Back at the Chateau Bronnitsy in the middle of the following afternoon, Dragosani found Borowitz absent. His secretary told him that Natasha Borowitz had died just two days ago; Gregor Borowitz was in mourning at their dacha, keeping her company for a day or two; he did not wish to be disturbed. Dragosani phoned him anyway.
'Ah, Boris,' the old man's voice was soft for once, empty. 'So you're back.'
'Gregor, I'm sorry,' said Dragosani, observing a ritual he didn't really understand. 'But I thought you'd like to know I got what you wanted. More than you wanted. Shukshin is dead. Gormley too. And I know everything.'
'Good,' said the other without emotion. 'But don't talk to me now of death, Boris. Not now. I shall be here for another week. After that... it will be a while before I'm up to much. I loved this argumentative, tough old bitch. She had a tumour, they say, in her head. Suddenly it grew too big. Very peaceful at the end. I miss her a lot. She never knew what a secret was! That was nice.'
'I'm sorry,' Dragosani said again.
At that Borowitz seemed to snap out of it. 'So take a break,' he said. 'Get it all down on paper. Report to me in a week, ten days. And well done!'
Dragosani's hand tightened on the telephone. 'A break would be very welcome,' he said. 'I may use it to look up an old friend of mine. Gregor, can I take Max Batu with me? He, too, has done his work well.'
'Yes, yes - only don't bother me any more now. Goodbye, Dragosani.'
And that was that.
Dragosani didn't like Batu, but he did have plans for him. Anyway, the man made a decent travelling companion: he said very little, kept himself more or less to himself, and his needs were few. He did have a passion for slivovitz, but that didn't present a problem. The little Mongol could drink the stuff until it came out of his ears, and still he would appear sober. Appearance was all that mattered.
It was the middle of the Russian winter and so they went by train, a much interrupted journey which didn't see them into Galatz until a day and a half later. There Dragosani hired a car with snow chains, which gave him back something of the independence he so relished. Eventually, on the evening of that second day, in the rooms which Dragosani found for them in a tiny village near Valeni, finally the necromancer grew bored with Batu's silence and asked him: 'Max, don't you wonder what we're doing here? Aren't you interested to find out why I brought you along?'
'No, not really,' answered the moon-faced Mongol. 'I'll find out when you're ready, I suppose. Actually, it makes no difference. I think I quite like travelling. Perhaps the Comrade General will find more work for me in strange parts.'
Dragosani thought: No, Max, there'll be no more work for you - except through me. But out loud he said only, 'Perhaps.'
Night had fallen by the time they had eaten, and that was when Dragosani gave Batu the first hint of what was to come. 'It's a fine night tonight, Max,' he said. 'Bright starlight and not a cloud in sight. That's good, for we're going for a drive. There's someone I want to talk to.' On their way to the cruciform hills they passed a field
where sheep huddled together in a corner where straw had been put out for them. There was a thin layer of snow but the temperature was at a reasonable level. Dragosani stopped the car. 'My friend will be thirsty,' he explained, 'but he's not much on slivovitz. Still, I think it's only fair we should take him something to drink.'
They got out of the car and Dragosani went into the field, scattering the sheep. 'That one, Max,' he said, as one of the animals strayed close to the Mongol where he leaned on the fence. 'Don't kill it. Merely stun it, if you can.'
Max could. He crouched, his face contorting where he directed his gaze through the bars of the fence. Dragosani averted his face as the sheep, a fine ewe, gave a shrill cry of terror. He looked back in time to see the animal bound as if shot, and collapse in a shuddering heap of dense wool.
Together they bundled the animal into the boot and went on their way. After a little while Batu said: 'Your friend must have the strangest appetite, Comrade.'
'He does, Max, he does.' And then Dragosani told the other something of what he could expect.
Batu thought about it for some minutes before he spoke again. 'Comrade Dragosani, I know you are a strange man - indeed we are both strange men - but now I am tempted to believe you must be mad!'
Dragosani bayed like a hound, finally brought his booming laughter under control. 'You mean you don't believe in vampires, Max?'
'Oh, indeed I do!' said the other. 'If you say so. I don't mean that you're mad to believe - but you are certainly mad to want to dig the thing up!'
'We shall see what we shall see,' Dragosani growled, more soberly now. 'There's just one thing, Max. What ever you hear or see - no matter what may happen - you are not to interfere. I don't want him to know you're even here. Not yet, anyway. Do you understand what I'm saying? You're to stay out of it. You're to be so still and quiet that even I forget you're there!'
'As you will,' the other shrugged. 'But you say he reads your mind. Perhaps he already knows I'm with you.'
'No,' said Dragosani, 'for I can sense when he's trying to get at me and I know how to shut him out. Anyway, he'll be very weak by now and not up to fighting with me, not even mentally. No, Thibor Ferenczy has no idea that I'm here, Max, and he'll be so delighted when I speak to him that he won't think to look for treachery.'
'If you say so,' and Batu shrugged again.
'Now,' said Dragosani, 'you have said I must be mad. Far from it, Max. But you see this vampire has secrets that only the undead know. They are secrets I want. And one way or the other I intend to get them. Especially now that there's this Harry Keogh to deal with. So far Thibor has frustrated me, but not this time. And if I have to raise him up to get at these secrets... then so be it!'
'And do you know how? - to raise him up, I mean?'
'Not yet, no. But he'll tell me, Max. Be sure of that...'
They were there. Dragosani parked the car off the road under the cover of overhanging trees, and in the cold bright light of the stars they trudged slowly up the overgrown fire break together, snaring the burden of the twitching sheep between them.
Approaching the secret glade, Dragosani took the animal on his shoulder and whispered: 'Now, Max, you're to stay here. You may follow a little closer if you wish, and watch by all means - but remember, keep out of it!'
The other nodded, came a few paces closer, huddled down and wrapped his overcoat tightly about himself. And alone Dragosani went on under the trees and up to the tomb of the Thing in the ground.
He paused at the rim of the circle, but farther out than when last he'd visited. 'How now, old dragon?' he softly said, letting the trembling, half-dead ewe thump to the hard ground at his feet. 'How now, Thibor Ferenczy, you who have made a vampire of me!' He spoke softly so that Max Batu could not hear, for as always he found it easier to speak out loud than merely think his conversation at the vampire.
