hah!' The Gypsy's reply rang from the mist. 'But you're Wamphyri now, Harry Hell-lander! What, and do you make promises? And should I believe them? Well, and perhaps I would have believed them upon a time. But believe the thing inside you? No way! Never! Oh, you'll come a-hunting soon enough, for a woman to warm your bed, or a sweet Traveller child when you've wearied of the flesh of rabbits.'
'Lardis, wait!' Harry growled after him. There are things I need to know, which you can tell me.' Of course, he could always stop him, instantly, and do what he would with him. But he wouldn't, for the old times. And also because he, the Necroscope, was still ascendant, still in command of himself.
The moon raced full and low in the sky; it silvered the peaks, turned the shadows of the crags black, made the mist luminous where it crept. And Harry saw that the mist wasn't rising but falling: down from the shadowed places, to fill the saddles and false plateaus, and tumble over the crags like glowing, slow-motion waterfalls. The howl of a wolf reverberated, echoing from one peak to the next. It was joined by another, and another. No natural mist, this. And these unseen creatures, they were strange and mournful.
Finally Lardis's voice came back hoarse and panting. 'Do you hear that, Harry Hell-lander? The grey brotherhood! Aye, and their king with them, come to sit by his mother and talk with her a while, as is his wont. Ask him these things you would know, and maybe he'll talk to his father, too. But as for me, farewell.'
There came a distant crunching of pebbles, the sound of scree dislodged and sliding, and Lardis was off and running, on his way to Sunside.
And the howling ceased.
Harry waited ...
Finally they came out of the mist: long-eared, grey-furred, tongues lolling, with eyes like molten gold. A pack of wolves. But they were only wolves.
Harry looked at them and they looked back. He was unafraid and they were cautious. They lined up on both sides of him and left a gauntlet for him to run. Except he wouldn't run but walk it, back to The Dweller's house. And as he went the mist and the grey brotherhood closed in behind him.
Inside the house all was darkness, which mattered not at all to the Necroscope. Mist swirled ankle-deep like something sleeping, whose dreams Harry disturbed by passing through. The Dweller sat upright at a table in what was once the living room, where moonbeams came slanting through an open window; he wore a hooded robe, with his eyes burning like triangular coals within the cowl; only his hands, long and slender, were otherwise visible.
Harry sat down opposite.
And: 'I had thought you might come back, one day,' said The Dweller, his voice a snarl, a cough, a croak. 'And I knew it was you from the moment you came howling out of the sphere Gate. Someone who comes into a place like that - brash and full of fire - he is either fearless or very afraid, or he doesn't much care one way or the other.'
'I didn't much care,' said Harry. 'Not then.'
'Let's not waste words,' said The Dweller. 'Once I had all the power. But I also had a vampire in me and thought you would try to exorcize and kill it, and so kill me. Being afraid of what you might do, I put a thought into your head and used it like a knife to cut out all of your secret talents. Like me, you could come and go at will: I immobilized you. Like me, you listened to the dead and talked to them: I made you deaf and dumb. And when all was done, then I returned you back to your own place and stranded you there. Not so terrible; at least you were in your own world, among your own kind.
Then for a while there was peace in this world. And to a lesser extent there was also peace in me.
'But I had used the power of the sun itself to destroy the Wamphyri. You and I together, we had burned them with bright sunfire, and toppled their aeries down on to the plain! All very wonderful, but in so doing - in playing with the sun like that - I too had been burned. Well, and I would soon recover from it. So it seemed...
'I did not recover. What started as a healing process soon stopped, indeed reversed itself. My metamorphic vampire flesh could not replenish itself and the flesh of my human body, and the vampire must come first. That which was human in me gradually sloughed away, eaten out as by leprosy or some monstrous cancer. Even my mind was erased and in large part replaced, and what was instinct in my vampire gradually became instinct, inherent, in me. For the vampire must have a host, active and strong, to house its egg until it could be passed on, and it "remembered" the shape and nature of its first host. As you know, Father, my "other" father - the source of my egg - was a wolf!
'I knew that my body was going, my mind too, and saw that I was reverting. But still there was someone who knew my story - all of it, from the day I was conceived -and to whom I could talk in my hour of need. My mother, of course. And in practising my deadspeak so I kept at least that one last talent alive. But as for the rest: they are gone, forgotten. Ironic: I destroyed your talents and lost my own! And now, when I ... forget things, I talk to the Gentle One Under the Stones, who reminds me of what has been; who even reminded me of you, when I might so easily have forgotten.'
Harry's emotions - the gigantic emotions of the Wamphyri - had filled him to overflowing. He couldn't find words to speak, could scarcely think. In a few short hours, a small fraction of his life, his entire life had been changed for ever. But that meant nothing. His pain was nothing. For others had really suffered and were suffering even now. And he could trace all of it back to himself.
'I'll come here no more,' The Dweller said. 'Now that I've seen you. And now that you've... forgiven me?... I can forget what I was and be what I am. Which is something you might try for yourself, Father.' He reached out a hand to touch Harry's trembling hand, and his forearm was grey-furred where it slid from the sleeve of his robe.
Harry turned his face away. Tears are unseemly in scarlet, Wamphyri eyes. But a moment later, when he looked again...
... The Dweller's robe was still fluttering to the floor, while a shape, grey-blurred, launched itself from the window. Harry leaped to see. There in the vampire mist his son sprang away, then paused, turned and looked back. He blinked triangular eyes, lifted his muzzle, sniffed at the cold air. His ears were pointed, alert; he tilted his head this way and that; he was... listening? But to what?
'Someone comes!' he barked, warningly. And before the Necroscope could question his meaning: 'Ah, yes! That one. Forgotten until now, like so many other things I've forgotten. It seems I'm not the only one who marked your return, Father. No, for she too knows you're back.'
'She?' The Necroscope repeated his werewolf son, as that one turned and loped for the higher peaks; and all the grey brotherhood with him, vanishing into the mist.
A shadow fell on The Dweller's house and Harry turned his startled eyes skyward, where even now a weird diamond shape fell towards the garden. And: 'She?' he said again, his query a whisper.
He means me, hell-lander, her telepathic voice - hardly severe, nevertheless exploding in Harry's mind like a bomb - reached down to him. Telepathy, yes, and not deadspeak. But how could this be? It whirled him like a top.
You! he finally answered in her own medium, as her flyer swooped to earth.
The long dead - the no longer dead - the undead Lady Karen!