Ahhhh! came the mental hiss, drawn out and sighing, like the waking breath of one roused from deepest dreams. And is it you, Dragosani? Ho! - and so you've guessed, have you?
'It didn't take much guesswork, Thibor. It has been only a matter of months, but I'm a changed man. Indeed, not entirely a man.'
But no rage, Dragosani? No fury? Why, it seems to me that this time you come almost humbly! Why is that? I wonder.
'Oh, you know why, old dragon. I want rid of this thing.'
Ah, no (a mental shake of some monstrous head) unfortunately not. That is quite impossible. You and he are one now, Dragosani. And did I not call you my son, right from the very beginning? It is only fitting, I think, that my real son now grows within you. And he laughed in Dragosani's mind.
Dragosani couldn't afford the luxury of anger. Not yet. 'Son?' he pressed. 'This thing you put in me? Son? Another lie, old devil? Who was it told me that your sort have no sex?'
/ think you never listen, Dragosani, the vampire sighed. You, his host, have determined his sex! As he grows and becomes more properly part of you, so you become more like him. In the end it is one creature, one being.
'But with his mind?'
With your mind - but subtly altered. Your mind and
your body too, but both changed a little. Your appetites will be... sharper? Your needs... different. Listen: as a man your lusts, passions and rages were limited by a man's strength, a man's capabilities. But as one of the Wamphyri... What end would it serve to have that great engine in you with nothing to drive but a bundle of soft flesh and brittle bones? What - a tiger with the heart of a mouse?
Which was more or less what Dragosani had expected from the monster. But before coming to a final, perhaps irrevocable decision, he tried one last time, made one last threat. 'Then I shall go away and give myself into the hands of physicians. They're a different breed to the doctors you knew in your day, Thibor. And I shall tell them a vampire is in me. They'll examine, discover, cut the thing out. They have tools you wouldn't dream of. When they have it they'll cut it open, study it, discover its nature. And they'll want to know how and why. I shall tell them. About the Wamphyri. Oh, they'll laugh, measure me up for a strait-jacket - but they won't be able to explain it away. And so I shall bring them here, show them you. It will be the end. Of you, of your "son", of an entire legend. And wherever the Wamphyri are, men will seek them out and destroy them...'
Well said, Dragosani! Thibor was dryly sardonic. Bravo!
Dragosani waited, and after a moment: 'Is that all you have to say?'
It is. I don't converse with fools.
Now the voice in his mind grew extremely cold and angry, a controlled anger now, but real and frightening for all that. You are a vain and egotistical and stupid man, Boris Dragosani, said Thibor Ferenczy. Always it is "tell me this" and "show me that" and "explain"! I was a power in the land for centuries before you were even spawned, and even that would not have happened but for
me! And here I must lie and let myself be used. Well, all that is at an end. Very well, I will "explain myself as you demand, but for the very last time. For after that... then it will be time for proper discussion and proper bargaining. I'm tired of lying here, inert, Dragosani, as you well know, and you have the power to get me up out of here. That is the only reason I've been patient with you at all! But now my patience is no more. First let us deal with your assessment of your situation.
You say that you will give yourself into the hands of physicians. Well, by now certainly the vampire will be discernible in you. It is there, physically and tangibly, a real organism existing with you in a son of symbiosis - a word you taught me, Dragosani. But cut it out? Exorcise it? Skilled your doctors may well be, but not that skilled! Can they cut it from the individual whorls of your brain? From the fluids of your spine? From your tripes, your heart itself? Can they wrest it from your very blood? Even if you were fool enough to let them try, the vampire would kill you first. It would eat through your spine, leak poison into your brain. Surely by now you have come to understand something of our tenacity? Or did you perhaps think that survival was a purely human trait? Survival -hah! - you do not know the meaning of the word!
Dragosani was silent.
We made promises, you and I, the Thing in the ground finally continued. / have kept my part of the bargain. Now then, what of yours? Is it not time I was paid, Dragosani?
'Bargain?' Dragosani was taken aback. 'Are you joking? What bargain?'
Have you forgotten? You wanted the secrets of the Wamphyri. Very well, they are yours. For now you are a Wamphyri! As he grows within you, so the knowledge will come. He has arts which you will learn together.
'What?' Dragosani was outraged. 'My impregnation by a vampire, with a vampire, was your part of the bargain?
What the hell was that for a bargain? I wanted knowledge, wanted it now, Thibor! For myself - not as the black, rotten fruit of some unnatural, unwanted liaison with a damned parasite thing!'
You dare spurn my egg? For each Wamphyri life there is but one spawning, one new life to move on down through the centuries. And I gave mine to you...
'Don't act the proud father with me, Thibor Ferenczy!' Dragosani raged. 'Don't even try and make out I've hurt your pride. I want rid of this bastard thing in me. Do you tell me you care for it? But I know you vampires hate one another even worse than men hate you!'
The Thing in the ground knew that Dragosani had seen through him. Proper discussion, proper bargaining, he said, coldly.
'The hell with bargaining - I want rid of it!' Dragosani snarled. Tell me how... and then I'll raise you up.'
For long moments there was silence. Then -
You cannot do it. Your doctors cannot do it. Only I can abort what I put there.
'Then do it.'
'What? While I lie here, in the ground? Impossible! Raise me up... and it shall be done.
Now it was Dragosani's turn to ponder the vampire's proposition - or at least to pretend to ponder it. And finally: 'Very well. How do I go about it?'
Thibor was eager now: First, do you do this of your own free will?
'You know I do not!' Dragosani was scornful. 'I do it to be free of the hag in me.'
But of your own free will? Thibor insisted.
'Yes, damn you!'
Good. First there are chains here, in the earth. They were used to bind me but have long since worked loose of wasted tissues. You see, Dragosani, there are chemical ingredients which the Wamphyri find intolerable. Silver
and iron in the correct proportions paralyse us. Even though much of the iron has rusted away, its essence remains in the ground. And the silver is here, too. First, then, you must dig out these silver chains. 'But I haven't the tools!' You have your hands.
'You wish me to grub in the dirt with my hands? How deep?'
Not deep at all but shallow.Through all the long centuries I've worked these silver chains to the surface, hoping someone would find them and take them for treasure. Is silver precious still, Dragosani? 'More than ever.'
Then take it with my blessing. Come, dig. 'But - ' (Dragosani did not want to appear to be stalling, but on the other hand there were certain arrange­ments still to be made). ' - how long will it take? The entire process, I mean? And what does it involve?'
We start it tonight, said the vampire, and tomorrow we finish it.
'I can't actually bring you up out of the ground until tomorrow?' Dragosani tried not to show too much relief. Not until then, no. I am too weak, Dragosani. But I note you've brought me a gift. That is very good. I shall derive a little strength from your offering... and after you have taken away the chains -'Very well,' said the necromancer. 'Where do I dig?' Come closer, my son. Come to the very centre of this place. There - there! Now you can dig ...
The flesh crept on Dragosani's back as he got down on hands and knees and tore at the dirt and leaf-mould with his fingers. Cold sweat started to his brow - but not from his effort - as he remembered the last time he was here, and what had happened then. The vampire sensed his apprehension and chuckled darkly in his mind: Oh, and do you fear me, Dragosani? For all your bluff and bluster? What? A brave young blood like you, and old Thibor Ferenczy just a poor undead Thing in the ground? Bah! Shame on you, my son!
Dragosani had scraped most of the surface soil and debris to one side and was now five or six inches deep. He had reached the harder, more solidly frozen earth of the grave itself. But as he drove his fingers yet again into that strangely fertile soil, so they contacted something hard, something that clinked dully. He worked harder then, and the first links he uncovered were of solid silver - and massive! The links were at least two inches long, and forged of silver rods at least half an inch thick!
'How... how much of this stuff is there?' he gasped.
Enough to keep me down, Dragosani, came the answer. Until now.
The vampire's words, simple and spontaneous as they were, nevertheless contained a menacing something which set the short hairs at the back of Dragosani's neck standing erect in a moment. Thibor's mental voice had bubbled like boiling glue, filled with all the evil of the pit itself. Dragosani was a necromancer - he knew himself for a monster - but next to the old devil in the ground he felt innocent as a babe!
He caught hold of a great rope of silver links, stood up, used a strength which astonished even him to rip up the chains from the earth. They came up, cracking open the ground, erupting in scabs of clotted soil and crusts of dusty, smoking leaf-mould; even shaking the roots of the trees which had grown up through all the long years to cover this place and keep it secret. And dragging the treasure in three trips to the outer rim of the circle of roots and shattered flags and torn earth, Dragosani calculated that there must be at least five or six hundred pounds of the stuff! In the Western World he would be a rich man. But in Moscow ... to even try to profit from it would be worth ten years in the Siberian salt mines at least. No such thing as treasure trove in the USSR - only theft!
On the other hand, what good was treasure to him? No good at all, except as a means to an end. He couldn't enjoy the fruits of his labours like other men. But one day soon he would be able to enjoy, when other men -all other men - crawled to his feet, and world leaders came to do obeisance in the courts of the Great Wallachian Hyper-State. These were thoughts Dragosani kept hidden as he hauled the last of the chains aside and stood panting, staring in darkness at the scarred, riven earth of this secret place.
And he gave a wry snort of self-derision as he remem­bered a time when it would have been hard to see anything at all in this dark place, even with his cat's eyes. But now: why, it was like daylight! Yet another proof that a vampire lived in him, battening on his body as it would one day attempt to batten on his mind. And as for Thibor's promise to abort the thing: Dragosani knew that wasn't worth a handful of tomb-dirt! Well, if he must live with the leech so be it; but he would be master and not the beast within. Somehow, somewhere, he would find a way.
And these thoughts, too, he kept to himself...
At last he was done and the silver chains lay in a great circle all about the torn-up area. 'There,' he told the Thing in the ground. 'All finished. Nothing to keep you down now, Thibor Ferenczy.'
You've done well, Dragosani. I'm well pleased. But now I must feed and then I must rest. It is no easy thing to return from the grave. So now your offering, if you please, which I trust you'll leave me in peace to enjoy. I shall require the same again tomorrow night, before I can stand with you under the stars. Then, and only then, will you too be free...
Dragosani kicked the ewe which at once started to life.
He trapped the shivering animal between his legs as it lurched to its feet, yanked back its head. The glittering blade he wielded passed through the front part of its neck effortlessly, coming away clean before the first spurt of blood gushed out on to the dark, unhallowed ground. Then he picked the shuddering animal up - as a man might pick up a cat, by scruff of neck and rump - and spun with it, tossing it centrally into the circle. It thudded down, and again came to its feet - and only then seemed to realise that it was hurt and that this was the end. Awash in blood the beast fell on its side, kicking spastically in its own reek as the rest of its life pumped out of it.
Dragosani stepped back then, and farther yet, and in his mind he heard the vampire's great deep sigh of pleasure, of monstrous craving.
Ahhhh! Not greatly to my taste, Dragosani, but satisfying beyond a doubt. I owe you thanks, my son, but they can wait until tomorrow. Now begone, for I'm tired and hungry, and loneliness is a drug whose addiction I've not yet broken...
Dragosani needed no second bidding. He backed away from the broken tomb, from the twitching, huddled shape at the centre of the circle. But even as he went his eyes were on the alert for some sign of the vampire's new freedom, its mobility. Oh, yes! - for Thibor Ferenczy was mobile now - the necromancer could feel him underfoot, could sense him stretching himself, could almost hear the creak of leathery muscles and the groan of old bones as they soaked in blood and something of their brittleness went out of them.
The ewe's carcass sagged, slumped lower, closer to the blood-soaked earth. It was as if some seismic suction had pulled at the animal, as if the earth itself were a mouth that sucked. Something moved beneath the slaughtered beast, but Dragosani could make out nothing for certain.
He backed away, backed up against a tree and quickly groped his way around it, putting the rough bole between himself and what was happening. But still he kept his eyes riveted on the ewe's carcass.
The animal was large and heavy with wool, but even as Dragosani watched so it seemed its bulk shrank down a little, caved in upon itself - diminished! The necromancer sent out a mental probe towards the Thing in the ground, but such was the lusting bestiality it was met with that he at once withdrew it. And still the ewe continued to shrink, shrivel, dwindle away.
And as the ewe was devoured, so the cold ground about began to smoke, a stinking mist rising and rapidly thickening, obscuring the rest of the act. It was as if the earth sweated - or as if something down there breathed, which had not breathed for a long, long time.
That was enough. Dragosani turned away and quickly joined Max Batu. With a finger to his lips he beckoned the other to follow, and quickly they descended the fire­break together and made their way back to the car.
Earlier that same day and some seven hundred miles away, Harry Keogh decided, standing at the grave of August Ferdinand Mobius, (born 1790, died 26th September 1868) that it had been a very bad day for the science of numbers, a very bad day indeed. Or more specifically, a bad day for topology, and not forgetting astronomy. The day in question was the date of Mobius' death, of course.
There had been students here earlier - East German, mainly, but much like students anywhere else in the world - long-haired and tattily attired; but properly respectful, Harry had thought. And so they should be. He, too, felt respectful; even awed that he stood in the presence of such a man. In any case, not wanting to appear too strange, Harry had waited until he was alone. Also, he had needed to think how best to approach Mobius. This was no ordinary figure lying here but a thinker who'd helped guide science along many of the right paths.
Finally Harry had settled for a direct approach; seating himself, he let his thoughts reach out and touch those of the dead man. A calm came over Harry then; his eyes took on their strange, glassy look; for all that it was bitterly cold, a fine patina of sweat gleamed on his brow. And slowly he grew aware that indeed Mobius - or what remained of him - was here. And active!
Formulae, tables of figures, astronomical distances and non-Euclidean, Riemannian configurations beat against Harry's awareness like the pulses of mighty, living com­puters. But ... all of this in one mind? A mind which processed all of these thoughts very nearly simul­taneously? And then it dawned on Harry that Mobius was working on something, flipping through the pages of memory and learning as he sought to tie together the elements of a puzzle too complex for Harry's - or for any merely living man's - comprehension. All very well, but it might go on for days. And Harry simply didn't have the time.
'Sir? Excuse me, sir? My name is Harry Keogh. I've come a long way to see you.'
The phantasmal flow of figures and formulae stopped at once, like a computer switched off. 'Eh? What? Who?'
'Harry Keogh, sir. I'm an Englishman.'
There was a slight pause before the other snapped: 'English? I don't care if you're an Arab! I'll tell you what you are: you're a nuisance! Now what is this, eh? What's it all about? I'm quite unused to this sort of thing.'
'I'm a necroscope,' Harry explained as best he could. 'I can talk to the dead.'
'Dead? Talk to the dead? Hmm! I considered that, yes, and long ago came to the conclusion that I was. So obviously you can. Well, it comes to us all - death, I
mean. Indeed it has its advantages. Privacy, for one - or so I thought until now! A necroscope, you say? A new science?'
Harry had to smile. 'I suppose you could call it that. Except I seem to be its one practitioner. Spiritualists aren't quite the same thing.'
'I'll say they're not! Fraudulent bunch at best. Well then, how can I help you, Harry Keogh? I mean, I suppose you've a reason for disturbing me? A good reason, that is?'
'The best in the world,' said Harry. The fact is I'm tracking down a fiend, a murderer. I know who he is but I don't know how to bring him to justice. All I have is a clue as to how I might set about it, and that's where you come in.'
Tracking down a murderer? A talent like yours and you use it to track down murderers? Boy, you should be out talking to Euclid, Aristotle, Pythagorus! No, cancel that last. You'd get nothing from him. Him and his damned secretive Pythagorean Brotherhood! It's a wonder he even passed on his Theorem! Anyway, what is this clue of yours?'
Harry showed him a mental projection of the Mobius strip. 'It's this,' he said. 'It's what ties the futures of my quarry and myself together.'
Now the other was interested. Topology in the time dimension? That leads to all sorts of interesting questions. Are you talking about your probable futures or your actual futures? Have you spoken to Gauss? He's the one for probability - and topology, for that matter. Gauss was a master when I was a mere student - albeit a brilliant student!'
'Actual,' said Harry. 'Our actual futures.'
'But that is to presuppose that you know something of the future in the first place. And is precognition another talent of yours, Harry?' (A little sarcasm.)
'Not mine, no, but I do have friends who occasionally" catch glimpses of the future, just as surely as I -'
Twaddle!' Mobius cut him off. 'Zollnerists all!'
' - talk to the dead.' Harry finished it anyway.
The other was silent for a moment or two. Then: Tm probably a fool... but I think I believe you. At least I believe you believe, and that you have been misled. But for the life of me I can't see how my believing in you will help you in your quest.'
'Neither can I,' said Harry dejectedly. 'Except... what about the Mobius strip? I mean, it's all I have to go on. Can't you at least explain it to me? After all, who would know more about it than you? You invented it!'
'No,' (a mental shake of the head,) 'they merely stamped my name on it. Invented it? Ridiculous! I noticed it, that's all. As for explaining it: once there was a time when that would be the very simplest thing. Now, however -'
'What year is this?'
The abrupt change of subject bewildered Harry. 'Nine teen seventy-seven,' he answered.
'Really?' (Astonishment.) 'As long as that? Well, well! And so you see for yourself, Harry, that I've been lying here for more than a hundred years. But do you think I've been idle? Not a bit of it! Numbers, my boy, the ultimate answer to all the riddles of the universe. Space and its curvature and qualities and properties - properties still largely unimagined, I imagine, in the world of the living. Except I don't have to imagine, for I know! But explain it? Are you a mathematician, Harry?'
'I know a little.'
Reluctantly, Harry shook his head.
'What is your understanding of science - of SCIENCE,
that is. Your understanding of the physical, the material, and the conjectural universe?'
Again Harry shook his head.
'Can you understand any of ... this - ' and a stream of symbols and equations and calculi flashed up on the screen of Harry's mind, each item in its turn more complex than the last. Some of it he recognised from talks with James Gordon Hannant, some he knew through intuition, but most of it was completely alien.
'It's all... pretty difficult,' he finally said.
'Hmm!' (The slow nod of a phantom head.) 'But on the other hand... you do have intuition. Yes, and I believe it's strong in you! I suppose I could always teach you, Harry.'
Teach me? Mathematics? Something you worked on all your life and for a hundred years since that life ended? Now who's talking twaddle? It would take me at least as long as it has taken you! Incidentally, what's a Zollnerist?'
'J. K. F. Zollner was a mathematician and astronomer - God help us! - who outlived me. He was also a crank and a spiritualist. To him numbers were "magickal"! Did I call you a Zollnerist? Unpardonable! You must forgive me. Actually, he wasn't far wrong. His topology was wrong, that's all. He tried to impose the unphysical - or mental universe - on the physical one. And that doesn't work. Space-time is a constant, fixed and immutable as pi.'
That doesn't leave much room for metaphysics,' said Harry, certain by now that he'd come to the wrong place.
'No room at all,' Mobius agreed.
'What's this, then? What am I doing right now?'
Mobius was a little taken aback. But then: 'Necroscopy, or so I'm given to believe.'
'That's picking nits,' said Harry. 'What about clairvoyancy, or far-sightedness: the ability to view events at a great distance through the medium of the mind alone?'
'In the physical world, impossible. You would perpetuate Zollner's errors.'
'But I know these things can be done,' Harry contradicted. 'I know where there are people who do them. Not all the time, never easily or with any great accuracy, but occasionally. It is a new science, and it requires intuition.'
After another pause Mobius said, 'Again I'm tempted to believe you. What point would there be in your lying to me? Man's knowledge - of all things - increases all the time. And after all, I can do it! But then, I'm not of the physical world. Not any longer...'
Harry's head whirled. 'You can do it? Are you telling me that you can scry out distant events?'
'I see them, yes,' said Mobius, 'but not through any crystal ball. Nor are they strictly distant. Distance is relative. I go there. I go where the events I wish to watch are scheduled to occur.'
'But... where do you go? How?'
'"How" is the difficult bit,' said Mobius. 'Where is far easier. Harry, in life I wasn't only a mathematician but also an astronomer. After I died, naturally I was restricted to maths. But astronomy was in me; it was part of me; it would not let me be. And everything comes to those who wait. As time passed I began to feel the stars shining down on me, through the day as well as the night. I became aware of their weight - their mass, if you like -their great distance, the distances between them. Soon I knew far more about them than ever I had known in life, and then I determined to go and see them for myself. When you came to me I was calculating the magnitude of a nova soon to occur in Andromeda, and I shall be there
to see it happen! Why not? I am unbodied. The laws of the physical universe no longer apply.'
'But you've just denied the metaphysical,' Harry pro tested. 'And now you're saying you can teleport to the stars!'
Teleportation? No, for nothing physical is moved. As I keep telling you, Harry, I am not a physical thing. There may well be a so-called "metaphysical" universe, but neither the real nor the unreal may impose itself upon the other.'
'Or so you believed until you met me!' said Harry, his strange eyes opening wider, his voice full of a new awe. For suddenly a bright star was shining in Harry's mind, but shining brighter than any nova in the mind of Mobius.
'What? What's that?'
'Are you saying,' Harry became relentless, 'that thereis no meeting point between the physical and the meta-physical? Is that your argument?''Exactly!'
'And yet I am physical, and you are purely mental -and we have met!
He sensed the other's gape. 'Astonishing! It seems I've overlooked the obvious.'
Harry pressed his advantage: 'You use the strip, don't you, to go out amongst the stars?'
'The strip? I use a variant of it, yes, but - '
'And you called me a Zollnerist?'
For a moment Mobius was speechless. Then: 'It seems my arguments ... no longer apply!'
'You do teleport!' said Harry. 'You teleport pure mind. You're a scryer. That's your talent, sir! In a way it always was. Even in life you could-see things that others were blind to. The strip is a perfect example. Well, scrying in itself would be a marvellous weapon, but I want to take it a step farther. I want to impose -I mean rigidly impose -the physical me on the metaphysical universe.'
'Please, Harry, not so fast!' Mobius protested. 'I need to-'
'Sir, you offered to teach me,' Harry couldn't be restrained. 'Well, I accept. But only teach me what's absolutely necessary. Let my instinct, my intuition do the rest. My mind's a blackboard, and you've got the chalk right there in your hand. So go ahead, teach me ...
Teach me how to ride your Mobius strip!'
It was night again and Dragosani had climbed back into the cruciform hills. Across his back he carried a second ewe, this one stunned with a large stone. The day had been a busy one, but its proceeds must surely show a profit; Max Batu had had the chance to display yet again the morbid power of his evil eye, this time to one Ladislau Giresci; eventually the old man would be found in his lonely house, 'victim of a heart attack', of course.
But Max's work had not stopped there, for only an hour or so ago Dragosani had sent the Mongolian out upon another crucial mission; which meant that the necro­mancer was now alone - or to all intents and purposes alone - as he approached the tomb of the vampire and sent his words and thoughts before him to penetrate the cold gloom beneath dark and stirless trees.
'Thibor, are you sleeping? I'm here as directed. The stars are bright and the night chill, and the moon is creeping on the hills. This is the hour, Thibor - for both of us.'
And after a moment: Ahhhh! ... Dragosaaaniiti? Sleeping? I suppose I was. But I have slept a grand sleep, Dragosani. The sleep of the undead. And I dreamed a grand dream - of conquest and of empire! And for once my hard bed was soft as the breasts of a lover, and these old, old bones were not weighed down but buoyant as the step of a lad when he meets his lass. A grand dream, aye, but... alas, only a dream for all that.
Dragosani sensed... despondency? Alarmed for his plan, he asked: 'Is anything wrong?'
On the contrary. All goes well, my son - except I fear it may take a little longer than I thought. I took strength from your offering of yestereve, indeed I did! - and I fancy I've even put on a little flesh. But still the ground is hard and these old sinews of mine stiff from the salts of the earth...
And then, more eagerly: But did you remember, Drago­sani, and bring me another small tribute? Not too small, I hope? Something, perhaps, to compare with my last repast?
For answer the necromancer came to a halt on the rim of the circle, tossed down from his shoulder to the ground at his feet the inert mass of the ewe in a grunting heap. 'I didn't forget,' he said. 'But come on, old dragon, tell me whatyoumean.Why willittakelonger thanyou thought?' Dragosani's disappointment was real; his plan depended upon raising the vampire up tonight.
Have you no understanding, Dragosani? came Thibor's answer. Among the men who followed me when I was a warrior, many were so injured in battle that they were carried to their beds. Some would recover. But after months of lying still, often they were wasted and full of aches and torments. Picture me, then, after five hundred years! But... we shall see what we shall see. Even as we talk I grow more eager to be risen up - and so perhaps, after a little more refreshment - ?
Dragosani wryly nodded his understanding, drew out a " small glinting sickle of honed brightness from its sheath in his pocket, and stooped towards the ewe.
Hold! said the vampire. As you surmise, Dragosani, this may well be the hour - for both of us. An hour of great moment! For both of us. For my own part, I think we should treat it with the respect it warrants.
The necromancer frowned, cocked his head on one side. 'How do you mean?'
So far, my son, I think you would agree that I have not stood on ceremony. For all that I have had my food hurled at me, as if I were some rooting pig, I have not complained. But I would have you know, Dragosani, that I too have supped at table. Indeed, I've dined in the courts of princes! - aye, and will again, with you perhaps seated upon my right hand. May I not, therefore, expect treatment more nearly gracious? Or must I always remember you as a man who poured my food over me like slops into a pigsty?
'A bit late for niceties, isn't it, Thibor?' Dragosani wondered what the vampire was up to. 'What exactly do you want?'
Thibor was quick to note his apprehension. What? And do you still distrust me? Well, and I suppose you have your reasons. Survival was mine. But come, have we not agreed that when I'm up and about, then that I'll drive out the seed of my own flesh from your body? And in that moment, will you not be entirely in my hands? It seems a foolish thing, Dragosani, that you would put your faith in me walking abroad but not in my grave! Surely if I were so inclined, I'd be capable of more harm to you up than down? Also, if it were my plan to harm you, who then would be my guide in this new world I'm about to enter? You shall instruct me, Dragosani, and I you.
'You still haven't said what you want.'
The vampire sighed. Dragosani, I am forced to admit a small personal flaw. I have in the past accused you of a certain vanity, yet now I tell you that I, too, am vain. Aye, and I would celebrate my rebirth in a manner more fitting. Therefore, bring unto me the ewe, my son, and lay it down before me. This one last time, let it be by way of a genuine tribute - even as a ritual sacrifice to one who is mighty - and not merely swill and roughage for the
fattening of swine. Let me eat as from a platter, Dragosani, and not out of a trough!
'Old bastard!' thought Dragosani, while continuing to keep his thoughts secret. So he was to be the vampire's serf, was he? Just another poor gypsy dolt to be cuffed about and follow at heel like a whining dog? 'Ah, but I've news for you my old, my too old friend!' and Dragosani hugged his secret thoughts tightly to himself. 'Enjoy this, Thibor Ferenczy, for it's the very last time a man will fetch and carry for the likes of you!' And out loud he said:
'You want me to bring you the beast, as if it were an offering?'
Is it too much to ask?
The necromancer shrugged. Right now, nothing was too much to ask. He would be doing a little 'asking' himself, shortly. He put away his razor-edged knife and took up the sheep. He carried it to the centre of the circle, crouched down and placed it where last night's offering had lain. Then again he took out his sickle blade. Until now the glade had been quiet, still as the tomb it was, but now Dragosani sensed a gathering. It was as if muscles were suddenly bunched, the silent creep of a cat's paws as it closes on a mouse, the forming of saliva on a chameleon's tongue before it strikes. Quickly, thrilling with horror of the unknown - even a monster such as Dragosani, filled with horror - he drew back the stunned beast's head and made its throat taut. And -No need for that, my son, said Thibor Ferenczy. Dragosani would have leapt away, for in that selfsame moment he knew - but knew too late - that the Thing in the ground had had its fill of piglets and sheep! Not one eighth of an inch had he straightened from his crouch before that phallic tentacle burst from the ground beneath him, shearing through his clothing like a knife and up, into him. And how he would have leapt then, to be free of it, even if the tearing should kill him; he would have leapt - but he couldn't. Growing barbs within him, the pseudopod stretched itself through all the lower conduits of his body and filled him, and drew him down like a fish yanked from water on a hook!
Dragosani's feet flew out from beneath him as he was slammed down against the dark and seething earth; and after that there was no longer room even for the thought of flight. For that was when the pain, the torment, the ultimate agony commenced...
His bowels were melting, his entrails were on fire, he was seated upright on a fountain of acid! And through all the incredible pain Thibor Ferenczy howled his triumph and taunted Dragosani with the truth - the real truth -the one final question whose answer had eluded the necromancer through all these years:
Why did they hate me, my son? My own kith and kin, as it were? Why do all vampires hate other vampires? Why, the answer to that is the very simplest thing! The blood is the life, Dragosani! Oh, the blood of swine will suffice if there's nought better to sup, and the blood of fowls and sheep. Better far, however, the blood of men, as you'll very soon be obliged to discover for yourself. But over and above all other vessels, the true nectar of life may only be sipped from the veins of another vampire!
Dragosani burned in a double hell; he felt torn apart inside; his parasite twin within clove to him in its agony as Thibor's nightmare appendage fastened upon it and leeched its essence. And yet that terrible tentacle did no real harm, no damage. Protoplasmic, it moulded itself to organs without crushing them, penetrated without puncturing. Even its barbs caused no injury, for they were fashioned to hold without tearing. The agony lay in its being there, in its contact with raw nerves and muscles and organs, in its advance through all the tracts of Dragosani's raped physical body. It could not hurt more if some insane doctor had dripped an acid solution into an open vein - but it would not kill. It could kill, certainly, but not now, not this time.
In his torment Dragosani could not know that. And through his torment he cried: 'Get ... it... done with, damn you! Damn your... black heart, liar of liars! Kill... me, Thibor! Do it now. Put an end to it, I ... I beg you!'
He sat there in the darkness under the trees amidst the shattered flags and the crumbling ruins of the ancient tomb, and horror ate at his mind like a rat set loose in his brain and left to eat its way out. Someone had set a meat mincer in motion inside him and it was reducing his guts to squirming red worms. He jerked and threshed, fell to one side. The agony drove him upright again, only to fall the other way. And so he twitched and jerked and lolled and screamed, and still Thibor Ferenczy fed.
Strength you gave me, Dragosani, aye. Strength and bulk in the blood of beasts. But the true life is the blood of a fellow creature - even the thin, immature blood of that child of mine who now gibbers inside you as he grows weak from his loss even as you grow weak from pain. But kill him? Kill you? Nay, nay! What? And rob myself of a thousand feasts to come? We go together into the world, Dragosani, and you in thrall to me until that time when you shall flee. By which time you'll not need to ask but know why all the Wamphyri share a mutual bond of hate!
The vampire was sated. The tentacle slid out of Dragosani and down into the earth out of sight. Its going was, if anything, even worse than its coming: a white hot sword drawn out of him by a careless hand.
He cried out, a shriek that echoed like the cry of a wild thing through the cold, cruel cruciform hills, and toppled over on his side. But hadn't Thibor told him that they named the Vlad 'the Impaler' after him? He had, and now Dragosani could more fully understand just why!
The necromancer tried to stand and could not. His legs were jelly, his brain a seething acid soup in its skull bowl. He rolled, cleared the tainted circle, again tried to rise. Impossible. Will was not enough. He lay still, sobbing in the night, gathering wits and strength both. The vampire had spoken of hate, and he had been right. It was hate that kept Dragosani conscious now. Hate and only hate. His and that of the creature within him. Both of them had been ravaged.
Finally he propped himself up on his side, glared his hate at the black earth which now steamed and smoked as the vapours of hell rose up from it. Cracks appeared in the sub-soil which Dragosani had cleared. The earth bulged upward, began to break open. Something thrust up from below. Then -
That same something sat up - and it was something unbelievable!
Dragosani's lips drew back from his teeth in an involun­tary snarl of loathing, and in terror! For this was the Thing in the ground. This was what he had talked to, argued with, cursed and profaned time and time again. This was Thibor Ferenczy, the undead embodiment of his own bat-devil-dragon banner. But worse, it was what Dragosani had doomed himself one day to become!
The thick ears of the thing grew close to its head but were pointed and projected slightly higher than the elongated skull, giving the appearance of horns. Its nose was wrinkled and convoluted, like that of a great bat, and squat to its face. Its skin was of scale and its eyes were scarlet, like a dragon's. And it was... big! The hands where they now appeared and clawed at the soil at its waist were huge, with nails projecting all of an inch beyond the fingers.
Dragosani finally fought back his terror and forced himself to his feet - just as the vampire turned its strangely wolfish head to fix him with a monstrous, almost
startled stare. And its eyes opened wide as their scarlet light fell on him where he tottered. 'I ... I CAN SEE... YOU!' said Thibor then, his risen voice as evil and alien as any of his mental sendings from the tomb. But the statement seemed in no way threatening; it was more as if the fact of sight - and in particular of seeing Dragosani - in some way brought to the creature a mixed measure of relief and disbelief. Whichever, the necromancer cringed back and down; but in that same moment:
I 'Ho, Thing from the earth!' said Max Batu, steppingout from cover.
'' Thibor Ferenczy's head shot round on his neck in the direction of the Mongol's voice. Seeing Batu where he stood, his great dog's jaws fell open and he hissed from between teeth like blades of bone which dripped slime. And without pause Batu took one look at that face, then aimed and fired Ladislau Giresci's crossbow.
The lignum vitae bolt was five-eighths of an inch thick and steel-tipped. It sprang from the weapon and plunged at almost point-blank range into and through the vam­pire's heaving chest, transfixing him.
Thibor gave a hissing shriek and tried to draw himself back down into the steaming earth, but the bolt jammed in the sides of the hole and prevented him, tearing his grey flesh. He gave a second shriek then - a soul-wrenching thing to hear - and tossed himself to and fro with the bolt still in him, cursing and spewing out slime from his chomping, grimacing mouth.
Batu loped quickly to Dragosani's side, supported him, handed him a full-sized sickle whose edge gleamed silver from a recent sharpening. The necromancer took it, shook Batu off, staggeringly advanced upon the struggling monster trapped half-in, half-out of its grave.
'The last time they buried you,' he gasped, 'they made one big mistake, Thibor Ferenczy.' And the muscles of is neck and arm bunched as he drew back the sickle. 'They left your fucking head on!'
The monster tugged at the shaft in its chest, stared at Dragosani with a look beyond his comprehension. There was something of fear in it, yes, but more than this there was that baffled astonishment, as if the beast could not take in or understand this sudden reversal.
'WAIT!' it croaked as he drew close, the cracked bass sound of its voice like so many saplings snapping in an avalanche. 'CAN'T YOU SEE? IT'S ME!!!'
But Dragosani didn't wait. He knew who and what the monster was, knew also that the only real way he could inherit its knowledge, its powers, was this way: as a necromancer. Yes, and such a wonderful irony in it, for Thibor himself had given him the gift! 'Die, you bastard Thing!' he snarled, and the sickle became a blur of steel as it sheared the monster's head from its trunk.
The awful head sprang aloft, fell, bounced. And even rolling it cried, 'FOOL! DAMNED FOOL!' before lying still. Then the scarlet eyes closed. The mouth opened one last time and a gob of red-tinged filth shot out - and a final word, the merest whisper: 'Fool!'
Dragosani's answer was to swing the sickle a second time, splitting the head in two parts like some great grey overripe melon. Inside the skull, the brain was a mush with a writhing core: in effect two brains, one human and shrivelled and the other - alien! The brain of the vampire. Without pause, without fear, knowing for once exactly what he did, Dragosani stuck his hands deep into the two halves of the skull cavity and let his trembling fingers feel the reeking fluids and pulp. All the secrets and the lore of the Wamphyri were here, here, just waiting for him to search them out.
Even now the brains were rotting, falling into the natural decay and corruption of centuries... but Dragosani's necromantic talent was already tracking the undead (now utterly dead) monster's secrets through the very juices of its crumbling brain. Grey as stone, his eyes standing out obscenely in his head, he lifted up the mess to his face - but too late!
Before his frantic eyes everything rotted away, boiled into smoke, trickled in streams of dust through his twitching fingers. Even the misshapen skull, dust in his hands.
With a cry almost of anguish, wildly swinging his arms like a windmill run amok, Dragosani spun and made a headlong dive for the vampire's headless body where it still sat upright in its grave. The severed neck was beginning to steam away, settling into the scaled chest which itself slumped down into the unseen trunk below. And even as the necromancer plunged his hand and arm down into that hole, into the rot and the stench, so the earth belched up a great mushrooming cloud of poisonous vapour and collapsed in upon the now almost liquid corpse.
Dragosani howled like a banshee and drew out his arm from the quag, then crawled away from the shuddering, belching hole as the ground quickly settled into quiescence. At the edge of the circle he paused, head hanging limply, shoulders slumped, and sobbed his frustration long and rackingly.
Breathless, shaken to his roots by all he had seen, Max Batu watched the necromancer a little while longer then slowly came forward. He got down on one knee beside Dragosani and gripped his shoulder. 'Comrade Dragosani,' Batu's voice was hushed, little more than a dry, croaking whisper. 'Is it over?'
Dragosani stopped sobbing. He let his head continue to hang down while he considered Batu's question: was it all over? It was all over for Thibor Ferenczy, yes, but only just beginning for the new vampire, the as yet immature creature which even now shared Dragosani's body with him. They would supply each other's needs,(however grudgingly,) learn from each other, become as one being. The question still remained as to whose will would eventually achieve dominance.
Against any ordinary man the vampire must, of course, be the winner. Every time. But Dragosani was not ordinary. He had the power in him to accumulate his own lore, his own talents. And why not? Perhaps somewhere in his learning, in his gathering of secrets and strange new powers, he might yet find a way to be rid of the parasite. But until then...
'No, Max Batu,' he said, 'it's not over yet. Not for a while yet.'
"Then what must I do now?' the squat little Mongol was anxious to be of assistance. 'How can I help? What are your needs?'
Dragosani continued to stare at the dark earth. How could Batu help? What were the necromancer's needs? Interesting questions.
Pain and frustration died in Dragosani. There was much to do and time was wasting. He had come here to gather new powers to himself in the face of whatever threat was posed by Harry Keogh and the British E-Branch, and that was a job he still must do. Thibor's secrets were beyond him now, dead and gone forever like the vampire himself, but that must not be the end of the matter. However weak and battered he felt right now, still he knew that he had not been permanently dam aged. The pain may well have scarred his mind and soul (if he still had a soul), but those were scars which would heal. No, he had suffered no real or lasting injury. He had merely been - depleted.
Depleted, yes. The thing inside him needed, and Dragosani knew what it needed. He felt Batu's hand on his shoulder and could almost hear the blood surging in the other's veins. Then Dragosani saw the sharp, curved surgical tool with which he would have slit the ewe's throat. It lay there close to his hand, silver against the black earth. Ah, well, he had intended this eventually. It would be so much sooner, that was all.
Two things I need from you, Max,' Dragosani said,and looked up.
Max Batu gasped aloud and his jaw fell open. Thenecromancer's eyes were scarlet as those of the fiend he had just killed! The Mongol saw them - saw something else that glittered silver in the night - and saw... nothing else. Ever...
'I have to stop,' Alec Kyle told his weird visitor. He put down his pencil, massaged his cramped wrist. The desk was littered with the curled shavings of five pencils, all of them whittled away to nothing. This was Kyle's sixth and his arm felt mangled from frantic scribbling.
A thin sheaf of papers was stacked in front of Kyle, with pencilled notes and jottings covering each sheet top to bottom and margin to margin. When he had started to write all of this down (how long ago? Four and a half, five hours?) the notes had been fairly detailed. Within an hour they'd become jottings, barely legible scrawl. Now even Kyle himself could scarcely read them, and they were reduced to a listing of dates alongside brief headlines.
Now, for a moment resting his wrist and mind both, Kyle glanced at the dates again and shook his head. He still believed - instinctively knew - that all of this was the absolute truth, but there was one massively glaring anomaly here. An ambiguity he couldn't ignore. Kyle frowned, looked up at the apparition where it floated upright on the other side of the desk, blinked his eyes at this shimmering spectre of a man and said: 'There's something I don't quite understand.' Then he laughed, and not a little hysterically. 'I mean, there are a good many things here which I don't understand - but until now I've at least believed them. This is harder to believe.'
'Oh?' said the apparition.
Kyle nodded. Today's Monday,' he said. 'Sir Keenan is to be cremated tomorrow. The police have discovered nothing as yet and it seems almost blasphemous to keep his body, well, lying about in that condition.'
'Yes,' the other nodded his agreement.
'Well,' Kyle continued, 'the point is I know a lot of what you've told me to be the truth, and I suspect that the rest of it is too. You've told me things no one else outside myself and Sir Keenan should ever have known. But -'
'But your story,' Kyle suddenly blurted, 'has already outstripped us! I've been keeping a record of your time-scale and you've just been telling me about the coming Wednesday, two days from now. According to you, Thibor Ferenczy isn't yet dead, won't be until Wednesday night!'
After a moment the other said, 'I can see how that must appear strange to you, yes. Time is relative, Alec, the same as space. Indeed the two go hand in hand. I'll go further than that: everything is relative. There is a Grand Scheme to things
Some of that escaped Kyle. For the moment he saw only what he wanted to see. 'You can read the future? That well?' His face was a mask of awe. 'And I thought I had a talent! But to be able to see the future so clearly is almost unbe-' and he stopped short and gasped. As if
things weren't incredible enough, a new, even more incredible thought had crossed his mind.
Perhaps his visitor saw it written in his face. At any rate he smiled a smile transparent as smoke from a cigarette, a smile that reflected not at all the light from the window but allowed it to pass right through. 'Is there something, Alec?' he asked.
'Where... where are you?' Kyle asked. 'I mean, where are you - the real, physical you - right now? Where are you speaking from? Or rather, when are you speaking from?'
Time is relative,' the spectre said again, still smiling.
'You're speaking to me from the future, aren't you?' Kyle breathed. It was the only answer. It was the only way the spectre could know all of this, the only way he could do all of this.
'You'll be very useful to me,' said the other, slowly nodding. 'It seems you have a sharp intuitive ability to match your precognition, Alec Kyle. Or maybe it's all part of the same talent. But now, shall we continue?'
Still gaping, Kyle again took up the pencil. 'I think you better had continue,' he whispered. 'You'd better tell me all of it, right to the end...'
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